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Publisher's Outlook
July 2004


Rich Tehrani The State of VoIP Development

BY GREG GALITZINE


As we head into summer and our first-ever VoIP Developer Conference, we decided to ask some of the participating event sponsors to answer a series of questions regarding the VoIP Developer marketplace, the outlook for the overall VoIP industry, and some of the things they�re doing in the space. The Q&A session follows below. If you want to meet with these companies and to ask them more specific questions, please feel free to look them up at the upcoming VoIP Developer Conference, being held at the San Jose DoubleTree Hotel on August 3 and 4, 2004. For more information, visit the conference Web page at www.voipdeveloper.com.
 

Aculab

Please describe the state of the market for developers of VoIP products right now.


The state of the market for developers is pretty secure. The technology has certainly matured and there is functionality to suit just about every enterprise or service provider scenario � from low-channel-count host media processing software through to multi-functional, multi-protocol media gateways. With IP telephony products being deployed at every layer from core backbone network infrastructure, through softswitch or media gateway controller Class 4/5 switch replacements, to media gateways and IP softphones in the enterprise space, developers are not short of opportunity. Typical computer telephony applications such as IVR, calling card, pre-paid services, and ACD can be reinvented by adding or making IP connectivity an option. Coupled with the increasing consumer confidence in the technology, developers themselves can be reassured that they will receive a return on investment � the market has moved out of hype and is now maturing as adoption rates increase.

What are some of the hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena?


We have certainly seen an increase in customer deployments of IP-based solutions. Contact centers are definitely a prime area leading the take up of IP solutions � using it as both a cost saving and profit generating enabler. With a big drive to reduce call centers cost, evident by the continuing offshoring movement taking place, using IP is a further way to reduce call costs � when you compare call charges against TDM. Taking a step further and turning that contact center into a profit generator is made possible through the better integration of voice and back office systems and databases � allowing for smarter ways in which to service customers and manage calls. The pre- and post-paid calling card market is another sector in which IP is taking a lead. With telcos offering wholesale VoIP services to an alternative carrier, the carrier in turn can offer a differentiated and cost effective service to its subscribers using either H.323 or SIP phones for their calls.

Please provide a brief look at the latest tools available to aid the VoIP development community.


Application generators are certainly a useful tool, whether a developer is new to IP technology or telephony, or simply wishes to focus on the benefits of the application rather than on the �nitty gritties� at a lower level. Building block vendors are likely to provide sample code and application examples to make it easier for a developer to make a start. However, the provision of training for developers, often overlooked or considered as too expensive for most budgets, is key. On no account dismiss training � it is an essential option and the best tool available to aid the development community.

 

What do developers who are looking to get into the VoIP space need to know? What opportunities await them?


There are a number of things to consider, which all equate to good news for developers. Firstly the growing numbers of service providers offering both business and residential VoIP imply means developers have a growing target market to go for. The fact that the number of traditional PBX sales are decreasing whilst IP PBXs are seeing real growth, again presents further opportunity to develop and offer IP-based value added services and applications. From a market perspective, next-generation network operators� backhaul fiber networks are entirely IP-based. Conversely, established network operators are now offering new services, provisioned through the use of next-generation IP-based products and technologies, and also seeking to migrate to a network infrastructure based on IP. The above is also true, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on where they are in their cycle of evolution, of local exchange carriers and service providers. These organizations are increasingly employing IP telephony alongside conventional equipment as a means of providing value added services. Where this is perhaps most pronounced is in deregulating and emerging markets where carriers require basic voice services that can be deployed quickly with low entry costs. Finally, on a technology front, host media processing is allowing the SMEs, who traditionally may not have been able to afford the benefits of computer telephony, to now do so.


One thing is key and has been echoed many times � the way to sell VoIP products isn�t to discuss the technology and why IP is better than traditional networks, etc. Instead, highlight the benefits that the end user cares about. As discussed before; can it reduce cost, improve productivity, generate revenue � how is it better than what they have now?

What are some of the things your company is working on today in the VoIP developer space?


