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IP Telephony news wrap-up for Dec 17 - 2007

VoIP to the Rescue for Emergency Responders

Story by Charlotte Wolter

Though VoIP has been challenged to comply with the traditional e911 system, the same cannot be said for new systems designed to provide seamless communication for first responders and emergency services, even when communication infrastructure has been widely destroyed by monstrosities such as a hurricanes.

Two new services -one for municipalities trying to unite disparate radio systems and another for communication in large-scale disasters-use VoIP as the unifying technology connecting the other elements of the system.

GlobalTel IP, a provider of group communications for mission-critical services, is planning to launch X-Stream Access, a managed service for emergency communication interoperability.

X-Stream Access is notable because it will include WAVE, the most widely deployed hosted group-communication software. This will enable smaller municipalities and counties to use the sophisticated features of the software service without having to deploy and maintain the complex software themselves.

WAVE enables many different emergency communication systems, such as radios (operating at many different frequencies, such as the UHF and VHF bands), traditional analog phone systems, IP phone systems, PCs, PDAs and industry-specific proprietary devices, to interoperate. Voice from each source is converted to VoIP, using small gateways placed at a strategic location for each system, and then connected under the control of WAVE.

Doesn't matter what frequency they are on. As long as they have one of our gateways, we can make them communicate with each other, says Larry Reid, president & CEO of GlobalTel IP. Chances are that, if anything is not on our list, we could make it talk to all those other devices out there.

WAVE, a product developed by Twisted Pair, includes other features important to emergency services such as high levels of security and access control with varying levels of permissions for access to the system, the ability to support thousands of user groups, support for push-to-talk communication among disparate devices and an intuitive management interface.

One driver for GlobalTel IP to offer WAVE on a hosted basis is the availability of grants from Homeland Security under a program called SAFECOM. Smaller organizations have been at a disadvantage in applying for these grants, which require interoperable communication, because of the expense of setting up interoperable systems. With X-Stream Access they can enable WAVE interoperability for as little as $1000 a month, says Reid.

Mobile to VoIP for Disaster Relief

Rivada Networks also brings together multiple communication technologies using VoIP, but the company focuses on using existing and widely deployed wireless technology, namely CDMA, for much of the communication during emergency situations.

Bob Duncan, senior vice president for government services with Rivada was Coast Guard district commander during Katrina. He observed his junior officers using their personal Blackberries and other handhelds to communicate, not just with voice, but also with pictures and text messaging. I thought, what a good idea! We can take advantage of what is there already.

Rivada took stock of the available technologies and opted for CDMA because it provided enough bandwidth for voice and data, especially with EVDO, which soon will be part of the Rivada System. Rivada can use existing CDMA infrastructure or can provide portable CDMA transmitters if infrastructure has been damaged. The company has agreements with wireless operators to use their existing spectrum for emergency services.

The real novelty is to tie everything together in a way that has not been done before, says Duncan. We are taking all the investment in cellular networks and putting it at the disposal of emergency providers.

The VoIP backbone of the system is provided by Cisco, which links all the various wireless and wired technologies after they are converted to VoIP.

For radio interoperability Rivada deploys a unit by Raytheon, called the ACU-1000, that can bring in signals from multiple incompatible radio systems.

We tie in all the LMR (land mobile radio) systems, all the walkie-talkies that are out there because you can't leave those out. We had 76 different police units show up for Katrina, and only three had LMRs compatible with state police.

Rivada's portable units resemble a component home-entertainment system and can be mounted in a variety of environments, ranging from Humvees to FEMA trailers. After Katrina one unit was lifted by helicopter to the top of a large building in New Orleans to provide mobile communication. The portable units also include a satellite dish to establish communication where no landlines are available.

More and more, Duncan says, those in charge, such as state governors or even the president, want a real-time view of what's going on. I don't have to know how CDMA works as long as I can do what I have to do and talk to the president, because they want to know what going on in the Ninth Ward or on the fire line.

GlobalTel IP
Rivada Networks
Story by Charlotte Wolter

Mitel Networks has been chosen by the government of The Netherlands for a
six-year contract to deploy voice over IP to more than 50,000 phones in 96
divisions of the government.

