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Welcome to the dawn Ciceros Smartphone VoIP client By Matt Lewis


									Welcome to the dawn: Cicero's
Smartphone VoIP client
By Matt Lewis. 20 January, 2006

               It's great being an ARCchart analyst. You get to play around
               with some really cool technology. HTC’s Windows Mobile
               handset with integrated Wi-Fi, the Tornado, was a toy recently
               thrown my way. My version was dressed as the Qtek 8310 (it’s
               also being sold at i-mate’s SP5i), and while it was interesting
               to browse the web on a phone at lightening speeds over Wi-Fi
               instead of cellular, the experience itself was nothing new.
               However, things changed when Cicero Networks allowed us to
               review their recently released CiceroPhone VoIP client for
               Window Mobile Smartphone devices. It’d be a good litmus test
               to see how close (or how far) the industry currently is from the
               nirvana of convergence.

While Cicero also produces a server solution (typically hosted by an operator) which
is able to manage handover between Wi-Fi and GSM networks, I used the software
purely as a standalone VoIP client and did not play around with cross network

First, a few words about the handset. The 8310 has the look and feel of a feature
phone – it’s actually thinner than Sony Ericsson’s W800i Walkman phone, although
it’s slightly longer. It packs a 1.3 mega-pixel camera, an impressive QVGA colour
screen and its Window Mobile 5.0 operating system performs noticeably better than
its 2003 predecessor. Wi-Fi is launched by pressing a dedicated communications
button on the side of the phone and connection to an access point is fast. For
example, once I’d plugged in the security settings for my access points in the office
and at home, the phone regularly connected to these networks within 10 to 20
seconds of Wi-Fi being switched on.

Having played around with a lot of VoIP systems and software over the years, I
expected a fair bit of tweaking would be required to install the Cicero client and get it
connected to our company’s SIP-based IP PBX. However, it would not be an
exaggeration to say that I installed the application on the phone, configured it for the
PBX and was making calls in less than 10 minutes. I was also able to configure
CiceroPhone to work through Sipgate, a German VoIP service provider I have an
account with. Although I did not try it, there should be no reason other popular VoIP
services, such as Vonage, could not be configured in a similar way.
                         The Smartphone version of CiceroPhone runs as a standalone
                         application and does not attempt to replace the phone’s dialler
                         application as it does in the Pocket PC version. The interface is
                         simple, showing indicators for Wi-Fi status and signal strength, a
                         field showing the number being dialed and a list of the seven
                         most recently dialled numbers (for easy redialing). There are
                         menu options to view missed and received calls, and the
                         configuration manager allows the user to change a wide range of
                         settings. Beyond the standard username, password and server
                         details are several settings to control voice compression and
                         general quality of service (such as echo cancellation and silence
suppression). A useful feature is the presence of three separate accounts (default, local
and public), which each can be set with different configuration details. I was therefore
able to set the ‘Local’ and ‘Public’ accounts with the internal and external settings for my
company’s PBX, and set the ‘Default’ account to use my personal account with Sipgate.
It is then easy to switch between these accounts and the application re-connects

Voice quality Using a hands-free headset with the phone, voice quality is good and
is generally no worse than the quality of a cellular call. I made calls for up to 30
minutes in duration and experienced no drop-outs or distortion, so long as a strong
WLAN signal was maintained. I was even able to surf the web and play Solataire with
only minor voice distortions occurring. As I launched more applications on the phone
during a call there were more drop-outs and, unsurprisingly, as the Wi-Fi signal
weakened (when moving further away from the access point), voice quality degraded
noticeably. Calls were made from the office WLAN, my home network and a T-Mobile
and a BT Openzone hotspot, all with consistent results. At the hotspots, I first had to
go into Internet Explorer on the phone and insert my security details before getting
access to the network. On average, I’d have to be within 10 to 20m of an access
point for the phone to have a strong enough signal to make calling possible.

There are problems when the phone is used with no hands-free attached. In this
situation, the call audio is transmitted through the phone’s loudspeaker, and not the
‘ear speaker’. Unless the speaker volume is turned all the way down, the call is
basically conducted on a speaker-phone. Also, even with the speaker turned down,
the called party gets a soft echo. According to Cicero, this is because the gain on the
phone has been set too high and, unlike most other HTC devices, there are no gain
controls available to the software developer. Cicero expect this problem will be
addressed in a future firmware release from HTC.

Battery-life The ability to activate and deactivate Wi-Fi through the handset’s
communications button is useful since there’s no question of leaving it permanently
activated. Nonetheless, knowing Wi-Fi’s power hungry reputation, I was impressed to
be able to squeeze about a days standby time out of the device with Wi-Fi switched
on and the phone placed about 5m away from an access point. However, with
CiceroPhone running, the battery took a serious hammering, lasting about two hours
on standby, and I estimate that talk-time over Wi-Fi is about one hour, compared to
about four hours talk-time with GSM.
Summary There is much talk in the industry about cellular/Wi-Fi convergence, but
with precious few tangible examples. My overall impression of CiceroPhone is positive,
but the question is, do I see myself using it on an ongoing basis? From my
perspective, battery life is the only reason I would not keep CiceroPhone
permanently active on my handset, but where power is readily available, or the
phone is docked to my PC or laptop, I can see several occasions when I will definitely
be using it. For example, in the office while in a meeting room I can pick up calls
going to my ‘desk phone’ number, and I’d be able to do the same while at home.
While I’m travelling, the benefits are even greater:

      My Wi-Fi calls are routed through my company’s PBX, so I appear to be in the
       office to people I’m calling, and I will also receive incoming calls to my desk
      The more work calls I can route through the PBX, the fewer mobile calls I
       have to expense at the end of the month
      Cost! Whilst roaming overseas, I pay between $1.20 and $2.10 per minute for
       each call I make and about half that for each call I receive. Whilst I’m
       stationary at an airport, conference centre, hotspot, or in my hotel room, my
       cost saving of calling over Wi-Fi instead of cellular will be substantial. In the
       past, I’d try and use VoIP on my laptop as much as possible when travelling.
       But it is often inconvenient to boot the laptop just to make a call. My
       experience with CiceroPhone is that I can be connected to a VoIP provider or
       my company’s PBX within 20 seconds of activating Wi-Fi on the handset.

My behaviour and mobile phone usage is likely to be mirrored by many corporate
workers. According to Merrill Lynch, 2005 sales of VoIP PBX systems grew by 31%
while sales of traditional PBX systems shrunk by 20%. As enterprises find
themselves with full IP PBX systems and office-wide wireless LAN deployments, so
the demand for these converged devices and intelligent VoIP applications will grow.

While the selection of Wi-Fi cellular phones is low at the moment, Nokia’s N91, due
for release next month, will change this. This 3G phone boasts a 2 mega-pixel
camera and a large vibrant colour screen wrapped in a package no wider or longer
than the size of a credit card – and it has integrated Wi-Fi. It is likely that many
buyers of this handset won’t even be interested in Wi-Fi – not initially. But this has
the potential to start a natural percolation of Wi-Fi cellphones which, with a critical
mass, the enterprise, and eventually the home, can take advantage of.

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