Friday, November 28, 2008

BCE Deal - How Do You Value a Telco?

The BCE privatization saga continues, and now the ball is back in BCE's court as they try to defend their valuation and trump KPMG's solvency opinion. There's a lot at stake here, and both sides are pulling out all the stops to get things to go their way. It's a bit like watching Detroit's auto execs going hat in hand to Washington for a bailout. If the deal falls apart, there are big time winners and losers, and a whole new environment for Canadian service providers.

I'm not following the minutiae of the story, but you can get a good taste of it here. It's high stakes accounting, banking and legalese, with lots of complexities around things like the criteria for determining solvency, the benchmark dates for making valuations, potential conflicts of interest for KPMG between BCE and the bankers, avoidance of paying break fees if the solvency test is the deal-killer, the impact of Canada's suddenly weak dollar, etc.

There are many angles and sub-stories here, and some will only be of local interest. In some ways BCE is better off remaining a public company, and long-standing shareholders will be happy because the huge drop in valuation this week only remains a paper loss. By staying public, BCE avoids taking on the $30+ billion in debt, which would severely restrict its ability to invest in network upgrades to remain competitive. If the deal dies, all bets are off, and BCE's competitors will have to expect a more aggressive posture from them. That in turn should keep the playing field a bit more level since BCE will be jumping back into the pool with both feet.

Not everyone out there will find the BCE story of interest, and that's fine. My main reason for posting about this is to draw attention to the challenges of valuing a telco, especially in tough economic times. I'm not an expert in business valuations, but it sure must be difficult to assess the value of the two primary assets of any telco - its subscribers and the network. BCE is a great case study since it's so public, and if I was a telco, I'd be watching this one closely. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one or two major telcos/cablecos to falter in 2009, and they'll have the same issues to deal with. In today's world of IP communications it's much harder to place a value on the subscriber, and at some point, revenues from advertisers will be part of the mix, just like they are with the portal players like Google and Yahoo. I'm sure BCE will be a real test to determine just how well auditors can do their job in valuing service providers, and I guess we'll know once the final rulings are decided. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Microsoft Canada Analyst Day

I spent most of today attending Microsoft Canada's analyst day here in Toronto. It was led by Sean Seaton and his team, and they sure covered a lot of ground. Sean is the Director of their Communications Sector, and just about everything they talked about was of interest to me.

Today Microsoft touches every facet of communications, and the opening vision statement sums it up pretty well: "to create experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of Internet services across a world of devices."

That covers pretty much everything, and Microsoft is working very hard to straddle the worlds of software and the Web - while at the same time, steering very clear of anything to do with hardware.

We saw a series of presentations covering desktop applications, Windows Live 3, mobility, the workplace, entertainment, and Mediaroom. On its own, each of these is very interesting, but together you have tip your hat to Microsoft for being so strong in so many places.

To me, though, the strongest story was the service provider market, where they really are becoming an important player. I'd say that was the core focus for most of us in the room, so we were a pretty attentive audience. I've seen much of this before in their Telco 2.0 presentations, and written about it in some of my Service Provider Views columns.

I'm going to leave it at that for now, but will touch on many of their service provider themes in my next column, which should run on Friday. So, you'll have to come back to hear the rest of the story.

Oh - kudos also to High Road Communications for pulling this event together and hosting it at their downtown offices. They always do a good job and I'd say Microsoft is being well served by them.

Aside from this, we had a recurring distraction running all day wondering if the BCE privatization deal was going to fall apart. It was a very ugly day, as the stock fell 34% in value, driven by concerns over a negative opinion by KPMG regarding BCE's ability to meet the solvency requirements for the deal. Canada's financial sector hasn't been shaken to it core like the U.S., but the magnitude of this deal is enough to undermine confidence in our entire telecom sector. That's another post in itself, but I'll hold off until the dust settles around BCE. Phew.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TMC's Blog Aid - blogging for a better good

In times of trouble, we often see some form of an "Aid" program pop up. Well, telecom is having its share of trouble, and I'm sure we all know people who have recently been put out of work. Nobody likes being in this position and if you've been there, then any and all forms of support are welcome.

TMC recently launched one such initiative, and I just came across it. They call it Blog Aid, and basically TMC is making its huge web reach available to out of work industry people. For those who are willing to blog, and showcase their expertise to the industry at large, TMCnet offers a pretty big stage to get their ideas across.

Sounds like a win-win to me. Telecom people looking for work have a place to be heard and perhaps network, and TMCnet gains some unique content to make their web presence that much more interesting. You can read more about it here on Rich Tehrani's blog.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Calliflower Premium Launched

Regular readers will know that I've followed Ottawa-based Iotum for a long time, and have some news to pass on for their latest incarnation, Calliflower. This is a Web 2.0-style platform that's trying to bring more intelligence and value to audio conferencing.

At the recent Under the Radar event, Calliflower had two announcements of note. First is their integration with the iPhone. This is good news for two reasons. First, it exposes Calliflower to a huge market of tech-savvy consumers, some of whom will no doubt find this service of great value. Second, since Calliflower is mainly a business application, it makes the iPhone more relevant to the enterprise market - SMBs as well - and that's a big market that Apple very much wants to crack.

