Friday, August 29, 2008

Analyst 2.0 - I Like That Term - Thanks Andy

I had to smile when I saw this post from Andy Abramson this morning.

The topic was about Yankee Group laying off 20 analysts, which is not a good news story, but Andy captured the essence of what it really means. I wasn't aware of the news as I don't have that much day-to-day contact with the U.S. analyst community. For the most part, indies like me are invisible to these firms, but at times like this, I'm happy to be in my shoes rather than theirs.

As Andy notes, the economics of traditional analyst firms are becoming undone by the very technology they make their money analyzing - in much the same way as traditional media such as newspapers. It's becoming increasingly difficult to place a value on information, especially when it has a shelf life of about a day, and I don't how you can make money these days purely being in the information business.

The real money is made turning that information into knowledege and insight, and that's what analysts get well-paid to do. However, the business model around selling big, printed reports that take 6 months to produce has become outmoded, and as the value of information shifts to how up-to-the-minute it is - as opposed to being more strategic and reflective, i.e. less time-sensitive - analysts are becoming expensive overhead rather than revenue generators and value creators.

In short, some of the most useful information/knowledge/insight comes for free and comes from blogs. Even though analyst firms have embraced blogs, you still have to sell something at the end of the day. It's a challenge we all face, but these tools allow indies like me to compete successfully against these big firms.

So, thanks very much Andy, for connecting the dots and turning a blip of a story about Yankee into a more interesting Web 2.0-style piece about analysts. Yup, I agree, he's talking about Analyst 2.0, and I'm very glad to see Andy include me in his list of indies at the vanguard who are personfying this new breed. And to return the favor, I will unabashedly say that Andy's agency, Comunicano (that's 1 "m" folks, not 2) is truly PR 2.0, and is great model for that space to be following.

Signing off for now - happy Labor/Labour Day!

Am tempted to post about Obamania after last night - too busy for now. Any good blogs/posts about this out there?

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

BroadSoft Acquires VocalData

Interesting story from yesterday about BroadSoft acquiring what used to be known as VocalData. It's not huge news and hasn't received much attention, but for people like me who have followed these companies pretty much from the beginning, we notice.

You can tell I'm old school because I talk about VocalData. The more current explanation - which you can see in the press release - is that BroadSoft acquired "GENBAND's M6 Communication Applications Server" - formerly known as VocalData.

Genband - formerly General Bandwidth - is a story unto itself with a history of acquiring and divesting, and VocalData came along with their last big deal. I've never been able to figure out how all their moves really add up - and I'm not alone - but it's pretty clear they're steering now more towards the media gateway space and away from the applications space. Fair enough - it's very hard to be really good at both.

I haven't heard anything yet about how much the deal was worth, but I honestly can't imagine it was a lot, and very likely under $10 million. The important thing is that BroadSoft is consolidating what little is left among pureplay application server vendors. There was a time when the U.S. market had 3 major players - BroadSoft, Sylantro and VocalData, and I tracked them all when I covered this space at Frost & Sullivan. I always liked VocalData, but they couldn't keep pace, and in time, this became a two horse race.

I've long been friendly with both Sylantro and BroadSoft - and have attended their customer events - but most people would tell you that BroadSoft is the stronger player these days, and continues to innovate on many fronts. Adding VocalData pushes up their revenues and customer base - which the press release says now stands at 435. That's a pretty nice book of business, and I have a pretty good feeling that you'll be hearing about bigger and better deals from them before the year is out.

Before moving on, I should clarify that BroadSoft may be the #1 app server vendor for North America, but globally, Comverse/NetCentrex is bigger, mainly by virtue of some very large residential VoIP deployments in Europe.

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Mobile Roundup Squawk Box Podcast

Just a quick note to say Alec Saunders has now posted the podcast of yesterday's Squawk Box session.

We had a mobile roundup session, and I was able to log in and participate. Mobile VoIP has been a hot topic lately - and I've been posting about it - so it was a lively forum for everyone to weigh in on.

So, if you're following things like mobile VoIP, the iPhone, Android, smartphones in general, and the latest N Series phones from Nokia - and want to hear what a lot of smart, connected people are thinking, the podcast will be worth a listen. It's about an hour long, though, and you can download it from the link on Alec's post - here.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Service Provider Views - Ribbit's Deal with BT

For my latest Service Provider Views column, I've continued the theme of platform plays from the last column - this time focusing totally on Ribbit.

