Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Gone Fishing

Well - maybe ice fishing. We're off to Montreal for a break and to stock up on Fairmont bagels and Schwartz's smoked meat. That's what makes the adults happy. Max has his laptop, Dean has his PSP and we're on the road.

So, I'll be off the blog treadmill for a few days - maybe back Friday - Monday for sure. Happy Holidays!

Wired Magazine Looks at VoIP

The current issue of Wired is their �Test� edition, where they highlight the �best-of� across a wide variety of tech products and services. It�s not available online yet, so I�m just going to hit the high points here.

Among the numerous categories covered, there's a 2 page spread on VoIP services. Eight services are profiled � Packet8, CallVantage, BroadVoice, SunRocket, Vonage, Dialpad, Gizmo and Skype.

It�s not clear why these particular offerings were covered, but the focus of this profile was very mainstream � �save a bundle on long distance with VoIP�. That�s nice, but this kind of thinking will quickly ghettoize VoIP into a cheap commodity, which is death for innovation. Hopefully next year's version will expand the coverage and talk about how voice is just an application and the really cool stuff is in the Web 2.0 space. Then we'll start seeing them talk about Google, Yahoo, eBay, etc.

That's next year. So, for today, if it�s all about cheaper long distance, you can see where this is going, and it sure explains why Gizmo, Dialpad and Skype are lumped in here with subscriber-based offerings. This is probably the issue I spend most of my time explaining to the media � Skype and Vonage don�t belong in the same bucket. I know that�s how it looks to the journalists, especially for long distance savings, but Skype is not competing with Vonage in terms of displacing POTS. To be fair, the article segments the offerings into two categories � Full Phone Services and Software Services, but there�s not much explanation, and you�ve got to look carefully to even notice. So, if you just look at the big logos on these pages, it's easy how you'd think Vonage and Skype are apples to apples.

Whatever. The good news � great news, really, is that both Gizmo and BroadVoice got the Editor�s Picks for this article. BroadVoice has been out there for a while, and is one of many good VoIP pureplays that have to struggle to break through the clutter. I�m glad for them on this one. It�s also great to see Gizmo get some recognition. I�m not a true Gizmo acolyte � that territory is covered very well by the uberbloggers (Andy, Om, Mark, Alec) � but I know enough to say that Gizmo is the answer when people wonder how powerful Skype might be if it supported SIP.

Gizmo is getting some good traction now, and with Skype becoming an e-commerce play, there�s good reason to believe there�s a lot of upside coming for them. It�s also interesting to note that the article says that Gizmo�s sound quality is better than Skype. That�s saying a lot, especially for anyone who has experienced Skype when the service is working really well. It's always been one of their big claims to fame.

It�s become fashionable to rain on Vonage lately, which is somewhat understandable. This article doesn�t veer far from this trend I�m afraid, and they point out that Vonage has �fewer features than other providers�, and the website is �clunky and plastered with ads�. Gee, you�d almost think they were talking about an RBOC!

Amazing how fast Vonage has gone from being a cutting edge, disruptive RBOC-killer, to being �pricey� (as the article says) and behind the curve. It wasn�t so long ago we were all cheering them along, bringing VoIP to the masses. VoIP is an exciting space, but it sure moves fast, and it�s no wonder nobody has figured out how make money with it yet!

Quick coda - yesterday, Alec Saunders comments on his blog about a Consumer Reports profile on VoIP. Again, it's all about saving money - no surprise really. When mainstream bastions like Consumer Reports start talking about VoIP, though, you know it's really out there.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Canadian Market Outlook From UBS

Analyst Jeff Fan from the Toronto office of UBS was nice enough to share some of his recent research notes on our major operators. He doesn't mind my passing on some highlights, so I just thought I'd share them with you here.

- Big focus is cost savings, embodied by their Galileo initiative. So far, the results have been subpar, with cost savings dropping from $122 million in Q2 to $111 million in Q3. UBS expects savings to accelerate going forward, starting at $138 million in Q4, and hitting $250 million in Q4 of 2006. That's an aggressive program, and its success is tied largely to realizing savings in network migration at the edge. In fact, only 12% of their savings are expected to come from core network migration to IP, which implies that the Opex efficiencies created by IP have already been realized.

Translation - the bulk of their cost savings going forward will have to come from getting their enterprise customers to transition from TDM to IP. That's easier said than done, and this process takes time, as enterprises tend to do this gradually instead of all at once. Jeff's research note points out that a compounding factor is that although IP services create Opex savings, they also yield lower margins compared to traditional data services. So, the cost savings come with a price, so to speak. Reducing costs and maintaining margins is a difficult balancing act for sure.

- The impact of cable telephony will really be noticeable on 2006. Jeff's research indicates that the MSOs added 208,000 phone lines in 2005. This is just in markets served by Bell - Ontario and Quebec - so this reflects the total impact of the 3 MSOs operating in these markets - Rogers, Videotron and Cogeco. For 2006, this total is expected basically double to 389,000. Interestingly, Videotron accounts for the vast majority of the numbers in 2005. Back in Q1, they were adding a bit more than 1,000 installs a week. In Q2, this rose to 2,000, and by Q3 it was just over 4,000. However, Jeff expects the mix to change quite a bit next year, with Videotron's growth rate slowing down, and Rogers accounting for 60% of the new adds. That will be a very interesting development to follow for sure.

- Key conclusion - IP is impacting Bell in a big way, and they have to cut costs to stay competitive. The research note suggests Bell may have to initiate headcount reductions to achieve some direct savings. Another interesting comment is the idea of creating an income trust for their rural lines. This wouldn't surprise me, and it's consistent with how the big RBOCs, especially Verizon, are looking at their rural operations. These are expensive markets to service, and offer limited upside as they move to IP.


- UBS is bullish on Telus, but mainly on the strength of their wireless operations. Like BCE, cost reduction is a front-burner issue, especially just coming out of a long and difficult labor settlement.

- MTS Allstream has been viewed as a logical acquisition target for some time. It would truly create a national divide, with Bell (and Aliant) ruling east of Manitoba, and Telus ruling on the west side of the divide. Jeff's view is that this is not a near-term priority for Telus, which I agree with. Also, the MTS/Allstream entity is still finding its legs, and I have never believed they had the horses to be a true national operator.


- Unlike the telcos, cost reduction isn't the biggest challenge. Rogers made two significant acquisitions in 2005 with Microcell and Call Net (Sprint Canada). These moves have made Rogers the #1 national wireless operator, and a bona fide telecom player overnight. The priority here is to integrate these businesses effectively under the Rogers umbrella. No argument there.

- Rogers now has all the pieces for a full Quad Play, something no other MSO in North America is close to doing. They have a strong push for FMC now, and Jeff sees this as another key priority in 2006. This means not only integrating existing services into attractive bundles, but creating new offerings based on these synergies.

- UBS does not see Rogers making moves to consolidate the cable market in 2006. Agreed. It's not a seller's market, as the other major MSOs are in growth mode with telephony and VOD. There has been talk of Bell going after Shaw, which would be a big concern for Telus. That would be quite the story, but Bell has bigger things on their plate right now.

- Cable telephony - marketing efforts for the Home Phone service will ramp up in 2006, and UBS estimates Rogers will add 236,000 lines next year. To date, the service has been marketed very conservatively, largely in order to retain existing Call Net phone customers in the Rogers fold. Next year, their target will expand to attract new customers, likely using some aggressive bundling.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Canada - It's Different Here

When it comes to communications, it's not better or worse here - it's just different. A couple of quick thumbnails from this week to show you what I mean...

- Rogers Wireless - a customer recently was dinged with a $12,000+ bill. Turns out her number was hijacked and used by terrorists. Rogers picked the wrong customer to piss off, and she really rained all over them when they insisted she pay. After some expert digging it turns out that Ted Rogers himself was victimized in exactly the same why, which really makes you wonder who's smarter - the terrorists our the guys running our telco networks. In light of this embarrassing expose, Mr. Rogers had no choice but to drop the charges, so to speak. There's more to the story than this, but it's a great test case for the security crowd who have been forecasting all kinds of disaster scenarios, especially with IP.

- Telus - got into trouble for not turning over cell phone records to the RCMP during an investigation to track down a serial killer. It doesn't really look like Telus was being uncooperative - more likely this was just poor communication and execution. Still, these kinds of things shouldn't be happening with big telcos, and it can only strengthen the case with the regulators (the CRTC) who will want more access to information as the needs of law enforcement and legal intercept begin to infringe on the freedoms we've come to enjoy with IP. This here is not an IP story, but it's an unfortunate reminder that telcos cannot operate in a total vacuum, and when the law calls, you need to be both willing and able to comply.

