Thursday, March 29, 2007

Will Bell Canada Be Taken Private?

Quite the story in today's Globe & Mail. The Globe reports that LBO heavyweight KKR is in preliminary discussions about taking BCE - Bell Canada Enterprises - the holding company for Bell Canada - private. This is being talked up as a $30 billion deal, which would make it the largest privatization in Canada's history.

A lot would have to happen for this to work, with two of the key issues being foreign ownership restrictions of Canadian telcos, and the large ownership stakes held by pension funds. The details are fascinating, and the article explores these pretty well, so I'm not going repeat things here.

The key thing for me is that Bell has been lagging its peers for far too long, and shareholders must be getting frustrated watching Telus and Roger deliver far better returns. Michael Sabia has been at the helm for a while now, and just can't seem to move fast enough to restore Bell to its pristine image as one of Canada's best companies. Mark Evans speculates further on what this deal may mean for Mr. Sabia in his post today.

With telecom reform looming here, and the Income Trust option now dead, there are many implications in this story for Bell Canada and their options moving forward. They have certainly made some good moves recently to stay focused on their core businesses, but the downside of being so big is the difficulty of moving quickly and responding to changing market conditions. It is not hard to argue that the Canadian telecom market lacks real competition, and this news will certainly highlight the holdback created by limited foreign investment. The pool of domestic alternatives to the incumbents is small, and not getting any bigger. Foreign entries or foreign investment will likely be the only way to change the status quo.

Stranger things have happened. Who would have expected SBC to take over AT&T? My view was that if AT&T could be taken out of the market, than anything was possible. In Canada, this could well be one of those scenarios. If the sentiment from the Globe's reader comments is any indication, then I'd say that many would welcome the change, but along with is a sense of futility that this is yet another sector of our economy that is falling in American hands.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - David Cork and Hosted IP for SMBs

My guest on this week's podcast was David Cork, someone I've known for quite some time. David is the CEO and co-founder of Natural Convergence. They're based in Ottawa, and are part of the Terry Matthews fold, whose IP communications success stories include Mitel, Convedia and Ubiquity.

Natural Convergence focuses on hosted IP telephony for the small end of the SMB market, and David shared his views on the market opportunity here. I have done other podcasts on this space recently, but none of these have addressed this partcular segment with a hosted offering. David talked about the challenges facing these businesses, not just in terms putting IP technology to work for them, but also in terms of finding the right partners to provide VoIP.

The Canadian market is particularly skewed towards small businesses - typical under 40 lines and using a key system, so David's insights were close to home. To address this market, he spoke about his company's role in the recently announced service that Rogers will be offering here in Canada to SMBs. MSOs like Rogers are ideal partners for Natural Convergence, and if things go well there, you can expect to see other hosted SMB offerings from MSOs elsewhere.

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

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Vonage - Will They Sell at $3.22/Share?

Did the title of this post get your attention? Well, it got mine. Earlier today, fellow blogger and aspiring game-changer, Moshe Maeir put up a post with a title similar to this.

Actually, Moshe is offering to BUY Vonage - that's right - take it off their hands at that price.

Provocative? Yes.

Cheeky? Well - that's how another fellow blogger, Ken Camp, described it in his post about it.

Far-fetched? Not really.

Moshe is basically arguing that Vonage's price will never be higher, and if you strip away the bad and only keep the good, there's a great business waiting to be fixed. Ken seems to agree, and is ready to pony up right now.

Well, there's no shortage of Vonage bashers out there, and you don't have to look far for all the death-watch and takeout scenarios that other smart industry watchers are touting. Both Earthlink and Sprint-Nextel have been mentioned as possible buyers. Russell Shaw thinks they'll go private. I think they'll go to Verizon. Any of these scenarios are possible, and I hate to say it, but not even a year after their IPO, Vonage's survival prospects are at a low point right now.

So, is this a time be buying or selling? I don't agree with Moshe that their share price will never be higher. Things don't look great right now, but the patent lawsuit is far from over, and if they can get through the next couple of weeks and come up with a workaround for the patents in question, things can certainly get better.

I'm drawing attention to Moshe's post primarily because it's one of the few I've seen that support some of what I've long been saying. On more than one occasion, I've tried to focus on the good things about Vonage, often against the tide of popular sentiment that seems to take pleasure in writing Vonage off. Several of my Vonage posts and interviews with the media are certainly critical, but I think I'm pretty fair and balanced.

It's very easy to focus on a broken business model, the lack of recent innovation, the out-of-control marketing spend, and the futility of competing head to head against the big guys and the bundles. All of these are certain recipes for failure.

However, if you look at Moshe's prescription for what he'd do to make the patient well if he were King, it speaks to the underlying strengths that could be the foundation for a money-spinning business. As I've noted in earlier posts, they've got a critical mass of subscribers, a brand name in VoIP that's second to none, substantial revenues, attractive gross margins, tons of money in the bank and very little in the way of direct, apples-to-apples competition. It's pretty clear to me that if you could just keep that, you've got the foundation of a great business.

Take your pick - the glass is half full or half empty. Moshe thinks it's half full, and is willing to put his money where his mouth is. Will Mr. Citron take Moshe up on his open letter offer? I don't know, but I'm just glad to see somebody else come out and say this is not a lost cause. Vonage may have seen its best days in its current form, and clearly something has to give here. At their current stock price, you just have to think there's value to be had, but I think it all comes down to how confident Vonage's management team is in their ability to turns things around.

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Unified Communications Podcast

This is one of those better-late-than-never posts, but it's not really time sensitive. So if you're interested in unified communications, it's still relevant.

Back in December, during Cisco's analyst conference, I sat down to do a podcast on Unified Communications with colleague Blair Pleasant, who runs her own consultancy, CommFusion.

Some things take time to come to market, and this podcast is one of them! It was just posted the other day on the Unified Communications Strategies portal, where I'm becoming a bit of a regular contributor. You can access the podcast here, and if you're not registered, it's free and just takes a minute to do. Hope you like it!

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Max Arnold's Nokia N80 Review/His New Blog

The Internet can be a very democratic, pluralistic place, and that's great news for people like my 14 year old son, Max. He should be familiar to regular readers of my blog, and now he's on the blogging bandwagon. Over the past 2 years, he's really come into his own, especially when it comes to tech, and all the goodies I bring home from my travels have gone to good use. He's written reviews before as part of Andy Abramson's Nokia N Series blogger relations program, but this is the first time he's done so via his own blog.

Max started his blog a few weeks ago, and has put up a few posts, and he's got some pretty strong views about what he likes and doesn't like about tech. I think it's great that he's putting his thoughts out there, and I'm here to share that for those who want to see what tech means to the youth of today. You'll be hearing more from Max, both here, and of course on his own blog. And if your memory is really good, you may recall that Max and I have been wanting to start a regular video cast series for some time, and that's very much going to happen. We've got the tools - just need to make the time. And sponsors are welcome!

