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...but not in the way you might think.
October 5, 2004 10:09 AM   Subscribe

1968: The Year That Changed The Future. The roots of the VoIP insurrection trace back to four synchronistic events in 1968. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled MCI could compete with AT&T using microwave transport on the Chicago to St. Louis route. The same year, the FCC's Carterfone decision forced AT&T to allow customers to attach non-Western Electric equipment, such as new telephones, and modems, to the telephone network. The Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency issued a contract to Bolt Beranek and Newman for a precursor to the Internet. And in July 1968, Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore founded Intel. Innovation in the communication sector remained the proprietary right of AT&T for most the 20th century, but events in 1968 breached the barriers that kept the telecom and information technology industries apart. For the first two-thirds of the 20th century, AT&T had manned Berlin Wall separating telecommunications and computing, but eventually, these two enormous technology tracks would be unified. Absolutely fascinating - and admittedly long! - article, by Daniel Berninger on VoIP, on Om Malik's blog. Read the whole thing, as they say.
posted by dash_slot- (6 comments total)

is VoIP really that intresting? Certanly the internet, and computer networking in general is. But why is VoIP so revolutionary?
posted by delmoi at 10:18 AM on October 5, 2004

But why is VoIP so revolutionary?

in itself, it's not. it is notable however, because as with broadcasting, movies and music, existing monoliths will be destroyed.
posted by quonsar at 12:33 PM on October 5, 2004

It's not revolutionary in the sense that VoIP is going to find the missing socks that your clothes dryer seems to consume. However, there are tremendous benefits to adopters of VoIP technology if they do it for the right reasons. To way oversimplify things, if VoIP is applied correctly, there are millions of dollars to be saved by companies in infrastructure costs, maintenance, and capital expenditures of equipment.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:08 PM on October 5, 2004

The Internet rides on ATM networks, the Bellheads won in essence.
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 PM on October 5, 2004

Wired 4.10: Netheads vs. Bellheads. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that ATM will be the savior of the Internet - ending bandwidth scarcity and bringing about a new era of network reliability. As a computer science grad student, I had been taught that ATM was an elegant solution for the 21st century. The technology is routinely described by the computer trade press as revolutionary and inevitable. It has the backing of everyone from AT&AMPT to Microsoft to Sun. Yet, I now discovered, some of the world's smartest and most powerful Internet engineers find the technology laughable.

This discrepancy, it turns out, is not just a minor anomaly or the result of a few opinionated extremists. It is a critical battle in a war between two fundamentally opposed groups of engineers. This war has been largely invisible to even the most tuned-in netizen and has remained completely hidden to the world's telecommunications customers. Yet both groups will be immensely affected by its eventual outcome. Like most wars, it has ancient origins, blurred by the mists of time, which go back, say, three decades. And like most wars, it is being fought over differences that might appear terribly minor.

It is a war between the Bellheads and the Netheads. In broad strokes, Bellheads are the original telephone people. They are the engineers and managers who grew up under the watchful eye of Ma Bell and who continue to abide by Bell System practices out of respect for Her legacy. They believe in solving problems with dependable hardware techniques and in rigorous quality control - ideals that form the basis of our robust phone system and that are incorporated in the ATM protocol.

Opposed to the Bellheads are the Netheads, the young Turks who connected the world's computers to form the Internet. These engineers see the telecom industry as one more relic that will be overturned by the march of digital computing. The Netheads believe in intelligent software rather than brute-force hardware, in flexible and adaptive routing instead of fixed traffic control. It is these ideals, after all, that have allowed the Internet to grow so quickly and that are incorporated into IP - the Internet Protocol.

posted by dhartung at 11:50 PM on October 5, 2004

The Netheads believe in intelligent software rather than brute-force hardware, in flexible and adaptive routing instead of fixed traffic control. It is these ideals, after all, that have allowed the Internet to grow so quickly and that are incorporated into IP - the Internet Protocol.

Phrased as it is, this is utter bilge, and misleading. Telco standards and practices (see: Bellcore, now Telcordia) are what have enabled enough stability for netheads to play in their sandbox and then complain that the sand is dirty. Ew.

I'm interested in reading the whole thing.

At the network level, flexible and adaptive routing have long been part of the telco's SOP. Massive fiber cuts (some genius puts a backhoe through a major fiber node) cause all sorts of adaptive routing - your call from LA to SF may go through Dallas or NY or wherever within the network, and guess what? A good chunk of that may actually get packetized at some point along the way.

I don't think the war is really between Bellheads and Netheads - not at that level. Both "parties" are fully cognizant of each other's strengths and the need for some interdependency.

However, I do see quite a rift between IT and Telecom departments at the customer-premise level, and it's that gap which VoIP companies are attempting to bridge, or exploit (depending on whether or not you talk to sales or engineering) in trying to deploy VoIP tech to the market.

You can take the greatest IP-based solution in the world and hand it to a company's IT department, but if they don't understand some basic telephony principles they will struggle with some aspects of it, if only because the rest of the telephone network is not homogenously IP-based and will not be for many years, maybe even decades, to come.

VoIP holds great promise because of potential flexibility, yes, but it has not evolved enough to be as reliable as TDM-based systems. You gotta crawl before you can walk, and I believe the netheads will eventually "win", but they have some things to learn.
posted by TeamBilly at 9:51 PM on October 6, 2004

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