- Satellite radio - also not an IP play. Am sure you've noticed that I just can't leave this topic alone. Canada is just getting started in this arena, and a very interesting issue has come up already that shows how fragile this business can be. Everybody knows that Sirius is banking heavily on Howard Stern's crass star power to drive them to big numbers, and in the U.S. he's probably delivering pretty well. Howard went there for freedom of speech, his favorite soapbox. Howard Stern was carried on Canadian airwaves for a while and has his loyal following here, but they all dropped him eventually - just too controversial. Turns out that Sirius Canada is not including Stern in their offering! They want to get off on the right foot, and the CRTC still controls their license, so they're going to play it safe. So, if you have to have your Howard in Canada, you either go to where you've been going recently - the gray market - or you somehow subsribe to Sirius U.S. Only in Canada! Not only does Sirius Canada have to compete against 2 other local satellite radio players - and build the market from scratch, but they also have to compete against their parent company for subscribers who are arguably the most loyal and willing to spend money on the service. This is not an easy gig. As I said earlier, it's not better or worse in Canada - just different!

Why Is This Man Smiling?

A bit hard to take, but life goes on. Yankees sure didn't waste any time turning Mr. D into one of them - ya hardly recognize him. As they say, resistance is futile - you will be assimilated...


Johnny Pinstripes.jpg

I like this guy better....

Johnny BoSox.jpg

Thursday, December 22, 2005

See Johnny Take the Money and Run...

I normally wouldn�t be blogging about the Red Sox at this time of the year, but how can you sit back and not say anything?

Why�d ya do it, Johnny? How could ya? Was it something I said?

That�s the natural reaction when any Red Sox fan heard the news about Damon going to the Yankees. It�s impossible not to feel that way. Everyone knows what he means to the Sox, and everyone knows he couldn�t have made more of an impact by going over to the Dark Side. And it happened so fast, and it seems to be all about money. No need to get into this � there�s no end to the reaction from both sides in the press and on the Net.

In IP land, it�s somewhat akin to Vint Cerf going over to Google from MCI. But this is much worse, and Google does not conjure up the Evil Empire � at least yet. Microsoft gained that distinction in its own way (I�m not in that camp, btw) years ago. OK, so it�s a weak analogy, but I had to put it in there if you�re not a Sox watcher!

The next reaction from the Nation flows effortlessly from here � this would never have happened if Theo was still in charge, and the Sox have already imploded, long before spring training even begins. On top of this, the infield has almost completely turned over, with holes to fill, Mirabelli is gone, some pitchers are gone, no GM, millions of shellshocked fans, Nomar has signed with the Dodgers, and Manny is probably not going anywhere. Oh, there is one ray of hope � Clemens could be lured back. Oh boy. Thank God we�ve still got Tek and Papi. There�s a reason we went 86 years without a World Series � Sox fans invented gloom, and nobody does it better.

Ok, now let�s calm down. We need to accelerate the cycle of denial, anger and acceptance to move on. It�s not hard to conclude that the Yankees, as always, overpaid -and offered too long of a contract. Of course Damon must have felt it was time to move anyhow � he probably saw too many signs of doubt, disarray and disharmony in the clubhouse - and with management - to feel good enough about sticking around.

The Yanks have overspent for lots of players and didn�t win, so let�s take solace that this trend will continue. They�ll have an interesting dilemma in the leadoff hitter department � it�s a nice problem to have, but a dilemma nonetheless. Mind you, they had a similar dilemma with A-Rod, but to his credit, he�s made an incredible transition to 3B. I never doubted he was the MVP this year, despite all of my Papi�s heroics.

No doubt the Sox have lost a lot in Damon � as much off the field as on. For sure, now this is Tek�s team, so there�s still a solid figure to keep this unit functioning. On the plus side, this frees up some salary they can use to sign other players (even though they�re probably still in luxury tax territory). Of course it hurts to get nothing in return for Johnny.

I think the best way to look at this is to say that Damon is past his peak, and maybe the Sox are better off replacing him with a younger player. Life goes on, and the Nation can only hope he�ll be a shadow of his former self when he loses the beard and long hair as per the Boss�s orders. Boston fans are certainly used to losing their franchise players, and we�ll recover sooner or later. I think it will be much later for the Bruins (Thornton) and Celtics (Walker � maybe), but the expectations aren�t as high with these teams right now. So, we�ll miss you Johnny � this will take some time to get over, and we can only hope that the Sox make the right moves in center. We've survived losing guys like Pedro, Nomar, the Rocket, big Mo, and Yankees are still an old team, right?

To look a little deeper into the bright side of things, Kevin Hench of Fox Sports posted a great piece yesterday. I think he�s bang on � it�s a great read.

Oh, I have one parting memory to share of JD. Only a true Nation devotee would see this as an "aha!" moment. During 2004, my son and I were at the SkyDome (it wasn't yet the Rogers Center!) here in Toronto watching the Sox play the Jays. We were sitting out in right center field, and we saw the most bizarre image you could imagine if you believed in the Curse. During a pitching change, JD was standing next to Gabe Kapler chatting away. Gabe was playing right that day. As you know, Damon is #18. Well guess what number Kapler had? ....Right.... 19. With their backs to us the two of them together
were unwittingly flashing the dreaded year, 1918 back to us.
How bizarre is that? It sure was a good omen though, since the Curse is no more. Oh, if I only had my Nokia N90 then - that was truly a Nokia moment. I've never seen that alignment of numbers since, and probably won't ever again.

Keeping on the bright side, I�m going to shift gears slightly and go out on a limb � the Patriots will defend their title this year � they will win the Super Bowl. The tide has turned � they are healthier, they�re playing defence and they�re in playoff form now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

VocalTec Stock is On Fire - Why???

VocalTec is widely regarded as the pioneer VoIP vendor. They've outlasted scores of VoIP companies, but have never really capitalized on being first in the game. Lots of companies with much shorter histories have had good runs and made successful exits, but this has all but eluded VocalTec.

Their slide this year has been well documented, as has their recent acquisition by another Israeli IP vendor, Tdsoft. A 1 for 13 reverse stock split was announced Nov 28, and the price quickly weakened from there. Many had left VocalTec for dead, even before tying up with Tdsoft.

There has been no public news on their activities, and the blogs have been quiet. Tdsoft is not a household name in VoIP, and it's hard to see what they could make from what was left of VocalTec.

I'm not a stock watcher, but VocalTec's run in the past few days has been astounding. Something must be up besides the stock price.

The stock price was under $6 late last week, and is now just shy of $13. As of 10:30 this morning, it's up 28% alone today.

Frankly, I can't begin to speculate why this is happening, but it certainly is not what one would have expected. Can't say it's market froth since the same is not happening with other IP stocks, even with Vonage getting another round of funding this week.

Anyone out there with a clue who cares to share their thoughts about this on my blog, feel free to do so. Otherwise, I'm sure the real story will emerge soon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Ron Gruia's Analyst Outlook

Today's Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series focused on the analyst perspective, and my guest was Ronald Gruia, from my alma mater analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. Ron is their Practice Leader for Emerging Communications Solutions and is steeped in both telecom and IP.

We quickly went to IMS, which is a core focus area for Ron, and he shared his views on how the North American and European markets are progressing. Closer to home, we talked about the state of things among Canada's main operators, and how they are adapting to IP. Finally, Ron gave us his outlook for the key trends he's watching in 2006. I'll look to have Ron back around Q2 to revisit his crystal ball and test his predictive powers!

You can read more about Ron, our podcast, and get the link - - here.

I should also add that VON Radio has re-branded itself now as PPN - the Pulvermedia Podcasting Network. So, no more confusion with the Voice of Nevis Radio, mahn - it's PPN now. I don't think that's going to conflict with much of anything!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Using a Camera to Skype - Really

Strange but true, and we're not talking about video - this is about using a digital camera to help make a Skype voice call.

The Skype buzz has certainly tailed off since eBay, which is understandable. Well, the buzz is just different now, and the uberbloggers like Andy, Om, Alec and Mark have that ground covered very well. That's not my thing, but I'll contribute in my own way. Next month one of my VON Radio Canadian IP Thought Leaders podcasts will be with someone who knows the Skype culture quite well, and will share some of that insight with us. Don't miss it!

With that said, I thought this post would be timely to talk about yet another cool way to use Skype. And this one definitely did not come out of an engineer's head! It never would have crossed my mind in a million years - and probably not yours either.

This is actually a quasi-guest blog from my 13 year old son, Max. Welcome to your Dad's blog, son! I've been meaning to guest blog Max for a while - I think it's real important to start sharing how kids today view technology and where things like Skype and VoIP fit into their communications habits.

Max is showing all the signs of early geekdom, and is an avid Skype fan. I'll even go so far to say he may be the only kid in North America who has met with Niklas Zennstrom on our shores, so he's a pretty lucky guy. See for yourself - here we are at VON Canada, which was here in Toronto last April. So, Max can now say that he knew Niklas before when....

Niklas, Max, and Jon 002.jpg

So, back to the story - how do you use a camera to do a Skype call? That's easy - tell us, Max....

So, basically what I did was use the audio capture function on my digital camera to Skype my father (Jon Arnold) while he was in Florida (my headset wasn't working, so I couldn't hear him). Most digital cameras feature a webcam function, and digital cameras that bear a microphone feature can also be utilized as an audio capture device, both on the digital camera, as an audio/visual function on webcams, or it can be used individually on a computer. That last function is the one I put to use during that 10-minute Skype call. I don't really know how else to explain it, but that's how I did it.

