Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - TalkSwitch and VoIP for SMBs

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vonage/Telio Post - Rebuttal to Om

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Oz Raises $34 Million - More Good News From Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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Next Stop - Dallas - WiFi/Cellular Convergence

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

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

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Wireless in Canada - It's Different Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US Thanksgiving - Canadian-Style


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

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

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

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

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

We certainly have a few things in common...


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


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Vonage and Telio - Quarterly Results Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Vonage, and some key highlights.

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

So, what's not going right?

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Natural Convergence Funding News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, November 20, 2006

Spring VON - Rated #1 Tradeshow

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

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

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

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Avaya�s Global Analyst Conference � Review

During the latter part of last week I attended the Avaya Global Analyst Conference in Boston, and I just wanted to share my high level views on the event. As with most analyst events, this is really for analysts-only, and most of the content is under NDA. So, I don�t have any scoops here, and if I did, I wouldn�t be posting them until I get the say-so from Avaya. That�s fair.

I had every intention of blogging sooner, but my PC has been acting very strange, and I haven�t been able to use the keyboard. In fact, this first happened right in the middle of CEO Lou D�Ambrosio�s keynote, so from that point on, I�ve had to rely on hand-written notes. Not a good idea.

Overall, I�d say this was a very well organized and well-run event, befitting an industry leader like Avaya. Not OTT - as Dame Edna would say (over-the-top for the rest of us) � but not underwhelming either � just right. And that�s not a given. It�s easy to over-spend and spoil the analysts, which dilutes the integrity of the conference, and it�s also easy to skimp and do things on the cheap. Neither approach serves the interests of maintaining a balanced relationship with this community. I think Avaya got it just right.

There was definitely a strong French flavor to the event, embodied best by the CMO, Jocelyne Attal, and the Moulin Rouge cabaret feel for the main room where the keynotes were given (see photos below). And of course, zee wine tasting dinner that she hosted on Thursday night. C�est tres bon. Ok, that was a fancy meal, but not overly so, and was a great way for everyone to experience something fun together. With all this French-ness around us, and the heavy red motif of Avaya everywhere, you had to wonder for a second if it wasn�t Avaya that Alcatel has merged with? I digress...

For me, the opening keynote from CEO Lou D�Ambrosio set the tone. He has a great presence and communicated a clear message that Avaya is playing to win and has what it takes to be a global leader and innovator. He certainly gives John Chambers a good run for his money, and gives you confidence to believe that Avaya has a strong vision , teamwork and the will to execute on it.

At a high level � and I really have to keep it there � he talked about how IP telephony is now well beyond the basic cost savings, TCO and network efficiency benefits. The value proposition for IP is much richer- it�s about transforming business processes and redefining how companies do business � �moving up the value stack� with �Intelligent Communications�. That�s aiming high, but it�s a good place to be if you can get there. Following his keynote were other senior execs, who all presented capable variations on this theme for their various lines of business.

I think most would agree the highlight was the customer presentation by Brian Murphy of Whirlpool. Without getting into the details, he gave a great overview of how Avaya has become a strategic partner, doing much more than converging their communications. This is the business transformation story come to life, which is where Avaya believes it can position itself today. In the right situations and with the right partners, I can certainly see how this can work, and really deliver the full potential of IP to the enterprise.

The rest of the conference was taken up with the standard breakout sessions and one-on-one briefings. These were well organized and quite informative. There are a number of news releases coming, and at this point, the only public item is their acquisition of Traverse Networks. This is a fairly small deal, similar to what Cisco just did with Orative, and gives Avaya a higher level of mobile integration for their IP Office and other enterprise offerings. It also adds another layer to their Unified Communications solution and Converged Communications suite.

Deals like this show that Avaya has its feet on the ground following new technologies, and is not averse to acquiring missing pieces along the way. I was impressed to hear how extensive their technology partner program is � DevConn � DeveloperConnection � with over 3,800 companies in their ecosystem.

On the corporate marketing side, Avaya has done a good job to position itself as an innovator and leader. For the mass market, they�ve done things like partner with FIFA for the World Cup to create broader awareness. To make IP more accessible, they publish a series of IP for �Dummies� booklets. They have the �Truck�, which is a mobile demo studio for their various solutions. And certainly anyone local would immediately associate Avaya with Boston�s sports teams. The Avaya logo is impossible to miss at Fenway Park, and both the Sox and Celtics are Avaya customers.

