As wireless LANs continue to grow in importance, vendors are poised to offer new products to integrate such networks inside organisations with cellular and other extended wireless networks.
Aruba Networks has announced a product road map that includes plans for Mobile Voice Continuity software to support a call handover from a dual-mode phone between WLAN and cellular networks, said Keerti Melkote,founder of Aruba. The software would be available in the first quarter of 2007.
Also last week, Symbol Technologies announced a new wireless switch that will support dual-mode phone handovers with the addition of a software module, a spokesman said. The product is to be available in the first half of 2007.
Meanwhile, Siemens Communications, a subsidiary of Siemens AG, has similar plans in its HiPath product line, according to Paul DeBeasi, an analyst at Burton Group in Midvale (the integtrated product uses Wi-Fi technology from Siemens acquisition Chantry. A Siemens spokesman confirmed that dual-mode capability is expected to be offered as a product in late 2007 or early 2008.
Dual-mode phones are expected to improve mobility, productivity, convenience and cost savings for corporations, Melkote said.
Users are interested "We'd be quite interested in that capability, to have a Wi-Fi [hand set] work as a cell phone," said John Tuman, director of network services at WakeMed Health and Hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina. The medical center already has about 650 SpectraLink voice handsets used by nurses working on a Wi-Fi network from Aruba and about 500 separate cell phones. It would be valuable to have one phone that could work over both networks, mainly for the convenience of the users, he said.
A big benefit to having a dual-mode phone will be to make cellular phone calls that are switched through a Wi-Fi network and then onto a wireline switch, making the cell phone look like a wired, or fixed, call, DeBeasi said. Because of that capability, vendors call the dual-mode handover capability fixed-mobile convergence," he said.
Aruba also will announce several new software features for the operating system of its hardware used in existing voice-over-Wi-Fi networks. The new features are designed to improve voice quality, increase call capacity, allow faster handovers between Wi-Fi access points and extend battery life.
Tuman said he will take advantage of the new software initially through the purchase of an Aruba 6000 Mobility Controller, which he plans to install this month. WakeMed has 600 access points throughout 2 million square feet of space and has nine Aruba Mobility Controller switches that have been rolling out since April 2005. In addition to dual-mode phone capability, WakeMed wants to eventually set up RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) through the medical center, and would like to use the existing Wi-Fi network to support it.
Already, the voice-over-wireless capability has helped nurses keep in more immediate contact with their patients, Tuman said.
"It's working well," he said. "It gives nurses faster response to calls. Nurses like the flexibility of not being tethered."
Symbol combines VoFi and RFID Symbol's announcement last week of its new wireless switch, the RFS7000 RF Switch is designed upon Symbol's Wireless Next Generation architecture, said Paul McGugan, senior director of marketing at Symbol.
In addition to future support of fixed-mobile convergence, the switch is capable of supporting as many as 256 access points, as well as clustering capability to support more than 2,000 access points. It will also support RFID implementations and WiMax networks, he said.
The new switch will be available beginning in the first quarter of 2007, starting at US$18,000 for a 128-port license.
Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Dulaney said Cisco is the leader in the wireless LAN infrastructure market, followed by Symbol. In all, there are about 16 major vendors, including Aruba, which Gartner has designated as a technology leader along with Cisco.
While dual-mode phones are still emerging for use in corporations, T-Mobile USA announced a dual-mode phone service focused on consumers in Seattle on Oct. 23, offering free calls within Wi-Fi zones.