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Editors' Notebook
November 2002

Greg Galitzine

Trends In IP Telephony


The sheer volume of responses I received for having listed the topic Emerging IP Telephony Trends on my editorial calendar was overwhelming. I had over 100 submissions from vendors interested in promoting their specific products as a trend -- no surprise there, I guess. I tried to stay away from vendor specific information, instead focusing on the general direction that our industry is headed in. Space and time (damn you, Mr. Einstein!) prevent me from covering every little trend that lurks just on the horizon, so Ive distilled this article down to but a few areas where I believe we will see some serious action over the next little while.

Ironically, Id like to begin by referring to a trend that I wasnt going to include in this article, because of its broad general applicability. However, the increasing movement towards security in every way, shape, and form is as much an IP telephony issue as it is a banking issue, a travel issue, and a homeland security issue. To refer briefly to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, that date marked a defining moment in our collective history, and it was a day that people began taking security seriously. From gas masks, to Cipro tablets, to armed soldiers policing our airports, to increased awareness of ones surroundings, to sudden massive capital expenditures to protect our electronic lives, security is one market that has undergone a tremendous boost since September 2001. One specific area within the security realm that has attracted immense attention is the growing field of biometrics.

I asked Laura Guevin, editorial director of BiometriTech online magazine (www.biometritech.com) to define the term biometrics: The word biometrics is taken from the Greek words bio, meaning life, and metric, meaning to measure. Its broad, traditional definition (the word biometry is also defined this way) is the statistical analysis of biological observations and phenomena. But these days, the term more commonly refers to using unique physical characteristics for the purpose of identifying an individual.

As I said, I was not originally going to include this topic, but I felt I had to at least make mention of it. Please visit the BiometriTech Web site for more information on this burgeoning field.

Speech Application Language Tags, or SALT, is an emerging standard designed to enable access to the Web and to Web-based applications, using speech. Speechworks Rob Kassel, in his capacity as a member of the SALT Forums marketing working group was kind enough to share his thoughts on the future of this promising technology:

The proliferation of speech as the means to access the Web and Web applications from any device will continue into 2003. Increasingly, devices are becoming available that have strong processing capability and better screens. In addition, higher speed wireless networks will let users more easily transmit data back and forth from devices. These more powerful devices and networks will support the use of speech as an interaction method for obtaining Web content. Speech addresses the problem of trying to input data with small keypads found on devices; users can bypass this simply by speaking. This will lead to more demand for speech-enabled applications for wireless devices.

Users will want to be able to access Web content no matter where they are, regardless of what device they are using. In this context, use of multimodal applications will continue to grow since speech isnt always the ideal user interface method. Depending on where the user is accessing Web information, sometimes it is preferable to have a choice of application interaction methods: Inputting data using speech, a keyboard, keypad, mouse and/or stylus, and producing data as synthesized speech, audio, plain text, motion video, and/or graphics. Each of these modes can be used independently or concurrently.

Lastly, standards for speech technology will become more widely used. Standards encourage and speed innovation; this will hold true in the speech technology industry. More and more developers will realize the benefits of using standards-based tools to quickly create innovative applications that they can get to market first. While VoiceXML is a standard used to create speech-enabled telephony applications, the SALT specification can expand the reach of multimodal applications. Developers will start working with the SALT specification because it allows them to leverage existing skills by acting as simple extensions, or tags, to the widely used Web markup languages they are familiar with. In addition, because SALT is not tied to any one language, it can work equally well with traditional, desktop languages as well as new markup languages for Web browsers in handhelds.

