Thursday, September 29, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series - Mark Evans on Fall VON

This week's Canadian podcast for VON Radio is with Mark Evans. He's the Senior Technology Reporter for the National Post, which is one of Canada's national business dailies.

Mark and I reprised our impressions of Fall VON, and added our Canadian perspectives where we could. We were also on the Blogger's Panel, and revisited some of the topics covered. Our call wrapped up with a look at the financial aspects of the market, and a review of Canadian vendors to watch, including New Heights, Versatel Networks, Iotum, and Eyeball Networks.

Mark is one of Canada's top tech journalists, and frequently breaks the cool stories ahead of the pack. His blog is well read and widely cited - if it's not on your blog roll, it should be.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Maxwell Smart - He Will Be Missed!

The blog isn't always about tech - I also love comedy, cinema, music, the Red Sox, etc. - and I just have to note the passing of Don Adams.

Get Smart is still my favorite show from the 60s, and it's been off the air as far as I can tell for ages. I don't know who controls the rights, but it's one of the few classic TV shows that I can't find on DVD. Maybe Mel Brooks and/or Buck Henry were smart enough to know this show would have some real staying power.

Jeff Pulver made a great reference to the show at a recent VON about how visionary the show was in terms of all the gadgets they'd come up with. And of course, nothing tops the shoe phone - who knew???

I'm sure we all have our favorite episodes - so many classics and great characters to choose from - the Laser Blazer, the Craw, Mr. Bob, Max's mother-in-law, Hymie, Shtacker, Bronzefinger, the Cone of Silence, Rupert of Ratheskeller, Don Rickles, the Tequila Mockingbird, Leadside, Smartacus, etc. I have to stop now - makes me just want to watch 'em all over again. They just don't make them like they used to. Agent 86 - we'll miss you big time!



Monday, September 26, 2005

Skapple - I Still Like the Idea - Here's Something Close

Prior to the Skype/eBay deal, I posted my view that Apple would be a good fit for Skype, which I reiterated post-deal at the VON Blogger Panel last week.

CNET News ran a nice piece today about softphones, and was a great feature for Mark Bruk, and his recently renamed company, CounterPath (formerly XTen - Canadian, btw!).

The article made a reference to portable devices like the iPod possibly getting telephone interfaces someday. So, instead of Skype, maybe it will be with CounterPath - fine by me - I still think it's a good idea.

"Rumors are already swirling that Google is developing its own software and hardware for a Google phone. It's not too difficult to imagine a piece of software as a plug-in for Apple Computer's iPod--turning it into the iPhone--or a personal digital assistant becoming a PDA-phone."

My only regret is that if this happens without Skype, they wouldn't call it the Skypod - which I think would be a great name!

Telecom Competition in Canada - How Much is Enough?

We are a land of compromise, that's for sure. This is one of my pet peeves about Canada - it works for some things, and not for others.

Our telecom regulator is the CRTC - Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission. The Globe & Mail reports that today they are about to embark on the latest set of public hearings to define the competitive landscape for VoIP. Apologies - I don't have a direct link to the article yet.

One of the key issues is to determine the level of competition from which incumbent telcos can be deregulated so they can compete on a level playing field with everyone else for VoIP.

In the telco corner we have the facilities-based incumbents - Bell, Telus, Aliant, etc. They say the level should be 5%. So, once competitiors reach 5% market share for local access service, their view is that they get to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Not surprisingly, the cablecos see things differently - Rogers, Shaw, Videotron, Cogeco, etc. They say the level should be 30% - once competitors take this much away from the ILECs, then deregulation kicks in.

Most sources peg the ILEC market share in Canada to be 97% or 98%. If that's not a monopoly in this day and age, I don't know what is. That's the position the cablecos argue from. Telcos just have too much market dominance, and the CRTC's position is that they have to let competitors have a fair shot. That's not unreasonable. So, for cablecos, having competition rise in share from 2 points to 5 points is hardly going to give them a foothold - which may well be true.

On the other hand, waiting until it hits 30% is quite a stretch. What if it never gets that high? What if VoIP just gets so-so market traction - which is my view for Canada - and competitors only take 20% away? Does that mean telcos never get a chance to play fair in the VoIP game?

The hearings should be interesting for sure, and I suspect they will reach a compromise. Both sides know how to play the CRTC game very well. The recent launches of cable VoIP have been successful - by Canadian standards - and will probably help the telco's cause in terms of getting things to go their way. On the other hand, the incumbents have done very little so far with consumer VoIP - aside from Bell's very recent launch - and the cablecos would argue that their dominance for local access is still basically intact, and this will only change if they get a fair chance.

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 23, 2005

NEWSFLASH - Another 1,000 VoIP Subs Coming in Canada

Wow, can you believe it? We're rocking now.

