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Posts from April 2004

FCC vs. ATT What Does It Mean?

Yesterday the FCC issued a very narrow decision
effecting AT&T (NYSE: T). Given all the hype about VoIP and AT&T's new service, AT&T CallVantage(sm) Service which is consumer broadband phone service (VoIP), it would be easy to link the FCC's decision and apply it to AT&T CallVantage.

That would be totally, wrong!

The decision is about AT&T using it's own IP network for phone to phone calls, as in POTS/PSTN to POTS/PSTN, where at some point the call traffic moves over the AT&T IP network.

However, in the second ruling (the first--was Pulver PC-to-PC) that the FCC has made about VoIP regulation, it would not be hard to fathom that other more impacting regulation could come down the pike. So, while AT&T doesn't win this round, the ruling does clearly say what traffic the local Bell operators can expect to be able to collect on, and in many ways, what they can't.

Academics and Librarians Say Don't Tap to FCC

A coalition of academics and librarians have taken a "friend of the court" approach to the FCC when it comes to the ever advancing desires of the FBI and other law enforcement organizations to be able to wiretap.

It should come as no surprise, as the community is largely liberal in heart and mind, providing some of the greatest thinking which empowers both creativity and free expression.

I think we will end up at the Supreme Court level when it comes to wiretapping voice at some point down the road, and like the Miranda decision that said police officers need to read suspects their rights at the time they are being arrested, some group of judges will decide how and under what situations law enforcement can tap a VOIP call. Under traditional telephony tapping laws, a court order, signed by a judge, under the face of some evidence can order a tap, or get call records "dumped" (i.e. a printed out list).

What I'm not sure of, is if under CALEA the need for the court order still applies. That's where the highest court in the land will have to come into play.

Research Says-VOIP Is Hot Sector

Analysis Research says VOIP is hot and it will grow. So to tell us something we may not know they go out on a very fat and sturdy limb and make a projection:

According to Analysys forecasts, by 2008, VoIP penetration is expected to reach 17% of broadband-enabled households (growing from under 1 million at the end of this year to 11.7 million in 2008), and 23% of broadband-enabled small-business establishments (increasing from less than 100,000 in 2004 to 800,000 in 2008). Together, consumers and small businesses are expected to provide almost 13 million VoIP subscriptions and USD5.7 billion in annual service revenue in 2008. Although this is a significant amount, it represents 2.5% of the 2003 total US telecoms revenue of USD224 billion.

For medium and large businesses VoIP growth is also very strong. Analysys expects the estimated installed base of IP station lines to increase from just over 3 million in 2004 to more than 18 million by the end of 2008. This represents a compound annual growth rate of over 50%.

My view is different. I think VOIP will be the carriers big push and most people won't know that their calls are going over VOIP. While the last few feet initially will be copper twisted pair, the local telcos will be pulling the fiber to the B-Boxes as fast as they can, and having SIP gateways at the CO's as fast as they can. The ILECs and CLEC's in the USA will want to get the VoIP traffic because just like the make tons of money off of the services embedded inside the Class 5 switches such as call waiting, three way calling, call forwarding, call forward busy no answer, they won't want to lose the revenue from the customers they already have who want the better feature set of applications that VOIP and SIP enabled systems can deliver.

Thus, I think the market by 2008 will be much bigger. It's just how you count when it comes to research and statistics.

Net2Phone Platforms Wi-Fi VOIP

Net2Phone (NASDAQ: NTOP) a long time pioneer in the VoIP space, and a company which always has innovated, has become the first of the SIP based VoIP companies to firmly say, we're playing in the WiFi space with their announcement today.

While much of this is saying "we can do this" rather than "we are doing this" the underlying theme is that Net2Phone wants to be the wireless carriers first thought when it comes to adding telephony services.

With their already existing telephony platform Net2Phone has the infrastructure to make this work. What they are doing is clearly saying there are many devices that can be SIP endpoints---handsets or voice terminals such as PDA's, laptops, desktops, which connect to the Internet wirelessly and "we want to be the telephony carrier for you." The you can be a consumer in their home, a business, a campus or a chain of hotspots.

What this means is like AT&T and Vonage, SLAs and Peering relationships will be needed, to insure quality. It also means that cable companies and telcos either can "buy" the platform from Net2Phone, borrow the platform from them--i.e. allow users unfettered access to the Net2Phone service or do it themsleves and block access.

Right now, port blocking is a very minor effort by the cable and telcos who provide broadband service to homes and businesses. But since some of the broadband providers block port 25, effectively limiting users with the ability to use their own SMTP servers and another port (130 ?) which makes it impossible to run a server inside the home that can be accessed remotely. Fortunately companies like HotSpotVPN solve that problem for users, but then when it comes to VoIP, some carriers can't work through the VPN easily.

