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May 2006
Volume 1 / Number 3


IP networking has become pervasive, as integral a part of our lives as the way we access data. But we’ve only just begun to explore and exploit the possibilities IP networking can offer in terms of how we connect to others. The IP network provides the ideal conduit for all forms of communication from simple Web browsing and e-mail to instant messaging (IM), voice calls, and video services, all packaged for easy consumption.

But the IP network isn’t perfect and it’s by no means homogenous in terms of the technologies used to provide the connections that enable voice, video and data services. But that is changing as SIP becomes part of the IP network’s fabric acting as the unification force. SIP is the unique enabling protocol that will foster that exploitation to provide significant value in the form of real-time communications value. As the basis for real-time communications, SIP provides the logical bridge between enterprise and residential, wireline, wireless and WiFi networks, setting the stage for seamless mobility between devices, networks, and providers.

With regard to new services, SIP by itself is still only one hand clapping. The other hand is presence. The combination of SIP and uniform presence enables a unified virtual network that is presence aware. This catalyst will foster a new wave of development, bringing new and innovative types of services and features to market that can be leveraged across online personalities; at home, work, and play. As a major benefit, existing services and capabilities can now be extended to all devices wherever they are, via any network aware device depending on user policies. Additional benefits are realized via new services and capabilities that can be achieved such as real-time collaboration, file transfer, alarming, IM, video escalation, classes of service, chat, “Bots,” intelligent routing, and many more in the works. In order to understand the new, it is important to understand where we are today as a baseline and to identify any limitations or obstacles that still must be overcome.

Serving SIP Today
SIP momentum continues to build as it moves beyond niche applications to more widespread, mainstream applications while proprietary applications become increasingly marginalized. On the consumer side it has manifested itself in the form of Vonage-like services as well as part of softphone-based peer-to-peer networks. On the enterprise side, where it is achieving the greatest traction, it has manifested itself as a PBX replacement in the form of SIP call control software running on a standard server and registering several SIP compliant endpoints (hard phones, softphones, media gateways, and so on). Additionally, many enterprise applications are integrating SIP to not only make real time communications within the applications possible but also to establish a standards-based protocol to be used to interact with other applications and devices. In the wireline carrier network it has manifested itself mainly as IP Centrex terminating SIP endpoints and most recently as support for SIP trunking. For wireless carriers, SIP is playing an increased role in the development of wireless handsets that support dual mode (cellular and WiFi). In each case above, SIP technologies support a specific market need and offer additional choices to the proprietary, single vendor solutions that once dominated the market. Across all the markets and where native SIP was not available, traditional networks and devices must be SIP normalized by leveraging gateway technology. In the short term, this is necessary to “SIP enable” the connection or device but as we continue to move to native SIP as a matter of course this will no longer be necessary, resulting in yet more opportunity as well as cost savings.

An overall accelerant to SIP-based real time communications solutions is the fact that SIP, delivered like an IT application, is implemented and deployed as a Web service as part of a SOA (services oriented architecture). This is true whether it is a traditional SOA that is enterprisebased or a carrier-based SOA, which is basically an IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) framework. Well architected SOAs have an HTTP interoperable nature and support clearly defined interfaces such as SOAP (simple object application protocol) and XML (extensible markup language). SIP-based real time communication solutions also supporting these interfaces seamlessly plug in and immediately provide service options and value.

Serving SIP Tomorrow
The current state of deployed SIP from above can be summarized as the existence of pockets of SIP technology and corresponding presence functionality that provide specific value. The number of pockets will continue to grow over time and with critical mass provide the foundation the next phase of development. The next step is to interconnect these pockets into one virtual group with completely shared presence information. Imagine the benefit to being able to understand the presence of your co-workers, key suppliers, customers, relatives, teachers, etc., regardless of what device or network you were utilizing and regardless of what device or network they were utilizing. Also imagine that not only did you understand their presence but you also understood their preferred mode of real time communications (IM, Voice, Video). This would be extremely productive just for this capability. But wait… what if you could also leverage common applications such as collaboration, conferencing, call recording and others? This would be even more productive and begin to create an inherent virtual community with common resources that you actively participate in and is one that is tuned to your persona of the moment (i.e., business, personal, etc.).

In this world, standards-based peer-to-peer communications is the norm — not the exception. Proprietary peer-to-peer models and pseudo peer-to-peer models such as Skype are interesting but in the end do not expand beyond their initial intention and remain closed. There is no question that Skype’s success has caused the market to stand up and take notice and has subsequently proved to be a valuable market accelerator. It also made the market understand how a closed proprietary model is a limited approach at best.

Getting There from Here
Many things still need to happen to make what is possible, probable. And many of these elements, as you may or may not expect are more political than technical:

Standards: The SIP standard has been complete for some time now with only minor evolutions being discussed. SIP as the primary supporting protocol for standards based instant messaging is still unresolved and being debated. In the IETF, XMPP and SIMPLE are the two standards contending with proprietary solutions out in the market such as AOL’s version of IM. Solidifying the direction for SIP-based IM and widespread adoption/implementation of these standards is critical to realize a plug and play tomorrow.

Fixed Mobile Convergence: In order to leverage the mobile network, mobile carriers need to be willing to allow dual mode devices that leverage the best connectivity option based on signal strength as well as feature set. SIP makes it possible for two different networks, in this case IP and mobile, to transition a current session or call from one to the other near seamlessly. Technically, fixed mobile convergence is possible today but a lack of clarity around business model, revenue impact, and long-term customer retention has carriers stalling to ponder the situation.

Presence Sharing and Control: For tomorrow’s capability to happen, users must be able to easily construct presence policies around their actual presence. In other words, a user may want to have different groupings of contacts that would be presented with different details regarding their presence. For example, a spouse may be presented with presence of always available and a supplier or casual business partner may be presented available from 8am to 9am. Communicating this presence real time across potentially many networks and pockets will be necessary to achieve presence ubiquity.

Security: Becoming more open and connected lends itself to more threats and vulnerabilities. In tomorrow’s world, SIP signaling and the associated media path will be secure. In fact security may be different depending on presence, class of service, connected network, or maybe even on-demand.

SIP Peering: Peering between carriers covers the frontier perspective and makes end to end SIP possible. Eliminating the need for SIP calls to traverse the PSTN does away with all the transcoding and associated inefficiencies. It basically settles the last frontier and finishes off the transition from many pockets to a single virtual SIP based community.

The most exciting thing is that this is all this is happening at a rapid pace and the key forces including innovation competition and time to market pressures are accelerating the momentum. This means that news services and features as a result of SIP adoption are right around the corner.

Al Brisard is vice president of marketing at Pingtel. For more information, please visit the company online at http://www.pingtel.com. (news - alert)


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