Friday, March 31, 2006

Inukshuk - Rogers/Bell Wireless Broadband Partnership - More Questions than Answers

Considering I just saw Ron Close of Bell speak yesterday, today's news about Inukshuk is sure to keep Bell in the public eye, at least until Monday, when I get to see Ron speak again at VON Canada.

Inukshuk - try saying that 3 times fast - is a classic example of something that started out as a great and noble idea, but has turned out to be something else. In my mind, today's announcement raises more questions than answers.

First, what's an Inukshuk? Never thought you'd ask! Let's start there - at the beginning. Most Canadians know the answer - my neighbor has a few in his back yard. The description on the Inukshuk web page says it well...

"Inukshuk is a beacon. For travellers in Canada's North, an Inukshuk is a welcome sight. It says, 'I've been here before; you're on the right path'. In the same way, Inukshuk will be a welcome guide to travellers on the Internet."

An Inukshuk is a marker, used by Eskimoes in the far north - a structure built from flat stones - sturdy, friendly - tells you you're on the right path and you're not so alone. That's exactly what they had in mind intially. The intent of Inukshuk was to bring broadband to remote communities that can't be well served by existing technologies - mainly satellite, which is quite expensive. This was in support of an underlying government wish to have ubiquitous broadband, and to use Internet technology to help improve the quality of life for Canadians living in these remote communities. Broadband would allow this segment of the population to have better access to information, government services, health care, distance learning, etc. All very noble causes, no doubt.

The reality has become quite different. Initially Inukshuk was the ticket for Microcell to enter the market and become Canada's 4th wireless carrier. They have since been folded into Rogers, but that's another story. Somewhere along the line, Rogers and Bell took control of Inukshuk, and jointly agreed to invest $200 million to build a national wireless broadband network.

That brings us to today's much-anticipated news. While the technology sounds great - EVDO for Canada - the plans announced by both Rogers and Bell sound more focused on serving urban markets than the rural hinterlands Inukshuk was intended for. Both Mark Evans and Mark Goldberg posted earlier today about this, and Catherine McLean wrote an online piece for today's Globe & Mail - which I'm cited in.

Taking all this in, the news raises many worrisome questions about what the intentions really are for this offering, and what the implications are for other carriers...

- Most of the announced coverage is in urban markets - Whitehorse is mentioned - that's definitely not urban, but they didn't miss any of Candada's major urban centers. These centers have lots of broadband and lots of wireless already, so why do we need this?

- How is it that 2 carriers - Rogers and Bell - get to build this network and offer it nationally? If we look at the urban markets, this all of a sudden gives them a big window to compete out west against Telus and Shaw. How fair is that? I can't imagine Telus or Shaw are happy about this. They can't do the same in Eastern Canada. It will sure be interesting to see how this plays out in Western Canada. Sure, at face value this is all about allowing entry into new markets for growth and to increase competition. But how can you allow this for one set of carriers, but not the others?

- At one point, Allstream/MTS was a driver for Inukshuk. They haven't been for some time, and in hindsight you've really got to look at this as a missed opportunity for them. Short of getting rescued by an infusion of foreign investment (which may not ever happen), Allstream/MTS has limited options for long term growth. They strike me as the Qwest of Canada, kind of being the odd man out when the music stops.

- Let's be good guys now, and focus on the what Inukshuk is supposed to do - help out rural/remote communities. Bell recently announced they were going to convert their non-urban territories into an income trust - nothing wrong with that. More recently, they've somehow managed to bring Aliant back into the fold, and add all of their subscribers (except Halifax - the most urban part of the Maritimes) to the mix, creating a giant income trust. Where am I going with this? Well, Inukshuk seems to be a shrewd ploy by Bell in the sense that they now have this giant non-urban customer base to service. They can wear the good-guy hat and point to Inukshuk as the vehicle by which they'll be able to economically deliver broadband to a wider swath of this market - which is true. This is good news for income trust investors as this increases the potential for Bell to generate more revenues from this market, and sell more IP-based services, which yield high margins.

- Where is the CRTC in all this? How have they allowed this to happen? My take is this - the just-issued Telecom Review Panel report is advocating a laissez faire approach, which plays beautifully into what Inukshuk looks like to me. Knowing this is where the current regulatory sentiment lies, I'm guessing that Bell and Rogers figure they can push the envelope with Inukshuk, and gamble they won't get much push-back. Stay tuned on that one.

- Toronto is the most urban market in Canada, and is the most important market for both Bell and Rogers. Needless to say, neither is happy about the recent news that Toronto Hydro is about to launch muni WiFi here, and make it free for the first 6 months. Hello, competition! In its current state, Inukshuk allows both Rogers and Bell to get in the game quickly and compete with Toronto Hydro - or more directly, to quash them before they really disrupt the kingdom. It's going to be an interesting summer here, that's for sure.

- Let's not leave RIM out of this while we're speculating. I don't know what the experience has been in the US with EVDO, but could Inukshuk be a Blackberry killer? Really, what's to stop Bell and Rogers from going after the mobile email market? Sure, the bandwidth they're offering is built for Internet, video, multimedia, etc. - that's where the money is. But why not go for email?

All told, the way it looks to me, I don't see most consumers coming out the winner in this one. It just seems to be too much power concentrated in the hands of those who are already the biggest fish in the pond. Sure, it will spark a lot of short-term competition among the majors, but I think it becomes even harder now for new competitors to enter. Just when it looked like the Telecom Review Panel had us set on the right course, we now have to sort out what Inukshuk is really all about. I'm not so sure now myself.

Ron Close - Bell Canada's Got Big Plans

Yesterday, I attended a forum put on by Deloitte here in Toronto, where the focus was on trends in communications convergence. It's part of their on going Predictions Series, where they look at various issues in the telecom/media markets. I attended one of these earlier this year where Jim Balsillie of RIM gave a great presentation.

Catherine Mclean had some nice coverage of Ron Close's presentation in today's Globe & Mail. Ron is the President of New Ventures at Bell, and he'll be speaking next week at VON Canada. As Catherine notes, Bell keeps looking for the next big thing, and it appears that will be wireless Internet access, news of which is just days away. Bell and Rogers are in a partnership called Inukshuk, where they are jointly developing a national wireless broadband access network, and will then each try to market it to their customers. If you can ever imagine Verizon and Time Warner teaming up to do this, that's what you have going here in Canada.

Ron had little to say about VoIP, actually. As much we think about it all the time, initiatives in areas like wireless and IPTV are higher priorities, and hold out better returns in terms of revenues and margins. VoIP is a big part of their bundling plans, but as a standalone offering, I don't see it being much of a focus right now.

Aside from Ron, there were two other speakers, both very good. Preceding Ron was Michael Raynor from Deloitte Research. He gave a terrific overview of the challenges all companies have in developing strategies around convergence. Bottom line is there is no magic bullet for this - he cited some examples of Sony products that had great strategies but were market flops - such as the minidisc. Even with the best execution and technology, unforeseen events happen that totally change the equation.

That's just the nature of the tech sector - it's always changing - and maybe there isn't a perfect strategy. However, as Ron pointed out, you still have to place a bet on something, somewhere, especially if you're a public company. You can't be too risky and you can't be too conservative, and that explains why the major carriers have been so slow coming to market with VoIP. Food for thought - really enjoyed it.

