IT managers who are putting mobile voice over IP on their enterprise wish
lists this holiday season might want to be more specific. The term
”mobile VoIP” has taken on a multitude of meanings with very different
”In its most straightforward, mobile VoIP is voice over IP over cellular
and Wi-Fi networks, but that’s still three to four years away. When
people talk about mobile VoIP today, they’re referring to voice over
wireless LANs,” says Svetlana Issaeva, manager of Communications, Media
and Technology Research at Pyramid Research in London.
There are currently three variations of mobile voice over IP being
researched or already in production in consumer and enterprise markets:
”Mobile voice over IP to me today is going to our New York office and
logging into my IP phone there and it appears as if I’m in my Minneapolis
office. This is base-level mobility,” says Chris Ferski, director of
Information Technology at Goldsmith Agio Helms, an investment banking
firm in Minneapolis.
”True seamless mobility will let me go anywhere and do what I need to do
and not have to worry about phone numbers and contact information — it
will all be invisible and transferable,” he says.
Ferski himself says he has different levels of mobile voice over IP that
he’s working through. The first is simply being able to have the
company’s 110 employees easily move between the five corporate offices in
Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York without having to
deal with moves, adds and changes. He gets this functionality from his
Nortel Networks VoIP network.
He also uses Nortel’s softphone tools to let his users access the VoIP
network from the road using their laptops and headsets.
Next year, he plans to add to this mobility by installing wireless
LAN-enabled mobile handsets for use in the company’s public spaces.
Ferski says high-end bankers could then log into those handsets, which
would be wirelessly connected to access points, and carry them into the
boardrooms and other meeting areas and not miss important calls about
deals that otherwise might go to their desk phones.
While Ferski is working within the confines of the wireless LAN network
to gain voice over IP functionality, TalkPlus, Inc. is encouraging users
to make more of their cell phones for mobile VoIP capabilities.
”Mobile VoIP to me is having a device that lets you drive down the
highway at 60 miles an hour and get all the features that you’d have on a
voice over IP connection,” says Jeff Black, CEO of TalkPlus in Menlo
The features TalkPlus enable include multiple numbers or identities to
one phone, voice mail for each of those identities, group conference
calling, and low-call rates. ”You can have one number or 10 numbers and
each of them have individual controls,” he says.
”You’re in the cellular world all the time. You want to extract the
cost-savings of the voice over IP in the broadband world into cellular
service,” he says. Black claims his service offers rates as low as two
cents a minute for calls in the U.S., and three and a half cents a minute
overseas to cities like London.
He adds that the company is able to achieve this by running voice on the
voice channel and data and other information over the signaling channel
on carrier networks. TalkPlus co-locates its equipment in neutral
facilities, like Equinix, so it can plug directly into carrier switches.
TalkPlus is currently a beta-version hosted service, where consumers can
go to the company’s Web site, www.talkplus.com, create an account with
multiple identities and have the application sent to their phone via an
SMS message. Black says more features, such as links to LDAP directories
and an enterprise version, will be added early next year.
Though these innovations are impressive, Randy Giusto, group vice
president of Mobility, Computing and Consumer Markets for International
Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., says the real holy grail for mobile VoIP
is the convergence of voice over Wi-Fi and cellular networks. He says
that’s where companies will truly see a cost-savings.
”There are a growing number of employees making cell phone calls on
campus,” Giusto says. If they could access a wireless IP network from
their handsets, the savings could be in the range of 25 percent to 28
”The grand vision is that you’re on a call and in the building you’re on
the Wi-Fi network, and then you walk out to the parking lot and you
automatically switch over to the cellular network. But there isn’t a
clear software-based handoff that’s transparent to the user yet,” he
But there has been a ”chicken and egg” mentality about creating new
handsets, services and infrastructure. ”IT organizations are saying if I
can save that much for voice calls, I’d be willing to do it. But the
handset companies are waiting for orders and interest,” Giusto says.
This is a problem that Sanjay Jhawar, vice president of Marketing and
Development at BridgePort Networks, Inc., is trying to solve. Jhawar is
chairman of the steering committee for MobileIgnite, an organization
formed in January to create open solutions for the merging of mobile
voice over IP on Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
”Our goal is for users to be able to have a single phone that would be a
mobile phone when you were in the wide area network outside the home and
office environment and also a voice over IP phone with Internet calling
when you’re near a Wi-Fi network. And you’d have the same number across
both networks,” he says.
For this to happen, Jhawar says there has to be a convergence at the
device and service layers. ”There are elements that have to be looked at
in the mobile network, fixed networks, media gateways, and
softswitches,” he says.
Though it seems too complex for there to be progress, more than 20
companies, including VeriSign, Inc., Net2Phone, Inc., Kyocera Wireless
Corp., and Boingo Wireless, Inc., have joined the organization.
Jhawar says their charter is threefold: to create interoperability
between handsets with Wi-Fi and cellular; to create IP Centrex to mobile
network interoperability; and to create interoperability between SIP and
For Ferski, this sounds like a dream come true.
”I’m looking forward to devices coming out to support this. The more
options we have to connect seamlessly and to seamlessly hop onto various
networks, the better,” he says.