Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Canada's Telecom Income Trusts Derailed

I haven't been commenting much recently on the chess game going on between Telus and Bell about converting themselves into income trusts. This is a sexy investment vehicle, and to many, it just looks like a tax scheme designed to pass the burden from the carriers on to investors. That may be oversimplifying things, but there's a lot of truth to that. There's more going on of course, and I'm going to point you to two posts that have reported that latest news, and it's pretty significant.

In short, both Telus and Bell looked to be well on their way to making this happen, when late today, our Finance Minister issued a statement outlining a "Tax Fairness Plan" for Canada. In short, it looks like the federal government is going to overturn this process, meaning that Bell and Telus will not become income trusts and the status quo will remain.

This is a very interesting turn of events, and will undoubtedly drive our stock markets here in the morning. With this looking like a done deal for so long, the markets have already factored this into share prices, especially Telus. So, expect a bumpy ride for these two tomorrow. Trick or treat!

It's also very interesting to note that the strongest competitor after Bell and Telus is Rogers. Well, guess what? They're not talking about income trusts, and they just announced street-beating Q3 results today. Not only are their metrics great, but they've announced a 2:1 split and a 113% increase in their dividend. How's that for giving back? With performance like this, the Federal government has a pretty good precedent for saying that Bell and Telus are fine just the way they are. Talk about letting the air out of a balloon. This one isn't over, but it's a potent reminder that as powerful as Bell and Telus are, there are higher forces at work to keep them in check - rightly or wrongly.

Fellow bloggers Mark Evans and Mark Goldberg both have strong insights about these developments and I urge you to follow them for more detailed coverage. Great posts, guys.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

TalkPlus - What Voice 2.0 is all About

Today was the day for Jeff Black and his company's official coming out of stealth mode. TalkPlus is a great story, and before I get to them, I want to shine some light on Andy Abramson, their PR/marketing guru, who has done a great job of keeping them on the radar of analysts and bloggers to this point. Andy's agency - Communicano - is almost an incubator of sorts - he's got a great knack for taking on clients who are very much at the leading edge of all things IP.

I had my briefing with Jeff Black this morning, but today I was overcome by a perfect storm of home office tech problems that have kept me offline until now. So, I'm late to the party, and if you haven't read all the news by now, I'll save you some time by steering you to blogging colleague Ken Camp. His post went live earlier tonight, and if you want an extended analysis, especially from an end-user's perspective, that's what you gotta read. Additionally, Ken's post saves you time, as he's cited many of the other blog posts from earlier today, and that will fill you in on all the details of what TalkPlus is, how it works, what makes the company so special, who's backing them, etc.

It's late, and I'm just going to add my take, which so far, I haven't seen anywhere else. While Ken has focused on the subscriber angle, what really spoke to me about TalkPlus is the carrier angle, and why I think they have a far better chance of long term success than the growing army of mobile VoIP plays, some of which Andy refers to as "minutes stealers".

So, speaking with Jeff about this, the big takeaway for me is simply this - as a startup, you can choose to go with the carriers or go against them. Geez, for my money, I'd say your chances of success are a lot better when you're serving their interests along with your own. Of course, you can say, well, that may work for a while, but then the carriers will figure it out and do it themselves, leaving you with nothing. Maybe so, but as some other bloggers have echoed Jeff's comments, TalkPlus has a strong clutch of pending patents that will at minimum give them first mover advantage.

Secondly, TalkPlus does something that no single mobile carrier can do, and that is terminate calls anywhere in the world with their own numbers. In the U.S., regulations make sure that domestic mobile carriers can only serve the U.S. market. They cannot issue you mobile numbers for other markets. TalkPlus can. I think that matters.

Enough high level stuff. Let's look at the business model. TalkPlus is not a play to reduce your roaming or LD costs. It really isn't even VoIP. Carriers love it because it's NOT diverting calls off their networks to the public Internet. TalkPlus may use VoIP on the back end, but it's not about VoIP.

I'll back up just bit in case you don't know what TalkPlus does. Basically, the subscriber gets to add more cellular numbers that ring on his/her mobile phone. There are a host of cool/practical scenarios where having these extra numbers makes a lot of sense, with dating, professionals and eBay users being no brainer examples. There's a lot more to it, of course, and this has been covered to death in the earlier posts.

In short, there are 3 really good reasons why mobile operators would want to do business with TalkPlus.

1. As mentioned, TalkPlus keeps the voice minutes on their networks, and not taking them elsewhere.

2. It's new money for them. They get a share of the monthly subscriber fee from TalkPlus, which will be in the $10 range.

3. TalkPlus drives usage of their data plans. The revenues won't be substantial since the data files needed to enable TalkPlus are very small. However, subscribers will need to add a data plan to use TalkPlus, so that's also new business. Much like Blackberry, with tiered pricing plans, most subscribers will take the cheapest data plan, which runs about $7/month. Otherwise, they can just be billed as they go, but on this basis they pay a much higher rate per bit, so if they use it regularly, they're much better off using a low end fixed price plan.