Following Ron was Wayne Purboo, CEO of Toronto-based QuickPlay Media. I blogged about them recently, and really like what they're doing. Wayne told me they are close to getting funding, and I'm planning on having a visit with them after VON Canada. Stay tuned.

Spring Training Over - Busy at Conferences

Well, spring training wraps up now, and MLB gets started again next week. Am I worried that the Red Sox had a terrible spring training record? They hardly played their regulars, so it's not too concerning. Am wondering if the world champ White Sox are worried - their team was just about the worst of anyone in spring training. Go figure. Am not going to make any predictions now, but I'm confident my Red Sox have as good a chance as any team to make it to the World Series this year.

As March fades to April, and the weather starts feeling spring-like all of a sudden, I just thought I'd list out the upcoming IP/telecom events I'll be attending/speaking at over the next few months. For a change, most of these shows are in my back yard, so I don't have too much travel for a while...

April 3-5 - VON Canada - Toronto

April 6-7 - Canadian Telecommunications Consultants Association, Spring 2006 conference - Toronto

May 9-10 - Implementing VoIP, Federated Press - Toronto

May 15-16 - Mesh - Web 2.0 Conference - Toronto

June 4-8 - Globalcomm - Chicago

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Skype Allegations - Ripple Effects

This isn't breaking news, but I feel compelled to share it anyway. My PC was out with a virus for a couple of days, am I'm behind on everything, including blogging. That said...

The blogging community knows full well that Andy Abramson was first to market with this story last weekend. On Tuesday, James Enck noted that ZD NET UK was the first major news pub to "break" the story WITHOUT properly citing/crediting Andy as the source - which we all know to be true. You knew it would happen sooner or later. I empathize with blogger Russell Shaw, who writes for Ziff Davis, but would not have done such a thing.

The Skype story itself may be time sensitive, but the above issue is not, and maybe it will go down in the Web 2.0 annals as the "Abramson Precedent". I've always had mixed feelings about journalists who blog, and this scenario with ZD NET has crossed a line. In the blogger world, most of us know the credibility behind most other bloggers. It's a given that we would only post items of substance, or least will cite our sources.

However, ZD NET did not extend the courtesy and tenents of professional journalism to Andy in this case, as if a blog is not deemed to be a credible source. To me, that's crossing the line. It doesn't take much to ascertain that Andy's credentials are A-1, and he should have been accorded credit, without question. This is certainly not the first time that a quality story has come from the blogosphere, and it sure won't be the last. Blogs, of course, and gaining lots of credence in the publishing world due to their immediacy and the closeness of many bloggers to the best sources.

I'd like to think this won't happen again, but if/when it does, bloggers need to stake their claim, and keep making noise. Traditional journalists need to know these things get noticed, and we have our code of behavior as well. We know who the sources are in cases like these, and that's an easy story to tell if need be.

The blogs have been quiet about the Skype story the past day or so, but I just wanted to add a post from Monday that I haven't seen referenced yet. It's from "Mr Wave Theory", and he's got some very interesting thoughts about what's behind the Skype allegations. I didn't know "Mr. Wave" until now, so I can't really comment on the strength of his views.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - David Mandelstam on Open Source

This week's podcast was with David Mandelstam, President/CEO of Sangoma Technologies. Toronto doesn't have that many IP vendors, and Sangoma hasn't traditionally been in that space, but they are now, especially in open source.

They're a very interesting company - and public to boot - with a lot of historical perspective. So, I wanted to have David come on to talk about what he's seeing in open source and how that market is evolving in the voice arena. David also provided his views on being a Canadian vendor, and the realities of embracing open source for their company.

You can read more about David and listen to the podcast here. Next week, David will be speaking on two panels at VON Canada, so if you're attending, you'll have a chance to meet him there.

Monday, March 27, 2006

VON Canada - Just a Week Away

Just as the Spring VON buzz has finally subsided, it's time for another VON! For once, I don't have to travel - VON Canada is right here in Toronto.

The show runs Monday - Wednesday, April 3 - 5, and looks to build on the momentum from Spring VON, but with a local flavor. I'll be moderating and speaking on a few of the sessions, so I won't be hard to find.

One interesting twist to the show involves the Asterisk community. Open source has been on the VON agenda for some time, and at VON Canada, the Toronto Asterisk User Group (TAUG) will be holding their monthly meeting at the show venue. The agenda for the meeting is still evolving, but it's open to anyone attending the show. So if you're interested in open source, this will be a great way to connect with the community. I recently learned that TAUG is the largest AUG in the world, so I suspect there will be a healthy turnout. Hope to see you there!

What the ILECs Can Learn From Canada and Coffee

The other day I noted that Mark Goldberg has recently started blogging, and wanted to welcome him to the fold. He's well versed in the Canadian telecom sector, and had a terrific post on Friday that I wanted to amplify on.

I think you have to be Canadian to fully appreciate this, but for those of you in Verizon-land, just substitute Dunkin Donuts for Tim Hortons, and you'll get the picture.

Last week, the biggest financial story in Canada was the the Tim Hortons IPO. We don't have many homegrown retail brands left up here anymore - that's another (sad) story unto itself - and even fewer that the public can actually invest in. Everybody wants to own their stock - just like their coffee, people can't get enough of them. This business really is a gold mine. I was thinking about Mark's post on Saturday, as I was sitting in our local Tim Hortons with one of my sons having our weekly coffee/tea time. There is ALWAYS a lineup - doesn't matter what time of day - people just keep on coming. It's the same just about anywhere you go across Canada. Doesn't matter how many Starbucks are nearby, they just keep coming - eh! That said, Starbucks is a different animal, and their devotees would rarely go downmarket to Tims - or at least admit to doing so!

This is a roudabout way of getting to Mark's post. His main insight is that Tim Hortons has managed to become very successful and well differentiated in what is essentially a commodity business. Everybody drinks coffee, and people have many choices about where to go, but Tim Hortons sure gets it share. Of course, the secret is that Canadians are addicted to donuts, and that's probably the biggest reason they go to Tims. The coffee actually isn't that good, and 18% cream is just too rich for me - but that's the secret sauce to making it taste so good. Regardless, they are a well oiled machine, and you can't beat their prices.

So, I'm with Mark in saying that telcos could learn a few things from Tim Hortons, as the voice business these days isn't really that different from the coffee business. It IS possible to differentiate yourself, and as we've learned from Skype, keep the price low, make the user experience enjoyable, and keep the product simple and easy to use. Perhaps most importantly, stay close to the customer, and keep bringing out new products that tap into what people want. And if the telcos don't listen, just don't be surprised to see Tims come out with their own calling cards some day! If that's what the customer wants....

SPIRIT DSP � The Russians are Coming!

While today's Skype story is hard to ignore, there are other things to do and talk about, and I've got a small backlog of things to get posted. So, here's one I've finally gotten a chance to get around to from Spring VON...

One of the best parts about going to shows like VON is getting exposure to new vendors or vendors who are beneath the North American radar, but have solid traction elsewhere. I believe Spring VON attracted people from over 50 countries, so when the scope is that global, you�re bound to find some gems.

Being in Canada, it�s easy to comment about how US conferences are so US-centric, and how easy it is to overlook all the good things going on abroad. Skype is probably the best example of this, and in a year�s time, they�ve become a household word, and have put Estonia on the map in the IP world. Who knew? Romania and Argentina are examples of other lesser-known countries that have emerged with strong developer/programmer communities. Thinking larger, of course, Asia and India are quickly emerging as tech powerhouses by virtue of their inexhaustible pools of highly trained engineers and programmers along with labor costs that US firms cannot possibly compete against. Generous government support and subsidies is another factor in the mix, but that�s a topic unto itself.

