Saturday, July 28, 2007

Down Time

We all need time off, and it's my turn. We're doing a family road trip next week, and beyond that, I'm not exactly sure what we'll be up to. Definitely won't be blogging, so things will be quiet here next week. Should be back posting on August 6. Have a good week!

Friday, July 27, 2007

RNK - Better Idea Than GrandCentral?

I had a briefing yesterday with Rich Koch, the CEO of RNK Communications, a New England-based CLEC. They've got a nice business going, and this week announced a pretty interesting service. It's called Phone Number Bank - not the most exciting name, but something I think will have a lot of appeal, and I don't think it's received much attention in the blogsphere.

Basically, the idea is similar to GrandCentral by being a one number front door for all your calls, and works like a find-me follow-me service. When you "deposit" your phone number with their "Bank", it stays with them "forever". Pretty straightforward, and once it's there, you can manage the flow of all your calls on all your other numbers. So, it basically does what GrandCentral does in the sense that all your contacts only ever need to use one number to find you. Ok, that's very convenient, and of course you can manage all this ad infinitum online, so there's limitless potential for customization scenarios.

So what's the catch? RNK does charge for the service - under $10 a month. Your first response would be - why should I pay for this when GrandCentral is free? Fair enough, but here's why. RNK is a CLEC, and that means they can keep and issue phone numbers. No matter where you live or move to across the U.S., the number stays with you. That can be very convenient for people who move or relocate regularly, and Rich opened my eyes as to just how many Americans do that every year. If you're using a VoIP provider - they are not CLECs - they don't own those numbers, and you can't port them if you move. If you're the kind of person who is really attached to your phone number, this makes a lot of sense.

There's another thing that stands out for me. I really like GrandCentral, and Google was smart to buy them, but I have trouble with the basic idea. For GrandCentral to work, you have to adopt a new phone number (which they do not own - it's rented), and more importantly, everyone you stay in touch with needs to do the same. To me, that's a lot of habit-changing to make your life more manageable. I'm sure it works for a lot of people, but I'm not in that crowd.

I can see people being willing to pay a few bucks a month for what RNK is offering - no behaviors have to change, and you basically own your number for life. I realize that in the true Voice 2.0 world, the concept of phone numbers is so yesterday, but I think for the vast majority of the population, RNK has something good to offer. And I think a lot of people will find that reassuring given how volatile things are with the SunRockets and Vonages of the world. This is one way to be sure you'll always have your number even if your provider goes out of business. Now you know.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Max's Nokia N95 Written Review

When you're too busy to post, the next best thing is to post other people's stuff! Well, that's my story today, but if you follow the Nokia NSeries phones, you'll like this one.

Followers of my blog know about my oldest son, Max. He's doing reviews regularly, and we recently did a videocast review of the Nokia N95 on He also has his own blog, and his written review of the N95 was posted today.

Reading his review, I especially agree with his comment about the stereo quality for music. Max uses high energy rock music for his ringtone, and as they say in Spinal Tap, he sets the volume to 11. He has a habit of leaving his phone at the top of the stairs, and when his friends call - at all hours - we almost have a heart attack with this sudden blast of mega-noise. Isn't being a parent fun?

Anyhow, thought I'd pass it along - hope you like it!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Espial and the IPTV Middleware Market

My guest this week was Brian Mahony, VP of Marketing at Ottawa-based Espial Group. Espial is one of the leading indie IPTV middleware vendors, and are very much connnected to the market and technology issues around IPTV. Brian provided a great perspective on the IPTV market and some of the better-known deployments.

Espial also just had a successful IPO, and Brian touched on some of the realities of being a public company, as well as what makes Ottawa such a viable market for tech startups.

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

NOTE - no podcast next week - family vacation...

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Jeff Pulver's VoIP Innovation Challenge - Reality VoIP

If anybody knows about innovation and disruption in the VoIP space, it's the man who hosts my blog, Jeff Pulver. A nice confluence of events led a post from Jeff today, which is basically an offer to possibly make some of his personal seed capital available to someone who can show him something truly different that's worth funding.

While this sounds a bit like Reality TV --- well, Reality VoIP --- if you can't motivate people with fame and fortune, I'm not sure there's any hope left for the disruptors out there. While Jeff is far from being the only game in town with seed capital to invest, he's coming from a really good place, and he knows disruption when he sees it.

So, what brought this on all of a sudden? Two things. First was the firestorm of blogging and emailing set off by the launch of Ooma late last week. Having done a lot of what Ooma is offering today a few years ago, Jeff wasn't seeing much disruption there, so he's been stewing about this for a bit. Secondly, as he explains in today's post, he spoke at a conference on Friday - IPTComm 2007. His co-panelists were A-list SIP pioneers, and he was dismayed to hear nothing inspiring from anyone. If this crowd can't take advantage of what IP really has to offer, then we're in trouble, folks.

Putting those two pieces together, it's not hard to see where Jeff is coming from today. It's not the first time he's dangled the dollar out there to bring the disruptors out of the woodwork. Quite honestly, if I had Jeff's money and as much skin in the game as he does, I'd probably do the same thing too. We can put a man on the moon, but we can't find a killer app for VoIP. Is it in you? Jeff's waiting for your call....

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Ooma - a Triumph of Technology or PR?

Yesterday, Ooma had its official launch, and at face value, is being touted as a game-changer. I'll steer you to blog posts that explain the details, but basically this is a device-based solution to give consumers a better VoIP experience, and an alternative to the fledgling pureplays like Vonage and 8x8. I'd include SunRocket in that list, but they're not even fledgling any more.

Let's just say Ooma was met with healthy skepticism from the blogging community, and yesterday morning saw a deluge of emails from the bloggers commenting about Ooma as well as sharing their public posts. Om Malik got the ball rolling first thing yesterday, and it didn't take long for others to chime in with their reactions. As usual, I'm late to the party, and for a number of reasons, I couldn't post about this until now.

