P2P or ENUM Saves Vonage?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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P2P or ENUM Saves Vonage?

VonageWe've been down this road before with claims of a Vonage workaround to get past the Verizon patent issue, only to have our hopes dashed. But now word comes today late yesterday from Bloomberg that Vonage has a patent workaround that could save its VoIP service from being shutdown over the Verizon patent litigation. Apparently its new technology can be installed through software downloads and shouldn't be costly to deploy, according to Jeffrey Citron, CEO of Vonage.

"We will begin rolling these workarounds out shortly, hopefully in the next few weeks, and we believe they will work," Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Citron said on a conference call today.

I would really like to know how a software download helps bypass the Verizon patents and why didn't Vonage think of this before? And what precisely is Vonage installing on customer's ATA (analog telephone adaptor) that supercedes Verizon patents? I have to review the Verizon patents, but I believe one of them involves mapping an IP address to a phone number. Currently, Vonage does this in a centralized fashion using their centralized servers. So when someone calls a Vonage customer, the Vonage servers map the PSTN call to the customer's IP address and then route the call over IP to the customer's ATA device. It is highly plausible that the Verizon patent specifically mentions this query process as being performed in a "centralized" fashion. So it is my hypothesis that Vonage is getting around the patent issue by moving from a centralized query method to a decentralized query method.

There are two possibilities for this. One, Vonage could be downloading to each ATA some sort of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology that moves the query database down to each subscriber's ATA device. This is a bit risky from a security and reliability standpoint and I don't know if this could scale to millions of users. Though Skype is an example of a large-scale fairly reliable P2P network. I'm also not sure each ATA's firmware could handle this type of upgrade. Vonage literally has dozens of different kinds of ATAs or phone devices, such as a the Cisco ATA-186 to stand-alone Vonage phones such as the Uniden Vonage phone, as well as all-in-one wireless routers with Vonage capabilities such as the Linksys WRTP54G.

The second option is that Vonage is downloading to each ATA the ability to query a third-party ENUM server, such as ones run by Stealth Communications, Verisign, and NetNumbers. ENUM, is a standard protocol for resolving phone numbers into IP addresses. It was originally developed to link consumers' phone numbers to various IP services, but the protocol is being used extensively to interconnect carriers’ VoIP networks. No doubt Verizon uses the technology to interconnect with other carriers. Verizon would be hard pressed to sue Vonage if Vonage switched to a 100% ENUM environment considering all the carriers use ENUM.

Whether it is P2P or ENUM to skirt the Verizon patent issue is still a hypothesis on my part and I apologize for not researching Verizon's patents in more detail since I've been working on some other projects. There could be a third option which escapes me at the moment. I'll try and do some more research and post what I find here. Stay tuned...

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