VoIP to play lead role under NBN

Say goodbye to the Plain Old Telephone System: VoIP is likely to play the leading role in an NBN Australia

Voice over IP (VoIP) is likely to become the main telephony service when the National Broadband Network (NBN) becomes ubiquitous, according to telecommunications industry body, Communications Alliance.

Though chief executive officer, John Stanton, warned the NBN may "change very little in Australia", the body has released a draft paper seeking to define wholesale telephony access service in an effort to ensure legacy services currently delivered over the copper-based Public Switching Telephone Network (PSTN) continue to be available in a VoIP environment.

The paper encourages retail service providers (RSP) to adopt the existing SIP protocol in offering VoIP services to NBN customers, while also ensuring legacy services are supported such as fax, EFTOP and security modems as well as hotlines. ISDN Basic Rate, payphone, emergy response and line reversal are considered optional extra services to be delivered over VoIP, even if they are not currently supported over PSTN.

Strengthening VoIP reliability, as well as an increasing number of service options and the release of products like iiNet's BoB VoIP phone and modem have led to an increase in VoIP take up in Australia. However, it largely remains a fringe service amongst both consumers and businesses, with only 14 per cent of consumers and 30 per cent of small to medium businesses adopting the service by the end of 2009, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

At a Senate select committee on the NBN, Optus general manager of NBN operations, Michael Wagg, claimed the copper network would be defunct within 30 years, and that around three quarters of consumers and businesses would be using the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network for all telephony and data services.

Communications Alliance project manager, James Duck, told Computerworld Australia that the discussion paper was aimed at bringing VoIP specifications over the NBN into line with international standards.

"It comes back to saying 'we've got to support the existing services', and we want to have a consistent approach over a range of providers that are going to be offering services," Duck said. "There's obviously not much point in trying to build Australia-specific things unless there's a specified for it."

While the paper does not provide any details on whether RSPs would offer VoIP telephony as a single application or as part of a whole Internet package, it does set out the possible ways in which to ultimately connect to end-user premises. According to Duck, this would primarily be through analogue telephone adapters (ATA) connecting to existing, PSTN-based telephones. This would be a marked change from a completely Ethernet-based VoIP service, as is currently the prevalent method of access for VoIP subscribers, according to ACMA statistics.

The draft paper fails to acknowledge other PSTN legacy services such as emergency calling, a disadvantage of current VoIP systems which has lead many providers to recommend the continuing subscription of a PSTN line in tandem for emergencies.

Communications Alliance has called for comment on the draft paper, with submissions ending 25 June.

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