By all rights, mobile VoIP sounds like an enticing proposition for a lot of companies.
After all, what enterprise wouldn't jump at the opportunity to save money on their mobile phone bills by sending their wireless calls over an IP network rather than a cellular network? But despite this attractive premise, current mobile VoIP technology has yet to evolve to the point where users can simply switch on their phones anywhere and expect to connect to a secure IP network.
The obvious reason for this is because mobile VoIP devices today are reliant upon Wi-Fi technology, which can offer quality voice service but which also has limited range and is prone to coverage gaps that make it problematic as a voice technology. These factors have so far limited mobile VoIP offerings to office environments or home environments where workers can securely connect to local hotspots to get a dedicated voice channel. But Stan Schatt, an analyst at ABI Research, says that these in-office, in-house technologies have not yet matured enough to the point where they can properly support more complicated applications such as conference calling.
"I have talked to some enterprises that are using [mobile VoIP providers] Skype or Truphone and the problem they've told me about is that there are times when the services levels aren't where they want them for conference calls,"he says. "When you've got a wireline VoIP connection, you've got a gigabit of bandwidth. When you do it over Wi-Fi you obviously have a lot less."
So what will it take for mobile VoIP to really become popular across enterprise networks? One obvious answer is more bandwidth. With so many carriers upgrading to technologies such as WiMAX and Long Term Evolution (LTE) over the next couple of years, the amount of bandwidth available for mobile voice services will increase significantly. Irwin Lazar, an analyst for Nemertes Research, says despite the fact that WiMAX services are commercially available now, broader mobile VoIP adoption may have to wait until Verizon and AT&T launch their LTE services in two years' time.
"WiMAX is starting to fall off the radar because of WiMAX provider troubles,"he says. "What you may find with LTE is that the data services will be fast enough to support mobile VoIP. Once LTE becomes a reality, most enterprises say that's where they expect their services to head. You'll see that more than you'll see Wi-Fi."
Gartner analyst Tole Hart says that using LTE to route voice calls through an IP network is attractive to carriers because it will put less strain on their cellular networks. However, he also notes that even though carriers are planning to have their first deployments of LTE up and running in two years, it will take a while for LTE to become prevalent enough for enterprises to really invest in using it for mobile VoIP.