Wireless VOIP in the Wild
Show keynotes, industry figures, and analysts have all started to talk up the prospects of packetized voice now that IP is -- slowly, slowly -- making its way into mobile networks.
One of the key benefits this technology promises is cost reductions for carriers implementing new networks -- or at least that's what they say. But it's just pretty talk when you get right down to it.
That's why Unstrung decided to trek down on to the show floor and see what was really out there in terms of wireless VOIP. [Ed note: Yeah, we know that some push-to-talk systems are VOIP-based, but we're talking about systems that allow actual conversations here, okay?]
What we found were the raw roots of wireless VOIP -- a couple of demo systems that exploit the bandwidth offered by newer WAN technologies to combat network latency problems and deliver something akin to cellular quality voice.
Loops and echoes: CDMA Evolution Data Only (CDMA EV-DO) maven Airvana Inc. is showing off a VOIP phone system based on the technology. (The startup supplies Nortel with EV-DO kit to resell.)
Your correspondent managed to create a massive feedback loop (hello... hello... hello... helloooooooooooo) when holding his own phone too close to the VOIP system. But everything worked fine after that noisy glitch. It took two seconds or less for the call to connect, and the sound quality was right up there with a standard cellphone.
Flash talk: Very similar results were to be had with the VOIP demonstration phone at the Flarion Technologies's booth. The startup had the phone built to demonstrate that its Flash-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) network technology could handle voice calls, which certainly appeared to be the case from our limited testing. Flarion -- regular readers will remember -- may eventually prove to be the next-generation technology of choice for Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) (see Nextel Flashes With Flarion).
These early systems show the promise of VOIP over wireless WAN, but despite this it is likely to be a couple of years before anything like this hits the mainstream. The industry isn't really ready to implement this emerging techology, the networks aren't there yet, and neither are the user devices.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung
P.S. Ignoring all the VOIP chatter for a moment, what your gadget freak correspondent really liked at the Flarion booth was the demonstration from Music Gremlin Inc. This startup has developed software that allows people to buy and download (or stream) tunes wirelessly to a portable music player. It runs over wireless LAN and Flash-OFDM networks. Downloads over the Flarion network at the show were eye-poppingly fast. For instance, it took less than 10 seconds to download a full MP3-quality music file to a PDA. Music Gremlin is currently shopping the tech to device manufacturers. Sure looks like the future to us.