Voice over IP may have won the battle of next-generation communications technologies, but there are still plenty of hurdles for it to overcome, according to a panel of industry evangelists.
Network security, regulatory policy and business service issues are just three of the major hurdles that VoIP will have to overcome before gaining ubiquitous acceptance, according to "VoIP's Next Challenges," a well-attended forum held this week during NGN2005 in Washington, D.C.
"How do we best guard the IP environment from security attacks?" asked Chris Miller, a consultant for Lucent Worldwide Services, discussing the most frequently cited challenge. "Should there be a standard security model to cover all VoIP systems?"
Security threats are numerous, including disruption of service, eavesdropping, unauthorized access and theft of service, said Mike Hluchyj, founder and chief technology officer of Sonus Networks. Of course, those dangers are well known, as are the solutions on the network and session sides: VLANs, firewalls, authentication and encryption, among others.
Nevertheless, substantial security challenges remain because VoIP sites often don't deploy and employ the available security solutions thoroughly or effectively, said the panelists. To make matters worse, threats sometimes spring up that an organization doesn't anticipate. For instance, spam is beginning to find its way into networks in unconventional ways, such as through voice calls, said Miller.
In response, Miller recommends a standard security approach that includes a combination of infrastructure discovery, data network traffic allocation, data network traffic analysis, infrastructure hardening and data network hardening. In addition, IT security professionals must press upon organizations the necessity of following best security practices. In the longer run, the world requires a global effort to educate users about the substantial dangers of spam, participants agreed. In the end, spamming will cease only when it's regarded by spammers as less of a money-making opportunity.
Security, though, certainly isn't the only challenge facing VoIP as the technology nears widespread deployment. To that, one can add challenges involving terminology, standards, technical issues, regulations and business drivers, according to Larry O'Pella, director of strategic solutions development for Alcatel. Major technical challenges are being resolved quickly, but business and regulatory issues may prove tougher to tackle, stated O'Pella.
"It's easy to provide connectivity," he said. "But, beyond that, what services do people want? Providing a community of services will be a challenge."
Different business segments, for instance, will need different types of services. The medical industry will require a unique set of IP services, as will the automotive industry, the energy industry, etc. Service providers, therefore, must identify the needs of businesses and offer them packages of services that meet their requirements. To date, that largely hasn't happened, said O'Pella.
Otherwise, O'Pella is keeping his fingers crossed that the regulatory environment will remain favorable to VoIP. Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) often switches course due to sudden changes in the political environment, requiring the technology industry to keep a close eye on Washington.
"North American regulators are beginning to recognize IP services," he said. "So far, luckily, the FCC seems to be IP-friendly."