Secondly, Calliflower launched its Premium service, which comes with a modest monthly fee that will be attractive to power users, especially those doing international conference calls. I believe that companies like Calliflower/Iotum need fee-based offerings to survive long term, and it's great to them do this. The introductory pricing is $50 per month for two organizers, and with this you get file sharing, and local inbound dialing for North America and 4 other countries, plus the use of Voxbone's iNum global area code (883). You can read more about it in the press release here.

There's a lot of Web 2.0 here, and you can imagine how much more engaging these calls can be, layering file sharing and IM on top of the audio service. Plus, with the flat monthly fee, the per minute dialing charges are eliminated, making conferencing much more affordable for regular users - as well as attractive to everyone else who thinks that conference calling is expensive.

Oh - if you're keen, and are among the first 400 to sign up before November 30, Calliflower will add a 3rd organizer at no extra cost.

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SocComm2009 - Jeff 3.0?

Can you say SocComm 3 times fast? I can barely say it once, but that's the name of Jeff Pulver's latest event. The full name will give you more of a clue as what it's about - the Social Communications Summit, and Jeff posted about this again on Friday. It's being held in his backyard of NYC, and takes place from February 10-11.

Am not quite sure what social communications means, but anyone following Jeff's blog will know that's more or less where his energies are focused these days. With the Pulvermedia VON era officially over, you know it's not going to be about VoIP. In those days my world very much overlapped with Jeff's, but not so much now.

Still, we all have at least some focus on social communications today, whether that means voice, IM, presence, video, mashups, digital collaboration, etc. All forms of communication are social, and from there you can span out in a variety of directions to become an innovator, and eventually - hopefully - a real business.

So, if this is your passion, then you need to pay heed to Jeff's post, as he's reminding his readers that the Call for Speakers deadline is December 5. And for those of us who blog, Jeff is simply asking for support to get the word out.

Now you know, and for reference, there's a website running for the event. Is this the Jeff 3.0 we've all been wondering about? The venue hasn't been announced, but it sounds like this will be his first event in a public venue since the last VON, so we'll just have to wait and see. I'll certainly be following with interest.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

eComm2009 - Updated Roster

Agenda planning for eComm2009 has been in full swing lately, and it's been a blur of submissions followed by ongoing commentary by email among the Advisory Board. We're all busy, and with my recent travels, I've been doing my best to contribute feedback.

Anyhow, the rosted was updated the other day, and I wanted to get the word out that the program is shaping up nicely. The eComm format is different from most events, and it's all about volume, really. Most speaking slots are only 10 or 15 minutes long, so attendees will certainly get their money's worth in terms of hearing from lots and lots of smart people.

How much of this you retain is another conversation, but eComm is really about community building. There won't be any snap quizzes at the end to test if you were paying attention. You're really there to soak up as much innovative and disruptive thinking as possible, and hopefully you'll go away with at least one game-changing idea.

So, to see who's speaking so far, please visit the Conference Schedule page of the eComm website. It's a good mix of household names and unknowns, so you can expect to get perspectives that are both reality-based and not-yet-mainstream-but-will-be-soon.

I should also add that it's a tough market for conferences, but sponsors are stepping up nicely to support eComm, so a solid base of financial support is forming. Most recently, Voxeo and Skype have signed on, and join other notables sponsors, such as GIPS, Voxbone, MetaSwitch and Jaduka.

Lots more additions to come, and aside from reading posts like mine, you can get a direct pipeline to the latest news by subscribing to alerts on the eComm homepage, as well as following the eComm blog, and signing up with the eComm Facebook Group.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tekelec Industry Analyst Day

Yesterday I attended Tekelec's industry analyst day, which was held at their headquarters in Morrisville, N.C. That was a new stop for me, but very much worth the time, and should add this was their first such event. I really like this format ' it's small in scale and doesn't take much time out of your week. Maybe 15 industry analysts ' very friendly and approachable. All of us sitting around a table with their senior management team, hearing about their roadmap for both business focus and technologies.

Being a public company, Tekelec does other things with the investment analyst community, and I'm sure for them, this is a more enjoyable meeting of the minds than talking about EPS and return on capital. Every analyst covers vendors in their own way, but I think I was the only analyst in the room who blogs, so this may be the first update you're seeing on our day.

I'm not an expert on signaling, which is their forte, but I've followed Tekelec for several years, and can say this is a great example of where sticking to your focus really pays off. CEO Frank Plastina set the tone by first saying one of their challenges was being better understood as a company. Of course, that's one reason for doing these analyst events, and I definitely came away with a clear idea of their focus.

The engineers in the room had lots to talk about, but I'm in the minority here, and didn't have much to say. Signaling gets pretty technical, and I'll just say that Tekelec is very good at a lot of the heavy lifting that goes on in carrier networks to make sure your calls go through without missing a beat. However, on a business level, there's a pretty clear story here, and it's a good one that I'm happy to talk about.