I think on this basis alone, TalkPlus is a winner. They are under NDA with 18 mobile operators globally, so it looks like the interest is there. But there's more to the story that I think makes the case even stronger, esp when you look at how all the other mobile VoIP apps work.

- Because the calls are basically cellular - and not VoIP - there's no voice compression. So, there are no voice quality/degradation issues that are common with VoIP-based mobile calls. Of course, we're still talking about cell phones here, so it's not exactly the PSTN. Jeff, in fact noted, that there are cases when TalkPlus voice quality can be better than everyday cellular.

- TalkPlus is very carrier friendly. Jeff describes it as the world's first "narrowband VoIP" application. The apps are very Voice 2.0 - that is, new services you can't do with existing applications. But there's not a lot of VoIP going on here. So, carriers get the best of both worlds - new services, but pretty much within their existing networks.

What does Jeff mean by "narrowband VoIP"? As he explains, the call set up is done over the data channel (that's the VoIP part), but the call itself takes place on the voice channel. This is a crucial difference between TalkPlus and the mobile VoIP apps for a few reasons.

First, by routing the call over the voice channel, quality stays high.

Second, the calls are CALEA and E911 compliant. Carriers really like that. As Jeff noted, this is why Skype is not being allowed in countries like India. When encrypted voice runs in the data channel, it can't be monitored, which makes Skype a no-go in markets that want tighter control over voice communications.

Third, TalkPlus can be used by most existing handsets, so long as they are WAP or Java-enabled. I'm a big advocate of ease of use, and applications that require little or no behavior change have a pretty good chance of survival.

All told, I think TalkPlus has got the right approach. Jeff says it best - "we work the way carriers want to work". Call it the path of least resistance, but I call it the path to success.

Jeff and I also talked about the risks of making it too attractive for the carriers to duplicate it for themselves. It could happen, but he's confident their technology lead will keep them well ahead of whatever the carriers try to do. Also, they really do have higher priorities, and have very little expertise in the marketing that will be needed to reach the target subscriber for this service.

That's where a lot of the $5.5 million TalkPlus has raised will be going. They'll be doing a mix of direct marketing as well as affiliate programs, no doubt with all the major dating websites, etc. And best of all, we're only at the very beginning of where this can go.

Think about all those people who have given up their landlines and live 24/7 on their mobiles. You don't think these people will find all kinds of neat ways to use TalkPlus? And we're just starting with basic voice apps. There's more in the pipeline coming, so this is definitely a story to watch. Look for the service to launch in January.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

NewStep - Raising $, Gaining Traction

It's not every day that Canadian vendors in the IP space raise money, so I just wanted to note some good news on that front. NewStep Networks is emerging as a strong player in FMC, and earlier this week announced a raise of $7 million.

The funds come from existing investors, and it looks like the money will be used to expand operations, strengthen partnerships, and better position them for Tier 1 wins. This certainly seems to be the recipe that smaller vendors need to follow these days as they race to keep up with with bigger vendors, who in turn are consolidating to stay in step with the consolidation taking place at the top of the food chain with the carriers.

Speaking of large carriers, yesterday Newstep also announced an FMC deal with Embarq, with what could be the first residential FMC rollout in the U.S. The idea is to allow consumers to be reached on any of their devices - fixed or mobile - with just one number, across any network, including WiFi. It looks like WiFi is set to become the BIG STORY of 2007, and with all the muni WiFi activity going on, you can't help but think it will be a good year for NewStep too.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

These are a few of my favorite things...

If you read my blog regularly, you know I really love music, and this lyric comes to mind for this post. I'll just stick to the vocalized version, but you can be sure I've got John Coltrane's epic version going on in my head. It doesn't get any better than that, but that's another conversation...

With the World Series thankfully resuming tonight (and can you believe there are NO New York teams in it???), there was a really great and timely feature in today's Globe & Mail about MLB.com. Next to Google, this is the best Web 2.0 platform ever created, and I don't think anybody ever thought it would be so successful and profitable.

Grant Robertson does a great job telling the story in today's paper, and it's a solid read that brings two of my favorite things together - baseball and the Internet. One of the points that really sticks with me in the article is the fact that while baseball is the most traditional of all major league sports (Pro Sports 1.0 at best), they have written the book Pro Sports 2.0, and are miles ahead of all the other sports in terms of embracing the Internet.

To me, that's a HUGE takeaway, and validation that any business in any industry has an opportunity to do the same. So, when you hear about the Big 3 auto makers getting buried again by their Asian competitors, don't tell me there isn't a way for them to use the Net to somehow - someway connect with car buyers in a Web 2.0 way that really grabs them, and redefines their relationship with the customer. The possibilities are endless, and I have no doubt they're on the case, as I'm sure others are in other industries.

