An open-source community dedicated to the development of IP voice applications based on Session Initiation Protocol is to launch on Tuesday at the Spring VON 2004 conference.

Called SIPfoundry.org, the group will release IP PBX and IP phone source code that is the underpinning of Pingtel's SIPxchange PBX and Instant Xpressa software phones. The goal is for corporations to use the code to develop their own applications to complement these products, as well as for vendors to create commercial applications. Possible applications could include interactive voice response, voice mail, conferencing, messaging, presence and collaboration.

The move to open source is a new tack in the IP-voice business, which many industry observers believe is on the point of taking off in the enterprise, as it can substantially reduce companies' telecommunications costs. In other industries, however, releasing open-source software has become a common way of tapping into a broad developer base and encouraging the spread of a technology.

SIPfoundry has been set up by Pingtel as a free-standing non-profit group with its own board of directors and, eventually, its own funding. Pingtel plans to fund the group and its Web site through 2004.

Pingtel hopes to make money off the site by selling training, support and documentation to go along with the code itself, says Pingtel president and chief executive William Rich. He compared this business model to those of Red Hat Linux and Apache, under which vendors rely on support sales for their revenues.

SIPfoundry plans to back the standards efforts of the IETF and the vendor-led SIP Forum, rather than competing with them, Rich said.

Developers who want to write applications can run them on top of the source code via a standard application-programming interface (API). The virtue of this, Rich said, is that these applications will be interoperable because they share the same underlying code. In addition, vendors that have already written commercial applications can modify them to interface with the open-source API, thereby boosting the interoperability of their products, Rich said. Making its call-control software public could lower the startup costs for application vendors, because they won't have to buy the code or develop it on their own.

SIPfoundry will have a seven-member board, which includes three Pingtel employees, Martin Steinmann, Bob Andreasen and Dan Petrie. It also includes Robert Sparks, who works for Dynamic Software, Cullen Jennings of sCisco Systems and Jason Fischl of Purple Comm. These three also are affiliated with other SIP open source projects, Vovita and reciprocate. The seventh board member will be named later.