If you were to ask some random people on the street what VoIP meant to them odds are you'll get a single word answer from the vast majority of people - Skype. While Skype has done a fantastic job of introducing people to VoIP the reality is that it's only a single product in the VoIP marketplace that revolves around a proprietary protocol, unlike the standards based solutions such as SIP that are rapidly gaining traction and forming the backbone of the world's telecommunications infrastructure.
Unlike the early days where people associated VoIP with low quality cheap phone calls, VoIP is now setting the pace and over the coming years VoIP based telephony will replace the existing phone service you have in your home. You could well be using a VoIP service now without even knowing it.
One thing that is apparent is that there is plenty of misinformation in the marketplace regarding VoIP. This isn't helped when incorrect and misleading information is put into the marketplace by vendors trying to push VoIP solutions.
This comment off the website of a NZ company selling VoIP phone solutions is a classic example of FUD.
The NGN is the biggest thing to happen in NZ Telecommunications - but existing analogue phones and systems will certainly not become obsolete overnight.
Like many telecommunications companies in the world Telecom New Zealand are currently in the middle of a major upgrade of their fixed line network. This upgrade is referred to as their NGN (Next Generation Network). In a nutshell a NGN is simply a fully IP (Internet Protocol) based network that has the ability to deliver data, voice and video over a single network. There are already plenty of people in New Zealand already using Next Generation networks - Vodafone's Red network and Orcon's Orcon+ network are both NGN networks.
The first step of this upgrade for Telecom is to complete their cabinetisation program. The goal of this is to ensure that a significant majority of households in the country are within 2km of a Telecom exchange or roadside cabinet. This ensures that broadband speeds using ADSL2+ and VDSL technologies are as fast as possible by minimising the length of copper cabling between the ISAM (the piece of hardware that provides the ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL service) and your premises. The shorter the distance, the better your broadband connection will be.
Roadside cabinets are connected back to a Telecom exchange via fibre optic cable. This is what is known as a FTTN (Fibre To The Node) network. This cabinet (or "node") then connects to the existing copper cabling running to your premises. The ISAM in this cabinet provides the ADSL2+/VDSL internet service, however PSTN voice services are currently still provided by the NEC NEAX switches that exist in the main phone exchange building.
The second step of the NGN project is to replace their existing PSTN infrastructure. In the late 1970's The NZPO decided to replace it's old mechanical switches with Japanese manufactured NEC NEAX switches - and believe it or not these same switches are still in place today delivering a phone service to the bulk of households in NZ. Telecom plan to have these phased out by 2020 at the latest.
The whole world is moving to VoIP and Telecom will not be replacing these switches with traditional switches, they will be moving to a VoIP solution that revolves around an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) network. This process is known as Class 5 Migration or Class 5 Replacement - Class 5 is the designation given to the existing NEAX switch in your local exchange that generates the dialtone and delivers this to your premises over the existing copper phone cabling. There are some fundamental issues to overcome to deliver a replacement VoIP phone service to households. The first is deciding on the best ways to achieve this out of the two main options.
1) Deliver a dialtone to your premises over the existing copper cabling to the existing analogue phones and devices in your house. This is the simplest way of maintaining backwards compatibility and ensures that end users will notice no change at all to their service and will not require any additional hardware.
2) Installing a residential gateway in your house or premises that connects back to the exchange building or roadside cabinet using ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL or fibre in a FTTP (Fibre To the Premise) area. Residential gateways are essentially a modem providing you with broadband access as well as a built in ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter) that provides analogue phone ports allowing you to plug in existing analogue phones. The ATA then connects directly back into the softswitch or IMS core network. Because the residential gateway provides internet access users could also have the option of replacing their analogue phones and moving directly to VoIP phones which can be plugged into your home network.
Both methods differ fundamentally and offer advantages and disadvantages.
The first option is the solution used by both Orcon and Vodafone to deliver voice services in the areas where they provide their own services over ULL circuits here in New Zealand with their Red and Orcon+ networks. Their hardware in the exchange delivering ADSL/ADSL2+ services to your house also connects back to their softswitch and handles the digital to analogue conversion, providing you with a dialtone on your existing phone. It's a VoIP service but the VoIP to analogue conversion is done by their equipment meaning it's completely transparent to the end user and requires no additional hardware to be installed in the premises. Telecom can deploy hardware into their existing exchanges and new roadside cabinets to deliver the exact same functionality. If your internet service was provided from a roadside cabinet your phone service would also provided from this very same cabinet.
The second option is currently being trialled by both Telecom and WorldxChange. In areas where fibre has been deployed directly to individual premises (FTTP) no copper cable exists to deploy a traditional analogue phoneline. In this situation a residential gateway has been fitted to the house that contains an optical to ethernet converter and a router with built in ATA to provide internet and support for analogue phones in the house. The unit also contains a house alarm that connects over the internet to an alarm monitoring company who provide IP monitoring, and a battery backup so that service is still available should there be a power cut.
Orcon's Homehub is also an example of an ADSL2+ based residential gateway that includes a modem, WiFi and analogue phone ports so you can use analogue phones with their VoIP product delivered to your premises over the internet.
Since I don't work for Telecom I can't say a lot about their exact plans for the future. What is clear is that both options will exist in the marketplace and play important roles. Telecom will be able to install equipment in their exchanges and roadside cabinets to deliver a dialtone over existing cabling so that all existing analogue phones will work, but many people are going to be interested in moving away from analogue phones completely to a full VoIP solution. If you're lucky enough to have fibre direct to your house either now, or in the future, a residential gateway will be required to provide you with internet and phone services.
The price of VoIP phones still exceed that of regular analogue phones but prices are dropping and the features that are available will see these becoming more common in households and businesses as people realise the benefits. These phones can simply be hooked into your existing broadband modem/router and can deliver voice quality that is far superior to that of the existing PSTN network using HD voice codecs such as G.722 when calling another device that supports the same codec. The great thing about VoIP is that you have a choice when it comes to your calling. With a VoIP device (PBX or phone) that supports multiple providers you can easily (and cheaply) sign up with a foreign VoIP provider and have a Melbourne or London phone number that people can call you on.
The growing market for hardware supporting video calling and video conferencing is also now putting this within reach of small businesses who would have simply been unable to take advantage of the technology in the past due to the cost.
It's clear that VoIP is the future of telephony. It doesn't mean that existing analogue devices will be obsolete. It does mean the opportunity is there for people to move away from analogue devices and replace these with VoIP hardware to take full advantage of the fantastic new products and services that are in the process of being deployed into the marketplace.
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