Dan Berninger’s “Telecom Turnaround”

HDConnectLogoEarlier this week Dan Berninger, CEO of the newly formed HDConnect trade group offered up another guest post on Jeff Pulver’s blog. In this post, entitled “Telecom Turnaround,” Dan outlines the decline in demand for traditional voice services over the past decade. He also hints at the typical arguments that nay-sayers offer against wideband telephony. It’s all good stuff.

There’s something that I’d like to add to what Dan puts forward. By whatever name it’s known, HDVoice, HD VoIP, or simply wideband telephony…improved call quality is only the beginning. When voice is just another application on an IP network there are a many advantages that can be realized. Improved call quality is just the first benefit that we’ll see (hear?), and possibly the easiest to sell both to the public and regulators.

The matter of security continues to be a major sleeper issue in the VoIP industry. When calls transit an end-to-end IP network we’ll be well positioned to make VoIP calls dramatically more secure through the use of end-to-end call encryption. At present only highly specified corporate installations and Skype users have call encryption readily available.

Consider that presently all consumer VoIP services, for example Vonage and the like, pass RTP streams in the clear over the public internet. This makes it incredibly easy to trap & record calls using software tools like Wireshark. There are many such software tools available, some of which are very easy to use. Some of these programs are even open source.

When we no longer need traditional media gateways to cross between the IP and TDM realms we are going to be much closer to providing end-to-end call encryption. In corporate situations inter-office voice calls might transit secure WANs using VPN enhanced to ensure constant call quality. This already happens in some large companies, but it could become the new normal, even for smaller organizations.

Hosted IP-PBX providers and consumer ITSPs may be able to start supporting SIP security standards like DTLS/SRTP to encrypt calls between to/from their customers. I for one would welcome the ability to secure all my calls. I would be willing to pay extra for that privilege. Perhaps this is a potential revenue stream for providers fighting the longstanding downward spiral of voice termination cost/minute.

Of course, security is an issue that will comes wrapped in a blanket of unbelievable legal and political complexity. You can bet that various authorities will be reluctant to allow the public to have access to truly secure calling without some kind of back door. We could possibly go through the entire debate about private vs public interest that surrounded PGP email encryption technology in the mid-1990s.

The junction between telephony and security promises to be an interesting place to be over the next few years. If this holds any interest for you than I suggest you investigate The Voice Over IP Security Alliance, aka VoIPSA.

I also recommend the Blue Box Podcast on VoIP Security. Sadly, this project has been on hiatus for some time. Even so, the numerous back episodes are a treasure trove of good information about VoIP security matters.

The telecom transition from a hybrid of TDM & IP infrastructure to pure IP networks is a major shift, enabling numerous advancements. The first stop on our way to this future Twilight Zone just happens to be wideband telephony.