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Product Reviews
May 2003

Hosted Softswitching

333 Newark Street, Building. J
Hoboken, NJ 07030
Tel: 201-656-4433
Fax: 201-221-8305
Web: http://www.telic.net
Price: See Below

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: N/A
Features: 5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

So, you want to offer telephony services such as debit cards or offer VoIP calls at inexpensive rates? Well, ok, first you�ll need a softswitch, several gateways geographically dispersed, and high-speed Internet access to each gateway. On top of that you�ll need to purchase some sort of billing platform, and hire technical IT support staff. Add that all together and it becomes an expensive proposition if you�re an entrepreneur looking to become a service provider or debit card or VoIP wholesaler.

Price: All of telic.net�s hosted services are offered in exchange for nominal transaction fees, charged on a per-minute or per-call basis. Fees can be as low as $.001 per minute, depending on the service desired and the expected volume of transactions. In certain cases, services may be provided for a flat monthly fee.

telic.net, founded in 1999, provides hosted applications that allow service providers to launch revenue-generating packet telephony services with low upfront capital expenditure. telic.net�s Hosted Applications product suite consists of several components, which we will explain later. Also, we should mention that telic.net retains ownership of the applications as well as full responsibility for maintenance, bug fixes, and new feature upgrades. The server equipment that runs the applications is physically located in a telic hub or may be co-located in your facilities on equipment that you provide. telic.net offers several applications, including hosted softswitching, hosted debit cards, hosted SMS callback, and real-time billing. You can also develop your own applications and integrate them with telic.net�s infrastructure.

As we mentioned, telic�s solution has very low upfront capital expenditure. In fact, you don�t even need gateways dispersed worldwide to start offering telephony services. You can simply negotiate a �rate� with carriers (less than you will charge your customers) that have gateways worldwide and use their gateways to hop from the IP world onto the PSTN. Of course, you still need hardware to provide softswitching and media gateway functionality. The softswitch handles the routing of VoIP calls and the media server handles the requesting of phone number, account, and PINs. However, telic hosts the softswitch and media server for you, so there is no need for gateways, softswitches, or media servers!

telic.net�s solutions are vendor neutral, are compatible with almost any standards-based gateways equipment, including gateways that support H.323, SIP, and LGP (used in Mockingbird Networks gateways). Each component of the entire solution is fully integrated with all other components to work as an �end-to-end solution,� including the ability to do everything from provisioning to invoicing. telic.net provides hosted solutions for several different billing scenarios and is capable of scaling to billions of transactions per month as your business grows. In addition, each customer�s solution is private branded.

telic.net�s solution supports instant messaging features, network presence capabilities, phone to PC/PC-to-phone/PC-to-PC telephony, and self-service provisioning. Since it is 100 percent Web-based, you don�t need to have telic perform tasks that you prefer to do yourself. Also, utilizing telic.net�s infrastructure you can host applications that you create. Third-party applications developed to vXML or JTAPI specifications will run �out-of-box� on telic.net�s telco-grade media servers.

Other features include:
� Support of retail and wholesale business models.
� Capability to operate SMS Callback services using their hosted switching and billing resources.
� Provides a single point of control; give customers a single IP address to reach your network.
� Translation between SIP and H.323 endpoints lets you maximize termination partners.
� Replaces the need for multi-vendor H.323 gatekeepers and SIP proxies; works with all major SIP and H.323 compliant equipment vendors.
� Billing solution maintains full ledger balances and may be easily integrated with other systems.
� Avoid the cost, complexity and risk of maintaining multiple systems.

So just how does telic.net�s solution work? Well, everything is built around telic.net�s carrier-grade Multi-Protocol Call Control Server or MPCCS (essentially a softswitch). As most in the Internet telephony industry know, by splitting a call�s media stream (the voice signal) from the call control (the signaling), softswitching leads to a dramatic decrease in the resources needed to transfer a call from point A to point B over an IP network. telic.net takes the functionality inherent in softswitching one step further by linking it to a billing platform, namely telic.net�s Real Time Billing Environment (RTBE).

