Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Video Greetings - Does 2 Make for a Trend?

Earlier this week, I posted a short, video Season's Greetings message on my blog. I gave up on sending out cards years ago, which I miss doing, actually. I'm old fashioned that way, but have reverted to the path of least resistance - email greetings. Very efficient, esp for last minute sending, but not very personal.

Well, I think a video greeting is the next best thing, and I don't know how I could have done it without SightSpeed. It's a great application, and you don't have to look far to find my posting about it. They're poised for bigger and better things in 2007, and I'm just glad to be a user in the early going.

I don't follow a ton of blogs, but it was nice to see colleague Ken Camp picking up this vibe. He posted his video greeting earlier today, also using SightSpeed. Nicely done, Ken! We think alike, and try to use all the media tools at our disposal.

So, that makes two of us doing this. Does 2 make for a trend? In this case, I hope so. It's so easy to do, and adds a personal touch that email cards can't really match. Some smart person out there will see a business opportunity in this - Ken - maybe we should put our heads together on this one. We could develop some simple plug-ins to customize the look, maybe some special effects, and touch-ups to overcome bad lighting and glare. And then we can add music in the background to set the mood. I tried doing this on mine, actually, with a CD playing in the background, but it didn't work out. Lots of room to experiment here.

And finally - there's the end user experience. I realize it takes a long time for the video clip to load, which isn't great. My first take ran longer, and took way too long to load, so I shortened mine to around 30 seconds. Ken's runs over a minute, and I experienced some buffering problems in a few spots, so the longer clips can be a bit tougher to watch. On that note, I spoke to SightSpeed's CEO, Peter Csathy about this yesterday, and he's aware of the problem. So, hopefully the fix will be in soon.

On that note, I'll pass on Season's Greetings again. Signing off for now - not sure when I'll be back, but I won't be doing much blogging until Jan. 8. Gotta recharge...

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

PSTN Cheaper Than Skype? Sometimes

Colleague Mark Goldberg had a nice post today that had me nodding in agreement all the way. With all the buzz around Skype's cheap, flat rate North America SkypeOut program, you'd think the race to zero with voice calls was pretty much over.

Well, not everybody uses Skype and not everybody wants to download software or connect to the Internet to make a phone call. Dial-around plans have been around for ages, and from the user's point of view they're pretty much the same as a regular PSTN call with a few extra digits on the front end of the call. The calls may well traverse IP networks along the way, but this is not VoIP.

Mark notes on his blog that dial-around rates from Canadian operators are considerably less than Skype for countries like Israel and the Phillipines. No doubt that closer to home, Skype is a great deal, but it doesn't hold across the board. I'm sure Skype's international rates will get better as their volumes grow, and they strike better termination deals, but in some cases, the plain old PSTN is still the best way to go. I use dial-around myself from time to time, and it's especially beneficial for mobile calls. Call me old fashioned, but I've never had a problem with it.

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Andy Abramson's Working Anywhere Blog Getting Validation

Back in June, Andy Abramson launched a new blog, titled "Working Anywhere", with a focus on the digital lifestyle and working in an untethered world, where constant travel is the norm.

He's continued posting there, and the blog serves as a bit of a primer or guide to living like a "nomad" as Andy would say. Recently, Andy got some nice attention about this lifestyle from a New York Times article, and has since led to a flurry of blog-based commentary and support.

If this describes you, and you want to know the best ways to stay productive and utilize the right tools to get your work done - like SightSpeed for video messaging, Unyte for web conferencing or GrandCentral for VoIP and messaging - you should be following Working Anywhere regularly.

And on a higher level, Andy's initiative - or "project" as he calls it - is a great window on how our notion of work is evolving in the Internet age. It's a new frontier, and Andy is at the vanguard of this as much as anybody.

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Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Dan York and VoIP Security

On this week's podcast, I spoke with Mitel's Dan York, who is well known in IP and blogging circles. We didn't talk about Ottawa-based Mitel though - we focused on Dan's other claim to fame - VoIP security. He's been quite active in that area for some time, and talked about the current issues and state of the nation for VoIP security, especially in regard to VOIPSA, the VoIP Security Alliance. Through VOIPSA, Dan gets a good insight into how vendors approach VoIP security and how carriers view it. Sometimes they see eye to eye, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

In addition, Dan is active in this space through the Blue Box initiative, and maintains a couple of blogs not yet mentioned in this post - his new blog focused just on VOIP Disruptive Telephony, and the Voice of VOIPSA blog companion to the VOIPSA website.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read up more on Dan and the various websites and blogs he's connected to.

Dan - have I missed anything? You're a busy guy.

NOTE - this will be my last podcast for 2007. It's been a busy year, and I hope you've enjoyed these weekly posts. There are many more good Canadian stories to tell, and I've got a number of podcasts in the pipeline for next year.

NOTE #2 - I see from my Moveable Type home page that this is my 500th blog posting. For me, that's a big number, and I'll note it with a smile. I'm not an uber blogger, and many bloggers have done thousands of posts, but that's not my thing. I intend to keep up what I've been doing in 2007, and hope to post daily through the week as best I can.

For those of you who follow me regularly, I'll just use this small milestone to say THANK YOU. There are millions of voices out there in the blogosphere, and it's practically impossible to manage tracking it all. So I really appreciate each and every one of you who reads me - it means a lot. I still have very little sense of who's out there, so please feel free to drop me a line and tell me about yourself, and what else you'd like to see from me. Thanks!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Season's Greetings Video Message

Enjoy, courtesy of SightSpeed....

The Human Side of Blogging - Philip Stern

I've known Philip Stern for many years here in Toronto, and was pleasantly surprised to see him in a great human interest story in today's Globe & Mail. Like me, Philip is a consultant in the tech space, and is pretty web savvy. He also has a big heart, and as the story explains, he's struck up a friendship with a homeless man who frequents his local cafe.

Aside from the goodness of this outreach, there's a wonderful tech angle here that should be of interest to anyone reading my blog. Ever the fair-trade entrepreneur, Philip recognized that Tony, his coffee companion, has a lot to say, but lacks a voice to connect with world at large.

So, Philip has recently set up a blog solely for this purpose - They chat, share stories, and Philip puts it up on the blog, allowing Tony to get his thoughts out there. It's a fascinating window on street life, and what it means to be homeless.

Aside from reading about what it's like to be Tony - along with photos from Philip for a visual perspective - the links on the blog page indicate there's a web-based ecosystem out there around the homeless world. There are links there to both support groups dedicated to the needs of the homeless, as well as other homeless people/groups who have found a way to get on the Net.

This really struck me, and from a blogger's perspective, it's a great example of how the Web works in weird and wonderful ways. It's not just about tech or commerce, that's for sure, and this story says a lot of about how blogs can serve a higher purpose, and is a truly democratic medium that gives a voice to those who usually don't have one. And of course, it's all the more profound in the week leading up to XMas.

Well done, Philip - you're setting the bar high here, and hopefully this will inspire others to find similar ways to use technology for the public good.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Where's Skype Journal?

Gee, I thought I was losing steam not posting yesterday and twice last week. To be fair, folks, I try to blog daily through the week, but it doesn't always work that way, especially when I'm trying to hit deadlines and/or around travelling.

Alec Saunders picked up on this last week, but Skype Journal's blog has remained quiet since December 4. That's a decade in blogger years.

Actually, if you read Alec's post, you'll see a comment there from ever-reliable Skype Journal contributor, Jim Courtney, who attributes this to some technical difficulties, and that things should be back up next week with a new hosting provider. Nothing yet, but let's hope so!

So, I'm not adding any news to the story, but here we are a week later and nothing. Am sure things will be back running soon, and my only commment is an observation. Is it just bad timing that this has happens pretty much exactly around the time Skype is going through some heavy turmoil and management changes? You don't have to look far to catch the details - start with Om, for the source.

