Monday, June 30, 2008

The Future of Home Phone Service - Ari Rabban

For long-time VoIP followers, you'll likely know Ari Rabban. I've known Ari from my earliest days of tracking VoIP at Frost & Sullivan. He was with industry pioneer VocalTec for many years, and most recently is the CEO of startup

The company has an interesting pedigree, and I'll leave that for you to discover. My post is more about shining some light on Ari and what the company is up to. They recently launched a corporate blog, and I want to steer you to Ari's latest post.

In this post, Ari talks about trends he's been seeing to support the notion that landline telephony isn't going away as fast as you may think. Sure, there's a strong trend towards wireless substitution, but his point is that much of the landline loss hitting the incumbents is going to cablecos, not wireless operators. Furthermore, he points out to the launch last week of the @Home landline telephony service from T-Mobile. This made a splash not just because of the low price - only $10/month for qualifying customers - but because it's coming from a mobile operator.

Of course, Ari would be remiss not to also mention his own company, and in this case it's quite appropos. I've been trialing their Virtual Office service a bit, and it's a great alternative for small businesses, plus they have Home Phone as a residential offering. By all means, you should explore their offerings - they're a great example of how effectively landline services can be provided via the Web.

So, the main takeaway here is that landline telephony isn't going to disappear, and that when packaged right, VoIP can provide a lot of value. I still think voice is still a race to zero, but we're not there yet. As long as that's the case, I agree with Ari that there will still be a viable market for lower priced alternatives for voice service.

We all know how hard it is for any pureplay VoIP provider to make money, so the challenge is to maintain low operating costs and reasonable customer acquisition costs. In that regard, that's where the Web-based model of comes into play, allowing them to be a low cost provider. Once that's in place, it's really a marketing issue, and that's where the namesake comes into play. In the world of Web marketing, that's a key part of their brand, and from what I'm hearing, it's working pretty well. This is a different model, for sure, but in a Web 2.0 world, it just might work. I for one sure hope so, and to see for yourself, I'd suggest you RSS their blog.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Service Provider Views - Microsoft Telco 2.0, Part 2

The second installment of my look at Microsoft's Telco 2.0 has been posted now on TMCnet. It's part of my ongoing Service Provider Views column I write for them, and you can view the article here.

In the first article, I looked at the drivers behind Telco 2.0, and in this piece I provide some examples of how telcos can bundle various Microsoft hosted services to address different audiences within their subscriber bases.

As always, your comments are welcome, along with suggestions for future topics.

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Jazinga Squawk Box Podcast

The other day, I posted about the Squawk Box I was hosting this week in Alec's absence.

My guest was Shidan Gouran, CTO and co-founder of Toronto-based Jazinga. They're a promising startup with an easy-to-use, premises based SMB IP telephony solution. For small businesses looking for PBX-caliber telephony, and an alternative to a hosted offering, Jazinga is what they should be looking at.

We had a strong turnout for yesterday's segment - 22 participants - and lots of good questions and discussion about Jazinga and what they're bringing to market.

Iotum has been running these segments for some time as a Facebook application, and along the way, they've learned enough about doing these to develop their own branded conferencing solution. It's called Calliflower, and was just launched with great fanfare on Tuesday. Our Squawk Box segment yesterday was the second one done using Calliflower, and we had a few glitches, but everything worked out fine in the end. One of these prevented me - as the moderator - from being able to record the session. Carl Ford, who was on the call, came to the rescue and recorded things from his end - so a big thank you to Mr. Ford for saving the day.

So, with a bit of editing, our concall is now ready for listening. Alec got it posted to his blog late last night, and you can get the link here. It runs about 40 minutes, and even if you're just mildly interested in SMB VoIP, it's time well spent.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

RIM's Latest Numbers - My Take on BNN TV

Yesterday's earnings from RIM was a big event up here, as well as to anyone following the mobile device market, especially Blackberry and the iPhone.

BNN - Business Network News - is Canada's major financial news television channel, and I was their guest yesterday on After Hours just around closing time on the markets. They kept me on air for a while, and it was very much a real time segment. Before the earnings were announced, the host, Andrew Bell, had me provide an overview of RIM's market environment. Once the news came out we then moved on to talk about what the earnings results might mean. That was fun, as RIM's shares were off 10% in after hours trading, but by the time we were done, it was only off about 7%. So, maybe, just maybe traders were actually paying attention to what we were saying!

The interview runs about 16 minutes, and it's saved in two files. You can view the first segment here, which is the first 5 minutes. The second segment is longer, and the file is too large to upload to this server. I've got a Plan B, though. You can view both files off my website, as I have both segments uploaded there. Hope you like it.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iotum 2.0/Jazinga Squawk Box Update

In yesterday's post, I talked about Thursday's Squawk Box segment that I'm hosting about Jazinga. I also hinted at some changes coming with Iotum, at it's pretty neat.

So, Iotum's new conferencing application is called Calliflower. Love the name. It's really a 2.0 approach to conferencing, and if this is something you do a lot, am sure you'll like it right away. I've just been too busy to get caught up in all the launch buzz, so I'll steer you two items that will fill in the blanks nicely. First, is a writeup by colleague Jim Courtney on Skype Journal. His post yesterday provides a nice summary of what it's all about. Second is yesterday's Squawk Box segment about Calliflower. In this case, Alec and Howard were the guests, being interviewed about Calliflower and how it came into being.

I mentioned Bill Shatner yesterday for good reason. Well, he's going to be the first guest on their public showcase of Calliflower. It takes place this Thursday evening, and you can sign up to participate here. Upcoming speakers include Alan Alda and Peter Senge, so these won't be your average everyday conference calls!

Finally, regarding tomorrow's Squawk Box with Jazinga, you can sign up for Calliflower and register for the call here. We'll be on at 11am EST tomorrow - hope you can make it.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thursday Squawk Box - Join Me and Jazinga to Talk About SMB VoIP

Followers of my blog would know about fellow Canadian Alec Saunders and his daily Squawk Box broadcast. It's really a showcase for Iotum's conference calling application running on Facebook. He's been running these for a while, and continues to bring in great guests, and I highly recommend them.

Alec has asked me to fill in for the Thursday segment, so I'm giving you a heads-up now. On this Thursday's Squawk Box, I'll be chatting with Shidan Gouran, CTO of up and coming Toronto company, Jazinga. I've had nothing but good impressions about them, and on Squawk Box we'll talk about the market they're going after - SMB VoIP - and what makes their solution so special. I should know - I'm trialing it right now!

The program is at 11am EST, and should run about 1/2 hour. If you can't make it, as always, the audio will be posted on Alec's blog, and I'll share it here once it's ready.

As soon as Alec posts the Facebook invite for this segment, I'll get that up on my blog. Hope you can make it!

BTW, today is a big day in Iotum-land. They've got an exciting launch happening today, and I'll be posting about it later, once I have more time, and once the news is officially out. All I can say is that if you're a Bill Shatner fan, you'll definitely want to check this out. Actually, you can get a taste of this now on their website.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Technical Difficulties - Please Stand By

For those of you who know me well, at some point you've heard me talk about how my relationship with technology is not always healthy.

