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June 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Internet Telephony Excitement Fills The Air


Internet telephony is no exception. In fact, excitement may be the most apt description of the general feeling permeating the atmosphere of the Internet telephony industry today. I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to converse with hundreds of individuals who create tremendously innovative Internet telephony products, which enable us to do more with less, become more productive and ultimately, become more successful. Whenever possible, I try to feed off this industry and entrepreneurial excitement and package it neatly into what I write.

Below are some of the products that I have recently seen in my travels that are not only worthy of press on their own technological merits, but are worth mentioning because of the sheer exuberance exhibited by representatives of the vendors who provide these products. Beyond the forward-thinking ideas and technology, there is a very high level of sincere enthusiasm that has helped vault Internet telephony from the "vanilla" transmission of voice over a packet network into a hotbed of opportunity for service providers, resellers, corporations, and end users to increase profits, flexibility, and communications options for all.

There are so many ways to implement Internet telephony: as a service, as an enterprise solution, or as a SOHO product, which could be either a hardware appliance or software. Typically, SOHO Internet telephony products are distinctly different from service provider and corporate solutions. Service provider installations of vast networks of Internet telephony gateways are typically huge, expensive systems that emphasize scalability and rock solid reliability. In sharp contrast, SOHO products such as InnoMedia’s InfoTalk (www.innomedia.com) and Aplio’s AplioPhone (www.aplio.com) are point-to-point devices meant for single line, single conversation applications.

A recent conversation with InnoMedia helped shatter my perceptions of distinct SOHO and service provider markets. InnoMedia has devised a way to get their SOHO InfoTalk appliances, which retail for $249, to interoperate with their InfoGate Internet telephony gateways. TMC Labs tested and loved the InfoGate device (please see www.tmcnet.com/articles/ctimag/0498/review007.htm for details) and now, this device can interface with InnoMedia’s Internet telephony gateways over any IP network.

The ramifications of this interoperability are profound for a number of reasons. There are new Internet telephony networks sprouting up continuously, and the typical way for these networks to sell their bandwidth is through the use of calling cards. We are all used to calling cards from AT&T and our local RBOCs that require you to call an 800 number and then enter your account number and the number you wish to call (multiple-stage dialing). Internet telephony calling cards usually don’t use 800 numbers due to the fact that when you dial an 800 number, you are required to pay a service provider per minute for the call. So typically, Internet telephony calling cards allow you to call into a variety of POPs, depending on your physical location. The issue, of course, with this business model is that you can only inexpensively access customers in an area where you have a local POP — not unlike how an ISP works.

There are services that allow you to connect to Internet telephony networks such as IDT’s Net2Phone (www.net2phone.com) or Delta Three (www.deltathree.com) but until now, there was no such appliance with this ability.

There are many situations where connectivity between an Internet telephony network and appliance is very useful. Corporations with their own intranet telephony networks can now allow users outside of their local calling area to directly connect to this network without a computer. Savvy service providers can provide these appliances to customers in areas that they prefer not to set up a POP, due to cost or other reasons. Finally, many countries won't even let you install Internet telephony gateways and these are the countries that usually have the highest rates, making InnoMedia’s appliances a perfect way to get a foothold in these extremely lucrative markets.

Whereas InnoMedia has made a SOHO appliance an attractive purchase for a service provider, Delta Three has announced a new enhanced service that replaces a traditionally corporate or CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) solution: Unified Messaging. With Delta Three’s service you can access your messages from the Web or phone, access your e-mail from the phone, stream your voice mail from the Web, download faxes to your PC, and forward your voice mail and faxes to others.

Another Internet telephony application that is picking up speed is the introduction of Web "call me" buttons on Web sites that let customers connect to a company’s call center. Companies can enable this functionality by either outsourcing it or purchasing expensive equipment from a variety of companies focusing on medium to large call center operations. Quicknet Technologies (www.quicknet.net) has introduced Internet Switchboard, a product that incorporates Web800, a feature that allows a company or user to have a single-line "call me" button at a fraction of the cost of a traditional hardware solution. Quicknet is the manufacturer of the Internet PhoneJACK (a full-duplex audio card designed to carry IP telephony calls) and Internet LineJACK (a single-line H.323 Internet telephony gateway card). Through the use of either PhoneJACK or LineJACK coupled together with the Internet Switchboard, a company can take advantage of a single-line Web-based Internet telephony "call me" button for just a few hundred dollars. The Internet Switchboard can be purchased for $29.95, Internet PhoneJACK is $159.95 and Internet LineJACK costs $299.95. It is worth noting that Quicknet’s Internet Switchboard can also be used to provide Web "call me" as an enhanced service for ISPs and web hosting companies.

Just as Quicknet has a few products that focus on low-density Internet telephony solutions for a desktop PC, ShelCad (www.shelcad.com) has produced a low-density laptop Internet telephony solution, their Hi-Phone PCMCIA card. The Hi-Phone PCMCIA works with client Internet telephony software and also comes with API drivers, DLLs, Wave, ActiveX, and TAPI drivers. For those avid developers out there (or even programming neophytes) sample code is liberally supplied.