Well, duhhh - it's obvious! Moral of the story - listen to your kids! Now that I'm getting more comfortable testing the Nokia N90 (check out the blog page), I have no doubt we're just at the tip of the iceberg for really cool digital, IP-enabled wireless devices that seamlessly bring voice, video and data together. If Max can figure this out, it must be true - somebody should hire this guy.....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iotum - the view from Europe

Last week, James Enck weighed in with his initial take on Iotum. James is with Daiwa Securities, and his blog � EuroTelcoblog � is one of the best ways to follow the EU telco scene, especially for things IP. It�s great to see Iotum getting some international attention, and it�s quite interesting to see the European perspective, which tends to be more grounded than a lot what comes from this side of the Atlantic.

I�m posting about this directly on my blog, as his blog does not allow for comments. I�ll forward a link of this post to James, and we�ll soon see if the thread has legs.

Basically, James sees Iotum�s Relevance Engine as a �refinement of presence management�, which he sees as a good thing � agreed. He laments not being able to beta test it � I can�t either, so we�re on the same page there too!

James sees how Iotum could be the �essential glue� for �multi-service communications� � assuming this is what the consumer wants. If so, the result should be a �satisfying experience�, as opposed to �another form of technoppression�. I love that the latter term � to me, it implies anything built around the needs of the service provider as opposed to the subscriber. That�s exactly what Iotum is focused on � providing a higher level of intelligence that the end user controls, as he or she really is the best judge of how to optimize their communications needs.

I agree with James that we have to assume this IS what the consumer wants. I think it�s safe to say this will hold true for a lot of people � but not all. No doubt there will be others who could benefit from this capability, but choose not to. I�m sure there are plenty of people who just don�t want to be this organized and efficient � just on principal � it�s not their nature � or any number of other reasons.

However, as the Internet generation supplants the PC generation, there will be an army of people with countless ways of being reached, but lack the ability to effectively manage this across all their devices and networks. That�s certainly a problem crying for a solution, and as James concludes, the Relevance Engine is off to �an impressive start�.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - a Legal Perspective on Lawful Intercept

This week's Canadian IP Thought Leaders segment introduces a relatively new voice to this space - Rob Hyndman. Rob runs his law practice here in Toronto, and focuses on the tech sector. He's got a great blog, and like me, didn't make it to Round 2 of the Canadian Blog Awards. IP cohort Alec Saunders did make the cut, so congrats to him! Maybe it will be our turn next year...

On the podcast, Rob and I spoke about issues around legal intercept and privacy for IP communications, and how they are treated in both Canada and the U.S. Rob explained the history leading up to the current state of regulations as well as where things seem to be going. He also talked some of the grass-roots efforts underway in both countries that are trying to get the voice of citizens heard in the process as government bodies learn to navigate the choppy waters of regulating the Internet.

VON Radio turned this one around real fast, and you can get the link and learn more about Rob here, where the podcasts are archived on the new VON Radio website. Please check it out. If you just want the podcast link, here it is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wireless in Canada Lags the U.S. - Really

Today's Globe & Mail has a nice article by telecom reporter Catherine McLean about a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute (a policy and economics think tank) about how cell phone use in Canada lags other industrialized countries. You can review the full report here - it's read-only - you can't save it.

I've commented often about the uninspiring state of affairs in Canada's communications market - and not just IP - satellite radio and wireless too. The market here is just too small, too regulated, and it lacks the intense competition we see in the U.S. There's lots of great innovation here, and our carriers are world-class - but the market just seems so dysfunctional at times, and there's not a whole lot being done on the marketing side to help create awareness and demand among consumers.

Well, the wireless market isn't any different, and anyone who knows me has heard my running commentary about how Americans are much more married to their cell phones than Canadians. Any time I go to the US, it's one of the first things that strikes me cold. EVERYONE seems to be on their cell phones. The second the plane lands - boom - on go all the phones. Canadians love their cell phones too, but I'm sorry, it's just not like that here. It's getting that way, but it's not like the US, and certainly nothing like Israel or Europe, especially places like Italy or Sweden.

My social commentary may seem trivial, but it's a bigger deal to the C.D. Howe's of the world. The article talks about how we lag other G7 countries, and looks at some of the reasons. There's a pretty good reason why Americans live on their cell phones - even though they don't always have great reception - it's really cheap, especially when compared to landline. Canadian wireless operators don't give away minutes like American carriers do, and our landline service quality is very high and very affordable.

As such, there isn't that much wireless substitution happening here, and making cell phone calls to the U.S. is still pretty expensive - and very expensive if you're calling inside the U.S. Not to mention the lack of wireless nubmer portability here - which I've commented on previously.

A closing sidebar about this article - the online version you've got here differs in two ways from the the print edition which I read at breakfast this morning. The good news is that it includes a nice thread of reader comments, which adds great anecdotal flavor to Catherine's story. What's missing is a table of statistics taken from the ITU showing teledensity levels for industrialized countries. This is 2004 data, but it still tells the story. In Canada, there are 41.68 cellular subscribers per 100 inhabitants - so, a 42% penetration rate. The U.S. level is 54% - not hugely higher, but well ahead. Italy really kicks ass with 102% penetration - I don't know about you, but I can only talk on one phone at a time! The other European countries are all in the 70% or 80% strata, so our degree of solace is all relative.

Canada looks pretty pathetic compared to Europe, and we're dead last amongst our economic brethren. This story just validates my thinking on our wireless market, and now I have some numbers to back it up. Thank you C.D. Howe. Let's put a positive spin on things folks - would love to hear your bright ideas about how we can improve our standing in wireless, and maybe then we can make some noise with the CWTA, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Iotum in the Blogosphere

I've had some recent postings about Iotum and their Relevance Engine, and other bloggers are picking up on them, which is great. Iotum is a client of Andy Abramson, and I'm not going to rehash the threads coming and going on his VoIP Watch blog or Iotum's blog. There's plenty there, and I'll leave that to you to explore on your own.

I just wanted to share a couple of short threads from Aswath Rao and Phoneboy, two bloggers who are pretty sharp followers of the IP space...

Aswath's thread is here, and Phoneboy's is here. Feel free to jump in and keep the dialog going.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New York Visit Highlights

Better late than never, I guess. Last week I was in NYC for 2 days, visiting the Pulver.com office in Melville, and speaking at the NYSSA's 3rd Annual VoIP Conference in Manhattan.

I've been demo-ing the Nokia N90 phone, and I wanted to include some photos taken with the phone. It took a while to get around to downloading them to my PC, but I've got them now. I'm still learning, so some photos are better than others. Also, I didn't take all the photos at NYSSA.

In Melville, I caught up with Jeff Pulver, and conducted a podcast in the comfort of the VON Radio studio. As you can imagine, Jeff is a busy guy. In short, it's not easy being Jeff.....


I don't think anyone would mistake us for being Siamese twins....


The Empire State Building - by day and by night....

Image014.jpg Image029.jpg

I always love visiting NYC, and have an endless fascination with big buildings and urban architecture. For now, the N90 will serve as my travelling digital camera and will share the good shots as I get better with the features. The Empire State Building is still awesome to me, as corny as it sounds. Even though tech is a big part of my life - and a bigger part of most people's lives - the ESB always reminds me in a big way of the power of human ingenuity and sheer willpower when it comes to doing big things. When you think about how buildings like this and the Brooklyn Bridge were built way before computers and how well they've stood the test of time, you have to tip your hat to doing things the old fashioned way. Technology brings great advances, no doubt, but there's no substitute for pure imagination and the inspiration of big ideas.

Why the night shot of ESB? I thought it looked cool, and only after I got back from NYC did I realize how special this site was - lucky me. It turns out that Monday was the premiere of King Kong, which I was not aware of. As I later read, it was the biggest NYC movie launch in history, and to emphasize the event, the lighting at the top of the ESB was all white. At this time of year, apparently it's lit up green and red for the holiday season. The photo is bit out of focus, but at least I've got it on file!

On Tuesday, I was on the opening panel of the NYSSA conference, held at the erudite Hahvuhd Club. Seated on my right is David Ballarini of Mercator Capital, and on my left is conference Chair Lorenzo Mejia.


Lots of interesting presentations throughout the day, and NYSSA did a webcast of the event. It's available free to members, and $100 for non-members - here's the link.

Below is a grainy shot of Ofer Gneezy, CEO of iBasis presenting at the event. Next time, the indoor photos will be better - promise!


Friday, December 9, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Ash Chopra on the ILEC Landscape

This week's VON Radio podcast was done...LIVE, FROM NEW YORK. I was in NYC for 2 days, and Monday was spent in the Pulver.com office in Melville, which is out on Long Island. Seemed like a good time to do my weekly segment, so I was actually in the VON Radio studio for a change.

My guest was Ash Chopra, an independent IT/telco consultant with a lot of hands-on experience working for and with major Canadian carriers. We covered off some of the recent developments taking place with Bell, Telus, Rogers and others. Basically, none of the big ILECs have it easy, and each has their own particular set of problems.

