VON Canada panel describes dual-mode phone dilemma

TORONTO – Employees often use their cellular phones on the job – racking uplarge bills for air time – but many are reluctant to use Wi-Fi phones because of their short battery life and higher cost, according to speakers at Voice on the Net Canada, an industry conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Ronald Gruia, program leader for emerging communications at market research firm Frost & Sullivan Canada, said portable phones that use the IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi protocol use more battery juice than conventional cell phones because they constantly communicate with the nearest Wi-Fi access point.

As a result, Gruia said, mobile phone equipment manufacturers are finding it difficult to make a Wi-Fi phone with a battery life that will be long enough to satisfy road warriors who are used to cell phones with four-hour battery lives.

Gruia, who moderated a panel discussion yesterday titled Mobility Disruption: 3G and Wi-Fi, said dual-mode handsets that work on both cellular and Wi-Fi networks often cost $400 to $500 dollars, putting them out of the price range of many business users.

Despite the high cost and short battery lives, many companies are in the market for this type of dual-mode device, said Philip Richards, director of product marketing for Toronto-based fixed mobile convergence vendor Newstep Networks Inc.

“Increasingly, we see people picking up their cell phones in the home, picking up the mobile phone in the office when they have a perfectly good fixed line that they could use,” Richards said during the panel discussion.

Only 14 per cent of cell phone calls are made while the users are actually mobile, while the remainder are made from fixed locations, said Ray Vilis, vice-president of product management at Gatineau, Que.-based Versatel Networks Inc.

Users who make calls from an internal Wi-Fi network would not have to pay air time charges to a cellular provider, but this should not deter wireless carriers from reselling this type of device, Richards said. This is because most corporate cell phone users are actually calling from their own phones and submitting expense claims, so a carrier with a corporate account will not necessarily be providing service to all of that company’s mobile users.

However, Richards added, a carrier who offers a package of dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi phones to a company could expect to have a more of employees using its service on the dual-mode phones than it would on handsets that work only on the cellular network.

One major advantage of dual-mode phones is they reduce the number of devices, telephone numbers and voicemail accounts, making communications easier for the users, Richards said.

VON Canada wrapped up Tuesday.

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