Wi-Fi Alliance takes on wireless IP telephony

The Wi-Fi Alliance wants to make voice a part of WiFi networks, and has introduced a program to certify products, it announced on Monday.

The Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Voice-Personal stamp of approval means a product is capable of making or handling good-quality voice calls in the home or a small office environment, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. Access points, wireless routers, handsets (which are growing at a steady rate) and laptops can all be tested and certified.

The push is a way for Wi-Fi Alliance to keep femtocells and upcoming technologies such as WiMax, HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) and LTE (Long Term Evolution) -- which lately have overshadowed Wi-Fi -- out of the home, according to Richard Webb, directing analyst at Infonetics. Webb thinks Wi-Fi, helped by a low cost and a large installed base, will be able to stay dominant.

"Wi-Fi performance has been continually improved, and this is another step along that road," said Webb.

In a departure from interoperability testing, which has always been Wi-Fi Alliance's bread and butter, it instead looks at performance. To be certified, products have to deliver packet loss of less than 1 percent with no burst losses, as well as latency and maximum jitter of less than 50 milliseconds, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The first round of certified products include Intel's PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection (an embedded 802.11a, b and g PCIe Mini Card), Cisco Systems' Aironet 1250 and 1200 Series Access Points, and Meru's access point AP200.

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Voice-Personal is only an option for vendors, so users will need to double check a special Wi-Fi product database to see whether a particular product has passed the testing.

Wi-Fi Alliance also has plans to introduce a program for enterprise environments, called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Voice-Enterprise, early next year. It will be based on the Voice-Personal Program, and add support for bandwidth management, hand-offs between access points, enterprise-class security, network management and other features that are necessary in larger environments, according to Wi-Fi Alliance.

Enterprise adoption of IP (Internet Protocol) telephony over WLANs is growing, and vendors have put a lot of effort to improve performance, but many companies are still reticent about putting voice on it, according to Webb.

"Certification gives it a stamp of approval," he said.

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