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Leave your Cisco WiFi mobile phone at the door

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Cisco has demonstrated a mobile phone that uses 802.11 wireless ethernet for use on "campus networks", which means enterprises with WiFi access.

It's more of a walkie-talkie replacement than what we recognize as a real mobile phone, but the importance of this convergence moshpit should not be underestimated.

It isn't the first, by a long chalk. Symbol is just one of several vendors to market WiFi phones, announcing its own two years ago, but the market has failed to ignite.

Cisco claims that the 7920 - which looks like an early 90s GSM handset, only uglier - has two hour talktime and twenty four hours of standby time.

The savings are obvious: while in your office, you don't need to pay expensive landline or cellphone fees. Assuming your Internet connection is up to the job. Cisco says QoS is guaranteed with the 7920 - the mobile counterpart to its 7620 VoIP handset - but we'd like to like to hear what it sounds like with a saturated T1 serving an office of say 500 users, all talking simultaneously, with a BoFH downloading a set of Debian ISO images.

The drawbacks are equally obvious: you have to leave your phone at the door.

And the spectrum efficiencies and manufacturing economies of scale of the 2.5G and 3G digital technologies mean that the traditional mobile phone will never go away. Not for all the wishful thinking in the world.

Ericsson this week announced a dual-mode chipset for the Chinese market that combines CDMA2000 with 802.11, a much more promising combination. This combination of 3G plus WiFi has the best of both worlds: you don't pay exorbitant rates for data when you're in range of a friendly 802.11 base station, and you don't need to carry two (or three) phones.

The downside is cost: WiFi chipsets are eight to ten times more expensive than 2G voice chipsets.

But don't forget the fight taking place over the "last yard". This is an area both WiFi advocates and 3G evangelists both want to ignore. Thanks to Bluetooth, my phone can piggyback onto my DSL connection so I can use it to surf the web with Opera at high speed, bypassing the 4MB cap AT&T Wireless places on my phone's GPRS data usage. (It's a financial cap rather than physical limitation: once you go over the monthly fee, you pay a hefty amount for the extra bytes).

However, the vociferous (and well-funded) spectrum deregulation lobby in these United States is talking such nonsense, we must address this issue in more depth. Soon, m'dears, but not today. ®

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