Following Om's post, here are some posts that will give you a flavor for how Ooma was received - Thomas Howe, Andy Abramson, Ken Camp, Aswath Rao, and Valleywag. You get the picture.

Being late to comment has its advantages. Interestingly, there has been almost no buzz about this at all today. More on that in a moment.

So, having waded through all the rapid-fire email threads from the blogerati, and reading several blog posts, here are my basic reactions to Ooma's lauch.

1. Generally speaking, I share the reservations (or however else you care to describe their reactions). This all seems well thought out as a technology, and it's a bit of a cross between Vonage and Skype. You get the free calling, but whether you know it or not, you're also part of a peer-to-peer network - much like how Skype works - which is the lynchpin to make all this work. So, it potentially delivers a lot of benefit for the mass market, but there really isn't much new here.

Yes, you save money, but you have to buy a box for $399, and make it the hub of your home phone setup. As others have been saying, with voice getting cheaper by the day, it's hard to see how people will run out and spend $399, especially with SunRocket's exit and Vonage being on the ropes. When the #1 and #2 VoIP pureplays being on shaky ground, you have be a real believer to expect the market to embrace a company with a very catchy name, but nobody's ever heard of. Bottom line - you have to change your habits to use Ooma. Nobody is in the habit of spending this kind of money for a box, and re-doing your home phone setup to make this work. I think that's going to be a very real and formidable hurdle.

I just don't see enough real value-add or innovation here to make all this worthwhile. Sure, you end up keeping your regular landline (which may not be what people want to do), but Ooma isn't reinventing what you can do with telephony, so why go there? I don't think the base cost savings they're focusing on will be enough to change people's behaviors. Listen - I'd love to see Ooma succeed - we all need good news in this space, but I can't see this being a runaway success.

2. It's been done before. Even though I'm late to comment about Ooma, I briefed with their CEO, Andrew Frame, about a month ago. I got a pretty thorough walk-through along with the slide deck, but really couldn't say much until the news came out. During my briefing, the first thing that came to mind was PhoneGnome. We talked about it, and Andrew certainly knows their story. Very similar concept, but with a few more features, and a much higher price. Hmm. For more on that, you're best to hear first from Mr. PhoneGnome, David Beckemeyer, and his take on Ooma. The second thing that came to mind was Jeff Pulver's Free World Dialup (nee Bellster), which has gone through a few lives, but in essence had the same idea years ago.

3. This looks more like a PR coup than a real game-changer. The PR strategy seemed to go exactly to plan. Get all the A-list bloggers excited, and the word will spread from on high to all the blog followers, and then virally to the rest of the technorati. I honestly don't know how many bloggers were actually briefed on Ooma - as opposed to forming their opinions based on what other bloggers were saying. I'm one of the few bloggers out there that are analysts, and I suspect many of those commenting about Ooma were not briefed.

I find it interesting that the blogging community picked up quite nicely on this, but the mainstream media has not. This raises a basic issue for me of the perceived value of bloggers in the media community (which is perhaps by design). That said, most of the bloggers following this are not journalists, and while they're technically very savvy, it's not clear what they're really basing their views on. Regardless, most of what I've read is consistent, and I think on the whole, we're reading this thing about right.

That said, a few more points on this PR thing...

- In most people's minds, Om Malik is at the top of the blogging food chain in this space. Ooma's PR certainly worked for the bloggers. After Om posted yesterday morning, he put the word out to his core group of bloggers, asking us all to comment. I have NEVER seen a request like this get so much response, not even for the iPhone. Talk about being a key influencer - not only did this trigger a wave of posts and email traffic all day long, but there's an endless stream of reader comments on Om's blog post. The cynic in me says that Ooma's PR knows that bloggers just love to give their opinions, and if you get the top guy excited, it just spreads from there, and before you know it, we're all sucked into this vortex of telling the world how smart we are. Looks to me that's exactly what happened, and for better or worse, Ooma sure got their money's worth of PR yesterday with all this free publicity and advice. Of course, blogging cuts both ways - that's what I love about it. This strategy makes you look like a genius if the reviews are positive - but that's not what happened here. So, I'd be very curious to know how this is playing out with Ooma today.

- Aside from the blogging community, Ooma got a review from Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. In the mainstream business media, that's pretty comparable in my books to getting Om with the bloggers. That's fantastic press for a company nobody has heard of, and provides instant credibility. Of course, big media plays by different rules than the blogs, and Mr. Mossberg's review is pretty neutral. It is not a raving endorsement of Ooma - but not damning either. It's still a win for Ooma, but for those of you keeping score, it's nothing compared to the rave review David Pogue (another A-list mainstream tech writer) gave to GrandCentral, which I have no doubt, helped pave the way for their recent sale to Google. You can read Walt Mossberg's review off of Om's post. Interesting, huh?

4. Woe, Canada. This is a personal note, but also a call to action for bloggers who want to dig into a real story. During my briefing with Ooma, they were keen to set up me with a demo account and to ship me a trial unit. And I was keen to oblige - why not? Well, I told them to check first because I was concerned that the service wouldn't work here. It's really just for the U.S. market, and as things stand, I don't have a unit to try, and I'm pretty certain it won't work here. So, as much as I'd like help Ooma and get first hand experience with it, I don't see this happening.

This is another classic example of a U.S.-centric offering - which is fine, but it is doesn't do me much good. Canada is often an afterthought in world markets, and it's times like this that we feel so second-rate. It's the same thing with SkypeIn. When this service was announced by Niklas Zennstrom here in Toronto at VON Canada back in 2005, I found it incredibly ironic that Canada was not in the group of 8 countries the service would work in. It's basically a 911 issue, and it won't get resolved any time soon, so we don't have SkypeIn here with domestic area codes. Arghhh.

Ok, so what's the real story? Here's my second Canadian angle, and call to action. So, as all the bloggers know, Ooma has raised $27 million, has a high profile management/board team, and a very bold vision. I just can't get over 2 things....

