GSM + WLAN VoIP phones now on the market

It might be CTIA time in the U.S. but here in Germany, the IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung) has also brought a couple of very interesting news. Previously, I thought that it would probably be high end phones such as the Nokia N80 and free VoIP (SIP) providers who would be the first to introduce fixed/mobile convergence cellular / WLAN phones. Instead, two carriers, the German Telecom (T-COM) and Arcor, the fixed line branch of Vodafone in Germany, have launched GSM/VoIP phones and services at the fair. Looks like fixed/mobile convergence is starting to happen.

Second surprise: Instead of using high end and expensive smart phones, the services were launched with low end, no-name GSM phones with only rudimentary functionality beyond GSM and WLAN. Here’s a link to an article on the topic (sorry, in German only).

While at home, the phones can use the Wireless LAN and DSL connection to the Internet. When roaming outside the reach of the WLAN hotspot the phones act as a standard GSM phone. I’d love to get my hands on them as the article above does not mention important technical details like for example if the phones can be reached via WLAN and GSM at the same time. Also, no information on standby and talk times are given.

Interesting possibilities will open up once alternative SIP providers see the opportunity: Only a single phone for home and away use and ‘free’ calls (let’s forget the fee for the DSL connection for a moment…) to friends who use the same SIP provider as long as I am close to a WLAN hotspot.

It looks like fixed/mobile convergence phones could become the playground for operators to develop their expertise for future VoIP services. This will make it easier for them to introduce wireless VoIP phones in the future which do not only use VoIP over WLAN access points but also over 3G and 4G wireless networks. For background information on this topic take a look here for SIP over wireless and here for IMS over wireless.

Finally, I think the UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) guys will probably not be very happy about this development. While the convergence phones presented here use WLAN for true VoIP over SIP, UMA phones use WLAN access points to emulate a cellular network base station. Why make it some complicated when pure SIP over WLAN also works fine? Surely worth a thought. For those of you not familiar with UMA technology, here’s a short overview.

It happened faster than I thought. So, Nokia, were is that SIP client for WLAN N-series phones? (Note: There’s already a SIP client built into E-series phones such as the E61. Take a look here)

Further background information:

  • This link leads to a PDF document which explains (again in German) how to configure the WLAN and SIP settings for one of the phones.
  • A review of the T-Com phone (sorry, in German).