VoWiFi Talks Business for Resellers

How do you capitalise on the fast-growing market for mobile VoIP solutions? According to Rob Leggett, sales director of value-added distributor, Siracom it’s with VoWiFi.

“The more things change in business, the more they stay the same. Despite pervasive email and IM usage, the majority of companies need their staff to have constant access to a phone – just as they did 20 years ago.

Of course, staff are less desk-bound these days, but they still need access to corporate PBX facilities, whether serving customers on retail floors, taking part in a session in the corporate training room, supervising operations on the manufacturing floor or in warehouses – in fact, from anywhere within the enterprise.

So how do you extend telephony to them? DECT was the traditional answer, but it’s expensive to deploy, and demands PBX-specific handsets and base stations. Another alternative is using mobiles, but call costs can spiral out of control, they don’t give users PBX access, and there’s the problem of multiple numbering schemes; not to mention network coverage issues.

This is where Voice over WiFi, also known as mobile VoIP, comes in. By linking a company’s wireless LAN to its PBX, organisations to take advantage of the increasing reach, reliability and security of their WLANs, to deliver both data and voice wherever it’s needed.

It’s a fast-growing sector. A recent report by market research firm, Juniper Research predicted that the global Voice-over-WiFi handset market will grow to almost US$70 billion in revenues by 2012. But to make the most of the VoWiFi opportunity, it helps to understand where the technology fits and which handset features are most useful. These are the customer sectors and applications that I believe can benefit most.

Hot desks or no desks:

VoWiFi makes sense in any company where employees remain within the corporate premises, but spend a lot of time away from their desks. Examples I mentioned earlier include retail, warehousing and manufacturing.

Another key sector is healthcare. In the US, this is the largest market for VoWiFi, and the same opportunity applies here. Typically, mobile phones can’t be used in hospitals, but most wards already have WLANs deployed for bedside patient care, such as electronic prescribing. So if the hospital has an IP PBX, you can help to make key clinical or administrative staff contactable at any time, anywhere in the building. Some handsets can support integration with existing paging or alert systems too.

Another sector with pervasive WLANs is hotels and hospitality, including conference venues. Typically, these were deployed for guests’ use, but the networks can also be used for employees’ voice calls. What’s more, VoWiFi can also be provisioned temporarily to give voice services to guests or delegates attending events.

Handset matters:

So there are a number of potential markets for VoWiFi. In terms of handset features, these are the key features to look out for.

For interoperability with the widest range of IP PBXs, choose a session initiation protocol (SIP)-based handset. These will work with any SIP-compliant PBX; and as SIP devices are designed to be interoperable, it makes deployment easier. But SIP does not guarantee all handset functionality; make sure the handset provides the call features you need such as hold, transfer, conference and message waiting notifications.

In terms of security, look for phones which can conform to enterprise security policies for wireless. This usually means support for WPA2 and 802.1X.

There’s also a standard for call quality: handsets should support the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) specification, which is a feature set to optimise QoS for voice and video over WiFi. Look also for fast roaming – this ensures that call quality is maintained as users move between access points.

For ease of management, look for handsets that automatically configure all parameters and software updates across the WLAN, the alternative is a huge amount of manual configuration using the phone keypad.

Finally, don’t overlook battery life. As the handset is used like a mobile, long talk time (at least 4 hours), and standby (50+ hours) is useful. With these pointers in mind, VoWiFi could be a useful market opportunity for you.”

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