Tekelec is one of those rare companies that's a market leader among much bigger competitors, and that says a lot about what they're doing right. They hold a 39% market share for global SS7 STP shipments and have over 300 customers in 68 countries. This includes 6 of the 10 largest wireline carriers, and 8 of the 10 largest wireless carriers. For wireless, they're actually hitting 100% of the available market within the top 10. The two they don't serve ' China Telecom and DoCoMo ' have proprietary networks and are closed to outsiders.

This global footprint gives them valuable insight into all the nuances of carrier networks, which is a key element to their success. As Frank says, this gives them a 'seat at the table' for major carriers looking to better understand and manage their traffic. They've seen all the scenarios, and know how to work across all the variants as carriers switch between circuit and IP traffic, as well as within all flavors of signalling protocols like SIP.

Tekelec is hardly alone in terms of having a global perspective on carrier networks, but you have to admire their operating success, and this is where they stand out from the crowd. Lots of impressive performance metrics to consider, and they all paint a picture of a stable company that's profitable, growing, and debt free. Tekelec's stock may be down a few dollars, but there was a great slide showing how this performance compares to their peers, and it's head and shoulders ahead of the meltdowns most other vendors are seeing in the market.

After seeing all the various presentations, I came away with a few conclusions:

First, the market for what Tekelec does isn't going away any time soon. As Frank explained, traffic volumes are growing faster than revenues, and carriers need to keep spending money to upgrade their networks. This is a core business issue for carriers as networks seem to be in a permanent state of transition. Tekelec helps make networks run more efficiently, and their routing algorithms seem to be their secret sauce. They know their business, and there's plenty of evidence on display around here for all their patents and intellectual property.

This is a classic engineering-driven company, and I say that in a good way. Tekelec invests 20% of operating revenue in R&D, which is well above industry norms. The payoff comes in the form of high gross margins which do not appear to be suffering in today's difficult market. When R&D translates into profits, it truly becomes a form of competitive advantage, and in this case it looks to be sustainable.

Tekelec has maintained a clear focus around which this competitive advantage can be based. They have exited non-core businesses like switching (sold to Genband) and do not appear interested in going in new directions. You might say this is a bit boring, but if it's not broken, don't fix it. I'm a big fan of this strategy, and so long as they have to hold their own against bigger competitors, it's the best way survive ' and thrive.

By extension, this focus has translated into a strong balance sheet and money in the bank - $300 million, plus a $50 million revolving line ready and waiting. They explained that Tekelec has been looking for acquisitions for over a year, but are being very selective. In this market, they're in a great position to further consolidate their space, and I'm sure they're closely following some choice targets. Startups aren't thinking IPO right now, and for companies like Tekelec, it's a buyer's market. Lucky them.

All told, I came away with a greater appreciation for what Tekelec does, and I'd be hard pressed to think of another public company in our space of comparable size in this good a shape and with such promising growth prospects.


Frank Plastina's opening session


Wolrad Claudy, SVP Global Sales



I can get used to this. Very nice hospitality - thanks Tekelec.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Service Provider Views - Managing in a Down Economy

My latest column for TMCnet is running now. This edition of Service Provider Views picks up from last month's theme about how carriers are being impacted by the economy. The health of service providers determines the health of vendors, and I have some thoughts on what's happening with both.

The main idea I'm trying to get across is that despite all the bad news, there are a number of companies bucking the trend, and are doing just fine. Apple is a a true anomaly, but there are quite a few companies peforming very well while their peers struggle along.

You can read the article here, and by all means, I'd love to hear your thoughts or other good news stories I've missed.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Next Stop - Tekelec

Got a short trip this week, and one that I'm looking forward to. I've been invited to attend Tekelec's Industry Analyst Day at their offices in Morrisville, N.C. Aside from having followed Tekelec for many years, I've never been to Morrisville (near RTP), so it's a new travel destination for me.

Tekelec has a long history with SS7 and today have a strong focus on IMS and SIP-based solutions. Most of what they do isn't terribly sexy - routing, ENUM, signaling, messaging and traffic management - but it's core for any nextgen network. They have a lot going on with mobile messaging, and that's an area I'm particularly keen to learn more about.

Perhaps more importantly, this is a company that's doing quite well in a down market. Their stock price is off - no surprise there - but not nearly to the extent that most telecom vendors are seeing. They just had their Q3 results, which were quite strong, and the company is on track for $500 million in revenues next year. They're definitely doing a lot of things right, and that's reflected in a couple of recent news items. First, they were just named to the Forbes list of 200 Best Small Companies, and second, they were recently added to the Standard & Poors SmallCap 600 list.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Deloitte Fast 500 Results Posted

It's late, but I wanted to get this post done before the week is out. With so much bad news out there, it's important to take notice of the good things, and I've got one here.

Deloitte compiles its annual Technology Fast 500 of high growth North American companies, and the 2008 list was just announced this week.

I haven't posted about this listing recently, but did post about their companion ranking - the Canadian Fast 50 - last year. I missed the Fast 50 this time around, and wanted to be sure I caught the 2008 Fast 500.

This listing covers many segments of the tech sector, and only a few are related to telecom or communications. 500 companies is a lot of ground to cover, and I can only comment on these sub-sectors, and within that, the companies that I follow or have some familiarity with. The only thing I'd like to say about the overall universe is that Canada accounted for 8% of the Fast 500 companies, which is probably about right.

