By Vikki Lipset
October 24, 2003
In a sign that voice over Wi-Fi could be headed for the mainstream, a top handheld computer maker has introduced a new PDA with built-in 802.11b and voice over IP (VoIP) capabilities.
Toshiba’s $599 e800/805 Pocket PC will be bundled with VLI’s Gphone software, allowing users to make and receive phone calls over a wireless LAN. A subscription to VLI’s service is needed to make VoIP calls.
Softphones (software that adds telephony capabilities to a PDA or laptop) are proving popular as inexpensive alternatives to specialized voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) handsets. In one of the largest known rollouts, Dartmouth College said last month that it would distribute softphones from Cisco and TeleSym to 13,000 students, faculty and staff.
The e800/805 is the first mainstream Pocket PC to ship with VoWLAN software. While Symbol also offers Pocket PCs with built-in wireless VoIP capabilities, those devices are geared more toward commercial use.
Toshiba’s offering could be an indication that voice over Wi-Fi is starting to expand beyond its traditional vertical markets into the enterprise, said Aaron Vance, an analyst with Synergy Research. “This seems to be a little more geared toward business users,” he said.
In time, VoWLAN may be built into all Windows-based devices. “I think once 802.11e is finalized, you’ll see Microsoft bundle something into Windows,” Vance said.
In addition to integrated Wi-Fi and VoIP, the e800/805 includes a 4-inch display — bigger than the screens on most comparable PDAs — and new voice command and text-to-speech applications. A $99 add-on lets users connect the handheld to a monitor or projector for presentations.
Last week, Hewlett-Packard and Dell announced new Pocket PCs that also feature built-in Wi-Fi.