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{mospagebreak toctitle= Introduction}

Introduction

Fall VON 2005 convened this week in the spacious, new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Although the move from its previous location at the Hynes was prompted by an increase to over 300 exhibitors, the show will need to about double in size before it outgrows at least the exhibition space in the new location.

Fall VON 2005 show floor (click to enlarge)

There didn't seem to be any "big news" coming out of the show, unless you count AOL's announcement that it is ditching its closed-network approach to VoIP and unbarring the gates to the great AOL-less unwashed come October 4. Otherwise things in VoIP-land continue to evolve, with no technology discontinuities in sight.

I usually avoid keynotes, but sat in on a few this time. Tom Evslin's (CEO of ITXC) talk offered some reflections on post-Katrina events and what the VoIP community could do better the next time. But he also detailed some of the ways that VoIP was instrumental in getting the relief efforts finally rolling. Vonage CEO Jeff Citron's presentation was less inspiring and focused mainly on a pitch for companies to get behind his Broadband Bill of Rights - an idea put forward at the Progress & Freedom Foundation's Aspen Summit in August.

VON-meister Jeff Pulver also touched on the BBBoR in his Tuesday keynote, along with more Katrina war stories, the announcement that Free World Dialup is now Fwd:networks (since potential partners get antsy about the word "free") and a plug for the new FWD White Service that allows VoIP service providers to get VoIP numbers listed in local white pages.

A keynote I took off my "to see" list was Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström's, once I saw the "By Videoconference" notation in the conference program. Not that I'm clairvoyant or anything, but I somehow sensed that the experience would be less than great, which is how things turned out.


Service Providers

An impressive group of VoIP service providers came to the party, including carriers such as AT&T, BroadWing, Global Crossing, Level 3 Communications, MCI, and XO Communications, and wholesale service providers such as deltathree, Net2Phone, IDT Telecom, and New Global Telecom.

VON's focus is primarily business-to-business, so consumer VoIP providers weren't that visible, except for BroadVoice, which had its van and "cheerleaders" parked prominently near the front of the show floor.I again found it odd that big-dawg Vonage was once again absent from the VON show floor, even though CEO Jeff Citron had a featured keynote. AT&T had a pod in its booth for its CallVantage service and 8X8 was pitching its Packet8 service from a small bay in Level 3 Communications' booth.

A short meeting with Packet8 revealed that they'll be starting a Beta of a CounterPath (formerly Xten) based softphone in November that they plan to offer in Q1 of next year. It hasn't been determined yet whether the softphone will be a separately-priced service. The other little factoid I picked up is that the new phone they started offering a few months ago with the Virtual Office product is actually an analog phone bundled with an ATA. The Packet8 rep said that this was due to the need to offer speakerphone capability - a feature she said that SIP phones generally don't yet do well.

Verizon was not to be found on the show floor, but I met with Michelle Swittenberg, Verizon's Executive Director of VoIP, offsite and got a demo of VoiceWing's web interface and a general business update on new products. I learned that VoiceWing is concentrating on the 2 to 4 line space, which includes home businesses and telecommuters, for whom they do not charge higher "business" rates. Ms. Swittenberg also said that Verizon will probably add a softphone to VoiceWing sometime next year (the holdup is E911 issues) and that they have no plans to offer a VoIP Wi-Fi phone anytime soon.


Access Devices

I found a few surprises in the area of ATAs and other VoIP adapters while trolling the show floor. The first was that Belkin had a large booth at the front of the hall where their line of ATAs as well as a few headsets were on display. I was surprised to find that the company has five ATAs supporting line configurations from dual FXS (F1PG200EN) up to 8 FXS and 4 FXO (F1PG802EN).

Belkin F1PG211EN ATA

Figure 1: Belkin F1PG211EN ATA
(click image to enlarge)

The Belkin person I spoke with said so far the company has signed up Quest (Figure 1) to use their products and will be the ATA vendor of choice for a November - December service launch by a "big nationwide ISP". Other tidbits are that ATAs with wireless are in the works for the end of this year and that the company has no plans to get into the SIP handset or terminal business because it is too competitive.

I spied a nice display of numerous VoIP products while walking by the Linksys corner of Cisco's stand, during the Monday night pre-show exhibits opening.

Linksys SPA941 SIP phone

Figure 2: Linksys SPA941 SIP phone
(click image to enlarge)

The SPA941 Business IP phone (Figure 2) comes with two lines, is upgradable to four and has a 10/100 Ethernet LAN port for data equipment attachment. It should be out in November priced around $150 for the two-line model.

The SPA941 is both attractive and seems more well-built than the typical SIP phone you get for $150, so I'm sure that Linksys will sell a bunch of them, maybe even eating into parent Cisco's sales of its higher-priced SIP phones.


Access Devices - more

Figures 3 and 4 show ATAs that appear to be the first fruits of its acquisition of Sipura earlier this year - essentially re-brands (with minor repackaging) of the equivalent Sipura products. I didn't get pricing or availability, but you can just check Sipura's site for product details.

Linksys SPA ATAs

Figure 3: Linksys SPA ATAs
(click image to enlarge)

You won't, however, find any info on the WBP54G Wi-Fi Dongle for VoIP seen in Figure 4. Paraphrasing the description I got from the Cisco rep, it's essentially an 802.11g-to-Ethernet adapter / bridge (think WET54G) in a cute little package. It's aimed at applications where you want to put a VoIP adapter, but don't have CAT5 run.

More Linksys VoIP

Figure 4: More Linksys VoIP
(click image to enlarge)

The most interesting find, however, was the SPA9000 Compact IP Key System (Figure 5) that was displayed next to an SPA941. I didn't have a chance to grab anyone to find out more details that night, but when I returned the next day to get a run down of all the products, the SPA9000 had vanished.