From the very smallest of Internet telephony development products, we go to one of the largest and most scalable. Natural MicroSystems (www.nmss.com), one of the pioneers in Internet telephony development with their Fusion platform, has raised the bar once again with the introduction of Fusion 3.0. Fusion 3.0 offers a 60-port system at a list price of $250/port as well as PCI and CompactPCI form factors and OS support for NT, x86, Solaris, and SPARC Solaris. Fusion 3.0 also offers support for a breadth of industry standards, such as MGCP, H.323 (versions 1 and 2), and SIP. Full IVR and T.37 fax capabilities are on board as well as H.727.1, G.711, G.729a, MS-GSM and ETSI GSM. In case you’re having problems making sense of this veritable alphabet soup, don’t call me. Call NaturalEdge, Natural MicroSystems’s new engineering design and consulting service at 508-620-9300.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do Internet telephony products and technology. Theses days, life forms come in all shapes and sizes and can survive in all sorts of conditions that were once considered too hostile for anyone to inhabit. So too are Internet telephony products coming out of the woodwork in shapes and sizes appropriate for students to service providers and every one in between. When you combine technical ingenuity, incredible opportunity, and the ability to acquire a piece of the multi-trillion dollar telecommunications pie, you end up with one of the fastest growing and most innovative technologies today… Internet telephony.

CTI EXPO Fall '99

As I write this column, I am preparing to go to CTI EXPO Spring ’99 in Washington DC. Incredibly, our pre-registration attendee numbers are absolutely through the roof and our estimates of 15,000 attendees look like they will be far exceeded. CTI EXPO has become one of the fastest growing technology shows ever. The convergence of datacom and telecom has become an incredible field of innovation featuring Microsoft, Lucent, Nortel Networks, and Cisco Systems as companies vying to become major players in the voice/data convergence revolution.

To accommodate this rapid growth, we have moved and expanded CTI EXPO Fall ’99 to Las Vegas Nevada, December 7-9. Las Vegas is a natural place to hold such a rapidly growing expo that covers such a rapidly advancing industry… At the last three CTI EXPOs, local hotel rooms were sold out weeks in advance of the event. Las Vegas has an abundant supply of inexpensive and conveniently located hotel rooms and the city has so much to offer — from amusement parks, to wild animal parks, and an ample supply of the country’s best stores, restaurants, and shows. Couple all of this with a venue that has minimal traffic and easy access into and out of the city and you have a perfect trade show location with the potential for a great vacation getaway once the show is over.

Internet Telephony ’99
In the CTI EXPO tradition, we have added so many new features to CTI EXPO that you wont even recognize the show. We are continuously improving the show that covers an industry that seems to transform itself into something new almost daily. As Internet telephony takes a larger and larger presence at each CTI EXPO, we have decided to break it out into a freestanding event with its own conference program. You will find Internet Telephony ‘99 to have a complete conference track including voice and fax over IP, standards, billing systems, and voice/data switches (IP PBXs).

Next-Gen Services ’99
One of the fastest growing subsets of Internet telephony is the service provider implementation of enhanced services such as IP fax, Web-based unified messaging, Internet call waiting, and Web-based, Centrex-style call control. As a result of the growth of this market, we have also launched Next-Gen Services ’99, a conference program designed to provide CLECs, ISPs, IXCs, Cable and Wireless service providers, RBOCs, ILECs, and PTTs with the information they need to get into the competitive next-gen telco market. Some of the conference sessions you can look forward to will focus on new next-gen telco revenue streams, IP based value added services, real life stories from the network, programmable switches, and broadband options such as DSL, wireless, and cable modems.

ConvergeNet: A Live, Open, On-Site, Next Generation IP Telephony Network
IP-based data networks have gained widespread popularity as the unifying platform to carry voice, video, fax, and data. IP telephony gateways have emerged as cutting-edge devices that allow the packetization and transport of voice over IP, and also serve to bridge the gap between the traditional PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and IP-based data networks, allowing voice calls to traverse voice and data networks seamlessly. One of the considerable challenges facing the Internet telephony industry is a lack of standardization and interoperability among different vendors’ products. The ITU’s H.323 protocol is the front-runner in the standards space, but there are also a number of other specifications competing for industry mindshare. TMC’s ConvergeNET is a TCP/IP-based network that will bring IP telephony gateways and gatekeepers together in a proof-of-concept environment at CTI EXPO Fall 1999.

The ConvergeNET platform will provide the means to interface various gateways and gatekeepers and examine their degree of standards compliance and interoperability. ConvergeNET will be a network that we construct, allowing exhibitors to connect with other exhibitors for the purpose of showing that their Internet telephony products interoperate with others. Interoperability is crucial in the Internet telephony field and ConvergeNET will be the proving ground.

You go to trade shows to compare products and learn firsthand the information you need to make informed decisions about how to be more successful in your business. Using TMC Labs and our editorial team — who are in constant touch with the nuances of the CTI industry — we will continue to evolve CTI EXPO into the industry’s premier event.

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