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March 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Distributed Intelligence, PDAs, & The Continuing Evolution of Communications


Internet telephony technology, as applied to the wide spectrum of networks and end-user devices currently in use, can be considered the glue that binds them all together. The unification of networks such as the Internet, the public switched telephone network (PSTN), and the rapidly evolving cellular telecommunications networks coupled with the proliferation of intelligent access devices such as personal computers, cellular phones, and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are coming together to form a whole that is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. With each of the aforementioned networks and devices playing a unique role in driving the convergence of telecom and datacom, the result is a telecommunications framework that is much more powerful than the Internet accessed by intelligent devices that are becoming more efficient than even the most powerful PCs.

Today's Information Superhighway explosion is really the byproduct of productivity enhancements provided by advances in the networks and intelligent access devices that continue to evolve at breakneck speed. The telephone network has afforded us instantaneous global communications while providing for the full array of nuances that human speech contains. The Internet and cellular and paging networks built upon the successes of the PSTN by adding their own vast array of benefits, chief among which is round-the-clock communications at our convenience. We are no longer tethered to our desktop phones, but rather free to travel about and remain "connected" at all times.

The personal computer - a direct descendant of mainframes and supercomputers -empowers today's users with the ability to create documents, crunch spreadsheets, and design newsletters, cars, and even jumbo jets! The latest intelligent access device, the PDA, is advancing in lockstep with the advances in networking and wireless connectivity. PDAs now allow us to take our most important computerized functions with us, wherever we go. We are no longer chained to our desktop PCs.

The effect of the Internet on our lives is linked directly to the fact that computer prices are continually plummeting and the telecom infrastructure is able to support the networking of disparate computers. Imagine erasing the Web browsing software from your computer - the Web is such an integral part of my life and my job that I don't think I could work without it. The combination of the Internet and the PC has resulted in applications like online chat, global e-mail, newsgroups, and - at the most basic level - the near-instantaneous dissemination of huge volumes of information. Think about the Internet's effect on the global economy. I believe the rise of an entire new industry based on the Internet has helped keep America safely away from the economic turmoil affecting much of the world these last few years.

But the Internet has been around for over 2 decades. Why is it just recently that it has caught on in such a big way? There are a few answers. To begin with, the Internet could not become popular until there became a general awareness of what the Internet was. A "killer application" was needed to bring the Internet its current status. (A killer application, or killer app, is simply a "must-have" application.) That killer app was the graphical Web browser. To many people, the Internet is just access to some favorite Web sites and the ability to send and receive e-mail. The Web browser, because of its easy-to-use format, embodies the Internet for most users and is a major cause of the Internet's recent and rapid proliferation. Once there was general Internet awareness, the next obstacle to overcome was the expense of computers. Thankfully, inexpensive computing power - a direct result of Moore's Law - has made computers extremely affordable. So much so, that today many homes can even afford more than one computer.

But what happens to the power of the Internet when you are in transit or away from a phone line? Well, frankly, nothing happens. You can't access the Internet except with the use of few wireless Internet access products, which are still rare and prohibitively expensive. Nokia (www.nokia.com) has developed a cell phone that offers Web access, and indeed my Nokia phone receives brief e-mail messages, but the population as a whole has yet to take to these types of products in volume. PDAs and the cellular network haven't joined the Internet party. Yet.

It should be readily apparent that computers will continue to get so small that the power of average desktop PC of today will be contained in the average handheld computer of tomorrow. Cellular phones are getting smaller and more powerful as well (thank you Mr. Moore), and it should come as no surprise that PDAs and cell phones will soon become increasingly integrated. Just as laptops became desktop replacements for many, PDAs or PDA/laptop hybrids will eventually become the desktop computer of choice as well. Of course, I don't mean that we will use a tiny PDA screen and keyboard at our desk, but with a high-speed connection to the network and perhaps a USB port to connect to your keyboard and full-size monitor, these PDAs will embody the next step in the evolution of desktop computing.

And so, technology marches on. As mainframes gave way to minicomputers and later to PCs, the amount of processing power on these smaller platforms has grown tremendously. This has also helped pave the way from centralized computing to a more distributed model. My laptop now has much more processing power than the IBM mainframe I used in college, and that mainframe served hundreds of simultaneous users (albeit slowly). This trend is continuing. In fact, a Home API working group (www.homeapi.com) was recently established to develop HAPI (Home Application Programming Interface) to allow intelligent devices in our home to be controlled by off-the-shelf software. One day in the not too distant future we might see toaster ads on TV touting the latest Pentium technology for the most even toasting you've ever experienced!

Perhaps this seems outrageous, but consider the fact that today's automobiles have become increasingly dependent on microprocessors - 20 years ago, who would of thought we would need to computerize a car?

