Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Ahead - 2010 Thoughts on Service Providers and Privacy

As per my last post, I have a lot of thoughts about what's transpired over the past decade in our space, as well as what might be in store for 2010. Since the future hasn't happened yet, I have a bit more poetic license to write about what's coming, and I plan to do that in the coming weeks.

For now, though, my latest Service Provier Views column on TMCnet will have to do. The column ran earlier this week, and you can read it here.

My premise is that the concept of a service provider is becoming quite fluid, and is being driven as much by Web 2.0 as much as conventional telephony. In many ways, I think Google is being more than disruptive and will have a lot to do with this evolution - whether we like it or not.

Most of this will not be news to you, but what I'm not hearing much about is the price we're paying along the way. Call me old school, but the efficiencies we're getting from targeted advertising, smart browsing, semantic web, etc. are being offset by the erosion of privacy and even our sense of personal identity.

Lots to explore here, and I hope you keep the dialog going, as I plan to write more about this in the New Year. Until then, Happy New Year, and we'll connect again in the next decade.

Looking Back/Looking Ahead - Some 2009 Trends of Note

Been off blogging for over a week - and not really by design. No doubt the holidays, the kids, family get togethers, etc. have been the priority, but for the better part of two weeks I've had almost no use of my PC. Seems like viruses have found me, and I still can't get these stupid things under control.

My PC is mostly fixed up, but just semi-functional, and in the midst of this massive inconvenience, I went out and bought not one, but two PCs. Whoo hoo. My current notebook cost about $1,700 back in the day, and it has served me well. Haven't bought one since, and for a little under $1,000, I just bought a new notebook and a netbook - both are Lenovo's. Gotta like that. Will be setting these goodies up over the weekend, and I can't wait to start using my netbook when I head to Miami later in January for the ITExpo/Smart Grid Summit.

With that preamble out of the way, it's New Year's Eve, and I haven't had a chance to reflect much on 2009, let alone the past decade. I really did have a bunch of posts planned out in my head, but life happens, and at this point, I'm sure you've had your fill of year-in-review articles. If anyone still has a burning desire for my take on things, let me know, and I'll come up with something.

That said, I've got two posts for you. This is my looking back post, and it's pretty straightforward. I participate on a podcast series done by UC Strategies as time allows, and we did one last week on 2009 UC highlights. It was a round robin session - about 40 minutes - with each speaker touching on a specific topic related to UC that stood out for them in 2009. Mine was cloud computing, and how this has now crept into the Unified Communications vernacular this year. I think it's going to be huge in 2010, and am sure we'll do more podcasts in this area soon enough.

The podcast was posted to the UC Strategies portal a few days ago, and you can access it here. I hope you give it a listen, and if you think our ideas are on target, I encourage you to visit the portal often.

That's my looking back post, and if you could pop into my head, you'd see there's a whole lot more, but time's up for now. I'm now going to write my "looking ahead" post, so watch for that in a few minutes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wind Mobile - Wireless Competition comes Canada

Mobile competition came to Canada last week, and there are more questions than answers. No doubt the market could stand some competition, and the federal government has gone to great lengths to make sure that happens. I have long contended that the economics are not workable, but now billions of dollars have been sunk into creating a new set of operators who are chasing the few million people who haven't gone mobile yet, as well as the zero sum game of stealing subscribers from the incumbents.

It's too late to turn back, and with last week's surprise news from Industry Canada, Globalive's Wind Mobile service has been allowed to launch. They've gambled big time and done a of things to look and act like an operator in anticipation of a favorable ruling - hiring staff, building kiosks, erecting statues, etc. - and now they can finally be one. I still have a sneaking feeling that something isn't quite right in how they got the green light, but they're here, and the market can finally decide with their wallets if it's time for a change.

There's a lot of fat to chew on here, but I'll save that until the early results are in. Until then, here's a good starting point - an article from Friday's ITWorldCanada that included some comments from me.

There's a pretty major shopping center in my neighborhood, and here's what the Wind Mobile kiosk looks like:

Pretty good crowd, and after a few visits over the weekend walking by, you can quickly gauge the type of customer they're attracting. Mind you, it's not always this busy. I walked by at 3pm this afternoon, and it looked like this:

Sure, you can argue it's mid-week, mid-afternoon. However, it's Christmas week and school's out. Sorry, but I would have expected a bit more than this. Anyhow, if Wind is new to you, here's the basic story. They've come to market with a basic value proposition - simple plans, simple service, great prices. Fair enough - they've done tons of research to validate this, so it must be true, right? We all want these things, no doubt, but whether it's a strong enough pitch to win over the market, only time will tell.