Back to Alec for a moment. Alec is definitely big on vision, and today published a very thoughtful piece on presence - "New Presence", and how it relates to the "Voice 2.0 Manifesto". Either you're totally into this space... or, you have a lot of reading to do. Definitely worth following if you're into Voice 2.0...

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IMS Forum PlugFest Announced

The IMS Forum has announced their first PlugFest event. This should be a very interesting interop event, held at the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Lab.

It's actually the first of a series of PlugFests, designed to help the industry standardize around the IMS reference architecture. The interop events are open to both IMS Forum members and non-members, and will certify a variety of services and applications, including voice, presence and IM. Testing will occur across all the main network environments - wireline, wireless, WiFi and cable. So, in short, this should be a great test bed for FMC, and if all goes well, the event will help pave the way for FMC getting more traction with carriers in 2007.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Cisco C Scape Conference - Photo/Video Highlights

As mentioned on my post the other day, I wasn't able to upload my photos and video clip of the Cisco analyst conference while I was there. I've got them now, and wanted to share them with you here.

By the way, I should add that my highlights are based on Day 1 of the conference, which was webcast in its entirety. So, the sessions weren't exactly in-camera, and I'm not passing on any scoops or secret strategies here - just in case you were wondering.

Images are courtesy of my Nokia N93, and are best enjoyed in the company of my narrative post about the conference.

Ron Ricci kicking things off...


John Chambers - the hardest working man in the networking business...


And if you want a snippet of how well John Chambers works the crowd, here's how it's done...

Take me out to the ballgame, Mr. Chambers - Cisco's Field of Dreams. Ahh, sir - would you like a router with those fries and Coke???


Charlie Giancarlo - he's funnier than he looks...


Role of the Network session - John Gallant - Network World, Shai Agassi - SAP, Chris Anderson - Wired Magazine, Aber Whitcomb - MySpace, Mike Volpi - Cisco


Mike Volpi telling why QoS is so important...

Impact of Broadband on Media/Entertainment panel: Quentin Hardy - Forbes, Dan Scheinman - Cisco, Kevin Mayer - Disney, George Kliavkoff - NBC Universal


And finally, a few fun shots of how San Ho-Ho-Zay gets into the Christmas spirit. You'd swear they have more snow and ice than we do back in Toronto...





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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Red Sox Land "Dice K" - the Nation Smiles

I've been quiet on the Red Sox front, but just have to cite the good news. From all accounts, the Sox have a deal with Daisuke Matsuzaka, and if things go to plan, they should have the best rotation in baseball, end of story. So, Johnny Damon and friends will now have to learn a new word - all together now - MAT - SU - ZAKA. It's a bit like Matsui, guys, but he doesn't have the gyro pitch.

Here he is, arriving on Red Sox Airways! A bit like the Beatles at Shea, at least for some of us. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.


So, if he's the real deal, the Sox will be in great shape. It's been a banner day for the Nation, as Julio Lugo was introduced today, and even Doug Mirabelli has agreed to stay on another year. Add in J.D. Drew - who may or may not work out - and Timlin staying for another year, and the team will have filled a lot of holes, and possibly upgraded their offense.

Oh, and for what it's worth, Gabe Kapler has retired at the ripe age of 31, and is staying around to coach in the Sox's minor league system. Always liked him, but after tearing his Achilles heel - right here in Toronto, that was just about it for him. Anyone who saw this would surely say it was one of the most bizarre things they've ever seen on a sports field. Ask me later if you didn't see it.

Now, two BIG questions remain:

1. Manny - will he stay or will he go? I say he stays, which would make for a scary 3-4-5 combo - presuming he's motivated and can still be Manny in Papi's large shadow.

2. A closer. Still the big hole, but there's time to figure this one out. Let's not forget that Jon Lester recovered nicely, and has a great future when he's healthy enough to play again

Smaller question - Coco Crisp. I still think he's another Renteria, but maybe he can bring his game to where everyone thought it would be next year. He's still with us, so I guess that's what the hope is.

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Cisco and Bloggers - They Get It

Anyone who follows my blog knows I'm a big advocate for the value can bloggers bring - not all of them, but certainly those who are close to the center for what they're talking about.

I've said my piece already about Cisco and how they are on the right side of the curve. This also holds for media relations, and they've been very supportive of bloggers, and have encouraged this actively at the conference. One way they've done this is to create a blog site dedicated to posts about the C Scape conference, and bloggers are invited to submit their posts there.

Well, I took them up on the offer, and I'm very pleased with the result. My posting about the conference went live about 2 hours ago, and it's already up on the Cisco blog site. And, you're just one click away there from seeing my photo and bio. Hey, I can get used to this type of exposure. That's what I call moving in IP time, and if you ask me, this is the way to handle blogger relations.

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Cisco C Scape Conference - Field of Dreams

Based on the first day here, I'd say this is a really well done analyst conference. People are well looked after, and the WiFi access is pretty good. Cisco has mixed up the format and made things a bit more interactive and conversational, instead of straight up presentations.

The overall content has been fairly high level, but still some good takeaways. I only cover a small amount of Cisco's world, so I can't really comment on everything in detail.

I also got some photos and a video clip to post, but I don't have the tools with me to upload to my PC unfortunately. I'll get those up here when I get back on Thursday.

John Chambers gave the opening presentation, and he sure is fun to watch. He knows how to work the room, and roams all over, constantly moving, and never misses a beat. If you want to see for yourself, come back in a couple of days when I get my video clip posted.

If anyone can build a field of dreams - and sell you on the vision, it's Mr. Chambers. As you'll soon see, I mean this both literally and figuratively.

He talked about the big picture roadmap, and of course, it's a very exciting future, with Cisco being a key driver. There's definitely a global vision there, and he talked at length their collaborations and acquisitions in markets like India, China and Singapore. At the heart of this is a world where, as he says,the "network is the platform". The network is beyond being "plumbing" now, and a lot of the growth is going to come from the applications that are powered by the network. So, that's good news for companies like Iotum, whom you should be familiar with by now.

The future is also about the "human network", and Cisco is going to help us do more in ways we can't yet imagine. Well, he gave us a concrete example, and that's the literal Field of Dreams I was mentioning earlier. As you may know, Cisco is a key sponsor of the new ballpark that the Oakland As will be getting - built on land owned by Cisco. And surprise, surprise, the new ballpark will be called Cisco Field.

So, when this field is built, they will come, and not only that, they'll pay to come. You may think they're coming to watch baseball, but what we're really talking about here is a big sandbox where Cisco can showcase its technology, and turn the ballpark into a giant test lab and demo site. Given that we're in Silicon Valley - maybe not exactly in Oakland, but close enough - it's a fitting place to do this. I think it's pretty neat, and will be another reason to come out and see the As - unless you really abhor tech. They're going to do lots of cool things like Telepresence and digital signage that will actually enhance the experience of being at the ballpark, with all kinds of interactive features - just like Gamecube, or TV, but in real time and in real life. There's a vision there, and to me, it's all about making the network relevant and real in human terms.

I also have to note the Canadian angle here. Did anybody out ther pick up Mr. Chambers' passing reference to the Rogers Center in Toronto, where the Toronto Blue Jays play? I sure did, and he was about 10 feet away from me at the time, so I couldn't miss it. For those who don't know, Rogers is Canada's biggest cableco, and they own both the Jays and the stadium, now known as the Rogers Center. Well, Rogers is a pretty tech savvy company, and his reference to them was notable, for two reasons.

