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VOIP: Will it fly or will it fail?

The jury is still out when it comes to voice over ip technology. according to one expert, there is a still a lot of inertia to overcome

March 1, 2003  

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In a recent discussion paper, Peter Aknai, a consultant with the Cambridge, U.K. research firm Analysys Consulting Ltd. looked at whether or not the barriers are coming down when it comes to Voice over IP (VoIP) technology.

It remains a difficult question to answer. “Since I wrote the piece, VoIP has made strides in acquiring further legitimacy mainly in the corporate private network sector and this process will continue,” he says. “However, until a major telco starts offering (it) to the public on the back of worldwide ITU standards, it’s likely to remain a niche (albeit valuable) product.”

In his paper, Aknai asked several other questions: What is wrong with the way voice services are delivered now? What, if any, compelling case exists for carriers to invest in a brand new technology for voice services? What possible motivation could we have for delivering an old product (voice) over a fairly new network technology, given that the old technology (ISDN) is robust, qualitatively excellent, well-proven among the major carriers and uses building block products that are totally standardized and generally, very mature?

He wrote that with five major datacomm technologies — X.25, Frame Relay, ATM, Gigabit Ethernet and IP — as well as several LAN technologies, all with their peculiar legacy issues, it’s small wonder that there is suspicion about VoIP, yet another new technology.

Alex Saunders, president and CEO Metrobility Optical Systems Inc., an optical networking company based in Merrimack, N.H., says there is a lot of inertia to overcome before companies start moving everything over to VoIP.

“It was only a few years ago that we were talking about ATM and how it was going to create the revolution that would provide the convergence that everyone wanted,” he said during a presentation in January at BICSI’s annual winter conference in Orlando, Fla.

“We then heard it was great technology, but too complex and costly. Now, the latest focus is voice over IP. The hype says it’s coming and real fast, but then there’s the international problem.”

That problem involves nations ranging from Panama and Argentina to Israel and South Africa putting measures in place to curtail Internet telephony.

The reasoning being that the revenues of telecom operators in those countries need to be protected.

Despite those setbacks, Aknai maintains that it is now clear that huge quantities of voice and data transported on the same public network, can produce a highly efficient transport system.

“Techniques such as statistical multiplexing, silence suppression, voice, data and video compression are well developed and effective tools to improve unit costs and scalability,” he wrote. “There is compelling evidence that these can underpin a carrier’s investment case for VoIP.

Cisco Systems Inc. maintains that VoIP supplies many unique capabilities to both carriers and customers who depend on IP and other packet-based networks.

These include costs savings — by moving voice traffic to IP networks, companies can reduce or eliminate the toll charges associated with transporting calls over the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) — and the ability to build “truly integrated” networks for voice and data.

“The Great Voice Myth states that there is only one way to build voice network, and there should be only one voice protocol for each function in a packet voice network,” a Cisco white paper states.

“Although the vision of network nirvana has been discussed in many academic circles, the reality is that multiple VoIP protocols and architectures have already been deployed, they will exist for the foreseeable future, and many networks will continue to be built using multiple VoIP protocols.

“The question that companies must ask is not which protocol is best, but which service do we want to deploy and which VoIP protocols best support those services.

In late January, research firm IDC projected positive signs for IP telephony both on the enterprise and service provider side. The overall market is projected to increase a compound annual growth rate of 45 per cent to reach a revenue base of US$15.1 billion by the year 2007.

Its report also warned that large telecom suppliers might be tempted to forestall a stronger commitment to next-generation technology in order to optimize revenue from their existing legacy product base.

“The danger here is fairly obvious,” said Tom Valovic, director of IDC’s IP Telephony program. “Research and development and technology development can fall behind along with the design, test and installation experience needed to provide strong transitional capability for traditional customers.”