So, without further ado, please welcome Max Arnold to the blogosphere! For those who want to read his review of the Nokia N80 phone, here it is. And if you must know, the post is all his - I just read it myself after he posted it earlier tonight. Am hoping Andy will add it to the Nokia N80 blog site, and if so, I'll pass along the link.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Apple TV Gets Raves - Now Watch Cisco

The initial reviews on Apple TV are pretty impressive, and I'll just cite two posts - Om Malik and Cynthia Brumfield's IP Democracy. You can go from there and follow all the good press and reviews Apple TV is getting.

So what does Cisco have to do with this? Plenty, in my view. It's been all good since Cisco and Apple made peace over the iPhone trademark issue, and I think a lot of interesting developments involving both companies will soon follow. The motivation for them to work together - and interop - iPhone with Linksys - both the phones and the routers - is obvious, and no doubt a lot will come from this. As well it should.

That said, I think there's a completely separate agenda - and potentially a much bigger one - going on in the video space. It's enough that these companies have a common enemy - Microsoft - and for very different reasons - the home computer market for Apple, and the enterprise communications market for Cisco. Together, they can mount a pretty formidable counterforce, especially in the battle for the digital home. And it's pretty interesting that both companies recently updated their corporate names to reflect the changing natures of their business - which I see becoming complementary on a few levels.

Why watch Cisco now? Well, I've posted before about this - here and here - and yesterday's Apple TV launch seemed like a good time to revisit this, especially since it was received so well.

So, all I'm trying to say here is that when you take in all the great buzz happening around Apple TV, keep in mind that Cisco is smiling too. And when the iPhone finally arrives, they'll be smiling again, and then I think we'll really see how strong these synergies are poised to become.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring VON - Good Even 2,000 Miles Away

I noted yesterday how I'd like to be at Spring VON, but it's not working out for me this time around. Doesn't mean I can't experience it vicariously, and it's never been easier. It's not hard to find blog accounts of what's happening there, and I'll steer you to Andy's posts. He's got a great beat on the comings and goings, and from all accounts, there's tons going on - no surprise there.

The best part of VON shifting so much towards video is the ability to follow some of the sessions by video. While you can't see everything this way, this is definitely a sign of things to come, and it's a great way to get a window on what's being presented during the sessions. As video and disruptive broadcasting picks up momentum, I'm sure that future VONs will have increasingly richer video coverage, and will ultimately allow a broader audience to experience what VON is about. Perhaps this could be a template for how conferences will evolve.

Of course, you have to be there to experience what's happening on the show floor, between the sessions and all the offsite events, and that's the part I miss the most. I'll have to wait til the Fall for that, I'm afraid, so for now, I'll be following things virtually.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Has VoIP Peaked? 8 Reasons Why I Think So


That's my short answer, and here are 8 reasons why.

Before I start, I'm not saying that VoIP is dead - far from it. Having an analyst's perspective, I see a lot of things, and it just strikes me that a lot of stars have lined up now that collectively tell me that the winds of change are shifting. Furthermore, I'm not a technical or a financial analyst, so I'm not basing this on stock market indicators, but I'll bet you could find enough there to support what I'm thinking.

I'm just going to give you the basic ideas here - I'll be here a long time if I went into the details. That's another conversation, and hey, we all have to make a living.

Here we go - in no particular order....

1. Verizon/Vonage - whether this case holds up or not, Vonage is getting boxed in - or out - depending on your view, and they are no longer the threat they were early on. They've pushed as hard as a startup with lots of money and market support would allow, and at the end of the day, they barely have 2% of the landline market. I think the Verizon case makes this official, and they could really close this chapter by acquiring Vonage outright.

2. Order has been restored - related to Vonage, Humpty Dumpty has been put back together, and the U.S. telecom market is ruled by 2 mega carriers. When was the last time anybody talked about RBOCs? We went from 7 to 4, and now it's basically just 2, with Qwest as an asterisk. Cable and mobile - same deal - just a handful of big operators who control the market - and largely true too, for ISPs. Disruption has come, but has not changed the status quo that much for VoIP. The likes of Vonage were supposed to destroy the obsolete RBOCs, but at the end of the day, he who controls the last mile and has the customers, wins.

3. Consolidation is largely done. Building on this theme, we're down to a handful of big carriers, and a handful of big vendors. Most of the good, proven companies have been taken, and the remaining players are large, with deep pockets. When Cisco spends $3.2 billion for WebEx, you have to wonder are we heading for a bubble? It's too late in the game for the big players to develop their own solutions, and they have to acquire the missing pieces, not just to grow, but to keep them away from their competitors. Don't get me wrong - there's more consolidation coming, but when you see big deals like this, that's a sign to me that the barriers to entry are going to get very high now. That may be good for the companies in the winner's circle, but it's bad for innovation and competition. That's why Open Source and disruptive media are so hot now - it's not too late there - but I think it is for VoIP.

4. Absence of successful IPOs. Imagine how the prospects for VoIP would have looked if Vonage's IPO was a hit with investors. VoIP has evolved to the stage where there should be lots of successful IPOs happening now. Again, it shows you how hard it is to make money in VoIP, especially to the point where you can be a public company. I'm starting to think that Acme Packet's fantastic IPO was the exception rather than the rule. And they have good news coming out this week that supports how well they're doing. Of course, that's the problem right there. If VoIP was a successful market, Acme would be the rule and not the exception. Don't get me wrong - there could well be some good IPOs coming this year - such as Veraz, Sylantro, BroadSoft and NexTone. I think all of these have a great chance of success. But that hasn't happened yet, and as I'm seeing things right this minute, that's how I feel.

5. Jeff Pulver. Without a doubt, the most successful man in VoIP, right? And Jeff's going to share his vision of the future this morning at VON. I don't know what he's going to say, but I don't need to know. Anyone following Pulvermedia knows that Jeff's focus - and passion - has shifted to video. It's not clear to me what his vision is for VoIP now, but as I've said before, Jeff's intuition and timing is usually very good. Follow the money? Perhaps. It's also worth noting that if anyone should know how to create successful businesses around VoIP, it's Jeff. While there's never any guarantee of success in a business like this, even Jeff has had difficulty making money in his VoIP enterprises. He's started a number of innovative ventures - Free World Dialup, iPeerX, and most recently, Tello, but none have been game changers. Let's hope things are different with Vivox!

6. The demise of Voiceglo. They ceased operations a few days ago, and I take this as another sign of a market top. Voiceglo has not been a factor in this market for some time, and a lot of people felt this was just a stock play. Say what you like, but I think they had a very innovative concept early on, and I was one of their earliest supporters. They're a great example of how difficult it is to build a viable business once you've started out being a free service. I'm citing them here because the business was run by investment bankers. This may not be the ideal foundation for a nextgen provider, but as a rule of thumb, when the bankers say it's time to go, it's time to go.

7. Wireless has thrived and not been hurt by VoIP. I've always said that while VoIP is a big, exciting market, wireless is an even bigger, more exciting market. Landline VoIP is a good place to start, but the real growth potential for VoIP is in wireless. Despite all the economic attractions of VoIP, the mobile carriers have done quite nicely without it. Sure, we're seeing "minutes stealers" out there - which at least makes things interesting, but so far, VoIP hasn't had much impact at all on how wireless operators do business.

