Telephony has not been a big theme traditionally at the CeBIT trade show - until now. Interest is surging as voice evolves into one of many software applications that businesses and consumers can now run on their office or home Internet protocol networks.
VoIP is a not-so-new but increasingly popular technology that allows voice calls to be carried over a data connection. Developed in the early 1990s, it has been slow to spread to the masses, largely because big phone companies have been reluctant to cannibalise their cash-cow circuit-switched telephony businesses with an essentially free voice service.
But many of the early VoIP companies have also struggled to generate interest in the new technology among normal telephone customers with little, if any, understanding of computers.
That was then. The VoIP market is changing and CeBIT was the place to see it happening.
Siemens showed three different VoIP systems for consumers and small businesses.
One featured an analog telephone adapter (ATA) device that users slip into the USB slot of their notebook computer or PC and connect by cable to a cordless Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phone. The product, called Gigaset M34 USB, uses Sipps net telephony software from Nero.
The second product integrated the ATA module directly into a WLAN (wireless LAN) phone. The Gigaset S35 wireless phone is based on the IEEE 802.11g standard.
The third product, the SX541, was an inconspicuous white box containing a WLAN router that allows users to connect traditional cordless phones.
The ATA module integrates directly into the system, similar to the WLAN phone. But with the SX541, users can also make and accept both VoIP calls and circuit-switched ISDN calls.
"This is a nice feature because it helps you easily contact people using one or the other technology, which will be the case for some time," Siemens mobile product manager for southern Europe, Armin Mayr, said. "All the voice technology is tucked away in the router so users just have to navigate between the two services on the handset."
French wireless equipment manufacturer, Inventel, showed a similar home gateway product that provides VoIP over cordless telephones.