VoWLAN Poised for Huge Growth

Voice over Wireless LAN (VoWLAN) is set to grow this year thanks in part to SIP and 802.11e [the IEEE standard for multimedia traffic prioritization], according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Frost & Sullivan has forecast that the European VoWLAN market will grow at a strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 159.2 percent between 2005 and 2010.

In terms of the global market for VoWLAN, North America has more than 83 percent of the market share in terms of unit shipments. “However, quite recently Meru Networks had sealed the world’s largest fixed mobile convergence deal linking approximately 10,000 staff at fifty offices of Osaka Gas in Japan,” Frost and Sullivan Senior Research Analyst Luke Thomas commented. “The converged handset would make mobile calls on the Japanese FOMA system and in-building calls using SIP. So the market traction for VoWLAN would still exist in North America but Europe and Asia-Pacific would soon catch up once the 802.11e and 802.11n are standardized.”

Frost & Sullivan sees the 802.11e Quality of Service standard, which gives voice packets priority over data applications, as being a key factor for VoWLAN deployment. The 802.11e specification is expected to be ratified in the final quarter of 2005.

Thomas explained that there are two flavors to the 802.11e standard: the Wi-Fi Multimedia Extensions (WME) and Wi-Fi Scheduled Multimedia (WSM). The WME enables access points to distinguish between voice and data traffic, thus allowing the network to give priority to voice over data. The WSM is a more complicated feat to achieve as it verifies whether the WLAN has enough capacity to support voice before it’s allowed into the converged network. According to Thomas, many firms now support Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM), a subset of 802.11e, to provide QoS for voice before the 802.11e gets final ratification.

“Looking at what has happened with the evolution of 802.11i [IEEE 802.11 security extensions], not many have adapted to WPA2 [Wi-Fi Alliance security initiative] due to the high cost and complexity involved, with some actually content with the WPA security level,” Thomas told VoIPplanet.com. “As most of the equipment shipped today support WMM, a dramatic upgradation of current systems to the ratified 802.11e would not be seen within the next couple of years.” (In other words, the full, iron-clad standard may not be necessary for the operational needs of many adopters.)

UMA vs. the MobileIGNITE Alliance
Frost and Sullivan also sees the emergence of the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) group as a driver for VoWLAN growth in the short term. The UMA is a group of 14 technology vendors, phone manufacturers, and telecom companies that allow for calls to be made both in Wi-Fi hotspots and over mobile wireless networks, using dual-mode phones. The UMA is however being challenged by the MobileIGNITE Alliance, which is a SIP-based approach to VoWLAN. Frost and Sullivan believes MobileIGNITE will ultimately win out.

Thomas explained that there is definitely a standards war here, as the UMA technology more or less charges end users as a mobile call thereby providing no real cost benefit for the end user. It is more of a legacy-based solution for the carriers in his view.

“It is questionable if a ‘converged’ end-user would really want seamless voice roaming between two different technologies, as they would be unable to validate if the call they have made was under the Wi-Fi network or the cellular network until they see the huge bill at the end of the month,” Thomas said. “Hence as the control of the call is under the mobile carrier’s network, converged service solutions would more or less be meaningless if the carriers do not provide cost-effective solutions to the end-user.”

Thomas argued that, on the other hand, the MobileIGNITE alliance uses SIP and basically makes the most of cheaper routing as it connects calls via IP and would not divert the traffic onto the carrier’s network as in the case of UMA. “This, as a result, would provide a true cost-effective solution for the end-user,” Thomas said.

The big winner in VoWLAN
The question of which particular vendor(s) will be the big winner(s) in VoWLAN depends on the technology being deployed according to Thomas.

Fixed carriers are providing customers with a triple play solution i.e. voice, video and broadband data and a single bill bundled solution that have widespread appeal.

“Considering the fixed operator’s expertise building PBXs, the market for VoWLAN on a SIP-based solution is more favorable for the fixed telecoms as they understand IP much more than the mobile carriers,” Thomas said. “Nevertheless, as history has shown, the availability of the converged handset would define who the true winner is and the traction that UMA is gaining as of today would entitle the mobile carriers in a more favorable position to take advantage of VoWLAN by entering into a market in which they have failed to succeed earlier.”

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