These global realities don�t just hold for VoIP, as my inner sports geek poignantly reminds me. North America has had a humbling dose of this recently, reminding us we�re not the only life form on the planet. First, Canada�s men�s hockey team fails miserably at the Olympics (let�s not forget that the women�s team did their job!). And we just witnessed Team USA getting the same outcome at the WBC. These are our national sports � these things are NOT supposed to happen! What would the Europeans say if Canada won the World Cup? It�s just unthinkable. However, both sports and technology are global concerns, and to stay on top of your game, you can't ignore what's going on outside your borders.

On that note, I�d like to comment on my VON meeting with SPIRIT DSP�s CEO Andrew Sviridenko. Based in Russia, their focus is on embedded voice software, and their key forte is a voice engine that supports enterprise conferencing across PC and mobile platforms. They were new to me, and it looks like they face the classic marketing challenge of getting better known in the US market. Their software is reportedly used by over 200 customers in more than 70 countries, so they have the global footprint. And it�s not just Tier 3s � they have their share of top tier customers, including Ericsson, Toshiba, Nortel, TI, Siemens, Philips, Oracle, Macromedia, Agere, HP, NEC, LG and Polycom.

Certainly, they�re not the only game in town, but they�re focusing on the hot topic right now � enterprise FMC. This has even been borne out on the software side, as witnessed by Microsoft�s mobility integration news at 3GSM. For enterprises looking to deploy along these lines � and don�t want to be totally dependent on Microsoft for doing so � SPIRIT DSP is a viable alternative. But you have to know about them first! So, as with a number of other offshore vendors looking to break into the US market at VON, it�s not so much who you know, but who knows you.

Skype/RICO Allegations - the plot thickens....

As Jeff Pulver notes this morning, the ripple effect is starting to happen on this story.

In short, a company named StreamCast is suing Skype, as they claim to own the FastTrack P2P technology that powers Skype. This seems rooted more in the world of Kazaa and Morpheus than VoIP, but Skype is the company they're after, and that's why this is getting so much attention. As with a lot of things in life, when people want something, they follow the money.

Andy Abramson has posted the full 30+ page formal allegation and is probably the best source to follow directly, certainly until it becomes a mainstream story, likely later today. Andy wisely notes that eBay has not been named in this allegation, but by association, they can't be very happy about any of this.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

VON Humor

I know - - - Spring VON doesn't seem to go away. I just HAD to share Jeff's "Separated At Birth" post over the weekend. When you take enough photos of people, you start to notice how much some of us resemble other people. These are great shots - good eye Jeff! You gotta see these to see what I mean.

Say it ain't so Niklas - Skype - Alleged RICO Violations???

Andy Abramson posted the scoop on this last night. I got his message via Skype just after he posted (the irony of being the messenger of your own - potential - bad news), but was too tired to do anything with it.

Since then, Jeff Pulver, Om Malik , Phil Wolff (Skype Journal)and Alec Saunders have put up posts, but they're not adding anything to Andy's which has all the detail that's probably available to this point. Mind you, by the time most of you read this, it will be front page news everywhere.

So, I'm being careful here, as these are just allegations, and no doubt there are lots of people out there who will use sensational tactics to go after such a big target as Skype. I certainly can't comment at all, and am only trying to bring the story to your attention, and I'm sure we'll all be following it very closely. Being a long time Skype supporter, I'd sure hate to see anything like this come to pass - it's just so not in the spirit of IP. Am keeping my fingers crossed that it's a lot of noise.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Erik Lagerway on Spring VON

For this week's pod, I had Erik Lagerway back for a second time. I believe Erik was my very first podcast guest, and he's got a new home now. Erik recently left Eyeball and is now CTO of Calgary-based Shift Networks, and from what he's telling me, he's loving it there. That's great to hear.

Erik and I did a recap of Spring VON, talking about what we liked, the highlights, and directions we'd like to see for the future. You can read more about what Erik's up to and listen to the podcast here. For everyday stuff, you can keep tabs on Erik via his blog, SIPthat.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Telecom Review Panel - Canada Finally Gets it Right!

Today had all the markings of a landmark event in the Canadian communications marketplace. The much anticipated Telecom Review Panel report was issued today, and from all indications, they get it. If adopted, Canada could well serve as the model for others to follow in making sure the broadband revolution succeeds. Anyone following my blog would know this is a new tune for Canada, and one I think we'd all like to see. It's major step forward from the existing policies which were crafted way back in 1993 in the Telecommunications Act. Go Canada!

I'm only going to comment about this at a high level, and let the links fill in the detail for those who wish to better understand what this is all about.

First, it must be noted that the TRP is simply issuing their findings and recommendations. It's a great blueprint, but it will take some time for our government to sort this all out and put things into law. This won't happen overnight simply because the proposed changes are profound, and call for a new order that's compatible with the realities of today's Internet/IP world. Furthermore, we have a new government in office and their views are quite different from the Liberals who preceded them. That said, the PC party leans more towards free markets, and are more likely to support the gist of what the TRP is proposing.

Second - the good news is the overarching message of the report - let market forces rule. Wow. It's almost like Michael Powell helped write the report. What a novel idea! Needless to say, the ILECs love it. I couldn't make Bell's analyst call this morning, but the gist of it is in their press release. It's not very compelling copy, but you can be sure Mr. Sabia and Mr. Entwistle are quite pleased. The regulatory shackles could soon come off, and that could open things up considerably. Of course the age-old issues about fair competition are still there, but with the right measures and policies (i.e. the proposed Telecommunications Competition Tribunal), this could be a huge boost for mass market adoption. Combine this with recommendations for tax incentives for companies to adopt IP, and a policy to create ubiquitous broadband by 2010, and you've got the right drivers in place to make things really go.

Many other interesting issues came out of the 400 page report and its 100+ recommendations, and there's too much to address here. Key items include:

- encouraging more facilities-based competition
- easing foreign ownership restrictions
- dramatically overhauling the CRTC and redefining its role
- extending these policies to the broadcasting sector
- noting the realities of trying to introduce more competitors to our mobility market

All the right things you'd want an updated review to address. For further reading, I'm going to steer you to a few sources...

First, is Mark Goldberg, a veteran telecom consultant here in Toronto. I'm citing Mark first because he recently started blogging and I just came across his site - Telecom Trends - via Mark Evans. So, welcome to the IP blogosphere Mark! He's had a few postings about the report today and last night, and you can read them here.

Next up is Mr. Evans himself. His blog has been pretty quiet on this front, but he was good enough to post a link to his print coverage in today's National Post.

Sarah Lysecki of ITBusiness. Hat tip to Rob Hyndman on this one.

Finally, Jeff Fan of UBS Securities issued a research note today on the report. I can pass along the pdf if you're interested - just let me know. Jeff will be speaking along with me at the VON Canada Analyst Roundtable, and you can be sure we'll be touching on this topic there! Ditto for the Bloggers Syndicate session that I'll be moderating at the show.

Video in VON's Future - Part 2 - SightSpeed

Here's the second video-related item I wanted to comment about coming out of VON. SightSpeed is another up and coming company to watch, and have a terrific offering for another branch of the IP video tree - great quality video over IP.