If you're looking for this kind of plan, sure, Wind is a great deal. And I have no doubt they'll capture a decent share of the market. However, they're not alone. This is basically a prepaid service, and all 3 incumbents have well-established budget brands that cater to this market - Koodo (Telus), Fido (Rogers), and Solo (Bell). Makes you wonder why Globalive didn't keep the same theme and called their service Wino - then again, maybe not.

As prepaid plans go, they have lots of appealing packages and features - feel free to review them at their website - however, I'm not interested in those details. Give or take, prepaid is prepaid, and I don't really see that much here to get excited about. The service will be appealing to first-time mobile users, but so will the incumbent's budget brands, which have far more visibility. Fido built its base around this market, and long term, it's a tough haul to make money. Since there are no contracts, you have to buy the phone up front, and given how price conscious the prepaid market is, they'll probably be selling more low end $100 phones than $300 smartphones. That makes it hard to upsell customers to more lucrative plans.

I have to tell you, hanging around their kiosk a few times, it doesn't take much to see that these are novice technology users, and are going to need a lot of hand holding just to explain how the plans work. Then you have to tell them they have to fork over the cost of the phone as the price of admission. Hmm. If all you can afford is a $15 plan, you're not likely buying anything to write home about for a phone. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be taking on almost a billion dollars in debt to chase a market like this.

Having no contracts cuts both ways of course. Easy to join and easy to leave. There's a reason why mobile carriers like contracts - it takes time to earn back the phone subsidy that so often serves as the hook to get you on board. On the other hand, with no contract, the carrier gets their money upfront for the phone, and it's less of a issue when customers moves on once a cheaper plan crosses their path.

Bottom line - loyalty is hard to build with prepaid, and when the other new entrants come to market - most notably DAVE - they will likely have to resort to the same tactics just to get a foothold. I just don't know how much greenfield market there really is out there - even my 13 year old has a cell phone. I don't know anybody who doesn't have a cell phone these days, so I don't know where this 30% of first timers is that this whole fuss was started over. They sure don't live around here, and if they do, they're either too young or too old to care.

If I sound cynical, you're right. The incumbents are already serving the prepaid market with their budget brands, and we have MVNO's like Virgin Canada chasing this market too. Wind Mobile may be a good service and a well executed marketing package, but how are they going steal business from these competitors, who can easily match them on price to keep them out of the market? Price and features are good short term levers, but competitors can usually match these, especially if they already control the market. It's also worth noting that Wind was planning to be in the market in time for the Christmas season, which could have jump started them nicely. They're just going to catch the tail end now, so it's not quite the splash they were expecting.

Let's not forget the postpaid market, which is where the vast majority of subscribers and revenues lies. I don't know how much of Wind's business plans are based on capturing these customers, but this will be a tough market to crack since most are tied into contracts. Sure, Wind can buy them out - we've seen that before - but that just puts them on the same treadmill as Vonage, buying market share and then spending a fortune to keep them.

I'm just not seeing the light here, especially when you consider how much money was spent - and borrowed - to get into the game. In this day and age with 4G and LTE being the next wave, one would think that with a brand new network, there might be some innovation here - something new to leverage all that wonderful technology. Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, but there's nothing here that changes the game and really challenges the market - both subscribers and carriers. Zero.

On the other hand, this is Canada after all, and people generally play things a bit safer here. Industry Canada has pushed for more competition so we can have more choice and lower prices. I guess we'll get that, but we're sure paying a high price for it, and not getting much more. For all that money, you'd like to think the market would get something better. This isn't Android, this isn't Apple, this isn't Skype; it's more of the same - just a little cheaper, a bit more flexible and a bit easier to understand. I know - it's hard to take risks when so much debt has been incurred - but you'd think there would be more to it than this. More to come, but don't hesitate to jump in now with your thoughts!

Friday, December 18, 2009

TMC ITExpo - Canada/Ontario Business Breakfast, January 22

The winter edition of TMC's ITExpo - in its 10th year, by the way - is about a month away, and it's time to start thinking about Miami.

