IP-based telecommunications Archive

Facebook’s chat facility now approaching Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger but a long way to go

Articles

Facebook unveils video chatting, thanks to Skype | The Digital Home – CNET News

Facebook intros group chats, new chat tool design | The Digital Home – CNET News

Facebook Reveals Video Chat Powered By Skype | Mashable

My Comments

Facebook’s chat functionality has now become a mature adult now that it offers group chatting and is about to offer Skype-powered videocall functionality.

What I do like about this is that rather than reinventing the wheel as Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger did to develop their video-chat services, Facebook have taken a sensible path. Here they have implemented Skype technology to power their video chat functionality.

The main reason I see this is going on is because Google are encroaching on Facebook’s territory with their Google+ social network service and Facebook have to provide a reason to keep their userbase loyal to their social network. It may also affect Skype’s native userbase who may use Facebook as a static notification tool while using the Skype client for text, audio and video chatting.

Native support

It may require Facebook to provide native support for this new level of chat functionality in their client-side applications. This is especially important for people who have used desktop instant-messaging services like ICQ or Windows Live Messenger and like the ability of these programs to operate in the background while they undertake their main activities.

Similarly, it could support the mobile, VoIP and “big-screen” platforms and take advantage of what each of these platforms can offer, such as “big-screen” video conferencing on larger TV sets for example.

This goal can be achieved more easily through the use of Skype code with Facebook interlinking and could be implemented in devices and platforms that have either of these functions written in to their base, such as the “smart-TV” platforms.

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Cable TV now on the Skype video-conferencing bandwagon

Articles

Skype to bring video chat to Comcast subscribers | Signal Strength – CNET News

Comcast brings Skype calls to TV | Total Telecom

My Comments

Previously, Samsung, LG and Panasonic have implemented a Skype videoconferencing endpoint in their Internet-enabled TVs for use with an optional Webcam. This was to allow users to have the ability to make videocalls with the ability to hear their correspondent from the TV’s speakers and see them on the TV screen.

Now Comcast, a major US cable-TV provider, has got in on the act by installing Skype on their new set-top boxes. But, typically, what will happen is that customers will have to purchase a special USB webcam through Comcast to enable the service. The backhaul for this service will be the Comcast cable-Internet infrastructure and the service will appeal to people who have Comcast also as their Internet service provider.

Could this open up the door for pay TV companies to enable their set-top boxes as Skype endpoints especially as they see themselves losing relevance in the Internet age? This is mainly due to the “cord-cutting” trend where people are downscaling or cancelling current pay-TV subscriptions or refusing to subscribe to pay-TV and use “over-the-top” Internet-delivered video-on-demand services.

On the other hand, this step, taken by set-top-box makers and cable-TV companies, could allow people who have existing TV equipment to make or take Skype calls on their favourite big-screen TVs. For satellite-based or terrestrial-based setups, it will require the use of a backhaul via the customer’s Internet service, which wouldn’t be difficult if the operator implements other Internet-based services like catch-up TV or view-on-demand. It will be interesting to see who else will roll this service in to their set-top box platforms even as TV manufacturers enable their sets for Internet TV.

It has therefore become the first time that Skype has become available in a popular set-top-box platform, especially delivered by a pay-TV provider rather than requiring the customer to buy a new set-top box for this function.

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HomePlug now integrated in the power supplies for “triple-play” equipment

Articles

These French-language articles are both from France, which is one of the few countries which can boast a lively competitive ADSL2 or fibre-optic powered  “triple-play” Internet-service market. Here, these services are based around each service provider providing an Internet gateway device known as a Freebox, Neufbox, Box SFR or something similar, which I refer to as an “n-box”. These are connected up to an IPTV set-top box that is connected to the TV set and they are known as a Freebox Décodeur or Décodeur SFR or something similar.

neufbox Evolution : le CPL intégré dans l’alimentation – DegroupNews.com

FreePlugs: Free.fr (France – French language)

My comments

The HomePlug that is a power supply unit

Previously I have been observing the developments concerning HomePlug powerline networking and have seen some HomePlug devices in an interesting form-factor. This form-factor is in the form of a single-box combination device which works as a power supply for a piece of equipment as well as a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge for that device.

These devices would have three cables

  1. AC-voltage cable to plug into the AC outlet
  2. Low-voltage cable to plug in to the device in order to supply power to that device
  3. Ethernet cable to transmit data to and from the device and the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in this box

A few companies like Netgear had tried these as “on-ramp” accessories for their routers but Free and SFR are taking off in their own right to use this as part of their “triple-play” environment where the TV set-top box and the modem are effectively part and parcel of each other in the home network. This is also achieved as a way of “idiot-proofing” these setups and avoiding unnecessary service calls.

Why not take this further

Bringing network printers to the HomePlug network

Quite a few network-capable inkjet printers that I have used or reviewed are using an external power supply rather than having the power-supply in the unit.

