Applications & Interoperability
BY JEFFREY T. FORD
Often in the telecommunications industry, technology innovation does
not immediately match the needs of the enterprise. The increasing interest
in converged applications is a perfect example. Businesses see the
proliferation of presence, collaboration, messaging, and mobility
applications as a primary attraction for adopting a converged
But these applications wonï¿½t amount to much unless manufacturers
understand that companies also want to access their communications
wherever and whenever they want, regardless of infrastructure.
Interoperability is rapidly becoming a critical issue for the enterprise.
To truly serve customer needs, the industry must demonstrate that it is
committed to standards and practical interoperability.
LEARNING FROM PAST MISTAKES
During the late 90s, many of us remember the excitement, anticipation --
and confusion -- when the term ï¿½convergenceï¿½ entered into the telecom
lexicon. Sure, we all understood the basic definition of the word;
transporting voice and data traffic over a single network. But what did
the word mean to the customer?
Our industry soon understood the concept of packetizing voice and
transporting it over the data network ultimately represented very little
commercial appeal to the customer. Initially, the world of IP telephony
promised reduced toll charges and increased mobility for a user,
particularly when a worker in a multi-location enterprise could take his
or her IP phone, bring it to a company site in another state, or even
another country, register into the network, and retain the same phone
numbers and features available at the desktop.
Apparently this scenario was not a compelling argument for a company to
migrate to a converged infrastructure. If a purchasing enterprise cannot
identify the true business benefit of new technology, there is little
chance of a purchase order being generated. This paradigm is even more
pronounced with todayï¿½s tight economic conditions.
Today, IP telephony is gaining an increased toehold in the market as more
and more businesses look to integrate this technology into their
infrastructure. And as VoIP technology becomes more mature, it is
increasingly apparent that real value is not in the transport of the
packets, but in the delivery of specific applications that leverage the
converged environment to help businesses drive revenue, maintain efficient
operations, and reduce expenditures.
Applications are the operative word for todayï¿½s enterprise. Give a
customer a tool that quantifiably supports the business, and there is a
real good chance that you will end up with a sale.
Businesses require tools that allow them to maximize sales efforts,
communicate more effectively by overcoming the hindrance of geography,
time or infrastructure, and, as a result, become much more efficient.
Presence tools, particularly new collaboration, messaging, and mobility
applications, can be delivered via converged technology into any number of
infrastructures, including traditional circuit switched, IP, or wireless
802.11. But tread carefully in these waters; there are still a lot of
issues regarding interoperability and standards that need to be ironed out
for the realistic experience of convergence to match the expectations of
The 802.11 Challenge
One of the more interesting aspects for an enterprise that chooses to
integrate a converged solution is the potential of delivering enterprise
communications and applications through an 802.11 infrastructure. A
mobile, productive workforce is high on the wish list for many companies,
and the availability of real-time voice, data, and Internet communications
that is accessed via a PDA makes a move to a converged infrastructure more
appealing. But, with all the promise, there are still a number of
technology issues that must be taken into account before a company should
comfortably leverage a WiFi solution.
First, one must understand that the 2.4GHz spectrum that 802.11 occupies
is very crowded As one of the few frequencies licensed by the Federal
Communications Commission for commercial use, 2.4 GHz is also the band
that houses Bluetooth devices and a host of cordless household items,
ranging from baby monitors to remote car alarms and garage door openers.
As a result of this crowded space, interference with other wireless
devices can result in packet loss, thus inhibiting the quality of voice
With seamless coverage of this network not yet fully deployed, there
exists the possibility that certain applications can drop off the network.
As the proliferation of 802.11 networks continues in the United States,
this particular challenge should eventually melt away as more robust
wireless networks become deployed. Security within an 802.11 network is
also another subject that should be carefully evaluated. IT departments
could be taking significant risks if they do not encrypt their
WHY INTEROPERABILITY MATTERS
As companies look to leverage new applications and tools, an interesting
phenomenon will likely occur: The enterprise will not accept the notion of
utilizing certain applications in one environment, say, converged, without
being able to use the same application in a traditional circuit-switched
The fact is, companies want to choose their applications based upon
business needs, not on which type of infrastructure they use. The
successful vendor will understand this and tailor solutions that can work
in any environment. Delivering applications in an open environment may be
a challenge, but it is hardly insurmountable.
SIP & SIMPLE
Until SIP, protocols (such as H.323) did not always or easily respond to
the needs of seamless transparency and full functionality. Enter SIP,
which promises to reap real benefits for the end user. While there are
still feature-delivery issues to be addressed, it is clear that SIP has
become the de facto standard for the industry.
In an open, standards-based environment, SIP is the protocol for
establishing communication between two devices, such as desktop phones,
wireless handsets, and similar instruments. When an enterprise puts SIP at
the core of its communications system, a funny thing happens -- the entire
infrastructure becomes SIP-enabled. Circuit-switched, and even analog
phones, can leverage SIP in this scenario.
A close cousin of SIP is SIMPLE, an acronym for SIP Instant Messaging and
Presence Leveraging Extensions. When SIMPLE is brought into the
communications mix, things start to get interesting. The primary benefit
of SIMPLE is that it provides an industry-standard interface for instant
messaging and user presence information, breathing life into the full
range of presence, collaboration, and messaging applications that are
rapidly gaining interest in the market.
Without SIP, to set up multimedia real-time communication between devices,
and SIMPLE, to drive home presence and collaboration applications in real
time, regardless of geography or infrastructure, the convergence landscape
would look much bleaker than it does today. In terms of what matters to
todayï¿½s forward-looking customer -- leveraging enterprise-specific
applications in every possible infrastructure -- SIP and SIMPLE have
performed well in terms of simplicity and reliability.
Interoperability is even more important when one considers how the
converged infrastructure is usually constructed. For better or worse, long
gone are the days when companies selected one vendor for an end-to-end
communications solution. Today, businesses may have a data infrastructure
comprised of several vendorsï¿½ routers and switches, along with
firewalls, provisioning and management software, and other devices
provided by competing vendors. Then, factor in the voice communications
equipment including platforms, endpoints, software, and other peripherals,
and finally, throw in the 802.11 network, and all the hardware and
software necessary to operate this system into the mix. To further
complicate the situation, consider enterprise-specific applications,
multiple locations, and an environment that will support new third-party
applications, if and when an enterprise chooses to integrate them into
their existing system.
As daunting as this scenario is, this is precisely the situation many
businesses face as they look to leverage the latest technologies. And it
is precisely the reason why more attention will be given to SIP and
SIMPLE. These are the two protocols that are the most practical in terms
As more and more companies leverage mobility devices and look to adopt
presence, collaboration, and messaging applications, manufacturers and
providers must carefully consider the environments in which these products
communicate. Customers today want to access their communications wherever
and whenever they choose, using their preferred tool, be it desktop,
handheld, or any combination, regardless if its voice, data or Internet.
The successful manufacturer of tomorrow will embrace this emerging trend
by integrating standard protocols into their platforms and ensuring
interoperability with competing products. This is what the market is
Jeffrey T. Ford is Chief Technology Officer for Inter-Tel. Inter-Tel offers
value-driven communications products; applications utilizing networks and
server-based communications software; and a wide range of managed services
that include voice and data network design and traffic provisioning,
custom application development, and financial solutions packages.
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2004 Table Of Contents ]