A seven-year-old Mountain View, Calif., company,
Narus Inc., has devised a way for telephone companies to
detect data packets belonging to VoIP applications and
block the calls. For example, now when someone in Riyadh
clicks on Skype's “call” button, Narus's software,
installed on the carrier's network, swoops into action.
It analyzes the packets flowing across the network,
notices what protocols they adhere to, and flags the
call as VoIP. In most cases, it can even identify the
specific software being used, such as Skype's.
Narus's software can “secure, analyze, monitor, and
mediate any traffic in an IP network,” says Antonio
Nucci, the company's chief technology officer. By
“mediate” he means block, or otherwise interfere with,
data packets as they travel through the network in real
Another of Narus's Skype-blocking customers is Giza
Systems, a consulting company that specializes in
information technologies. Giza, which is based in Cairo,
Egypt, installed Narus's software on the network of a
Middle Eastern carrier in the spring. Nucci wouldn't say
which one, but presumably it is Telecom Egypt, the
national phone company. Narus already has a close
relationship with the carrier, having written the
software for its billing system.
The desire to block or charge for VoIP phone calls
extends far beyond the Middle East. According to Jay
Thomas, Narus's vice president of product marketing, it
can be found in South America, Asia, and Europe.
International communications giant Vodafone recently
announced a plan to block VoIP calls in Germany, Thomas
says. A French wireless carrier, SFR, has announced a
similar plan for France.
Nor is it just Skype that's at risk. Most
international telephone calling cards also use VoIP
In the United States and many other countries, a
phone company's common carrier status prevents it from
blocking potentially competitive services.
“But there's nothing that keeps a carrier in the
United States from introducing jitter, so the quality of
the conversation isn't good,” Thomas says. “So the user
will either pay for the carrier's voice-over-Internet
application, which brings revenue to the carrier, or pay
the carrier for a premium service that allows Skype use
to continue. You can deteriorate the service, introduce
latency [audible delays in hearing the other end of the
line], and also offer a premium to improve it.” [Privacy Digest: Privacy News (Civil Rights, Encryption, Free Speech, Cryptography)]