With that said, all I'd like to do is draw attention to the companies I know something about. There's plenty else you can mine for yourself, and the detail is all there on their site.

First, waving the Canadian flag, I'd like to cite seven companies that made the list. I especially want to mention MyThumb Interactive, the highest rated Canadian company that I follow. Not only did they do very well here, but they made the Canadian Fast 50 last year. So, hats off to these companies, with three of them cracking the top 100:

MyThumb Interactive (#44), Sandvine (71), Impact Mobile (89), RIM (142), Vizible Corp. (171), Bridgewater Systems (423), and Redline Communications (462)

From the U.S., here are eight familiar companies you can feel good about:

GENBAND (63), Grandstream (109), BroadSoft (185), ShoreTel (215), Occam Networks (217), Cbeyond (406), Neustar (451), and Sonus Networks (493)

Some of you will have broader coverage than me, so if I missed any of note from this list, by all means, let me know. When it comes to recognizing growth stories, the more the better.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

magicJack - the Saga Continues - be Careful Out There

I first posted about magicJack back in June, and I've never had a post with legs like this. I don't generate tons of comments like uber-bloggers do, but for some reason this post keeps finding people, and I think it's a sign of the times.

If magicJack is new to you (yes, that's a small "m" - part of its charm I guess), then just read my post, and you'll have the story. Basically, it's a USB gadget that gives you "free" VoIP. The company/inventor behind the product is more interesting than the product itself, and that's what my post focused on.

Aside from the post itself, the comments tell you what people really think about this thing. Just when it looks like the world has moved on to other can't-miss ideas, I get another magicJack comment last night - here's an excerpt:

I am completely shocked at how Dan Borislow has misrepresented his product, and his "free, 30 day trial" which is nonexistant. I ordered 2 on the trial, just to have my credit card immediately charged. I went to their chat window customer service, and they refused all phone numbers to reach anyone at an administrative level. They charged my creditcard without my authorization, after they sent me an email stating it would not be charged for 30 days. They then refused to reverse the charge. I will not accept their delivery, I will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and look into a class action lawsuit against this company, as it seems thousands have been scammed by this company's blatant misrepresentation.

Oooh. Not a happy customer, and he has more to say - check it out for yourself.

I'm always happy to get comments, but this one sets off red flags for me. First of all, magicJack is still around. They are either the real deal and must be doing something right - or, there are still loads of people out there reading mass market advertisements who will jump sight unseen at the prospect of saving some money. Unless magicJack has changed its stripes - which is doubtful based on the above comment - there's a lot of fine print that prospective buyers should be reading and understanding before placing an order.

You don't need me to tell you how bad things are out there, and telecom is not immune. What worries me is how attractive the promise of magicJack is to people trying to save money any way they can. Nothing wrong with saving money in tough times, but magicJack is hardly a straight up proposition. It may seem that way if you're not careful, but Paul's comment from yesterday is a reminder that it's not.

His parting thought says it all for me...

The moral of the story is don't trust a phone company that tells you they do not have a phone number you can call if you have a problem with billing or anything else. A phone company with no phones sure sounds fishy...

The allure of FREE is pretty strong these days, and generally you get what you pay for. Clearly magicJack is still attracting interest, and based on some of the comments I've had, they do have happy customers. However, for a product I have concerns with, I tend to put more stock in what people like Paul are saying.

In short, caveat emptor. Free can be a beautiful thing, but everything comes with a price, even VoIP!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SaaS Model for VoIP - Ari Rabban's View in IP Convergence TV

I haven't had much to report lately for the IP Convergence TV portal, although the video interviews I conducted at the recent IT Expo have now been posted there as well.

In addition, however, I do regular outreach with industry thought leaders to contribute Guest Opinion articles to the portal. The most recent piece comes from long-time colleague Ari Rabban, who should be familiar to my regular readers. Ari's been in VoIP as long as anybody, going back to the early days of VocalTec. He's currently the CEO of, an interesting VoIP startup I've talked about previously. is a great example of a VoIP SaaS solution, and they have pretty cool offerings for both residential and SMB environments. I've used the SMB service a bit, and it's great having an 800 number to give out to people.

In today's economy, SaaS makes a lot of sense, and looks to be in the right place at the right time these days. I'm sure we'll be hearing more good things in due course, and until then, I encourage you to give Ari's article a read. It was posted earlier today on the IPCTV portal, and is also runing now on the blog.

Let me - and Ari - know your thoughts, and if you like it, you should sign up for the service!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Signs of Life - SightSpeed, iSkoot, Intelepeer, BCE

Busy, busy - no time for a thoughtful post, but a quick one will do. With so much bad news out there - and more coming no doubt - it's good to remember that good things are happening too.

I've got my hands full with work right now, but wanted to make sure you knew that it's not all gloom and doom. In no particular order, these should give you cause for hope. It's Remembrance Day/Veterans Day, after all, so a pause to appreciate the positives is not such a bad idea.

Intelepeer - today announced a raise of $18 million.

iSkoot - a few days back, they raised $19 million.

