CIRA takes on convergence conundrum

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is looking for advice on how to handle a new technology that could change the very nature of communication in this country.

Ottawa-based CIRA, which controls Canada’s top-level Internet domain “.ca,” earlier this month released a request-for-proposals (RFP), wherein it seeks guidance regarding a technology called E.164 Number Mapping, or “ENUM.”

ENUM, a standard backed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and other organizations, transforms telephone numbers into domain name system (DNS) entries. Mapped into DNS, phone numbers should be much more powerful locators than they are today. DNS entries can carry along with them various “naming authority pointers,” each one representing a device, be it a home phone, cell phone, office phone or even the office e-mail inbox.

Through ENUM, instead of using different numbers and addresses to reach a colleague at any one of those contact points, you’d use just one. For example, dial 555-1212 into an ENUM-enabled application to reach your co-worker. The application would give you the option of sending the call to his home phone, cell phone, office phone or e-mail. Select the device you wish to contact and send the call on its way. It’s one number for one person, rather than multiple numbers for multiple devices.

Bernard Turcotte, CIRA’s president and CEO, said the group is interested in ENUM because the technology relies on the DNS, which is CIRA’s purview. “It’s fairly obvious we have to look at it and figure out where we want to be.”

CIRA’s RFP says the group “wishes to define the strategic position it should adopt with respect to ENUM and acquire a clear understanding of how it should proceed to ensure its strategic and operational plans support this position.”

The RFP describes a two-phase approach. Phase one requires “documentation of ENUM’s existing regulatory and business landscape,” a look at ENUM’s current deployment status in Canada, and suggestions for CIRA on how the organization can participate in ENUM’s deployment. Phase one also seeks suggestions on how CIRA could manage independent ENUM services for Canadians via the nation’s international calling code, “1.”

“We happen to share our country code with the U.S. and a bunch of Caribbean islands,” Turcotte said. “Are we stuck in a joint system, or is there something that can be done so Canada can manage its own stuff?”

Phase two requires representation: the bid’s winner must push CIRA’s ENUM goals in meetings with government, industry and public interest groups.

CIRA says it expects to see a phase one report some four weeks after the project begins. Phase two should take 12 weeks. Turcotte said the entire process should be complete by the summer of 2004. The long-term goal is to have a framework in place for January 2005.

The bid’s winner gets $30,000 for all the work, plus expenses and GST.

CIRA wants proposals by 4 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Dec. 22, via e-mail attachment to Turcotte’s address, [email protected]. The organization says it will not accept proposals sent on paper.

The RFP says CIRA received an unsolicited bid to research ENUM and its impact on Canadian communication methods. Rather than work behind closed doors with an unrequested bid, the board of directors decided on an RFP, to make the process public and “to ensure transparency.”

The RFP also says that the original, unsolicited proposal “does not meet the requirements…and will not be considered.”

According to minutes recorded at CIRA’s Nov. 5 board meeting, Timothy Denton, one of the group’s directors and a lawyer specializing in Internet matters, proposed doing something about ENUM, although the notes do not specify just what Denton suggested. The minutes do, however, describe what came after Denton’s comments: the board decided that in the future, directors will not be granted contracts from CIRA, unless special circumstances occur, and the director is willing to take “limited” payment for the work.

Turcotte said Denton proposed that CIRA should start paying some serious attention to ENUM, and the group agreed.

Denton said he wouldn’t talk about CIRA business, except to point out that Turcotte played an instrumental role in starting this ENUM investigation.

He did, however, talk about the challenges that ENUM brings particularly the question of market take-up. For instance, do users seek the sort of functionality that the technology affords? “If the consumer isn’t interested, it’s just an expensive turkey.”

Ronald Gruia, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan in Toronto, said there are so many regulatory and government-policy issues facing an ENUM implementation today that the first deployment would occur at the enterprise, rather than the carrier level. “I could see ENUM being used as for global VoIP dial-plan management.”

Ian Angus, a telecom industry analyst with Angus TeleManagement Group Inc. in Ajax, Ont., said ENUM does raise some tough questions. How will CIRA deal with the country code problem? How will different nations ensure the sovereignty of their privacy policies? How will telephone organizations work in an ENUM system? And who will control it, the DNS-minded CIRA, or the Canadian Number Administrator (CNAC), which deals with telephone co-ordinates?

“All of these are soluble in my opinion,” Angus said, “but they are not trivial.”

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