8. Analyst firm coverage. I know of 3 well-known industry analyst firms with strong VoIP coverage that are in varying states of difficulty, and I suspect they are not alone. With fewer vendors and carriers to support their high-end services, something has to give. No surprise there. Rising tides lift all boats, but what comes up, must come down.

Ok, so what do we do now? I'll first say that I'm still pro-VoIP - don't get me wrong. I just think the market has changed. I recently have contributed to a dialog started by fellow blogger Luca Filigheddu on what I think has made VoIP successful (and not, as well).

My basic take is this. VoIP really isn't an industry. It's a technology around which a lot of businesses have had to reinvent themselves to adapt to the disruptive potential of IP. VoIP has had a good run, but many of the incumbent players are still standing, and still have the customers. In a way, VoIP has been its own worst enemy by making it easy for everyone and anyone to get into the game, and offer a service that costs next to nothing to provide, and gets cheaper all the time.

This could still work if the quality of VoIP was truly better than what people are used to using. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't, and companies of all sizes are finding that it's harder to do than it looks, so this is not going to be a quick transition. In that scenario, only the strongest can really survive, and that's what we're seeing now.

I do want to end on a positive note, and here it is. VoIP as we know it has peaked in my view, but it's just one chapter along the way to an all IP world, which I do believe we'll have. There's a lot of talk about Voice 1.0 vs. Voice 2.0, and I think that's a big part of the story. Much of the VoIP we've seen has been tied too much to the TDM world, and modeled on Voice 1.0 thinking and habits. Voice 2.0 - which can mean a lot of things - is the basis the next wave of innovation.

Much like where VoIP was 5 years ago, Voice 2.0 companies are at today. They have the benefit of VoIP's progress to build on, which is great. However, a lot of them really aren't about VoIP, at least the way we've known it. Examples? Grand Central, Iotum, Talkster, TruPhone, DiamondWare, Flat Planet Phone Company. These are just a few examples of course. They're all different, but they're all about voice, and they're really all applications built around specific business problems. They're not trying to be complete platforms or systems, which is much harder to do.

So, maybe this is where VoIP goes next. I'm still not sure, as I don't really know how you build a whole business around these. But at least they can stay below the radar of the mega players long enough to develop into viable businesses. Of course, I'm only talking about the voice market here. There are tons of exciting things happening in other spaces, especially video, but I'm not as steeped in that market yet. You'll have to ask Jeff about that!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Thomas Howe is Staying Home This Week

Very interesting post from colleague Thomas Howe this morning about why he's not attending Spring VON this week. I know a number of people who will be missing this show as well, myself included.

I'll be missing the show - both figuratively and literally. It's always been the show where I have the most interaction with people, and it's non-stop activity - never any down time. That energy is hard to find, and is part of the show's magic. For Thomas, it's more a case being able but not willing to go. Everyone's situation is different, and the opposite is true for me this time around. Life goes on, however, and I certainly intend to be there for the Fall show, which is simply easier for me to get to.

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DiamondWare - A Gamer's Best Friend - and a Company to Watch

Anyone following the gaming world or the Second Life phenomenon would know by now that Second Life announced the addition of voice into its platform on February 27. That�s an old story by now, but I just want to connect the dots back to DiamondWare, and tell you the story that isn't getting much play - yet. I�ve known this company for a few years now � and we�ll get to that in a moment.

I�m telling you this story because I think it needs to be told, and also because I�m one of the first who can tell it. I�ve had the benefit of a full briefing and demo of their conferencing platform, so I�ve seen it and heard it first hand. The only other way to experience it is if you�re part of the Second Life beta, or involved with one of the many trials DiamondWare is currently running with some big name companies. At the Game Developers 2007 Conference held two weeks ago, DiamondWare, in fact, provided a hint of what�s coming. They issued a series of announcements at the show about gaming deployments that will soon be commercially available, namely Auran�s Fury, and Virgin Games�s A World of my Own.

But those are NDA scenarios, so for most of you out there, I�ll likely be the first person you�ll hear about this from. Here we go�

First, I�ll just work backwards to name the players that bring us to DiamondWare. SecondLife is the largest public deployment of their 3D voice software, and the virtual world of Second Life was created by San Francisco-based Linden Labs. Their February 27 press release tells the basic story, but makes only a passing reference to the technology behind 3D voice, which involves two companies � Vivox and DiamondWare. Vivox provides the platform to support 3D voice, but the technology itself has been licensed to Vivox by DiamondWare. This relationship has been in the works for some time, as DiamondWare announced their successful demonstration with Second Life last September. It�s only now coming to market.

I should also add another thread to the story here. Vivox is another Jeff Pulver venture � he�s a co-founder and their Chairman. Jeff is an avid Second Lifer, and has his own virtual conference space there called Pulveria. He gave a great real-time demo of this at his Fall VON keynote last September, and I�m one of the bloggers who commented about it. Jeff posted about Second Life adding voice on February 28, but only mentioned Vivox. That�s understandable, but if that�s all you�ve read about this story, then you�re missing the DW connection. Given that it�s VON this week, I thought it would be timely to mention this, as I'm sure you'll be hearing about Second Life and Pulveria a few times during the show. Unfortunately I won�t be at the show this time, but I�m not hard to find if you need me.

So what�s the big deal with DW? You don�t have to look far through all the press about DW�s news with Second Life to get the basic idea. It�s typically described as immersive, spatial audio, with crystal clear sound that is highly adaptive to the real-time environment you�re in. For Second Lifers or gamers, it can be your best friend. I think of it as bling for your avatar. It�s easy to see how it makes these worlds much more interesting, but it�s the reality factor that DW brings that makes it really cool. When you�re in a multi-player gaming environment, or trying to have a conversation in a crowd inside SL, that�s where DW really stands out.

I recently got set up to do a personal demo with DW�s CEO, Keith Weiner. He kindly sent me a USB stereo headset and I downloaded the application, and we got connected. You need to have a decent headset to properly experience this. All I can tell you is that this works really well! Definitely not what you�re used to, and you can tell right away this is a much more life-like experience � a bit like the buzz you get from telepresence compared to conventional video conferencing.

This wasn�t a gaming or SL demo � it was a conventional conferencing application, and even in this simple scenario, you can get to experience how cool this is. First off, this is stereophonic sound, so the quality is very good right off the bat (32 KHz if you�re keeping score). Most conferencing is mono, and Keith cited Skype as an example that many of us are familiar with. It�s certainly a radical improvement, and it�s hard to imagine going back.

Here�s what�s really neat about the experience. On the screen you can see the names and positions of everyone sitting around the conference table. As each person speaks, you hear them in their positional or spatial context. For example, the person on your left is heard in the left channel. It�s much easier to follow the flow of conversation, and things get really interesting when multiple conversations occur, or people start moving around the room.

The experience is very life-like, and is much easier to follow things when different people start talking. Similarly, DW responds in real time as people move about � their volumes rise and fall as they move, and Keith refers to this as �proximity monitoring�. This all sounds very natural and simple in the real world, but the magic of DW is the ability to recreate it in a digital world.