SightSpeed was a participant on the Birds of a Feather Hot Apps session I moderated at VON, and their President, Scott Lomond, gave a great demo of how easy it is to use and how well it works.

Following up on this, I spoke with SightSpeed's CEO Peter Csathy yesterday about where they're going. There's definitely momentum building here, simply because it works very well, and doesn't use up much bandwidth, allowing it work across a more diverse set of network conditions than other video offerings.

Their basic package is free, and 2 video-enabled parties can get a video call going as easily as a voice call. You can also leave short video messages, up to 30 seconds long. This alone is all well and good, but what makes this more of a Web 2.0 application is the multi-party voice and video capabilities, which come with the paid edition, which costs $4.95/month.

Now you're talking community building and social networking, at least for the Internet set. It's not something I'd run out to do, but it's totally intuitive for my kids, and I can really see how it will be very fun for them. Layer some advertising on this, and when the mobility features come, you've got a business here. So, just as Skype built its brand on ease of use and functionality, SightSpeed is doing the same with video.

Of course, all the IM platforms will move to video, so the challenge for SightSpeed is to decide if they can build a viable brand and community themselves, or whether they should partner with one of the big guys.

I'm certainly not alone watching them. Hat tip to Andy for posting about Ken Camp's interview yesterday with Peter.

One comment there resonated strongly for me - the utility of SightSpeed for the deaf community. We don't usually think of people with mind/body impairments as markets, but in this case it's totally valid. My youngest brother is deaf, and I've grown up around deaf culture, which has an incredibly rich mode of expression in sign language. I always find it amazing to watch a group of deaf people signing away, carrying on multiple conversations without a sound being made. It's like mimes doing IM, but much more interesting. I have no doubt there's a market there, and am going to tell my brother about this when I see him this weekend.

Adding to the mix, Alec Saunders posted his experiences with SightSpeed last week on his blog.

Video in VON's Future - Part 1 - Slingbox

As noted here and elsewhere, Jeff Pulver has embraced video big time, and he was a walking billboard for the Slingbox at VON last week. You don't to look far to pick up on this thread, but I just wanted to add that with a little bit of effort, VON attendees - myself included - were able to get their own Slingbox for free. If you ask me, it's a great bit of marketing savvy by Slingmedia, to get these very popular boxes in the hands of an early adopter audience.

That said, I'm not the ideal customer, as I rarely watch TV, and Slingbox isn't about to change my life. I'm an anomoly in this case, but I can certainly see the cool factor here. It's not the only game in town, but Slingbox sure is on a roll, and reflects the essence of how IP is quickly imprinting itself on the broadcast world.

I didn't realize that Slingbox wasn't available yet in Canada, and as Mark Evans notes, that will change on March 30. So, for another week I'll be a step ahead of the game, for what it's worth.

Shaw Cable - How Not To Support VoIP

Hat tip to Andy Abramson on this one, especially for picking up on this Canadian item.

Raise your hands, folks. How many of you have ever heard of ZingoTel? Be honest now. Ahhh - none of you. That's what I thought. When an obscure, Las Vegas-based VoBB provider like this makes noise with Shaw - and gets attention, you know we've got an issue on our hands.

Andy cites the story from a posting on Betadot. Pretty bizarre - and it's not about what you'd think - port blocking or net neutrality. Something far more basic and territorial. ZingoTel bought media time to run ads on TV for their VoIP service. Since Shaw is the cable provider for Western Canada, and ZingoTel competes with their VoIP offering, CEO Jim Shaw said no go, and turned away their $36,000 ad buy.

Only in the cable business, which still has vestiges of being family-run - such as Shaw - can this happen. Incredible. As Andy rightly says - "if Shaw has a better product people will buy it". Plus, you've taken their money - what's the problem? VoIP competition cuts both ways, and this is just another fine mess Shaw has gotten itself into. So, now ZingoTel is suing Shaw for $1.2 million, and is rightly filing a complaint with the CRTC.

On top of this, Shaw recently ran into a net neutrality challenge from Vonage Canada, which garnered quite a bit of attention, as one could view this as a precedent-setting challenge given how contentious net neutrality has recently become.

I should also note this is actually an old story with Shaw. Going back to last May, Primus Canada raised this issue with them, but in VoIP-land, that's a very long time ago, and it's easily forgotten. Hat tip to Mark Evans for the paper trail here.

How not to make friends and influence people!

Spring VON - Final, Final Thoughts!

Have you ever seen a show with so much after-buzz? Sure tells you the kind of impression it's having in the IP communications space. I know lots is happening this week with TelecomNext, but a lot of us are still digesting VON.

On that note, Jeff Pulver had a nice recap of the show on his blog today, and he was nice enough to cite mein his list of bloggers who followed the show. He also noted Tim McElligot's review of his keynote in Telephony Magazine, and Tim was also nice enough to cite me in the article. Thanks guys!

I'm just about done with my Spring VON postings - this will be short. It's been a real go-go-go day, and I've got a backlog of postings to do later tonight, including some real interesting ones on video, which builds on Jeff's current embrace of the new "V" word.

So, here's a quick one. During the show, I did a podcast from the floor with Laura Nembach and Mike McClenathan of the Pulvermedia Podcasting Network. So, click here to listen in to our impressions of the show to that point.

With that podcast, I can now say I've covered the show in all forms of media. Aside from the podcast and getting some press coverage, I've posted some video, some photos, and plain old text blog content. We're covered!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nimcat/Avaya - More P2P Validation

Better late than never on this one. I wasn't at Voicecon, but I'm aware that Avaya came away with a Best Of Award at the show for their one-X Quick Edition for small business.

I just wanted to draw attention to this, as there's a good Canadian story here, and it's great validation for peer-to-peer as an enterprise technology, especially for SMBs. Avaya's one-X is the revamped Nimx plug-and-play embedded P2P solution developed by Ottawa-based Nimcat Networks. Nimcat was acquired last year by Avaya, and their CEO, Mahshad Khoogoli has stayed on through the transition. He brought this to my attention recently, and I've been meaning to post about it since then.

Toronto's Web 2.0 Conference Coming in May

The website for Toronto's first Web 2.0 conference has gone live now, and the dates are May 15-16. It's not quite Tim O'Reilly, at least yet, but for anyone wanting to know where Toronto is on the Web 2.0 map, it should be a great show to attend. And the price is right - $350.

There's also a blog page on the site for those who want to build community in advance of the event. So far, the lineup includes uberbloggers Om Malik and Steve Rubel, as well as Canada's legal pundit on the Net and e-comm, Michael Geist. Will update this as the show takes more shape.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring VON - Video Clips

The buzz from VON is still carrying over into this week, and I'm almost done! I've got 2 video clips to share, courtesy of my Nokia N90. Depending on your broadband connection, the clips can be chopppy, but they were quite smooth this morning. If that happens, just give them some time to load before viewing.

Got 2 clips for you - a portion of Iotum's demonstration during the Hot Apps session, and a few minutes from Jeff Pulver's opening keynote.

The Iotum clip is about 3 minutes, and Jeff's is about 5 minutes. Just sharing these to provide some of the flavor of the show. Of course, to get the full story, you have to come yourself, and hopefully, that's what will happen next VON!

Howard Thaw, Iotum - Hot Apps Session

Click to view clip

Jeff Pulver - excerpt from his keynote
Click to view clip

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring VON - Final Thoughts and Pix

I promised to finish up my VON posting after getting back, and wanted to comment briefly on two keynotes I particularly enjoyed.

