Session initiation protocol slowly seeps into network gear

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is becoming more prevalent in voice and video communications products, but not everyone is advising corporate buyers to look for this standard when buying telecommunications equipment.

“I don’t think today it’s that important” to a corporate telecom manager,” said Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise voice and data at Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics Research.

Machowinski said workers are accustomed to using proprietary telecom products, and while they expect their routers and switches to adhere to industry standards, they don’t necessarily expect the same from private branch exchanges and IP phones.

“That’s just the way things have been done for a while,” Machowinski said.

“If you bought an Avaya PBX, you couldn’t just plug a Nortel set into it and vice versa. They just kind of expect this, so it’s not a major deviation from the way that things have been done.”

But he added some applications, like presence awareness – which tells a person’s key contacts whether they can be reached at their desk phone, mobile phone or by instant message – will eventually depend on SIP.

SIP is an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard, similar in scope to HTTP and SMTP, designed to initiate voice, video, chat or other real-time communications between users.

“SIP is that one protocol that allows everyone to play nice in the sandbox,” said Rod Scotland, product sales specialist for unified communications at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. Because SIP can be used for video and other real-time communications, it can help companies support applications such as unified communications and presence awareness, Scotland said.

“Although (SIP) is a standard, what you need is support for it,” said Laith Zalalah, director of business development for carrier and hosted applications at Ottawa-based Mitel Networks Corp. “There are lots of features that are really extensions to SIP.”

Zalalah said Mitel has “gone a long way” to support SIP in its products, such as the 3300 Integrated Communications Platform, but an industry analysts warns one vendor’s extensions to SIP will not necessarily work with those from another manufacturer.

Ronald Gruia, principal analyst for emerging communications at Frost & Sullivan Canada, said the major PBX vendors will use SIP to allow their products to connect with other vendors’ products, but they will not necessarily support all features.

“You’re not seeing all the original features being ported to SIP,” Gruia said. “Among those being ported to SIP, none are super-duper features. If you find some that are, chances are they will be using some proprietary SIP extension. The main driver for this is vendors safeguarding their intellectual architecture.”

Gruia said if vendors did support a truly open system, where all features from their products worked with those of a competitor, this will lead to “commoditization” of telephony products.

“Vendors will always need some way to competitively differentiate their intellectual property from another vendor,” he said.

But Gruia still advises telecom managers to look for products that support SIP, “because you want to make sure the vendor you’re engaging with is keeping up with technology.”

For example, if your company wants to install IP telephony, then you want to make sure your phones can connect to phones made by a different manufacturer.

“If you can live without those functions that have not been ported to SIP, then you may try using SIP.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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