Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Taking OFCOM out of the loop

I wonder if we need to take OFCOM and even the ITU out of the loop for telephony.

We can already make and receive calls in a variety of ways that have no OFCOM or BT or ITU involvement. Not just skype and FaceTime, but direct SIP URIs. I have added SIP URIs for my own telephony to my business card, and set up the office to handle sales, support, accounts and some direct staff calls via SIP URIs.

Such calls are made as a direct SIP call from one device to another which works just like any other IP based protocol like web pages and email. There is no telephony telco in the way to log the call or charge for it - it is just IP packets. So no Data Retention Directive logging of the call at all. That is good, yes?

The real trick is making a number range for this - using enum style DNS it is possible for a registrar to set up and sell or give numbers under a numbering block. I'd like OFCOM to allocate that, ideally UK block 04, to a registry which will hold SIP endpoint addresses and end user direct registration of numbers.

This eliminates all of the number porting issues as numbers are owned by the end user by contract with the registrar. No porting is needed! But telcos could manage that for users to make it easy.

This would be settlement free in that any caller can make a direct SIP call, but a telco could charge (lets say) same as 01/02/03 retail price to hand over calls and a legacy SSL7 interconnect could charge the same as 01/02/03. That would allow clean interworking as many telcos could offer to route 04 numbers for a tiny fee but clued up telcos can route directly and end users can bypass their telco and route directly. Those that pay are those using old fashioned analogue phone lines and ISDN and then just pay the same as normal geographic calls.

But lets assume for a moment that OFCOM won't play - what is to stop a consortium of VoIP providers from doing this anyway - making a simple registry for numbers within an existing space, such as UK numbers starting 04?

Well, as far as I can see, nothing. It would not link to BT and traditional carriers, but would work via any VoIP provider signed up to the scheme and would not cost them. If the scheme allows charging for calls the same as 01/02/03 at retail, then why would any VoIP carrier not go for that? No ongoing cost apart from IP transit, and paid for calls?

I think the first step is a meeting with OFCOM on this - it would be radical and forward thinking - both things OFCOM are not known for. If OFCOM did go for it then it could be officially under the e164 enum domain and maybe the likes of Nominet would be a good registry to manage it.

I think we need meetings of the stakeholders involved to make this happen.

13 comments:

  1. Nominet have done sweet F.A. with UK ENUM since they were entrusted with it.

    My suggestions to allow existing Nominet members to register at least one allocation F.O.C. so that those who were more likely to push for its' adoption could be the first to benefit from it unfortunately fell on deaf ears.

    It annoyed me further as the UK ENUM initiative was kickstarted with Nominet funds which were contributed by those same Nominet members.

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    1. This would be way easier as the registration would be the number allocation and no need to prove you own the number by other means, so makes a lot more sense.

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    2. It's not entirely Nominet's fault. A lot of the big telephone system manufacturers are woefully behind on technology - Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, Mitel... none of them to my knowledge support ENUM. The only systems that do are the open source ones.

      So there's no incentive for big businesses to use ENUM because their phone systems don't support it.

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    3. Well, yes, but if the telcos, e.g. BT, supported a new enum based range, which I am sure they could do, charging PSTN/ISDN/etc customers geographic rates and delivering by SIP over IP for no interconnect, they would make money. Also, if they offered the new range on SS7 at the normal geographic interconnect rates, again, making money. Businesses would be able to call a new range, but would have some incentive to make their phone systems do it directly in the long run.

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  2. What ever happened to the 055/056 allocation: wasn't that meant to be used for VoIP systems? I started seeing some usage a few years ago, but they appear to have disappeared (although, I do see you've got at least one allocation under 05603 69).

    But I agree, Nominet need to sort out ENUM.

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    1. Yes, but still assigned in blocks to telcos - not to a "registry" for end user number assignments. I suppose we may stand a better chance asking OFCOM initially for something like 039 or 057 or some such.

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    2. Have you considered forming a "VoIP provider consortium" (similar to Nominet: yearly membership fees, but is actually adjusted on costs/number of members). The "consortium" then "owns" blocks in all area codes [or just part of a range such as 039 or 055], the customer can then select a "member" (such as AAISP) for their number to be routed through, calls between consortium members are free of charge. Calls from the PSTN are charged at national rates and calls to non-consortium members are charged at the VoIP providers rates. This should be able to be setup without OFCOM actually having to do anything.

      This has the advantage that if OFCOM/OFTEL/whoever start charging for number allocations, then the consortium only has to have 1 block in each code (say that's 65,000 numbers charged at £1 per year: for a single provider, that'll be £65k - but the consortium would split that cost between all members and perhaps charge a little more [for example £1 per month] for each 'allocated number' and then the "standing membership fee" comes down by £1).

      Just an idea....

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    3. Another idea would be for the consortium to host DNS/ENUM for a domain and permit delegation of zones to consortium members. This would have the advantage that existing numbers would have an alternate route and also that the new VoIP range (04/06/039/057) the consortium decides to use (assuming Ofcom don't play ball) can also be dished out. As and when 'proper' e164.arpa ENUM is rolled out, this would also permit easy(ish) migration.
      I can't imagine this would be either difficult or costly to get off the ground technically, although I could imagine that the creation of a democratic consortium would be 'fun'!

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  3. I always liked the idea of was having your e-mail address as your VoIP address, thanks to some CNAME and SRV records. I always though that to be a better solution than IP address. Combine that with server-to-server XMPP and old-fashioned e-mail then you've got a single address for a few different protocols.

    On SIP servers that I've set up (basic Asterisk+FreePBX) I only set them to accept inbound calls from our trunk IP addresses to prevent people shoving SIP packets at the server and triggering loads of fake calls. That's the problem that stopped me opening the IP to SIP traffic. I let the trunk provider filter out the guff.

    Enum is a total joke though. The frustrating thing is it's actually a brilliantly simple solution that seems to be squashed by the incumbent telcos. Then you've got a few 3rd party enum-like registries where you can list your number and configure your server to do a lookup for outbound calls. I forget their names but there were a couple of free/open efforts at that.

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  4. Have you (as AA) considered joining ITSPA, as that might be the right group to try and drive this sort of thing (they're already working on something for porting that might be related), or at the very least you're likely to find it easier to get in touch with other telcos?

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  5. Is this not what iNum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INum_Initiative) is supposed to be?

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    1. Yes, looks exactly like what we want - I think we'll have to get a block and set up routing.

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    2. OK, looks like we can so routing direct, so we'll do that. It is not quite the same as I am talking a "normal UK number" and also allocation direct to end users. But very similar concept.

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