All I'm trying to say is that if MLB can do it, pretty much anybody can. After all, in baseball parlance, we're only in the first inning of the game, and it's a l-o-n-g season.

Go Tigers!

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More Cred for Bloggers

Just a quick mention that my blog post on Monday about Cisco's TelePresence announcement was cited on SightSpeed's website. Not a big deal, but first off, it's very nice of them to do that - as they are doing for several other bloggers who are commenting on SightSpeed and what they're doing with video messaging.

They've cited my blog before, and it's always good to see, but more importantly, I see this as another example of blogs being viewed as both credible sources and validators of emerging trends.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Enterprise Networks Conference Highlights

Yesterday and today I attended the Enterprise Networks 2006 Conference here in Toronto. It's always nice to not have to travel to attend a show, so this was an easy one for me. The event is put together by Henry Dortmans and Phil Ritchie of AngusDortmans Associates.

Their firm has a lot of expertise in the enterprise telephony space, and they know how to reach this market pretty well. So, it was primarily an enterprise event, which is a half-step to the left of the shows I typically speak at, and I really enjoy the intimacy and friendliness of the community.

I just wanted to note some highlights here, along with some photos from trusty Nokia N90 (I still haven't had a chance to try out the N93 - next week)

There were some very engaging sessions about what's ready for prime time, and some practical roadmaps for migrating and implementing IP technologies. The content was more to do with the current realities of the market rather than visions for tomorrow. One of the things I really liked was the balance of speakers on the sessions. There was a pretty even mix of vendors and carriers, with most of the usual suspects present.

Most of the presenters were of the view that IP is indeed ready for prime time, but a lot of work needs to be done - especially by the vendors - to properly educate the market. There were several enterprise buyers in the audience, and based on the questions they raised, it's clear that they don't like making big changes of any kind. They really need to see how all the pieces fit together, and that IP will deliver as promised. The last thing they want to see is for costs to increase once IP is deployed, especially when they were sold on the opposite. It was also apparent from the audience that catering to the needs of vertical markets will be very important. Aside from having varying levels of technology adoption, each vertical will have specific communications needs that define the value proposition.

Canada has a rather large public sector, and this means a lot of Centrex. There was a lively session today that ended up talking about why hosted IP has had limited adoption in Canada so far. Centrex users would seem to be an ideal market, but hosted IP just hasn't happened as fast as most would expect. The lack of a killer app came up a few times as a reason, but on the whole there wasn't much resolution on this topic from either the vendors or the carriers. I thought this would have gotten parsed out a bit more, but it didn't happen, and that left me wanting.

For my money, I found the financial analyst presentation the most engaging, and I think it provided many takeaways for most of us there. National Bank Financial provided two speakers, both of whom are highly ranked in the equity analyst world - Deepak Chopra and Greg MacDonald.

Greg provided a Bay St. (Wall St. equivalent in Canada) perspective, and his basic story was that cable has the edge over the telcos for having success with IP. I have long felt that it's easier for cablecos to add voice to their product lineup than it is for telcos to add video to theirs. Greg presented some pretty cogent financial analysis to show how Canada's cablecos stand to earn a better return on their Capex than the telcos. They've already done most of their network upgrading, and that spend is reflected in their current valuations. Telcos, on the other hand, need to invest heavily in building out fiber.

Greg estimates the telcos need to spend $1,200 - $2,000 per subscriber to provide the bandwidth needed to keep up with cable. That's a pretty large handicap, and explains why they'll have a hard time earning decent returns once the Triple Play becomes the norm. For his money, Rogers stands to do well, not just for cable, but also for wireless, which he feels will be the best growth story in 2007.

Deepak continued this thread, and provided some great data to illustrate one of my favorite themes - how concentrated our markets are in Canada. He listed out Canada's top public tech companies (primarily hardware), and only 4 have a market cap of $1 billion or more - RIM, Nortel, ATI and Celestica. That's it! And pretty incredible to think that RIM is #1 - by far. At roughly $24 billion, it's more than double Nortel, and is more than the combined market caps of those ranked #2 through #15. How's that for market dominance? No wonder why Jim Balsillie just bought the Pittsburgh Penguins!

The other thing I really liked about Deepak's presentation was his emphasis on the primacy of applications and wireless as market drivers - and ulimately the two of them combined. Anyone reading my posts on companies like Iotum know that I'm very much in the camp that applications are where the best money stands to be made in IP.

Finally, I'll leave you with one of Deepak's market calls - RIM, with a target price of $148 US. This is based on their ability to continue getting a premium price for their service, which in turn is based on their ability to continue adding value to their data network. This will come from a combination of more powerful, user-friendly devices (such as Pearl), and new services/capabilities to enrich the user experience. Plus, of course, the ever-expanding, and rapidly unfolding global scale market opportunity, especially in places like China.