Well, today has probably been the worst example of this ever. If something goofy or never-happened-to-anyone-before can occur with technology, just put it in my hands. I guarantee within 5 minutes, I'll have cracked the silly code that no Engineer could possibly envision.

Ready for this???

As a matter of course, bloggers get their share of trashy comments and trackbacks, and I'm pretty good about cleaning these out a couple of times a day. Well, that's what I set out to do this morning --- and all it took was 3 harmless keystrokes and boom! Just like that, my last 75 blog posts were deleted. Somehow the deletions got done for the blog posts instead of the trackbacks.

Three and a half months of daily blogging flushed away with 3 keystrokes. I'm not going to repeat or elaborate, but let's just say it's thrown off my day a bit.

I've been trying things off and on in between everything else that's been keeping me busy today, but so far, no luck. The posts have disappeared from the server and now from the blog itself, which you are reading now.

So, apologies if it looks like I've taken a long blogging break, or you've been trying to find my recent posts.

Three keystrokes - that's all it took. Can you believe that? For something that could be so monumentally destructive, you'd think Movable Type might have the standard "Are You Sure?" popup to alert you before making that final fateful entry. How about "Are You Freakin' Crazy?" - wouldn't that be a more suitable warning? Whatever.

In the wake of this mini-calamity, though, I'm not about to walk into heavy traffic or anything drastic to end it all in the true romantic style of a doomed writer. There is likely a silver lining that may save the day yet. I've got no online trace of these posts, but I did manage to retrieve them in my cache and make backups as Word documents.

So, with a little help from my friends, I'm hoping to get these posts restored, at least to this blog site ASAP. Until then, please bear with me, and hopefully we'll get things back to where they were soon.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Bell Deal is a Go

Without a doubt, the privatization story around BCE is the biggest telecom story in Canada this year, and today was the big day in terms of whether the deal will be a go or not.

I'm bit after the fact, but at 4:30 today, the Supreme Court of Canada announced a unanimous ruling in favor of the deal, which led to a huge sigh of relief for just about everyone in Canada except BCE's bondholders and Telus. You can read about the highlights here, and you won't have to look far across the Canadian telecom landscape to find further commentary. BCE's bondholders are a story unto themselves, and a recent lower court ruling in Quebec came out in their favor, which was an unexpected obstacle as the deal was nearing closure. The Supreme Court ruling trumps this, though, and now the deal faces pretty clear sailing for being finalized by month end.

Telus would be disappointed in that they would be the logical suitors for BCE if the privatization option failed. At this point, there's no turning back for BCE to remain a public company. The income trust route was killed off late last year, and as the stocks of BCE's rivals - namely Rogers and Telus - continue to outperform them, privatization became the most viable option for long term survival. There is certainly recent precedent out there for telcos doing this, so it's not such a hare-brained strategy. You may recall that last year, Telus played the white knight card as a pre-emptive option to going private, but that move came late and fizzled quickly.

Much like the way SBC acquired its parent AT&T, Telus would love to do the same to BCE. If the deal had failed today, BCE would be in a need of a Plan B, and given our foreign ownership restrictions, a domestic buyer would need to be found. With BCE being so dominant, we don�t have many other big carriers up here, and Telus would be the only one in a position to step up and effectively take over their largest competitor. That sure would make for an interesting scenario with all kinds of regulatory implications, but it�s moot now.

Once the deal closes, Canada�s most widely-held stock will be no more and a new page will be turned in our corporate history. Investors will have one less blue chip company to own, and one of our most storied and loved companies will pass on into something else. For all our complaining about corporate concentration, BCE was a very illustrious company and world class on many levels. Others can give you the history lesson better than me, but suffice to say, that BCE will be missed.

Of course the new owners have grand plans to re-invent the company and restore it to glory, but it won�t ever be the same again. No doubt BCE will be broken up, but it�s anyone�s guess if the new consortium of owners will make the right moves. This story has a few more chapters to go, and I�m sure it will someday become a textbook example of how to take a company apart and � hopefully � put it back together again.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Telus EVDO Mini Review

As most of you know I'm not much of a gadget guy, but I do trial
products and services every now and then. I was recently given a chance to try out Telus Mobility's EVDO service, which basically gives my laptop mobile broadband service in Canada.

In principal, mobile broadband is a great idea, but for someone who works at his desk 95% of the time, it's not exactly a must-have. However, that didn't stop me from using it on an everyday basis at my office. I just didn't bother using my Rogers broadband service while this trial was on. It's still a bona fide environment to use the service, but of course, it's not the intended one.

I'm more than happy to review the service and share my experience with
you, but there's not really much to say, so that's why I'm calling this a mini review. In short, I plugged the USB modem into my laptop and it didn't take long to configure at all. Once it was installed, the signal kicked in automatically whenever the PC was turned on, and voila, it worked like it's supposed to.

I'm not much of a power user, so I didn't bother testing speeds and
feeds or trying to download big files. All I can tell you is that the
speed and performance was on par with my Rogers service, so for me, it was business as usual.

The USB modem was a Sierra Wireless AirCard 595U - which may mean more to you than to me. It's a bit bulky, but the long portion of the modem was hinged, so it could swivel away from its normal vertical position. In my case, I usually had the modem connected to the USB port on the back of my PC. Sometimes I tilt the PC screen down and away quite far, and in these cases, the modem just eases backwards along with the screen. So, it keeps on working and doesn't get bent out of shape. That's a small thing - and is probably pretty standard design for these devices - but this type of flexibility is important as PC's have all kinds of configurations in terms of where the USB ports are located.

The main attraction, though is the Telus EVDO network. All mobile
operators want to sell you mobile broadband - after all, we're all using laptops these days, right? Some of us can live entirely on their
BlackBerry, but most of us would rather be using their PC's when away from home/office. So, whether EVDO is your only broadband option, or a handy complement to BlackBerry, there's no denying it's a great thing to have.

Telus is also offering a faster Rev A network, but I really didn't bother looking to see which version of the service I was on. It didn't much matter to me, as the service worked as expected whenever and wherever I used it.

That said, I did have a couple of chances to take this on the road - a
trip to Ottawa and a few meetings downtown here in Toronto. My
experience was pretty consistent for all these instances, so I would have to conclude that wherever they have good coverage, the service should work pretty well.

I wish I had more opportunity to travel with this, as it's a very
liberating feeling to know that pretty much wherever you go there's
broadband ready and waiting. No need to hunt for WiFi hotspots or worry about how much the hotel charges for Internet access. And of course, the freedom to use your PC anywhere else - where in most cases you're probably the only person on the Net.

Other than the fact that the modem ties up a USB port, there's not much to complain about, really. I can't vouch for how secure the signal is, or how well it holds up for high-bandwidth usage, but for everyday usage, it's a great service. Telus also has various rate plans to suit all types of users, which only makes sense. So, there are 3 tiers of monthly plans depending on usage levels, and shorter term plans for day long needs. Nothing unique there, but I just wanted to point out the flexible nature of these plans, which to me is important to make this service more appealing to the mass market.

