December 20, 2000, 3:21 PM — WASHINGTON, D.C. -- IP telephony will be ringing off the hook in Washington this week.
More than 2,000 of the world's premier Internet engineers and developers will converge here to debate and advance their work on protocols that will help large organizations better carry voice and data over the Internet.
The 46th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is notable for its focus on IP telephony. Participants will debate such issues as how to establish communications between two Internet telephones, how to coordinate telephone numbers with Internet addresses, and how to ensure a level of service that can support two-way, interactive voice over the Internet.
Six of the IETF's eight areas of protocol development are related to IP telephony standards, says Brian Carpenter, chair of the IETF's Internet Architecture Board and program director for Internet standards and technology at IBM. At least 20% of the people coming to the Washington meeting are from traditional telephony vendors -- a significant shift over past meetings.
"This is a completely new constituency for the IETF," Carpenter says.In fact, a telephony-related issue is likely to cause the most fireworks at the meeting. At a plenary session Wednesday night, attendees will debate a proposal for the IETF to develop protocols that would make it easier for law-enforcement agencies to intercept communications over the 'Net.
A wiretapping capability is built into central-office telephone switches, and various countries, including the U.S., require carriers to intercept or report on communications at the request of government agencies. At issue is whether these requirements will apply to voice communications over the Internet.
A formal vote on whether the IETF should build a wiretap capability into protocols is not expected at the plenary session. Instead, IETF leaders will try to gauge if there is a strong consensus among attendees. IETF leaders will take into account the views of attendees as well as feedback from an ongoing e-mail list in making their decision, which will be announced after the meeting adjourns.
"The people that are commenting on the mailing list seem to be saying what we felt -- that it's not a great idea for the IETF to get involved in this," says IETF chair Fred Baker, a Cisco fellow. "My guess is that we probably are not going to do anything.
"Throughout the week-long meeting, much of the activity will surround protocols that improve the quality of service (QoS) available for communications over the Internet. Two of the better-known IETF working groups in this area are Differentiated Services, which is developing protocols that can support a variety of service levels, and Integrated Services, which is developing protocols to support audio, video, real-time and traditional packet data traffic within a single network infrastructure.