Networking's greatest debates in LANS + WANS

Including IPv4 vs. IPv6, routing vs. switching, Packet switching vs. circuit switching, Ethernet vs. Token Ring, and Cisco vs. the rest,

When VoIP came along, promising to run voice calls over IP networks for less money, customers were intrigued. Rather than send out a technician to move a phone extension from one office to another, the user just had to move their phone to a new jack and it would receive calls meant for the person it was assigned to, no technician required.

Rather than supporting two separate networks, VoIP riding on the data network would allow them to get by with one. If voice was just an application running on the network, the telecom staff wouldn't be necessary or at least wouldn't need to be so large.

The cost savings proved to be a red herring, but in the cases where business adapted VoIP, they found other reasons to like the technology. If a customer help line in one office was swamped, more agents from anywhere on the network could quickly and painlessly be routed into the call-distribution list and start fielding calls.

VoIP supports services TDM doesn't, such as popping up account information about customers on call agents' computer screens based on the caller IDs or enabling users to place calls by clicking on phone numbers within applications or finding out who is available to take a call transfer by using presence information that VoIP supports.

Big name converts to VoIP, such as Bank of America, have spoken out about VoIP's benefits. "People have asked me what is the killer application? I say by deploying a VoIP system we're getting just out-of-the-box features that people take for granted with VoIP. But when you come at it from the context of coming from a traditional key system, or PBX, this is all new," said Craig Hinkley, the Bank of America network pro who oversaw the project. "Being able to go into a Web page, and configure speed dials. And if I'm out of the office, the ability to go to a Web site and forward my phone to my cell phone. That's a quantum leap forward for a lot of people."

If these weren't reasons enough, PBX makers are phasing out TDM altogether. Sales of TDM PBXs to replace ones that have reached the end of their useful lives are insignificant compared with VoIP.
Tim Greene

Cable vs. DSL

While they didn't rack up a body count on the scale of a Gambino-Colombo (or even a Jets-Sharks) feud, the turf war between cable and DSL got pretty intense in the early part of the decade.

With consumers demanding high-speed Internet services to replace their clunky dial-up modems, the telcos and cable companies began offering triple-play services that wrapped voice, Internet and television services into one single-bill package. The cable companies' weapon of choice was the cable modem, which is designed to take advantage of unused bandwidth over cable television infrastructure. The telcos, meanwhile, hitched their wagons to DSL, which provides Internet connection through local telephone networks.

Service-wise, the battle between cable and DSL was something of a draw. Despite the fact that cable Ethernet cards limited download speed to 4Mbps, cable modems were fairly comparable in price to DSL services, and cable Internet was much more widely available than DSL in the early part of the decade.

As competition between the two services has intensified, global prices for broadband Internet have dropped. The first half of 2004, for instance, saw the price of cable fall by 16%, while DSL fell by 13% over the same period.

Getting a head start in offering broadband was crucial to cable securing an early advantage over DSL, and by 2004, a U.S. Telecom Association report showed that 64% of all American broadband Internet subscribers, while DSL accounted for only 26% of subscribers. By the end of 2006, though, DSL had substantially closed the gap, accounting for 44% of America's 51 million broadband subscribers, compared with 56% for cable. Thus, while cable continues to be the No. 1 broadband service in the United States, DSL has made rapid gains, and could be poised to overtake cable in the next couple of years. One potential challenger to DSL and cable has emerged in the triple play market in the form of Verizon's FiOS. But while FiOS gets a considerable amount of hype, the service is still not widely available, and it only reached its one-millionth subscriber in June of this year.
Brad Reed

Read Networking's greatest debates in Security
Read Networking's greatest debates in Software
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