Business uptake of voice over wireless Lans is slowly but steadily ramping up, with newly published research predicting that the technology will enjoy strong growth during the next four years.
According to Infonetics Research's latest report, worldwide Wi-Fi VoIP handset sales clocked up $45m in 2004 with 113,000 units shipped.
The analyst firm estimates that global dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handset revenue hit $6.6m in 2004, and units totalled more than 8,000. The report noted that units were only commercially available in the fourth quarter of 2004, so this represents a market at its birth.
Revenue and units are projected to grow "dramatically" by 2009 as enterprises take advantage of the opportunity to offer employees flexible mobile access over different forms of wireless networks.
Wi-Fi VoIP handsets represent a fairly small market currently, but one with "great potential across several market segments", Infonetics stated.
Primary adoption is expected in the enterprise space, in logistics and healthcare verticals in particular, where voice over wireless Lan is already gaining momentum but will become more widespread as both VoIP and wireless Lan adoption continue.
Infonetics added that there is potential for "enormous growth in the consumer space" as broadband service providers offer both VoIP services and wireless gateways bundled with a broadband connection.
"Wi-Fi capability will eventually become a common feature in cellphones, just as it is becoming standard in laptops today, giving mobile operators a big opportunity with Wi-Fi voice," said Richard Webb, directing analyst for Infonetics and author of the report.
"But voice over wireless internet devices have the potential to be a hugely disruptive technology, too. One big factor is the low cost of calling, especially long distance, overseas and during peak hours.
"The traditional model of time and distance-based pricing for voice calls will be eroded by VoIP, and as VoIP goes wireless this will present a challenge not only to fixed line operators, but to mobile operators as well."
Webb added that there are technical issues to be worked through before wireless internet calling becomes commercially viable.
Areas that remain to be addressed include quality of service, roaming across different wireless platforms, and the relatively short range of Wi-Fi signals.
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