The Globe & Mail today reported that Cogeco's CEO, Louis Audet made an announcement along these lines at an investor conference.

Cogeco is Canada's #4 MSO, and have recently come to market with VoIP. The top 4 - Rogers, Shaw, Videotron and Cogeco - dominate the overall cable market here, and they all now have VoIP. In US terms, this would be like Charter saying they're expecting 10,000 VoIP subs in year 1. Oh boy.

That said, Mr. Audet says their numbers are on the conservative side -in true Canadian fashion - be safe than sorry - eh. And looking to next year, they figure to hit 8,000. Bring it on. Is this really newsworthy? Maybe because it's so small - but that's a different story. These meager numbers worry me, and say that Canadian cablecos are playing it very safe with VoIP. I don't see any Time Warners in this mix, and Vonage Canada probably doesn't have nearly as much to worry about as their parent in New Jersey. It's another example of what I've been harping on lately about the state of IP among Canadian operators. Someone - please - prove me wrong!

Fall VON Review, Part 2

I managed to blog at the end of Day 1, but it's been out of control busy since then. Most of the good stuff has been covered by the uberbloggers who are more "always on" than me, and if you haven't been there, and still want to read about the show, check them out - Mark Evans, Andy Abramson (especially his comments about the poor broadband quality in Hilton hotels!) and Alec Saunders. Jeff Pulver has some recaps, and lots of photos, so that's the place to go to see what show actually looked like! Also, Jeff has a terrific guest blog from Michael Powell, the previous FCC Chairman. Given how there was no FCC presence at the show - conspicuously absent, for sure - this posting is great to see.

Jeff's Keynote

I didn't see many presentations, but I did want to briefly summarize the main messages from Jeff Pulver's opening address, which really set the tone for the conference.

Transformation was the key theme for Jeff. He spoke about how the worlds of computing and communications are converging, and that's never been more true than the past few months. Makes you wonder if the show should be renamed CON, instead of VON - there's a lot of "C" words in what he's saying!

This led to comments about our lack of emergency preparedness for natural disasters, and how IP was the most reliable source of communication during Katrina - not just voice, but blogging and video podcasting. True to his roots, ham radio got added to the mix as another medium of last resort, which is totally true. To make this real, he noted how the American Radio Relay League had shown support for an idea he proposed - Internet Field Day - which is the Internet version of an annual event held by the ham radio community.

Another interesting topic for transformation was television. Jeff talked about how the Live8 broadcast this summer was a real proof point that IP is ready for video. Not only is the quality better than broadcast - at least for the mass market - but more people watched the concerts via AOL's webcasts than the various broadcasts on TV. I think that speaks volumes about how quickly and profoundly IP is becoming an agent of change. The scary part for the TV networks, of course, is that IP can do the same end-run around their networks as they are doing now with telecom networks. It's just another type of network, but the outcome will be the same. In short, as Jeff said, TV is just another IP application. End of story.

Jeff noted a great personal example of how the world hasn't caught up to IP and TV yet. While in a London hotel recently, he was able to watch TV over broadband using his Slingbox - but the hotel was blocking his SIP traffic for voice. TV takes up so much more bandwidth, but they weren't looking for that - gotta like the irony there.

From there, he picked up the theme that disruption will continue, which is good for the IP camp, and not so good for the old guard. To keep the momentum going, he reiterated the need to focus on Net Freedoms - pretty much echoed by Jeff Citron on Monday. On that front, Jeff noted the formation last year of the Global IP Alliance, which is focused on supporting "smart" regulation - easier said than done.

Finally, Jeff talked about how transformation is impacting his business operations. has become pulvermedia, and Free World Dialup has been renamed FWD. As he noted, it's like KFC - nobody wants to buy something that's fried. Likewise, nobody's going to buy something that's free, so let's just use an acronym.

FWD is also going in some interesting directions. He spoke of how their federation now has some 120 IP operators interconnecting their voice traffic. They also have a block of 500 numbers, provisioned by MCI. The tricky part, he explained, was getting these numbers to work if you're not on the MCI network. Finally, Jeff noted the newest service along this path of perhaps becoming the next P2P operator to become acquired - It's a free service to aggregate phone numbers into a mega 411 directory - any type - IP, cellular and PSTN. So, if you've had an unlisted number but still want to be found on 411, this is the way to go. Same of course, for all cell and VoIP subscribers.

The Blogger Panel

This was a fun session, and I felt fortunate to stand in for Om Malik, who was not feeling well enough to make the show. Alec Saunders's blog has the best real-time account on this that I've seen so far. Great job, Alec!