A call goes over the local PSTN network to the nearest gateway, which digitizes the analog voice signal, compresses it into RTP packets, and moves it onto the Internet for transport to a gateway at the receiving end.

The telic.net MPCCS proxies all H.323 and SIP call signaling, but not the voice data. At the same time, the MPCCS adds additional flexibility by enabling the provider to modify signaling protocols being sent between the gateways. This feature resolves the problem of equipment interoperability, arising when interpretation of VoIP protocols varies from one manufacturer to another. Thus, gateways incompatible if connected directly can talk to each other through telic.net�s MPCCS.

In order to guarantee seamless, end-to-end connectivity between heterogeneous network devices from different vendors, the telic.net MPCCS supports both protocols and converts control messages between H.323 and SIP, on either side of the call, as necessary.

Here�s a step-by-step breakdown of what occurs when a phone call is initiated:

1. Calling party lifts handset and dials number.
2. Gateway establishes signaling connection to MPCCS.
3. MPCCS establishes session with RTTS for authentication, rating, and routing. 4. MPCCS sets up signaling with terminating gateway.
5. Voice path is established between gateways.
6. Call is connected to PSTN.

When the telic.net MPCCS solution is used, the protocols defined by the H.323/SIP standards are routed through the network.

Here�s a detailed explanation of what happens. The gateway originating a call opens up a connection with the telic.net MPCCS as it would with an ordinary VoIP gateway by sending a SETUP (H.323) or INVITE (SIP) message. Using the telic RTBE (billing) database, the MPCCS authorizes the originating gateway based on its IP address and other information contained in the message (such as the DNIS or ANI).

Simultaneously, the MPCCS determines the rate and routing plan to be used by the call and, if needed, modifies the destination number according to the calling plan configured by the service provider. Then it looks up the terminating gateway(s) for the required destination in the database, establishes a connection, and sends a setup message to one of the terminating gateways.

During negotiations, the MPCCS takes control over all messages between the gateways and provides them with its own IP addresses for all signaling connections. Here�s a critical point -- since the MPCCS proxies these call control messages, the MPCCS records the exact time between the start and finish of voice communication, which is often a problem with RADIUS-based solutions. Once the call is set up through the signaling path, the originating and terminating gateways establish a direct voice path that bypasses the MPCCS. The MPCCS closes the session once one of the gateways declares the end of the call. Only the signaling and controlling information needed to set up and release voice calls goes between the MPCCS and the gateways (gatekeepers).

We logged onto our test account on telic.net�s Web site and tested the various features. telic.net breaks down each account into one or more brands per account. Thus, for example, an account (customer) can add or remove a new brand in the future, such as debit card �brand� or wholesaler �brand.�

On an incoming call to a specific DNIS, the system can see an inbound 800 number over IP. Whenever the system sees an incoming call on a specific 800 number that comes over IP with the SIP protocol, it knows whether it is a retail or wholesale branch service and which brand it belongs to.

TMC Labs was impressed with the extent that this solution offers various security permissions. Administering the system via the Web you can define roles with specific privileges. We were impressed with the granularity of the security access that this solution provides. There were over 25 security or permission settings available.

After defining �roles� for specific users we then proceeded to examine how you define the rates and routes. It was very easy to define various rates. We could for example, add a rate that was $.05 for the first minute, then $0.02 per minute up to 30 minutes and then $0.40 per minute after that. You can also define the billing rate whether you bill every 6 seconds, every 30 seconds, or every 1 minute.

After rates are defined you can define your routes (i.e., which dial strings are routed to which carrier). You can prioritize which routes (carriers) are used, which can change based on schedules, such as weekdays, weekends, time of day, etc. You can even get specific, and direct a specific dial string to be routed to a carrier�s specific gateway. This is possible because the system will try and match the longest route (dial string) possible (most specific) and then work its way up each route listed and match up with the most general route possible (least specific).

