While there has been much industry hype about phones that can roam among wireless LANs and cellular networks, veterans in the space are working to boost the quality of plain old voice over Wi-Fi.
"I'm convinced that the market we serve today is a single-mode world," said John Elms, CEO of SpectraLink Corp., of Boulder, Colo., a pioneer in the voice-over-Wi-Fi space.
SpectraLink's next product launch will include a handset that supports the IEEE 802.11a standard, Elms said. The company's current line of Wi-Fi phones runs on 802.11b, operating in the 2.4GHz radio band, where microwave ovens and Bluetooth devices also operate. 802.11a runs in the 5GHz band and is less crowded than the 2.4GHz band, meaning there is less potential for interference. Elms would not say when this phone will be available.
Meanwhile, Symbol Technologies Inc. is readying a PDA/phone combination that will support 802.11a, b and g, according to sources close to the Holtsville, N.Y., company.
Due in the first quarter of next year, the MC70 also has a quad-band radio that will allow it to run on the majority of the world's GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cellular networks, sources said.
The MC70 will be sold as an enterprise digital assistant in the same family as the semirugged MC50 device, which was released earlier this year. The MC50 supports voice over Wi-Fi but only for 802.11b. In addition to the varied radio support, the MC70 bests its predecessor by being slightly more durable. It can survive falls of more than 3 feet to surfaces harder than linoleum, sources said, but will not be as durable as Symbol's military-grade devices, which can tolerate 6-foot falls to concrete.
SpectraLink, while focusing mainly on Wi-Fi, is looking to support cellular networks as well. "We're porting our Wi-Fi telephony platform and plan to announce a dual-mode phone in the not-too-distant future," Elms said, adding that it will support TDM (time-division multiplexing) switching. He declined to give a time frame but acknowledged that the market for a dual-mode device has yet to be proved.
In the meantime, companies such as SpectraLink and Symbol are focusing on customers that want to take advantage of their existing Wi-Fi networks.
"We already had the [access points] in place [for data transfer]," said Greg Fitts, a communications analyst at University of North Carolina Hospitals, in Chapel Hill, which had installed Aironet access points from Cisco Systems Inc. for data transfer before deciding to add SpectraLink phones for voice.
"We had to change the settings and upgrade the software to tweak the settings that were doing fine with the data but needed some tweaking for voice," Fitts said.
For the future, UNC Hospitals is looking to integrate medical data with the phone system, allowing for lab results and alarms to be sent to nurses' phones automatically, Fitts said.
SpectraLink is planning to converge its SpectraLink Voice Priority protocol with its Open Application Interface, Elms said. This will mean better integration of voice services and data from third-party applications, he said.