Toshiba Corp. is expected to soon launch a Wi-Fi voice-over-IP product portfolio aimed at bringing converged voice/data applications to laptops and PDAs in large organizations.

Toshiba's Media Communication System (MCS) product family includes server and appliance hardware for deploying PBX/VoIP integration and wireless authentication, quality of service (QoS) and roaming in a company with an existing Ethernet LAN and 802.11 infrastructure. The system could be used to add Toshiba-based softphone clients to an existing PBX network, while letting clients access converged wireless applications, Toshiba says.

Toshiba has been a leader in mobile laptops and PDA devices, but it has had relatively low-profile businesses in PBXs, Intel servers, VoIP and Wi-Fi access point business in the U.S., Gemma Paulo, an analyst at In-stat/MDR says. "Now it looks like Toshiba is trying to combine some of these various product areas and offer something that no other vendors have put together," she says.

The company says customers in the manufacturing, medical and retail markets could benefit from MCS. The MCS platform will compete with products from Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., SpectraLink Corp., and Symbol Technologies Inc.

MCS consists of Intel Corp./Red Hat Inc. Linux-based servers and appliances, which control a variety of functions on an 802.11-based wireless LAN (WLAN) and add voice features. An MCS MasterServer provides call control for clients, using Session Initiation Protocol, and can interface with a Avaya, Nortel or Toshiba PBX.

This lets Wi-Fi VoIP clients have the same dialing plan and features as wired PBX phones, and for public switched telephone network access. The MasterServer also is used to administer users on the system and provide client authentication. The server can interface with Microsoft Corp.'s Active Directory, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory servers and RADIUS servers for end-user authentication and management.

The next MCS components are the Node Controllers, which act as gatekeepers into the network. The Node Controllers attach to WLAN subnets and provide authentication (based on 802.1x) and QoS for voice traffic, and let Wi-Fi VoIP clients roam among access points in a subnet, or across subnets (see graphic).

The Node Controllers perform functions similar to those in some WLAN switch products, says Bill Greenlund, a Toshiba marketing vice president. He says that the Node Controllers do not attach directly to wireless access points and are not used to manage access point configurations - a primary function of most WLAN switches.

The Node Controllers come with dual-Gigabit Ethernet ports and can be attached directly to a LAN switch or anywhere on the network and configured into a virtual LAN.

Greenlund says Toshiba next year plans to integrate Wi-Fi-to-cellular roaming of devices that can support 802.11 and 3G technology. More work among Toshiba, carriers and device chip makers will be required for that to happen,he adds.

Initial pricing for MCS will be about $1,200 per user for a network of 25 clients, a MasterServer and three Node Controllers, and softphone clients. MCS products will be available next quarter.