This is typically in the form of a power-supply “lump” similar to the typical charger unit that comes with a laptop. On the other hand, Lexmark and Dell use a power-supply module that plugs in to the printer and the AC cord plugs in to this module.

These setups could be used to provide HomePlug powerline networking capability to a printer as long as the printer has an Ethernet socket. This would provide a logical alternative to Wi-Fi wireless networking which is known to be unreliable at times.It is due to the fact that Wi-Fi it is based on radio technology which can be affected by metal furnishings, walls that are made of dense-material construction like double-brick or stone walls; or building insulation or double-glazing that uses metal foil to improve its insulation qualities.

On the other hand, manufacturers could simply integrate HomePlug powerline networking in to a SOHO printer design like the HP Envy 100 which has an integrated AC power supply without the need to create an extra socket for the Ethernet connection.

802.3af and 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet – a perfect marriage with HomePlug

The 802.3af Power-Over-Ethernet standard and 802.3at high-power version of this standard uses the same Category 5 cable to provide power to a device as well as convey data between the device and the network. This is typically implemented with wireless access points, security cameras and IP telephones to provide a robust yet simple power-supply setup for these devices in business networks.

Here, a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge could be integrated in to an 802.3af / 802.3at compliant power-supply module to provide a “one-cord” solution for connecting a device to a home network as well as powering that device from the AC power. The device would have to have an Ethernet socket capable of taking the Power-Over-Ethernet power; and this could appeal to a wide range of device classes like Internet radios, IPTV set-top boxes and electronic picture frames as well as the usual suspects like desktop IP telephones, Wi-Fi access points. Ethernet switches and security cameras.

Conclusion

This demonstrates that the use of power-supply integration can bring the reliable no-new-wires network that is HomePlug AV to more devices in a cost-effective design-friendly manner.

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UPnP Telephony DCP–One step towards easy-to-implement IP telephony

Another step towards easily-configurable IP telephony systems has been taken with the UPnP Forum just releasing the UPnP Telephony Device Control Protocol this week. Here, this provides the management of telephone-related devices that are connected across a small network in a heterogenous manner. This involves the ability for the devices to make or take phone calls, be notified of incoming calls, send and receive text and multimedia messages as well as updating local user-presence status.

It is also intended to be service agnostic so as to cater for phone services based on IP-Telephony (VoIP), cellular wireless or classic landline (ISDN or Plain Old Telephony Service) technology; as well as being device form-factor agnostic.

As with the whole of the UPnP ecosystem, this DCP provides increased room for innovation due to a logical “building-block” approach in designing these systems.

Logical Devices

Telephony Client

A UPnP Telephony Client is a device that is used by the end-user to interact with the caller at the other end of the line. A multi-handset phone system would have these devices referred to as an “extension”. This could be a device like a VoIP handset, a “softphone” program run on a computer, a TV or set-top box with IP-based video speakerphone function or a “legacy-handset-bridge” like an analogue telephone adaptor or DECT base station.

The UPnP Telephony system allows different clients to be media-specific, thus allowing for situations like an electronic picture frame that has a Webcam to become a videophone adaptor with the voice part of a videocall placed using this device being hosted through a regular VoIP handset.

Telephony Server

A UPnP Telephony Server device represents anything that can provide a telephone service to the local IP-based network. This can be in the form of a 3G mobile phone connected to the home network via WiFi, a regular telephone that has integrated PSTN/ISDN – IP bridge functionality, but would typically be in the form of a device that works as an “IP-PBX” with VoIP lines and servicing VoIP handsets.

A physical device can have multiple logical “Telephony Server” devices, with one for each “service” that calls come in on. It doesn’t matter whether the calls come in via VoIP or a classic telephony service like a 3G mobile service or the “Plain Old Telephone Service”.  This can cater for the VoIP-enabled router or “IP-PBX” that can handle a few VoIP services as well as a “Plain Old Telephone Service” line; or a mobile phone or “MiFi” router that "front-ends” its 3G/GSM telephony service to the network.

Telephony Control Point

This is effectively the “control surface” for a UPnP Telephony system and can be integrated with a Telephony Client or Telephony Server or be its own device. Typically this would be the buttons and display on a phone but could be a device with its own display or a “widget application” on a computer showing up the incoming call details or incoming text / multimedia messages.

Functionality provided

This device class manages the creation, management and conclusion of a voice or video call between UPnP-compliant telephony “hub” devices and endpoint devices.

The technology allows for a call to be set up using multiple devices on the local side. A good example of this would be to instigate a videocall with the video display appearing on a videophone-enabled TV with integrated Webcam and the conversation sound coming through the cordless handset. Of course, it will do the usual call-management features like call transfer are able to be performed across a UPnP Telephony-based phone setup.

