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Enabling Technologies And
March 2000


Chris Donner Just Something About Standards


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Enabling News

Standards For Cable Telephony

Industry Comments

Industry Question -- Proliferation Of Standards Bodies

Industry Question -- Developer Decisions

SIP: The Protocol That Roars (Over IP)

Open and standards-based these words are the hits, the stars, the Ben Stillers and Cameron Diazes of modern-day communications. And yet, much remains to be accomplished in terms of true interoperability, even when standards are involved. Consider H.323 vendors have to implement their own versions of the standard to handle advanced functions, and suddenly the products dont interoperate any longer. Or if they do, only basic features carry over.

What really matters in standards development is implementation, with Windows being a perfect case in point. Almost no one I have spoken to in the communications community thinks that Windows is the absolute best OS for their purposes it has its plusses and minuses like anything else. But it has become a de facto standard through massive implementation. There are challengers, of course, but the point remains: vendors and developers must deploy standards quickly and on a fairly large scale if they want them to be embraced. Deployment, it would seem, is more important than functionality.

In talking with developers, I have heard generally two opposing views on the proliferation of standards:

  1. Standards compliance is absolutely imperative when developing new products and services. Carriers, enterprise users, ASPs, etc. all demand that products interoperate, and standards allow this without requiring custom coding.
  2. Standards are a good idea on paper, but the technology is changing too quickly for anyone to really lock it down. Innovation and new services mean pushing the technology to its limits. Specific standards will only be accepted when the majority of industry players feel that there is more to be gained from interoperability in a certain area than there is to be gained from pushing the limits and beating the competition.

Often it seems that effective standards are not put in place until the standard addresses issues at such a low level that no one really wants to compete there any longer. It is implemented with little argument, and vendors working in that space either branch out or decide to (gasp!) compete on price alone.

This doesnt exactly demonstrate viable standards in a competitive market. So, is such a thing a real possibility, or just wishful thinking? This month some key players in the communications industry discuss the importance and place of standards in the communications market. I am also very interested in any reader comments on the practicality of standards, especially from developers and integrators working in the field. Comments are welcome at lguevin@tmcnet.com.

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Enabling News

Digi And Red Hat Focus On Linux-Based Comm Servers
Digi International has announced an agreement with Red Hat to join in marketing programs that will enable distributors, resellers, and integrators to offer Linux-based communications servers designed specifically for the small to medium-sized business market. Jones Business Systems, Inc. (JBSi) will be one of the first distributors to participate in the program, offering resellers and integrators a variety of bundles which can then be customized to meet specific customer requirements.
No. 515, www.comsolmag.com/freeinfo

Crystal Card Turns Computer Into Phone Console
Crystals Audio Operator Console (AOC) voice board provides all the functions needed to use desktop computers as telephony operator consoles in a multi-line facility such as a call center. The AOC card provides dual four-wire analog transmit and receive lines, DTMF detection and transmission, and dual line inputs and outputs with crossbar switching. The AOC card is compatible with the ISA bus, has SoundBlaster mono audio, and has APIs and software drivers for most OSs.
No. 516, www.comsolmag.com/freeinfo

Trenton SBC Offers Choice Of Processors
Trenton has added Intel Pentium III FC-PGA processors to Trentons CBI product line. By expanding the CBI SBX line to include a choice of either the Pentium III or Celeron processors, Trenton offers customers an SBC with a choice of flexible performance platforms and long-life cycle support, says Bill Bowling, VP of sales for Trenton. The Pentium III CBI is available now in seven performance models up to 800 MHz with prices starting at $2003.
No. 517, www.comsolmag.com/freeinfo

MiTAC Intros 2U Rackmount Chassis
MiTAC has introduced the MCH-224-ATX and MCH-218 series of 2U, 19-inch rackmount chassis, designed to provide high computing power in limited space for the ISP and CTI industries. The MCH-2240-ATX accommodates eight disk drives, while the MCH-218 has space for six ISA/PICMG cards and three disk drives. MiTACs MiXpress 2U servers are also available based on these two chassis models.
No. 518, www.comsolmag.com/freeinfo

Silicon Labs Intros ProSLIC CMOS Analog Interface
Silicon Laboratories announced the Si3210 ProSLIC CMOS analog telephone interface, which integrates the subscriber line interface circuit (SLIC), codec, and DC-to-DC converter controller into a single CMOS integrated circuit. The ProSLIC is programmable to meet global telephony standards, allowing implementation in various short-loop applications including cable telephony, WLL, PBX, VoIP, and ISDN terminal adapters.
No. 519, www.comsolmag.com/freeinfo

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Industry Comments

Capabilities that every vendor offers, where the mode of implementation adds no value-add, become appropriate areas for standards adoption. In those scenarios, Dialogic will endorse standards to enable our customers to get to market quicker.
  Bill Spain, Product Marketing Manager, Dialogic.