- how much attention they got on Day 1
- how little attention they got on Day 2

Doesn't that worry you just a bit? If this is the kind of Day 1 attention that Ooma gets, I'd love to see what happens when the bloggers get excited about a story with much bigger financial implications, and much more intrigue. This what REALLY gets me about this whole thing. Read on...

Way back in March, I posted about a company called Geosign. They're based in Guelph, Ontario, a tiny city hardly anyone knows about outside of Canada. Well, this company raised an incredible $160 million from a U.S. VC - American Capital Strategies, and this hardly registered a blip anywhere.

How can this be? Sorry, but even by U.S. standards, this is a huge round of funding. Guess what, folks? Ever since this funding, things have gone terribly wrong on a lot of fronts, and the company isn't talking about it. It's not clear if American Capital was conned, but this has the makings of a major example of the blind chasing the blind, and could turn out to be a huge blunder and much worse. I can absolutely guarantee you that if this was an American company, the blogs would be all over it, and you'd be far busier with this than Ooma would ever keep you occupied.

I'm one of a handful of bloggers based in Canada, and there aren't many up here paying attention to Geosign either. I know of people who are, though, and when the story finally unravels - and it has to - you'll understand where I'm coming from.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Teen Tech Review - Nokia N93

On this edition of Teen Tech Reviews, Max shares his impressions of the Nokia N93 phone.

If you're based in Canada, you can watch the review directly from the site here.

If you're outside Canada you probably won't be able to access this link, but the embedded link below should work just fine. Hope you like it!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Iain Klugman - Waterloo Tech Community

On this week's podcast, I spoke with Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech. This is an interesting entity that serves as a hub for supporting Waterloo-based tech startups. Iain has a deep perspective about what makes Waterloo such a great spot for tech companies, and explained more about the role Communitech plays, as well as how it compares to similar initiatives in other tech centers in Canada and the U.S.

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

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sun Rocket Refugees - Flat Planet or Vonage?

I'm not a SunRocket watcher, but it's not hard to see the stories about their imminent demise, and recent flight of their executive ranks.

This is a classic reality check sign, as the dominoes start to fall with TDM-style offerings that simply run out of gas. No need to get into the details, as it's plain for anyone to see that the market just can't support services like this for long. Vonage can still survive because they got their first, and in this game, that counts for a lot. They've got the critical mass of customers, and a monthly cash flow to keep their IPO float money intact. Unless they spend it all on marketing, but that's another conversation.

Anyhow, I found it interesting how Vonage didn't waste any time wearing an ambulance-chaser suit, putting out the word last night that they were there for SunRocket customers who are now without service. Hey, it's a very competitive market out there, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. Sure, Vonage is under a microscope of its own with the Verizon case, so they have to be careful too. I guess, for a change, they get to be the big fish going after smaller prey when opportunity knocks. That's fair, but I'm sure the same will happen to them if Verizon has their way in the courts. It's a bit like the oldest sibling beating up on the middle sibling. Well, guess who the middle sibling is going to beat on when the time comes? The youngest one. No different here.

That said, Vonage is offering a pretty good transition, although it's not clear what constitutes a "qualified" phone number that would be ported over them from SunRocket customers. In a perfect world, as their press release touts, "sunny" days are ahead, so long as this happens as advertised. I suspect it won't be that easy in all cases, but all we know is that there are a couple of hundred thousand subscribers looking for service now. And I'm sure they won't be the last casualty in this space, although, after Vonage, they were arguably the second largest VoIP pureplay in the U.S., and that's got to make many of the smaller pureplays just a little bit nervous now.

I think the big takeaway here is where these customers will end up. SunRocket will be a very short footnote in the annals of VoIP, and I could never figure out their model. For all those customers who have prepaid for service, you have to wonder how that's going to play out.

Going to Vonage would be an easy answer for these customers if they wanted to stay with what they had. But how many will come back to their traditional telco? How many will go to their cableco? How many will succumb to the bundle? To me, this will be a real acid test for which way market sentiment is blowing these days. My guess is that the cablecos will be big winners, further validating not just their bundle, but also the perception of them as a reliable provider of voice services.

Well, there's one more alternative, folks - the Flat Planet Phone Company. Regular readers will be familiar with Moshe Maeir, who is usually on the money with his provocative ideas. Well, his post explains why SunRocket refugees would be better off with his flat rate plan - more reliable service and way more features. Well, he's got a point, and as VoIP subscribers get nervous about who might be next, this could be as good an alternative as any.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Rod Piukkala and Emergency Communications

This week's podcast focused on emergency communications and the role that Web-based solutions can play for first line responders. My guest was Rod Piukkala, Director for Telus Business Solutions, Ontario Public Sector.

Rod has an extensive history in public service, and knows what emergency communications are all about, both from the front lines as well as what carriers like Telus are offering to the market. We talked about the various challenges around emergency communications, and he provided a good example of this in the health care sector.

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

If you're interested in learning more about emergency communications, Rod let me know that Telus has a white paper on this. It's quite good, and if you've like to get a copy, please drop me a line.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Max's Nokia N95 Video Review

We're finally back on track with our video reviews on We've had a 2 week hiatus - Max had exams, and then we got a new web cam. This cam is MUCH better, but it took a few days to get things working properly - we'll be doing a separate review on this, actually.

So this week's Teen Tech Review is with the wonderful Nokia N95, and if you can bear with Max for 8 minutes, he'll show and tell you all the cool things this phone has to offer.

And if that's not enough, Max is working on his written review, which will turn up on his blog. Once it's posted, I'll get the word out here - hopefully on Monday.

For those of you based in Canada, you can watch the review here, which is a direct link to the website. After watching the review, I hope you poke around to explore what else is going on at

I understand that BlogTV has been launched in the U.S., but Canada was the first country that the Israel-based BlogTV originators expanded to. So, for a change we've got something going here before the Americans, and I'll lay odds I'm the only person you're hearing about this from. If you like what you see, please RSS me, as Teen Tech Reviews is a regular series, and we have lots more reviews coming.