First, he's citing an example of another pro franchise that's owned by a media company that would/could follow the vision he's talking about, so, I guess, we should feel lucky in Toronto to have all this potential in front of our eyes. Secondly, am not sure if that was a subtle pitch to Mr. Rogers. I don't know how close Cisco's business relationship is with Rogers, but if Ted could just do a Telepresence call with John, surely he'd see the light, and turn the Rogers Center into Cisco Test Lab North, and really show us how to enjoy a ball game, not to mention create new revenue opportunities for the ball club and Mr. Rogers. Anybody listening?

That's the main message I want share here. By now, the mainstream media and bloggers have given the blow by blow details of the presentations and technology angles, so I won't rehash that here. I do want to echo the idea, though, that Cisco didn't have any big announcements or launches to talk about, so maybe that's why they devoted so much attention to the vision and roadmap. I'm not complaining.

Other highlights of note:

- Charlie Giancarlo gave another engaging overview of where tech is going, especially with a focus on the youth market. Not to mention a hilarious "home video" sendup of how kids are using tech - that was great. Lots of good messaging there about collaboration, community-based communication and covergence across all forms of media, especially video. Underlying all this is a theme that I'm quite attached to - consumer demand is now driving innovation and tech trends, and vendors can no longer work in a vacuum. They have to pay attention to how people experience communication and make a personal connection with their technology. I'll second that one.

- Mike Volpi gave a very strong presentation on the service provider market and really drove home the importance of QoS, esp in the context of Net Neutrality. That's a real can of worms, but he reiterated Cisco's position that network operators have a right to derive a fair return on their investment, and so long as all subscribers have access to basic connectivity, they should be able to charge a premium for premium quality service. He used the airline analogy to good effect - all passengers are treated equally on a basic level, but exec class fliers just get treated a little better - but they pay for that.

-The panel discussions were quite good as well, and Cisco brought out some high profile names to make it interesting. One session was on how the network will evolve over the next 3-5 years, and included Chris Anderson of Wired/Long Tail fame, and the CTO of MySpace. Another session focusing on media and entertainment had execs from Disney and NBC. These are not the kinds of people you'd normally expect to see at a Cisco conference, but in today's market, they fit right in. Things sure are changing quickly, and kudos to Cisco for keeping on the right side of the curve. Am sure we'll see more of the same next year, and I sure hope to be there to see it.

This post is getting pretty long, and I could go on quite a bit - but I need to stop and get back to the sessions. Plus, my battery is running low!

So, that's my take, but please come back later this week if you want to see the photos and video. Your comments are welcome!

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Skype's $29.95 Calling Plan - Disruptive or Quick Money Grab?

This morning, Skype announced the calling plan we've all been waiting for. They have finally come to market with a plan to monetize their P2P voice service, and this is a nice change from the pay-as-you model they've been using since launching SkypeOut/SkypeIn.

Basically, it's an unlimited U.S./Canada plan for SkypeOut - outgoing calls to the PSTN - for an upfront, annual fee of $29.95. Of course, existing calls among Skype users remain free, but this really gives you a reason to use Skype for all your outbound U.S./Canada calls, presuming you have convenient access to Skype. And to sweeten the deal, the offer is 1/2 off if you sign up before January 31. Pretty hard to say no to this one - for basically a dollar a month, I can make all the outgoing calls I want in the U.S. and Canada - works for me.

I should also add that this is only for SkypeOut - outbound PSTN calls. SkypeIn is another thing altogether, where you subscribe to the service and they assign you an inbound phone number so people can call you on Skype from their PSTN connection. That's a bit more complicated, and I think it's fair to say that most people use Skype for outgoing calls, and not inbound.

Personally, SkypeIn is also of secondary interest because they don't yet offer Canadian area codes - that's mainly a 911 issue. So, to do this, I'd probably go with a U.S. area code, which I could live with, but it's not ideal. Mind you, nobody from Toronto would ever call me on SkypeIn, so it wouldn't matter much. I digress.

So, is this a disruptive offer that puts Skype into the big consumer VoIP fishbowl, or are they pricing it low to get as much revenue now to boost short term financial performance to keep eBay shareholders happy? After all, once you set the bar at $29.95 a year, it's going to be hard to raise prices or to get more revenue out of these subscribers. Of course, Opex and marketing costs are pretty low, so the margins will be very high, which is great. I guess it's a question of do you go deep or wide? Looks like they're going wide to get as many subs as possible with a really great offer.

On that basis, they're definitely going head-on against all the voice players, as their pricing plan is way lower than any telco, cableco or broadband-based offering. What Skype is charging for this service on an annual basis is what most plans charge per month. So, what gives?

Well, Skype is not a replacement for your landline, plain and simple. However, if people start shifting more and more minutes to Skype with this new plan, it starts to look a bit more like one, doesn't it? There may be some basic calling features there, but there's no 411, or 911, and it's still best-efforts Internet for the most part, and of course, it's largely PC-based calling. Of course, that's changing too, and that's where things get more interesting. Yesterday, for example, they announced that now over 120 mobile devices support Skype for use with the Windows Mobile software.

They're doing a lot of things to make the pie bigger, and in that regard, I see Skype as more of a disrupter than doing a cash grab. Of course, being a disrupter attracts attention from the disrupted, and if this offer proves wildly successful, you can expect to see new roadblocks and tactics to stall them, much like we saw a variety of well-timed actions from Vongage's competitors just before their IPO. Could 911 become an issue? Sure. Could network operators do things to block or degrade Skype traffic? Maybe. Bottom line is that Skype needs to anticipate these things if they truly want to be on big stage with those from whom they will take traffic.

Finally, I briefed with Don Albert - Skype's North America General Manager - last week, and came away with good sense that this is the beginning of their grand plan to make Skype a truly mainstream offering. With Skype 3.0 out now, and an ever-growing multitude of Skype support on devices beyond the PC, there is a lot more going on here than shifting from free calling to almost-free calling. Look to see a lot more social networking type of applications for Skype, where voice is really just the entry point to a richer platform that will look to take advantage of Skype's community.

I also wanted to add that it was nice to see the press release refer to research from ChangeWave, which showed Skype to be the #1 VoIP service in the U.S. I've been posting about ChangeWave for a while, and I commented about these particular research findings more extensively a couple of weeks ago, and concluded that this research was good news for Skype. Looks like Don Albert thinks so too!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Canadian Telecom Market Becoming More Competitive

Always seems to be local news of note when I go away.

So, two quick items to mention in absentia. Yesterday, Canada's Minister of Industry, Maxime Bernier, announced the latest decision on competition, and basically the news is that the incumbents will be better able now to compete on a level playing field with the competition. This is certainly good news for Bell and Telus, and consumers should start to see more aggressive marketing and pricing from them for VoIP plans in the near term. There's more to the story than this, and will steer you to Mark Goldberg's blog, where he has a couple of posts on this.

For a synopsis of the news, the Globe & Mail had their writeup yesterday. I'm posting it not so much for the article, which is ok, but all the reader comments, which I really enjoy. The overall sentiment is definitely pro-competition, and a few of them point out what I've long been saying - the "competition" the CRTC is protecting aren't little startups - it's the big cablecos, who are in no danger of going broke if the telcos dropped their prices tomorrow. There's a fair bit of cycnicism in the reader comments as well, that the telcos will never lower their prices, so there are a few layers of emotion to this issue.

Secondly, Bell Canada had their annual Business Review Conference today. I attended last year, and quite enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it comes during the Cisco conference, and many Canadian analysts are down here! Mark was there, and filed a short, but punchy post about it, and I suspect the analyst ranks were a bit thin there today. Sorry I missed it - thanks for being there, Mark!

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Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - James Wanless and Talkster's Enterprise Mobility Solution

On this week's podcast, I spoke with James Wanless, the President/COO of Toronto-based Talkster. This is a pretty interesting startup that's come up with a very interesting solution for enterprises to better manage both the cost of mobile telephony and the management of all these accounts. Lots of startups are chasing the "cheaper LD calling" market, but that's a commodity game, and doesn't really help the business market.

