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January 2000

We asked several industry-leading vendors for their views on the Internet telephony industry. Their responses appear below.
  • How important is interoperability to the success of our industry?
  • What are the major hurdles to successful interoperability?
  • Do interoperability events (such as ConvergeNET) play an important role in having vendors "put their money where their mouth is," thus proving interoperability?

John Musci, COO of ITXC Corporation:

Interoperability is a key issue in the Internet telephony industry. Interoperability between vendors allows carriers to run one network, with multiple vendors, instead of multiple networks with multiple vendors. It is important for a carrier to use multiple vendors to eliminate the technology and business risk of betting on one supplier to meet all of your future needs, as well as to get more competitive pricing. Interoperability also allows carriers to interconnect with other carriers, thus expanding their global reach.

ITXC believes in the importance of interoperability and thus was a founder of the iNOW! Initiative (now the iNOW! Activity Group under the IMTC). As a founder, ITXC encouraged VocalTec and Lucent Technologies to achieve interoperability by using an early implementation of the H.323 standard. By the time iNOW! was turned over to the IMTC, 30+ vendors had signed on to become interoperable.

There are major hurdles in achieving interoperability. These include competing standards, the broad interpretation of existing standards and companies not even following standards, but using proprietary solutions.

Interoperability events, such as ConvergeNET, are important because they bring vendors together for "hands on" testing and closer to interoperability.

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Gregg Astoorian, Director of Internet Telephony Marketing, Nortel Networks:

Interoperability is one of the defining characteristics of next-generation networks, but gateway interoperability is a relatively short-term issue. Other interoperability issues include how soft switches interwork, how different networks interface, how management and operations tools work together, how services can be supplied transparently over different equipment, how services interact between different network types (IP/ATM/TDM/SS7), etc. It is a multifaceted challenge and as VoIP becomes more and more synonymous with next-generation networks these issues will need to be addressed by the industry as a whole.

The real challenge is services. Current standards still have a ways to go before the services currently offered by the PSTN can be offered in a truly open environment -- until then delivering anything beyond baseline services will depend on non-standard protocol extensions. More importantly, in an open and programmable environment where anyone can develop new services, protocol extensions may no longer be sufficient.

The answer lies in creating a standardized service creation environment. The discussion around interoperability today centers around hardware, but in the future it will be service interoperability that is more significant, and that can only occur if developers are creating applications in standard ways.

Events like ConvergeNET are a good public forum to bring the interoperability issue to the forefront. However, vendors can't really "prove" interoperability until the equipment is in the field carrying live traffic, which is the most important step in showing that equipment is truly interoperable. It is, however, an important step to be able to bring equipment into a generic lab environment and kick the tires a bit before in depth verification of interoperability begins.

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Ofer Gneezy, President and CEO, iBasis:

As a wholesale provider to Tier One carriers, full interoperability among all of our Points of Presence (PoPs) worldwide is a requirement. Without it, you can?t offer truly global toll-quality service, and this is ultimately what our customers are looking for. While we fully support industry efforts to create a mature level of cross-vendor interoperability, today's reality is that interoperability only exists in a homogeneous network. This is why we built the iBasis Network as a completely Cisco Powered Network--to guarantee that every PoP on our network is 100-percent compatable with every other PoP on our network. We're taking advantage of a single and fully operable solution that avoids the potential quality and connectivity issues associated with equipment that is not designed to work together and may be on conflicting technology paths and upgrade schedules. Of course, as long as technology leaders like Cisco continue to drive the development of industry standards, iBasis is well positioned to leverage interoperability with other gateway vendors as soon as that becomes a reality. In the meantime, interoperability is great, but operability is even better.

Simpler standards such as SIP and MGCP may be more practical in the long run than the more complex H.323 standard. In addition, we need to see more progress on a global scale in areas such as digital voice compression, end to end signalling, and deployment of SS7 and C7.

Also, we look forward to the Open Settlement Protocol (OSP) becoming more pervasive in order to perform inter-domain billing among different Internet gateway vendors. OSP inherently supports a multi-service, multi-provider environment that will allow for call detail records and settlements to work seamlessly across disparate Internet telephony networks. While other initiatives such as iNOW! are fine, there are issues -- such as RSVP -- at the bandwidth layer that also need to be addressed apart from work at the industry vendor level.

Events such as ConvergeNET are valuable opportunities for vendors to demonstrate the progress they're making toward interoperability and to identify the common areas of continued difficulty among the various equipment providers. They also serve to keep vendors working together, sharing their knowledge.

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