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Publisher's Outlook
October 2001

Rich Tehrani

Simplified Patent Complicates Matters


Go Right To:   
Rumor Has It That VoIP's A Winner!
Planet PDA Expo -- Why You Must Attend

The softswitch market has gotten more than its share of press over the past year, although in all fairness, I guess a technology that stands to replace the telephony infrastructure as we know it most likely deserves some attention. And attention it will continue to get, so long as I continue to receive news items such as a recent press release from Simplified claiming that they have won allowance for a patent covering some of the most basic concepts of softswitch-based technology.

The patent, entitled "System and Method for Communicating With and Controlling Disparate Telecommunications Devices in a Telecommunications Network," appears to be a rather bold broad stroke, in that it seems to apply to a concept as opposed to a particular technology. Indeed, that's exactly what I discussed with RHK analyst John Kuzma, who added that he thought it was too soon to tell what the impact of Simplified's patent action could be. "It's too vague to determine exactly what's being covered in this patent application," said Kuzma. "But, actions such as this are certainly a sign of a maturing industry. We'll just have to wait and see."

I also corresponded with Rich Phillips, Chief Communication Officer for Simplified regarding the announcement. I e-mailed Rich a series of questions, the responses to which I'm including here, in the hopes that they may shed some light on this issue. (For those of you who follow the vagaries of publishing a monthly magazine, keep in mind that this interview took place in late August.)

RT: Please describe the scope of Simplified's recent patent application.

RP: Simplified has filed numerous patent applications directed to several technologies covering aspects of the control, operation, management, and use of converged telecommunications networks and services.

Broadly speaking, our patent applications include claims directed to technologies for controlling disparate telecommunications devices in converged networks, as well as processes and business methods associated with acquisition and management of communications services available via such converged networks.

Recently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has found merit in early Simplified patent application filings. The patent that we announced July 30, entitled "System and Method for Communicating With and Controlling Disparate Telecommunications Devices in a Telecommunications Network," has significant reach into the converged networking marketplace. Claims allowed by the USPTO apply to any network in which calls are processed by multiple network devices, and where such devices include the operations of a voice response facility.

The work covered in this patent is part of our answer to the market need for hardware-neutral, software-defined services infrastructure. We no longer
see costly, single-vendor installations as viable in the increasingly commoditized telephony and networking spaces. The key is targeted software to remove hardware differences. We believe this work provides that key.

The patent will issue and the document will be made available through the USPTO in early September. Simplified has more than 20 additional patents pending.

RT: What specific technologies does the patent cover?

RP: This grant represents a key portion of our technology portfolio: An efficient software layer to abstract out costly differences in networking and communications hardware. Where traditional softswitch solutions fall short and address only those discrepancies in a single vendor's line, our work goes further to homogenize multiple protocols and product lines.

In Simplified's patent, the USPTO has allowed claims covering the translation of messages generated by specific telecommunications devices that are formatted based on a particular protocol scheme into ambiguous messages that may be processed and passed to other devices regardless of their messaging schemes.

For example, the claims cover all device message conversions that occur between a switching facility and a voice response facility within a converged voice and data network. When the switching facility and the voice response facility are manufactured to use different protocols, for example, Simplified's patent-pending technology allows seamless integration and communications to occur without requiring customers and service providers to write a single piece of device-specific code.

Converged networks and especially those facilitating voice and data call processing can now take advantage of the patent-pending technologies developed by Simplified to permit implementation of heterogeneous network infrastructures that incorporate best-of-breed products using a multitude of messaging protocols.

RT: What does this mean for the many other vendors in the softswitch/next-gen networking space?

RP: Claims made in the patent cover what we see as critical components to the future of next-generation networks, these stemming from the necessity to provide both voice and data over an efficiently managed, software-defined network. The patent does cover core softswitch technology, but whether it affects these vendors may depend on what they define as a softswitch solution.

Softswitches have been subject to some market confusion as varied definitions have crowded the market by established hardware vendors and new entrants. The original concept has its roots in Class 4 and Class 5 switch replacement, but some "softswitch" vendors have branded their hardware-based media gateways as "softswitch platforms." To the industry's chagrin, many "softswitch solutions" have failed to deliver infrastructure flexibility or cost savings as they have contributed to the complexity of network management.

Despite market confusion, the theory behind the softswitch is sound and new products and software-based multiprotocol solutions are emerging that are aligned with the original vision.

Simplified's patent covers the "system and method" used by these multiprotocol solutions. A company providing such a solution may be in violation of the patent. It may be that the solution combines software and hardware from several companies, but if the capability exists in the network to do multiprotocol messaging conversion, the solution infringes on Simplified's patent. Customers of these solutions may be infringing on the patent as well.

It is quite possible, too, that there are hardware or software companies with development projects underway to create something we've already patented. If so, this could be a win-win situation for them -- they can license the technology today and save money on the costly development projects.

RT: What sort of approach can we expect from Simplified regarding partnerships and licensing agreements resulting from this new patent?

RP: Because of the broad and significant reach of this patent, we plan to implement what we call a patent-friendly strategy in the marketplace. Upon issuance, Simplified will use its patent rights to encourage customers, service providers, competitors, hardware vendors, and others to partner with Simplified in adopting our software platform when implementing and operating converged networks.

