Mobile Phones Move Toward Combined Calling Capabilities

Users: Dual-mode devices could cut airtime costs

ATLANTA -- At last week's CTIA Wireless 2004 conference, technology vendors held out the promise of all-in-one mobile devices that combine the functions of cordless phones, cellular handsets and IP telephones.

Corporate users said the combined products could cut costs and reduce the need for mobile workers to carry multiple devices to support different modes of mobile voice communications.

William Greskovich, vice president of operations and CIO at St. Agnes HealthCare in Baltimore, said dual-mode phones supporting cellular communications and voice-over-IP calls made via wireless LANs would make it easier for his staff to support visiting doctors who have practices at St. Agnes and want to use the hospital's WLAN for making calls.

Shawn Wilde, director of worldwide operations at Trimble Navigation Ltd., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based maker of Global Positioning System receivers, has already deployed 40 wireless VoIP phones from Cisco Systems Inc. But Wilde said he's so intrigued by the potential utility of dual-mode phones that he doesn't plan to buy any more pure VoIP devices until the combined models hit the market and he evaluates them.

Some dual-mode devices are already available but have limitations. Nokia Corp. last month introduced a dual-band cell phone that can function as an IP phone when it senses a WLAN, although it needs to connect to a PC-based softphone client to do so.

Denmark-based RTX Telecom A/S last week debuted a cordless phone that can make calls through the public switched telephone network or link to softphone clients for wireless VoIP calls.

Devices that don't require the use of softphone technology are starting to appear on the horizon. At the chip level, Texas Instruments Inc. introduced a low-power Wi-Fi chip set for dual-mode phones and said it's working with Motorola Inc. to develop combined cellular/VoIP products.

The new chip set uses 50% less power than an earlier version and supports both data and VoIP operations, according to a TI spokeswoman. She said Motorola expects to ship a phone based on TI's first dual-mode chip set this year and will add a device built around the new one in 2005.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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