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 InnoMedias InfoTalk
(www.innomedia.com) and Aplios 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 InnoMedias 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 dont 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
IDTs 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 InnoMedias 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
Threes 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 companys
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
Quicknets 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.
SCALING EVER UPWARDS
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 youre having problems making sense of this veritable alphabet soup,
dont call me. Call NaturalEdge, Natural MicroSystemss 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
|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 countrys 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
ITUs H.323 protocol is the front-runner in the standards space, but there are also a
number of other specifications competing for industry mindshare. TMCs 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 industrys premier