I know lots of people who live by EVDO, especially in the U.S., and if
I had their lifestyle, I'd be doing the same. I love the freedom of
BlackBerry for my email (but it also makes you a slave...), but really, it's much more practical for receiving and reading emails than it is for sending. Once you've got mobile broadband, there's a lot more you can do on the PC than any mobile device, and with laptops getting smaller and more powerful, the case for EVDO will just keep getting stronger. Seems to me that Telus should be looking to partner with laptop makers as much as with all the other devices featured on their website. In my view, EVDO is the best reason for upgrading a laptop, and a nice bundle here would make a lot of sense.

Anyone out there using this service? Would love to hear from you.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Skype 4.0 - is Bigger Better?

Today, Skype officially announced the test version of
its latest upgrade, Skype 4.0. Quite a few media types and bloggers picked up on this yesterday, but I wasn't one of them. So, if you know where to go, this may not be news, and otherwise, I'm happy to pass on the highlights.

I participated in the call and briefing today, and it was made clear from the top this is a Beta version with a long test period. Skype wants to be sure they get this right and are really looking for our input to help.

In short, the story is video - that's the gist of 4.0
- bigger, better, faster, easier. Translation - Skype becomes much more fun and much more social. Leading off the call, Don Albert
explained they were "placing some bets" on where communications is going, and for Skype's money, it's on video.

Just to clarify this is not a desperation move or a shift away from
voice, Don spelled out some basic metrics to show that Skype is doing just fine as a business. They did $126 million in Q1 2008, and are on track for $500 million overall this year. Last year they did $400 million, and have now had 5 consecutive quarters of being profitable.

VoIP is a volume business, and even though most Skype users spend little or nothing to make their calls, those $3/month subscriptions sure add up. Let's not forget that unlike the Vonages of the world, their "customer acquisition" costs are very low, so this can be a profitable business once you reach critical mass and get past the growing pains of managing your customers. That's another topic, so let's just stick to the news.

So, why video? They told us that 28% of current Skype calls include
video, and this usage level is rising. This means that a healthy share of Skype sessions are now multimedia, with voice, chat and video. Figure that about 12 million Skype users are active at any give time, then roughly 3 million will be using video.

That's a lot of video calls, and it's a great way to make communications more social, which seems to be the name of the game these days. For now, it's just for the desktop, so it's behind the curve for the mobile video trend, but Skype did tell us they are testing smaller form factors, so it's definitely in their plans.

Following Don Albert's comments, Skype Product Management Director,
Michael Barlett took us through a live demo. It was a bit choppy, but we got a pretty good idea of what the new interface looks like as well as the experience. The key idea here is that Skype 4.0 makes it easier for the mass market to do video calling. It's easier to set up with Skype-certified hardware, it's easier to import your contacts from other directories, it's easier to find other Skype users to call, it's easier to troubleshoot, and it's easier to discover and use new features.

Ease of use has long been a hallmark of Skype's success with voice,
and it looks like they're replicating this now with video
. It was
also good to hear them explain how and why earlier iterations of Skype
video were not as market-ready, so I'd have to hope there has been some learning there. Anyhow, for a more technical and visual sense of Skype 4.0, please have a look at Michael Barlett's post today on the Share Skype Blog. And if you want to try it for yourself, there's a link near the end of his post to download it.

On a more technical level, I'll steer you to Jim Courtney's post on Skype Journal. He got an advance look at this, and provides some good reasons why you should not use this as a full replacement for earlier versions of Skype, especially if you're a regular user. Basically, 4.0 does not have all the voice/chat features of 3.8, so you'll likely lose a few capabilities. Furthermore, the full screen interface will take some getting used to, and may not be a great user experience if you're just texting and/or making calls. Good points.

So, is bigger better? I ask this because the big
change is how Skype 4.0 takes over your full screen rather than the side panel we're used to seeing. They're figuring that video makes a better impression when it's big, plus they've done lots of work on compression codecs to ensure a consistent experience, even if you don't have enough bandwidth. After all, big screen video only looks great if it is great. Poor resolution or jumpy streaming becomes that much more noticeable and can really work against you.

I should also add that the experience was enhanced by hosting the concall using Hi Definition audio, courtesy of their partnerhip with
Vapps. They're not the first company to combine HD audio with high end video, but for the general market, it's a nice selling point. On the whole, though, this Beta is definitely on the right side of the trend towards video, and in time will be a key driver in expanding Skype's user base. Perhaps more importantly - as I concur with Andy Abramson's take on his post - Skype 4.0 creates much better opportunities to support advertising and ecommerce.

Doing this would be a radical departure from Niklas Zennstrom's initial vision of keeping Skype pure and commercial free, but they have a business to run, folks. And video is a far more engaging medium for this than text or voice. The possibilities are pretty boggling, especially if advertising is context-aware, and can be shared with multiple parties. For now, unlike voice and text-based Skype, version 4.0 is single party - it's just one-to-one. When they evolve to multiparty video, I think that's where the potential for advertising and ecommerce - PayPal - don't forget about that! - really becomes real. So, is bigger better? For end users, it probably is, but the full screen thing will take some getting used to. For Skype, bigger will no doubt be better, especially if it opens up new revenue streams and finally creates some real synergies for eBay.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Service Provider Views - Microsoft Telco 2.0

My latest article for Service Provider Views came out yesterday, and focuses on Microsoft's Telco 2.0 strategy. My recent focus in this column has been on the platform play approach for service providers, and I'd have to say that Microsoft could be the biggest platform play of them all.

There are lots of ways to define and execute a platform play, and clearly, Microsoft has a lot to offer. This article provides an overview of what's driving their Telco 2.0 roadmap, and I'll touch on some of the specific offerings and bundles in the next writeup. You can read the article here, and as always, your comments are welcome.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Case for Three Day Conferences

I have recently posted about the virtues of one-day conferences, especially in the post-VON world. With a shaky economy and rising airfare costs, we�re all being more selective about attending events, and in many ways, short and sweet conferences are the way to go. No argument there, and I suspect we may see a trend towards more of these in 2008.

It�s hard to say how much of a factor the three-day format was in VON�s case, or whether the market simply can�t support these larger events right now. After all, the telecom sector is rapidly evolving and fragmenting into many spaces. What are these events really covering? Are they about telecom? Voice? Disruptive technologies? New business models? Enterprise? Consumer? Carrier? Channels? Multimedia communications? 2.0? 3.0? And on and on...

I think a lot of this is a matter of focus. One day events can be great if they�re really targeted on maybe just one of these tangents. Stay narrow but go deep. To me, there�s a lot of value in going deep, but the trade-off is you only attract an audience that really wants that, and that can be tricky to find. On the upside, though, one-day events by nature are on the small side and can be fairly agile in tailoring the content and focus on the fly. This makes them ideal for addressing the leading edge themes and trends-of-the-minute. Again, there is a lot of value to this, and these events can do a great job catering to the early adopter and disruptive innovator set.

There�s a lot more that could be said here, but I want to move on. On the flip side of the coin, I still think there�s a place for the larger and longer events. If the focus is tight and the content speaks to what the market wants right now, they will come. It�s definitely easier said than done, as I think these shows have generally become too broad in scope, trying to address every niche out there. This only leads to dilution and if adjustments aren�t made to address today�s needs, the market will respond accordingly. The market researcher in me says this all comes down to one thing � knowing your audience. If you engage them � and stay engaged � you�ll know what they need and what they�ll be willing to invest time and money in to come out and see.

