Vonage unveils Wi-Fi mobile handset with VoIP

Amid the speed and sizzle of last week’s Molson Indy in Toronto, Vonage Canada previewed its latest Voice over IP (VoIP) offering – a new mobile Wi-Fi handset with VoIP capabilities.

Moving VoIP on to a Wi-Fi mobile handset is a natural progression for the company, said Joe Parent, vice-president of marketing and business development for Vonage Canada.

According to Parent, the new device has embedded Wi-Fi technology that connects to the Vonage network.

He said a soft phone application loaded on the handset creates the VoIP application. It will automatically synch up with [a] Wi-Fi router, make a connection and authenticate with the Vonage network, said Parent.

At least one analyst sees the launch as a smart move by Vonage.

While other companies are working on similar products Vonage “is being very aggressive in [being] first to market a [Wi-Fi] VoIP solution,” said Roberta Fox, senior partner with Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.

Almadea, Calif-based UTStarcom Inc. is supplying Vonage with the Wi-Fi handset.

The F1000 UTStarcom W-Fi mobile handset, Parent said, needs a wireless hotspot to access the Internet. “As long as you have a high speed wireless connection, [the] Wi-Fi phone will work on your home wireless network, or your office wireless network, or wherever you pick-up a Wi-Fi hotspot.” He cited airports and Second Cup coffee shops as places where one could use the new Vonage phone.

The benefits of having a Wi-Fi mobile phone with a VoIP device is there are no per minute charges or overages like a cell phone. Parent also said it works like any Vonage service where users would pay a monthly fee to get such services as the ability to choose their area code, their phone number, features like caller ID and unlimited long distance anywhere in North America.

Another benefit of having a Wi-Fi VoIP phone, Fox said, is the mobility, access and freedom of moving around and using voice.

“Also, depending on rate plans, the ability to have some of the voice traffic being ‘free’ when on a local LAN,” she added.

The phone works on the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard and secured via 64- and 128-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) – an IEEE standard security protocol for wireless 802.11 networks.

Security, Fox said, is one of the challenges to adoption, in addition to having a properly designed LAN infrastructure to run it on within a building.

Parent hopes to have the new handset available later this year in North America and the UK but first needs to get some of the kinks worked out such as finalizing the user interface to allow the phone to synch up to secure networks like those found at the Second Cup.

“If we can’t get similar type of performance [as a cell phone] on this handset we wouldn’t want to go to market with it because the market won’t demand it,” he said.

Eventually he hopes to add SIP capabilities on the phone, which would let users switch between a cellular and Wi-Fi network all on the same device.

Related links:

IT managers are ringing up VOIP

Vonage launches in U.K.

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