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September 1999


What Do You Think Is The Largest Interoperability Challenge For Internet Telephony Vendors And How Do You Think It Will Be Overcome?

We asked several industry-leading vendors for their views on the Internet telephony industry. Their responses appear below.

Heidi Bersin, Senior Vice President, Corporate Marketing and Communications, Clarent Corporation

One of the biggest challenges for the industry is to achieve complete service interoperability. Open protocols provide the foundation for this, but service providers' needs tend to go beyond what is specified in the open protocols. Vendors must work together, with close involvement by their service provider customers, building service profile enhancements on top of the open protocols so that the service providers' total service requirements can be met. Over time, more and more of these service profiles will be added to industry standard protocols.

A second major challenge is the evolution and merger of today's open protocol standards into a set of complementary protocols. Multi-protocols will exist simply because of the telecommunications and data communications worlds that IP telephony is bridging - but they should not compete. This evolution should bring together the best aspects of standards that have been specified to date. The maturity of standards like H.323, MGCP, and SIP are helping achieve this goal. Standard bodies like ITU and IETF and industry groups like Cable Labs are playing an important role in driving collaboration and the evolution and improvement of the protocols that have been specified to date. The most important drivers of these standards, though, are the service provider customers who will be implementing the interoperable technology in their networks, and whose needs for scalability and reliability are paramount.

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Mark Miller, Director, Data Networks and IP Services, Ericsson

Complete interoperability between different vendors' gateways and gatekeepers is the largest challenge to date. Many gateway vendors have come out with H.323 gateways and gatekeepers, however, that does not necessarily mean that they can talk to each other. True interoperability among different vendors' H.323 gateways and gatekeepers is still lacking. There is a tremendous amount of publicity surrounding interoperability in which vendors are claiming to have it, but it is not true integration of disparate networks.

There is still a tremendous amount of debate as far as which standard should be implemented - SIP, H.323, MGCP, etc. This will be the next major interoperability challenge, getting different protocols to talk to each other. Many people are quick to point out the H.323 shortcomings, but it is currently the most developed standard the industry has to date.

There are several ways to address the interoperability issues. One way to address this is to implement a border element, which would convert the proprietary protocol to the protocol of the networked system. Ericsson is currently developing a border element for 4th quarter deployment. Another way to help facilitate interoperability is through industry intiatives such as iNOW! and cooperation among different standard bodies. Ericsson sits on all the major standards bodies to insure that interoperability will be achieved shortly.

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Jim Machi, Director of Marketing,  DM3 Products, Dialogic Corp.�

The largest challenge for vendors right now is overcoming apathy. I say this because the market demand is simply for delivery of a "marketing" claim of interoperability, not true engineering interoperability. In our estimate, about 97 percent of deployed gateways are connected to another gateway of the same type at the other end. What vendors need is a "compelling event" from the Internet telephony customers to change this. Up until now, vendors have been able to claim H.323 compliance for example, yet interoperability between those who truly are H.323 compliant and those who are partially H.323 compliant is not fully demonstrated. So, unless the customers demand full compliance from vendors, it will be slow to arrive. The iNOW! initiative, launched by ITXC and then handed off to IMTC, has taken the charge of establishing an interoperability agreement and is leading the industry to overcome this challenge.

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Jeff Sieloff, Vice President of Marketing, IP and Fax Technologies Division, Brooktrout Technology

The largest interoperability challenge for Internet telephony vendors stem from the lack of well established and accepted interoperability standards. New protocols, such as MGCP and SIP, are challenging H.323 with the promise of increased scalability and efficiency for new and different types of applications. This response to improve performance fuels the co-existence of multiple protocols within the industry. But many of these standards are relatively new. Their technical definitions, the types of applications they were designed for, and their future are in question.

Vendors are faced with building their solutions based on standards that may not come to fruition. To survive, vendors must be prepared to adopt upcoming standards quickly by building their solutions on flexible architectures, or otherwise risk that a new standard may give others a competitive edge.

Brooktrout understands the evolution of standards through its leadership in establishing fax interoperability standards, such as T.38. Hence, we provide a flexible IP telephony development platform capable of supporting H.323 and other new network protocols the vendor chooses to drop in. The flexibility and speed to which a vendor can adapt can differentiate who leads the race; thus we place special importance in offering a flexible environment for rapid development to give the vendor the cutting edge.

Vendors who invest in the architectures that allow them to closely follow the evolution of interoperability standards will be well positioned to exploit the unexpected turns of the industry and emerge profitable in the long run.

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Sean Parham, Director, Internet Products Operation, Internet and Networking Group, Motorola

In the VoIP industry, two areas can define interoperability challenges, maturity of current standards for voice gateways and gatekeepers, and true interoperability between vendors' gateways and gatekeepers. Today, the standards that define how vendors handle gatekeeper support, call setup, and call tear-down are H.323 version 1, H.323 version 2, SGCP, and MGCP. These standards are relatively new and some are still being proposed. The challenge is getting the level of service that ITSPs and CLECs need to provide toll quality to their customers using these new standards.

With the challenges of using new standards to provide toll quality voice services over an IP network, VoIP vendors face an additional interoperability challenge with gateways interoperating with gatekeepers. Today, the VoIP market supports a number of different gateways and gatekeepers from many different vendors. Can these different gateways all interoperate with the different gatekeepers available today? The short answer is no. Problems arise when codecs are incompatible and vendors' H.323 implementations do not implement the complete spec. To help vendors in their decision on which gateway and gatekeeper have a high interoperability rating, the ETSI created Project TIPHON (Telecommunications and Internet Protocol Harmonization over Networks) as a forum for interoperability testing. This project is one way vendors can resolve the challenge of gateway to gatekeeper interoperability.

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Interoperability Proving Ground

One of the considerable challenges facing the IP telephony industry is a lack of standardization and interoperability among different vendors' products. The ITU's H.323 protocol is currently among the leaders in the standards space, but there are also a number of other specifications competing for industry mindshare. ConvergeNET is a TCP/IP-based network that will bring IP telephony gateways and gatekeepers together in a proof-of-concept environment. The ConvergeNET platform will provide the means to interface various gateways and gatekeepers and examine their degree of standards compliance and interoperability.

ConvergeNET will be a network that we construct, allowing exhibitors to connect with other exhibitors for the purpose of proving that their Internet telephony products interoperate with others. Interoperability is crucial in the Internet telephony field, and ConvergeNET will be the proving ground. Debuting at Internet Telephony EXPO in San Diego, CA October 6-8, ConvergeNET will also be a major feature at CTI EXPO in Las Vegas this December.

- Greg Galitzine

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