SightSpeed - long a favorite of mine - was acquired about 2 weeks ago by Logitech for $30 million.

BCE - up here in Canada, despite difficult capital markets, it looks like the financing needed for their privatization deal is falling into place.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

My Dealey Plaza Experience: "Who Shot JFK?" - Ask Ron

In my earlier post about coming to Dallas, I mentioned feeling an inspiring opportunity being in this city the day after the election and being so close by to Dealey Plaza. Everybody knows the history around this place, but how many of us have actually been there? I just had to do it. I won't go into rant mode about how modern technology is great at connecting people virtually, but it's rapidly destroying the importance of the physical world. Maybe that's the germ for another blog - I'm game - anybody out there want to sponsor it?

Back to JFK. For a variety of reasons, I haven't been able to prepare this post until now, but if you're even remotely interested in JFK and American politics, I think you'll find the wait worthwhile. Otherwise, you'll be bored to tears, and I suggest you move on to something else or go back to watching Family Guy now.

I'll preface this post by saying I'm not a JFK history buff, but having grown up in the Boston area, and being old enough to remember 'where I was when JFK was shot', the lore holds a pretty central place in my mind. We all know how historic Barack's victory was, and I can't possibly be the only one out there making these instant and profound connections to JFK. However, I sure felt that way during my pilgrimage to Dealey Plaza early Thursday morning. During my travels to get there, two things really struck me.

First, nobody seemed to know where Dealey Plaza was! Armed with a simple street map, I took the light rail train 3 stops from my hotel to the West End stop. That's the old part of town, and while walking in the general direction of Dealey Plaza, I couldn't help doing the Jay Walking/Rick Mercer man-in-the-street interview. I asked a handful of people where Dealey Plaza was - and we couldn't have been more than 3 blocks from it - and not one person had a clue what I was talking about. Wow. It's like asking a New Yorker where Ground Zero is - you're not going to get too many blank stares on that one. I'm not even at Dealey Plaza, and I'm in trouble already!

Second, I thought I would see some signs of life or evidence that others had the same idea as me, and realize what a special time this would be to visit Dealey Plaza. Nada. Granted, this is a Republican state, but still, this was a pretty historic moment. Maybe people's sense of history isn't what it used to be. Tell you what, though - here's a small aside. For all the bravado and outlaw nature of Texas culture, I couldn't get over the fact that nobody jaywalks. Even at intersections where there was no traffic, people waited obediently until the light turned green to cross. Huh? This never happens in places like New York or Boston.

The other interesting thing is that their light rail service works on the honor system. You buy your ticket from a machine at the platform, and simply board any car. Nobody ever checked my ticket going either way. Very civil and very impressive. Of course, I'm sure half the people riding on the train own guns, and I guess that's part of what makes America so interesting, right? Enough preamble - let's get to the pilgrimage.

First stop - the JFK Memorial - designed by Philip Johnson, this is a very reflective experience that makes you feel the emptiness and collective sense of loss from his assassination. The memorial is a cenotaph - an open tomb - to show how his spirit has never left us.

My camera doesn't have enough depth of field to convey the experience, but it's pretty neat. The cenotaph is surrounded by 4 open walls that appear to float; it's very heaven-like I guess. It's quite an effect, and my photos don't do it much justice. As pristine as this memorial is, it was in maintenance mode - another bad omen - so there was a lot of scrubbing and sanding going on. Ugh. I guess they weren't expecting anybody, so there goes my theory about this being a natural attraction to visit after the election. Looks like I'll have to come back another time to get the intended effect of tranquility.

This juxtaposition below came to me out of the blue, and the image links Obama to JFK in ways words can't express. In the background on the face of the cenotaph is "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" - which you really can't read here - and the foreground is my USA Today. The effect is more dramatic if you view a bigger version of the photo, but hey, this is a blog, not a photo gallery (but if you want to see a bigger version, let me know). Yet another point to support my tech rant earlier!

If I'm Obama, and wanted to invoke the spirit of JFK and reinvigorate it for today, can you think of a more inspirational spot to stage a speech from? Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?...

Ok, so here we are - the corner of Elm and Houston - the Book Depository Building (now a museum for what happened here) - Ground Zero - and...Ron.

I can be a very in-the-moment kind of guy, and this was one of those times. As I looked every bit the gawking rube, Ron came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy a pamphlet that recounted the whole event. After declining, he offered to give me a personal tour - 'I work for tips'. How could I say no? Let's just say he could sure use the money, and he turned out to be an incredible source of knowledge about what went on when JFK came to town. Either he spins some truly Texas-league yarns, or he's just one of these treasures who has seen it all but nobody pays any attention to. Except maybe me!

Let the tour begin, and of course that means the fabled Grassy Knoll. Nothing much happening here, and if you've seen earlier photos or JFK documentaries, it seems virtually unchanged since the sixties. So peaceful - so...deserted.

Thanks Ron. Gee, he sure is a good sport.

Mise-en-scene. November 22, 1963. See that 'X' on the road? That marks the spot where JFK was shot. The Grassy Knoll is on the left, and the motorcade would have come toward me. Building on the left is the Book Depository. More on that and the building beside it in a moment.

