SIP Trunks Get Easier
Flowroute understands SIP and the changing expectations of how it needs to be delivered.
We all know how easy it is to get an email address. You go to Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, fill out a few simple questions, and in less than two minutes, you have a working email address with an unlimited ability to send and receive emails to any other email user across the world. What could be simpler?
Compare that to ordering and installing a SIP trunk from a traditional voice carrier. Despite the fact that SIP is just another IP service, it can take weeks or months from the time you place an order to your first SIP call. In today's speed-of-light business environment, delay means lost dollars, customers, and goodwill. Impatient people like me want it, and we want it now.
It's communications carrier Flowroute's goal to make SIP trunks almost as easy as creating a new Gmail address -- open an account, enter your requirements, and start making calls. Okay, it's a little more involved than that, but not much.
Of course, ease of installation without functionality is worthless. That's why Flowroute set out to develop a product on par with SIP trunk solutions offered by the likes of AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Sprint. This includes:
- Inbound calling with unlimited channels (think SIP session) or unlimited minutes
- Outbound calling with call quality optimized over the most reliable routes available; outbound SIP channels are always unlimited
- Independence from any particular PSTN carrier -- Flowroute's platform chooses the best carrier at any given point in time
- Local phone numbers supported across the U.S. and Canada
- New or existing (i.e. ported) toll-free numbers
- Toll-fraud protection that keeps Flowroute customers safe from intruders looking to steal SIP sessions and minutes
- Real-time active routing that allows an enterprise to maximize uptime and savings
- A personalized portal that gives administrators the insights and flexibility needed to optimize trunk utilization
Of particular interest to me was the additional information that Flowroute supports in its SIP messaging. I may be wrong about this, but I am not aware of another carrier that supports X-Tag headers in SIP INVITE or 200 OK messages. These user-defined headers allow for the insertion of extended logging information into a CDR ( Call Detail Record). While not required by every enterprise, this additional data can be used by those that desire more detailed billing and utilization reports.
Another thing that thrills me is the inclusion of ISUP-OLI and JIP information in SIP requests. For those of you who aren't old-school ISDN people like me, these elements provide additional intelligence about the caller. For example, you will know if the call originated from a pay phone (I am assuming that they still exist) or a prison. Additionally, ISUP and JIP information can be used to identify and act on location spoofing. Again, this may not be of interest to all users, but I know of many contact centers where detailed location data could be utilized for more sophisticated call routing and reporting.Both Retail and Wholesale
Up until now, I have focused on Flowroute as a provider of enterprise SIP trunks, but its bigger market might be enabling other companies to become mini carriers. If you've been paying attention to this space, you will recognize the names OnSIP, Plivo, and VOIPo. These companies have taken Flowroute SIP trunks, added their own value and branding on top of them, and positioned themselves as SIP service providers.
Some of this added value is possible through the extensive APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that Flowroute provides. Using RESTful Web services and those previously mentioned SIP message extensions, developers and third parties can customize Flowroute's standard SIP trunks into unique solutions that are then offered to their customers. This allows Plivo to be different from Twilio.Room for Improvement
As intriguing as Flowroute is to me, there is still room for improvement. Granted, I could say this about every SIP trunk provider. There isn't a single one that offers everything I would like to see. Treat this as a list of suggestions that can be applied across the board:
- The Same Old Codec Choices -- It goes without saying that Flowroute offers vanilla G.711 and G.729a. Personally, I would love to see added to the mix wideband codecs such as G.722 and Opus. Additionally, the adoption of codecs such as iLBC and Speex has greatly increased, but neither one is currently supported by SIP carriers. Of course, these codecs are useless when the PSTN is involved, but they may have a play in a pure end-to-end SIP configuration.
- Missing SIP Messages -- Flowroute supports the basic SIP messages required to make and release calls (INVITE, ACK, CANCEL, BYE, REGISTER, and OPTIONS), but they do not support a few that I would like to see -- PRACK, UPDATE, and REFER. Of those, REFER is highest on my wish list. With REFER and its ability to implement take-back-and-transfer, trunk "tromboning" is eliminated after a call is transferred. (Note: I was informed that REFER is on the roadmap and will be supported in the near future.)
- Lack of IPv6 -- Did you read my article The Long Road to IPv6? In it, I suggested that a good place to start the move toward IPv6 is carrier SIP trunks. Perhaps Flowroute could blaze the trail by offering both IPv4 and IPv6?
Even with my wish list, there is a lot that Flowroute is doing right. In addition to the previously mentioned features, the company supports T.38, RFC 4733/2833, e.164 dialing, a plethora of security mechanisms, and various forms of authentication. Additionally, it has a patented way of optimizing media paths. Its "stay out of the way of audio" approach reduces latency and improves overall call quality.More than Just a Provider of Trunks
In Flowroute's words, it is "a software company that happens to be a carrier." In my mind, this distinction mandates it to be different. While the promise of pure software trunks still looms larger than present day reality, I am extremely excited and optimistic about what I've seen, so far.
I am not trying to take anything away from the traditional SIP carriers. While I have my beefs with every one of them (please see my article, Overcoming SIP Phobia), for the most part, they are getting the job done. However, imagine AT&T and Verizon without the "burden" of a legacy TDM infrastructure. Imagine a company with a platform nimble enough to add cutting edge technology such as WebRTC and those previously mentioned missing codecs.
That is the potential I see in Flowroute -- the promise of a new way of delivering communications to enterprises, developers, and service providers. The company understands SIP and the changing expectations of how it needs to be delivered.
Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.