SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters

Traditional service providers beware. After years of predictions that voice over IP (VOIP) would soon render conventional phone networks obsolete, a new(ish) protocol may finally be making the technology simple and user-friendly enough to catch on.

Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, is a signaling protocol for establishing real-time calls and conferences over the Internet. Although the protocol isn’t exactly new -- it’s been around since the late 1990s -- many industry observers say that it is quickly evolving to take the place of the more established H.323 protocol.

“The signaling technology has taken rather dramatic moves recently, and most are coalescing over the SIP standard,” says the chief scientist at AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), Dave Belanger. “We are now working on the signaling technology for VOIP, so that not only can you get the services that you typically associate with voice, but you can get services that you associated with voice and data.”

“SIP is to communications what http is to the Web,” says Jeff Pulver, president and CEO of Pulver.com, and the co-founder of Free World Dialup (FWD), which offers free IP telephony to anyone who has an IP phone. “With SIP, it’s a lot less complicated to make a phone call, it takes less CPU processing power… and there are no royalties.”

(Check out Light Readers' views on SIP and FWD at: Free World Dialup - Try out Broadband SIP Telephony.) Of course, not everyone agrees that SIP is all that it’s been made out to be. “So many people are looking at [SIP] to use it for so many things that it’s slowing down the standardization process,” says Paul Jones, part of the duo that runs the Packetizer Website that offers information about packet-switched conversational protocols. “Even though they intended to start with something simple, they’ve built something fairly complex.”

While SIP may be more flexible and more extensive than H.323, Jones says the protocol lacks some basic capabilities like a standard way of sending DTMF digits, which is what you do when you choose number options on your touch-tone phone. “Unless they resolve the issues,” he says, “SIP’s not going to make a lot of progress… I would expect that we’re going to see a migration towards SIP, but SIP and H.323 may coexist for a long time.”

No matter what protocol people use, more and more consumers and businesses are opting to abandon their plain old telephone service, or POTS, and jump on the VOIP bandwagon. While only about 10 percent of global telephony today goes over IP, according to TeleGeography Inc., that number is likely to grow steadily over coming years.

That could have a tremendous impact on the traditional voice providers, which have invested billions of dollars in their PSTN networks.

Although all of the large carriers are at least examining the possibility of offering VOIP services themselves, they are likely to hold back for fear of eroding their traditional revenue stream. “I think it’s something that incumbent operators should be scared of,” says James Enck, an analyst with Daiwa Securities Trust Co., Europe, noting that, although it might be easy to ignore now, the number of users could grow quickly. “Five years down the road, this thing could jump up and bite them in the behind.”

Up until recently, traditional service providers didn’t have much to worry about. The only people willing to make the leap of faith into IP telephony were technophiles and consumers looking for cheap international rates. While VOIP can save consumers a lot of money, the complexity of the technology as well as the questionable quality and reliability of the service have dissuaded many from leaving POTS in the past.

Today, however, providers of VOIP claim that the audio quality on their lines is as good as, if not better than, that of a traditional phone line. “The voice quality is nothing short of amazing,” Pulver says. “The sex industry hasn’t found us yet, but trust me, phone sex never sounded better.”

Some disadvantages remain, however. Pulver’s FWD service may be free (after you buy the IP-enabled end-devices), but calls can only go between people who use the service. Today, there are about 5,000 people on the FWD network, but Pulver says he hopes to have as many as 50,000 by the end of September. “It’s like the first email addresses,” he says, pointing out that at first very few people used email and now nearly everyone does.

But no matter how low the price, or how good the sound quality is, many people still balk at the thought of having to make all of their calls over special, IP-enabled equipment. Several VOIP service providers have therefore started offering voice services that can be accessed from a regular phone, since they jump to a PSTN line for the last leg of the trip.

One of those providers is Vonage Holdings Corp., which, since it launched its services last April, has bagged more than 7,000 customers and completed more than 5 million calls. “People can simply use their home phone,” Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schultz says. “They plug in and don’t even know that they’re talking over the Internet... It’s cheap phone service with a lot of cool features that you can’t get from your traditional phone company.”

