Next year vendors will finally begin to roll out viable voice over IP products, but it won't be until 2000 that customers begin to deploy them in earnest, 3Com's chief technology officer John Hart said at Networld + Interop here last week.
As an example of new products that will hit the market next year, 3Com will release what Hart called EtherPhones. These are phones based on DSP technology, which handles the voice/data conversion, while a built-in Ethernet adapter allows them to plug straight into the network.
"We haven't officially announced anything, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that we're perfectly suited to building these things," Hart said.
Dedicated phones are needed, because using the PC to translate voice to data and back again would create latency. "It would sound like you were using a satellite, which is OK, but when you're in an office even that quality is really unacceptable."
Devices like these will open up big opportunities for computer resellers to broaden their business into telephony, he said. "It's going to be the data guys that will have to sell these things," Hart said.
He believes that customers will start experimenting with voice over IP next year, and will then start to seriously deploy the technology in the year 2000. Today, the technology is not really there, he claimed.
While most of the other major vendors including Cisco and Nortel are pushing the idea of a single IP backbone where voice and data will converge, Hart, during his N+I keynote last week, put forward his belief that it still made sense to use existing, proven wide-area backbone infrastructures.
The PSTN works perfectly well for telephony, satellites work great for video, why not continue to make use of these, he said. Hart also pushed this line when he visited Australia earlier this year, however he has noticeably altered his position since then.
At that time, Hart didn't believe it was viable to use a single IP backbone to transmit all forms of traffic and that it made sense to switch between existing "multiple cores". Last week, however, Hart said these alternative backbones should be used as redundant, back-up links in case the main converged IP backbone became congested or went down.
Was Hart recognising that the approach favoured by Bay and Nortel was closer to the truth?
"No I don't think so. I think I know more now, though. I've spoken to a lot of customers and they like the idea of being able to reduce their costs by sending everything over IP?" he said.
Now, Hart believes "trunk switches" will be used to create virtual private networks via whichever infrastructure is most appropriate.