For those of you not based in Canada, you'll need to watch our review via the embedded link below. Regular readers of my blog will know the story behind this, but at least this is a workable solution to share our reviews outside of Canada.

Hope you like it, and all comments are welcome!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Update on Telus/RIM 8830 Launch

Fellow blogger Jim Courtney left a comment on yesterday's post about the launch I attended for the BlackBerry 8830.

Just wanted to amplify his comment, as my post needs correcting. Telus stated that they had an exclusive on the 8830, and he rightly points out that Bell has been recently advertising this phone. To follow through more on this, please check out his SkypeJournal post that is linked on his comment. Thanks Jim!

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I am not alone....

Had to smile when I saw this today. A while back, I posted about another Jon Arnold writing VoIP articles. We haven't crossed paths yet, but I see he's still doing his thing. Small world....

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nokia N93 Review Update

Just a quick note to say that my review of the Nokia N93 from Monday has also been posted to the Nokia N93 blog site. The full review is re-posted there, so the content is the same. I just wanted to direct you there in case you want to follow all the N93 reviews that have been aggregated by reviewers who are participating in this program.

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Telus/RIM Lauch BlackBerry 8830

Yesterday, I attended an early morning launch of the BlackBerry 8830. You could argue this is Telus's answer to the iPhone, but only in a small way. It's an exclusive deal with Telus for the Canadian market, and it's dubbed the "World Edition" smartphone. This event was jointly produced by Telus and RIM, and the message was pretty clear: if you do a lot of international business travelling, this is your must-have device. I don't fall into this category, but the room was packed, and I know this corporate lifestyle is the norm for a lot of people these days. If you're in this camp, the benefits are pretty clear, and I can see why this should be a big hit for Telus and RIM. Aside from lots of new and cool features, it becomes your world phone that works just about anywhere. Another step forward in the quest to be always on/anywhere/anytime...

In short, here are some of the neat features of this device....

- Multiple band coverage - CDMA/EV DO for North America, and CDMA/GSM for international use. They also took the time to remind us that Telus has the best, fastest wireless network in Canada, so when you do your Web browsing, you'll be getting a better experience than with Rogers or Bell.

- Built-in GPS - they had a pretty good demo of a voice-activated navigation system, giving you turn-by-turn directions while you're driving. I don't quite agree with their take that this is a better solution than the map in your glove box, but sure, when you have a rental car and you're in the boonies trying to get to a meeting, no doubt, this is a great thing to have.

- Trackball for navigation - whoa - no more thumbwheel! Am sure that's big news for anyone with CrackThumb disease. Also, being situated in the middle of the device, it's dexterity-agnostic. How's that for an awkward term? So, lefties will be happy now - they can use it just as easily as righties.

- Full QWERTY keyboard - just to be sure you don't think the Pearl is the ultimate RIM device. Power users gotta have this.

- Enhanced media player. A while back, Jim Balsillie stressed that the BlackBerry was successful because it focused on mobile data only - it didn't have any distractions to water down the performance. Times have changed, of course, and the multipurpose device is the norm. So, the 8830 touts its enhanced media player UI, including video, photos, MP3 for music and even ringtones. It's not a camera, but it plays all these things, so it's certainly got the look and feel of a smartphone.

- MicroSD slot with 4 Gig of memory. Definitely a business class feature, as the idea is to make this your mobile work station. Aside from watching movies, the idea is to be able to view large files, and work on things like spreadsheets and read pdfs.

- 33% more battery life - makes sense given what I just said

- Government-grade security features. They emphasized that if RIM's network support for the 8830 is good enough for both the U.S. and Canadian goverments, it will be secure enough for just about any business environment.

- Business continuity. They stressed this a number of times, and that's definitely a benefit of having a mobile device that allows you to stay productive under just about any set of conditions. It was very nice to see Wallace Wireless featured as a Telus solutions partner at this event. I just did a podcast with their President last week.

All told, a pretty good launch and they sure got a good turnout. I wasn't crazy about the early start, but it's good to get these things done before the day gets too hectic. That's the easy answer, but I think the real answer for the early start ties into the overall theme in addressing the target market for the 8830. I don't know if this was by design, but people who travel a lot are used to getting up at ungodly hours to catch early flights. So, an early start here is just a reminder of how much easier business travel will be for them with the 8830.

Thinking along those lines, I now understand why the event was staged the way it was. The venue was called the "Departure Lounge", and was held in an upscale nightclub downtown. It was way too early in the morning to be going to a club for anything, so that took a bit of getting used to. When you called in earlier to RSVP for this event, you were calling into a "Reservation Center". And when you got to the venue, you were greeted and guided by models dressed up as flight attendents. Are you getting the picture now? I didn't clue into this until seeing the models, but I get it.

Ok, so they're treating the whole event as a simulated air travel experience, which heavy business travellers would be very familiar with. I don't know if this sunk in with the attendees - maybe the marketing was a tad too clever and subtle - or maybe not. Anyhow, somebody spent a lot of time and money putting this together, and I don't know if people are awake enough at this time of the day to get the clues. I hope so....

Here are some photos, courtesy of my Nokia N93.




A lot of circles and curves at this event - is there a pattern here?





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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Telepresence Podcast with Teliris and BT Quarterly

I recently posted about a podcast I did with Teliris on telepresence for Business Trends Quarterly. I've become a contributor to this publication, and I urge you to subscribe if you're interested in reading what analysts are thinking about various technology trends.

