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Several factors will influence future developments in VoIP products and services. Currently, the most promising areas for VoIP are corporate intranets and commercial extranets. Their IP–based infrastructures enable operators to control who can—and cannot—use the network.

Another influential element in the ongoing Internet-telephony evolution is the VoIP gateway. As these gateways evolve from PC–based platforms to robust embedded systems, each will be able to handle hundreds of simultaneous calls. Consequently, corporations will deploy large numbers of them in an effort to reduce the expenses associated with high-volume voice, fax, and videoconferencing traffic. The economics of placing all traffic— data, voice, and video—over an IP–based network will pull companies in this direction, simply because IP will act as a unifying agent, regardless of the underlying architecture (i.e., leased lines, frame relay, or ATM) of an organization’s network.

Commercial extranets, based on conservatively engineered IP networks, will deliver VoIP and facsimile over Internet protocol (FAXoIP) services to the general public. By guaranteeing specific parameters, such as packet delay, packet jitter, and service interoperability, these extranets will ensure reliable network support for such applications.

VoIP products and services transported via the public Internet will be niche markets that can tolerate the varying performance levels of that transport medium. Telecommunications carriers most likely will rely on the public Internet to provide telephone service between/among geographic locations that today are high-tariff areas. It is unlikely that the public Internet’s performance characteristics will improve sufficiently within the next two years to stimulate significant growth in VoIP for that medium.

 

However, the public Internet will be able to handle voice and video services quite reliably within the next three to five years, once two critical changes take place:[/vc_column_text]

  • An increase by several orders of magnitude in backbone bandwidth and access speeds, stemming from the deployment of IP/ATM/synchronous optical network (SONET) and ISDN, cable modems, and x digital subscriber line (xDSL) technologies, respectively
  • The tiering of the public Internet, in which users will be required to pay for the specific service levels they require

On the other hand, FAXoIP products and services via the public Internet will become economically viable more quickly than voice and video, primarily because the technical roadblocks are less challenging. Within two years, corporations will take their fax traffic off the PSTN and move it quickly to the public Internet and corporate Intranet, first through FAXoIP gateways and then via IP–capable fax machines. Standards for IP–based fax transmission will be in place by the end of this year.

Throughout the remainder of this decade, videoconferencing (H.323) with data collaboration (T.120) will become the normal method of corporate communications, as network performance and interoperability increase and business organizations appreciate the economics of telecommuting. Soon, the video camera will be a standard piece of computer hardware, for full-featured multimedia systems, as well as for the less-than-$500 network-computer appliances now starting to appear in the market. The latter in particular should stimulate the residential demand and bring VoIP services to the mass market—including the roughly 60 percent of American households that still do not have a PC.