in Telephony

DECT and SIP

I haven’t had much of a chance to write about technology issues recently; quite frankly, not a lot has been happening that has interested me. Sure, Apple has announced a new MacBook that’s really thin, but, as usual, it has the 100% Apple markup over anything sensible. I mean, $3,000 for a notebook? I know that $1,000 of that is probably to pay for the solid-state drive, but I’m not even convinced that such technology is really necessary. I contrast this to a $500 Acer Eee laptop that would more than meet my needs! (Too bad the name is retarded, kind of like the Nintendo Wii)

Enough about Steve Jobs’ latest money printing scheme; I want to talk about telephony again. I went to a TAUG meeting tonight on the topic of integrating DECT with SIP. DECT is one of those technologies that has been around for a generation but has largely been ignored in North America; only recently has there been any uptake. Most people (myself included, at least up until about 4 hours ago) don’t even know that cordless phone systems that you can buy at Best Buy use DECT – okay, the example I linked to is a bit unfair since it says “DECT 6.0” right in the headline, but you get the idea. My friend Brian had a set of these in 2005 but I wasn’t any the wiser that it wasn’t just a regular WDCT set on the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

All of this is just academic until you pair DECT (as a digital technology) with SIP. That’s exactly what Aastra has done – at the end of it, voilà, you have a wireless voice network with automatic handoff between access points (RFPs, or Radio Fixed Points, in DECT-lingo), so you can wander about your office space with a wireless handset. Obviously, there are a lot of signal propagation issues and the design can become complex, but I can see many commercial applications for such technology, particularly in the retail or manufacturing sectors. Best of all, DECT doesn’t have the overhead of WiFi (being that it’s an efficient Layer 3 protocol designed with power consumption in mind), so you can get some amazing battery life, on the order of twelve hours of talk time on a single charge (a pair of AAA batteries)!

What’s really interesting is that in Europe, the carriers have worked on automatic handoff between DECT networks and GSM – so theoretically, if you wandered out of your DECT network, you could conceivably continue talking on the public GSM network. I’m betting that this won’t even fly in North America, since our carriers are firmly lodged in the mid-80’s with their legacy technologies) but it’s clear that the final frontier is seamless integration between VoIP networks (offered by many a CLEC) and the mobile PSTN. Harmony Mobile was one of the first companies I heard of that attempted this; Rogers eventually kicked them off their cellular towers and I’m not sure whether they are still in business. I’m sure there will be other attempts in the future by other firms.

Whether the implementation technology is DECT or not is anyone’s guess, but it’s another example of the “real” kind of convergence I see in the communications marketplace; this time, pushed on by the consumer who has a hard time reconciling why they’re paying $40/mo. for 200 minutes of mobile service, when Unlimitel will sell them a VoIP DID for $2.95/mo. and $0.011/minute talk time that they can subsequently broadcast over a WiFi network.