Normally, I'd be talking about sessions that I'm moderating, but this time my focus is primarily on the Smart Grid Summit, which regular readers will know all about by now. I'll leave that for another time, and will now switch back to my ITExpo hat.

One thing I'll be doing for sure at the ITExpo is host a networking breakfast jointly sponsored by the Governments of Ontario and Canada. They've been doing this the past few years at the Expo, with the idea being to showcase Ontario-based startups in the communications space. So far, they have six companies lined up, and the breakfast is being held as a friendly forum to meet with them away from the din of the show floor. The companies confirmed to date are:

- PIKA Technologies
- Comwave Telecom
- SVK Software
- Hostopia
- Phybridge
- InGenius

The breakfast takes place Friday, January 22, and requires an RSVP. If you want to meet these companies and see more about what's coming out of Canada, please drop me a line - To learn more about the details as well as the companies being showcased, I'll have to send you the invitation - or check my website - it should be posted there shortly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Service Provider Views - How can they provide value?

My latest Service Provider Views article is running now on TMCnet. I'm focusing on a big topic - how can service providers add value? - and am really setting the stage for an ongoing exploration of this theme in 2010. I think it's going to be big deal going forward, and am hoping you'll follow my musings.

This article was basically triggered by my impressions from recent analyst events, and how I see vendor solutions getting stronger and stronger. Combine this with what Google is doing now with their own handset, and it's getting harder to see where/how carriers can add real value. Of course there are lots of ways they can do this, and I'll speak to those in future articles. However, it seems to me like the vendors have most of the momentum right now, and that puts the pressure on operators to be more innovative.

As an aside, Canada is going through its own convulsions in the mobile market with the recent turn of events with Globalive. That's a whole topic unto itself, but I can't get into that right now. I've been speaking to the media about it, but haven't had time yet to write something.

Back to the main story - the article is posted now, and you can read it here. As always, comments are welcome!

Monday, December 14, 2009

smart grid summit - product of the year awards launched

The Smart Grid Summit is moving forward rapidly on many fronts, and it's all good. If you've been to the website recently, you'll see that the speaking roster is filling out nicely - same for our sponsors and media partners. There's a lot more coming, and soon we'll be adding info about our keynotes. We have four scheduled so far, including a former NASA astronaut (he was on the first mission that hooked up with the Soviet space station). Others are pending, and we'll be adding those to the website shortly.

I should also add that people have started registering for the summit, and the e-blasts are going out now on a regular basis. Over on the Smart Grid portal, the content continues to flow from many sources, including a guest article today from Brendan Herron of the Current Group, with his take on the Copenhagen Climate Conference. If you like his insights, then you'll definitely want to join us on the Smart Grid Initiatives panel, where he'll be speaking.

Before moving on, I have two more items about the portal of note. First, our traffic continues to be strong. Our November visits were up from October - not as dramatically as the previous months, but still going in the right direction. For anyone looking to get their message out to the Smart Grid space, this is the place to do it. Second, if you haven't subscribed to our Smart Grid eNewsletter, now is as good a time as any. It's free, and it just takes a minute - click here, and you're on your way.

This has become a long preamble, but I'm getting to the real news item. TMC knows how to run a conference, and they're starting to add the pieces that will make the Summit really distinct from other grid events. Today, we launched the Smart Grid Product of the Year Award, and it's open to anyone in this space - not just exhibitors. You can read all about it here, and for those of you who want to apply, here's the form.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Media Roundup - November

It's been unusually hectic the past two weeks, but I did want to post about this for the record. November was a bit quiet media-wise, and a few items didn't run until this month, so my December roundup will be quite a bit stronger.

First, a couple of media citings in the business press:

- ZD Net Team Think - Cisco Announces Hosted Email Service, by David Greenfield

- Vancouver Magazine - Wireless Wars

In terms of my own writing and articles, I had a guest blog post on Microsoft, a feature insight about Aastra on UC Strategies, and a series of Ask The Expert writeups on TechTarget (registration required, but it just takes a minute):

- Microsoft Communications Sector behind3screens portal - BroadSoft Connections 2009 Recap

- UC Strategies - UC Expert Views - Aastra: More Than Meets the Eye

- TechTarget Ask the UC Expert - What are the operational costs associated with VoIP after implementation?

- TechTarget Ask the UC Expert - What are the soft savings of VoIP?

- TechTarget Ask the UC Expert - What type of company structure will maximize VoIP ROI?

