Vonage and Boingo will trial a voice over Wi-Fi service: As part of the trial, Vonage softphone users will be able to make and take voice over wireless calls when in range of hotspots that are part of the Boingo network. A softphone is software that can be loaded onto a laptop or PDA that allows the device to handle voice calls. To use the service, customers will have to subscribe to Vonage and Boingo but they can use their existing Vonage phone number.
"We're going to trial this and make sure the [quality of service] is where it needs to be," said David Hagan, president and chief operating officer of Boingo. Boingo maintains service level agreements with all its hotspot operators and "this will be a test to see how it works with voice," said Hagan. He suspects that most hotspots aren't heavily-used enough to severely degrade a voice service, but he notes that testing that theory is the reason for the trial. A heavily-used hotspot might result in poor service for a voice user if the hotspot hasn't implemented quality controls. The 802.11e quality of service standard, which will allow operators to give priority to voice users, hasn't been ratified, although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently begun certifying a subset of 802.11e, called Wi-Fi Multimedia.
Boingo is looking forward to the introduction of more combined cellular/Wi-Fi phones that will allow users to roam from cellular networks to Wi-Fi networks. Hagan describes a "natural synergy" between the two technologies that allow users of combined handsets to conduct voice calls over Wi-Fi networks when inside buildings in areas where cellular networks sometimes have trouble reaching. In order to enable such a combined service, the Boingo software client, which authenticates users, would need to be built into the handset. Boingo is working with operators, handset manufacturers, and chip manufacturers to make that happen, Hagan said.