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December 2000


Satisfying An Urge To Converge


Commitment. Communication. Constitution. Convergence. These are the four "C" words that should be the focus for VoIP interoperability. Everyone must commit to the effort of interoperating with each and every piece of equipment in the Internet telephony industry. Everyone must communicate with each other about all of the issues surrounding interoperability. Everyone must help constitute standards: Standards that will go a long way towards enabling an infrastructure as reliable -- and with equal or better sound quality -- as the PSTN. In this way, everyone will converge, and a new age in communications will materialize as a result.

Unfortunately, the Internet telephony industry is a ways off from completely interoperating, but TMC Labs has committed to helping this happen. That's why ConvergeNET, a proving ground for interoperability, was created. It is also why we have reported and will continually report honestly about the events that took place at ConvergeNET. That's the only way to ensure progress and eventually attain our goal.

Telling It Like It Is
Our fourth installment of ConvergeNET, which took place at the INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO in San Diego from October 5-�6, attempted to bring together more than 25 companies for interoperability demonstrations on the show floor. While we had success with many of these demonstrations, we were not without our share of disappointments as well. As readers know, TMC Labs has no qualms about telling it "like it is." If we see a product that claims to interoperate but cannot prove that it does, then it's our job as journalists to report that news. A perfect example of this is AG Communication Systems/Lucent Technologies, who claimed to interoperate in their labs with other vendors, but could not prove their interoperability with the six or so vendors in their pavilion at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO. While we harbor no misgivings that they have in fact successfully interoperated in their labs, there remains a need to test interoperability within a real-world scenario (as opposed to a lab environment). We challenge AG Communication Systems/Lucent Technologies to solve whatever technical issues they had so that they can successfully prove interoperability at our next installment of ConvergeNET at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO in Miami, February 7�9, 2001.

We must also remember that attempting a demonstration and failing may be more beneficial for interoperability than successes are. Indeed, we all learn from failures, and through them we might get closer to our goals. However, failure to even attempt a demonstration achieves nothing... absolutely nothing.

And Now, The Good News...
Now that I've said that, I can focus on some positives. First, I would like to commend Tundo, one of our sponsors, for continuously coming to the plate and delivering successful demonstrations at ConvergeNET, for their input to our ConvergeNET video, and for their efforts to show the demonstrations to attendees via a special ConvergeNET map of the show floor illustrating which exhibitors were interoperating. Tundo has been involved in every installment of ConvergeNET that has taken place thus far and has lead the way in our interoperability demonstrations. In the latest ConvergeNET, they were the first to set up their equipment, and then they converged with Quicknet Technologies, Inc. and ShelCad Communications, two other companies that have previously and successfully worked together at ConvergeNET. Quicknet and ShelCad had no problem registering with Tundo's gatekeeper, and then calling one another using the H.323 protocol. Later that day, Active Voice also joined in with successful results.
In an effort to create a SIP network, 3Com Corporation, dynamicsoft, Inc., Nuera Communications, Pingtel, SS8 Networks, and Ubiquity Software Corporation attempted to use their equipment to work together. Because of the high turnout at the INTERNET TELEPHONY CONFERENCE & EXPO and because it was the first attempt to establish a SIP network at ConvergeNET, these companies took a while to interoperate. The first success came towards the end of the first day when dynamicsoft successfully talked with Ubiquity through their SIP proxy server.

Meanwhile, TelStrat International demonstrated its latest product for Nortel Networks, the Remote Office 9110. Two Remote Office 9110 telephones were used at the show, one in TelStrat's booth and one in Plaintree Wireless' booth. The Remote Office 9110s were set up using the G.729 voice compression codec. Calls placed to/from these telephones were transported via the Internet without any voice QoS equipment. Both companies were able to demonstrate: Calls originating from San Diego to users on a Meridian 1 PBX (IP to digital telephones), calls originating from San Diego to anywhere in the world (IP to circuit-switched networks), calls between the TelStrat's booth and the Plaintree's booth (100 percent IP), and inbound calls terminating at the Remote Office (circuit-switched to IP). While this was not done using any of the main protocols (they used a proprietary protocol), TelStrat was inclined to say that they will attempt to use one or more of these protocols for converging with other exhibitors at our fifth installment of ConvergeNET in Miami.