Sometimes you just have to lead the horse to water, and it�s a different market today. Incumbent vendors can�t take anything for granted any more from their traditional customers, but companies like Avaya also understand they have to do their part to educate the market and drive demand.

To sum up, it looks to me like Avaya gets it with IP. With growing profits, and cash in the bank, the results are plain to see, and something tells me we�ll be seeing more acquisitions like Traverse in 2007. They�ve got a great product portfolio for both SMB and enterprise, and if things unfold as per the messages we were hearing this week, Avaya will have a great blueprint for how to be both big and on the leading edge of IP, which is a pretty tough hand to beat.

Here are a few photos, courtesy of my Nokia N90, which by the way, was a hit with everyone who saw it. Definitely still has a cool factor. If only it weren't so fussy as a camera...


CEO Lou D'Ambrosio's keynote



I didn't see a magic demo where they made all these phones ring at once, but something tells me they probably could have if they wanted to....


I couldn't resist. Celtics Pride isn't hard to miss when you're near North Station, especially to honor Red Auerbach's memory. Being an Avaya customer, I have to wonder if there's any connection between the conference being in Boston, and all of a sudden the Celts starting to win some games. If so, maybe Avaya could stretch out the conference, say, until May???


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Friday, November 17, 2006

Canadian Telco Deregulation Update - Getting There...

I'm in Boston at the Avaya analyst conference, and have missed all the news about the Federal government's latest ruling on VoIP in Canada. Basically, the Cabinet has come out in favor of deregulating VoIP - finally - but only for access-independent services. Essentially, this means that the Canadian ILECs are freer now - not completely - to compete head on with the broadband offerings like Vonage and Primus, and of course with the cablecos like Videotron, Rogers and Shaw - neither of whom have been subject to regulation.

As a result, VoIP pricing has been all over the map in Canada, with Videotron clobbering Bell in Montreal with a discounted service, while Shaw has gone the other way with a premium priced service in Alberta. Shaw has also had success, just not as much due to the pricing. However, they've had a good run picking up any unhappy Telus customers, and to date, Telus doesn't have a residential VoIP offering, so there isn't as much pricing pressure on Shaw in the first place.

There's a lot more to this story, espcially understanding what access independent means. More importantly, I have to get going on my day here! I had this post ready to go yesterday, in fact, but PC problems got in the way big time.

So, I'm going to stop know, and direct you to Mark Goldberg, who has been posting about this steadily the past few days, and has a very good handle on the decision. Please review his recent blog posting, which includes his own white paper written last year, which proposes a lot about what has since transpired. Mark also comments on why the decision hasn't gone far enough.

Another fellow CDN blogger, Mark Evans, has also provided some commentary. For what it's worth, Mark E was my podcast guest last week, and Mark G was my guest the week before. Thanks guys!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Mark Evans and b5media

This week's podcast featured a familiar face, but wearing a new hat. Mark Evans has done pods with me before, while covering tech for the National Post here in Toronto. He was certainly one of Canada's top tech writers for the big papers, and it won't be easy for the Post to fill his shoes.

Well, Mark very recently made the jump back into startup-land, going to b5media, which is a pretty cool blogging venture, backed by some pretty smart money. It's a great story, and I wanted to do this pod with him to hear it ASAP.

So, Mark talks about his journey on the pod, but we also touched on some of the tech issues around this, such as the impact of the Internet on newspapers (Om Malik is another journalist who recently made a similar move to Mark), what b5media is doing, and how being a tech startup is different this time around from the bubble days, which Mark was a part of.

In addition to his move, Mark still maintains his main blog (plus 2 others), does his TalkingTech weekly podcast with another ex-Post writer - Kevin Restivo - and will be back again next May with the second Mesh conference. Got all that? Never a dull moment, eh!

You can download the podcast here, and read more about Mark and his blogs.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

PhoneGnome 2.0 - very Voice 2.0

Tomorrow, PhoneGnome will officially launch version 2.0, and much like the whatever-you-want-it-to-mean uber-term "Voice 2.0" - and even Web 2.0 - it's a new way, and arguably a better way to do voice.

I've posted about PhoneGnome before. It's a great product, and the company has a very solid management pedigree. The company's founder, David Beckemeyer is definitely a VoIP visionary, and knows a few things about making VoIP consumer friendly.

