RealTime IT News

Open Source a Driving Force for VoIP?

TORONTO -- Open Source is a major force in Voice over Internet Protocol that contributes innovation and provides real business value for the telecom manufacturers and resellers.

That was the message from Mark Spencer, founder of the open source Asterisk PBX project and president of its commercial offshoot Digium, at the Voice Over Net (VON) show here today.

Asterisk is the popular open source PBX application. Version 1.0 of the product was released in September and is licensed under the open source GPL license .

In addition to traditional PBX services, Asterisk provides three-way calling, conferencing, voicemail with directory and caller ID. It's also a gateway for VoIP interoperability, handling SIP , H.323 and Media Gateway Control Protocol specifications.

Beyond those protocols, Asterisk also has its own IAX (Inter-Asterisk eXchange), a protocol Spencer touted as proof of the innovative force of the open source model.

"Open Source is really driving innovation," Spencer told the audience. He described the IAX Protocol as NAT transparent (which is huge issue for other protocols) and is an efficient transport that can triple calls per megabit versus SIP G.729.

Spencer also discussed DUNDi, an open source peer-to-peer routing protocol. DUNDi brings the P2P model to call routing and even involves a new type of agreement for carriers for peering that's modeled on the GPL, called the GPA (General Peering Agreement).

Spencer told representatives of Canada's telecom industry that "open" concepts have a historical precedent as old as Isaac Newton. The 28-year old Spencer put up a famous Newton quote, "If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants," to help explain how open source uses the collective power of many to spur innovation.

He also repeated the open source mantra of "no vendor lock-in" which solicited painful looks (and a few smirks) from some in the audience.

In Spencer's view, open source is an ideal for the telecom space as it has an extremely large users base, highly technical development user base and there is high-cost differentiation (in terms of what an open source solution cost vs. proprietary). As well there is a strong demand for extreme customization in telecom, which is something that open source can provide.

Spencer also took aim at proprietary vendors that don't allow resellers to easily (if at all) customize solutions, which makes it harder for the resellers to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

"The reason why open source and Asterisk are good for VARS is it gives you the opportunity to add more value and make more money," Spencer said.

For manufacturers of telecom equipment, Spencer argued that open source offers benefits as it improves the pace of development by spreading across a wider development group.

In Spencer's view, manufacturers have only a few options in the new competitive environment. They can try and stay ahead of where open source is or embrace open source solutions through either productizing open source solutions or integrating open source tools into existing products.

"Or you could become a disruptive open source leader yourself," Spencer said. "Open source and business can co-exist. Open source and the GPL are about the customer first not the vendor, so you have to adapt to those things."