You can listen to the podcast from this link, and you can also access it from the brand-new VON Radio website, which was just launched TODAY! This is a much more user-friendly format for archiving the podcasts, and as you can see, it's got color, and provides a nice photo and bio of Ash - and other podcasters if you look around. It's also got a link to Ash's blog, which is a good read, esp if you like the finer points of the technology.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Skype/eBay Reality Check

Here's something else I missed while in New York yesterday. My own home paper, the Globe & Mail, carried a nice piece questioning the wisdom of eBay's acquisition of Skype.

I largely agree with the writer - Matthew Ingram - and his take of the situation. Actually, this was one of the major topics we discussed on the panel I was on yesterday at the NYSSA VoIP event in New York.

So, I missed this article for two reasons. First, I wasn't home, so I didn't see the Tuesday paper. Second, I didn't get back online again until late today, so I just came across this via Andy Abramson's posting. Thanks Andy - hat tip to you in warm, far-away California for picking up this good story here in my back yard. For more on Skype, Andy has some very good insights, and ties into Mark Evans's coverage as well.

How often does the Globe write about Skype? Hardly ever - except when I'm away. Go figure!

Iotum in Trials with Free World Dialup

I was in New York the past couple of days, and didn't have Internet access, so I haven't been able to post until now. I've been really backed up work-wise, and hope to post about my trip tomorrow, complete with some photos from the Nokia N90 phone that I'm demo-ing (is there really such a word?).

That said, the world does work in strange ways. On Monday, I was visiting the offices of Pulver.com in Melville, NY. This is also home to Free World Dialup, one of Jeff Pulver's many business ventures - and FWD may well be his most significant one.

Iotum is an Ottawa-based startup that I have talked about in previous postings. Wouldn't you know it that the day I'm in Melville, Iotum issues their press release about doing a trial with FWD. This is great for Iotum, as it gives them access to a tech savvy audience who should be able to quickly take advantage of their Relevance Engine. I'd have to think this audience will be able to make Iotum look very good, and serve as a proof-point for more mainstream operators.

Apologies for being a day late on the news. I may have been in Melville, and in fact, met FWD CEO Peter Rust that morning, but wasn't able to post about it until now. But at least you've got the story!

Friday, December 2, 2005

Loose Ends for the Week - Supercool Nokia N90, CDN Blog Awards, Next Stop - New York

Just some thumbnail notes to wrap up the week....

Nokia N90 - this is one supercool phone, and I'm lucky enough to have a demo model, courtesy of Andy Abramson. Just got it last night, and I hope to test it out on my short NYC trip next week. I'll pass on my thoughts here, but to get into the deep end of the N90 user experience, you have to get to the Nokia N90 blog site.

This is where the Andy connection comes in, as he has put this terrific site together for Nokia. Once I get up and running with my N90, I'll be posting to the N90 blog as well, and bringing back key learning from other N90 bloggers to this blog. I think it's a great concept to organically share learning about the N90. My roots are in market research, and this is a very appropriate methodology for monitoring individual user experiences as well as the collective learning for a product like this. Nothing contrived here, just real users talking shop to peers.

Canadian Blog Awards Well, like my Bruins, I failed to advance past the first round. Five entries in the Business category advanced to Round 2, and I'm happy to note that two of them are fellow bloggers Alec Saunders and Mark Evans. So, Alec, like your Senators, you made it to Round 2 - but I'll still take some comfort in the Bruins shutting out the Sens this week. Congrats to both, and I wish you the best of luck in Round 2. I'll be voting...

Next Stop - NYC The NYSSA is having its 3rd annual VoIP investor conference at the Harvard Club on Tuesday. I've been a speaker at all of their VoIP events, and I really look forward to it. They draw a great audience, and every year there's an interesting mix of up and coming IP companies looking to get on the radar of the Wall St. analyst community.

On Monday, I'm visiting the Pulver.com office on Long Island, and catching up on things with Jeff Pulver and team. As you may know, Pulver.com has recently rebranded the conference business as Pulvermedia, and the company is on an ambitious track to globalize the VON experience. If you haven't visited the website recently, you should go, and you'll see just how far ranging their reach is becoming. Now you know why Jeff is such a busy guy.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

I'm on a Roll - Am on Jeff Pulver's Top Bloggers List

Today, Jeff Pulver published his list of "Top VoIP Bloggers of 2005". I'm quite pleased to have made the list, and since my last name starts with "A" (eh), I'm up at the top, right behind Andy Abramson.

It's a great list, and I'll pass on a big thank-you to Jeff for thinking so well of me. I strongly urge you to bookmark Jeff's posting. If you follow the bloggers and pubs he's got listed there, you won't be missing too much about what's going on in the world of IP.

This is making for a good week. On Tuesday, I posted about my blog being nominated for the 2005 Canadian Blog Awards. The first round of voting has closed, and the winners will be announced tomorrow. I'm in the Business category, along with fellow IP bloggers Mark Evans, Alec Saunders and Rob Hyndman. My prediction is that Mark Evans will handily win - he's the best when it comes to getting the good stories first. I'll keep you posted.

VoIP Security - A Canadian Strength

Canada may not be known for its military might - it's not the way up here. We have the world's longest unprotected border with the US, and it will probably stay that way until the Americans run out of oil and water, and then.... all bets are off.

VoIP security is another matter. This is still largely a market waiting to happen, but there's no doubt that the threats posed by things like SPIT, Internet fraud and DOS attacks are real. Many vendors are working on various flavors of VoIP, and Canada has its share of players on the leading edge.

Mark Evans ran a nice piece the other day in the National Post on this topic, and I just got a link to it. He profiles two up and coming companies in this space - Ottawa-based VoIPShield, and Toronto-based Borderware Technologies.

I think VoIP security will take on growing importance as enterprises ramp up their adoption of IP, and as they learn how voice behaves differently than data on data networks. And of course, a large scale VoIP security calamity can come anywhere, anytime, which could kick-start this market in a hurry. I plan to explore VoIP security in future VON Radio podcasts, so look to hear more from these companies here soon.

On the Topic of Voting - Vote for the Blues if You're Canadian

This is my third posting with a voting theme in the past two days - not sure if there's a trend here, but I needed to bring this one into the mix.

Blues is one of my passions, and I'm a lifer on the board of the Toronto Blues Society. We have an annual awards program for the Canadian blues community - the MBAs - Maple Blues Awards. It's grown into a truly national event in the past few years, and the balloting has now moved online.

If you're a blues fan, and live in Canada, we'd love your participation!! I need to clarify that only Canadian residents are eligible to vote, so this posting may only be of interest to a handful of you out there. I'll go on the honor system here, folks. Just trying to bring the blues to the blogosphere!


You can read all about it and cast your votes here. Most of the categories are for Canadian blues artists, and if you don't know the local scene, that's ok. There are some categories for international artists, so if you're a blues fan, but don't get out that much, you can still vote.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Canadian Market Notes - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Just some thumbnail notes on news items today that show just how scattered the Canadian communications market is....

The GOOD - the Globe & Mail reported that Miranda Technologies is prepping for its IPO next week. This is being touted as "one of the biggest" in Canada since the dot bomb days, and is only the second tech IPO of note since that time. Incredible, huh? Talk about a market going away. Interestingly, as the article notes, the other IPO was March Networks, whose IPO was in April. Gee, you'd think they would have done theirs in March....

Anyhow, both companies are IP plays, which I think says a lot about what the market will put their money in. Let's hope the investment bankers have more of these lined up - we've got a lot of great companies up here, and it's my job to tell you about 'em...

The BAD - Manitoba Telecom's announced job cuts on their investor conference call yesterday. The positive spin is this is part of their $100 million "Transition Phase II Plan" - a fancy way of saying that the economics of IP are working against them, and they've got to get with the program. Translation - big time cost cutting, including 800 jobs. Manitoba Telecom (MTS) has taken on a lot by acquiring Allstream and trying to create a national carrier out of this mix. Very tough to do, and I really don't think the market here can support 3 telcos trying to be national operators. MTS is quick to point out that a lot of this pain is coming from the loss of long distance traffic they were carrying for Rogers. This is going away now that Rogers has acquired CallNet, whose networks will now inherit this traffic. This is true, but Rogers is just one customer, and the root cause issues are much bigger and deeper. Allstream has some great solutions - don't get me wrong - but I think the plan is too grand...

The UGLY - RIM. This isn't an IP story, but RIM's woes continue to mount - first NTP in the US, and now Inpro in the UK. RIM is probably the successor to Nortel as Canada's high tech pride and joy, but lately it's been looking like they're both on the same elevator going down. Let's hope not, but RIM looks to have its hands full in court for a while.

Skype at 38,000 Feet - This Stuff Works

Uberblogger and IP comrade Andy Abramson is a busy guy, and really knows how to use technology to stay in touch. He's been living the digital life longer and better than anyone I know, so I wasn't blown away Skyping with him the other day, but it sure was neat. Andy was enroute to Europe and Skyped me to catch up on things. Basically, he used the Boeing FlyNet Connexxion Service, which provides the WiFi signal, and voila - sky high Skype.

