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Publisher's Outlook
December 2000

Rich Tehrani  

Who Needs Interoperability? We All Do. That's Who. 


Go Right To: 
Hot On The Trail Of Innovation

IT EXPO: Eastward Ho! 

 Try to avoid making tough decisions when you're upset. This is usually great advice, and in fact, I try to live by this principle. But what about a column? Should you write about something that upsets you or makes you uncomfortable? Such was the question I grappled with while returning from the recent INTERNET TELEPHONY CONFERENCE & EXPO in San Diego, CA.

You may be wondering what it was that upset me so. Thankfully it wasn't the show itself. The tremendous amount of growth in the IP telephony market resulted in an exhibit hall that doubled in size and attracted more than twice the attendees seeking to examine the latest voice and data products. (For a glimpse of some of what was on display, please take a look at the sidebar entitled "Hot On The Trail Of Innovation.")

But as I walked from booth to booth, I realized that many of the products on display were indeed product islands unto themselves, in that they wouldn't interoperate with any other products on the market. No matter how many times we have read about various manufacturers producing interoperable products, the truth of the matter is that only a fraction of the market does interoperate, and frankly, the situation is not improving fast enough!

IP telephony remains one of the fastest growing segments of the communications market, and many new companies enter this vibrant industry daily. The problem remains that these vendors don't spend the time or effort needed to get their products to interoperate with those of others. I truly believe in this market. TMC launched Internet Telephony magazine nearly three years ago, when IP telephony was just a budding industry. While I am elated to see the growth of the market and the constant influx of astonishing new products and services, as well as the constant infusion of venture capital, I realize that we as an industry will forever be mired in complacency unless we can get our products working together.

Imagine a service provider installing the latest converged voice and data technology in their central offices, which allows them to become so successful that they are able to expand their business into other areas of the country. They engage a state-of-the-art, next-gen service provider that has also rolled out a next-gen network in their own neck of the woods. They enter acquisition talks. Unfortunately, these service providers soon realize that the products in each of their disparate networks do not interoperate, and so development and maintenance costs have just doubled.

Then there is the corporation that installs a state-of-the-art IP PBX in their office. The product is the biggest productivity booster the company has ever known, and they are thrilled. Everyone in the company is enjoying Web-based unified messaging, call control, and telephone management features. The productivity party comes to an end as soon as the company merges with another company that had chosen an IP PBX from a different manufacturer. Many of the benefits of IP telephony are now gone, as voice traffic must then jump off the IP network onto the PSTN and then back again to the IP telephony network of the other company.

Something needs to be done to ensure interoperability. Recognizing the need for consistent interoperability among all equipment manufacturers, TMC launched ConvergeNET -- an onsite showcase of multi-vendor IP telephony interoperability -- at Internet Telephony Conference and Expo '99. ConvergeNET was the first, and now world's largest, showcase allowing attendees to view real-world interoperability between a variety of manufacturers.

Last year, about seven vendors agreed to demonstrate interoperability at the show. When all was said and done, about 11 companies overall proved that they could make and receive phone calls and faxes from each others' disparate equipment. I was extremely excited to learn that about 25 vendors planned on demonstrating interoperability at this year's Internet Telephony Conference and EXPO. I figured we could end up with upwards of 35 interoperating companies by show's end. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Many of the companies that signed up did not interoperate at all.

When queried, we were given a wide range of excuses from "Our technical people couldn't make it to the show," to the frequent "We had too many attendees in the booth to worry about getting interoperability working." There were lots of other excuses, but you get the point.

Having said that, I'd like to congratulate the companies that did indeed prove that their products interoperate. I'd also like to thank those that legitimately tried and just couldn't get it working. For a complete list of companies that succeeded in proving interoperability I suggest you read ConvergeNET Director Adam Altman's excellent article. Likewise, Marc Robins, VP of Publications and Trade Shows offers up his own summary of ConvergeNET in his article "Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back."

I need your help. In order to achieve success and meet the lofty goals of our growing industry, every IP telephony product must fully interoperate. We must let the manufacturers know that it is important to us. ConvergeNET continues to be the largest event for proving interoperability, and if you are interested in witnessing for yourself the companies that are committed to IP telephony interoperability, please be sure to come to our newest INTERNET TELEPHONY CONFERENCE & EXPO MIAMI, located at the Hotel Inter-Continental Miami, Feb 79, 2001. 

