ENUM technology in Australia “inevitable”

A new global numbering domain system designed to converge telephone numbers with Internet addresses will hit Australian shores whether the local industry actively trials the technology or not, industry representatives claim.

Neill Whitehead, manager in charge of ENUM (Electronic Numbering) at the Australian Communications Authority, commenting on the technology's international development at a recent ACA workshop in Sydney, said he believed it is an important technology which would inevitably hold a place in the Australian communications industry.

ENUM is a communications mapping protocol which can give users a single number for both PSTN telephony and Internet services. The number is created by taking a user’s phone number and reversing it, separating each digit with a full stop. The specified ENUM domain code e164.arpa is then assigned to the end of the number to allow the Domain Name Server (DNS) to identify it as an IP address.

ENUM was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and has already been trialled in Europe. Recently, the US Commerce Department also recommended the US telecommunications industry participate in developing e164.arpa.

In Australia, involvement with the technology was boosted by the ACA’s release of a discussion paper on ENUM in September last year. The paper has already attracted around 20 responses from several high-profile companies and consumer interest groups, including the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner.

The ACA’s one-day ENUM workshop, held last week, was designed to focus on the potential use and technical applications of the ENUM protocol as well as further expand on points raised in its discussion paper, an ACA representative said.

Presenters at the workshop included IETF member Geoff Huston, Consumers’ Telecommunications Network's (CTN) Theresa Corbin, and Dr Bruce Tonkin from MelbourneIT. Speakers from the US and Austria were also invited to discuss international developments of ENUM.

Most speakers and attendees at the workshop agreed ENUM would play a significant role in future communications. But reactions to the technology itself were mixed.

Representing an IETF view, Huston said there were several positive aspects of ENUM technology, as well as some potential flaws. One flaw would be relying on the DNS to provide connections between ENUM identifiers.

“It [DNS] scales fantastically, and has a huge number of entries, but it is variably timed,” he said.

There is no consistent time in protocol, the DNS is not well maintained and there’s "no real-time synchronisation between primary and secondary registries of information", he added.

On the consumer front, a key issue would be finding the most suitable candidate to maintain the registry of ENUM numbers. CTN’s Corbin said concerns for consumers were focused on the misuse of the their personal information for other means besides communication services, such as mass e-mail campaigns. Consumers also foresaw problems with settling potential disputes relating to ENUM and the accessibility of services to all levels of consumers.

But there was also plenty of positive feedback on ENUM, with several attendees agreeing the emerging technology would provide improved levels of service to special-interest groups, including the disabled, by allowing communication services such as voice and the Internet to be integrated.

Methods of deploying ENUM were also on the agenda, with the day’s final panel discussion centering on ways of conducting trials of the technology in Australia.

Telcordia USA representative Gary Richenaker said that from a technical point of view, ENUM had already been proven to work. Trialling ENUM in Australia should therefore be based on realistic ways of using the technology, he said.

For example, the industry should develop a range of applications using ENUM and present these to consumers to see whether they find any of them useful, MelbourneIT’s Tonkin said.

Corbin added if the industry could put forward real possibilities for utilising ENUM to consumers, they will get a “better success rate” of take-up. However OFEG Austria’s Richard Stastny disagreed, arguing that not even consumers can foresee the potential benefits of an emerging technology.

“No one can tell which other applications will come up. For example, with SMS. No one knew it would become a killer app. But it’s dangerous to look for the killer app of ENUM, and dangerous to ask consumers what it is they want,” he said.

But regardless of whether Australia trials the technology or not, telecommunications providers have to build the capability for ENUM into their networks, as the technology will be around for a long time, Stastny said.

“We’re just at the beginning – hopefully it’s a good thing.”

Papers presented at the ENUM workshop, as well as more information on the ENUM protocol, are now available on the ACA’s Web site. http://www.aca.gov.au/committee/nsg2/enum.htm

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