You hold in your hands the 50th issue of Internet
Telephonyï¿½ magazine. In anticipation of this milestone, I found myself
wondering whether the cover would change from yellow to gold, at least for
this ï¿½goldenï¿½ issue. As any reader of the previous 49 issues of this
magazine knows, one of the most distinctive features of Internet
Telephony is its yellow cover. In fact, people who meet me often ask if
Iï¿½m the columnist in ï¿½that magazine with the yellow cover.ï¿½ I say, ï¿½Yes,
thatï¿½s Internet Telephony.ï¿½
So as we celebrate this golden issue, I think itï¿½s appropriate to
explore these questions: Just what is Internet telephony? (I donï¿½t mean
the magazine ï¿½ I mean the industry.) And has the definition of Internet
telephony changed since the magazine was launched in 1998, what sometimes
seems like an eternity ago?
To help answer that question, I dug out some of my presentations from
1998. As I perused these early presentations, which reflected what audiences
wanted to hear, I remembered the questions and comments I would hear: ï¿½What
is it? Talking over the Internet for free? Itï¿½s weird...cool...scary!ï¿½
It was scary indeed, especially if you were an incumbent. This new stuff
was a threat, but it was also an opportunity. And today, an industry born in
the late, great, booming ï¿½90s is still here ï¿½ and it continues to grow.
For most of us, the early definition of IP telephony was really a PSTN/IP
gateway using the H.323 protocol, using wireline technology, and, to a large
extent, using the Internet. Also embedded in this definition (but somewhat
lost in all the talk about the PSTN/IP gateway) was the origin of IP
telephony ï¿½ that is, one computer talking back and forth with another
computer that knew its IP address. It didnï¿½t really sound too exciting,
but when you heard the words ï¿½IP telephonyï¿½ in 1998, thatï¿½s what went
through your head.
Today if you ask someone what IP telephony is, you may still get the same
response. But, increasingly, youï¿½re likely to get a more informed response
ï¿½ in part due to much media coverage, in part due to Internet Telephony
itself. One result of this increased information may be some chatter about
standards like SIP, MGCP, or Megaco. Thatï¿½s fine, but to me it doesnï¿½t
much change the definition of IP telephony unless youï¿½re focused on the
standards angle. The need to deal with different standards largely spurred
the first softswitches, since there was a need for a product to translate
protocols from one type of network to another. Certainly this didnï¿½t exist
in the first definition.
So how has the definition of IP telephony changed? Today the ï¿½quality
doesnï¿½t sound too goodï¿½ comment has also gone away. The industry has
worked hard make this happen. Part of the effort was working on the
technology; part was using managed networks, instead of the public Internet,
Today someone may point out that you can send fax over IP. (Yes, I
remember writing an article about T.38 real-time fax over IP.) That changes
the definition. And there is wireless IP which, by its very nature, also
changes the definition. The classic call center has largely embraced IP
telephony technology as it integrates self-help Web with e-mail ï¿½ to the
point where call centers now have a new name, ï¿½contactï¿½ or ï¿½interactionï¿½
centers. Another new term created by IP telephony! Adding speech changes the
definition again. And I donï¿½t remember the concept of ï¿½voice portalsï¿½
ï¿½ which combine an interactive voice response (IVR) system and your Web
pages ï¿½ being considered when the first PSTN/IP gateway was developed.
That last point is important ï¿½ and says a lot about IP telephony. As an
industry, we have seen tremendous innovation in a very short time. The
industry has used IP telephony technology to build products that only true
innovators could have envisioned. For instance, I remember customers asking
if we could make our boards handle conferencing, voice recognition, and
play-and-record, all on IP streams. We were taken aback: ï¿½On a pure IP
stream? No TDM bus involved at all?ï¿½ Weï¿½d hear, ï¿½Yep, can you do that?
I donï¿½t care about the TDM bus. And, by the way, we need it now.ï¿½ These
customers were asking for the first IP media servers ï¿½ before that term
was even invented.
In fact, the whole process of creating IP telephony products was a
real-time experiment in seeing how open, modular systems could spur
creativity, innovation, and time to market benefits. Guess what? It works
ï¿½ and works well. Weï¿½ve seen incredible industry progress in the years
since Internet Telephony launched. And, if youï¿½re a long-time
reader of this column, you know Iï¿½ve always supported open systems for
this very reason.
Has the industry really changed? Yes and no. Yes, in that itï¿½s very
sophisticated now. The industry speaks in terms of market segmentation,
killer applications, and business models. The government has taken notice
ï¿½ asking, for instance, whether universal service fees should be applied.
There are numerous products and capabilities we hadnï¿½t even imagined in
1998. Today if you ask someone what Internet telephony is, you may get a
response far beyond, ï¿½Itï¿½s a weird-sounding phone call over the Internetï¿½
or ï¿½Itï¿½s that yellow magazine.ï¿½ But when allï¿½s said and done, IP
telephony is still the technology of telephony over IP. And thatï¿½s what itï¿½s
Jim Machi is director, product management for the Network Processing
Division of the Intel Communications Group. Intel, the worldï¿½s largest
chip maker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking, and
communications products. For more information, visit www.intel.com.
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