In case you're wondering, yes, I walked out into the middle of the road to take this picture. It's like 9am - rush hour, right? Not a car to be seen - it was like being on a movie set. Doesn't anybody care about this any more?

The official story is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and did the shooting from a 6th story window in the Book Depository - circled in black. Well, that's a pretty good vantage point. However, Ron explained that the building next door had an even better line of sight and I've circled the window area in yellow where he explained that other shots were fired from. By whom? Well, that's another story, but he believes that's where many of the fatal shots came from. The plot thickens.

Let's shift locations to get a bit deeper into the mystery. This picket fence - the Stockade Fence - is at the top of the Grassy Knoll, and Ron took me around the back to have a look. Notice all the missing slats. That's from souvenir hunters; but the joke's on them, as Ron explained that the original fence was replaced in 2000.

Lots of graffiti all around, but how about this one? There is no shortage of cynics out there, and the only conspiracy theory that rivals JFK is 9/11. You'd think the people who look after Dealey Plaza would clean this up - or maybe they want it there for shock value.

Not many people buy the lone gunman theory, but if you were looking for the ideal spot to make sure you hit your target, wouldn't it be right here? That's Ron's story and I know he's not alone. It's perfect. In between two leafy trees and behind a fence - nobody would see you. Presuming you had a clear line to the street without endangering onlookers, a slow moving motorcade coming towards you - not going away - would be a pretty easy target - which I've noted with a circle around the 'X' spot.

The 'Manhole Theory'. Am not going to get into the details, but Ron pretty quickly refuted it. He had many other very interesting theories and angles that were far more plausible: the Umbrella Man, the Tague wounding, why the motorcade slowed down, the Zapruder film, LBJ's motives, etc. - but that's another conversation.

While you're still looking at this picture, I can't help but see it as a symbol of the U.S. right now - going down the drain and decay all around - it's hard to see, but there's an empty beer can and a crushed up Marlboro package. Obama sure has his work cut out and is going to need all the help he can get channelling JFK's mojo.

Another perspective taken from a spot most people wouldn't normally get to. The road - Elm Street - slopes down at this point and goes under the bridge upon which I'm standing. Ron took me up here to show another spot where a gunman might have considered shooting from. Train tracks cross the bridge and if a train came by while the motorcade was there, the sound of the shots would have been muffled. While this provides a great sightline for a shooter, it's too public and there's really no place to escape. Besides, the Secret Service and police no doubt would have staked this space out for themselves.

Here's another juxtaposition I couldn't resist. This city worker was blowing leaves off the sidewalk onto the road, exactly over the 'X' spot. He didn't think anything of it and I'm sure most people around here are pretty blase about Dealey Plaza. All I could see in this was turning over a new leaf and the changing winds of history ushering in a new era of hope - for the U.S., for the world, and especially for African Americans. I'm just happy he was so obliging!

Plaque at the base of the Grassy Knoll across from the 'X'. Very interesting language here: 'this site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America'. How generic can you get? No mention of JFK at all, and I know Ron has some views on this. It's pretty clear to me this is still a very touchy subject and Washington isn't ready yet to totally come clean. An apologist would say - no - this plaque is about Dealey Plaza, not JFK.

As I learned that day, this is where Dallas was founded, but somehow, I don't think this city is of such 'national significance' to warrant this level of recognition. America sure is filled with contradictions. Oh, interesting aside - I'm a big fan of urban history and there's always a good story behind major cities that are landlocked. Turns out to be pretty simple for Dallas - they settled there because it was safe - hardly any Indians around. Ok....

Believe it or not, this excursion barely took an hour, but I sure learned a lot. As I left the West End, I saw these ads for some local BBQ and seafood restaurants. Boy, did these look good, but at 10am it was a bit on the early side. Next time I'm back I know where I'm going for dinner.

This post is a bit out of the norm for me, but I hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and like Ron, I work for tips too, so let me know if you want to hear more. :-))

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Mitel's News - Managing in Tough Times

In a sign of the times, Mitel held an analyst roundup call this afternoon to update us on some important and timely developments. It was organized on short notice - today - and I guess they felt it necessary to get some clarity out there in advance of VoiceCon next week.

The call was quite short - about 15 minutes, and I couldn't make it, but got a debrief right after from Mitel's Kevin Johnson. I don't often do newsy items like this, but I think it's telling about the precarious state of the telecom market, and of course, the economy in general.

In short, Mitel is reducing headcount, although the number was not disclosed. This is a private company, after all, so they are not as obliged as public companies to elaborate. What they did say was that two senior, high profile management members were effected, and they're well known to the analyst community. It's not clear if the names should be public at this time, so I'll just leave it at that.

It's never good news to hear about cuts, especially with people you know. One of my long time colleagues at BroadSoft was part of their recent cutback, and many companies are rightfully seeing the need to cut costs now in anticipation of a slowdown in new business.

Mitel was clear about this, and emphasized how this is particularly true for the SMB market, which is core to their business. SMBs are by nature cost-conscious, and in tough times will stop spending pretty quickly.

