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Mobile

Motorola, NEC trumpet wireless combos

The two companies join forces to wed three up-and-coming technologies--cellular, Wi-Fi and Internet telephony--into a single handset targeted at businesses.

Motorola and NEC America are co-developing an Internet Protocol office telephone that roams from Wi-Fi onto cell phone networks, the companies announced Tuesday.

When used inside an office, the phones tap into a Wi-Fi wireless network to make calls that travel, in part, over the Web rather than over a telephone network. Outside the Wi-Fi network's 300-foot range, the handsets switch calls automatically to a cellular network, which offers the same data features and voice calling, but at much slower speeds.

The hybrid phones and supporting gear will make an entry late next year, according to handset maker Motorola and communications gear provider NEC. That's at about the same time Motorola, Avaya and Proxim are scheduled to introduce a similar product.

These devices bring together three technologies that businesses are beginning to adopt, despite a slowdown in corporate spending. Internet telephony, also called voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), has gained fans for its merging of telephone and computer systems. It lets people place telephone calls through the Internet, avoiding a telephone company's local and long-distance networks. Wi-Fi wireless is garnering corporate support, while cell phones have become a staple for business professionals.

The effect of combining all three is to find a new way to "extend a corporate computer system beyond the office," said Bo Pyskir, senior direct of business development at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola.

But the short battery life of these "multimodal" devices will likely be a major problem, according to Aberdeen Group senior analyst Isaac Ro.

Pyskir believes the first interest for such gear will come from organizations with sprawling campuses, such as universities, medical care providers, warehouses, convention center operators and casinos. Hospitals are already using a variation of these hybrid phone systems.

NEC America's enterprise solutions director, Paul Weismantel, acknowledges that with corporate spending still floundering, businesses will be a harder sell for now.

"It took a lot of effort and boldness to step into this space," he said.

NEC America, based in Irving, Texas, is an affiliate of Japanese electronics giant NEC.