Of course, I can only express the experience in words here, but the message is clear � it sounds great, and this is a big step forward. In some ways, it�s a bit too good. I commented to Keith that DW�s clarity created awkward moments when nobody was saying anything. There was total silence, and it really felt like the signal had cut out and I was off the call (which has happened to all of us on concalls, right?). More than once I had to ask if anyone was there. Well, that�s why they add white noise, right?

Another observation was that DW picks up EVERYTHING. So, when you�re on a call like this, don�t yawn, swallow, click your teeth, mumble under your breath, or make any side comments. Everyone will hear you, and they�ll probably be able to tell it was you! So, I suggested to Keith he may want to provide some concall etiquette tips for first time users. It reminded me of my Telepresence demo with Cisco. The experience was very life-like, but the presenters on the Cisco side of the table (who were far away in San Jose) came across a bit stiff, and looked like newscasters. These technologies are very new, and better than what we�re used, and we�re just not very media-aware yet of how best to use them. It will take some getting used to, but this is a good thing.

I should also add that voice quality itself is not DW�s secret sauce. It�s based a royalty-free Polycom codec, Siren 14 - G722.1. The real power of DW is that it�s �massively scalable�. Keith has had this in mind from the beginning, and that�s a big part of the vision for the gaming world, which will soon start seeing thousands of players online at the same time using voice. And of course, Second Life, which claims over 3 million registered users, will be a huge proof point for DW�s scalability.

The gaming world is an obvious market for DW, and they are positioning themselves very nicely there. Aside from the recent news items demonstrating their traction in this market, Keith explained how DW is already integrated into 4 of the top 6 middleware solutions for gaming. Also, while SL itself is a big deal for DW, that�s only the beginning.

Now, it�s time to segue from the gaming space to the enterprise market, which I think is where things get really interesting. SL isn�t just about people who want to have fun in a virtual world. Keith noted that 40 of the Fortune 500 companies � as well as several universities � are using SL to collaborate � such as holding meetings or doing presentations there. There�s a lot going on in SL with big companies that is anything but virtual, and a recent Investors Business Daily article is a great place to read more. They have already recognized the power of virtual communities for business applications, and with voice in the picture now, this space becomes more relevant to them.

Here�s why � collaboration is hotI�d say it�s THE trend right now in IP, especially in the business market. Voice is what makes collaboration really effective, and that�s where DW really wants to play. SL will give them a great proving ground for this, plus they will gain tremendous experience from the gaming market. I think this is what will set DW apart in this space. By adding this caliber of voice experience to gaming, DW is allowing gamers to collaborate like never before, and guess what? This is what a lot of techhies and early adopters love to do. Gamers are going to create a great template for how to do real time, multimedia collaboration in the business world, and DW is right in the middle of this.

Not only that, but gamers are paying real money to do this! We�re not talking about a free service here. These are the building blocks for new applications with real business models that can deliver real benefits to businesses. Futhermore, DW can be a platform for a hosted solution. Think about how this opens the doors for all kinds of players who want to raise the bar with scalable conferencing and collaboration solutions. It could be Cisco, it could be IBM, it could be Microsoft, it could be Apple (the iPhone could support gaming) it could be AT&T, it could be Time Warner, it could be Sony, it could be Google. You get the idea. And if you want to bring it into the home, DW supports SurroundSound, and could be part of an IPTV bundle.

You might also be thinking about how DW�s 3D audio could be great for things like music downloads, movies, TV, video, etc. All well and good, but it�s not their focus right now. DW is really about two-way, interactive, collaborative communication, whereas these are all static, one-way communication modes. However, we�re not too far away from somebody wanting to use this on platforms that support multimedia collaboration. Just like gaming, it doesn�t take much to see creative types embrace this to virtually create music or video content online. It�s going to happen�..

I�ll conclude by saying that the stars seem to be lining up nicely for DW, and SL is really putting them on the map. The company has always been under the radar, mainly due to lack of a commercial application that we could actually use. They�ve been very fortunate to be kept going all this time by government and military R&D contracts. Much like how so many Israeli IP communications got their start in the military, DW has come out of the same milieu in the U.S.

I think this is important, as DW has gained experience on some interesting projects they could not have gotten any other way. And now all that R&D is coming to commercial fruition, and DW is a viable company without any debt. This is a very rare combination of events. I can�t think of too many companies that have survived this long without the benefit of VC backing or revenue-generating customers to keep them going. DW has had the luxury of all this R&D and lots of patents that should give them a pretty strong head start against anyone else trying to duplicate what they�ve done.

If you�ve stuck with me to read this post to this point, and you�re an investor who understands this space, I�d say DW is primed for big things. You�ll have to track Keith down, though, to see what he wants to do. Just remember where you heard it first!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Cisco Raises the Stakes with WebEx

The news of Cisco's $3.2 billion purchase of WebEx comes hot on the heels of Microsoft's acquisition of TellMe the other day for $800 million. While these deals are in different spaces, this is another step along the way to what's looking like an expensive showdown between these two giants.

While Cisco and Microsoft enjoy a close working relationship on a few fronts, it's clear that they both want to control the enterprise communications space, and their visions do not seem to allow for more than one of them to do that. Regardless, $3.2 billion is a lot of money, especially for a company that only does about 1/10th of that in sales. Of course, Cisco spent a lot more to acquire Scientific Atlanta, so we may not have seen the biggest deal yet.

It's hard to tell where this is all going or when it all ends. Both companies have money to burn, and at this stage of the game, time to market is everything, and it's simply more expedient to buy rather than build. Of course, there's the ongoing challenge of integrating these companies once acquired, and figuring out the details about branding, channels, R&D, staff retention, etc. However, this is the price you pay to get what you need, and perhaps more importantly, to keep it out of the hands of your competitors.

There won't be any shortage of media coverage today about this, although I'm surprised at how little blog coverage there has been so far.

Rather than re-hash the details, I'll steer you to Business Week Online. Their feature is out already, and it provides a good overview of Cisco's deal and the overall context for what's driving this. They were also nice enough to cite me, so I'm more than happy to share this with you.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Yves Laliberte/Aastra Telecom and IP Telephony

On this week's podcast, I've gone back to the IP telephony market, and featured a company I've long been a fan of - Toronto-based Aastra Telecom.

Not only are they Canadian - and based in Toronto, where it gets pretty lonely for VoIP or IP vendors - but they're public, and they have a strong international presence. I can count on one hand how many companies there are like this in Canada, and I'm not even thinking about Nortel. Aastra actually took some good Nortel business off their hands a while back, and are doing very nicely with it.

Anyhow, these podcasts are about markets and technologies - not the vendors - so that's enough about Aastra from me. My guest was Yves Laliberte, their EVP, and he knows this space quite well. We've been trying to get a podcast done for a while, and the timing is good. Aastra just launched a line of SIP phones, and to step back, there are other vendors with SIP phones in the market, so this isn't just an Aastra story. However, it was a good time to hear from Yves what SIP phones bring to the market, and how enterprises are adopting IP telephony.

