Talking with the i3forum: Industry Group Aims to Ease Carrier Transition to IP

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  September 01, 2010

The road to IP can be a bumpy one. But an organization called the i3forum aims to help smooth the transition from TDM to IP.

NGN Magazine recently interviewed Philippe Millet, chairman of the i3forum (and an executive at Orange), about the group and what it is doing to assist network operators as they traverse the path to IP.

What is the purpose of the i3forum?

Millet: The i3forum is not incorporated and works as a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the industry as a whole transition to an all-IP world as quickly as possible, focusing on international carrier interconnections, with a priority on migrating voice interconnections from TDM to IP.

What was the catalyst for the group’s formation?

Millet: The transition to IP is inevitable, but the sooner it happens the better it will be for the entire telecoms industry. With that said, no single telecom operator can achieve this goal on its own. By definition, our world is a world of interconnections; we need to have everyone on board to make things happen. There are many things that can potentially slow down the transition, and we need to collectively find the solutions that would best address the various challenges in slowing down that migration.

The i3forum helps make that happen. As a group we pool our expertise, experience and vision and provide sets of recommendations to the industry (everything we publish is public) that we believe are relevant to all, covering all topics from technical issues to business issues to operational issues. We have a really good diversity in the forum, with many different types of operators, and that helps us achieve this goal.

Who are its members?

Millet: We are now 37 very diverse members, with different business models, from around the world, all operators with an international carrier business arm. The growing membership allows us to get the contribution and support of as many carriers as possible. Together we serve more than 1.5 billion retail customers in 100-plus countries, and we carry over 80 percent of the international voice traffic.

Although we want to remain a carriers-only organization, we are cooperating closely with other industry bodies (including standardization bodies), forums and organization (e.g. GSMA), as well as the vendors community. We recently held a joint workshop in Warsaw with 20-plus top vendors; 100-plus people attended.

What exactly is the group’s relationship to the GSMA?

Millet: We have a very close and fruitful working relationship with the GSMA, which we initiated more than 18 months ago. We have joint working sessions with various GSMA sub-groups, and we provide the carrier industry’s views.

We have been very successful at looking at the GSMA’s IPX specification

and clarifying jointly how to make international voice work in an IPX environment, leading to the specification of what we call Voice Over IPX. The GSMA is in the process of approving several change requests to the original IPX model, that we pushed through the various groups to enable international voice.

We are also working with them on the new paradigm for routing and addressing in an all-IP world (a.k.a. ENUM).

What key initiatives is your group working on?

Millet: Our first priority is to accelerate industry-wide transition from TDM to IP of international carrier interconnects used for voice and additional legacy services such as fax, ISDN, etc.

We’re working on the various issues related to this (technical aspects, but also operational issues and business-related concerns), in an effort to provide industry-approved recommendations where there are no clear standards, and many legitimate but unanswered questions – for example: What happens to business model? How do we manage quality and security?

Other initiatives include interconnection models (private and public), signaling, codecs, VoIPX, quality, security, fraud, fax-over-IP, service definitions, business models, routing and addressing, etc.

What is the status of those initiatives?

Millet: We have been delivering white papers, specifications and recommendations on many topics for the past three years, and improving them from year to year. All those documents are 100 percent public and are posted on our website,

What’s next for the i3forum?

Millet: There is still a lot of work to be done on transitioning the legacy TDM interconnects.

In addition to this, routing and addressing is one of the key topics in an all-IP world (it starts with enabling number portability resolution, but will bring about much more than that). We have started work in interconnection and interoperability of high-definition videoconferencing, a.k.a. telepresence – bridging the HDVC islands is one of the major issues to be resolved.

More broadly, we are tracking many new IP-based services currently being developed by telcos and service providers (a lot of i3forum members represent the international carrier divisions of such operators) and are ready to work with them on interconnection and interoperability. NGN