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January 16, 2008

Video Conferencing, HD Broadband Rising

By Rich Tehrani, CEO, Technology Marketing Corporation


Aculab offers IP telephony and communications solution developers and service providers a wide range of hardware and software building blocks for integration into high performance, wired and wireless communications solutions - from contact centres and IVR to prepaid services.
 
Ian Colville is product manager for Aculab. Colville will be speaking at next week’s ITEXPO (News - Alert) in a session entitled Future Trends in IP Communications. I caught up with Colville, and asked him several questions about — naturally — the trends driving the future of IP communications.
 
 
RT: What trends are you noticing in the communications market?
ICe: There’s a lot of activity in the mobile arena, which translates into applications using SS7 and SIGTRAN protocols. GSM-MAP and CAMEL prepaid applications using either TDM or IP-based transport or a hybrid TDM/IP transport are in demand, as are USSD gateways serving functionality for mobile solutions. This is happening worldwide and belies the idea of SS7 being superseded by SIP. Video retains its promise and will perhaps make serious headway from 2008, with applications such as video conferencing and transcoding. Conferencing is a strengthening market sector and high definition broadband video can only enhance its appeal.
 
RT: Did 2007 finish the way your company expected?
ICe: The second half of 2007 was a record for Aculab, which was not a surprise; more of a pleasure at expectations being fulfilled you might say. Prosody X is certainly enjoying a tremendous reception in the marketplace and this new product line is driving our recent success. We are now approaching 150 companies worldwide who are developing communications applications with our new product and we’ve got a lot of really useful feedback from those early adopters. Consequently, we’ve been making quite a few enhancements and doing some fine tuning on the back of real business opportunities, which is reflected in our sales and financial performance.
 
RT: Is 2008 going to be a better year than 2007?
ICe: We expect our recent success to continue through a focus on maintaining our leadership position in four sectors in particular. These are conferencing, fax, contact centre, and military communications applications, where the functionality and flexibility of Prosody X has given us a definite edge. Ongoing development of Prosody X, which is key to our success in these areas, will centre on functionality that is of benefit to these important converged markets. As a media resource platform designed for IP and TDM, Prosody X inherently offers future-proofing and, in terms of some of the new technologies which are coming downstream, things like broadband codecs and video conferencing, this will add to our advantage as we move through 2008.
 
RT: What technologies have altered the market the most?
ICe: One way of looking at this is to look at why we developed Prosody X and Prosody S. As a manufacturer, we evolved our Prosody product range to take advantage of an anticipated all-IP future whilst not ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’ by retaining a TDM option. The wisdom of this approach is borne out by the rate at which companies are prepared to deploy 100% IP solutions. We’re seeing around 25% of new communications installations deploying enabling technologies that are now pure IP, so there is no doubt that developers are embracing IP like never before. So, whether you call it IP telephony or VoIP or next generation communications, or whatever, that common denominator of IP has so far been the major driver for change. And that will continue.
 
RT: How has Skype changed the telecom market?
ICe: From where Aculab’s enabling technology fits into the food chain, not a whole lot. We have implemented a broad range of wideband codecs (if that’s not a pun), including iSAC, which features with Skype. Further afield, we are involved in SS7-to-SIP opportunities where carriers, primarily mobile operators, are looking to protect diminishing voice revenues by terminating Skype originated calls on PSTN or PLMN devices. I did read recently that eBay (News - Alert) appear to have overvalued Skype to the tune of nearly $US1 billion, but it is profitable, having doubled in the last year, so that’s a positive.
 
RT: How will Apple, Google and Microsoft (News - Alert) each change the telecom space?
ICe: We have worked closely with Microsoft for many years now and an ApplianX Gateway has been specifically developed for Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007. Classed as a ‘basic hybrid’ gateway, the ApplianX Gateway for OCS 2007 is the only certified gateway to include Microsoft Mediation Server software, an essential component that provides support for Microsoft’s RTAudio codec and security features. We have less synergy with Apple’s iPhone (News - Alert), for obvious reasons, but Google’s Android Open Handset Alliance — which will deliver an operating system, middleware and key mobile applications — looks interesting.
 