VON Panel.jpg

Other Thoughts/Observations

Aside from Jeff's keynote, the video broadcast for Skype's Niklas Zennstrom was probably the most anticipated event of the show. I don't think there has ever been a bigger IP story than Skype/eBay, and here we have Niklas at VON so soon after the news. Well, wouldn't you know it that they couldn't get the video feed to work. How ironic! Just seemed silly that for all the tech challenges Skype magically overcomes, they couldn't get this to go. They ended up giving up on the video, and after a while, they just did audio, which probably worked just fine. I couldn't hang on, unfortunately, and missed it. Am told the presentation was pretty high level, and there wasn't any breaking news or clues as to why this deal really happened.

The VON event had a really strong international presence - over 60 countries - pretty similar to VON Europe in that regard. An International Lounge was set up to welcome these visitors, which makes a lot of sense to me. I had a chance to speak with many foreign visitors, and it's really interesting to hear how important the US VON events are for them. It's another validation that VON is where the IP industry comes to meet and be in one place. Along those lines, the VON experience is now going global. There was ample signage at the show letting attendees know that VON will soon be coming to your part of the world.

It's all about branding. Others have already commented on the key technology themes at the show - especially IMS and video - but I couldn't help notice how branding-oriented this space is becoming. Vendors I've been following for a while all of a sudden have a catchy logo, slick marcom, cool clothes, and booth spaces on steriods. I don't want to name names, but a few others are soon to unveil their new looks to keep pace. There must be quite a few marketing makeover specialists out there doing a booming business. To me, it's another sign of how IP is maturing, as little companies grow, as survivors begin thrive, and how the big get bigger through acquisition. It's been commented about how the show is attracting more finance people now, and the exhibitors want/need to look their best. It's bit like boys and girls lining up on opposite sides of the gym for the school dance, and nobody wants to be left standing alone.

Finally, I have to mention Tom Evslin's blook. Isn't that a great word? Anyone staying at the Sheraton - maybe other hotels too - had this mysterious looking message imprinted on their room key -

What is it? It's the title of his blook. It's a murder mystery novel that's being serialized in blog form. This is fun - it's almost too real to be fiction. Totally different experience from reading a paper-based book. It's all virtual, but very engaging. He's not the first one to do this, but I'll bet it's a window on how web-based publishing is evolving and starting to become real.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

If you're trying to reach me...

I feel fortunate to have been added to the Blogger Panel at the last minute on Tuesday. I've had a number of people contact me since then, and I'm aware that my blog page doesn't have any contact information or a blog roll. I promise to get that fixed after VON!!!

So, until then, you can email me any time -

Otherwise, the show has been go go go, and the energy as high as ever. I hope to post later today with some thoughts on show.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fall VON - Day 1

So far, so good here in Boston. This year's show is at the new convention center, which is quite big, and not near the hotels. But that's ok - we all adjust. Lots of walking, so it's a good way to work off the good eats.

Today is mostly pre-conference workshops, and I've been in the sessions about Open Source. Lots of interesting perspectives from industry leaders like JBoss, Asterisk, My SQL, Pingtel and SIP Foundry. Open Source is certainly gaining momentum, and Norway's Telio illustrated some real life examples as to how OS is finding its way into carrier networks, both lowering costs and speeding up time to market for new services. Hopefully, the next time around for an OS summit, we'll have more examples and proof points like this.

The lunch time keynote was with New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, who was introduced as one of the best friends the IP industry has.

Unlike previous VONs, there is no FCC presence this year, so Senator Sununu's comments were well received. Clearly, in the wake of Katrina, a lot of attention has been focused on the shortcomings of the US communications infrastructure in times of disaster. His basic message was that US telecom policy should be driven by the principal of "do no harm", and in light of Katrina, the implication is that we're not being well served given the technologies available to us today.

He also expressed strong disappointment in the exclusion of the IP community in the Washington post-mortems around Katrina, a message that was well received by all in the room. Jeff Pulver and others have blogged quite passionately about this in recent days, and I'll leave this thread to those who are hands-on with the policymakers.

Jeff Citron just finished his keynote -"The Future is Calling". He has always been a great draw at VON, and of course, there was a lot of anticipation to hear his message now that Skype has set the bar for the dealmakers. Not surprisingly, he focused on much safer ground - the "Broadband Bill of Rights". That was his "announcement" - so, nothing radical to report here.

He did have a soft sell message that will play well with the investment community - the kind of things you'd want to hear from a company building up a global brand. He basically outlined 4 key points to their strategy, but nothing earth-shaking here:

1. Improve people's lives - flexible communication tools to make our lives better and easier - well, we all want that, right!

2. Erase geographic boundaries - VoIP is ideal for this - nothing new there.

3. Develop a culture of innovation - this sounds more like Jeff Pulver than Jeff Citron, but you gotta have this for longevity - the secret sauce has to come from somewhere.

4. Strong commitment to value - features/quality/low price - no argument there - but can you make money doing this? Not so sure, but maybe that's not the end game right now.