[ Return To The December  2000 Table Of Contents ]

Hot On The Trail Of Innovation

At the latest Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO, I grabbed the opportunity to walk the Exhibit Hall and see some of the latest innovative products on the market. What was most amazing to me was the broad spectrum of companies that were exhibiting at an IP telephony event.

One of the most interesting booths I saw was Plaintree a company specializing in providing optical wireless solutions for the enterprise and service providers. They refer to their technology as fiber cable without the cable. At a distance of four kilometers they are able to achieve 10 to 155 Mbps throughput. As this technology is dependent on a clear line of site, you might imagine that Mother Nature could play tricks on such a solution. Although I was not able to test the product myself I am told that fog has a negative effect on bandwidth while rain and snow do not. I have a hunch that these products might not be too popular in England.

The technology is based on the unlicensed infrared spectrum and there are various models to fit any budget. I'm told that some corporate customers decide to split the bandwidth into two channels; one to carry IP-based voice when using traditional PBXs or a single channel if employing voice over IP. As you can imagine, this infrared-based product is one of the few that you can deploy near airports. I'm told that a big market for this technology is in South America where frequency overcrowding doesn't exist. The cost for this solution varies with bandwidth and distance requirements, and starts at $2,500 for a 10 Mbps at 300 meters up to $15,000 for 155 Mbps at four kilometers.

If there were an award at the show for best-looking product, it would likely go to Pingtel for their creative assortment of colorful IP telephones. As I entered the booth, I was asked to help name the color of one of their new phones. I came up with light peach. After speaking with company representatives, I came to two conclusions: 1) I am not good at naming colors and 2) Pingtel's newest phone is actually mango.

But putting color aside, I was happy to test Pingtel's phone connecting to 3Com's booth and equipment with the aid of dynamicsoft's proxy server and a Cisco 5300 gateway. The quality of the conversation ranged from great to OK but all in all better than expected on a show network with so many applications hogging the bandwidth.

Another company I visited was VegaStream, a maker of integrated access devices (IADs) and showing a variety of products such as their Vega 50 IAD, which supports eight standard phones and can scale to 48. Although they don't require a PBX to work, these products can help bring a legacy PBX into the IP world. Obviously, this is a perfect solution for service providers looking to serve the SME market. Currently Vegastream's products support SIP version 2 as well as H.323. They can partner with a company like Broadsoft for service delivery and creation.

Some of the benefits of using an IAD are the ability to save money on long-distance between branches, the ability to attain softswitch features and the ability to easily reassign IP addresses to people on the move, allowing them full phone functionality regardless of location. One vertical market that might be served especially well is the IP-based call center market.

I also stopped in to see Fujitsu, a company that you would usually associate with legacy only call center solutions. I can say that Fujitsu has certainly embraced IP telephony with open arms. Their F9600 IP Trunk card delivers proprietary VPN traffic over IP and can be used in conjunction with or instead of ISDN services. These cards allow for the easy connection of multiple locations. Fujitsu feels that a traditional PBX with IP trunk cards is an attractive alternative to IP PBXs where standards such as SIP and H.323 are still being worked out.If you really must have

 an IP PBX, Fujitsu will not disappoint. They plan on releasing their Infinex IP PBX in the second quarter of 2001. Some of the features we can expect to see in this offering are a browser accessible server, IP phones and a softphone. Expect the system to run on Windows NT and make use of an H.323 gateway. The system will start at 10 ports and will need a DSP board as it grows in port density.

blue-silicon  -- a new communications ASP specializing in outsourced unified messaging -- seems to have come out of nowhere and is lighting the world on fire. There was a tremendous interest in this new service from attendees at the show.