First was Tim O�Reilly, who is Jeff Pulver�s counterpart in the Web 2.0 space. Jeff and Tim�s worlds are increasingly sharing a common orbit, and I hope we�ll see more cross-pollination here in future shows. Actually, Tim�s presence struck me as the only really fresh wrinkle in the VON format, and I suspect � and hope � to see more content moving beyond voice to encompass things like Web 2.0 and video.

Tim message about tech innovation had parallels to Jeff�s keynote, and it was really neat seeing photos of the very first Apple computer and virtual reality headgear, as well as early versions of snowboards. They were all crude and clunky designs, bearing little resemblance to what we use today. VoIP and telephony are now in the same boat, and this was a good lead-up to his basic question � �what are the alpha-geeks doing with telephony?�

From his Web 2.0 perspective, his message was simple � �they�re treating it as an extension of the Internet, and it�s not about walled gardens.� This may seem obvious to the VON crowd, but the core message is important � this is not obvious to the broader world, and you have to look to the early adopters to see where things are going, and not to where telecom � and even VoIP - has been coming from. To emphasize the point, he cited the famous William Gibson quote � �the future is here, it�s just not evenly distributed yet.�

Going further along this path, he noted that most of the �killer apps� of the Internet era � Google, Amazon, iTunes, Wikipedia � are built on open source. Furthermore, they are primarily information businesses � not software, and certainly not hardware. In essence, they are simply �Internet platforms�. That�s a very different reality to where telecom has come from, and he sees no reason why the future of voice will be any different. While the rest of his talk was more about the key elements that drive value for Web 2.0 than the telecom space, it�s pretty clear that voice can/will play a different role in this emerging world, and that gives rise a whole host of new business models.

James Enck�s presentation was another highlight for me. He�s always irreverent, but on top of the key themes driving IP. He did a great recap of the key stories of last year � Skype/eBay, Google, cable telephony, etc. � all with the theme that the telecom business is under assault from all sides. His Euro-focus confirmed similar trends to what RBOCs are living through, such as loss of landlines, increased competition, and the uptake of VoIP.

Among all of this, I was pleasantly surprised to see him cite a Canadian example of the trend toward the outsourcing of corporate networks, namely the Royal Bank deal where Bell Canada is going to manage their voice network using IP for over 8,000 lines. Overall, nothing new or radical here, but James delivers the message in a very engaging way, and puts things in high perspective as only a top analyst can do.

I also wanted to pass on a hat tip to Skype Journal's Stuart Henshall for his thought-provoking posting about the conspicuous absence of Skype/eBay at the show. I fully agree, especially with eBay being so close by to the show venue. We'll just have to wait until VON Canada next month, where Niklas makes his only North America live appearance. Jeff Pulver is of the same mind - at least about Skype/eBay - and noted this on his blog this morning.

On a broader note, it's also worth noting other key IM players like Google, Yahoo and AOL were hardly in the mix during the show. Microsoft exhibited, but they weren't really there to talk about MSN Messenger. I'd like to think this will change, as VON really is a great forum for them to be sharing their vision for VoIM.

Finally, I'd like to share a few more Nokia N90 photos...

Birds of a Feather Session - Hot Apps - 1st up - Howard Thaw, Iotum


Next, Rich Birckbichler, Versatel Networks, and third, Scott Lomond, SightSpeed


Ok , ready for this? Here's Andy Abramson using SightSpeed, with his screen showing a live video feed of me photographing his PC and his image looking back at me - sort of a picture in a picture, but cooler....


Andy's blogger dinner - Andy, Stuart Henshall, James Enck, Phil Wolff - and the other side of the table - Lisa and David Beckemeyer, Russell Shaw


Jeff, just before the party....


Dan Dearing, NexTone


A couple of people who make things run behind the scenes - Jerry Hirsch and Barbara Gavin (clipboard in hand!). Jerry's photos are posted now in the VON photo gallery - have a look.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

VON Day 3 - Quick hilites

Blogging on the fly here. Had a chance to walk the show floor finally. It's much bigger than previous shows, so it takes more time to cover. This also makes life hard for exhibitors as attendees have to split their time among more vendors to see as well as making time to see the presentations. I don't know how you solve this age old-problem, and it's not unique to VON.

Anyhow, time is short, and I just wanted to post a few photos, taken with the Nokia N90. I'll have more coming over the weekend, along with some commentary, and hopefully video clips - and will be in transit back to Toronto pretty much all of Friday.

Sure looks like Spring, but it's chilly here!


Steve Smith



Warming up for Jeff....




Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spring VON - Day 2

Jeff Pulver just kicked off Spring VON 2006, and his keynote focused on where VON has come from over the past 10 years, and where the future is going. He's always got a catchy title, and this one is titled "Eve of Destruction", appropos to the heavy handed pop hit from one hit wonder Barry McGuire, who was came out of the San Francisco scene 40 years ago, just up the road from San Jose. This title wouldn't work so well for Fall VON in Boston, but it sure fits for this locale. Nice idea, Jeff.

The story of how VON got here is familiar to anyone who's seen Jeff's keynotes. Nothing new there, but it's still worth telling in the sense that IP is very much like the early days of rock and roll. The pioneers knew they were on to something good, and it felt good to do, but there really were no rules, and a lot of happy accidents happen along the way. Once rock and VoIP started to find an audience, both started to become successful in a big way, and after enough time passes, it's hard to remember what came before it. VoIP is well on it way to doing what rock music did.

It's always good to hear Jeff recount his early efforts at making VoIP calls and how his Ham radio passion provided many of the reference points that quickly transferred over to VoIP. And maybe most important of all, Jeff didn't come from telecom - he was just doing was seemed right, and he made it work with a lot of trial and error. Jeff referred to himself as "technology geologist" with these early efforts - that works for me!

Of course, VoIP was a pretty radical idea then, and we've come so far now with VoIP, it's easy to forget that. Just like when you switched from dial-up to broadband, you quickly forget there really was a practical reason - to stop tying up your phone line when going on the Net. Who thinks about that any more?

Looking ahead, Jeff's message was mainly about video, and the power of the Internet to transform the broadcast industry. Jeff has been on this track for some time, and it's hard not to see how IP is starting to impact the broadcast sector, much the way it's been transforming the voice business the past 2 years. I'm not alone in wanting to see VON broaden its scope to address this booming area, and I'm certain Jeff is on the case.

Jeff has become a strong advocate of Slingbox ever since discovering it last year. It's a great example of how with the right devices, the power of the Internet to put broadcast quality media in your hands changes the whole notion of how we experience video, and more importantly, the relationship between content providers and users.

It's another one of those paradigm shifts that I think most people in the audience understand. And rightly so, Jeff concluded by saying we are the people who are driving IP innovation, and the opportunity is there for all of us to make change happen. No argument there.

Finally, Jeff encouraged everyone to sign the Net Neutrality petition that wants to submit to Congress. As much as everyone here "gets it" on this issue, it's clear that others see it differently, and this is very a defining issue for the future of the Internet and IP communications. So, please, sign up any way you can.

I've got some photos coming as well as a video of the first few minutes of Jeff's remarks, taken with my Nokia N90. Hope to get these posted later today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

VON Blur - it's real

It's early afternoon on Tuesday here in chilly San Jose. The sun is peeking out, which is a good sign. There's some buzz here, but things really start happening tomorrow.