That's where Talkster is focused, and John gave a good overview of the nature of these problems and how he's trying to address them now. He also provided his perspective on how the Canadian and U.S. wireless markets are different, and why their service makes more sense in Canada.

Turns out our timing was good for this podcast. Today was Talkster's beta launch, so James has been working overtime to get it right, and you can read more about it here. Small world - I just saw James - he and I were on the same flight yesterday to San Francisco, and I'm in San Jose now, waiting for the Cisco analyst conference to start tomorrow. Can you guess what I'll be blogging about next?

Another item of note - fellow blogger Ken Camp included Talkster in his "Magnificent Seven" posting - which has been getting a lot of attention. His post is noted on Talkster's home page, which makes me feel good. This is one company that "gets it" with bloggers.

To download our podcast, click here. At this link you can also read more about James.

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Friday, December 8, 2006

Cisco TelePresence Launch - Media Coverage Afterhoughts

Having had a day or two pass since the demo on Wednesday of Cisco's TelePresence system, I just wanted to comment briefly on the media coverage.

The event was well attended by analysts and media, but from what I can tell, the next day buzz was pretty underwhelming. That's not to say the demo didn't go over well. I thought it went over very well, and everyone I've talked to came away impressed. No question there.

But outside the handful of people on hand, I really wonder who else knows about it today? From what I could tell, the only other visible coverage of this besides my blog post was from another blogger - Paolo del Nibletto from IT Business, who sat next to me at the demo. If you go to his post, you'll also see his recap of the same High Road XMas party I was at - and just posted about - but his is a better read than mine!

Don't get me wrong. It's not like there's nothing else coming. I know there will be feature articles coming from business magazines and the trades - but these will run later, long after the demo. In terms of mainstream news, I didn't see anything. From what I understand, only 1 of our 4 big dailies covered the demo, and nothing ran in their paper, even though I was interviewed for the story. I don't follow all the radio and TV programs, but I'm not aware of anything there either.

To be fair, of course, TelePresence is not a mainstream consumer story, so I can't really expect them to jump all over this. On the other hand, Cisco is trying hard to be as consumer-friendly as Microsoft, and after all, they did spend a billion dollars putting TelePresence together. Canada may be a small market in the scheme of things, but I thought there would have been a bigger buzz around this.

On that note, I can't help but mention that my blog post got a fair bit of attention from the blogger community - none of it based in Canada - here, here, and here as examples.

If you follow my posts, you'll know that I'm an advocate for the legitimacy of blogs as a credible news source. Increasingly, for a lot of tech and telecom stories, it's the bloggers who have the scoop, and more importantly, they have the real deal on the story. Now, I'm just one blogger, and a pretty small dot in the blogosphere, but time and again, I'm finding the best sources are the digital scribes.

I think there are a combination of factors at work here - mainstream media doesn't know the blogger community well enough yet to find the right sources for the right stories, mainstream media doesn't yet trust the blogs as a credible source, and even if they did, their editors wouldn't let them use them. And on the other side of the fence, the bloggers probably don't do enough to build links to the media community, which probably just reinforces the perception that bloggers are too insular, opinionated, detached from the mainstream and lacking in proper fact-finding skills to be of much value. Well, there's probably truth on both sides, and there's a lot we could explore here, but another time. It's late, and I've said my piece on the Cisco coverage.

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X Marx the Spot - High Road's Xmas Party

I don't get out like I used to - now that's a blog unto itself - but last night I attended the 10th anniversary party/XMas bash for High Road Communications. They are one of the top tech PR shops in town (Canada actually), and Microsoft Canada is a big part of that.

These parties are always fun, and this one was held in a pretty dimly-lit venue call Nectar. It was a real test for my Nokia N93, and only a few pix turned out well enough to use. Am still feeling my way around this phone, and I've got work to do to get better low light photo results.

So, here's the best of the bunch. I just wanted to say in passing that the media/analyst community is pretty small here, and a number of the people who were at Cisco's Telepresence launch the day before were here too. Small world.


Sarah Spence and David Crow

Thanks Sarah...

Cool bar, huh?


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It's Cisco Time - Next Stop, San Jose

One more trip for me this year, and then I can stay close to home for a while. Yayy!!!

Next week I'll be attending Cisco's annual analyst conference, now known as C-Scape. If you're curious, the new name has to do with attending this event to "SEE" the future land"SCAPE", at least according to Cisco. Got it? I'd much rather escape into the sea, but I don't see that happening.

Anyhow, I'm not sure if this new name is tied to their new logo and branding image, which is hard not to notice. I don't know about you, but I prefer the old Cisco logo. That's another conversation, and I think I'll leave that for another time. But if anyone wants to pick up the ball on that one, let's get it rolling.

I'm fascinated about logos and the message/image they try to convey. On that topic, it's hard not to thing about the new Alcatel-Lucent logo, which has, in fact, been getting lots of attention, and rightfully so given the importance of the merger.

Better stop now - this is a Cisco posting, afterall....

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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Michael Weening/Microsoft Canada and Network Mashups

This week's podcast was with Michael Weening of Microsoft Canada. He's the Director of their Communications Sector here in Toronto, but was physically located in Redmond for our call. We were going to talk about the Canadian market and how enterprises here are working with Microsoft's various IP initiatives. However, we got pre-empted a bit by the announcement made during ITU about Microsoft's Connected Services Sandbox.

The timing was good, since the Sandbox idea covers a lot of the ground we were going to talk about. So, that's where we went, and put as much of a Canadian spin on things as we could. Turns out that wasn't hard to do, since Bell Canada is a founding participant, as are two leading Canadian vendors, Nortel and Ubiquity. We both agreed that Canada is very well represented in this initiative.

The podcast and press release both tell the story pretty well about the sandbox concept, but in short, it's very much a Web 2.0 story. Microsoft is creating a digital sandbox, of sorts, to support "managed network mashups" among software applications and platforms to help service providers create new and exciting offerings for subscribers. In this regard, the sandbox is part of their bigger vision termed "Telco 2.0", which is probably going to be another podcast.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read more about Michael's background.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Cisco TelePresence - Up Close and Personal

Today, Cisco Canada invited press and analysts for a live demo of TelePresence, and they did not disappoint! I was briefed on Telepresence recently, and posted about it, so I've made my views known already. While my basic thinking hasn't changed about the overall business case, experiencing Telepresence up close makes it very real, and you can really see why Cisco is so excited about this launch.

Before getting to the demo, I just wanted to say Cisco Canada did a great job putting this together, and Nitin Kawale gave an informative overview of Telepresence. The underlying rationale is to cut down on travel costs, plain and simple. By providing a life-like, real time experience that businesses have never had before, it is easy to see how this idea would take hold and that a business case can be built around it. Of course, for the investment we're talking about here, this is only going to fly in large companies who have serious travel budgets. It's not a mass market offering, that's for sure, but I can certainly see the fit. And I'm sure Cisco doesn't have to sell thousands of these to make it worthwhile.

Perhaps more importantly, Telepresence allows Cisco to become a player in the videoconferencing space, which has long been the domain of majors like Tandberg and Polycom. Of course, Cisco would argue that Telepresence is so life-like that it is not videoconferencing, and is a new category altogether. There's some merit to this, especially once you see how it works. Telepresence is really a phone call, believe it or not. The session is initiated over a Cisco 7960 IP phone - that's all there is to it. Of course there's a lot more to it under the hood, but it's a pretty seamless experience - which we're told is a lot harder to do than it looks. Not being a techhie, I'm inclined to agree.

Aside from pushing into the videoconferencing space, Telepresence also ties in nicely to the bigger picture of their Unified Communications vision, and being the vendor of choice for all forms of IP communications, and along with that, the platform that brings it all together. On that level, I also see the fit.

