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January 1999

Opening Doors For Internet Telephony


In the fast moving world of Internet telephony, the battle between open and closed systems is unfolding at breakneck pace. We have witnessed different kinds of open systems prevail in the data communications, telecommunications, and computing industries. As these industries converge and overlap, the dynamics of open systems will be a key determinant of the winners.

Open systems are characterized by the decomposition of systems into modular components, with de facto or de jure standards defining how components interface. In a closed or proprietary system, by contrast, a single company is responsible for developing and delivering monolithic solutions. While proprietary systems vendors may obtain individual components from third parties, only the system vendor can select and qualify components.

At the base level, open systems enable system integrators to develop increasingly powerful solutions by leveraging an industry of component suppliers to compete against the most powerful and entrenched proprietary system vendors. Open systems provide an awesome mechanism, allowing component vendors to compete against each other at every level, spurring innovation and rapid improvements in price/performance. Many entrepreneurs push the limit in their developments, and some succeed.

Open systems can be deployed in various topologies. In a networked system, each component is a discrete unit, and interchangeable components perform specific functions, linked together via a network with defined interfaces between components. IP communication networks are good examples of network-based open systems. A variety of infrastructure devices (routers, switches, firewalls, remote access servers), and application servers (http, ftp, rtp), work together via defined standards.

By contrast, fewer telecommunication networks have networked open systems. Interfaces between infrastructure and application servers are characterized by many protocols - well over 200 de jure protocols just for the connection to public network switches (the Bulgarian double wink R2 multi-frequency protocol is an example) - many of which are still proprietary.

Open hardware systems are another type of open system. Physical systems (like a PC, for example) are constructed from modular, interchangeable components. Starting with the first reference design for the PC by IBM in the early 1980s, the industry has created the greatest explosion of capability and performance the world has ever seen. One by one, closed systems vendors have fallen by the wayside. Apple Computer may have had superior technology, but it could not withstand the onslaught of an industry of rivals. Even untouchables like Cray Supercomputers and Silicon Graphics have succumbed to the relentless force of open systems.

The ultimate flexibility of open systems is enabling diverse and rich applications to share the same set of resources. This is a familiar capability in the computer environment, and is beginning to revolutionize how telecommunications systems are developed and delivered.

Open hardware systems have made dramatic inroads for telecommunications systems over the last decade. In the Internet telephony segment of the market, of those applications that integrate computer control with call processing, the portion of systems developed using open systems grew from 32 percent in 1992 to 58 percent in 1997. System integrators and OEM vendors use an industry of component vendors to build their typically single-function systems, which compete head to head against proprietary vendors delivering similar capabilities. Just as open computing systems evolved from adjunct devices to mission critical devices, even mission critical telecommunication functions like PBX and ACD are now built on open systems.

The Internet telephony industry, and by extension the telecommunications industry, have started to converge on open system servers, building complete, extensible, and application-rich communication servers. The communication servers host a set of resources, including circuit-switched network interfaces, packet-switched network interfaces, and media stream processing resources. And they enable multiple communication applications from different vendors, like call routing and media stream processing, to use the same underlying set of communication resources. A single server, therefore, can host PBX, call center, gateway, auto attendant, messaging, conferencing, and myriad other applications.

An enterprise or even a service provider deploys and maintains a single server, and easily and cost effectively adds new communication applications. Since developers no longer need to deploy an entire hardware system, the business model for application development can change, and niche applications can be more easily developed and more cost effectively deployed. Tens of thousands of independent software vendors can create solutions for every real and imagined communication need, just as open computing systems have given rise to tens of thousands of computing solutions.

Communication applications on open system servers function completely abstracted from the transport infrastructure. The applications do not know and do not care whether hybrid switching or circuit, packet, and cell provide the transport infrastructure. For example, a call center application written to industry standard APIs like TAPI, S.100, and JTAPI on a communication server can run seamlessly with circuit-switched or packet-switched networks, with integrated or distributed physical infrastructure.

With the convergence of telecommunications and data communications into a single industry, the role of open systems will also blend. As data networking equipment continues to increase in capability and complexity, and as data communications and telecommunications merge, open hardware systems will play an increasingly larger role in the merged communication infrastructure. System integrators will be able to construct flexible and extensible gateways, switches, and routers that combine components from multiple specialist vendors.

Adding data networking capability to an open communication server enables a single device for an enterpriseļæ½s complete communication needs, including both call routing and media stream processing applications that span circuit-switched, packet-switched, and hybrid network environments. As industries converge, different economic models and forms of open systems will roll out at Internet speed.

Laurence J. Fromm is vice president, new business development for Dialogic Corporation. Dialogic is a leading manufacturer of high-performance, standards-based computer telephony components. Dialogic products are used in voice, fax, data, voice recognition, speech synthesis, and call center management CT applications. The company is headquartered in Parsippany, New Jersey, with regional headquarters in Tokyo and Brussels, and sales offices worldwide. For more information, visit the Dialogic Web site at www.dialogic.com.

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