The second topic was his "announcement" - the Broadband Bill of Rights. It sounds am awful lot like Net Freedoms, but again, these are the messages that look good coming from an industry leader.

- Right to connect any device to the network - there was a time when the phone company was the only place you could buy/rent a phone - good point, for those of us who remember those days

- Right transmit/receive data - and the right to have their network provider block packets - BUT only with explicit approval

- Right to access anything lawful on the Internet - NO BLOCKING!

- Right to privacy

- Right to get quality broadband - at least 1 megabit - ALL the time.

It's all good - can't complain, and all we can hope is that more people - and the right people - will listen when it's coming from Vonage.

Jeff also highlighted how well Vonage performed in New Orleans, and how it was held up as an example as to why regulators should formulate policies that support IP communications. Couldn't agree more.

And now, to the inevitable question about eBay/Skype - "no comment". He simply said Skype is not a replacement service, which reiterates what he's said in the past that this is basically a calling card business. I certainly agree with the first part. There's a lot of confusion in the press where Skype and Vonage are often lumped together. So, I'm with Jeff in making the distinction between a subscription-based broadband voice service versus and an ad hoc model, which is basically driven by the prepaid model.

Time to visit the show floor - will continue tomorrow.

NOTE - the Blogger's Roundtable is tomorrow, and here's the latest news. Om Malik has bowed out dued to illness, and I'll be taking his spot. So I'll be up there with the uberbloggers in less than 24 hours, and am quite excited to be included in this elite group. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More VoIP Media Citings

Today, the Globe & Mail ran a special insert on IP, which was good to see, especially in terms of the variety of advertising support. Both Nortel and Telus ran full page ads, and Vonage had a 3/4 page ad. Now we know where Jeff Citron is spending some of his money! Actually, Vonage has developed a pretty good presence in Canada, with ads running on all traditional media - print, radio and TV - which you need to do to reach the mainstream.

Kudos to Jeff Pulver, for getting cited in Paul Lima's piece about how VoIP is changing how we communicate.

I also was cited briefly in Catherine McLean's piece about businesses are migrating to various IP solutions.

Woe Canada, Part 2 - Wireless Number Portability - Not Now, But Here's How You Can Help...

Last week I noted how well Canada fared in the 2005 Pulver 100, with 13 companies making the list. I also commented on how the service providers are not keeping pace, as the VoIP market here is still trying to find its legs.

While not a IP issue, the lack of wireless number portability has been a concern here for some time, and this week the CWTA - Canadian Wireless Telecom Association - announced we won't be seeing this until September 2007. That's an awful long time in IP years, and to me, is another example of how Canada's carriers and regulators are behind the curve, stifling innovation and competition.

Never one to miss an opportunity to stir the pot, Virgin Mobile Canada is making some noise to accelerate the process. In yesterday's Globe & Mail, they ran a full page open letter ad, signed by Sir Richard himself, urging consumers to speak out. Of course, they stand to benefit perhaps more than anyone in Canada from WNP, but at least give them credit for trying to give mobile subscribers a voice.

Essentially, they're running an online petition to gather support. It's not clear what they intend to do with this, but if you want to speak your mind, there is an email address ready to take your call...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Canadian Podcast Series Underway - Erik Lagerway on SIP

I recently initiated a series of weekly podcasts on VON Radio with IP thought leaders based in Canada, or those with a keen Canadian perspective. The first one was done last week with Erik Lagerway, and we built the conversation around his recent full length interview with Gizmo's Michael Robertson and where SIP is going now.

Erik does a regular series of his own podcasts, including a regular series entitled "The Future of VoIP". It's all good, and I urge you to check these out.

With all the activity around VON, it's taken until now for the podcast to be posted. Click here to download - your comments are welcome!

These podcasts will resume after VON, and I look forward to sharing with you a steady stream of interesting perspectives from Canada.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Skype/Ebay - the Dominoes are About to Fall - We Are Stardust...

WOW. What else can you say about this? I sure didn't think this would happen, and clearly Skype has thrown itself wholly into the Internet world and e-commerce space. No doubt the opportunities are tremendous, and Skype will be in a very different business now. The idea of adding voice to the online buying process is a great idea, and I can certainly see why eBay would want Skype for this, not to mention theiir 50+ million "users". No one is really sure how big Skype's true user base is, but no doubt it's big enough to significantly expand eBay's footprint in a hurry. I'm not what all those Skype developers will do now - lots of creative energy out there, and eBay just opens a whole new world of ways to put this to work.