While Mitel isn't the only vendor cutting back, they're a pretty big player in the SMB market, and if you're looking for a canary in a coal mine signal, this is a pretty good one. Don't be surprised if you start hearing similar stories pretty soon from their competitors. Signals have been pretty strong about cuts at Nortel, and everyone is facing similar challenges right now.

That said, the call was not all gloom and doom. This is nothing like the implosion happening in the auto sector right now. That's downright scary. The good news was that Mitel will be launching their UC solution at VoiceCon next week, and this is probably the best and most public showcase for how well things have gone with the Inter-Tel acquisition.

I won't be at VoiceCon I'm afraid, but you won't have to look far to hear how the launch is received from those who will see it first hand. For the overall sake of the IP telephony space, I sure hope it's a hit.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Korea Tech Preview � Day 2

Day 2 was every bit as good as Day 1, and on the whole I found this excursion very worthwhile. Not a whole lot of IP communications on display here, but where else are you going to come across so many intriguing technologies, innovations, gadgets, etc.? I met quite a few interesting companies and will definitely be following up with some of them.

Here�s a quick recap with some photo highlights, and don�t be surprised to see some of these at your local electronics retailer in 2009.

Lunchtime keytnotes � Burrill & Co. (VC) and LG Electronics


Neolux � e-reader � like Kindle. I thought this was really cool and since it�s read-only, it�s a great way to distribute copyrighted content safely. I can see lots of possibilities here.


Commax � residential video surveillance/greeting systems. All kinds of applications - not only can you watch and talk to that stranger knocking on your door, as well as let him in, but you can monitor anywhere in/around your home where you can put a camera. I can�t help but think of all the Monty Python and the Holy Grail fun scenarios you can have with this --- �WHAT is your favorite color?�....


Pavonine � do not adjust your set. It�s a blurry image because it�s 3D! Hah. When you put on the 3D glasses, the TV experience sure changes big time. Not just for watching TV but for gaming. Seems corny, but pretty cool.


Adscalator � strange word, but that�s what they do. Yup. It�s a digital ad display panel at the entry/exit point of an escalator. Not only that � see where I�ve drawn a circle? That�s where Adscalator disinfects the moving handguard we all rest our hands on. How�s that for being virtuous and commercial at the same time?


PlayGuard � my favorite. Ready for this? A round webcam that goes almost anywhere. It�s �smaller than a golf ball�, so you hardly even notice it. The exhibitor was a good sport and modelled one way to use it. For those of us who feel compelled to video everything we do, here�s the solution. It�s brilliant � what extreme sports enthusiast wouldn�t want this and try to become the next star of America�s Funniest Home Videos? Just strap it on your head � or your baby, or your pet, and away you go. I guess. How about a waterproof model for scuba diving? Or a car-mounted cam which becomes your black box in the event of an accident? Tons of possibilities � how could you not want one of these?


Bo Shin � my gracious host. A big thanks to Bo and all the others at KOTRA who provided great hospitality, and more importantly, translation help during my meetings! Without them, my meetings would not have lasted very long. Remember the Seinfeld episode with Frank Costanza when the Koreans were trash talking him? Unlike Frank, I don�t know Korean, so I can only hope they were nice to me during our meetings. :-)


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Good Day to be in the USA

Call it luck of the draw, but I got to be in the U.S. today. I'm not that politically inclined, but the election was pretty special, and everyone senses we're living important history right now. It's a good day to be an American, it's a good day for America, it's a good day in the eyes of most people outside America, and it's a good day to be in the USA. Smiles all around for me.

Obama is in the House now, and hopefully the honeymoon will be a long one. If you remember JFK and MLK, it's a good feeling to see so many dreams finally realized, and it's a great reminder of how special democracy can be.

I kind of thought I'd see or sense a noticeable mood of joy here, but I really haven't - strange. The airports - both Toronto and Dallas were unusually quiet, and there hasn't been any visible sign to say today is different from any other day. To be fair, I'm deep in the heart of Texas - GWB country - and their GOP stripes didn't change in 2008.

With today being such a special time, and being in Dallas, I just figured out what to do about this. This is a short trip for me, but the hotel is not far from Dealey Plaza. I've never been there, and I couldn't imagine a more appropriate time to make a quick pilgrimage to see it.

In many ways, Barack Obama's journey started there. The dreams of equality didn't die with JFK, and they didn't die with MLK. Clinton was a good JFK wannabe, but Barack may end up a better successor to his spirit of hope, change and youth. Like JFK, he is a true breakthrough in his own right. Time will tell if he's the real deal or if he'll just be learning on the job, but it's pretty clear that the world hasn't felt this good about the USA in a long time. Things are much easier to accomplish when people like you, and we have nowhere to go but up now that the Bush era is over.

I'll get off that soapbox now - photos coming tomorrow. Back to work. I'm in Dallas to attend the Korean Tech Showcase, and so far, it's been just great. I'm virtually certain I'm the only analyst here, so I'm getting to see stuff most of my peers won't likely see for some time yet if at all. Lucky me.

I've had meetings with companies with really interesting technologies, and am looking forward to more of the same tomorrow. It's too early to blog about the details, but as I get to know some of them better, I'll bring you up to date.

