Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Very Useful VoIP Implementation - A1 goes VoIP 

This week I participated at the IIR VoIP World Congress in Vienna. There where a lot of very excellent presentations and one could get a good impression of the current state-of-the-art of VoIP implementations by all kinds of operators - fixed, cable, mobile and virtual. It also covered wireless VoIP - WiFi and WiMAX.

Up to now VoIP was mainly done by virtual operators such as Skype, Vonage, sipgate, etc., and then by cable operators offering VoIP as third part of triple play. There was also a very interesting presentation of Italy's Fastweb, offering also triple play based on fiber and ADSL.

It was interesting to see how fixed and mobile operators are approaching VoIP. Up to now they acted very carefully, not to cannibalize their current voice business on the PSTN. Of course they all are planning to go All-IP sometimes between now (21CN) and 2010, and they all put a big effort in specifying NGN and IMS with the quiet hope that the outcome will allow them to continue their business models also in the next decade, but how long can you do this and put your head into the sand?

Some of them start to look around and try to find out what the customers really want:
  • Customers do not care about technology and networks, they care about end-user devices
  • The user interface must be simple
  • They want to be mobile and access their services and applications from everywhere
  • They want to be accessed by one identifier
  • They do not want to be ripped off.
This leads to fixed-mobile-convergence (FMC), all-IP and wireless access.

The mobile operators are nearly there with GSM-CS and HSPDA, so the first ones to break out were of course the fixed operators - e.g. T-Com with T-One. This product uses a dual-mode handset to make a fixed-line phone mobile. A draw-back of this solution is that the dual-mode handsets are not really mass-products yet and there is also problems with battery life.

Now we see it the other way round from mobile operators. Mobilkom Austria (Veronika Berger) presented their A1 Voice over IP Pilot.

The product is basically simple: what you need is a normal mobile subscription. You may then download a privately labeled and preconfigured CounterPath Softphone to you PC (but you may use any other Softphone also) and use your account to link the mobile phone to the Softphone and activate dual-ring.

Incoming calls to your mobile number will ring both your mobile phone and the softphone. For outgoing calls from the softphone you may either use phone numbers (a 200 minutes free package to national numbers is included) or sip URIs for free calls to other SIP clients (free peering)

This product is of course very nice for travellers to save incoming roaming charges, but it is also very useful nationally.

The pilot is currently limited for 2000 users (which were used-up in two days) and for free. Of course the service will be sold later as a package. Since it is implemented on a standard SIP user client, it can also be used on dual-mode handsets as they become stable.

The final product is planned to use IMS, but the pilot is running on an OpenSER.

Of course some other mobile operators in the audience raised the question of cannibalizing current voice revenues and especially loosing the roaming charges, but the answer came already in the presentation itself:

VoIP is a fact - act and make the best of it.

or said in another way: if you are not doing it, somebody else will do it and you lost a customer.

This product opens also up another chance for (User and Infrastructure) ENUM: If the pilot is really launched commercially in a similar way as it is now - you pay a flat fee for adding this functionality to you mobile service and you also get a free minute package for calls to phone numbers from the Softphone:

an ENUM lookup will save money for the operator if the calls to phone numbers can be completed on IP.

I have tried VoIP SIP SDK and it fits my requrements 100%. Recommend to everybody to check it.
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