That said, the idealism is gone, and the Woodstock era is over. It's a business, and they know this as much as anybody else. I'm very excited about this, and happy for what Skype has accomplished, and what this may signal in the weeks to come. The dominoes have been falling for a few weeks now, but this is a big one, ushering in the billion dollar valuation of VoIP companies. For $7 million in revenues last year, Skype has earned a fortune for their backers, and no doubt the dealmakers will be in overdrive now. All eyes will now shift to Vonage, no doubt.

So much for my idea about Apple and Skype. I still think the Skypod could be a great product!

My posting for yesterday was about Vonage, and I made a reference to the peer to peer players - Skype, Free World Dialup and Voiceglo. I had no idea that barely 12 hours later they would be the center of the news.

So, here we go again. As the dominoes fall, you have to ask - who's next? I'll come back to the other two - Free World Dialup and Voiceglo. These are very different operations, and both bring a lot to the table. Jeff Pulver has been nuturing FWD along for years, and has paralleled many of the innovations that Skype has brought, so they know the deal. Voiceglo has been very creative in its own way, and from what I can tell have the largest peer to peer community out there after Skype. They may be a distant number 2, but if you can't be number 1, that's not a bad place to be. Look for both of these companies to receive a lot of attention in the very near future.

I'm not an early morning poster, so I'll share the keen insights from those who have already done the thinking and the writing. Andy Abramson's VoIP Watch had this one nailed before it happened. There's a reason why Andy is hosting the Blogger's Roundtable at VON next week! And of course, Jeff Pulver has made his early morning comments. Happy Birthday Jeff!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

McVonage - Over One Million Served - Financial Times Weighs in on VoIP

I realize the news of Vonage hitting a million lines is a bit old at this point, but it's certainly a notable milestone in the annals of VoIP. Of course, Vonage's messaging is a bit unclear, and nobody seems to be sure just exactly what's being counted - customers, subscribers or phone numbers. Still, it's a big milestone, and given the American media's obsession with numbers, the news was needed, at minimum to keep Vonage in the increasingly crowded VoIP spotlight.

Time Warner is certainly nipping at Vonage's heels, and my guess is that they will catch and then bypass Vonage by year-end. If not then, I'd say by Q1 2006 for sure. Vonage has enjoyed 50%+ market share for some time, and they deserve all the credit for building their brand, and getting consumers to equate themselves with VoIP. If VoIP is hamburger, then Vonage is McDonalds. That said, consumer tastes are changing, and they're upsizing to the bundles offered by Time Warner, Cablevision, etc. Bottom line - Vonage's rate of growth is very likely slowing down as deep-pocketed MSOs and telcos enter the market and offer attractive alternatives to POTS.

We're still in the early innings here, and I believe there will be room for both kinds of offerings - the ever-convenient, value-rich Triple Play, as well as the really good pure play VoIP offering - for which Vonage has successfully set the standard.

With that all said, it's easy to see why Vonage is making a lot of noise about a million - whatever they're counting. The American MSOs can't make that claim first, so get it in there while there's still time. Then you have some people out there lumping in the peer to peer players like Skype, Free World Dialup and Voiceglo, and all of a sudden, Vonage doesn't look so big. That's just downright confusing, and it reflects a basic misunderstanding about the various flavors of VoIP out there.

One person who does have this right is Paul Taylor. Paul wrote a good piece on the overall state of VoIP in the UK's Financial Times late last week. He was nice enough to cite me, and, on the whole, the media was pretty good to me last week, and I've done my best to share these citings on my recent blog postings.

Friday, September 9, 2005

More On Skype - Computer Business Review

Just a quick post here - here's today's Computer Business Review's take on Skype, and again, they've included some of my views.

Business Week's Take on Skypemania

I mentioned in yeseterday's blog that I've been speaking with the press a fair bit the past few days about all this hyper-activity in the IP space.

Business Week's piece is published now, and they were kind enough to cite me in the article. The writer also made reference to my views on how Skype and Apple could make good music together - which I also just posted about earlier today.

I'll be posting others as they are published.

Skapple - Could That Work?

I can't believe all the buzz around Skype and Vonage for IPO or takeout scenarios. Seems to be at a fever pitch, and every day it's another dance partner combo. They're all in the mix, esp with Microsoft acquiring Teleo and Google launching voice. eBay is today's story du jour, and maybe tomorrow it will be AOL. Lots of interesting stories and blog postings out there. I spoke with a few pubs about it today, and will pass on the links when the stories run.

With all that's going on, here's the one that makes some sense to me - Skype and Apple. I haven't seen or heard about that combo yet, and it's just my thinking, but I like it. I'm not really an Apple follower - am sure Om Malik would have a lot to say here - but at a high level, I see a good fit and some complementary offerings.

Just look at the companies, their cultures, their leaders, their audience. It all fits - if you recall, at VON Canada, Jeff Pulver noted that Niklas Zennstrom is the Steve Jobs of VoIP - Skype is the iPod of our space. It's all true - they're both visionary guys, with maverick, upstart companies that are reinventing their spaces with offerings that are fun, good, easy to use, and wildy popular.