The $105 million price tag paid by British Telecom raises all kinds of questions about the deal and what it means for Voice 2.0 in general. It's a great story, and I've tried to shed more light on it in this column. Last week I interviewed Ribbit's founders - Ted Griggs and Crick Waters, and from that I've written my column.

Basically, I've concluded that BT paid good money for Ribbit. It's a huge exit for Ribbit, but really not such a big deal for BT. In terms of valuation, it's very tricky to say whether overpaid or not. On paper, sure there's little in the way of revenues or customers, and developers can be a very fleeting "asset". This deal is all about promise and potential, and you'll just have to read the piece to see what this means to me.

Hope you like it, and I'd love to hear your take on this.

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Can Bell Canada Stay Competitive? Alec Says No.

Colleague Alec Saunders had an action-speaks-louder-than-words post yesterday that read my mind perfectly.

I had exactly the same reaction as Alec after reading Bell Canada's current position on infrastructure spending in the Globe & Mail.

Basically, the storyline is that Bell does not plan to pursue a FTTH - fiber to the home - strategy to deliver the high end speeds to stay on par or get ahead of the cablecos. They're taking the prudent approach in balancing the Capex required to upgrade their networks versus the fiscal realities that privatization is about to impose on them. It really is a rock and a hard place scenario, and Bell ultimately seems to be playing it safe.

Too safe for Alec's liking - mine too. So much so for Alec that his post was a public declaration that Bell will not be able to meet his needs, and he's making the switch from DSL to cable. I just had to share this with you as I think Alec speaks to an issue that may come to haunt Bell.

Their rationale is that Bell's plans for DSL and fiber will provide sufficient speeds - up to 10 Mbps - for what the market needs. Hmm. That may hold for the general population, but a few years from now, that number is going to sound like it's from a bygone era. Maybe this means that IPTV is not in their plans now and that they'll rely more on Expressvu for video. Or maybe they're going to surprise us or change their plans as market conditions dictate, but for now, this doesn't sound like the way to go for a company that more than ever needs to be on the leading edge.

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Inc Magazine - Top 5000 List/VoIP Companies

Colleague Garrett Smith had a post on Monday that I just saw and wanted to echo in case you missed it.

He cited Inc Magazine's current list of fastest growing companies. It covers the top 5000 in the U.S., which is a huge list, and it's something Garrett has been following for a while. His post cites the rising stars in the VoIP space, and it's worth reading to see where they stand in the rankings.

Of the top 10 in his list, I really only know 2 reasonably well - his own company, VoIP Supply, and He also noted some familiar honorable mentions - M5, Grandstream and VoIP Logic.

I did an additional filter of my own, just on telecom companies, and have one more to add of note that has a strong VoIP focus - Genband.

I'm not familiar with many of the other companies here, so I could well be missing a few, but these are the ones that fall into my everyday purview. No doubt you'll find others of note if you care to wade through the lists.

Garrett has done most of the heavy lifting, though, and I trust his judgment enough to say this is a pretty good barometer of who's doing well in our space, at least in terms of what the mainstream business press is looking for.

If you want pick through the lists and shout out a few others we should know about, by all means, join the conversation.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mobile VoIP - Update

Looks like I posted a touch too early on this topic yesterday.

Olga's Business Week article was posted right after midnight, and if I'd waited a bit longer I would have had all this in one post today.

Anyhow, she covers the ground nicely and talks about a new one I hadn't come across yet - Gorilla Mobile. My comments didn't make their way into the article, but most of what's there is familiar to what we talked about on Friday.

If you're interested in this topic, the BW article links to a post from yesterday by Dean Foust about making VoIP calls while flying. This is an important sub-story to the overall mobile VoIP theme and Dean cites Andy's post that I referenced yesterday. It's great to see Andy's stuff getting this kind of coverage, but I don't like seeing him simply being referred to as "a poster". Hopefully next time around Dean will have a better handle to use for Andy. :-)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Mobile VoIP - Easier Said Than Done

Wanted to pick up on a few threads here that I think point to a topic we're going to keep hearing about - why isn't mobile VoIP happening?

Of course the answer depends on who you talk to, but it's certainly getting people's attention and giving rise to some interesting questions. I've always been a fan of a mobile user's best friend - such as Truphone, fring, Jajah, Mobivox, Rebtel, etc. Admittedly, since I don't travel much, I don't have much utility for these services, but in the course of my work, I certainly understand the value proposition.