Its no secret that most future phone systems will be based on IP. The financial benefits of converging voice and data networks -- the genuine savings reflected in reduced management costs and total cost of ownership models -- are but one compelling reason we will see a steady rise in the number of IP-based communications systems shipped. Another is the fact that IP-based systems will enable scads of new and exciting applications to be delivered to end users within an enterprise. These applications go beyond the simple long-distance cost cutting opportunities. While most features are reminiscent of similar applications found in the traditional PBX market, the real story here is the ability to tie your telecom applications to your data applications, thus increasing access, reach, customizability, and more. Of course, in the end it all comes down to what applications end users will really want, and while the jury may still be out regarding the next killer app, I think its fair to say that the applications most coveted by end users will be the ones that enable them to be more efficient and more successful in their jobs.

Every erstwhile leader in the traditional PBX space (e.g., Lucent/Avaya, Nortel, Mitel, Alcatel, Comdial, etc) now offers an IP-based PBX alternative. Couple that with the fact that many up-and comers in the enterprise telecom space (Cisco, Shoreline, Vodavi, Altigen, Vertical, etc) are doing tremendous business, leading whole segments of the market for new phone systems, and yet again, its plain to see the future is IP.

ITS ALL ABOUT THE APPLICATIONS!!! How many times can I say it? Since this magazine was first published, weve been certain of one thing and one thing only -- the applications are what will drive the revenue and drive the shift from a world of circuit-switched telecom to one based on packets. The ongoing transition from circuit to packet is proving us right thus far.

I wish I had a quarter for every time someone asked me, Whats the next killer app? Granted, Id probably give up twice that many quarters for every time I asked a vendor the same question. It all goes back to what I said a few paragraphs back, that the most successful applications will be those, which allow end users to do their jobs better. It sounds like a cop-out, but it is unassailably true. And until my foresight catches up to my hindsight, thats about as far out on a limb as I am willing to go.

But fact is, the infrastructure is increasingly available, which will allow these next-generation enhanced services to increasingly filter into the market. Were already reading success stories of IP-based call centers (or should I say customer interaction centers?) being deployed, which allow end users to contact agents via any available channel: e-mail, phone, VoIP, chat, etc Were seeing more and more remote workers and telecommuters, all enabled and connected by IP-based telecommunications. Find-me/follow-me, multi-party conferencing, ad hoc video conferencing and collaboration -- all easily managed via a Web browser interface -- are appearing in corporate settings all over the world. And if you think thats being a bit pie in the sky well what about voice? When one considers the fact that perhaps as much as 75 percent of the worlds population has never placed a phone call, what happens when one deploys IP telephony to those parts of the world that have no telecom infrastructure in place? In these situations, voice is in and of itself the killer app, and certainly should not be overlooked as an innovation.

Of course, one of the advantages of not having any infrastructure in place is that theres no aging, decrepit infrastructure to depreciate or tear out to take advantage of the sexy new stuff. Its common knowledge that carriers that serve many rural areas all over the world have taken to deploying 2.5 and 3G wireless technologies in a sort of leapfrogging over current state-of-the-art gear. And once these high-speed wireless networks are up and running, they will enable users to deploy any of a wide range of hybrid voice/data devices. Today were seeing demo after demo at trade shows from companies such as Global IP Sound and Pocket Presence and TeleSym -- these vendors are producing solutions that work at levels of quality that the PSTN can only dream about. The best part is, the current crop of state-of-the-art multifunction wireless devices justify several up-and-coming wireless technologies all at once including the various 2.5G and 3G systems as well as fast-growing 802.11 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth solutions.

The economy may be holding back true worldwide deployment of 3G wireless networks and applications, but once the reins restraining capital spending are loosened we will see a rapid ramp up to the long awaited broadband speeds that have been promised for so long.

Which of course, brings us to a very important question. In this economy, will we ever see another dime of Cap Ex? I imagine we will. Frankly, some parts of the economy continue to grow, and smart investors always back a good idea provided it has sound business principles behind it. But until the day comes when the spigots of cash will one again be opened wide, we will have to contend ourselves with taking advantage of alternative technologies that will allow us to do more and do so more efficiently while spending less. Technologies like IP telephony.

[ Return To The November 2002 Table Of Contents ]

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