I can certainly see ways they could work together. How about downloading iTunes to Skype? Or custom ring backs? Of course, these are the kinds of things that the Skype developer community is frantically working on now, and no doubt more cool stuff like this is in the works. How about bundling Skype with the iPod? Maybe incorporate voice into future models of the iPod. And we'll call it the Skypod. I sure like the sound of that - and just remember where you heard it first. This is sounding better all the time. I think I'll stop now, but would love to hear what others think.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Pulver 100 Revisited - the Canadian Perspective - Oh Canada/Woe Canada

Yesterday, Mark Evans had a nice posting on his blog, noting that Canadian companies fared quite well on this year's Pulver 100. I couldn't agree more, and I'd just like to draw additional attention to that news.

Canada registered 13 Pulver 100 awards, which I think speaks well about the caliber of companies we have here, and the valuable contributions they continue to make in IP. I haven't broken them out as a group before, so here are the lucky 13...

Apparent Networks
BlueSlice Networks
Dialexia Communications
Eyeball Networks
Natural Convergence
NewHeights Software
Nimcat Networks
Versatel Networks

While this is a good news story, I can't help but contrast this with the state of things on the service provider side. The operators certainly have good intentions and good technology for VoIP, but it's just not happening here the way it is elsewhere. Like a lot of things in Canada, the above vendors are setting the pace in a booming sector, but their success isn't home-based - it's mostly happening for them in the US or overseas.

Consider what the bigger players are doing these days....

Bell Canada - the 800 pound gorilla here. Today they finally announced their residential VoIP offerings. Bell Digital Voice actually looks like a pretty good service, but it's taken until now to launch. Lots of good features, and the cool thing is you don't even need broadband - that's neat. Just call Bell, order the service and use your existing jacks and phones. So, it's a hosted IP service, but there's nothing really VoIP about it in terms of the user experience. Yes, it is web-based, and you can send voice mail to email, but it's really marketed as a souped up phone service - nothing more, nothing less. And it sure isn't priced like VoIP. It's actually comparable to POTS pricing, plus you gotta pay extra for LD.

If anything, it's premium priced VoIP, and in return you get carrier grade service - just like POTS. This seems like reverse marketing to how Videotron is going with a low priced service. It's almost like they're trying to convince the public that VoIP is better than POTS, so therefore we should pay a premium for the privilege of having it. Well, it just might work. And if you don't like that, you can get their "Lite" service, which is a tad cheaper, and is like regular VoIP - you need broadband and an ATA. This one is clearly marketed as a second line replacement.

Clearly, like Rogers, Bell is taking a conservative and rational approach to pricing, and is not prepared to enter the game losing money out of the gate. Perhaps more importantly, they've priced it high to ensure that if they do cannibalize their POTS customers, the revenues will pretty much be a wash, so they don't really lose.

So, some excitement there, but it sure has taken a long time!

Rogers - essentially covered above. A very conservative offering - no mention anywhere in the marketing materials about it being VoIP - it's just the Rogers phone service. The focus really seems to be on keeping the Call-Net subscribers they just inherited in the Rogers fold. Fair enough. But I really don't seem them doing much to go outside and take business away from Bell. I suspect that will soon start to change with Bell's launch today.

Telus - nothing really doing on the residential VoIP front, but I just have to comment on something to show that all the players have their own problems that collectively, are keeping the market from taking off. Today, the Globe & Mail reported an interesting twist in their labor situation. Thousands of workers have been off the job since late July. Depending on who you talk to, they're either on strike, or are locked out. Now, here's the bizarre part. Telus workers are part of a large union - the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. How on earth did all these disparate fields ever manage to get lumped together??? I have no idea, but here's how it's causing headaches for Telus.

The major British Columbia newpaper publisher - Pacific Newspaper Group - is trying to stop Telus from running ads in its papers while the labor dispute is still going. Why? Because the Telus union is in the same group as the newspaper folks, and Telus is being viewed as an "unfair employer" by the union. So, they can't advertise there. To further complicate matters, if this holds, these major dailies would lose valuable ad revenue to rivals, as Telus could just take their ad money to any of the upstart free dailies that are wreaking their own havoc on the the newspaper business these days. Something has to give here, but basically, even if Telus wanted to advertise in the major papers to help market VoIP, they're hitting some unusual roadblocks. Only in Canada, eh?

Videotron - they continue to add subs at a dramatic pace, but the pricing is quite aggressive, and it's hard to see how they'll make money. I don't think it's a good thing to be setting the pricing bar this low so early in the game. And we'll see what happens now that Bell has come to the party.

