Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Reliable management of voice in a distributed system

Roy Want

July 1988, 127 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted December 1987 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Churchill College.


The ubiquitous personal computer has found its way into most office environments. As a result, widespread use of the Local Area Network (LAN) for the purposes of sharing distributed computing resources has become common. Another technology, the Private Automatic Branch Exchange (PABX), has benefited from large research and development by the telephone companies. As a consequence, it is cost effective and has widely infiltrated the office world. Its primary purpose is to switch digitised voice but, with the growing need for communication between computers it is also being adapted to switch data. However, PABXs are generally designed around a centralised switch in which bandwidth is permanently divided between its subscribers. Computing requirements need much larger bandwidths and the ability to connect to several services at once, thus making the conventional PABX unsuitable for this application.

Some LAN technologies are suitable for switching voice and data. The additional requirement for voice is that point to point delay for network packets should have a low upper-bound. The 10 Mb/s Cambridge Ring is an example of this type of network, but is relatively low bandwidth gives it limited application in this area. Networks with larger bandwidths (up to 100 Mb/s) are now becoming available comercially and could support a realistic population of clients requiring voice and data communication.

Transporting voice and data in the same network has two main advantages. Firstly, from a practical point of view, wiring is minimised. Secondly, applications which integrate both media are made possible, and hence digitised voice may be controlled by client programs in new and interesting ways.

In addition to the new applications, the original telephony facilities must also be available. They should, at least by default, appear to work in an identical way to our tried and trusted impression of a telephone. However, the control and management of a network telephone is now in the domain of distributed computing. The voice connections between telephones are virtual circuits. Control and data information can be freely mixed with voice at a network interface. The new problems that result are the management issues related to the distributed control of real-time media.

This thesis describes the issues as a distributed computing problem and proposes solutions, many of which have been demonstrated in a real implementation. Particular attention has been paid to the quality of service provided by the solutions. This amounts to the design of helpful operator interfaces, flexible schemes for the control of voice from personal workstations and, in particular, a high reliability factor for the backbone telephony service. This work demonstrates the advantages and the practicality of integrating voice and data services within the Local Area Network.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Want, Roy},
  title = 	 {{Reliable management of voice in a distributed system}},
  year = 	 1988,
  month = 	 jul,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-141}