So, what's the story here? Well, their 2.0 version is a browswer-based application, so you don't even need the PhoneGnome device to make PhoneGnome calls. I know Voice 2.0 covers a lot of ground, and to me that term applies to something that lets you do old things in new ways, as well as new things - and in this case, we're talking about making voice calls. Very simple stuff - a better way to make phone calls.

I know the market is deluged with all kinds of clever solutions and services that let you make and manage calls 100 different ways - any way except over the PSTN. And they all have their place.

I'm just going to focus on PhoneGnome here. The main thing is that unlike Skype, PhoneGnome is SIP-based, meaning it can interface with a pretty broad universe. Like any IM or P2P platform, you need to be "in the club" to use it, but once you are, the calls are free. Period. So, the hardware-based PhoneGnome allowed you make these SIP calls direct from your landline. The device allowed calls to other PhoneGnome users to go one way for free, and calls to the PSTN went another way, where you just paid cheaper long distance. And the kicker was you still retained your PSTN line, so you still had 911 and didn't lose connectivity if your Internet went down. In May, they even added a Skype interface, so you could also interconnect with the Skype network.

So, here's the twist with PhoneGnome 2.0. You need to be logged on, but once you're online, you can make calls from your landline, PC or your mobile phone. And without the need for any hardware. In that regard it's a lot like Skype, but you can reach a broader community for free, and you can do it over a phone - any phone. Furthermore, the party on the other end doesn't need a device either. So, it's very much an anywhere, anytime solution. That's Voice 2.0 to me.

There's more to the story than this, and the launch will be official tomorrow. If you can't wait, there's more you can read that was posted today on the PhoneGnome blog. And from there you can get the press release that hit the wires earlier this morning.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Max's N93 Review on Nokia's Blog Page

I've noted previously how Andy Abramson runs the first-rate blogger program for the Nokia N Series phones. For everything you could ever want to know about any of these phones, this is the place to go. Each N Series model has its own blog page, and the all the reviews for that model are posted in one place for all to see. For the market researcher in me, this is a motherlode for qualitative research - it's really great.

Just a quick post to say that Max's N93 review from earlier today has now been posted to the N93 blog page. Keep spreading the word, Andy - thanks!

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I'm Number 31! In VoIP, that is...

Huh? That's definitely not my age, but it's my special number for today.

VoIP News just published their list of "Top 50 Most Influential People in VoIP". Doesn't that sound like a list you'd want to be on? It does to me. There are lots of VoIP-focused pubs, portals and resources out there, but I haven't come across a list like this yet. Special thanks to Brian Provost, who put this piece together.

Well, the good news is that I'm on it, clocking in at #31! I'll take it. Most of the higher entries are actually companies, not individuals, so the list is a bit of a misnomer. Individuals don't show up on the list til #13, and Mark Spencer of Asterisk is tops. Not a bad choice, and not surprising since VoIP News is clearly a fan of Open Source - the #1 entry on the list went to the "Asterisk community".

Overall, I think the list is pretty solid, actually, as it really covers the gamut. Aside from Open Source, there are the big names like Verizon, Alcatel, Avaya, Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Siemens, Nortel - but also the disruptors/challengers like Vonage, Covad, Google, Skype/eBay, Iotum, Packet8 and Mino. And of course the usual suspects from the blogger community - Jeff Pulver, Om Malik, Andy Abramson, Alec Saunders, Rich Tehrani, etc.

I'd also like to briefly wave the Canadian flag here. Aside from myself, the red and white are well represented by Iotum, Alec Saunders and Mark Evans (who will be my podcast guest tomorrow). Whoo hoo.

Needless to say, I'm very happy to be included in such stellar company, so my day is complete. So, thanks to VoIP News for the recognition, and for anyone out there looking for a starting point to understand the VoIP space, you don't need to look any further.

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TalkPlus - Friend or Foe for Skype?

Very interesting post today from colleague Phil Wolff at Skype Journal.

If you're a fan of either TalkPlus or Skype, you'll want to read this, and more importantly check out the video clip. Phil has posted a raw clip of TalkPlus CEO Jeff Black doing a live demo of him calling into Skype's echo123 number on the fly using TalkPlus.

The details are better left to Skype-o-philes like Phil to explain, but basically, Jeff demonstrates how TalkPlus subscribers can access Skype and make SkypeOut calls from their mobile phone. Remember, you don't dial phone numbers to call other Skype users. With TalkPlus, Jeff shows how a 10 digit phone number is generated on the fly, allowing you to make this call on your cell phone.