You can route calls to specific gateways by reliability then quality, quality then reliability, or last used host, least used host or round robin. telic.net utilizes an algorithm for determining reliability that utilizes ASR and PDD (Post dial delay), which is a bit subjective, but gives some measure of reliability.

Since the telic platform deals directly with the gateways, unlike many billing systems, it has access to the gateway level debug code. Thus, in addition to having CDR records (only good calls), the telic.net solution also has the softswitch records of both good and bad calls. The softswitch logs have specific error codes in the switch logs that make it easier to quickly find and troubleshoot troublesome calls. In addition, when viewing CDR records via the Web interface, you can choose which fields to display and even change the order displayed. Using cookies, the system will remember your personal display preference the next time you view the CDR records.

They provide activity logs that track all of the activity of all the users on the system, including the IP address. So if someone deletes or changes a route you can figure out what happened. You can also �turn back the clock� on any action at the sysadmin level.

One important feature of note is that telic.net integrates with Oracle�s Netledger for creating invoices. In addition, telic.net allows you to create a �payable ledger� to figure out what you would owe your carriers. You simply enter the costs associated with each carrier and the system keeps track of all the calls to that carrier. This allows you to reconcile any billing discrepancies between you and the carrier.

On the retail side, telic.net supports PIN-less accounts where you can link a call to a particular IAD or IP phone. You can also link the call to a particular ANI so that if the system recognizes the incoming caller number it will automatically link it to a given account and not prompt the user to enter their PIN. They also handle direct codes like 10X numbers, which are usually pre-pended on the dial-string. Telic will automatically strip the 10X number leaving the dial string.

Often RADIUS is used for VoIP billing, though we should point out it is not an optimal solution. The problem with RADIUS is that it reports to the gateway how long the call should last and then forgets about the call. Thus, you can potentially have a call going on forever. So Cisco came up with an extension called the �POD� or �Packet of Death� and this allows the RADIUS accounting server to send an SNMP message to the gateway that will cut a call on a given channel. While it works, it�s a kludge and only works with Cisco gateways.

Telic on the other hand is unique in that they are not bound by the constraints and limitations that RADIUS imposes. They built their own billing protocol and since they also built the softswitch they know what is going on inside the softswitch at all times for each and every call. Thus, they can reroute a call mid-call, stop a call, etc. In fact, we asked telic about this capability.

TMC Labs: �So you can probably get pretty creative with your billing capabilities, such as transferring the call mid-call to another termination point, stop the billing for one part of the record and then start a new billing record at a different rate?�
Telic: �Sure, with SIP redirect it�s very easy to do that. For example, with our debit card service, the call starts out as an IP call to a media server, when the media server is done collecting the digits, we just redirect the call (using SIP redirect) to the terminating gateway. Thus you can have very sophisticated kinds of billing where you don�t have to pay as much when it is connected to the media server and you pay more when it�s terminated to the carrier. And then if the call runs out of balance, you can redirect back to the media server and prompt for a credit card number or send to an operator.�

TMC Labs: �You probably can�t do that with a RADIUS server, can you?�
Telic: �No way.�

There wasn�t much to complain about with this product. Our only recommendation might be to make the user interface a bit more user-friendly. For instance, we weren�t sure what specific fields functions were. Thus, perhaps �help� URL links next to each field, or even better, Java �popups� (with helpful descriptions) anytime the mouse cursor hovers over a specific field.

This is an ideal solution for prepaid calling card applications since you get all of the functional benefits of owning a high-end expensive prepaid calling switch without the investment, risk, or responsibility of maintaining the hardware. For similar reasons it is also ideal for selling wholesale minutes. Overall, telic.net is an inexpensive proposition with an excellent feature-set, which will allow existing telcos � but especially young start-up telcos and service providers -- to offer voice/telephony services. With its SIP and H.323 support, SIP-to-H.323 (and H.323- to- SIP) gateway conversion capability, Web-based administration, and billing all rolled into a single package, TMC Labs was quite impressed with the telic.net solution and would not hesitate to recommend it.

[ Return To The May 2003 Table Of Contents ]

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