The company feels that the market for outsourced unified messaging is quite vibrant and will experience rapid growth. There are many benefits to using this service no matter what the size of your company. A SOHO user for example could subscribe to blue-silicon's service and could call forward their home number on a busy signal or no answer. Additionally, this user could advertise his blue-silicon phone number as a fax number since the unified messaging service can detect faxes automatically.
The company also feels that their service will work really well in a large corporate environment where each enterprise user can use this service as a personal fax number as well as having their cell phones roll into the same mailbox. In case you are worried about interfacing with your PBX, blue-silicon tells me that they work with over 90 PBXs, which covers about 90 percent of the market and they are working with IP PBX manufacturers as well. When I queried them about competition from existing service providers, the response was that traditional service providers haven't made much money from voice mail and are hesitant to upgrade their systems to unified messaging.

The benefits of this service are many and include being able to integrate all messaging with e-mail and a variety of PBX types. Users also have the ability to have global access to messaging for the cost of a local call through POP3 or IMAP or even the Web. Using a service such as this is much more flexible than traditional messaging types we are all used to, as you can configure the system to page you when you receive a fax or redirect your fax to a local fax machine. One of my favorite features of the service is the ability to send an e-mail from your phone, a perfect way for those of us who travel frequently to keep in touch with those of us that answer e-mail before voice mail. Perhaps the best news about this service is that it is outsourced, meaning the maintenance of redundant hardware is totally farmed out, freeing you up to worry about more important issues. In case you are wondering, this product is designed for corporate users but will be sold through a reseller and service provider channel.

The next company I saw falls under the category of "I want this in my house." Inetcam makes a software product called iVISTA that allows you to remotely monitor any location from any Web site. They call it Webcasting, and given enough time to set it up, I will purchase four cameras (you can use their cameras or many others) and install them at home. Inetcam sells a VTS (Video Transmission Systems) kit with the basic equipment you need to get started, including a four-port switcher allowing you to capture just as many simultaneous video streams.

Perhaps the most entertaining demo I have yet witnessed at any show was when one of the booth staffers said "Hey, lets look at my girlfriend's bedroom," and then proceeded to type the IP address into the Web browser. "Luckily," he said he password protected the site. Of course I asked if she knew about this and I was told, that she doesn't really know much about computers and besides, she's at work today.

VXI Corporation
Two other new products worth mentioning were USB headsets from VXI: the Aruba, which is monaural and the Caribbean, which is a two-way digital stereo headset. Some of the benefits of USB headsets include battery-free operation, superior sound, and CD playback quality. As a sound card is not required for USB headsets, VXI tells me that there is less distortion introduced to the audio stream. If you are interested, the price for either unit is under $100.

What I really liked about Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO was the range of companies that were displaying products and services. There was really something for everyone. If I had to spot a trend, it would be that companies in just about every sector of communications are developing IP telephony products and services. There was a great deal of excitement at this event and one can expect that with all this interest that the industry will keep growing and announcing new products at an even more rapid pace. 

[ Return To The December  2000 Table Of Contents ]

IT EXPO: Eastward Ho!

I've been absolutely deluged with requests for an event on the east coast. After all, the last two Internet Telephony Conference & EXPOs in San Diego were completely sold out. Many people couldn't even get hotel rooms anywhere near the show. Beyond that, the pace of the IP telephony market has quickened and product cycles have shortened dramatically. You just can't keep track of all the latest and greatest products once a year; you need more opportunities to help you select the products you need to keep you competitive.

With the above in mind, I am extremely excited to introduce Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO Miami, February 79, at the Hotel Inter-Continental Miami. If you think the fact that my home state of Connecticut will likely be covered in two feet of snow in early February had something to do with the selection of Miami as a venue for this show, you're probably right. As has become the norm, you can expect a huge number of exhibitors and, in fact, we expect this event to sell out far in advance. Of course the conference program will be of the same high quality all TMC conferences are known for.

The conference session titles are as follows:

  • International & Latin America

  • Corporate/Enterprise

  • Service Provider

  • Developer/Reseller

  • General and Special Interest

  • Spotlight on Development

Another important highlight of the show will once again be ConvergeNET, the world's first, largest, and longest running showcase of IP telephony interoperability among disparate manufacturers. The industry needs your help in ensuring all IP telephony products work together (see the accompanying article Who Needs Interoperability? We All Do. That's Who). Today's manufacturers owe it to all of us. Please register immediately and register for the hotel as well at and you'll be able to take advantage of numerous opportunities to save money. I hope to see you at the show. 

[ Return To The December  2000 Table Of Contents ]

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