Those are my key highlights, folks, and I'll share any media coverage of the event that comes my way. And now I'll leave you with a few photos highlights....


Tools of the trade - morning tea and my Blackberry..... Stefan Dubowski of Telemanagement Magazine logging his copy plugged into the nearest outlet. I'll post his article about the event once it's published.


Henry's first panel on the state of enterprise communications, featuring Bell, Avaya, Shaw Business and Nortel


Financial analyst session, featuring Deepak Chopra (not the writer!) and Greg MacDonald, both of National Bank Financial


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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Ross MacLeod and Voice 2.0

This week's podcast gave me a chance to hear first hand from one of the organizers of last week's Voice 2.0 conference in Ottawa. I wasn't able to participate due my previous commitment to be at the Sylantro customer conference, so this was the next best thing. Indie consultant Ross MacLeod provided a great reprise of the event for me, and if you want a 15 minute primer on what was behind the Voice 2.0 event and what took place there, I think you'll really enjoy this podcast.

To download the podcast and learn more about Ross, click here. I'd also urge you to check out Ross's blog, which also has a nice running commentary about the event.

Speaking of successful Canadian "2.0" events, it's official. The Mesh conference, held here in Toronto last May will be back next May. Mesh was a very good starting point to bring the Web 2.0 community together, and enough good things certainly came out of it to warrant a sequel. Mark Evans is one of the movers behind Mesh, and his blog is a good starting point to follow the news. It's also worth following to see how Mark is faring in his return to startup land, having recently left his steady gig at the National Post and gone all-in with B5 Media.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Cisco's TelePresence - Big Time Videoconferencing

Remember Peter Gabriel's hit from So - Big Time? ..."My car is getting bigger... BIG TIME...My house is getting bigger...BIG TIME...My eyes are getting bigger...BIG TIME..."

Great song, great album. Well, that's what comes to mind when I think about Cisco's TelePresence news today. I was briefed about it under the usual embargo deal last week, but have been too busy to blog about it first thing today. By now it's old news to blog readers, so I'm not going to hash over the details. They've been covered to death by the mainstream media, and the uberbloggers like Andy and Om.

Cisco has spared no expense - a billion $$$ - building the ultimate state-of-the-art corporate videoconferencing experience. It's much more than a system, that's for sure - the idea is to create an experience so real, so life-like, and so life-size that it can only be...well.. big time.

It's a big time experience - better than HD - with a price to match. The business rationale is that the experience will be a viable substitute for travel, and that alone can justify the investment. Fair enough. And from what I've seen/heard/been told, it really is a great experience. Better than HD - twice the resolution of existing systems, and a totally new way to experience a virtual connection.

To give you a taste, Cisco managed to get a placement in the TV show Vanished, and here's a clip from on upcoming episode where you can see TelePresence in action.

With all that said, you have to really like Cisco to use this, as you need to be interfaced with their Call Manager IP PBX. The system is largely built in-house, making this essentially a proprietary platform that requires more bandwidth than most networks can support. So, there's a lot of front-end work involved before taking the plunge. In this regard, it's a bit Voice 1.0 - an expensive, closed system, but no doubt the applications will be very Voice 2.0 once it gains some traction. Cisco has also partnered with both AT&T and Verizon to ensure mainstream distribution, and this can become a great source of new revenues for the operators. That's a sure-fire way for the carriers to get closer to Cisco.

For now, TelePresence will appeal mainly to the Mercedes end of the enterprise spectrum, so it's far from being a mainstream product. I see it as a high end niche offering, but in time I'm sure it will be scaled down for the rest of us. It also remains to be seen just how effectively customers really use TelePresence. While everybody loves to watch TV, I'm not sure how many of us really want to be on TV, especially with such high quality optics. Sure, it's fine when you're in the boardroom - specially designed by Cisco, right down to the color palette - but maybe not so everywhere else. Anyhow, these are just growing pains, and while the videophone never took off, I'm sure we'll all get used to this sooner or later.

I want to briefly move off of Cisco and continue this theme in a broader context. Cisco may well end up owning the high end of this market with TelePresence, but the likes of Polycom, HP and Tandberg are in this game too, with lots of users spending a lot less. They may not be getting as rich an experience, and you just have to weigh out if it's worth paying the premium for Cisco compared to what you're getting today.

For example, earlier this month, Tandberg launched Movi, which strikes me as a pretty good approach for delivering an easy-to-use IP-based videoconferencing experience. It's PC-based, so it's not a big time Cisco-type experience, but it strikes me as being more aligned with how a lot of people relate to video now, and is no doubt much less expensive to buy. Here's a short demo - see for yourself. While Movi may not compete directly with TelePresence, Tandberg does have a technology partnership with Cisco, and it will be interesting to see how that evolves now.