The deployment, under a program called OverheidsTelecom 2006 (OT2006), will
serve eight ministries, seven provincial authorities, 30 municipalities and
51 administrative bodies and advisory boards, and more than 52,000 lines
will move to a Mitel platform over the next four years.

The requirements of the RFP were simple, says Adri Waterman, project
manager for Triple P, the system integrator for the project. They wanted
the very lowest price, says Waterman. Price was 30 percent of the
scoring, and functionality was 70 percent.

Behind that simple ratio, however, what is expected is essentially custom
systems for each government office, based on their individual needs. What
was important was plain old IP telephony, but every project will have
specific functionality. Each department might have different requirements,
and those will be arranged within the overall agreement.

The scope of the project is nearly 100 organizations, at about 500
locations, maybe more. We don't know yet, says Waterman, adding, It will
be a distributed system, not a big central system, but a very distributed
architecture.

The ability to support unified communications and a presence in the
Netherlands were important factors in getting the contract. Mitel has previously done systems for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports and several large businesses within the country.

Mitel products slated for deployment include the 3300 IP Communications Platform (ICP) a scalable, communication system designed to support networks ranging from 10 to 65,000 users. It provides standard IP-PBX capabilities plus unified communication applications such as unified messaging, auto attendant, automatic call distribution (ACD) and wireless. The 3300 ICP also supports applications including multimedia collaboration
and customer-relationship management.

The 3300 ICP supports a range of desktop devices including entry-level IP phones, Web-enabled IP devices, wireless handsets (Wi-Fi or IP-DECT) and full-duplex IP audio conference units.

Also scheduled for deployment is the Mitel Enterprise Manager suite, which provides a single management interface to monitor and manage the activities of one or a network of 3300 ICPs.

Mitel Networks
Story by Charlotte Wolter

The last-minute unanimous vote on Dec. 4 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deny a petition by Verizon Communications for forbearance in several northeastern United States belies the deep conflicts in the regulatory body that led up to the decision.

The unanimous vote came after nearly two weeks of wrangling at the FCC, touched off by an effort by Chairman Kevin Martin to limit the size of the cable industry, specifically Comcast. The conflict came to a head at a late-November FCC meeting that lasted past midnight in which Martin faced a four to one defeat of his cable proposal.

The late-November cable imbroglio, combined with complaints from competitive carriers about the impending Verizon forbearance petition, attracted the attention of Congress. Martin was called before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and asked to explain complaints by other FCC commissioners of a lack of transparency and communication within the regulatory agency.

By the time the Verizon question came before the commission on Dec. 4 after more than a year of delay--the vote on Verizon's forbearance request was taken on the last day before the petition would have been granted by reason of inaction by the FCC. A chorus of congresspersons and competitive service providers was crying foul. Martin could have been facing another decisive defeat, but instead went with the majority for a unanimous vote.

The Dec. 4 meeting has not quieted the rumblings within the commission, nor the tide of criticism from outside. Martin was required to reply to a letter from Rep. John Dingell, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, asking him to explain how other commissioners and the public were to be notified of FCC actions well before votes were taken. Dingell also referred the matter to an oversight committee on procedures for further investigation.

And more conflict can be expected when the matter of cable market size and dominance is argued at the upcoming FCC meeting on Dec. 18. Martin reportedly has placed on the agenda a proposal to limit the size of any one cable provider to 30 percent of the total market, roughly equivalent to Comcast's current market share. This time the commission and its chairman are sure to be under the magnifying glass of Congress and consumer watchdog groups.

Also under the microscope are the procedures of the FCC. Some in Congress question the wisdom of allowing important questions, such as forbearance petitions to be decided by inaction on the part of the regulatory agency. There have been suggestions that Congress will seek to revise those rules.

Forbearance

The commission differences erupted over two issues that have to do with competition in telecom services.

