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VoiceCon Talks Interoperability, Integration - InternetNews.
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VoiceCon Talks Interoperability, Integration

While the IP telephony industry may be coming together today at the VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Florida, it's still wrangling with fundamental issues that keep it fractured and too expensive.

For one thing, even though much of the industry has embraced common technologies like Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP , it's still far from a unified field. And that's hurting everyone involved in Voice over IP (VoIP).

"You would be hard-pressed to identify any IP voice vendor offering a totally open solution," conference founder Fred Knight told InternetNews.com. "Just because a solution is SIP-compliant doesn't mean that you can guarantee that all features transfer from location A to location B. If we're talking on two different PBXs, we can communicate but the features and functions I get at my desk won't necessarily transfer to yours."

Knight said that interoperability lowers costs, enables innovation, and allows enterprises to handle the reality that voice systems are rarely from just one vendor in a single large deployment.

The problem isn't just interoperability between systems from different vendors, he added. "You can run into trouble with systems from a different vendor, or systems from the same vendor running different software releases," Knight said. "We have always been hammering on the issue of interoperability."

But vendors say they're working on the issue. Today, for example, communications company Avaya is releasing its Avaya Aura core communications platform, a software architecture that combines functions previously allocated to disparate software modules.

By centralizing the architecture, Avaya aims to simplify the VoIP network, but the company recognizes that prospective customers will need to be persuaded to buy anything at all.

"This significant, new architecture announcement comes at a time of economic challenge for our customers," said Lawrence Byrd, Avaya's director of unified communications architecture. "We need to meet immediate needs, allow businesses to leverage what they've got, and allow incremental deployment."

Today, Byrd said, a global enterprise's IP voice system sends more traffic over the phone system than it has to, and that costs money. Furthermore, even the IP portion of the voice network is inefficient.

"There are [telephone system] charges, take back and transfer charges, and other charges that should have gone," he said.

The centralized architecture of Avaya Aura is aimed at allowing organizations to have one numbering plan. This will enable enterprises to route more calls over the IP network, realizing savings. In addition, a more efficient network design will reduce the number of SIP trunks required, delivering further savings.

Finally, Avaya Aura will deliver the call management systems currently used in customer contact centers to the rest of the enterprise. It's one of Avaya's core competences, said Tom Hanson, senior manager for Avaya customer service solutions.

"We have a 40 percent global market share in contact centers," Hanson said.

He added that the intensive call management systems currently deployed only in call centers -- such as real-time call monitoring and logging, call analytics and supervisor and management tools -- can be deployed in the rest of the enterprise.

"Whether the contact center is viewed as a cost center or a profit center, it is now an area of best practices that can be pushed across the enterprise," he said.

Metrics will help companies save money, added Byrd, who noted that most global enterprises don't know their exact telecommunications costs.

Period of transition

Customers are receptive to what the major IP voice companies are saying, said VoiceCon's Knight, because they know that the industry is changing. "We're in a period of transition where old and new technologies co-exist," he said. "Just as over the past 20 years we moved from analog to digital, now we're moving from digital to IP."

Customers are worried about the economy, but anyone with a long-term plan knows that conditions will eventually improve. "There's a heightened focus on the dollars and cents, on ROI," Knight said. "On the other hand, there's a realization that the economy goes up and down. As painful as this time is, it will pass eventually, and VoiceCon attendees want to know about new technologies."

"New technologies are starting to arrive that from the beginning were designed to handle real-time communications -- voice, video, data, text, IM -- and that were built with the assumption that mobility is a fundamental characteristic," he added. "At Orlando, we are seeing the beginning of products that assume the inevitability of that convergent world."