Inquisition - can mobile operators trash Wi-Fi voice?
All they have to do is cut prices and link to the office system.
Voice over Wi-Fi is more of a threat than reality, he says. There are issues with encryption and fast handovers [which the IEEE standards body is addressing]. "At the end of the day, you will need multimedia convergence to really make use of voice and data and get the best functionality." WLAN vendors could learn a lot from the history of voice on wired Ethernet, he says. The penetration of voice on Ethernet has not been that high, despite vendors offering similar cost-benefit advantages for many years. "You will see the same thing with voice on wireless LAN," he says. Voice on Ethernet started with a technology pitch, which did not even talk about the value and benefits for customer. The vendors then eventually moved on to the cost perspective, proposing the technology for voice links from the branch office back to the central site. At this point, when users are likely to sit up and take notice, the telephony companies cut rates and came up with their own offers. Voice on Ethernet remains an option, and is getting more widely installed, but the cost savings are not such a big deal. Mobile operators can do exactly the same to voice on wireless LAN, he says. And through partnerships with people like Ericsson, they can capitalise on existing systems, in the knowledge that (at least according to Boone) users want to keep them. "I think that we are getting out of the uncertainty about whether to do full IP, IP PBX or hybrid," he says. "We did surveys in the UK market, and major companies have now acknowledged that the best way to converge is to IP-enable existing systems, doing the move into IP in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary way." So, is voice over Wi-Fi a threat to operators? No, he says. "You can't talk about threat or scaring off . All providers are convinced that they will get into a fully converged environment. The tactics of getting there is different." In other words, says Boone, the mobile operators can easily come up with deals (and technology partnerships) that make the cost-benefits of moving to voice so small that it is hardly worth doing. Making deals for bundles of minutes is, after all, what the operators do best. We'd only add that they wouldn't bother to do that, if they didn't have users threatening to use voice on Wi-Fi - effectively, shopping elsewhere. From what he said next, we reckon his view of Wi-Fi may be a bit limited. Wi-Fi? That's a job for partners
"Of course we fully support Wi-Fi," says Boone. "But providing the base station and wireless LAN cards? This is something we leave to partners. We don't produce base stations or Wi-Fi cards." It sounds dismissive, and maybe it is, but he has a point. There are enough people out there already making base stations. "What's my value add to my partners? It is better to buy straight from the constructor." This means he has no opinion at all on the hot Wi-Fi architectural issues, such as whether to centralise control in a switch or not (see our article on the architecture wars). As far as he is concerned it is enough to make sure Ericsson's products support wireless cards from the major vendors. The systems are put in by partners who handle the integration. "I have to make sure that I have seamless handover between different technologies," he says. "We see WLAN-to-GPRS seamless roaming initiatives succeeding." He is stunningly back-handed in his support for Wi-Fi. Oh yes, it is suitable for some environments, he says, like hospitals in the US. Indeed, in the very long term, it might do quite well. "In the very long-term Wi-Fi may replace DECT," he says. "It is difficult to predict but Wi-Fi probably will be the prevailing or dominating technology in the long term." Given the almost complete consensus that DECT is a dead end, and its dismissal by Wi-Fi vendors (Airespace says it's dead) this counts a slap round the head for Wi-Fi. DECT is a grizzled, punch-drunk has-been, say most people in the industry (or at least those in Europe who have heard of it). If it's going to have trouble against DECT, Wi-Fi can't be much of a contender, surely? But Boone is looking at DECT as a living thing. "DECT still has its place in enterprise communications," he says. "We see it as a growing market still." It's not just for voice, he says, though the data applications he mentions don't amount to a great deal: not email, but text messaging: "SMS over DECT is very valuable instead of paging devices." "Instant messaging on DECT phone lets you instantly call back," says Boone. "It can be very valuable in certain areas such as healthcare and also elderly homes." Ooh, watch out, Wi-Fi!
So. with DECT on the case, and the mobile operators getting into gear, Wi-Fi vendors could be in trouble? That sounds laughable from within the world of Wi-Fi but he is calling on large forces. Our money is on Wi-Fi in the long term, simply because it is the flexible, mass-market standard. It is playing Ethernet to the ATM of the mobile operators' approach. But, as Boone predicts, the mobile players have some cards up their sleeves yet.