Finally, I was on BNN TV again, talking about the state of wireless telephony in Canada:

- Telus Trumps Rogers in Ad Spat (link is temporary - if you can't access it, I have a file copy here)

Switching hats, I was my regular busy self contributing to the Smart Grid portal, which is closely tied to my main activity right now around getting the Smart Grid Summit program finalized. For all the latest on that front, you'll need to spend some time on the portal. And if you like what you see, I hope you're making plans to join us in Miami Beach about six weeks from now!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

IntelePeer + Microsoft = More Cloud Solutions

The trend towards cloud-based Unified Communications nudged forward some more with this news that came out yesterday. It's been under embargo for a bit, but the press release tells the basic story. In short, Microsoft has formed another partnership to become better established in the UC space. Since stepping back from the SMB market and their Response Point solution earlier this year, it's clear to me that Microsoft sees a better/faster/more profitable upside to hosted and cloud-based services than premises-based offerings.

Regular followers of my blog would be familiar with the Microsoft's recent moves in this direction with BroadSoft, and a similar story is unfolding now with IntelePeer, a company I've been following for a while. In October, IntelePeer introduced their version of Caas - Communications as a Service - which I posted about. They certainly have Web 2.0 voice services capabilities, and their platform is a logical option for partners looking for a turnkey soluion to get into that space.

IntelePeer brings this to Microsoft along with a SIP Trunking service, making it very easy for channel partners to offer an integrated hosted solution for business customers. As noted in my CaaS post, IntelePeer also operates their Voice Peering Network, which mitigages most of the interop issues either between TDM and SIP, or across the numerous SIP variants out there.

As such, all the pieces are there for Microsoft-based channel partners to take advantage of cloud services and get their customers beyond simple voice services, and into today's world of rich communications services. IntelePeer interops with OCS, so there is stronger story to tell now about the virtues of a hosted OCS solution. That's good news for both IntelePeer and Microsoft, and in my view, even better news for those who think cloud-based services are the next big thing - myself included.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Packet Island Interview, Part 2

Well, it's taken some time, but Part 2 of my Packet Island interview is running now on TMCnet. This is part of my bi-monthly Service Provider Views column, and continues the conversation I had with Praveen Kumar at BroadSoft Connections back in October. Part 1 of the interview ran last week, and now you can read the rest here.

As with Part 1, if you're interested in the challenges around multimedia QoS for hosted services, you'll find this a good read. And by all means, your comments are welcome.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Adtran and Jack Daniels - Quality the Old Fashioned Way

Just a quick afterthought about the Adtran analyst event from last week. In my earlier post, I included some narrative and photos about the various tours we got of their production and testing facilities. These tours were really great, and I can't recall ever getting to see so much of the inner workings of companies I follow.

Mind you, Adtran is on the high end of vendors who manufacture a lot of products (1,700 different ones if you can believe it), most of which are made right there in Huntsville. Only high volume/low margin products are made offshore. These days, most companies are software shops, so there isn't much to see. Adtran does a lot of software too, but most of what we saw was bona fide product manufacturing and all types of testing facilities.

Anyhow, I wasn't the only one struck by how accessible all of this was to us. While I was pretty much the only one taking pictures as well as blogging, they were happy to have me do this. I asked in advance if it was ok to take photos, and they were most obliging. Not only that, but we didn't have to pass through a maze of security or sign any confidentiality documents. We were quite free to move about, most all the doors were open, and I don't recall seeing ID badges on anybody.

This sure felt like a throwback to a more innocent time, and that openness really stuck with me. I'm not sure if that's the particular culture of this company, or if it's simple Southern hospitality, or maybe they're just not used to having a lot of visitors. Whatever the reason, it was a treat to be so up close to their everyday operations, and I certainly felt they had nothing to hide. To me, that's a virtue, as well as a sign of quiet confidence in the quality of their products. I think it also goes a long way to explaining why the company continues to grow and stay profitable. And in a humble way, it's a great example of the "Made in the U.S.A." quality that used to be a hallmark of America's economic strength.

Just when you thought I was done, there's a Part 2 that stands in total contrast to this, and I couldn't help but bring these story lines together.

