IT Expo: IP Communication Models Ripe For Paradigm Shift


That was the word Wednesday afternoon from the opening keynote session at IT Expo in Miami Beach, Fla., where top executives from Yahoo, Polycom and Free Conferencing stressed new paradigms and urged the rethinking of legacy communication systems.

It was a message not lost on attendees at IT Expo, which is an umbrella conference for several smaller events such as Digium Asterisk World, SmartGrid Conferenece, Cloud Communications Summit and 4G Wireless Evolution Conference. The event draws heavily on startup companies -- vendors, VARs, developers, service providers alike -- that are as much committed to upstart communications platforms like Asterisk as they are to more established, legacy players in networking and infrastructure.

Jeremy Wadhams, senior IT architect at Yahoo, played the role of Asterisk evangelist, describing how Yahoo adopted Asterisk and Asterisk-compatible solutions as its global standard for telephony.

Asterisk's flexibility as an open source platform gave Yahoo the flexibility, Wadhams said, to upgrade its infrastructure from previous Nortel and other systems, with fewer growing pains.

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"The telecom team and the networking team weren't playing nicely together," Wadhams said, describing how Yahoo didn't before have a good system for how it procured telephony. "They said, 'You're asking us to spend this much putting out a desk phone as we are [spending] to get laptops.'"

Yahoo rethought its communications infrastructure, and Wadhams said a lot of big companies -- especially Fortune 500 companies -- are probably looking to do the same. VAR channels, he said, are crucial to opening IT managers' eyes to different possibilities.

"The transition is brutal. But having a VAR to talk you through and point out 80 systems you don't need and say, 'Here's 10 you'll probably end up shipping back,' -- that's important," he said. "All of our channels in and out of Asterisk have been good."

The holy grail for infrastructure and communications isn't always a glut of features, either, Wadhams said.

"We know Nortel has had 100 years to build out their feature sheet," he said. "We just don't need all of them. Servers are easy. Phones are hard."

Jeffrey Rodman, co-founder and CTO of Polycom, used his portion of the keynote to look at where IP communication is heading.

"These words like telepresence, scaleable, worldwide and interoperable," he said. "What this really boils down to -- what we and our users are looking for -- is the ability to be there now, wherever that is."

He suggested IP communications would continue to grow and evolve in terms of richness, accuracy, reliability, breadth and access. Features like audio high-definition, video high-definition, compression efficiency, new goals for codecs and network matching would soon be a new normal, as would a greater push to use networks more efficiently.

Even physical human implants -- cochlear and retinal, Rodman described -- would start to play a role in communication devices 10, even five years down the line.

"When it comes to IP, the whole network becomes transparent," Rodman said. "That impacts everything we do."

David Erickson, founder and CEO of the conference call company Free Conferencing, described how in building his business, he learned that consumers want things as simple as possible.

Erickson grew the business from its founding in 2001 as a fledgling conference call service that used a GoDaddy Web page to, today, an audioconferencing force that numbers more than 800,000 registrants and 7.5 million connections a month.

The main difference between, the company's flagship product, and other VoIP services is that uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN), and is built on voice routers versus more traditional, analog-based conference bridges.

It was the original design -- with a single access code -- that held sway with customers, Erickson said.

"Had I had a venture capital backing, I might have missed that," he said. "I might have gone all fancy with all the features and controls, and missed out."

Erickson agreed that HD audio is the most obvious new frontier for IP communications. Standard definition audio for phone systems, he noted, transmits only 20 percent of a human voice.

He urged attendees to view the Federal Communications Commission's increased interest in IP policy as a sign IP communications are moving to the fore even faster than many observers think. Indeed, Erickson noted, AT&T at the end of 2009 filed paperwork with the FCC to begin moving all of its service to IP-based networks and do away with land lines -- an obvious sign of the times, he said.

Erickson suggested that consumers want to be completely connected, not just, say, be able to use Skype with other Skype users only. Consumers will also be willing to pay for quality -- and security -- which is a compelling value proposition for HD audio, he said.

He urged attendees to keep an open mind on IP connectivity. While old ways of making money with communications are falling away, new revenue models around things like transcoding, audio and video quality and application rates were arriving.

"Keep the consumer first," he urged. "And make sure your 2010 purchases include HD."