The proven value of the Internet has created great demand for high-bandwidth communication solutions. Broadband access is fast becoming ubiquitous in the workplace, and broadband connections at home are growing exponentially. The Yankee Group, an internationally recognized leader in research and consulting, forecasts that residential DSL and cable high-speed data connections in the United States will increase from 10.7 million connections in 2001 to 31.1 million connections in 2005, a compound annual growth rate of 31 percent. Taking advantage of the surging popularity of broadband technology, service providers are offering new services that combine data, voice, and video communications capabilities on a low-cost packet telephony network. These new services extend traditional circuit-based telephony services and deliver new features that are only available using a packet telephony network.
IDC, another internationally recognized research and consulting firm, estimates that worldwide retail IP telephony services revenue will grow from $0.4 billion in 2000 to $19.5 billion in 2005. Broadband households in the U.S. spend on average $102 per month on local and long-distance voice services, making VoIP one of the most explosive opportunities in the communications industry.
As a leading provider of carrier-grade voice-over-IP (VoIP) communications services, Vonage is working with Cisco Systems to seize new opportunities in the telecommunications market. On January 15, 2002, Vonage went live with a residential second-line service, called Vonage DigitalvoiceSM. This unique VoIP service offering turns a broadband DSL or cable connection into a second phone line with many enhanced services. "The confluence of universal access, the growth of broadband connections, and the advent of VoIP has created a large and compelling market," says Atish Babu, vice president corporate development, of the Edison, New Jersey-based firm.
"We believe VoIP will emerge as a viable, even necessary alternative to the traditional PSTN [Public Switched Telephone Network]," Babu predicts. "With help from Cisco and its partners, SIP [Session Initiation Protocol] is becoming an important mechanism that service providers can use to build innovative, cost-effective voice and multimedia services."
Vonage provides "alternative line" carrier-grade phone services to residential customers. In addition to high-quality traditional telephone services, Vonage users are offered multiple phone numbers, number selection, voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding, caller identification, call return (*69 in North America), and support for multiple devices. Vonage Digitalvoice also offers new, converged voice and data features that have never been part of a traditional telephone service.
According to Babu, Vonage's relationship with Cisco began when the company became a Cisco customer for its media gateways and IP telephones. Soon after, Cisco invited Vonage to participate in shaping its overall VoIP strategy. "Everything Cisco was doing made absolute sense to us," he recalls. "Today, we consult with Cisco on its cable headend, media gateway, customer premises equipment (CPE), and SIP-based VoIP strategies. In return, Cisco has advised us on our packet telephony-based technical strategy. I would be hard-pressed to think of some aspect of our technical strategy in which Cisco is not involved."
Many of the advanced telephony features offered by Vonage are possible because of SIP, a signaling protocol used for establishing sessions in an IP network. With SIP as the primary protocol of its packet telephony network, Vonage offers residential customers an innovative and cost-effective alternative to traditional telephony service. As a foundation for its services, Vonage engineered proprietary technology that enables subscribers to use VoIP services on top of any cable or DSL connection, even when a firewall stands between the user and the wide-area network. "Our SIP-through-Network Address Translation [NAT] technology is unique in the industry," says Babu. "Cisco helped us solve many of the technical and business challenges of bringing this unique service to market. Today, SIP allows us to rapidly deploy new features to subscribers without user intervention or the need for additional network elements. We can develop and deploy innovative applications and services in less time and at a lower cost than with other Internet protocols."
Cisco Voice Gateways support a variety of call-control protocols, including H.323, Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), and SIP. But it is SIP technology that enables Vonage to offer its customers advanced communications features. With its foundation in Internet protocols, SIP enhances the ability to integrate voice with Web-based services, including self-based provisioning and location services. A SIP-based session can be a simple two-way telephone call or a collaborative multimedia conference. "When you enter a URL at your browser, an HTTP command is sent to a Web server to transmit the requested page," Babu explains. "Similarly, when you pick up your phone to make a call, a SIP command is sent to initiate the phone conversation."
This flexibility enables Vonage to offer a host of additional services, such as voice-enriched e-commerce, Web page click-to-dial, instant messaging with buddy lists, and IP centrex services. The Cisco engineering team is working closely with Vonage to develop these SIP functions for the emerging broadband market.
