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February 2000


IP Telephony: Where Are The Applications?


The benefits of voice/data convergence and Internet telephony are many, but only one is really compelling: Next generation applications and services that provide carriers with new revenue streams and a competitive advantage. However, ease of integration and scalability to deploy new services into the existing service structure can be very cumbersome. The true value of a worldwide IP network will be found in the services that will be available through applications that exist on top of the IP network.

Carriers to date have largely experienced the Internet as an additional burden that generates little or no compensating revenue. Their central offices are being turned into teraPOPs as Internet traffic increasingly dominates their networks, and yet traditional circuit-switched voice services still account for almost all of their profits. Voice services and applications can ultimately be deployed more cheaply and effectively over IP, but current infrastructure issues have carriers moving in a divergent direction with stop-gap solutions that offload Internet traffic from the PSTN.

One problem is the integration of VoIP solutions with the circuit switching that all incumbent carriers use in the core of their networks. Another problem is the lack of real-time metrics correlation for services monitoring and billing capabilities in the current Internet environment. Carriers can’t build and deploy value-added applications for VoIP services if there is no way to charge for them. Latency is also a critical hurdle to overcome, and until now, has been a major obstacle to the widespread adoption of VoIP solutions.

What carriers need to get the VoIP migration rolling is a scalable, industrial-strength solution that allows for rapid deployment of IP-based applications while leveraging the intelligence, services, and reliability of the mature PSTN infrastructure. Forklift upgrades to pure packet-based infrastructures aren’t going to happen, in either the carrier or enterprise environments, and the PSTN actually has a lot of functionality to offer the much less mature Internet. Carriers need to look at IP as a way of enabling applications and services, not just as a transport. That’s what has been missing.

An IP-based solution in the core of the carrier network lets providers service calls in IP format instead of tunneling them through expensive TDM switches. Since calls stay in IP format, they can be routed by cheaper IP switches, and are available for integration with any IP-based service, such as unified messaging, follow-me applications, or click-to-talk capabilities on Web sites.

In the traditional circuit-switched voice networks, billing systems are concerned simply with the length of the call. To make deployment of VoIP applications practical, IP networks must be able to:

  • Distinguish among different types of calls;
  • Keep track of the number of packets that get transferred during a call; and
  • Factor such variables as jitter and latency into the billing equation.

Carriers need an IP-detail record, not a call-detail record. Until service providers get one, it is simply too difficult to charge for value-added VoIP services and applications, so they won’t get developed and deployed. In short, a pure IP environment separates front ends from back ends, and content from infrastructure. Carriers get a device-independent solution that lets them take advantage of best-in-class telephony applications developed on any platform, including Linux. They can quickly deploy a full range of Internet-based offerings, such as voice dialing, toll-free numbers, unified messaging, integrated voice and data conferencing, IP-centrex phone services, virtual call centers, and enhanced telecommuter services. c

Raj Saksena is general manager, telecommunications division, for Lara Technology, Inc. Lara is committed to developing advanced networking and communications technology. The company uses patent pending architectures, the most advanced 0.18um semiconductor technology, and the latest systems and software development tools available. Lara’s carrier-class voice gateway will demonstrate the realization of the converged network, offering unparalleled capacity, performance, and reliability at the lowest cost per port. For more information, visit Lara’s Web site at www.laratech.com.

An IP Switching Solution

The Unified Services Exchange (USX1000) switching system from Lara Technology gives carriers the first pure IP backplane for provisioning PSTN-quality voice and related services. The USX1000 platform uses a softswitch architecture that leverages third-party gigabit Ethernet hardware. While the USX1000 will eventually provide full Class 4 or Class 5 functionality, it currently sits behind a traditional Class 5 circuit switch and can use the latter’s advanced features.

The USX1000 VoIP switch incorporates an SS7 agent that provides the signaling intelligence it needs to communicate with traditional PSTN switches and leverage their capabilities. IP network complexities are encapsulated to allow for easy deployment, and the GUI-based element management system supports TL1, CORBA, and SNMP for easy integration with the PSTN’s existing operational support systems.

No mediation device is needed to gather information about who is using what service and at what level. Instead, usage and quality metrics are automatically correlated in real time on a subscriber-by-service basis, and can be fed into network monitoring systems to help assure compliance with service-level agreements. These statistics can also be integrated into existing billing systems to help solve the Internet charge-for-services conundrum. Additionally, open APIs enable exploitation of the PSTN’s customer care, accounting, and billing systems (CCABS).

This is a key capability for provisioning IP telephony applications, because the authorization, authentication, and call-detail accounting functions that are centralized in the same switch in the PSTN get distributed across multiple servers in an IP network. Event records have to be gathered from all these different locations, which makes billing for services very complicated.

A solution such as the USX1000 brings all the innovation, flexibility, and rapid deployment associated with Internet technologies to carrier voice networks. Any future IP-based service can be easily incorporated into such a platform as soon as it appears. Carriers get new sources of revenue generation, and users will finally start to benefit from a broad range of VoIP applications.

Treating Voice As An Application


When Industrial Computer Source changed its name to ICS Advent last July, the company also decided to start looking at the whole picture for industrial computing — not just boxes and hardware. What they came up with is a new product line called the Networked Communications Exchange (NCX) that offers a scalable development solution for everything from Internet telephony to IVR applications, all in one box. The NCX solution, which is currently only available only in Europe, was unveiled at Communications Solutions EXPO in Las Vegas in December. It will be available in the US in the first half of 2000,and is the first of a broad line of solutions being developed by ICS Advent.

What is most exciting about the NCX family is its integration of the rugged hardware components that have been the mainstay for ICS Advent with the Envox CT-Studio from Envox — a 32-bit Windows application generator designed for the development of computer-telephony applications. The Envox platform enables creation of unified messaging, fax, PC-based switching, contact center, and debit card applications. Features include a URL block that enables Web pages to be downloaded and saved as variables or files, to be later read back to callers using text-to-speech (or sent as fax or e-mail files). This technology, combined with automatic speech recognition, can enable unlimited voice-activated Web browsing.

Other nifty features of the development platform include drop-down menus so developers may choose which blocks and sub routines to add to their scripts. The blocks perform specific tasks, and each parameter in a block may be defined with expressions using variables and database fields. These expressions are displayed in a tree file structure in CT-Studio’s Expression Assistant.

The NCX system also features remote monitoring and administration capabilities, and ICS Advent views this a strong selling point for value-added resellers (VARs) and value-added distributors (VADs). With more information and control in their hands (and important features like popup alarms), resellers and systems integrators can negotiate maintenance and administration contracts with their customers. Another strong point is the ability to add functionality like speech recognition with a simple point-and-click action. This action automatically adds licensing fees to the cost of these applications — another ease-of-use factor for resellers.

The NCX scales up from the NCX 1000, a basic system with room for four telephony cards, to the NCX 5000, which offers maximum capacity and fault tolerance for large CT installations. The NCX 2000 can accommodate up to 10 telephony cards, while the NCX 3000 has room for as many as 15 cards. The systems feature Dialogic (an Intel company) voice boards.

ICS Advent’s easy-to-use, integrated solution opens up the marketplace to developers and resellers who may not have the time or capability to build applications without such an advanced development platform. And the company wants to become a master VAR and master VAD with the release of this new development solution. With the trend toward value-added solutions for voice and data convergence in the marketplace, it would seem ICS Advent is well on its way.

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