A new voice frontier: Internet protocol redefines limits of communication.
New and developing Internet Protocol technologies enable voice integration with data systems in ways that have not been possible before, says Darwei Kung, director of IP voice product management for Broomfield-based Level 3 Communications Inc. IP telephony is the delivery of voice telephone services across the same wires that carry data traffic. IP telephony makes it possible to:
* Retrieve and respond to e-mail via telephone.
* Automatically route calls to pre-set locations without the cost of call forwarding.
* Integrate e-mail contact lists with the telephone.
* Combine a Web site with voice communications in a click-to-talk call-center application.
Adding to the benefits of IP telephony itself are substantial cost savings on long distance calls, especially international ones, and the efficiencies that come with an integrated network. With IP telephony, data or voice transmissions are converted into packets of information that travel across the network -- whether it is the public Internet, private data networks (referred to as Intranets), or a combination of both. Unlike traditional phone service, those packets do not require a dedicated, open circuit end-to-end, thus enabling more efficient use of bandwidth and network capacity
Even Independent Local Exchange Carriers, including Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc., have embraced the technology, the use of which often is transparent to users.
Already a "substantial portion" of Qwest's interstate, out-of-region calls at some point go across the carrier's voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) network, says Tim Jasionowski, director of IP product incubation and strategy for Qwest. These calls enter the network as traditional voice calls, then are converted to IP to traverse the core of the network, then convert back to traditional voice before being handed off to the receiver.
Already billions of minutes of telephone time are generated globally that take advantage of these technologies. Consider these facts:
* Approximately 5 percent, or 3.714 billion minutes, of all international voice traffic utilizes VoIP, according to published estimates. That is up from only 1.7 billion minutes or 1.6 percent in 1999
* Top destinations for international VoIP calls are Mexico, China and Russia.
* Retail IP telephony revenues are expected to hit $19.5 billion in 2005, up from $390 million in 2000, according to estimates from Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. (That excludes individual businesses' do-it-yourself and voice-over-data solutions that don't involve services from a network operator.)
* With the same exclusions, retail IP telephony minutes should grow from 3.9 billion in 2000 to 284.5 billion in 2005.
Early VoIP solutions typically were based on a PC or on remote access server architecture, and had voice quality issues. "Those early solutions were designed to deliver inexpensive, or even free, calls over the Internet. At those prices, people were willing to sacrifice voice quality," says Beth Morrissey, a spokesperson for Westford, Mass.-based Sonus Networks Inc., which provides VoIP softswitches and gateways to carriers. Rapid advances in the technology as well as carriers' own private data networks to deliver voice services have put a premium on voice quality
The reason for the big shift to VoIP is simple economics, says Qwest's Jasionowski. "It costs us much less money and we get much more efficiency out of a single strand of fiber by converting the traffic to IP rather than keeping it in the traditional ... format." An ordinary T1 telephone line is a digital pipeline that can carry 24 voice conversations at the same time. That same T1 pipeline with a VoIP router on either end can handle as many as 100 conversations simultaneously, with quality as good as calls over a traditional network. That efficiency has led businesses and many major carriers to turn to IP telephony Most, like Qwest, use it in their network backbone, though it still is not an end-to-end solution. Stumbling blocks include the entrenched switched telephone network as well as regulatory oversight that incumbent carriers must address.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission, for example, has jurisdiction over certain types of services and over carriers' interconnection agreements for calls that utilize the public network, says Barbara Fernandez, a PUC spokesman. Directory services and Internet connections are not regulated, nor are calls that are not switched but instead carried end-to-end on a private dedicated network. Incumbent carriers also have invested millions of dollars in traditional circuit switches that they are not yet willing to scrap, adds Mike Guertin, an associate consultant in Denver with Tulsa-based Telechoice Inc., telecommunications consultants. Completely scrapping circuit phone switches is not the answer anyway insists Jasionowski. Not everyone today cares about voice mail, e-mail or Internet, and some people still even have rotary telephones.
Not everyone sees the conversion to IP as completely seamless. Voice quality is still a problem with VoIP, says Guertin. Others point to the uncontrolled environment of the public Internet. Even with managed service providers, on the Web it is much more difficult to predict the load and latency necessary to ensure the high level of service the average business consumer demands.
Level 3 customer Carlos Bhola for one, is wary of the public Internet.
He is president and co-founder of Vonage Holdings Corp., a VoIP communications company that has just launched a presence in Colorado, but is based in Edison, N.J. Vonage provides last-mile IP telephony service to cable companies that in turn brand it as their own, and it relies on managed IP networks, including Level 3's private network. "We don't ascribe to using public Internet segments unless we can absolutely guarantee the quality ... on those public Internet segments," says Bhola. "And that is very rare."
RELATED ARTICLE: IF YOU HOOK UP WITH IP TELEPHONY
* Be careful in signing up for long-term telephony packages. New services and tremendous cost savings are in the offing. within the next 24 to 36 months.
* Beware of semantics. If a carrier promises Quality of Service, that does not relate to the actual voice quality. That is reference to the data transport infrastructure.
* It is buyer beware in today's market, with so many telecommunications companies going bankrupt. Check out any provider before buying a product or service.
* Don't sign a contract for VoIP without a detailed service-level agreement that spells out what you expect.
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|Author:||Marks, Susan J.|
|Article Type:||Product Announcement|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2001|
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