I think about this topic from time to time, but the ball got rolling for me on Friday when Olga Kharif of Business Week interviewed me on this topic. Whenever Olga calls me, there's usually a good story. She hasn't turned this into an article yet, but she prefaced the story with a post about mobile VoIP to her Tech Beat blog on Thursday. I'll update you if she does get an article running on this.

The theme hit me again with a really interesting post by Om Malik that I saw today. It was actually posted on Saturday - y'know, Om never stops...

His post went into very nice detail about how Nokia is no longer supporting mobile VoIP on certain N-Series phones, and concludes that Nokia is off the mark doing this. It's a great read and basically shows how the mobile operators still have the market power and can call the shots with handset vendors as to what services are going to run over their networks. Very interesting stuff.

This topic has come up a number of times on many blogs in recent months, but this post seemed to tie in nicely with what Olga is picking up on. To me, it's a simply a repeat of how landline operators initially responded to VoIP, and the pattern is very predictable. Eventually we'll get our mobile VoIP, but the carriers will only support it when they're good and ready - and they're not ready yet. As usual, Om's post generated loads of comments, and these are another barometer of how well Nokia's actions are going over - not.

Going in reverse motion, I need to bring in Andy Abramson's post from last week that cited a nice Wall Street Journal article about mobile VoIP. It's not really a critical analysis, but it's great mainstream coverage that I'm sure will eventually get more people wondering about this too.

Oh, and for a nice twist how you can do mobile VoIP even when you're not supposed to, Andy's got a great story to tell about what he did the other day. The tools are definitely there, and for those who are tech savvy enough and willing to experiment a little, mobile VoIP is just a few URLs and downloads away. This is a long way from becoming mainstream, but there's no doubt in my mind that mobile VoIP will get there - just not right away.

Am sure with a bit of digging I could find many other recent posts and news items to support my story here, but I'm satisfied that I've seen enough to conclude we've got a trend here. Aren't you?

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Blackberry Bold - Rogers is First to Market

Just wanted to briefly share some news that will be of interest to any RIM watcher.

The much-hyped Blackberry Bold was launched yesterday here in Toronto by Rogers, and is worth citing for a few reasons. I'm not much of gadget guy, but the Bold is a big deal, and I'll just wave the flag a bit here to say that Rogers is the first operator in North America to offer it. We're not winning a lot of medals in Beijing (although it's been a very good week!), and it's nice to talk about being first in something.

I wasn't at the launch, but local colleague Jim Courtney was, so I'll leave it to him to tell you about it first-hand. Jim knows RIM very well and had a great writeup about the launch that was posted last night.

Aside from the fact that Jim's post is a good read on the launch event and what the Bold means for Rogers (more than you might think), it was published as a guest post on GigaOm. That was really great to see in terms of giving Jim's post tremendous visibility and letting the world know that Canada does get its share of firsts.

An interesting subtext to this launch is the ever-evolving battle between Rogers and Bell for supremacy in Ontario, as well as nationally on the wireless front. Rogers has a killer one-two punch with the iPhone and now the Bold that keeps them top of mind in both the consumer and business markets.

Bell, of course, is trying to re-invent itself in the wake of privatization, and a big part of that has been their very new and very different branding campaign that's re-positioning them as a leading edge provider. And if you're local, you'll know why I said "providER". Lots to talk about there, but another time - this post is about steering you to Jim's review. Enjoy.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nortel Acquires DiamondWare

Got another acquisition story to tell you about, and one that I'm really glad to share on a few fronts. This morning, Nortel announced its acquisition of DiamondWare, one of those really cool, stealth-type companies most people have never heard about. Most - but not all. They were nice enough to cite me in the press release, and it probably helped that I'm one of those few people who have heard about DiamondWare.

This story has been a long time in the making, and I'm pretty certain that I'm the only industry analyst who has had direct exposure to both DiamondWare and Nortel's web.alive collaboration initiative. I'm not going to rehash the details, but you can read more about DiamondWare in my post from early last year, and Web.Alive in my post from May summarizing the highlights of an analyst/media day that Nortel hosted in Ottawa.

If you read these posts, you'll see that based on my experiences with both companies why this deal makes so much sense. It's great validation for DiamondWare, who cut its teeth on leading edge work for the US military, some of which has found commercial use in Second Life as well as most of the major gaming platforms. In my mind, if you can master these environments, enterprise applications should be relatively easy.

