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Product Reviews
July 2000

 

TMC Labs Innovations Awards

[ Go Right To The Awards Winners ]

This feature is the first presentation of our new TMC Labs Innovation Awards. Although this magazine and our sister publications (Communications Solutions� and Call Center CRM Solutions�) have long published Product of the Year awards, we collectively decided that it was time to make a new award -- one based on not just the "best" (or best-selling) few products in each category, but instead on raw innovation, uniqueness, and significant contributions to the industry. It is our intent that this will be TMC's most prestigious award, selected by and for engineers. Combined, the 20 products below represent, in the opinion of TMC Labs, the most important contributions to the Internet telephony industry during the past 12 months. Also, please note that although most of the awards are given to specific products, others are given to vendors for their entire product offering, in cases where the contribution is a suite rather than a particular product.

TMC Labs Awards Winners

Aplio/PRO Dialpad.com xpressa
AudioCodes Phone Doubler The Cloud 2.0
Telegra VQT Hammer.323 Call Generator IAF Horizon
CallManager/IP telephones HearMe Sonus OSA
Clarent Carrier Solutions ITXC NetVision Data Phone
CUseeMe Networks Fusion OfficeLink 2000
CyberFone Click2Talk

Aplio/PRO
Aplio, Inc.
1670 S. Amphlet Blvd.
San Mateo, CA, 94402
Ph: 800-461-4038
Fx: 650-655-4065
E-mail: info_usa@aplio.com
Web site: www.aplio.com

Of all the problems that Internet telephony technology can solve, perhaps the simplest and most tangible is point-to-point calling for individual users. There are clients like Microsoft's NetMeeting, Web solutions like PhoneFree.com, and cut-rate telephony services like Net2Phone. But for single users who have big long-distance bills, the best solution is a PC-less VoIP appliance.

In our opinion, the best VoIP appliance is the Aplio/PRO. About the size of an answering machine, the Aplio/PRO offers a broadband connection (for use with DSL or cable modems) and compliance with the H.323 protocol to enable connections to NetMeeting and similar products. The emphasis on such products is that no computer is required -- the products simply attach to your telephone line, or in this case, to your DSL or cable modem through an Ethernet connection. They also include an analog pass-through port, so you can still use your telephone for normal PSTN calls.

So, with the half-dozen or so similar products on the market, what's unique about the Aplio/PRO? Using the product here in TMC Labs, we found that its sound quality is good, with some latency but low amounts of jitter, echo, and choppiness. The product is easy to use and configure. When coupled with a third-party product like Superford's Virtual Private Netswitch, the Aplio/PRO becomes a gateway. This means that if you're in California and you need to call Boston, you could use NetMeeting to call your Aplio/PRO in New York, and you'd only pay for a New York-to-Boston call.

Aplio's competitors also have useful features: Innomedia offers the InfoTalk V, which does not have a broadband option, but which includes basic content delivery, an LCD screen, access to their InnoSphere network, and the optional EXR gateway. DSG's InterStar is another competitor, as is the product from FoneFriend Systems, which offers remote configuration from the vendor. More interesting is the Komodo Fone 300, from Komodo Technology, which includes both H.323 and SIP options. Still, for SOHO environments or for end users who call the same long-distance number often, the Aplio/PRO is the best choice for ease of setup, economy of scale, and overall usability.

[ return to list of winners ]


AudioCodes
AudioCodes, Inc.
2841 Junction Ave., Ste. 114
San Jose, CA 95134
Ph: 408-577-0488
Fx: 408-577-0492
E-mail: marketing@audiocodes.com
Web site: www.audiocodes.com

For a few years now, AudioCodes has been a leader in the Internet telephony market, especially when it comes to voice compression. As one of the originators of the G.723.1 compression codec, AudioCodes has continuously paved the way for advancing VoIP technology. Recently, AudioCodes has developed NetCoder, which is a new voice codec that many say has improved on the G.723.1 and G.729a codecs. Many major companies in the industry, such as Lucent Technologies and Clarent Corporation, have already adopted NetCoder in their products with reported first-rate quality. NetCoder, as well as voice-over-packet processors, has also helped companies maintain prescribed levels of quality of service (QoS) with its dynamic bandwidth allocation functionality.

AudioCodes has contributed to the Internet telephony industry with various products, consisting of voice-over-packet chip processors and protocol stacks, media gateway modules and subsystems, and VoIP communication boards. TMC Labs was especially impressed with AudioCodes' TP-600 cPCI VoIP Communication Board, which incorporates the benefits of all of the products into one board. It provides a sizeable 192-voice/fax ports and VoIP packet streaming over IP networks with MGCP and H.323 support. Of course, there are also VoIP communications boards available with less voice/fax ports that are used for smaller companies. These boards enable high-performance, open communications gateways that are used to connect traditional telephone networks with packet voice networks.

