RealTime IT News

Microsoft Powering Wi-Fi VoIP Phones

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Hardware and software players are positioning themselves to combine two of the Internet's success stories -- Wi-Fi and VoIP -- onto one hardware platform.

Literally every OEM is working on some type of WLAN phone, according to IDC. A 2003 report from the analyst firm shows that VoIP endpoints have 10 percent market share of the total handset market and that soft phones are the fastest growing category.

But the major driver behind the scenes appears to be Microsoft, which revealed development deals this week with NEC Infrontia and Intel as well as broadband phone provider Vonage.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is touting its windows CE OS as a platform that could potentially turn every IP device into a phone. Earlier this week, the company released a beta of version 5.0 of its Windows CE operating system.

"Our role in this is as an enabler. We are a catalyst for VoIP with Windows CE, our Windows Live Communication Server and presence solutions with network equipment providers," said Microsoft Embedded Devices Group Director Scott Horn to attendees at the Spring 2004 Voice on the Net (VON) Trade Show & Expo here. In all, Microsoft announced 22 additional voice partners including NEC, Vonage, LG Electronics, Reddline Systems, and Atrium C&I Co.

The NEC partnership means the Japanese electronics manufacturer will offer its wireless IP phones running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system on a new Intel XScale processor code named Bulverde. The IP phones are expected to let enterprise customers tap into local wireless local area networks (WLAN). NEC Infrontia said it has been cooperating with Microsoft for two years to deliver IT communication systems and terminals across various markets and the phones are expected to work with a corporation's existing IT infrastructure.

Intel spokesperson Mark Miller said its processor will only power the data processing and not for connecting to hotspots.

"The device uses a separate digital signal baseband to get to the network, Miller told internetnews.com. "Our combination networking and processing chip is code-named 'Hermone' and was recently announced at the 3G conference in Cannes. The cell phone chip combines data processing with access to wideband CDMA networks.

NEC said the combination of Wi-Fi and VoIP on a device will let subscribers take advantage of Microsoft's various platforms such as instant messaging, alerts and multimedia services. No release date was given for the new devices.

Microsoft has also been hard at work revising its middleware technologies in Windows CE that it developed for the telecom stack and put it in the source form. The company is providing more than 2 million lines of source code to help developers bring VoIP products to market faster.

"Across the board, customers ask 'help me to be more efficient'," John Starkweather, group product manager for Microsoft's Windows embedded group told internetnews.com. "We're close to desktop parity. We've made improvements to the tool set and we also are shipping in the product a new thing for us. Beyond the 250 sample drivers, we now have 50 production quality drivers. They're optimized for the major chip we support. We've got 50 drivers ready to go. There's a wide range of devices on CE, we couldn't possibly do the millions of potentials, but we did the major ones in the major categories."

And beyond the traditional PC, PDA and smartphone, Horn said, Microsoft is also looking at traditional set top boxes and media gateways becoming opportunities for VoIP.

Overall, Microsoft said its deals with NEC and Vonage are typical of the three types of partners it is approaching. The first is the OEM/ODM partner, which Microsoft says are VoIP horizontals that can play on any device. Companies under this category include traditional partners like Intel as well as this year's additions like LG Electronics, NEC, and Redline. Then there are system integrators such as Data Craft, which produces an array of applications for telephony systems. And the third sector Microsoft is approaching is service operators.

Starkweather said Vonage plans on launching its Wi-Fi/VoIP phones later this year. He also added that the Edison, N.J.-based broadband phone provider also worked with Microsoft to tune its device to the latest versions of Windows CE.