Upgrading the IP in VoIP

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I just spent a day at a fascinating conference on the future of the Cable TV industry. Indeed the name Cable TV has become something of a misnomer. We’re talking about companies that deliver a majority of the residential broadband in the United States of America and a large and increasing amount of business broadband, particularly broadband to small and medium-sized businesses of the type that use – or are ripe to use – hosted VoIP services such as Phone.com.

Both as the carrier of VoIP services for companies such as Phone.com over that broadband, and as fierce VoIP competitors in their own right, today’s Cable TV companies are starting to rival traditional telephone companies in terms of the number of telephone subscribers they carry. (Of course the traditional phone companies are not just “phone” companies any more either … they too are broadband, wireless, and indeed video delivered over broadband.)

One of the big topics, as it has been for some years now, on the broadband side of the cable industry is the transition from IPv4, the current version of Internet Protocol (the ‘IP’ in VoIP), to a newer version called IPv6. The impetus for the transition is simply that the number of Internet addresses supported by IPv4 is being rapidly used up. IPv6, on the other hand, supports what are said to be millions of addresses for each human being on the face of the Earth (I looked it up…IPv6 will support more than 340 undecillion IP addresses: that’s more than 340 billion billion billion billion addresses, enough for a real endless summer of surfing).

But for VoIP users, the transition is significant in another critical way. IPv6 includes specifications for prioritizing IP data traffic, specifically including VoIP, that go far beyond what’s possible in IPv4. That means that a VoIP phone users’ broadband can be tailored to give priority to VoIP services. The way things stand now, VoIP signals have to fight for bandwidth along with internet surfing, video downloads, eMail, and whatever else is on the network. The result, during heavy times of Internet use, can be less than perfect voice conversations, and when it’s something like customer service involved (or a call to grandma), that’s hardly desirable. But with IPv6 a Quality of Service (QoS) level can be set to insure sparkling VoIP business phone service.

It’s going to take years for the entire world to transition to IPv6 – telephone companies providing broadband are already starting to do it now just as cable companies are. But the bottom line is that VoIP users, and particularly business VoIP users, can look forward to even better and more reliable service in just a few years from now.


Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.


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