Having been an established player in the VoIP market for some time our current focus is combining a number of our core technologies. For example Aculab recently announced our host media processing product, Prosody S. Prosody S brings to developers all the benefits of our Prosody hardware platform in a software only solution. In addition Prosody S has been designed to handle IP calls utilizing a standard NIC card. All this presents developers with a very cost effective enabling technology for the development of IP applications.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for VoIP?


The future is VoIP. What is still unknown is when all communications will be based upon it, or if it ever will, or on something that will evolve out of the use of IP for multi-media traffic. It is probably true that the entire worldwide circuit-switched subscriber to subscriber network will never be entirely based on IP. That is perhaps unnecessary and is certainly so in the short to medium term. Deploying media gateways and architecting network infrastructure using a softswitch model will cater for the requisite degree of convergence. This is good for the market; good for vendors of technology like media and SS7 signalling gateways, and good for application developers. Developers have opportunities to create new and improved solutions for telcos, service providers, systems integrators, telecommunications and network equipment manufacturers, contact center equipment manufacturers and enterprises � the list goes on � to thrive and prosper. But regardless of whether converged TDM and IP networks co-exist for the next 10, 15, or 20 years � or more � you can be sure that VoIP will continue to be a catalyst for change. Enhancing the way we communicate and interact with each other � both at home and at work.

� Faye Matthews, Head of Strategic Marketing, Aculab


Intel Corporation

What is the state of the marketplace right now for developers of VoIP products?


VoIP is taking off in the marketplace. Major analysts now believe that TEMs are selling businesses more IP than traditional circuit-switched lines. And almost all PBX and KTS development projects, as well as those for media servers enabling applications like messaging and IVR, are planning VoIP capabilities. For developers, this provides a huge opportunity to enter a fast-growing market segment.


Most service providers are either offering or planning to launch IP trunks to satisfy the converged voice and data requirements of enterprise customers. This is leading to new interfaces for existing enterprise equipment and opportunities to satisfy service provider requirements for telco-grade VoIP equipment. Service providers are now looking beyond just business customers to consumers for VoIP revenue. Both a consumer�s home and home office phone services can be handled by VoIP solutions from new and established service providers. With VoIP service now delivered directly to homes and businesses, developers have numerous opportunities to build unique new VoIP-enabled solutions.

What are some of the hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena?


To uncover VoIP opportunities, it�s important for developers to look beyond the technology of simple packetized voice to the many new applications this technology enables. Many of these applications can be deployed both in a circuit-switched world and on proprietary platforms, but it is often far less time-consuming and more straightforward to deploy them on open, standards-based computing platforms.


One hot area right now is wireless telephony for the workplace. Using VoIP and WiFi enables rapid, cost-effective deployment of mobile telephony. Contact centers have always been, and continue to be, early adopters of new voice technologies.


Having voice, fax, and data applications ride on the same network makes integration simpler, and network management applications can smooth interactions regardless of the media path a customer prefers.Speech-enabling the Web is another growing opportunity, made easier when the voice is on the same network as the Web applications and data. Unified messaging and sales force automation both help businesses boost productivity and profitability � and when implemented on converged networks, they do so at a very reasonable cost. Many applications have rapid financial paybacks, making businesses more than willing to dedicate portions of their data and voice communications budgets to implementing them. And opportunities still exist in developing gateways with packet transcoding for customer premises of all sizes, and softswitches to control call delivery. Developers need to consider where their solutions will be deployed � home, office, or network � since that will impact the reliability requirements, the scale of deployment, and even the choice of operating system.

Please provide a brief look at the latest tools available to aid the VoIP development community.


Standards such as SIP and H.323 allow VoIP and other real-time communications modes to interoperate in a way that encourages rapid market growth. A robust market for application developer kits (ADKs) for both telephony and traditional programming facilitates the rapid development of unique new applications to satisfy business needs. Web-based toolkits from Microsoft let Windows OS programmers quickly ramp-up voice applications. Sun�s J2EE application programming environment also provides an abundance of simple-to-use tools for voice communications in an IP environment. Other toolkit vendors such as Envox and Intel are making it a more straightforward task to create converged communications solutions using IP-based protocols.

What do developers looking to get into the VoIP space need to know? What opportunities await them?