There are a lot of technical aspects to Telepresence, and the main items of note are i) the ultra High Definition video codec, ii) CD quality "spatial audio" sound and iii) broadcast quality cameras. On the codec front, Telepresence has 1080p resolution, which I'm told nobody else has. The "p" makes it ultra, whereas the common standard for 1080 is "i", which has half the resolution as "p". Now in fairness to other high end systems out there, I can't say first hand what they really have, nor have I seen any of them in person. I'd love to do that at some point, and then I'll really know the whole story. For now, though, Cisco has definitely got a good product here, and it's hard not to be impressed.

The demo was very smooth, relaxed and comfortable. It's very life-like, and the meeting table is designed so the party on the other side of the "table" looks very much to be in the room and attached to the table we were sitting at. It's a great effect, and it's no surprise that a Hollywood cinematographer was consulted early on.

The demo was led by Rick Moran and his team from the San Jose TelePresence facility, and it was very engaging. Aside from the cost savings on travel, I wanted to say that Rick noted another benefit - it's a green solution. He noted that Cisco is using TelePresence internally to cut carbon emissions related to all the travel their people do by 10%. So, there's a nice nod there to Kyoto. Am not sure it will close any deals, but definitely a worthy selling point. Thanks, Rick.

And now for the fun stuff - some photos and a video clip, courtesy of my Nokia N93. And thank you Cisco, for giving me permission to do this. This is my second post with N93 photos, but my first with a video clip. The photos give a good idea of the look of the system, but the video gives you both the look and feel of the experience. It's only about 2 minutes, and if you run out and buy one after seeing this - which you just might do - I think I may need to make a deal with Cisco....

Nitin Kawale's presentation and welcome


I just have to say that with all the buildup around finally "experiencing" Telepresence, a little Also Sprach Zarathustra would not have been out of place. Is it just me, or doesn't the 7960 remind you of the monolith in 2001 - A Space Odessey? Even just a little bit? We're talking about new frontiers here, folks....


Rick Moran and his team on the San Jose side of the table...


And finally, the video clip, perhaps the next best thing to being there. It's about 2 minutes long, and you can view it down below. Just click on the triangle in the bottom left corner to play it. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Jeff Pulver Profiled in the Int'l Herald Tribune

I'm a bit late on this one, but it was great to see Jeff Pulver get such a nice profile in the International Herald Tribune the other day. I've been busy finishing up my year end deliverables, and haven't been reading the blogs much lately - nor have I had much time to blog myself.

The profile is a nice read, and kudos to Jeff for getting some mainstream recognition. There's a great piece in there about Jeff enabling a video phone call on the fly, which really proves how well IP can work with mobility if you know what you're doing. Don't worry - this will be pretty mainstream stuff before you know it.

Speaking of what else is coming, Jeff's recent posts include a review of how his 2006 predictions turned out (not too badly), as well as what he thinks will unfold in 2007. When/if my work settles down in the next day or so, I hope to have time to comment on Jeff's predictions for next year.

And in case you're wondering where Jeff is now, he's hosting the VON enterprise event in Atlanta now, and you can read all about it on his blog. Busy guy...

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Monday, December 4, 2006

Unified Communications Strategies - Another Place to Find Me

Independent consultant Jim Burton is very well known in unified communications circles, and we have become friendly ever since meeting at Fall VON this year. We have reciprocated links, and recently, Jim asked if I would be willing to share relevant postings on his site, as well as contribute there occasionally myself. I'm more than happy to do that, and you can find some of my postings on his portal, Unified Communications Strategies.

It's an excellent resource for unified communications, and he's got a great roster of contributors, including Blair Pleasant and Don Van Doren. There's a lot of content there, and it's updated regularly. You have to register to access the content, but it's free, and just takes a couple of minutes.

The website is serviceable, and with a few clicks it's not hard to find what you're looking for. However, Jim has been updating me on the overhaul coming for the website, so look for a new and improved UC Strategies portal very soon.

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Friday, December 1, 2006

WiFi-Cellular Convergence Conference Hilights

I was in Dallas this week, and Chaired the first day of Informa's Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence conference. It was a pretty small event, but the content was very good, the audience was a good mix of carriers and vendors, and everyone got to know each other pretty well. Since everything took place in one room, I don't have much to show you. However, the venue was very upscale and quite photogenic. It took place at the Hotel Crescent Court, which is not a place I would normally hang out, but it sure was nice.

In terms of the content, the presentations covered the full range of topics. The first day focused on the business case and business issues around why carriers would want to put cellular and WiFi together. Day 2 covered the technical issues and challenges - lots of IMS, SIP, FMC, UMA, QoS and security there. I was not able to stay for the third day, which was dedicated to dual mode handsets, but from all accounts looked to be quite interesting.

All told, I came away with a clearer understanding as to why cellular and WiFi are coming together, and there was a consistent message that this is an important step along the way to FMC. On their own, cellular and WiFi can each address specific needs, but there is a lot of synergy that will come from integrating the two. Most speakers were pretty certain about where WiFi is going, but less so about WiMax. It was generally seen as a wildcard, but one that will have a significant impact, especially on cellular. But no one is quite sure just how or when. No surprise there, but it was good to hear it from so many people.

One of the highlights for me came from Nokia's presentation, which was given by Vipul Mehrotra. He gave a great overview about how Nokia's phones are evolving to support dual mode services, and multimedia communications with great ease of use. At one point he talked about how that day, Nokia had announced support for Gizmo, a SIP-based service that is similar to Skype.

This was the only time I heard any Voice 2.0-type vendors mentioned, and I warmed up to him right away. One of my mantras during the conference was that the applications developers stand to become big winners in this space, as once this level of convergence becomes reality, there will be unlimited opportunities for cool, innovative services that carriers will be able to offer for virtually any niche market. I think my message was well received!

Gizmo will be very familiar to any reader of Andy Abramson's blog, and I mention this for a reason. Later that day when I got back online, I saw that Andy had already posted about this news release, and was very pleased to see that Nokia was supporting Gizmo so strongly. Well, Andy may have had the online scoop, but I think I have the visual scoop. One of the photos below is from Vipul's slide that mentions support for Gizmo. Given that the news came out that day, I suspect our group was one of the first to learn about it via a slide presentation from Nokia. Right place, right time!

Aside from a brief recap of the conference, this post also marks the debut of my N93 photos. In recent posts I've mentioned how my son Max has been using the Nokia N93 for a while, and he recently posted his review about it. Well, it's finally my turn to use the phone, and I'm putting the N90 aside for now.

If you've seen my N90 photos on various other posts, I think you'll notice a marked improvement in the photo quality here. The Crescent Court is very Euro and caters to a well heeled clientele, and the setting is very dramatic. Great for taking photos, and I've included some examples below to demonstrate how well the N93 captures detail, color and depth of field. I couldn't get results like this with the N90, and you can expect to see more of the same in upcoming posts. Enjoy.

First, here's my view of the audience from the podium


Nokia presentation - Vipul's slide about the Gizmo announcement - you saw it first here!


The courtyard just outside the venue. Incredibly, it snowed the next day!




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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - TalkSwitch and VoIP for SMBs

On this week's podcast, my guest was John Cunningham. He's the VP of Business Development with TalkSwitch, an Ottawa-based vendor who has been focused on small business telephony since 1990.

I've been trying to stay close to this market, and was looking forward to hearing John's thoughts on the opportunity he sees there and what PBX replacement solutions like his brings to SMBs. We also talked about the challenges of educating the market as well as why adoption of VoIP in the Canadian business market has lagged the U.S.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read more about John.

