The new group, called the Packet Multimedia Carrier Coalition, hopes to increase their clout with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in determining protocols that will govern the future of the communications industry.
Comprised largely of companies that are building nationwide fiber optic networks based on Internet Protocol standards, the organization includes Frontier Communications, IXC Communications, Level 3 Communications, Williams Communications, Sprint, and GTE, among others.
"The Packet Multimedia Carrier Coalition gives carriers a clear voice in the standards-making process?at both the IETF and the ITU," Isaac Elliott, senior director of voice network engineering at Level 3, said in a statement. Elliott will serve as chairman of the coalition.
Analysts said that although voice calls can be switched between IP-based networks and standard copper wire switched networks, the gateway technology involved is inefficient.
"There's no seemless integration of call control," said Mark Langner, a telecommunications analyst with investment bank Hambrecht & Quist. "It's like taking a train, then stopping the train, getting off, and getting on a bus. Instead of like a hovercraft that goes from land to water."
Langner said the industry needs to eliminate problems between meshing IP-based services and Signaling System 7 (SS7) technology used to add features on circuit-switched phone networks--such as caller ID, call waiting, and voice mail messaging services.
Many of this new breed of telecommunications carriers are well-positioned to capitalize on the explosive growth of data services--but voice calls are still the largest revenue generator.
"IP is not the greatest transmission of voice. In fact it's the hardest thing to do," he said. "You're not using your network to its best strength."
Meanwhile, copper wire networks, designed for voice traffic, are increasingly being used for data transmission.
"What do you do with the existing circuit-switched networks? You don't throw them out," Langner said. "So at the core of the issue if how do you integrate those with the next generation network? This is no small technological feat to make these networks work together."
Coalition officials said the group was formed to ensure interoperability between traditional phone systems and their IP-based networks. The group also said it will support the IETF's proposed Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), a hardware and software specification, when it is finished.