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by Al Sacco

Dual-Mode, Voice Over Wi-Fi Phones and the Enterprise

Opinion
Jun 14, 20074 mins
Data Center

In-Stat, a technology research firm, this week released a report entitled, Worldwide Demand for Wi-Fi/Cellular Combo Phones, which—despite the word “worldwide” in its title—concludes that demand in the United States for “dual-mode” Wi-Fi/cellular phones is increasing.

In fact, the firm found that of the 1,400 some-odd “mid-to-high income [American] businesspeople familiar with technology” surveyed and who own a mobile phone, nearly half who planned to replace a phone wanted Wi-Fi support in their next handheld.

What is voice over Wi-Fi, and do cell phones that support Wi-Fi data transfers also support voice communications? First off, voice over Wi-Fi is a way of transferring voice via the Internet in the form of data packets. According to Allen Nogee, In-Stat’s principal analyst, wireless technology and infrastructure, “Most smartphones with Wi-Fi that can run [third-party] applications can support voice-over-Wi-Fi if [such a third-party app] is available for that model phone.” In other words, no, just because your fancy new handheld has Wi-Fi doesn’t mean you can join the voice-over-Wi-Fi parade.

I’m not sure which “businesspeople” In-Stat queried, but in my experience, CIOs don’t care so much about Wi-Fi support, at least on corporate smartphones, as they typically have group plans with carriers and the potential cost-savings associated with using Wi-Fi on their handhelds just doesn’t grab their attention. They’ve got enterprise laptops with Wi-Fi cards, and their corporate handhelds don’t need to support Wi-Fi. At least that’s what Paul Roche, Network Services CIO, told me when we worked together on our business-savvy smartphone review. I reviewed four handhelds as part of that review and worked along with four IT executives, including Roche. Of those executives, none said Wi-Fi support on their corporate smartphones was a necessity, and only one said Wi-Fi was of some importance.

Nogee identified two benefits to CIOs and their enterprises of using voice-over-Wi-Fi phones: control and cost. “Businesses give you your phone, but then they lose control of it. You can call anyone and they can’t stop it,” Nogee said. “These [voice-over-Wi-Fi] phones let them get control back when users are in the building, and they save money on cellular charges since most calls are made in the building [using the corporate network].”

Currently, the number of Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones available in the United States pales in comparison to mobile phones without Wi-Fi support. And that’s for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cell phone companies’ hesitance to offer phones that support the technology, for fear that their customers will increasingly employ wireless hotspots instead of paying for the use of their cellular networks. Wi-Fi also sucks up handheld battery life like a Dirt Devil on dust bunnies, though In-Stat says this problem is being worked on and will likely be solved, or at least reduced, by the end of this year. (Advances in solar charging and wireless charging may also help.) Another issue commonly associated with dual-mode phones is that Wi-Fi range is typically quite short—about 300 feet indoors, or the distance of a football field, from the wireless access point, according to T-Mobile, and perhaps five times that outside. That means lots of roaming back and forth between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, which can be annoying for users.

Here’s where you come in. I want to know whether or not such dual-mode phones are on your radar, and if so, why? Do you use a phone with Wi-Fi? Which one? Do you use voice over Wi-Fi? Do you think cell phone firms should offer more phones that support Wi-Fi? Or do you, like Roche, think Wi-Fi on your phone, or your staffers’ phones, just isn’t necessary?

I’ll be interested to hear what you all think. And so might In-Stat if your responses are anything like the ones I got from my CIO smartphone reviewers….