As well, there is support for a common address book that is based on vCard standards as well as the management of answering-machine / voice-mail setups in these systems. Of course, a UPnP-based IP telephone system can support sending and receiving of text or multimedia messages. This would mean that, for example, incoming messages could appear on devices like networked TVs or a Wi-Fi-based cordless IP phone could send messages through VoIP SMS services or “landline-SMS” services provided on PSTN or ISDN services.

Issues that need to be looked at

Establishment of IP-telephony services

An issue that needs to be looked at is the setup and management of IP-based telephony services. Here, this may include the addition of a new service or the establishment and modification of outbound and inbound call-management profiles associated with multiple phone services.

This may involve the use of predefined call classes like “local” or “international” with the ability to determine which service is used for a particular class. Similarly, there could be the use of “default” outbound dialling plans such as “VoIP for all calls except emergency or service calls”. As far as the small-business owner is concerned, this issue may encompass the creation of IP-based “tie lines” between business locations or the creation of “virtual extensions” which are phone numbers dialled as if one is calling an extension within a business phone setup.

The solution that can be used to answer the problem regarding establishment of such services could be in the form of a standard “service manifest” file. This could be an XML file that is prepared by the ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) with all of the parameters associated with an IP telephony service including SIP parameters and default call-management plans for that service. The service’s customer would upload the file to their VoIP gateway through a client-side application or the gateway’s Web interface and simply enable the service.

Inter-extension calling

In the same case, another issue that may need to be looked at is the ability for a UPnP-based telephony system to support the placing of calls between Telephony Client devices, as required of a business phone setup.

This question could be answered through the use of a virtual Telephony Server in a gateway device that represents and handles the internal calls. This could have the internal phone book which is simply a user-friendly list of Telephony Client devices on the system as well as handling that traffic.

Conclusion

Now that the UPnP Telephony DCP has been determined as a standard, it now requires industry to set about the task of implementing it in as many IP-Telephony devices and software programs as possible.

This could be made feasible through this standard being part of one or more logo-compliance programs like how the UPnP AV DCPs have become mandatory for devices that are DLNA-compliant or the UPnP Internet Gateway Device standard has become mandatory for various standards encompassing Internet modems and routers.

It can also open up opportunities of innovation for any device that offers some sort of telephony function while facing a small IP network; or any computer program that works as a bridge to a telephony service like Skype or as a telephony endpoint like a “softphone”.

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A fully-fledged Skype client for the iOS at last

Articles

Skype adds video calls to iPhone app | The Register (UK)

Skype offers iPhone video calls over 3G | The Register (UK)

Skype: Update bietet Videotelefonie via iPhone und iPod touch | Computer Bild (Germany – German language)

My comments

There have been previous versions of Skype released for the iPhone but these have been limited in functionality compared to the desktop Skype clients. In some situations, you couldn’t use Skype with the 3G wireless-broadband connection and you didn’t have video calling.

Now Skype have delivered Skype 3.0 for Apple iOS which yields a client that does what is expected of the service. Unlike Apple’s FaceTime videophone client which only works with Apple’s platforms, this client can communicate with an established universe of Skype desktop, mobile and dedicated communications clients as well as make and take calls to and from regular telephone services using the paid SkypeOut and SkypeIn services. The software also allows the iOS user to join in or create a video-conference between multiple participants.

You can use this client in a Wi-Fi network or with 3G but you will need either an “all-you-can-eat” data plan or a data plan with a generous data allowance to gain best value when using 3G.

There are some other caveats that can affect user experience. If you run this program on an iPad or older iPod Touch devices, you will be able to see your correspondent’s video but they won’t be able to see you. This is because these devices don’t have an integrated camera. As well, if you use the ubiquitous iPhone 3GS, the experience won’t be as good because of its slow processor and the absence of a front-facing camera.

As well, I would recommend using the phone on “speaker phone” or using a wired or Bluetooth headset when engaging in a videocall so you can see the other party on the display.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 2

The Android technology doesn’t stop at handsets or tablets anymore at this year’s CES.

In the car

Parrot are premiering the “Asteroid” which is an Android-powered car radio / multimedia player. It has USB for connectivity to iOS devices, USB flash memory, wireless-broadband modems and GPS pucks at the moment as well as line input for regular audio devices. I am not sure what Bluetooth or hands-free calling abilities it has at the moment but this could change by the time it is released. Of course it has FM radio and, through the 3G connectivity and an Android app, could support Internet radio in the car as well as being a media player and GPS navigation device. It has a power output of 55W x 4 but also has three preamplifier outputs (front, rear, subwoofer) so it can be the head unit for the most tricked-out sound system on the street. Oh yeah, boys!

Similarly, Fujitsu Ten are previewing an satellite-navigation unit which is powered by the Android operating system. The main issue with these Android systems at the moment is that the Google “Android Marketplace” doesn’t support them because they use an interface that is dissimilar to the handset or tablet devices. Here, Parrot or Fujitsu Ten will either have to contract with an Android app store to supply applications to these devices and this app store would have to support the user interfaces provided by automotive Android devices.

