Anaheim, Calif. -- Vendors tried to demonstrate, at the
recent Western Show, that Internet Protocol phones are for real.
The needle on the technology hype machine redlined on IP
telephony developments at the show here two weeks ago, with new and existing telco
suppliers vying for attention.
For starters, Motorola Inc. unveiled its "MTA-1,"
adopting the parlance for "Multimedia Terminal Adapter" from Cable Television
Laboratories' PacketCable initiative. The MTA-1 sits between a common household phone
and a cable modem to translate circuit-switched service to IP-based phone signaling.
Vienna Systems Corp. dominated much of the buzz, exhibiting
its "IP Shuttle" adapter in six different booth locations. The IP Shuttle, also
designed in coordination with the PacketCable MTA, was connected at the Show to 3Com
Corp.'s cable modems and headend.
Dan MacDonald, vice president of marketing for
Ontario-based Vienna, said the IP Shuttle -- which was used as the reference design for
the PacketCable MTA -- is perhaps the first incidence of packetized phone traffic
traveling all the way to consumers.
"So far, IP phone has mostly been about long-distance
alternatives -- you dial a number, and then a whole set of other numbers," explained
MacDonald. "Bringing IP to the home puts us ahead of the game."
Intel Corp. also joined the IP telephony game, debuting,
videoconferencing software for PCs connected at high speeds -- via cable modems or ADSL
(asymmetrical digital subscriber line) connections -- to the Internet. Dwayne Canfield,
product manager for Intel's Architecture Lab, said that tests are underway with Internet
Cable Corp., over U.S. Cable Coastal Properties' system in Charleston, S.C.
Canfield said that since the Intel solution is
software-centric, cable operators need not buy or tweak their existing or planned
high-speed data systems to make it work.
"It's really transport independent. As long as you
have an IP stack, you're there," he said.
He said Intel plans to continue field tests in 1999, and
that he envisions a day when digital cameras are sold to customers as an option with their
high-speed data service.
The Video Phone software is already factory-installed on PC
systems from "leading computer makers," Canfield said. Many of those same PC
makers will ship systems with the broadband enhancements in the first quarter of next
Com21 also threw its IP telephony hat into the ring,
demonstrating a cable modem-based toll-quality telephony system. It works as a slide-in
module that plugs into Com21's ComPORT cable modems, executives said, so that cable
operators can sell toll-quality voice services into the "high-margin, high-revenue
enterprise" markets, executives said.
When equipped with the module, the Com21 modem supports up
to two phone lines and eight PCs. Pete Fenner, president and CEO of Com21, termed the
development a breakthrough in telecommunications technology.
Meanwhile, under the chassis, Broadcom Corp. introduced a
reference design for a chip that integrates the cable modem, IP telephony and full motion
IP video conferencing. The design is built around Broadcom's BCM3300 single-chip cable
modem, and will enable manufacturers build IP telephony and video conferencing
capabilities into next-generation cable modems, wall-mounted network interface units and
set-tops, executives said.
Steve Craddock, vice president of new media development for
Comcast Corp., said that Broadcom's move is "an important step toward the development
of IP-based equipment for the cable industry."
The reference design supports four lines of audio, as well
as standards including simple gateway control protocol (SGCP). SGCP is at the core of the
cable-centric Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), under development by the PacketCable
initiative. Broadcom, a vendor author for PacketCable's IP telephony effort, said the
design also supports the H.323 Internet telephony standard.
MCK Communications Inc., another cable newcomer,
demonstrated with 3Com what it calls an "IP Extender." The system was developed
for telecommuting applications, executives said, so users can access a remote PBX over a
cable-provided business IP service.
Woody Benson, president and CEO of MCK, said the remote
voice extenders will be available in late 1999.
Amid all that, 3Com said it and 8x8 Inc. will form a
laboratory in Santa Clara, Calif., to accelerate the development and deployment of IP
telephony that complies with the PacketCable specification. In the effort, 3Com will
contribute its cable modem systems, and 8x8 will contribute both audio and video MTAs
based on the company's "Audacity" IP telephony technology, executives said.
The collaboration extends an earlier co-marketing agreement
between 8x8 and 3Com for telco-based videoconferencing.
Mike Noonan, vice president of business development for
8x8, said that he hopes that the output of the lab will help establish a mass market for
PacketCable voice and video telephony products.
Also in the 8x8 suite of announcements: interoperability
with NetSpeak Corp. and Motorola Inc. on broadband IP telephony, based on the SGCP
protocol. The three demonstrated their collaborative work together at the show,
demonstrating that calls can be placed between 8x8's "packet gateway,"
Motorola's MTA-1, and NetSpeak's "call agent" software. Specifically, the
companies placed phone calls between the 8x8 and Motorola gateways, using standard
touch-tone phones, while the NetSpeak call agent routed the call across a cable network.
"Multi-vendor interoperability is crucial to the
success of IP telephony," said Keith Kelly, vice president of professional services
for NetSpeak, who called the three-way demo "an important milestone."