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!Interop

June 13, 2012

In an idle moment the other day, I decided to do an internet search on unified communications interoperability to see if there had been any recent activity I had missed.  Surely, I thought to myself, if UC is really taking off, then the vendors must be coming under customer pressure to provide inter-vendor interop.  By the time I had finished, I had changed the working title for this post from ‘Interop’ to ‘!Interop’ (for the non-programmers, putting a ‘!’ in front of a word changes it from TRUE to FALSE – my attempt at geek humor….).

The first thing I turned up on the topic was a range of references to the UCI Forum – an industry consortium of nearly 40 companies that was formed 2 years ago to try to move the UC interop agenda forward.  It seems that organization has made some progress (e.g. the publication of a specification for a Scalable Video Codec) but such efforts only scratch the surface of the interop challenge.  Probing a little deeper, I found that two leading UC vendors (Cisco and Avaya) had declined to join the consortium, quoting concerns about its governance.  The politics between competing vendors are always complex at the best of times, but seeing 2 of the top 3 UC vendors boycott an interoperability consortium, that appears to be otherwise well supported, doesn’t bode well for the cause of interoperability.

Another theme that turned up is the number of earnest, yet somehow oddly evasive, vendor statements on the interoperability of their technology, e.g. “XYZ Inc. has long been a supporter of open standards and has actively participated in dozens of standards bodies to drive cross-industry interoperability”.  I searched the sites of all the major vendors, typing the word ‘interoperability’ into their site search function and found little evidence of any meaningful work.  Perhaps the information I was seeking is there somewhere, but the fact that it is difficult to find is an indication that the vendors are only paying lip-service to interoperability.

An interesting web site I found was SIPit.net, which appears to be an off-shoot of the SIP Forum, which is an annual event where vendors get to go test their SIP implementations against those of other vendors.  In an attempt to remove any competitively motivated behavior, much of the information about the outcome of these events seems to be purposefully obscured, including the participants list.  However, the summary of the last event (held in Monaco…nice boondoggle….) shows that, among 25 products from 17 vendors, the degree of standards support can be best described as ‘variable’.  No wonder they don’t want to ‘name names’.

I also investigated SIP Trunking interoperability.  I know that this is a vexed issue for many UC vendors and service providers, yet it appears to be highly interesting to UC customers.  A recent article on NoJitter by Gary Audin, has the title “Another Year of SIP Trunking Problems”, which probably tells you all you need to know.  However Gary provides some interesting stats from a survey that shows that SIP Trunking interoperability is getting worse, not better.  The main source of the issues appears to be at the service provider end – which isn’t surprising, since SIP Trunking is disruptive to the incumbent telephony networks’ business model.

At the end of this exercise, I felt quite depressed about UC interoperability, but my enthusiasm for the mission of NextPlane was completely re-energized.  🙂

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