PORTLAND, Ore. Starting in about 2012, 4th generation (4G) long-term evolution (LTE) technologies promise to convert today's wireless mobile networks from dependence on traditional circuit switching to a flat, Internet Protocol (IP) networking architecture. But starting next month, wireless voice-over-IP services will begin previewing 4G-like capabilties for the "last mile" to the home.
One service to be launched in August is from Zer01 Communications, Inc. (Las Vegas). "Wireless VoIP still has to be proven, and some major companies [must] commit to using it, but companies like Zer01 are pioneering the all-IP wireless network ahead of LTE," said Gartner Inc. research director Tole Hart.
Boost, a division of Sprint, already offers wireless VoIP services for handsets only. If you live in Baltimore or Portland, you can get home-based VoIP services using WiMax wireless modems that connect computers to the Internet. Zer01 claims to be the first wireless service provider to offer VoIP handsets that can double as wireless modems for home or laptop computers.
Zer01's service "runs through the managed voice network, but solves the last-mile problem for tethered Internet connections too," said William Ho, research director at Current Analysis (Sterling,, Va.).
Zer01's architecture offers LTE-like performance by using a technique that siphons signals away from switched circuits directly onto the Internet at the basestation.
"Zer01's relationship with the carrier--the way its set up--is unique. They hook right up to the basestation and use voice-over-IP end-to-end, the way the carriers will when LTE comes out," said Hart. "This is the beginning of a trend that you're going to see more and more of as other voice-over-IP players enter the market."
Zer01 said it solved the last-mile problem at speeds as high as 7.2 Mbits per second using of cell towers owned by major carriers. Unlike mobile virtual network operators like Virgin Mobile, Zer01 claims to be the only service provider that has installed its own network connections in basestations. It will roll out its service to Canada, Mexico and 38 other countries starting on Aug. 1.
"We've created a common protocol with our application on it, so it doesn't matter what device you have. Literally all devices look the same," claimed Ben Piilani, CEO of Zer01. "We've developed a proprietary technology called 'veritable mobile convergence.'"
Zer01 will offer a variety of HTC handsets designed to convert analog voice signals into IP signals. Later this year, Zer01 plans to start offering SIM cards for the popular mobile operating systems that can convert existing handsets into VoIP handsets, starting with Symbian-based GSM handsets.
Zer01 currently operates only on GSM networks, but as wireless technologies build-out to full LTE status, the company plans to extend its VoIP model onto the other network topologies as well.
"Our technology is network-agnostic too. Even though we are working with GSM carriers right now, it doesn't matter what kind of network, it doesn't matter if its Wi-Fi, CDMA, GSM, WCDMA or WiMax," Piilani said.