Shopping around for the best deal on voice over IP (VoIP) is now easier for businesses, claims Agilent, with its new quality-of-service software helping them see if suppliers are meeting service-level agreements.

The release of Agilent QoS means calls can be tracked end-to-end by network operators. Due to increased competition in the corporate VoIP market, service-level agreements are becoming more common and Agilent says its software will provide a vital check on whether companies are getting what they pay for.

"Service providers are in a position where it's becoming a commodity business and it's hard to generate revenue from consumers, so they're turning to corporate accounts," explained Donna Bastien, the director of Agilent's operational support system business. Consumers have discovered it is relatively easy to switch VoIP suppliers, and companies can follow suit.

"Corporate accounts are more in a position of power and influence now, and are willing to change suppliers if the service is inadequate," she says. "So providers are under pressure to provide service level agreements in order to overcome fears about call quality and improve customer retention."

At the same time, while voice/data convergence should make management simpler, it is adding complexity to the network. Bastien cited how many network signalling messages it takes to carry out different operations:

  • 5 to make an SS7 voice call
  • 30+ to make a VoIP call
  • 90+ to switch on a GPRS phone
  • 1,000 to initiate an 8-party push to talk call

What sets Agilent's QoS software apart, according to Bastiens, is its ability to scale and report right across a carrier network, from the handset on the customer's site all the way to the call's destination. So on top of diagnostic and fault prediction information, customers also get access to performance data.

The software is Cisco-centric at the moment, relying on Cisco CallManager to avoid the need for local probes, but Bastiens says others will be supported in the future. "It is real-time monitoring of the voice quality of every call as experienced by the user, measuring jitter, packet loss and latency," she says.