In my previous post about this, I cited the transcription of my written Q&A with Mark Trachtenberg, the CEO of Teliris, which ran in their Q2 issue. We also did a feature-length podcast, which has been produced and is posted now on the BTQ website. You need to be a member to download this, but that just takes a minute, and it's free. You can find the link on this page, and from there, it won't take long to access it. If you're following telepresence, I think you'll find Mark's perspective very interesting. I hope you give it a listen, and I'd love to know what you think.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Nokia N93 Review

This post has been a long time coming, and I can't give you one particular reason why. I've been using the Nokia N93 for quite a while now, and I've had a few starts and stops getting a review done. Most of the reviewers contributing to the N93 blog that Andy Abramson runs posted their reviews a while back, but if you're still interested in this phone, hopefully you'll find my review worthwhile.

It's a long read, but if you've used this phone, you'll probably read the whole thing. If you want a shorter review, skip this, and read my son Max's N93 review from late last year. Actually, we both had pretty similar opinions about it. Or better yet, read 'em both, and tell me what you think.

Ok, here we go....

Well, I�ve been using this phone for a while, and it really is a mixed bag. If this was my first Nokia N Series phone, I�d have a greater sense of wonder. No doubt, it�s a very cool phone, and I feel very lucky to be able to make it my everyday phone. However, having lived with earlier N Series models, the wow factor isn�t as great at this point. Not to mention, the N95 is waiting on deck, and I suspect that model addresses many of the problems I�m experiencing with the N93. Actually, you�ll hear more about that first from my son, Max, my co-reviewer in this program. He�s writing his own reviews, and has been using the N95 for some time, and really loves it. Am sure his review will be done well before mine.

Ok, let�s talk about the good stuff first, and there�s lots to choose from. At first glance, the N93 is smooth and sleek - more refined looking than the N91 or N90. Not as angular, less masculine � this is a phone that a woman would be as comfortable using as a man. The curves and rounded edges make it look less bulky, which helps, given that the N Series phones are larger than what people typically use.

As with the other N Series phones, I find the N93 to be a better camera than a phone. The still camera continues to improve, with a 3.2 megapixel lens. The N91 was pretty good at 2.0, but 3.2 is even better. When the photos turn out well, they�re very good � no complaints there. However, it has its quirks when used as a camera, and a lot of things have to go right to get good photos. More on that later.

On the plus side, there are lots of settings to choose from for all kinds of situations, and I particularly like the Night setting, as I often need to take photos in low light settings. These photos turn out grainier, but at least the image is much easier to see. I also really like how easily you can choose to save or delete a photo as soon as you take it. Just a quick push of the same button you use to snap the photo, and it�s saved. However, with a couple of quick clicks, you can delete it pretty quickly and easily.

Another feature with mixed utility is the zoom. You can certainly zoom in closer than with earlier models, but there�s not much point since the photos never turn out. For taking photos at conferences, I find you can only zoom in just a touch and still get passable results. Things go out of focus in a hurry as soon as you starting getting a closer look at your subject.

I love the video capabilities too � it�s really what I enjoy most about these Nokia phones. As long as you have sufficient memory, you can have a lot of fun taking short videos � zooming is easy, and the sound quality is quite good.

Quite a few other pluses to report. It�s easy and fun to scroll through photos in the Gallery section. There�s a carousel-type effect as the photos scroll quickly around the perimeter of the screen, and can easily be enlarged for full screen viewing.

The keypad is very solid � you really have to push down on the keys to enter anything. I like this feature, as other keypads are too sensitive and it�s too easy to key in the wrong number when making a call. In the flip phone mode, the keypad is like a regular cell phone � nothing special there. As with other N Series phones, the N93 is a Rubik�s Cube, and the screen also flips out to the right � as opposed to up, like a flip phone � and now the phone looks like a mini-notebook. It�s a very cool effect, with the keyboard right below the screen � but I really haven�t found any practical use for it. So far, it�s just a cool way to show your pictures or videos.

What else? Having WiFi and Bluetooth are great features. For me, Bluetooth makes it very easy to quickly download photos to my PC, which I often do for blog posts. It�s not practical for video or a large batch of photos, but for small spot jobs, it�s a great. The WiFi feature is neat because it turns the N91 into a WiFi endpoint, which is great if you happen to come across a free hotspot. Not many of these in Toronto, but it�s handy to have.

Here�s another fun one. The N93 comes with an RCA cable adapter, so you can easily view your photos and video on your TV set at home. I didn�t realize how many people like to watch their photos on TV, so I can definitely see why this would be a popular feature. And for those who have never done this, there�s definitely a wow effect seeing photos up on the big screen for the first time.

Finally, the built-in games are pretty good. I�m not a gamer, but my kids love them, and it�s been a great life-saver when I�m out with my youngest son and he needs to keep occupied when I�m doing things. Well, it�s great for a little while � the battery has a habit of dying quickly and suddenly.

So far, so good, right? Lots to like here. But it is a phone, and I haven�t said much about that yet. I actually don�t use cell phones much at all, and you�ll have to troll the N93 blog site for what the power users have to say about the phone features. All I can tell you is how it comes across for making/taking everyday phone calls. In short � not great. You�d think Nokia would have this in spades, but not for this phone, and I�m not alone. When my son Max posted his N93 review some time back, I was surprised at how critical he was about the phone features.

Now that the N93 has passed from son to father, I�m not surprised any more. I just don�t get it. Unless you�re in a quiet spot, sitting still, it�s pretty hard to hear the caller. I�ve certainly had better experiences with other phones, and the phone experience almost seems like an afterthought. In a perverse way, I wish everyone would use this phone. I�m old school, and have a problem with people walking and talking in busy, public places. This phone would solve that problem pretty fast.

Actually, I suspect most of these people are �phonies� anyhow, and aren�t really talking to anyone. The phone is just a prop, and it�s a great way to look busier than you really are. When you see people talking on their phones in a loud nightclub, don�t tell me they�re actually having a conversation. I better leave it at that if I want to keep reviewing these phones!

