Opus: Coming to a SIP Phone Near You

The first commercially available SIP Phone to use the Opus codec can now be purchased from Obihai Technologies.  Even if you have never heard of Obihai, and never plan to use their phones, this is still big news.  Here’s why you should care:

Opus is the first royalty-free adaptive codec to gain support from major telecom and software industry players.  This means that, unlike other codecs that performed well but were avoided by telecom equipment vendors due to commercial, patent and royalty requirements (think of Skype’s SILK codec and Speex, the low-bandwidth codec of choice among Asterisk users), it is more likely than not to be incorporated into hardware devices and media gateways in the future.

The fact that Opus is adaptive means that it delivers high-quality audio when bandwidth is available, and delivers good audio in environments where bandwidth is constrained.  (If you do not know why this is important, please see my previous blog on How SkySwitch Improves VoIP Quality for SIP Mobility).  Opus delivers better quality audio than G.722 in high-bandwidth conditions, and performs better than iLBC in low bandwidth situations.   Having a single codec that is versatile enough to perform well in all network environments means that networks can be designed with less complexity, and therefore greater reliability.

Opus is the codec of choice for WebRTC.  This means that multi-media sessions initiated by a browser will always have Opus as an available codec choice.  Although other codecs may be available as well, they may not, and this uncertainty will cause havoc to service providers when a WebRTC sessions needs to connect to the PSTN.   In a perfect world, WebRTC sessions will be able to “bridge in” standard SIP desk phones and PSTN users in a uniform way.  This can not happen if all of the parties do not have common codec capabilities.

Although it seems unlikely that Obihai will garner any significant market share among business and enterprise users, the mere fact that a SIP deskphone with Opus support now exists will nudge the two largest SIP Phone vendors (aka Polycom and Yealink) to support it sooner than they might have otherwise.  That’s good news for everyone in the VoIP industry, but especially Hosted PBX resellers.

The Obihai team has always led the industry with innovative new products.  This is the same team that produced the first commonly available SIP ATA (remember Komodo?), SIP ATA with FXO Gateway (remember Sipura?), and PBX appliance (the well-intentioned Linksys SPA9000).   Kudos to Obihai for doing it again with the first SIP deskphone to support Opus.