As time progresses, more and more intelligence will be distributed to all sorts of devices. This is where Internet telephony comes into play. One of the biggest benefits that Internet telephony affords its users is the fact that telephony - be it voice, video, or fax - travels on a IP-based network and can be controlled by software and processors at the endpoints of the network. Currently, the intelligence of the telephone network resides in the network on the telephone company's switches. Your phone could be the latest technological marvel, but still, in order to redial the last person that called, you must dial *69. Likewise, to turn off call waiting you enter *70. Now, these codes are not really the epitome of user-friendliness - I don't remember the list of * codes that my phone company makes available but it's possible that I would use them more often if they were easier to use. In today's telephony network, the telephone is considered a dumb terminal. Intelligent telephony devices employing enhanced services will be infinitely easier to use when they are available with a graphical user interface (GUI) - be it a desktop computer, cell phone, or PDA.

Now, with more and more of our telephony traveling through the air, won't we hit a saturation point where we can't fit any more signals in the airwaves? The experts tell me that we have enough bandwidth in this country for at least the next 50 years. While that remains to be seen, another of my major concerns is this: Will the wireless bandwidth of the future be more reliable than the bandwidth of today? I still get disconnected frequently when using my cellular phone, and as for voice quality… well, maybe I'll leave that one alone for now. I suppose that as the technology improves and as wireless companies get more complaints and competition, we will receive better wireless service.

While I'm on the subject of distributed computing and the devices that will make it possible, what will the communications landscape look like in 5-10 years? IDC says that by 2002, over 42 million information appliances will be sold in addition to 55 million PCs. Contrast this to today, where only 8 million information appliances are sold annually compared to over 40 million PCs. If you read between the lines, you can see that the distant future of telecommunications may exclude the need for a PBX or voice/data switch. If every worker has an information appliance or personal communicator, why will we need PBXs in our office? Service providers may very well end up providing us with all the core switching, and PBX vendors may be relegated to supplying software that handles the switching intelligence.

Recently, two announcements were made that may foreshadow the future of communications and Internet telephony. First, Qualcomm (www.qualcomm.com) and Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) have announced the formation of a new company known as Wireless Knowledge (www.wirelessknowledge.com). And, 3Com (www.3com.com) has announced that their Palm VII handheld computer will be integrated with the BellSouth data network (www.ram.com), formerly known as RAM Mobile Data.

Wireless Knowledge is a fascinating look at how we may one day work. wirelessknowledge touts their service as a goes-anywhere home page: e-mail, contact management, scheduling, and the Internet can all be accessed through a variety of devices, each with a customized view of the centrally stored information. Browser-based telephones, WebTV, and handheld computers running Windows CE can all share information stored in a central repository. Some of the capabilities afforded by this service include collaborative computing, locating restaurants and other of life's necessities while traveling, and call screening with CTI functionality.

One of the more interesting aspects of this partnership is the fact that Qualcomm has agreed to port Windows CE into a future ASIC. This means that Windows CE could become the OS of choice on Qualcomm telephones and other devices.

The major competitor to Windows CE-based devices is 3Com's Palm Pilot (www.palm.com), and 3Com is certainly not taking the threat from Microsoft lightly. In fact, they have announced that their new Palm VII will work on a new network dubbed Palm.Net, which will be supported by the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless Network. The Palm VII and Palm.Net will have the ability to allow wireless subscription management, that is the ability to subscribe to various services (including initial activation) from the Palm device itself without the need for lengthy subscription forms that are all too common with today's service providers.

3Com has done a wonderful job of partnering with companies to ensure that its Palm VII will be compatible with Web content providers, allowing them to custom tailor their content for palm-based computing. 3Com calls this technique "web clipping" and has already enlisted over 22 of the Web's leading content providers including Yahoo!, ABCNEWS.com, ESPN.com, and others. In addition to browsing, the Palm VII will also provide that other important Internet function, namely that of sending and receiving e-mail. (This will at first be done in chunks of 500 characters, so don't think you'll be receiving AVI files on the Palm.Net network any time soon.)

Of these announcements, perhaps the Wireless Knowledge announcement has more of a direct implication for our industry as Qualcomm has tremendous experience in wireless telephony. Furthermore, by integrating Windows CE into future cellular products we can expect truly intelligent wireless telephony appliances.

As intelligence reaches to the remote edges of the network, enhanced services will be deployed easily through the use of devices that will allow users to take control of their telecommunications. Expect enhanced services to allow caller ID with screen pops of vital information about the caller before the phone even rings. Conferencing (audio and video), transferring calls, and automatically transcribing conversations to text are just a few of the services we will soon enjoy. The cellular networks are undergoing thorough upgrades that will enable them to communicate with the intelligent devices of the future. As this happens, expect Internet telephony technology to be the ubiquitous carrier of future wireless cellular traffic.

What's New At CTI™ Expo Spring 99 in DC?

We have added so much to CTI Expo that we had to start producing a monthly newsletter just to get all the information out to our readers. At TMC, we constantly come up with new ideas to make CTI Expo the greatest trade show you have ever attended. We expect over 400 exhibitors - more than double the number of exhibitors that made our first CTI Expo in Baltimore last year such a success. In addition, we expect our exhibit space to be 200 percent larger than CTI Expo Spring 1998. We are proud to offer attendees more companies than ever to compare to one another before making your next vital purchasing decision.

