During the past decade or so, a variety of new technologies have been introduced that make it possible to create digital networks for transferring large amounts of data great distances at very high speeds. Generally, the bandwidth of these ‘broadband’ networks are measured in megabytes per second (Mbps) as opposed to kilobytes per second (Kbps).
Digital broadband networks are not just used to transfer data, though. Increasingly, thanks to the development of protocols like IP (Internet Protocol) and SIP
(Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert)), these networks are also being used to transmit voice signal, video, and other multimedia content.
In fact, thanks to the factors described so far, a whole new field as sprung up: broadband telephony (the term VoIP, for “voice over IP”, is sometimes used synonymously). And, while it’s true that many of the kinks of VoIP have been worked out, it remains the case that service providers are still figuring out the best technology systems and business models to deliver broadband telephony.
In a recent white paper by the International Engineering Consortium (a nonprofit dedicated to driving development in a variety of high-tech industries), Hunter Newby, CTO at telx
, explored a fairly recent development in the broadband telephony market: voice peering fabric. What is the Voice Peering Fabric (VPF
)? Newby defined it as a collection of several independent components that together are helping service providers overcome challenges associated with legacy telephony network structures and business models, especially for wholesale voice minute providers.
What sort of challenges? Newby defined three main ones:
- Because traditional time division multiplexing (TDM) of voice minutes is circuit-switched, it requires equipment that’s expensive to deploy and manage.
- Traditional, wholesale voice minutes delivery requires local TDM loops for interconnection, which creates all kinds of provisioning inefficiencies and delays in revenue realization.
- With traditional TDM voice minutes, there is no single, transparent market for wholesale buyers and sellers.
VPF addresses these and other challenges by tying together, as Newby noted, a variety of different components into a system that’s capable of providing a centralized market for broadband telephony. Most of these components can be gathered under the broad umbrella of the Internet. These components are:
- IP peering – a system of cross-connections among VoIP providers that reduces the network complexity and cost of delivering voice minutes.
- VoIP – a system that turns voice signal into IP packets for delivery over public or private networks using VoIP gateways (products that combine traditional voice switches with IP routers).
- Metro and long-haul Ethernet transport – utilization of the Ethernet LAN protocol to deliver VoIP, over both short and long distances.
- E-commerce – selling and buying products and services online using Web pages to market wares and conduct business transactions.
- Marketplace transparency – the ability, usually by searching the Web, to find and compare products and services to locate or negotiate the best price.
So how do all these elements come together to form VPF? Newby condensed it down into four elements:
- The inherent physical and virtual attributes of the components
- Valuable lessons learned about the economics of networking
- Psychological effects each of the elements has had on users
- The virtual communities and “town watch”-style reporting systems created
To further summarize, Newby gave a concise definition of VPF, given all the details presented so far: “A Layer-2 Ethernet peering fabric built and operated specifically for VoIP networks.”
Given the complexities of broadband telephony, that definition might seem like somewhat of an oversimplification, but it does explain the core structure and intent of VPF. To expand on that a bit, Newby listed ten aspects of VPF, which can be boiled down roughly as follows.
VPF is about finding buyers and sellers for wholesale, broadband telephony minutes; this is accomplished in large part by identifying available routes, rates, capacity, quality and billing terms. After that, VPF allows providers to negotiate contracts with appropriate people and verify their credibility. It’s also necessary to access ample connectivity via carrier routes, test those routes for quality, and then connect networks for sending traffic. Finally, VPF provides the means to easily increase traffic through a particular supplier, change emergency routes, and settle financial transactions.
In short, as Newby put it, VPF “creates a transparent marketplace for VoIP buyers and sellers.” VPF resolves potential issues that might arise by introducing a variety of gate-keeping measures, such as requiring members to pay a monthly fee to participate. Membership creates accountability, which leads to lucrative business deals and sound business models.
Newby concluded that VPF is the new “killer app” for broadband telephony because it addresses so many of the issues that have until now kept the industry from realizing its full potential.
“The VPF (News - Alert) can exist today only because of the elements it comprises and their own maturity,” Newby noted in the white paper. “There is no foreseeable decline in the growth of the voice market. It is for this reason that the services the VPF provides are necessary and valuable to the market.”
To learn more about VPF broadly, and voice peering more specifically, please visit Stealth Communications’ TMCnet.com channel, Voice Peering.
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.