'Bake-off' Shows That Phone Calls Can Follow Users Anywhere
In a landmark event held at Columbia University, leading telecommunications firms and research organizations successfully tested Internet telephony products that promise an array of new telecommunications services -- such as a "universal address" for telephone, fax, e-mail and other services -- at sharply reduced prices.
The technology-oriented event, held April 8-9 and whimsically titled a "bake-off" by computer scientists, was organized to test the interoperability of software and hardware devices using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which can set up and configure Internet telephone calls and multimedia sessions. The protocol was approved last month by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the standards body governing the technical foundations of Internet products.
Software as well as dedicated hardware passed the interoperability testing. Hardware products included Internet-to-phone gateways and "Ethernet phones" that plug directly into local area networks. The event was able to show that subscribers can move from location to location, anywhere on the Internet, with phone calls following them automatically, no matter who provided the hardware or software. Users could also forward calls to any Internet destination or a telephone number. Some groups also tested advanced features such as call screening and user authentication.
According to Internet telephony industry analyst Jeff Pulver, the event instantly advanced the state of the art in Internet-based telephone systems and services. "Internet telephony is already reshaping the global telephone system in dramatic new ways," said Mr. Pulver, who is president and chief executive officer of pulver.com, Inc., which publishes newsletters and produces trade shows related to Internet telephony. "The number and names of the companies that tested products at this event means that SIP is quickly going to have a big effect on this telecom industry overhaul."
Henning Schulzrinne, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Columbia University, host and co-author of SIP, remarked that "the event showed that the SIP specification is mature and stable enough to allow a wide range of implementors to produce implementations that interoperate with minimal effort. It was exciting to see so many high-quality products based upon SIP emerge so quickly."
Internet telephony carries telephone conversations as Internet packets rather than the current digital circuits. It promises high-quality voice and multimedia, improved network efficiency, rich computer-telephony integration, advanced services, an open market for providers and reduced costs for consumers. New services include a single identifier ("universal address") for phone, cellular, fax, e-mail and paging, user control over incoming calls and easy integration among e-mail, web and telephone services.
According to a recent study by the investment bank Piper Jaffray Inc., the Internet telephony market will increase to $14.7 billion by 2003. In 1997, 70 million minutes, less than 0.1 percent of the total call volume, went over Internet-protocol networks. In four years, the report predicts, this will increase to 70 billion minutes, about 6.1 percent of all calls.
Participants at the interoperability event linked their products together to test that they will work with one another across the Internet. At the end of the event, nearly all implementations had achieved interoperability for call setup and media capability negotiation for multimedia calls. Several were interoperable on the first try, and most others after minor changes or bug fixes were made. Organizations participating in the interoperability testing came from Canada, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States: 3Com Corp., Alcatel, British Telecom, Cisco Systems Inc., Columbia University, Dialogic, dynamicsoft, Ellemtel, Ericsson, Helsinki University of Technology, Hewlett-Packard Co., Lucent Technologies, MCI Worldcom, Mediatrix Peripherals Inc., Nortel Networks and Pingtel. The group plans additional interoperability tests of other advanced features offered by SIP in August.
More information about SIP is at http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~hgs/sip.
Materials provided by Columbia University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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