Now that the MPx200 review is out, I can move on to other phone stuff. I've been waiting for easy VoIP for years. I've watched free Linux server software like VOCAL and Asterisk develop, but I've never been able to get either to work (admittedly, it's been a while). Similarly, I've never been able to get any of the free audio or video conferencing software to work well enough to actually be usable. Heck, even iChat usually has problems with my home firewall. I have high hopes for Vonage and the rest of their ilk, but they still only solve part of the problem. I don't just want to replace my home POTS line with a VoIP converter box, I want to replace my nasty old phones with something more modern and workable. I want something that'll sync with my address book. I want voice mail to show up in my email inbox. I want semi-integrated phone service, IM, and maybe even video conferencing, all using open, standard protocols. Killing the telcos is just step one.
I realized the other day that my little MPx200 cell phone is 95% of the way to being a perfect VoIP phone. I mean, it has a nice form-factor for a phone, a nice display, it already has all of my contact information, and so forth. The big issue is that it has poor network connectivity, but I could almost fix that with a 802.11 SD card (if Smartphone 2002 supported WiFi, and if there were drivers for the MPx200. And if I was willing to lose my SD slot and have an antenna sticking out of the side of my phone).
Bizarrely enough, Microsoft has been thinking the same thing. Microsoft Research is offering Portrait, a SIP client for PocketPC 2003 and Smartphone 2003 platforms. It looks like it'll even do video conferencing. Of course, it's not a real product--it's a research tool--and while they claim that it'll work with any SIP server, I doubt it's ever been tested with non-Microsoft products. Still, it's a nice start. If Motorola ever ships the rumored Smartphone 2003 upgrade for the MPx200, I'll probably give it a try.
I doubt it'll work, but they'll get it right eventually. The first round of phones with 802.11 are supposed to show up this spring, so the hardware platform (and market!) will probably be ready by the end of 2004. I doubt that any of the US carriers will encourage this, so you'll have two different numbers, one VoIP and one cellular, and you won't be able to roam between the two, but you have to start somewhere.