Good thing Boeing didn't partner with Boingo - that would be a fun name to work out...BoBoing??? BoingBo??? Bo2???? Never mind.....

Andy provides his own account first hand about Skyping from the clouds here.

I should add of course that he's not the first one to do this. Jeff Pulver posted about doing the same several months ago, and in both cases it was great to hear about how seamless the user experience was and how the quality held up so well. Skype may be getting lost in the eBay abyss - the ebyss??? - but you can't deny there's value in something that works so well. Of course there are much bigger issues looming for Skype that are not just about technology - and Andy has some great insights on this.

Canadian Podcast Series - Technology and the Electoral Process

This week's Canadian IP podcast had yet another interesting twist. Our Liberal government has been on shaky ground lately, and on Monday, they did not survive a non-confidence vote. This was not a huge surprise, and much to the public's chagrin, Canada enters the Xmas holiday season with an election on its hands.

All of a sudden we're in election mode, and I had the good fortune to speak with someone yesterday who's very connected to how technology is impacting the electoral process. So, the topic was very timely, and it was a nice way to dovetail another aspect of how technologies like IP are playing a role in daily life - sometimes visibly, and sometimes under the hood.

My guest yesterday was Ed Hetu. He's in independent IT consultant in the Ottawa area, and has been doing electoral work for many years at both the federal and provincial level. Ed provided some great insights on how IP and IP-related technologies are making the process of managing elections easier. He noted that the real problems are more social and psychological than technical, since most of what he's involved with is behind the scenes.

Most people are quite comfortable and familiar with manually-completed ballots, and there is still some suspicion around electronic or online balloting. While the potential for abuse and security leaks is real, Ed notes that there is a silver lining to all these advances. If used effectively, technology can enrich the democratic process by making it easier for the public to vote more often and on a wider variety of issues. Elections, polls, referenda, etc. can be conducted quickly and inexpensively, opening the door for wider participation in our daily political life. This isn't all about IP, but it's certainly a part of it, and I have no doubt that IP will find a good home in the government sector once its potential is better understood and issues such as privacy, integrity and security are properly addressed.

The VON Radio folks managed to turn this one around in record time, so the post is ready for listening now. Thanks Mikey!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Canadian Blog Awards - Vote for Your Faves Now

Who ever thought there was such a thing? Well, there is, and I'm coming around to this after seeing posts from Alec Saunders and Mark Evans about it. Both have been nominated - deservedly so! - in the Business category, and you can now vote for your favorite blog across several categories in addition to Business.

Following Alec's post today about voting, I see that I too have made the grade, and am also a nominee in the Business category. I'm not in the uberblogger class, but am certainly happy to be in the mix. I should also note another nominee with strong IP content - Rob Hyndman - who has turned up on some of my postings.

Don't worry - you can vote once a day until December 11, so if you can't decide which one you like the best, you can spread the love around. However, to really be heard, Round 1 voting ends tomorrow - Wednesday - so vote now!!!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Stefan Dubowski on Enterprise IP

Last week's VON Radio podcast was with Stefan Dubowski, Managing Editor of Telemanagement magazine. The long weekend has delayed getting the link ready, but it's available now - click here to listen.

Stefan has covered the Canadian telecom market for a long time, primarily on the enterprise side, and we talked about the state of IP adoption. He's got a pretty good feel for the pulse of the market and what his readers are looking for with IP.

We both agreed that takeup has been weaker than anticipated, and that our market lags the US considerably. Stefan's outlook is more reserved than mine, but we both agree more needs to be done from all sides to educate and stimulate the market for IP.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

About Me

I get comments regularly from people who can't contact me directly from my blog - it's a problem I've been meaning to address for some time. I'm working on this now, and hope to have it fixed this week. Until then, below is a brief overview of what I do and how to reach me:

My company is J Arnold & Associates. I'm an independent analyst/consultant focused on the IP communications sector, and am based in Toronto. I've been covering IP full time since 2001, initially as the VoIP Program Leader for analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. I returned to my indie consulting roots in March 2005, and provide a range of consulting, market research and writing services for clients in this space.

Just wanted to add that my blog is a Nominee in the Business category for the 2005 Canadian Blog Awards. You can review the nominees here!

Blog Awards.jpg

I would also like to add that Jeff Pulver has included my blog in his list of "Top VoIP Blogs of 2005". Thanks Jeff!

My website is being developed now, and will fully outline my capabilities, background and upcoming initiatives. It will also provide a listing of my recent media citings and articles. Most importantly, the website will explain how my services are being positioned for various communities within the IP market, namely vendors, service providers, VCs/investment banks and PR/marketing agencies. Look for my website in early 2006.

Until then, feel free to contact me directly:

Friday, November 25, 2005

Saved by the PhoneGnome

Just a small slice-of-life experience to share about my PhoneGnome. I had some small false starts getting this to work in my home office, and their tech support has been great, but we're fine now.

One of the things I really like about PhoneGnome is how you get the best of both worlds with POTS and VoIP. When you place a call using PhoneGnome, a cute voice informs you if the call is local PSTN, on-net with other PhoneGnome users, or long distance. After that, the call goes through just like normal, and there are no extra digits to dial. Very convenient.

Well, we got our first real taste of winter here in Toronto this week, and the power went out yesterday afternoon. It just so happens that this occurred while I was in the middle of a call with my PhoneGnome line. All around me, the lights went out, the modem went quiet, my PC screen dimmed as I went to battery power, Skype went out, and the screens for my IP phones went dark. I'm sure you've all been through this a few times!

That said, my call continued as if nothing happened. Of course, it was a PSTN call - an on-net call to another PhoneGnome user would have died - I think. When the power went out, I heard a short click sound on the line, which must have been the PhoneGnome cutting out, but the call continued as is. Am not sure if PhoneGnome can do a PSTN failover, and automatically port an IP call over to PSTN if the network goes down - would probably have to have a battery backup for that.

Anyhow, I just thought it was great that my call didn't die, which of course, would have been the case if I was using most broadband phone services. Operators like Bell Canada and EarthLink are offering line-powered VoIP to get around this, but the majority do not.

So, for those of you thinking about replacing your POTS with VoIP outright, I'd say think again - unless you have reliable alternatives, namely a cell phone with some battery life on it.

There's another side to this story that vindicates the tech luddite in me. I have never trusted machines of any kind (there's a classic Woody Allen routine about this from his standup days - don't get me started - "So, I gather all of my possessions for a meeting in my living room..."). We have way too many phones in the house, but I always keep an old one around - the kind that doesn't run off electric power - for emergencies or blackouts. Well, I just bought a reconditioned Nortel Vista 100 for this purpose, and that's what's connected to the PhoneGnome. So, while the PhoneGnome did its job, the real reason the call stayed alive was the Vista phone. Score a point for the old guard!

So, the moral of the story for having a bulletproof contingency plan that optimizes the use of POTS and VoIP is to have a line-powered phone with your PhoneGnome.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Google/U. of Waterloo Redux

Earlier this week, I posted about a private donation of $25 million of Google stock to the University of Waterloo.

Fellow IP blogger and Iotum CEO Alec Saunders has had a running dialog with me on this posting - first on-blog, then off-line. Alec raises many valid points about Microsoft's long history of generosity with Waterloo, and of course their much larger philanthropic efforts in several areas.

My intent was not to make MS look spendthrift - not at all. I was really just trying to draw attention to how easily and quickly Google has managed to get itself permanently attached to Waterloo, long a major feeder of top talent to MS. I think it says a lot about the momentum Google is bringing to so many facets of our digital world, and in such little time. Waterloo didn't have to accept this offering, so to me, it's a tacit message of endorsement for Google and the school's desire to associate its name with them so prominently.

I actually had no intention to revisit this topic on my blog - until I read today's Globe & Mail. They run WSJ pieces, and today's was about Google's recent hiring trends. Unfortunately, I don't have a link to the article, but if you're interested in what I'm talking about, it's a great read. The title is "Google's growth helps ignite hiring frenzy", written by Pui-Wing Tam and Kevin Delaney.

Basically, the story focuses on the lengths Google is going in the pursuit of the top talent - wherever it exists. Kind of a perverse application of their own search engine, come to think of it. For example, one of their recruiters was assigned the task of "tracking down all women from the top 50 universities world-wide who had graduated after 1980 with PhDs or Masters degrees in physics, math or computer science". Wow.

The story goes on to talk about how this impacts the Microsofts and Yahoos of the world, and the pressures they face to keep up - not just to recruit new talent, but to retain their own top people from going - to Google. Dog-eat-dog at its most primal - very Pac Man, huh?

And of course, the parallels with the 1999 tech bubble are scary, especially with the MLB-type salaries and stock options been waved about. But that's another topic....

If you ask me, this article is highly relevant (another clever pun, right Alec?) to my earlier posting on Waterloo, and that's why I'm writing about it now. Google is clearly on a mission, and I stand by my earlier conclusion - I think Google is out-doing MS in the hunt for global dominance!

There's really a lot at stake here, and my blogging is only scratching the surface. Alec - let's do a podcast about this - I think we need to examine the ethics of recruiting and philanthropy in the digital age. You up for it?