It was these groundbreaking products and the ideas behind the products that were the major reasons why TMC Labs was impressed enough to give AudioCodes our award. From what we have seen from them thus far, we expect AudioCodes to continue to provide exemplary products and help the Internet telephony industry grow.

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Telegra VQT
Agilent Technologies
5070 Centennial Blvd.
Colorado Springs, CO, 80919
Ph: 800-452-4844
Fx: 719-531-4526
Web site: www.agilent.com

The Telegra VQT is one of the industry's most acclaimed fax- and voice-over-IP testing products, providing PSQM, PSQM+, MOS, and PAMS scores in real time. Such tools are vital for industry maturity -- without them, there would be no way of guaranteeing QoS statistics, either in the outside cloud or within your enterprise. By establishing levels of call quality acceptance and rejection, system administrators can determine exactly where and why a call over IP went wrong, and what to do to fix it.

The Telegra VQT can also test for echo, latency, voice activation, and DTMF dialing. It works with both analog and E&M interfaces, on FXS and FXO ports, and it can simulate previously captured network conditions, with all results displayed in graph form.

Like some of the other winners listed here, the Telegra VQT system has formidable competition, but in this case it stands out for its usability (the test applications are Windows-based), competitive price, and overall feature set. Plus, unlike some of its competition, it is backed by Agilent, which has a long history of building industry-standard testing products. Products from Hammer, Zarak, Ameritec, Gordon Kapes, GL Communications, and others are just as good in some respects (and actually better in others), but Telegra's solution is among the most thorough and comprehensive.

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CallManager/IP telephones
Cisco Systems, Inc.
170 West Tasman Dr
San Jose, CA, 95134-1619
Ph: 800-326-1941
Fx: 408-526-4100
E-mail: csh-rep@cisco.com
Web site: www.cisco.com

Several years ago, when Internet/LAN telephony was still in its infancy, a little known company called Selsius Systems visited TMC Labs (then CTI Labs). The Selsius representatives brought out several phones from some containers and laid them out onto our conference room table. Our first thought was, "Gee, another phone system." But then something magical occurred. We saw them connect one end of a CAT-5 network wire directly to one of the phones and the other end into a network hub. Our Monday morning dreary eyes widened, we sat up in our chairs, and our mouths dropped wide open. Executive Technology Editor Tom Keating quipped, "Is that what I think it is?"

Sure enough, it was an IP-based telephone -- the first one that we actually saw in person. If ever there was an "innovation," this certainly was it. Cisco must have been just as impressed with the demo that we saw because they bought out Selsius Systems and incorporated Selsius Systems' technology into Cisco's "AVVID" product line, which stands for "Architecture for Voice, Video, and Integrated Data." TMC Labs noticed that the Selsius IP-based telephone required a huge AC adapter plugged into each phone for power. We inquired if there was a way of getting power from the network wire itself, which they said they were working on.

Today, there still isn't a ratified standard for inline-power across network wires, but there is a standards body working on it. This is a bit tricky, because you don't want to plug a "powered" network wire into a network card that wasn't designed to handle the extra current -- you'll blow the card. Some companies have come up with their own proprietary method of providing power to IP-based telephones, such as using an unused pair on an RJ-45 network wire.

A standards body is working on a standard that can run on top of a used pair (non-destructive), so that you can still run at 100Base-T. The latest Cisco IP phones (which work in conjunction with Cisco's CallManager software) include an LCD display, as well as in-line power accepted from an integrated Catalyst switch card or the Catalyst in-line power patch panel. Other features of Cisco's IP phones include a two-port 10/100Base-T switch interface to ensure QoS, virtual plug-and-play operation, and easy administration for changes, moves, or additions.

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Clarent Carrier Solutions
Clarent Corp.
700 Chesapeake Dr.
Redwood City, CA, 94063
Ph: 650-306-7511
Fx: 650-306-7512
E-mail: info@clarent.com
Web site: www.clarent.com

Clarent's gateways and gatekeepers, in our opinion, are some of the best available -- and the corporation has the sales figures to prove it. Their product line of VoIP equipment, designed for high-traffic carriers, includes network management, fax, and traffic monitoring products.

Some of their gateway's highlights are remote management, high scalability, SS7/ISDN-PRI support, H.323 and multiple codecs to choose from, real-time fax, and T1/E1 compatibility. With their Command Center, ThroughPacket, and Gatekeeper products, Clarent's solution is perhaps the most comprehensive available. Features of the Command Center include all detail billing support, fault-tolerant operation, dynamic call routing, Web-based management, and inter-network call completion and settlement. ThroughPacket is the traffic manager; it features a reduction of bandwidth usage, reduction in router congestion, and better network prioritization. Lastly, the gatekeeper features centralized service delivery, complete routing, rating, standards-based interoperability (with H.323 version 2), and a Java-based GUI.

