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Mobile VOIP Developments
Estimates say that the mobile VoIP industry is projected to grow by US$12 billion in 2010, for Europe alone. Four technologies are required for mobile VoIP functionality: a device, client software, a wireless network and a VoIP service.
During the early 2000s, Hewlett-Packard, Symbol Technologies, to name a few, are the acknowledged innovators in Wi-Fi-based handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants or handheld computers used for warehousing and other applications. With successive generations of these devices gaining in processing power and battery life, their potential use as a platform for mobile VoIP became practical. So much so that in the summer of 2005 companies delivered practical client software to run on these class of Wi-Fi only, Windows-based PDAs using Microsoft Windows CE operating systems.
Exactly the next summer, in 2006, a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) stack and a VoIP client in Nokia E-series dual-mode Wi-Fi handsets (Nokia E60, Nokia E61, Nokia E70) were launched in the market. The SIP stack and client have since been introduced in many more E and N-series dual-mode Wi-Fi handsets, most notably the Nokia N95 which gained popular following particularly in Europe. Various services use these handsets, including WiFiMobile and Truphone. Of late, Nokia introduced a built in VoIP client to the mass market device (Nokia 6300i) running Series 40 operating system.
But both Nokia N96 and Nokia N78 which were introduced in September 2008 as replacements for the N95 were not designed with built-in VoIP. Some quarters suggest that this was due to the pressures that Nokia has to deal with from Mobile Network Operators. But a plausible explanation is that VoIP has never been a major selling feature on the N-series, perhaps because software maintenance in this area is not commercially attractive or profitable. It is expected, though, that mobile VoIP operators will launch proprietary VoIP applications for the N96, as Fring has already done.
From a Wi-Fi network point of view, there are several innovations embedded in the most current vendor Wi-Fi networking equipment that makes them particularly powerful in a mobile VoIP context. Strong encryption making the conversation in a Wi-Fi context quite private, support for Quality of Service for real-time services such as mobile VoIP and in some cases support for wireless access point to access point call handoff, are some of these innovations.
VoIP server vendors who make it possible for VoIP service providers to create the service, have announced support for integrating mobile handsets into VoIP infrastructures, either natively using SS7 interfaces into the mobile network, or via software based clients running on the mobile handset. One such vendor is BroadSoft who is known for its Broadworks platform which enables mobile integration using either strategy. Meanwhile, enterprise IP PBX vendors have developed, tested and announced capabilities for mobile VoIP users interacting with their business IP-based phone systems.
One implementation of fixed mobile convergence allows for seamless roaming between WIFI and GSM or CDMA networks. As early as December 2005, standards and alliances have started being developed and technologies being demonstrated. For instance, Cisco and FirstHand Technologies demonstrated a Wi-Fi to GSM handoff in San Jose, December 5, 2005.
To date, there are some issues, if not resistance, on this WIFI-GSM/CDMA handoff. For example, in 2007 T-Mobile blocked their subscribers’ access to purely mobile VoIP numbers, issued by Truphone. The issue was widely discussed in the press and although Truphone won an injunction, the case is still in the courts while T-Mobile pays only a nominal termination fee. In another example, Aircell continues to battle with some companies allowing VoIP calls on flights which shows a growing conflict of interest between incumbent operators and new VoIP operators.
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