Making VoIP Simpler and Cheaper

Like they say, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. In the case of HelloSoft founder and CEO Krishna Yarlagadda, it was his opinion years ago that VoIP equipment was too expensive and inefficient.

Prior to founding the San Jose, CA VoIP start-up, Yarlagadda was no stranger to telephony. “I got into it when I was selling chips into cellular wireless base stations and we were looking for new technology and got into VoIP in 1995,” he explains. By 2002, Yarlagadda was looking at various technologies for incorporating VoIP into client devices.

Krishna Yarlagadda

“I thought the technology was not being developed properly,” he says. “The high cost was due to a single component — the DSP (digital signal processor). VoIP technology required two microprocessors: a protocol processor and a DSP voice processor.”

The light came for Yarlagadda in the form of Moore’s law. “CPUs have been getting more powerful,” he explains. “With a signal-friendly microprocessor made by ARM, we thought it would be interesting to run voice processing on the [protocol] microprocessor instead of having two components.”

But as we all know, success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration and initial attempts at realizing Yarlagadda’s vision proved the concept, but didn’t deliver a product that was ready for prime time. “The first time we put it together we had a voice call” but not much more, he recalls.

In time, HelloSoft’s engineers perfected a VoIP software stack that marries efficiency and economy with good voice quality. Right now the company is concentrating on deploying the architecture in dual-mode handsets “because they are going to have very large volumes,” Yarlagadda says.

There are two important benefits from this simpler architecture, according to Yarlagadda. The first is higher reliability from “fewer moving parts.” The second is component cost reduction of potentially 80 to 90 percent.

The impact on retail prices will be significant, especially for costly WiFi and dual-mode handsets, predicts Yarlagadda. “We expect these phones [that are] today in the $300 to $400 range, to come down sub $200, $100, even $50 in a three to four year timeframe. We have to bring WiFi phones to the price point of cell phones,” he adds.

The world appears to being taking notice of HelloSoft’s technology.

Last fall, French telecom company Neuf Telecom began deploying HelloSoft’s technology for GSM/WiFi service. “This is the first dual-mode phone in operation,” Yarlagadda says. “This achievement is very significant.”

HelloSoft was also awarded VoIP Product Innovation of the Year for 2006 by Frost and Sullivan and named one of the Five Most Promising Companies at the 2006 Semiconductor Venture Fair.

And this month the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recognized Yarlagadda as a 2007 Technology Pioneer: a company whose work “holds the promise of significantly affecting the way business and society operate,” explains WEF Global Leadership Fellow Soren Bested. “The company’s [HelloSoft’s] RISC-core (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) based products have the potential to radically change the IP-telephony landscape.”

The other technology challenge that Yarlagadda has turned his attention to is seamless call hand-off between WiFi and cellular networks.

“We demo’ed [the technology] very successfully on GSM and CDMA networks and can interoperate with major U.S. and Indian carriers,” he reports, adding that the technology has been licensed to a “major OEM” and the deal is expected to be announced in the coming year.

Looking to the future, Yarlagadda sees IMS as the next big thing in VoIP. “Telephony is going to become much more intelligent,” with IMS enabling carriers to deliver many new features. “All the things you see in a PBX like call transfer will come [to the phone] with IMS.”

But, he adds, they all have to be inexpensive.