I think its fair to say that having some baseline standards is absolutely necessary for the existence of technology-based industries. Where would the electrical appliances business be if every manufacturer were free to design their own power plug? At the API level, standards are a newer concept. Standard APIs have tremendous potential value in giving developers hardware independence. On the other hand, we believe there will always be room for vendor-specific APIs that give developers access to new hardware capabilities, and that address application spaces for which the standard has not necessarily been optimized.
  Josh Adelson, Marketing Developing Manager, Brooktrout Technology.

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Q: Even in the vendor community, there is strong disagreement on standards. To some extent, it would seem, standards disagreements are religious wars and can be difficult or impossible to resolve. How might a developer find the truth behind these disagreements? Should developers determine their potential customers first and then decide what to support based on what their customers require?

A: The general consensus among the respondents here was that adoption equals importance and suggests that the standard is meeting a market need. The standard must fit the needs of the customer rather than offer standards compliance merely for the sake of complying.

Force Computers believes in addressing the specific needs of our customers, and were willing to design to fit where there is need and justification. We also believe that standards-based products are the foundation of a design-to-fit business model.
Dick Somes, Technical Director for Standards and Industry Relations, Force Computers; VP and Technical Officer, PICMG.

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For our customers the standards are not icing, but rather the flour and eggs with which to prepare the batter. At RADVision, we gather all the best ingredients and mix the batter for them into an instant mix so that they can then use the mix to adapt to their target markets favorite recipe.
  Danny Levin, VP Engineering in North America, RADVision.

Standards are key to success in the VoIP industry. The industry got off on a false start with the ITU H.323 standard. Its a complex and slow call processing standard that does not scale well. The industry learned its lessons in field trials and commercial deployments and is now shifting towards SIP and MGCP. These two standards empower all vendors to easily interwork, and they provide the building blocks necessary for a new generation of voice technology.
Larry Greensten, Director of Product Development, Nuera; VP Technology, Frame Relay Forum

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Industry Question -- Developer Decisions

Q: How does a developer decide what standards to support and what can be safely ignored or supported in a later release? How much does the pursuit of compliance affect a developers time-to-market, and are there any tips you can offer that would help a developer determine when enough is enough?

A: Developers need to balance standards against innovation and differentiation. Ultimately, end users are looking for solutions that either reduce their operating costs or increase their competitiveness. Vendors should adopt standards when the areas addressed by the standards represent generic functionality that offer no value-add based on the method of their implementation.
Bill Spain, Product Marketing Manager, Dialogic.

Its pointless to argue over whether standards are good or bad for the developer community. In the end, its the market requirements or anticipated market requirements for a new product that determine which standards are relevant. Think first of what helps your own customers and prospects.
Brough Turner, Sr. VP and CTO, Natural MicroSystems.

A good standard enables non-standard features to operate in a standard way. It implies common basic functionality among all vendors with extra features among specific vendors. When there is more than one standard for a specific task the best method is to use layers and abstraction as much as possible. The application (upper layer) should be standard agnostic. If the software is designed well (layers and abstraction) most of the software can be preserved for all standards.
Danny Levin, VP Engineering in North America, RADVision.

The value of standards is difficult to assess as an abstraction. It can only be done relative to a particular perspective to accomplish a particular goal. Some standards, such as TCP/IP, cannot be ignored. Others have a different value depending on the company. For example, the purpose of M.100 is to reduce the costs of building integrated-media system resources. Multi-vendor media integration has high value to a small company. But the industrys market-share leaders view it as a threat to their ability to compete through capital formation, preferring to leave common-platform media integration to differential competitive advantage.
Mike Coffee, President, Commetrex Corporation.

Using a good layer of abstraction allows a design to be changed more quickly. It also allows multiple standards to be incorporated. Standards are often more determined by marketplace factors. Often, technically better standards dont win, but those which are backed by better marketing efforts or deeper pockets. The first step to success for an engineer with a good idea is to either become a competent marketer or team up with one who has a proven track record.
David Medin, Director of Technology, Crystal Group.

