Wi-Fi phones a no-go, Siemens says

Dual-mode phones offer better experience, executive says. And next wave could be handsets that join 3G with cordless-phone tech.

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

Speaking to ZDNet 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 hot spot. 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," Smith said. "I think that category is, let us say, not getting the traction we initially thought it would get."

Smith said 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 hot spot.

"Clearly, the price of the silicon and battery life wasn't at a point where it would enable a mass market," Smith said. He also pointed 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, short for cordless advanced technology for Internet and quality, is the new version of the DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) standard, the technology used by cordless home phones.

Adding Internet Protocol services to DECT's voice capabilities, the technology can provide 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 toward 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 that can make calls on the traditional phone network along with IP-based calls, and a gateway product combining both CAT-iq and Wi-Fi connectivity, will appear in a few months' time, Smith said.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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