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Jabber: the Reluctant Voice Player
[September 09, 2005]

Jabber: the Reluctant Voice Player

TMCnet Wireless and Technology Columnist

Jabber plans to integrate Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) directly into voice capabilities of its core Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) – occasionally referred to as the “Jabber” protocol – by next spring, TMCnet has learned.

The news underscores the growing importance of voice signaling in the instant messaging and presence realm. While AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have long dominated the IM space, upstarts like Skype have demonstrated how even industry stalwarts can become marginalized if they don’t stay on top of the latest trends.

“IM offerings continue to increase their functionality to include features such as audio/video, conferencing, presence, and Voice-over-IP, so that they are increasingly resembling collaboration suites,” according to Matt Anderson, market analyst at Radicati Group.

As such, Jabber, the company that founded and supports the open source instant messaging platform used across tens of thousands of Internet servers by millions of users, plans to introduce new SIP capabilities to its Jabber Extensible Communications Platform (XCP), eliminating the need for a gateway. Jabber will first introduce server-side components in the first quarter of 2006. SIP-based voice signaling will be introduced on the client-side at some point next year, explained Joe Hildebrand, CTO at Jabber.

“From a Jabber device, you'll be able to ring SIP phones,” Hildebrand told TMCnet.

Historically, Jabber’s XMPP technology, which has been accepted as a standard by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), has tapped into SIP through an extension known as SIMPLE, which stands for “SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions.” But SIMPLE has been slow to gain industry-wide acceptance in part due to political wrangling as well as fragmentation by Microsoft, which uses its own version of SIMPLE in its Live Communicator Server.

Yet while SIMPLE has stumbled out of the blocks, the importance of SIP continued to grow exponentially. “SIP's not going away. We have to interoperate with it,” Hildebrand explained.

The confluence of events has led the Jabber Software Foundation (JSF) to accelerate work on its own proposal to conduct multimedia sessions in XMPP over the Internet, dubbed “TINS” or Transport for Initiating and Negotiating Sessions (Jabber Enhancement Proposal #111). Hildebrand explains the goal was to capitalize on all of the work already accomplished by the SIP community.

“At first, we thought there should be some sort of convergence protocol between SIP and XMPP. But that wasn't practical,” he said. “There have been people in the JSF community that want us to take a separate path for voice signaling. We might as well re-use all the work done by the SIP community.”

Currently in only “experimental” stage, TINS will be fast-tracked by the Jabber Council in the next few weeks so that it can advance quickly to “draft” status. The proposal essentially maps specific syntax of XMPP to the semantics inherent in SIP. “The actual TINS specification is a document that says, ‘When you see this in SIP, do this in TINS,’” Hildebrand said.

The move follows Google’s decision last month to use XMPP as the basis of the technology for its Google Talk IM platform. Now analysts believe that endorsement along with the latest outline of its technology roadmap could breathe fresh life into the XMPP platform, which has been losing relevance because of the growing importance of SIP.

“I was interested to see what Jabber was going to do eventually. I was surprised when Google chose XMPP. I guess it is kind of inevitable” that Jabber integrates SIP-based functionality, Radicati’s Anderson told TMCnet during a telephone interview.

The company currently offers a SIP/SIMPLE connector (Version 1.0) and will soon offer a connector to Microsoft LCS's flavor of SIMPLE (Version 1.1). The new SIP-based functionality will be released as Version 2.0. And the irony of inevitability wasn’t lost on Hildebrand.

"Voice is something that we're adding because a lot of people are asking for it. But the core value of our system is really about data transfer," Hildebrand admitted.


Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.

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