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Mon 5 Jan 2009 08:00 AM

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The Future of VoIP: Where can it take you?

Back in 1995, the first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls were made between two PCs

Back in 1995, the first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls were made between two PCs. At first, it was just a technological novelty but by 1998, VoIP had begun to establish itself as a means of providing low-cost long distance calls, carrying an estimated 1% of US phone traffic.

Jump forward ten years to 2008 and VoIP has revolutionised the way that residential and business communications are delivered. According to Infonetics, around 30% of all international telephone traffic is now carried as VoIP.

In the business world, VoIP has been the driving force behind a range of new options for business communications. Businesses looking to replace their existing telephone system will almost certainly examine a range of VoIP-capable PABXs. But for businesses of all sizes, there is now another option – hosted IP communications from a service provider.

At Nortel, we call this IP Powered Business, and it enables a consistent, fully-featured voice service to be delivered to end-users regardless of where they are; at a corporate headquarters or branch office, working at a customer site or at home. Because the service is delivered from high-availability, network-based softswitches, businesses have huge flexibility to add new users and new locations, to move users between locations and rapidly implement business continuity plans, which may require an entire workforce to relocate to temporary premises in the space of a few hours.

With the global recession beginning to bite, business users are also attracted by the commercial advantages of using a hosted IP communications service. They no longer need to buy, manage, maintain and upgrade their own PABX. Instead, a service provider can offer a range of service packages for a per-user, per month fee. Those packages will certainly include all the traditional business telephony features, such as call diversion and voice mail, but are also growing to include multimedia features such as presence, instant-messaging, click-to-call, video calling, video conferencing and collaboration.

End-users can choose to access the service via traditional telephone or via a PC client – or both. And with Fixed Mobile Convergence, end-users can move seamlessly between fixed and mobile phones, and between cellular and WiFi networks while maintaining the ability to access their complete range of services and content.

All this is available today – but coming in the near future will be a new level of integration between web-based applications and VoIP services. One example of this could be a lone-worker application, which displays the location and safety status of employees working alone, and which allows a supervisor to contact each employee on their mobile phone simply by clicking on that employee’s icon on a map screen.

Innovations in VoIP have not been limited to the business market. Home users have also participated in a phenomenal explosion of VoIP usage. As well as dedicated VoIP service

providers such as Skype, we have also seen VoIP being embedded into Instant Messaging applications from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft as well as games consoles, enabling multi-player gamers to chat while playing over the broadband network. We’ve also seen the emergence of triple and quad-play service providers, such as Neuf-Cegetel in France, who have successfully won business from millions of homes by packaging broadband access, VoIP, TV and mobile services. At Nortel, we’ve termed this the IP Powered Home and it’s about to get even more exciting.

Coming soon will be new features, such as the ability to add telephony functions to IPTV. When you receive an incoming call at home, the TV will automatically pause the live broadcast you are watching, show details of the caller and allow you to accept the call or send it to voicemail simply by pressing a button on the remote control.

VoIP has come a long way, from its earliest incarnation as a technical curiosity for PC enthusiasts to the underlying technology for almost all new voice telephony networks today. As we begin to explore the opportunities for further integration between fixed, mobile and web-based services, we can expect to see a great deal more VoIP-oriented innovation in the months and years ahead.

The author, David Perry, is senior manager of Nortel’s Carrier VoIP & Applications Solutions

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Doug 11 years ago

You were aware this column was to be published in the UAE, weren't you? Where VoIP is banned because it would undermine the antiquated state telecom monopoly? The rest of the world might go onto VoIP but as long as people can be ripped off, it ain't happening here.