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Is MPLS Essential for Quality VoIP?
More and more enterprises are opting to convert to VoIP technology, and as a result, quality of service is becoming an increasingly important consideration for VoIP providers. The communications infrastructure in the UK is not really capable of supporting lots of high bandwidth services, and this can cause problems such as calls breaking up, severe delays, and even lost connections. MPLS can alleviate many of these problems, and as a result is being examined by a lot of VoIP providers in the UK.
MPLS stands for Multi Protocol Label Switching. This is something that has been used by ISPs for many years, but has only been recently picked up on by VoIP providers. UK Internet services are getting better, and high-speed broadband is available in most of the country, but there is still a need for some form of traffic prioritising service.
The way that MPLS ( works is that it integrates Layer 2 information about network links (including bandwidth, latency, and utilization information), with information from Layer 3 (e.g. IP). This allows VoIP providers to prioritize packets containing VoIP information over less time-sensitive packets such as emails. For VoIP providers in the UK this is a massive boon, as there are many services competing for limited bandwidth.
The one problem with MPLS right now is that there is more than one implementation. There is some on-going work to standardize the technology, and there are plans to put together a Voice Trunking Format that allows for compression of VoIP packets, but right now these have not been finalized. This means that it is difficult for router, switch, and gateway providers to build support into their products. In the next couple of years, that situation should change as more standards are agreed upon. The goal for the industry as a whole is to get providers to use ATM Adaption Layer 2 (AAL2) technology to compress VoIP traffic. When this happens, it will be a big step forward towards VoIP providers in the UK being able to provide carrier-grade VoIP services.
It is important to note that this technology is just one part of a large and complicated puzzle. There are many other considerations which will need to be analysed before reliable, high quality, lag free VoIP is considered the norm in all parts of the world. Services are, in general, a lot better today than they were a few years ago, but they still have a long way to go before they can be used by businesses on a day to day basis, and that is what we are working towards now.
The one issue with the usage of MPLS services by VoIP providers in the UK is that the VoIP providers may feel that they can charge extra for their new, more stable, services. For enterprises that depend on stable VoIP communications, this may not be an issue, however it could be the start of a worrying trend where quality of service (the general concept, rather than a QoS agreement) becomes an optional extra rather than something that providers consider by default.
This is a GuestPost,
The post was written by Crispin Jones on behalf of Maintel, expert VoIP providers UK ( Crispin writes on business and technology and is especially interested in communications.

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