Equant Putting Voice and Data on IP

ATLANTA (03/24/2000) - Global carrier Equant has launched a managed service to lash together enterprise voice and data traffic on a single IP network to 50 countries.

For the moment, called simply Equant Voice and Data over IP, the service cuts out international circuit-switched tolls by employing Cisco 2600 or 3600 series modular multiservice routers on each customer premise location feeding traffic to Equant's IP network.

Users choose from a range of modules for the 2600/3600, depending on how many phone calls they wish to support at once over the service - anywhere from two to 96 or more by stacking the devices. Customers pay for the service by adding a managed-network fee based on the chosen module to Equant's IP network charges (see graphic).

Large user sites also have the ability to employ a Cisco 7200 router to feed data and voice traffic to the carrier network, says Dan da Costa, director of voice and data integration at Equant.

Although a number of public, consumer-oriented voice-over-IP international networks are up and running, analysts say enterprises will tend to stick with separate IP networks from specialized carriers. And the services available on those networks will usually involve premises equipment managed by carriers like Equant.

Without ownership of the device at the WAN edge, carriers are unlikely to guarantee voice quality over IP, says Tom Jenkins, director of consulting at TeleChoice. But from the carrier's perspective, "once you have a managed IP network, as long as you're prioritizing at the router, there is very little you're doing to modify your network to be able to [carry voice]," he says.

Equant requires some specific precautions simply because the service is international. Equant will send a technician to each customer site to meet with the customer and the PBX vendor to do a "physical site survey," says da Costa.

International telephony involves a host of complications often overlooked by U.S. service providers - everything from unexpected interfaces with unfamiliar PBXs to telephone keypads that have the numbers in the reverse order of American phones.

And on the data side, "it's not just Ethernet everywhere, either," according to da Costa.

Cost analysis

The service initially will connect only intracompany traffic or trading partner sites that also use Equant, either by chance or because the principal user company includes them in an extranet.

That means users will have to decide whether the amount of international voice traffic they ordinarily generate offsets the fees of the Equant IP service.

But Jenkins reminds users to factor in not only the avoided tolls, but also the cost of however many switched voice trunks or dedicated separate T-1/E-1 voice circuits can be dropped because of the Equant service. Jenkins says he expects Equant to add a gateway from the Equant IP network to the public switched telephone network in June.

Equant now offers only one voice-compression level under the service: 8K bit/sec, using the ITU's G.729a standard. "I would like to see Equant change that and allow users to have 16 or 32K across the network and maybe pay [a higher price] for it," Jenkins says.

The Equant IP network actually reaches about 100 countries, but the carrier follows a policy of allowing only voice traffic on its IP network in countries where basic telecommunications competition is fully authorized. That way government officials can't claim Equant is trying to bypass regulations restricting voice carriage to the dominant state carrier.

Equant has followed the same practice on its parallel converged frame relay service, iVAD, since its 1998 debut.

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