VOIP Service Pulverized
Controversy has broken out over the launch of what's claimed to be the first commercial voice over IP (VOIP) service to use ENUM (electronic number mapping), a protocol that translates phone numbers into URLs, so that the Internet Domain Name Service (DNS) effectively becomes a global VOIP directory.
A commercial service based on ENUM was launched last week by Sentiro, a U.K. company formerly known as Telesoft Ltd. (see Sentiro Launches Global ENUM Service). But the move was today criticized as premature and counter-productive by VOIP pioneer Jeff Pulver, the founder of Free World Dialup (FWD) and numerous other VOIP ventures (see Pulver.com).
"I'm quite surprised to hear someone's going ahead with a commercial service," Pulver told Light Reading, noting that a number of major political and administrative issues still need to be resolved beforehand. ENUM is still in the experimental phase, he says, and "going commercial might kill the experiment."
One of Pulver's concerns is that Sentiro is using +87810 as the equivalent of a country code. The number enables Sentiro to operate across national boundaries as a global player, but the last time Pulver checked, the "universal personal telephone" code wasn't supposed to be used for commercial services, he says. It was created by the International Telecommunication Union last year and was meant to facilitate ENUM experiments, according to Pulver. At the time it was announced, both Pulver.com and Telesoft said they would offer services based on it (see VOIP Gets New Numbers).
Representatives of organizations taking a close interest in ENUM developments say Pulver has got it wrong. The +87810 country code is considered permanent by the ITU and Sentiro's launch of a commercial service based on it is helpful, because if nobody used it, then the ITU might eventually rescind it.
Pulver also cites "major political issues" that need to be resolved before ENUM-based services are offered commercially. These include the ongoing debate on how VOIP services should be regulated in North America, and who should administer the country-level root ENUM directories (see FCC: Back to the Drawing Board, VOIP Seeks Its FCC Level, and N. Americans Plan ENUM Directory).
Vincent Bergin, Sentiro's director, says the reasons for going ahead with a commercial service outweigh these concerns. The service "validates" the use of the +87810 code, he says, adding: "It's very disappointing that Jeff made those comments... I don't know where he was looking [for his information] but it was in the wrong place." Sentiro's ENUM-based VOIP service targets residential users with a broadband connection and provides them with IP phones. They can place unmetered calls to each other over the Internet and calls to users on the PSTN (public switched telephone network) at a discounted rate.
“A lot of VOIP service providers offering ENUM are using local area codes for the phone numbers, so the services are very fractured,” says Bergin. By using the +87810 global code “we’re finally addressing the issue of universal communication," he says. "This is the first service using ENUM and a global telephone number.”
ENUM links telephone numbers with URLs, email addresses, and IP addresses, allowing a single telephone number to point to multiple services and communications devices. The number can then be looked up on the Internet the same way a domain name is found on the Web.
Once the +87810 number is mapped, it can be called from an ordinary phone and redirected to wherever the subscriber specifies. For example, they can use it to filter and forward calls to their IP phone, mobile phone, pager, voicemail, email address, or fax machine, regardless of their existing provider.
“That’s the power of ENUM,” says Bergin. “This technology is the first to converge the standard PSTN and the Internet.”
As well as creating opportunities for new voice services, ENUM is being used to interconnect VOIP networks (see Carrier ENUM Gains Ground). Sentiro is also using this method to keep the price of calls to the PSTN down, and “because we’re using a managed solution, other service providers have expressed interest in using it to bypass the PSTN.”
In this month’s Light Reading Research Poll, the majority of respondents so far see more potential for ENUM to be used in this way by carriers than for consumer services. Forty-one percent think carrier ENUM registrars will make the most money; and, rather than local number portability and appliance-independent services, 59 percent believe the greatest impact of ENUM will be in enabling carriers to bypass the PSTN.
To take the poll yourself and see the full results, click here.
– Nicole Willing, Reporter, and Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading