Vonage Marketing Inc. has partnered with telecommunications equipment designer UTStarcom Inc. to produce Vonage's first portable Wi-Fi handset, the companies announced Tuesday.

UTStarcom designed and manufactured Vonage's latest device, dubbed the F1000.

It looks similar to a traditional cell phone and offers consumers easy access to Vonage's voice over IP phone service from any open-access Wi-Fi hotspot in coffee shops, airport lounges or hotels, according to company officials.

"We've been talking to UTStarcom about many different products—lately we've been brainstorming about mobile phones," said Louis Holder, executive vice president of product development at Vonage.

About a year ago, "we asked [UTStarcom] if they could build us a Wi-Fi phone with cell form factor and we have since been working together to build and test the product, which we can now release to consumers."

The device, which operates via 802.11b wireless networks, allows users to make relatively inexpensive local and long-distance calls to anywhere in the United States or Canada, through Vonage's VOIP service.

The Vonage service utilizes a broadband Internet connection to place calls, rather than using traditional phone lines.

Vonage VOIP works with an adapter to access high-speed connections. Once connected, when the user picks up their phone to place a call, it translates voice directly into data that is transmitted through the Internet. When the call is answered, it translates the data back to voice.

"The advantage to this handheld device is that it's much cheaper than using a cell," said Holder. "So, for example, an enterprise could opt to give its employees an F1000 as a cheaper alternative to the office phone."

Vonage's VOIP phone service is available for personal or business use and provides a range of calling plans, which start at $14.99 for 500 minutes.

The F1000 handset supports several features that come standard with Vonage's VOIP service.

It offers three-way calling capability, call waiting, caller ID, voicemail, repeat dial-on-busy, call block options and phone book with space for up to 200 entries.

The phone charges in two to three hours to offer up to five hours talk time.

However, since Wi-Fi phones are quite new to the market, they don't yet offer the interactive capability you see on most mobile phones today, such as Internet access or multimedia downloads, said Holder.

"We won't replace mobile phones with this product," Holder noted. "But we are looking to replace some of the minutes customers use on their cell."

The device does enable a certain level of personalization, with a number of ring tones to choose from, in addition to vibrate and silent options.

Users can also configure and save different Wi-Fi profiles for quicker connection capability in the future, according to company officials.

"As more and more Wi-Fi hotspots become available worldwide, we're starting to see major cities like New York and Philadelphia show interest in implementing city-wide Wi-Fi," said Holder.

"With that technology, this phone would stand in for your mobile phone as you roam the cities."

The F1000 retails for $129.99 with a Vonage VOIP service plan. The company is currently offering a $50 rebate, for a final sale price of $79.99.

Additional information is at Vonage's Products & Services site.

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