NTT DoCoMo has unveiled its first handset to operate over its third-generation mobile network while also providing voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls over wireless internet networks.
The N900iL will go on sale in Japan later this year and will be aimed at corporations for use by their employees, said Hitoshi Yasuda, a senior director of NTT DoCoMo's product business department.
The handset is based on a NEC mobile phone, the N900i, which is currently being sold for NTT DoCoMo's 3G service. With the exception of the IP phone specific features, the phone is almost identical to the N900iL.
The addition of a wireless Lan chipset has added around 5 grams to the handset's weight and will also have an impact on the price. Yasuda expects the new phone to cost between ¥40,000 and ¥50,000 (£199 and £249) due to additional hardware and software development costs.
When used inside offices, the N900iL has the ability to act as an internal telephone for placing and receiving calls made over the company's private exchange. The handset can also be used as a conventional mobile phone whenever it is in range of a network signal.
In addition to simple voice calls, the telephone provides some extra features when used in a corporate environment, such as its ability to access and browse websites on the company's intranet through the built-in browser.
However, the phone will initially support only pages written in Compact HTML, which is the same markup language used by NTT DoCoMo's I-mode wireless internet service.
The phone also provides an instant messaging service between users and features a buddy list-like function that can be used to quickly find out if certain people are inside or outside the office and, when in the office, whether they are in meetings, are available to take calls or busy.
Users will not be able to use the wireless IP phone features outside of the office network.
By allowing the N900iL to work on any wireless hotspot, NTT DoCoMo could make the phone more useful for users who would be able to make free calls within the company and send instant message whenever they are within range of a hotspot.
Initially, the system will require NEC's Univerge SV7000 telephony server. NEC announced a solution based on this product and the handsets.
With the increasing popularity of IP telephone systems in companies, many handset makers are now looking at wireless IP phones.
Last week, Fujitsu showed a prototype of such a handset that supports wireless IP networks and also accepts plug-in cards to extend support to mobile networks. The phone has a Compact Flash card socket into which mobile telephone cards can be inserted thus allowing the phone to be used on both wireless Lan and public mobile networks.
It was developed by Fujitsu with Net-2Com, a venture company started from Fujitsu in 2000. The two companies did not provide an estimated launch date.
Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service