Can P2P address Vonage's Patent woes?
Vonage (News - Alert)’s patent disputes with the large telcos like Verizon and Sprint are closely followed by the VoIP community. There was a sigh of relief this week when Vonage announced that it had a few “workarounds” it could implement to avoid paying royalties and stay in business. For a while, maybe.
I am no patent lawyer, but when I did a search on voice AND ip AND gateway AND telephone AND routing, I got over 3000 hits. So what are odds against Vonage getting hit with another lawsuit next month?
The company clearly needs a multi-pronged IP strategy, both offensive and defensive. My guess is that a lot of other VoIP providers fear they may be in the same boat. In this article I attempt to raise the question if P2P VoIP technology can provide an interesting migration strategy for these providers. A P2P VoIP network would also be compatible with a providers existing network and wouldn’t require any extra equipment or infrastructure. A simple software upgrade on the home router and the Softphone should do the trick. The P2P VoIP network would also communicate using SIP which would allow it to work with Vonage’s existing VoIP and traditional phone network.
To see if P2P is in fact even a considerable option I briefly looked into the three Verizon (News - Alert) patents which were upheld against Vonage. I got this list from http://ipurbia.com/2007/03/verizon-patent-analysis.html.
• Technology used to bridge Internet calls to the traditional phone system (Patent #6,430,275) . This patent deals with how a hop-off gateway can collect user authentication information and participate in call accounting for calls in the IP network and getting bridged to the phone system. The customer account information is kept in a database record in the provider network. The database record also tracks customer usage information and may be distributed in the provider network. It seems to me that most of the claims of this patent are not applicable to a P2P network since there is no hop-off gateway. The billing information is usually collected in other ways in a P2P network as well.
• Features such as call-waiting and voice-mail (Patent #6,128,304). This patent describes how a provider network can enable services such as voice-mail by appropriately routing a call. In a P2P Network, typically the calling node itself can be signaled to route the call to a voicemail device getting around this patent as well.
• Wireless Internet phone calls. (Patent #6,359,880). This patent hinges on the use of an HLR database to which wireless phone numbers are registered. I think if the HLR database is dropped and instead the numbers are registered by a P2P/wireless interworking node into the P2P network, then the calling P2P nodes will use those registrations to get to the right wireless gateway.
Well, you can only go up to a certain point. To be a successful technology company and fend off the aggressors, Vonage will need to built up its IP arsenal quickly. To end on an interesting note, here is a news flash from Jajah, who claim to have a patent on the softphone with which they plan to go after Skype (News - Alert): http://venturebeat.com/2007/05/09/jajah-gets-20m-from-intel-and-patent-to-take-o
n-skype/. Happy reading!
Update: Tom Keating has an interesting article posted a week earlier titled P2P or Enum Saves Vonage that also is an interesting read.
Medhavi Bhatia is the CTO and co-founder of 3CLogic (www.3clogic.com), a Rockville, MD based startup which provides real-time P2P enabled applications for enterprises and large networks.
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