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Is part of the future of VoIP open?


By Scott Bradner


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger created a California Performance Review "to conduct a focused examination and assessment of California state government" by Executive Order in February 2004.  The result of the resulting $10 million review conducted by about 275 state employees was released in early August.  It calls for about a bizillion changes to the way that the government of California is run.  The 2,500 page report claims that California would save billions of dollars per year if all the suggestions were to be implemented. The 1,200 recommendations include one pushing for the state to use more open source software and one calling for the state to replace its existing phone system with VoIP.  Maybe California can do both.


The report ( recommends switching to open source because of a "much lower total cost of ownership," improved security "due to the extreme scrutiny of the source code before being deployed," support for multiple environments (i.e., not just Microsoft), lower maintenance costs, and because it is "often less vulnerable to viruses."  I expect that Microsoft disagrees with much of this part of the report's analysis but if anyone can stand up to The Bill it's The Govenator.


The report also recommends switching to VoIP both both cost and function reasons.  The report estimates that switching to VoIP could save between $10 and $40 of the average $80 per month California pays for a phone line.  Considering how many phone lines California pays for, even a 50% conversion to VoIP could mean saving as much as $6.3 million per month.  If that level of savings could be realized then the $6.5 million conversion cost would be covered in less than 2 months.  Even the report's most pessimistic numbers would have the break-even point within 5 months.  The report does not talk about open source in conjunction with VoIP but lots of other people are doing so these days.


A quick Google search comes up with about 456,000 hits for ""open source" + voip".  Some of the more prominent include SIPFoundry ( to which Pingtel ( donated its software, Asterisk ( who announced their 1.0.0 release the end of September and VOCAL ( which has been around since 2002.  Google also turned up some sites that list available VoIP software including VOIP-info ( whose web site includes a section on open source software ( Most of open source VoIP software supports the IETF's Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) ( and some also supports the older ITU-T H.323 specification as well.  Open source VoIP software exists for phones, proxies, gateways and even for billing (  Somehow the concept of open source billing seems a bit funny but since a lot of VoIP will have to be connect to the paying-world regular phone system for quite a while I guess billing can be useful.


The Apache web server and Linux have both proved that open source can be quite successful within big enterprises.  It will be interesting to see if the State of California and other VoIP users embrace the Apache/Linux example or would rather the traditional phone system vendor picture as painted by Nortel, Lucent, Avaya and others, maybe even by Microsoft.   Call me radical, but I'm far from sure that these old masters, to borrow a concept, will paint the best pictures.


disclaimer: Harvard has museums full of old masters, as well as a lot of other things, and buildings full of not so old folks, many of whom will be seen as masters some day but the above muse is my own.