So, if the last mile carriers block the ports which the VoIP providers use it then will slow down the acceptance and usage. My guess is they will, if only to extract a "toll" from either the VoIP carrier or the end user, if the FCC in the USA, and other communications administrators don't keep broadband "toll free" the same way our USA Interstate highways are for now. Just as they have driven growth across the USA, so too will "toll free" broadband.

Lastly, this clearly means the last mile carriers have to lift the choke point on upload speeds. Right now the standard upload speed limit is 256k, minus headroom for control and reporting. VOIP providers want 90k, even if you can make it work for less. Traffic needs to both be prioritized and given additional speed to avoid the possible issues of latency, jitter, fltter and packet loss that made VOIP call quality suffer in the past.

For NET2PHONE they are clearly creating a service delivery platform for wireless telephony. The question is, will the others in the broadband eco-system play nice?

AT&T's CallVantage Painless SignUP

In my earlier post this week I wrote about the marketing behind the release of AT&T's CallVantage VoIP service.

Today, I took the plunge and signed up and plan to be doing some test calling next week after the ATA arrives via FedEx.

The sign up process was painless, and within seconds the e-mail arrived with all of my information.

Much to my surprise, I was able to secure a local 858 area code number here in San Diego County, though I do have to admit, I was very tempted to take a 212 number. Why? Number portability. Since the FCC now lets consumers take control of their landline numbers the same way as cell, you could grab one, use the VOIP service then migrate the number over to a cell phone. With 212's all but dried up from Verizon, or very hard to get, AT&T seems to have cornered the market on those numbers. Now that's one feature Vonage doesn't offer!

To Sip Or Not To Sip


After my post and inquiry to AT&T's PR team on Monday, I received a very detailed and refreshing informative reply.

I just learned that AT&T's CallVantage is not using SIP, and are using MGCP, but that SIP is on the edge is on their roadmap, and all of their core elements use SIP in their network.

Also, AT&T's CallVantage offers no QoS outside of their network (today) but their enterprise grade offerings have various Service Level Agreements (SLA's). As far as applications go, everything has been developed in house, no third party applications server, which is smart. No royalties, no licensing. I hear Webley has taken a similar approach. One has to realize with AT&T being the largest IP network in the world, and having peering or colocation relationships with just about all the carriers, there won't be that much hopping around.

Right now AT&T admits that until peering like relationships with the different carriers (i.e cable companies and telcos) get established, establishing QoS outside their network is difficult, but they do understand the need for it and have it within.

Being a multi-vendor carrier, there are no details on who is providing the Softswitch and they admit they are using MPLS inside their network, which more than likely means you can bet Cisco is somewhere in the network plumbing doing something to enhance the routing and traffic priority aspects of the voice traffic so the calls sound better.

The TA is coming from DLink. While it's not attractive, it should do the job. I also discovered why AT&T wants the TA ahead of the router, not behind it. To effect QoS as much as possible. When you think about it, data packets for files and emails can be reassembled, but for voice, like Streaming live, its another issue.

How this impacts streaming is a big deal and we are clearly getting to a point in time where the user needs to be able to be able to prioritze the traffic coming over the IP pipe...especially with more on demand video available like CinemaNow.

I commend AT&T for being so quick with answers and candid. Their efforts at transparency, following an era of duplicity (can you spell WorldCon or EnROB) are most welcomed by those who want substance over hype.

Rafe On Skype

Rafe takes a very contrarian view on Skype in his Always On column.

I too question how they will make money long term. I mean, has ICQ paid back AOL? No. Only the original investors and founders cashed out.

The claim about services by Skype’s folks sounds good, but I see more use for Skype in China to subvert the leadership and in other countries where broadband is in place as a way to talk to others outside the country's barriers. If Skype can get past the firewalls so the phone rings, maybe freedom too can ring, and not just for the phone calls.

Speaking of China and VoIP.....

OZ VoIP Trial

A wireless company in Australia is set to trial VoIP. Not many details, but needless to say the revolution is upon the world, and VoIP is hardly a USA centric business. If anything, the far East and down under regions are likely to see higher levels of adoption as fiber is more readily deployed and available.

Watchdogging QoS

Well the carriers won't be able to say they can't monitor QoS easily, after this announcement.

Without question, QoS is the single most important factor in winning the conversion from PSTN to IP based telephony services, especially for business grade calls.

If people have a hard time dealing with lousy cell service, that is not a reason to think that a regular call from an office to a customer, colleague or business associate can suffer the same horrible fate.

VONAGE does not offer at the present time any QoS guarantee. I suspect AT&T does to their enterprise customers and look forward to finding out. This tool will make it easier, for the carriers who don't have their own.