For Nortel, this is very nice evidence of the "new Nortel", and is the kind of acquisition that can return them to the forefront of innovation. In financial terms, it's a small deal - $7 million cash and up to $3 million for performance - but in technology value, it's much bigger. The traditional voice business is tough going for anyone battling Cisco, Avaya, etc. head-on, where margins are getting smaller and the number of competitors keeps growing. With web.alive and Project Chainsaw, Nortel is pushing the boundaries and by locking up great technology like DiamondWare, I think they've got a prime opportunity to define Communications 3.0 for the business market.

I'd say chalk one up in the win column for Nortel, and congrats to Keith Weiner and the DiamondWare team who have labored obscurely out in the desert - literally - Arizona - and now have a place to really shine.

As a footnote, to learn more about Project Chainsaw, you should check out their blog, which officially launched today.

On a personal note, I'd like to close by saying it's been a good week for acquisitions I've had some connection to. In addition to this story, on Tuesday I posted about another company I was involved with looking for an exit - Micromethod, who was just acquired by Voxeo. Not sure who's next, but when things happen, I'll be sure to let you know.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who Still Cares About VoIP? I Do!

Last month, I wrote a post wondering if VoIP is really happening, and it elicited some thoughtful dialog. August has been a busy month for VoIP, and I wanted to revisit things on a more positive note. There are definitely signs of life out there that show the VoIP glass being half full.

I�ll start first with Infonetics Research, as their latest research sets the stage at a high level. Their report show that the global VoIP business is up sharply, with 2007 data being the most current period. Residential and SOHO VoIP is up 52% in terms of revenues and 60% in terms of new subscribers from 2006. Overall, residential VoIP dominates, accounting for 74% of total market revenues. This segment will remain dominant, but business VoIP will grow more quickly, and is forecast to account for 41% of the market by 2011. This is good news for carriers who are targeting the business market, where most of the VoIP growth will come from SMBs. I don�t have access to the full report, but these top line trends tell a good story on their own, and ties in nicely with what some of the industry players are reporting lately.

Vonage is the most visible of these stories, and I�ll comment briefly on them first. Their Q2 numbers were released on August 7, and for my money there was more good news than bad. On the plus side, revenues are up, losses are down, and the churn rate has improved. It�s very easy to minimize this and focus on their challenges � the cumulative losses, sky-high marketing costs, tough competition, flat ARPU, management turnover, customer service issues, weak stock market sentiment, etc. However, this is a company that�s on track to hit $1 billion in revenues this year, and no pure play VoIP operator is close to this level.

Secondly, if churn continues to improve, so will their financials, and there�s no denying that the Q2 numbers are a big improvement. This is critical, not just to establish some positive momentum with subscribers and shareholders, but to improve Vonage�s chances with Silver Point to refinance their $253 million convertible debt that comes due in December.

While churn has improved from 3.3% to 3.0%, it is still high relative to Tier 1 carriers, and simply allows Vonage to stand still. The company may have acquired some 230,000 new subscribers in Q2, but 3 percent churn means they lost about as many, and reported a measly net gain of 2,080 subscribers. The realistic way to view Vonage now is not as a growth story, but one of maintenance. For all the marketing dollars being spent � and the spending is coming down � it is only sustaining the status quo, which is roughly 2.6 million subscribers. In my mind, there is nothing wrong with this as a strategy. Vonage has long been surpassed by the cablecos and will never challenge them again for market leadership. However, if they can defend their customer base, they do have a valuable asset, and one that can be profitable if managed effectively.

This brings me to my final Vonage thought � the recent appointment of Marc Lefar as CEO. This move was important, and given his roots at Cingular, he sounds like the right choice on two levels. First, I would have to think he knows a few things about retaining customers and hopefully he�ll keep the churn numbers going in the right direction. Secondly, he comes from the wireless world, which I believe Vonage needs to get closer to for survival. This is where the growth is, not just for new subscribers and bundling opportunities, but also for new services. Vonage is not the innovator it once was, but I think Mr. Lafar�s experience will help change this for the better.

Packet 8 is another operator reporting numbers this month, and while not as notable as Vonage, they say a lot about the evolving dynamics of the U.S. VoIP market. This company has a much longer history than Vonage but is only a fraction of the size. That said, they are also the second most important U.S. VoIP pure play, so it�s important to follow them. The main story coming out of their most recent results is the continued successful transition from consumer to business VoIP. This has been going on since late 2006, as they wisely saw the downward spiral Vonage was getting into, along with the ultimate futility of trying to compete with the cablecos. Good move.

Currently, the business market accounts for 56% of revenues, and while they�re chasing far fewer customers, the margins are better and the churn rate is lower. Packet 8 is a long way from being a money machine, but it looks like they�ve found their niche and seem to be doing a good job of defending it.

