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Open the door to telephony's future.

Innovation depends on standards promoting Internet voice services.

A revolution is taking place today in telephony that mirrors the Internet revolution of the past decade. Slowly, but surely, carriers are building out a converged voice/data infrastructure that will foster an explosion in new telephony services and applications. To achieve full voice/data convergence, open standards will be needed, standards that are supported by everyone in the voice/data food chain, from carriers and service providers to businesses and consumers. These standards are emerging quickly, and now is the time to plan for them.

To foster innovation in telephony networks, all parties must work together to transform the public switched telephone network (PSTN) from a closed, proprietary system optimized for voice delivery into a converged voice/data network based on open standards. Today, PSTN delivery platforms, such as Class 5 switches, are built on proprietary architectures, and years are needed to deploy new features on these architectures.

In addition, carriers deploy PSTN switches from various vendors, each with its own proprietary way of implementing features--impeding the smooth, uniform rollout of services. For example, caller ID, three-way calling and call return have been technically possible for many years, but these and other features have been painfully slow to appear, due to lack of standardization. As a result, carriers have difficulty performing across-the-board software and feature upgrades needed to offer a service universally.

In contrast, the use of Internet standards for the deployment of voice services will enable the same kind of rapid innovation for telephony that is occurring on the Internet today. Just 10 years ago, few people had even heard of the Internet, but today those same people wonder how they could live without it. The Internet touches lives on a daily basis--either directly as e-mail is sent or received, as company Web sites are explored, or as people check their investment portfolios; or indirectly when goods and services are purchased from companies that rely on Internet standards to conduct business.

In the telecommunications industry, the following Internet standards are taking root:

* The media gateway control protocol (MGCP) and the newer media gateway control protocol (MEGACO) are used for controlling voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) gateways from external call control agents. These protocols assume a call-control architecture where the call-control "intelligence" is outside the gateways and handled by external call-control agents.

* The session initialization protocol (SIP) is an application-layer control (signaling) protocol used between intelligent devices for creating, modifying and terminating sessions with one or more participants. SIP is designed to be independent of the lower-layer transport protocol and can be extended with additional capabilities.

* Although not an Internet standard, the H.323 protocol has also been widely deployed to build VoIP networks. H.323 is also an application-layer control protocol used between intelligent devices for managing sessions with other multimedia end points.

Voice and data networks will converge around the IP standard, as well as a host of other Internet standards for multimedia applications, such as IPtelephony and streaming video. Incumbent and competitive carriers alike are aggressively moving to IP and softswitch technologies that will enable them to implement new features quickly through a single, cost-effective network.

With the carriers moving toward convergence, network managers should also begin planning for voice/data network integration around IP. Information analysts at Phillips Group-Info Tech estimate that nearly 90% of enterprises with multiple locations will begin migrating from the circuit-switched public switched telephone network (PSTN) to packet-based telephony over the next five years.

THE PROMISE OF CONVERGENCE

The benefits of voice/data convergence accrue across the board, from the carrier network to the customer premises:

* Lower capital equipment costs. Companies and carriers will lower their infrastructure and management costs with a single, integrated voice/data network infrastructure. Telephone and data equipment is increasingly becoming integrated. For example, many companies are replacing multiple voice and data devices with integrated communications platforms (ICPs) that provide a multitude of services in one box.

* Lower maintenance costs. By merging voice and data networks, carriers and businesses reduce management requirements and personnel needs by supporting only one converged network, instead of separate voice and data networks. Business customers also reduce administrative overhead with only one provider relationship to maintain.

* Better bandwidth usage. Circuit-switched voice networks frequently waste available bandwidth because voice lines sit idle for a significant portion of each day. By using a packet-based network for telephony transport, carriers and companies can reduce costs by leveraging unused and expensive wide area network bandwidth for data services. For example, idle voice bandwidth can be used for large overnight data transfers or backups.

* Higher productivity. Converged voice/data networks make deploying new, converged applications possible, increasing productivity. Examples include instant messaging (the ability to contact someone via phone, e-mail, PDA, pager or other media, wherever they are), voice-to-text, text-to-speech, videoconferencing, distributed call centers and voice mail networking for companies with multiple offices.

* Higher quality of service and improved customer satisfaction. With a packet-based network, carriers and service providers can monitor quality of service (QoS) by subscriber or application to guarantee adherence to service-level agreements. They can also allocate bandwidth dynamically as customer or application requirements change.

* A continuous path to future innovation. With an agreed-upon set of open standards behind a converged voice/data network, a surge of innovation will begin, with profound effects only glimpsed today. In 1990, predicting the Internet's powerful influence on business and society was impossible, and yet, 10 years later, the transformation is happening. That same type of transformation in converged voice and data services will be seen over the next decade.

PREPARING FOR CONVERGENCE

To prepare for the transition to standards-based telephony, companies can begin by eliminating proprietary solutions. For example, many PBXs and other telecommunications platforms are specific to a particular vendor, and do not support IP or other open standards. In contrast, newer ICPs offer a bridge to future open telephony networks by simultaneously supporting both PSTN telephony and IP-based data transmission and applications.

Ideally, any standards-based voice/telephony solution for business should support a company's current voice and data services, while offering a smooth and cost-effective migration path to tomorrow's networks and services. Many companies are not ready for a complete move to packet-based telephony today, so a replacement ICP should be modular, allowing for upgrades of specific services on a schedule that matches the company's needs and budget.

Following are some key considerations for companies selecting an ICP as a platform that enables a migration to a standards-based future in converged voice/ data communications:

* support for multiple IP telephony signaling protocols;

* support for multiple broadband access technologies;

* single point of management for both voice and data capabilities;

* support for standards-based QoS mechanisms;

* simultaneous connections to both packet-switched and circuit-switched networks through a wide variety of interface types;

* reliability, including redundancy on major system components;

* support for advanced features, such as automated call distribution and interactive voice response; and

* modular design that allows for gradual upgrades toward full convergence.

By selecting an ICP with these qualifications, companies can build an effective bridge to the new world of voice/data convergence. Within a few years, open standards will deliver a vast array of converged telephony applications and services, and the companies whose communications platforms support these standards will be best positioned to profit from them.

Pelham is senior product manager at Vertical Networks, Inc., Sunnyvale, CA.

www.verticalnetwork.com

Circle 266 for more information from Vertical Networks
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Comment:Telecommunications carriers are slowly constructing a converged voice/data infrastructure that will drive an explosive development of new telephony services and applications.
Author:Pelham, Bryan
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:1237
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