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Optical/IP

Motorola Plots WLAN VOIP Move

Handset maker Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) plans to enter the voice-over-wireless LAN market with a device that supports both cellular and VOIP calls by the middle of next year.

The move represents one of the vendor's first moves into the burgeoning market for enterprise-oriented 802.11 equipment. But rather than develop its own chips, Motorola has tapped Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) for 802.11 silicon (see Moto Taps TI for WLAN VOIP).

Motorola will be competing with firms like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), NEC Electronics Corp., and others. The company has already inked contracts with Avaya Inc. (NYSE: AV) and Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX) to provide the necessary software, infrastructure, and access points for enterprises to implement WLAN VOIP.

However, it is still early days for this technology, and there are still plenty of issues around implementing VOIP on 802.11 networks (see Is 802.11 Ready for VOIP? for a rundown).

On the device side, the battery power required to support two different radio types in one unit is still a problem. However, Greg Fern, director of business and product operations at Motorola's WLAN subscriber group, says that Motorola is working with TI to fine-tune performance and the device should have battery life "comparable to a cellphone."

Roaming between wide-area wireless networks and WLAN, as well as between 802.11 access points -- without dropping the call -- is another major issue for WLAN VOIP phones.

Fern says that Motorola and TI are adding extensions to the 802.11 standard, so that the device can employ techniques to monitor the signal strength from nearby access points and jump to whichever has the strongest signal. Fern claims that, despite the extensions, the devices will work with standard 802.11 equipment.

Meanwhile Motorola is implementing software to act as a "call bridge" between the WLAN and cellular network.

Fern says that Motorola will start initial trials of these devices in the second half of 2003.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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