Vonage Goes WiFi

Vonage Holdings Corp., an upstart company known for pushing the boundaries of IP-based communications, announced today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it has partnered with UTStarcom Inc. (Nasdaq: UTSI) to produce a portable WiFi handset that allows users to access Vonage’s VOIP network from multiple locations. Known as the F-1000, the unit will allow users to “roam from home” and access their Vonage service through 802.11b hotspots (see Vonage Unveils New VOIP Tech). Michael Tribolet, executive VP of operations at Vonage, says that the new handset, set for release later this year, will give Vonage users the freedom to access their service while on the go. “This is a great application for travelers, especially international travelers where there tend to be more WiFi hot spots, because it will allow them to stay in contact with communications the way they expect them to be,” Tribolet says.

Tribolet says that there were some technical hurdles that had to be overcome before the company could introduce a WiFi option to its subscribers. “The predominant issue has to do with battery life,” he says. “It’s different than a traditional cell phone which can go into sleep mode. A WiFi handset must always stay awake and be able to search for hotspots. The F-1000 has a battery life of about 100 hours, similar to a standard cordless phone.”

Another issue had to do with reliability and quality. “We’ve wanted to introduce a WiFi product for some time, but the products that were out there didn’t have good enough quality for the consumer market,” Tribolet says. “We finally found a product that gives us the quality and reliability that consumers expect.”

The wireless handset will connect to an existing wireless network out of the box and allow users to begin making calls over their broadband Internet connection right away, using their existing Vonage account. As a user travels to another location (like a Starbucks or their office), the handset will automatically scan for available authorized WiFi networks and connect to them, allowing users to make calls. Pricing for the F-1000 hasn’t been determined, but Vonage spokesman Jamie Serino says that one of the models currently being explored is offering the handset as a free option to customers when they sign up for service. Currently, Vonage customers must use an adapter to connect a phone to their IP network, but Serino says that letting customers choose between the wired or wireless option is something the company is looking at. “If you wanted both the wired and wireless option, then it would cost money,” he says.

Tribolet says that Vonage is exploring a multiple vendor strategy for offering additional wireless handsets, but is working exclusively with UTStarcom to bring the product to market. He noted Vonage’s existing relationship with UTStarcom as its voicemail provider. “We already have a great relationship with them and will continue to advance the partnership and add new features and improvements to the product.”

Other Vonage CES announcements:

Vonage also announced today that it would extend its relationship with Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) to include TI VOIP software and semiconductors in new Vonage-compatible communications products available from its partners, Viseon and VTech Communications. The two new devices, an IP videophone from Viseon and a cordless broadband telephone system from VTech, are compatible with Vonage's service and are expected to be available later this year.

— Chris Somerville, Senior Editor, Next-Generation Services

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