In other car-tech news, Ford have developed an AppLink system so that specific iOS apps can be operated from the car’s dashboard. As well, General Motors have developed an IOS link to their OnStar vehicle telematics system but the main problem with these systems is that they necessitate an extra app on the smartphone for each marque. This is compared to Terminal Mode which the European vehicle builders are implementing, which allows one piece of software on the smartphone for many different vehicles and suits the reality that most of us will drive different vehicle marques through our driving life and even have regular access to two or more different vehicles.

As well, GM are intending to implement the PowerMat wireless-charging system in the  American-market vehicles from model-year 2011 onwards. This allows devices with Powermat charging circuitry, whether integrated or as an add-on module to be charged or powered on a special mat wirelessly. I have wondered whether this announcement will then apply to GM nameplates other than Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC or other markets.

Networked Home Entertainment

Video Entertainment and the Home Theatre

As far as video-based home entertainment goes, 3D video still rules the roost with every one of the major camera names from Japan with a 3D camera or camcorder in their model lineup. As well, every major TV brand that serves the US market is selling a 3D flatscreen TV in their model lineup. Most of the manufacturers are working on 3D viewing technologies that either don’t need glasses or can work with lightweight glasses. This also includes some manufacturers establishing design partnerships with glasses-frame designers to make attractive 3D-viewing glasses.

But there is a lot more action when it comes to network-enabled TVs and video peripherals This is again driven by the supply of  “over-the-top” Internet video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. It is also being helped along by manufacturers building up “app platforms” which allow the user to download apps to the TV as if it was like one of the smartphones. It can capture the reality of interactive TV as well as use of common Internet services like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook from the comfort of your couch. As well, programs like Skype are being implemented on these TVs in order to make them become large-screen video-conferencing units for the home or small business.

LG have supplied the ST600 Smart TV kit, which is an add-on kit for selected (or all?) LG TVs to link them to the Internet and the DLNA Home Media Network. As well, one of their pico-projectors that they had on show is equipped with an digital-TV tuner and can stream content from a DLNA Media Server.

Sony now has it that all of their new Blu-Ray players are all DLNA and Gracenote enabled/ They all can quickly start a Blu-Ray movie and have support for the “Media Remote” RF link with Wi-Fi-enabled iOS or Android device running a specific app. These same features are also available to their Blu-Ray home theatre systems.

As well, most of the Sony BRAVIA TV range released this year will be network-enabled with DLNA, Internet TV, Skype large-screen videophone and similar functionality. Some models will have integral 802.11n Wi-Fi functionality while the lower-cost models will require a dongle to connect to the Wi-Fi network. This really shouldn’t worry most users because they could use direct Ethernet or HomePlug AV links to connect the TV to the home network.

The Skype videophone function will work with an optional USB webcam / microphone kit that will be available from Sony.

As well, most of the TVs and home-theatre systems honour the full HDMI 1.4 expectation with Audio Return Channel. This means that the sound from the TV’s integrated sources like the digital TV tuner travel back to the home theatre amplifier using the same HDMI cable used to connect the TV to that amplifier. There is no need to use extra digital cable runs to have properly-decoded surround sound from TV broadcasts received via the TV’s tuner.

As well, Sony has released a network-audio product that makes Apple squirm when it comes to their Airport Express and AirPlay subsystem. This product which comes in the form of the HomeShare speakers connects to a Wi-Fi home network and can play out audio content under the control of a UPnP AV (DLNA) Control Point like Windows 7 or TwonkyMedia Manager. This same control functionality is also available in Sony’s latest Blu-Ray Players as well as the NAS-SV20 and NAS-SV10i iPhone docks.

Samsung have come around with a Blu-Ray player that is the thinnest such player ever. This Wi-Fi-enabled player can be wall-mounted and, in my honest opinion, is cutting in on Bang & Olufsen’s “design AV” territory.

They also are releasing the D6000 TVs  which work with RVU compliant pay-TV gateways. This standard, which is a superset of DLNA for pay TV applications). enables access to the full pay-TV feature suite like pay-per-view or video-on-demand without the TV being connected to the pay-TV operator’s set-top box/ This concept has been proven to works with an RVU server box that links to DirecTV’s satellite pay-TV service.

Iomega have also released a Boxee TV set-top box which is similar to D-Link’s unit. But the similarity stops here because it has integrated NAS functionality with DLNA Media Server. It is capable of working with Ethernet wired or 802.11n Wi-Fi networks and uses a double-side remote with QWERTY keyboard. It is available as an enclosue or with a 1Tb or 2Tb hard disk.

Vizio, a low-cost TV brand in the US similar to Kogan, is to implement Via Plus (Google TV) in their Internet-enabled TVs. They will be providing apps that link to Hulu Plus, Blockbuster On Demand, and other popular “over-the-top” TV services. These sets will also have Skype functionality when used with a USB webcam. Vizio will also be implementing glasses-free 3DTV and are dabbling in 21:9 ultra-widescreen TV

Cisco have been focusing on the interactive TV front but in a different way. They sell  the Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes on contract to cable and satellite providers and are implementing an app platform on their newer boxes. This also means that they are providing a “VideoScape” content-selection experience so that users can find the content they are after or look for related content easily.

