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December 1999

Robert Vahid Hashemian Convergence (Literally) Comes Out Of The Closet!


The first ever Internet Telephony EXPO™ (Oct 6-8, 1999 - San Diego) is history now, but its memory and its impact will surely stay with many for a long time to come. As for my own memories, they still make me chuckle. Yes, the sun and the beach were fine too, but what really made my trip worthwhile was the first ever ConvergeNET. After all, how often do you get a chance to lock up one of your customers in a closet? More on that later.

ConvergeNET was designed as an interoperability proving ground running on the show network. Interoperability is perhaps the most important ingredient of the Internet telephony market; one that the future success of this field badly depends on. In my August 1999 column I wrote about the significance of interoperability and the shortcomings of H.323 implementations by the vendors. Let’s be honest — everyone in this field is H.323 compliant, everyone claims interoperability, but can they really prove it? And so ConvergeNET was born to put the vendors’ claims to the test right in front of show attendees. I am proud to have been a part of the first ever ConvergeNET, debuted at Internet Telephony EXPO in San Diego. ConvergeNET was a resounding success, allowing several companies to interoperate for the first time ever using their Internet telephony products. But at the same time, it opened our eyes to the work ahead to fully realize the dream of Internet telephony interoperability. And this was evident even as I was recruiting vendors to participate in ConvergeNET.

My original plans for ConvergeNET called for a number of zones, each with a gatekeeper from a different company, and each containing compatible gateways and end clients from various vendors. The show network allocated a switched 100 Mbps network per exhibitor, so I had few worries about flooding the network and therefore, ConvergeNET was implemented on the show network. Also, to simplify things, we decided against having a separate area for ConvergeNET. Instead, each participating vendor would demonstrate their interoperability capabilities right from their own booth, possibly using the same equipment they were showing to the attendees. This decision turned out to be a good one for two reasons:

  • Running ConvergeNET on the show network gave the whole endeavor an aura of reality and genuine functionality. Hey attendees! No need to set up a separate network for Internet telephony. The one you’ve got is just fine.
  • Vendors appreciated the fact they didn’t have to divide their attention between their own booths and a separate ConvergeNET network. There is enough stress on vendors trying to attract and keep the crowd’s attention.

With the ConvergeNET plan in hand, I went about recruiting the exhibitors to take part in the interoperability network. The original plan called for interzone and intrazone interoperability, but I found a big wall of resistance when trying to push for that. Instead, I ended up relaxing the rules for the vendors to show interoperability with at least one other vendor to be considered worthy of the ConvergeNET Interoperability Achievement Award.

I thought to myself that this would be a piece of cake. After all, how could we possibly make it any easier? Every exhibitor would by default be on the ConvergeNET network (since it was the same as the show network), and the rules to participate were simple. So all they had to do was to sign up for the program and show off their interoperability. Well, as it turns out, many of the vendors were suddenly overtaken by a confidence problem. Some did not want to do it at all, some complained that it was too difficult for them, and others griped about the lack of time. I suppose we can give them the benefit of the doubt and hope to see their interoperability capabilities at a future ConvergeNET. But for those 11 companies who received the ConvergeNET Interoperability Achievement award, my hat’s off to you for a great effort and a job well done.

Back to locking up our customer in a closet. That distinction goes to Chris Neil, product marketing manager at Nokia, who was a good sport and allowed us to lock him in the closet in front of a shining hot spotlight for a good half an hour. TMC President Rich Tehrani was then able to carry on a wireless NetMeeting  conference with Chris during his keynote speech without the audience suspecting his presence in the same room — only in the closet. The humor was irresistible and by his own account, Chris is still recovering from this traumatic experience, but it brought Nokia the first ConvergeNET Interoperability Achievement Award for wireless telephony. My sincere gratitude to Chris for this selfless act and of course for the amusement, which was priceless.

I would be sorely remiss if I did not mention Kalpana Sheth, marketing communications manager at Lucent’s elemedia. Her dedication and efforts in trying to interface elemedia’s gatekeeper with other products on the ConvergeNET network energized everyone to try and take part in the quest for interoperability. You just had to be there to witness the celebration in the Inter-Tel booth when their gateway made the connection to elemedia’s gatekeeper for the first time ever. In the end, elemedia’s gatekeeper successfully demonstrated interoperability with products from Inter-Tel, Quicknet, and Tundo, and had some limited success with iFace.com. iFace.com did however achieve H.323 interoperability with Quicknet. Other success stories were VocalTec’s gatekeeper and Cisco’s gateway interoperability, Dialogic  and NetMeeting interoperability, Motorola MCG and NetMeeting interoperability, and dynamicsoft’s SIP interoperability with Pingtel (who was not at the show). Congratulations to all ConvergeNET Interoperability Achievement Award winners for a successful event. c

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality each month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the position of Webmaster for TMCnet.com — your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

Setting A Standard

If there is one thing we learned from ConvergeNET, it’s the fact that we have a long way to go for true and complete interoperability in the Internet telephony field. That is why TMC has made the commitment to run ConvergeNET in every trade show from here on out, to promote the importance of interoperability and adherence to standards for Internet telephony. Many vendors, for one reason or another, were not able to participate in the ConvergeNET event at the Internet Telephony EXPO in San Diego. Never fear. ConvergeNET will also take place at the next CTI EXPO™, December 7-9, 1999 in Las Vegas. Building on its success at Internet Telephony EXPO, ConvergeNET promises to be a big hit at the show. Don’t miss out on the chance to be a part of this definitive event and show off some of your interoperability abilities. For more information, contact Adam Altman at aaltman@tmcnet.com or call him at 203-295-2000, x162.

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