Open-Voice Coalition Touts Interoperability

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. must have this whole broadband-interoperability thing licked. Clans of service providers and equipment vendors continue to follow suit, band together, hold hands and sing interoperability "Kum Ba Ya."

Following the recent formations of OpenDSL and a group that supports FS-VDSL (full-service very high-speed digital-subscriber-line) interoperability, yet another group, OpenVoiceoverBroadband (OpenVoB), has thrown its hat into the ring.

Interoperability overkill? OpenVoB doesn't think so.

OpenVoB's goal is simple: to accelerate the adoption and deployment of VoB technologies that interoperate across multiple delivery platforms.

Instead of promoting specific technologies or products, OpenVoB will look at the "big picture" and determine how individual groups in the cable, DSL and wireless industries are making progress with Internet protocol-based VoB standards, making suggestions to each industry in order to hasten the process.

Not a standards-setting body like CableLabs or Open-DSL, OpenVoB plans to develop "end-to-end" deployment models for VoB that avoid proprietary approaches and utilize established and emerging technical guidelines.

"From [OpenVoB's] standpoint, it's mostly a group of voice-gateway providers," Kinetic Strategies Inc. president and broadband analyst Michael Harris said. "To a certain extent, it looks like they want to be broadband-agnostic and to deliver solutions for cable, DSL and fixed wireless. From that standpoint, it looks like they're trying to position themselves as kind of a pan-broadband voice organization."

OpenVoB's founding members include Accelerated Networks Inc., Avail Networks Inc., Broadband Gateways, Cayman Systems Inc., General Bandwidth Inc., Intel Corp., IPCell Technologies Inc., ipVerse Inc., ishoni Networks Inc., MetaSwitch, Santera Systems Inc. and Woodwind Communications Systems Inc.

The group said it has already drafted implementation guidelines and a test plan for a standards-based VoB-deployment model.

Those guidelines will become the cornerstone of the group's series of "CallFests," a set of forums that feature multivendor interoperability events. OpenVoB's first CallFest is slated for this December, General Bandwidth vice president of business development Brian Henrichs said.

"There are a lot of good standards out there, but without coordination, it's difficult to ensure that products are interoperable across multiple platforms," he said. "Without coordination, there's room for interpretation error."

"True multivendor interoperability" will plant the seeds required for the VoB market to grow and flourish, he added.

Because fragmentation of the broadband industry exists among cable, DSL and wireless providers for voice services, that market won't fully materialize, Henrichs suggested.

OpenVoB will facilitate that, he said, adding that once companies are producing cross-platform, interoperable products, the consortium would likely "sunset and disappear."

In the cable sector, OpenVoB plans to "build on the good work CableLabs has done with PacketCable," Henrichs said.

"Cable is taken care of very well with PacketCable, so it looks like it might lend itself more to the DSL market initially," Harris said.

OpenVoB has sparked some early discussion with CableLabs, but to call it a formal meeting would be a wild understatement.

In April, OpenVoB chairman and General Bandwidth director of business development Ken Cavanaugh said he met briefly with Glenn Russell, a PacketCable project director at CableLabs, during an industry gathering.

"We wanted to make sure in the early days [of OpenVoB] that we weren't doing redundant work," Cavanaugh said, adding that OpenVoB's main concern with PacketCable is that OpenVoB's approach delivers telephony services that are connected to a class-5 switch for call services such as 911 and caller ID.

"The model we're looking at doesn't have a call agent like cable's model, but it does it at the switch," Cavanaugh said.

Russell characterized the meeting as an informal hallway chat. No formal meetings with OpenVoB have been slated at this time, CableLabs senior vice president of communications Mike Schwartz said.

While OpenVoB membership is open, only a small gathering of companies has agreed to support the group's efforts so far. OpenVoB said it plans to step up its recruiting efforts in the coming weeks.