JVC have released the first “soundbar” speaker system which implements the HDMI 1.4 Audio Return Channel. Here, this technology comes in to its own with these speakers because the sound from the TV emerges through the easy-to-set-up soundbar unit.

Internet radios

Grace Digital have released three Internet radios that have a similar user interface to the Grundig TrioTouch stereo Internet radio or the Revo IKON stereo Internet radio. Here, these sets use as their primary user interface a colour LCD display with icons laid out in a grid not dissimilar to a smartphone or tablet. The Mondo is designed to be a full-on clock radio for the bedside and has a 3.5” display, Ethernet and line-out connectivity and a remote. The Solo Touch is a tuner that connects to one’s favourite music system and has a large 4/3” touchscreen. It connects to the home network via Ethernet. The Bravado X is a stereo table radio with line in / out and has a 2.7” display. These units can also be controllable via a smartphone app which is available for the iOS only at the moment.

As well, Vizio have jumped on the Android bandwagon by providing a stereo table radio which operates on the Android platform. This one is controlled by a colour LCD touchscreen like the typical smartphone. It would most likely would have an Internet-radio app and also pull in music from a DLNA Media Server device.

The next article in the series will focus on network-infrastructure technologies for the small network and what is being offered here.

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Faxing and machine-to-machine communications in the IP-based telephony age

The new direction for telephony

There is a new direction for telephony that will be affecting faxing and machine-to-machine communications over the next few years. It is Voice-over-IP which is regular voice telephony carried over an Internet-standard network.

This has been used primarily in large-business telephony but is now becoming a reality with consumers and small organisations. Initially, this technology was being pitched as a way of saving money on long-distance calls but is now becoming part of regular landline telephony.

The main drivers for this direction are the arrival of “naked DSL” Internet services where the telephone wires are used for DSL Internet connection and the customer doesn’t pay the incumbent telephone company for landline telephone service; cable-TV providers stepping to the fore for providing competitive local telephony service; and and the arrival of “single-pipe triple-play” services with multi-channel TV, Internet service and landline telephony delivered over one physical connection as one service package. These services are using the VoIP telephony technology to provide the local landline telephone service.

The next driver that will affect all customers is the national landline telephone system being moved away from the traditional circuit-driven setup to a packet-driven Internet-technology setup. Examples of this are the 21CN project in the United Kingdom and the National Broadband Network project in Australia. The advantage of these projects is to reduce the cost of providing regular voice telephony over short or long distances and to prepare for improved telephony setups like HD wideband voice telephony and video telephony. 

The effect on machine-to-machine applications

This will place a negative effect on machine-to-machine applications like faxing and monitored-alarm setups which are the two main applications that are facing consumers and small organisations. These setups are based on modem-based protocols that are designed for circuit-switched telephone networks like the “plain old telephone service”.

The main effect of this is that the packet-based telephony setups will cause the protocols used in these applications to go “out of step” and lead to communication failure. In the case of a fax machine, the document will either take a long time to go through to the correspondent or the fax transmission won’t succeed. In a monitored-alarm setup, the alarm event that is initiated by the premises-based alarm system will take a long time to register with the monitoring station or at worst won’t register there at all, which is a threat to security and safety – the main reason for these systems in the first place.

Bringing these applications to the IP age

Faxing

The T.37 Fax-over-email solution

Most high-end business-market fax machines are equipped to work according to the T.37 “fax-over-email” protocol. This is a “store-and-forward” method that uses regular SMTP and POP3 Internet email protocols to send hardcopy faxes as TIFF-F (fax-optimised TIFF) image files attached to emails.

This solution requires that the recipient has a T.37-compliant fax machine or computer which is running an email client and software for reading TIFF-F files to receive the files. This may be no mean feat for a general-purpose desktop or laptop computer hut most smartphones and similar devices won’t have software that can read TIFF-F files.  As well, a person can use a scanner attached to a general-purpose computer that has software that can turn out TIFF-F files from the scanner as well as the regular email client to send hardcopy documents to a T.37 fax machine.

Some T.37-compliant fax machines can be set up to work as a T.37 – G3 gateway to forward faxes to regular fax machines. But this requires the sender to send email to an address formatted as “fax-mailbox@service-domail(FAX#fax_number)”, which can be difficult with many popular email clients. Here, these clients may not handle the phone-number data that is held in parenthesis properly or require the user to “go through hoops” to support this function when they manage their address book. It may be easier if the gateway uses a “international-format-fax-number@fax-gateway.service-domain” address format.

As well, the technology could support colour or greyscale photographic images through the use of JPEG or a colour variant of TIFF-F. This point is raised because of most fax-enabled inkjet and colour-laser multi-function printers being equipped with the ability to send and receive colour faxes using the “Super G3” protocol.

