BY ADAM ALTMAN, TMC LABS
Suppose Alexander Graham Bell and his supporters had not pioneered the
telephone. In Bell's day, many believed that the invention would never take
off. Why use a strange new contraption when you could just walk to town and
talk to anyone you wanted to communicate with? Times have changed since
then, and that strange contraption has played a large role in those changes.
What would this society be like without the phone?
A similar notion was inevitable with the invention of the computer,
especially in the early '80s when computers were beasts that were slower
than that proverbial tortoise. More recently, it has been the lethargy of
developing standards that has crippled many new technologies. For example,
TCP/IP has been around a long time, but it was only in recent years that
transmitting data over this protocol became the de facto networking
Now, some Internet telephony companies are contributing further to this
evolution by perfecting Voice-over-IP (VoIP) technologies. As Internet
telephony companies become more and more advanced (some VoIP applications
are even better than analog phone quality), the main issue becomes
interoperability, and there is a long road to pioneering a compliance
standard that would revolutionize our society once again. While we are still
far away from complete interoperability because of competing protocols like
H.323, SIP, and MGCP (among others), equipment using proprietary
applications, and standards committees battling over which parts of which
protocols should be "the standard," there is hope for the near
future. Successful demonstrations in interoperability compliance go a long
way toward showing that it is an attainable goal, and there was no
demonstration more successful than the Spring Communications
Solutions EXPO in Washington, D.C. at the end of April. That was the
third installment of ConvergeNET, which is dedicated to demonstrating VoIP
interoperability from anywhere on the show floor of TMC's Communications
Solutions EXPO and Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
At TMC Labs, we are very familiar with what can go wrong with specific
equipment and software. In a live environment with a short time to achieve
interoperability, it is even more critical that successful demonstration
runs be made as quickly as possible. TMC Labs is very involved with
ConvergeNET, even to the point of helping participating companies and their
engineers solve compatibility issues. We believe in VoIP, interoperability,
and those pioneering companies willing to subject themselves to possible
failure in a real-time environment. Some of the companies involved had never
even worked together before the EXPO and were still able to interoperate.
Nine companies were key participants in ConvergeNET, and Tundo
sponsored the event. The main participants were Cirilium,
Conita Technologies, e-tel
Corporation, e-Voice Communications,
Inc., iFace.com, Nx
Networks, Quicknet Technologies, Inc.,
ShelCad Communications, Ltd., and Tundo.
Companies actually called from their own EXPO booths to other companies'
booths on the show floor. TMC designated one area as the center for
ConvergeNET, and Tundo's gatekeeper was located there, as was equipment from
Quicknet and Conita. The private ConvergeNET networks, provided by WOMBO,
Inc., were centered there as well with drops going to participants' booths.
With this network setup in place and after a preliminary meeting on setup
day, these companies were ready for the demonstrations to begin.
On the first day of the show, it took a little while to set up the
equipment, make sure everyone had the appropriate IP addresses, and tweak
some configuration settings, but soon we were off and "VoIPing,"
using the H.323 protocol. The first modest success was achieved when ShelCad
and Cirilium made point-to-point calls from booth to booth. We were visiting
ShelCad during this test, so we took the call from Cirilium. Because of the
noise on the EXPO floor, it was a little difficult to hear the voice on the
other end of the line, but we were able to make out what was being said and
did not hear much latency or echo. In addition to ShelCad, Cirilium was able
to make point-to-point calls with iFace.com, Conita, and Quicknet using the
G.723 and G.729 codecs. Unfortunately, they were never able to register with
Tundo's gatekeeper, so they only enjoyed point-to-point VoIP success.
Larger success came after most of our participants registered with
Tundo's gatekeeper and were able to make VoIP calls through the gatekeeper
to other companies' booths. As a matter of fact, with the exception of
Cirilium and e-Voice, all the other companies were able to register, whether
the registered equipment consisted of an IP phone, other end points, or a
gateway. Nx Networks had limited success -- in part because of the codecs
they were using (G.711 and G.729a). Much of our success came when using the
G.723 compression codec. However, Nx Networks was able to use Tundo's
gatekeeper to connect with e-tel. We listened to one of the calls that e-tel
made when it was a little quieter on the show floor, and were amazed by the
clarity of the call and the lack of latency and echo.
On both days of the show (along with other demonstrations), Quicknet
attempted to communicate with each and every participant, either through
Tundo's gatekeeper, via a point-to-point connection, or both. They were
largely successful. They were even successful when making a call to a Komodo
Fone, as were Tundo, iFace.com, and Cirilium. Furthermore, they attempted to
do this using both the Windows and Linux operating systems, headed by Ed
Okerson, an authority on Linux. Quicknet was first successful when
communicating with iFace.com, and then with Tundo, ShelCad, e-tel, Conita,
and Cirilium. Quicknet attempted to communicate with Nx Networks and
e-Voice, but with only limited success. There was no audio when Quicknet
called Nx Networks, and e-Voice could originate a VoIP point-to-point call,
but could not receive one. e-Voice had a problem with a dropped connection
after receiving a call, and could not solve the problem in the short time
that we had for the demonstrations.
In almost every capacity, the demonstrations were extremely successful,
and everyone concerned learned much from the experience. As a matter of
fact, because of our success and our own cockiness, we decided to
demonstrate a wireless VoIP connection on the show floor. AIRLINX,
who provided the wireless equipment, used the CompactLink 20/350 laser
system to seamlessly bridge two Ethernet LANs running VoIP traffic. Tundo
and Quicknet supplied the VoIP network telephony systems for the
demonstration. Through this real-world telephony experiment, we proved that
wireless laser communications do allow for transparent physical layer
network extensions for time-sensitive VoIP data.
As you can probably tell, we're very excited about what transpired with
ConvergeNET at the Spring Communications Solutions EXPO in Washington, D.C.,
as are many companies in the Internet telephony space. Believe it or not,
we're even more excited about the awesome potential for ConvergeNET at the
Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO in San Diego on October 46. We
plan to continue to work with the companies mentioned as well as many more
companies, and we plan to venture into additional aspects of
interoperability in the Internet telephony industry. These should include
demonstrations with most protocols, and we plan to include more new Internet
telephony technologies than have ever been demonstrated in this type of
environment. We are even setting up a ConvergeNET Advisory Board so that
this can be organized properly.
Everyone involved with the third installment of ConvergeNET should be
proud of their achievements. We have made a breakthrough in VoIP
interoperability demonstrations, and believe that we will break more new
ground at our next event, thereby continuing the evolution of VoIP
Adam Altman is a technology editor for TMC Labs. He also organizes and
directs ConvergeNET. He may be reached at email@example.com.
to the July 2000 table of contents ]