Polycom handsets will have browser, bar code reader

Organizations with Web applications have few choices to get them onto mobile devices for in-building staff. The most common option is a cellular smart phone, which only works for those entitled to such a perk.

Polycom Inc. hopes to change that with the latest in its line of SpectraLink wireless handsets for wireless local area networks (WLANs) The company said Tuesday that the 8400 series, which uses voice over WiFi on 802.11a/b/g/n networks, has the open source WebKit XHTML-based browser that can show data on a 2.2-inch diagonal TFT colour screen.

In addition, one model comes with an integrated bar code reader, which will be pitched at the health care and warehouse workers who now carry separate phones and readers.

Other verticals Polycom will go after are retail and manufacturing.

However, buyers won’t be able to get their hands on the handsets until at least the second quarter of 2011. That’s to give software developers time to port applications to the browser.

“We’re developing handsets that can do much more than voice without compromising voice,” said Ben Guderian, Polycom’s vice-president of wireless solutions. “This is a great example of unified communications in the context of industry-specific communications-enabled business practices.”

The SpectraLink line competes against Cisco Systems Inc.‘s (NASDAQ: CSCO) WIP310 and Windows Mobile-based units from Motorola Inc. (the EWP line of Voice over WLAN handsets) and Vocera Communications Inc. (the Vocera Smartphone).Motorola’s EWP 3100 has an integrated camera which can read bar codes. However in its literature the company said it’s only for “light duty” scanning.

The Polycom reader, available only on the SpectaLink 8540, is a dedicated scanner.Guderian said the bar code reader version should be appreciated in hospitals and nursing homes, where staff have to check patient ID against bar-coded medications to ensure there are no mistakes.

Health institutions that use bar codes often have either dedicated readers or software-enabled laptops on movable carts. Polycom said it would be more convenient for staff to use an 8450 that transmits directly back to a nursing station or the hospital’s servers.

However, one industry observer isn’t so sure. Michael Finneran, principal of dBrn Associates, a Hewlett Neck, N.Y., telecommunications consulting firm, thinks most health care facilities will stick with separate readers.

“Polycom will have to put some real marketing muscle” into it, he said in an interview.

Still, he added, tablet computers and not voice over WLAN seem to be the next wireless technology the health care industry is interested in.

On the other hand Michael Laird, RFID product director at ABI Research, said an integrated bar code reader on a wireless phone is “innovative.”

“If one device can do both well and has an easy to use interface and the scanning capabilities are accurate and user friendly … then I think it’s going to be attractive.”

Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise voice and data at Infonetics Research, also thinks and adding a bar code reader is a good move.

Finneran, author of a 2008 book on voice over WLAN, also said he’s disappointed that so few handset makers are interested in the technology, which is growing much more slowly that he expected.

What irritates him is so few manufacturers are looking into the possibilities of leveraging VoWLAN with their applications. However, he said, it seems organizations prefer to equip mobile workers with cellular smart phones.

The base SpectraLink 8440 is expected to cost around US$800, Guderian said, and will be released in the second quarter of next year. At the same time the 8450, which will read 1D bar codes, will be released. The 8452, which will read 2D bar codes, will come out in the third quarter of 2011. Both bar code versions will cost “a few hundred dollars more” than the 8440.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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