At 36p a minute to Brazil, Internet telephony is a consumer dream….

At 36p a minute to Brazil, Internet telephony is a consumer dream….Adrian Morant The chances are that Internet telephony is set for massive growth. Delta Three is one Internet service prover in the vanguard, launching a European Internet telephony service based on Ericsson technology. The attraction to the consumer is that telephony over the Internet provides low-cost long distance and international calls. For example, 36p per minute to Argentina and Brazil as compared to over 130p charged by BT. As such, Internet telephony threatens to upset the established order in telecommunications. Usage is understandably increasing, at a compound annual growth rate in excess of 100 per cent. Additional players can be expected to fight for this market in the same way that there is competition in existing telecommunications and Internet markets. The way has been opened for them by the EC’s clarification the regulatory position following the liberalisation of the EU telecoms market from January 1, 1998. Equipment suppliers, operators and users can all look to a more certain future. There are two basic Delta Three services. One operates from phone-to-phone on the public network, but transmission is over the Internet. The call is initially routed from the caller’s phone, via the public phone network, onto the Delta Three Internet network. It then ‘breaks out’ near its destination and is completed via the public phone network at the remote end. The other service is PC-to-phone. This is very similar with the exception that the call is initiated on a PC, with the connection being made via one’s local Internet service provider into the Delta Three Internet network. Initially, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Russia and the USA are offered in addition to a number of destinations in South America. The target is to be able to connect with 50 countries by the end of the year. Delta Three claims that savings of up to 75 per cent can be obtained compared with BT. While these services are most attractive to the individual, a number of companies whose staff do an appreciable amount of travelling have already expressed interest. The ability to cut the cost of voice calls back to the UK from an overseas hotel, rather than pay the exorbitant charges often levied, is an attractive proposition. Although Delta Three appear to have obtained a head-start, we can expect other players to enter the market in the not too distant future. Voice on a data network? Voice and data have different requirements. The former needs low and consistent transmission delay. This is achieved with the existing phone network by setting up a dedicated end-to-end circuit for the duration of a call. Whilst low, predictable, latency is achieved, much circuit time is wasted in silence. For data over the Internet, packet switching is used. No circuit is tied up continuously and little capacity is wasted. The penalty is that data packets get random delays – which are not generally a problem with data. Should data errors occur, corrupted blocks can be re-transmitted and re-inserted into the received data later. Over the normal phone network, circuit utilisation is always less than 50 per cent because only one person is speaking at any one time. Hence, where it is possible to ‘packetise’ voice, far greater efficiencies can be achieved. Where reliable performance can be obtained through the Internet, it becomes a suitable vehicle for voice transmission. Among the key requirements for voice are low latency and the ability to dynamically re-route calls to maximise call completion. The Ericsson IP Telephony solution for Carriers (IPTC) which Delta Three, is employing has been developed to meet these needs. Delta Three, which claims to have the largest Internet telephony network in the world, is initially offering two services: phone-to-phone pre-paid calling cards and PC-to-phone calling accounts. Other services are currently under consideration. With the former service, callers will dial in to a voice gateway, key in their PIN number and then the number of the phone to be called. The call will be routed through Delta’s own IP network, until it breaks out at the voice gateway, and the company has 20 worldwide, nearest to its destination and is completed over the normal telephone network. The delay within the IPTC is under 100ms and the total end-to-end delay is claimed to small enough that it is acceptable to the users. Users of the PC-to-phone service will connect via their normal Internet service provider. This can add additional and unpredictable voice delays. However, according to Paul Graber, a spokesman for Delta Three in Europe “The quality gap is closing all the time – even month by month. Those who experienced voice over the Internet two years ago, would hardly recognise it today as using the same medium.”


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