Cisco, Spectralink Announce New Wi-Fi Phones

By Eric Griffith

April 29, 2003

UPDATE:The world of 802.11-based Voice over IP got a shot in the arm today as market leader Spectralink announced new products, plus NEC and Cisco decide to enter the Wi-Fi telephony field.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones that run over you existing LAN are nothing new, and neither are their wireless brethren that carry voice traffic over the 802.11 connections in the office. But despite wireless VoIP's success in some vertical markets, it hasn't exactly gone mainstream. But that might change as of this week.

Seeing the success that Spectralink of Boulder, Colo. has been enjoying in those verticals, networking powerhouse Cisco Systems made official today its entry into the wireless IP phone market. At the same time, the company announced several enhancements to its current wired VoIP software and hardware platform, including new deskset units.

Not to be outdone, Spectralink -- which was the Wi-Fi phone market leader in 2002 with over 70% of the $14.5 million market, according to Synergy Research -- has also unveiled a line of new phones.

Cisco's Wireless IP Phone 7920 is the company's first 802.11-based VoIP model. Like most wireless IP handsets, it resembles a cellular phone with an LCD screen on the front, but adds things any business phone needs, such as a "hold" button, conference calling, and more. The company also announced two new desktop phones that run over the LAN; all work specifically with the Cisco CallManager software, but the 7920 requires a network using Cisco Aironet line of access points to get a connection. The 7920 will cost $595 and should be out in June.

Obviously this could be a boon to the many Cisco-specific networks out there, but the IP Phone 7920 requires going with a Cisco-only system. That's where Spectralink believes it shines, since its NetLink phones tie into call systems from everyone from Cisco to Nortel to Avaya and many types of PBX systems.

NEC America announced it is entering a private label agreement with Spectralink to license the e340 and i640 but using NEC's proprietary IP protocol. Spectralink also has a private label deal with Avaya, who resells NetLink phones with Avaya branding.

Ben Guderian, director of marketing at Spectralink, says that Cisco's entry in this market will create the buzz the industry needs, but he's confident that his company's phones win out in flexibility, durability, and experience.

"This is our third generation, Cisco's first," says Guderian. "Our first NetLinks were out four years ago, before there were suffixes to 802.11."

The third generation NetLink phones announced today include the $599 I640 Wireless Telephone handset, a unit which continues to target the vertical markets Spectralink has had such success with, and the e340 Wireless Telephone, a less expensive entry-level product they plan to sell a starting price of $399.

"Sub-$400 means businesses can take a serious look at this," says Guderian.

Spectralink allo announced a deskset phone that, while tied to the desk, will still operate over 802.11 connections. It will come as a standalone with integrated Wi-Fi for $499, or as a docking station for a NetLink wireless handset for $299. The deskset won't ship until the end of the year.

Other players in the wireless VoIP world include Symbol Technologies of Holtsville, New York --until now they were Spectralink's main competition; Vocera Communications of Cupertino, Calif. which sells a "Star Trek"-esque badge used with one touch and voice commands to start a voice chat with others on the network; and Telesym, which converts PocketPC-based PDAs and Windows-based laptops with Wi-Fi into wireless phones.

802.11 Planet Conference Wondering what the future holds for Wi-Fi voice products? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, June 25 - 27, 2003 at the World Trade Center Boston in Boston, MA. One of our panels will tell you about Some Cutting-Edge Voice Products for WLAN.

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