Aside from providing core VoIP telephony to SMBs, they�re enhancing the value proposition with business-oriented features such as IP trunking, mobility, hosted contact centers and hosted key systems. Peeking over to their residential offerings, they also have video calling and the Audio Production Store, a neat online marketplace for services to customize and enhance your greetings and messages. There�s no single thing here that makes Packet 8 stand out, but taken together, you have to like the moves they�re making to differentiate themselves in a very crowded marketplace.

Telio is not well known in North America, but I�ve been following them and commenting about them since going public around the same time as Vonage back in May 2006. I�m one of the few people in North America paying them much attention, and have long advocated that they have the right formula for success with VoIP. That has never been more apparent than in their Q2 earnings which have just been reported, with record results on many fronts. There are some basic parallels to Vonage, but the market dynamics in their native Norway are quite distinct, and Telio has proven that there is money to be made as a pure play VoIP operator. In my view they are the exception to the rule, but it can be done, and that�s why I�m writing about them here.

They have managed to avoid reducing VoIP to a commodity, and the numbers reflect this not just at the subscriber level, but operationally as well. Naturally, Telio operates on a much smaller scale than Vonage, and while they are fundamentally in the same business, the performance metrics are quite different. Telio reported 151,700 subscribers in Q2, which is up 13% from a year ago. They do not disclose churn, but I know it�s orders of magnitude less than Vonage, and largely explains why they�ve continued to grow. ARPU has remained steady at around $48 US when converted from NOK, and as the subscriber base grows, so does the top line.

Conversely, Opex per subscriber is about 20% lower than last year, demonstrating that economies of scale can be realized with their business model. As a result, profits are up, and gross margin has increased from 58% last year to 61% today. Telio is now solidly profitable, they remain the dominant provider for broadband telephony in Norway, plus they are expanding both geographically and into the business market.

I think it�s a great story and to me, Telio is the benchmark for success among pure play VoIP operators. It strikes me that if they can find a way to replicate their business model, Telio could become a platform play of sorts for expanding into other markets. Having established a base of profits and retained earnings, I wouldn�t be at all surprised to see them move in this direction in the near future.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Micromethod Acquired by Voxeo

Got some nice news to share about a former client that hit the wires this morning. Micromethod Technologies is a tiny company most of you have never heard about, and they've been quietly doing some leading edge work in the SIP server space.

Today, at their big industry event - SpeechTEK - Voxeo announced the acquisition of Micromethod. The news was a key highlight from their event today, and colleague Dan York provided a more detailed take on the Voxeo blog.

Last year, Micromethod engaged me to help find a buyer, and Voxeo was one of several companies we entered into discussions with. During this time I got to know Voxeo, and have since become a fan. Without getting into the details, it's a great fit for both companies. Micromethod gets exposure to a large customer base to put their applications/platform to work, and Voxeo gets some entry points into Asia as well as a tightly-knit developer team in China.

This deal came to fruition after my time with Micromethod, but I'm still very glad to see them get an exit and a home to keep their technology evolving. It's a good news story all around, and some nice validation that small startups can do well for themselves if they stick to their vision and hone in on the right targets.

Since we all have to make a living, I'll just leave you with this thought - if you're in a similar situation as Micromethod and need the benefit of a third party in this space, drop me a line. Similarly, if you're in Voxeo's shoes, and are looking for emerging companies with promising technology, I can probably be of help.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Carl Ford 3.0

Carl Ford is one of my favorite people in this business, and few people make more of an indelible impression than Carl. He has long been the Mutt half of VON's Mutt and Jeff combination, and one of the first questions that came to my mind with the demise of VON was what would Carl do?

For better or worse, Carl is not shy, and most of us have stayed in touch via his various Facebook pages, and he's been working his network to keep busy in this brave new world. Like me, he's got a bunch of things on the go, and with an unparalleled network of industry contacts, Carl has many avenues to pursue.

I'm just doing my part here to help keep Carl in the spotlight, just in case you were wondering what he's been up to. So, I've got three things to share, and on all these fronts, I'm sure Carl would be happy to hear from you.

First - for everyday musings, there's Carl's blog. You can find the link on my blog roll, or if that's just too much bother, here it is. Also - for more occasional commentary, Carl is a contributor for Fierce VoIP, which is a great forum for us indie types.

Second - Carl's portal - we all have to have one, right? - A bit of an odd name - and not to be confused with So, either use the link, or don't forget to include "the" in the name if you're typing this out the old fashioned way.