First, was Verizon's request for forbearance, that is, relief from the limits placed on what it can charge competitors that want access to it network? Those rates are tightly controlled in an effort to foster competition. If Verizon had not been denied forbearance, the incumbent telco would have been able to raise significantly the fees paid by competitors for access to its network. The end of regulated, cost-based rates could have meant the end of business for these smaller competitors.

Verizon had made the request more than a year ago, and, as the deadline neared, the FCC had not taken action. Failure to take action would have granted the forbearance automatically to Verizon.

While the issue remained in doubt, some competitive carriers, such as Cbeyond, had delayed plans for expansion because of uncertainty over costs. Noting that the delay had lasted 15 months, Cbeyond reported, that the decision means that (the company) will be able to move forward with its plans to enter markets like Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Pittsburgh over the next several years.

The Cable 70/70 Rule

The so-called 70/70 rule that Martin had evoked as a reason to limit the size of cable operators is a little-known provision of the 1984 Cable Act. Designed to foster competition when cable was the only source of TV programming besides broadcast, it allows the commission to adopt rules limiting cable, if 70 percent of American households can receive cable and if 70 percent of households subscribe to cable.

Today, more than 95 percent of households are passed by cable, and 67 to 69 percent subscribe to a cable video service.

Critics of the chairman's proposals point out that the competitive situation has changed significantly since the original 70/70 rules were adopted. Satellite TV has become a significant competitor to cable, at least for multichannel TV, and the telcos are now entering the multichannel market. Some cable operators have reported losses of subscribers this year, further calling into question why the cable industry would need to be limited at this time.

One result of the conflict over the 70/70 rule, like the forbearance petitions, has been that Congress is re-examining the measure itself and may scrap the 70/70 rule altogether.

FCC
Story by Charlotte Wolter

One of the most enduring companies on the VoIP scene, NexTone, has merged with and Reef Point Systems, a provider of mobile access gateways, to form NextPoint Networks.

The merger is planned to join, not just the names, but also the products of the two companies to create a connectivity platform, called the Integrated Border Gateway, that bridges fixed and mobile networks.

Reef Point CEO Woody Ritchey was named CEO of the new company. The new entity launches with a $20 million war chest from a group of investors led by One Equity Partners, the private equity arm of JP Morgan Chase, and supported by American Capital, Core Capital Partners, Jerusalem Venture Partners, Safeguard Scientifics and Summerhill Venture Partners.

Seven-year-old Reef Point had developed a product that became important as fixed-mobile convergence developed, says Mark Pugerude, chief marketing officer, NextPoint. As part of IMS, service providers were attracted to the idea of a security gateway at the edge, He says.And it was not just the security issue but the scale issue. Most tier-one network providers looked for a network element that could handle hundreds of thousands of IP sec tunnels at the edge, so each transmitted at wireline speed and could
apply policy to IP Sec tunnels.

That focuses on layers two and three of a typical network. What NexTone brought to the table with its session border controller was security and control at higher layers, such as network signaling and even applications. A session border controller has NAT traversal and interconnection for end devices into a terminating device. So it is like a voice firewall, says Pugerude. On top of that it is allowing SIP traffic signaling, and it can pull billing records and call records.

One target market of the new company's products is the femtocell deployments that some operators are gearing up. Femtocells are small mobile base stations installed typically in a home to enable good connectivity for mobile devices. They are usually connected to broadband. Operators typically plan to offer consumers lower price points for use of mobile devices on their home networks than while mobile.

The new part is that the handsets ultimately are going to be IP end points. As move to IP end points, they start to look like ATAs in mobile VoIP or SIP trunking end users, Pugerude explains. So you need intelligence at the end to manage those sessions or bill for sessions.

NextPoint's investors saw this combination attacking a huge market segment of tier-one carriers, Pugerude asserts. The advantage the company will offer is a combination of security and scale with policy management for very large service providers.

NexTone began as one of the early softswitch providers in VoIP, and it garnered a loyal clientele among smaller service providers in the United States and overseas. Later, as softswitch functions became subsumed into gateways, the company migrated its technology to provide functions that fit more into the mold of session border controller. The combination with Reef Point brings those capabilities to mobile provider, which more and more find themselves dealing with IP end points.

Nextone Communications
Reef Point