John Paul

Wi-Fi Phones ? a Piece of the Rural Connectivity Puzzle

Wi-Fi phones are taking off! According to a report by Infonetics Research, the global market for Wi-Fi phones rose 76 percent in 2005 to $102.5 million, and will reach $1.9 billion in 2009. The number of units shipped rose 112 percent last year, and will increase by 158 percent this year. These figures represent demand primarily from developed markets. But it is emerging markets that may in fact become the driving force behind the technology’s development.

Wireless networks have become the technology of choice for increasing access to phone and Internet services in developing countries. As we detail in our new report, A New Model for Rural Connectivity, they are not only cheaper, easier and faster to deploy than traditional landline alternatives, but also make possible business and service delivery models better adapted to rural, low income communities.

As Wi-Fi and WiMAX technologies enable the rapid expansion of telecommunications into rural developing areas, the market for Wi-Fi equipment will grow significantly. The resulting volumes will drive prices even lower, enabling many customers at the ?base of the pyramid? to enjoy the benefits of mobile services for the first time.

A number of Wi-Fi phones are planned or already available to take advantage of this emerging opportunity:

1. UTstarcom F1000 Wi-Fi VoIP Phone

The F1000 residential Wi-Fi handset expands the reach of VoIP communications. It provides consumers a new cost effective way to communicate, and includes features such as 3-way Calling, Call Waiting, Call Transfer and many popular features. The phone is being sold under a number of different names (e.g. Vonage & BroadVoice), and costs about $130.

2. HOP1502 Wi-Fi IP phone

Hop-on, Inc is launching the HOP1502 Wi-Fi IP phone and bundled software solution that allows users to make calls from any Wi-Fi hotspot. Service providers can offer a range of call features, such as three-way calling, call waiting, call forwarding and more. The HOP1502 also enables voice processes, including comfort noise generation, voice activity detection, and echo cancellation. The phone is expected to cost $39.

3. Nokia 6136

Mobile equipment manufacturer Nokia says it is unifying GSM and Wi-Fi connectivity with a new mobile phone that’s compatible with both wireless standards. The 6136 is a quad-band phone that will connect to GSM networks at 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz, which means it will work in the US as well as Europe. It comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera and an FM radio, and supports microSD memory cards. Release is planned for the second quarter of 2006.

4. Linksys WIP300 and WIP330

The latest entry into the market comes from Linksys. The WIP300 and WIP330 are the first in a line of Wireless IP telephony products from Linksys that will enable users to make low-cost Voice over IP (VoIP) calls through 802.11g wireless networks. The WIP300 and WIP330 are available immediately through authorized Linksys distributors with estimated street prices of $220 and $370 respectively. Additional products from the Linksys family of WiFi phones will be launched in the second half of 2006.

Information on several other Wi-Fi phones, as well as add-on chip-sets that allow phones to automatically switch between GSM and Wi-Fi networks, is also available in our new report.