We also covered the SMB market and how IP telephony fits into their thinking. Yves also provided some interesting perspectives on how OEMs are working with Open Source, and it's surprising to hear just how much it is taking hold among the vendors.

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

NOTE - no podcast next week, as the Pulvermedia crew will be at Spring VON, which unfortunately, I won't be attending. I'll be back the following week, though, with another podcast.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

VoIP Peering Web Summit Coming - March 29

Just a heads-up to say that I'll be hosting a Web Summit on Thursday, March 29 at 2pm on the state of VoIP Peering. This is a space I've been following for a while, and is definitely coming into its own now.

Registration is free, and based on today's planning meeting with the sponsors, it should be an informative session. You can find out more about it, as well as how to register on my website.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Vonage - Giving Voice Away - What Next?

Nice post from new-kid-on-the-block Moshe Maeir about Vonage this morning.

Late yesterday, they issued a press release about their new LD rates. They're scary cheap - like 1 cent/minute to landlines in Israel and Mexico. Pretty hard to believe, especially as Moshe points out (and he should know) that wholesale rates to Israel are 1.1-1.2 cents/minute. On the other hand, he notes that calls to wireless numbers are more expensive, and Vonage would still make healthy margins there. Since Israelis seem to live on their cell phones, maybe there's some logic to this plan.

But maybe not. Hot off the heels of the Verizon litigation, this sure looks like a move of desperation. They recently moved to an annual price plan as well - which is in line with the likes of SunRocket, who have been doing pretty well with that tactic.

Clearly, pricing plans for residential VoIP are a moving target, and nobody is going to make money charging 1 cent/minute. It may be aggressive pricing - even cheaper than Skype - but is it smart pricing? Who are they going after with this? They're not in the LD business, and it's really a loss leader to keep subscribers from going elsewhere. And unlike the wireless world, there are no contracts here, so you really have to work hard to keep your subscribers. Prices can only get cheaper in this market, and with the Verizon tax in the picture now, margins can only get thinner.

This is not a business I'd want to be in.

As per Andy's post yesterday, I'd agree that their time and money is better spent on wireless alternatives, but that window has got to be getting pretty small now, and may even be closed.

Meanwhile, the VON in Vonage - Mr. Pulver - wasn't losing any sleep over this, having a ball at last night's Rock & Roll Hall Induction Ceremonies. Gosh, what a lucky guy - check out his pix to see what the rest of us missed.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Pulver 100 - 2007 List is Published

The Pulver 100 is one of those lists that vendors point to for recognition and validation in the IP communications space, and the 2007 edition was just posted this morning on Jeff's blog.

It's a good barometer of how the industry is evolving, and how Pulvermedia's focus has been changing as well. There are lots of familiar names who have been on this list many times, but some of them don't strike me as "companies to watch in 2007". I'm not going to name companies, but I doubt I'm the only person to draw this conclusion.

On the other hand, there are lots of new names there, mostly in the disruptive broadcasting space, as well as mobile applications. Notable ones to mention - in no particular order - include DiamondWare, Iotum, Sling Media, Revver, Rebtel, Mino Wireless, Truphone, Abbeynet, GrandCentral, TalkPlus, SightSpeed, Soma Networks, iSkoot, Jajah and Brightcove.

Speaking of DiamondWare, this is a really interesting company, and I have a post coming about them this week. I have it on good account that I'm the first person they've briefed, so stay tuned.

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Wireless Number Portability - the Pursuit of Happyness

In Canada, the big day for wireless watchers is Wed this week. That's the day WNP - Wireless Number Portability - takes effect. This topic is getting almost as much attention right now as the shift to Daylight Savings Time this weekend! It sure is great to look out the window at 7pm and still see daylight. Plus, the weather has really warmed up, and hey, it's just starting to feel good all over. Our winters are long here, so forgive me for rambling....

Not surprisingly, WNP is getting heavy play in the media, and this weekend, the Globe & Mail kicked off the first of a series of features on what the fuss is all about. As the title of my post implies, the name of the game is customer satisfaction.

We have just a handful of wireless carriers here, so it's all about keeping the customer happy and not giving him/her a reason to switch. This article focuses on how Telus claims to have the highest satisfaction among its subscribers, and is being challenged by Virgin Mobile for this distinction. Since all the wireless operators are offering similar services, there isn't much differentiation happening. Also, since the market is basically an oligopoly, you're not going to see the carriers get into a price war. So, they're going to compete on customer service and satisfaction, which are good things to be doing, but I'm not sure it's going make much difference.

Frankly, I think this is largely a zero sum game where the deck just gets shuffled a bit, but at the end of the game, there are still 52 cards. WNP might help nudge overall adoption of wireless up a bit, as there will be some who are ready to cut their landline. But for the majority, it's about switching from one wireless carrier to another, and I don't think there will be any huge swings once it's all said and done. Win one, lose one....

The Globe article presented some very interesting data about how the market shares vary wildly from province to province. Their data is from 2005, so it's not entirely accurate, but I don't think the overall picture has changed that dramatically. Basically, Telus leads in the 2 main Western provinces (their home base) - B.C. and Alberta. Bell owns the Atlantic region and has a strong hold on Quebec. Rogers is the leader in Ontario, but Bell is not far behind. And then there's Saskatchewan and Manitoba, both of which are practically monopolies, where the provincial wireless operators hold most of the subscribers. Very interesting mix, especially considering that while Rogers may be the #1 wireless operator in Canada, in 2005, they were the market leader in only one province - Ontario. I'll stop there, as I get a bit nervous reading much more into data from 2005.

Numbers aside, I think we can expect to see Bell aggressively go after Telus's stronghold out West. After all, wireless is the reason why Telus has been such a stock market darling, and the inverse has largely been true for Bell. Telus, of course, will try to do the same out East, as this is has been by far the market they've had the most success penetrating. They aren't in the residential landline business here, and they've had limited success in the business market. So, they have a lot riding on wireless for their growth plans out East.

And then there's Rogers. They've had the hot hand lately, adding more subs than anyone, and have the most interesting mix of services that can be bundled. I know first hand, since I'm a Rogers customer. I've been getting constant calls and mailers from them about how I can upgrade my wireless plan. So, Rogers will be a target for both Bell and Telus, making this a three-way race. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out, especially by region, and when the scorecard comes my way, I'll be posting.

UPDATE - I held off posting so I could read today's WNP feature in the Globe & Mail, and that's a good thing. Today's story raised some very interesting points that only reinforce my view that WNP may not be that big a deal in the end.

1. When you port your number, guess what? You have to get a new phone. Ughh. In the voice-only days, that wasn't such a big deal. But with today's Swiss Army Knife phones, people's whole lives are stored on their mobile phones, so now there's more work involved to transfer all your directories, MP3s, videos, photos, etc. to another phone. Presuming you can find a phone that you like. To me, that can be a significant switching cost in terms the effort involved.

