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Star Telecom Customer Case Study for eCall

Target: Telecommunications Companies / Internet / Voice over Internet


Customer Business Profile

Star Telecom is one of Taiwan's top telephone equipment providers, offering digital test equipment, T1/E1/Optical telephone interface multiplexers, and wireless Local Area Network (LAN) hubs and routers. Most recently, Star Telecom local exchange and long distance service to nearly a third of Taiwan's population. Through cooperative arrangements with other providers, Star offers international phone service to China's mainland, residential and business phone service, and ADSL service across most of the island. The company's most recent innovation was the design and deployment of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology for the consumer market. Through strategic partnerships with U.S. based telecommunications firms in the VoIP market, Star has been able to deliver an integrated VoIP presence in Asia.

Background

Since its inception in 1998, Star Telecom has grown to become one of Taiwan's leading provider of next generation telephone switching and test equipment to Taiwan's telephone and Internet service providers. Recently, Star began manufacturing and distribution of VoIP access equipment which allows full telephone access through an Internet connection. Customers of this equipment include both telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The end users of this equipment are households with Internet access.

The Problem

Telephone service providers in Taiwan were interested in providing low-cost long distance service to China's mainland and international destinations. Taiwanese cable service providers and ISPs were interested in offering telephone service to their customers as part of their broadband Internet service. These companies were anxious to capitalize on the new VoIP technology, which is able to reduce the cost of a telephone call to fractions of a penny per minute, and they looked to Star Telecom for the solution.

Unlike standard telephone service, which provides a dedicated connection for each side of a conversation for the duration of the call, VoIP uses the Internet to carry voice data. The Internet is, by definition, a packet based medium which shares its resources among all users. Voice is digitized, compressed, and sent over the Internet in groups of packets, with each packet typically containing 10 to 80 milliseconds of voice data. During peak usage, packets may be lost, delayed, or received out of sequence. Any of these conditions can create unusual pauses or gaps in a conversation.

Packet-based telephone service requires different rules for call setup and delivery from standard circuit-based telephone networks. Although protocols are being developed by international standard bodies (e.g., American National Standards Institute, International Telephone Union, International Engineering Task Force), many of these protocols are in transition or are incompatible with each other. VoIP equipment must be interoperable with equipment from other manufacturers to allow customers the benefit of selecting the best components for each application. Which protocols are implemented, and which version of these protocols are implemented, continues to be a problem faced by all VoIP equipment manufacturers. The standard protocols currently implemented by most manufacturers are based on H.323, a multi-media standard for packet-based networks, the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and the Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP).

In order to deliver a phone call completely over the Internet, both ends must have the appropriate equipment. If one side does not have the necessary equipment, the call cannot be completed. This may be the case, for instance, when a carrier transports an international call between countries via the Internet, but the endpoints access the equipment via the local telephone service. There are potential problems with the conversion between the phone network and the Internet. In addition to the various VoIP protocols, there exist many different protocols within the telephone network itself. Analog voice service is typically provided to most households around the world ("the last mile"), while most telephone service providers and businesses use digital access within the telephone network. International providers must be concerned with both T1 and E1 telephone circuits and the protocols which are used to deliver phone service on them - Multi-Frequency (MF), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), Signaling System 7 Integrated Services Digital Network User Part (SS7 ISUP) - just to name a few.

Any complete VoIP solution must provide reliable, toll quality voice across the Internet, be interoperable with other VoIP equipment, and be able to access the telephone network using any of the standard analog or digital protocols available.

The Solution

Star Telecom leveraged its core competencies in manufacturing digital telecommunication equipment in a partnership with eCall. Star focused on manufacturing the Integrated Access Device (IAD), which was designed by eCall for the home user. This device is a low cost (less than $200 U.S.) device which is capable of supporting up to 4 simultaneous calls. The IAD integrates the hardware and software from eCall and provides internet access through various media, including wireless LAN, ADSL, and cable modems. The IAD is based on the Linux operating system and is configurable through a session using any browser. The IAD is capable of providing the user with firewall, DHCP, proxy server, and NAT functions, direct connection to Ethernet, ADSL or cable modem, and allows each of its four voice connections to be configured as FXO or FXS so the device can act as a telephone, FAX, and/or PABX. Each port can also have any of the following standard telephone services: call waiting, call forwarding, call transfer, call barring, call blocking, caller ID, and distinctive ringing.

The IAD communicates with other eCall equipment through H.323, MGCP, or eCall' own proprietary protocol. Other VoIP products available from eCall include a Digital Gateway, which provides access between the VoIP environment and the digital telephone network, and a Soft Switch, a database which directs calls through the Internet or the telephone network, as needed. The Soft Switch can also be used by a single administrator to provision each component in the system.

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The Next Step

Star Telecom has recently completed testing their IADs with major telephone providers in Taiwan. The product successfully handled interoperability with Cisco products using H.323, and, together with eCall equipment, successfully integrated their VoIP solution across multiple telephone network protocols, including ISDN and ISUP using both E1 and T1 connections.

Star is now actively marketing their VoIP solution throughout Asia. Telephone and cable companies in Taiwan are currently installing the equipment in their networks.

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