Extreme web surfers have know the joy of being untethered for some time now, with the continued maturity of the 802.11 family of standards and the proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots. But VoIP telephony ““ an absolute must for extreme phone users ““ remains largely a tethered experience. It’s hard to go mobile with VoIP today, unless you want to run a softphone or Voice over IM client on a laptop that connects to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Still, this type of wireless VoIP experience can’t match the convenience or utility of cellular telephone service. But that appears to be changing.
VoIP companies are starting to work closely with commercial hot-spot providers to roll out true wireless VoIP service (technically called VoWiFi ““ Voice over Wireless Fidelity). VoIP phone company Vonage has even announced plans for a portable phone that will let customers use their Vonage service when connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot. Not surprisingly, competing interests will come together as VoWiFi service matures, and governments will likely have a role in determining the outcome.
Cellular providers will no doubt point to tough government regulations requiring them to provide locational information for cellular users. Will VoWiFi providers have to comply with the same or similar requirements?
It also remains to be seen how advances in wireless devices themselves will impact the competing interests between cellular providers and VoIP companies. Since hot spots can provide wireless connectivity only within a limited range (typically about 90 feet), to be truly useful devices will probably need to jump back and forth between Wi-Fi access points and cellular access points. This is probably true even within big metro locations that are rolling out large Wi-Fi service areas (e.g., the City of Philadelphia). It seems likely that some level of cooperation from cellular providers will be needed to make this work ““ will this cooperative spirit develop alone, or will government regulators enter the fray?
It’s too soon to tell, but if you live near an area where a large Wi-Fi rollout is scheduled to take place (like I do) and you fancy yourself an extreme phoner (like I kindasorta do), then you may need to have a go at this. If I have a chance to check this out I’ll post a review here in the weeks ahead.