It's definitely worth checking out. First, you'll find a parallel blog on the site that includes news items and podcast interviews that aren't on his personal blog. He's going to be doing one with me and my son Max about the iPhone later this week, so stay tuned for that one.

Two other important items to note on Carl's portal - the SME VoIP Alliance, and VoIP Blogs. The first is a networking resource for those of us focused on the SME VoIP space, and the latter is an expansive directory of top VoIP blogs. Pretty self explanatory, I know, but they're pretty useful resources. You can find me in both places, but fyi, the blogs portal is a bit tricky to navigate unless you're an experienced Mac or iPhone/Touch user.

Third - you can file this under "believe it or not" if you like, but hey, life goes on. I'll be seeing Carl again a month from now at TMC's IT Expo. Yup. Like me, he's moderating a session on SMB, and possibly others. Six months ago, this would have been as likely as Microsoft being invited to speak at a Google event. His session is titled "Making the Business Case for VoIP", and takes place just before my session on the Thursday of the conference. Can't wait!

So, in a nutshell, those are three things that more or less say "Carl 3.0" to me. We're all in this together, folks, so I'm happy to update the world, and am really looking forward to seeing Carl in September and supporting his initiatives along the way.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Service Provider Views - Updates on Jajah, Ribbit and Ifbyphone

My latest Service Provider Views column is running now on TMCnet. I've decided to revisit some companies from earlier columns who embody various aspects of the platform play - Ribbit, Jajah and Ifbyphone.

They've all had important news announcements recently that show how quickly this space is evolving. Actually, the news from Jajah was only announced this morning, so it's very fresh. I don't want to divert you from reading my article yet, but for convenience, you can pick up the press release from Jajah and Intel here - it's pretty interesting stuff.

Hopefully that will pique your interest in my article, and you can read that here. As always, comments are welcome, as are suggestions for other platform plays you'd like me to look at.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Internet Telephony Expo - Will You Be There?

TMC's Fall edition of the IT Expo is just over a month away, and it's time to start talking it up. The IT Expo West 2008 will be in Los Angeles, and runs from September 16-18, and you can immerse yourself in the program at the event website.

The IT Expo has truly been a survivor and is still one of the best horizontal telecom events around, especially for the enterprise and SMB market. There is a healthy list of keynotes from market leaders, and it's especially nice to see Jonathan Christensen from Skype in that mix. Skype is certainly making strides in the business market, and it's great to see TMC adding disruptors like Skype to the program.

I'll be moderating a session on SMB VoIP on Thursday at 2pm, so please come see us if this topic is of interest. We've maxed out with six speakers from BandTel, Broadvox,, M5, Packet 8 and VoSKY. That really covers the bases, so this should be time well spent.

Long-time industry colleague Ari Rabban will be speaking for, and they present a really interesting solution for those looking for a web-based, hosted approach to voice services - either home or business. Ari also authors the blog, and had a nice Q&A with TMC's Rich Tehrani the other day about his outlook for the market - it's a good read.

I'll have other posts leading up to the Expo as things develop, and as my other plans fall into place.

Until then, I'd also like to do a shout-out to welcome TMC's Dave Rodriguez to the blogsphere! Dave has been a strong advocate for me with TMC and it's great to see him blogging now. Looks like he just got going this month, and with cable being his focus, his blog is aptly titled Cable Content Connection. So far so good, and it looks like another nice addition to TMC's stable of blogs.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

eComm 2009 Planning and Advisory Board Under Way

The date for eComm 2009 has now been set, and will be March 3-5, returning to the same venue in San Jose. The event is very much a work in progress, so there's not much more to share publicly, but as that changes, I'll keep you posted.

There was a ton of great content at the inaugural eComm, and Lee Dryburgh has labored long and hard to share as much of it as possible on the eComm website, and I urge you to spend some time on the eComm blog to see what you missed.

I've been asked to join the eComm Advisory Board, which I'm happy to be a part of. This will be made public when the eComm 2009 website is launched, and for now, all you can see is the 2008 Advisory Board.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

iPhone Now Using GIPS to Support VoIP

On Friday I was apprised of a newsworthy item that crossed the wires this morning, and I'm just getting a chance to post about it now.

This item involves GIPS and Apple, and the main idea is that their market leading VoiceEngine Mobile application is now being used in the iPhone. GIPS has made its name as the standard-setter for voice codecs and this news is a great validation for what their technology can do for mobility.