Telus Consolidates Wireless and Wireline

Well, in the wake of all of Bell's recent news and moves, Telus has made a public statement of how they're going to cope without George Cope (pardon the bad pun).

Simply put - they're not going to replace him. Instead, they're going to merge their wireline and wireless operations - I guess that's their own version of FMC. The press release talks about how this move is consistent with their national "growth strategy to provide integrated solutions". Fair enough - it's all part of being a one-stop shop for communications, as per the path Rogers and Bell are following.

I sense they would prefer to have kept George Cope and continue building Telus Mobility into a strong, growth machine. Today's news is Plan B, so to speak, and the market has no doubt been waiting to see how Telus plans to move forward.

In principle, putting wireless and wireline together makes sense, but the realities are somewhat different. Telus Mobility is certainly a strong national service. However, the same cannot really be said on the wireline side, especially residential, where they are essentially a regional carrier operating primarily in 2 provinces. Of course, they have wireline presence elsewhere, but not nearly to the extent of Telus Mobility.

On top of that, Telus has only brought VoIP to the enterprise market, where they really do have a strong portfolio, namely IP One and CallCentreAnywhere. But nothing yet for consumers. This is also largely true for television/video as well.

No doubt, the financial community was happy to hear that the integration will be on the business side only. Telus Mobility will continue to report their performance separately - this is the growth driver, and Telus wouldn't be doing itself any favors by blending this in with their wireline performance, which is on the decline, as it would be for any major ILEC.

Of course, now that the strike is over, they can focus 100% on becoming a truly integrated service provider, and I for one, can't wait until they can offer the full package to compete against Bell, and of course, Shaw in their back yard. Today's news is a step in that direction, but it's a long road ahead.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Canadian Tech Podcasts Expanding

I was pleased to learn today that the Canadian podcast landscape is about to expand in an exciting way, at least for those following the tech sector.

Canadian institutions - especially public ones - are big on using acronyms, and tech is no exception. Today's acronym, folks, is OCRI - Ottawa Center for Research and Innovation.

OCRI is exactly what the name describes - a gathering point for those wanting to support the Ottawa tech community. Over 600 entities support OCRI, including the academic community, government, R&D labs, and the private sector.

Today, OCRI launched OCRIRadio.com, dubbed as a "new, social media channel". Am not so sure how new this really is, but they're definitely jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, utilizing web-based tools like podcasts and blogs to help build their community. I think this is a great initiative, and it's a cool example of the true spirit of IP - building communities - using tech to help the tech community. Works for me.

I see some nice parallels and complements to my Canadian IP Thought Leaders podcast series for VON Radio, and will be exploring common ground with OCRI tomorrow. Stay tuned, and perhaps I could soon be sharing links and feeds with them to bring you a broader picture of the Canadian market.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Google Gets Another Leg Up On Microsoft at Waterloo

The University of Waterloo (about 1.5 hours west of Toronto) has long been one of the best recruiting grounds for Microsoft. Bill Gates paid some nice lip service to this during his recent visit to speak at their campus. From what I can tell, speaking was about all he did, however.

Well, Google sure has gone one better, and it didn't even come from a Google executive!!! This story really says a lot about how things are changing in the hunt for the best and brightest. I read about this in the weekend National Post, but don't have an online subscription, and didn't expect to have access to the story for posting. However, the author, Mark Evans cited the story on his blog, and was nice enough to provide a link there. Thanks Mark!

As the story goes, David Cheriton has donated $25 million in Google stock to his alma mater as an endowment to fund things like research chairs and grad scholarships. In return, the computer science faculty will now bear his name. Turns out this is the largest private funding the school has ever received outside of the $50 million put in by the founder of RIM, Mike Lazaridis.

Incredibly, David doesn't even work for Google - but he is Canadian. He made an early fortune with Cisco, and then a much larger one via an early investment in Google. This was his way of giving back to his alma mater, and I think it speaks volumes about which currency is carrying weight. I'm sure there are loads of Waterloo grads who have done very well working for Microsoft - have they been giving back like this? What about Bill Gates himself? - he was just here, and left nothing behind. Either he missed a great opportunity to really endear himself to Waterloo, or maybe he thinks his best recruits are coming from elsewhere now, and that's where he'll put his money. I think it's the former, and that David Cheriton comes out looking great. Advantage, Google.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Upgrading from PBX to IP PBX

This week's Canadian IP Thought Leaders podcast for VON Radio was a bit different, but one you'll find most interesting if you want to know how IP looks to someone doing the buying and deploying. The podcast is available for listening now.

My guest this week was Peter Lamb, the Director of Information Services for Torys LLP . Torys is one of Canada's largest law firms, with offices in both Toronto and New York. Peter runs their IT group, and is going through the process of replacing their antiquated PBX with IP.

This is a very interesting perspective as to how IP is viewed from the user community, and what VoIP means to a law firm. Peter discusses the issues around the need for IP and what is most important to a mulitnational law firm for voice communications. In many ways, this is a classic forklift upgrade scenario, but the subtleties around what's really important are quite interesting.

The best takeaway message for me was the importance of having applications that cater to the specific needs of a law firm. Peter explains how it's great to use VoIP to replicate what they had before - law firms are not early adopters, and are not looking for the multimedia richness of IP - at least now. However, what he's looking forward to are third party apps that can help him address specific problems, such as billing - something lawyers are quite fond of. In the TDM world, this simply wasn't possible or practical, but with IP it's easy, and Peter looks forward to being able to pick and choose apps from various developers that suit him just right.

Peter certainly echoes the importance of apps being the real drivers of value, and the same story will hold for countless other vertical markets. So, for all the developers out there, this podcast should be a good listen.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Telus - Cool Contact Center Solution

By heritage, Telus may have deep PSTN roots, but they have been a real leader - as ILECs go - for bringing innovative IP solutions to market. They were one of the first - if not the first - major North American ILECs to build out a VoIP network, upon which their IP offerings are being run. They were definitely the first to market with a national hosted IP solution for the enterprise market (IP One).

Today, I attended their forum here in Toronto for CallCentreAnywhere. This is their hosted IP contact center solution, and it looks to be the first of its kind from a major carrier up here.

I certainly liked what I saw, and they've done a good job of applying the versatility of IP to the real problems facing contact centers today. To get the point across, they featured presentations by Henry Dortmans of Angus Dortmans Associates, and David Chalk of Chalk Media. Both have a deep understanding of call centers and where IP can really play a role in their futures.

One of the real issues that is easy to overlook is the fact that many businesses, especially retailers, are having a hard time getting to know their customers these days. There are simply too many alternatives for shoppers if they don't like what they see, and loyalty is just so hard to build up. This has become very problematic in Canada, as big box stores from the U.S. have pretty much killed off all of our our homegrown retailers. It's pretty sad, actually, and in a lot of ways, Toronto's retail landscape doesn't look much different than Toledo's. I digress.

The main idea here is that call centers become critical for retailers as they may be the best - and only - way they can build real relationships with customers. IP brings a lot to the table for making this real, and Telus has come to market with a very practical solution. The hosted model is flexible, which is great on many levels. It means that businesses of all sizes - big or small - can take advantage of this and make contact centers a really strategic resource - instead of a simple cost center. This model is also great since it's so easy to scale up or down, so you can flow with your natural business cycles, such as seasonal volumes or special promotions.

Another key message I liked was the importance of emphasizing applications instead of infrastructure. To gain broad market traction, a hosted solution needs to be marketed on the merits of what it does, and not how it does it. Most businesses don't understand or care that much about the technology - they need to see how it will address problems and give them an edge they didn't have before.

For me, the only thing missing in the presentations was a better sense as to the range of businesses that could benefit from CallCentreAnywhere. I think the Telus folks were largely preaching to the converted - businesses that already have call centers. That's a given, but with all the cool capabilities and ease of use, I'd just as much like to see them broaden the landscape. Tell us more about how this would be a great solution for businesses that don't have call centers. Just like VoIP is a great reason to start using broadband, CallCentreAnywhere is a great reason to start using call centers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Yak For Free, eh!

For all my rants about the Canadian market not being very exciting for VoIP, we sure generate a lot of good technologies and companies. However, the good stuff is primarily exported elsewhere, at least until the Canadian operators get behind VoIP in a big way.

Well, Yak Communications is another example of this. They were actually an early entry to the VoIP market up here, but haven't really gained much traction, at least the kind that gets noticed. Today, they launched a very interesting offering that raises the bar for IP. YakforFree is not only free PC telephony - among other Yak callers - but free video as well. Really. That's pretty neat. Talk about a great hook for international calling where you've got broadband and a videocamera. The voice part is not new, but adding video takes things up a notch. I'm still not convinced video is a driver for IP - either in the home or the office, despite the efforts of Nortel's MCS platform and all the angles Packet8 has been trying to make a go of it.

For all the coolness of this service, it's not something I'd run to sign up for - even if I had a videocamera. No doubt, they're showing the market the multimedia potential of IP, which is great, but this is a familiar scenario.