Jeff has talked about how TalkPlus has reverse engineered Skype, and if this allows TalkPlus subscribers to access the Skype network directly, without going through as a Skype subscriber, then you really don't need a SkypeIn number. You just use your existing number and interface with Skype via TalkPlus.

Am still getting my head around this a bit, but if it all holds water - and if it scales - this could put a crimp in Skype's revenue model. I don't that's what Jeff has in mind, unless there's another form of reverse engineering going on - such as becoming an acquisition target for Skype/eBay. Or how about the other big fish, like Google, Yahoo, etc.? Lots of scenarios to speculate about there.

So, kudos to Phil Wolff for this great post, but now for the hard question. Phil - you taped this clip 2 weeks ago, and TalkPlus is just getting their story ramped up this week. Why post today and not 2 weeks ago, unless you were under embargo? It's not clear to me from your post - under the Skype Journal mantle -if this is welcome news or not. Your post is totally objective - 100% neutral, and I just can't tell. What's your take? I'd say it's the former...

Quick hat tip to Alec Saunders, who posted on this earlier today.

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Max's Nokia N93 Review - Read It and See It

Regular readers here may know that Max is my 14 year old son, and is quite the techie. I try to feature him when possible for a couple of reasons. First, he's really tech savvy, and has strong, informed views that I think are worth sharing.

Second, he gets the benefit of using all the gadgets that come my way, and I'd say he gets exposed to a lot of stuff that 14 year olds never get to see. How many 14 year olds use Skype (well, a few, I'd say)? But how many of them have figured out how to use a digital camera to make Skype work? And how many 14 year olds have used the Nokia N Series phones in North America? I'd say very few, if any, other than Max.

I've been part of the Nokia N Series blogger program for a while, and Max has been a beneficiary along the way. He recently wrote a review of the Nokia N91, and now he's done one for the N93. He's been using this phone for a while, and finally I can get my shot now that he's reviewed it.

So, in this post, I'm going to share with you two reviews from Max. First is his written review, which you can read down below. Following that, you can watch his videoblog review where he demonstrates some of the cool features. It should be no surprise to readers of this blog that Max did the video review using SightSpeed. You can find the link just after the writeup below.

So, take it away, Max....

I had seen it in magazine articles before, and it was dubbed �the laptop phone� because of its ability to fold open to a 16:9 widescreen view. Having seen the entire previous Nokia �N� series (N70, N90, N91) this phone has at least one feature from each one; the N70's second lens, the N90's ability to flip around like a camcorder (and flash), and the N91's WiFi card. Its physical design (flip phone) is much like that of the N90, with one small exception; rather than being beside the screen and keypad when it is open, it is in between them, and protrudes enough so that making calls is... well... awful! You have to crank up the volume to maximum just to hear the other end, and even then it's not that easy to hear.

Not to mention that its ability to fold around like a video camera is a pain during calls, because the pivot point is only at one side, and makes the screen flip around when you're in motion � which is usually the case with a cell phone. However, a bluetooth headset may solve the problem, because if you're paying for a phone with this many features, you should be advanced enough to be using one.

This phone is also full of �because you can� features. As stated before, there is the laptop unfold feature, which, has no benefit for using the phone, other than looking good. There's also the barcode scanner where you can put a barcode (any barcode, the ones you find on cans of soup, boxes of cereal � even the box of the N93 itself!) up to the main 3.2 megapixel lens, and hold it in place while it obtains information embedded within the barcode. Rather extensive, but if you're the type of person that has showdowns between colleagues during lunch for whose cell phone has the most features, consider this $700.00 investment a free pass to the winners' circle.

Another feature that enhances the versatility of this phone is the Mini SD card slot. The phone is bundled with 128 mb, as the only source for memory (nothing built in!) but can be expanded to any Mini SD card size you can find. Seeing this, you can put MP3s on those cards, which brings me to another point; the phone lacks dedicated MP3 buttons. In this day and age it should be standard for this to be a feature, especially seeing how many other features it has. Even if it DID have such buttons (or you use the built in media player with onscreen buttons) an optical port sure would help! This is unbelievable! MP3 buttons, audio ports, voice quality, built in memory... all basic features NOT INCLUDED! I was greatly disappointed with this phone. Do not get it unless you do not listen to music on the go, and don't make calls.

