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Emergence of VoWLAN/Cellular Service Model

According to In-Stat, for the last 20 years, cellular has had full dominance over the realm of mobile voice communications, and cellular operators have enjoyed this monopoly. Sure, over time, the base technologies used by the cellular operators have changed and evolved. Analog systems were converted to digital to increase capacity and make it cheaper for the mobile operators.

Cellular wireless data emerged and slowly data speeds have increased up to the low-end of what we call broadband. And features, such as music player and cameras have been added to phones in hopes that subscribers will use these devices and cellular providers will get incremental revenue. The constant over those 20 plus years of cellular has been limited to one factor, and that factor is that cellular service providers were always in control. With the introduction of Wi-Fi functionality in a cellular handset, the balance of power is about to change.

The popularity of Wi-Fi started back in 2000 after the ratification of the 802.11a & b standards. Once these standards were approved, competition started and prices for Wi-Fi equipment dropped. While wireless LAN equipment, using a variety of proprietary solutions existed for many years before that, it was the new standards, as well as low prices that really ignited the WLAN market. In 2001 there were over 8 million WLAN devices sold worldwide, and by 2005, that number had grown to 125 million devices. This year, over 90 percent of all laptops sold worldwide will come with built-in WLAN.

The acceptance of WLAN has spurred the grown in-home networks and public hot spots. Today, many cities are in the process of deploying large-scale Wi-Fi networks, and in addition to those, there are hundreds of thousands of public hot spots that offer Wi-Fi service either for free or for a low charge. With so much Wi-Fi coverage available, it was only a matter of time until Wi-Fi made it into the cellular handset.

As Wi-Fi grew in the home, so did the number of people subscribing to broadband in the home. Companies like Vonage and AT&T, took advantage of this broadband popularity and started offering services where subscribers could carry on a phone voice call over a broadband connection. An extension of that same technology allows a voice call to be carried over a Wi-Fi connection. This voice-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) is still in its very early stages but it is the basis for an entirely new feature added to cellular handsets, Wi-Fi capabilities. The result is a VoWLAN/Cellular handset.

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