RealTime IT News

Microsoft Bets on .NET-based VoIP

Microsoft used the Spring 2003 Voice on the Net (VON) Trade Show & Expo in San Jose as a platform to unveil a Windows CE .NET-based Voice over IP (VoIP) solution that paves the way for the integration of voice communications with a variety of IP-based client devices and services, including PCs and mobile phones.

The Windows CE .NET advancements will include a sample Telephony User Interface (TUI), a VoIP Application Interface Layer (VAIL) and an advanced real time communications/Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) network protocol.

The TUI will provide an integrated, telephony-specific graphical user interface which Microsoft said OEMs will be able to customize and extend, while VAIL offers an extensible VoIP application suite and API layer based on real-time communication and SIP. Finally, enterprise infrastructure integration services will provide new support for the .NET Compact Framework, as well as new security and network technologies like IP Security (IPSec) and 802.11a.

The enhancements will come with Windows CE .NET, slated for release during the first half of 2003.

The advances to Windows CE .NET are designed to complement Greenwich, the company's forthcoming extensible real-time communications solution, through an integrated client and server solution. They will also synch with Microsoft's recently launched Windows 2000 Server for Telecommunications Systems with the Server Appliance Software 2.0. That product comprises embedded server software for telecommunications equipment, geared for use in small and medium-sized businesses.

"VoIP is creating new opportunities for the communications industry to offer greater convenience and productivity to its customers," said Todd Warren, general manager of the Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group at Microsoft. "Windows CE .NET 4.2 will provide the industry's most integrated and extensible standards-based VoIP device platform, enabling OEMs and network equipment providers to more quickly, easily and richly innovate and deliver on the promise of VoIP."

Microsoft sees the technology as permeating all manner of devices, from handsets and PDAs to consumer electronics and even industrial automation robots.

"We really see this as part of a wave of investments we're making around VoIP," Scott Horn, director of marketing for the embedded and appliance platforms group at Microsoft, told internetnews.com. "We see voice increasingly as a disruptive technology."

For instance, Horn said Symbol Technologies is using the new VoIP solution to create mobile data collection devices with 'walkie-talkie' capabilities for use in warehouses.

"We think that's a precursor of all the places you'll see VoIP being used," Horn said. "We really want to enable OEMs to focus on what differentiates their devices out of the box."

Microsoft has also lined up Original Device Manufacturer (ODM) and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support for the new VoIP push, with a slew of companies designing devices and silicon to support it. Microsoft said BCM Computers, Casio Computer Company, Hitachi, NEC Infrontia, Samsung Electronics, Symbol Technologies and Tatung are in the process of developing devices. AMD, ARM, Broadcom, Conextant Systems, Intel, MIPS Technologies and Texas Instruments are in the process of optimizing their CPUs and building reference designs for VoIP devices using Windows CE .NET.

Wednesday's announcement comes on the heels of Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates' declaration last month that mobility will touch on every aspect of the company's business.

"This business is something that probably will be the fastest growing of all of our businesses," Gates said at the Microsoft Mobility Developer Conference 2003, held in conjunction with the CTIA Wireless 2003 show in New Orleans.

Gates said Microsoft will pursue a strategy in which devices in all form factors will work together intelligently to create a rich user experience. The company is relying on its .NET Framework to pull it all together, allowing all of the various form factors to operate on the same platform. The .NET Compact Framework, a subset of the .NET Framework, is designed for the lower-power devices like PDAs and Smartphones. The plan is to support mobile applications ranging from field sales to mobile gaming, delivery routing and field service.

In related news Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled two sample applications designed from the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification.

The applications, created by Vertigo Software using Microsoft's SALT-based Speech Software Development Kit (SDK) beta 2, include the ASP.NET Commerce Starter Kit, and the Fitch & Mather Stocks (FMStocks) Web application.

The ASP.NET Commerce Starter Kit, based on the IBuySpy Store sample, is meant to show how an existing Web-based e-commerce store can be speech-enabled. The application allows users to order an item by product number, browse the store catalog and hear product descriptions with voice. FMStocks allows users to obtain stock quotes, buy and sell stock, and review their portfolios with voice.

"By following these sample applications, developers are able to speech-enable their current Web applications based on Visual Studio .NET, having limited to zero experience with speech technology," said Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software. "With the SALT-based Speech SDK integrated in Visual Studio, developers now have an incredible new interface option that can augment existing, traditional systems.