To me, TMC�s IT Expo is a good example. This show has been running on the same format for years, which has its pros and cons. The familiarity and stability makes this an easy choice, in the sense that there�s a core community of both exhibitors and attendees. There�s a consistent focus � twice a year, with an East and West coast event. They haven�t spread themselves too thin by expanding into new geographies or adding other specialty shows. Not being run by an industry group, they have not been subject to the internal issues that have undermined events like NXTcomm and GTM.

Of course, the downside of familiarity is complacency, and with that the risk of falling behind the curve for innovation and disruption. To be fair, though, IT Expo has been less about leading edge and more about what sells in the market today. The show has always catered to buyers and sellers. Again, it works because they know their market. A big reason for this is that TMC is a publisher and content producer as much as they are an event organizer. They probably have the largest cadre of writers and bloggers in telecom � for sake of transparency I should add that I�m a regular TMC contributor � which by nature keeps them on top of the trends as well engaged with their readership. As a result, the IT Expo provides enough leading edge content to keep things interesting, but also providing the mainstream content that most people can readily identify with.

Because their community is well established and sufficiently large, it is fairly easy to justify a three day event. If IT Expo was just content � and no exhibitors - one day would be enough � but they wouldn�t call it an �expo� then, right? With three key ingredients, though, three days actually goes by quickly. First and foremost of these ingredients is the community. As the Chilliwack song Rain-o goes, �...if there�s no audience there just ain�t no show�. Very true words from a very underrated Canadian band. Anyhow, TMC�s audience is large enough to warrant three days to do everything to keep everyone happy. Small and tight communities definitely have their place, and one day events are ideal for this.

The second ingredient is the exhibitors, who of course have a symbiotic relationship with the attendees. For a variety of reasons, TMC is very good at bringing buyers and sellers together, and you need both to create a community for a three day event. Exhibitors are always interested in being around the latest and greatest innovations, but if they�re not writing orders they won�t be back next time.

That brings us to the third ingredient � content. This is the core for any conference - otherwise you�re just going to a trade fair. Nothing wrong with that, but as we all know, not all of us are buyers or sellers. Many of us go to these events to learn from industry leaders and of course, to network with our industry. As mentioned earlier, because of TMC�s roots, there is no shortage of content at the IT Expo. It may not be Telecom 3.0, but it doesn�t have to be. It�s certainly beyond Telecom 1.0, and I can say from lots of personal experience that there�s still a large and hungry market for Telecom 1.0 and 2.0 level content.

The market for Telecom 3.0 may be very sexy, but I suspect it�s a lot smaller and harder to target. I look to events like eComm here, as they really know what�s coming and have a very important role to play as the beacon for innovation. When it comes to focusing on where disruption and innovation are heading, this is the type of event to be at. After all, since 3.0 isn't here yet, it's not about buyers and sellers or exhibitors. It's about building community rather than serving a community. And it's about exploring how telcos need to harness these forces to rethink their business, and not just how to build a more efficient network. This is a very different type of content, and there's certainly room in the market for both.

To me, there�s a very subtle balance among these three ingredients � attendees, exhibitors and the content. Getting it right translates into a viable community and one that�s large enough to warrant a three day event. In that regard, I�d say the IT Expo has got it right and continues to serve as a good model to follow. Can it be improved? Absolutely. Do they run the risk of losing focus by having too many disparate content tracks? You bet. Are they willing and able to adapt to changing market tastes and needs? So far, I�d say yes. Time will tell, but my guess is that as we get closer to their upcoming Fall IT Expo, we�ll see some new things and updated content that wasn�t there last time.

I�m not saying that IT Expo is the only one who has it right. However, as I�m in this ongoing mode of looking at the conference space, they certainly seem to have the right mix of elements to support a three day event. Every conference/industry event has a distinct mix of these ingredients, and others will have continued success as well. To me it�s just a matter of finding � and keeping � the right balance of these ingredients.

I�ll be the first one to say that VON had it right for a long time � as did others � and their successes can be repeated if the right pieces come together. I believe that the market will always respond when their needs are being met, just as they will when they are not. For some, a three day event will continue to do the job, and for others, scaling down to one day events will be the way to go. Nobody has a monopoly on community, but when you can help make it grow, that�s where the audience will go. And if you agree with me, then I know you�ll enjoy listening to Rain-o!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Win it for Red

I don't blog much at all about the Celtics, and I'm really due for a Red Sox post.

However, last night's comeback was just so inspiring and historic, it can't pass unheralded. We've all seen blowouts and comebacks before, but this one was pretty special and speaks volumes about what can happen and how quickly things can happen when momentum shifts sides.

Everything was going LA's way early on - they seemed to score on every possession, everyone was hitting shots, the bounces and rebounds were going their way, they were getting to the free throw line a lot. And that pesky peanut - Farmer - hits a 3 from a ridiculous distance at the first half buzzer. C'mon. When guys like that are scoring, it just couldn't get any worse. Turns out that was the only time he scored all game. Hah!

Totally the opposite for the Celtics early on. They were getting plenty of chances and open shots, but nothing was going in. And incredibly, this takedown was unfolding without a single basket from Kobe. Had to wonder how out of control this would have been if he was actually scoring? Turns out that was the key to their success - he decided to trust his teammates and spread the ball around. Luckily for him, it worked, at least in the first half.

If you saw the game, you know what happened after that, and no need to deconsruct it. The result is all that matters, and to do it without two starters - Rondo and Perkins - tells the story. The Big Three did their job, the bench came through, their team defence shut the Lakers down, and Doc Rivers made great adjustments and reminded his players to be themselves and just play the game.

Momentum is so important in sports and the difference in this series is about when it happens. The Celtics were having their blowout in Game 2, and the Lakers were pretty much left for dead. And I'm pretty sure the peak margin was the same as last night - 24 points. You just don't blow a 24 point lead and lose, especially in the Finals. Well, the Celtics almost did, but they tightened up and hung on.

I didn't give up on the Celtics last night because they got buried early, not late. In Game 2, the Lakers were behind early, but they stayed deep in the hole until late in the game. They made a great comeback too, but it was fast and too late. If the game had gone on another 5 minutes, they probably would have won.

Last night was different. I'd much rather be down 24 in the first quarter than the fourth. It was great for the Laker fans to see some carnage, but it happened early. You knew they would go cold sooner or later, and eventually the Celtics started clicking at both ends, and had lots of time to make up the difference. And once they had the momentum, they kept it. After taking the lead for the first time in the game, they pretty much kept it. Very sweet.

I'm pretty confident now they'll win it on Sunday, and have to think this one will be for Red Auerbach. It would be their first title since his passing, and only fitting for the Celtics to deny Action Jackson his 10th ring to break the tie with Red among coaches.

