Vonage Gives Wi-Fi a Voice

by Colin C. Haley

The VoIP upstart and UTStarcom team up to sell a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phone.

VoIP upstart Vonage and networking specialist UTStarcom have partnered to bring a portable Wi-Fi handset to market by summer.

The phones are aimed at giving Vonage an edge over AT&T , Verizon and others by offering callers the convenience of a cell phone without the costs of traditional carriers.

The F-1000, which offers mobility across 802.11b networks, should be available to subscribers of Vonage during the second quarter. It will be sold through Vonage's Web site and retail partners, including Amazon, Best Buy and Circuit City. Pricing hasn't been set, but the companies said the F-1000 will be "affordable."

The phone is suited for use in homes and small businesses, or across corporate and university campuses that have dozens of hotspots , Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron told internetnews.com. It is designed to also appeal to business travelers who could connect via hotel access spots.

Vonage's Wi-Fi Phone
Source: Vonage

It's based on Session Initiation Protocol , a signaling protocol for Internet conferencing, telephony, presence, events notification and instant messaging. SIP initiates call setup, routing, authentication and other feature messages to endpoints within an IP domain and is used by many VoIP equipment makers.

Some VoIP companies are selling Wi-Fi phones, including BroadVoice, which sells Pulver Innovations' Wi-Fi phone for $149.95. But Vonage has deeper pockets than most and and a retail partner network with 8,000 total stores.

In addition to the UTStarcom agreement, Vonage and chipmaking giant Texas Instruments will showcase the results of a partner pact inked at last year's CES.

The companies will debut a Vonage-compatible, TI-powered IP videophone and a cordless broadband phone systems, from Viseon and VTech Communications, respectively. "TI has been a phenomenal partner," Citron said. "We have been able to take our initial relationship and make workable products."

Viseon's Visifone II broadband videophone uses technology from TI's VoIP and digital media groups. Videophones have been hyped for decades, but technical limitations and high costs have bedeviled vendors and carriers.

Citron said widespread broadband and TI technology have solved quality issues, and while pricing hasn't been set, he expects it to be far less expensive than earlier products. Still, he concedes that consumer demand is untested.

VTech's ip8100-2 broadband telephone incorporates TI's VoIP gateway chipset. The phone plugs directly into a customer's broadband connection or router, eliminating the need for a standalone adapter and telephone. Both products are expected to hit retailers by spring or summer, the companies said.

Terms of the Voice over WLAN deal, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, weren't disclosed.

This article was originally published on Tuesday Jan 4th 2005