Metcalfe's column: From the Ether

There really is something to the Internet's new SIP (session initiation protocol) and MGCP (media gateway control protocol). SIP and MGCP were prominent in my recent column about ipVerse "softswitching" VoIP (voice over IP), and now they're back in Pingtel Corp.'s new Java-based VoIP telephones.

I met with Pingtel CEO Jay Batson, who I knew when he was a market analyst at Forrester Research, and Pingtel Vice President of Marketing Jim Hourihan, who I knew when he led marketing at Bay Networks (now Nortel). They arrived with two snazzy phones, a laptop computer, a four-port Ethernet hublet, and cables.

The first thing I noticed was that the phones had RJ-45 Ethernet jacks (not the usual RJ-11 telephone jacks) and no power plugs.

The phones get power neatly through their Ethernet cables from the hublet.

The laptop ran Pingtel's management software, which could be running on servers anywhere in the Internet.

On the outside, Pingtel's phones have a 160x160 LCD, 12 dialing buttons, 11 soft buttons, eight hard buttons, a speakerphone, a message light, an infrared wireless port, a scroll wheel for making menu selections, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the inside, they have a Java virtual machine.

Pingtel's phones enthusiastically embrace the idea of intelligence at the edge of the network, the opposite of the old paradigm in which dumb phones are connected to a central office mainframe switch.

When powered up on the Internet, Pingtel's phones discover their IP addresses and management server, within their LAN or at a remote ASP (application service provider).

When I picked up one Pingtel and dialed the number of the other, it rang. Dialing caused my phone to contact its management server.

There, using SIP and MGCP, it rang the other phone and completed a crystal-clear 64Kbps VoIP call.

Completing calls is not all Pingtel phones can do.

With Java virtual machines, they can provide more than all the Centrex and PBX features you can think of, which is far more than you'll ever use.

In addition, you can dial by URL, click a directory, schedule calls, record calls, personalize rings, take voice mail, do e-mail, customize messages to people calling, find/follow me, organize conference calls, extend your company's PBX to work at home, call billing, and on and on.

More than anything else, the Pingtel phone initiative is an application development platform for a Web telephone.

One third-party application would turn your phone into an auction terminal, another into a call-center terminal, and another into an airline reservation terminal.

Batson lets on that Pingtel would be happy to license manufacturing of its Java VoIP hardware and then function just as a software company.

Pingtel sounds like a PC at this point, but it's intended to sit next to a PC on an Ethernet. Some applications connect your PC and phone. Pingtel quotes research results from IDC that show 94 percent of users prefer telephones to PCs.

Pingtel is busy signing up first-rate partners, second-round investors, and third-party application developers.

They announced in March and plan to ship before October.

Pingtel has many competitors -- including 3Com, Intel, Lucent, Nortel, and Siemens -- but none are putting as much intelligence in their phones, Batson says.

See www.pingtel.com for news.

Internet Collapses book plug

Which is a great lead-in to a plug for my new book of columns, Internet Collapses and Other InfoWorld Punditry.

For under $20, get a 324-page selection of my best columns going back 10 years (to when I first got on Microsoft's antitrust case).

Also included are rebuttals from various technology and Internet luminaries, including Vint Cerf, who wrote that I'm a "ranting gasbag." (I'm sure he meant that in a good way.)Order now your very own copy at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe invites all users of the Windows operating system to join him for his weekly Wednesday Webcast, 10 a.m. PDT, at www.itworld.com.

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