Vonage uses Covergence for e911

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Tom Keating
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Vonage uses Covergence for e911

I had a conference call last week with Covergence, about their pending announcment with Vonage that explains that Covergence is the company that powers Vonage's e911 service. Covergence is an interesting company that has been stealthily flying under the VoIP radar screen, including my radar.

Basically, Covergence is similar to a Session Border Controller (SBC) but much more advanced offering unified security and management of network applications. For example, it is application aware, including SIP-aware and can route e911 PSAP information to the appropriate 911 emergency services gateway. Vonage will use Covergence's Eclipse to provide E-911 call routing, E-911 call recording and E-911 call detail records. Covergence told me, "We have very sophisticated SIP call routing and packet manipulation, we're a fully back-to-back terminating device, so we can make sure that we interject the right PSAP information and route the call. And because we do have this ability to stream all the media we can record all the calls, log all the calls, to provide confidence this is actually what happened on that (911) call."  In a nutshell, the Covergence solution can intercept the SIP packets, determine it is a 911 call, perform SIP-level field manipulation and route the call to the appropriate center before hitting Vonage's call processing network infrastructure.

I actually wanted to work on a detailed writeup on Covergence over the weekend, but unfortunately, I was very busy this weekend finishing up some VoIP product reviews in preparation for being at Internet Telephony Expo next week. So instead, here's my (relatively) quick take on Covergence...

Covergence raised over $16 million and has over half of that available and is funded by North Bridge Venture Partner and Highland Capital Parners, too very reputable firms. Covergence told me, "We see Eclipse as the first unifed SIP-based protocol for security and management solutions and what we've done is architect a real-time communications system that combines VoIP and collaboration software applications for deployment both in the enterprise and the carrier ."

They told me that they use a hardened version of SUSE Linux for good reliability, security, and scalability. Covergence offers a scalable family of hardened appliances providing policy-driven, application-level security, control, monitoring and interoperability. It can even perform H.323-to-SIP transcoding. Even more interesting is that they can transcode between IBM's Sametime and Microsoft's LCS (Live Communications Server) to provide interoperability between the entrenched SameTime application and the up-and-coming LCS platform.

Also, as part of their solution that offer an encrypted, authenticated, and validated connection to the subscriber to ensure subscriber confidentiality and integrity. I asked them whether or not existing CPE (customer premise equipment) such as ATAs (analog telephone adaptors), such as the Cisco ATA-186, would support a firmware update to support encryption of the VoIP packets and if the current crop of ATAs had the processing horsepower to handle encryption. They said all the ATA manufacturers are working very hard to provide SRTP media encryption in their future ATA devices, and that it really depended on how new the chipset on the ATA is and if it would support encryption via a simple firmware upgrade. I guess I won't be using Ethereal or other packet sniffer software on my home Vonage line to eavesdrop and record my wife's conversations. ;) Just kidding! They also said that they offer intrusion and attack prevention protection at the service provider network.

I asked them "So how much latency do you add to the network, especially with encryption added on the fly?" They responded, "Well, that's part of the magic of what we've done because we special purposed architected our box to maintain low latency, so we're in the 20 microsecond latency area for full throughput calls."

Here are some highlighted features of the Covergence solution:

Hardware Based Media Processing
- Custom-designed, hardware-based media processing cards for environments with heavyreal-time media (e.g. audio, video) traffic

- Dual Motorola Freescale processors with integrated crypto engines, 24 Gb/s QOS-aware switch fabric, proprietary custom logic

- Media switching, media NAT, SRTP media encryption, media validation, media replication, QOS monitoring, CODEC translation

- Cryptographic authentication
- Signaling and media encryption
- Stateful signaling and media validation
- Denial-of-service attack mitigation
- Intrusion prevention
- Virus scanning
- Malicious URL filtering

- Signaling and media control
- SIP-aware NAT traversal
- Quality of service (QOS) control
- Identity-based access control
- File transfer control
- Instant message content control
- URL access control

- Session detail recording
- QOS detail recording
- Instant message recording
- Voice and video recording
- File transfer recording
- System and administrative event logging

In any event, getting back to the Vonage news, using Eclipse, Vonage can intelligently route E-911 calls to the correct emergency services gateway, based on the customer information retrieved from the E-911 service bureau database. This will assist Vonage in its aggressive plans to meet FCC guidelines required of VoIP service providers to offer reliable E-911 services. In addition, Eclipse allows Vonage to record and create records of E-911 calls, helping the company to easily and accurately view historical information, and ensuring that the Vonage E-911 environment continually delivers optimum call quality. 

Here's a snippet of quotes taken from today's news release and a screenshot of the Covergence Java interface:

"Vonage continues to seek out those technologies that will ensure our customers' safety and is rolling out E-911 services that will meet or exceed those currently available through traditional phone service," said Martin Hakim Din, Senior Vice President, Vonage Network. "Covergence provides us with another key piece of the puzzle and will help us to ensure that our customers receive reliable and efficient emergency phone service."

"Broadband phone service is becoming a viable replacement for traditional phone service and Covergence is dedicated to ensuring that pioneer providers like Vonage can provide secure, reliable and quality residential services," said Bob O'Neil, president and CEO, Covergence. "We're proud to be supporting Vonage's plans as they rapidly augment and optimize their E-911 environment to give their growing subscriber base the added assurance that emergency functions delivered through broadband will exceed their expectations."

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