Net2Phone's WiFi handset works within limits

If you think VOIP is far enough out on the bleeding edge, try wireless VOIP.

It's an intriguing marriage of popular IEEE 802.11 wireless LANs and IP telephony. Just make one of your voice-enabled Ethernet network nodes a WiFi router, and all you need is one of the new WiFi phones being offered by several VOIP vendors.

I tried Net2Phone's $175 VoiceLine XJ100, which gets you onto the company's VoiceLine phone service, where for $29.99 monthly (plus $29.99 activation fee) you can make and receive unlimited calls in the United States and Canada.

The XJ100, an inch or so longer than the typical cell phone and rechargeable in a small cradle, recognized my D-Link WiFi network and Comcast broadband Internet exactly as promised in the manual. I instantly dialed my landline phone and accessed features such as caller ID, voice mail and call blocking. A secure Web site lets you manage your account and control telephony features.

The sound had the slightly choppy quality that still defines VOIP, but it was barely noticeable if I stayed near the WiFi router. Beyond 20 to 30 feet, voice quality degraded sharply, with calls becoming barely audible or being dropped.

This is a function of the quality of the WiFi network, not the XJ100 phone, but be ready to be disappointed if you're used to a good 2.4-GHz portable phone. And unlike enterprise-class technology, this less sophisticated type of VOIP won't work in a power failure or handle Emergency 911, so you can't trust the XJ100 as your only phone.

Though the XJ100 is marketed to consumers and small businesses, I can see it appealing to government agencies with small field offices or telecommuting workers. It comes with Wired Equivalent Privacy, a WiFi security standard, but most important, it can cut long-distance bills at least in half. Since the XJ100 can't dial around an internal VOIP network, those cheap Internet calls are what make this particular WiFi phone worthwhile.
'David Essex

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