Formerly the International Softswitch Consortium (ISC), the newly named organization this week created several working groups of carriers and equipment providers to find ways to tackle issues such as interoperability among VOIP networks (see IPCC Initiates New Working Groups).
At a kickoff meeting yesterday, held at the Voice on the Net (VON) Conference, IPCC chairman Michael Khalilian updated service provider representatives on his organization's working groups and team leaders. Working groups, each consisting of a mix of carriers and equipment vendors, should be getting started within a couple of weeks, he says.
Part of the goal will be to "fill in the gap between carriers, government people, and vendors," all of whom will be represented among the working groups, Khalilian says.
The working groups rekindle the ISC's original mission of promoting interoperability. Last year, seeing that goal better served by groups such as the Multiservice Switching Forum, the ISC changed its name with the intention of becoming more of a marketing coalition (see Softswitch Forum Goes Squish).
As it dives back into the interoperability question, the IPCC will assign liaisons to cousin groups such as the SIP Forum, to avoid duplication of effort, Khalilian says. Although he hasn't contacted the MS Forum about his group's plans, he says he intends to do so. MS Forum members couldn't be reached for comment late yesterday.
As head of the IPCC's Service Provider Forum, Khalilian says he formed the working groups at the behest of other service provider representatives, despite the fact that standards bodies and industry forums already strive to create interoperability. "Nobody's done it -- let's put it that way."
VOIP equipment interoperability -- say, between softswitches and media gateways -- has long been a sore spot for some carriers. The problem is that there are all sorts of standards in this area, and they get implemented differently in different vendors' hands.
"We used to go into an account and spend literally weeks on interoperability," says Jim Hourihan, vice president of marketing for Acme Packet, which sells session border controllers. That time has been shrunk to a matter of hours, but only because Acme Packet's people developed expertise at getting VOIP equipment to play nice, he claims.
Providers do build networks using multiple softswitches. Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT) has done just that and it works fine, says Oliver Davis, the carrier's vice president. Even so, problems can arise when one carrier's VOIP island tries to contact another.
In many cases, the situation is similar to that of Sonet rings: The carrier doesn't dare add more than one vendor's equipment (see Cisco Gateways Get the Gate for an example).
"In order for enterprises to feel comfortable that they're not going to be held purely to a Cisco solution or an Avaya solution, interoperability is the key," says Anthony Christie, chief marketing officer of Global Crossing Ltd. (Nasdaq: GLBC). "We're pushing the session border control guys to interoperate with the softswitch guys. The industry's already pushing the softswitch guys to interoperate with each other."
Of course, there's always the chance that the best answer doesn't lie with any forum or consortium. True interoperability might come about through plain old ingenuity.
"This is still budding. What I think you'll have is three smart people who get together saying that interoperability is the key and go start a company," Christie says. "You'll get a sharp VC who's going to pick that out and make it happen."
The working groups introduced by the IPCC are:
Table 1: IPCC Working Groups
|Service Provider Packet Interconnection Group||Rules for public VOIP networks; also interconnectivity among VOIP networks|
|Service Provider Applications and Services Interoperability Group||A liaison to other industry forums|
|Session Border Controllers Group||Defining security and interconnectivity requirements for VOIP networks|
|Government and Regulatory Issues/Opinions Group||Lobbies the FCC, FBI, European Union, and other groups|
|Enterprise and Customer Premises Group||Defining interconnectivity between access and core transport layers|
|Industry Resources and Education for VOIP and Packet Solutions Intiative||Marketing and evangelizing|
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading