Google battles MicroSkype with 'open' VoIP protocol

The Jingle in Ballmer's ear

Google has moved its Google Talk VoIP infrastructure to Jingle, the voice and media signaling protocol that seeks to provide an open-standard alternative to the proprietary protocols used by the Microsoft-owned Skype and other VoIP technologies.

With an email on the XMPP Standards Foundation mailing list, Google's Peter Thatcher announced that the company is now supporting the Jingle XEP-166 and XEP-167 protocols for Google Talk calls to and from Gmail, iGoogle, and Orkut, the company's Brazil-friendly social network.

Jingle, Thatcher said, will now be Google's primary signaling protocol, though the company will retain its old protocol for backwards compatibility.

Google has also added the same support to libjingle, the Voice and P2P Interoperability Library used by many Google Talk native clients. The company intends to update the Google Talk Android client to Jingle, but it will not move the Windows client. Apparently, on Windows, Google will challenge MicroSkype solely through the browser.

The idea is to allow for calls between competing services. "I hope that this will be a support to the Jingle community and further our efforts to have open standards for voice and video communication," Thatcher's email reads.

Thatcher did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But his email goes on to say that Google will eventually retire its old protocol, which served as a basis for Jingle.

Google was among those who originally developed Jingle, but some had criticized the company for not moving its own infrastructure to the new protocol. Senko Rašić – a developer at Collabora, one of the other VoIP companies behind the standard – was among Google's critics, but he met Thatcher's announcement with nothing but praise.

"This is great news. Google has been one of the driving forces behind Jingle, but as they were implementing it far in advance of being standardised, the drafts/standards have since changed," he said with a comment on Hacker News. "Other implementations have to maintain support for several close but not quite the same dialects. Google updating their software will make interop much easier."

Jingle was developed by Google, Collabora, Yate, and two VoIP outfits that are now part of Cisco: Tandberg and Jabber. At the XMPP Standards Foundation, Jingle is now a "draft" standard, having moved from "experimental" status two years ago. In a canned statement, XMPP Council Chair Kevin Smith echoed Rašić. "Google’s updates to use the standardised Jingle protocols will mean an increased chance of interoperability for streaming audio between XMPP users and will hopefully entice more developers into producing implementations and contributing to the standards process,” he said.

Earlier this year, Microsoft purchased popular VoIP services Skype in a deal valued at $8.5 billion, making it the biggest acquisition in Microsoft's history. But Google is taking a very different tack. In addition to adopting Jingle, Google recently open sourced a framework for real-time video and audio inside the browser. Known as WebRTC, the framework is based on technology Google acquired with its $68.2 million purchase of Global IP Solutions (GIPS) last year.

"We’d like to make the browser the home for innovation in real time communications," Google said in a blog post at the time. "Until now, real time communications required the use of proprietary signal processing technology that was mostly delivered through plug-ins and client downloads."

Skype is not a browser technology. And it doesn't use standard protocols. But it does have the users, which now number 170 million worldwide. ®

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