I've long felt that cell phones were one of the biggest cons going, and could never understand why people would pay so much for such crappy voice quality. I'm being a bit of a lug-head here, but we all know how inferior cell phone quality is to everyday PSTN, whether it's dropped calls, crackly voice or no 911. Of course mobility is all about convenience, and obviously people are willing to compromise voice quality for walking and talking. I've also long wondered why mobile carriers don't offer a premium cell service where you can approximate PSTN quality. I'm sure there are lots of reasons why not, but let's get back to the story here.

VoIP, of course, is the last thing most people would think about for improving the mobile voice experience. It's had such a bad rap historically, but people like me have followed it long enough to know that under the right conditions, not only is VoIP on par with PSTN, but when it's end-to-end IP, it's a superior experience. Who wouldn't want this in their cell phone?

That's where GIPS comes in. They know voice and they know VoIP, and there's nothing hotter today than the iPhone. I don't hesitate to state that making a phone call is the last thing people use the iPhone for. To me, it's incidental to what the iPhone is all about - it's first and foremost a mobile broadband device, and if you don't want to talk with it, just buy the equally popular iTouch.

I could go on about this point of view, but would rather build up to the big question that makes this news so interesting. Let me tear down my own argument and say if you think the iPhone is popular now, can you imagine how popular it will be when it can deliver a really great voice experience??? Talk about a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Well, that's what I think Apple may have on its hands here. Mobile VoIP faces a lot of obstacles from the carriers - understandably - but as with landline VoIP, it will eventually become mainstream. Being an industry outsider, it's totally in character for Apple to support this, and they see a much bigger picture than just making VoIP calls to your friends.

As the press release explains, the GIPS VoiceEngine will enable a great experience for all kinds of things that the iPhone is very well built for - multi-player gaming and of course, social networking. Apple delivers a great multi-media experience, and with VoiceEngine, this stands to be even better, making the iPhone that much more of a must-have device for the 2.0 crowd.

Aside from the merits of this news on its own, I have to say that the timing is pretty savvy. You don't have to look far today to see how the App Store is quickly becoming Apple's newest money machine. Steve Jobs is happy to tell us how downloads for iPhone applications are already a $1 million dollar a day business. Voice is the stickiest application of them all, and bringing GIPS into the picture, I'm sure it won't take long for savvy iPhone users to figure out how VoIP makes so many of their experiences that much better. I'm not seeing much talk about this yet today in Apple-land, but that should change once people start connecting the dots here.

Finally, I can't help but mention that I still call GIPS by its original name - Global IP Sound. For those of you keeping score, the company did a re-branding last year, which included the name change to Global IP Solutions. With today's Apple news, this shift seems all that more fitting. To me, VoiceEngine is much more about solving the problem of crappy voice quality and enabling a better multimedia experience than simply making things sound better.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

July Media Roundup

I recently started doing a monthly roundup of media citings and now that I'm back from vacation, here's a quick summary of where I turned up during the month of July.

Ottawa Business Journal - Espial's outlook after acquiring Kasenna: "Taking Stock: Espying a Tough Road Ahead"

Business Week - "Can Cingular's Savior Work His Magic at Vonage?"

Chicago Sun-Times - Ifbyphone profile: "Answering the Call"

ITWorld Canada - "Rogers iPhone Rates Draw Canadian Users' Ire"

In addition, the following articles and commentaries of mine were published during July:

Service Provider Views - "SMB VoIP Trends -- Q&A with John Macario, Part 2"

Service Provider Views - "Tier 2/3 Service Providers: Leading the Way with VoIP"

Unified Communications News - "Social Media Challenges Reside with Users, not Technology" - "Can I Keep my PBX While Migrating to VoIP?" - "How Will Employee Desktop Video Use Affect our Network?" - "Making the Decision to Shift to Hosted VoIP"

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Post-Vacation News Roundup - XConnect, Jajah, Mobivox, Fonolo, magicJack

Things always happen when you're on vacation, so I'm just catching up on industry news now. Didn't seem to miss a whole lot while I was gone, but I wanted to note four items that have just hit the market in the past couple of days.

They're all different and probably warrant separate posts, but I have too much new stuff to move on to, and wanted to at least give them some attention. So, in no particular order, here are some items that you should be aware of, if not already through other sources.

Item 1 - XConnect

On Wednesday, XConnect announced some breakthrough news on the peering front. XConnect has developed a peering solution for cable operators in the Netherlands, and as far as I know, this is the first of its kind in the industry. This stems from XConnect's big win back in 2006 to handle all the peering among Dutch cable operators. By routing all this traffic across a common platform, the cable operators in effect create an alternative to the PSTN that could largely bypass the local telcos altogether. This was a great proof point for VoIP and the ability for a commercial peering solution to work on a reasonably large scale.

