article

Standing Watch


VoIP monitoring and quality assurance
are growing in importance as IP-based voice services enter the mainstream. A number of vendors now offer tools designed specifically to help service providers and businesses monitor, analyze and test their IP-based voice networks and services.

“VoIP is not as a simple as traditional data services. Dropped calls, latency and voice quality all come into play when mixing voice and data traffic on the same network, which today is usually some variation of an IP and PSTN network,” says Zeus Kerravala, vice president of enterprise infrastructure research at The Yankee Group. “Integrated testing is the only way to adequately verify the migration from circuit to packet to avoid performance, interoperability and voice quality pitfalls.”

According to a new study by Frost & Sullivan, the test equipment market for VoIP generated $133.2 million of revenue in 2003, and total revenue is expected to reach $606.9 million by 2010.

While the bulk of testing requirements focus on the R&D applications of VoIP, the study says, the growing installed base of networks is expected to increase demand for monitoring and maintenance solutions.

Donna Bastien, Agilent Technologies Inc.’s worldwide OSS marketing communications manager, says scalability and performance have become key issues for VoIP as it moves into “prime time” with companies such as AT&T offering residential local and long-distance IP telephony services. Jim Banks, Agilent’s VoIP business development manager, adds the vendor recently announced it could monitor up to 1.5 million busy hour call attempts at one softswitch location. “That’s an indicator it’s moving to prime time,” he says.

Vendors say monitoring and troubleshooting VoIP services presents a unique challenge, given that many voice calls still traverse both IP and PSTN networks; different companies might provide the voice service and the broadband pipe over which it travels; the winding path that calls can take on IPbased networks; and the various protocols and vendor equipment types that may be involved. “With VoIP, problems can occur in various places in the network, so you need smart technology that’s embedded in the network to collect information when and where it happens,” says Alan Clark, president and CEO at Telchemy Inc., which offers VoIP monitoring and management software that can ride on network infrastructure like softswitches or on test and monitoring solutions.

Telchemy sells VQmon, which analyzes call quality, monitors the voice stream for delay and other parameters, measures and ranks call quality and locates degradation, if present. The company’s VQexpert can recognize LAN and access line congestion. It also offers VQmon/EP to address enterprise IP telephony, broadband VoIP and 3G applications.

The company’s software is in use by at least 15 infrastructure and support system vendors, including Acterna LLC, Brix Networks Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd. Nortel is using Telchemy software in its enterprise IP telephony gear, says Clark. He says one of the RBOCs is now using Telchemy technology and adds Telchemy also is working with a session border controller vendor to enable service providers to monitor the quality of calls handed off to their session border controllers from other service providers.

Quintum Technologies Inc. also is a believer in offering monitoring capabilities in VoIP infrastructure equipment. The company, which launched its Tenor multipath switches in December of 1999, recently added monitoring capabilities to its Tenor devices. The devices can do real-time monitoring of the status of alarms on Tenor equipment; monitoring of call events to see where calls are going and originating; and monitoring of call service records.

Jamie Warter, vice president of marketing and business development at Brix Networks, which sells VoIP performance management and service assurance solutions, says the company’s first customers were iBasis and Level 3 Communications Inc., which used Brix tools for IP voice transport and toll bypass applications. However, new Vonage-style VoIP entrants that are using local broadband connections to deliver packet voice services also can use Brix tools to prequalify VoIP services on residential links. In this case, the Brix software looks at both the quality of the user’s broadband connection and the quality of the call running across that connection.

“That’s where we bring value,” says Warter, “so the service provider knows if it’s their infrastructure or the transport provider’s problem.” At the VON show this spring, Brix demonstrated a self-service VoIP portal that lets users independently measure the quality of their VoIP connections.

TestYourVoIP.com allows visitors to execute a JAVA applet that initiates a test phone call based on SIP. Brix Verifiers emulate multiline phones that answer the test calls and assess their quality based on metrics such as signaling quality and call quality/clarity. The service, according to Brix, is aimed to help prospective VoIP consumers evaluate their expected call quality before signing on for service, to give customers advantage if their existing VoIP provider is not living up to expectations, and help service providers attract and keep customers by demonstrating high-quality service.

Warter says the portal was just a demonstration, but adds service providers might want to employ Brix technology to create their own portals offering this user-testing capability.

Switch Management Corp. also offers a Webbased VoIP monitoring tool, which it launched in April. VoIP Watchdog is a Web-based quality of service (QoS) monitor and alarm manager that alerts network managers when route quality (VoIP or TDM) drops below acceptable levels. A hosted application, which is available as a standalone or with Switch Management’s WebCDR billing service, VoIP Watchdog continually scans a network’s most recent call detail records for alarm conditions such as low answer supervision rate, low average length of call or too many consecutive incomplete calls on a route. Scans are performed every 15 minutes, and are immediately rated and analyzed.

An e-mail alert is generated whenever alarm conditions are detected, and can be directed to cell phones or alphanumeric pager services that provide an e-mail gateway.