Vonage’s service isn’t free like FWD, however. The company charges a $25 setup fee and then a flat $40 fee for all local and national long-distance calls.

“Voice over IP is happening, but it’s happening in a variety of different ways,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Elka Popova. “It’s an underlying technology. It has various manifestations… SIP does give some additional leverage… Once you have a SIP end device you can offer a larger variety of services.”

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading
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lastmile 12/5/2012 | 12:54:16 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters Dear Mr Willy Wilson,
This is a message from one idiot to a bigger idiot.
SIP is actually Hip. Give it a few more years and POTS will be dead. Sorry I made a mistake: POTS will be still around. There will still be one more POTS user and Willy Wilson will be speaking to himself.
Dredgie 12/5/2012 | 12:54:16 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters Anyone know why Microsoft pulled SIP support from Messenger 5.0? I heard they G«ˇbroke itG«÷, and will roll it back in to a later release, but I have trouble believing it. Are they following AOLs lead and slowly dropping their (already weak) support?
willywilson 12/5/2012 | 12:54:14 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters This is a message from one idiot

You really should learn to like yourself.
Packet Man 12/5/2012 | 12:54:09 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters LR reports:
While SIP may be more flexible and more extensive than H.323, Jones says the protocol lacks some basic capabilities like a standard way of sending DTMF digits, which is what you do when you choose number options on your touch-tone phone. G«£Unless they resolve the issues,G«• he says, G«£SIPG«÷s not going to make a lot of progressG«™ I would expect that weG«÷re going to see a migration towards SIP, but SIP and H.323 may coexist for a long time.G«•

My comment:
I see dialing digits becoming a thing of the past. True, its needed to today, but still the concept of dialing digits will become obsoluted by IP Telephony in the uears to come. With more and more of society getting used to 'clicking' on links, and Text-to-Speech systems, why dial? You do your Google-411 search and click on the person you want to call. You say "Call Lastmile" and the system does it.

Two other points:
(a) There is concern over PSTN number exhaustion. Well SIP would help eliminate this problem. Since a SIP address can really be any address at all, the possibilities are almost infinite. My address could be SIP://[email protected], while Lastmiles address could be SIP://[email protected] Willy Wilson who loves POTS could have a SIP address of SIP://[email protected] for example.
(b) Secondly comes the issue of Number Portable, both Local and Area portibility. In theory SIP would also make this a breeze, not just on a North America level, but on a global scale. I sign up and get my own domain.....packetman.hum (hum = human). Then I create my SIP address SIP://[email protected] I live in Canada so I pick a Canadian ISP. I get that domain name to resolve to their SIP server which my IP phones are registered with. Works. I get tired of the cold and move to California. I get a new ISP with a SIP server. I get my personal domain set up to point to that ISP. Works. From the rest of the world, my world wide address never changed. Ooops tired of the USA, gonna move to Norway.....same process all over again.

Try that with the PSTN. Very complex, and every telco in the world would have to support every numbering plan in the world. Highly unlikely.

"SIP - The protocol that will quake the telcos!"

Packet Man 12/5/2012 | 12:54:08 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters srh wrote:
How does a POTS phone call a SIP phone with that kind of addressing?

My comment:
Good question. Obviously a POTS phone cannot 'dial' a SIP address. As long as both the legacy PSTN and the SIP system exist together, SIP systems will have to include PSTN VoIP gateways. Those gateways and the SIP server will essentially form a softswitch, and as far as the PSTN is concerned it is simply another telco switch. Inside that softswitch a PSTN number will be 'mapped' to a SIP addrress and/or IP address. So for a PSTN user to call a SIP user, he/she will dial the softswitch/gateway equivilent PSTN number, say 555.555.4321, the call goes to that softswitch. A look-up is done and the number is resolved/translated into SIP://[email protected] SIP phone rings.

