Cisco Systems is offering a mobile phone for use with its IP communications systems and voice-over-IP technology.
The Cisco Wireless IP Phone 7920 connects to an organisation's IP network through wireless access points using the common 802.11b wireless communications protocol and will target organisations with mobile workforces.
The 7920 can communicate over any standard 802.11b network, but the key to its delivering good voice quality is the intelligence Cisco has built into its own Wlan equipment, said Troy Trenchard, director of product marketing Cisco's IP commuinications business unit.
While VoIP networks have been gaining in popularity among organisations looking to simplify voice and data management, applications are limited for VoIP handsets that rely on Wlans.
Cisco's announcement of the 7920 emphasised its utility in environments "with reliable access to Cisco IP Communications systems" such as warehouses and corporate campuses of companies with global operations.
However, the wireless IP phones that have come to market so far cannot communicate with cellular phone networks and do not operate beyond the reach of corporate Wlans, making them a tough sell for professionals who want one phone that can be used within the office and when traveling.
Cisco has been talking to companies to gauge the market for a combined Wlan and cell phone, Trenchard said. Many issues need to be worked out in terms of how the phone would work and how mobile operators would build services for it.
The next likely step for a WLAN phone would be the capability to use it in public wireless hot spots. That probably would require a virtual private network client on the phone, Trenchard said.
While Cisco was an early innovator in the area of IP telephony, it will face increasing competition from traditional PBX companies. Competitors such as Alcatel, Mitel, Avaya and Nortel now have IP telephony products.
Meanwhile SpectraLink announced two mobile wireless handsets: the NetLink e340 and i640 Wireless Telephones.
Like the Cisco 7920, the SpectraLink phones use the 802.11b protocol to connect to Wlans and access VoIP networks or circuit-switched PBX interfaces.
Mobile computing device maker Symbol Technologies has sold a number of wireless handsets under its NetVision brand since 1999, including a wireless handset and a combination barcode scanner and handset.
The Symbol phones interoperate with other telephony gateways including those by Mitel and Nortel, in addition to Cisco.