Moving even further downstream, we have to bring SightSpeed into the conversation. I've blogged about this a few times already, and they are really coming into their own now. It's truly a Voice 2.0 offering, and being free, it's a long, long way from where TelePresence is going. However, the quality of experience is very good, and if PC-based videoconferencing works for you, I'd say this is big time.

As a footnote, I should add that SightSpeed's CEO, Peter Csathy has just starting blogging. So, welcome to the blogosphere, Peter, and if you want to track how this space is evolving, you should follow his blog.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Staying Local - Next Stop - Toronto

I don't travel all that much, and the past 2 weeks have been the longest stretch I've had, with the TMC ITExpo last week, and Sylantro's customer conference this week. These trips have been great for business, and my hands are very full following up on a lot of things that will keep me busy for a while. All of these demands have put a crimp on my blogging, and I'll get back on course next week.

That said, I'm participating in another conference next week, but for a change, it's in my backyard. Colleague Henry Dortmans is well known in the Canadian enterprise telephony space, and he did a podcast with me earlier this year.

Next week he's running Enterprise Networks 2006, and I'll be hosting the wrap up panel on Wednesday. If you're in town and are interesting in joining us, you can review the program here. Should be a good show, and I'm looking forward to it.

Continuing on the domestic front, my podcast next week is with Ross MacLeod, who was quite involved in the Voice 2.0 conference, which ran earlier this week in Ottawa. I had to miss it due to my earlier commitment to Sylantro's event, so doing a pod with Ross will be the next best thing to hear what I missed. To catch a more real-time take on how the conference went, you can listen to podcasts from some of the speakers, namely fellow bloggers Alec Saunders, Martin Geddes and Jim Van Meggelen. You can get the link off the Voice 2.0 homepage.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

TMC Expo Highlights - Finally

Just wanted to post some thoughts about last week�s TMC ITExpo in San Diego. As with last month�s Fall VON show, the scope of the Expo has become too broad for one person to cover. Choices have to be made, and invariably, briefings and meetings take priority. Once all the A-list dates have been set, you have your B-list of requests in the bullpen, and you put them aside until everything else is accounted for (am sure the analysts reading this are nodding their heads with a knowing smile!).

For the Expo, I ended up speaking or moderating for 5 sessions, so that�s the better part of a day there in total. Then you have to leave time to walk the show floor, and oh � almost forgot, there�s like a few hundred speakers to see across dozens of sessions and keynotes. There must have been about 10 different tracks to follow, and guess what � they�re all interesting.

At the end of the day, I ended up dropping in for a handful of sessions, so I can�t tell you much about the content of the show other than the sessions I was involved with. If you�re detecting a tone of frustration, you�re right. I really liked everything I saw, and had lots of great meetings, but geez, I have no idea what I missed, and I�m sure I missed lots of great stuff.

Being an army of one, it�s understandable that I can only do so much. However, I talked to lots of people who there with others from their company, and it was the same story for them. All told, the show was a great experience, but I sure wish there was a way to take it all in. From all accounts, it seems like to the best way to get the big picture is to track the TMC blogs, as Rich Tehrani, Greg Galitzine and Tom Keating were posting pretty regularly.

For what it�s worth, I�m not singling out this show. With telecom being hot, and IP now central to everything related to communications, the scope becomes practically unlimited, and all the shows face this dilemma. If you�re in the IP space, you need to cover a lot of ground, and the shows keep getting bigger and broader. Seems to me you either go broad or go deep. I think there�s value in both approaches. A lot of people need/want to take in the full spectrum of IP, just to be sure they�re not missing anything big. But there�s also merit to shows with a vertical focus, where the scale is smaller, but the content is very focused. Of course there are tons of shows doing this, whether it be IPTV or Open Source or WiFi, etc., etc. These shows are getting big too, so there�s no easy answer. You can�t go to all the shows, so we all have to pick and choose.

OK, rant over. So, what did I see at the ITExpo that has stayed with me? Well, nothing much from the show floor that was really new or different. I did see some very good demos there, especially from Inter-Tel, 911 Enable and RadiSys, but most of the key takeaways for me came from the briefings and meetings.

Here�s what I liked the most�

Actiontec Electronics � they had a demo suite next to the press room, and did a great job of persisting to get me to spend time with them. I love learning about new companies, and for someone with my focus, this was time well spent. They have a nice product line branded VoSky, and the big idea is that they�re bringing Skype into the SOHO/SMB space with their IP PBX gateways and ATAs. It�s a neat idea, and being Skype certified, it�s real. There�s not a lot of Skype at this show, so this one caught my eye right away. They�re also going to send me some gadgets, and I can�t wait to try them out. Stay tuned.

SIP trunking. This idea is coming into its own now, and thanks to Ingate�s sponsorship, there was a day-long track dedicated to this topic. SIP trunking and IP trunking are great ways for businesses to bring IP into their operations without switching out their existing phone systems, and over time, this becomes a stepping stone to all IP. Fellow blogger Garrett Smith has some nice commentary about this if you want to read more.

