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2008: The Year in VoIP

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Need we say that 2008 has been a busy year in the world of VoIP? We’ve got a dozen months worth of intrepid reporting to prove it. Time now to get some perspective. We’ll publish soon our prognosis on what the New Year promises, but first a look back on the departing 365.

The passing year saw VoIP security getting some serious attention; the loudly heralded wonderfulness of unified communications beginning to gain some traction—even in the SMB market—the beginning signs of Microsoft’s possible rise as a force in VoIP and UC, and much more worthy of year-end note.

VoIP Security

VoIPplanet understands both the importance and the vulnerability of SIP (see SIP, Versatile but Vulnerable).

Sipera System’s VIPER (Voice over IP Exploitation Research) Lab, for example, has launched a free tool to demonstrate that IP voice systems are vulnerable to snooping. Vendors are following suit with remediations., meanwhile, has tapped into the vast universe of freely available tools for testing system security and battling the SIPhackers.

Ingate Systems, among other commercial providers, released solutions that allow SIP to function in happy coexistence with strong network firewalls—even those using network address translation (NAT), which is notorious for not working with SIP. Ingate’s SIParator handles the NAT traversal and does deep packet inspection to achieve a number of security aims.

UC and SMB

Unified communications has been high on the horizon, in the large enterprise space, with a slew of players looking to bring multi-functional systems to the table.

We’ve been especially interested in the trend toward UC as a potential tool for the SMB market. Fonality for example upgraded the novel HUD (‘Heads-Up Display’) UC Solution for its hybrid PBXtra VoIP systems, adding to the basic presence, chat, IM, voicemail, and e-mail communications, access to Google Talk from any desktop computer, BlackBerry or iPhone, as well as Web 2.0 integration with CRM, and Google ticketing, billing, and financial systems, among other features.

Microsoft Does VoIP and UC

Microsoft has demonstrated a growing emphasis on VoIP for small business users this year. July saw the release of Service Pack 1 for Microsoft’s Response Point phone software system, a smart, easy-to-deploy VoIP solution for the SMB market. (Although Response Point was released late in 2007, it didn’t really begin to reach the market until this year.)

Microsoft’s Response Point hardware partners—Syspine, D-Link, and Aastra—have followed up with a spate of new-product announcements.

At the same time, Microsoft has pursued UC along a separate track. Its Office Communications Server 2007, officially released in the fall of ’07, began to penetrate the market this year. Partnerships are a big piece of the OCS story, and indeed, third parties have been busily creating tools on a variety of fronts to help integrate the UC application into the real world.

NetIQ, for example, launched a Windows-based management software package NetIQ AppManager for OCS.

WebMessenger created WebMessenger for OCS, which ports that system’s presence and IM capabilities to the BlackBerry mobile handset.

Evangelyze—a brand new company formed expressly to develop applications around OCS—announcedSmartVoIP, software that works in conjunction with gateways from Quintum, to integrate OCS and Microsoft Exchange with Response Point, so it can serve as a branch office VoIP and UC system.

The first major upgrade of Office Communications Server 2007, Release 2, is due to ship in February 2009. The new release promises to fill some major gaps, adding an attendant console, call routing, and workflow features, session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking, an audio conferencing bridge, and the ability to extend OCS presence, instant messaging (IM), and voice to mobile phones.

Open-Source VoIP

SMBs want it easy and reliable. Increasingly, open source solutions are stepping up to meet those requirements. In August, Nortel Networks announced it was acquiring Pingtel, a VoIP and UC software maker and open source pioneer. The move not only brought open-source PBX into the commercial dealer channel, it also boosted Nortel’s commitment to ongoing open source develpment.

In other open-source action, Skype teamed with Digium to produce “Skype for Asterisk,” and Asterisk itself was met with the rise of alternative open source platforms.

Cable VoIP Ascendent

A year ago we told you cable would gain market share in consumer VoIP (which it rebranded “IP telephony”) and come to dominate. We love being right. Comcast, the big kahuna, continues pushing Comcast Digital Phone, to the tune of 6 million subscribers.

But 2008 also saw cable providers getting a foothold in business telephony. In the waning days of 2007 Cox launched Cox Business VoiceManager, a telephone platform integrating desktop phone, PC, and wireless devices. The company claimed to be the first cable provider in North America to deploy a fully owned IP telephone system for the business community.

In Toronto, cable giant Rogers Cable has a small-business VoIP offering up and running, and others are sure to join the fray.

VoIP, UC Get Mobile

Who even has a desk anymore? Increasingly on the move, business users have been looking for mobility support, and they are finding it in a variety of solutions—for example with WebMessenger Mobile for Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS), mentioned above.

There has been an explosion of services that forward VoIP calls to cell phones, using cellular data connections. One of the more interesting resulted from a joint effort between ITSP Junction networks and IP/cellular “switchboard” service provider fring. The result is that customers of Junction’s OnSIP hosted PBX service can now use their cell phones as if they were on the IP network. Nice.

Among the enterprise-centric providers seeking to mobilize the full spectrum of corporate communications, à la UC, DiVitas Networks, one of the better established players, released the second generation of its Mobile Unified Communications solution early in the fall.

DiVitas also made public some customers relationships. Connecticut-based international carrier Sawtel teamed with DiVitas to provide the mobility component within Sawtel’s unified communications offering, already established in 16 countries. And DiVitas technology is also up and running in the very spread-out operations Albuquerque, NM’s Thirteenth Judicial District Court

Startup and Cisco technology partner Agito Networks brought out its RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, which is designed to mobilize presence, text messaging, and voice capabilities for large enterprises that wish to preserve their existing investments in communications infrastructure (of which Cisco’s customers are typical).

So that’s some 2008 highlights, a year of steady advances in VoIP-land. The earth did not shake, the lid was not blown off, no killer apps permanently changed the landscape, but many intriguing developments kept this beat interesting.

We’ll next turn our attention to what’s likely coming down the pike in 2009. Look for some fearless predictions just after the New Year dawns.

This article was first published on

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