In my last SIP post I went over the crucial role of the service provider for voice calls. The question that remains is what happens as the world migrates to more complete unified communications and video, presence, and IM become as important to communications as phone calls. What then will be the role of the service provider?
For voice, a couple of the key things the service provider does is connecting your IP trunk to the PSTN and protecting you from malicious connections. While the former item, connecting to the PSTN, isn’t a necessary function for video calling, the latter item (i.e. securing your interface) remains a critical issue that needs to be addressed.
It’s likely that the multi-media nature of SIP and unified communications will take today’s service providers into the business of providing federation services. It’s also possible that a new set of players will emerge that take on this challenge.
I am not the first person to comment on the role of federation services in the future of unified communications. (There is a good summary of the issues at the Unified Communications Strategies website by Russell Bennett.) The key here is for a network service to vouch for the nature of the person requesting a connection.
One way to go about this is to do it yourself.
You can manually decide who you want to receive calls from. For example, if you want to enable video calling over SIP between your key suppliers, simply let your SIP server know the domains or IP addresses you trust and tell it to let those connections and calls come through while blocking all the rest. Works great if you are only looking to communicate with a limited number of people. But what if you want to share video with hundreds or thousands of other people? The other limitation is the requirement that you know in advance who you will accept video calls from. So if it’s a prospective customer you haven’t met before, your systems will block them. (Not good for business.)
Network services are one approach. It’s a bit like social networking. In a social network like LinkedIn, you have a set of connections that you know and you also link through your connections to other people. The people that are “friends of your friends” can essentially request and introduction to you via their friend. Your friend is, in a way, vouching for their friend and letting you know that it’s OK to communicate with them.
Federation services take this concept and extend it more broadly. It’s based on creating a clearing house where business and individuals can register. The clearing house or service would have to confirm the people that wanted to register were not malicious in nature and also purge anyone that causes problems. In essence, they would be confirming that it’s OK for anyone that’s registered for their service to accept a connection from any other person that is also registered with the service.
As the world turns increasingly towards multi-media communications and SIP becomes more widely deployed in the enterprise, the need for someone to help solve the issues of connection security will become larger. It is likely that solving this problem will become one of the key roles of tomorrow’s service provider.