Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is being heralded as the greatest thing since spliced cables. Many players, both traditional telcos and upstarts, are flocking to the technology. But obscured by all the hype are several pressing concerns. Major ILECs such as Bell Canada and Telus Communications Inc. are in the process of migrating their circuit-switched networks to IP-based grids. Bell has announced deals with Nortel Networks Corp. and Cisco Systems Canada. Recently, Primus Tele-communications Canada Inc. announced it was offering VoIP to its customers (NL Update, Jan. 12/04). VoIP is being introduced, or being announced as about to be introduced, by telcos throughout the United States and Europe. But what everyone is waiting for is the entry of Vonage into the Canadian market. At last year’s Canadian Telecommunications Forum, Cyrus Driver, VP of sales for the Edison, NJ-based carrier was mobbed by delegates following his presentation."We want to bring VoIP to the common people," Driver told the crowd. He said the company is concentrating on the residential and small business sector. He told the audience that Vonage hoped to be in Canada by the end of 2003. The firm has since announced it is pushing back that date but has not been more specific. It is believed the company is looking for a suitable partner to hook up with. Driver would only say that it is hoping to work with a large Canadian enterprise. One reason Vonage, or any other VoIP carrier entering the Canadian marketplace, needs a partner here is for the provision of telephone numbers. Unlike the United States, where access to numbers is relatively easy, in Canada only registered ILECs and CLECs can hand out numbers. One telecom analyst considers that the major hurdle for Vonage. "It is the biggest issue for them, is how do you get your phone numbers, because Bell doesn’t want to give it to them. Sprint is the most logical and they’ve been talking about it with Sprint," Brian Sharwood of SeaBoard Group tells Network Letter. "However, Sprint’s got something to lose from it. Sprint has a fair amount of revenue out there." There is always the possibility that Vonage could seek to become a CLEC itself. But Sharwood thinks that is unlikely."There’s more legal work and I think Vonage just wants to be a software company. ‘Don’t bug us about phone numbers and then we have to get into regulatory stuff and then we have to be filing reports to you guys.’ They don’t want to be involved in all that stuff," he says.Since VoIP uses the Internet to power its service, cablecos are a logical partner for Vonage. Sharwood wonders why the cable firms have not been to the CRTC seeking CLEC status for themselves. The only cablecos currently on the commission’s CLEC list are Cogeco Cable Inc., EastLink Telephone, and Vidéotron Télécom ltée. Sharwood has been testing various VoIP devices for the past several months. He is pleased with the performance of all of them. At one point, he decided to try out four at the same time. He made calls on his Vonage phone, a Byte phone, a device from Mitel Networks Corp. and the video technology of iChat AV. "It was a video conference and three phone calls and I was downloading web pages," he reports. "I wasn’t downloading massive PDFs or anything like that. They all seemed to hang on, I didn’t lose the connection on any of them, on one DSL line." Another consultant who has studied several applications is pleased with the way the technology has served her. Roberta Fox is president of the Fox Group. When her company moved to new headquarters, the more modern facility gave her staff the opportunity to play with the latest equipment. "Since 1997 we’ve actually been testing a variety of types of products. We’ve tested Voice over IP platforms, we’ve tested converged PDA-cell-browser devices," she tells NL. "Right now I’m doing a bake-off between Rogers RIM and Bell’s RIM, because the two networks, as you know, are different." Fox has been testing equipment from all the major manufacturers and network carriers. One problem that she has noticed with VoIP is that caller ID is not readily available on systems serving smaller customers."Calling line ID is not available in current release in Mitel products," she says, quickly correcting herself. "That’s not technically correct. Caller line ID is not available unless you have a PRI , which my office doesn’t need 24 trunks." The other everyday feature of telephony that VoIP has a problem with is 911. Primus is not able to provide the emergency number on its TalkBroadband product and Vonage is only able to provide limited service for its American customers. "Vonage has dealt with that issue by saying tell us where you are," Sharwood, who has a New York City number on his Vonage phone, states. "And I think you can actually set up a set of different addresses. Let’s say you take your Vonage with you when you go up to your cottage and you set it up up there and you can have two separate things and so you get up to your cottage and you just go onto the Internet and switch your address."He concedes that having two or more 911 accounts will be of little use if the phone user is in another region and needs help. There is also the possibility of human error, when subscribers forget to switch addresses from one location to the other. Sharwood finds another major difference between traditional landline phone and VoIP that could cause problems. "One of the issues that IP phones have is that one of the things your phone does is it’s a lifeline and a lifeline phone means that the phone is actually powered by the central office. So if the power goes out, you still have the phone line. An IP phone is obviously powered by whatever is powering your modem and your router and other things in your house. So if that goes out your connection to your ISP network is gone and therefore your connection to your phone line is gone. That’s an issue that they will certainly have to think about." Security of another sort is also a concern for all VoIP carriers. One of the selling points of the service is that a person can get a number from one area but live in another. Vonage’s Driver frequently told the telecom conference that he has a New Jersey telephone number but lives in California. But terrorists could easily get an American number and use it in other countries. The American authorities are well aware of the risk. "Homeland Security agents are like a piece of the furniture in our office," Driver joked. He may not be laughing if the FBI and Justice Department get their way. The two American law enforcement agencies asked the Federal Communications Commission to order VoIP carriers to rewire their networks to provide easier access for wiretaps. The FCC is studying the request. Canadian telecom executives tell NL they expect Canadian authorities will soon look into similar moves.