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March 1, 2005

Voice over Wi-Fi Hits NYC

By Nancy Gohring

TowerStream, a wireless ISP in the U.S., plans to launch a beta service in New York City that will allow mobile voice over IP over Wi-Fi (the press release isn’t available online yet): The beta follows a trial that TowerStream completed in Rhode Island. The hotspots will be backhauled using TowerStream’s existing broadband wireless network and users can move from the coverage of one access point to the next without the call dropping.

A Mobile Pipeline story reports that TowerStream will initially deploy 10 hotspots. In order to support the mobility aspect which is the interesting part of this trial, those hotspots will have to be clustered pretty closely together, meaning that customers won’t have far to roam.

I’m skeptical of where TowerStream is going with this. I believe that it’s possible to support seamless handoffs between hotspots, but it just sounds like such a bear to enable this kind of capability over Wi-Fi, especially considering the relatively small range of a single access point.

An executive is quoted in the press release thus: “Using advanced handsets, consumers will soon have access to high-speed data capabilities and enhanced voice features never seen on a mobile phone before.” I wonder what kinds of fantastic and superior applications will be developed for such an offering, given that countless companies across the globe have been working on cellular data offerings for years now. It would also take a company like TowerStream quite a long time to build a comprehensive network remotely comparable in coverage to any cell phone operator in any given city, so it’s unclear how useful such capabilities might be.

While it’s interesting to be able to demonstrate this type of offering, I think that TowerStream is taking an unusual approach to it. The exercise sounds to me a bit like TowerStream thumping its chest in an effort to intimidate cellular operators in the midst of ongoing debates comparing WiMax to HSDPA or other technologies the cellular operators are deploying. It may have been better to launch the trial and get people using it as a demonstration that mobile can be accommodated in Wi-Fi and ultimately WiMax as a taste of what’s to come without making such sweeping statements.

Posted by nancyg at March 1, 2005 5:05 PM

Categories: Voice

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