Hosted IP PBX and Unified Communications platforms. This means many things, but hosted and web-based SMB solutions are hot trends now, and there were many small exhibitors on the show floor with variations on these themes, but many are not familiar to me. Hosted and UC are distinct businesses for sure, but I see them going hand-in-hand from an end-user�s perspective. That said, I saw a number of attractive solutions from those I got to spend time with, namely Pandora Networks, Sphere and Inter-Tel. Lots more going on in these spaces, and I thought the show did a great job to showcase the variety of offerings, not just for software/applications, but for endpoints and IP phones, both high end and low end.

IP Communications Business. Fellow blogger and consulting colleague Marc Robins did a great job to put this track together. He had a number of roundtable sessions, each addressing key trends in various segments of the IP communications space. Marc was nice enough to include me in three of these sessions, and they were really engaging for both the speakers and the audience. It�s great to have these open dialogs, where we can put forward our views on what�s driving a particular space, and from the feedback I�ve seen and heard, it sounds like attendees found them time well spent. Thanks Marc.

Acme Packet. This was the personal highlight of the show for me. Their IPO hit the street during the Expo, on lucky Friday the 13th. I�ve followed them closely from their early days back when I was at Frost & Sullivan, and have blogged about them a few times. Seamus Hourihan � their VP of marketing/product mgmt � is well known to regular attendees of shows like the ITExpo, and was on one of my panels the day before the IPO. It was fun to rub shoulders with someone on the verge of a very successful IPO, and I�m not alone in expressing satisfaction in seeing their IPO go so well. I also had a chance to post about their IPO the following day.

Mobility. Can only say that I got to meet with some very interesting companies in stealth mode who are coming to market with innovative features that cell phone users will find pretty cool. This is the fun part of being an indie analyst, getting an early look at companies you should be hearing about in the next few months. I�ll certainly keep you posted as circumstances allow.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sylantro Event Coverage in the Vonosphere

I ran into Paul Kapustka around lunch today. He looks after Jeff Pulver's Vonosphere, among other things, and told me he posted some video about the event. He was also nice enough to cite my blog posting - it's just something bloggers like to do.

Check out Paul's video - it's fun and nicely done.

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Sylantro Summit - Day 2

This summit continues to go well. Yesterday's breakout sessions were all interesting, and we got good feedback on the hosted IP session I moderated, which was nice.

Here are the highlights. Again, photos courtesy of my Nokia N90 phone.

This morning's keynotes have been very good as well. The sessions began with Geoffrey Moore, who's well known for his book "Crossing the Chasm", and has a new one, "Dealing with Darwin".

Geoffrey did a great job applying his principals about innovation to IP communications, and cited Sylantro as a textbook example of being an innovator. He talked about 4 types of innovation and gave relevant examples of each - Disruptive innovator - Skype, Application innovator - Sling Media, Product innovator - Sylantro, and Platform innovator - Qualcomm, with CDMA. Very interesting stuff, and gave the audience a lot to think about the value of innovating, and what happens when you stop doing that.


Continuing on the innovation theme, Sylantro CEO Pete Bonee (far left) moderated a session on this, including Geoffrey Moore. He did a better job moderating than telling jokes - but you'd have to be here to know what I mean.... :-)


Another strong preso came from David Axam of British Telecom. He talked about their 21CN initiative, and the role VoIP plays there. His message was very Voice 2.0, and to me, is certainly in line with the direction AIM Phoneline is going, which is great to see. His message is also on the same wavelength that Geoffrey Moore is talking about, and shows that big telcos can be just as committed to innovation as startups.

I agree with Geoffrey on this one - the Darwinian notion of innovate or die - applies to companies of all size, and he rightly cited big name examples like IBM who have done so, as well as those like Polaroid who did not. It looks to me like BT is in the former camp.


Finally, if there's an author in the house, it only makes sense to have a book signing! I got my copy, and once I finish the book I brought with me - High Fidelity (it's great) - I'll get started on this one.


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Monday, October 16, 2006

Sylantro Customer Summit event

This is part 2 of my mid-October road trip. Fresh off the TMC ITExpo, I'm at the Sylantro Customer Summit right now in Las Vegas, and will be hosting a session this afternoon. I've only been here for the morning so far, but from what I'm seeing, this event is first rate all the way.

The WiFi access is great, and I've got a nice spot to sit and get a quick posting together. So, here are some photos from this morning's sessions, as usual, from my Nokia N90.

Quick sidebar - while I'm here, my son, Max gets to play with the N93, which replaces the N90. Can't wait to hear what he has to say when I get back, and we'll be posting about it soon. And then it will be my turn to use the N93.

San Diego was really great last week, but the Venetian Hotel is another world altogether....


Pete Bonee kicks things off - great overview of Sylantro's business focus and where things are going. I especially liked hearing about the mobile-PBX integration that's coming in the next release, along with their very strong IMS story and Web 2.0 applications.