Global Direct Telecom has been beta testing the service since March 1. Tollgrade Communications Inc. offers CheetahIP, a product for cable network operators that employ Brix technology to address VoIP service quality. Greg Quiggle, executive vice president of marketing for Tollgrade, says several cable TV companies are looking at its technology to troubleshoot VoIP problems.

Today when a customer using VoIP over a cable modem reports a problem, there is no way of knowing whether the problem is with the plant, the power supply, the DOCSIS connection or the voice path, says Quiggle. However, CheetahIP can look at all those aspects of a VoIP service so the service provider can quickly detect the source of the problem, he says.

Major cable companies, including Cablevision, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, already use CheetahIP on a broad scale says Quiggle. He says several MSOs are testing it for VoIP applications. Tollgrade’s product traditionally had focused on the physical layer, monitoring status of hybrid fiber/coax plant nodes and power, but the Brix partnership has enabled Tollgrade to pair that capability with the ability to look at the quality of the DOCSIS connection to do VoIP performance monitoring, he says.

Network test giant Agilent also resells Brix products and has integrated Brix technology into its NgN product, which Cbeyond Communications is using for networkwide VoIP quality monitoring.

The latest version of NgN Analysis System - which offers end-to-end monitoring over IP and PSTN voice networks - also can monitor multiple softswitches, rather than just a single-softswitch in a test environment, says Bastien, and explains this is a requirement in real-world VoIP networks.

Agilent’s Analysis Servers are colocated with softswitches in a central office. They pick up all the signaling information from the softswitches and send it to the end points, feature servers and media servers. The NgN AS then stores that data, correlates it and sends it out to a central QoS management server in the data center that monitors service and management performance in real time.

That allows it to deliver real-time indications to the service provider if an SLA is out of compliance, as one example. Agilent products also can look a media stream to monitor the quality of service delivered, says Banks, noting that integrated Brix active test technology in the products help enable the QoS management capability.

Banks says today’s VoIP monitoring and troubleshooting tools give network operators a good idea about what endpoints are affected by service degradation, but they don’t provide much information about the virtual circuit.

“The IP environment is very dynamic, you don’t know which routers you’re going to from one minute to another,” he says. An understanding of the network topology a service is using and the ability to correlate that network topology information with signaling and voice quality information could allow network operators to find root causes of problems in a more efficient manner, he says. That will eventually be possible through MPLS, which can provide information on which paths in the network are used for what traffic, Banks says.

While more focused on the enterprise market, Qovia also has products that monitor VoIP networks continuously in real time, looking at such parameters as packet loss, latency, jitter, and even the capacity of server providing music hold, the T1 and the power.

Acterna, meanwhile, recently unveiled the PVA-1000, which performs detailed analysis and troubleshooting of VoIP telephone calls, providing quick identification of VoIP transport-related issues by graphing jitter and packet loss.

It can play back the original telephone call using jitter-buffer emulation and WAV files (another competitive advantage of the PVA-1000) and provide full VoIP-protocol decoding.

Also this year, Spirent Communications unveiled Abacus 5000 IP Telephony Test Migration System, which can emulate a call agent (media gateway controller) and signaling gateway, generate real voice and data traffic, and real-time transport protocol (RTP) packets.


Master Agent Offers VoIP-Readiness Assessment

Master agency IPtimize Inc. is launching a set of processes and tools to its agent channel this month to ease enterprises’ migration to IP networks.

“Most VoIP monitoring tools are effective only from the network to the premises,” says Jeff Veres, COO of IPtimize.

“Carrier control at the premise is limited.”

He says the company’s goal is to make sure enterprise networks are ready for VoIP. “We don’t want them wondering why their computer networks are crashing after the installation,” he explains.

“We want to improve their IP IQ,” says Clint Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing. “We want to help them avoid spending on hardware unnecessarily and ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to support quality of service for VoIP.”

IPtimize’s VoIP Readiness Assessment builds on professional services that include auditing, business continuity, disaster recovery and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance as well as its Internet Security Evaluation to assess Internet and network security vulnerabilities.

“[The assessment] includes an infrastructure review to identify what the installed network architecture is at the layer 2 switch, cabling and IP address scheme,” says Wilson.

IPtimize uses a testing tool from Viola Networks Inc. called NetAlly, which provides pre-service network readiness assessment, on-demand network troubleshooting and ongoing network performance monitoring.

Before installation, IPtimize agents would obtain a copy of the last-known network configuration before modifying the network for VoIP. That way, it’s easy to go back to a working setup, says Veres.

Wilson says IPtimize is targeting independent agents and interconnects to sell the assessment service, which is performed by IPtimize staff. Commission is 15 percent.

-By Khali Henderson

Links

Acterna LLC www.acterna.com
Agilent Technologies Inc. www.agilent.com
Brix Networks Inc. www.brixnet.com
Cbeyond Communications LLC www.cbeyond.net
Global Direct Telecom  No url
Nortel Networks Ltd. www.nortelnetworks.com
Qovia Inc. www.qovia.com
Quintum Technologies Inc. www.quintum.com
Switch Management Corp. www.switchmanagement.com
Telchemy Inc. www.telchemy.com
Tollgrade Communications Inc. www.tollgrade.com
The Yankee Group www.yankeegroup.com


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