International VoIP: Lessons Learned From
Our Canadian Neighbors
BY MARK F. WHITTIER
When it comes to IP telephony, Canadian service providers are on the
leading edge. In November 2003, TELUS unveiled its IP-One telephony service;
a carrier-grade hosted and managed IP service in Canada, targeting
enterprises. In January 2004, PRIMUS Telecommunications Canada launched its
TalkBroadband service, an IP alternative to residential phone service in
Being on the leading edge could be challenging, particularly when these
companies are trying to replace the more than 100-year-old legacy of
circuit-switched networks. I recently spoke with Boris Koechlin, director of
TELUS IP-One, and Matt Stein, vice president, new technology and services
for PRIMUS, about the challenges they have faced in rolling out hosted IP
telephony services to customers and what lessons others can learn from their
Itï¿½s Still Early for the Last Mile
While telecom companies have been using IP technology for long-haul, Class 4
tandem applications for many years now, the process of extending that IP
network into a customerï¿½s premise (the so-called last mile) is still in its
early stages. Because of that, both TELUS and PRIMUS faced a few distinct
technical challenges during deployment.
For instance, TELUS had some difficulty synchronizing the timing within
its networks, which is a critical part of ensuring high-quality voice
communications. They solved the problem by reducing the convergence time of
the various network edge components. New VoIP tools were also used to
measure phase, jitter, and delay.
According to Stein, PRIMUS found that ï¿½managing quality across the
Internet is very difficult,ï¿½ and suggests that ï¿½a good system to qualify
users before they sign up for the service goes a long way.ï¿½ The company uses
a tool to check each potential customerï¿½s Internet connection for speed ï¿½ to
ensure that the network can support the service ï¿½ prior to actually
deploying the service.
Looking for Standardized SIP
For PRIMUS, getting touch tones to work correctly was a challenge in the
beginning. The problems did not occur when trying to connect a call, but
once the call was up, passage of these Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF)
tones became problematic. Stein suggests that those rolling out VoIP
services ensure that they have a very solid test plan, with the expectation
that they will have to go through this plan several times.
Part of PRIMUSï¿½ reason for selecting VocalData was the platformï¿½s ability
to support the widest range of protocols ï¿½ PRIMUS currently supports SIP,
MGCP and SCCP ï¿½ which gives PRIMUSï¿½ end-user a wide choice of phones. ï¿½We
wanted to cover the largest base of consumer premise equipment possible,ï¿½
Stein said. ï¿½Being able to move back and forth between standards gives us
the flexibility to do that.ï¿½
From an interoperability perspective, another aspect that helped PRIMUS
reduce the number of technical challenges was the fact that so many service
elements were integrated into the VocalData application server. Stein
favored all features integrated into the VocalData server, such as call
waiting, call forwarding, and firewall management.
Deploying IP Telephony Means Reinventing Processes
One of the actions that TELUS took to accommodate an IP-based network
structure was to create its own messaging bus between various IP
applications and billing and provisioning systems. This gave TELUS the
flexibility to change applications in a plug-and-play manner, as all
applications filter through to a set of standard application programming
interfaces, and then back to the legacy back-end systems.
One of PRIMUSï¿½ biggest challenges has been adapting to each customerï¿½s
unique service environment. Supporting IP telephony at the customer premise
is definitely not as simple as in the circuit-switched world, where a black
phone can simply be plugged into a standard RJ11 jack. Instead, each
customer has his or her own setup. Some have digital subscriber line (DSL)
broadband technology, and others have cable modems. Some customers have
their own gateway. Some do not. Still others want local number portability.
In order to streamline the process, PRIMUS worked with equipment vendors
to support more customer environments within the same device. This means
that PRIMUS no longer has to open every box and configure each piece of
equipment to support each unique end-user; instead, the customer premise
equipment is configured at the platform level. This has reduced the
carrierï¿½s overall carrying inventory by 75 percent, said Stein.
TELUS and its end-users have been pleased with the ease of use of the
VocalData applications. According to user studies by TELUS, its average
IP-One subscriber begins using 50 to 60 percent of the myriad features
offered by the IP-One hosted telephony service within weeks of being
introduced to the service.
According to Koechlin, TELUS is seeing a lot of uptake on its voice mail
services, where users are taking advantage of unified message features such
as, listening to voice mail via e-mail and archiving voice mail messages.
ï¿½This is a direct result of the simplicity and the commonality of the user
interface,ï¿½ Koechlin said. ï¿½The fact that all of these applications work
together out of the box ï¿½ using a familiar interface ï¿½ is what is driving
PRIMUS has many customers that continue to use their analog phones and
thus rely on star (*) commands to use advanced features. PRIMUS made sure
that the user interfaces for services such as call forwarding, call
transfer, and five-way conferencing were similar to those used by local
phone companies, resulting in customers not having to relearn commands when
switching phone service. The carrierï¿½s efforts seemed to have paid off,
according to Stein, ï¿½features [like] five-way conferencing and call transfer
are very exciting to the early adopter, and they [are frequently] used.ï¿½
The Importance of the Stickiness Factor
When asked ï¿½why provide hosted IP telephony,ï¿½ Koechlin notes that it offers
a unique benefit to service providers resulting in more customer stickiness
than traditional services such as PBX or even Centrex.
ï¿½IP telephony allows us to differentiate [ourselves from other] networks
and offer more value to customers than they would ever be able to provide
for themselves with services like traditional PBX or Centrex or even IP
PBX,ï¿½ said Koechlin.
ï¿½We could both further commoditize our network and become the big pipe
provider, or we could take it in the other direction and offer customers the
benefit of subscribing to standard services plus all of the new IP-enabled
services. Now we have high stickiness, and customers see value in the
Increasing revenue due to the delivery of advanced services and keeping
customers sticky are just a few benefits offered by IP telephony. IP has
also opened up a new world of opportunities for service providers, where
they can more easily ï¿½think outside the territory.ï¿½
PRIMUS currently offers service from Halifax to Victoria ï¿½ the U.S.
equivalent of offering service from Seattle to Maine. ï¿½Without IP, it would
not have been practical for a company of our size to cover the geography we
cover in such a short time,ï¿½ said Stein.
In the future, we would likely see international barriers quickly being
broken down, as carriers in one country start to enter the territories of
others and try to capture VoIP customers. The changes to the more than
100-year-old telephony structure are just beginning. This provides a good
reason to learn what we can from our service provider neighbors ï¿½ whether
they are just north of us or across the globe ï¿½ and those that have worked
closely with them.
Mark F. Whittier is vice president of corporate marketing for VocalData.
For more information, please visit the company online at
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