Standards Push Technology

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-09-24 Print this article Print

Standards Push Technology

In 2005, Nortel Networks was the first telephony provider to make a big splash in the small-business VOIP pool: Its Business Communications Manager 50 IP telephony solution, which offers a wide array of basic and advanced telephony applications, also provides a VOIP migration path for customers with legacy Nortel analog and digital phones.

Geared toward companies with less than 50 seats, the BCM 50 was an anomaly at the time of its release—a device built specifically for small businesses, rather than a larger solution chopped up and repackaged for the low end of the market.

Since that time, Nortel has appeared to come to the same conclusion as Savatar about confusion in the marketplace and has worked to streamline its reseller channel to cater to the needs of SMBs. By offering end-to-end solutions, as well as improved reseller education, Nortel could eliminate some of the confusion that has slowed small-business adoption of VOIP.

But the BCM 50 is still a relatively closed system. While SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunking support is in the works for the BCM 50, it doesnt look like Nortel has immediate plans to offer client-side SIP support. What this means is that Nortel customers wont be able to take advantage of the huge number of SIP-powered end-user devices that are just starting to come to market.

While VOIP technologies from companies such as Nortel remain closed, the open-source community has taken on the task of driving standards adoption. Open-source IP PBX applications such as Digiums Asterisk and SipFoundrys sipX give users the freedom to use pretty much any client device they choose, as well as a platform on which to build applications above and beyond voice.

Asterisk has a particularly vocal following, as well as a diligent developer base. With a significant number of resellers and software packagers, a large amount of documentation available online, and active forums, the Asterisk platform is poised to become a dominant force in IP telephony—for both enterprises and small businesses—as well as a key tool in the development of advanced applications.

Asterisk made significant gains in 2006, as third-party companies, corporate and educational implementers, and the open-source community at large released a flood of new packages for the platform. Indeed, within the last six months, weve seen significant improvements in Asterisks Web-based management tools and end-user call-control capabilities and oversight, as well as in its overall system performance and call quality.

Digium has been working hard to integrate a few features derived from the open-source community into the open-source fork of Asterisk, to further improve sound quality and the user experience, organize programming logic, and streamline unified communications.

In October, Digium is slated to release Asterisk 1.4, which will feature a new jitter buffer for both VOIP and non-VOIP channels; the full adoption of the previously experimental Asterisk Extension Language, making the dial plan language more like a formal programming language; and the ability to store voice mails directly on an IMAP server, removing the need for multiple copies of voice mails stored on the network. (Asterisk users should note that the Asterisk Extension Language is not database-compatible at this point.)

The meteoric rise of Asterisk has had a significant impact on the VOIP industry. Providers must place increased emphasis on standards compliance, and they cannot rest on their features laurels but must continue to innovate and develop for customers growing into their solutions.

VOIP provider ShoreTel, which has maintained a steady presence in the small-business VOIP arena for years, has seen the light with SIP. Previously conspicuous in its slow pace in adopting SIP, ShoreTel is now including limited support for SIP client devices via SIP trunks, and we expect ShoreTel to improve this capability in the next year. To read eWEEK Labs review of ShoreTel, click here. In fact, IT managers can turn in any number of directions to find the right VOIP technology for their organizations. First, however, SMB implementers should create an RFI (request for information) that asks vendors to not only detail costs and basic telephony services, but also describe potential for growth—in terms of both technology and service scaling.

IT managers also should consider the core competencies and vendor partnerships of resellers with which theyve established a relationship, but should not use these factors as the sole basis for making a purchase.

Next Page: Where to turn.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at

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