In a story entitled The VOIP Backlash, the IEEE Spectrum is reporting that Narus, Inc. has:
“devised a way for telephone companies to detect data packets belonging to VoIP applications and block the calls. For example, now when someone in Riyadh clicks on Skype’s “call” button, Narus’s software, installed on the carrier’s network, swoops into action. It analyzes the packets flowing across the network, notices what protocols they adhere to, and flags the call as VoIP. In most cases, it can even identify the specific software being used, such as Skype’s.”
If, like me, you’re just getting into the entire world of Voice over IP or Internet Telephony, this story should be pretty disturbing.
The IEEE Spectrum writes that this solution from Narus isn’t expected to affect within-VOIP-network calls (e.g., Skype to Skype) but rather VOIP calls that are redirected out onto the existing telephony infrastructure (Skype calls this “Skype Out” and Vonage makes it a cornerstone of their VOIP offering, for example). The IEEE Spectrum, however, might not be entirely correct…
From a July 25, 2005 Press Release, Narus explains that:
“Analysts estimate that between 8 and 25 percent of the traditional network calling traffic is being bypassed with VoIP such as Skype, a proprietary, third-party VoIP service. With 150,000 new Skype users per day, the core business of traditional telephony providers is being threatened. By using Narus, telecommunications companies can gain an immediate understanding of lost revenue from bypassed VoIP traffic, the first step in determining strategic business directions.”
The implication here is that any Internet connectivity provider — not just telecom firms — can monitor traffic utilization levels and types of traffic and assess a levy on VOIP users. Including Comcast and other broadband providers, for that matter.
While I find Narus software’s ability to ascertain the origination of data packets in a busy network remarkable, I also wonder whether Narus, and the telephone companies that utilize its software, realize that historically technological barriers never stopped progress, they, at most, slowed it down a bit.
In this instance, if Narus software starts to produce a situation where VOIP companies like Skype and Vonage can’t offer off-Internet calls to large swaths of the globe, then one of two things will happen: the companies will either negotiate a lower tariff on the calls and still remain less expensive than existing long-distance solutions, or, more likely, reverse engineer the specific IP packets used by traditional telephone carriers and duplicate them, making it impossible to differentiate between traditional phone calls and VOIP phone calls.
The RIAA didn’t stop the iPod exploding onto the scene and reinventing our relationship with our music, nor did they stop recordable cassettes and recordable CDs, and the MPAA didn’t stop VHS recorders or TiVO devices, did they? They were just speed-bumps on the road towards the future.
I believe that Narus has created a similar sort of speed-bump on the road to a better, smarter, more sophisticated telephony future. In the future it won’t matter what kind of device you have or what kind of device they have on the other end. Telephone to computer, computer to telephone, laptop to cellphone, whatever, it’ll all be point-to-point connectivity via voice.
But having said all of that, I might try to keep my eye on the future, but it doesn’t always mean I like where we’re heading as a society and nation, by any means. There clearly is a major economic problem when telecom companies pour billions into creating high-speed infrastructures just to have their use subverted by smart software applications and the anticipated payback on their investments foiled. This is how companies go bankrupt, isn’t it?
I like VOIP and find it rather amazing that I can chat with my friends in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada for free, that I can have a conference call, as I did this morning, with people scattered around the United States, and that I can even give people a real phone number that is funneled directly into my own VOIP “softphone” (Vbuzzer) automatically.
But somewhere, someone has to be paying for all of this bandwidth.
It’s not a matter of the telecom companies needing to police it, although Narus obvious believes that’s the path to a solution, it’s a matter more of the growing number of people insisting on free recognizing that there are infrastructure costs and that they need to be paid.
After all, a phone service that really minimized its overhead and streamlined its call routing by utilizing Internet fiber really should be able to dramatically undercut the ridiculously expensive long distance services on the market today.
In the end, it’s not about free, and it’s not about retaining the status quo, it’s about letting the market decide, letting innovative firms push the envelope, have the system push back, and collectively finding that happy compromise that represents adequate profit for the supply line and a sufficiently good deal or opportunity for the consumer that we’ll switch.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll continue to deploy my own VOIP solution, as I’ve been documenting in Comprehensive business VOIP solutions are too complex and Is VOIP ready for small businesses?
What do you think? Does Narus stand a chance of helping telecoms slow the adoption and utilization of VOIP telephony solutions, or are they just tilting at the proverbial windmills?