Rating out of 5: 1.5/5

Wired: Slick laptop-style unfolding point. WiFi, Bluetooth and infrared make this phone a Swiss army knife for wireless data transfer. Expandable memory helps the phone feel more personal. Two lenses for those egomaniacs who take pictures of themselves a lot. Flash really helps out the pictures.

Tired: Poor voice quality when talking in noisy places, awfully laid out (the lens housing juts out too far, making it uncomfortable to talk on the phone), second lens is terrible, no optical port, no built in memory, no MP3 buttons, too many extensive features.

Expired: This entire phone.

Next steps: Place the pivot point of the screen at the center � even if it means that you sacrifice the �laptop feature� which is in no way beneficial, and too difficult to control and type with in that position. Also, the lens should be placed like that of the N90; outside of the phone rather than partially inside of it, so that it can actually be used as a phone.

Bottom line: This is the kind of phone that you see in commercials or being demonstrated somewhere where they only show you the cool features � which, are, indeed, quite appealing; but when you get 15 minutes into trying it out you realize you've wasted your money when you see the pitfalls.

All in all, if you don't listen to music on the go, do a lot of photography, data transfer on the go with bluetooth, infrared and WiFi, have a Bluetooth headset (so you can actually talk) and want to be able to turn heads, this phone is for you. If you do not fit the above bill, do not get this phone. Putting it all in three words: Ewww huuu huuu!

Max Arnold

Thanks son! Pretty candid review, huh? D'ya think Nokia will want to hear from him again? Actually, I'd say YES. He doesn't mince words, and to be market leader, you have to know how to get inside the heads of the youth market. He's all yours if you're game, Nokia.

To me, his review seems a bit harsh, and so far, I have found the voice quality to be fine. And I haven't threatened to send him to his room for being so tough! He's bigger than me, and he never comes out of his room anyway, especially now that he's into building computers. More on that in a moment.

So, it's my turn now to try out the N93 and you can look for my review soon. Now Max will have to go back to the N70, or maybe even my N90 for a while. Poor guy... he's still light years ahead of anyone in his school for having a cool phone....

For what it's worth, here's a photo Max took of our cat with the N93. Looks like something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, for any of you silent film buffs like me - if there are any left! I digress, but couldn't resist - that's another blog post altogether, but you'll have to ask me for that one. I'm going to do some N93/N90 photo comparisons in my review, so stay tuned.



If you've made this far, here's your reward. Max did his video-based review/demo using SightSpeed over the weekend - hope you like it!

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't put a small, shameless plug in for Max's custom PC business - MACC Canada. Have a look at his website, which of course, he put together himself. So, if you're in the market for a custom-built desktop (can't do laptops...yet) or need troubleshooting help, Max would love to hear from ya...

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Friday, November 10, 2006

TalkPlus Gets the TV Treatment

I recently posted about TalkPlus and how they're a very Voice 2.0 kind of offering. If you read about them and liked what you saw, now you can see for yourself on TV. Bay area KTVU TV just did a nice 2 minute segment on TalkPlus, including a fair bit of interview footage with their President, Jeff Black. They do a nice job of explaining what TalkPlus is all about in plain English, and anyone who uses their cell phones a lot will get it right away.

As mentioned during the interview, you can sign up now for a free Beta trial - just go to the website - it's all there. Cool!

Hat tip to Andy Abramson for the heads up on this.

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Thursday, November 9, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Mark Goldberg on Canadian Income Trusts

On this week's Canadian IP Thought Leaders podcast, I spoke with Mark Goldberg about the impact of last week's Income Trust Decision on the Canadian telcos. For those of you outside of Canada, this story got very little attention, but believe me, if this happened to Verizon or AT&T it would be front page news every day, just like it was here. For the basic story and my own take, I'll steer you to my posting about it last Tuesday.

This was Mark's first podcast with me, and he brings a long history of telecom experience to bear on the topic. Like me, Mark is an independent consultant, DBA Mark H Goldberg & Associates, and has a blog, titled Telecom Trends. Mark also co-produces the annual Canadian Telecom Summit, which by most counts is Canada's biggest telecom conference.

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

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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Fierce 15 Winners - Some Familiar Faces

I've been a regular reader of Fierce Markets for some time, and just got their Fierce 15 2006 winners list. Am not familiar with how they select these top VoIP companies, but I give credit to anyone who makes the effort to try. There are so many companies in this space now, and a lot are good ones, and there's a lot more that hardly anyone hears about who are also good. And of course VoIP is in the fabric of so many things now, the space is just so broad with lots of grey areas for defining what's VoIP and what isn't.

