A VoIP and convergence history lesson, part one

At the end of this month this Network World blog will retire, so we’d like to dedicate part of the remaining editions to look back over the past 15 years- and look forward to the evolution of real time communications.

When we started this blog 15 years ago as a digital newsletter, VoIP was old enough to go to kindergarten, with about the same coping skills as a five year old human—functional but not yet ready to take over the world. After all, VoIP got its start in 1995 as a technology that offered computer-to-computer voice calls using a microphone and speakers. There was no “signaling” per se on those first calls; users would call each other on the PSTN to establish a voice-over-data call between their computers. Over time, H.323 and associated ITU-T standards would set the foundation for voice codecs and signaling protocols.

One big driver for VoIP’s early days was to reduce the cost of long distance voice calls. Vonage was incorporated in 2000 (the same year we began to cover VoIP) and while Vonage never grew into a market share leader, the Vonage model to make calls over a dedicated Internet connection had a profound effect both on long distance prices and on showing that VoIP could become a commercial success.

VoIP was evolving at the turn of the century, as demand for dial-up Internet access grew large enough to overwhelm the PSTN with callers who would dial into AOL and leave their lines “busy” for up to 24 hours a day. Telcos, looking for a way to alleviate stress on the dial up network, took steps to offload Internet calls onto a data network – creating a demand for softswitch technology. By 2000, dozens of companies made or planned to make a softswitch to replace the Class 4 TDM (tandem) switch, and long distance carriers began to deploy softswitch technology both to offload Internet access calls and as a way to improve the cost efficiencies of voice on long distance networks. Softswitch vendors envisioned a future where they would eventually replace the PSTN’s Class 5 TDM infrastructure with an all-IP architecture.

PBX vendors, who had seen a surge of investment as Y2K loomed and as enterprises replaced analog with digital voice technology were looking for the next investment cycle, and the IP-PBX looked like a good way to add new features and create demand for ongoing business investments.

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