Siemens attacks Wi-Fi-only phones

Handsets designed to be used only in hotspots never took off, says Siemens, adding that the future will be an evolution of Dect

Handsets that offer only Wi-Fi connectivity have been a failure, according to the director of home and office communications devices for Siemens.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Monday, John Smith said the market for such devices had failed to meet expectations.

Wi-Fi-only mobile phones have been on the market for nearly two years, and are marketed as an easy way to access internet telephony services, such as Skype, wherever there is a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, soft clients for such services are now increasingly available for dual-mode handsets, which combine Wi-Fi connectivity with a cellular radio.

"We hedged our bets as a manufacturer, bringing Wi-Fi-only handsets to the market," said Smith. "I think that category is, let us say, not getting the traction we initially thought it would get."

Smith said that the idea of such devices had not been helped by their early iterations, which had involved a "poor user experience", partly because they did not incorporate a browser to easily select and log on to a hotspot. "Clearly the price of the silicon and battery life wasn't at a point where it would enable a mass market," he added, while pointing out that such problems did not extend to current dual-mode versions of Wi-Fi handsets.

What Smith did see as a possibility for the future, however, was a handset combining 3G connectivity with CAT-iq functionality. CAT-iq is the new version of Dect, the technology used by cordless home phones. Adding IP services to Dect's voice capabilities, the technology can provide high-definition audio alongside comprehensive directory services. It is also being touted as a useful technology for streaming internet radio in the home, because it operates in the 1.9GHz band rather than the 2.4GHz band cluttered by Wi-Fi and microwave ovens.

"CAT-iq is for the home phone mainly, but shares the same bandwidth as UMTS [3G], so it may be an enabler for people to create a UMTS/CAT-iq phone in the future," said Smith, who estimated that such products would arrive around 2012.

Smith suggested that CAT-iq phones, despite being geared mainly towards the consumer market, could also find a small business market in those who want the audio quality of high-end audioconferencing systems, but at a lower price and better suited to small offices and home workers.

The first Siemens products to incorporate CAT-iq, including a hybrid phone which can make both PSTN and IP-based calls, and a gateway product combining both CAT-iq and Wi-Fi connectivity, will appear in a few months' time, said Smith.

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