Beyond providing more exhibitors for you to visit, making CTI Expo Spring 99 the largest East Coast industry show, we have also added a CTI Development conference track. This is a must-attend event for anyone in the CTI development community.

The CTI Development Track will consist of the following sessions:

  • Selecting Boards and APIs: The Nuts and Bolts of System Development
    This session will focus on providing you with the information you need to make intelligent decisions when selecting components that allow CTI development. Expect coverage of board essentials such as processors, form factors, buses and APIs.
  • Consequences of Selecting an Operating System, From the Obvious to the Obscure
    Unix, Windows, NetWare and QNX are all commonly used in CTI development. As time progresses, each OS has strengths and weaknesses that morph over time. Performance, reliability, security of supply, application portability, and lifecycle cost are only a few factors to consider when deciding which OS to choose for a given application. Come to this course to learn the essentials.
  • Application Generators - Breaking Free of the Custom-Coding Doldrums
    Application generators are essential tools for CTI development but what if you need more power or reliability than they can provide you? What if you want the power inherent in APIs and the flexibility of an app-gen? Which app-gen is best? These are few of the many questions that will be answered - thus helping you make intelligent decisions about which app-gen is best for your given situation.
  • Failsafe CTI - Industrial Computers for Mission-Critical Applications
    In this session, we'll review what makes for a reliable platform: Superior components, redundant power supplies, redundant storage, efficient cooling, etc. In addition, we'll examine the benefits of hot-swappability and alternative chassis, backplanes, and enclosures. Session participants, having been familiarized with these basics, will handle platform selection with confidence while cultivating the 24x7 mindset essential to development success.
  • Be the Packet - Zen and The Art of IP Telephony Development
    Helping developers avoid low-level details, and keeping them focused on the all-important "value add" - well, that's the purpose of any development tool. Armed with the proper development tool, a developer might even find himself in the "zone" - a state of clarity and seeming infallibility - while constructing IP telephony gateways, adding Web functionality to call centers, and creating applications for such things as Internet call waiting, Internet fax, prepaid calling cards, billing and settlement for ITSPs, and unified messaging services. This session will also cover applications that exploit PSTN signaling, orchestrating interactions with remote databases for such powerful functions as number translation. Finally, discussion will include Microsoft's TAPI, which promises support for the H.323 gatekeeper, which is designed to permit interoperability among gateways from different vendors.
  • Creating the Call Center of the 21st Century
    In any appraisal of the call center's future, the Internet looms large. But exactly how will the Internet impact the call center? A number of applications, including e-mail management, interactive text-based chat, IP telephony (through Web callback and callthrough) have set the stage for the future of the Internet call center. What's next? Two things: Consolidation and further expansion. By anticipating call center developments, and positioning themselves to facilitate these changes, developers will make themselves valued partners to call centers eager to build a bridge to the 21st century.
  • Open Sesame! How Speech Recognition Technology Reveals a CTI Treasure Trove
    While having a computer control telecommunications is a fine thing, important questions remain: Who may tell the computer what to do? And when? And how? Ideally, individual users should control their own communications, and they should be able to do so continuously and interactively - and as conveniently as possible. By rolling speech recognition capabilities into their applications, developers will ensure that their applications will actually be used. Which is to say, developers will learn to stop wasting their time, for what good is served by functionality that is too difficult to access?
  • Cruel To Be Kind - Torture-Testing Your Apps
    You love your application. But you must resist the tendency to be overprotective, for you're not doing your application any favors by coddling it during development, only to expose it to the rigors of the real world during deployment. With an adequate testing program, developers can evaluate their applications for time-to-answer at increasing load levels, number of busy signals, rings before answer, timing between prompts, database response times, prompt errors, and call handling errors - characteristics that can account for an application's success or failure.

If you are a CTI developer, you simply can't miss this exciting, in-depth conference. Remember that CTI Expo will be held from May 24-26 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Sign up now online at www.ctiexpo.com.

CTE Boot Camp Returns!

CTI Expo is proud to once again be working with the CT Institute (www.ctinstitute.com) in presenting the Computer Telephony Engineer (CTE) Boot Camp. The CTE credential is an industry-wide certification program developed and presented by the CT Institute and was a tremendous hit at CTI Expo Fall 98 in San Jose, CA. The preliminary course outline is as follows:

  • Data Networking Overview
  • OSI Model
  • Internetworking
  • Telephony Concepts
  • Telephony Switches
  • Connectivity to Switches
  • Wiring and Distribution
  • Traffic Analysis
  • Advanced Telephony Applications
  • CT Concepts
  • CT System Configurations
  • Applied CT Systems
  • CT Solutions

Join us at CTI Expo, May 24-26 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. For more information, or to register online, visit www.ctiexpo.com today!

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