Wi-Fi phones arrive, but still expensive

The trickle of Wi-Fi phones is becoming a flood, with two new products coming from Panasonic and Linksys, but they still look expensive.

Panasonic has launched a phone designed for Skype, hard on the heels of Wi-Fi Skype phones announced by Netgear and Philips last week.

The phone, which works with Skype's voicemail and call forwarding, will work at public hotspots as well as home and office Wi-Fi, and is the first in a series of VOIP promised by Panasonic.

Panasonic has also announced a deal to make phones for Vonage as an update on Vonage's current products from UTStarcom (read review). As with existing phones, both will only work at public hotspots if they don't require browser authentication -- or have a deal with the VOIP provider.

Meanwhile, Cisco's consumer brand Linksys has gone for a more general option, bringing a phone to Europe that operates on the open SIP 2 protocol instead of Skype's proprietary system. The WIP330, available in the U.S. earlier this year, will now be sold over here, and were shown at the IFA Consumer Electronics show in Berlin.

The WIP330 works with 802.11b and 802.11g with WEP and WPA, and uses the IP Type of Service field to get priority for voice over data on a WLAN.

With Wi-Fi VOIP handsets now looking quite practical compared with conventional cell phones and cordless devices, the biggest drawbacks are coverage and price. A Wi-Fi phone is a mobile device that can only be used at isolated hotspots, and the WIP330 costs about Euro 400 (US$514), so it would take a long time to cover its costs from any savings over wired and even mobile phones.

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