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Voice, speech, SIP, and XML: ECMA-269

The application of XML technology to a voice technology standard.

In one of the most interesting applications of XML technology I've seen in a while, the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA) has finalized a new standard—namely ECMA-269—whose formal title is Standard ECMA-269: Services for Computer Supported Telecommunications Applications (CSTA) Phase III. Doesn't sound like much yet, does it? But a bit of digging reveals that this third phase of the CSTA standards (along with its predecessors) defines a set of tools designed to help developers build enterprise computer support telecomm applications that combine and exploit XML, SIP and human speech recognition and processing capabilities.

In case this doesn't capture your fancy, think about a formal notation that makes intelligent calling applications easier to build than ever before, and more likely to work on equipment from multiple vendors. Anyone who's labored over telephony applications in the past knows these kinds of capabilities are something like a Holy Grail, and can't help but marvel at the aplomb with which this standard promises to deliver functionality that's been darn difficult if not virtually impossible in the past.

In a nutshell, by defining an API and a set of protocols, CSTA makes it possible to monitor and control calls and devices on a communications network. This includes various media and environments, so that IP, switched networks, and mobile calling devices can all operate in the same (virtual) environment. What CSTA does is to integrate with (and abstract from) various well-known technologies so that voice over IP, including SIP/H.323, and various networking technologies can be used, yet function as parts of a single, coherent environment.

A less breathless view of CSTA is as a useful grab-bag of related features and components. As such CSTA includes numerous call control features, call associated features, logical and physical device features, snapshot and monitoring features, and voice services. CSTA does not require that conforming implementations implement all of these features, but does specify profiles for basic telephony, routing, voice browser use, and SIP phone profiles.

What gives this standard (and the two other related phases) some clout is that ECMA standard compliance is generally desirable, if not required, when doing business in the European Community. Given that most major vendors see the European market as second only to North America, this gives it muscle. What remains to be seen, however, is how much (or many) of these standard components get implemented, and what kinds of major purchase contracts will hinge on compliance. These things could very well make or break this particular, XML-derived Holy Grail.

ECMA-269 Pointers & Resources:
Standards reference page
ECMA Computer Supported Telecommunications Applications (CSTA) home
Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) Overview & References

Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security topics. E-mail Ed at with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools to review.

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