The VON blur phenomenon is true. My day has been all go-go, and of course, our flight was 2.5 hours late, so everything is off sched. Got some nice photos and lots of good things coming. Just wanted to get a quick post in before the day escapes.... back tomorrow, I hope.

Friday, March 10, 2006

My Website - Splash Page Ready

You need to wear many hats as an indie, no doubt. I've been trying to get my website together for some time, but we're almost there.

The splash page for the J Arnold & Associates website just went live this morning, and I expect to have the full site ready to launch later this month.

So, for any of you who have had trouble contacting me, everything you need to know is online now. Stay tuned for the real thing....

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Bogdan Materna, VoIPShield

My second podcast for the week was with Bogdan Materna, CTO of VoIPShield, an Ottawa-based vendors focused on VoIP security. This is a hot topic for sure, and Bogdan addressed many of the key issues and challenges faced by both vendors and carriers.

You can download the podcast and read more about Bogdan here.

For those of you attending VON Canada next month, Bogdan will be speaking on the VoIP Security session - hope to see you there.

My other podcast from this week was with Matt Stein of Primus Canada.

No Canadian IP Thought Leader pods next week as I'll be at Spring VON, but things will be back to schedule the week after.

Toronto's Muni WiFi Plans - More Questions than Answers

It's been a fun week in the Canadian IP space. Sure, there are lots of major tech stories everyone is following 24/7 right now - RIM, Intel, Google, etc. No shortage of ink to spill on these big ones, but you won't see much about them here. There are so many journalists covering these stories all day long - I'd rather focus on other things for the blog.

This week has seen not one, but two Canadian stories getting attention in broader blogosphere. How often does that ever happen?

- Vonage Canada challenging Shaw Cable's QoS surtax on third party VoBB services to their subscribers

- Toronto Hydro's announcement to offer muni WiFi in the downtown area later this year

You don't have to go far to find coverage of either, which is nice to see. Good posts on these include Mark Evans, Mathew Ingram, Rob Hyndman, Russell Shaw and IP Democracy.

The Toronto Hydro story has been getting a lot of attention locally this week, and not just among folks like us. My mother was asking me about this the other day - when it gets on her radar, I know people are talking about it! I'm sure I'm not alone on that one.

Another sign it's on people's minds is when the story becomes the lead item in the Editorial section of today's Globe & Mail, Canada's leading national daily. Note how I said "leading". We are such a literate country, that Canada has two national dailies - the National Post too - and both are way better pubs than USAToday. Our hockey teams may not be so hot, but hey, didn't we just beat USA at the WBC? There hasn't been much sunshine for the past 6 months, but it's not so bad up here!

Anyhow, I don't have online access to the full editorial piece, but here's what I could get off their site...

Will efficiency rule in this wireless plan?

Friday, March 10, 2006, Page A16

Toronto Hydro wants to turn Toronto into a wireless universe with low-cost Internet access for all, regardless of where they live, work or play. It's an ambitious plan that has merit. The Internet has become much more than a convenient research and communication tool, and wireless messaging is much more than a toy for BlackBerry addicts. Broadband access is becoming an essential part of urban infrastructure, every bit as important to the functioning of a modern metropolis as roads, sewers and electricity. No city can afford to be left behind in the digital age. And it may well make sense for a public utility to spearhead the effort to provide such a service to the most people at the lowest possible cost.

In a country where many institutions and vital services are still state-run, these are important issues. I note the Globe's editorial piece not just because it is so high profile, but because it raises some very good questions.

Nobody - myself included - would argue against bringing muni WiFi to Toronto. This is certainly one of North America's top tech centers, and the economic engine of Canada. The editorial is really focused on the basic question as to what is the appropriate role for Toronto Hydro to play. The U.S. cities looking at WiFi struggle with the same issue, but unlike these cases, Toronto's is being driven by a state-run electrical utility. There are many issues to weigh here, and it's great to see public debate developing around it.

I'm of the view that Toronto Hydro should just provide the infrastructure, and let the private sector provide the service, with some form of revenue share that makes it fair for everybody. We know what Bell and Rogers think, and they won't stay quiet on this one. So, for anyone who's been following or blogging about this story, I'd say stick around, it's going to get interesting.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Skype for Business is Here

Today Skype has announced its formal entry into the business market. Branded "Skype for Business", it's rightly targeted at the small end of the spectrum - under 10 employees. This makes sense in that there will be fewer firewall traversal issues here, and this demographic should overlap nicely with current Skype users.

BusinessWeek's online edition ran a nice piece about it this morning, and were nice enough to cite me.

The article does a good job of focusing on the under 10 market as being underserved for VoIP,and notes how other IM vendors like AOL, Yahoo and MS are already or will be offering voice for small business as well as other business applications like file sharing.

So, Skype will certainly not be alone in this space, and it was nice to see the article also include Tello, one of Jeff Pulver's latest launches. I mention Tello because I really see Skype as an entry level small business tool - it's a great deal for low cost voice with IM - but that's about it for the most part.

Tello is pushing the envelope further by offering an instant collaboration platform, that in addition to voice and IM, supports business apps like spreadsheets. Furthermore, it operates across IM platforms and all types of phone networks. It's much more of a Web 2.0 solution, where voice is just one application instead being the main attraction.

That said, today's story is about Skype, and I think it's great news for them. I'm sure their brand will translate nicely into this market, and I know their offerings will expand as they gain traction here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Matt Stein, Primus Canada

This week is a podcast double-shot as I won't be doing one next week since I'll be Spring VON.

The first segment is with Matt Stein of Primus Canada. Matt and I spoke about the residential VoIP market in Canada, and how it compares to the U.S. We also touched on net neutrality in the context of this week's news about Vonage Canada contesting the QoS surcharge that Shaw Cable is offering for third party VoIP services going over their network. It's familiar ground for Matt, as Primus Canada addressed this issue with Shaw last year.

You can download the podcast here, and find out where Matt is speaking at Spring VON next week as well as VON Canada next month.

My second podcast for this week should be posted tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

BCE/Aliant Deal - the AT&T Effect Already

It's been a busy day in the Canadian telecom market, and you have to wonder about the timing of this news in the still foaming wake of AT&T's deal, where the ink hasn't even dried yet on all the press around it.

BCE isn't quite on the scale of AT&T, but they certainly occupy the same role in Canada, and share a lot of the same telecom DNA. I'm just going to hit the high points here, as the press release is quite long.

The main idea is this - BCE recently announced it was going to form an Income Trust for their non-urban subscribers - translation - households with limited upside potential for high margin broadband service. With today's news, these lines would be added to the access lines for all of Atlantic Canada to form a consolidated Income Trust that would be controlled by BCE. By adding the whole pot of landlines under Aliant's control, this new entity would represent 3.4 million lines, which includes 400,000+ broadband subscribers. So, in one fell swoop, 4 of Canada's 10 provinces just got lumped into the BCE fold.

What I find so interesting about this is how BCE has managed to treat all of Aliant's landlines the same, and on par with the non-urban lines in their home markets of Ontario and Quebec. Gee, last I looked, Atlantic Canada has some vibrant urban markets - albeit small compared to the rest of Canada, but urban nonetheless. I would love hear what subscribers in places like Halifax or St. John think about all this.

This isn't quite a dramatic as the AT&T deal since BCE already owns 53% of Aliant. But still, with this deal, BCE essentially extends its residential landline monopoly across 6 provinces, and virtually everything going east from Ontario.

