New Cisco WLAN VOIP phone lacks compatibility

The new wireless LAN voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone that Cisco Systems debuted Monday for the corporate market lacks one feature many companies want: compatibility with network gear made by other vendors.

The new Wireless IP Phone 7920 introduced by Cisco at the Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas will work only with 802.11b Wi-Fi WLAN Aironet access points manufactured by Cisco, according to Jim Circincione, the company's voice products marketing manager.

Circincione said the 7920, priced at US$595, would work only with the company's CallManager IP telephony software and not IP telephony systems from other companies such as Nortel Networks.

Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, said introducing proprietary hardware seems like a "back to the future" scenario. In today's heterogeneous network environment, enterprises "do not want to be locked into a single provider" and want to purchase interoperable, standards-based systems, he said.

The two other major manufacturers of Wi-Fi VoIP phones said their hardware can work with a variety of access points and back-end IP telephony systems. Mark Ferrone, a spokesman for Symbol Technologies, said the company's NetVision Wi-Fi phone works with 802.11b access points from any manufacturer and with IP telephony systems from a number of companies, including Nortel, Mitel and Cisco's CallManager.

Michelle Green, a spokeswoman for SpectraLink, said her company has manufactured WLAN VOIP phones since 1999 that will work with any access point and are compatible with all IP telephony systems, including the Cisco CallManager.

SpectraLink introduced two new Wi-Fi VOIP phones at Networld+Interop today: the NetLink 340, priced at $399, and the rugged NetLink i640, priced at $599.

Circincione explained that Cisco went the proprietary route with the 7920 because of the lack of standards for both WLAN voice roaming as well as complete standards for VOIP telephony. The US Telecommunications Industry Association last week announced plans to create a LAN VOIP standard. Until that standard is finalized, Circincione said Cisco could only support VOIP roaming with its own Aironet access points.

The lack of a final voice telephony standard -- which will be incorporated in the Chicago-based International Engineering Consortium's H.323 Standard limits use of the 7920 to Cisco's CallManager.

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