Uniden Broadband Moves to Target VoIP

Say the name "Uniden," and images of inexpensive cordless telephones and radar detectors come to mind. But the company also wants you to think about voice-over-broadband equipment.

Uniden America Corp. has started to develop a line of voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) telephones — to be aimed initially at small-to-midsized businesses, then later at the small office/home office (SOHO) market. And it's targeting the broadband modem market as well.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based, U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Uniden Corp. believes that with its mass market, consumer-electronics pedigree, it can produce VoIP customer-premise gear at significantly lower price points than current manufacturers do. And those carriers that are Uniden's initial wholesale customers see lower equipment pricing as a critical element toward driving customer acceptance of IP services, said Uniden broadband unit vice president Greg Fadul.

"This is a fundamental shift in Uniden's business plan, a focus on [business-to-business] and carriers," added Uniden vice president of product marketing Jim Palmer. "There'll be a very strong marketing push to redevelop our brand so we can make a push into the business and carrier markets."

Other consumer-electronics manufacturers have also been eyeing the voice-over-broadband market. Earlier this year, Panasonic announced plans to offer a consumer-oriented cordless phone with integrated data networking capabilities aimed initially at carriers planning to offer voice-over-digital subscriber line service.

Uniden's initial VoIP phones — one model designed according to the telephony-based H.323 standard is due out early in the first quarter, while another using the Web-centric Session Initiation Protocol is slated for the second quarter — will be wholesale priced around $150, compared with the high $200- to $300-range for models available currently from equipment vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc.

Uniden also expects to begin carrier testing in the first quarter for a voice over DSL modem with integrated home phone line networking capabilities and available snap-on modules for adding wireless LAN or cordless multi-handset phones to the connection.

The company acquired the basic product – branded Evolo — through its late August acquisition of Plano, Texas-based Broadband Gateways, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July. Broadband Gateways already was working to ensure interoperability with DSL voice gateways made by the major vendors, so Uniden got a product virtually ready for market.

Uniden now is working to modify Evolo into a cable modem version complete with VoIP capabilities, and plans to submit the specification to Cable Television Laboratories Inc. for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) certification.

Fadul said that with an expected lengthy time frame for getting the cable version modified and then certified, and with telcos expected to make a big push to deploy voice over DSL next year, Uniden would push the DSL version first.

Eventually, both the VoIP phones and Evolo will be aimed at retail shelves, Fadul said.