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Scott Petrack, Divisional CEO, Alcatel

Scott PetrackScott Petrack has a unique take on how far Voice over IP has come and how far it can still go.

After earning a doctorate in mathematics from Oxford University, he worked as a research fellow for IBM and later principal technologist of IP networking at VoIP pioneer VocalTec Communications.

He became interested in guiding the technology's development and was founding co-chair of the VoIP Forum. And he's helped steer the industry toward the Session Initiation Protocol standard.

More recently, he founded IP conferencing and collaboration specialist eDial, which was sold to Alcatel in September and now operates as a division of the French network equipment giant.

Petrack recently spoke with internetnews.com about the VoIP industry, life after eDial's acquisition and the new wave of carrier consolidation.

Q: You have an interesting professional background that can be traced to the beginning of IP telephony. What's your take on the development of the industry to date?

Every 40 years or so there's been huge change in telephony technology. We moved from crank to rotary to touchtone and now VoIP. It's now very real; deployments are happening all over. VoIP will take 10 more years before it's everywhere, and another 10 years after that before the last vestiges of the PSTN are gone.

Q: What are some of the implications of that evolution?

By turning telephony into another data service, VoIP makes it possible for everything to be billed on a per-month, per-seat basis. By the time [the shift] is over, that will be a major change in the way we do communications, and it's something consumers really want. There's no nickel-and-diming.

Q: What was your vision when you founded eDial?

We saw a world of people online and near a phone. We couldn't help but notice all the VoIP players were busy trying to replace phone with something. But we looked at what communication services people online and near a phone wanted and could use and could save them money.

We are big believers in the value of IM. Among business users, half of IMs end up in phone calls, so we felt you should be able to make a phone call from an IM session. Conference calls are an expensive niche -- the last bastion of high-margin services. We wanted to turn conference calls into things you could do all the time, using a proven interface to help groups of people work together.

Q: Alcatel bought eDial last year for its conferencing and collaboration tools. What's it been like to go from a 35-person firm to an international telecom giant?

There's been a huge acceleration for us. We've appeared in at least 10 [request for proposals] since the acquisition. Alcatel is an immense change for us and an immense validation for us.

Q: Many of the carriers that Alcatel is selling to are acquiring or being acquired. What does the consolidation trend mean for companies like Alcatel that are making network hardware and software?

We think it's awesome. [The carriers] need to offer bundled offerings to people who are online and on the phone. We have the most modern equipment to do it. It's going to take some time for these acquisitions and mergers to get adjusted, but we think we are strategically placed.

Alcatel is building triple-play [video, voice and data network] for SBC. The next thing is to overlay applications on top of that. We worked hard on [our eDial] user interface. It's dead simple for actual people; it's not about VoIP geeks. We're very excited that these large carriers will need services that 10 million or 20 million people can do. With Alcatel's size and eDial's execution, we hope to win a lot of these deals.