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Archive for July 8th, 2009

Do We Want A Standards-based Voice/Video Service?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 July 2009

Last year JANET(UK) launched a trial of a voice, video and collaboration application called JANET Talk. As described in JANET News No.8 June 2009 (PDF format):

The aims of the trial were to understand the precise requirements and service provisioning model for an ‘on net’, standards-based SIP service that could be used for communication between JANET users via a software PC client interface, mounted on the user’s PC or a SIP-based traditional phone handset“.

A survey of potential users also “showed a requirement for a feature rich collaboration tool for exclusive
use by JANET connected users that didn’t use peer-to-peer technology
“.

Sounds good doesn’t it? A standards-based solution should avoid the problems caused by use of proprietary services and access would be available on both a PC and a phone handset which supported the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) standard. Who, apart possibly Macintosh and Linux users who seem to have been excluded from the trial, would not wish this trial well (which attracted over 100 institutions) and look forward to deployment of the service across the JANET community?

However, as described in JANET News

The results from both trial feedback and market research showed that the appetite for a service like JANET Talk had diminished. The reasons cited include a preference for alternative solutions that are now available from the commercial sector. These solutions were deemed easier to use, reliable and free.

So now we know. Users don’t care about standards. Users care about solutions that work, are easy to use and, ideally, are free!

I know this is true for me, as I was an early adopter of Skype. At one stage use of Skype was frowned upon here at Bath University due to the load it could place on the campus network as well as the concerns about its proprietary nature, and the licensing conditions. However over time the local network team deployed solutions to manage the network load and we now seem to have happy Skype users, such as myself.

The University has also deployed a SIP solution which is available on SIP-compliant phones in various halls of residence. I must admit that when I heard about this offering I was interested. Was there a service based on open SIP standards which would enable me to talk to others without being constrained by a particular client? Sadly it seems that with the Freewire service used at Bath calls are free “when they’re made from one Freewire user to another” although you can “download the Freewire Telephone software for nothing“. But if you want to talk to someone on another service (Skype, for example) you’ll have to pay for the call :-(

So let’s remember, open standards don’t always succeed. And users may reject standards-based solutions in preference to other alternatives. There are risks in investing in open standards. And there should be lessons to be learnt from examples such as this. But I sometimes feel that we will ignore evidence which does not fit in with established dogma.

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