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Fusion will help raise Net voices

Telecommunications technology provider Natural MicroSystems plans to announce Fusion, a combination of hardware and software components that it wants to license to developers of telephony applications for IP-based networks.

Telecommunications technology provider Natural MicroSystems (NMSS) plans next week to announce Fusion, a combination of hardware and software components that it wants to license to developers of telephony applications for IP-based networks.

The hype of Internet telephony--touted as free long distance calls through the PC desktop--has died down recently as users contemplate the difficulties, including inevitable time delays, in conducting real-time conversations over the public Internet. But the new products are aimed at corporations using private data networks that are also a viable market for the nascent technology.

Building-block tools like Fusion are designed for developers and system integrators who build applications that don't always rely on real-time conversations, such voice mail and fax service. They are also used to supplement online customer service with voice capability, like a Web-based shopping site where a human being is ready to provide voice assistance to a browsing surfer.

Lucent Technologies, Inter-Tel, and Netiphone next week will announce product plans based on Fusion.

Fusion consists of a board that interfaces with the telephone network and a board carrying an Internet protocol router. The two boards, which work together with a third board to compress incoming voice data by a factor of ten, can handle traffic on 24 analog phone lines or one T1 connection, said company officials.

Running on a Windows NT server, Fusion uses an audio compression-decompression algorithm (codec) developed under the recently ratified H.323 videoconferencing standard, which was created to deal with the problems of private local and wide area networks that tend to lose data packets. However, the accompanying software development kit will allow integrators to substitute other codecs if the client component of the application under development won't support the H.323-based algorithm.

The hardware and development kit will be available for beta by March, the company said. Once the tools are in final production, the run-time environment software will sell separately for $500 per analog port, or up to $12,000 per unit sold. However, the company will make its money on royalties from products shipped by developers, officials said. And if that's the case, Internet telephony must prove more viable in businesses in 1997 than it did at home in 1996.