There was one prediction I left off my 2005 VoIP Predictions list. While I did say Microsoft would try and get back into VoIP after previous failed attempts, I mostly talked about Microsoft's VoIP "software" plans, i.e. Longhorn perhaps with more advanced Live Communications Server (LCS) functionality. Well, I neglected
Microsoft's embedded hardware division. Microsoft will surely push their embedded hardware division quite hard into the VoIP space. Look for third-party phone manufacturers to embed Windows CE .NET into their VoIP hardware phones in 2005. Symbol, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Casio are but a few phone manufacturers that have already announced plans to use Windows CE .NET in their VoIP phones. Microsoft has recently been pushing its latest version of Windows CE .NET 5.0 which has several enhancements to enable VoIP integration. In fact, expect Microsoft to push even HARDER at the upcoming CES show which is only a week away. I'm sure there will be tons of Microsoft partners showing off their latest VoIP wares using the CE .NET platform.
In case you didn't know, Windows CE .NET uses the VoIP industry-standard Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) protocol, which provides a uniform platform for voice, instant messaging, and video. Because SIP separates the signaling from the hardware and media components of the phone, applications and services running on the phone can be dynamically updated and managed. Further, the latest version of Windows CE includes an integrated Telephony User Interface (TUI), a VoIP Application Interface Layer (VAIL) with extensive call control functionality, an interface to access contact and calendar data on Microsoft Exchange servers, advanced provisioning capabilities, and a complete network layer stack that facilitates VoIP-enabled device development and infrastructure integration.While these "smart phones" with large LCD displays and Web browsers and integrated email readers are really cool, I don't think they will do well in residential deployments (except for the casual techie geek like myself). Many of these devices are "desktop" phones which means you'd have to be sitting by the phone to use the web browser. In my house I have one desktop phone which I never use since it's not cordless. I refuse to be tied down to the location of the phone. Now, certainly a cordless "smart phone" based on Windows CE .NET with a LCD display might be pretty handy -- though the LCD screen would be much smaller so its portable. I certainly can envision checking email from a cordless "smart phone" while in the yard, watching TV, etc.
On the other hand, these Windows CE-based smart phones can certainly go after the lucrative business VoIP handset market where it probably makes more sense right now. For one, Cisco is making a killing selling thousands of phones with millions of their hardware IP desktop phones already deployed. Secondly, when you are in an office, your phone is on your desk just a few inches away, so you do have ease of access. Of course, you probably could just use your PC for browsing, but you do get some cool integration features such as Outlook integration, call control, screen-pop, and more when using a Windows CE smart phone device. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can make some in-roads into Cisco's dominant IP phone position in 2005, but check out some of the Microsoft's phone manufacturer partners below that are going to try and give Cisco a run for their money!