It's true that several vendors offer gateways with similar feature sets, but what sets this product apart is its accomplishments in scalability, high reliability, and total solution feature set. Too many companies, in our opinion, simply give you a gateway and leave you alone; the Clarent carrier solutions provide an end-to-end managed and high-density network for VoIP traffic.

[ return to list of winners ]


CUseeMe Networks
(formerly White Pine Software)
CUseeMe Networks, Inc.
542 Amherst St., Nashua, NH 03063
Ph: 603-886-9050
Fx: 603-886-9051
E-mail: info@cuseeme.com
Web site: www.cuseeme.com

White Pine Software recently changed their name to CUseeMe Networks, partly because of wishing to be associated with their brand name, but the name change also shows their commitment to the Internet telephony industry. They now seem to be fully dedicated to consumer video chat and corporate video conferencing software. Besides the name change, the most recent and obvious examples to furthering themselves to these ends are CUseeMe World and their MeetingPoint software, which includes Windows and Linux-based versions. TMC Labs has examined both the CUseeMe World Web site and the MeetingPoint software. While neither is perfect, we do recognize the commitment and innovation behind what CUseeMe Networks has done.

Laura Guevin, managing editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY�, tested CUseeMe World with the help of TMC Labs and wrote about it in an online column. She chronicles much of our experiences with the site. Yes, the application that the site offers as well as the site itself need some work, but CUseeMe World is also unique in that it gives users an environment that will not offend anyone and may lead the way in creating real-time audio/video conferencing over the Web. This application could potentially be valuable to SOHO users and service providers.

MeetingPoint, reviewed in the November 1999 issue of Internet Telephony, is a software-only, multimedia, multipoint conferencing solution. Having the ability to enter a virtual conference room and share documents on an existing IP network is appealing for business and training purposes and could be the wave of the future. MeetingPoint's large feature set is commendable, and it works with virtually any conferencing system. MeetingPoint's use of the Linux operating system makes the product that much more impressive. It is this type of ingenuity that is required in this industry, and we award CUseeMe Networks for that reason.

[ return to list of winners ]


CyberFone
CyberNet Group, Inc.
997 Old Eagle School Rd., Ste. 215
Wayne, PA 19087
Ph: 610-989-9330
Fx: 610-989-9366
E-mail: gswarts@cyberfone.com
Web site: www.cyberfone.com

According to Bill Gates, we live in the "PC-plus" era. According to Larry Ellison, we live in the "post PC" era. Both may be correct, but much smaller companies are leading the trend in appliance computing. One such vendor, CyberNet Group, is providing the communications solution for the future in one package called CyberFone. A true Internet appliance, CyberFone is an instant-on, standalone device that is one of the first communications convergence appliances geared specifically toward personal use in the home and business. Designed with Web browsing and e-mail as its main functions, it combines the power of a desktop computer with the convenience of a compact size to offer a wide range of advanced communications features. The result of this technology is a complete communications solution that brings together the modern capability of computers, communications, and visualization in a single terminal device.

In addition to offering the standard telephone capabilities, CyberFone also includes video conferencing features, VoIP functions, document and graphical editing, and Internet browsing. The product includes several key "PC" applications (like a word processor) combined with complete telephony capability. With VoIP technology, businesses are able to communicate with clients or employees located virtually anywhere in a more efficient, cost-effective way. A software application used with CyberFone, known as the Virtual Meeting, uses a "whiteboard" feature that allows multiple users to edit and work on the same document simultaneously from different locations via a shared paint program-type environment.

Also attractive about CyberFone is the ease of installation and use. Creative new technology in a familiar form results in a product that does not require extensive training to operate. The core of the CyberFone unit consists of a 233 MHz Cyrix processor with 32 MB of RAM, an integrated 8" display screen with a 640x480 resolution, and 16-bit color. Also included are a laptop-sized keyboard and a touch screen with a stylus pen for easier data entry and system navigation. The hardware installation basically involves plugging the unit into a standard outlet and then connecting it to a standard telephone line. It's important to note that while the current version of Cyberfone actually runs Windows 98/2000 and includes a hard disk for installing software applications, the new version coming out this fall will be scaled down to Windows CE -- with no hard disk.

CyberFone is a cost efficient alternative in personal information appliances. It provides information on a real-time basis and in a simple, inexpensive, and familiar form. Although there are many competitors in the new appliance-computing field, such as the more popular devices from InfoGear and Netpliance, CyberFone is the best of what's actually on the market, and it's the only one with VoIP. It's obvious to us that CyberFone is more than prepared to meet the need for a convergent communication device in the ever-changing world of communications technology.

