Peering brings IP services to wider audience

Companies are offering services that let VOIP providers connect to each other directly to route calls

Peering is poised to break down the biggest hurdle preventing the widespread and low-cost use of cutting-edge services based on IP (Internet Protocol), said speakers at the VON Europe conference in Stockholm. Those services include integrated video conferencing, media sharing, high-quality audio, and secure, integrated instant messaging.

Peering between VOIP (voice over IP) service providers as well as directly between large enterprises has been a hot topic at the conference and its implementation promises to bring new services to end users, its proponents say.

Peering is the process of VOIP service providers connecting to each other directly to route calls, circumventing the PSTN (public switched telephone network). The process eliminates some of the costs involved with connecting to the PSTN but also increases voice quality partly because the calls don't have to be converted back and forth from IP to TDM (time division multiplexing), the standard used by the telephone networks.

But more importantly, peering, which can also be done directly between enterprises that might do a lot of business with each other, allows two people with different VOIP service providers to use integrated IP services with each other, such as peer-to-peer video calling from a phone with built-in video and address book. Today, video conferencing services are available to people across networks if they use the same hardware and software and without integration of features like address books.

Peering is just beginning to happen and until most service providers have that capability, cutting-edge services won't be available to all VOIP users, said Eli Katz, founder and chief executive at XConnect Global Networks. To simplify the peering process, third-party companies are offering centralized services that allow VOIP service providers to connect just once to them to peer directly with other service providers.

XConnect and its activity in the Netherlands has become one of the earliest success stories. Most of the cable operators in the Netherlands have signed on to use XConnect so that providers can offer customers IP services that can be used with each others' customers. For example, they're working on launching video telephony in which the customer of one cable VOIP provider can do video calling with customers of any of the other cable providers in the Netherlands, Katz said. That's just the first step, he said. With more service providers on board, the services can become available between more end users.

Peering among VOIP operators is also being considered by the enterprise market. Many enterprises support innovative IP-based services, including some that integrate voice and data services, sophisticated instant messaging services, media-sharing tools and video conferencing. But typically those services can only be used internally. Peering directly with another companies would allow workers to use such services with each other.

Most IT administrators, however, are reluctant to link their private networks with networks of other companies for security reasons, said Baruch Sterman, chief executive officer of Kayote Networks. Because they've converged their voice and data networks onto their IP networks, they fear unauthorized access to their data.

But Sterman hinted that the same third-party companies that are helping VOIP service providers peer may also be targeting the enterprise market. If that happens, an enterprise might be able to link up with a trusted third-party peering company that could handle the connection to other companies.

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