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Cisco Wi-Fi phone due in June

The company will have plenty of competition when it unveils the phone, especially from Wi-Fi gear maker SpectraLink. And Motorola and Avaya are at work on their own versions.

Cisco Systems intends to introduce a portable Wi-Fi phone in the next few months, adding its stamp of approval to the emerging business technology.

The 7920 phone is essentially a wireless version of Cisco's 7960 IP (Internet Protocol) phone, which uses a wired Ethernet connection to make and receive telephone calls. However, the 7920 will have a wireless handset that uses an office's Wi-Fi network to connect. The device will start shipping in June, executives said Friday. Its price has not yet been disclosed.

Cisco will have plenty of competition when it introduces the 7920, especially from Wi-Fi equipment maker SpectraLink, which sells a similar phone. Handset maker Motorola and Avaya also are at work on their own versions.

A future update to the 7920 that will add a cellular connection likely won't give Cisco a technological advantage over its rivals either. A cadre of the world's biggest cell phone makers plan to unleash combination Wi-Fi and cell phones later this year.

These device are a coupling of several technologies that businesses are beginning to adopt, despite a slowdown in corporate spending over the last few years. The list includes voice over IP, a merger of telephone and computer systems; Wi-Fi, which creates 300-foot zones where devices don't need wires to connect; and cell phones, which are in the hands of more than 50 percent of Americans and a staple of most business professionals.

The short battery life of these "multimodal" devices will likely be a hurdle for Cisco, Motorola, Avaya, Nokia and others planning to tackle the market, Aberdeen Group senior analyst Isaac Ro said.

Handhelds are already handicapped with only enough room for a small battery but can still squeeze out a day's worth of use between charges. Adding radios needed to log onto a Wi-Fi or cellular network will dramatically cut the device's lifespan on a single charge, Ro said.

He's basing his assessment on experience with a Toshiba e740, a Wi-Fi-enabled handheld. The device needed to be recharged after surfing the Web over a Wi-Fi connection for about 75 minutes, Ro said.

Nonetheless, he said Cisco could have some success in the crowded market because it "owns dozens of accounts that they could sell this to."