The Linksys SPA9000, aka Bigfoot

Figure 5: The Linksys SPA9000, aka Bigfoot
(click image to enlarge)

I asked a few Cisco folks about it, but it seemed like I was asking about Bigfoot. So all I can say is that I have proof that it exists and that it might be the first glimpse of the small business product hardware that Vonage CTO Louis Mamakos alluded to in our discussion at last year's fall VON.

Other vendors showing ATAs included ZyXEL, Clipcomm, ATCOM, and Grandstream. A quick stop at Grandstream didn't turn up any new products announced at this show, but instead the promise of new stuff coming next month. Grandstream's Handy Tone line now includes two non-routing and three NAT routing versions with various combinations of FXS, FXO and PSTN pass-through ports.

Clipcomm was showing its CG series of "VoIP gateways", along with its CP series of IP phones, which I'll touch on in the next section.


Phones

On my "to do" list for the show was to see if I could find any new VoWLAN phones and I managed to turn up a few, including SIP, Skype and dual-mode products. First up is news from UTStarcom, maker of the F1000 phone that Vonage will be rolling out in October.

Brian Caskey, UTStarcom's VP of International Marketing gave a similar presentation during two VON sessions that contained three product introductions. Figure 6 shows the slide confirming the introduction of an 802.11g version of the F1000 (which we broke the news on earlier this month) - the F1000g - in December.

UTStarcom F3000 Wi-Fi SIP "flip" phone and F1000g intro

Figure 6: UTStarcom F3000 Wi-Fi SIP "flip" phone and F1000g intro
(click image to enlarge)

Before that, however, the slide also announces the F3000 WiFi SIP phone launching in October. This will have both a color screen and a clamshell or "flip phone" form-factor, but no word on whether it will be 802.11g or support at least WPA security. I'm not sure how solid these dates are, however, since neither phone was publically available at UTStarcom's booth, nor is the F3000 listed in the FCC ID database yet.

UTStarcom GF200 Dual-mode handset

Figure 7: UTStarcom GF200 Dual-mode handset
(click image to enlarge)

Figure 7 shows that UTStarcom will also be fielding the GF200, a GSM / Wi-Fi dual-mode handset, sometime in Q4 this year. Again, no details on the Wi-Fi portion or whether it will even be a true SIP handset. The reason for the reluctance to assume that the GF200 is SIP-based comes from my visit with Motorola. Moto had three working models of its CN 620 Dual Mode Handset, (Figure 8) which was announced earlier this year.

Motorola CN 620 GSM / Wi-Fi semi-SIP phone

Figure 8: Motorola CN 620 GSM / Wi-Fi semi-SIP phone
(click image to enlarge)

The phone is currently part of an "enterprise" package bundled with an Avaya VoIP system and Cingular GSM service and not available for individual sale. After digging through the product information and not finding any reference to SIP, a return trip to the Moto booth revealed that the phone is not SIP compliant, instead using "simplified SIP". But the booth rep said that Moto will have both clamshell and "candy bar" dual-mode phones that are SIP compliant out before the end of 2005. He also said that CDMA versions of the CN 620 are currently in trials.


Phones &#150 more

I found two more VoWLAN phones at Giant Wireless and Clipcomm's booths. Giant is a Hong Kong-based OEM / ODM for Motorola, SBC, Cobra and other "name brand" companies. Giant's CP 100 (Figure 9) is 802.11b, has a color screen, and I assume it's WEP-only. Pricing hasn't been set yet, but it's due out in "Q2 2006".

Giant CP 100Wi-Fi Clamshell phone

Figure 9: Giant CP 100 Wi-Fi Clamshell phone
(click image to enlarge)

Clipcomm is also in the Wi-Fi VoIP handset game with its CWP-100 (Figure 10). It looks nicely made with a candy bar form-factor, and has a monochrome screen and 802.11b radio supporting 64 / 128 bit WEP. I didn't get price or availability details, but I got the impression it will be out soon.

Clipcomm CWP-100

Figure 10: Clipcomm CWP-100

Skype Phones

In Skype phone news, both Giant and RTX Telecom have some products in the works. Giant is also the manufacturer of the Olympia Skype DUALPhone, which was designed by RTX Telecom. Giant was showing a number of interesting products including its updated version of the Skype DUALphone, the AP 1000 (Figure 11).

Giant AP 1000 Skype phone

Figure 11: Giant AP 1000 Skype phone
(click image to enlarge)

Figure 11 shows three packaging variants (even one with a GE logo!) of what is essentially the Skype DUALphone with a color LCD screen and some other product tweaks. Like the existing DUALphone, it is DECT-based, so won't conflict with 2.4GHz equipment. It's due out in Q1 2006 at "about" the same price point as the current model, which will put it in the $140 range.

Giant was also showing a number of VoIP cordless phones operating in the 1.8, 1.9, 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands. They also had a Skype Compatible USB dongle that is a cordless Skype earpiece-type headset using DECT instead of Bluetooth to provide untethered operation. No pricing or availability (other than sometime in 2006) on that one.

Finally, a stop at RTX Telecom's small booth got me a quick demo of the PORT@Lphone (Figure 12 and 13).

RTX Telecom Port@L phone
Figure 12: RTX Telecom PORT@L phone
(click image to enlarge)
RTX Telecom Port@L phone closeup
Figure 13: RTX Telecom Port@Lphone closeup
(click image to enlarge)

This Port@Lphone consists of a SIP gateway and an "enhanced" DECT cordless handset, complete with color screen. As you can see from the shot of the demo handset in Figure 13, the system is intended to not only provide VoIP service, but access to web-based content, too. While the model I saw had a SIP 2.0 stack in it, a version with Skype embedded isn't too hard to imagine and just might surface sometime next year.

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