WorldCom set to crank up IP services

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Looking to bring legacy voice services out of the Dark Ages, WorldCom at ComNet 2001 next week will announce a suite of voice-over-IP packages aimed at enterprise customers.

The yet-to-be-named offering will let users send voice traffic over WorldCom's IP network, avoiding access and transmission charges on the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

WorldCom will also offer managed services that in some cases will let customers ditch costly PBX voice switches without sacrificing standard phone features such as speed dialing, hold and call forwarding. WorldCom's service will support standard PBX functions in addition to unified messaging and overall data and voice network integration, which is one of the central benefits of voice over IP.

Other new services would let users download their voice mail onto their PCs when traveling.

WorldCom is using Cisco gateways to support its new offering, but says it will support other vendor gear in the future. The Cisco gateways support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which is used to send and receive voice calls between the PSTN and IP networks. SIP is a signaling protocol that sets up and tears down voice and data sessions over IP networks with less delay than H.323.

SIP has gained a technical following for delivering nearly imperceptible voice-over-IP call setup delay compared with H.323, which was designed for heavier applications such as desktop video and data conferencing.

SIP offers more flexibility and extensibility than H.323 for WorldCom and others to provide popular voice features over packet networks and develop new applications, says Fred Briggs, WorldCom's chief technology officer.

SIP is a simpler protocol than H.323, says David Passmore, research director at The Burton Group. SIP uses XML and standard Domain Name System for IP address resolution. Users should have more SIP applications to choose from because application developers will likely find the protocol relatively easy to work with.

WorldCom is trying to get a leg up on AT&T and Sprint who have yet to launch domestic business voice-over-IP services.

One user has been looking for such a business-class voice-over-IP service. "We wanted to replace our phone system with [voice over IP], but the technology wasn't mature enough," says Rich Gay, IS director at Linbeck Construction in Houston. "We plan to start talking to vendors in the late spring-early summer."

Gay says he likes the idea of WorldCom managing the telephone server that would control all SIP phones on his network."We have our headquarters, two regional offices and construction sites around the country," he says. "Being able to integrate our phone system onto our IP network would be helpful from a management and cost perspective."

WorldCom's voice-over-IP service will include several options that will be rolled out in many phases, Briggs says. Customers can keep existing voice switches and eliminate per-minute voice charges, while others can directly integrate voice packets onto their IP LAN.

The latter example would require a SIP-enabled device such as a server, but WorldCom says all versions of the service will not require customer premises equipment.

"The service will take cost out of the enterprise using SIP servers," Briggs says. "We are going to offer a whole set of value-added features oon top of that where we can basically replace the PBX and Centrex functionality." Other service features will include dynamic user registration and universal messaging. Customers with SIP phones can plug the phone into any wall jack, and they are automatically registered on their corporate nets, he says.

WorldCom is not supporting the new service over its UUNET IP network, but over its vBNS+ network, which was built for academic use, says Lisa Pierce, director at Giga Information Group. That decision is interesting in that vBNS+ is based on the IPv6 protocol.

IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports an almost limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, vs. IPv4, which supports a few billion systems with its 32-bit addressing scheme. IPv6 also offers easier administration and tighter security.

WorldCom would not comment on how IPv6 may be used to support the service, but Giga's Pierce says if the service becomes popular in the next few years, WorldCom will need the surplus of IP addresses that IPv6 provides.

WorldCom is using the vBNS+ network to accelerate the service launch, but will soon integrate service support to its other IP networks.

WorldCom did not reveal what type of performance or response-time service-level agreements it will offer, but Linbeck's Gay says his company would want stringent SLAs. "We're a longtime MCI and WorldCom customer and went through a tough time when the two companies merged," he says. He says the mean time for repairs would be at the top of Linbeck's list if the company were to buy the service.

After hinting at voice-over-IP services last year, WorldCom's first voice-over-IP offering will be available at month's end. WorldCom should introduce more options by year-end. Pricing is not yet available.

This story, "WorldCom set to crank up IP services " was originally published by Network World.

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