On that count, WNP may well favor those who have the coolest phones. In my books, that's gotta be Rogers, mainly because they're on GSM. That means the Blackbery Pearl. And... big drum roll...if you can wait until summer... the iPhone. The jury is still out - at least for me - as to whether the iPhone will re-invent mobility, but I'd much rather have that product in my stable than in someone else's.

For those of you who have read this far along, you may notice that there's no mention of this point in the article I just referred to. Correct. It was mentioned in a sidebar that ran the print edition, but not online. So, you don't get all the good stuff online - but you do the reader comments, which I just love.

2. Contracts. Unlike the VoIP world, wireless is all about the contracts. It's not always so easy to just up and go to another carrier. I know I'm in the middle of 3 year terms for both my cell phone and my Blackberry, and it's going to be expensive if I decide to switch carriers. I think it's a pretty safe bet that our wireless carriers won't be waving these penalties come Wednesday. So, another switching factor to consider.

3. Did you know...."When a customer moves their number to another carrier, for example, that data will be transferred via a hub in Tampa operated by Syniverse Technologies Inc." ???

I had no idea, and this point is kind of buried in the article. Syniverse Technologies may be well known in the wireless community, but they're hardly a household world among consumers. I don't think it's a stretch to say that some Canadians would be uncomfortable if they knew that their efforts to port over to a new carrier would entail sending personal data down to the U.S.

This subtlety was not lost on readers of this article, and a quick scan of the comments confirms my suspicions - at least from a few readers. This may well be one of those things that's no big deal, but the fact that WNP is not a complete made-in-Canada handoff, will not sit well with everyone. In my books, that's going to be another reason for some people to just stay put.

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Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Brian O'Higgins and Network Security

For my latest podcast, the focus was network security. This is a hot area, and has many flavors. In this case, the topic was intrusion detection, and my guest was Brian O�Higgins. He�s the CTO of Ottawa-based Third Brigade, and has a lot of experience in this area. We talked about the network security challenges facing enterprises, and the different ways these threats can impact networks. Brian also spoke to the difficulty of protecting networks today, especially with the numerous way in which the public Internet connects to the enterprise.

On a related note, I also did another podcast recently on this space, but from a different perspective. That was with fellow blogger Dan York, and his affiliation with VOIPSA, the VoIP Security Alliance.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read more about Brian and Third Brigade.

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Blogger Relations Programs - Covad is on Board

Any one who blogs regularly in this space should have come across at least one blogger relations program by now, and I'm certainly seeing my share these days. In the right hands, they can be a really great tool. For the client, they can certainly be a direct, two-way dialog with users, customers, as well as key influencers.

As I've said before, it's a very Web 2.0 forum for market research, and I'm a big fan there. Just as importantly, though, these programs speak to the respectability the good bloggers are getting in their spheres of influence. It seems like everybody is a blogger these days, and we all want to share our opinions and voices.

Nothing wrong with that, but at the end of the day, since not many of us are getting paid for this, what really matters is recognition. Peer rec is wonderful, and please, folks - keep those comments coming. But even more important is recognition from the industry - the companies that actually make a living selling something, and they're looking to you to help them be more successful.

So, Covad has come the blogger trough, and I think that's great. They're a client of Andy Abramson, who may well be the foremost advocate of blogger relations programs in this space. He's the force behind the Nokia N Series blogger program, which is probably the template for these things, and I'm happy to say I've been involved with it from early on.

I'd like to say more about Covad's program, but I'll stay mum for two reasons, even though I've been briefed on it. First - I'm based in Canada, and since Covad isn't operating up here, I'm not eligible to participate - but I'm very glad to be on the periphery of what's going on. Secondly, Covad is currently a client, and I don't want to come across as being partial to a company I'm very much enjoying doing work for. That said, it's still a story worth telling, and I'm going to leave that to colleague Ken Camp. He's participating in this program, and posted all about it recently - so that's the place to go for the details.

Stepping back, though, I'd like to add that blogger relations programs are definitely catching on, and both companies and PR firms alike recognize the importance of reaching out to the right bloggers in their markets. With so many bloggers out there, the biggest challenge is finding the right bloggers, and that takes some work. Recently, I've been contacted by a number of PR firms going down this path, and it's clear that they don't really know who the right bloggers are, and they often don't know what sources to rely on to find them. Blogging is so new for many of these firms - and their clients - and they are typically very dependent on us bloggers for direction. It's very much about being an outsider and trying break through and find the inner circle. Not easy to do, and I'd say it takes a mix of intuition, persistence and a bit of luck.

This in fact, just happened to me on Friday. I was contacted by one of the Tier 1 industry analyst firms looking to do blogger outreach. It was nice to be considered in this mix for them, but I found it odd since I'm an analyst, and would view them as competition. I don't think they would see me that way since I'm just an indie, but when I wear the blogger hat, that may be all they really see in me. That's fine by me, as I see this more as validation that bloggers have value beyond what we say, and that's a trend I'm happy to support.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

Geosign Raises $160 Million - and Just Where is Guelph, Ontario?

So, who is Geosign, and how did they raise $160 million???

I'm asking the same questions myself. Geosign is a small, quiet company based in Guelph, Ontario - an hour or so from Toronto. Who knew???

It's a great Internet story for sure, and possibly a Web 2.0 story. They're an "Internet media" company, and it just shows how these success stories can truly come from anywhere. Guelph is in the middle of nowhere - a landlocked, agricultural town - barely big enough to be considered a city. I've been there a few times, and it's got a very interesting history. More importantly, though, it's in close proximity to Ontario's Technology Triangle, which is one of Canada's leading centers of tech innovation, most notably the home of RIM, and many others. More on that in a moment.

For the details, I'll steer you to today's Globe & Mail, which has a good writeup on Geosign and what they're going to do with all this money. As the article explains, Geosign has developed a network of 180 websites, all providing information for consumers on a wide range of goods and services. I'm not much for web surfing, so this is all news to me.

If you're curious, here's what one of their sites looks like - gizmocafe. Pretty plain, vanilla, mass market type of stuff. Nothing complicated, but hey, Geosign claims to attract some 35 million visitors a month to its sites. Can you imagine how many they'll be able to attract now? Gotta like their formula - dang, why didn't I think of that???

The item that really stood out for me in the article was the fact that this is the largest raise of private capital in Canada, and the largest in telecom/tech since Vonage raised $200 million in 2005. That's pretty impressive, and tells you that software and web-based businesses can still attract big money.

Mark Evans posted on this Wednesday, and his post includes a brief interview with their CEO, Ted Hastings.

I just wanted to add a brief comment about the size of this deal. Aside from its sheer scale, it says a lot about the potential that investors are starting to see in the Internet and online businesses. While it's surprising to see all of this coming from a low profile company based in a small city, it's not surprising that the funds are coming from the U.S. Followers of my blog may recall my visit to last year's Canadian Venture Forum. Canada may get its fair share of domestic VC placements, but the size of these deals is smaller than what U.S. companies get. It's hard to imagine any Canadian firm putting this amount of money into a company like this.