[ return to list of winners ]


Dialpad.com
Dialpad.com, Inc.
2953 Bunker Hill Lane, #400
Santa Clara, CA, 95054
Ph: 408-588-4688
E-mail: info@dialpad.com
Web site:
www.dialpad.com

Did you hear that Porsche is giving away 1,000 FREE Porsches to the first 1,000 visitors to their Web site? Before you start tripping over your own feet, running to your computer to hit www.porsche.com as one of the first 1,000 visitors -- relax... We're only kidding. Although, lately it seems you can get just about anything for FREE on the Internet. Free PCs, free Internet access, free voice mail, free e-mail, free music, free digital cameras, and who knows what else? Well, guess what? Now you can have FREE PC-to-phone calls utilizing Dialpad's service. Dialpad.com, Inc., a privately-held company in Silicon Valley, developed the Internet's first free, Java-based, Web-to-phone telephone service. Several competitors have now offered similar services, but Dialpad was the first and certainly the fastest growing company in this space. Currently, Dialpad has a whopping 6.5 million registered users!

Dialpad makes its money from advertising displayed on its graphical user interface. All that is needed is Internet access, a browser, and a Windows PC with a microphone and speakers or a headset to call nearly anyone in the United States. The sound quality varies, depending on your Internet bandwidth (dial-up, ISDN, broadband), as well as the speed of your processor and even the quality of your sound card. With a full-duplex sound card and a decent Internet connection, you can make free PC-to-phone calls with decent voice quality. Certainly, Dialpad has helped bring Internet telephony to the forefront of the mainstream press and to the general public.

[ return to list of winners ]


Phone Doubler
Ericsson, Inc. Datacom Networks
77 South Bedford St.
Burlington, MA 01803
Ph: 781-505-6100
Web site: www.ericsson.com

For many years now, a common complaint of dial-up Internet users is that being online hogs their telephone line. Many users have moved to a second line, and a lucky few ones live in areas where broadband connections are available, but the vast majority of us still use a 33.6 Kbps or 56 Kbps dial-up ISP. So, many users wonder why call waiting doesn't work with a modem connection.

A handful of products exist that merely alert you to incoming calls when you are online, and there are others that bounce an "I'm busy online, I will call you back later" message to the caller. Finally, however, there is a more thorough VoIP solution to the problem of Internet call waiting, from Ericsson.

It's called Phone Doubler. The way it works is that the product is installed at the ISP. Incoming calls to your home or office are routed through your PC, and if the client software sees that you are online, the call is rerouted back to the ISP, converted to a digital VoIP call, and again routed back to your PC, where you can accept the call over your multimedia system -- all without having to disconnect from the Internet.

We think this solution is brilliant. In trying to solve the Internet call waiting problem, Ericsson engineers actually invented something better than call waiting, because you can stay online and take your phone call simultaneously. If they had followed the literal definition of call waiting, then you'd only be able to do one of those tasks at a time, and you'd have to switch between them.

Since this product debuted, other companies have copied it, and a few companies have even made "literal" Internet call waiting gadgets (i.e., the switching between your Internet connection and PSTN method). Ericsson's Phone Doubler provides an excellent new feature for the end user, an excellent new revenue stream for the ISP seeking to stand out from the competition, and an excellent example of how to use VoIP technology in an innovative and useful way.

[ return to list of winners ]


Hammer.323 Call Generator
Hammer Technologies, Inc.
205 Lowell St., Wilmington, MA, 01887
Ph: 800-HAMMER-IT
Fx: 978- 988-0148
E-mail: hammer@hammer.com
Web site: www.hammer.com

Imagine a world where you could only call people who used the same brand of telephone as you. Your average person would say it's ridiculous to even consider that scenario, but if you're reading this magazine, then you likely know that such considerations are a reality of the current state of the Internet telephony industry.

Enter standards, like H.323, SIP, MGCP, and the others. H.323 version 2 currently stands alone in its market penetration, but with multiple companies manufacturing their own "ITU-compatible" versions of the protocol stack, true H.323 interoperability is far from reality.

The Hammer.323 software is one of the only Windows-based products available to test these connections. It does so by generating and receiving multiple "true ITU" H.323 calls to and from your product via a gatekeeper. By making use of extensive real-time monitoring and logging, developers can see exactly where their H.323-compliant product went awry.

Hammer.323 is one of several products that we've tested and still use here in the laboratory. Using it to develop test situations, we can configure options like the pause-between-calls interval, the maximum number of simultaneous calls, the number of script repeats, and error handling/logging. We can route calls with or without a gatekeeper, and we can choose to play the ITU voice prompts using different codecs, like G.711a-law and mu-law, G.723.1, and G.729a. We can make tests of up to 30 distinct steps, which include sending DTMF tones, and we can link to external files for connection strings, SQL statements, etc.

