- Converged Wi-Fi VoIP and GSM communications on a single device
- easy to use
- integrates with Pocket Outlook
- Seamless roaming between GSM and Wi-Fi is not yet implemented
- a Pocket PC handheld is not an ideal platform for making voice calls
The thing about Voice over IP (VoIP) is that once you’ve got it, you really don’t want to use GSM or a landline unless you have to. In offices with IP-based phone systems, VoIP has the added advantage of making people contactable anywhere -- a definite advantage in many circumstances. Handhelds with Wi-Fi and the ability to accommodate SIM cards are ideally placed to offer convenient support for both VoIP and GSM communications, and Cicero Networks has launched a ‘converged softphone’ that provides this via a single user interface. We tested CiceroPhone with an HP iPAQ h6340 -- there is also a Windows Mobile smartphone version, which we will be examining in due course.
CiceroPhone replaces Windows Mobile's phone dialler and integrates with your Pocket Outlook contacts. Any commercial implementation is likely to have a different look and feel to our review ‘skin’ (Cicero Networks expects partners such as VoIP vendors to rebrand it), but the basic design elements should remain intact.
The interface is dominated by a traditional number pad, with soft call and end buttons above this. Four buttons on the right-hand side of the main screen provide access to contacts, text messaging, call history, plus tools and settings. A panel at the top of the screen provides useful snippets of call status information plus a Wi-Fi information bar: a button shows green when a Wi-Fi connection is live, red when it's inactive, and there are four signal strength bars.
Immediately beneath this panel is a bank of six buttons providing access to additional features. The two marked ‘Wi-Fi’ and ‘GSM’ are highlighted when the relevant technology is operational. The remaining buttons activate voice mail, the device's speaker, call muting and call forwarding.
You might think that the VoIP option will always be preferable, but this may not be the case, so there are settings that allow you to insist that specific GSM calls are routed over GSM rather than VoIP.
For this test, we used a VoIP service provided by Cicero Networks, alongside our own Wi-Fi network and SIM card. We hooked up to the CiceroPhone service through our WEP-secured Wi-Fi network with no problems, having first entered a user ID and login on our iPAQ h6340. Thereafter, placing calls to both landlines and mobile phones over Wi-Fi was a transparent process -- you simply tap in the number and hit the Call button as usual, and the system works out what you're doing and selects the appropriate networks.
Placing calls to another VoIP user requires the recipient to be connected, and the software as tested had no way of determining this prior to making a call. This is different to the situation with, say, Skype, which provides a list of contacts and indicates whether or not they're available. Hopefully, when third parties ‘skin’ the software, this feature will become available.
Another drawback is CiceroPhone's inability to automatically switch a call between Wi-Fi and GSM. In practice, this means that if you're making a call over Wi-Fi and move out of range, the call will be dropped. Automatic call handover from Wi-Fi to GSM is expected in due course -- this will be a server-side development, so you shouldn't have to update the client software on your handheld.
A Pocket PC handheld isn't the ideal platform for voice calls: our iPAQ h6340, for example, is bulky to hold to the ear during calls, while wired handsfree is only a partial solution. Bluetooth is clearly an option, but fumbling for a headset or wearing one throughout the working day isn't ideal either. We look forward to evaluating the newly released Windows Mobile smartphone version of CiceroPhone, which should prove more convenient.