Let's not light up the cigar just yet - still got one more game to win, but the storyline is looking a lot more certain now than 12 hours ago. I've never understood why the Lakers were so favored in the first place. Sure, they made it look easy knocking off the Spurs, etc. Don't forget, the Celtics did beat them twice during the regular season. However, the Celtics won three tough series to get to the Finals, and these were more physical teams than the Lakers. When push comes to shove, I don't think the Lakers can play as tough as these teams, and if you ask me, Lebron James was a tougher one-man band to beat than Kobe and his cast. Thoughts?

You gotta believe. Go Green and Go Red!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Max's Updated Blog

Well, here's the new and improved Max Arnold blog. My oldest son and geek-of-the-house has been blogging for a while and he's just taken things up a notch.

Max has gotten the blogging bug lately and has showed it first by giving his blog a re-do. It's got a whole new look and feel - not that easy on the eyes - but pretty sleek. You be the judge.

Second, he's been adding a fair bit of new content lately, based mostly on his revolving door love affair with smartphones. Over the past few months he's gone from using the iPhone, the Nokia e61i, the BlackBerry Curve 8320, the Samsung BlackjackII, and now it's back again to the iPhone. Have you got that?

Anyhow, he's been writing reviews for each of these, with his most recent post being his take on the just released Apple iPhone 3G. Max's writing has been steadily improving, and I think you'll agree his views are more advanced than

most 15 year olds.

He's also started using Twitter, and with school ending this week, I think he'll start becoming a power Twitterer (is that a word?) pretty soon.

So, I'm just puttig the word out that Max is blogging more regularly now, and I'd urge you to check it out, especially if you're a fan of smartphones - and a smart guy.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Next Generation Workplace � It�s Here Now

Yesterday, I attended an interesting session hosted by Microsoft Canada at their headquarters just outside Toronto. It was a joint presentation done in partnership with Accenture and Avanade about how they view the �Next Generation Workplace�. Together, these three companies can provide a very comprehensive team to design and implement a Microsoft-friendly workplace solution for pretty much any IT environment. You can imagine the price tag that must go with all this high-powered expertise, but I�m sure it�s worth it for enterprises with complex IT needs and who aspire to the latest that Unified Communications has to offer.

The presentation and discussion wasn�t focused on Unified Communications per se, but it�s pretty central. With Microsoft at the heart of things, they talked about the nextgen �workplace framework� around this. Thankfully � at least for me � the discussion was more about the workplace environment than the network infrastructure issues. They addressed issues and pain points that I�ve seen in other UC-oriented presentations � such as decreasing productivity, the limitations of existing infrastructures to support today�s communications needs, the challenges brought on by the globalization of business, and the increasing speed of communications.

On a more basic and personal level, they covered familiar ground such as the challenges of managing multiple inboxes, multiple contact profiles, multiple silos of information across the organization, and the trend towards working with/across multiple as well as virtual teams.

All of these are giving rise to solutions that speak to Unified Communications, not just for personal productivity, but for organizational productivity too. Given the partners in the room, a lot of attention was paid to the latter, and in essence, this was their version of CEBP � Communications Enabled Business Processes. This term was never mentioned, as it�s closely associated with Avaya, and perhaps as a proxy, they often talked about these processes as �digital collaboration�. I like that term better actually. I�m oversimplifying things here, but in a nutshell, that�s how it came across to me.

While the basic story lines were familiar, I found this triumvirate partnership approach interesting. As mentioned, having all this high-end expertise may not be for everyone, but it�s a clear message that Microsoft is willing and able to go to market with the best and the brightest to remain central from the network out to the desktop and beyond. I think we�re going to see more partnerships like this as go-to-market strategies since so much is at stake now that UC is coming into its own.

I�ve written about this several times, and all the major vendors are touting their total solution approach, but none of them truly have all the pieces. Microsoft in particular needs this type of companionship, as they have the core building blocks in place with their installed base of software and operating systems. By partnering with the likes of Accenture and Avanade, they can now leverage this out into the workplace with end to end applications that strike a balance in empowering both the IT departments and the end users across the enterprise.

As an aside, I just have to mention how little reference there was to Web 2.0 style applications. Not surprisingly, the focus was on software-based platforms, and not much talk about cloud-based computing, or the dreaded G-word. That�s ok, and it�s to be expected. However, I must say that for me, the most animated and engaged dialog was around social networking, and issues that generally are not the core domain of Microsoft. There was a lot of concern that the use of social networking and Web-based applications was out of control � namely Facebook, IM and wikis. These applications � and the associated behaviors among end users � are really beyond the everyday control of IT managers � short of blocking their usage altogether.

Pretty interesting hearing the concerns this raises for IT and the lack of their ability to monitor and control these modes of communications. Unified Communications may have wonderful intended benefits, but by nature, there will be unintended consequences. The very tools that make workplace productivity increase are the same tools that enable the blurring between business and personal communications. What�s an IT manager to do when an employee ends up sending a work-related file over a public IM platform like MSN because it was too big to be sent over the corporate network? Or when a sales trainee starts producing great leads that came from his Facebook network?

It�s Wild West territory for sure, and it was clear to me that nobody really has an answer for this yet. I have no doubt they�ll be addressed in time, but from what I�ve seen so far, the problem will only get worse before it gets better. Short term, I�d say there�s opportunity here for creative developers to bring targeted solutions to the likes of Microsoft, as I think it�s fair to say that these concerns are on the minds of virtually all IT managers today.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thomas Howe Writing now for Fierce VoIP

Am on the go a lot this week, and I'm trying to keep up with my posts as best I can. I was offsite most of the day, and it looks like the tech space is drowning with reviews and blog posts about the iPhone launch, especially here in Canada where we finally get the iPhone legally starting July 11. Well, I didn't tune in to Apple's launch, but have seen enough posts and have spoken with the media a couple of times. But I'm not about to post - enough has been said already, and I really don't have much to add.

What I do want to say here is a shout-out for colleague and fellow blogger Thomas Howe, who is now contributing to Fierce VoIP. Was just speaking with him, and didn't realize until now that he was doing this.

His debut article ran on May 28 and is titled "Congratulate Failure". I for one am glad to see him get a wider forum like this, which will allow Thomas to get his 2.0 message beyond our inner circle of bloggers. His article talks about the recent demise of startup Jangl - many of whom have since gone to work for Jajah. The more important message around which the title of the article revolves is that failure can be a good thing.

In the new world of "Telco 2.0" - or whatever else you want to call it - the name of the game is innovation. I agree with Thomas's view that it's a sign of health that companies like Jangl come and go. Not everyone is going to make it, but if you don't succeed, try and try again. There is tons of opportunity for 2.0 applications, and we'll see lots more failures along the way. But we'll also see lots of successes - some will be ho-hum, but some will be spectacular, and if you follow where Thomas is going, you'll see why it's a great time to be an innovator in telecom.

So, welcome to the publishing fold, Thomas, and I look forward to your upcoming articles!

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Monday, June 9, 2008

magicJack - Another VoIP Disruptor?

Anybody out there heard of magicJack? Love the name, and it sounds magical - maybe a bit too magical...

I hadn't until a few days ago. It's yet another device/gadget you can connect to your PC, and voila, you've got VoIP. Very quickly and quietly - well, maybe not so quietly - they've sold 400,000 of these in the U.S. Or least that's what they're telling us.

