Dean Young, Head of Telecommunication Pre-sales at T-Systems in South Africa
With the proliferation of remote access by employees, companies will have to start rethinking the way they approach standards within their UCC (Unified Communications and Collaboration) strategies. Indeed, crossing the chasm from internal-only UC applications to enabling connectivity across company boundaries, and often to disparate systems, requires a standard means of communication. In addition, accessibility and connectivity are important prerequisites that should not be hampered by vendor lock-in when opening your company to important customers and mobile employees.
The reality is standards improve services’ whereas vendor lock-in sees companies losing functionality. In fact it becomes a costly exercise to add customised solutions to your network to ensure that you keep in trend with new devices that enter the market. A service provider will overcome vendor lock-in and ensure that an UCC strategy and resultant implementation meets industry standards and overcomes issues such as integration while harnessing the power of new technologies. A standardised approach future proofs your investment in UCC.
With all of this said, what are the main standards and how do they contribute to an environment that extends beyond the firewall? Many are familiar with SIP (Session Initiation Protocol); however, it is not the silver bullet to companies’ UCC standards woes. For example, SIP merely defines a signaling standard; negotiation of actual codes, security/encryption and management still requires underlying interoperable standards such as H.264 for video encapsulation or G.711 for audio. IT integrators should therefore start familiarising themselves with standards such as: Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)
SIPconnect 1.1; and Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP). Each plays an important role in delivering a standardised and important customer-centric approach to UCC.
XMPP – the interoperability must-have
XMPP is a well-established UC protocol and was initially developed to support the Jabber open source instant messaging (IM) project years ago. The standard was basically reborn from the ashes as a result of support from giants such as Google. However, the main reason for resurrection has been the simplicity and extensibility of the XML-based development. XMPP offers strong interoperability features and allows companies to, with relative ease, extend messaging protocols into other business applications. Furthermore, almost all of the major smart mobile offerings such as iPads and Android-based devices offers support for XMPP which is a major plus when opening up your infrastructure to remote workers and clients.
SIPconnect 1.1 – non negotiable
The SIP Forum developed SIPconnect to enable SIP trunking service providers and IP telephony system vendors to standardise interconnections, hopefully avoiding interoperability problems that have plagued many early SIP trunking implementations. For example, SIPconnect 1.1 provides a more tightly configured set of guidelines for seamless interoperability between SIP-enabled IP-PBXs and service provider networks, including cable operators. In this light, companies should ensure that their service provider partner offers SIPconnect 1.1 as part of their solution. More practically, for end users in the small business or large enterprise, SIPconnect eliminates, or greatly reduces, the need for a costly gateway at the end user’s site. In addition, new features from the service provider or the IP PBX vendor will be delivered more quickly. Also stay abreast of the results of the SIP Forum’s SIP it interoperability events in which vendors and service providers test interoperability for SIP-based services including voice and video.
TIP is designed to standardise immersive telepresence interoperability across vendor platforms, accounting for features including directional audio and active speaker screen switching. The standard essentially focuses on improving the interoperability of high-end video conferencing systems that implement TIP and offers the following additional benefits:
- New telepresence solutions integrate seamlessly current equipment
- Keep existing features and benefits of current equipment during integration
- Uses the advantages of open standards to achieve any-to-any interoperability with high-definition and standard videoconferencing systems
Initially owned by Cisco, TIP is operated by the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC) which improves protocol specifications as needed, oversees open source project management, facilitates distribution TIP members’ implementation profiles, and develops plans for and conducts interoperability testing at IMTC testing events. If you look at the above three standards there is one feature that stands above the rest: interoperability. Interoperability is critical to the implementation of any UCC infrastructure as it allows organisations to grow their investment in technology and ensure that it offers all the features and more to allow for communications and collaboration. ICT service provider knows how to deliver an communication infrastructure from point A to B while ensuring full integration with its telecommunications environment and IT applications needed to realise an optimally functioning UCC solution.