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Colubris launches Wi-Fi QoS

Colubris Networks has released quality of service software for its wireless LAN system that makes it possible to maintain a business-class voice over Wi-Fi implementation. One expert says it's a harbinger of things to come.

Today Colubris Networks Inc. released a standards-based wireless LAN (WLAN) system that incorporates quality of service (QoS) software to make voice and multimedia applications easier to deploy.

The Waltham, Mass.-based wireless company's Service Aware Wi-Fi QoS system is based on the 802.11e standard for quality of service over Wi-Fi. It supports voice systems based on both Session Initiation Protocol and H.323.

Voice calls are notoriously susceptible to inconsistencies on the network, such as latency and jitter. When they are routed over a wireless network, those problems can be hard to manage. Until recently, there was no standardized way to provide the quality of service necessary to have acceptable voice quality on the network.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which ensures that Wi-Fi products are interoperable, is beginning to certify products based on a specific part of the pending 802.11e standard. Known as Wireless Media Extensions, the standard allows wireless networks to give higher priority to real-time data such as voice and video. Colubris is one of a handful of vendors now offering QoS.

Right now, voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) is a tiny market, said Joel Conover, principal analyst with the Sterling, Va.-based research firm Current Analysis Inc. But that doesn't mean that businesses should not be thinking about where VOWi-Fi might work well.

Today, wireless voice systems are primarily used in hospitals and in some retail environments, but that is just beginning to change.

For example, the Best Western Hotel Europa in Montreal is installing its first WLAN system from Colubris, and voice is on its agenda.

Denis Beauchamp, the hotel's general manger, said quality of service was initially not an important factor in his decision making. He was looking for a wireless system that was simple to deploy and manage but was also secure. He said Colubris' system met those needs for him.

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"Quality of service was not a priority when we first looked at this a year ago," Beauchamp said. "But we also see this technology as something that is evolving very rapidly."

Beauchamp is also deploying voice over IP and expects to test wireless voice in the near future. The Wi-Fi system in the hotel is multifunctional. Not only will it allow guests to get online, but staff will also be using mobile wireless devices to check guests in and out of rooms from anywhere in the hotel. Plus guests will be able to use their key cards to pay for services on wireless handheld devices throughout the hotel. Voice service will likely be a part of that mix as well.

Conover said that in 24 months, he expects a large number of cell phone manufacturers to start incorporating Wi-Fi into their phones. Since employees are likely to carry VoWi-Fi technology into the office, he said companies would be wise to begin considering the technology's business implications.

"Don't be so naive as to think that you won't need to consider wireless voice," Conover said.

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