The big news now is that XConnect (along with partner Kayote Networks) has achieved interoperability with the Nokia Siemens hiQ VoIP platform. This builds nicely on XConnect's 2006 peering win, which led to the development of SIPX, the Dutch SIP Exchange project for cablecos. With Nokia Siemens being so strong in the EU, and cable penetration being 97% in the Netherlands, this news means that cable operators have a pretty complete solution for VoIP. Not only is this great validation for XConnect's vision, but it allows cable operators to offer true end-to-end SIP-based VoIP. This should translate into a superior offering, not just in terms of more affordable service for subscribers, but a better quality experience, especially with high fidelity voice codecs and video telephony.

Item 2 - Jajah and Mobivox

On Wednesday, Jajah actually had two really cool announcements. First is Jajah Babel - wow, this is neat. Released just in time for the Beijing Olympics, this service provides real time translation from English to Mandarin (and vice versa) on the phone. Of course you need to use Jajah's platform, but it's not hard to imagine how popular this is going to be over the next few weeks! Let's not forget that Jajah is now running Yahoo's voice platform, so they've got a pretty large global market at their disposal, and like the Tower of Babel, this will no doubt be the first step towards adding other languages and getting everybody talking to everybody. Just when you thought voice was getting boring.

Jajah also had a second announcement, this one being a partnership with Mobivox, a Canadian company I have followed for ages. This one is a bit smaller scale, but still pretty interesting. Not to confuse you, but there are two stories here. First is Mobivox's move to partner with Jajah to be the platform for their own offerings. Second is Jajah's launch of their Concierge service, which uses Mobivox's voice recognition technology to enable voice-activated telephony. This will be a handy value-added feature for operators using Jajah's platform, especially when targeting mobile users. As the press release notes, states like California now require hands-free calling in the car, so it's easy to see where Concierge will be of value. Sounds like a good partnership to me.

Item 3 - Fonolo

Yesterday, Toronto-based Fonolo announced the release of its API at the ClueCon developer conference in Chicago. The developer community is really the beta audience for Fonolo, but the early reactions - there and just prior to ClueCon have been just great.

Check out this post from The Consumerist for a starting point. Andy Abramson's Fonolo post provides more detail along with links to other industry responses.

If the term "Deep Dialing" is news to you, it won't be after reading this, and I guarantee that you'll get the idea right away. I'm not going to spoil this and tell you here - just read it and see for yourself. Then, go ahead and sign up for the beta yourself. I've been using it a bit, and it's pretty cool. This is a definitely an application everyone has a use for, and I'm pretty sure it will be finding its way into a telco near you, hopefully by early 2009.

Item 4 - magicJack

If you follow my blog, you may recall my post about magicJack back in early June. I provided my candid thoughts after learning about it following a magicJack story I was interviewed for. It has turned out to be one of my most enduring posts, as I'm still getting comments about it - both pro and con.

Anyhow, I smiled broadly when I saw that colleague Thomas Howe put up an even more candid post about magicJack while we were away on vacation. Looks like magicJack is in the midst of a big TV campaign, and Thomas just couldn't believe what he was seeing in their ad the other day. So, if you liked my post, you'll really like his! The Analyst in me can't help but try to be balanced, whereas the Engineer in Thomas sees things more black and white - that is, all problem and no solution. Read 'em both, and tell me what yout think - I'd love to keep this dialog going.

This sure has turned into a long post, but now you're up on all the news that's keeping me up at night.

Disclosure - I am an Advisor to both XConnect and Fonolo, but in all fairness, I'm not the only one out there blogging about these news items.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Service Provider Views - Savatar Q&A, Part 2

My Part 2 Q&A with John Macario of Savatar is running now on TMCnet. I was hoping to get this posted before going on vacation last week, but it wasn't published until after we'd gone away.

This article is for the bi-monthly column I'm writing for them - it's called Service Provider Views, and it covers the broad spectrum of topics that I find topical for this space.

The previous column was Part 1, where John and I talked about some of the bigger trends around the adoption of VoIP and IP communications and the challenges facing Tier 2/3 operators. Part 2 focuses more on the current findings of Savatar's research and how these operators are tackling the SMB market. John touches on some interesting nuances of this space and shared a few graphic highlights. We hope you like it.

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