East Asian hardware makers seeking to turn the popularity of Internet telephony services and Skype Technologies SA's Skype VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) application into sales were plentiful at Computex, which took place last week in Taipei.
A multitude of handsets designed to replace the headsets often at present were on display at the show. Models ranged from advanced phones with Wi-Fi and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) support through SIP (session initiation protocol) -compatible handsets that work with most IP telephony services to basic consumer models designed for use with Skype.
Among the most feature-rich handsets on display was the PWG-500 dual-mode Wi-Fi SIP and GSM phone from Taipei-based G-Tek Electronics.
The handset supports 802.11b networks and allows the user to define up to 10 favorite networks or access points for quicker sign-on. Dual signal strength indicators on the display show both Wi-Fi and GSM signal. The handset will automatically route calls via Wi-Fi when within range of a useable signal and switch to GSM when no Internet access is available. Other features include Bluetooth support so that the phone can be used as a Wi-Fi modem.
"People are very interested in this product," said Giuseppe Tosolini, assistant to the president at G-Tek. "Business men are looking for a product like this and asking when will it be in the market."
G-Tek hopes to begin mass production in September and is also working on a second model with a larger LCD and Web browsing capability.
The phone had also been attracting interest from carriers, he said.
"Carriers are so very, very aggressive because they know they are going to lose market share," he said.
Stand-alone SIP handsets that look just like regular cell phones were being shown by Wistron NeWeb. The candybar SRP-81 and clamshell SKPD-1 have a feature set similar to cell phones, including polyphonic ring tones, local address book and call waiting. They also support regular POP/SMTP e-mail and, in a nod to the corporate market, WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption.
Security is also a function being talked up by Senao International, which has built WEP 64- and 128-bit encryption and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) into its handset, said Pauline Tseng, an account manager at the Taoyuan, Taiwan, company's wireless communications products business group.
A number of companies were also showing handsets designed to be used with the popular Skype Internet telephony system. Most of these are less sophisticated than the SIP models and use a cable rather than wireless technology to connect to the PC. They are basically remodelled headsets but with a couple of advantages: a familiar form factor that people are already used to and a keypad that means users can place calls, answer the phone and cut the call without touching the PC keyboard.
Good Way Technology was showing two models, one with an LCD display and the other without. The company hopes to begin mass production of the handsets this month or next month, said Roger Lin, a sales representative at the Taipei company. The handsets are compatible with Skype and can be used with Internet voice-chat services such as those offered by Yahoo and MSN, he said.
Cost concerns have kept the company from adding a wireless connection to the handsets but that is under consideration for future models.
Another company showing a wired Skype handset was EPL Technology. The company plans to begin production of a wired handset in mid-June and a Bluetooth-equipped wireless model with headset and hands-free profiles in late June, said Kent Chan, manager of business development at the Hong Kong company.