Other features of the Hammer.323 software include the ability to place up to 50 simultaneous calls, or 5,000 calls per hour; adjustable call lengths and loop tests; a real-time status display; detailed connection and tear-down reports in .TXT format; and template-based test script saving.

We expect the Hammer engineers to develop similar products for SIP, MGCP, and any other voice-over-packet protocols that become popular. In the meantime, we find that the Hammer.323 product is an invaluable tool, and it's definitely worthy of an Innovation Award.

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HearMe
HearMe, Inc.
685 Clyde Ave.
Mountain View, CA 94043
Ph: 650-429-3900
Fx: 650-429-3911
E-mail: info@hearme.com
Web site: www.hearme.com

When TMC Labs learned of the plethora of products offered by HearMe, we knew almost immediately that this company was responsible for some impressive software. HearMe offers personal products, such as VoiceCREATOR and VoiceCONTACT, and business products for distance learning, e-commerce, interactive online events, business conferencing, and for Web communities.

VoiceCREATOR allows visitors to your Web site to talk to each other while viewing a page. This type of application can do wonders for drawing visitors and keeping them on your Web site. In similar mode, VoiceConnect is like an instant messenger client using voice instead of just chat. HearMe has also joined up with ICQ to allow for speech while using the ICQ chat software. All of these applications have their uses and are forerunners to what is to come on the Net.

More important, however, are HearMe's business products. Lately, there has been a surge of e-commerce Web call-through applications. HearMe offers these as well as callback capabilities with a quick download that can reach customers behind a firewall. In addition, HearMe offers multipoint conferencing in which participants can view who is online, who is speaking, and who will likely speak next.

Also impressive are the Web communities and interactive online events applications. The software for Web communities is based on the other applications and allows for simultaneous speech for multiple users with text chat engines, a record and playback feature, and instant messenger capabilities. Building on that application, online events can be interactive because audiences can talk or chat with speakers or panelists and can ask questions or make comments in real time. Moderators make sure the event is orderly and clean spoken. On a similar note, distance learning can be attained from student to teacher over the Web. All of these new interactive methods are what TMC Labs envisions to be a major part of the future, and we honor HearMe for their pioneering spirit.

[ return to list of winners ]


ITXC
ITXC Corp.
600 College Rd. East
Princeton, NJ, 08540
Ph: 609-750-3333
Fx: 609-419-1511
E-mail: itxc@itxc.com
Web site: www.itxc.com

With this award, TMC Labs recognizes ITXC's contributions to the Internet telephony industry. ITXC is the largest Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) and is renowned for building its global network -- ITXC.net, in which gateways from two different companies can exchange calls. They are heavily involved with the iNOW! consortium and are a major part of the industry's interoperability and convergence push.

We would like to note that ITXC is a Tier 1 Internet telephony carrier, not a clearinghouse. To understand ITXC as a company, one must know the difference between the two. A clearinghouse finds customers to buy minutes to a particular destination through a seller; they do not manage a network. A Tier 1 Internet telephony carrier is a network operations center. ITXC has over thirty resellers or carriers, who connect through a SNARC (customer premise equipment that eliminates the cost and circuit provisioning delay of PSTN backhaul to a long-distance provider's switch) or connect switch to switch to ITXC.net. In turn, these resellers and carriers currently have millions of minutes of inexpensive international calling.

ITXC's services, such as WweXchange, bDIRECT, Borderless800, and webtalkNOW, are striking. Authorization and intelligent routing to a company's customers is provided using the WweXchange service. Carriers, calling card companies, and resellers may use the bDIRECT service to provide subscribers direct international access to their own voice services. The Borderless800 service offers non-U.S. carriers access to toll-free numbers in the U.S. The webtalkNOW service, which offers a turnkey solution so that companies that provide portals can call inexpensively from the Web to any phone, impressed us most of all.

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Fusion
Natural MicroSystems, Inc.
100 Crossing Blvd.
Framingham, MA, 01702-5406
Ph: 800-533-6120
Fx: 508-620-9313
E-mail: info@nmss.com
Web site: www.nmss.com

A few years ago -- 1997 to be exact -- when Internet telephony was still in its infancy, TMC Labs tested the first officially released IP telephony board from a leading voice-processing board manufacturer. Natural MicroSystems (NMS) was the first major voice-processing board manufacturer to come to market with an IP telephony board. In probably the first-ever comprehensive test drive of a VoIP card, written in the November 1997 issue of CTI magazine (now Communications Solutions, www.tmcnet.com/articles/ctimag/1197/testdrv001.htm), TMC Labs was very impressed with NMS' IP telephony hardware, which was used in Inter-Tel's IP telephony gateways. Other leading IP telephony gateway manufacturers also used the NMS line of VoIP telephony boards.