Check out this story that ran on Friday in the venerable U.S News and World Report, which was kind enough to include my comments in. Not having heard of magicJack before, Ooma came to my mind right away, which raises a whole other set of ideas and concerns.

But then as you look a bit further into this, magicJack strikes me as a bit of a Frankenstein creation that has a little bit of....

- Vonage

- Skype

- Ooma

- Google

That's quite a voice mashup, and I'm sure Mr. Howe would agree. Anyhow, this may well be the first time you've heard about magicJack, so I'll give you the high points about what I'm seeing here.

Why Vonage? Well, they're going after the residential landline subscriber, selling them on the benefits of lower LD costs. However, it's not a replacement service with a monthly fee - just a cheaper way to make domestic calls. Oh, and like Vonage, it's a gadget that connects your phone to your PC. The website lists all kinds of features - similar to Vonage - that can approximate this as a landline replacement service, but that sure looks like a big stretch to me.

Why Skype? magicJack is all about PC-based telephony, which is how Skype started. Skype is moving well beyond this, of course, but the magicJack folks still seem to see a market here. Like Skype, calls are free between magicJack users, and otherwise, calls within the U.S. and Canada are free - and they will soon be offering international calling. A lengthy menu of overseas locations is posted on their site, along with "projected rates". This is a pretty good sign that unlike Skype, their offering is for heartland USA, where international calling is not an everyday occurrence. Actually, I should clarify that Canadian calling is not not available yet either. This is explained more clearly on the website of their Canadian distributor.

Like Skype, they have options for "In" and "Out" numbers, which allow calls to bypass your local carrier to go over their network. Much like last year's SkypeOut program for North America, domestic calls are unlimited. Skype has since moved to a monthly fee, which guarantees them recurring revenues, and more options to upsell users to new services. This also makes the service more like a subscription, which to me, is what builds value over time. Right now, magicJack is working on the annual fee model, which is a subscription of sorts. Skype has moved on from this approach, but SunRocket didn't and well, we know how that story ended.

Finally, like Skype, you need to have your PC running to use it. That's no longer true with Skype, but that's how it was initially. I guess the expectation is that magicJack's customers are always-on kind of people, and in that case, this shouldn't be a problem. I'm just not so sure that's really what's happening out there.

Why Ooma? It's a gadget, but not nearly as slick. But it's also passive, which to me, is a problem. In other words - out of sight, out of mind. Since there is no monthly fee or statement, it just sits there, but doesn't really engage you. It's actually more of problem here since it takes up a USB port on your PC, so you need to be conscious of it, and sometimes you'll need that port for other things. Another important parallel is that magicJack has its own "network", which, like Ooma is a key selling point for a higher quality calling experience. There's not much talk about what this network is, but at least they recognize the importance of this in providing a decent service.

A couple of other things that are similar to Ooma. For now, you can only get magicJack by ordering from their website. That's a pretty limited channel, but it sure keeps your costs down. I'd be impressed if they really have sold 400,000 units this way so far - I'm more than a bit skeptical. Mind you, the website is touting this as a free 30 day trial - which expires today - so maybe the numbers are there, but I'm not so sure about the revenues.

Another interesting parallel is the physical nature of the product. magicJack is a USB card with a conventional phone jack at other end. It's like an ATA, but here, you literally tether your home phone to the PC. Is that Voice 1.0 or what? Sure, it will work with your cordless phone, but like Ooma, you need a separate gadget - for lack of a better word - for each phone you want to hook up. Is this really a market you can build a business around? And, unlike Ooma, there's really no integration for multiple line use. It's very much a serial type of product - one magicJack, one phone, one PC. At least with Ooma you get the instant second line and the ability to conference the lines together - I always loved that feature.

One more thing. Like Ooma, this venture has come out of the blue from people not well known in VoIP, although they definitely have a telco pedigree. This venture is led by Dan Borislow, the Founder of YMAX Communications - "a modern phone company with the largest CLEC network in the U.S." Am not sure what modern means, and I can't verify their claim for size, but I sure like the way they do business. What's not to like about being based in West Palm Beach, with the management team photos showing them very relaxed on the beach. You'd think a company of this stature would be easy to reach by phone. Well, the only way to contact them is by "Airmail" to a P.O. box in Florida. Is it just me?

Anyhow, magicJack actually comes across like a K-Tel or a Ronco product, being pitched by Mr. Borislow in a very folksy way. The demo video on the website shows his "title" as Inventor - not CEO or Founder. And he's demoing the product with his daughter. I wouldn't exactly call this Web 2.0 marketing, but it probably resonates with the middle America audience he's catering to.

Finally - like - Ooma, magicJack has a lot of hype around it, making this sound like a slam dunk to be next big thing. There are lots of bona fide media kudos on the homepage, and even an FCC logo on the bottom, which I've never seen before. I guess that gives it the Good Housekeeping seal of approval to show how legit this telco-killer really is. Are you convinced yet?

Why Google? If you're still with me, the slog will be worth it. I'm saving the best for last here. If you're the least bit curious, you've got to be wondering how one product could possibly have elements of all these services. I think the above three are easy to gauge, and it's clear - at least to me - where magicJack is borrowing wisely - and not so wisely.

Ready for this? The service is very well priced, which explains its apparent early popularity. It lists for $40 a year, unlimited domestic calling - that's a good deal. Skype's plan is about $3 a month, so the annual cost is comparable. To build trial, magicJack has this free 30 day offer going on. Well, considering how long it took Vonage to get 400,000 subscribers, and how much money they spent, this could be a good strategy.

It also looks like a Trojan Horse strategy to me. The name of the game for magicJack is numbers - get lots and lots of subscribers. Yes, this drives subscription revenues, and maybe even a bit of international calling, but there's a Web 2.0 element to this, and you're not going to like it.

Whether you like it or not - want it or not - magicJack is going to serve up advertisements. It's not clear if these are just audio ads coming over the phone line or also on your PC screen, but they're not just mass-market messages. Nope - they're context-based, derived from your personal information. It's not clear what they're basing this on - it may just be your phone number, but I fear it could be other personal information which would be used to target advertising much the way Google serves up ads when using their search engine.

So, with a large enough subscriber base, magicJack would theoretically be able to derive premium advertising revenues by allowing advertisers to more selectively target their message to a decent sized audience.

WHOA! I guess with search we accept this since it's a free service, plus we're not leaving personal information on file with Google. But magicJack is making a very clear connection between the two, and if you care to read the fine print, it gets even scarier. Just scroll down to Item 11 of their Terms of Service Agreement - here's a sample of what I'm talking about...

"You also understand and agree that use of the magicJack device and Software will include advertisements. Advertisements will be served through the magicPage� Software. magicPage� Software attempts to serve local advertisements and classifieds using a completely automated process that enables us to effectively target dynamically changing content."


"You also understand and agree that use of the magicJack device and Software may include certain communications, such as service announcements, administrative messages and newsletters, and you will not be able to opt out of receiving them."

I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound like much good can come from it. I've got a feeling that if people read the fine print before buying, they might look at magicJack a bit differently - and warily. The scary part, of course, is that people rarely do read the fine print, and this could sure come as a nasty surprise.