Compliance with industry standards for the purpose of interoperability has repeatedly been shown to benefit consumers, suppliers, and the growth of the industry in general. Whether discussing fax machines, e-mail .JPG attachments, roaming around the globe with a GSM cell-phone, or just Web browsing, it is clear that compliance with standards benefits us all.
Larry Greenstein, Director of Product Development, Nuera; VP Technology, Frame Relay Forum.

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SIP: The Protocol That Roars (Over IP)

As the industry accelerates towards delivering converged services, two standards have emerged for IP telephony signaling: H.323, developed by the ITU-T, and SIP from the IETF. While H.323 has a role to play, SIP is gathering momentum as the protocol to support the global communications network.

H.323: The Current Standard
H.323 specifies an architecture for handling multimedia sessions over packet. H.323 also handles encoding, decoding, and packetizing audio. Initially intended for ISDN, H.323 moved to the LAN and has been evolving over the last eight years.

As a result of this re-development, H.323 has now become somewhat complex. Backward compatibility requirements make it cumbersome, and it is coded in abstract bit patterns (ASN), which makes it complicated to develop, debug, and add features to. It is also widely recognized that H.323 has certain interoperability challenges. Because of its centralized control design, H.323 does not integrate well with other Internet technologies, such as IP security.

This said, H.323 commands a strong position in the industry. It is an integral part of several leading applications and is also being used in trials for PSTN bypass. As it was the first standard to emerge in this space, H.323 is at the heart of most first-round VoIP products currently on the market.

SIP: The Contender
SIP is an inherently Internet friendly protocol that easily integrates the Web and voice services. It supports all CLASS features and allows an array of new services that couple standard telephony with information access and personalization.

SIPs most significant advantage over H.323 is its design. SIP follows the principles of simplicity and distributed intelligence, much like protocols such as SMTP and HTTP, which are clearly capable of serving the world. With SIP, developers can design and implement new voice services as easily as they would a Web page, and the expectation is that SIP will have the same profound effect on the telephone as HTTP has had on the Web.

SIP will make voice just another IP service. In other words, advances in other Internet protocols help SIP, since SIP leverages them for an end-to-end IP telephony service. SIP also has the advantage of being text based, which makes it simpler to implement, interoperate with, and debug.

Determining The Future
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of SIP is that it will allow the introduction of new services that combine standard telephony with information access and personalization to create smart client devices.

Consider PDAs. They have enough power to act as an interface for an intelligent phone. In addition, user data can be utilized to adapt the network to the individual. For example, by synchronizing information on the PDA to an SIP Ethernet-phone, the owner of the PDA can register with the phone, allowing the phone to adopt the PDA owners preferences, such as speed dialing, voice mail short-cuts, and advanced features such as sophisticated call forwarding for true number portability.

In another example, the address book and appointment book data can be synchronized with the SIP phone to program advanced call screening. The user only accepts calls from callers in the address book, forwarding others to a third party or voice mail.

It is these new services that will deliver on the true promise of IP telephony and make it a compelling business application. SIP will provide the means to deliver such services quickly and easily.

Each Has Its Role
For the time being, H.323 and SIP will co-exist, and mechanisms for basic call set-up and tear down between them will be developed. In the near future, however, SIP will emerge as the dominant signaling protocol for the Internet. It will become the de facto protocol between smart clients and between soft switches and other network elements.

Ikhlaq Sidhu is VP of Internet Communications at 3Com. For more information, visit www.3com.com.

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Standards For Cable Telephony

The release of the PacketCable 1.0 spec by CableLabs promises to unleash not only basic IP telephony over cable, but exciting new features as well. Here, we will examine the PacketCable 1.0 architecture, uncover its most appealing features, and reveal how it can fit into existing networks.

Its About Trust
PacketCable 1.0 is built upon the Network Call Signaling (NCS) model. NCS assumes that the Multimedia Terminal Adapters (MTAs) in peoples homes will be simple devices. Users plug phones into these MTAs, which perform actions such as detecting when a phone is off hook or when a digit is pressed. MTAs cannot generate dial tone or place calls without help from a third-party server.

Consumers trust their phones because they never crash. By limiting the functionality within MTAs and thereby improving their reliability, NCS proponents are certain these devices should garner similar confidence.

With My Brains And Your Brawn
The server that provides the intelligence is known as Call Management Server (CMS). CMSs use MGCP to inform an MTA when to generate dial tone, busy signals, and virtually all other telephony functions. The CMS and MTA exchange event information: when the MTA detects an event, it alerts the CMS, which examines the event and instructs the MTA how to react. For instance, if you take the phone off hook, the MTA signals the CMS. Then, the CMS determines the appropriate dial tone for your home and instructs the MTA to play that tone.