Enough rambling. Here's the link to the full writeup, where you can read a bit more about each company. It just came out this morning.

All I wanted to say was how nice it was to see so many familiar companies on the list, namely NexTone, FirstHand, Iotum, Ingate, SIPPhone, SunRocket, Jajah, Grand Central, Airvana, Empirix and Nominum.

And of course, it's great to see two Canadian companies - Iotum and FirstHand - neither of which are strangers to my blog.

I'd also like to extend kudos to Fierce Markets Editor, Dan Rosenbaum for drawing attention to so many companies focused on Voice 2.0 applications, especially those catering on the mobile market. These are the kind of companies I expect we'll be hearing a lot about in 2007.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Sylantro Appoints New CEO, Raising the Bar

Today, Sylantro Systems announced the appointment of Marco Limena as President/CEO. As outlined in the press release, Mr. Limena was previously at HP for 14 years, and was most recently VP of their Network and Service Provider Solution business.

This was news to me, and while I do not know Mr. Limena, I've got a pretty good handle on where Sylantro is going, having just attended their customer conference a few weeks ago in Las Vegas.

My initial reaction is this a very shrewd, sound move by Sylantro, and it raises the bar in a critical area. Mr. Limena seems to have solid, high profile, global, Tier 1 experience, which is important on many levels. All these things matter for a maturing startup company trying to come out a winner in its space, and to position itself for the all-important Tier 1 carrier business. All the app server platform vendors have cut their teeth on the Tier 2s and Tier 3s - Sylantro, BroadSoft, VocalData, NetCentrex, and even LongBoard if you go back far enough. Things have certainly evolved, but if you're aiming high, the big money will be made with the Tier 1s.

Aside from extensive leadership and management experience, no doubt Mr. Limena brings an A-list set of Tier 1 carrier contacts and relationships, and this could well be Sylantro's trump card. They've done a great job to build up their management team, and his addition gives them even more major league presence.

I'm sure this will please Sylantro's investors, as his addition will probably make it easier to raise money and inspire investor confidence if/when they go public. Filtering down into the organization, I would think Sylantro will now be better able to attract and retain talent from the same pool Mr. Limena comes from. It also sets the bar higher for their competitors who will be looking to keep pace as these vendors ratchet up the stakes to be the next Acme Packet.

Finally, I should mention that this is a move of addition, and not subtraction or substitution. Sylantro's founder, Pete Bonee, moves out of this role to become Chairman, which only makes sense. He's taken the company a long way, and I don't think it's a stretch to say their Board wanted someone with Mr. Limena's background to take Sylantro to the next level. It's not the first time a move like this has happened, and I'm sure everyone involved sees this as a way to keep moving the boat forward and to separate themselves from the pack as the IPO siren call gets louder.

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Monday, November 6, 2006

Cisco's Master Specialization Channel Partners Program

This morning, Cisco has announced an expansion to the high end of their channel partners program. I don't normally comment on breaking news releases, but I happened to get a briefing about this on Friday at Cisco Canada's office, so I got an extended look at what this is about, and was asked to keep it under embargo until the news came out. So here we are.

It's a mouthful, but the Master Unified Communications Specialization is a bit like getting your MBA, or as I'm seeing with my youngest son in Tae Kwon Do, getting your 9th Dan Black Belt. There's a lot involved, but the briefing and today's news gives me a better appreciation for Cisco's approach to channel partners, and just how central this is to their overall success. No doubt Cisco is the gold standard for the channels, and I'm sure their competitors are watching this closely.

Cisco's channel programs have 3 levels along 2 axes - Depth and Breadth. For Depth, the tiers are Express, Advanced and Master, whereas Breadth has its own tiers - Premier, Silver and Gold. Today's news essentially focuses on channel partners with Master Depth and Gold Breadth in the Unified Communications space.

Any Cisco follower knows that Unified Communications is a core element of their enterprise communications business. Their UC platform was launched in March, and builds on key IP enablers such as presence and SIP to support multimedia communications across all networks and types of devices/endpoints.

Underlying this is their view that growth will be driven by the applications rather than the cost savings that initially drove IP adoption. This isn't just about growth for Cisco, but growth for everyone involved. It's about growth for enterprises as they learn how to use UC to become more innovative and competitive. It's also about growth for their channel partners. This is where the Master Specialization status comes into play.