So...after the event wrapped up Thursday morning, some of us opted to take the tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. I couldn't pass that one up - who knows when I'll ever get to Lynchburg, Tennessee again, right? The tour was a lot of fun, and you sure come away with an appreciation of what goes into making whiskey. Of course, the biggest irony is that Lynchburg is in a dry county - apparently they were the first to go dry during Prohibition. While you get to see every step of their time-honored tradition of making Jack Daniels, at the end of the tour, all you can do is smile. If you want to take home a bottle - well, you'd best drive over to the nearest county for that. Only in America, right?

Anyhow, the point of all this is how different this tour was from Adtran. We had a great tour guide - Ron - who gave us a well-honed, but folksy narrative of their history and process that makes Jack Daniels so special. While the basic ingredients are common to all types of whiskey, their secret sauce has three elements. First is water, which has always come from one source - Cave Spring - and as we were told, this water is iron-free. Second is charcoal filtration, with the charcoal made onsite. Third is the barrel, which they also make onsite. Apparently, this is the only distillery going that still makes its own barrels.

The tour was fascinating, but unlike Adtran, they make it very clear that no photos are allowed. As simple as the ingredients are, they don't want the world to see the inner workings and process that goes into making Jack Daniels. I'm sure they would argue that Jack Daniels - in its own subtle way - is just as complex as anything Adtran makes, and clearly they want to keep it that way. I guess the moral of the story is don't be fooled by something that looks simple and easy to do.

With that said, I took photos where permitted, and here's a few to share with you for posterity.

How can you not be relaxed here?

The secret sauce troika - Cave Spring (behind Ron), charcoal, and the barrel (well, at least one I could photograph)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Adtran Analyst Event Highlights

Well, it sure has been a great event here at Adtran. I'm not alone being impressed with how much high tech activity goes on in Huntsville, which is also the birthplace, more or less, of the U.S. space program. Very impressive, and am sure it's a great place to live and work. You don't have to look far around here for people or resources touting all the wonderful things about Huntsville, and that's all I'm gonna say.

This is Adtran's second analyst event, and many of us are first-timers. It's been a mutual learning experience, and it's all good. We're learning a lot about Adtran, and they're learning a lot about how to engage the analyst and media communities. There were some newsworthy items here - one of which involves a Canadian company - but we're under embargo now, so you'll just have to be patient.

Otherwise, we got good updates on both their enterprise and carrier divisions, as well as mobile backhaul, which is a real strength of theirs. For many of us, their focus on Unified Communications was the main event, and we got into a deeper dive session with them about this yesterday afternoon. On that note, there are 4 of us here from the UC Strategies fold, and we'll be doing a podcast recap of the event on Monday.

Lots of good information here, and they've looked after us well. I'll share a few photos with you now for a better sense of this.

Digium is the other big name tech company most people associate with Huntsville, and I got a quick visit with them before things started with Adtran. There'a a lot of history between these companies, and depending who you talk to, it's not all friendly.

If you've been to their building, you'll know what this is.

Got a quick lab tour...

Back to Adtran. Am not sure why they're calling this a press event, when most of us are analysts. I've shared my two cents with them about this, and I've got a feeling the name will change a bit next time around.

Morning sessions...

Lab and manufacturing facility tours...

Does your desk look like this?

IPTV testing...

Production floor...

Wall 'o phones - neat, huh? If they all rang at once, which one would you pick up first?

My favorite - the semi-anechoic chamber. That's a fancy name for a purpose-built space that tests for radio wave interference. Something like that, but if you're curious this might help. It looks like something out of Kubrick's 2001, and you don't get to see things like this every day - very cool.

After the day wrapped up, we went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a tour and dinner. This is quite the place, and it doesn't take long to get an appreciation for what the space program has contributed to the U.S. in so many ways. It's getting harder these days to find genuine points of pride about the U.S., but this sure is one of them. Definitely worthwhile.

Lots of history here - doesn't matter how old you are or how much you remember about what the space program accomplished, esp in the Sixties.

Saving the best for last. We had dinner under a Saturn 5 rocket. A real one. This thing is huge - looks about the length of a football field. I'm told this is just one of two left in existence - the other is at Cape Canaveral. So, if Saturn 5 rockets and ribs are your thing, it doesn't get any better that this. Thanks Adtran!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Service Provider Views Article - Packet Island Interview

My two November Service Provider Views articles were based on a long interview I conducted with Praveen Kumar, CEO of Packet Island. They were recently acquired by BroadSoft, and I see that as a great addition to make their hosted offering more secure.