As some point in time, say 15 years from now there will be so few legacy PSTN users that the industry will not be able to afford to keep up the system. (Many telcos are claiming that now) It will have to be laid to rest and the rest of the customers will have no choice but to move over to the newer system. Various ways will make it easy though....like mapping PSTN style numbers to SIP.... [email protected] In 15 years or so, SIP ( or something else ) will be taken for granted.

srh 12/5/2012 | 12:54:08 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters How does a POTS phone call a SIP phone with that kind of addressing?
bsd_devil 12/5/2012 | 12:54:05 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters --- these services if we don't make money off them?
digerato 12/5/2012 | 12:53:59 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters "how do we offer these services if we don't make money off them"

Precisely. The technical commentary is just noise -- i.e. forget H.323 vs SIP vs. <insert choice="" here="" of="" protocol="" signaling="">. E.g. DTMF digit passing has been a non-issue for over 12 months -- plenty of options that are interoperable across vendors, such as transmitting them as RTP/cRTP packets, or even (gasp) implementing the IETF draft standard for DTMF digit transmission.

Jeff's a mostly harmless techie trying to fulfill his endless prediction that *this* year (no, really), SIP is going to take over the world. All services cost money to run. No money, no service. No-one believes in free services any more. Hell, even dialpad.com converted to a paid VoIP model over a year ago.

rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 12:53:58 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters "how do we offer these services if we don't make money off them"

The starting point is to classifying things properly. There is little to no service component in establishing a phone call. One makes money by selling real products or services. For example, we never pay a dime to a plumber if he never makes a house call or if he doesn't fix the leak.

Those that make money from VoIP will sell products (e.g. phones), establish call centers, etc. etc. They will provide goods and services which create jobs, enable productivity, and stimulate our economy.
bsd_devil 12/5/2012 | 12:53:56 AM
re: SIP Is Hip, Say VOIP Promoters McMahon,

I don't get it! You are saying we will make money by selling phones? Whom are you kidding? By the time you build your first IP phone, some hither-to-unknown chinese company will produce 10000 of these IP phones which mind you, will be a million times better than your phone. And this chinese company will sell their phones through walmart for a dime. You must be kidding yourself if you even remotely believe that you can make money by selling stupid phones!

If you don't live in the boonies and have all those connections at home (phone, dsl, cable, wireless and all the other junk) you are paying for the service not the devices. The service provider charges your $99 just once for that device. Then on, they charge you $99 for monthly "service". They are called "service" providers. Jeez! If you call up and talk to your "service provider" for 10 minutes, they will return the money you spent on that cable modem, dsl modem, phone or whatever else if you sign a lifetime service contract! Service contracts reap money for longer time. Product sales get money for once and thats the end of it.

Also, if you charge for basic service, within five years you make enough money to offer more services. Then, you can start throwing in the basic service for free and charge "more" for the extended services!

I guess you are an engineer so you like to believe that designing products is the holy grail of a company. Wake up to the reality. Its not. The chinese can produce much better products, much faster than you can say "I" in imagine. They make their people work like there's no tomorrow and they manage to flood the world markets with cheaper, better products. Products never make money. Serivces do.

So, now if people can start calling up some other folks in the boonies of australia for free who in the world will pay for that fiber which carries the signal? Who will pay the folks who did the hard work of laying those fibers? Who will pay the managers who made sure that the fiber is laid out and works well? You pay these folks and recover your investment (in fiber and other "products") by selling services. You have to charge for service and there's no doubt about it.

Free services just indicate that its an experiment that is being run and people at large are guinea pigs. Hell, I would say people should start charging these "free service providers" for wasting their time trying out the services.

Voice, or for that matter anything other than useless data, over IP is bogus. If we start living in a free world, we wouldn't be far from communism! And I thought we always wanted to be away from it! Far, far, away from it.

Services make money. Products don't. And a "free" service just means the implementor is:
1. trying to kill the competition so that he/she can charge whatever he/she feels like once the competition is gone
2. trying an experiment he/she is not sure of, and wants free guinea pigs

Nothings for free in the good world. You have to pay for everything. How much you pay can be regulated. But, services cannot be offered for free.
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