Vonage Announces WiFi Phone Release

New Jersey-based VoIP provider Vonage announced today that it will soon be offering its subscribers a WiFi telephone that can be used to make calls over the internet at WiFi-enabled homes and public hot-spots.

According to the company, the new phone, called the F-1000 and manufactured by California-based UTStarcom, will be sold for "around $100″ and be available to Vonage subscribers in the second quarter of 2005.

The release of the device will make Vonage the second major VoIP service provider to offer a WiFi phone to its subscribers. Last year, Massachusetts-based VoIP provider Broadvoice launched its service with a WiFi-only mobile phone offering for less than $100, garnering the company strong notice among early internet telephony adopters.

The device, said a company spokesman, though similar to a modern cellular telephone, will not have the ability to make calls over the cellular network.

This limitation may impede immediate acceptance because while public WiFi penetration is rapidly growing, it may be many years before it will approach the coverage of cellular networks. Also potentially limiting the use of a WiFi cell phone is the myriad of authentication methods used by public WiFi providers who charge for internet access over their service.

Several major cellular phone manufacturers are working to release hybrid cellular/WiFi devices sometime this year. And already owners of pricy WiFi-enabled PocketPC devices with built-in phones have the ability to make both cellular calls and internet calls over WiFi using a number of VoIP "softphones" released specifically for use with Windows Mobile Edition handheld PCs.

Vonage’s announcement was timed to coincide with this week’s mammoth Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where VoIP will be more heavily showcased than in the past.

Still, the announcement came as little surprise as Vonage had distributed “sneak-peak” versions of the product to friendly media last summer.