Voice over DSL Set to Expand Beyond U.S.

Cost-cutting technology to carry multiple voice calls over DSL (digital subscriber line) is set to break out of the U.S. market, as equipment manufacturers tune their software to comply with a standard used in nearly every other country.

Voice over DSL (VoDSL) lets home customers and small businesses put their voice calls on a high-speed DSL connection, potentially getting as many as eight lines at a price far lower than the monthly cost of multiple dial lines or a business leased line.

In the U.S., the GR303 technical standard defines how this is to be done -- but a different standard, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) V5.2 specification, is used in all other countries bar Japan, which also has its own system. V5.2 is a standard for communication between a traditional telephone services switch and attached digital devices. A DSL gateway, which translates a telephone call from a user's DSL connection onto a traditional switch on the telephone network, is one such device.

Now equipment makers are poised to roll out VoDSL for markets outside the U.S., where the service is already being offered, said Peter Meade, managing partner at TeleResearch Inc., in Carlsbad, California, speaking at the DSLCon 2000 Asia conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

"Once they learn what they need to learn to take it outside the U.S., then it'll really take off," Meade said in an interview at the conference -- of which he is also a director.

Tollbridge Technologies Inc. will announce in October that it has successfully tested a VoDSL gateway using V5.2, James Grady, Tollbridge's international vice president, said at the conference.

Tollbridge will join TDSoft Communications Inc. as one of the first vendors to build a gateway that uses V5.2. It expects to conduct trials with three Asian and two European carriers over the next two months and begin shipping V5.2-compliant gateways early next year, Grady said.

But the company, which sells its gateways through a partnership with Nortel Networks Inc. as well as on its own, is not alone. General Bandwidth Inc. is gearing up for a trial with a major European carrier in December and expects to offer its own international-standard gateway in the first quarter of 2001, Corporate Communications Manager Shannon Pleasant said in an interview at the conference.

TDSoft already has conducted several trials of VoDSL using V5.2, and at the conference joined with Lucent Technologies Inc. and Efficient Networks to demonstrate a VoDSL system for the Asian market.

Asia, where small businesses are the vast majority of enterprises, could be an especially lucrative market for such services.

The later deployment of VoDSL in international markets, after years of hype and provisioning headaches in the U.S., could be a blessing in disguise for international customers, Meade said. VoDSL has been deployed on at least 40,000 lines in the U.S., though perhaps many more, participants in a panel at DSLCon said.

"The rest of the world will get to benefit from the stumbles and bumbles that have happened in DSL in the U.S.," Meade said.

However, participants warned that just implementing one or two V5.2 gateways won't clear the path to global deployment of VoDSL. There are local quirks to nearly every country's version of the standard, several executives pointed out.

"V5.2 is not V5.2," quipped Greg Gum, vice president of business development at Ishoni Networks, in Santa Clara, California.

DSLCon continues through Thursday.

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