Sunday, November 07, 2004

Skype, SIMPLE SIP, ISDN and connectivity in general 

In my previous post I talked about the threat of Skype to telcos, but Skype is also a threat to SIP. I will come to this below, but let me first rant about connectivity in general, because also for Skype you need at least some connectivity.

In a recent post I complained about WLAN hotspot prices and connectivity in general. As a business traveller and road warrior I expect nowadays to have connectivity everywhere.

Basically to check my e-mails and look up information on web-sites, but of course also to make VoIP calls and eventually to watch my home TV.

The prices of Internet connectivity seem to be completely random and absolutely not related to the QoS or bandwidth you may expect (I think they have basically learned from the air-lines).

This may be somewhat ok if you want to check your e-mails or lookup the weather in your destination, but it is absolutely not acceptable if you want to make phone calls or watch TV, it is always a surprise after you have already paid.

Two weeks ago I was in in a hotel in Brussels, featuring two ways of Internet access:

One fast, but expensive (20 Euro/day) wired in the room, the other very slow, but even more expensive (26 Euro/day) wireless. The week after I was in Sophia Antipolis with ETSI, which has free and fast wireless access all over the place, so I did not even bother with the 16 Euro wireless accces for 2 hours in the hotel. I was also in a hotel in Austria which has also wireless access by a mobile operator, but I could not even test it because all prepaid cards I tried where not accepted, so I returned them. Of course the WLAN at home and also the free access at Vienna airport worked fine, and I expected this to continue at the IETF in Washington.

The wired access in the room works (10$/day, but complementary for the time of IETF by rumor), but it is very slow, although they call it high-speed access. So no TV and bad voice quality. One excuse may be that the access is not dimensioned for a hotel full of hackers.

So I went down to the lobby to make a VoIP call, got connected to the IETF hotspot, but got no Internet connectivity. Two floors lower at the registration it finally worked, but the WiFi connectivity was dropped and re-established approx. every 30 seconds, so my phone calls where dropped every 30 seconds.

Now back to Skype, SIMPLE SIP and ISDN:

Considering this unacceptable, I went back to my room and tried VoIP (SIP) again to call a friend. I do not know exactly why but it did not work out. Both of us being some kind of experts, we could have tried to find out the reason, but we had no time, so I told my partner to download Skype and and after 5 Minutes we talked for an hour or so. Is this possible with SIP?

I talked about this afterwards with Henry Sinnreich and Richard Shockey and the three of us agreed that something has to be done: launch SIMPLE SIP

I still can remember the problems ISDN had at the beginning with too many options. I just remember Dilbert's (Scott Adams) experiences at Pacific Bell - and my own. Austrian PTT produced a form to subscribe ISDN where I could not fill out all parameters requested and tick all boxes - and I was involved in the specs. This was finally solved at least in Europe with the EuroISDN profile done by ETSI.

Something similar is required for SIP. SIP will only be successful if you can download a client and make a call immediatly of you just know your user@host, your password to register and the user@host of the called party to make a call (e.g. as in MS Messenger).

This BTW precludes also all 'peering' agreements: if you cannot reach ALL user@hosts, but only the one's your proxy has peering agreements with, making VoIP calls will be more like a lottery than a service.

Skype has one innovation - Simple to use. Totally.

For SIP to have the same result, well, first lets figure out how to get through NAT...
(Well, I am not anonymous but did not feel like fill in the form.)

The marvel of Skype is its QoS and end-to-end voice connectivity. The "price" we pay is the proprietary communication.

There are several analog examples. For interworking we need standards, the standards are more complex, as the commitees do have a much broader view and interest than a single author or company. Skype is an example how the whole open standard process and it inherent burocracy is challanged. On the other hand the SIMPLE SIP or other solution might find a better or simpler way of solving a problem.

I finish before it gets too philosophical. The problem relevant here is that SIP is for signalling only, and no QoS is attached, meanwhile SKYPE can handle both.
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