Wireless VoIP poses problems for users

The trouble started four or five months into the implementation of voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) at Group Dekko, a manufacturing company headquartered in Kendallville, Ind.

Around a year ago, the company expanded its existing WLAN to support voice, installing Cisco Systems Inc. access points and distributing Symbol Technologies Inc. handsets.

“When it worked the way we expected it to, people really liked it,” said Chris Edwards, Dekko’s vice president of systems.

Supervisors at Group Dekko’s manufacturing facilities spend much of their day away from their offices, walking around the floor. Instead of listening for pages that alert them to incoming calls or returned messages, they can accept calls as they come in via their wireless handsets.

All of Group Dekko’s data and voice traffic is integrated, running fully on IP, so the company had an IP phone system from Cisco – the architecture for voice, video and integrated data (AVVID). Group Dekko has implemented only limited security, relying on 802.11’s first-generation security solution, WEP, and separating the voice traffic onto a VLAN.

Edwards first ran into trouble when he implemented one of Cisco’s upgrades for AVVID. Once the upgrade was in place, the phones stopped working as reliably as they had. Now, functions such as message-waiting and call-transfer don’t always operate.

Edwards said he suspects Cisco and Symbol didn’t work together to ensure the upgrade would continue to fully support Symbol’s products. But he’s not sure if either party is specifically to blame.

Despite Edwards’ efforts at trying to get help from Cisco and Symbol, the problems haven’t been solved in over six months. Edwards doesn’t have a feel for when they might be fixed or what might happen with the next upgrade.

“It’s an ever-changing world. You get caught up in one release, but what happens when the next release happens?” he wondered.

Around the time of the AVVID upgrade, Cisco introduced its first VoWLAN handset.

“Now Cisco has a competing product to those other folks,” Edwards notes, referring to Symbol. “I’m sure that puts a strain on the relationship.”

A Cisco spokesperson said the firm continues to support companies such as SpectraLink for customers who use wireless devices from other vendors.

Some onlookers worry that these types of experiences may hurt the VoWLAN market. “If people find that this is a problem, they may well say none of this is worth it and wait until the market matures,” said Joe Laszlo, a senior analyst for Jupiter Research.

But the problems that Group Dekko faces could be just growing pains involved with new technology. Edwards has high hopes for getting past the nuisance. “I see big promise that when these bugs get ironed out, it will be a fairly critical piece of our infrastructure moving forward,” he said.