The T.38 real-time-fax solution

The T.38 protocol has been introduced as a method of providing “there-and-then” fax transmission over an IP network. At the moment, it requires a gateway device to be connected to a regular fax machine at each end of the link. This could be achieved by the use of a properly-designed VoIP “analogue telephone adaptor” terminal that becomes a T.38 gateway when it is connected to a regular fax machine.

The standard also requires the use of SIP and other call-setup protocols that are used in VoIP to establish the call. The destination information would have to be understood by the gateway picking up the DTMF “touch-tones” from the connected fax machine.

You can use a single ATA for VoIP and T.38 service, with use of distinctive ring + CNG fax tone to “wake up” client fax for incoming calls and use of the CNG fax tone generated by the connected fax machine to enter T.38 mode. But this would require separate T.38 service with separate number to be provisioned for smooth operation.

Another question is whether a network-enabled fax machine can become a T.38 fax endpoint machine or not? As well, would the T.38 protocol support enhanced fax modes like “photo” resolution or colour faxing.

What can be done

Improved provisioning experience

At the moment, most mid-tier consumer and all business multifunction printers have regular fax functionality and network connectivity. As well, some small-business units, especially the units sold by Brother, have T.37 “fax-over-email” functionality as part of the function set.

Typically these features are difficult to provision and use for most home and small-business users. What could be done is to implement a “wizard-based” user experience for the provisioning routine and / or, there could be the ability to download an XML provisioning file from the Internet provider whenever one wants to set up Internet fax.

As well, the industry could adopt a qualification program for Internet-fax equipment that requires a unit to achieve certain requirements such as compliance with known standards before being able to receive the right to display a particular logo of compatibility. This could also extend to the use of service-information files provided by carriers and service providers so that there is little effort required on the behalf of the home or small-business customer to set up their Internet fax service.

Internet fax service as part of a communication service provider’s arsenal

As far as addresses for T.37 fax services go, there could be the ability for a subscriber to be provided with a “virtual fax number” as well as an email address for their T.37 service. This is a telephone number that a person can dial to send faxes to the T.37 mailbox from the regular fax machine. Similarly, there could be support for an SMTP fax-gateway setup that uses a simplified addressing scheme as I have outlined earlier but uses address and password protection to authenticate customers and these would then be related to the “virtual fax number” which is to show on a regular fax machine’s display and  in the fax transmission reports.

The T.38 real-time-fax service could simply be provided by a VoIP or triple-play communications provider as a secondary fax-only number which works with T.38-compliant fax gateways or endpoints. This could be provided with a T.37-compliant Internet fax mailbox that can lead to such services as controlled transmission or reception setups such as “receive all faxes when you start business” or “transmit international faxes I send on local morning time”.

Equipment and software design considerations

A network-enabled fax terminal should support both the T.37 and T.38 network-fax protocols as well as the Super G3 protocols for circuit-based communications. As well, the setup experience for these machines should be simplified, preferably wizard-driven and with service-host interaction, so that people who don’t have much computer experience can get these machines going for Internet fax. This can be augmented by support for standardised XML-based service-manifest files that are downloaded from the service host.

The same machines could also support the storage of fax addresses as regular numbers or Internet-format email addresses and could simplify the construction of Internet-based fax addresses for regular number-based addresses based on however the T.37 fax server expects such addresses to be formed. This should then simplify the management of the one-touch or speed-dial address book that is part of the typical fax machine’s feature set. As well, email software should support the ability to send and view T.37 fax-over-email messages and support “sub-addressing” and address construction for T.37 fax gateway servers.

Monitored alarms

The main method that is being used for adapting an existing  monitored alarm infrastructure to an IP-based environment is to use a VoIP analogue-telephony-adaptor terminal that is programmed to be a “virtual modem” endpoint. Here, the alarm uses the standard modem protocol to signal the event to the ATA and this device forwards the event message to the control centre using an industry-standard message packet.

On the other hand, a network-enabled alarm system could be connected to the network and sends the event message via its network interface. This also includes existing systems that are designed to be future-proof by allowing a network interface kit to be installed at a later date.

There will also be the desire to provide this kind of network integration to this class of device in order to support enhanced monitoring functionality or building automation. The latter application would bode well with the “green impetus” in order to provide functionality such as synchronised control of lighting and heating / air-conditioning.

Another benefit is that a monitored alarm setup can be upgraded with new firmware without the need for a technician to visit the installation. This is in the same way that computers and mobile phones can be “patched” with software fixes by them connecting to a server to get the necessary software.

What needs to happen

Customers need to know what to do concerning evolving their monitored security or safety services to the Internet-driven world and view it as being important for all such services, not just for high-perceived-risk installations. As well, any monitored-alarm equipment that is pitched at the residential or small-business user has to have inherent IP-based monitoring or have support for the feature at a later date.