For the channel partners who really get it with UC, and know how to sell it and support it, they grow too. As I learned in the briefing, this elite group sells more Cisco and makes better margins than channel partners down at lower levels. I got a taste of that from one of Cisco Canada's top channel partners, Unis Lumin on Friday. As their President, Glenn Mowat explained, when talking to enterprises about what UC can do for them, it's not really about ROI - these become "dream with me" conversations, where the focus is about business transformation. It's a classic consulatative selling approach, and one that's entirely appropriate in these situations - so long as the channel parter really knows how to walk the walk. And that's what the Master Specialization is all about.

Cisco relies on channels for virtually all their business, and given the strategic importance of Unified Communications, it only makes sense to create this new designation. These channel partners need to be schooled at the highest level to do right by Cisco, and need to be incented and rewarded accordingly.

Stepping back a step, this the second vertical Master Specialization for Cisco's channels, and the first vertical - network security - was launched in September. So, UC adds another dimension to this Depth level, and further demonstrates Cisco's commitment to supporting its channels. Works for me.

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Friday, November 3, 2006

StockIM - Getting Attention in Barron's

A few weeks back, I posted about StockIM, and how J Arnold & Associates has an affiliation with them.

It sure looks like they're getting some traction now, which is great to see. Last week, they were cited by Barron's, and they just passed this along to me. Thought you might find it interesting, especially in the sense that IM-based platforms look to be finding a home in the investment community, esp among small cap traders. It's my understanding that StockIM is approaching 1 million hits a month now, and I don't mind getting that kind of exposure at all...

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Thursday, November 2, 2006

Canada's Income Trust Fallout - Who Ya Gonna Call?

Trust Busters!

Am sure you know how that tune goes - catchy, corny, but apropos for this post.

Income Trusts are a different type of trust-busting, but that's what happened in Canada today - both figuratively and literally.

Our Income Trusts were literally broken up today, as the Federal government mandated an end to the dominant trend in Canada's high finance world. These trusts have been all the rage this year, and are rapidly spreading to all kinds of sectors as the tax benefits are simply too attractive to pass up for big corporations. As usual, money is at the root of the problem, as these trusts are diverting tax revenues away from government coffers, and it's simply getting too expensive for them to let it continue - despite the fact that our government is posting healthy surpluses. I digress...

Telecom isn't really the main player here, but it was the catalyst that brought in the change yesterday. Our two biggest telcos, Bell and Telus have been very public about their Income Trust conversion plans, and with their pending conversions coming back to back, it looks like this is what pushed the Feds over the edge, and they now stand to break one of their election promises to not tax the trusts.

So, that's the figurative angle to the story. The Feds have busted the trust of taxpayers/investors, who are now fuming about how much wealth they've just lost on paper in the last 24 hours. Talk about burning your bridges at both ends with voters and corporate Canada. Everybody is angry, but you know what - they have probably done the right thing. I'm not going to expand on this here - tune in to next week's podcast, when I talk with Mark Goldberg about this story.

A big concern for the government was a need to stem the tide before it becomes unstoppable. Telus - and especially Bell - are arguably Canada's shining corporate icons - and if they go trust, the next mega sector - oil and gas - will be next - at least those that haven't gone trust already. It's bit like a Coach's Challenge in the NFL. The Feds feel that Telus and Bell's plans are a bad idea, and they need to throw out the red flag before the telcos can get the ball back in play to negate the challenge.

I didn't see any U.S. coverage on this, but I'm not that surprised. It's not really a telecom story, but it's a HUGE story for Telus and Bell. There are many ramifications and angles to explore, and to give you a taste, here's a bit of the coverage in today's Globe & Mail. To get a feel for the vox populi, I urge you to review the reader comments where provided.

Quick sidebar - one of the hot stories these days is how print media is dying and journalists are finding other things to do (fellow bloggers Om Malik and Mark Evans are perfect examples). Well, you can't get reader comments immediately after the papers come out, but you get them in the online edition. There's a whole layer there of rich commentary that the print edition readers never see, which is too bad. Anyhow, have a read if you want to see what all the fuss is about, and what this means for Bell and, here, here, and here.

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Espial Making Their Mark in IPTV

Espial is a company I've been following for a while - they're based in Ottawa, and have a strong IPTV middleware offering. I happened to come across a nice article about them in Light Reading today, and it was great to see them get some U.S. media attention.

