Let’s face it: Wireless phones take a beating. People drop them, handle them with sticky fingers and even lose them in the snow. That’s why Voice over Wireless LAN (VoWLAN) handsets make sense.
Known for secure and clear communications, VoWLAN handsets offer all the functionality of a desktop phone, but in a rugged mobile device. Some models even include text or audio messaging applications.
Rich Costello, senior research analyst for IDC, says there’s definitely a role for enterprise VoWLAN handsets.
“Wireless handsets provide a range of functionality without creating integration, support or security complexities,” he says. “Plus, they’re purpose-built for more demanding environments.”
Such features proved attractive to Varney GMC  in Bangor, Maine, the largest auto dealership of its type on the Northeastern seaboard. The company was already sold on enterprise handsets after a decade of trouble-free service from its analog devices. So about a year ago, when its aging equipment began to wear out, Varney decided to upgrade to Polycom’s SpectraLink 8020 VoWLAN devices  for its 16-member sales and managerial team.
Varney selected the SpectraLink for exceptional signal strength, crisp audio and ease of user adoption. “We needed quality audio at the farthest end of our vehicle lot,” says Matt Campbell, IT manager for the 70-employee auto dealer. “That’s about 200 yards from our building.”
Varney sales staff now confidently answer calls from anywhere in the company, both inside on the sales floor or outside on the lot. “The audio quality is so clear, callers can’t tell we’re using portables,” Campbell says. “Since upgrading, I haven’t fielded any customer complaints or had a single dropped call.”
The SpectraLink also offers users a seamless transition from desktop to wireless device, says Campbell. “We customized the handset functions to operate similarly to our desktop phones to ensure adoption,” he notes. “This includes features like transferring calls, parking calls and paging.” Best of all, the phones can take a beating. “Knowing how my users treat their phones, it would be an ongoing battle to keep a less durable option working,” Campbell says.
For example, one of the SpectraLink devices was accidentally lost in the snow and later scooped up by a snowplow. “On the following Monday we heard it ringing from the middle of the snow bank,” recalls Campbell. “That phone, along with all the others, is still working today.”
Even installation went without a hitch, Campbell says. In all, Varney deployed eight Cisco Aironet access points  — five inside and three outside — along with the system’s control unit.
Moving forward, the new setup delivers flexibility and a bridge to IP telephony.
“Now we can have up to 28 users. Before, it was 15,” Campbell says. “Best of all, the SpectraLink allowed us to leverage our existing PBX while also investing for the future, when we’re likely to shift to an IP system.”
On the West Coast, the Lake Avenue Church  in Pasadena, Calif., also relies on VoWLAN handsets. There, the sprawling 12-acre campus, which includes five buildings, presents unique telephony challenges for the church’s lean maintenance staff.
“In addition to our own activities, we host over 3,000 external events annually,” notes David Guzman, IT manager for 150-employee organization. “Our maintenance teams set up, tear down and provide support for all onsite events as well as ensuring day-to-day upkeep.”
To deliver fast, effective and reliable communications, Lake Avenue invested in Cisco System 7921G wireless phones  for its maintenance crew. The church adopted the handsets as part of a larger initiative to replace its legacy PBX with a Cisco Unified Communications system three years ago.
Guzman says the Cisco VoWLAN phones help to maximize staff time while keeping telephony expenses under control. “Among other things, our employees can get their voicemail and access other desktop functions directly from the handsets,” he says. “If it saves them even 15 minutes a day, that’s essentially another employee.”
The devices are superior to static-ridden two-way radios, Guzman explains. “The handsets allow us to hold discussions with our maintenance staff more transparently and confidentially than with radios,” he says. And while the maintenance staff works under challenging conditions, none of the phones have failed.
For WiFi Rail, another California business, quality communications showcases the very essence of the company’s capabilities.
WiFi Rail  brings real-time, high-speed wireless service to train commuters using patented networking technology. The company’s flagship project is a 20-year contract to blanket the 104 miles of track and 43 stations in San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system with public wireless communications.
For their backbone technology, WiFi Rail depends on various Cisco products to power applications for BART commuters and WiFi Rail’s operations, including Cisco Unified Communications and VoWLAN phones. Over time, WiFi Rail has invested in several Cisco handset models, most recently upgrading to the 7925G for its Bluetooth connectivity.
According to WiFi Rail President and CEO Cooper G. Lee, the enterprise handsets are critical to company operations. “With all the ambient noise in our environment, like trains flying by, audio quality is key,” he says. “The audio quality on Cisco VoWLAN phones is higher than traditional desk phones.”
Other benefits include the ability to withstand harsh environments, radio interoperability with the BART radio system, cost containment compared with cellular plans, and control over quality of service.
“With everyone on our internal network, we don’t have monthly recurring telecommunications costs,” Lee says. “And, we manage the QoS, so we don’t have dropped calls, black holes or service outages. We get true and full audio quality everywhere our network is.”
In short, Cooper says the VoWLAN phones help make the company successful.
“Plus,” adds Cooper, “we’ve improved productivity by tens of man hours every pay period because people no longer need to leave their worksites to get a signal just to order a part.”