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Standardizing VoIP Protocols

Updated on April 28, 2011

Importance of Standardization

It's hard to overestimate the importance of maintaining standardization when implementing a new technology for public consumption. We all vividly remember the HD video and Blueray conflict which would determine the standard that would dominate the market. A single standard enables great efficiencies since every manufacturer and programmer has to contend with just one set of rules instead of fragmenting their products. In the same way, consumers are able to buy devices which work with all the relevant products on the market - saving money and keeping things simple.

For a long time, VoIP didn't have this benefit of standardization. There were many protocols dominating the market - some of them proprietary. This meant that VoIP providers were unable to interoperate amongst themselves leading to a fragmented market. Consumers too were unable to settle on a single standard to adopt. Over the years however, a single protocol has come to slowly become the de facto standard as both providers and manufacturer coalesce around it. That standard is the SIP protocol.

To make things easier, the SIP protocol isn't proprietary and isn't owned by any one body. This reduces the conflict of interest since everyone can benefit from the standardization and not just one monolithic organization which would lead to a monopoly with everyone having to pay licenses to the winner.

Standardizing VoIP Protocols
Standardizing VoIP Protocols

Why SIP?

So what drew people to the SIP protocol? Was it just the fact that it was open? After all, there are many other protocols which are also open and people were hesitant to adopt them. The secret probably lies in the fact that SIP restricted itself to being a signalling protocol alone. What this means is that SIP only concerns itself with the process of setting up and tearing down a call. It doesn't care about the specifics like which codec must be used. It allowed all sorts of disparate developers to continue doing what they thought was best and still allowed them to inter operate.

Of course in order to establish a call everything has to be negotiated in advance, but SIP allows this to happen without being dogmatic. Lots of companies have tried to resist implementing the SIP protocol since it leads to a loss of their own power. Cisco notoriously refused to jump on the bandwagon by insisting their own Cisco protocol was better. But it too now includes the SIP protocol in its products.

Skype is probably the last major holdout of proprietary protocols on a large scale. Theirs is a different ball game altogether since it has the marketshare to enforce its own protocol. But it stands alone and doesn't get cooperation from any other VoIP provider. And this has to weigh against it in the long term.

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