For me, this was nicely timed, as Espial is one of the companies I mentioned in my post yesterday regarding the Deloitte Fast 50 and my podcast with John Ruffolo.

Speaking of pods, I also did a podcast with Espial in July, so if you want to hear more, check it out.

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Tandberg Videoconferencing - Up Close and Personal

With Cisco's recent news about TelePresence, one might think they invented videoconferencing. Of course that's not true, but they're trying very hard to give the established players like Tandberg and Polycom a run for their money, even if it means re-defining the market, at least at the very high end. That's a story unto itself, and I'm one of many who has weighed in on TelePresence. I'd also like to point you to a nice piece that ran in VoIP Magazine last week.

And if you want to hear/see more, check back in with me in early December. That's when Cisco is giving analysts a demo of TelePresence in their Toronto office, and I'll be capturing whatever I can to share with you here.

Enough about Cisco for now - this post is about Tandberg! They are one of the "legacy" vendors in this space, and hold their own pretty darned well. I'm just getting to know the Tandberg Canada team, and earlier this week I had a chance to experience their boardroom videoconference setup in their offices. I had a video meeting with one of their U.S.-based executives, and it was a great experience. I haven't seen the life-sized systems like Cisco or HP, so I can only compare it to traditional systems.

It doesn't feel intrusive at all, at least after you do the setup to make sure the camera is properly positioned and focused for where you're sitting. After that, the quality was great - the image was crisp, the audio was clear, and there wasn't any noticeable delay or jumpiness. This may not be an HD experience, but considering this needs under 1 Meg of bandwidth, it's a pretty good solution for most situations.

It's also a pretty interactive experience, and at one point, my Tandberg colleague put our screen images to one side, and used most of the screen to add a large third panel to show his PC screen. It was very clear, and it's easy to see how effective this can be for collaborating on documents and presentations. You can also have a bit of fun zooming in and out at any time, and the optics were quite good, even for close-ups.

That's as far as I can take this, as I'm not that technically steeped in video systems. However, the overall experience was great, and you certainly don't feel self conscious at all.

I'll leave you with a couple of shots, courtesy of my Nokia N90. If you need to know what system is in their boardroom, it's their 6000 Profile MXP.



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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - John Ruffolo and the Deloitte Fast 50

In late September, the Deloitte Fast 50 winners were announced, and the list included some IP communications companies that I follow to varying degrees, namely Espial, Aastra and Tira Wireless. They also announced a list of "Companies to Watch", which included other familiar companies such as Objectworld, Oz Communications and Impact Mobile. So, with all this common ground, I wanted to do a podcast about it, and brought back John Ruffolo for his second podcast with me.

On the podcast John talked about the Fast 50 and Companies to Watch, explaining what they look for in companies, and the trends that Deloitte is seeing. They also have a broader Fast 500, which includes US and Canadian companies. Of the 500, 56 are Canadian, as are 5 of the top 10. I think that says a lot about Canada, although none of the top 5 are in the IP space.

John noted another interesting finding about how the two countries differ. He said about 75% of of the US-based Fast 500 companies are venture backed, whereas the opposite is true for Canada - about 75% are NOT venture-backed. John feels this goes a long way to explaining the quality of these Canadian companies, as they've had to really bootstrap themselves, and focus heavily on R&D and product development rather than marketing and promotion.

He feels this will give Canadian companies more staying power, and it also makes them good acquisition candidates for companies looking to enter new markets. I think he's right, and Canadian companies like Convedia come to mind right away. They were recently acquired by US-based Radisys for a very nice valuation, and their hard work to build up a single-focus, R&D intensive company really paid off. This is a textbook example of what John is talking about.

Back to the Fast 50, John noted a growing trend in that the upper half of winners are shifting away from software companies to those focused on the wireless marketplace. That's pretty evident when looking over the list, and certainly validates the growth of wireless in the IP communications sector.

Finally, the podcast touched on the next round of nominations, which will start early next year. For any companies considering applying, you should bookmark Deloitte's site, and check back regularly starting in January.

You can download the podcast here, and read more about John and his practice at Deloitte.

Next week my guest will be telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, and we're going to talk about yesterday's Income Trust decision, which as expected, was bad news for our big incumbents, Bell and Telus, and is really too big of a story to not discuss further.

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