Canadian companies might be among the first to benefit from a new communication framework, thanks to a Canuck tech vendor’s hand in creating the architecture.

Ottawa-based Centrepoint Technologies Inc. announced in February that its TalkSwitch 48-CVA IP PBX complies with the new SIPconnect standard — a communication framework that locks down Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) implementations. Centrepoint said it’s among the first IP PBX vendors to use SIPconnect. The company helped build the framework, alongside Cbeyond Communications LLC, the Atlanta-based voice over IP (VoIP) service provider that generated the SIPconnect concept. (For carriers) that means a much easier provisioning process, easier billing and from the user’s side, a lot easier installation, which means it’s less expensive.Bruce Higgs>Text

According to Centrepoint’s representatives, SIPconnect dictates how IP PBX vendors should set up their equipment so network gear interoperates as well as possible. The paradigm also sets out rules for VoIP service providers so their equipment connects IP PBXs in a robust, feature-rich manner.

For instance, SIPconnect says fax services should be designed to handle the G.711 protocol for uncompressed voice communication, and to negotiate T.38 fax communication should both correspondents have that protocol enabled, said Rob Brown, Centrepoint’s CTO. That’s just one example of the sort of thing SIPconnect suggests. “There are probably 100 other points that it addresses,” Brown said.

SIPconnect also:

• Lets VoIP service providers do away with time-division multiplexing (TDM) gateways. These devices translate IP into TDM so packetized data can traverse traditional networks, but they also tend to strip some of the SIP info from the flow. SIPconnect allows for “direct IP peering” instead, Brown said, so all of the features encapsulated in the SIP stream make it from the starting point to the destination.

• Suggests a trunking standard that makes an IP PBX appear as a single entity to a service provider, rather than a list of individual IP phones. For carriers, “that means a much easier provisioning process, easier billing and from the user’s side, a lot easier installation, which means it’s less expensive,” said Bruce Higgs, Centrepoint’s vice-president, business development.

• Should spell less pricey testing procedures for IP PBX vendors, Brown said. He pointed out that companies like Centrepoint have to test equipment for interoperability in multiple configurations — G.711 turned off and T.38 turned on; both on; G.711 on and T.38 off; etc. If everyone used SIPconnect, vendors would have to test just one configuration: the set-up in the SIPconnect specs.

SIPconnect comes out of Centrepoint and Cbeyond’s working relationship. The firms were collaborating on a way to solidify SIP across the Cbeyond network. Higgs said Chris Gatch, Cbeyond’s CTO, suggested breaking the final framework out of the two-way dialogue and opening it up for other vendors and carriers to consider.

Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Mitel Networks Corp. have signed onto the SIPconnect initiative, which suggests to Brown that it won’t be long before large businesses can purchase IP PBXs that safeguard SIP communication. Centrepoint’s TalkSwitch is meant for small businesses and enterprise branch offices.

Ronald Gruia, a network industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan in Toronto, said reference architectures like SIPconnect are generally good ideas. While in an ideal world every IP PBX would interconnect with every other one using some version of SIP, that’s not the way things always go. SIPconnect could help SIP work as well as promised, connecting people and multimedia apps across disparate networks no matter what kind of IP PBX a company might use.

However, “we definitely need to see some other enterprise vendors sign on,” Gruia said, noting Nortel Networks’ and Siemens AG’s absence from the SIPconnect membership list. As well, “the service providers will have to adhere to it. Then it will have a chance.”

More SIPconnect members are on the way, Brown said. “We’re planning to bring, if we can, some of the Canadian providers in to be part of the initiative.” He noted that Bell Canada plans to use SIP for its IP services.

Why didn’t the IETF or some other standard-making body take up the SIPconnect challenge? Brown said he thinks this is a corporate job.

“It has to do with the mandate and the motive of those organizations. The IETF is a public forum driven partly by intellectuals, partly by business and partly by technology. It tends to deal with individual protocols, individual technologies. SIPconnect is driven by practical business operational issues of getting the protocol to work.”

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