ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
February 2007
Volume 10 / Number 2

PIKA’s New Family of Boards

By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis, Nitty Gritty

PIKA Technologies (, headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was founded 20 years ago by Jim Pinard and Peter Karneef, with money out of their own pockets. Jim was the technical guy with a background in hardware design. Peter was the entrepreneurial guy. Jim and Peter are still around — they act as PIKA’s board of directors and are still very committed to the business.

Terry Atwood, PIKA’s (news - alert) VP of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Care, says, “Our business is primarily is what you’d call ‘voice boards’ and software that goes with those boards that plug into computers. They’re used by my customers to connect telephone lines or to connect voice to computer applications that run on those computers.”

“Over the last four or five years we’ve focused on four verticals in this marketplace that are technology verticals or application verticals,” says Atwood. “One of the strongest for us, especially recently, centers on people who take a PC and make some kind of special purpose telephone system out of it, perhaps using something like Asterisk. Then there are those who are taking PCs and are making audio recording or logging systems, either for use in call centers to monitor and improve customer communication quality or to log such things as stock or purchase transactions or the like. Third, the IVR business has been very strong for us, especially in the last three or four years and especially in the European territory. IVR is used for everything from checking your account balance at the bank to ordering custom ring tones for your cell phone. Fourth and finally, over the last few years we’ve gotten more into the high volume outbound fax marketplace. We’re giving companies like Cantata a run for their money.”

“There are PIKA products in 34 or 35 countries around the globe,” said Atwood. “But we focus our marketing sales and technology development efforts on North and South America, Europe — primarily the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands — and then countries in the Middle East.”

“Our customers are primarily software developers,” explains Atwood, “people who write a software program and run it on a PC and a server, and they need to use something to connect that application to the PSTN or to whatever network it’s going to communicate on. Most of them sell to the enterprise market, although we definitely have a growing number of service provider customers. We’ve seen the VoIP proliferation across the globe, which has boosted the service provider market, and we have customers there.”

“There are two major shifts in telephony today,” says Atwood. “One is from analog and digital voice transmission to VoIP. There is no doubt that VoIP is better. We believe that, ultimately, 90 percent of voice in the world will move via VoIP.”

“Second, as a result of Intel and AMD and others constantly multiplying the processing power of their standard CPUs,” says Atwood, “those CPUs have the cycles, these days, to run the applications that used to require the expensive DSPs that are mounted on PIKA’s and other vendors’ boards. The shift is from running voice applications in every instance on expensive DSP-based boards, to running them on those boards in some situations and in other situations being able to run them on the host processor, which is a less expensive proposition.”

“These two shifts, either taken separately or together, are creating lots of excitement in this marketplace,” says Atwood. “We connect voice applications to the PSTN using analog or digital lines,” says Atwood, “and our voice applications have been powered by DSP-based media processing hardware. We’re now migrating to a world where voice is transmitted mostly via VoIP (define - news - alert) and voice applications are powered mostly on host media processing. Between now and a few years from now, there will a mix of these technologies. We’re focused on the mix of these technologies, providing our customers with a way to build the bridge so they can walk from today’s world to the future.”

“At the moment we sell primarily to computer telephony application developers,” says Atwood. “But, since hardware will no longer be required, at least in an all-IP application, many more people will decide to get into voice application development than have in the past. People who never thought of adding voice to their application will do it now because their customers don’t have to open a box and plug in a board, and it’s much less expensive, too.”

“We decided, when the bubble burst, that we would base a good part of our selling proposition and our selling story on responsiveness,” says Atwood. “We call it customer intimacy. We didn’t move support or sales to distribution. We’ve been willing to co-develop with our customers in many different cases.”

PIKA’s New Gateway Boards
Although PIKA’s new “family” of gateway boards can be considered different products, they’re all members of the new AllOnHost hardware suite, which consists of four boards: the Digital T1/E1 Gateway board in PCI format supporting up to four spans, the Analog Trunk/FXO Gateway Board that’s PCI Express compliant and supports up to 16 analog trunks, the Analog Station/FXS Gateway Board supporting 12 analog station ports, and the PCI Express version of the existing PIKA Digital (T1/E1) Gateway Board.

Doug Petty, PIKA’s VP of R&D and CTO, says, “Back in 1996 we developed our AllOnBoard product family. We introduced a DSP-based architecture that was fairly unique back then and, to this day, has served our customers well. The philosophy behind the architecture was that every card had a DSP, every DSP could run every DSP application, and all DSPs could be configured at run-time by the application, which means that you didn’t have a different card for conferencing or fax or voice. One card could do all of that, and it was very flexible in terms of the way the DSP applications were being processed and run on the DSPs. It was the result of us creating our own operating system to run on the DSPs. That was our first goal.”

“Our bread and butter product family for the last five years has been Version 2 of the AllOnBoard family,” says Petty. “It’s based on a significant upgrade to the DSP architecture, the Motorola 56303. A lot of R&D effort got us very good digital processing. Our product family was very good at both analog and digital. A few years after the introduction, we introduced our initial VoIP offerings.”

“This past year we’ve introduced our AllOnHost family,” says Petty. “It’s based on doing media processing on the host and we’ve got a lot of R&D effort going into VoIP — not at the exclusion of analog and digital, but in addition to them. We feel that customers will want to deploy applications that can ride across a mix of network interfaces.”

“The AllOnBoard family has four boards,” says Petty. “There’s a low-density analog card called the InLine MM. It’s a half-length PCI trunk card that can have either four trunk ports or three trunk ports and a headset port. We also have a high density PCI analog card that supports a mix of station and trunking ports adding up to 24 ports. On the digital side, we have a PCI single and dual quad span and a CompactPCI variant that comes in quad and octal span configurations.”

“Cards will be around for along time,” says Petty, “not so much because they’ll be the thing that you run audio processing on, but because you’ll still need to connect with the PSTN and traditional analog and digital interfaces. That’s really what these cards do for customers: You can design an application that works really well both in an IP-only world and when you need connectivity to the PSTN, which we think, for many customers, will be a long time.”

“These cards are expandable so you can add modules to the boards,” says Petty. “The analog cards have an analog expansion interface and so, for example, you can add to the trunk card an eight-port trunk module, so the card as a whole can still be 24 ports, even though it’s constrained to run in a PCI nine-inch slot.”

“Our new boards also have digital expansion module sites,” says Petty. “We’re not sure right now what we’ll put on that digital expansion module. When designing this two years ago, we knew we wanted the flexibility to do this and we were thinking that what might drive adding more silicon on the cards would be things like the G.729 codec for VoIP. But now, a host can handle a couple of hundred channels fairly easily. However, other things might require more silicon, such as voice encryption. That being the case, we have the provision to expand the cards.”

“It’s great when you have a card like ours with two connectors: One accepts an analog expansion module and the other accepts a digital expansion module,” says Petty. “Right now, CPUs are strong enough to run most applications. But, when the pendulum swings the other way and DSP-based boards are again required for large applications, all you’ve got to do is plug a DSP module onto a connector and now you’ve got a board very similar to today’s DSP-based boards. We don’t burden the cost of the assembly with the processing power. We can add that with the plug-on module.”

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


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