Mass VoIP moves closer to reality

ENUM delegations begin

Broken CD with wrench
ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

The International Telecommunications Union has published procedures for administering ENUM, the fetal internet telephony addressing system, and a number of governments have already begun to test-bed services based on the system, it emerged Friday,

Kevin Murphy writes

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The move sets the ball rolling for the further deployment of voice over IP services, as ENUM allows different types of devices to call each other using common numbering, even if they are using different technologies. VoIP providers have until now been hampered by the lack of an official ENUM implementation in the domain name system.

The governments of the UK, Germany and the Netherlands have already set the ball rolling to bring ENUM services to their countries. Nominum Inc, a Redwood City, California-based firm, has been selected by the UK's Department of Trade and Industry to host a test of ENUM on its DNS infrastructure.

"I expect we'll see devices making use of ENUM with the next six months," said Nominum CTO David Conrad, naming VoIP phone providers such as Nortel Networks Inc and Cisco Systems Inc as likely candidates. "The technology isn't that hard once you've got the infrastructure in place."

ENUM is a system that maps international telephone numbers into the DNS. Phone numbers are administered under a plan known as E.164, which provides each nation or geographic area with country codes (such as +1 for North America and +44 for the UK), and delegates numbering responsibility underneath those codes to the respective nations.

To turn a E.164 phone number into an ENUM, you reverse it, put dots between the numbers, and add ".e164.arpa" on the end. So +44 207 919 5000 (ComputerWire's London office) becomes 0.0.0.5.9.1.9.7.0.2.4.4.e164.arpa. The domain e164.arpa domain is the "Tier 0" root of the ENUM hierarchy, hosted by the RIPE Network Coordination Center in Europe.

Each government that wishes to participate in ENUM can decide whether to have one or multiple Tier 1 registry. In the UK's test-bed, the Tier 1 registry for .4.4.e164.arpa is Nominum. The company is not getting paid for its services, and thus did not have to compete for the contract, but does not expect to provide the service commercially.

"My suspicion is that the DTI will select a UK-based company," when the Tier 1 contract(s) come up for bidding, said Conrad. "Our interest is in trying to get technology deployed quickly as possible." Nominum is using the test to refine its own DNS server technology to be more robust for the needs of carriers that will ultimately buy it.

The whole question of how to deploy ENUM is the subject of some controversy, with governments veering in wildly different directions based on their own nations' interests. The US, for example, is said to be stalling its own delegation of ENUM until it can work out concerns over competition at the Tier 1 level.

Meanwhile, India, which does a brisk trade in call center services, has reportedly declined to take a delegation for its country code at this time. And Germany is said to be lobbying for e164.arpa to be scrapped as the Tier 0 registry, with an ITU-controlled domain such as .int (reserved for international treaty organizations) being used instead.

"It's a fairly controversial subject within the ITU," said Conrad. "A lot of telecommunications companies are very concerned about things such as call bypass." Call bypass (VoIP rather than PSTN) could cost carriers, some of which are controlled by national governments, some of the revenue they get from terminating international calls.

"It seems the UK is the fastest mover here," said Doug Ranalli, founder and chief strategy officer of NetNumber Inc, a Lowell, Massachusetts-based ENUM services provider.

According to email logs of RIPE NCC's delegation request list, requests have been made and rejected from entities in Greece and Taiwan, as well as from a UK company calling itself TLD Solutions Ltd that seems keen to grab anything it can get its hands on, but does not understand the rules.

But the potential benefits of ENUM are attractive to technology and service providers. When ENUM is widely deployed, it is expected to help enable services that allow different types of device to communicate more easily (such as pager-to-fax or email-to-phone). PDA users could call a number to access web services, rather than typing a URL.

Other companies, impatient of government stalling, have been getting in on the game for the last couple of years. VeriSign Inc and NeuStar Inc have implemented test-phase ENUM registries, and NeuStar has actually been delegated the E164 code 991001 as a test-phase code that will expire in December.

NetNumber's Ranalli said his company has been offering ENUM resolution services since October last year. Rather than providing services to what Ranalli calls the "public" ENUM, NetNumber is providing carrier-to-carrier resolution for a handful of small VoIP services companies.

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