The main thing developers need to understand is that there are real opportunities today on which they can capitalize using their existing expertise. It does not matter if a developer�s background is in data and Web-oriented programming or purely telecom-related. Web-centric developers can easily learn new voice protocols such as SIP, and today�s application development tools are similar to the ones they already use. Telephony developers will continue to find development kits great productivity enhancers. Clearly, there is a learning curve for both groups. Telephony developers must learn about active directory services and DHCP protocols and adjust to IP addressing. Web- and LAN-centric developers have a new media stream to move across their network, causing them to think about quality of service issues and new security threats.But the challenge of thinking more about real-time communications and what they can do with the spoken word is very exciting � and something developers would never have tried with a mouse and keyboard. The issue is mastering a new user interface, not mastering new technical skills.

What are some of the things your company is working on today in the VoIP developer space?


Intel has recently released a new version of Intel NetStructure Host Media Processing (HMP) Software, which allows developers to deploy VoIP solutions using only software building blocks and benefit from the ever-increasing power of the Intel Pentium Processor for handling media processing tasks. HMP software can also shorten time-to-market for solution developers and lower total cost of ownership for system owners.


Intel offers small gateways for translating between traditional analog telephony or proprietary digital PBX lines and VoIP standards, allowing a smooth transition from the legacy voice communications environment to the next-generation VoIP infrastructure.


And Intel has recently added capabilities to its Intel NetMerge Call Processing Software so that data from computer systems and telephone systems can be shared seamlessly in VoIP or circuit-switched networks, allowing greater flexibility in call routing and other critical functions.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for VoIP?


The future of VoIP holds the promise of tremendous growth for developers and of enhanced productivity and a competitive advantage for end users. Because VoIP is a technology that enables a remarkably wide array of applications and solutions, it can allow the telecom market to move ahead rapidly to meet future customer demand. Some day soon, I believe that VoIP will be at the core of nearly all our voice communications. Then we will be discussing video, which presents technical challenges for packet networks but has the potential to enable new revenue streams and more efficient business processes � just like voice!

� Jim Machi, Director of Product Marketing, Network Building Block Division, Intel.

 

NMS Communications

Please describe the state of the market for developers of VoIP products right now.


Typically new technologies remain in incubation for years � possibly decades � before wide adoption. But those that succeed eventually do hit the mainstream, at which point they get adopted fairly rapidly. The good news is that after more than eight years of incubation, one VoIP market segment, enterprise VoIP � specifically IP-PBXs and IP Centrex � reached mainstream status in 2003. Given typical PBX replacement cycles (seven+ years), it�s likely to take a decade to replace most PBXs, but the transition has finally started and it�s creating numerous opportunities for developers. On the other hand, consumer VoIP (services like Vonage or Skype) remain in incubation. However, judging by recent announcements from major players like AT&T, we may look back on 2004 or 2005 as the turning point for Consumer VoIP � the point where adoption went mainstream.

What are some of the hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena?


The hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena are IP-based call centers using VoIP for local and remote agents and providing rich support for caller self-service, i.e., Web, VoIP-based IVR, e-mail, SMS, and even WAP.Please provide a brief look at the latest tools available to aid the VoIP development community.
The latest tools include the following:
� HMP (host media processing) products that provide a common API for applications that need to support both VoIP and traditional telephony environments;
� Scripting languages, like VXML, that facilitate rapid development of subscriber self-service systems, like VoIP voice responses systems;
� MRCP (media resource control protocol) that provides a common framework for integrating speech recognition technologies into VoIP applications; and
� Open-source VoIP software, like SIPxchange, that can be leveraged to provide elements of a larger solution.

What do developers who are looking to get into the VoIP space need to know? What opportunities await them?


Unfortunately, most of the mainstream IP-PBX systems pay lip service to standards like SIP, but still rely on proprietary protocols (like Cisco�s �Skinny� for their IP telephones). The good news is that most vendors also support standard protocols and, in the world of VoIP, there are many more ways to provide new services on top of basic VoIP installation than was ever the case with traditional PBXs.

What are some of the things your company is working on today in the VoIP developer space?


NMS is currently working on MRCP, HMP, Modular Service Components (Media Servers, Signaling Servers, Video Servers), VXML, next-gen IP conferencing capability (both audio and video), multi-modal application development environments (tools to support combined voice, video, Web, WAP, e-mail and SMS user interfaces based on user preferences).

