By RYAN NAKASHIMA AP Business Writer
LAS VEGAS Apr 9, 2006 (AP)— Wojtek Felendzer held a mobile phone to his ear as he walked across the room, the call automatically switching behind the scenes from a Wi-Fi wireless hotspot to the regular cellular network.
"Can you still hear me?" the Nokia Corp. employee asked.
"Yes," the reporter answered.
"That's good," he said. "This is seamless handover. The voice didn't drop. Nothing bad happened."
While Felendzer took only a few steps, his demonstration at the CTIA Wireless 2006 conference here proved that mobile Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology has made a meaningful step forward.
For years, Wi-Fi telephones and walkie-talkie-like communicators have been available for hospitals and offices. Now, manufacturers and mobile carriers are preparing to link standard cellular networks to the mishmash of Wi-Fi hotspots, a move that will expand coverage and perhaps make cheaper mobile minutes a reality.
The technology, called Unlicensed Mobile Access, or UMA, will help those who have high-speed Wi-Fi routers overcome any poor coverage in their houses or apartments. It's also a way for mobile carriers to expand their footprint without spending lots of money on new infrastructure.
UMA could enable users of souped-up handsets to wirelessly download content at broadband speeds at home and take that on the road when they leave.
"Everything from multimedia to audio, video when you look at the capabilities of phones now, the options expand pretty quickly," Nokia spokesman Eric Estroff said.
At the conference in Las Vegas last week, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. unveiled its t709 phone capable of seamlessly accessing Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Nokia's 6136 and Motorola Inc.'s A910 were introduced in February at a conference in Spain.
ABI Research expects the market for Wi-Fi enabled mobile handsets to reach 100 million units annually by 2009.
Carriers in Europe have expressed interest. France Telecom SA has said it will be Nokia's first European customer for its UMA phones, while Nordic operator TeliaSonera AB said in February it is moving ahead with trials for business customers.