Nice tie-in at the airport. CNN's 24/7 election coverage, and a TV display stand by Samsung, Korea's most famous tech company.


Sidebar... I had one of those only-in-America moments here at the airport. While waiting for my ride, I heard this announcement over the PA system: "the post-election noon day prayer will be held in the chapel in Terminal 1". Praise the Lord and God Bless America... who said Church and State were separate? :-)



Couldn't resist. Remember pay phones? They sure are becoming an extinct species in the U.S., and I see this scene at almost every hotel/conference center I travel to. Ugly. Virtually everyone seems to have a cell phone here, and there is simply no rhyme or reason to use a pay phone these days.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Next Stop - Dallas and the Korean Tech Showcase

Got a short trip coming up tomorrow - am flying to Dallas - a place I've only been to once before.

I've been invited by KOTRA - the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency - to attend a showcase of Korean companies looking for partnerships, advice, investment, etc. to help them become established in North America.

This should be a really interesting event, and a great opportunity to learn about some cool, up and coming companies. There will be over 50 companies to meet, and they cover the gamut, including PCs, wireless, telephony, video, RFID, IPTV, GPS and esoteric stuff like home automation, robotics and biometrics. Not a bad way to spend two days, and who knows, I just might get an early glimpse of the next Samsung or LG to come from this hotbed of innovation and gadgetry.

Wearing my Monty Python hat, I have to be a bit tongue-in-cheek here, and would be remiss if I didn't bring up Chindogu before signing off.

What is this, you may ask? Well, it really is something completely different. If you haven't heard of Kenji Kawakami, then check this out. He's the author of a number of books that have become a mini-franchise over the years about Chindogu, which loosely translated, means "useless inventions". His books are built around the theme of 101 unuseless Japanense inventions, and you just have to see these to believe them. Life doesn't get any funnier than this, and if you're a fan of MXC on Spike TV - Most Extreme Elimination Challenge - then you'll just love this.

I'd better stop now! I never expected this post would take so many twists, but it all sticks together if you follow my offbeat logic. Anyhow, I'm quite certain that the products I'll be seeing in Dallas will be very useful indeed, so stay tuned over the next day or so.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

October Media Roundup

Not quite as busy a month as September, but I turned up in a few stories and was part of a nice media push from Global IP Solutions in late October.

First, a couple of articles...

ITWorldCanada - Nortel and passive optical networking

Globe & Mail, Report on Small Business - Review of mobility plans

Next, the GIPS launch for desktop videoconferencing:

Press release

Link to download the White Paper, which I authored

An article I wrote for Business Trends Quarterly on social media in the enterprise:

Social Media & Why Enterprises Need to Embrace It

Finally, my latest Service Provider Views columns on TMCnet:

Economic Downturn - Mixed Bag for Service Providers, Part 1

BroadSoft 2008: A Different Kind of Platform Play

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We Won't Get Fooled Again....Canadian-style - VOTE!!!

Well, you know how that song goes - meet the new boss....

I'm not much of a political pundit, but as the U.S. election looms, I just had to share this goodie today. Canadians are well thought of for being so damned polite - we don't win many wars being this way, but we don't start any, either.

Anyhow, if you can't get enough poking fun at Sarah Palin, you'll just love this piece of satire, Canadian-style. It's big news up here, but for those of you outside Canada, this may not have crossed your transom yet.

Here's the story. A couple of popular Montreal DJs managed to convince Sarah Palin to call them on Saturday, under the guise she would be speaking with Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France. The premise was that he wanted to wish her well on the election, and she took the bait. These guys are infamous for pulling stunts like this - aka the Masked Avengers - and it worked like a charm.

This is too funny, and if you're having second thoughts about jumping on the McCain bandwagon, you might want to check this out. Tina Fey couldn't have done it better, and if a couple of Canadians can fool the VP-to-be, let's not think what could happen if the real bad guys tried this. No moose on the loose would be safe....

Anyhow, here's the article from today's Globe & Mail about the interview. Embedded in the writeup are links to the audio version of the interview, along with some associated video clips.

All kidding aside, this post is a great excuse to encourage people to get out and VOTE!!! It's one of the few things left that matter in a democracy, and we all know how much is at stake this time around. I'm pretty certain the new boss on Wednesday won't be the same as the old boss, and that should tell you whose side I'm on.

And just to show you how clever I am, if you saw the front page of today's Globe & Mail you'll be all smiles. There's a nice big photo of Barack and his wife shaking hands with The Boss himself, Bruuuuuuuuce and his wife. Too bad he's not the VP - how cool would that be?

As a coda, I just have to say that for all you techies out there, this election is going to be really special given all the real-time tools we're using now. Hardly any of this stuff was around in previous elections - YouTube, IM, Twitter, Facebook, etc. As a society, we've never been so connected, and this has all kinds of implications for the media, the democratic process and the role of privacy in our lives. That's good news for people like me who make a living trying to understand these things, but more importantly, these are the tools of the Net generation, and if this gets them engaged in the real world, and brings them to the polling booth, then I'm the first to say technology is helping make the world a better place.

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