Speaking of TalkSwitch, fellow blogger Garrett Smith just posted about them today, commenting about their just-launched IP PBXs. Good timing, Garrett.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vonage/Telio Post - Rebuttal to Om

I've never done this before, but late last night I happened to come across Om's comment on my Vonage/Telio post from the other day. I'm commenting for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think Om's take on my post is accurate, and second, it has spawned a series of comments that seem to be echoing his commentary, so there's a ripple effect here that I need to respond to.

First, the title of Om's post - "Are VoIP Service Providers Making a Comeback?". The focus of Om's post seems largely about my post, and I don't see how anyone could conclude anything about a "comeback" from what I wrote about. I could see that if I was talking about Vonage showing a dramatic turnaround in their numbers, but I'm not. And they didn't. All I'm saying is that the news from their Q3 isn't all bad - but they're far from being in "comeback" mode. And regarding Telio, the news has only been good - there's no comeback happening there - just more of the same positive momentum they've had all along.

Second, Om, I just wanted to say that my post was simply a comparison between Vonage and Telio, esp since their quarterly numbers came out around the same time. Nothing more, nothing less. It should be pretty clear that I'm not commenting on the overall state of "CVSPs" - because on that front I would agree with you 100% - I don't think they have much of a business model, esp if they try to go big. I certainly am not forecasting "sunny skies for them", at least not for Vonage. That should be pretty clear from my post.

Telio is another story, and it's hard to argue with their success and how well they've positioned themselves for the mobile market. I think they're way ahead of Vonage - or the other CVSPs on this front, and that's a key differentiator to me. So, I really don't think it's fair to conclude from this that CVSPs are a "great business". As a category, I don't think they are, but I do think Telio has got it right. Sure it's much tougher to compete in the North American market, and when you go on a large mass-market scale. No question. But, as I've often said, small can be beautiful, and with the healthy gross margins I noted in my post, it can be a great business, even on a small scale. I've always felt that the network operators will always win in the end, but you can certainly make a go of things with the right focus.

That's it, Om! I just want clarity here and to make sure people don't reach the wrong conclusions about my post. I don't see any "comeback" for Vonage, and it's not "sunny skies" for all these players. But I do stand by my take on Telio, and for that matter Vonage, and I've been pretty consistent in my views on them in previous posts.

By all means, may the dialog continue - from anyone who cares to contribute - that's what blogging is all about.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Oz Raises $34 Million - More Good News From Canada

Montreal-based Oz Communications looks poised to make some moves in the mobile messaging market, where they already have done some impressive things. They've got deals going with A-list Tier 1s like Cingular, T Mobile, AOL, Telfonica, Bell Mobility and Telus, plus all the major handset vendors.

Today they announced a second round raise of $34 million, which is quite large for a Canadian vendor. Mind you, I said the same thing last week about Natural Convergence, and that was only a $10 million funding, so in my books, this one definitely merits some attention.

Interestingly, 2 of the 3 lead investors were Quebec-based, which tells me some of the major fund managers see good potential here, and it's a good vote of confidence to support a homegrown company. I say this because Canadian money managers tend to be more conserative than in the U.S., and by local standards, this level of funding is a pretty hefty bet.

As the press release notes, they are not planning an IPO any time soon, but that time will surely come if they stay the course. With this kind of funding to support their strong momentum, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them make some acquisitions to further establish themselves as a global player.

I've posted about Oz before, and am planning to do a podcast with them quite soon, so stay tuned as I continue to follow their progress.

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Next Stop - Dallas - WiFi/Cellular Convergence

It's been a busy season for me attending conferences, which I always find to be the best way to meet companies first hand to learn about their business, and of course to network.

On Tuesday, I'm off to Dallas for Informa's WiFi/Convergence conference, where I'll be Conference Chair for the first day on Wednesday. Am quite looking forward to hearing about the latest in FMC, dual mode handsets, and the business case for mobile network convergence.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Wireless in Canada - It's Different Here

Just a quick post inspired by a 2 part series that ran in the Globe & Mail the past 2 days. Catherine McLean did a nice assessment of the state of wireless in Canada, and raised some valid questions as to why wireless penetration lags most other countries, as well as why we pay more up here. I've touched on these themes a number of times before, and it's just nice to see these ideas validated elsewhere.

Anyone who spends time with me at conferences in the U.S. knows that I only use my cell phone as a last resort. It's really hard for Americans to understand this, as it's very common to have long distance included in your plans, even for Canada. So, you don't think twice about making mobile calls to anywhere in the U.S. and often elsewhere. It's simply not the case for Canadians, unless you live on your cell phone and have a special plan that covers roaming and LD outside Canada. Simply put, I'm not a power user with my cell phone, and just don't use it enough to warrant having one of these high end plans.

Anyhow, back to the story in the Globe. The main thrust is to eaxplain that cell phone service is more expensive here, and there's a nice comparison of various plans, both in Canada and the U.S. Throughout the article, various points are raised to help explain why, namely:

- It's less competitive here. We only have 3 major carriers, and maybe 20 overall. Conversely, the article states that the U.S. has some 180 mobile offerings to choose from. Is it any wonder why prices are higher here? The majors - Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus - make much healthier margins than their U.S. counterparts, and don't have a whole lot of pricing pressure from competitors.

- Our carriers can justify a higher pricing regime because the cost of building out their networks is more than the U.S. As the article says, they must cover a comparable geographic footprint to U.S. carriers, but with 1/10th of the customer base. There is some truth to that, at least in terms of building east to west. However, 90% of our population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border, so it's not quite apples to apples. But still, it's a valid point.

- Our major wireless carriers are also our major wireline carriers - Bell and Telus. It's not quite like that in the U.S., but all these carriers face the same market realities. Wireline is declining, while wireless is a go-go business. So, both Telus and Bell rely heavily on the profits from wireless to offset their losses in wireline. In that light, it's a simple business decision to support higher pricing for wireless service.

- Wireless penetration is lower here. We're not as addicted to wireless - at least yet. There's a whole body of work devoted to explaining why wireless is less ubiquitous here, and I'm not going to address that now. The main point is that wireless still has lots of room to grow here - all the more reason for the majors to keep it a small club and to maintain high margins as long as possible. The article also notes that historically, our wireless carriers have been money losers, and it's pretty much taken until now for them to finally start making some profitable returns on the all infrastructure they've been building the last 20 years. So, following that logic, it's finally payday for them, and they deserve to recoup some of the investment.

- Another reason wireless isn't as prevalent here is the lack of LNP - local number portability. We haven't had nearly the amount of wireless substitution that's happening in the U.S. - largely for this reason. That's going to change early next year, and that's a key reason why all the mobile carriers are lining themselves up now for what looks to be an explosive year ahead for growth. I suspect you will see some price cutting next year once LNP comes into play, and the wireless operators will mount aggressive campaigns to wean people off their landlines once and for all - especially from operators who don't have a PSTN wireline business, like Videotron, Rogers, Shaw, Virgin Mobile or Amp'd.

- Foreign ownership restrictions make for a cozy three-way among Bell, Telus and Rogers. We do have other mobile carriers here, but they're pretty small or regional. If these restrictions were lifted or eased, that would open the door for U.S. operators or multinationals like BT or T Mobile. They could either acquire controlling interest in a domestic operator, or invest in one to build out their networks and acquire more spectrum. There are many possibilities here that could shake up the market big time, but I don't see this happening so soon.

I'm just touching on some of the big themes here, but there's certainly more to the story. The Globe pieces are both a good read, and as usual, the online versions are the most interesting because they have tons of reader comments submitted online.

So, once you've read this, hopefully you'll know where I'm coming from when I tell you I hardly use my cell phone when I travel.

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US Thanksgiving - Canadian-Style


How American - is that in-your-face enough for you?

