Equant extends IP voice to the LAN

Equant NV last week unveiled a managed IP telephony service for companies looking to converge voice and data traffic all the way down to the LAN.

The service is designed to save companies money by eliminating the need to run separate voice and data networks globally.

“Customers benefit from lower infrastructure, staff and maintenance costs,” says Elka Popova, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan Ltd. She says customers using the voice-over-VPN service that Equant introduced last spring already are saving on their WAN costs and that the new offering should extend savings to LAN operations.

The chief differentiator for Equant, an early player in the IP voice market, is its international reach. The carrier’s new IP Telephony offering will be available next month in 60 countries, with off-net calls terminated in up to 240 nations.

Equant, as it did with its earlier IP voice offering, is working with Cisco Systems Inc. The carrier is installing Cisco IP PBXs and IP phones on Ethernet LANs at customer sites and managing those networks as part of the service.

The IP PBXs attach to Cisco multiservice routers that forward customers’ packetized voice traffic to NetCentrex gatekeepers on Equant’s network. The gatekeepers forward voice traffic to other destinations on Equant’s network or on to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) through Cisco gateways that Equant has deployed.

Unlike competitor WorldCom Inc., Equant has based its service on the ITU H.323 specification for call completion and termination. WorldCom’s service relies on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which was designed to support voice-over-IP networks. SIP generally is believed to be the more robust technology, with analysts pointing to its ability to more efficiently terminate calls and work with the PSTN.

Equant, which doesn’t rule out using SIP down the road, justifies its use of H.323 by pointing to the facts that it has been around longer and is used more widely in IP telephony networks.

Equant plans to charge a flat fee for each dedicated connection and management of all IP Telephony devices. The carrier will not charge an additional fee for on-net calls regardless of where they originate or terminate. But there is an additional charge for off-net calls. Off-net calls will cost from 6 cents to 71 cents per minute, depending on where the call is headed.

Equant still is finalizing its service-level agreement plans, though says customers can expect them to cover minimum packet loss, jitter and latency metrics.