Wi-Fi-only So-called Mobile VOIP Phone Out Soon In Japan
By Carlo Longino, Wed Dec 10 18:00:00 GMT 2003

Japanese ISP Livedoor will release an 802.11b-only VOIP phone around the turn of the year, and the company says it can be used with any 802.11b WLAN network. This isn't the first wireless VOIP phone, but it seems to be the first that's sold as part of a consumer service. But we've got to ask just one question -- what's the point? (Thanks, dottocomu)

The phone, like other VOIP models, offers rock-bottom calling rates, which is all well and good, but those rates aren't so rock bottom if you've got to pay a hotspot at the same time. It would be useful at home, if you've got a Wi-Fi access point, but other VOIP nets like Vonage allow users to attach standard cordless phones to their network interfaces.

And to call this a mobile phone is really a stretch. It's about as mobile as a normal phone with a 100-foot cord. Sure, you can use it at any hotspot, but if you're considering it as a mobile, it's got the worst coverage of any provider in Japan. It's got myriad other drawbacks as well -- it can't do data at all, nor can it receive e-mail, which would seem to doom it in Japan. In addition, what good is a phone that nobody can easily call you on?

It's really the limited mobility of this device that undermines its usefulness. It's marginally more useful than a cordless landline phone, but incredibly less useful than a mobile phone. And in a country like Japan with an advanced mobile market, offering products and services with reduced mobility doesn't seem like much of a plan for success.

WLAN-based VOIP simply can't be used as a replacement for mobile service, without something resembling ubiquitous coverage by free, open hotspots.