Last night, thanks to my Mother's urging, I did a first, even though I've lived here a thousand years and have been a dual citizen for some time. I attended a U.S. Thanksgiving dinner put on by Democrats Abroad, which does a great job of building community amongst American ex-pats, and in this case, here in Toronto. And yes, it's all about being a good Democrat, and revelling in the recent election wins that give Democrats very good reason to believe they'll be back in the saddle in 2008.

I really didn't know what to expect at this dinner, but it was a lot of fun, and even though I didn't know anybody, there was definitely a nice sense of cameraderie and shared values about a lot of things. Here are a few photos that will give you a better sense of what I mean.

As usual, photos are courtesy of my Nokia N90...

Yes, we're taking over Canada, in case you were wondering...

We certainly have a few things in common...


Good crowd - full house, I'd say. Treasurer Joe Green showing off a bumper sticker if you care or dare to show your true colors on the road! Small world - Professor Green was on the faculty at York University when I did my MBA there. I didn't study with him, but I sure remember him.


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Vonage and Telio - Quarterly Results Comparison

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I'm one of a handful of people this side of the Atlantic following Norway-based Telio, who I long ago dubbed as the "Vonage of Europe".

Well, both operators released their quarterly filings recently, and having compared them before, I thought it would be a good idea to look into the state of the nation for both.

First off, I'd like to say that I didn't comment on Vonage's filing a few weeks ago, but there was no shortage of predictable gloom and doom from the bloggers. Sure, there were some poor results, and it's very easy to jump all over these and paint Vonage deeper into a corner. Frankly, I didn't think the numbers were so terrible, and despite the shortcomings, the news wasn't all bad, but nobody seemed to cut them any slack. Well, I will, but I'm also trying to be balanced. You don't have to look far to find trouble with Vonage - that's easy - but they're in a very tough market, and they're fighting hard to hold their own. Listen, it wasn't that long ago that people couldn't say enough good things about them, right?

This post isn't about a deep analysis of what they're doing right and wrong. Rather, I'm continuing my theme of Vonage and Telio, especially since their numbers both came out so recently. I'd love to see Vonage make it - don't get me wrong, but I also want to draw attention to how Telio is having success in the same business. Vonage is doing some important things right, but in my books, Telio is simply doing more things right, and I think they are showing the way for what it will take for a pureplay broadband operator to make it in VoIP.

So, let's first look at some Q3 highlights from Telio.

Overall, the news is good, with incremental quarter-over-quarter growth in all areas. Slow and steady - nothing wrong with that. Here are some key highlights...

- 8% revenue growth from Q2, at 76.1 million NOK
- Gross margins holding steady at 55%
- Pre-tax profit in Q3 of 2.8 million NOK
- ARPU holding steady at 300 NOK
- Economies of scale starting to be realized. They have a nice metric showing the ratio of Opex per subscriber, which makes a lot of sense. In Q1, it was 443 NOK, and has trended down nicely since then. In Q2, it was 361, and now it's 310. Clearly, as the subscriber base grows, their Opex is being held in check, and Telio is leveraging the power of IP economics nicely.

A few other highlights that round out the story...

- Telio is on track to hit 1 billion minutes of traffic this year. That's triple from last year, and they claim to now be carrying 7.2% of all residential fixed line traffic in Norway. That's pretty impressive for a company most of you have never heard of.
- They seem to have the ideal balance of price and quality for a value proposition that is hard to beat. Their presentation cites independent sources showing that their price per minute is the lowest of all local operators, and their quality rating comes out well ahead of the pack.
- Telio is by far the dominant broadband VoIP player in Norway. Similar to Vonage, there is a lot of distance between them and all the other broadband operators. They have a nice chart comparing Telio's revenues and gross margins against their peers, and the numbers speak for themselves. In Norway, there's Telio and everybody else.

These numbers alone tell a good story, but the best news is about where Telio is going. They've got a great business model for fixed line VoIP, but it's just the base. What really distinguishes Telio is their focus on FMC, and to me, this is where the paths with Vonage start to diverge. It's not hard to see that mobile VoIP is the big story right now, and Telio very much at the vanguard. They're already doing voice to a small extent, which not only reduces their costs, but makes for a tighter relationship with subscribers. Next year, Telio will be adding SMS, MMS and video, and this will continue to expand once WiFi comes to market later next year.

And you'll never guess who they're partnering with for mobile VoIP. Nokia - what a surprise! In fact, they are the first operator to deploy FMC on the Nokia Service Suite, with support for the N80 and E61 handsets. When you look at how far Telio has taken VoIP, it only stands to reason that Nokia would go to market with them before anyone else. Their partnership was announced on October 31 at the VON show in Berlin. I wasn't there, but I know it was a small show by VON standards, so this news didn't get much coverage. Now you know!

On to Vonage, and some key highlights.

- Their Q3 results came out the same day as the Telio/Nokia news, and I doubt anyone connected both events at this time.
- I found it interesting to note how they describe themselves in the press release - "a leading provider of broadband telephone service". Wasn't that long ago that Vonage was THE leading provider, but times have changed!
- Several key metrics are going in the right direction - revenues are up 12% and losses are down 12% from Q2, and even better, losses are down 18% from Q3 2005. So, sure they lost $53 million in Q3, which is the better part of a half a mil a day, but at least the trend is positive.
- ARPU was flat at $26.33, which is on par with Telio. In absolute terms, Vonage's ARPU is up $1.49 from last year, but this eaten up most by E911 charges, so they're not really growing the business revenue-wise on a per subscriber basis.
- Direct costs continue to decline, and are now at $6.86 per line. Again, a similar story to Telio - Opex is being held in line. However, the big difference is the marketing spend, which of course is what's killing them.
- Marketing spend was 57% of revenues in Q3, at $91 million. So, not only are they spending $1 million a day in advertising, but they're losing about half that amount in terms of earnings. The good news, however, is that the trend is down - in Q2, marketing spend was 63% of revenues. Comparatively, Telio's marketing spend is only 11% of revenues.

So, what's not going right?

- The pace of subscriber growth is slowing - but only slightly . Vonage added 204,591 subs in Q3 compared to 213,937 in Q2. A lot of people jumped all over that, but I don't see such a big red flag there. We all know how competitive this market has become and it's only going to get tougher. It's still a big number, so to me, this is neutral metric - there's both good and bad news here.
- Churn has edged up to 2.6% from 2.3% in Q3 2005, and yes, that's a big concern. Again, this comes with a competitive market, and churn effects everyone. We all know that reduced churn is key for Vonage's survival, so let's move on.
- The cost of doing business is increasing. If you look at the line items a bit closer, there's one that caught my eye - their CPE subsidy. It's up from $24.48 last year to $29.79 in Q3. Again, we all know how competitive things are, and this is symptomatic of what Vonage needs to do to stay top of mind with both subscribers and their retail partners.

And finally, a bit of guidance from their CEO, Mike Snyder - "we anticipate we will generate adjusted operating profits as early as the first quarter 2008".

Well, then, there you have it. Just 6 more quarters to go to be in the money - maybe. When you're a public company, it's all about the profits and returns to shareholders. I think this quote sums it up nicely, especially in comparison to Telio who is already in the black. I'd love to see Vonage be profitable by then or even sooner, but that is such a long time away, and there are so many variables that could derail their plans at any point in time.

All I can say is that based on what Telio has shown us to date, one can only imagine where they will be in Q1 2008. Again, Vonage can still be a good story, but in my mind, Telio is a good story today, and one that I think will unfold more favorably if they continue to execute well.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Natural Convergence Funding News

Very nice to hear yesterday that Natural Convergence just scored $10 million in funding, which is quite a lot for a Canadian startup.

Ottawa-based Natural Convergence is a Terry Matthews company, who just had a very successful exit in Convedia. There are many other well-known IP companies under his umbrella, including Mitel, Ubiquity, Newport Networks and NewHeights (who I recently did a podcast with).

