Last week a group of devoted SIP engineers from as far away as Japan, Israel, and Finland traveled to the frozen north of Canada to thrash out some apparently very important extensions to SIP (Session Initiation Protocol).

The occasion? It was the second interoperability test held by the SIP Forum to focus entirely on SIMPLE or (session initial protocol message and presence leveraging extensions). The first test was in April (see Jasomi Hosts SIMPLEt Interop Test).

”This wasn’t a conference in Hawaii… The highest temperature up there was minus two,” says Dan Freedman, CEO of Jasomi Networks, the company that hosted the event. “Basically, these people didn’t have to be there if they didn’t really need to be there.”

The engineers were so devoted because SIP is the coolest thing in communications since tin cans and string. Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is busy ramming it into every piece of Office software, and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) believes it will be in all cell phones within a few years. It’s the signaling protocol that enables Internet telephony, instant messaging (IM), and presence services. Already, there are about 250 million IM users worldwide, and this is expected to explode to 500 million by 2006, according to Forrester Research Inc. (see Microsoft Hones Instant Message).

Enterprise IM users will increase from about 5 percent to 70 percent of the total population of users over this period, Forrester claims. And this is where SIMPLE comes in. There needs to be more work on presence security and compatibility with IPv6, according to people familiar with the technology. SIMPLE is an extension of the SIP protocol that aims to enable the secure use of presence and availability information.

SIMPLE makes it possible to offer communication services that know whether or not you are available to receive communications, and what kind of communication you can receive, such as phone calls, emails, instant messages, or even video. Applications using SIMPLE let you control who sees information about your presence and availability, and who does not, and enables the ability to change your status at any time. SIMPLE over transport layer security (TLS), a key Web technology for security of information, was among the technologies tested at the event. The testing verified an important step forward in network security -- that presence information and instant-message content can be encrypted and protected against tampering as they cross the network.

Another important aspect of the session was testing whether the implementations could run on IPv6 networks. IPv6 is an advance on the Internet that has been widely adopted by Asian IP service providers and in mobile networks (see IPv6 Coming to America).

”The impact of SIMPLE will be even more powerful than the changes brought on by the mobile phone," says Robert Sparks, chairman of the SIMPLE Working Group in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and a principal engineer for dynamicsoft.

But there’s much work left to do. According to Jasomi's Freedman, the SIMPLE protocol didn’t work at all in April, but it did work in December. The next step is the big one of trying to standardize the technology, he says. “There’s always someone with a competing draft trying to establish themselves as the true standard.”

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Boardwatch

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