The nice thing about computer network standards is that there are so many to choose from.
-- Anonymous, early 1980s
Everybody agrees that interoperability is a Good Thing, up there with apple pie and sliced bread. Likewise, voice over IP -- in which voice traffic is carried over the data network -- is seeing a groundswell of popularity because it could cost a company less than using a public service telephone network.
Enterprise networkers are eyeing VoIP equipment -- IP PBXs, VoIP gateways, and the like -- as next-generation alternatives to classic PBXs and time-division multiplexing channel banks. Carriers and ISPs are also eyeing VoIP gateways for their next major hardware purchase. Everything is in place, it seems, for VoIP to change the world as we know it ... except for interoperability.
Will a lack of interoperability stop the VoIP revolution in its tracks? Probably not. But it will unquestionably slow it down.
It's generally easier for an enterprise to commit to a single-source solution for VoIP gear than a carrier or service provider to do so. But nobody likes the fact that VoIP equipment from vendor C and vendor L just won't work together. (You can pick your own letters. I just picked C and L because, well, their equipment really doesn't work together.)
Here is how the vendor and standards communities could help fix the problem of VoIP interoperability:
1. To the ITU, IMTC, and the Softswitch Consortium: Open up your discussion lists to the public, even if on a read-only basis, and offer your latest draft documents to anyone for download. The "membership" fees you charge observers to monitor what's happening with VoIP interoperability in your associations are prohibitive and counterproductive.
2. The H.323 standard doesn't cut it. Let's all admit it. So let's give Media Gateway Control Protocol and Session Initiation Protocol a whack at the problem. Any vendor that's hanging on to H.323 for VoIP interoperability is doing so because its representatives to the standards groups are looking for job security.
3. Drop the "intellectual property" hogwash. If companies are truly committed to interoperability, they must be more open with one another about technical innovations that will improve VoIP interoperability in the marketplace. Unfortunately, a couple of big vendors employ more patent attorneys to protect technical advancements than engineers to develop them. All that's really going to do is force the industry to a second- or third-string technical solution, which is a classic lose-lose scenario.
Major enterprises should put this proviso in their VoIP equipment RFPs:
To be a contender for our business, you agree to publicly attest that you do not, and will not, frustrate mixed-vendor interoperability through claims of intellectual property ownership for any communications or network technology that should, by virtue of its nature, be in the public domain.