The second key announcement - which was only mentioned in passing (hmmm) - was that Bell Mobility will acquire Aliant Mobility - just like that. Boom - there goes another wireless operator. Hey, didn't I just post the other day about the CRTC talking about wanting to see more wireless competition as part of their updated telecom review?

Of course, all of this is subject to CRTC approval, and it will be real interesting to see how this plays in Ottawa. The CRTC has enough telecom issues to deal with as it is - and now this.

The parallels to the AT&T deal are uncanny, and I'm not sure who's doing a better job of consolidation - BCE or AT&T - but they're both on a pretty strong track. Is bigger really better? It's too soon to tell, but if BCE gets its way here, you can be sure that Telus will start lobbying pretty hard to ease or eliminate foreign ownership restrictions. This is probably their best shot at keeping up with BCE in their relentless quest to become - again - a national carrier. Verizon used to have a stake in Telus, much like SBC did with BCE. Just as Canada has lost any semblance of economic sovereignty in the retail sector, the day could soon come for telecom, at least in Western Canada.

Toronto Hydro Jumping into Muni WiFi

It's been a busy day in IP land, and I haven't even gotten to the Bell Canada news yet.

Today, Toronto Hydro announced plans to offer municipal WiFi later this year, much like what Philadelphia is doing with Earthlink. Well, for all the talk about a lack of competition, you knew it was just a matter of time before the utilities started looking at muni WiFi. Toronto Hydro actually has a pretty extensive fiber network, and has been marketing IP connectivity to businesses for some time, so this isn't as huge a leap as it sounds. Bet you didn't know they have a telecom division that offers VoIP.

Mark Evans posted about this yesterday, and has a nice article about it in the National Post. Mark's article rightly notes that for all the fiscal problems Toronto is facing, why get into WiFi?

The business model is not proven, and naturally the incumbents are not welcoming the news. Is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars in a market that is pretty well served already? Toronto has always been fiscally conservative, and does not have many options for supporting new ventures like this. For the benefit of readers outside of Canada, it's important to understand that Canadian cities are not allowed to issue bonds, which are vital to the growth plans of American cities. Toronto is totally dependent on tax dollars and subsidies from provincial and federal government agencies. With so many other pressing infrastructure issues, and limited sources for funding, one really has to wonder about the viability of this venture. If it works, great - it puts Toronto on the map as a wireless tech leader - which will hopefully attract investment, jobs, etc. That's the plan, but if doesn't pan out, well - that's another blog posting.

Dr. Seuss on AT&T/BellSouth - the Video Version

Jeff Pulver posted a terrific satire on this yesterday, and for those of you who are visual learners - or don't remember the wonderful cadences of Dr. Seuss, this video is for you.

Cat-in-the-hats off to Jeff, Carl Ford and Jonathan Askin for this fireside chat-style rendering of what's destined to become an IP classic!

Vonage Canada Challenges Dual-Tiered Internet

This morning Vonage Canada filed a request with the CRTC to challenge Shaw Cable's $10 "quality of service enhancement fee" for subscribers wishing to sign up for competing VoIP services over their cable lines.

Folks, this is a real-life case showdown about net neutrality, and it's the first direct challenge I've seen. The issue is not as heated here in Canada, but the scenerio is no different. Now, the CRTC is being put on the spot to respond in the absence of any U.S. precedents. The FCC has conducted hearings on this bedrock issue, but decisions have not yet been rendered.

Vonage has been under a lot of scrutiny lately around its IPO plans, and they have fallen out of favor with a lot of people. Well, this time, I think they should get some support. I'm in their camp on this one, and Shaw's surcharge looks pretty anti-competitive to me. And they don't even have any ILEC VoIP competition yet.

Have a look for yourself and be the judge - what does this look like to you?

So for $10/month, Shaw subscribers now have the "opportunity to improve the quality of Internet telephony services offered by third party providers". I didn't know the quality was so bad in the first place, and it's not like they're improving their network just for this. They're just saying that they'll provision Vonage Canada's service just as well as they'd provision their own VoIP service - over the same network - but you have to pay extra for Vonage Canada - or other third party providers.

So, are all those happy people in the photo on this web page smiling because they can finally get good quality Vonage Canada service? Or are they laughing at you for going along with this deal?

As Vonage Canada points out in the press release (which hasn't been posted yet), there are some basic questions the CRTC needs to address:

- What does Shaw's so-called "enhancement" service consist of, from both a technological and service implementation perspective?
- What evidence does Shaw have to prove its "enhancement" service actually delivers on the promise of enhancing a customer's use of a non-Shaw phone service provider and to what extent?
- What is the justification for a recurring charge to the customer for a service that it appears may consist of a one-time configuration of the Shaw-approved cable modem used by Shaw's high-speed Internet customers?
- What is the take-up rate past, present and likely future of Shaw's enhancement service, and what is the likely effect of the service on competition in local VoIP services?

These seem like the right questions to me. Sure, any facilities-based carrier has the right to earn a fair return and operate the network as they see fit -within reason (and that of course, is the rub here). And sure, pureplays like Vonage are handicapped on the QoS side. But there are many gray areas here where behavior is not in the best interests of the consumer, and that's where we turn to the CRTC for guidance. Their track record on IP hasn't been that inspiring, so let's just cross our fingers on this one.

Monday, March 6, 2006

If it's March, it must be VON

March means different things to different people, but in the IP space, Spring VON has got to be top of the list, or pretty darned close. The show is a week away, starting March 14, and runs through Friday in San Jose.

This year VON turns 10, so it's a bigger deal than usual. If you've never been to VON, I'd urge you to go, if not just to be part of a pretty special anniversary. Nobody has been as strong an advocate for IP communications as long as Jeff Pulver, and this would be a great time to show your support.

And if you want to hear about it direct from Jeff himself - he'll tell you via video!

I won't be hard to find, and will be doing my part on a few sessions. I'm moderating two panels - one on Open Source, and one called Hot New Apps (the link isn't ready for this one yet - it's on Thursday at 10:30am).

I'm also participating as a speaker on the Industry Analyst session, which I always enjoy doing.

AT&T/Bell South - Another Perspective

Just had to share this one about the AT&T/BellSouth news. When you read this, you'll no doubt nod your head and smile throughout, especially if you have kids. Sometimes things are best understood when you look at them in simplistic terms.

Great job, Dr. Pulver!

Sunday, March 5, 2006

And the Best Actor Award Goes

It's pretty hard to compete with the Academy Awards tonight, and maybe that explains the timing of today's news about AT&T acquiring BellSouth. The analyst concall is at 10am Monday, but with the news out today, it will be interesting to watch how these stocks perform Monday.

OK, so like, who issues press releases of such magnitude on a Sunday? And on Oscar Sunday? Either there's an even bigger story coming on Monday (my guess is not), or they want to slip this in while nobody's paying attention, and America wakes up with a love-in Oscar hangover Monday and just goes "whatever", what's good for corporate America is good for me (probably not, but I really wonder sometimes).

As a rule of thumb, I hardly ever post on weekends, as I'm usually preoccupied with other things. I did see this story earlier in the day, though, and figured just wait til Monday to see if I had an angle worth posting about.

Well I'm posting now because CBS Radio in New York interviewed me about an hour ago about the story. So, if you happen to be bored with the Oscars, and happen to be a nighthawk reading this post, and happen to listen to your local CBS Radio affiliate tonight or on Monday, there's a good chance you'll hear me on the radio.