The second day of the show brought some more ConvergeNET successes and challenges. On the H.323 end, NetCentrex and UniData Communication Systems registered with Tundo's gatekeeper and made successful VoIP calls with the other registered participants. A number of the companies also registered and made calls through NetCentrex's gatekeeper. Perhaps more important was the fact that Tundo and NetCentrex's gatekeepers communicated with each other. This is the first time that we know of that two gatekeepers from two different companies converged in a real-time, live setting. If different gatekeepers interoperate with each other, then the equipment that the gatekeepers control should also be interoperable. This significance spells good news for the future of VoIP interoperability.

As for the quality of the VoIP calls, we tested for PSQM scores by linking Agilent Technologies' Telegra VQT system to the H.323 network. We made live calls from Quicknet to Tundo and measured the PSQM scores. They averaged 2.6, which is an acceptable score for VoIP calls, especially since the tests were performed on the show's shared network in which video, co-browsing, and other functionality were also using bandwidth on the show floor. The lower the PSQM score, the better. Above a score of 4, one must begin to worry about serious packet loss and voice degradation. Latency, jitter, and echo also did not present a significant problem for any of the H.323 calls that were demonstrated by any of the successful participants. In the future, we plan to continue to test the ConvergeNET VoIP calls to prove not only that the call connects, but also that it goes through as a quality voice call.

We also attempted to add Belle Systems' IP billing system onto this H.323 network. They tried to connect to both Tundo and NetCentrex's gatekeeper but were unsuccessful because of a RADIUS issue. However, now that we know about the problem, we have hopes to fix it in the near future.

While all of these H.323 demonstrations were taking place, the companies using SIP were also achieving some more success. 3Com successfully called Ubiquity and Pingtel from their SIP phones to the subsequent endpoints. To test the quality of a VoIP call, I personally made a call from Pingtel to 3Com's booth. The call did connect, but had too much static to hear the 3Com representative clearly. Later, Rich Tehrani, TMC's president, also tried this same call, and the reception was much better. The static was probably due to heavy traffic on the show floor at the time of my call.

SS8 also was interworking with Pingtel using SIP. Since SS8 did not use an end point, we could not actually hear the call, but could see SS8's user agent connecting with Pingtel's phone. On another note, dynamicsoft made calls back to themselves through Aravox's firewall, which had the ability to open and close ports as VoIP packets passed through the firewall. Consequently, this allowed for VoIP calls to pass through the firewall without impeding too much on security issues. While this was not necessarily a ConvergeNET demonstration, it is important to note since it has implications to the overall success of VoIP interoperability.

As it turns out, with the exception of Nuera, everyone in the SIP network was using the G.711 compression codec for their calls. Nuera attempted to use the G.729 codec without success and could not switch over to G.711 before the show ended. However, the effort was there, and we fully expect Nuera to successfully interoperate at ConvergeNET in the near future. During this show, G.711 was mostly used for the SIP network and G.723 was used for the H.323 network. For the next ConvergeNET, we plan to use more codecs successfully. We also hope to use an H.323 to SIP signaling gateway so that companies using either protocol can converge with each other. In addition, video, application sharing, use of other protocols such as MGCP, and other functionality may be included as part of these demonstrations.

"C" You In Miami
So that's the latest news about ConvergeNET. In the future, it is our intention to use the four "C" words to continue to educate attendees while advancing VoIP interoperability. We would like to see commitment among all companies. We must make sure we communicate our ideas with each other. As a result, we shall form the constitution to overcome the obstacles. Then, and only then, we shall all converge. We urge all Internet telephony companies to participate at the next ConvergeNET -- Consider this an open invitation to attend the next installment of the world's largest VoIP interoperability showcase. 

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