VON - Is 'V' just for voice anymore?

The VON Europe conference in Stockholm emphasizes services beyond voice.

It's telling that the acronym VON isn't spelled out anywhere on the VON conference Web sites. That may be because while VON may have once stood for "voice on the 'net," today, the IP (Internet Protocol) networks that support voice services are increasingly carrying a wider array of services.

"It's not about voice over IP, it's about communication," said Armando Voets, a program director at KPN, the incumbent operator in the Netherlands, speaking during the VON Europe conference in Stockholm on Tuesday. "We are evolving our network into a multivendor, multimedia network." He said that customers are increasingly demanding more services including video, IM (instant message) and voice.

Other incumbent telephone companies offer similar stories. The youth market wants low-cost voice, mobility, IM, TV and they want most of those services simultaneously, said Joacim Damgard, vice president in broadband and fixed services for TeliaSonera.

Competition from new voice market players, ranging from Skype to Google, has driven traditional telecom players to look for new ways to use their networks to deliver revenue-earning services beyond voice. The result is a push to offer more services often based on some of the same technology that was built to deliver VOIP (voice over IP).

But those varied services won't be geared only at consumers. Once people use them at home, they start to "trickle" into the work place, said David Perry, senior manager of carrier VOIP and multimedia solutions for Nortel. That process drove the development of enterprise-grade IM clients because workers wanted to use IM but IT managers wanted them to be secure and robust, he said. Now, services like integrated video conferencing peer-to-peer between desktops is one new capability that enterprises are starting to employ, he said.

"Once you have the SIP-based infrastructure that's more straightforward," he said. SIP (session initiation protocol) is a standard used by VOIP providers.

While the incumbents appeared to be quite aware of the challenges they face from nontraditional service providers, it remains to be seen if they can adequately meet their competition head on, noted Peter Hall, research director at Ovum.

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