Hey, if you do, please let me know - I'd love some validation on this!

I'm not going to say much here about the news, and there's certainly no scoop. Russell Shaw has a very good posting from earlier today that should answer many questions, and many other insightful posts are sure to follow Monday morning. Hat tip to Andy Abramson on Russell's post, as he cited it on his blog - and I'm sure Andy will have his own cogent take on the news soon. Om Malik's post today is also a good read, as is Mark Evans's post from first thing this morning. When do you ever sleep Mark?

For my two cents, I'd just like to add a few quick thoughts, most of which is what I shared with CBS Radio tonight....

- In a bizarre way, at&t does deserve the Best Actor award. They go from what looked like terminal decline and being acquired by SBC for "only" $16 billion - half of what the Sprint/NexTel deal went for. How can this be? Was AT&T really so badly managed? Then their new corporate logo was recently unveiled - same logo, but the name has gone from AT&T to at&t. So, is this the meek, happy-to-be-still-alive, smaller and friendlier AT&T? Or is it a wolf in a sheep's clothing that really hasn't - and by nature cannot - change its stripes - and is simply waiting for the right situation to reassert itself? I dunno. Looks like the latter to me with today's news. I have always felt that AT&T is one of the most valuable brands ever created, and it seemed ridiculous for it to be worth the $16 billion SBC bought it for. Well, here they come, reversing the acquisition at over 4 times the price to take out BellSouth.

- As with so many other carrier deals happening these days, it's all about wireless. With 100% of Cingular, this really creates a telecom megabrand. They've got the huge subscriber base, the brand and the network - all primed for the inevitable onslaught of cool wireless apps that we've been waiting for. The rich will certainly get richer. We all know they've got a strong franchise in the enterprise market, and now, CallVantage finally has an addressable market with BellSouth's footprint. I think they'll now get to become the VoIP provider everyone thought they'd be in 2004, when CallVantage was launched with great fanfare at Spring VON. Has there ever been a marketing campaign with greater irony? Dubbed "The Year of the Giant", their launch was anything but. I remember - I've got the t-shirt and the photo with Kareem Abdul Jabbar to prove it! With massive global advertising during the 2004 Olympics, they sure looked to be world beaters. However, Vonage totally spooked them, and baited them into a price war and killed any chance of making money with VoIP. With barely 70,000 subscribers to show for all this, "the giant" was acquired for a song (I think)within a year's time. Wow.

- Of course, this news will have a domino effect of questions and winners/losers analysis that impact the whole communications sector. First and foremost, how will Washington and consumer groups react to what sure looks like a devolution back to 1984 when the AT&T monopoly was broken up? In broad strokes, this merger would basically reduce the US to a two horse market - AT&T and Verizon, and that raises all kinds of questions about consolidation and competition - for everybody. The other RBOCs -well, Qwest, really. The independent carriers. The wireless operators. The cable guys. The broadband operators. Consumers. Startups. Vendors. Etc. This merger is probably bad news for Packet 8, as their deal with BellSouth will look tenuous now. It's bad news for Vonage as well, especially if they can really get CallVantage on track. And that does not bode well for Vonage's IPO aspirations - which in turn, hurts the overall IP sector in terms of its attractiveness to the VCs and bankers. All of which is good news for at&t, and if so, I suspect it may only be a matter of time until they become AT&T again. Now that would be Oscar-worthy!

Friday, March 3, 2006

I'm 1 Year Old!

Time sure flies, and I just realized it's March. Aside from Spring conferences getting into gear now, it dawned on me today that I've been on my own a year now. I left Frost & Sullivan at the end of February 2005, and I have to say it was the right thing for me to do. Frost continues to cover this market very well, but I have to follow my own road, and so far, so good.

Calysto is one of the leading PR firms focused on IP, and they were nice enough to mention my transition in their newsleter - Media Vibes - which is just about a year ago to the day. I can tell you these things work! I still remember how surprised I was to hear people come up to me at the beginning of Spring VON last year telling me they had heard the news - before I had a chance to tell them. They read about it in Media Vibes, where news of my move was briefly noted - here it is. Calysto got the scoop, that's for sure - nice work, Laura!

For those of you who don't know me, I'm an independent analyst/consultant focused on IP communications. You can read more about me and my practice, J Arnold & Associates in the sidebars on this blog. My website will be launched this month, and I'll post the link when it's ready - that will tell you much more about my practice.

Being an independent consultant isn't easy, and I'm thankful for all the support I've received from across the spectrum of vendors, carriers, bankers, the media, PR firms, entrepreneurs, consultants and my friends. I want to say a very special thank you to Jeff Pulver and his team at Pulvermedia and Jeff's support and openness to working with me on a number of levels is a big reason why I'm here, and why I've been able to participate so broadly in the global IP community. One of Jeff's virtues is building community and giving back, and I know that I'm one of many people in this industry who has done well by being part of Jeff's world.

There are many ways to gauge success, and I'm happy to say that I've found a good niche to grow from in my first year. I've got a growing client base, a strong pipeline of new projects, and I'm developing a good network of ad hoc associates to work with me. I've maintained my industry profile as an independent, having participated in 15 conferences, been cited in the media and press releases over 100 times, become an advisor to several companies, and have posted over 200 blog entries (here's entry #1!). I'm not a volume blogger, and some people post this ofen every month, but that's not me. But I certainly hope to maintain a regimen of daily postings, and try to focus on providing original content and/or commentary. Same goes for my weekly podcasts on the Canadian IP market for the Pulvermedia Podcasting Network (that's an updated and fancy way of saying PulverRadio!).

That's all I have to say. A year sure goes by fast - I'm very excited about Year 2, and appreciate all the business and support that has brought me to this point so far.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Iotum - The Demo Effect

I realize you've been hearing a lot from me lately about Iotum, but you have to like what's happening here. It's a bit like following up on American Idol winners - they don't have their record deal yet, but they sure are getting terrific buzz in places that didn't know them from anybody before Demo.

Andy Abramson has a nice post summarizing some of this buzz, namely Business 2.0, which is running its Next Net 25 in the current issue, for which Iotum made the cut.

In addition, Iotum got some coverage in the current issue of Fortune, and the Financial Times last week.

That's what I call moving up the food chain quickly. Hopefully, Iotum will remain on this upward trajectory for raising money and then coming to market with a successful launch. If this comes to pass - and I'm laying odds it will - then you'd have to agree with me that Iotum would be a great case study and a blueprint for up and coming nextgen/Web 2.0 startups to follow. That would be the stuff MBAs at Harvard and Stanford will be studying 5 years from now. It's the American Dream, Canadian style!

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Stefan Dubowski, Telemanagement Magazine

This week's podcast was with Stefan Dubowski, Editor of Telemanagement, one of Canada's leading publications serving the enterprise communications market. This was Stefan's second appearance on the Pulvermedia Podcasting Network, and this time we talked about the market opportunity for cablecos offering IP services to enterprises. It's certainly an untapped market, and Stefan shared his thoughts on the pros and cons facing MSOs. To date, it has taken a back seat to residential telephony, but it's just a matter of time until this becomes a priority. I'd say give it a year, or as much time as they need to get a lock on residential VoIP, and then they can turn their sights to enterprise. I suspect they'll need to some key partners to do this, but time will tell. You can pick up the podcast link here, as well as learn more about Stefan.

We'll both be at VON Canada here in Toronto next month, and if you're there, he'll be moderating the session on the use of IP in contact centers.