In your opinion, what does the future hold for VoIP?


VoIP is a platform for additional forms of communication that will replace and/or completely transform traditional telephony. We are already seeing some new forms of communication which improve on traditional telephony. For example:
� Voice chat versions of the instant messenger (IM) paradigm; and
� Virtual conferences where multi-party communication is assumed and two-party communication means you�ve only added one other party to your always-on personal conference.


In the future, we will also see voice, video, and text chat integrated into numerous IT applications. While many workflows will still be based on the store-and -forward paradigm, when immediate communication can improve a workflow, an integrated combination of IM and VoIP will be embedded in the IT application.

� Brough Turner, Chief Technology Officer, NMS Communications

 

Inter-Tel, Inc.

Please describe the state of the market for developers of VoIP products right now.


The market is in a transition phase currently. Many companies recognize the need for VoIP products, but the marketplace is just warming up to VoIP advantages/opportunities. More and more developers are learning about VoIP technology in order to deliver high-quality products in a volatile environment.
Almost all telecom and many other software application companies are utilizing VoIP products to some degree. There is a large demand for developers that can stay current on the rapidly-changing VoIP standards.

What are some of the hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena?
The hottest trends involve networking via IP/VoIP networks to reduce cost and using IP phones to utilize existing data networks for voice and eliminating the need for analog/digital wiring. With the advent of VoIP, it opens the door for many new and exciting products and opportunities.

Please provide a brief look at the latest tools available to aid the VoIP development community.


WAN simulators, network sniffers, a variety of firewalls/NATs, and an assortment of devices from other vendors are requirements for quality and interoperability testing.

What do developers who are looking to get into the VoIP space need to know? What opportunities await them?


One of the biggest knowledge gaps is probably in the numerous protocols that exist in the VoIP world. Since the market has not decided on any one standard, developers are forced to understand all of the various protocols and try to develop products that interoperate/communicate with existing products/voice networks.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for VoIP?


VoIP shall certainly have a place in the future. Voice quality shall improve as networks become more robust and devices become increasingly tolerable to adverse conditions. Improved quality, increased feature capabilities, and access to lower-cost VoIP service providers should bring about more widespread use of VoIP technology.

� Brady Barnes, Vice President of Engineering, Converged Systems Group, Inter-Tel


Clarus Systems

Please describe the state of the market for developers of VoIP products right now.


The market conditions are excellent, both subscriber VoIP and IP telephony are enjoying accelerating traction. Metcalf�s law is clearly evident, as the tangible benefits of IP telephony are becoming increasingly apparent as more people adopt the technology. It�s clear we�re only scratching the surface of the benefits.

What are some of the hottest trends in the VoIP developer arena?


Obviously any kind of productivity related application that leverages the benefits of IP telephony, in particular, applications bringing the notion of presence to the telephony experience. Among other hot trends right now, are applications that simplify the ownership of VoIP itself.

Please provide a brief look at the latest tools available to aid the VoIP development community.


As the technologies mature, so we�re seeing broader API support for IP PBXs and associated VoIP technology. Additionally �new generation� technologies such as Web services and XML are making these APIs easier than ever to adopt. Application developers themselves, Clarus Systems included, are also building these APIs into their applications too, so their APIs can become an extension of the equipment vendors.

What do developers who are looking to get into the VoIP space need to know? What opportunities await them?


VoIP developers need a keen appreciation of the various markets that VoIP is addressing, in particular an understanding of the differences between carrier and service provider VoIP solutions, and Enterprise IP telephony.

What are some of the things your company is working on today in the VoIP developer space?


Clarus Systems develops a management solution that enables companies to deploy, validate, and assure the availability of IP telephony solutions, and the applications running on them. Clarus� product ClarusIPC leverages the APIs of IP PBX manufacturers to enable the pro-active testing of available resources.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for VoIP?


VoIP will be ubiquitous. In some cases the impact will not be visible, VoIP will simply facilitate efficiencies and cost benefits. In other cases it will radically change the way many people do business today, and enable applications as yet unimagined.

� Richard Whitehead, CTO of Clarus Systems



 

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