MANHASSET, N.Y. High quality of service and broad interface support for packetized voice and data transport are two claimed features of an advanced voice/data router from Vpacket Communications. The Milpitas, Calif., company is aiming its 6100 series at small to midsize offices and multitenant buildings looking to converge voice and data over a single broadband Internet Protocol connection.
The 6100 is the linchpin of Vpacket's strategy for what Frost & Sullivan estimates will be a $91 billion market for voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) by 2006. The router brings intelligent IP routing of voice and data to the subscriber's premises over existing networks and the local loop. That will let service providers deploy feature-rich, soft-switch-based converged networks while cutting network operating costs as much as 50 percent, according to the company.
Carriers seeking to combine their separate voice and data nets into single, multiservice networks recognize that the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is unable to handle the enormous growth in data traffic, said Jeff Gustafson, senior director of corporate marketing at Vpacket. "Packet-switched networks are more suitable for handling data and combinations of voice and data, and there is quite a lot of packet-switched bandwidth in core networks today," he said. "This means the QoS issues with voice and data are issues only on the CPE [customer premises equipment] to the edge which is where we're focused."
In Vpacket's view, customers are moving away from the Class 5 switch-based infrastructure in favor of soft-switched and media-gateway solutions, which are far more flexible and less expensive. "Soft-switch solutions still need to get a lot of traction in the market, but once they do, I think that's really the best way to build voice and data networks," said Gustafson.
The 6100 release propels Vpacket out of stealth mode as a company. While any number of market opportunities exist in converged voice and data from the CPE to the network edge, for Vpacket the biggest one arises from service providers' realization that just providing basic access service isn't a viable business model.
"They really need value-added services," said Gustafson. "And the best direction to provide value-added is converged voice and data." Figures show that while data today accounts for 60 percent of telecom traffic, voice still contributes more than 90 percent of the revenue.
"So adding voice is an obvious way to add revenue," he said. "We enable that, while simplifying the fundamental architecture of the network."
Indeed, Gustafson called the 6100 an enabler for end-to-end converged voice- and data-over-IP. Residing at the CPE, the router will identify and then prioritize, queue and selectively route voice and data packets directly into an IP network, as well as forward them to a gatekeeper or voice gateway for full integration into the PSTN or asynchronous-transfer-mode data and voice network.
The product has intelligence for such higher-level functionality as IP-class-based queuing and level-of-service classifications, while also performing Layer-4 call-control functionality. "That's the level that we're at right now," said Brian Chiko, vice president of product management and marketing. The 6100 is not "a full-application device, though we do have basic firewall-type functionality . . . it's a moderately heavy client."
Along with establishing a viable business model, service providers face the problem of interoperability with existing equipment to ease integration and minimize costs. "We're doing interoperability certification with several vendors, primarily with DSLAM technology and media gateways and soft switches," Gustafson said. "Also, interoperability with PBXes on the customer premise is essential, if that customer wants to have access to an IP network."
Once the business model and interoperability issues are tackled, the 6100 enters to deliver and manage QoS for voice traffic. Here, the requirements are much different than for data.
At the core of the router is a TI C5404 (or 21) digital signal processor that gathers information on parameters of the network that affect voice quality, such as jitter, packet loss and end-to-end delay. Proprietary algorithms then translate those measurements into mean opinion score (MOS) equivalents that can give network management an idea of the customer's line quality.
MOS is one of two ways of measuring voice quality. It is based on the subjective opinions of 20 people who listen to a specific recording over headsets and rate it on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating incoherence and 5 indicating local-call quality.
"The DSP and associated algorithms are a key innovative feature of what we're offering," said Alberto Berstein, vice president of technology. Jitter and delay by themselves don't give a clear measure of voice quality, which also depends on the compression algorithm. Vpacket thus uses the DSP to measure the total degradation those parameters exert on voice quality and uses the measurements to trigger alerts to its voice network management system. That system recognizes when voice quality has fallen below a certain threshold so that the network manager can reallocate resources or bandwidth to solve the problem before the end customer experiences the condition. "It's all about compromises and network management and resource allocation," said Berstein, "and it's all done on the fly."
The voice network management system is based on software from Telogy. "Telogy is providing the hooks, but we are providing the network manager system itself," said Berstein. "That's our core intellectual property, along with the DSP and algorithms."
Vpacket says this system offers business-quality network management for converged voice and data applications, and allows QoS measurement and reporting features on a per-customer and per-network basis. The system integrates into existing service-provider networks and offers autoprovisioning for new equipment, new services and updated software for Vpacket voice/data routers. It is also NT- and Unix-based for scalable support of large networks.
The system manages Layer 1 and 2 access services for digital subscriber line or T1 access. "However, if you've got another service provider offering Layer 3 data services, there are separate management layers for those services and the same thing for the voice services [Layer 4]," Gustafson said. The system allows for separate management and troubleshooting of each of the layers, while providing related security features.
At the packet level, support for advanced traffic shaping and policy control ensures that voice packets get highest priority on the IP network.
"There are no other products out there that offer this layered management," Gustafson said, "primarily because they don't need to offer it, [since] they don't offer IP over a Layer 2 transport like DSL or ATM."
Links to the LAN include an SFX interface to a PBX, available now, with a T1/CAS and 10/100 Ethernet interface slated for later this quarter. On the WAN side, Vpacket is starting with an xDSL interface and planning T1 and E1 interfaces for later this quarter and a Gigabit Ethernet interface later this year.
Pricing is quoted at less than $200 per voice port. Samples are available now; quantity availability is expected by the middle of the first quarter.