Another thing � setting up your profile. You have to go pretty deep into the menu program to do the most basic things like set the phone to silent mode or change the volume of your ring. Very unintuitive, and simply too much bother. It�s much easier to just turn the phone off when going into a meeting than to scroll through so many menus just to go into silent mode.

Next item � memory. Can you believe this phone only comes with 32MB? I know they do that to keep the price of the phone down, but with so much horsepower, and 3.2 megapixels, it�s just absurd. The earlier N Series phones had more memory, so what gives here? The N93 photos are high resolution, and often come in at 1MB or more. It�s like having a roll of 35mm film to work with � 24 shots if you�re lucky. And forget about doing any decent video. I�ve never had to buy any accessories or upgrades to any gadget I�ve used, but $30 for a 1GB SD card was the best money I�ve spent in a long time. No longer do I have to worry about how many photos I take, or having the video max out 30 seconds into a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The battery life is next. In some ways it�s fine � definitely can go many days between charges, but then again, I�m a very light user. However... it sure has a habit of dying out of the blue. It�s one thing when it�s down to 1 or 2 bars � you expect that. But it�s another when you�re at 4 bars, and boom � it just dies � no warning. Or, you know you were at 4 bars � maybe higher � when you turned the phone off at night. But when I go to power up in the morning � nothing � no juice. Does it just die overnight? I don�t think so. Very strange, and this happens fairly often. It�s not a big deal when I�m at home, and I can just plug in the charger. But it�s happened many times when I�m away, and then phone just becomes dead weight until I can get home and charge it up again.

Let�s move on to more practical matters. The main moving part � the swivel screen � was no doubt designed by a right-handed person. This phone has an asymmetrical design, and I just don�t see how left-handed people could be comfortable using it. If you have a very steady hand � which I don�t � you can take pictures with one hand. For lefties, this has got to be a challenge, no doubt. All the features � the zoom, the toggle switches, the screen positioning � work great for righties, but for the left of us, you�ll need a whole new set of micro-motor skills. I�m not a fan of all these tiny button and switches, and Nokia is hardly alone here, so I�ll just move on. However, let�s stay on the theme of taking pictures.

As mentioned, you really need a steady hand, and I find with the N93 camera design, that I need 2 hands to get good results. The screen can easily swivel up and out of view, which makes it hard to frame your shot. Secondly, it doesn�t take much for your forefinger to block the lens and/or the flash when doing a one-hand photo. Related to this is the fact that the image capture is not very real-time. As with all cameras, action shots take a lot of practice � such as trying to get a good shot of Max when he�s at the plate for his baseball games.

That�s a given, but even such simple things as photographing a speaker on stage are much harder to do than you think. For every good one that makes it to my blog, there are often a dozen or more attempts that turn out blurry or with the speaker in a goofy pose. This is especially challenging for speakers who move around a lot, but with a digital camera, you don�t really care. Just keep shooting and hopefully you�ll get a keeper. Fair enough, but it�s often a lot of work to get a pretty simple result.

To be fair, this is a phone, and not a Cybershot. Of course I�m going to get better and more consistent results with a real camera, and it�s arguable how much of this is the N93, and how much is just me not being a great photographer. However, this is what I use for a camera when I�m working, and I�m here to tell you what works and what doesn�t.

Enough about the photos. To finish up, I�ve got a few other things to cover that I�m not crazy about. Below the toggle switch on the right edge are two single-purpose toggles for the camera features. One allows you to switch back and forth from photo to video mode. The other turns the flash on or off. It�s really great to have these features � it�s much easier this way to make these switches than earlier N Series phones, where you have to go into the menu programs. That�s good design. However, it�s also very easy to unwittingly switch modes, and it�s happened too many times than I�d care to remember. Just when you think you�re lining up a great photo, you click away, only to find out you�re in video mode.

That�s problem #1. Problem #2 is the fact that it takes time, patience and precision to switch modes. It doesn�t just happen with a quick toggle move. Takes a lot longer, and it�s not always a smooth process. In real time, it may only take 3-4 seconds, but when that Kodak moment comes, it�s an eternity, and invariably the moment is long gone by the time you�ve gotten back into photo mode. I don�t have a healthy relationship with machines, and more than once this has put me into a state where all I want to do is smack this thing around. Not a good idea, and I don�t do stuff like that, but the frustration level gets very high at times.

And on top of that, the N93 often simply freezes up and crashes � just when you�re lining up a shot, or switching from photo to video. I don�t even want to begin to tell you how aggravating that is.

A related annoyance is how easy it is to set the flash off. This happens to me all the time, and it often startles people. I have no idea what button I�m pushing to do this, but it sure looks goofy, and really, it shouldn�t be so easy to set the flash off when you�re just picking up the phone. If you�re old enough to remember the Woody Allen movie, Bananas, you�ll know where I�m coming from. I feel like his character, Fielding Mellish, who is a product tester, and is constantly getting hurt doing the most routine, inane things.

Are we done yet? Ok, one more. I know you can�t have it all, but this one sticks with me a fair bit. The speaker is on the outside of the phone. So, sure when the phone rings, it�s loud and clear. And if you�re sitting in a quiet place, the sound quality when playing back a video clip or listening to music is pretty good. But... try picking up the audio when there�s background noise � forget it, at least for watching video clips. You can watch clips in two modes � either flipped up (like a flip phone), or flipped out (like a PC screen).

Either way, the speaker is on the other side of the screen, so the sound coming from the phone is going away from you � not towards you. If there�s an ambient noise, the sound gets totally lost and you can�t hear a thing. I know � this isn�t why you would run out to get the N93, but it�s one of those little things that might give you buyer�s remorse.

All told, the N93 has a lot of great things going for it, but definitely with some caveats along the way. I suspect many of the things that are drawbacks for me will not resonate with everyone, or you�re just more clever than me in overcoming these problems.

However, I think it�s fair to say you�re going to run into a lot of these shortcomings with any phone that is designed to do so many different things. As a multipurpose device, the N93 sure is a great product, but it sure wouldn�t be my first choice if my priority was a great cell phone.