What distinguishes the NCS architecture from competing protocols such as H.323 is the CMSs ability to use MGCP events to transform an MTA. For instance, a minor software tweak on the CMS could let the MTA have conventional dial tone during business hours and stutter tone during off-hours without code changes on the MTA. An H.323 device would require a software patch to provide this same functionality.

Another benefit is the ease of feature creation. When an MTA initializes, it requests a digit map from the CMS. The digit map tells it which sequence of key presses should generate an event. If these combinations are dialed, the MTA fires an event to the CMS and the CMS takes the appropriate action.

To add a new feature, simply update the digit map. The CMS then forwards the updated digit map to the correct MTAs. For example, to retrieve your e-mail and convert it to voice mail, you would first inform the CMS of the appropriate key presses. When the MTA detects these key presses, it alerts the CMS, and the CMS invokes the service to retrieve the e-mail and convert the text to speech. Finally, the CMS will stream the text-to-speech to the MTA. Thus, features can be added without modifying the MTA.

Working With Existing Networks
Although NCS lets you place calls and define features, it does not address issues such as billing, provisioning, and accessing legacy networks such as the PSTN. The PacketCable 1.0 spec defines how components such as billing and provisioning interact with NCS elements.

Besides accessing legacy devices, NCS solutions will have to communicate with H.323 and SIP. Although this isnt defined by PacketCable 1.0, SIP is gaining momentum as the preferred mechanism to bridge NCS networks to other architectures. But no matter what protocol is selected, the CMS alone is responsible for translating events and commands. MTAs remain blissfully ignorant.
PacketCable 1.0 is a significant advance in cable telephony. Its use of the NCS call model should provide stable devices that consumers can trust, while enabling a tremendous number of new features.

Linden deCarmo is Sr. Software Engineer at NetSpeak, and the author of Core Java Media Framework. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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Industry Question -- Proliferation Of Standards Bodies

Q: Another area of confusion when discussing standards is the increasing proliferation of standards bodies, which places a heavy burden on the garage-based developer who doesnt have the funding to send a representative to track all the relevant groups. What advice could you offer a developer who is concerned with standards but who is also limited by resources?

A: It doesnt matter where a standard comes from. What counts is the standards level of adoption. Its a corollary to Metcalfes Law of Networking that the value of a standard increases as the square of the number of people using it. I prefer standards that are not controlled by one company, but there will always be single-company architectural standards and vendors who profit from them. Theres no need to encourage such efforts, but if they succeed, then adoption is a no-brainer you go along or you lose out on the largest part of the market. A garage-based developer should be able to track [relevant standards] from news reports, e-mail reflectors, Web sites, and discussion with customers or prospects.
Brough Turner, Sr. VP and CTO, Natural MicroSystems.

The apparent proliferation of standards bodies is largely a result of a need to specialize. But most of the proliferation is really division of labor. For example, both the PCI/ISA and CompactPCI architectures have been further enhanced for telecom applications by TDM busses, H.100 for PCI/ISA (and commodity) systems, and H.110 for CompactPCI. So a CompactPCI computer-telephony platform draws on hardware standards from at least five different standards bodies or industry consortia, each with its own area of expertise.
Dick Somes, Technical Director for Standards and Industry Relations, Force Computers; VP and Technical Officer, PICMG.

Garage-based developers are not the only ones limited by their resources. Even industry giants with capital are missing one critical factor: time to market. This is where a third-party vendor comes into play. Using a protocol software frees up the developers time and money to concentrate on application development.
Danny Levin, VP Engineering in North America, RADVision.

Get on the Web! Its the great leveler. The best example is the IETF, which has a completely open standardization process. Competition among standards bodies and industry consortia, even though it creates some confusion, is not necessarily bad. The arrogance of monopoly power in the standards-setting process is bad.
Mike Coffee, President, Commetrex Corporation.

My feeling is that the marketplace will listen to those [standards bodies] that make their information and development process available through the Internet, where those that are used to charging exorbitant fees and have costly meetings will have decreased impact.
David Medin, Director of Technology, Crystal Group.

It is important to note that if proprietary implementations by large organizations were the norm, then the garage-based developer would have little chance to participate in a growing market segment.
Larry Greensten, Director of Product Development, Nuera; VP Technology, Frame Relay Forum.

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