RT: Do you have predictions about the 700 MHz auction?
ICe: Again, this is a bit left field for Aculab, however, I understand it could be one of the most sought after bits of spectrum ever to come under the auctioneer’s hammer. I believe it refers to a slice of the spectrum in the 700MHz band that’s about to be vacated by television broadcasters in the U.S. sometime in 2009. It is getting some press that suggests it has the potential to influence the course of U.S. broadband policy for years to come and as it appears to be ideal for wireless broadband services, it could provide inexpensive service to rural areas and more competition to cable and DSL.
 
RT: What are the brightest spots in your business going forward?
ICe: Prosody X has taken us, as an enabling technology supplier, to what we consider to be a leadership position in four sectors in particular: conferencing, fax, contact centre and military communications applications. In response to the first developers who developed with Prosody X we have seen a lot of movement in those sectors. Going forward you will see a lot of our efforts will be placed on growing our penetration into those sectors and getting a return on the investment we’ve made on the individual companies who are either in or tied to those sectors. Additionally, over the course of 2008, Aculab will be looking to bring IP and video products to market that will enable our customers to develop innovative solutions in a rapidly coalescing communications market.
 
RT: What are the biggest threats you see to your company’s success?
ICe: The biggest threats are those outside Aculab’s control, such as local market conditions in our major territories. The stability of the communications market, which has seen some volatility in the recent past, can affect performance. The ability of telcos, fixed and mobile, to invest consistently and considerably moving forward, in capital equipment and infrastructure, will have some bearing on future success. Another aspect to consider is the skills pool available to our typical development customers. A longer term lack of skilled resources will mean they turn instead to procurement and integration rather than pure development. To some extent this can be mitigated by having support for VoiceXML (News - Alert), which we do, of course, and application generation environments, such as Whirlwind from Skunkworks, an Aculab partner, which require little technical skills for application development.
 
RT: What will conferees learn from your ITEXPO conference session this month?
ICe: I’m taking part in a panel session entitled, “Future Trends in IP Communications,” so I’d better polish up the crystal ball beforehand. My feeling is that the session will major on the increased interest in video technology, driven by the advent of broadband and increases in processing power allied to newer, more efficient codecs like H.264. The synopsis talks of innovative companies dreaming up new applications and new services that are designed to take advantage of a world that’s moving to IP. Well, Aculab fits right in there providing those pioneers with the new enabling technologies they need. I guess we’ll look to shed some light on what trends are driving this industry forward and what the future will look like — a tall order.
 
RT: Who should attend?
ICe: I expect the audience to be made up of both technical and non-technical people, with maybe more analysts, marketing, sales, finance, etc., types than engineering types. I don’t see the panel being geared toward a detailed technical discussion — that would rule me out. Anyone who wants to discuss some ideas in more detail is more than welcome to visit us at the Aculab booth — 403 that is.
 
RT: What unique perspectives will you offer?
ICe: Aculab is an enabling technology supplier — we enable our partners to create innovative communications solutions. We supply the underlying technology for their solutions, not the applications. We’ve been around for a long time and we’ve been punching above our weight since the very beginning. With Prosody X, we developed the first truly VoIP-centric media processing platform, so we certainly have a lot of experience as customers migrate from TDM to IP. Aculab has a reputation for quality and responsiveness, and that applies to our support as well as our products.
 
RT: What is the most exciting market change we can expect in communications in technology in 2008 and beyond?
ICe: We are the first enabling technology company to provide the ability for developers to do wideband conferencing. There is probably one company that’s actually deploying wideband conferencing solutions based on the kind of technology that we provide globally, and we see that booming. The prime benefit is quality. We have customers offering services and deploying solutions that can have upwards of 2,000 conference participants, and obviously there are a lot of challenges in terms of voice quality in conferences of that size.
 
RT: Please make one surprising prediction for 2008.
ICe: Nothing on global warming or the U.S. presidential nominations. I predict that SS7-to-SIP gateways will feature heavily as IP continues to grow. Vendors selling IP platforms and IP-based hosted services need to interconnect to TDM environments. IP ports sold will continue to grow at the expense of TDM ports, but the global installed base is still heavily TDM centric and it will take much longer than the year 2008 to alter that.
 
Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor in Chief at TMC. In addition he is the Chairman of the world’s best attended IP Communications event, Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
 
 
Mark your calendars! Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO — the first major IP communications event of the year — is just days away. It’s not too late to register for the event, which takes place in Miami Beach, FL, January 23–25, 2008. The EXPO will feature three valuable days of exhibits, conferences and networking that you won’t want to miss. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!
 




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