Xcast Labs: Strong IP for Efficient Voice Services
XCast Labs, Inc., headquartered in Los Angeles, California, was founded as a research and development company in 2002, and began offering telecommunications services in 2003. Since that time, the company has expanded with an engineering team and Network Operations Center in Chicago, and evolved into a major player in the SaaS (Software as a Service) marketplace, including voice and video over the Internet. The firm has developed a comprehensive suite of software and hardware solutions that enable cable television operators, CLECs, ISPs, wireless providers and marketing companies to offer fully-branded, hosted IP-based services to their end-users. In addition, Xcast Labs supports an agent channel alongside its reseller channel for marketing its IP-PBX, SIP trunking and residential VoIP services, both inside and outside the U.S., serving customers that range from single residences to small and medium sized businesses with up to 500 employees. XCast's platform currently supports over one hundred thousand voice and video users, who collectively originate and terminate approximately a billion minutes of telecom traffic per year. The company offers its service globally, and will be adding servers in the United Kingdom and South Africa in 2010.
Xcast Labs is somewhat unique in the hosted and SaaS marketplace, in that it has designed and developed every aspect of its technology in-house, rather than relying on another developer's products for part of all of its solutions. XCast's integrated solution delivers Class 5 switching with MIR (Most Intelligent Routing), video telephony, IP-PBX, SIP trunking and other advanced IP applications. The Xcast platform is a vertically integrated suite of applications and services, geared to maximize the customer's ability to quickly and easily deploy multiple services, with the additional ability to integrated these options into a triple-play service offering. The company claims these solutions represent the leading edge of the industry, and numerous parts of its portfolio have been or are in the process of being patented. In particular, XCast's Direct RTP (Real-Time Protocol) technology for voice and video communications greatly increases call quality and reliability, while significantly reducing latency and packet loss. Its Session Border Controller (SBC) allows two endpoint devices to exchange RTP traffic on a peer-to-peer basis, even behind firewalls, with no special NAT (network address translation) or STUN (Session Transversal Utilities for NAT, described in RFC 5389, http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5389 ) programming required. This feature claims to save 99 percent of the bandwidth other VoIP providers would consume on calls, while keeping many calls within a LAN or a cable company network.
The Xcast platform supports a number of customer applications. Residential Service supports the full Class 5 feature set (Caller ID/Name, 3-way calling, call waiting, anonymous call blocking, and so on), plus provides a Web interface that allows the customers to manage their own accounts online. Hosted PBX Service is targeted at SMB customers with 5-500 seats, and includes all of the Class 5 features, plus full PBX functionality with ACD, call groups, conferencing, call transfer, call park/pickup, intercom and attendant console features. SIP Trunking Service provides a T-1 primary rate interface (PRI) trunk replacement, which can be configured in two ways: device trunking that includes trunk groups, 911 and an overflow to voicemail; or address trunking, where the traffic goes to/from an IP address or domain. Voice and Video Conferencing Service provides secure conferencing that is integrated with the IP-PBX application, and includes video voicemail integration with BlackBerry PDAs. Supplementary services which can be added to any of these three basic applications include: IP Fax Service which allows inbound faxes to be delivered as a PDF file to an email inbox, and supports the T.38 fax over IP protocol; IP Toll Free Service, in which inbound toll-free calls are delivered to any device or service; and Virtual Numbers, which provide additional phone numbers from 10,000 United States cities and 60 countries.
Xcast's hosted PBX service includes some interesting features. The first is a solid Administrator Control Panel which manages all of the features and locations from a single Web interface, coupled with a Web-based VoIP Control Panel, which taken together, allow the customer to deploy, configure and manage the system without relying on either an in-house or vendor-provided technical support team, and possibly eliminating the expense of a maintenance contract. The Integrated Unified Communications includes voicemail, videomail and faxes delivered to email; voicemail alerts via SMS, plus voicemail via a RSS feed. CallBlast includes call forwarding combined with a find me/follow me service. The Broadcast Intercom delivers announcements to specified groups, plus a Direct Intercom can be used for either public or private communication.
Further information on the Xcast Labs solutions can be found at www.xcastlabs.com. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet CorporationÂ®, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.