And, by the way, this is not the only caveat for magicJack. If you care to review all 24 Terms of Service conditions, you'll find a whole lot more to be asking questions about. For those of you who have tried Ooma, you may recall similar concerns. At the very end of the sign-up process, Ooma states all these conditions about how they basically take over your phone service and can terminate existing calling plans to keep calls going over their network.

I'm going to leave it at that for now. I could go on and on, and have not even touched on many other features and aspects of magicJack that you just have to wonder about. This post is long enough as it is.

In short, it's a neat gadget, but it's chasing a declining market on several levels. I'm all for cutting down telecom costs, and perhaps they'll find a viable market for this. Ease of use is a huge selling point, and that seems to be one of their strong points, and maybe that will be a real differentiator.

Even if it was, though, the advertising element really kills it for me, and just seems to be on the wrong side of the good vs. evil continuum. Strikes me more as a business idea to drive traffic over YMAX's network, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's certainly a major reason why this is different from the other offerings I've been talking about here.

However, there are just so many questions and missing pieces here. And I haven't even touched on issues such as customer service and call quality, both of which have been problematic. To be fair, though, I haven't tried magicJack, so I won't say any more. Last year I wrote a review on Ooma following my trial with it, and to go much further with magicJack, I'd have to do the same. At gut level, though, I still feel my initial reaction is valid.

You may wonder why I'm giving so much attention to this. Well, I'm not really sure myself, but part of it is an endless fascination for the entrepreneurial spirit and/or hucksterism that comes with mass marketing. You have to wonder in this day and age why anyone would follow down the path that Vonage, SunRocket, Ooma and many others have gone - with varying degrees of failure. I'm still wondering, and if you have the answer, I'd love to know.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Is SIP Living up to its Potential?

We all know about SIP, and it's hard to deny its impact on IP communications, especially VoIP. Well, fellow blogger Brough Turner had a very thought-provoking post the other day that takes the contrarian view about SIP.

Brough's post actually ran last Friday, but it's taken me til now to get around to sharing this with you here. As you probably know, I'm not a news-hound, and there's nothing time-senstive about this post, so you're not missing anything if you're just reading about it now.

I can't comment much on the technical merits or shortcomings of SIP, but Brough certainly can. He makes some interesting points, two of which stand out for me....

1. Skype chose to use a proprietary protocol instead of SIP, and has proven by far to be the most popular web-based voice/IM application we've ever seen. It's conventional wisdom to knock Skype for being a walled garden that won't integrate with the other IM platforms, but when it comes to VoIP, Skype has proven its ability scale better than anyone. I guess this begs the question - could Skype have been as successful (let's leave profitability aside here) if they had used SIP instead? Would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

2. SIP's openness is somewhat contrary to the centralized nature of IMS. I get what Brough is saying here, but he didn't elaborate - and I wish he would - this contention needs some air.

Anyhow, Brough concludes that the best hope for SIP is peer-to-peer, and refers to an IETF working group for more detail. He may well be right, and some of the comments to his post are in agreement.

On the other side of the ledger is the SIP Forum, who will readily cite all the advances being made with SIP, especially with their SIPconnect Technical Recommendation, and ongoing SIPit interop events. I'd love to get a dialog going between these two parties, and just might push this along a bit. My partner in our IP Communications Insights venture, Marc Robins, serves as the SIP Forum's Executive Director, so I'll see if there's interest.

On a community level, I'd like to add that that Brough is a recent contributor to the IP Convergence TV portal, which I'm the Editor for. His article isn't about SIP, but it's a good read nonetheless. However, if you spend some time there, you will find some good SIP-related content from other contributors. Hope you come visit.

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Just FYI: Skype is profitable.

And... SIP is great. We use it everywhere we connect to the PSTN. We could not have been successful and profitable without something like this [i.e. a broadly adopted IP-TDM signaling interface].

Posted by: Jonathan Christensen at June 8, 2008 02:43 PM

Jon, not sure why you want to leave Skype profitability aside. According to eBay's last five quarterly reports, Skype has been a profitable division of eBay. (Just not as profitable as they may have liked re certain earnout terms on the Skype acquisition but that is a separate issue.)

Whatever their proprietary protocol, Skype has overcome NAT and firewall issues with great success as evidenced by its execution of completing calls, so with 30 or 40 million users online daily, they have to be doing something right.

Also of note:: Skype is one of the largest users of SIP for their SkypeIn and SkypeOut services. They leverage SIP for its one main feature at this time: the ability to interconnect voice conversations.

Posted by: Jim Courtney at June 8, 2008 03:42 PM

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

VoIP Supply Getting into the IP Camera Business

Wanted to comment about some interesting things that VoIP Supply is doing lately. Aside from being based in nearby Buffalo, they're a great success story in terms of finding a niche as a leading re-seller of all things VoIP. They're doing a booming business in open source VoIP solutions and you don't need to look far on their websites or blog pages to see evidence of their growth.

I've got two items to mention here as good examples of how they are growing and actively engaging with the IP communications community. The first is their recent addition of IP cameras as a product line. It's not something you may think about every day for purchase, but as you can see from their dedicated website - - there's a lot to choose from out there. These cameras are for video - not still photography - and range from desktop video to mounted security and surveillance digital video cameras. The site is a great resource and goes well beyond cameras to include video recorders - both analog and digital, video servers and closed circuit monitoring systems. You know that IP is coming of age when you can add these types of products to your online shopping cart.

What I really like is how they're supporting this site with other resources to educate and engage the market for these products. In addition to the regular website, there is a blog, which has some resources to better explain the products and terminology around digital video. And for the Facebook crowd, you can find them there too. If you need any help finding this, just let me know.

Since we're on the VoIP Supply bandwagon here, I might as well add their latest outreach for the Asterisk community. Today they launched a new contest - 101 Things you can do with Asterisk. The idea is to solicit 101 unique ideas from this community, and one will win a $1,500 VoIP Supply shopping spree.

Sounds like a good idea to me. The winner gets picked at random, which may not be very fair, but it's probably just a practical decision in terms of the work involved to review all of them and actually decide which one is the best. Anyhow, it's a fun way to generate a lot of good ideas and feed the innovation machine for Asterisk. Even if there's just one great idea, it's well worth the prize value, and adds a lot of goodwill to the VoIP Supply brand. As of this writing, it seems to be working as they already have 187 ideas, and the post only went up at 11am this morning. Asterisk may not be everyone's cup of tea, but you gotta give credit to VoIP Supply for trying fun things and engaging the community beyond just re-selling other people's products. It's not the norm, and if you ask me, they get it in terms of what an online reseller should be all about.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Snapshot of Wireless Services for Business in Canada

Yesterday, I attended a Telus event here in Toronto targeted at a mix of consultants and customers. The focus was on trends in wireless adoption throughout the Canadian business sector, and of course, some Telus solutions that help fulfill the promise of broadband mobility.

The presentation was led by Jim Senko, and he highighted some findings from a large scale research study, conducted by a firm who shall remain nameless. I'm not in the habit of drawing attention to the work of competitors, but the research provided nice validation for some important themes that I'm hearing from both vendors and carriers these days, namely...

