VoIP hubbub heard over ComNet din

The voice-over-IP development machine was running full bore last week at ComNet 2001, with a slew of companies cranking out services and products for enterprise and carrier networks.

Big carriers such as AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. aired plans for voice-over-IP services, while Alcatel SA, 3Com Corp. spinoff CommWorks Corp. and Unisphere Networks Inc. peddled new wares. Others, including Avaya, Cisco and Siemens, demonstrated interoperability at a lab run in part by Network World and open to the 50,000 show attendees.

Security, optical networks and other technologies also were prominent among the 450 vendor displays and 70 sessions, but voice over IP was the biggest attention-getter, for better or worse.

"It's prime time for experimentation of voice over IP by companies, but it's not prime time for mass deployment," said Frank Dzubeck, president of consulting firm Communications Network Architects, adding that large implementations won't take hold until 2004.

"A lot of confidence-building needs to be done and feature richness needs to be developed," Dzubeck said. Common telephony features, such as 911 access or simple conference call setup, are not present in many voice-over-IP service offerings and call servers.

Still, much of the conference had users talking about how to talk over their data networks.

"We're due for a major phone system upgrade," said David Wylie, LAN administrator for the Bank of New York in Harrison, N.Y. "I'd like to see voice over IP in there."

According to research firm Phillips InfoTech, the number of IP PBX line shipments worldwide will explode from 71,700 in 1999 to 5.7 million lines by 2004. Traditional circuit-switched PBX line shipments are expected to drop by 37% during the same time period, but will still out-ship IP in 2004 by more than a half million lines.

Voice-over-IP products on display at ComNet focused on areas such as connecting remote offices with IP-based call servers and quality-of-service (QoS) management for enterprise voice-over-IP networks. Carrier gear for delivering integrated voice and data services to businesses also made its presence felt.

Alcatel announced several new features for its OmniPCX 4400 call server platform, including support for small, PBX-less branch offices using IP phones and a Media Gateway for connecting larger offices (up to 500 users) to a central OmniPCX via a WAN connection. In addition, Alcatel showed off enhanced Lightweight Directory Access Protocol-based software for managing an IP phone network.

Shomiti Systems introduced its Shomiti QoS for VoIP Communications product for measuring the quality and performance of voice-over-IP calls on a LAN. The product consists of a monitoring device, which sits on a network and analyzes traffic flows, and console software for viewing voice-over-IP network metrics.

Unisphere announced a voice-over-IP module for its SMX-2100 service mediation switch for carriers that translates between IP and circuit switched networks. The firm said its server-based telephone softswitch will be available by spring, as will its ERX-1400 edge router, which features Multi-protocol Label Switching to support QoS for delivering voice and data services to business subscribers.

Separately, CommWorks made its corporate debut and demonstrated voice-over-IP service delivery with its Total Control 2000 access platform and CommWorks 4000 softswitch for carriers.

Also, Vina Technologies Inc. announced its Multiservice Xchange-400 (MX-400), an integrated access device carriers can use to deliver voice-over-IP services. The MX-400 sits at a customer's premises and uses the Media Gateway Control Protocol for delivering bundled public switched telephone network and Internet access to business customers via frame, ATM or IP over leased T-1 and xDSL connections.

Voice-over-IP gear was put to the test at ComNet by Mier Communications Inc., a network hardware testing firm, which organized the Voice over IP Interoperability Lab with Network World. The lab featured equipment from nine vendors, including voice-over-IP gateways, call servers and IP phones based on H.323 and Session Initiation Protocol, as well as voice QoS management platforms.

The Bank of New York's Wylie, who visited the lab, says his company uses a 10-year-old Nortel PBX in the company's headquarters and older key systems from Nortel and Avaya (formerly Lucent) in the bank's 10 branch offices around the state. Wylie has looked at IP PBXs from Alcatel and Avaya, and likes what he's seen. He is also considering Cisco's call server products, since his network is already based largely on Cisco Catalyst switches.

"What we're thinking is, why pay to install and maintain two different kinds of technologies [for voice and data] when you could do them both with just one?" Wylie said. Plus, he added, "Wouldn't it be great if you could do the administration of the phone system over the LAN, adding and setting up users just like you do on the network?"

Senior Editor Tim Greene contributed to this story.

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