April 21, 2006

Neatgear SPH101 Skype WiFi Phone available for pre-order

Netgear's SPH101 Skype WiFi Phone available for pre-order

Woo hoo! I mentioned this phone in my CES round-up, and it appears to finally be on the path to reality. A quarter late, but technology like this often is. I dislike pre-ordering things, but I did add it to my Wish List.

I'm surrounded by WiFi hotspots. I know this is still the exception rather than the rule for most people, but this phone is one of the first solutions I've seen that takes advantage of hotspot ubiquity. Yes, hotspot ubiquity allows you to get your email anywhere, but you still use the same solution (email, PDA + email client) to get your email, and the business model associated with email access didn't change. An ultra-portable WiFi phone changes the telephony business model. For someone like me who has WiFi coverage at home, work, while traveling (in many cases like this one), and at local businesses, I don't need a mobile phone (and the $100+ monthly phone bill) to get my calls. I don't have to use a bulky notebook and a headset to talk to people, and I don't have to pay Cingular over a hundred dollars a month to talk to people on the go. This improves the solution and the business model, the how and the why.

Yes, this fundamental shift to IP telephony will take time in the consumer market, but portability was a key brick in the wall that had to come down. Me using this phone as a quasi mobile phone replacement definitely fits into the early adopter profile, but imagine another three years down the road. Metro level WiFi services (see Google in SF or MetroFi in some Bay Area communities) means the WiFi ubiquity blanket will be almost seamless. IP phone quality and cost will go down (thank you commoditization), so the # of users will naturally go up.

I love being on the bleeding edge of something interesting. Now start imagining interesting data alerts, social networking indicators, etc. that can also go on these IP enabled phones. Data services are interesting on a mobile phone, but expensive. Almost have of my phone bill is for Cingular's unlimited data plan. If all these data services are free (or relatively so, depending on Google's eventual business model for Metro WiFi), people, and especially the younger generation that drives these types of services and as a demographic are extremely price sensitive, will start using new and exciting services to compliment voice calls.

Now I've just got to get more of my friends on Skype! ;-)

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