Analyst: Voice over wireless LAN picking up steam

During a teleconference on Tuesday hosted by research firm the Yankee Group, one analyst offered up advantages and disadvantages of voice over wireless LAN technology, noting that as prices start coming down enterprises should start to give the technology some more serious thought.

During the session entitled Opportunities and Challenges in the Enterprise Voice over WLAN Market, analyst Sarah Kim explained that some of the obvious advantages of voice over Wi-Fi include the availability of a common wireless infrastructure for both voice and data. She added that the industry is seeing increasingly lower costs of deployment due to the economies of scale and increasing competition.

Interoperability, Kim said, while still an issue, is becoming more of a reality as vendors start to introduce systems that do, in fact, function across multiple vendors.

Although there is much evidence of curiosity in the market surrounding voice over Wi-Fi — a technology which enables the transmission of voice over packets across Wi-Fi LANs — Kim said it is yet undetermined if this interest will translate into actual sales.

“But what is certain is voice over wireless LAN is now becoming an important part of wireless LAN and voice vendor sales strategies today,” Kim noted.

As far as enterprises are concerned, Kim said plans for application deployment over wireless LANs is increasingly placing an emphasis on specific applications and voice over Wi-Fi is therefore well-positioned to benefit from this trend. She added that the technology has been ranked as one of the top three vertical applications that enterprises plan to deploy in the next six months.

“We believe that organizations that have, or are going through the mental exercise of deploying wireless LANs, are perhaps most strategically inline to adopt voice over wireless LAN as compared to those who have adopted voice over IP (VoIP), which is often cited as a key driver of the voice over wireless LAN market,” Kim noted.

She added that the emerging shift towards voice and data convergence is being fueled in large part by the IP private branch exchange (PBX) vendors to compliment their VoIP strategy and in that case, voice over wireless LAN is simply a piece of that strategy.

“There is also desire on the part of the wireless operators to lock in customers through value-added services,” Kim said. “The carriers are hungry right now to try to capture the most valuable customers typically in the enterprise space. And while voice over wireless LAN can be positioned both as a strategic front and as an opportunity, we would encourage them to look at is as an opportunity and as a way to drive additional data services and lock in customers at the enterprise level.”

Kim also reinforced a couple of the key challenges that are casting a shadow over the deployment of voice over wireless LAN today — proprietary solutions and security.

When it comes to security in the voice over Wi-Fi market, Kim said the perception of reliability is tied to both VoIP and wireless LAN — neither of which are necessarily perceived to be of the highest reliability.

Although proprietary schemes are not in and of themselves necessarily wrong for the market, they are definitely an impediment to scaling the nascent market, Kim said.

Proprietary standards are plaguing the market on two levels, according to Kim: on vendor specific implementations of VoIP and the VoIP signaling protocols. These protocols would require end users to match their PBX with the Wi-Fi telephony system that they have selected.

“You can’t just go to the market, it’s not like buffet today where you can just pick and choose and put solutions in place,” Kim said.

The fact that no dominant player has emerged in the market and that the competitive landscape has yet to be determined gives the players the opportunity to start shaping the industry and to think about how they would approach the voice over wireless LAN market, Kim said.

“Most of the activity right now is focused on partnerships, not yet acquisitions, but I suspect that that’s also not out of the question in the near term. The key right now for vendors is to understand their strengths and, of course, their weaknesses.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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