Natural MicroSystems' Fusion product family includes PCI and CompactPCI boards, all providing a common software development environment, which can be used to create IP telephony gateways, IP-enabled enhanced services platforms, and wireless IP telephony gateways. Fusion includes support for the H.323 specification, the International Multimedia Teleconferencing Consortium's (IMTC's) VoIP Implementation Agreement, the iNOW! Profile, and a growing list of emerging protocols like the Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Vocoders supported include G.723.1, G.729A, G.711, and ETSI GSM, and this product also supports both real-time (T.38) and store-and-forward fax (T.37).

With this plethora of acronym soup that Fusion supports, developers can create applications with configurations from four analog ports to multiple T1s/E1s with little or no increase in latency or decrease in performance, and can scale to up to a dual E1 (60 ports) of IP telephony in a single PCI slot. Fusion utilizes the industry-standard CT Bus (H.100/H.110) as a switching fabric among digital signal processor (DSP) resources, PSTN interfaces, and LAN ports, easing integration with other CT Bus-compliant products.

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Click2Talk
Net2Phone, Inc.
171 Main St.
Hackensack, NJ, 07601
Ph: 201-530-4000
E-mail: info@net2phone.com
Web site: www.net2phone.com

Web contact using VoIP technology is quickly becoming the most important standard by which today's leading call centers are judged. Companies must now be able to hold their own when it comes to answering the call for improved Internet capabilities. Their success in this niche of the Internet telephony industry determines their overall reputation as well. As a result, along with the emergence of this revolutionary new technology is a wave of new services and applications that will ultimately change the way people use technology to communicate.

Net2Phone is one company that is leading the pack of technology-driven competitors in the Internet telephony industry. Their main business-oriented product, Click2Talk, is a voice-over-IP service that gives consumers the ability to increase the power of their personal computers. While Click2Talk may not be the most popular product offered in the Internet telephony industry, it is one of the most innovative. The reason is that Click2Talk operates solely as a service-based ASP model. It provides an e-commerce solution that allows visitors to a vendor's Web site the opportunity to connect, using VoIP, to live sales or service representatives using an existing Internet connection. To the impulsive-buying consumer, it is a quicker and easier way to receive assistance while on the Internet. Simply clicking on an icon will initiate a call from their PC directly to an agent that is specified on the Web site. Being able to interact directly with a representative while surfing a company's Web site is a breakthrough in how technology can enhance communications. And what is truly interesting about Click2Talk is the fact that Net2Phone delivers this advanced technology to consumers as a hosted service to the vendor, as opposed to the CPE model that most of its competitors have adopted. Thus businesses are able to take advantage of the technology without having to purchase or maintain any hardware components.

Net2Phone has successfully managed to stay true to their mission to voice-enable the Internet. Currently, only a short list of competitors offer a product with Web call-through, a technology that enhances communications between companies and their clients in a cost effective way. Creating products such as Click2Talk has helped them to maintain their leadership role in the Internet telephony industry and influence the impact of emerging new technologies.

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xpressa
Pingtel Corp.
400 West Cummings Park, Ste. 2200
Woburn, MA, 01845
Ph: 781-938-5306
Fx: 781-938-9650
E-mail: info@pingtel.com
Web site: www.pingtel.com

When Pingtel came to give us a demonstration, we were immediately impressed with their VoIP phone, called xpressa. As soon as we looked at the phone's stylish design and found out that it was Java-based, the word "cool" established its way out of at least one TMC Labs engineer's mouth. After we found out about the many features that xpressa had to offer, a few more "oohs" and "ahhs" could be heard.

Pingtel's xpressa integrates modern phone applications with the servers and PCs on the Net, which is called Web-Telephone Integration (WTI). It uses JTAPI for call control Java applications in the Windows NT environment. It also sports a PDA-like, grayscale LCD screen with a scroll knob, a help/menu key, 11 soft keys, and eight hard keys. The phone's feature set includes more speed dial numbers than a user will ever need, call forwarding, hold, transfer, caller ID, and multi-party conferencing. There is even the ability to create up to a six-party call conference using an MS Outlook appointment to automatically set it up. Additional features include voice mail and e-mail handling, call recording, call scheduling, and the ability to personalize rings, messages, and music, and find me/follow me capabilities. Overall, xpressa works well as a companion to a PC.

As for VoIP, Pingtel has already demonstrated SIP interoperability on a number of occasions and could add support for other Internet telephony protocols as well. The IP phone also supports the G.711 and G.729a/b codecs. For even better audio quality, xpressa features voice activity detection with silence suppression.

