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IP Telephony

This chapter provides an overview of IP telephony and the protocols developed for sig- naling within IP telephony networks. Because many of the standards are still under de- velopment, I have chosen not to provide the details of these protocols. They continue to change on a regular basis. As the standards evolve, those that are specific toSignaling

System 7(SS7) will be documented in later editions.

What started as a fad has suddenly redefined traditional networks around the world. Although experts agree that Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) networks are not favorable for telephony applications because of latency issues, com- panies are eagerly finding ways to circumvent the issues and take advantage of the Internet as a means for transporting voice and data around the world. Although TCP/IP may not be the ideal transport for real-time applications, it is certainly more efficient and much more economical than conventional networks used today.

One of the drivers is the cost of TCP/IP-based switches. Although they currently do not provide the capacities of traditional circuit-switching platforms, they are much cheaper, allowing small startups to deploy networks much quicker for a fraction of the cost. This has caused existing carriers to review their network plans and implement new deployments of IP-based equipment, in many cases replacing their existing legacy switches.

This, of course, introduces new challenges to the industry. The TCP/IP protocols must be modified to support telephony applications. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), as well as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is actively modi- fying these standards today. Although voice transmission over IP networks is of pri- mary concern, much is also to be done in the area of signaling.

This book will only focus on the work being done for signaling. The voice and data transmissions are really outside the scope of this book and are best served by other pub- lications. We will review the architecture, however, because this is vital to understand- ing how signaling works in IP-based networks.


The timeframe for these networks is now. Already companies are deploying systems and transmitting voice traffic through the public Internet as well as specially engi- neered IP networks (the preferred approach). Many of the Regional Bell Operating

Companies(RBOCs) have taken advantage of some of these IP carriers, although they

would never admit that their traffic is being sent through the public Internet. In the next few years, we will continue to see widespread deployment of IP-based telephony networks with both old and new carriers. This is especially true of the wireless carri- ers, who are eager to explore the possibilities of IP-based services.

What Is IP Telephony?

IP telephony encompasses the use of IP-based networks for the purpose of transport- ing both data and voice. They depend on server-based systems as switches (sometimes referred to assoftswitches). The general concept is to eliminate the intelligence found in many legacy switches today on the edge of the network and rely on more centralized servers to provide call control to the edge devices.

The subscriber is served by an IP-based device, which replaces the end-office switch used in conventional networks. The purpose of this device is to provide connections (via IP,asynchronous transfer mode [ATM], or whatever medium is required) to the sub- scriber. Ideally, this medium is IP. The voice is packetized usingc u s t o m e r- p r o v i d e d

equipment(CPE). All the switching intelligence is provided by a controller, which sits
in a more regional location. The controller supports all of the devices within its de-
fined zone.

The controller provides call control functions, instructing the devices on how to han- dle a specific call. Controllers use a signaling protocol to communicate with these devices as well as a signaling protocol to communicate with one another. All of these protocols are based on IP as the transport.

In order for these devices to communicate with devices in another network, there must be some device that provides a bridge. This requires yet another level of signal- ing. If calls are to be sent to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), SS7 is the only accepted form of signaling. A signaling gateway (SG) provides the bridge between IP networks and the PSTN.

What makes these networks different from conventional telephony networks is the ca- pability to connect to an IP \u201ccloud,\u201d rather than dedicated circuits between each of the entities. This is, of course, the primary advantage of using packet-switching technology rather than circuit-switched. While signaling system #7 is a packet-switched protocol, some adaptations are necessary to work in this environment. SS7 uses many timers at levels 2 and 3 to maintain the integrity of each \u201clink\u201d or network element and to guar- antee the delivery of all messages. We will discuss this further later in the chapter.

By eliminating the direct connections between all entities, and by utilizing IP as the transport, carriers can now realize substantial savings in their network infrastruc- tures. The devices used in these networks are substantially cheaper than circuit- switched equipment, and carriers can eliminate other expensive equipment such as multiplexers and transmission equipment based on Time Division Multiplexing (TDM).

452 Chapter 11

Still, there is a need to connect to traditional telephony networks. This will be the case for many years to come because there is a huge investment in networks of this type, and IP telephony networks are still far too immature in design to replace TDM networks. As previously mentioned, in order to connect into the TDM networks, SS7 is required.

It is important to understand that SS7 is not necessarily being replaced by new IP signaling protocols. Rather, SS7 is being modified to meet the requirements of IP net- works. When one looks at theISDN User Part (ISUP) and Transaction Capabilities

Application Part(TCAP) protocols, it becomes obvious that the services brought by

these two protocols are not easily duplicated by any other protocols. They have been de- veloped over many years to support telephony services. TCP/IP does not have any com- parable protocols to support these functions. Creating new IP-based protocols to replace ISUP and TCAP would be far too complex and time-consuming. It makes far more sense to modify SS7 to support IP networks than to create new replacement protocols.

This is not to say that SS7 may not someday be replaced entirely. The telephony net- work as we know it today is undergoing dramatic changes. These changes may render SS7 obsolete some years from now. In the meantime, work continues on modifying the SS7 network to interoperate with IP telephony networks.

Support of SS7 transport over IP facilities is being addressed through both the ITU and the IETF. In the meantime, vendors are deploying proprietary solutions to get their products to market.

Perhaps the only vendor who has had any level of success with this is Tekelec. This company has developed a protocol interface called Transport Adaption Layer Interface (TALI) that is designed to transport SS7 over pure IP networks. To date, more than 140 vendors have downloaded this software (www.tekelec.com) and registered with Tekelec to implement this interface on their solutions.

Although I may be a little biased as an employee of Tekelec, I believe the TALI in- terface deserves discussion here because of its already widespread industry support. Although many vendors have tried solutions of their own, TALI is the only protocol in use today in live networks transporting SS7 over IP facilities.

Although TALI is receiving widespread acceptance, it is not meant to replace the work of the IETF. In order for vendors to interoperate with one another, they must be compliant with whatever industry standard is adopted. TALI is viewed as an enabler to allow vendors and carriers to begin their deployment of SS7 over IP today, rather than wait on the standard committees to complete their work.

The Signaling Challenge in IP
The challenge in SS7 is replacing or emulating the procedures found in aMessage
Transfer Part (MTP) in an IP network. TCP/IP does not provide the same functions as

MTP; specifically, it provides link management, traffic management, and route man- agement. These functions must be emulated in the IP world to enable SS7 to work. They are vital to maintaining the quality of service (QoS) we have become accustomed to here in the United States.

IP Telephony 453

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