We attended our first Voice on the Net (VON) conference in the Fall of 1997, where we organized and spoke in a session on telephony over cable. At that time, voice over IP (VoIP) was synonymous with hobbyists speaking to each other through their PCs -- a little better than tin cans, but not much.
Today, most people in the telephone industry accept that packet-switched telephony will supplant circuit-switched. They may argue about the specific protocols and devices, and about the timing and path, but agree that it's just a matter of time.
We've been to many VON conferences, in the US and abroad, but we've missed the last few. The FastNet Futures conference was held simultaneously with VON under the same sponsorship, so it was interesting to attend some of the VON sessions and walk the show floor to see where the industry is now -- with a focus on residential broadband.
SIP is becoming accepted as the preferred call control protocol. H.323 is important in Europe, and many products support both. Many companies are making SIP telephones, both for office and home use.
We were particularly intrigued by the $75 SIP phones and MTAs shown by Grandstream Networks. We talked with David Li, Grandstream's CEO, and hope to test these in our house soon.
We attended an interesting session on SIP through NAT. Most corporate firewalls block SIP; so do many home gateways/routers, although the latest ones with UPnP do not. Probably the best solution is a SIP-aware firewall, such as those made by Intertex. Since we have an Intertex IX-66 (on loan from ABP International), we stopped at the Intertex booth on the show floor. We learned that the IX-66 has many SIP features we had previously missed; we will start using them as part of our SIP testing. We saw the latest model of the IX-66, which has a slot for a Wi-Fi card and acts as a wireless access point as well as a firewall and router.
Microsoft used the show to announce a comprehensive voice over IP (VoIP) solution for IP-based client devices; these enhancements will be included in Windows CE .NET 4.2. Many companies including Samsung and Broadcom showed prototypes of SIP phones based on the upcoming software, due in the second quarter of 2003.
We stopped by the Global IP Sound booth to see and hear a demonstration of their GIPS Soundware product suite. A call through a PC to the GIPS office in Stockholm provided a convincing demonstration that VoIP can be "better than PSTN quality". GIPS specializes in advanced sound software, including a royalty free Codec submitted last year to the IETF for consideration as an open standard, and software approaches that compensate for jitter and losses over packet networks. Several vendors demonstrated commercial products based on GIPS Soundware.