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Friday, 28 September 2012

H.323 Architecture

The H.323 system defines several network elements that work together in order to deliver rich multimedia communication capabilities. Those elements are Terminals, Multipoint Control Units (MCUs), Gateways, Gatekeepers, and Border Elements. Collectively, terminals, multipoint control units and gateways are often referred to as endpoints.
While not all elements are required, at least two terminals are required in order to enable communication between two people. In most H.323 deployments, a gatekeeper is employed in order to, among other things, facilitate address resolution.

H.323 Network Elements

Terminals

Figure 1 - A complete, sophisticated protocol stack
Terminals in an H.323 network are the most fundamental elements in any H.323 system, as those are the devices that users would normally encounter. They might exist in the form of a simple IP phone or a powerful high-definition videoconferencing system.
Inside an H.323 terminal is something referred to as a Protocol stack, which implements the functionality defined by the H.323 system. The protocol stack would include an implementation of the basic protocol defined in ITU-T Recommendation H.225.0 and H.245, as well as RTP or other protocols described above.
The diagram, figure 1, depicts a complete, sophisticated stack that provides support for voice, video, and various forms of data communication. In reality, most H.323 systems do not implement such a wide array of capabilities, but the logical arrangement is useful in understanding the relationships.

Multipoint Control Units

A Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) is responsible for managing multipoint conferences and is composed of two logical entities referred to as the Multipoint Controller (MC) and the Multipoint Processor (MP). In more practical terms, an MCU is a conference bridge not unlike the conference bridges used in the PSTN today. The most significant difference, however, is that H.323 MCUs might be capable of mixing or switching video, in addition to the normal audio mixing done by a traditional conference bridge. Some MCUs also provide multipoint data collaboration capabilities. What this means to the end user is that, by placing a video call into an H.323 MCU, the user might be able to see all of the other participants in the conference, not only hear their voices.

Gateways

Gateways are devices that enable communication between H.323 networks and other networks, such as PSTN or ISDN networks. If one party in a conversation is utilizing a terminal that is not an H.323 terminal, then the call must pass through a gateway in order to enable both parties to communicate.
Gateways are widely used today in order to enable the legacy PSTN phones to interconnect with the large, international H.323 networks that are presently deployed by services providers. Gateways are also used within the enterprise in order to enable enterprise IP phones to communicate through the service provider to users on the PSTN.
Gateways are also used in order to enable videoconferencing devices based on H.320 and H.324 to communicate with H.323 systems. Most of the third generation (3G) mobile networks deployed today utilize the H.324 protocol and are able to communicate with H.323-based terminals in corporate networks through such gateway devices.

Gatekeepers

A Gatekeeper is an optional component in the H.323 network that provides a number of services to terminals, gateways, and MCU devices. Those services include endpoint registration, address resolution, admission control, user authentication, and so forth. Of the various functions performed by the gatekeeper, address resolution is the most important as it enables two endpoints to contact each other without either endpoint having to know the IP address of the other endpoint.
Gatekeepers may be designed to operate in one of two signaling modes, namely "direct routed" and "gatekeeper routed" mode. Direct routed mode is the most efficient and most widely deployed mode. In this mode, endpoints utilize the RAS protocol in order to learn the IP address of the remote endpoint and a call is established directly with the remote device. In the gatekeeper routed mode, call signaling always passes through the gatekeeper. While the latter requires the gatekeeper to have more processing power, it also gives the gatekeeper complete control over the call and the ability to provide supplementary services on behalf of the endpoints.
H.323 endpoints use the RAS protocol to communicate with a gatekeeper. Likewise, gatekeepers use RAS to communicate with other gatekeepers.
A collection of endpoints that are registered to a single Gatekeeper in H.323 is referred to as a “zone”. This collection of devices does not necessarily have to have an associated physical topology. Rather, a zone may be entirely logical and is arbitrarily defined by the network administrator.
Gatekeepers have the ability to neighbor together so that call resolution can happen between zones. Neighboring facilitates the use of dial plans such as the Global Dialing Scheme. Dial plans facilitate “inter-zone” dialing so that two endpoints in separate zones can still communicate with each other.

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