Communication service providers might be in a good position to capitalize on voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) technology, judging from comments at an IT event earlier this month.  But the technology is far from perfect, and it could be a while before it really starts to pad carriers’ pocketbooks. VoWLANs let users make IP phone calls from handsets linking to local wireless data networks.  Equipment vendors like Avaya Inc. say field trials have yielded positive remarks from end users, and businesses are becoming more and more interested as they seek ways to give "corridor warriors" – employees who spend a lot of time zipping from location to location in the enterprise – telephone access even as they move about. According to Pankaj Asundi, chief technology officer of Ericsson’s North America arm, carriers could roll VoWLAN offerings into their IP-Centrex platforms or their IP-PBX resale efforts. Whatever the channel, VoWLANs might become important to carriers, he said.  "They have to get a piece of the enterprise market," he told the audience at VoiceCon in Orlando on March 7, noting that wireless services like this could entice big businesses to choose one provider over another. But VoWLANs are in their infancy. Evidence from industry insiders and observers suggests that although many companies have embraced wireless LANs for mobile data access, few are using wireless LANs for voice today. Michael Finneran, president of telecom consultancy dBrn Associates Inc., said businesses are not convinced that VoWLANs are ready for prime time. Companies worry that the technology offers little by way of quality-of-service (QoS) guarantees, so phone calls might be garbled – or worse, cut off – as users move around. Mark Davies, VP, global marketing at handset manufacturer Motorola Inc., said some IT executives still view wireless as risky. "Security remains the number-one issue for the CIO," he said. Dave LeClair, director, mobility and soft clients at Avaya, said many still-new technical standards need to work together. Aside from the established underpinning wireless protocols like 802.11a, 11b and 11g, there are standards for QoS (11e), security (11i) and even handset management (11v). The often-slow standards-making process could hinder VoWLAN deployment. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is testing VoWLANs on its massive wireless data network, which supports 20,000 unique users. Jonn Martell, an instructor in the school’s division of applied technology, said VoWLAN users are partial to the technology.  "Everybody wants it. Now they’re not tied to their office phones anymore. They could be anywhere on campus and reachable. They don’t have to worry about cell phones and coverage in basements."Martell said network equipment vendors and standards-makers are trying to lock down the various protocols.  Fast-secure roaming standards are needed to ensure users’ phone calls hop as quickly as possible from access point to access point, for instance. But as quick as Fast-secure roaming needs to be, creating the standard is slow going. "Some of the vendors are there today," he said. "The standards bodies are way behind." LeClair said companies currently installing VoWLANs make the technology part of a bigger picture: one that includes IP telephony, presence applications, unified messaging and other pieces to enhance employee communication. All of our sources agreed that VoWLAN’s popularity would grow alongside the dual-mode, Wi-Fi/cell phone market. Avaya and Cisco Systems Inc. are working with handset makers and software providers to build seamless dual-mode systems that let callers jump from Wi-Fi to cell without dropping their phone calls.  But if the VoWLAN industry is in its infancy, the dual-mode arena is embryonic. In demos, the network-to-network handoffs are not smooth; the technology needs tweaking. As well, no one is quite sure how the carriers will view the technology.  Is it a way to attract new customers, or does it spell less revenue for cellular networks? Is it a consumer play or an enterprise product?