We filed the patent in 1999, and actually have had the software from which this patent was derived in operation at customer sites since 1997. The patent covers the technology at the core of our Network Management Application Suite, a component of the Simplified Open Services Platform, which enables service providers to deliver and manage any communication service over any network regardless of network hardware infrastructure.

We have determined five or six companies that we will approach first. Some of these are softswitch vendors. We will be sending a letter to each explaining the patent and our desire to enter into partner or license agreements them. We think we can make a compelling argument for either adopting our platform where it makes sense or reaching a license agreement.

RT: Does this patent have significant financial implications for Simplified?

RP: We do believe there are companies in the softswitch market as well as some network hardware companies and possibly their customers that infringe on or have projects in the works that infringe on claims allowed in the patent.

As mentioned, we expect to develop sound working relationships with these companies. Some of these agreements will certainly generate new revenue. Some will benefit us by gaining new and strong partners in the marketplace. Whenever possible, Simplified will seek to enter into partnering agreements and license agreements to permit others to make, use and sell Simplified's patentable technologies in exchange for reasonable royalties and the like.

But it goes further than that. We see this patent as a boon to the communications industry as well. We have always seen the move to an open, software-defined, software-controlled network as inevitable and essential to the survival of service providers. To be successful, a service provider must be able to provide both voice and data services, yet be enabled to control and manage all its services simply and efficiently using software. This patent takes software control one giant step forward.

I'm curious to see how this plays out and how it will affect our industry. Will all the other vendors in the softswitch market "play nice" and work with Simplified, paying out royalties to use the technology? Or will this action encourage the opposite response, spurring opposition, and entangling the future of our industry in countless drawn-out court battles? There's no way to tell just yet, but I certainly welcome your responses. Let me know what you think. Drop me a line at rtehrani@tmcnet.com.

[ Return To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]

Rumor Has It That VoIP's A Winner!

There's a great scene in the Neil Simon comedy, Rumors where one of the characters (Lenny), tells an overly excited guest (Cookie) to "Speak slowly. Like we're children." The purpose of course, is to slow Cookie down, and to make certain that what is being said is to be clearly understood, to make sure everyone's on the same page, with no room for error.

A recent Frost & Sullivan report claims that Voice over IP is no longer simply a "cool" technology, but an industry looking at a serious future. Let me repeat that: "...an industry looking at a serious future." Once more? Slowly? Like we're children? Are we all on the same page, now?

It's nice to see that a well-respected analyst finally agrees with what my colleagues at TMC and I have been saying all along, since we launched Internet Telephony Magazine nearly five years ago. The Frost & Sullivan report goes on to project some numbers for the growth of the market, which in this time of dire financial news, is a welcome sign indeed. Wholesale revenues are expected to reach $4.02 billion by 2007, and the retail sector is set to account for $17 billion within the same five-year period.

According to Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Elka Popova, "Originally, people perceived VoIP to be about low-quality, free calling. No one ever thought of it as the technology of the future. Free PC calling helped showcase the technology. The actual benefits of VoIP, however, are being realized in wholesale services, as well as in emerging enterprise solutions and consumer phone-to-phone services."

While I must disagree with Ms. Popova on one point (we at TMC have always maintained that VoIP had a future) I wholeheartedly agree with her comments about the enterprise market. The report goes on to say that by 2007, nearly 64 percent of all domestic VoIP revenue will be driven by the enterprise market. To that end, I suggest that you check out this month's Special Focus Q&A. Editorial Director Greg Galitzine engages several of the industry's leading vendors to answer some questions about the enterprise market for Internet telephony.

It's nice to see that the industry and the technology we chose to get behind half a decade ago is indeed being validated by objective, third-party research. So in case you haven't heard the rumors, let me spell them out for you right here, right now. Slowly now, like we're children: VoIP... is... an... industry... looking... at... a... serious... future. Just remember, you heard it here first!

[ Return To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]

Planet PDA Expo -- Why You Must Attend

As you've no doubt already heard, TMC is launching a brand-new show this December. Planet PDA, The Global Summit on Handheld Productivity Solutions, is a new conference and exhibition focused on educating enterprises about the productivity increases that can be had by implementing a handheld computing strategy in their organization.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you need to attend Planet PDA:

  • Are your network servers more secure than the databases your employees are carrying on their handheld devices?
  • Are your employees syncing PDAs with multiple databases outside your network, potentially corrupting your precious corporate data?
  • Are your employees wasting valuable time troubleshooting problems with their PDAs because your MIS department is not able to support them?
  • Do you need ROI data to cost justify your PDA deployment proposal?
  • Do employees sync their handhelds with corporate databases or contact management systems?
  • Do employees sync their handhelds using desktop PCs?
  • Will PDAs ever be used at your company?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider coming out to the fabulous Venetian Resort in Las Vegas this December 4-6. In any economy, the implementation of handheld devices at your company is essential to increasing productivity and maintaining profitability. Certainly in an economy such as the one we're experiencing right now, that statement can only be construed as being more accurate.

Come to TMC's Planet PDA in Las Vegas this December and you'll walk away with all the knowledge you need to implement a profitable and successful mobile computing strategy at your enterprise. Don't miss this opportunity! Visit www.tmcnet.com/planetpda/ to register for the show, check out our unrivaled conference program, get travel details, or simply research more information on Planet PDA. I look forward to seeing you in Vegas this December 4-6!

[ Return To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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