"`Blast Me' is a great example of a SIP-enabled service that features wired-to-wireless integration," Babu says. "Most consumers have several types of phones: a cell phone, a primary home phone, an office phone, and perhaps our IP phone. With Blast Me, calls can be sent to all of a customer's phones simultaneously."
Vonage exploits the advantages of its SIP-based VoIP architecture to offer features that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive or simply not possible in the PSTN. In addition to Vonage's "Blast Me" call-blasting service to multiple phone lines, the company can offer consumers conference bridging, call restrictions, and personalization. For example, Vonage can provide phone numbers outside of a subscriber's local area code, enabling customers to establish a local presence anywhere that Vonage maintains a voice gateway.
"Many of these features simply are not available in the PSTN world, such as the ability to review a record of calls at any time, as you can do with your cell phone," explains Babu. "We have been working closely with Cisco to develop these advanced telecom capabilities."
In addition, Vonage leverages the data, voice, and video integration capabilities of VoIP networks to offer unified communications solutions such as telephony application integration with Microsoft Outlook; call initiation using softphones; conference calling that integrates VoIP-based calls with PSTN-originated calls; videoconferencing; and multimedia support. Users can establish rules to enhance traditional call-forwarding capabilities, turning their phones into intelligent answering services. "Through a few simple instructions to your personal profile, you can tell your phone `if my brother calls, interrupt me; if my ex-girlfriend calls, give her a busy signal; if my broker calls, put him into my voice mail.' All of these preferences can be set through a Web browser," Babu explains.
While U.S. regulations prohibit most VoIP services from being considered primary-line services because they do not support emergency 911 calls, Vonage has solved this technical challenge and will soon bring 911 services to the VoIP market. "The SIP protocol offers excellent functionality, improved quality of service [QoS], scalability, and the flexibility we need to deliver carrier-grade communications to millions of users," Babu says. "As the demand for our IP telephony services grows, the low overhead requirements of SIP will allow us to meet customer requirements quickly, with minimal capital expenditures and operating overhead."
Vonage operates a highly efficient overlay network that is designed to provide the highest service quality at minimal cost to its customers while addressing the needs of its distribution partners. Its regional data centers rely on Cisco equipment to supply capacity, scalability, and redundancy within its co-location facilities. This nationwide managed network gives Vonage a presence at key peering points across the United States. In addition to a variety of Cisco switches and routers within the network core, Vonage uses the Cisco AS5300 family of voice gateways to connect into the PSTN.
In the voice-enabling layer of its network, Vonage relies on SIP-based VoIP components that provide call-routing and security capabilities to enable carrier-grade voice communications and provide advanced features and applications. "We deliver carrier-grade voice over IP with compelling customer care, exceptional voice quality, and very intelligent end-devices," says Babu. "Redundant and overlapping managed IP segments allow us to route calls through the highest-quality and lowest-cost paths possible. We only use the Internet when we have to, ensuring excellent quality of service."
Vonage Digitalvoice customer premises equipment includes Cisco ATA 186 analog telephone adaptors and Cisco IP phones as endpoints. "Cisco's SIP phones are by far the best in the industry," Babu adds. "There is not even a debatenobody produces better VoIP equipment than Cisco."
Proxy servers are provided by DynamicSoft, a Cisco Service Provider Solutions Ecosystem partner, while last-mile networks are under the purview of distribution partners that include cable companies, also known as multiservice operators (MSOs), network service providers (NSPs), Internet service providers (ISPs), and regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs).
"Our overlay architecture allows us to deliver geography- independent features, such as number selection and number mobility, without incurring any incremental costs," explains Babu. "Cisco helped us design and deploy this intelligent network, and continues to assist with solutions for better management of the infrastructure. Cisco knows what can scale up and what can break down in capacity and density, how to size and position the equipment, and how to integrate it."
Cisco Transit solutions, with integrated support for H.323, MGCP, and SIP, enable service carriers to deploy enhanced voice services more quickly and to reduce application development and capital expenditures. To find out more about Cisco Transit solutions and SIP, visit http://www.cisco.com/go/telephony.
Vonage is a leading provider of carrier-grade, SIP-based VoIP communications solutions wrapped in a compelling customer care experience. To find out more, call (732) 528-2600, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Vonage Web site at www.vonage.com.