That said, you don't have to look far to see how hard it is to get funding up here, so in the IP communications space, there are still challenges for sure. I'm close to more than one startup here that has great technology, has done a lot of the right things, but still cannot get a deal. Makes you scratch your head and wonder how one company can get so much money, while so many others are hanging on by a thread. And to think how far these companies would get if they could just hive off 5% of Geosign's pot of gold. They're not going to spend that money Vonage-style, that's for sure. Geosign is bankrolled now to do some big things, and that's got to include acquisitions. I have no idea what their management structure or vision is like, but they're in a great position now.

On that note, I just may get to give Geosign some ideas about this myself. I'm in the process of organizing a mini-tour later this month of the Waterloo region, of which Guelph is part of, and Geosign is definitely on the list. Good timing!

This is coming as a result of my recent connection to Waterloo City Councillor, Mark Whaley, who has been encouraging me to this. It's in the works as we speak, and aside from my upcoming visit, I plan to do some podcasts about these companies afterwards.

Finally - just a small thing. You know what I like about this company? They spell their name Geosign, and not GeoSign. It's just so predictable the way companies concatenate two words with capitals. I'm old school that way, and am not a fan of forcing two words together that really don't belong together, and making it look right by using capitals. Enough. BackToWorkNow.

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Vonage/Verizon - Business Week's Take

Just a quick post to pass along Business Week's take on the Vonage/Verizon story. There will be lots of mainstream press about this today, and I wanted to add this to the mix as a starting point, plus, they were nice enough to cite me in the article.

The article is a good read, and provides more of the basic detail around the decision and what it means for both companies. I'm also citing it here because the article raised 3 points that I meant to bring up in my post....

1. One has to wonder if the "Verizon tax" - as I'm calling it - will actually set the stage to soften Vonage up for a TKO via acquisition. The boxing analogy came to mind right away when posting yesterday, but Andy Abramson beat me to the punch (ughh!), and used it very effectively in his post, which I recommend you read. So I had to come up with a different angle.

Anyhow, I'm glad BW picked up the acquisition idea, as it looks very plausible to me. Just keep sucking margin away from Vonage with the tax, and use that money (all profit too) to help fund the buyout. How hard will that be? VZ picks up 2+ million subscribers, they take out the only VoBB threat that matters, and they're ready to take on AT&T and the cablecos.

After all, the Voicewing offering is going nowhere, and believe it or not, Vonage is still the #1 residential VoIP offering in terms of subscribers last I looked. Together, the cablecos passed them a long time ago, but no individual MSO has more subs than Vonage. So, VZ could effectively become #1 with this deal. What's not to like if you're VZ?

2. Vonage has been looking into wireless service - good point. Sure, that could help them bypass Verizon, so in theory, this could help them survive. But in reality, this will be a hard market to crack, and nobody has really been able to do it yet. So - possible, yes - but not likely the answer.

3. In the summer, Vonage acquired Digital Packet Licensing - forgot about that. That move helped fend off patent issues from Sprint/Nextel, so that it looked to be a good idea. It also gives Vonage some patents of their own, so they at least have some terra firma in case they need to build something that's truly in their control. I really don't know how far those particular patents will take them - probably not very - but I at least wanted to draw attention to the point made in the article that Vonage does have some patents.

I'm sure this is just the beginning...

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Vonage/Verizon, Part 2 - Innovative Alternatives Exist

After my earlier post went up about today's Vonage/Verizon news, I got a note from Moshe Maeir, who has been cited here a fair bit recently.

He's wearing all the hats these days getting his startup Flat Planet Phone Company off the ground. Well, today's news could turn out to be his lucky break. He's coming to market at an interesting time, and he points out in this afternoon's blog post that the Verizon win today could really hurt innovation for VoIP. I couldn't agree more, and I think that's a genuine concern right now for anybody who wants to see this space thrive.

Have a look - he's basically saying that his company's platform can allow anyone to be a phone company - of sorts - for only $199. It's a pretty interesting proposition, and opens up very wide possibilities for innovative services. Maybe not landline replacement, but enough variations to keep this market moving forward - despite what appears to be Verizon's best efforts to the contrary.

Verizon may win the battle today - although that still remains to be seen - and to be fair, there may well be a legitimate basis to their charges (and if so, justice has been served)- but I don't think they'll win the war. Vonage or no Vonage, the VoIP genie is out of the bottle, and someone, someway is going to make this work.

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Verizon Gets Its Way With Vonage - Another Boston Tea Party Coming?

Well, news travels fast. I've had a bunch of people email and IM me about the Verizon/Vonage case. Looks like things have gone Verizon's way, although I think it could have been a lot worse.

Details are limited so far, and a few bloggers have posted already, pretty much all referencing the same source from the Washington Post.

I don't have anything better to add yet, so at least you can read this for now. I'm sure there will be loads more analysis to come later today and tomorrow.

All I can say is that I thought Vonage might have caught a break in this one. I'm just thinking that the AT&T/Bell South merger went through with relatively few concessions, and that the sentiment today would favor a ruling going in favor of the competition. I guess not. So, we have another case of the incumbents getting their way, and obviously, this case can hurt Vonage a lot more than Verizon.

So far, though, it looks like the pain is manageable - $58 million settlement, and a 5.5% royalty on future sales. Vonage certainly has the cash on hand, but gee, this is another hit on their margins - 10% in fact, and that's quite a bit. Why 10%? Well, their gross margins are around 55%-60%, so 5.5% is 10% of that. Call it the Verizon tax if you like, but it worries me. Is this royalty in perpetuity, or does it have a limited life?

If it's the former, I see parallels to the Boston Tea Party here. Verizon gets its way by giving Vonage enough rope to live, and to continue profiting from VoIP while Vonage and their shareholders struggle to hang on. Plus, they may even make money some day from VoiceWing, their own VoIP offering - but that's another story.

If I'm Vonage, that's not a tax I'd want to live with the rest of my days, especially if they can somehow find light at the end of the tunnel. If that day comes, maybe they'll stage a Boston Tea Party of their own to protest this onerous and unfair tax.

Of course, it's debatable whether the "tax" is fair. Verizon seems to think so, but does the punishment fit the crime? And can Vonage somehow come up with a workaround to stop using the patents in question, and hence free themselves of this royalty scheme? And in the context of my Boston Tea Party theme, the word "royalty" is rather appropos here.

And then there's the bigger question of the rest of the industry. If they can go after Vonage for this, can they not go after the other VoBB operators like SunRocket? It's not clear to me if Vonage is the only one Verizon thinks they can apply this position to. In that scenario, they would really be a threat to the competitive landscape, which is an even bigger concern.

Finally, I can't help but wonder about the bigger picture. The cablecos are causing Verizon far more pain than Vonage, and they're a much bigger threat. That's where I'd be spending my time and money. And if Verizon really has all these great VoIP patents, why are they the smallest player in the market among Tier 1 carriers?

Many questions here - more to come for sure...

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Blogdesk Meme - My Turn

Well, I'm not into the chain-letter thing, but this will be quick. Our man in Italy, Luca, started this on Saturday, and it's come to me via Moshe Maeir (the Flat Planet guy!). He's invited me, Thomas Howe and Garrett Smith to keep it going, and now I have to find a few bloggers to tag. Thomas has done his duty, and now I've done mine.