Equipment design considerations

The alarm-system industry needs to provide panels that either have inherent support for IP-based  signalling or can be upgraded to this function at a minimal cost through its service life. This is understanding that a typical alarm installation is seen by its users as a “backbone” device in the same context as a central-heating boiler or furnace and is therefore expected to have a service life of at least 10 or more years.

This should mean that a hardware upgrade should be in the form of a card being installed in to the existing alarm panel or a software upgrade is provisioned by, at the most, one visit from a technician.

Conclusion

As telephony systems move towards the packet-driven IP telephony space, the traditional machine-to-machine applications that face most users need to be evolved to support the Internet-based networks. This includes improved in the way these services are set up so that most people can provision them in a competitive manner rather than being tied to a particular carrier or operator.

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The Cisco Cius business-pitched Android tablet – could this provide a platform to compete with the iPad?

Cisco Cius in useNews Articles

Cisco Unleashes Cius iPad Killer For Business Users | SmallNetBuilder

Cisco unveils Cius Android tablet with HD video capabilities | Engadget

Cisco uncloaks Android video tablet for suits | The Register (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Press Release

Product Page (PDF brochure)

My comments

There have been a few features that impressed me about the Cisco Cius Android tablet judging from the news articles that I have read. One was that the tablet was able to work as a fully-fledged Android tablet with access to the Android Marketplace in a manner that makes it compete with the Apple iPad. The other one was that Cisco had taken a different market – the business user – and used the Android platform to make a tablet-style computer that fits the market.

This has then allowed Cisco to develop a hardware product that can offer the necessary functionality by adding on microphones, video cameras, an interface to a speakerphone / handset dock amongst other things. They could easily take this unit further with concepts like the “next-generation home phone” or simply make a competing tablet MID based on Android under the Linksys consumer brand.

This can also lead to a Cius tablet having a longer service life beyond the business because of its ability to benefit from the Android Marketplace which could yield many consumer-focused applications like Android ports of applications like Skype or may iPhone apps.

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What is happening to the common household telephone nowadays?

What was the common household telephone?

The household telephone became common during the years of prosperity that occurred after World War II ended and technology made it affordable for most householders to have a telephone service. This was a telephone handset that was installed in a common area of the house like a kitchen, hall, main lounge room or dining room. This phone, which was initially black, was allocated a number by the monopoly telephone provider and family, friends, employers and neighbours of any of the household’s members knew this number to contact the household’s members. These same members could place calls from that phone or receive calls on it whenever anybody who knew the number rang in. Sometimes it was seen as part of the wedding celebrations for a married couple to list their names in the standard telephone directory as “<husband’s first name> & <wife’s first name> <surname>”.

Using the common household phone

Using a common household telephone in the kitchen

There wasn’t the expectation of privacy from other members of the household during a phone call and, in a lot of cases, whenever the phone rang, members of the household would be “on edge” if the call was for them or not and whether the call had anything to do with them or not. If the intended call recipient wasn’t available, it was the job of whoever answered the phone to write down any messages that the caller may leave and, in some cases, call out those messages to the intended recipient. Typically this involved making sure there was a notepad or message book and a working pen near the phone and there were may occasions where there would be frustration due to the pen that was meant to be near the phone going missing. This has led to companies manufacturing pens that are tethered to a holder that is attached to the phone.

There used to be the option of having extra phone sockets installed around a house so you could move the phone amongst particular locations. On the other hand, some households installed an extra phone in the master bedroom, home office or similar locations so they could make or take calls from these locations. One person whom I know who used to run a dairy had 4 or 5 phones with three in the main living area, one in the office and another in the bedroom so he could take milk orders as soon as possible.

The cordless phone, which became popular through the 1980s and the 1990s, had changed the dynamics of the common household telephone and had allowed for some privacy and for handling calls in one’s preferred location.

This was the way with telephony for everyone until the 1990s when the mobile phone became affordable for most people due to competing service providers, subsidised handsets and prepaid mobile services. Similarly, there are many households with two or more lines where another of the lines is used as a household member’s private line because of the cost of telephone service going downhill.

What is now happening with the common household telephone

The mobile phone has made the common household telephone less relevant for engaging in personally-sensitive calls because the person can give out their own mobile phone number for such calls and can take these calls in their bedroom or outside with their mobile phone. Therefore these phones just end up being used for calls where there aren’t any privacy expectations.

In some households, especially share-houses with many young people, there isn’t a common household telephone installed. Instead, the phone line is used primarily for Internet access or other data-based activity. In other households, the common household telephone is simply seen by adults and teenagers as a failover line or a “call-anyone” line for that household.

The reduced traffic on these lines due to the mobile phone and VoIP-based low-cost-calling services has made the telecommunications companies (telcos), especially incumbent telcos who traditionally provided this service, worried because of the loss of call revenue that these lines yield. Some of these companies who run Internet or mobile services make up for this loss through the revenue derived from these services, but they have to maintain the infrastructure that is part of this elementary phone service.