Michel Burger of Microsoft - gave a thought-provoking presentation about Web 2.0 mashups, and talked about how Microsoft and Sylantro are doing their version of this today on their EVS platform, of which Sylantro is their sole feature server partner.


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Sunday, October 15, 2006

TMC ITExpo - Quick Commentary

Been wanting to comment on my impressions of the show, but it's going to have to wait another day or so. After flying out yesterday, I'm flying out again tonight to Las Vegas for Sylantro's Global Summit, where I'll be hosting a panel on hosted IP solutions at 5:10 tomorrow.

Quickly, colleague Marc Robins had a nice post capturing some feedback on one of the sessions he hosted that I was part of. He actually hosted a series of sessions, of which I got to speak on three. They were a lot of fun, and you can get the gist of what we talked about on his post.

I also moderated two other sessions myself - one on FMC (which was SRO), and the other was on SMB solutions for VoIP. Both had a lot of interest, and the speakers were great. I didn't get to see much in the way of other sessions, I'm afraid, so I can't really comment on how those went.

I have some overall impressions of the show to share still, and hope to get those posted tomorrow. Gotta run...

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Is Acme Packet Worth More than Vonage?

Very intriguing question, and it�s been on my mind since yesterday. From the looks of today�s IPO, it sure looks that way for Acme Packet. It�s a big day � and a good day � for anyone who has been in this space, or following it for the past few years. From what I�ve been told, this is the first IPO from a nextgen equipment vendor since 2000. Any guesses as to who that might have been? Sonus? AudioCodes? I�m not sure myself.

I�ve been close to Acme for some time, and have posted about them several times. One of their most public faces, Seamus Hourihan, is here at the ITExpo, and was on my FMC panel the other day, so we�ve had some time to reflect on Acme and what it means for the IP communications market.

So, with today�s opening, Acme�s market valuation is actually pretty darned close to Vonage � main difference being that Acme�s IPO price has held steady, whereas Vonage�s went south very quickly. Interestingly, Vonage�s IPO trading price isn�t far off from Acme�s, and you have to shake your head a bit and wonder � can these two companies really be comparable in value?

Of course, they�re in very different ends of the business, so it�s hard to compare. To me, the bottom line is you don�t have to be really big to have a viable business in the IP world. Vonage�s revenues are 10-15 times that of Acme�s, but look who�s making money, and look who�s been profitable for a while now, and look doesn�t have any debt, and look who�s coming out of their IPO with a dominant market position, at least among the Tier 1 carriers. Acme's opening price may be unsustainable, but it's a good story, and they've earned their stripes in my books.

Enough said, other than congrats to Acme � am sure they�re all smiles there today. And hopefully, the rest of the IP vendor space is breathing a little easier, especially the IPOs-in-waiting.

Quick coda - the Boston Globe was nice enough to cite me in their article on Acme today.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

TMC ITExpo - Images of the Show

Conferences are great, but there always way too much going on. I haven't been able to post until now for a variety of reasons, and just have time now to share some photos of what I've been seeing/doing here at the show. Will write up my impressions of the show later, hopefully by tomorrow.

Photos, as usual, courtesy of my Nokia N90. Newsflash! I now have the N93, and get to use a new phone real soon. So, this may be the last you see of my N90 photos...

Really, does it get any better than this??? (view from my hotel room, 18 stories up)

The convention center way down below...


Any guesses to what this is??? Answer at the end of this post...

Tuesday..... Wednesday!

A couple of the keynotes...


The N Team - Natasha MacArthur and Mr. T, Nadji Tehrani

Dan York, Simon Gwatkin (Mitel) and Carl Ford (Pulver.com)

Andy Abramson's blogger dinner on Tuesday. Tough act to follow - great night, Andy!


Where we'd all rather be at the end of the day....

Answer - looks like a screen display of a video game, huh? It's a vertical shot, again from my room of a patio reception being set up outside the convention center.

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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Mark Evans Moves On - Congrats!

I'm way late on this one, but wanted to post just to be on the record to publicly congratulate Mark.

By now, anyone following IP/telecom bloggers - especially Canada - knows that Mark Evans has left the National Post for B5 Media, an up and coming Toronto startup that's trying to monetize the blogging space. I got the news the way most people did late Thursday via a heads-up email from Mark, but I've been so buried with last minute deadlines before my travels, I'm way late on the news.

In short, this is Mark's second stint with a startup, and it sounds like a really exciting move. Now, the Post has lost both its key tech/telecom writers in Mark and Kevin Restivo, although they're continuing to podcast together. It will be interesting to see how they fill those holes.

So, I just want to pass on my warm congrats to Mark, and I'm sure he's very excited to put all his great know-how to work with a local company that has a lot of promise. I've been following B5 for a while and with their recent funding, things become much more real, and it's great to see a Toronto-based company making this kind of noise.

