Could SIP's Faults Foil Its Future?

New Light Reading Insider says SIP is not yet a shoo-in for de facto signaling standard

August 9, 2006

3 Min Read
Could SIP's Faults Foil Its Future?

Security problems and standards issues might wind up stalling SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) in the future, which would be a huge blow to IMS networks, according to the latest Light Reading Insider report, “The SIP Market: Trends, Opportunities & Threats.” (See Vendors Queue for SIP.)

For those of you just joining us, SIP is a text-based signaling protocol used to create sessions between endpoints in an IP network. It negotiates the type of session, the transport mechanism, and the encoding mechanism. In addition to other functions, SIP modifies and terminates sessions, and it's the primary signaling protocol used in IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) networks.

Since SIP lets users communicate in real time using more than one medium, users can make a voice call, then add a video session, then start sending instant messages to one another, for example.

But several things are threatening SIP's future.

One threat has to do with the singularity of the protocol itself, says Simon Sherrington, the Insider analyst who wrote the report. Standards like SIP need to be one thing to many people, not many things to many people.

Sherrington says vendors have a tendency to add functionality to their products in a way that embellishes SIP but runs ahead of the standards process. “This might gain a short-term competitive advantage, but risks greater interoperability problems in the future,” he writes.

Sherrington also points out that as developers build on the original SIP standard, the protocol becomes more complex. SIP’s initial appeal over other protocols was that it was simple and easy to implement. If some of that simplicity goes, so might some of the appeal, he suggests.

In a way, SIP could end up being a victim of its own success. Sherrington says more groups want to use SIP than were originally imagined. These groups -- like the wireless and cable communities -- are evolving their own flavors of the protocol.

“The requirement for SIP to work across diverse sets of networks could potentially create an unwieldy protocol for service providers that want services to be access network-agnostic." An even worse danger is that SIP’s variants become so different that they’re no longer compatible.

Security issues around SIP applications also continue to pose a threat to SIP’s large-scale adoption. While gravitating toward the utility of SIP applications, some carriers and enterprises have ultimately been scared off by the security risks. (See Covergence Banks on SIP Risks.)

As such, Sherrington's report says, security pros have been hard at work securing SIP and have made significant progress. For instance, Sherrington writes, signaling firewalls have been developed to protect against "security issues caused by overload, malicious attack, malformed messages, or irrelevant protocols."

Regulators also play a role in SIP’s fate. SIP applications, by their nature, depend on easy passage across networks and across borders. So an environment where carriers can exchange traffic simply and affordably is crucial. Without that, Sherrington says, the growth of SIP services could slow. (See NeuStar Moves Into SIP Peering.)

SIP was created by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1999. Sherrington says SIP applications will hit the market and drive revenues well before full-blown IMS applications begin to appear. Many carriers will develop and roll out SIP applications and services first, then use SIP as a foundation for a more complete IMS make-over later on. (See Ubiquity Launches SIP Program.)

Aside from regulatory, security, and standards threats, SIP does have several things going for it. Those are covered elsewhere in Sherrington's report -- find out more about it right here.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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