Optical/IP Networks

IPCC Tackles Interoperability

The International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC) is having another go at creating harmony among disparate voice over IP (VOIP) systems and networks.

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
Working Group
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
Source: IPCC

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
stephenpcooke 12/5/2012 | 2:08:34 AM
re: IPCC Tackles Interoperability It is good that they are tackling the standards and even the 'evangelizing' part of things but I don't see anything in terms of testing. What level of voice quality is defined as 'usable'? How is this measured? What is the process for deciding who is not providing acceptable signals? Who will be the ultimate referee when there is a fight between carriers (OH but that never happens...)? If VOIP is the combining technology that everyone has been waiting for there are bound to be lots of newer players springing up. What is the process for standards compliance? How do the northbound systems interface across carrier boundaries for new service activation? Etc., Etc.

Either a new industry entity has to be created to make this happen, similar to Cable Labs on the cable side, or they need to take an existing one and make them the ref. Knowing what I do of the third party testing houses available today, there are no real winners there, it would be best to start from scratch. Still, the point is that these people, whoever they will be, should be front and center in the interoperability process from ground zero and not brought in as an afterthought.
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