Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) was the hot-button topic at a recent conference in Ottawa as delegates talked about both the opportunities it offers and the challenges it presents. The first session of the Canadian Telecommunications Forum on October 27 and 28 began with an exploration of the some of the challenges and potential pitfalls of VoIP.  Speaking during a session titled The Big Picture: Where is Technology Going?, Walter Miron of TELUS Corp. noted that the Internet does not provide ubiquitous quality of service, meaning technology choice is key. Without the proper technology, interconnection problems easily arise, he stated. Bell Canada’s Bill Crago talked about the opportunities of IP telephony, stating the discussion comes down to three components: simplification, speed and applications. Simplification reduces the number of networks needed to carry messages. The faster speeds lead to better processing, and the ability to be carried on diverse applications provides choice for the customers. "The question of IP voice is how many devices can it be carried on," he said. "There are no limitations to that."Peter Carbone, VP of strategic planning for Nortel Networks, predicted the combination of broadband, IP and wireless networks will transform the industry.  A telecom veteran, however, urged delegates to look beyond the latest technology because it won’t only be voice over IP, it will be everything over IP."Everybody’s talking about VoIP. That’s yesterday’s news," John MacDonald, president of Allstream Inc. said. "We really should be talking about XoIP." Speaking during the second session, the alumnus of Leitch Technology Corp., Bell Canada and NB Tel predicted that voice will only be a tiny fraction of the service that telecom providers will be able to offer subscribers. Data and video will be an important component of future infrastructure, MacDonald added. The old telecom scenarios no longer apply, he offered. MacDonald pointed to the decline in long distance (LD) as a revenue stream. As technology has advanced, prices for LD minutes have plummeted. "At some point we won’t be able to bill ," he said. The Allstream executive pointed to the rise of the network resident application to show how things have changed. The new infrastructure has been adapted to understand the needs of customer applications, to be shared among various interests, and to meet the specific needs of the client. Thus, telcos and other providers must carry traffic that can connect to computers, PDAs, and cell phones, as well as the traditional wired telephone. MacDonald boasted about his company’s XML services layer that is part of its network resident IP telephony service. The XML infrastructure is used as an overlay on the existing IP grid, providing basic connectivity with the XML routing layer to provide quality of service. Partnerships key to IP opportunity benefits Ron McKenzie, executive VP of marketing and business development for Allstream, said during the Impact of IP Technology on Traditional Business Models session that partnerships will be the key to the implementation of next generation technologies, noting the company is already working with cablecos on primary line replacement.  Earlier this year, the company unveiled an IP strategy that would see the company join with smaller cable operators to help them deploy IP. Allstream is currently working with Mountain Cable on such an effort. He said that IP providers will not be deploying their own networks, as many new telco entrants attempted to do years ago. In the case of IP, everything will come down to price, McKenzie forecast. Using many of the same slides in his presentation that MacDonald had employed earlier in the day, McKenzie touted the advantages of his firm’s XML grid. He said that within the next two years, 40% of all traffic carried by the telco will be XML-based. Vonage Holdings Corp. executive Darrin Lamont talked about the company’s impact on the market. The VP of sales and customer operations explained the workings of the startup underlined the changing nature of the market. He reported that Vonage rolled out service to 120 American markets for US$17 million. Contrast that with the estimated $10 million it costs the average ILEC to deploy a network in one market. "The market is large enough for the ILECs, the cablecos and the pure VoIP players," he said. The final panel of the first day’s session was on Advantages and Challenges of Deploying IP in the Business Market and participants were hopeful about the rollout of the new technology, but wary about overstating its benefits. Doug McQuaig, senior VP for the greater Toronto area for CGI Group Inc., reminded delegates that earlier promises about the IP market were greatly inflated. Advocates had projected a 30% return on investment, when the true figure was closer to 8%. The total market was predicted to hit $8.1 billion today, when the actual number is $3 billion.  More information on the Canadian Telecommunications Forum will be presented in an upcoming issue of Network Letter affiliate publication Report on Wireless.