Aculab – 35 years old and counting

For Aculab, November 2013 marks its 35th year in business. That being an impressive milestone, we felt it was appropriate to take a look back at some of the company’s history.




The early years

Aculab was founded and is driven forward still today, by our CEO, Alan Pound. Alan founded the company in 1978, initially targeting the music industry with consultancy services for product development. The 1970s saw the introduction of the first microprocessors and as their use spread rapidly, Alan saw the potential. He decided to get involved and began developing PC-based system products.

Aculab’s first foray into telephony came in the following decade, with a design win involving British Telecom (BT). That association with BT led to the development of a PC board to handle multi-channel speech processing. Soon after that, with the emergence of what was called computer telephony integration (CTi), Alan once again saw the development potential. With US-based companies looking to penetrate the European and broader, global markets, there was a need for trunk cards with E1 line interfaces. That need was satisfied by Aculab’s E1 ISA card, which became an instant ‘best seller’ on its introduction in 1990.

 E1 ISA board from 1992  E1/T1 ISA card - 1998

E1 ISA board – 1992

E1/T1 ISA board – 1998

The advent of Prosody

Not satisfied with the stellar growth in sales of that trunk card, Alan’s entrepreneurial talents brought the Prosody ISA card to market, in early 1997. That product enabled Aculab to compete directly with those US companies to which it continued to supply E1 ISA cards (for their non-US business).

Aculab’s Prosody ISA card could handle a remarkable 240 channels at a time when its competitors’ products could do only 24 or 30 channels. How times have changed, when you contrast that with the 750+ channel capability of Aculab’s latest PCIe boards.

After Aculab’s ‘kick start’ entry into the CTi market in the UK, Europe and elsewhere e.g., Brazil, Aculab’s Prosody ISA card, together with its E1/T1 line card, enabled it to become directly active in the US market, hitherto dominated by domestic players. We’ve been there ever since.

The first dual-purpose boards

A key milestone in Aculab’s history, and indeed a technology that today still forms a large part of Aculab’s portfolio, was the development of the Prosody PCI board. Launched in 1998, the Prosody PCI board was unique at the time in that it combined both the speech processing capability of a DSP board and the line interfaces of a trunk card. Not only that, the one board had selectable E1 and T1 trunks. In addition, maintaining Aculab’s dominant position in terms of resource density, it had a 256 channel capacity.

Prosody X

Another of Aculab’s industry firsts was the introduction, in 2005, of Prosody X. Instead of ‘bolting on’ IP capability e.g., SIP and RTP, the Prosody X architecture used IP at its core and offered TDM connectivity as an option. With Prosody X, the barriers to distributed systems, inherent in H.100 connected boards, were removed. Multiple Prosody X boards could be remotely connected to controlling applications by a ubiquitous Ethernet connection.

Software alternatives

Aculab’s products have evolved in line with technology advancements and customers’ needs. As processor technology evolved, servers became powerful enough to run both the customer application and the underlying media processing functions. As customer demand for software-only solutions increased, Aculab developed Prosody S, which was launched in 2003. Able to run on both Intel and AMD processors, Prosody S has since proven to be a viable alternative to DSP boards for intensive media processing tasks.

Protocol conversion and gateways

The Groomer was Aculab’s first ‘turn-key’ system level product, which emerged as a configurable protocol converter following its precursor’s deployment in Germany. In the early 1990s, Aculab’s ‘Tightly Coupled Conversion’, based on its E1/T1 ISA card, was used to interconnect Deutsche Telekom’s 1st generation analogue mobile network, implemented through proprietary AT&T equipment, with its 1TR6-based PSTN. When, in 1995, AT&T introduced a requirement for ‘grooming’ calls between E1 ports, the Groomer was duly developed.

Yet another industry first for Aculab, the Groomer has since evolved from an ISDN/CAS protocol converter and call router into GroomerII, a highly configurable, carrier grade media gateway optimised for SIP and SS7 interworking. Aculab’s gateways offering was further extended in 2007, with the introduction of the ApplianX IP Gateway, which is targeted at the enterprise user market.

The Cloud evolution

The emergence of virtual machine (VM) technology gave an added impetus to software only telephony resources and helped engender a revolution in the delivery of hosted telecommunications services. The elastic nature of VMs made available from the massive server infrastructures of e.g., Amazon and Rackspace heralded ‘the cloud’ as a true on demand pay-as-you-go option for the delivery of all manner of applications and services. The customer premise equipment (CPE) model is not dead, but from a telephony perspective, it faces serious competition.

In line with our tradition of evolution and innovation, Aculab’s response has been to launch Aculab Cloud. That offers a competitive pay-as-you-go option, enabling developers to access a cloud telephony platform-as-a-service for the development of end user applications and the delivery of associated services. Just as the Groomer leveraged Aculab’s hardware technology nearly two decades ago, Aculab Cloud leverages our more recent software developments. Its high-level APIs, in a range of general purpose programming languages, further the removal of barriers to working with telephony.

Aculab today

Aculab is still run in very much the same way as it always has been, with an emphasis on customers and with a large proportion of its resources dedicated to R&D; for hardware and software. Our product range has evolved consistently, to meet customers’ needs and in line with our analysis of business and technology trends. Today, the feature set available to developers is vast, encompassing everything we have learnt over the past 35 years and made available on a variety of hardware, software and cloud-based platforms.

Aculab can be likened to those wonderful Italian Gelatterie that you see throughout Italy – we don’t sell just plain vanilla, we have the flavours to meet exacting tastes and all the toppings to tailor the solution to your specific requirements.

We look forward to supporting you in your telephony application development for the next 35 years!

The Aculab team.

Celebrating 35 years of telephony

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