The innovation that Pingtel has shown with their xpressa IP phone demonstrates the type of ideas necessary to allow the Internet telephony industry to excel. We liked its Java-based paradigm so much that we rate it highly even among the exclusive list that we have presented for these TMC Labs awards.

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The Cloud 2.0
Shunra Software, Ltd.
139 Kenilworth Rd.
Ridgewood, NJ, 07450
Ph: 201-652-7366
Fx: 201-652-7734
E-mail: info@shunra.com
Web site: www.shunra.com

A common issue in laboratory environments is simulating real-world conditions. Whether you're developing new client/server software or trying to guarantee QoS for VoIP calls, there are always real-world concerns that just don't arise in the lab. A very clever solution to this problem -- which we like so much that we use it regularly here in TMC Labs -- is The Cloud, from Shunra Software.

The Cloud is a Windows-based WAN emulator and WAN capturing tool. In the emulation mode, the software is configurable to make any kind of network traffic degradation, such as packet loss, packet damage, latency, jitter, lack of bandwidth, etc., and these settings can be done by precise or random amounts. In capture mode, the software takes a snapshot of live network conditions, which you can send via e-mail to a remote lab. For example, if you're testing a product in your Miami lab for use on a VPN in the Pacific Northwest, you can "capture" that network's conditions and implement them back in the Miami R&D office. This way, when the product is ready, there won't be any surprises when it is actually implemented.

The Cloud has several other useful features, like support for misordered packets, duplicate packets, and IP fragmentation. It can emulate bit error rates and link disconnections, and provide real-time analysis and logging. Scripting support is available through a command line interface, and the product runs on either Windows NT 4.0 Workstation or Server.

The Cloud also has a sister product, called Storm. Storm allows emulation of multiple WANs on a single box, which is an essential feature for service providers. Our hands-on experience with this company has shown us that their products are extremely easy to use and to configure, and we recommend them very highly. The Cloud in particular is excellent for companies of all sizes, and for many other uses in addition to Internet telephony.

A final note: To be fair to other innovators, we'd like to recognize the EMIP-1, from a company called CC&T Technologies. Their product is very similar to The Cloud, except that it runs on a Linux platform. With some improvements, the EMIP-1 might win this award next year. For more information, see our product review from the August 1999 issue.

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IAF Horizon
Solect, A Division of Amdocs
55 University Ave., Ste. 1500
Toronto, ON, Canada, M5J 2H7
Ph: 416-363-7844
Fx: 416-363-1011
E-mail: info@solect.com
Web site: www.solect.com

Internationally, there is a need for IP billing and customer care software. ISPs, CLECs, ITSPs, and ASPs all need to remain competitive in their respective marketplaces, whether it is to increase their services or to lower overhead. For this reason, there are many companies that have entered the IP billing space in the last few years. In this space, Solect's Internet Administration Framework (IAF) Horizon stands out of the pack, especially now that the software provides a focus on the specific needs of ASPs from a single platform.

For adding new services and managing a large number of subscribers, IAF Horizon allows ASPs to congregate multiple ISPs and package many applications, and is designed for the Virtual ISP (VISP) business model. IAF Horizon's key features include the Virtual Product Console, which allows VISPs to create their own pricing plans in a secure manner; the QuickBrand toolkit, which saves time and money because branded interfaces can be created without extensive coding and program recompiles; and Provisioning Data Collectors (PDC) Plug-ins for new services to be billed in days or weeks instead of months. These features are just a few of the many innovations inherent in IAF Horizon that are designed to target specific segments in a service provider's ever-changing market.

Also of note is Solect's choice to work with Nokia and Ericsson to offer billing solutions for the mobile IP market. With new enhanced services being introduced into this market, such as e-mail, Internet access, and e-commerce, a new, flexible IP billing scheme is required to keep up with the technology. In this fashion and with IAF Horizon, Solect has demonstrated an ability to update their software with innovation that solves real concerns that service providers face.

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Sonus OSA
Sonus Networks, Inc.
5 Carlisle Rd.
Westford, MA, 01886
Ph: 978-692-8999
Fx: 978-392-9118
E-mail: sales@sonusnet.com
Web site: www.sonusnet.com

Just about every industry pundit is claiming that eventually the telco's circuit-switched networks will be rendered obsolete by packet-based IP networks. Certainly, TMC Labs also believes this to be true (eventually), but what about today? Companies have invested millions if not billions of dollars in circuit-switched network infrastructure, which they certainly are not going to throw out. So how are telcos and service providers going to provide enhanced services such as IP telephony, video conferencing, integrated voice and data, Web, and more? Certainly the traditional circuit-based world cannot handle these types of services. The answer lies in "bridging" the worlds of IP and circuit-based networks, so that telcos and enhanced service providers can leverage their existing investments (circuit-switched) while adding additional flexibility and functionality via open-platform IP networks.

