Optical/IP Networks

What Cisco Won't Do Next

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says it is unlikely to unveil an enterprise handset that combines wireless LAN and cellular connectivity any time soon.

With the launch of the networking giant's first voice-over-wireless LAN phone this week there have been suggestions that Cisco's next trick is a phone that combines local- and wide-area wireless connectivity for corporate users (see Cisco Launches WLAN Phones and Is 802.11 Ready for VOIP?).

Cisco's director of marketing for enterprise IP telephony, Hank Lambert, doesn't discount the prospect of a WLAN/WAN phone but sees some obstacles to actually delivering one. "It's something customers ask about," he acknowledges. "But there are a lot of things that need to happen before that becomes viable."

One of the main problems is that there are not many companies working on combining WLAN and cellular at the chip level. Unstrung asked Lambert if he knew of any suppliers of this kind of dualmode silicon and he just laughed and shook his head (sadly).

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has done some work on combining the two technologies, but isn't shipping any product at the moment (see WLAN/WAN, Thank You Qualcomm?).

The other problem, which is potentially more troublesome than a mere technology fix, is that carriers could be irked by the idea of a mobile phone that offers corporate users free calls while they are indoors.

Typically, Lambert notes, carriers subsidize cell phones, which helps keep the cost down for corporate users, who in turn often rack up minutes using their handsets inside their buildings. But would the operators be willing to subsidize a dualmode phone that might actually take revenue away from them? "The argument in favor of doing that is that it creates a service that is more 'sticky' for the user," says Lambert. He means that the corporate user who gets free minutes inside of company offices is less likely to move on to another rival operator, which reduces churn for service provider and also saves them money.

However, its likely that ever-cautious operators will want to see just how "sticky" a service plan with WLAN minutes is, before charging down that path.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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