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Friday, July 6, 2007

Israel Baseball League Update

I don't post about baseball as much as I'd like, but it's nice to see that my post the other day about the Red Sox and the Israel Baseball League got some nice attention.

From all accounts, the IBL is off to a great start, and my man in Israel, the ever-present Moshe Maeir, sent me this great article on the inaugural IBL game. If you like baseball, and are even the least bit curious about its connections with Israel, you'll find this a very fun read. Gotta love this.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Rob Moffat and Mobile Business Continuity

On this week's podcast, my guest was Rob Moffat. Rob is the President and co-founder of Toronto-based Wallace Wireless. His company focuses on mobile applications to support business continuity, a space that's starting to get more attention.

Rob talked further about what's behind this trend and why it's important to provide a mobile solution. We also talked about how being in Toronto has been a real plus for their largest customer, RIM, as well as some of the factors that make Canada a good market to support companies focused on the wireless space.

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

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy July 4 - Red Sox and Israel - ??

This post is a nice excuse for an expat to say Happy July 4 - at least what's left of it. Perhaps more importantly, it's half-time for the Red Sox. I've been meaning to post about them for ages, and you may be wondering what Israel has to do with this. Read on.

I sure was nervous about the Sox after Opening Day, but the ship quickly righted itself. I've hardly written about them since, but they're pretty much on course to play .600 ball, and if this keeps up, they should crack the 100 win mark, which should be enough to finally topple the Yanks from their 11 year stranglehold of the AL East.

For a while, I wanted to post about the "Youklis Factor", and by now, it's pretty clear that Kevin Youklis is a major league talent. He's arguably the key difference from last year to explain how the Red Sox have been able put so much distance between themselves and NYY. When you go up and down the rosters, and compare players on a positional basis, the Yankees have it all over the Sox - at least on paper. The only spot where the Sox have a clear advantage is 1B, where Youklis usually plays. Last year, Ortiz was their only clear-cut advantage, but his mojo is somewhere else right now.

Pitching, of course, is the other big difference, and no doubt, the Sox have the edge on the Yankees, pretty much across the board. I think Papelbon/Rivera is a toss-up - most people would say Papelbon hands-down, but Rivera has had so few chances to close this year. It's not that he's lost it - he just hasn't been needed very much since the Yankees have been losing so often, and worse, blowing leads late in the game.

When they're all healthy - and that includes Timlin, Donnelly, Lester, and even Clement - I'd say the Red Sox have the strongest pitching staff in baseball, and that alone should be able to carry them to win it all. I really think so.

I digress. Back to Youklis. The media often says he's Greek, but he's not. He's Jewish - really! He's definitely in the minority as a ballplayer, but there are a handful of others - such as Shawn Green, Brad Ausmus, and until last year, Gabe Kapler. Anyhow, that was my original tie-in to a Red Sox/Jewishness post.

It's a thin connection, I know, and it harkens back to an old post from 2005, where I drew some parallels to the Green Monster and the Wailing Wall. It may sound strange, but it's clear as mud to me, although I've yet to see anyone else make this connection. Check out the photos for yourself.....

Let's zoom back to the present. I recently read an article in the Globe & Mail about the newly-formed Israel Baseball League. I'm not kidding! It's a great article, and that was going to be the basis for my tie-in to an updated post on the Red Sox, and would be a great theme to build on the "Jew-klis" factor. That all ties together nicely, don't you think?

Anyhow, the online version of the article is only accessible on a paid basis, so I can't link it here. That's too bad, as it had some additional Red Sox/New England/Jewish threads that would have made this post even better. Dang.

I'll have to leave that one to your imagination, but here's a pretty good Plan B. How about this for another believe-it-or-not citing? You ready ---- a writeup of the launch of the Israel Baseball League in Al Jazeera. Who'd-a-thunk? Not a source one would normally attribute to a story about a decadent Western past time, let alone a league that's based in Israel. I could have cited many other sources telling this story, but when I saw this, I just had to share it. Mainly because it's really well written, and it's 100% objective. Straight-up reporting, with no agendas or political or religious slants. It's really nice to see, given how readily this source is slammed by the Western media. Of course, their op-ed section may be a different story, but hey, this post is about baseball, not the Middle East. How's that for a nice twist to tie all this together?

Just to conclude, some thoughts on what the second half of the season holds for the Sox. The Red Sox are a streaky team, and that's the only thing I can see that will do them in --- barring major injuries. They've had contributions at various times up and down the lineup. That's a big plus from last year where they leaned so much on Papi to win games for them, and occasionally Manny. If they get this balance, they'll win 100 games. Plus, it's a lineup that's well below its potential. The heart of the order is at half-production - Ortiz/Ramirez/Drew. If/when they play where they're supposed to be, they'll truly be a dominant team that can easily afford to carry the lightweight bats of Lugo and Crisp. We'll see.

On the mound, if Beckett doesn't revert to NL form in the second half, the Sox should have 2 20 game winners, and possibly 3 if Schilling comes back healthy and pitches at peak performance. I don't think he will, but it's nice to dream. If Lester can pitch at a major league level, they'll have the best starting 5 in team history, plus having a lefty in the mix. Tavarez has been very effective in his place, he'll help make their middle relief a very strong bridge to the best setup/closer tandem in baseball - Okajima and Papelbon.

Overall, I just don't see any big holes here. Do you? Well - one. I mentioned their offense is streaky. They've lost a lot of low scoring games by 1 run lately, and this doesn't happen when they're hitting. When their bats go into a collective funk, they choke - leaving men on base constantly - especially with Manny up, popping out on 3-1 counts, striking out, hitting weak rollers on the first pitch, etc. The Red Sox psyche is very fragile, and when it's not happening, they seem to go on autopilot, and get beat by very ordinary pitchers. Even worse when it's Rivera time. Enough about that - let's stay positive.

