This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Being able to address nomadic E-911 for Microsoft Lync is a good example of what you can do when the network that supports VoIP is end-to-end IP.

For years, the terms VoIP and convergence were used hand in hand. In fact, much of the early value proposition of VoIP was centered on convergence–that is, the ability to take two networks and converge them down to a single network. My stance on this is that the value proposition of VoIP should never have been about convergence. If the world really wanted convergence then ATM would have won out decades ago.

So what’s the difference between ATM based convergence and what we do today? The answer is that ATM converged things at layer 2 where VoIP does it at layer 3 and being able to do things at the IP layer is the real value of VoIP. I’ve always contended that when you can do things over IP, the service becomes much more interesting because it maintains state, it’s dynamic and resilient. However, it needs to be end-to-end IP and not IP at the edges and layer 2 in the middle.

This recent announcement of Level 3 being able to address nomadic E-911 for Microsoft Lync is a good example of what you can do when the underlying network that supports VoIP is end-to-end IP.

Specifically, what Level 3 announced is that Microsoft Lync on Level 3’s SIP Trunking service can provide E-911 capabilities for nomadic users. Nomadic users can be thought of as enterprise workers that tend to move locations but want to be able to benefit from VoIP by taking their telephony with them (like you can with every other application). VoIP and mobility should go together like LeBron James and choking in big games, but many organizations have been hesitant to get more aggressive with VoIP because of E-911 issues.

Historically, E-911 has been done through a significant amount of manual programming, which works in static environments. If the user moves, then the database needs to be updated. Even if a company wanted to utilize this strategy, it’s nearly impossible since the IT department can’t possibly be aware of every move a user makes.

The Level 3 SIP trunking service works by starting with the data loaded into Lync initially when the locations are configured. When a 911 session is initiated, Lync passes the preloaded information to Level 3 as part of the session. Level 3 then takes this information as well as the location information from its own nationwide database to route the call to the nearest 911 PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point). The PSAP does another read of its own location database and then sends the appropriate location information to the 911 operators. This is obviously a gross simplification of what is happening, but the reason this works is because the Level 3 network is end-to-end IP, so it can maintain the IP session that makes up the call plus other information needed solve the nomadic E-911 problem.

If you’ve followed my blogs over the years you’ll know I’ve blogged a fair amount on the value of sessions versus calls. Session ownership is everything. This is a good example of the benefit of end-to-end IP/SIP versus networks that are made up of a mix of layer 2 and layer 3. Had the session had to traverse a layer 2 network, much of the required information needed to make this work would have been lost.

Level 3 has actually had this capability for years, as it provides E-911 capabilities for most of the VoIP providers such as Skype and Vonage. I believe that Level 3 actually has north of 80% market share when it comes to providing this service. They hold this share, not Verizon or AT&T, because their network is end-to-end IP and as I said before, when you’re end-to-end IP, you can do many cool things.

One of the more common ways to solve this problem is to maintain POTS lines into the location and then triangulate the information between the user, the POTS line and the VoIP call. This obviously costs more and can be cumbersome to work with, particularly in highly distributed environments. The Level 3 service is much simpler and integrated into the SIP trunking service that the customer would need to buy anyway. Level 3 also told me they can also use GPS coordinates off of a mobile phone should the user be on a cellular enabled device. Although this isn’t part of the SIP trunking integrated service today, the technology is there to enable it.

SIP trunking was one of the hottest topics at Enterprise Connect this year but too much of the focus from the audience, the vendors and the SIP trunking providers was on the cost savings associated with it. Hopefully, that will change in next year’s conference. I’ve used services such as HD voice as an example as to why SIP trunking is superior to traditional trunks instead of just a replacement technology. The Level 3 offering adds to that argument by providing a need-to-have service more than a nice-to-have (which is what HD voice is).

Verzion, AT&T? What’s your counter?

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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