First we had Skype, which has had fabulous success getting 10's of millions of free "users". But transitioning them to paid, PSTN service has been another story. Voiceglo was actually doing this one better, and had PSTN connectivity way before Skype. They're up to 5+ million users, but only a fraction are spending any money. Free World Dialup is another example, but it's less crucial for them to develop revenues.

So, what's really new here? Will addding video be the kicker that drives free Yakkers to take on Yak's various paid services? Hard to tell, and Yak is not a brand to be reckoned with - at least yet. They'll be doing some heavy duty marketing to spread the word, so we'll just have to see if they have a twist that nobody has thought of. Until then, it's great offering if you're into free video telephony on your PC.

Hat tip to Andy Abramson who had an insightful posting on this earlier today.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Anuj Sethi on Being a Reseller

Last week's VON Radio podcast is now posted.

This is my continuing weekly series on Canadian IP thought leaders. My guest was Anuj Sethi, Director of Carrier Services for Phonetime International. I recently visited Anuj and his executive team here in Toronto, and Phonetime has quietly built up a nice business.

We spoke about the realities of being a reseller of voice services. The retail business has been a good place to be, especially in Canada with such a diverse ethnic population, which is tailor-made for prepaid calling. But now as rates keep falling, and competition coming from all over, it's tough to make a go, especially with so little customer loyalty.

Phonetime has gotten around this by becoming a wholesaler as well, and as Anuj explains, this has been a good move. Phonetime is not well known outside of Canada , but they've invested in their own network buildout, and that's enabled them to branch out into into wholesale. This is a public company, by the way, and being one of Canada's leading IP resellers, seem like a good one to watch.

Coming attractions - this week's podcast is with the Director of Info Services for one of Canada's largest law firms. We'll be talking about what their firm is going through as he takes them down the IP garden path, and away from their antiquated PBX. This is what VoIP looks like from the front lines where time is money.

Friday, November 11, 2005

NexTone Revisited

In my posting earlier this week, I noted that NexTone may become a consolidator now that they have a fresh round of funding. Well, that seems to be the message VON Magazine got talking with Dan Dearing, so my instincts on this appear to be right.

The good buzz around NexTone continues. Today I spoke with Private Equity Analyst magazine about their funding - looks like NexTone will be their "deal of the month" in the December issue. Not sure if there's a centerfold - I can't afford the $1,570 subscription fee, and it's not available on the newsstands! :-)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

PhoneGnome - Phone Home....

I've posted a couple of times about the PhoneGnome from Televolution.

I'm not much of a gadget guy, but I got my PhoneGnome today, and am looking forward to using it. The concept is great - only problem is I need to find other PhoneGnomers out there to take advantage of free on-net calling. Andy and Alec - I think I'll be calling you soon!

Of course, you can also take advantage of very low LD rates for PSTN calls if you buy minutes from one of the plans offered by PhoneGnome. This is really neat, since you just dial LD numbers like you normally would, and the minutes go against your plan. If you're making a local call or calling another PhoneGnome user, PhoneGnome knows the difference, so you only use LD minutes when making off-net LD calls. Since there's no monthly commitment, you essentially get the main benefit of a VoIP subscriber service for a lot less money, plus you're still on PSTN - so you get the best of both worlds.

Of course, things get more interesting once you add SoftGnome into the mix, since that gives you portability. Now you can take the benefit of cheap off-net LD with you on the road - and have call display still show your POTS number at the other end.

So, two calls to action out there in blogosphere...

1. If you're a PhoneGnome user, I'd be happy to connect with you to test out the quality and help spread the word.

2. If you're not a PhoneGnome user, check it out - and tell 'em I sent ya.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Mr. Pulver goes to Washington

Jeff Pulver and his regulatory guru, Jonathan Askin are closely monitoring the hearings going on in Washington DC right now to develop an effective policy framework for VoIP.

Jeff has been taking good notes via his blog, and I urge you to follow his postings if you want to keep on top of the situation.

I'm not a regulatory expert, but Jeff raises some troubling issues about how fragile Net Freedoms really are, and the seemingly arbitrary approach the FCC is taking to regulating the Internet, especially over the E911 issue - but not doing the same for other communications technologies like wireless or satellite.

As usual, Jeff's timing is right on. Tomorrow is his Peripheral Visionaries Summit, which has a heavy focus on the regulatory issues. He's right in the thick of it during these days before the event, and I expect his next few blog postings will give us a pretty good window on how the FCC is looking at VoIP now, as well as the positions being taken by all the key stakeholders - RBOCs, MSOs, software companies and IM players.

Also of note - uber blogger Andy Abramson will be attending the summit, so look to his postings for a more detached perspective on how things turn out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Canadian Thought Leaders Podcast - Bob Mimeault, Versatel Networks

Last week's podcast in my Canadian IP Thought Leaders series for VON Radio is now available.

I spoke with Bob Mimeault, CEO of Versatel Networks. Versatel is another innovative IP company from the Ottawa region - Gatineau, Quebec to be more precise. Bob has really taken this company forward, and they are strong advocates of putting network intelligence out to the edge, especially in their gateway, which has been designed around this principle. Versatel is finding their niche, and a recent round of funding provides further validation of this.

Bob articulates his thinking on this during the podcast, especially in terms of the kinds of problems he's seeing from carriers. Aside from some friendly Toronto/Ottawa hockey talk, Bob also talked a bit about what makes Ottawa such a vibrant community for IP companies. Check it out!

Monday, November 7, 2005

Is NexTone the Next One?

I came across this play on words by chance - the copywriter in me couldn't resist using it for this posting. I think it fits pretty well.

NexTone announced its D series round of funding today. They got $35 million, just about doubling their funding to date. So, they've attracted almost $70 million, which is pretty good for a company very few people were following a year ago. Of course, other IP vendors continue to get funding, and it's a sign of health, as many vendors who've been in the game a few years have now got a mature, well defined offering, a sizable customer base, and a core management team with a plan.

NexTone has come a long way, and with over 300 customers, they see a lot of upside for themselves as a standalone vendor in the session border controller space. I've followed this space for some time, and there is room still for vendors with varying approaches to session management, and NexTone has found a strong niche, largely among Tier 2/3 service providers. The Tier 1s get all the headlines, but there's a big world out there for other carriers, and vendors like NexTone are doing a great job catering to their needs.

I don't see NexTone being the Next One in terms of the next Cisco, but I think they are a model for where startup vendors go from here, as they mature from being gawky teenagers into responsible adults - so to speak. The nextgen infrastructure space is full of vendors like this, and they will all face similar decision points in the next year or so.

To me, there are 3 paths to follow - go public, become acquired, or become a consolidator. We've already seen examples for all of these. Within NexTone's space - session border control - Newport Networks had a successful IPO, and both Kagoor and Jasomi were recent exits, being acquired by Juniper and Ditech respectively. Others like Tekelec and Excel Switching have been acting like consolidators given their acquisitions over the past year. It's too early too tell, but if I had to pick, I'd say NexTone is most likely to become a consolidator. Time will tell.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Internet Voice Campaign Kicks Off

I'm a day late with this, but wanted to post about it since I've not seen much coverage about it anywhere.

Yesterday the Internet Voice Campaign was launched, which I think is a step in the right direction to help broaden the awareness and undertanding of VoIP in the general public.

The founders of this initiative are Sonus, Google, EarthLink, Skype, Pulver.com, the VON Coalition and USA Datanet.

Pretty interesting mix, and conspicuous by their absence, of course, are the RBOCs. If Ed Whitacre gets his way, I don't see that changing any time soon!

Certainly no surprise seeing Sonus and EarthLink there - they've been in the game from the beginning, and are great examples of companies that are built around IP, and continue to show market leadership and innovative thinking.

Google and Skype are the ones that really catch my eye. Skype is the 800 pound gorilla of VoIP, certainly in terms of their share of VoIP minutes. Monetizing this, of course, is another story. And it's also interesting to see just how quiet it's become on the Skype hype front since the eBay deal. Lots is going on, no doubt, and Jeff Pulver made a great observation the other day about their job posting for an enterprise product manager - a sure sign about where they're looking now. Regardless, if anyone has brand clout in this space, it's Skype. Which raises the burning question - where is Vonage in this mix? If anyone knows about building a VoIP brand it's them. Am sure there's a good reason why they're not in.

And then there's Google. I think it speaks volumes to see them here. A year ago, who was talking about Google in this space? And now they look almost unstoppable in their quest to be the Microsoft of the Internet. They're the one I'd be watching.

Pulling all this together is the VON Coalition, and the press release (see link above) provides contact info if anyone wants to get in touch or become involved.

Unfortunately, there's nothing about this initiative yet on the VON Coalition website, so the press release is the best way to get the story. I hope they get that fixed soon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Bell's Q3 Numbers - Landline Losses Starting to Show

I don't normally follow earnings calls, but some estimates from RBC Dominion about Bell's landline losses caught my eye.

They estimate 2006 residential access line losses will be 490,000, which is a decline of 6%. That's significant, and is in line with what the RBOCs are experiencing. Our VoIP market is a good year behind the U.S., and I guess this estimate shows that we're just catching up.

