H.323 is a standard developed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It is a comprehensive suite of protocols for voice, video, and data communications between computers, terminals, network devices, and network services. H.323 is designed to enable users to make point-to-point multimedia phone calls over connectionless packet-switching networks such as private IP networks and the Internet. H.323 is widely supported by manufacturers of video conferencing equipment, VoIP equipment and Internet telephony software and devices.
H.323 uses a combination of TCP and UDP for signaling and ASN.1 for message encoding. H.323v1 was released in 1996 and H.323v5 was released in 2003. As the older standard, H.323 was embraced by many early VoIP players.
An H.323 network consists of four different types of entities:
Terminals - Client end points for multimedia communications. An example would be an H.323 enabled Internet phone or PC.
Gatekeepers - Performs services for call setup and tear down, and registering H.323 terminals for communications. Includes:
Registration, admission control, and status (RAS).
Internet Locator Service (ILS) also falls into this category (although it is not part of H.323). ILS uses LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) rather than H.323 messages.
Multipoint control units (MCUs) - Conference control and data distribution for multipoint communications between terminals.
Gateways - Interoperation between H.323 networks and other communications services, such as the circuit-switched Packet Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).