VoIP builds momentum in developing world
Calls no longer sound like Norman Collier, thankfully
Internet telephony is gaining ground, particularly in the developing world, against traditional switched circuit telephony.
According to a recent report by telecoms consultancy TeleGeography , voice over IP (VoIP) traffic accounted for 10 per cent of all call transfers last year (six per cent in 2001). In 1999, by the same reckoning, VoIP accounted for less than half a per cent of the world's call volumes.
TeleGeography's report shows significant regional disparities, with Western European in particular cautious of embracing VoIP (which offers cheaper but possibly less reliable communications).
In terms of total traffic, Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe are reckoned to be the primary destinations of global VoIP termination.
Routes into China, Russia and Brazil accounted for 10 percent of global VoIP traffic between 2000 and 2002. Traffic into India and Indonesia is showing greatest increase in VoIP traffic growth, each doubling over the last two years.
Calls from the US to countries in the developing world account for a significant proportion of global VoIP traffic.
Top international routes included between US to Mexico (with 12.1 per cent route share in 2002), with US to China (4.6 per cent) and US to Colombia (2.5 per cent).
So the long predicted move to VoIP is finally beginning to happen, and carriers need to take this on board when developing their business plans.
TeleGeography's report states: "While a large portion of VoIP traffic carried by establishing carriers is bundled into enterprise products on private networks, some carriers are beginning to carry significant volumes of wholesale VoIP over their long-haul networks."
Some carriers are utilizing their own IP networks to carry voice traffic but most are outsourcing to VoIP middlemen, TeleGeography believes.
An example of such a middleman is carriers' carrier ITXC . The company claims to handle 20 per cent of the world's VoIP traffic passes over its network, which spans 175 countries.
Last week ITXC committed  to using equipment from Cisco to build greater reliability into what is billed as the world's biggest VoIP network. IRXC is to standardise on Cisco's AS5000 Universal Gateway and PGW 2200 Softswitch Voice Over IP (VoIP) products in the further development of its network.
By standardising on Cisco equipment, ITXC can get around the interoperability concerns that have historically held back VoIP as a technology.
Hanging on the Telephone
The idea of making telephone calls over the Internet has been around for years. However it's long being held back by quality and reliability concerns. Incomplete or competing standards further muddied the picture.
These technical problems are now, largely, resolved. Although regulatory issues remain (like Panama's recent decision to ban VoIP) and the telco market remains chronically depressed, it seems the march of history it towards voice over IP.
Although VoIP is not (in the short term at least) going to match circuit switched telephony it can match, or even surpass, what people accept on their mobile phone.
And that's good enough for most people. ®
For the benefit of our overseas readers: Norman Collier was a comedian of the 1980s famed for a comedy routine where you couldn't tell what he was saying. He got laughs through pretending the microphone he was using dropped every other word ("Is __is _ike on?" etc.).
Stanley Unwin, who we originally thought this routine belonged to, is a different comic altogether.