- Most businesses do not have a wireless strategy in place

- Businesses are ready to move beyond email in terms of enhancing their communications and leveraging the power of the Internet

- Businesses want to improve the customer experience, and see wireless as a way to do this

- Businesses want to be able to communicate across all network types

Well, you won't get an argument from me on these, and I suspect the U.S. market isn't all that much different. They didn't get into detail about how these themes vary by size of business or region or industry vertical, but I'm sure the data is there for future analysis.

The first finding is the most interesting for me, and where the opportunity is greatest for a telco to add value. What brought this to life for me were repeated references to the way businesses have typically bought wireless services. Jim Senko talked about the mentality they often face where business customers view wireless as being no more than the procurement of data plans and end user devices. It's no wonder these companies don't have a wireless strategy.

Of course, this is where Telus saves the day, and Jim provided numerous examples and case studies to show how they bring the true value of wireless to business customers. Fair enough - it's their event, after all - but I really liked the following as practical applications that any business would understand:

- Visual voice mail. Simple speech-to-text application, and for anyone using a smartphone, this is a no brainer. Jim stretched this out a bit by showing the amount of air time, roaming and LD savings that come from using this feature on the road.

- Navigation using GPS on a smartphone. It's not hard to see how getting real time, audible directions can save time, especially for sales and tech support staff who are out on the road visiting customers.

- Location-based services. Again, using GPS, but the examples were for asset and fleet tracking. Instead of using smartphones, Jim talked about attaching key fobs to the items being tracked. All kinds of valuable applications here - they may be mundane, but are very practical and have measurable value for businesses.

Nothing really new here for me, but it was good to hear all these messages in one place, especially here in Canada. The wireless market isn't as competitive as the U.S., and it's probably a bit more of an uphill battle here. Telus may have all the right offerings, including close partnerships with smartphone vendors like RIM, but I suspect it's hard for businesses to think about wireless solutions in isolation from their overall communications needs.

I'm sure that LAN/WAN-based environments dominate the decision-making, and that wireless needs to be considered in that context. Jim did make several references to how wireless ties into Unified Communications as well as the desire for businesses to have an integrated provider for all the communications needs, but this wasn't the focus of the event.

So, yes, I can see where the opportunities are for wireless to add value to businesses, and how Telus can fulfill them, but it's not the whole story for what businesses need. Perhaps Telus has other events coming along those lines, but if you wanted to hear their wireless story for business, then this session was a pretty good place to be.



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Monday, June 2, 2008

AudioCodes Mediant 1000 - Media Gateway 2.0

Pretty interesting announcement from AudioCodes that is just coming out this morning. The news is about the latest edition of their Mediant 1000 media gateway. In vendor-speak, it's the MSBG - Multi Service Business Gateway. To me, it's media gateway 2.0.

AudioCodes has long been one of my favorite equipment vendors, with a strong track record in two areas - in-house innovation to extend the product line, and being a solid Tier 2 consolidator by acquiring and integrating lesser companies like Netrake. There are lots of companies who are good in one of these areas, but few who can do both well, and AudioCodes is one of them.

I don't often comment on vendor announcements, but I've followed the media gateway space since 2001, and as far as I can tell, the MSBG is a real breakthrough for media gateways and should be closely followed on a few fronts. First, the media gateway vendors, especially those catering to the enterprise market, which is a growing space. Second, the session border controller vendors, as this offering incorporates SBC functionality. And third, the customer. The MSBG simplifies network planning since there are fewer boxes to own and operate, and fewer vendors to manage.

Before explaining this further, I should say a little more about what makes this announcement interesting. The Mediant 1000 is already established, so there is a built-in customer base ready to adopt the new capabilities. I got a chance to talk about this with a couple of AudioCodes executives, and the key idea here is the modular design. Existing customers can add on the new features quite easily, and just take the ones they want. They could even just take the SBC module and integrate it with their existing gateway, even if it's not AudioCodes.

In addition to SBC, the Mediant has modules for router and firewall, standalone survivability and a general purpose server. This makes MSBG a very versatile solution, which is great news for both enterprises and channel partners. It simplifies things for the buyer and gives the seller more options to do business.

To me, the SBC is the big story, but the other features are very attractive too. The server includes an application processor in which enterprises can embed an IP PBX, such as Asterisk. Combined with the survivability feature, this ensures that remote locations such as branch offices or contact centers will always have full-featured telephony service even if the corporate WAN goes down.

To the best of my knowledge, MSBG is the only major media gateway out there catering to the enterprise market that incorporates SBC functionality. These two devices have typically remained separate, largely by choice of the SBC vendors. Media gateways are more costly devices, primarily because they have DSPs, which are necessary for complex packetization requirements such as transcoding. This is a critical function for handing off traffic from PSTN to IP, and because SBCs don't typically do this, integration between SBCs and media gateways is not always so easy. In enterprise networks, the functions of both network elements are best managed at the edge, so there's a stong case to be made for incorporating them in a single box.

AudioCodes has been hearing this message from customers for some time, and give them credit for responding. With the carrier SBC market being dominated by Acme Packet, NextPoint and Covergence, they have wisely chosen to focus on the enterprise space, which is the next big SBC growth area.

If you've been closely following this post, you'll recall I mentioned Netrake earlier. AudioCodes acquired this struggling SBC vendor for next to nothing a couple of years back, and that has given them a solid base of intellectual property, which no doubt has contributed to the MSBG. It's too late for the Netrake brand to contend in the carrier space, so this is a pretty good Plan B.

In my view, the timing is right for this launch, and it should shake things up in both the SBC and media gateways spaces. If media gateways do not evolve, they stand to become marginalized as voice traffic becomes all-IP, whereby SBCs would be able to manage most if not all the key edge functions. That's the worst-case scenario for gateway vendors, although it's really several years off.

However, if you can innovate today, and the market is asking for it, you do it. This is very much a media gateway 2.0 offering, and the market seems ready for it. On that note, this news reminds me of Versatel, a Canadian gateway vendor I did work for a few years back. I doubt many of you will remember, but they had exactly the same idea - an intelligent edge device that incorporated SBC features and could host applications. It was the perfect edge device, but the market wasn't ready for it. They were about 3 years too soon, and well... they're not with us now unfortunately. Timing sure is everything, and in this case, I think AudioCodes is in the right place at the right time.

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Regarding your comment on NextPoint...that company appears to be going in a new direction or positioning for an asset sale with a recent substantial lay-off, adopting a near 100% channel model with no direct sales and outsourcing of support and professional services to external companies. Doesn't sound like a company that's long for providing carrier SBC solutions.

See the recent PR from NextPoint and the blog from a ex-NexToner:

Posted by: Nietzsche at June 2, 2008 01:29 PM

Thanks for sharing this with me. NextPoint - nee NexTone was a client of mine a while back, and I've followed them a long time, but didn't catch this item. Sorry to hear that news, esp with Sri leaving - that's a pretty key indicator of their health right now. In that light, at least in the short term they're going to be vulnerable, and I can only assume AudioCodes will look to exploit this - as will the other SBC players.

Posted by: Jon Arnold at June 3, 2008 09:45 AM