Shaw - they entered the market at the other end, with a high price point. Not hearing much news from them, and I'm not optimistic that they're putting up big numbers. And maybe they don't have to. Telus is not yet proving to be a big threat to their cable business.

Vonage and Primus Canada - the main VoIP pureplays. Not much news out of either lately. Hopefully, things are going well, but they're not spending to build the market here the way it's being done in the U.S. That said, I am seeing more ads here by Vonage, especially on TV. "VoIP with Vonage" is their tagline.

Satellite radio - not a VoIP story, but another indicator of how fragmented and discombobulated our communications market is up here. There's been a lot of buzz lately with the CRTC approving service, and imposing light restrictions on Canadian content. This was unexpected good news for XM and Sirius, the 2 U.S.-based players. Things were looking good, with a clear path ahead for them to start investing and building the market here. Now, all of a sudden, the federal government is dithering about a review, largely because of concerns that French language programming will suffer.

This is really a political issue as the incumbent Liberal party needs to shore up its prospects for re-election and appease Quebec - lest they fall out of favor and give more strength to the Bloc Quebecois, our not-so beloved separatist party. In Canadian politics, the tail has always wagged the dog, and Quebec is the master of this. In the U.S., they talk about the race card -in Canada it's Quebec. Anything that can be remotely seen as a threat to French language and culture is a problem just waiting to explode. Now you know the rest of the story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

2005 Pulver 100 Announced Today

The Pulver 100 has been a barometer of innovation among private companies in the world of IP since 2002. It is increasingly becoming a key touchpoint of recognition in a space that is getting more crowded every year, as well more complex to monitor. With the gold rush mentality in full force these days, we need yardsticks like the Pulver 100 more than ever to identify the best of what�s coming around the bend.

This year�s winners were just announced, with the complete list presented in the press release. At this point, there is no gradation within the list � it�s just an alphabetical rundown. One of the hats I wear in working with Pulvermedia is to analyze the makeup of this list, and some of my comments are included in the press release. This blog post serves to add a bit more detail for those who want to better understand what kind of companies are making this list.

Comments About 2005 Winners

First to consider is the type of company. The vast majority of this year�s Pulver 100 are vendors � 89 � no surprise there. Service providers account for the rest, with 9 being carriers of some type, and 2 providing services to carriers. So, it�s nice to see that the Pulver 100 is not just a vendor popularity contest � it does cater to the full spectrum of the IP ecosystem.

Reinforcing that point is the market focus of these companies. Most are focused on carriers � 60 � but the balance do business elsewhere, with 30 catering to the enterprise market, and 10 serving the consumer market. I think this says a lot about the diversity of this year�s group. A year or two ago, and you would have barely seen any consumer focus, and I suspect this segment will only grow as IP becomes more mainstream.

By geography, this is not just about the U.S., although the mix largely reflects where the VON shows have had the broadest reach. U.S. companies accounted for 58 of the winners, which I think is actually pretty representative of their global market presence in IP. Of course that can be defined many ways, but overall it rings pretty true for me. That said, Europe had 22 winners, followed by Canada with 13 (whoo hoo!), then Israel with 6. Finally, AsiaPac had just 1 winner, which is not a fair indicator of the innovation coming from there. However, VON has had limited presence in AsiaPac, so it�s pretty much to be expected. And to be fair to Pulvermedia, as the VON shows become more global, I have no doubt that we�ll see more AsiaPac companies in future Pulver 100s.

Historical Perspective

I�d also like to comment on the longitudinal aspect of the Pulver 100. Looking over the winners from the past 3 years, it�s really interesting to see how the list changes over time. IP is in the classic early growth stage, but as we know, consolidation is happening a lot more. As a matter of course, then, there will be attrition, startups, exits, mergers, acquisitions, re-naming, etc. With that said, here is how the list has evolved:

- There are 27 new companies this year compared to 2004. Please note � the press release issued by Pulvermedia says 29. That was the initial number, but upon subsequent review, I discovered that 2 of these had changed their name, and were not new after all.

- Compared to 2003, 71 of this year�s Pulver 100 are new

- Only 31 companies have made the Pulver 100 in each of the last 3 years � 2003, 2004 and 2005

Who are these 31 �perennials�? I�d have to think that if I was looking to put money into a company that�s got a better-than-average chance of success in a sector that hasn�t seen much in the way of profits or ROI, these would be a pretty good acid test:

Acme Packet, Bay Packets, BlueSlice Networks, BroadSoft, Citel, Convedia, Commetrex, Hotsip, i3 Micro, Ingate Systems, Intertex Data, IP Unity, LongBoard (now Persona Software), M5 Networks, MetaSwitch, Natural Convergence, NetCentrex, Netrake, NexTone, OnRelay, Pactolus, Paltalk, Psytechnics, Surf Communications, Swyx, Sylantro, Telchemy, Tellme Networks, Trinity Convergence, Vonage, WebMessenger

I did not do an extensive analysis of the 2002 winners, but a quick scan indicates that all of the above companies, with 4 exceptions, were also in the 2002 list. So, most of these have in fact, made the Pulver 100 in each of the 4 years the list has been running. The 4 companies who were not in the 2002 list are BlueSlice Networks, Intertex Data, Psytechnics, and Trinity Convergence. Thanks to Patrick McCormick for noting a couple of omissions from my initial posting this morning.

