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IP Telephony news wrap-up for May 29 - 2007

Rural Iowa Telcos Exploiting Regulations at Cost of IXCs

Typically, in a good guy and bad guy story involving business, the small business is the good guy and the big business is the bad guy. Furthermore, when AT&T being is involved, the company is nearly always the villian. But once in a lifetime, the tables get turned and AT&T and the big carriers become victimized by the most unlikely of companies - charity telcos.

In the U.S., there are approximately 25 small towns, half in remote corners of Iowa, that are served by independent LECs. Historically, these providers have been able to show that they can't profit from providing telecom services to their respective markets and as a result, the government helps them out. First off, the LECs are subsidized by the Universal Services Fund, a tax program established to ensure that citizens across the country have access to phone and Internet service. Furthermore, the local providers are given the right to charge more for termination than LECs in other markets.

On average, IXCs pay less than a penny per minute for traffic. The rural LECs usually get between 2 and 5 cents per minute for traffic, with the highest payout being a dime per minute.

Last year, the rural telcos started taking advantage of their unique support that has been keeping them operational. The companies teamed with chat line and conference calling companies (such as Freeconferencecall.com, Alibi, and Butt Monkey) to establish virtual calling centers in these Iowa towns. As a result, voice traffic grew in exponential numbers, enabling the small rural LECs to begin billing the IXCs for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per month. In exchange for having calls virtually terminate in their markets, telcos have been providing the chat line and conferencing companies with shared revenues from the IXC money.

In the past, Americans would have probably been reluctant to call such a service without a toll free number, but today unlimited long distance plans as well as plans with large bulk minute allowances are becoming increasingly popular.

The joint ventures sparked unbelievable traffic growth for Farmers Telephone in Riceville, Iowa, which reported terminating 25 million minutes of traffic in October of last year, up from 1.5 million minutes in April of 2005.

The IXCs (specifically AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and Qwest) were slow to catch on, but once they did figure things out, they started blocking calls to phone numbers associated with the call in services and stopped paying the LECs' bills. By spring of this year, traffic to the Iowa towns was down 30-50%.

The carriers have filed lawsuits against the LECs and the LECs have filed lawsuits against the carriers. Both sides have asked for the FCC to step in, but the commission hasn't taken any action. Further, there is no clear indication that the LECs have broken the law based on how the regulations are defined.

In the meantime, some of the LECs have created a coalition (The Coalition for Carrier Neutrality) and are working with a legal firm to solicit public and media support, playing as if they were carrying the torch of the net neutrality issue. The IXCs ceased blocking traffic in April, yet the coalition claims that the carriers are providing degraded service for the calls they are transporting.

Most of the rural telcos have been enjoying the windfall. Only four of the twenty five companies eligible for the government assistance are on record renouncing the practice.

AT&T
Sprint
Verizon
Qwest
Coalition for Carrier Neutrality
MIPS Technologies has introduced two new processor cores including the 74Kc base integer core and the 74Kf core, which provides floating point support. The technology, members of the new 74K core processor family, are designed for high volume applications such as chips that drive DTV, set top boxes, DVD players and recorders, broadband access, PON, residential gateways, and VoIP. The cores are fully synthesizable 32-bit processors that operate at frequencies greater than 1 GHz in TSMC 65mn process technology.

The processors are designed to work with generic standard cells, memories and EDA design flows without the need for premium physical IP or structured logic and custom design flows.

The cores have a 17-stage pipeline that use a combination of out of order dispatch and asymmetric dual issue. Out of order instruction dispatch enables the core to execute multiple instructions more often than an in order processor, resulting in improved performance and efficiency, even for existing binary code.

Other features include enhanced DSP instructions that accelerate performance, reduce power consumption, and add more signal processing functionality to the processor. Advanced Branch Prediction supports three 256 entry branch history tables and an 8-entry return prediction stack. The cores include extensive clock gating for low power.

In the worst case, the cores support operations at 1.04 GHz with 1.8 DMIPS/MHz performance at a TSMC 65nm GP process. The core area is 1.7mm2, with the total area covering 2.5mm2. The power is 0.76 mW/MHz and the cache size (inst/data) is 32K/32K.

The cores are offered with CorExtend functionality, which allows SoC designers to add proprietary instructions and hardware. Along with the new processors, MIPS provides support via silicon IP, software, hardware and services.

Both new cores are currently available.

Broadcom was the first company to license the 74K technology back in January.

MIPS Technologies
Intel is aggressively marketing its dual-core processors as a desktop IP conferencing solution that will support a plethora of uncommon conferencing features. In addition to supporting collaboration and file presentation, the solution can support TiVo-style playback, instant captioning of conversation translation into multiple languages.

The company has helped drive demand for the products through a joint development initiative with Skype that led to a free conferencing service that supports up to 10 users. Intel also spearheaded a fundraising effort for Jajah that raised $20 million for the PC to X service provider.

The bullish vision of IP-based PC conferencing is largely attributed to declining conferencing costs, which according to TeleSpan, have dropped in North America from an average of 24 CPM in 2000 to 8 CPM last year. Heavy users are reportedly getting rates as low as 2 CPM.

Feature support of future generation processors from Intel include automatic transcription and translation of conferences as well as a survivability functionality that keeps VoIP calls or conferences uninterrupted in the event a PC's OS crashes.

Intel
This fall, HP will pre-install Media Ring's Talk softphone on consumer desktops and notebooks shipped with Microsoft's Vista OS. The SIP-based Talk supports PC to x, phone to PC service, IM, text collaboration and voice conferencing. The initial computers with Talk included will be available in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.

Talk support for Simplified Chinese was announced earlier this month.

In the future, Media Ring expects its client to be interoperable with Google Talk.

HP
Media Ring
3cx has introduced a new Windows-based SIP IP PBX that features call switching, routing and queuing as well as auto attendant, teleworking support, and voicemail to email. A small business version of the system is available for $350 and a version that supports an unlimited number of extensions goes for $895. The company also offers a free, feature stripped version of the IP PBX that includes auto attendant and voicemail.

3cx
Calypso Wireless will license its four patented technologies that enable cell phones and wireless PDAs/Pocket PCs to convert voice messages to text messages and text messages to voice messages. The company is marketing its technology to mobile operators, ISPs, and OEMs of wireless devices.

Calypso Wireless
Kosmaz has launched VoIPVoIP, a prepaid consumer VoIP service in the U.S. that is distinguished by the inclusion of a calling card to be used when a high speed Internet connection is unavailable. The phone service supports phone calls made over a PC, a regular phone, or a mobile phone. A phone number can be assigned from more than 30 different countries.

ABACash has recently introduced a similar prepaid service.

The new ventures aren't necessarily newsworthy, but they are a reminder that the low cost of entry in establishing a VoIP service is leading to a marketplace flooded with providers and to primary line service as a bona fide small business opportunity.

Kosmaz
ABACash
Texas Instruments has embedded its G.168-2004 compliant Telinnovation echo cancellation (EC) software across its TMS320c64x and c64x+ DSP platforms. The EC is initially available as a callable function that is integrated into an OEM's framework. In Q4 of this year, it will be offered as a standalone DSP image of executable code on the TNETV3020 processor.

As an image version, the EC will support 672 channels of line echo cancellation including VQE and TFO. Higher voice channel densities will become available for various customer specific applications.

Texas Instruments
SoliCall has introduced PBXMate, an algorithm that works in SIP PBXs that reduces background noise and noise originating from external phones. The technology identifies the speaker's voice and extracts it from the audio signal. Further product details as well as pricing are not being disclosed to press.

SoliCall