Here are 3 very strong positives to take away going into the All Star break...

1. Only 6 games left to play with the Yankees. Barring another massacre, there aren't enough head-to-head games for NY to make up lost ground.

2. Incredibly, no games yet with Tampa Bay until yesterday. How could this happen - playing half a season without facing this team at all? Sure, these are the "pesky" Devil Rays, but it's comforting to know that 1 in 5 of your remaining games will be against one of the worst teams in baseball. Gotta like that. It's ours to lose, right?

3. Only 1 more West coast trip, coming in early August. They had 2 of these trips bunched together in June, and came out of it ok - not great, but ok. In fact, aside from this August swing, they only travel outside EST for 1 other series - 4 games in Chicago. Actually, their remaining Western trip will be a real test. They have 3 in Seattle, where they've lost 7 straight, including a 3 game sweep out there last week - the last 2 being 1-run losses. Seattle is very hot right now, but with their manager quitting on them out of the blue, I suspect they won't be so lucky next time around. After Seattle, they have 3 in Anaheim. The Sox handled them very well early in the season at home, but the Angels always start slow, and right now, they're on par with the Sox, and many feel they are a more dangerous and better balanced team. This series could well be a preview of the ALCS. Looking forward to it.

Better stop now - I think I've covered everything. If you're still with me here, then you must be a Red Sox fan, and I'm thrilled you're along for the ride. Go Sox!

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Mitel Forum 2007 - Highlights

For the most part, going away to conferences and industry events is a good thing. It's the best way to stay current, to gain a deeper understanding of companies and technology, to meet with clients, to network with others, and to meet new people. No argument there. The downside to going away is the disruption for everyday stuff, and no matter how much multitasking I do on the road, it always takes a few days to catch up.

Last week I was at the Mitel Forum 2007 in Las Vegas - nothing wrong with that, right? It was a really worthwhile event - for all the reasons cited above - but it's taken til now for me to blog about it. Don't ask why - some things just take a while, especially with Canada Day and July 4 coming right after.

So, this is another better-late-than-never posts, and it's mostly photos anyway. Mitel's event wasn't on the scale of Cisco - and that's a good thing. It was really nice to have a series of updates from Mitel's leadership team in a close, informal setting. They were very accessible, and open to two-way dialog. We were a group of about 25 analysts, and we had our own track of sessions that was separate and different from what the majority of attendees did. This was the broader Mitel community - distributors, technology partners and customers.

The only drawback was that the analysts were sequestered in one session room the whole conference. We hardly saw the light of day, and really only got to mingle with everyone else during the exhibitor showcase at the end of each day. The upside is that Mitel had our undivided attention - which is by design of course - so I think everyone got their money's worth. That said, it never fails - some analysts couldn't help themselves to ask Mitel execs questions about Inter-Tel. C'mon - we all want to know these things, but really, what can you expect Mitel to say with the deal still pending? Not all analysts are created equal....

All told, though, it was time well spent, and kudos to Mitel for putting on a well run event. My only complaint - and I'm not alone - was the lack of WiFi and Internet access. This was a big reason why I didn't blog last week - but the food sure was good.

As usual, photo highlights courtesy of my Nokia N93.


Mitel's favorite people - us analysts...


Exec roundtable - Jim Davies, Simon Gwatkin, Don Smith


Paul Butcher, Dan York


Exhibitor showcase




The fabulous Bellagio lobby ceiling - $13 million worth of glass. That's oversimplifying things, right? Gotta see it to believe it...


Sunset view from my room


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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

BCE Privatization Story/Meeting Mr. Sabia

Without a doubt, the privatization of Bell Canada/BCE is the biggest story in Canadian telecom, and has many fascinating angles worth exploring. I've been very quiet about it, simply because it's so widely covered, and if I get started on this, I could be blogging for a long time. I gotta make a living, and have a backlog of other posts to get out from being away last week. Please be patient....

Well, I got my chance to speak my mind about BCE today on BNN - Business Network News. This is one of Canada's main financial news TV networks - it used to be called ROB TV (Report on Business TV), and was recently rebranded as BNN. Same studio, same people, same shows, and same owner - the Globe & Mail.

The studios are right downtown here in Toronto, and I was downtown anyway for a meeting, so the timing worked out well. This afternoon, I was on the After Hours show, hosted by Kim Parlee and Andy Bell. They wanted my take on the BCE deal, and what it means to Telus, as well as the rest of the Canadian communications landscape.

The segment runs about 7 minutes, and you can find the link on the BNN home page. You first need to get to the program listings for July 3, and then scroll down to the 4:40 pm time slot, and you'll see the link there.

If you can't find that, here's a direct link. However, they usually only leave these up on the site for a week, so don't wait too long if you want to view it.

So, what's the connection to Mr. Sabia? Michael Sabia is BCE's CEO, and figures prominently in most of the coverage of this story. Well, who do I run into as I'm leaving the studio? Mr. Sabia - he was on his way in to do the next BNN segment. If you want to hear his take on things, here's the link to the SqueezePlay show which follows After Hours. His interview starts at around the 13 minute mark. Strange, huh? Never met him before, and I may never meet him again - at least in his current role. You never know whose path you will cross - I wonder if he saw my segment?

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Don Albert - Skype - Canada Update

With a handful of exceptions, I've been maintaining a weekly podcast schedule for almost two years. Last week I was away at Mitel's conference, and being Canada Day weekend, one thing has led to another, and I'm simply way behind on blog posts. I even planned ahead and did last week's podcast before leaving, but have not been able to post it until now. Best of intentions....

So, without further ado - I spoke with Don Albert about Skype and the state of the nation here in Canada. During a recent press tour, Don was in Toronto, and I had a thorough update with him at eBay Canada's office, which is close by to me. I decided it would be a good idea to follow this up with a podcast and share a more detailed discussion about how Skype is doing in Canada, and that's just what we did a week or so ago.

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

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