Finally, if you�re a bit more speculative, and just want to look at the freshmen of this elite group, here are the 27 first timers for 2005:

Abbeynet, Allot Communications, Apparent Networks, Camfrog, Carbon Twelve, CTI2, Empirix, Eyeball Networks, Fonality, Go2Call, Interoute, Jungo Software, Kayote Networks, KoolSpan, Lignup, New Heights Software, Owera, QuesCom, Sling Media, snom Technology, Spirit DSP, Sysmaster, TalkSwitch, Telepo, Versatel Networks, Voxeo, XConnect

Note - actually, 26 are true first-timers - Voxeo was also in the 2002 Pulver 100. Kudos again to Patrick McCormick who astutely pointed this out.

If you�re still following me a year from now, you can bet I�ll be revisiting this list to see how these winners fared in their sophomore year. Mark your calendars!

Friday, September 2, 2005

Triple Play over Powerline - BCE Capital Looking Ahead

The Toronto Star reports that BCE Capital just made a $5 million investment in Florida-based Intellon Corp. Intellon is a leading provider of powerline integrated circuits, and a key driver behind the HomePlug standard, which supports things like home networking and BPL (broadband over powerline). Aside from BCE, there's another Canadian connection for this story running in the Star, which is Canada's largest daily - Intellon has a Toronto operation, as well as one in San Jose.

BCE was the lead investor in this funding round of $24.5 million, which actually was announced Aug. 24. Of note is the fact that the funding included money from the venture arms of both Motorola and Intel, as well as Goldman Sachs and others. When majors like this get behind powerline, you need to pay attention. Clearly, players across all links of the food chain are taking a closer look at powerline, given its ability to handle the high bandwidth needed to support Triple Play, along with it being an existing alternate broadband pipeline into virtually all homes.

BCE Capital is developing a nice IP portfolio - along with Intellon, they have positions in leading vendors such as Sylantro, NexTone and Bridgeport Networks. That said, I think they're also looking out a bit for Bell Canada on this one, as Bell is facing increasing pressure from the cablecos for the Triple Play, and potentially the Quad Play/Grand Slam. Videotron's aggressive VoIP rollout in Quebec is being closely followed, and this will only whet the appetite for Rogers to do the same in Ontario.

The appeal of powerline is simple, but compelling. Using powerline communications technology from a company such as Intellon, new services are truly plug and play. All the power outlets in these homes are essentially Triple Play enabled, and require no additional wiring or hookups. No truck roll is needed, and all the outlets can support the full range of services - voice, data, gaming, HDTV, VOD, etc. And perhaps most important is IPTV, where Bell is in advanced trials with Microsoft. This would put them on an even footing with cable, since all the cable outlets in the home will be capable of doing the same.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

VoIP Is Happening, But We're Not There Yet

Today's Globe & Mail published an interesting little stat about VoIP. They run a regular feature called Click Counter, where they regularly poll readers of their technology section about various topics.

From a pool of 767 respondents, 65% said the DO NOT use VoIP. Ouch. That's really not very surprising, although this particular population should be pretty tech savvy. On the flip side, one could also say that 1 in 3 DOES use VoIP. Now, that sounds a whole lot better.

Perhaps more interesting is that among users, more are using VoIP via their PCs than their phones. So, among the 35% who are users, 19% use the PC for VoIP, and 16% use the phone. Keep in mind that the Canadian VoIP market is about a year behind the US, so I'm not surprised about the low incidence for phone use. I'd expect that number to be bigger a year from now. With the PC being the most common way to use VoIP, I'd have to say this bodes well for Skype, and the IM clients that are now jumping on the voice bandwagon.

Google Talk Revisited on VON Radio - Podcast

Yesterday I did a VON Radio podcast about Google Talk with fellow industry watcher, Mac Taylor. Mac runs the Moriana Group out of London, and his group produces some pretty interesting research. I recently blogged about their current report on IMS, which is available at no cost from their website.

The podcast runs about 15 minutes - hope you enjoy it - your feedback is welcome!

Look for more podcasts on this blog, especially on the state of IP in Canada. Am planning to start a weekly series of these, and will be drawing from an ever-expanding roster of locals who will shed light on the Great White North. Please drop me a line if you want in -