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Why proprietary protocols are not necessarily bad

Commenting on a reader's challenge of vendors' commitment to open standard VoIP

Convergence & VoIP Alert By Steve Taylor and , Network World
August 10, 2005 12:03 AM ET
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VoIP, unified messaging, products and services

Network World - Last time, one of our readers challenged VoIP market leaders Cisco, Nortel and Avaya on their commitment to open standard, cost-effective VoIP solutions.  Today, we'd like to add our observations and next week we'll hear directly from the vendors with their reply to our reader's query. 

First, we contend that proprietary protocols are not necessarily bad, provided they are contained within a single enterprise network. In fact, proprietary protocols may actually offer more features or network efficiency than standards-based protocols. And many network managers might tend to agree, if market share is any indicator. For example, vendors like Nortel and Avaya have maintained and continued to sell proprietary PBX software for years, yet they continue to be market share leaders in some markets. 

Where we believe our reader has a point is when it comes to network-to-network proprietary network protocols that have to interoperate - something the protocols certainly must do when connecting two different private, multi-vendor networks or when connecting to a public networks like the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or the Internet. 

If history is any indicator, the PSTN operators will force some level of open-standards compliance on vendors that build private network components otherwise the PSTN can't operate to connect the private network elements. For example, going back to the early days of ISDN, many vendors' switches didn't work together, but the carriers forced the competitors to work out a solution or risk being excluded from public network connectivity. 

We believe the VoIP market has reached that historical reference point as carriers begin to use and to offer more feature-rich VoIP-based services. As vendors achieve better open-standards compliance and interoperability becomes more transparent, we believe that prices for VoIP network elements will drop because customers will be less dependent on single-vendor suppliers for their enterprise-based VoIP. 

We're looking forward to getting the vendors' perspective directly in our next issue. 

Read more about voip & convergence in Network World's VoIP & Convergence section.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Larry Hettick is a principal analyst at Current Analysis.

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