ENUM Expert Joins XConnect Board

XConnect Global Networks Ltd., a UK-based tier-one provider of IP communications federation and peering services, last week announced that Richard Shockey, founder and long-time co-chair of the IETF’s ENUM working group, will join the company’s board of directors.

Shockey has had a distinguished career in the development of several vital IP communications technologies, including ENUM (for ‘Electronic NUMbering’)—a system for mapping telephone numbers to IP-based communications services—and SIP—the dominant signaling scheme for IP communications—sitting on the board of directors of the SIP Forum and serving as co-chair of its SIPconnect task group. (See our coverage of SIPconnect here and here.)

Shockey began his tenure on the ENUM working group in 2002 and continues that role, also serving as co-chair of the recently formed IETF working group DRINK (for ‘Data for Reachability of Inter/Intra NetworK SIP’), a protocol designed to facilitate the provisioning of address translation databases (that is, getting properly formatted data into the database structure).

During these years, Shockey as also participated in the design and development of several commercial products based on ENUM technology, which he will now be doing on behalf of XConnect.

“Richard is the godfather of ENUM technology and services,” said Eli Katz, CEO and founder of XConnect. “He probably has the greatest understanding of this vital infrastructure component and its commercial applications of anyone in the industry. We welcome him to our advisory board, where he will strengthen our leadership in the carrier ENUM and federation-based interconnect sector.”

We had an opportunity to talk with Richard and—in a follow-up to our late-2006-early-2007 series The VoIP Peering Puzzle—find out about the current state of ENUM technology and services, and progress in IP peering and address translation services.

Somewhat to our surprise, Shockey assured Enterprise VoIPplanet.com that technical work on the ENUM protocol is essentially done. “The core protocol—RFC 3761—is out of the lab and into the network” he said. “There’s very little standardization that needs to be done on ENUM at this point.”

When VoIPplanet took its last in-depth look at ENUM, a bit over two years ago, there were a number of technical and policy issues to resolve, and various groups were trialing both public ENUM—”the idea that you could use public DNS to resolve a phone number to an underlying service URI,” as Shockey puts it—and private ENUM.

“As for the status of public ENUM,” Shockey told us, “frankly it hasn’t gone very far at all.” Despite deployments in Austria, Ireland, the U.K, and elsewhere, “carriers really have not considered it a particularly good idea from their perspective.”

By contrast, private ENUM—commercial federation peering registries operated by XConnect, NetNumber, VeriSign, and a number of other companies (see the VoIP Peering Puzzle)—”is doing very, very well,” Shockey said. “The inherent value proposition of private ENUM services is extremely compelling to carriers—both mobile carriers and landline carriers. It is a very viable business.”

Rather than being driven by voice, as we would have assumed, this booming new business is fueled more by newer services, such as Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), Short Messaging Service (SMS), and local number portability applications. “Voice is probably the smallest of all the applications being used for ENUM databases and ENUM federation,” Shockey said.

We asked Shockey for some idea of the scale of implementation of ENUM services. In connection with the use of ENUM services for MMS routing, he told us, “you have the mapping of the entire North American numbering plan—all phone numbers that are capable of both sending and/or receiving an MMS message. That’s about half the North American numbering plan right now. It’s not well known, but in North America, every MSS message that crosses a domain boundary actually dips into an ENUM database—that’s about 12 million queries a day.”

Shockey anticipates that commercial ENUM services will continue to be consumed by newer emerging service, such as real-time video. “A lot of the new [phones], like Nokia’s, have real-time cameras, and there’s a lot of discussion about the next-generation iPhone—and several others –will have the ability to do real-time video point to point. Consequently the ability to conduct a real-time video conference from their mobile handset will require various forms of ENUM federation and ENUM queries to translate the phone number into the underlying service application.”

Another emerging importance of ENUM is its role as a cost savings engine for carriers. In contrast to the ‘traditional’ methodology for routing telephony traffic across disparate networks—SS7 TCAP—ENUM routing represents a cost-savings factor of 20 or more. That is, carriers can ‘purchase’ ENUM queries at one-twentieth or less. Shockey sees ENUM almost as an industry savior, “trying to get rid of SS7—or at least pushing out to the edge of the carrier networks.”

In part the overall success of private ENUM services—and the cost saving they bring—is due to the rapid evolution of software and hardware used by the providers. With today’s topologies and caching capabilities, registry databases can scale to 400 or 500 million telephone numbers (and associated routing data), Shockey explained. Queries can be processed in 10 to 20 milliseconds—or less, depending on the available hardware. ”

Moreover, “the modern ENUM database and querying infrastructure is every bit as reliable—if not more reliable—as the underlying service control points,” Shockey said.

Summing up the future prospects for commercial ENUM, Shockey said, “the good news is that mobility and intelligent mobile handsets are driving these kinds of applications, and smart operators—whether they be cable operators, landline operators, or mobile operators—realize that the more they create value in phone numbers, the more they’re going to need number translation services.” The sky’s the limit.

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