As you can see, it's just a desk. Not sure what you're expecting. I think the view from my window is more interesting! I'm not a gadget guy - otherwise I would have taken a more detailed photo with less contrast from the daylight to show them off. It's just what you see. As requested, my phone is a simple, 2 line classic Nortel handset. It's actually made by Aastra, who make these phones now - in Mexico, of all places. I use 2 VoIP lines - Vonage and Primus, and that's what the routers behind the phone support - plus the wireless signal for the notebooks everyone else around here uses.

Got a basic Toshiba Satellite notebook, and my old-school daytimer. That's about it. If you know me, you'll know that I also use the Nokia N93 for mobile. But frankly, I'm at my desk all day long, so the cell phone is really just used as a camera. And my RIM sits gathering dust by the filing cabinet until I need it, which is only when I travel to go to conferences.

I wish it was more exciting, but 95% of my day is either email or writing, so my world is about my notebook more than anything else.

Now, who am I going to pass this meme along to???

Update - I've now tagged Marc Robins, Dan York and Jim Courtney. Let's see what comes back.


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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

My Dinner with Thomas - Mr. Mashup


If you've been following my blog, I posted the other day about colleague Thomas Howe, and his impressive ETel win last week in the Telephony Mashup Contest. Whoo hoo!

Well, for all my supportive posts - and being the first blogger to share the good news - I said dinner was on him if he won. After all, he did change our plans to meet here in Toronto when he found out his entry had been accepted. So, he went, he won, he came here last night, and as you can see from the photo, we had dinner. Now everybody's happy. Thanks Thomas!

Being an Engineer, Thomas is more tech-centric than me, and he's already posted about our dinner - just thought I'd share that. Glad he did, coz now I don't have to get into how cold it was last night. Next time, Thomas, either wear a winter coat, or come up when the weather is nicer! :-)

I should just add that we talked about a lot of things, and I think you can expect to hear more interesting developments on the mashup front from Thomas soon. On that note, he's contributing an article on mashups for the newsletter I'm putting together with Marc Robins, which we hope to have ready very soon. We also plotted out what we think is the right strategy for a startup we're both keen on - Flat Planet Telephone Company. We'll keep that to ourselves just for now...

Nice to see some validation on Thomas's mashup - The After Hours Doctor's Office - on Russell Shaw's blog today. Same for Garrett Smith on his post yesterday, Andy Abramson too, and Ken Camp from last week. Others as well, but you get the idea.

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Microsoft Canada's OneCare Launch

This afternoon I participated in a roundtable about Microsoft's recent launch in Canada of OneCare, their all-in-one PC security solution.

I've had a copy to use here on our PCs, and it's a pretty good product. I'm not doing a product review in this post, but in short, Microsoft brings a lot of good features and functionality in one product, and I think the overall value proposition will resonate well with both consumers and SOHOs.

I was there to speak about the overall trends related to PC security, and was joined by Sumeet Khanna and Bruce Cowper of Microsoft Canada, along with Gemma Moore, who is a SOHO user of OneCare. We provided various perspectives to the media, and this should help get broader coverage about OneCare's availability, and raise more awareness of the various issues around PC security. Lots to talk about here, but will have to save that for another post.


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Thursday, March 1, 2007

WNP Making Canadian Wireless Market Interesting - Did Bell Make a Good Deal?

Wireless Number Portability - WNP - is a big deal in Canada right now, as it's been a long time coming, and is just around the corner now. We have 3 major wireless carriers here, and they're all gearing up for this since they're all going to be making frenzied pitches to steal landline subscribers away from each other. Bell certainly has the most to lose here since they have the largest base of wireline subscribers.

Not surprisingly, late yesterday, Bell announced a new plan for unlimited local calling between all Bell wireline and wireless numbers. They have special "Bell to Bell" plans for new subscribers, and existing subscribers can add this service "for as little as $10 a month".

While this sounds like a good plan, it comes at a cost. So it's an interesting twist where the subscriber is actually paying more money to stay with Bell. Of course, they're getting the benefit of free Bell-to-Bell calling, and if it works, Bell wins at both ends. They get higher ARPU - something impatient shareholders are dying to see - and they keep their customers from running to Rogers or Telus or... ummm... oh - possibly Virgin or Amp'd. We don't really have many choices in the first place, and that's what makes WNP so interesting.

Wireless competition in Canada is another topic unto itself, and I'm just trying to draw attention to how the major mobile operators are responding to changing market conditions.

So, back to my question - is this a good plan for Bell subscribers? As Howie would say, "let's open the last case and see just how good a deal you really made". Well, a few days ago, Rogers came out with their WNP salvo - My Home Connections. Guess what - it includes domestic long distance calling between Rogers wireline/wireless subscribers - and there's no charge. Gee, I think I know what Howie would say. Stacey, open the case...

Quick sidebar - interestingly, no news from Telus on this front. Of course they jumped the gun offering adult content to differentiate themselves, but that's not happening now, and perhaps they're taking a more cautious approach this time around. Good idea.

Fellow Canadian bloggers Mark Evans and Mark Goldberg have been posting about this as well if you want further reading. The latter post is particularly worthwhile as Mark raises some important questions about the government's role in promoting competition where we basically have a oligopoly.

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Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Claude Galipeau - BlogTV Canada

For anyone interested in disruptive broadcasting and social media, I think you'll find this week's podcast worth listening to.

I spoke with Claude Galipeau; he's the SVP of Digital Media for Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis Communications. The company is one of Canada's largest and most progressive media players, and is the driving force behind the introduction of BlogTV to Canada. In January 2007, was launched, and Canada was the first market that Israel-based BlogTV has expanded into. I posted about the launch, and am in the process of evaluating the service for them. I'm even planning on producing a regular technology review segment with my son Max for one of their channels. Why not?

Claude and I first talked about - what it is, what it is not, and why it came to Canada first - and not the U.S. I also am hung up a bit on the idea of calling it TV when it's web-based. My theory is that people will do anything to get on TV - even it's really just the Internet, and nobody may be watching. That's ok - we're all figuring this out, and blog TV is still just a science experiment, even for the likes of Alliance Atlantis. We touched on the idea of BlogTV being a talent feeder for more traditional media, and I couldn't help but reference the SightSpeed Guy story, which Claude hadn't heard about until now.

All told, we covered a lot of ground, including a few thoughts on the business models around BlogTV - but could have gone on a lot longer. Let's save that for another podcast, and by then, we'll probably do this as part of a video segment right on Stay tuned!

I should also mention that since we're talking about TV and video here, Claude has his own live broadcast on, and I was able watch him, fishbowl-style, during our podcast. Pretty strange experience, but kind of fun. I've included a couple of photos here, so you can see what I was seeing while were doing the call.

You can download the podcast here, as well as read more about Claude. Hope you enjoy it, and your comments are welcome!

Photos of Claude on, courtesy of my Nokia N93....



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