Large companies are about to lose their hesitation on wireless LAN installations, and unleash a boom driven by the benefits of voice on wireless, according to analysts Infonetics Research. The mobile operators may have a trick up their sleeves however.

"Voice is the application which will drive wireless LANs," said Richard Webb, directing analyst of Infonetics. Half of wireless LAN users are already planning to use their networks for in-building mobile telephony, he said. putting it some way behind applications like Internet access for guests (71 percent), but not for long: "[Voice] is the application to watch," he said. "We'll see it get more significant this year."

The attraction is savings on mobile calls: wireless LANs can route calls made in the office over free bandwidth instead of expensive GPRS links. Equipment vendor Nortel is doing its best to boost this concept by claiming savings of $22 million per year on a $6 million investment.

The voice boom will cause the enterprise Wi-Fi business to pull away from the consumer market. Each market was about $1 billion in 2003, says Webb, but in 2004 enterprise Wi-Fi will surge to $1.5 billion and consumer products will decline to $880 million. "The consumer market is now huge volumes of very basic access points," said Webb., he said.

However, it is not going to instant (although vendors like Airespace are pushing it hard), owing to social barriers. "Voice guys and data guys need to be in accord, and then take it up a level to the decision maker," said Webb. It may also require some early adopters to upgrade their Wi-Fi networks to make them voice ready

There is still technical work to be done: Wi-Fi still requires standards for improved handovers , and better quality of service.

These delays could easily give the voice operators enough time to respond to the threat from Wi-Fi by making their own converged offers that reduce cost by routing calls from mobiles better.

"All providers are convinced that we will get into a fully converged environment," said Frederic Boone, director of marketing EMEA for Ericsson Enterprise. "At the end of the day, people have four phones -- a soft phone, a GSM mobile, a DECT phone and a deskphone. Which one are they most likely to use? The mobile."

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