TORONTO – The convergence of voice and data on Internet Protocol networks will be a major driving force behind wireless local-area network adoption in the near future, speakers at an industry conference said this week.

Wireless IP phones aren’t commonplace now, but this will soon change, predicted

Craig Mathias, principal of Boston-based consulting firm Farpoint Group.

“”The wired phone we have on our desktop today is doomed,”” Mathias said. “”In 10 years, we won’t have them anymore.””

Companies are taking a good hard look at voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) because workers often call each other on their cell phones when they’re in building and away from their desks, said Joel Vincent, vice-president of product marketing for Meru Networks Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based wireless LAN equipment manufacturer.

Vincent spoke at a panel discussion Thursday titled VoWLAN: In Search of New Protocols at Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo.

Mathias, who spoke at an earlier panel, predicted VoIP will be the “”killer application”” for networks using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ 802.11a standard.

802.11a is more suitable for VoWLAN than 802.11b, because the former operates in the 5 GHZ spectrum, which is less prone to interference than the 2.4 GHz frequency range. It also allows transfer speeds of up to 54 Mbps. By contrast, the IEEE 802.11b standard provides transfer rates of only 11 Mbps. Although 802.11g provides 54 Mbps, it also operates at 2.4 GHz in order to allow devices to work with 802.11b devices.

Interference with other devices in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, such as microwave ovens, is a major issue for WLANs, said Andris Dindzans, director of product management for Pleasonton, Calif.-based Trapeze Networks, which makes wireless LAN management software.

“”Understanding what’s going on in the air is critical, and can be a barrier to companies,”” he said.

Dindzans, along with Mathias, spoke at a panel titled Managing WLANs: The Problems and the Paybacks.

The difficulty of managing wireless LANs is a major barrier to entry, Mathias said, adding security is not as big of a problem now that technologies like WiFi Protected Access (WPA) are widely available.

Although many surveys show the No. 1 reason companies do not install wireless LANs is security concerns, this is “”just an excuse,”” Mathias said.

“”What they’re really saying is, ‘I don’t have time to think about it,'”” he said. “”I think security is a red herring today . . . If you want to build a secure wireless LAN, you can.””

Last year, he said, eight per cent of enterprises were using wireless LANs in mission-critical applications, and this year, that figure will rise to 15 per cent.

In order to help users install voice over wireless LAN, carriers will need to offer dual-mode handsets, that work on both cellular networks and internal 802.11-based systems, he added.

But roaming from one 802.11 access point to another within the LAN is a major issue for VoWLAN, said Chris Thorson, senior product manager of SpectraLink Corp.

When a user moves from one location to another, one wireless access point may hand off the connection to another access point, and this is going to cause delay, partly because of the time it takes to authenticate, he said.

Boulder, Colo.-based SpectraLink manufactures wireless phones using both its own proprietary standard, and 802.11.

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