Test & Measurement

VOIP Testing Goes Live

As carriers take the plunge into VOIP services, they are faced with the tough task of ensuring that VOIP calls sound as good as traditional voice calls. A string of vendor announcements coming out of this week’s Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition conference reflects a shift in focus from testing equipment in the labs to monitoring live calls as they go out over the network.

There are still ongoing developments in the VOIP test-and-measurement market for pre-deployment equipment and software; for example, Spirent plc (NYSE: SPM; London: SPT) is touting its Abacus 100 Analog Subscriber Generator, which generates calls to test whether analog call devices will work with IP telephony. (See Spirent Intros Abacus.)

Judging by the number of product releases focusing on VOIP monitoring -- the systems that enable carriers to check whether calls are meeting quality of service (QOS) thresholds -- vendors have recognized that the bleeding edge of deployment has now moved on from the lab environment to the real world, where live VOIP traffic needs to be analyzed.

Analysts recognize the opportunity. The VOIP monitoring market is small but growing rapidly, with revenues of $50.7 million last year, according to Frost & Sullivan. (See F&S Reports on VOIP Monitoring.) The analyst firm projects that figure will reach $297.1 million by 2011, driven by increasing demands on VOIP performance. In its most recent report on the VOIP monitoring market, it notes the market is in its infancy and the competitive landscape is far from set in stone.

"If you look at the VOIP market, you see that QOS has been one of the key concerns that has been there since the beginning," says Shonick Banerjee, senior telecom analyst at Frost & Sullivan. He notes that "it's the bandwidth constraints while the network is live" that create VOIP's well known issues with call quality. A delay of only a few milliseconds can cause problems.

Jim Comeaux, CTO and executive vice president of strategy at RedWire Broadband, a San Diego-based business broadband operator, concurs: "Nine times out of ten it's a problem with the network."

Here are some of the new products that have been announced, all of which attempt to tackle live network monitoring:
  • (NYSE: A), which Frost & Sullivan points to as one of the early leaders in this space, has extended its NgN Analysis System to monitor QOS from the session border controller (SBC). Since all VOIP network traffic passes through the SBCs, the data captured and then analyzed by the NgN Analysis System is used to quickly determine the quality of a call that is coming into or out of a network and the network that introduced the voice quality degradation. (See Agilent Offers NGN Analysis.)

  • Ellacoya Networks Inc. has launched the VoIP Quality Reporter (VQR) as a software module for its IP Service Control System. The VQR allows service providers to monitor the quality of VOIP calls in real time, giving them a rating from 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent). The reports are then used to identify specific quality problems and troubleshoot to correct issues as they occur on the network. (See Ellacoya Tests VOIP Quality.)

  • , another early leader in VOIP testing, introduced its BrixCall VOIP monitoring software and Brix 4000 Verifier, a scaleable passive monitoring appliance. Like Ellacoya’s VQR, BrixCall conducts per-call analysis and troubleshooting, tracks call success ratios and durations, and analyzes overall call loading and traffic patterns, which allow carriers to pinpoint performance problems. Brix 4000 Verifier is a piece of kit that sits in the network at service handoffs or near softswitches, capture data on signaling protocols and traffic quality in real time and reporting it to BrixCall for monitoring and analysis. (See Brix Unveils Solutions .)

  • has released version 1.4 of its Hammer XMS Tester, an integrated hardware and software package that monitors VOIP networks both in the lab and live environments. New features focus on the live call measurement side, with the addition of media analysis capabilities and call correlation for session border controllers. (See Empirix Upgrades VOIP Tracker.)

  • Version 2.0 of InfoVista SA's (Nasdaq: IVTA) VistaInsight for IP Telephony adds management capabilities to help carriers control services running on 's (Nasdaq: CSCO) Call Manager IP PBX platforms, troubleshooting features to minimize performance disruption, and service-level reporting including user-level quality measurements. (See InfoVista Updates VOIP OSS .)

  • Legerity Inc. launched VeriVoice Test Suite Software for its VE880 VoicePort series of devices. The suite is made up of two packages -- one that does drop tests on the network to check the customer equipment and the copper pair leading to it, and another that does both the outward tests and self tests on the VOIP equipment itself. (See Legerity Offers VOIP Line Testing.)

  • Some vendors have gone with partnerships to fill in gaps in their products. Radcom Inc. (Nasdaq: RDCM) licensed Telchemy Inc.’s VQmon technology to provide performance statistics for VOIP traffic, and Tektronix Inc. (NYSE: TEK) is integrating the Speech IP monitoring software with its Unified Assurance products. (See Radcom, Telchemy Partner and Tektronix Integrates VOIP Monitor.)

The releases indicate a new trend afoot to beef up call quality on VOIP networks. "In the next two to five years you're going to see lots of call monitoring software coming out," says Banerjee. "Increasingly clients are asking for SLA agreements... To be successful, service providers have to commit on some sort of performance level."

"Over the next year we're going to see thousands of providers starting new services," and they'll have to provide good QOS to be able to compete, says Redwire's Comeaux.

In regard to the products coming out from vendors now, Comeaux points out that smaller, "bootstrapped" service providers like his are coming from a different point of view than the larger carriers. "I think these products are worthwhile," he says, but as a small operator -- with 2,500 customers -- Redwire hasn't actually deployed much monitoring software for its VOIP service, yet. "I think once we get to 10,000 lines on net we're probably going to need something like that."

Vendors, then, have the challenge, and the opportunity, of creating monitoring systems for a range of service providers -- from the startups to national telcos -- as they jump on the VOIP bandwagon. "Software cannot do all the things you want it to do" to provide QOS, says Frost's Banerjee. "At the moment, [vendors] are getting there, but they're not quite there."

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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