Combo Wi-FI cell phone due out by fall

Avaya Inc., Motorola Inc. and Proxim Corp. later this year plan to introduce what they have dubbed the “enterprise phone,” which can easily switch voice phone calls from a wireless LAN to a wide-area cellular network, according to Stephen Durney, solutions director for Avaya in Basking Ridge, N.J.

But companies planning to take advantage of the dual-mode phone will need to install relatively new WLAN technology based on the 802.11a standard, according to Scott Ruck, business development manager at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Proxim.

The dual phone won’t work with the more commonly deployed wireless networks that use the 802.11b standard. That standard has only three nonoverlapping channels, which can support between six and eight calls at a time, whereas the 802.11a standard has 21 nonoverlapping channels and can support roughly 25 voice-over-IP calls at a time from one WLAN access point.

Enterprises that don’t currently operate 802.11a networks and have to upgrade will still realize cost savings by using the internal WLAN instead of a cellular network to make calls within a corporate infrastructure, Ruck said.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at FarPoint Group in Ashland, Mass., said he believes that enterprises will eventually move to the 802.11a standard, making the installation of new hardware just to support the phones a nonissue.

The three-company partnership plans to offer the phone and its supporting network infrastructure for sale this September and has resolved key technical challenges associated with it, according to Chris White, director of business development strategy for the seamless mobility division of Motorola in Schaumburg, Ill.

White said the dual-mode phone will have battery life “close” to that of cell phones, with a lightweight battery providing talk time of between 10 and 12 hours and standby time roughly double that. He declined to say how the partnership achieved such a long battery life for a dual-mode device. But Durney indicated that both Texas Instruments Inc. and Atheros Communications Inc. have developed WLAN chip sets that offer improved battery life.

White said the partnership has also developed techniques to hand off the call between an enterprise WLAN network and a cellular network, but he declined to provide any details about how that works.

The technology developed by the partnership will provide end users with the mobile equivalent of a wired enterprise desktop phone working through a PBX and equipped to handle four incoming lines, Durney said. Users will be able to juggle calls on their dual-mode mobile phones in the same manner as on a digital PBX phone. That includes putting up to three calls on hold while talking to a fourth caller, Durney said.

Users will be able to forward calls and conference-in other parties using “soft buttons” that mimic the functionality of the buttons of a desktop PBX phone. Durney added that the enterprise phone could serve as a replacement for a wired desktop phone, since it functions as a wireless extension of a PBX.

The trio of companies emphasized that customers would need to install a network infrastructure the vendors have developed to support the dual-mode phones. That hardware includes a WLAN gateway jointly developed by Avaya and Proxim. The gateway acts as a switch controlling the access points and a communications manager from Proxim. The communications manager moves incoming phone calls from wired local and long-distance networks to the IP network, turning circuit-switched calls into IP-based traffic.

No details on pricing or a launch date were available.

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