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Industry Insight
December 2000

Jim Machi

IT Expo: Hot Trends Served Up With A Side Of Mango


Want to get a look at emerging trends? Attend a tradeshow and talk to the vendors and delegates. For example, at the last INTERNET TELEPHONY CONFERENCE & EXPO� (October 4-�6, 2000 in not-so-sunny San Diego), three important trends caught my attention: Voice portals, Telephony Application Service Providers, and interoperable VoIP phones.

Voice portals are an increasingly hot topic in the Internet telephony world. In fact, this is one of the first Internet telephony shows where I've seen multiple seminar track speakers and vendors conversant on the subject, with delegates specifically looking to talk to them. But I've written about voice portals twice already this year in this column, so I needn't go into detail.

A second trend I saw is the emergence of telephony application server providers (ASPs). To me, this was the most visible new trend compared to any other Internet telephony tradeshow in the first half of 2000. This is an exciting space that is bound to grow, and will help broaden the delivery of IP telephony solutions. Exhibiting companies like AccessLine Communications, blue-silicon, congruency, and Tundo are all helping to drive that segment.

But the most surprising trend to me at Internet Telephony Conference & Expo was the proliferation of interoperable VoIP phones. Since the inception of enterprise-based IP telephony, there have always been IP phones. The first IP-PBXs in the market, from the likes of Cisco and 3Com, have IP phones. But these phones can only work with the PBX or system they are part of. And this isn't what open technologies are about. In fact, it's really no different from the Lucent or Nortel approach of offering proprietary digital feature phones that only work with their systems.

If you're a regular reader of this column, you know how much I stress the importance of open technologies. Being able to easily add new and exciting applications is one of the key benefits promised by IP telephony. This means having the interoperability and flexibility to build a best-of-breed system to match your needs. Interoperability is the result of standards, or de facto standards. But in the IP telephony world, there is not a clear, single call control standard. H.323, SIP, Megaco, and MGCP all have a place in today's market.

At the show, I found it heartening to see open, systems-based IP phones that can operate connected to any open switching system. At last year's Internet Telephony Expo, e-tel was the only open-systems-based phone vendor. This year, besides e-tel, there were open-system-based phones available from CIDCO, congruency, ITXC, and pingtel. These phones now include many of the business-type features we've all come to expect, including speaker ability, conferencing, and caller ID. They're not the simple VoIP phones from the early days. And besides actual, working H.323 phones, today's market actually has working Simple Internet Protocol (SIP) phones.

You may have noticed some of the same companies mentioned in our discussion of ASPs and VoIP phones. At first glance this may seem strange, but in fact, it makes perfect sense: In an ASP business model, someone needs to provide customer premise equipment phones. For example, pingtel's SIP phone is also available for use in an ASP model and congruency's phone is exclusively for communications ASP use.

While we're on the subject, may I say that pingtel had the coolest color in a phone -- mango! This is actually what caught my attention, but what held it was that the phone could run Java applets. By pressing a pre-programmed phone button, I got quotes on some of my favorite Nasdaq stocks. Unfortunately, since this was early October, it wasn't exactly welcome news.

You may have wondered why I put ITXC in the list of phone vendors. After all, they're a next-gen telco. ITXC's acquisition of eFusion brings their product line better push to talk capability, and with that, better softphone capability (among other things). Why does ITXC care about softphone capabilities? It believes consumers logged onto the Internet will increasingly want to call each other. To do so, they need softphone capability. For example, my neighborhood actually has an Internet site set up for it. When one of the neighborhood kids gets on, my kids know it -- and they want to talk to the person over the computer, even if no one is on the "regular" phone. I guess the kids see it as more convenient to call their friend over the computer.

Did I just hear someone say voice portal? Interesting that I can't stray too far from voice portals, isn't it? It all ties together in the end... 

Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and IPT Products, for Dialogic Corporation (an Intel company). Dialogic is a leading manufacturer of high-performance, standards-based computer telephony components. Dialogic products are used in fax, data, voice recognition, speech synthesis, and call center management CT applications.

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