There are lots of details about everything I'm touching on here on Mark's blog, as well as B5's website (and elsewhere - just follow the threads). I urge you to start there if want to get the full story about how all these good things are coming together now for both B5 and Mark.

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On the Road

Just after catching up from Fall VON and getting back to everything else on my plate, it's time for more shows again. I don't really travel that much, but the Fall is a busy time for shows, and I've got back-to-backs starting next week on the West coast.

Next week I'll be at TMC's Internet Telephony Expo in San Diego, and for the first part of the following week, I'll be at the Sylantro Global Summit.

I'll be speaking and moderating at both events, and if you're there, I'd love to hear from you. More detail about where I'll be at these events is on the J Arnold & Associates website.

Heads-up - my blogging will light during this time, but I'll post when I can.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

More Mainstream Cred for Bloggers

GREAT article in today's Ottawa Citizen, and the title says it all - Blogging for Dollar$. It's a great example about how blogging is getting attention from the mainstream media.

Nothing revelatory in the article, but one of our own, Iotum CEO, Alec Saunders was a key feature of the story, so hats off to Alec! The article does a nice job explaining how Alec shifted his blogging focus from personal matters - mostly politics - to business, esp VoIP, and he's gained enough profile to generate a nice base of advertising revenue from his traffic. Since the article is focused on the business potential for blogging, Alec's example shows how blogging can pay.

Personally, I'm not an advocate of commercializing blogs, but I'm very much swimming upstream on this one. It's definitely a good idea to make money off your blogging efforts, but I have a concern it will attract too many people to blogging for all the wrong reasons. It's a mixed bag for sure, since there should be a way to reward the really good bloggers, as well as create mechanisms where people are readily able to find the best blogs amidst the endlessly multiplying stream of lesser blogs that we all have to wade through.

On that note, the article notes how Alec is in the top 10 of VoIP blogs based on Technorati rankings, and I think that's great. He's definitely a must-read in the VoIP space, and if Alec isn't on your VoIP/IP blog roll, he should be.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Fredericton's Free Muni WiFi

Anyone following muni WiFi will want to give this week's podcast a listen. My guest was Don Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Team Fredericton - you gotta like that title! Don is really the public face and evangelist for Fredericton, New Brunswick's muni WiFi service, which is Canada's first free WiFi offering, and has been running since 2003.

They have a lot of experience over just about any other North American muni WiFi deployment, and if you listen in, you'll hear why Don believes free is the way to go, lessons learned along the way, as well as some of the creative applications they are bringing along to facilitate closer communitiy ties between municipal government and the citizens of Fredericton. Teaser - one of these has to do with hockey - are you surprised?

This podcast is actually the sequel to a blog posting I recently did after inteviewing Don at length about this topic. You can download the podcast here, and learn more about Don's role and background.

NOTE - due to upcoming travel plans, I'll be taking a 2 week podcasting hiatus. My next scheduled podcast is w/o October 23, when I'll be speaking with Ross McLeod. He's one of the driving forces behind the Voice 2.0 conference being put on by OCRI in Ottawa the week before. I had to pass on speaking there due to a conflict with another conference. That's too bad, as this looks to be a terrific show. So, I'll be looking forward myself to hearing first hand what I missed.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Vonage Canada Gets Creative

This isn't a big story, but it came across my radar the other day. Vonage Canada has partnered with BelAir Travel with a promotion deal. Basically, if you book a winter travel package with BelAir Travel before November 30, you get 3 months of Vonage service for free. The offer is bundled in with another Scratch and Save promotion, so it takes some digging to find, although you can't miss the Vonage banner ads on their home page.

The offer is a bit like the way long distance plans used to be bundled with all kinds of things, but putting the marketing angle aside, the fit does make sense. People who travel need to call home, so why not do it with Vonage? Makes sense to me.

The bigger picture really is the challenge Vonage Canada faces in not being able to use the more accessible online channels that its parent relies on so extensively in the U.S. As such, they must be more creative in getting their message out, and ultimately this means more locally-based marketing - such as BelAir Travel. For more on this, you may want to listen to my recent podcast with Joe Parent of Vonage Canada.

It's interesting that you can't miss this offer on BelAir's website, but it's nowhere to be seen on Vonage Canada's site. Maybe it just takes some time to get posted there or to their corporate press room. That said, there is a press release there for another Vonage announcement from Friday - and yet another promotional deal. This one is with HP/Compaq, where you get a special rate on Vonage service with a new PC purchase. It's another form of bundling, and yet again, Vonage is trying to find new routes to market any way it can. Is it just me, but with all the bad karma going on at HP right now, one wonders if the timing of this just isn't right.

Quick coda with a Canadian twist - let' not confuse BelAir Travel with BelAir Networks, who announced a healthy round of funding yesterday. That's a great vote of confidence for the muni WiFi market, and another feather in Canada's hi tech cap.

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