Who Wants a Dual-Mode Phone?

By James Alan Miller

April 22, 2004

A new report predicts that the enterprise will be the catalyst that drives adoption of handsets with both cellular and Wi-Fi over the next few years.

As voice over IP matures, the question of how to marry 3G cellular and Wi-Fi (802.11b) wireless networking into a a single mobile handset as well as combine these two services into a single wireless plan or package becomes more timely and relevant.

Major handset vendors, Nokia and Motorola, have already begun to answer some of these concerns from the hardware side with the recent announcements of Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones, while T-Mobile has given an indication of what the future might be like in terms of an integrated service plan. T-Mobile's first integrated plan should be available this Spring, while dual-mode handsets that support cellular and Wi-Fi from Nokia nd Motorola won't be available till later this year.

Nevertheless, in a new report, ABI Research predicts that dual-mode handsets or smartphones should take a significant thought not spectacular chunk of the mobile phone market over the next few years.

According to the research firm, by 2009, there will be over 50 million of these devices in circulation, accounting for 7 percent of all handsets shipped that year. ABI Research views enterprise users and the need to access data-intensive applications as the driving force in the adoption of dual-mode handsets in the near term.

These types of handsets mean, for example, that users will be able to leverage wireless access points to get on the Internet, a corporate intranet and enterprise, and download email. These access points are becoming increasingly common, as you can find them in airports, book stores, cafes, and many other places. 802.11b is much faster than the data part of GSM and CDMA wireless technologies supported by mobile carriers and it won't eat into a user's data plan, which often charge by the megabyte.

Wi-Fi also enables VoIP, which allows users to bypass standard phone lines by using the Internet as the means to make phone calls, potentially saving users and companies, in particular, a lot of money. So employees may be able to use a dual-mode handset as their standard phone in the office and as there cell phone when out of the office.

Ease of use, the convenience of mobility, and access to information stored on cell phones has made it more practical for office users to continue to use their cell phones versus switching to the enterprise telephone system when at the office. But with near 30% of cell phones being purchased by commercial concerns, enterprises will likely be prime target buyers for voice over Wi-Fi cell phones.

"Many enterprises now have established Wi-Fi networks and integrating voice-over-Wi-Fi functionality is a natural progression," says Phil Solis, Senior Wi-Fi Analyst at ABI Research, "As Wi-Fi networks proliferate, it only makes sense to give users the ability to switch from the cellular carrier's network to the enterprise Wi-Fi network."

Manufacturers are also working on the issues of integrating the Wi-Fi network with the company PBX, a requirement for voice over Wi-Fi enabled handsets to remain useful as a voice device outside the enterprise Wi-Fi data network.

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