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Voice over Wi-Fi nets big buzz at Interop

AirMagnet, WildPackets, Opsware and SpectraLink raise visibility for voice over Wi-Fi with new management tools and technology demonstrations.

Voice over Wi-Fi was a major buzzterm flying around Interop this week, whether it was vendors rolling out tools to manage it or demos of technology that will eventually let users take advantage of the technology.

Support for voice has become a compulsory checklist item among network management vendors. Despite the current slow rate of adoption, the worldwide Wi-Fi phone market is poised for growth. According to Infonetics Research, the market grew 76% from 2004 to 2005 to reach $102.5 million, but revenues are predicted to climb to nearly $1.9 billion by 2009. And end-user experience, such as dropped or failed calls, dead spots, poor voice quality, and choppy audio -- all manageable problems given the right tools -- are proving to be significant barriers to adoption.

AirMagnet Inc. added to its product lineup when it introduced the AirMagnet Vo-Fi Analyzer, a performance-analysis and problem-resolution tool specifically for voice over Wi-Fi. According to AirMagnet, voice over Wi-Fi is far more susceptible than regular data traffic to issues such as irregular packet delivery (jitter) and packet loss. Troublemakers in a voice over Wi-Fi environment typically include the handset, wired or wireless network, Quality of Service settings, and Call Manager. The Vo-Fi Analyzer detects voice problems at the source and determines their origin.

Meanwhile, AirMagnet competitor WildPackets Inc. rolled out WildPackets OmniSpectrum, which is a portable RF spectrum analyzer that runs on a standard Windows laptop PC and identifies the devices causing interference on a Wi-Fi network. The company's new OmniSpectrum extends the existing capabilities of its OmniAnalysis Platform by making the 802.11 physical layer visible and intelligible, so network engineers can see precisely which devices -- Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi -- are causing interference.

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For its part, configuration and change management company Opsware introduced Network Automation System (NAS) 6.0, which provides network management and compliance enforcement for large global networks and complex VoIP, wireless and VPN environments.

"With the massive growth of VoIP, organizations must have a stable and reliable network infrastructure to provide the high level of quality that VoIP demands," said Molly Stamos, Senior Product Manager at Opsware. "Companies are rapidly turning to network automation, including configuration and compliance management, to proactively ensure this critical level of quality is delivered."

Network management stalwart Network General has had support for VoIP in its Sniffer InfiniStream tool. "Our customers are telling us that there is no other more important application on their network than voice," said James Messer, technical marketing manager at Network General.

At Interop, Network General announced an upgrade to its Sniffer InfiniStream. Release 3.0 supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) and captures and records network data to examine network performance, observe traffic trends, isolate anomalies, perform deep packet analysis, and generate summary reports.

Support for 10 GbE gives retrospective analysis for converged, high-bandwidth voice, video and data networks, Messer said.

As for voice over Wi-Fi in action, VoIP handset maker SpectraLink Corp. took part in an Interop demonstration of VoIP integration into enterprise network and security systems. In the demo, the company's NetLink handsets operated over a standards-based Wi-Fi network tied to a Digium Asterisk open source IP PBX platform.

Giving some insight into the budding dual-mode device market, SpectraLink also demonstrated new technology that will provide the glue between the big cellular outdoors and the Wi-Fi network inside the corporate walls. SpectraLink demonstrated the ability to port its PBX integration technology to third-party devices, including dual-mode (Wi-Fi/cellular) handsets. SpectraLink's VoIP gateway technology provides business telephone features to on-site as well as off-site mobile employees while leveraging a company's existing phone system.

"We've come up with a technology demonstration of a software application that lets you make telephone calls over a Wi-Fi network from a cell phone," said Ben Guderian, vice president of marketing strategies and industry relations for SpectraLink. "The software ties back into a gateway that lets you talk to a standard PBX." This technology removes the need to buy a switch to make the Wi-Fi calls, he said. "Instead, we have a gateway that makes the switch so you can use a legacy PBX. Right now, there's no glue to tie that dual-mode phone into the traditional PBX when you step back into the office."

In other VoIP-related news, Siemens Communications announced HiPath BizIP, a new peer-to-peer technology that supports VoIP communications for smaller enterprise environments. With the Siemens HiPath BizIP solution, switching intelligence is handled by IP telephones linked via a LAN infrastructure, without the need for a separate PBX.

Siemens Communications also announced that it is moving forward in providing development-friendly, business-focused communication applications across a framework of service oriented architecture (SOA) standards and associated Web services interfaces. The Siemens Communications SOA initiative, which began in 2004, will ultimately encompass all key enterprise innovations and services, including past and future communication solutions.

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