Get Your Corporate Kicks On The Internet
BY STEVE BAECHLE
Overshadowed by the ultimate yawn of the reactive "Y2K crisis,"
some leading-edge technologies actually made tremendous progress during
1999. Perhaps topping the list, Internet telephony secured a stronghold in
corporate America, finally growing beyond its initial usage by service
providers as a cheap way to shunt minutes between local loops.
But even as users are embracing Internet telephony in significant
numbers, the service provider industry is already looking ahead to the
"next generation." For it is the next generation of IP telephony
features and services that will deliver on the true promise of IP telephony.
It is the next wave of services that will finally make the transition of
trusty voice applications off reliable old networks and onto
state-of-the-art packet architectures not only desirable, but a competitive
If we're lucky, the evolution of Internet telephony will feel to users
like continuously getting more and more of a good thing. But the service
providers will need to continue investing in infrastructure, while expanding
and changing implementation models to accommodate more advanced
applications. Within three years, both sides may look nothing like they do
The goal: Seamless communication.
The issue: Seamless change.
WHO SAYS YOU CAN'T HAVE IT FAST, CHEAP, AND GOOD?
To avoid lapsing into the seemingly terminal price wars plaguing the
long-distance market today, providers must achieve what may never have even
been attempted before in telecom, or most other industries for that matter:
They must deliver more for less and do it faster. Why? Because customers
using multiple services are less likely to go elsewhere.
Already, Internet telephony has us halfway there with the bargain
basement pricing it enables. Now the real fun is beginning. As we move
forward, Internet telephony will introduce possibilities for efficiency and
performance never before seen. So what are these applications that will
drive the next-generation Internet telephony market?
An example of just such a service is unified messaging. There is an
obvious shift in the progress of voice and data applications to Web-based
systems. These systems will fuel the long awaited mass adoption of unified
messaging. With the help of Internet telephony, voice, data, Internet,
wireless, and eventually video will finally converge into an affordable,
In some ways, IP will enable a resurgence of voice. For example, if
you're driving along Rte. 66 trying to get your kicks while simultaneously
checking messages, you can't very well stop to write phone numbers in your
PDA (unless it's rush hour). With true integration of voice and data, you
won't have to. Everything will be either voice or data enabled at any time.
You'll be able to listen to your messages on your PDA, then order it to
perform some action with your contact lists and/or to-do lists. You'll be
able to initiate a return call without pushing buttons. The same Internet
that made speed-typing essential to survival will take us back to the point
where being able to talk is enough to schedule a meeting.
Consider the real implications for the truly unified mailbox. Remember
when checking messages used to mean one phone call? Now for many of us, it
means at least three: Home, the office, and the cell phone, not to mention
work and personal e-mails. And we still lose every other fax sent to us.
Just imagine being able to retrieve and respond to them all at once, with
one phone call or a single Web session.
Imagine listening to e-mail on the phone or voice mail on the PC, without
stopping what you're doing. Imagine being overseas and being able to access
your voice-mail system via a Web browser with a local call from your hotel
room to an ISP instead of a long-distance call through the operator. Or,
worse yet, a "multi-million-dollar call" from a cell phone.
That's where Internet telephony is taking us. The question is: How do we
A BUYER'S MARKET
As with the initial adoption by service providers, enterprise users are
flocking to Internet telephony today to save money. As "killer
applications" go, substantial cost-savings never loses its charm.
Fortunately for users, the lion's share of the expense falls to
providers. Sure, users will have to swap out the old PBXs for IP-enabled
models, or for intelligent access devices, or Centrex systems that
effectively take the place of the PBX altogether. But this can translate
into lowered capital, reduced burdens on IT staffs, and even the effective
outsourcing of management of the system to the providers.
For their part, providers have to reshape and redistribute the network's
intelligence. Within three years, gateway intelligence as we know it today
will be de-emphasized in favor of carrier-grade centralized intelligence and
distributed feature creation. In a way, the IP telephony network will follow
the same path as the traditional telephony network, except that the
centralized intelligence won't be a $2 million "Big Iron" Class 5
switch, but rather a network of robust intelligent modules that allow
rapid-fire introduction of features and customer-specific applications.
Providers and manufacturers face steep interoperability challenges on
both the user and carrier sides, both of which contain goals not only for
the network infrastructure but the business infrastructure, particularly
with regard to billing and payment.
Step one, though, is helping users optimize existing investment in PBX
systems while at the same time leveraging IP. This mandates adding support
for signaling protocols such as QSIG for seamless interconnectivity among
PBXs, along with increased support for still-evolving protocols establishing
guidelines for interoperability among gateways -- H.323, MGCP, and others.
Then, besides getting along with the PBXs, service providers and gateway
infrastructure manufacturers must begin to look beyond the PBX. As soon as
interoperability standards mature sufficiently, vendors and providers would
do well to be ready with a host of IP-based features. For starters, the ones
we rely on today -- basic services such as call forwarding, call waiting,
three-way calling, etc. Naturally, the business infrastructure poses an
equal challenge: Carriers will have to provide customers a single, accurate,
timely, and customized bill.
Finally, after the implementation of basic features we expect to find
when we pick up the phone and dial "9," the future is virtually
limitless. Wireless. Internet. Wireless Internet. It is here that the
interplay among carriers comes to the forefront. For Internet telephony
providers to grow global, seamless passage of calls among provider networks
must materialize, with settlement and billing systems comparable in quality
to those of circuit networks today.
"IT" IS WORTH IT IN THE END
Consumers used to take it for granted that they could have things good
and fast -- and pay for them -- or fast and cheap, and settle on lesser
quality. But good, fast, and cheap? That's a tall order. Today's carriers
know they have to pull it off and are counting on Internet telephony to help
them become true Integrated Communications Providers (ICPs). All the while
staying profitable even as they deliver exponentially greater value to end
Steve Baechle is vice president, business development, for Cirilium
Corporation. Cirilium was formed in 1999 to combine the industry-leading
experience and reputations of Hypercom Corp. and Inter-Tel, Inc. The company
offers turnkey solutions to Internet telephony service providers, and a
well-defined vision that will drive this emerging market sector. For more
information, visit Cirilium's Web site at www.cirilium.com.