CHICAGO—Supercomm, the four-day annual telecom show, opened here Monday with a day of conferences and workshops that reflected the industrys long-heralded embrace of voice over IP.
The event, which attracts telecommunications carriers and vendors from all over the globe, has widened its scope this year to include more sessions of interest to the enterprise, including EntNet, an enterprise networking and services subconference. Another conference-within-a-conference, SIP Summit, is dedicated to the Session Initiation Protocol.
EntNet kicked off in a packed meeting hall at the McCormick Place, where more than 300 people gathered as industry analysts and vendors discussed the critical issues surrounding VOIP.
“The rationale for VOIP has shifted from cost reduction to revenue generation,” said Jon Arnold, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan Ltd. Enterprise customer premise equipment is rapidly migrating from PBX to VOIP, he noted, and he believes the legacy vendors are vulnerable. As a gauge of VOIP adoption, he cited some prominent infusions of capital to such VOIP-centric companies as Newport Networks Ltd., Netrake Corp. and IP Unity Corp.
Other drivers, in Arnolds view: a favorable regulatory climate; the beginning of VOIP integration with handheld devices; and the proliferation of Wi-Fi and wireless broadband.
Comparing the potential of VOIP to the transformative effect of railroads on far-flung communities, Arnold posited the vertical-market possibilities inherent in real-time, multi-media interactions in such fields as online games; distance learning; home health care; property and casualty insurance; security/surveillance; and online dating. The development of micro-payment systems will be a further impetus to some of these applications, he added.
Rich Tehrani, publisher of Internet Telephony magazine, sketched out a VOIP application that employed Wi-Fi, business application integration and handheld trends. He described a scenario where a shoe stores inventory application was tied to wireless VOIP and a customer service call center, allowing the company to alert customers to the arrival of a new shoe style theyve been waiting for.
Chris Fine, telecom analyst at The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said that VOIP adoption is no longer in question, but its timing is still uncertain. A recent Goldman Sachs survey of 200 CIOs found that 35 percent of them plan to install at least some VOIP equipment within the next 12 months. Early adopters were willing to rip and replace PBXes, he said; the larger part of the market may have already upgraded their PBXes for Y2K–too recently to trade in. He, as well as Arnold, agreed that small and midsize businesses will form fertile ground for adoption in the near term, and that carriers will aggressively market outsourced IP switching services to them.
Fred Spulecki, director of global voice and call center infrastructure at IBM, noted another driver for VOIP, now in practice at IBM: centralizing the voice switching function of 900 currently managed PBXes in 1400 facilities into IP switching platforms at 11 to 20 data centers. “And I dont want to replace those PBXes with 900 gateways” to give each site local PSTN access, he added. “I want to hook up to a carrier who has those gateways in place.”
He could name only Level 3 Communications Inc. as a company that could easily provision all those POPs immediately.
Voice centralization would also “transfer voice from a separate technology tower to another horizontal, interdependent application with the same Tivoli monitoring,” Spulecki said.
His presentation included a screen shot of a presence-enabled IBM employee workplace communications portal, through which IBM workers can reach each other through text or voice. It featured enterprise IM and click-to-phone buddy lists, and a well-designed graphical representation of an audio conference in progress. It solved a real business problem: distinguishing between speakers in a multisite, audio-only conference.
“Audio conferencing is the first killer app for VOIP,” Spulecki said. In the audio conferencing part of IBMs enterprise communication portal, all parties were represented by what looked somewhat like marbles in a circle; the central marble represented the speaker, while the marble in a separate wedge of the circle represented someone asking a question.
“We can do this today with CTI [computer-telephony integration] programming,” said Spulecki, “but if we take the underlying infrastructure and virtualize it using IP, and use common interfaces and open standards such as WSDL [Web Services Description Language], XML, SIP, SIMPLE [SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions] and SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol], we can deploy these apps far more efficiently and easily.” Naturally, he said that IBMs WebSphere Web application server is his platform of choice for the integration of collaboration, workflow and voice applications.
Steven Toteda, senior manager of product marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., suggested that the “first chasm” of VOIP had essentially been crossed, with more than 20 percent of enterprises deploying the technology in some form. He suggested such driver applications going forward as video, conferencing and contact center, as well as such specialty apps as Amber Alerts, on-phone paging, and time-and-attendance tracking.
Like others, Toteda outlined a range of possible adoption strategies for enterprises, from a purely outsourced, Centrex-style environment, with only handsets on premise; to an off-premise, dedicated server managed by a host; to an on-premise, host-managed IP PBX and gateway; to an on-premise, self-managed switch. He stressed the need for security to overlap all deployments.
Neal Shact, CEO of CommuniTech Inc. and panel moderator, had the last word. He showed a slide that illustrated the VOIP landscape as a triangle, with IP endpoints such as SIP phones and softphones on one corner; broadband, WiMax, and cellular network providers on a second corner, and server/PBX platform vendors on the third. “Each guy on the triangle wants to commoditize the other two,” he said.