Residential line losses have been a painful fact of life for RBOCs for some 2 years, but it's very new in Canada. Wireless substitution isn't as a big a deal here because wireless penetration is lower, prices are higher, and we don't have wireless LNP. Also, broadband penetration is higher, so there's less of a shift happening among dial up customers migrating to high speed.

I wasn't able to take part on the call, and don't see anything in the press release to substantiate this erosion. The closest I could find was a "3.5% decline in the residential NAS (Network Access Service) customer base". It's not clear if this decline is compared to the previous quarter or if it's year-over-year. I'd be very worried if it was the former, but I'll give 'em the benefit of the doubt.

Either way, losses are no doubt occurring, but up until very recently, it's been a minor issue. With Videotron leading the assault on Bell's home subscribers, the environment is changing fast, and it's not a minor issue any more. This is reflected in the financials, and the investment community is now looking at the impact of VoIP in language they understand. Profit forecasts have been slightly lowered, and this is partially due to the landline losses, as well as the lower margins Bell will get from VoIP as opposed to POTS.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

SoftGnome - Coming to Your Desktop Soon

PhoneGnome is not yet a household word, and neither is SoftGnome, but they both come from someone who knows something about making something pretty close to a household name, at least in the IP world.

Today I got a chance to speak with David Beckemeyer, the CEO of TelEvolution, the company he has founded to bring these cool things to market. I posted about PhoneGnome a while back, and commented a bit on the company. David has surrounded himself with first rate advisors, and was the co-founder of EarthLink, which is probably the most recognizable ISP in the US after AOL.

The SoftGnome was officially launched today, and this sure is an interesting application. Here's the press release:


This is their version of a soft phone, but like PhoneGnome, is designed to work with your existing POTS line. It's cheaper than a soft phone client from the likes of a Vonage (only $4.95/mo.), so if you want the benefits of VoIP in your home, and on the go, you really don't need to sign on with a VoIP provider. PhoneGnome gives you VoIP functionality over POTS, and using their LD partners, you'll still come out ahead compared to getting a VoIP plan and keeping bare minimum POTS for lifeline support. Plus, you get the reliabililty of POTS, 911, 411, etc., and of course, you keep your phone number. That in itself is pretty neat.

Now, add the SoftGnome, and you have the full package. The really cool thing is you keep your regular phone number, and with SoftGnome you can make or receive calls on your PC. So, imagine call forwarding your POTS calls to your computer. Or, when you make outbound SoftGnome calls, your POTS number shows up at the other end on their caller ID - regardless of where you're calling from.

So, it's VoIP with a twist - a true hybrid approach that combines the best of both worlds - POTS and VoIP. How about PoIP - POTS over IP? You get the idea. This is one of those things that's fairly intuitive, but the wow factor doesn't sink in until you use it.

In terms the business model, my question to David was this - are you friend or foe to the RBOC? The answer isn't totally clear, as it's really a bit of both. They could embrace it for defensive reasons and mitigate some erosion of revenues, but could also use it on the offensive for pursuing growth out of region.

TelEvolution is also targeting ITSPs and ISPs, where the appeal is pretty easy to see. PhoneGnome and SoftGnome really eliminate the need for these operators to build out a VoIP infrastructure, and they can basically have plug-and-play VoIP out of the box.

Given David's track record, I have no doubt he's on to something good here, and the market will start paying attention when he can establish some major channels and distribution partners. At the heart of this is his philosophy of making Internet applications open to all, and getting away from the walled gardens that so many operators have and continue to build.

Thanks to Andy Abramson for getting me connected to his client, and helping get the word out about some innovative products. These are exactly the kinds of products the market needs for VoIP to reach mass adoption, and give the operators an avenue to make some money.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bell Launches "Fastest Ever" EV-DO Network

On Friday, I noted that Bell had a big announcement coming first thing Monday. Anyone following Bell has the story by now, so there's nothing breaking about this posting. However, I just wanted to note this for the record.

Off the record, the stars were clearly not lined up for me to on the early side of the news - despite my best intentions. My plan was to be on the 9am analyst call for this, and then post the news as soon as the embargo was lifted shortly after. Well, I was on the call at 9, but was unable to dial in. I have no idea what went wrong, but every attempt failed - either too many people were calling in at once (unlikely - there can't be that many analysts), or there were some problems at the other end of the line. Whatever. Then, before I know it, the bridge is closed at 9:05. Wow! Talk about a short window. So, I missed the call altogether.

That's not so bad, but then not long after, the cable service goes on the fritz, and I'm basically offline until 5pm. So I still don't know the story, and sorry, folks, but it's Halloween, and when you have young kids, it's time to go. That's done now, and here I am, posting about this story some 12 hours after the fact. So, I'm not scooping anyone on this item, but I'm giving you this roundabout accounting of my day to show how with tech, we live by the sword, and die by the sword!

For those of you not up on the news, it was pretty interesting, and I'm sorry I missed the call. So, basically, Bell is launching a 3G EV-DO network - which they claim to be the fastest in commercial service. It's a service that I'm sure will be popular here, and coming hot on the heels of George Cope joining as COO, I'm sure this was timed for maximum impact to let Telus know who's boss. I'm sure Telus is working on something along these lines, but right now, it's Bell making all the noise.

That is.... unless you count Telus's latest news, which must have some of us scratching our heads.

Today's Globe & Mail carried a piece about how well their HR subsidiary - Telus Sourcing Solutions is doing. Can someone please explain to me how and/or why Telus is in the HR business? As the article explains, if it's an area they can make money at, why not? And if they can be successful at this game, I feel obliged to note the irony here given their inability to keep George Cope, the cornerstone of their wireless operations. Right now, it seems to me there are other stories they should be drawing attention to, such as the cool things they're doing with IP solutions for the enterprise market. Ditto for the latest strike settlement news, which isn't great, but let's not go there.

Friday, October 28, 2005

When Bell Calls.....

It sure has been an interesting week or so for Canada's majors in the IP space. Nortel's CEO story is pretty hard to top, and Mark Evans has done some great post-mortems about it.

But there's been an awful lot of other things going on up here. All of a sudden, Canada is becoming an IP hotbed. Consider what's been happening lately.....

- Same week as the Nortel story, Bell hires George Cope away from arch rival Telus to be their COO. This is almost as big as the Nortel story, and is actually bigger in terms of the local telco landscape.

- Nortel sells its corporate HQ to Rogers for $100M. It's located way outside of Toronto - not close to anything except the airport. No idea what Mr. Rogers has in mind here, other than the predictable move to consolidate spread out workers into one location. He did the same thing here in Toronto many years ago by picking up the HQ of Confederation Life which had gone bankrupt. But that building cost next to nothing and is in an absolute prime downtown location. If you're a sports fan, you'd also know that he picked up the SkyDome for a measly $25 million recently, which could turn out to be a great investment (original cost was over $600 million, which we taxpayers are still paying for).

I don't know how you go from that to $100M for Nortel, but one thing's for sure - whatever the cost, it really represents a changing of the guard in the Canadian telecom hierarchy. Point, Rogers. Again. Mr. Rogers likes nothing more than to irritate Bell, and he did a good job of that by scooping Microcell to make Rogers Wireless the #1 wireless operator in Canada. Had Bell grabbed Microcell (based in their Montreal backyard), Rogers would never have been able to catch them. Next irritant - acquiring Call Net (Sprint), giving Rogers CLEC status and an instant entree into telecom by inheriting 500,000 residential customers. Talk about going from 0 to 500k in a hurry. And now, Nortel, which of course is a spinout from Bell. If you can't buy the company, buying the HQ may be the next best thing. So, just like the SkyDome (now called Rogers Center) now has a very prominent "Rogers" logo splashed all over the building, it will be a happy day in Rogers-land when that Nortel logo comes down in Brampton, replaced with the ever-familiar Rogers logo.

- Cable telephony numbers are picking up. The major cablecos here have had some announcements and earnings calls, and are talking up strong growth or jacked up expectations, namely Rogers, Shaw and Cogeco.

- The Telus strike is finally resolved. That's a huge rock to move out of the way, and finally the road seems clear enough for Telus to get going on IP. Shaw hasn't done enough damage yet to force Telus to roll out consumer VoIP, but it certainly is coming.

- Bell Canada launches VoIP in Quebec. They recently launched in Ontario, and as noted in an earlier posting, it's a pretty interesting offering in that you don't need broadband to use it, nor do you need any devices to attach to your phone. Just call Bell and order the service. I think that's pretty neat, and may be the way to go. Well, this week, they announced the same for Quebec. Finally. It's a tacit recognition that Videotron is causing pain and they can't wait any longer. Maybe seeing Videotron hit the 6 figure mark for subscribers was the point of no return.

- Oz Communications lands a deal with Cingular for wireless email. I blogged about this the other day, and it's great to see another Canadian company leading the way in the mobile email space.

So, with all this going on, you have to make some noise to get attention. Well, Bell seems to have something up their sleeve, and we're going to hear about it Monday morning. When you get this in your inbox, it's kind of hard to click "delete" and move on to the next email.....


Check back in with me on Monday - we're under NDA until mid-morning.