Sonus Networks is one vendor pioneering this technology. The Sonus Open Services Architecture (OSA) will support any application developed on standards-based IP servers. Carriers can now create and offer new services or applications that seamlessly integrate voice and data, or voice and Web, etc. Sonus utilizes open APIs allowing equipment from multiple vendors to interoperate. Carriers can flexibly combine services developed internally, by network equipment providers, and by third parties. The OSA also supports SS7 SCP legacy applications, so carriers are able to continue to offer them. A few examples of legacy SCPs include 800-number translation and Local Number Portability (LNP). Also, utilizing Sonus Networks' OSA, service providers can take as little or as much of the voice traffic as they choose and migrate it over to data networks at their own pace.

The GSX9000 is a carrier-class Open Services Switch with a large capacity and NEBS Level 3 compliance (99.999 percent reliable) with the ability to enable this new converged PSTN/packet-based infrastructure. It is the central component of the Sonus Networks Open Services Architecture (OSA). Another feature of the GXS9000 is support for more than 8,000 simultaneous calls over IP, while a fully configured Open Services Switch can support hundreds of thousands of calls. Also critical is its interoperability with H.323 terminals and smaller VoIP gateways.

Using OSA, public network service providers can also facilitate a class of new services through the interaction of the GSX9000 with the Sonus Networks PSX6000 SoftSwitch and the SGX2000 SS7 Signaling Gateway. This interaction makes possible the movement of telephony from circuit networks to packet networks and the rapid creation of new network services -- all of which are important to the future of Internet telephony.

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NetVision Data Phone
Symbol Technologies, Inc.
One Symbol Plaza
Holtsville, NY, 11741
Ph: 800-722-6234
Fx: 516-738-5970
E-mail: info@symbol.com
Web site: www.symbol.com

Here at TMC labs, we often think about new evolutionary products or services that may be at our disposal in the future. In fact, it was one of these thoughts that gave us the idea for these awards. It was another one of these thoughts that had us thinking that it would be smart to incorporate true VoIP technology into wireless devices. It was not long after when we discovered a company that has done exactly that.

Symbol Technologies offers a wide range of products and services, mostly in the wireless and mobile markets, but it is the NetVision Phone and NetVision Data Phone, used on the Spectrum24 wireless LAN, that caught TMC Labs' attention. These phones merge wireless applications with the Internet telephony industry. They have the ability to converge voice/data communications over one wireless network, using the H.323 protocol. Over standard data networks, either phone converts analog voice into compressed digital packets, which are sent using IP. Improved productivity and cost savings that could benefit just about any company utilizing this technology are a result of this convergence.

The NetVision phones integrate with Spectrum24 into an existing phone system through a gateway, which connects calls to anywhere in the world and provides traditional phone features, such as transfers, conferencing, overhead paging, and voice mail. They use IP addressing to tie into an extension number or name directory, thus allowing someone to dial by extension or name. Other features include speed dials, dialed number recall, and support for text messaging. Even with this added functionality, the NetVision phones still work similarly to other wireless phones.

In the future, there will be more devices that will add voice communications to wireless LAN installations. Symbol has pioneered the way with an innovative solution, and we reward this ingenuity.

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OfficeLink 2000
Teltone Corp.
22121 20th Ave. S
Bothell, WA, 98021
Ph: 425-951-3009
Fx: 425-487-2288
E-mail: info@teltone.com
Web site: www.teltone.com

Your company just spent six figures on the latest, greatest, most feature-packed communications server available. The next day, they decided to let the sales and call center employees work from home. What do you do?

Telecommuting is the inspiration for numerous software and gadgetry, but one of our favorite solutions is Teltone's OfficeLink 2000 product. By creating an IP network connection over the PSTN (or ISDN or even DSL), teleworkers can use all of the features of your PBX and ACD systems, including DNIS, ANI, transfer, conference, speed dial, visual message waiting, and supervisor notification. The server software runs on Windows NT, and no special hardware is needed at the end user's location. Up to 48 clients can run on each daisy-chained server. Even more exciting is that because the connection is based on IP, there is no toll charge for the voice aspects, and the software is invisible to callers or to outbound called parties. The product currently supports PBXs from AT&T, Lucent, Siemens, and Nortel.

In addition to its obvious features and benefits, one of the reasons we chose this product is because it is representative of a great concept for other products. OfficeLink 2000 can be thought of as an in-house ASP solution for your telephony systems. It is useful not only for teleworkers, but also for branch offices of larger corporations where a handful of people may work in a remote area. We feel that this product is one of the more innovative uses of VoIP technology on the market; it is reviewed in more detail in the November 1998 issue of Communications Solutions (then CTI ). We highly recommend that you give it a try.

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