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Telcos ignore ENUM trials

Australia's heavyweight telecommunications companies are largely ignoring a technology that maps telephone numbers to Internet services, with only relative minnows in the Internet arena demonstrating any enthusiasm. The trial was launched in June and is Australia's first experiment with the Electronic Telephone Numbers Mapping (ENUM) call routing technology.

Australia's heavyweight telecommunications companies are largely ignoring a technology that maps telephone numbers to Internet services, with only relative minnows in the Internet arena demonstrating any enthusiasm.

The trial was launched in June and is Australia's first experiment with the Electronic Telephone Numbers Mapping (ENUM) call routing technology. AusRegistry, which maintains the Australian version of the domain name system governing Internet addresses, is administering the trial.

ENUM represents a huge step forward in the convergence of voice and data; subscribers to the service are eventually expected to be able to set up rules that control how and where calls to their phone number are routed. For example, a phone number entered into a Web browser could redirect to a Web site, while the same phone number could direct e-mail traffic to an e-mail address.

While telecommunications companies might be hesitant, Melbourne-based domain hosting firm Instra is enthusiastic about the technology, which its chief executive Tony Lentino believes will become mainstream over the next five years.

Lentino said Instra will in the next couple of months launch a free software-based Internet telephony service utilising the ENUM technology. The service was developed in conjunction with Luxembourg-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) specialist VoIPGate.

"For ENUM to be successful you need an application or a service. So VoIP is obviously the natural driver for ENUM in the short term... People in Australia will be able to download the phone and get an Australian ENUM at the same time," said Lentino.

The service will mean a user's ENUM number could be programmed to re-direct phone calls to the user's VoIP service with Instra.

"Alternatively the phone can be used to make outbound calls to another ENUM [number], and that makes the call free," said Lentino, adding calls from the software-based phone back onto the traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) would attract a charge.

However, AusRegistry's general manager Adrian Kinderis said he was disappointed in a general lack of interest in the trial, which apart from Instra, has so far only attracted another domain name reseller Enetica and academic network operator AARNet.

"It's just a little disappointing that we haven't had some of the major players come and throw their weight around in the trial," he told ZDNet Australia .

Kinderis acknowledged that telecommunications companies are unlikely to see immediate returns on the investments they make: "There is no immediate commercial benefit," he said.

Instra's Lentino said the telecommunications heavyweights were more likely to try and hold back the technology.

"From a carrier's and Telstra's point of view, they don't want it... Obviously it's going to destroy their revenue, so they're going to stall it as long as possible," he said

The tipping point for ENUM to take off in Australia, according to Lentino, would be when VoIP saturation in the population reaches a certain level -- potentially 30 percent -- which would encourage VoIP service providers to start offering ENUM with their VoIP services.

"When one or two providers start to adopt it, anyone signing up for VoIP, would obviously want to go to a provider who's supplying ENUM versus a provider who's not," he said.

Infrastructure ENUM
Even without the support of large carriers, the ENUM trial is making important strides. AusRegistry chief technology officer Chris Wright said one of the turning points in the trial's development so far had been the realisation that ENUM could be used for different purposes.

"One is as a personal number service for people to get all of their details together," he said. "The second use is as a VoIP routing protocol that can be used to facilitate termination of VoIP telephone calls across the Internet, or across private networks or across peered networks and so on."

This type of service -- dubbed 'infrastructure ENUM' by Lentino -- would enable VoIP providers like Engin or iiNet to link their networks together and avoid the need for VoIP-to-VoIP calls to (expensively) traverse the public switched telephone network at any point.

Phase two of the trial will link ENUM services to normal geographical and mobile phone numbers and is also due to launch early in the new year, according to Lentino, who said the ENUM Discussion Group, which is coordinated by Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), is due to meet in December this year.

Phase one had involved providing ENUM users with a new class of telephone numbers starting with the digits 059.

Lentino added he was currently working with regulators to discuss the authentication procedure for users wanting to link their mobile or landline phone to an ENUM service.

For example, he said, anyone wanting to link a phone number owned by ZDNet Australia would need to verify that they actually worked for the company.

He said such an authentication process could take place by providing an invoice for the line in question, or through an automated phone system, which would call users back with their new ENUM password.