Talking Over VOIP

Though it's considered one of the hottest applications in the enterprise 802.11 sphere, Voice-over-wireless LAN (VOWLAN) is seen by many users in the U.S. as a vertical niche product at best, or a novelty at worst. (See Security Trumps Voice and Unwiring Healthcare.)

Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN) and other WLAN vendors are seeking to change that -- but little if any consensus has emerged on how that's to be done.

"The industry talks a lot about building large [VOIP] networks," says Peter Thornycroft, product manager at Aruba, but adds that there aren't many out there yet.

To this end, Aruba updated its Mobile Edge architecture this week with what it calls Voice Flow Classification (VFC) capabilities, which monitor and prioritize voice packets being broadcast on the WiFi and reroutes calls to avoid congested areas of the network.

The firm says that it will also boost the perfrmance of VOWLAN applications with load-balancing capabilities that redirect calls from overloaded access points on the network and limit the number of voice calls that can be made over any given access point.

"We’ll be able to build very large voice networks without having to do special, unnatural things," says Thornycroft.

Some vendors like Bluesocket Inc. seem to be following on a path similar to Aruba's. Last week, the firm added the "stateful firewall" capabilities similar to those that have been a cornerstone of Aruba's secure voice push.

But vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Aruba's major rival in the space, are pushing their own visions of VOWLAN.

"Cisco has actually been addressing many key voice-over-WLAN technical issues for quite some time," says Ben Gibson, director of marketing for wireless and mobility at Cisco. "We've shipped a good deal of Cisco WiFi phones into vertical markets for the past two or three years.

"Our Cisco Compatible Extensions [CCX] program is the only in the industry to enable critical security and voice capabilities down to the the client level, which is an absolute requirement." Cisco has an advantage over startups like Aruba since it can afford to develop and build its own VOWLAN handsets for the enterprise market, and bundle them with other WLAN hardware, rather than relying solely on partners like SpectraLink Corp.

General issue, dualmode, cellular-WiFi handsets are coming from the likes of Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), which may level the playing field somewhat -- although, naturally, Cisco is already working with these phone vendors as well.

"You can expect to see a lot more developments in this space from Cisco and our partners Nokia and Motorola in the near future," says Gibson.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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