Agilent waits for VoIP

Although voice over IP (VoIP) has yet to really find its place in the Canadian market, one company stands firm on the belief that the technology will eventually gain popularity as a viable means of communication. Agilent Technologies Inc. last month released three troubleshooting tools designed to test and analyze voice quality and clarity in voice networks.

The three products are add-ons to Agilent’s Voice Quality Tester (VQT), which was developed to enable equipment manufacturers, communications service providers and enterprise network operators deliver voice services at the same level of quality as traditional phone networks, the company said.

“The VQT was designed to be a really sophisticated analysis tool,” said John Anderson, IP telephony products manager for Mississauga, Ont.-based Agilent Technologies (Canada) Inc. “There are a lot of products out there that can give you voice-quality measurements. We designed the VQT to analyze and troubleshoot so that network operators can determine what is going wrong in their networks and fix it.”

Providing another interface for voice-quality analysis, Agilent released the VQT IP phone adapter. Anderson said that with this interface, customers could test voice quality on networks that actually extend VoIP out to the end user with IP or PC phones.

“IP phones are becoming very prevalent in the market,” Anderson said. “After we first released the VQT (in 1999) we got a lot of demand from our customers to be able to test voice quality, not just in different points of the network, but actually across these IP phones and PCs that are being used as phones.”

The company also added an additional feature for measuring voice clarity using the latest standard for measuring speech quality from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union). Called PESQ (Perceptual Evaluation of Speech Quality measurement), it is the ability to measure voice clarity on VoIP packet streams at any point on the data network, Agilent said.

“The idea of testing voice quality was never really an issue until voice started being carried over data networks,” Anderson said. “There was no accurate way to measure voice quality.”

In its initial release, the VQT was offered on a portable analyzer. Adding VQT network server, the product was designed for installation into network service providers’ central offices. Anderson said that the server meets the two primary needs of network testing – testing between sites on a network and out-of-office field service.

The path to widespread VoIP adoption on Canada, however, has its share of potholes, according to some observers. Although he admits the types of tools Agilent has released can provide the much-needed analysis of voice networks, VoIP equipment industry manager Jon Arnold of Frost & Sullivan, a research firm in Toronto, said that the market in Canada definitely lags behind the United States.

“We are not seeing a lot on our radar screen of adoption right now,” Arnold said. “I think that a large part of that is the telecom industry in Canada. We don’t have a lot of competition like there is in the States. If VoIP is going to get anywhere at the service provider level, the big guys are really going to have to buy into it and (right now) they are not.”

Arnold noted that the end game for VoIP is enhanced services, which he said would create new revenue streams for carriers.

“You need a lot of subscribers subscribing to value-added services to make (VoIP) pay,” Arnold added. “(Customers) can’t really just use it as a long distance savings tool. The big thing that will drive (VoIP) here is when the big telcos want to get in the game. They just don’t have the competitive players to push them into it.”