A $40 VoIP WiFi-Hopper is Unveiled

Low-cost cell phone manufacturer Hop-On will show off a $40 WiFi VoIP device this week that the company claims will be able to operate in paid "hot-spots" and seamlessly jump across wireless networks. The phones will only be available through VoIP service providers, but the company says there's plenty of interest.

VoIP and wireless convergence will get a huge push this coming week from low-cost cell phone maker Hop-On Inc.'s new WiFi IP phone.

With a price tag of $39.99, the SIP-based HOP1515, which will be unveiled by the company at this week's annual Supercomm communications trade show, is significantly less costly than other WiFi phones currently on the market.

The unit's big selling point is its ability to roam, allowing subscribers to make secure calls from any available public or private WiFi hotspot.

Another feature is its small size. The device delivers the features of a terminal adapter in a mobile phone-sized handset, according to Hop On's promotional materials.

Hop-On believes that the time is right for this product, citing estimates that mobile/WLAN VoIP subscribers will reach 256 million by 2009 (InStat).

“All service providers are looking for low cost terminal sets they can bundle and ship with their services,” explains Hop-On CTO David Parsons. “With this price point we will be able to address a comprehensive market — from consumers to the enterprises and carriers.”

The handset is intended to be sold bundled as part of a service provider offering. To use the device at paid WiFi hotspot's, such as those offered by T-Mobile and other companies, the service provider offering the phone will have to make special arrangements, including agreements with the WiFi provider to open a network port for use with the phone.

The device's security and operational features address concerns that in the past have been a bar to widespread WiFi phone deployment: authentication, security and billing enablement. These features are built on Hop-On's Virtual SIM (VSIM) patented software technology, which the company says provides the features of GSM/CDMA security and authentication for Wi-Fi phones.

The VSIM solution provides three levels of authentication — handset, network and end user — designed to protect the system against fraud. The technology also provides encryption for the media stream itself. Usage and access is monitored by the VSIM for billing accuracy.

The system also allows users to roam on other providers' networks while preserving the accuracy of the billing information.

“In the past, WiFi access was kept inside the building and protected by radio encryption,” Parsons explains. “These features enable the phone to roam securely on public hot spots.”

The system also improves on the usability of WiFi phones according to Parsons, by reducing post-dial delay.

“You don't have to wait two to three minutes to register to the WiFi network, to access and register to the SIP server. You can take the phone out of your pocket and complete the call in 10-15 seconds.”

Hop-On plans to deploy the HOP1502 in Europe first, Parsons says, and has agreements in the works with some major U.S. VoIP providers.