The giant wave washing over low-voltage technology is VoIP (voice over Internet protocol). Anticipating contractors’ needs, vendors introduced a flood of products to the market.

The deluge of new offerings results from researchers predicting that worldwide IP telephony revenue will grow from $500 million in 1999 to $18.7 billion in 2004. That’s an astounding 106 percent growth rate. Consultants at Ovum say enhanced-services revenue will increase from $270 million to $12.6 billion in that same period.

Though the recent telecom slowdown deals a temporary setback to the more rosy predictions, VoIP deployment continues. Two key factors to VoIP market success are voice-call quality and the reliability and availability of affordable hardware.

While voice quality improved dramatically, VoIP growth linchpins will include further honing of voice-call quality and ability to test, monitor and correct networks to assure quality persists.

Meantime, dozens of vendors are producing softswitches. Softswitchs, the heart of IP networks, handle intelligent call processing and provide a service-creation platform for value-added services. Couple a softswitch with a media gateway and even a small company can act like a phone company, with all of the bells and whistles from sophisticated central office-based services.

Unlike the traditional, bulky Class 5 switch, a softswitch does not need to be housed in a central office. It can control devices, endpoints and features from anywhere on the IP network.

Earlier this year Avaya rolled out seven new products in its ECLIPS (Enterprise Class IP Systems) line. Among the new products is a group of Linux-based media servers that can support up to 12,000 IP phones, 20 times the number on Avaya’s IP 600, the previous top-of-the-line IP PBX. Avaya is the former Enterprise Networks Group of Lucent Technologies.

In an era when reliability is paramount, contractors will be interested in the company’s VoIP gateway designed to keep phone lines up in the event of an IP WAN failure. Avaya also brought out client-server software that turns 802.11b-based handheld units into IP telephones. In the test equipment area, the company offers a product for measuring IP voice bandwidth.

Not to be outdone, Mitel introduced seven IP end station products. They connect to an IP-enabled Mitel PBX. New handsets––the 5010 and 5020 IP telephones––target the enterprise desktop. The cheaper 5001 and 5005 serve applications where minimal telephone features and a price under $200 are required. Mitel’s 5140 IP appliance basically adds a Web-browsing screen to the better IP telephones.

In other VoIP conferencing technology, 3Com introduced its SoundStation IP 3000, an IP conferencing station based on SoundStation IP hardware from PolyCom. Like the Mitel 5300, it is suited for companies making conference calls over the Internet or a corporate WAN.

Mockingbird Networks has its enhanced services softswitch, a carrier-class switch that enables service providers to rapidly deploy profitable enhanced voice and Web-driven services. Mockingbird also markets its NuvoStream and Nuvo 200 media services gateways, which combine capabilities traditionally found in separate media servers and gateways. This streamlined network architecture provides a cost-effective network design that is easier to implement, manage and maintain.

In June, ThinkEngine Networks launched its TEN1000 voice services platform, an integrated hardware and software system that lets a voice-application service provider offer advanced voice services. It reduces the complexity and total cost of voice services deployment ownership.

Iperia’s ActivEdge SIP-based messaging software suite leverages long-established system-design principles from Web servers and distributed systems. The company completed interoperability testing with a wide range of softswitches, media gateways, SIP phones and media servers.

Testing VoIP is important. Adir Technologies offers its Voxis VoIP Management Suite, a family of network-monitoring software to help assure carrier-grade VoIP reliability and quality of service. Even on complex VoIP networks, this multipart suite allows management to isolate and resolve problems quickly. Voxis Streamer creates a real-time view of the VoIP network at the packet level. Voxis Dialer provides end-to-end views of VoIP network performance from the caller’s perspective. The Power-Suite Softswitch from Cirilium is a virtual switch deployed in intelligent networks. Of course, the best services are of little value unless the provider can bill back for them. Cirilium’s enhanced services platform is based on a Linux operating system. An Informix online relational database management system (RDBMS) provides data management for all facets of the platform. The Informix RDBMS is fully compliant with standard Structured Query Language (SQL). As a result, VoIP service providers can build customized reports and billing formats with minimum effort.

Need help sorting out the flood of VoIP protocols and standards? For an update, log on to www.protocols.com/voip.htm. EC

HARLER, a frequent contributor to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, is based in Strongsville, Ohio. He can be reached at 440.238.4556 or curt@curtharler.com.