May 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 5
Since 1978 Aculab (News - Alert) (www.aculab.com) has developed and deployed a comprehensive range of high performance hardware and software building blocks for communications solutions developers working in both wired and wireless environments, PSTN and IP networks. Aculab products appear in everything from contact centers and IVR systems to prepaid services platforms. Both the enterprise and telco/service provider space are home to Aculab technology-powered media processing resources: speech processing, fax, conferencing, transcoding, echo cancellation and SS7 signaling protocols.
One of the key human building blocks of Aculab is Chris Gravett, who was appointed to Aculab’s board in 1997. In addition to providing dynamic sales and marketing, he has helped transition Aculab from its small company roots to a multi-national organization. Gravett’s early telecom experience was gained at British Telecom, after which he moved into management — initially at Rank Xerox where he held a number of positions over a ten-year period, then on to Mitel (News - Alert) Telecom, where he was a director at Mitel’s EMEA switching division. We recently caught up with him and explored Aculab’s role in a changing communications landscape.
ITmag: What is Aculab’s mission?
Gravett: At Aculab, our mission is made up of three components — products, people and profit. In respect to our products, we strive to be respected worldwide by customers and competitors alike as a leading provider of enabling technology for the communications market. This is achieved through providing excellent value, quality products and support to our target markets. With regards to people, Aculab recognizes the importance and value of its staff and its mission is to provide reward and recognition to all Aculab employees and to maintain a work environment of satisfaction, pride and fun. The profit element of Aculab’s mission relates to achieving controlled financial growth to facilitate the objectives outlined above.
ITmag: What is your vision for embedded technologies and HMP and how does this position the company in the next-generation telecom market?
Gravett: Aculab is one of the long-established leaders in the market of providing enabling technologies to companies that develop and deploy complex IP and TDM telephony solutions. For the last several years, the growth of our business was stimulated mainly by the convergence of the ‘old-world’ PSTN telephony into VoIP. Indeed, the adoption of IP technology by the telecommunications industry, and by the large telephony services providers in particular, is the major revenue driver for our business. While the market take-up of IP telephony is growing fast, the percentage of ‘pure IP-play’ solutions is still negligible. Aculab is well-positioned in the market with its extensive VoIP portfolio and historical strength in TDM. Organizations use Aculab’s high density and cost-effective media processing and signaling products for gradual migration into IP. Both embedded, DSP-based media processing and host media processing are experiencing a growing demand.
Evidently, the new technology wave is multimedia. Real-time multimedia communications are expected to take a more integral part in our life over the next few years. Aculab’s expertise in development of complex signal processing algorithms is a strong base for success in the multimedia communications era. We have already set up engineering programs for the integration of video into our existing product ranges and have also kicked off new product initiatives in that area. Both DSP-based and HMP media processing platforms will continue to be developed.
ITmag: Now that it appears that growth and opportunity are the trends in the VoIP industry, what possible hurdles do you see that might upset this momentum?
Gravett: Well, we’ve certainly gone beyond the point where there is any doubt that VoIP is inevitable and by that I mean ubiquitous. Nevertheless, it’s got a long way to go as VoIP still only represents a mere 1 percent of Internet traffic.
However, there will also come a time when ‘IP-ness’ won’t matter; communicants won’t necessarily be aware of VoIP. In horse racing terms, we’re certainly talking about hurdles, not fences, so the task is becoming easier all the time as technology marches on.
Interoperability is a perennial issue, despite events like SIPit (News - Alert). We were led on by the ‘promise’ of SIP — a single, globally ubiquitous protocol for end-to-end communications; ‘communi-sessions’ we might have called them. And what happened? We’ve still got H.323, claimed to be the most widely deployed, standards-based, voice and videoconferencing standard for packet-switched networks today. We’ve got Skype (News - Alert), with 246 million registered users and there’s IAX2, associated with Asterisk, of course. How is this much different from the legacy circuit switched network with the problems of a divergent selection of protocols?
Of course, the move to VoIP is not without technical issues and other hurdles include firewalls and NAT traversal and naming and numbering conventions, which are complex, changing and not centrally driven.
The carriers could be said to have been slow to move, but there has been a large-scale investment in core infrastructure that is probably transparent to most users. Nevertheless, a lot of core equipment must be at or nearing obsolescence, with attendant problems of ongoing maintenance and repair, but that is hardly a hurdle for VoIP; it’s more of an opportunity for TEMs and IMS vendors. Always nice to end up with an opportunity rather than a hurdle!
ITmag: What are some of the technology areas where Aculab is increasingly focusing, and why are these areas important to the future of your company?
Gravett: The major focus of Aculab in the recent past was in the field of product customizations that has made our VoIP technology truly suitable and useful for key market segments, including military comms, call centers, high quality voice conferencing and fax over IP infrastructure. Both complex media processing and signaling requirements are being addressed. For example, Aculab has integrated a wide range of voice codecs used by the aforementioned industry sectors, such as iSAC, iLBC, MELPe and Speex. We have re-worked our TiNG DSP framework to support wideband voice, including wideband conferencing, and have released V.34 speed fax support for T.30-over-TDM and over G.711/RTP. On the signaling side, we have released a SIGTRAN/M3UA protocol stack, which allows the transfer of TCAP messages over an IP infrastructure.
Looking into the foreseeable future, Aculab will keep focusing on product customisation, as well as working on the integration of multimedia support into our media processing platforms.
ITmag: Describe your view of the future of the IP Communications industry.
Gravett: Carriers have moved or are moving toward IP in their core networks. MPLS or an equivalent will provide quality of service (QoS) on an IP backbone for both wireless and wired communications and people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
AT&T’s analyst conference last year threw up a few interesting facts about growth and trends and it’s difficult to argue with the most of these. Broadband traffic growth showed greater than 145 percent over the last two years and wireless data was said to be growing at over 400 percent per annum. This growth is phenomenal and there is no question we are in a rising industry that is powered by IP, broadband and wireless.
The communications business model is increasingly IP-centric and in a world of 6.7 billion (and counting) persons where there are 3.3 billion cell phones (glimfeather.com) it’s not hard to deduce that there is a market for mobility and that folks will want broadband access, at least equivalent to what they’ve been used to from their PCs, via their mobile device, whatever that happens to be or become.
I’ve heard it said that in five years time the existing TDM network would become obsolete. This is probably true today as there is no new capital expenditure being made in circuit switched infrastructure. However, it’s still being used by a large proportion of the global population and equipment will still need to support it. Certainly, it’s being replaced by IP at the core long-haul and metropolitan area level and at the access level by broadband of one sort or another.
Revenue models are changing too. We’ve already encountered Web 2.0 and there are many options for how future services could be billed. They could be driven by type of service or level or quality of service or by bandwidth use, but call volume revenue will continue to reduce.
So, reading between the lines, we can see that the major carriers are getting their acts together to combat reductions in core revenues. There is a move to IP-based core networks and the idea of the carrier as a provider of a multitude of services and content is established. Some of this is achieved through acquisitions, for example, creating diversity from diversification. We can see that third parties are making revenue via services delivered from IP platforms over IP networks, whether hosted services or vended platforms on which services are sold. In either case, it is likely that the closer you get to the end-user, the greater the revenue you can realize. IT
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