Like these other companies, Natural Convergence has maintained a clear market focus, in this case, offering a hosted IP communications platform for service providers targeting the 40 line and under business market. One doesn't have to look far to see that SMB VoIP is hot these days, and Natural Convergence is well postioned to serve this market. There really are just a handful of players addressing this space in Canada, and their investors obviously have faith in their vision. So, congrats to David Cork and his team, and may you spend your money wisely! Maybe, just maybe this good vibe will rub off a bit on the Senators now...

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Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Cisco and Unis Lumin on Unified Communications

This week's podcast was a bit more ambitious than normal, but I think the results were worth it. For the first time, I had two guests, one based here in Toronto, and the other in the U.S.

My guests on the podcast were Glenn Mowat, the CEO and COO of Unis Lumin, and Richard McLeod, who is Cisco's Director of Unified Communications Solutions for Worldwide Channels.

The podcast was a follow up to a recent posting I did about Cisco's new Master Specialization Channel Partners program. The program is their highest level of certification for channel partners, and this particular edition focuses on Cisco's Unified Communications platform.

On the podcast, Glenn provided the systems integrator perspective as well as some Canadian flavor, and Richard added the Cisco view and where they see the opportunity to help enterprises leverage IP solutions and applications into making their businesses more successful. If you're interested in where unified communications is going, and what this means for the vendor-systems intetgrator relationship, I think you'll find this podcast of great interest.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read more about Glenn and Richard.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ChangeWave's Latest VoIP Survey - Good News for Skype and MSOs

I�ve been receiving research from ChangeWave for some time, and they publish a quarterly survey called �Consumer Home VoIP Trends�.

Their latest survey was done in mid-October, and with a base of 2,640 ChangeWave members, the data is pretty current and substantive. As with my previous postings about ChangeWave, I�m only going to present some high level findings. It�s not my research, and I don�t want to cross any lines here.

First off, the respondents are ChangeWave members, so it�s not truly a Main Street sample. I�d say this audience is probably above average in terms of being tech savvy, which is probably closer to what readers of this blog are. So, here�s what they�re saying at a high level.

Market Penetration
21% are using residential VoIP, and another 13% plan to in the next 12 months. That may be above average for the general population, but I think this says a lot about how the takeup of VoIP continues to be strong, and that landline is going in the other direction.

VoIP Offering Used
So who�s #1? Well, among the 562 �users�, it�s Skype. Huh??? This is the only real problem I have with their survey. I don�t consider the IM/P2P offerings like Skype to be replacements � they�re complements. So, I wouldn�t call it a �service�, but perception is reality, and the reality is that Skype was the most popular response � 29%. Vonage was #2 at 24%, with �my cable company� third at 16%.

There�s a lot to digest here. First, Skype is the most popular. I buy that, but I wouldn�t put Skype on the same level as the services people are paying money for (of course some do pay money for Skype Out/In, but you know what I mean). If I were King, and doing this research, I would qualify this, and furthermore ask if they�re using Skype in conjunction with the VoIP service they�re subscribing to. I suspect the majority uses both. Believe me, I�ve offered to help them on this, but nobody is getting back to me�.

Also, consistent with Vonage�s general fall from grace, they were #1 as recently as ChangeWave�s April 2006 survey. In fact, since this survey started in June 2005, Vonage�s share has steadily fallen from 36% to where it is now at 24%.

So, why lump all the cablecos into one category? We all know they�re taking over this market now, and I really wish they would break out the providers out by name. That said, it�s useful to see that collectively, cable has 16% of this sample. I suspect the real market share number is higher - remember, Skype has 29% of this sample, which I don�t get at all.

Finally, I wanted to mention that new names are showing up on this list that weren�t there before, like Jajah, AIM Phoneline and GoogleTalk. That�s a good sign. Hopefully ChangeWave knows what to do with this, as future waves need to refine this question to properly reflect the various types of VoIP offerings out there now.

Satisfaction with Service
Overall, people like their service � 90% are either �somewhat� or �very� satisfied. That�s a really good sign, and it holds up pretty much across the board. That said, it�s not surprising that satisfaction with Vonage is a tad lower than the others.

The same holds true when asking about the likeliness of changing services in the next 6 months. Overall, 16% are either �very� or �somewhat� likely. Cable users are well below this, and Vonage is notably above. Again, no surprise here, and the data is likely consistent with what more exhaustive studies are finding.

Who ya gonna call?
Lastly, I wanted to cite the big question � for those considering switching, who would they go to? Here, the response base is only 88, so you need to be more careful with the data. These are current VoIP subscribers who are �very� or �somewhat� likely to switch in the next 6 months.

With 42% saying �don�t know�, the market seems pretty open for stealing away VoIP subscribers. Cable leads the pack at 11%, with Skype close behind at 9%, and then Vonage at 7%. These are whom you�d expect to see, and no real surprises there.

There are several others mentioned on the list, all much less frequently, and all pretty familiar � except one. Google Talk. Yup � 5% mentioned them. That�s probably the standout data point of this whole survey for me. I know the base is small, but to see Google Talk right up there at Vonage�s heels tells me they�re on a lot of people�s radars, and that�s not good news for everyone else on this list.

Finally, there is another key segment to consider � those not using VoIP, but are considering doing so in the next 12 months. For this sample, the base is 332. This really says a lot about market sentiment for the next wave of residential VoIP adopters.

Number 1? Skype � 20% said that�s who they would mostly likely go to. Hmmm. It sure is interesting to see what people�s perceptions are � Skype is who they think about first � ahead of the rest. Am not sure if that�s really money in the bank for Skype, but no doubt they�d be happy to hear it. Even more interesting � less than a year ago � December 2005 � only 3% of the sample said this. Wow.

Who�s #2? The cablecos � 17%. Again, they only report aggregate data for this group, so we don�t know which MSOs they�re talking about. Regardless, as a category, cable VoIP comes through very nicely here.

Where�s Vonage? Thought you�d never ask. They�re #3 at 15%. Back in April � just before the IPO � they were #1 at 21%, so things have changed.

Something else to watch for � just behind Vonage on this list are the RBOCs � VoiceWing at 8% and CallVantage at 4%. So, they�ve got heavy competition both ahead of them and behind. Not a fun place to be, for sure.

Just one more thing to build on from this point, which I think says a lot about the direction the 3 main players in this survey are going � Vonage, Skype and the MSOs. Let�s look at the net results when you consider both churn and adds for each.

Vonage � 22% of subscribers are �very� or �somewhat� likely to switch. That itself is a huge finding. Hello - 1 in 5 Vonage customers are at risk, Mr. Citron.
Conversely, 15% of new subscribers will most likely go with Vonage. That�s a net loss of 7%.

Skype � only 12% are at risk, but 20% will come to them. So, they would have a net gain of 8%.

Cablecos � same story here. Only 9% at risk, but they�ll get 17% of new subs. Again, that�s an 8% gain.

I know it�s a relatively small and focused survey sample. However, I think these results are pretty indicative of where the market is going, even if the data is predictive rather than behavioral. I don�t think it�s a stretch to say that things are getting harder, not easier for Vonage, and it�s very clear to me that the same is true for the overall competitive landscape.

To wrap, I'd like to thank ChangeWave for putting this research together, and I don't think I've gone too far sharing these high level findings with you here.


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Monday, November 20, 2006

Spring VON - Rated #1 Tradeshow

Jeff was up early this morning, but with news like this, can you blame him?

Tradeshow Week rated Spring VON the #1 trade show overall, and 2 of his shows made the Top 50 list. Lots of good news here, and I just wanted to share it in case you missed it.

We all know what VON means to the IP community, so it may not be a surprise to us, but it's great to see Pulvermedia getting this kind of recognition. So, congrats to Jeff and the Pulvermedia organization - it's always nice to get a pat on the back.

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