The arrival of the sophisticated multi-function telephone

Now electronics manufacturers and telcos are developing implementations of the sophisticated multifunction home telephone. These are Internet-connected telephone devices which have a regular phone handset or cordless phone unit, but have a large colour touchscreen for many different purposes. Examples of these include Telstra’s “T-Hub” cordless phone with touchscreen base and the DSP Group’s Android-driven Wi-Fi cordless phone that looks like a smartphone.

Telstra T-Hub cordless multifunction telephone

Telstra T-Hub cordless multifunction telephone

The main driver behind the arrival of these terminals is the arrival of “single-pipe triple-play” fixed-location communications services which encompass Internet, landline telephony and multichannel television. These phones are being pitched as a more-sophisticated alternative to connecting a regular telephone to the Internet gateway device and using that device’s analogue telephony adaptor as the VoIP on-ramp.

These phones are able to work as a landline SMS terminal, email terminal and gateway to the popular social-networking Websites. A lot of them will have a general Web browser that works in a similar manner to how one browses the Web on a smartphone. Some of them will be able to play streamed or downloaded audio and video material with the sound coming out of a speaker that would normally be used for speakerphone applications; and the vision appearing on the phone’s touchscreen. It may also include the ability to use content held on local storage or network storage. These features are being used as a justification for replacing the phone that was placed in the kitchen or other common area because of their relevance to that area.

The phones that are part of a VoIP-based setup will also offer functionality not dissimilar to that of a business phone system with such call-handling functions like call transfer and park, conference calling, free intercom calling and the like. Some operators who sell the classic switched-circuit phone services will also offer hybrid VoIP-switched-circuit services with VoIP providing extra sophisticated functionality and a switched-circuit as a fallback.

Individualised communications

Another trend that is shaping the role of the common household telephone is the concept of individualised communications. This has started off with mobile telephones and businesses signing up to “direct-inward-dial” numbers for their staff members, but is now being made real with VoIP-based landline telephony services. It was also augmented with the idea of locale and device-independent “personal” telephone numbers being made available to people.

Here, a VoIP-based landline telephony system could allow users to determine which phone will ring and in what way (tone or cadence) if a particular personal number is called. This may be achieved through an interactive “log-on” routine that the user performs when they want to use that phone. It may also allow for individualised call accounting including the concept of “own telephone account”, which may be useful for households with teenagers, lodgers or small businesses.

In the same context, users who already maintain their own mobile phones could annexe these phones in to a VoIP-based landline telephone system that supports individualised communications and elect to make or take calls from the system’s phones or their mobile phone with connection-appropriate charging taking place to their account.

Action being taken to standardise these concepts

The Home Gateway Initiative is a trade group who are establishing reference standards for network hardware for the home and small business. They have established a reference standard for home network gateway devices like the routers, but more so the Internet gateway devices that have integrated VoIP functionality. They have also looked at the device setup scenarios where there are external modems like most cable Internet setups, but will encompass next-generation Internet setups. They are working on reference standards for VoIP telephony and could end up determining such standards for the multi-function telephones.

Conclusion

If these companies can look at ways of extending value out of the common household telephone by integrating it in today’s online world, they could stand a chance at seeing it more than just a communications device for the sidelined communities.

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The Android-driven Wi-Fi cordless phone that thinks it’s a smartphone

News and Blog articles

DSP Group’s Android DECT / Wi-Fi Home Phone Reference Design Has Me Drooling | eHomeUpgrade

DSP Multimedia Handset – Android Based Home Phone | Android Community

From the horse’s mouth

DSP Group’s “video brochure” available on YouTube

DSP Group’s Web page on this phone

My comments on this phone

Most of the news concerning Android is focused on smartphones that are pitched as cellular mobile phones. But this phone is an intent to take Android to a new territory – the home cordless phone which is used as a household’s “common phone”.

Here, it uses VoIP technology through a Wi-Fi network (which nearly all home networks are based around) but can work as a DECT-based cordless phone. But it can work with a home network by providing DLNA functionality, access to home automation, consumer-electronics control; as well as being a hand-held Internet terminal. Telephony service providers like Telstra can customise the phone to suit their needs such as providing a branded customer experience like they do with mobile phones. This can also extend to hosted-PBX providers providing this phone as part of an IP-based business phone system for a small business.

This has been achieved through the use of Google Android as the phone’s operating environment and the phone being able to gain access to applications provided for the Google Android MarketPlace. This can open up this home phone for all sorts of innovative applications. I would also extend this to business-related applications including order-entry for restaurants or tourist information for the hospitality industry.

This phone has become the first reference design for an in-home / in-premises cordless phone to have an interface and level of functionality that puts it on a par with today’s smartphones. It will also definitely appeal to the competitive “triple-play” marketplace that is being built out in different countries around the world and could herald the beginning of a new age of “in-premises” telephony.

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