Shipments of dual-mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi enabled handsets will top 50 million by 2009. Though products are not expected to be available until later this year, ABI Research predicts that dual-mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets will represent about 7% of all handsets shipped by 2009. Driving the near term interest in these devices are the enterprise user and the need for data-intensive applications.
Ease of use, the convenience of mobility, and access to information stored on cell phones has made it more practical for office users to continue to use their cell phones versus switching to the enterprise telephone system when at the office. But with near 30% of cell phones being purchased by commercial concerns, enterprises will likely be prime target buyers for voice over Wi-Fi cell phones.
"Many enterprises now have established Wi-Fi networks and integrating voice-over-Wi-Fi functionality is a natural progression," says Phil Solis, Senior Wi-Fi Analyst at ABI Research, "As Wi-Fi networks proliferate, it only makes sense to give users the ability to switch from the cellular carrier's network to the enterprise Wi-Fi network."
Manufacturers are also working on the issues of integrating the Wi-Fi network with the company PBX, a requirement for voice over Wi-Fi enabled handsets to remain useful as a voice device outside the enterprise Wi-Fi data network.
Currently the voice over Wi-Fi market is limited to niche verticals such as healthcare, warehouse, manufacturing and education. But with larger scale availability by way of integration into existing mobile devices, this market will gradually become mainstream.
Many questions remain about whether cellular carriers are going to accommodate this market but as most cellular standards are open and interoperable, carriers cannot prevent handset makers from producing handsets with voice over Wi-Fi integration. "Initially of course carriers may see this as a threat for fear of losing service revenue when these handsets are used on the Wi-Fi network," says Solis, "but long term, as with most new developments, carriers will likely see dual mode cellular / voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets as a means to differentiate their offerings."