The interview isn't so much about the acquisition or what Packet Island is doing - rather, having met up with Praveen at the recent BroadSoft Connections event, I found it a great opportutnity for some first-hand learning about why QoS and QoE are so important, especially for a hosted offering to businesses.

The interview is broken up in Parts 1 and 2, and both were ready to go for publishing on TMCnet last week. Unfortunately with the short week and frantic schedule everyone seemed to be on - myself included - the articles are just coming out now. Part 1 ran yesterday, and having been in transit enroute to Adtran's event, this is my first chance to post. So, you can read the interview here, and am hoping Part 2 will be ready to go later today. I'll also be posting about Adtran as time allows, and from what I've seen so far, it should be a great event.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Next Stop - Huntsville, AL and Adtran

I thought I was done traveling for the year this month, but there's one more trip now. Adtran was nice enough to invite me to their analyst update event, and it's a company I've been meaning to learn more about, so it's good all around.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Huntsville, Alabama, which is where Adtran is based. That's a new stop for me, but my second time to Alabama. Years ago I had a client in Birmingham, but that's worlds away from Huntsville apparently. The locals refer to the Gulf facing side of the state as LA - Lower Alabama - am not quite sure if that's going upmarket or downmarket, but I'll find out soon enough. Forrest Gump happened to be on TV this weekend - couldn't resist watching it as a tune-up for trip down South. Life really is like a box of chocolates, but I like 'em all, and I'm sure I'll enjoy Huntsville just fine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Video Telephony Isn't Just for Humans!

Ok, it's Thanksgiving for most of you, and I think you'll enjoy this whether or not you're eating turkey still. My colleague Alan Duric sent this my way and just had to share it. He's the CTO of Telio, a service provider I've posted about before.

I'll steer you to a one minute video clip that shows you why video telephony isn't just for humans. No, this isn't Stupid Pet Tricks - the video speaks for itself. As you'll see, the dog - Yoshi - is watching the video phone where his master is communicating with him, and he's responding as if she was there in the room. Sure, it's kind of goofy, but the possibilities for video telephony are endless, and this is another great example you might not have thought of yet.

And of course, it goes without saying that this clip is a great showcase for Telio - both for their service and one of their new video phones. Nice work!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BNN TV interview - Canadian Wireless Market Update

This morning I was interviewed on BNN TV about some recent issues around the Canadian wireless marketplace. There is definitely a lot of flux and confusion right now, not just among consumers, but also the operators. Not only do we have new competitors poised to enter the market, but two of the major incumbents - Rogers and Telus - have been sparring loudly about whose network is faster and more reliable.

Lots to talk about here, and for my 7 minutes of fame this week, I covered as much ground as I could. You can watch the clip here, and if that link doesn't work, my segment ran at 8:15 today on The Street, hosted by Michael Kane. With a bit of searching the TV Clips section of their website, it shouldn't be hard to find. The link will only be live for a week, and after that, you'll be able to access it on my website. And if you still need help, just drop me a line.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TMC - January ITExpo - bigger and better - two new events

It's not often that things really do get bigger and better, but it's true for TMC the updcoming IT Expo. The next event takes place in Miami Beach, running from January 20-22. Am sure you'll be hearing your share of updates for the main event soon enough, and if you're paying attention, I'm doing my bit to get the word out about our Smart Grid Summit, which is now a 3 day event.

While you may be familiar with these, I wanted to cite two new events they're launching in January. Each is being run by people I'm friendly with, and it's great to see these initiatives find homes. First up is Larry Lisser, who along with Phil Telio are with a Montreal-based consultancy called Embrase, and have partnered with TMC for the Startup Camp Telephony event, which runs for one day at the Expo. Embrase has been doing similar events here in Canada for some time, and it's good to see them extend their model to TMC's audience. As the event name implies, this will be a showcase for promising IP telephony startups, and by extension, a destination for investors - two audiences that TMC has not typicially catered to. You can read more about it in the press release that went out on Friday.

Next up is Tom Howe, who should be no stranger here. He's had something in the works for a while, and under the guise of his latest incarnation - Light and Electric - has also partnered with TMC for an event that shouldn't surprise anybody. Tom is the mashup guy for sure, and the ITExpo should be a great showcase for the Cloud Communications Summit. It's also a one day event, and is positioned as a training program comprised of five tracks. Whether you see these as workshops or discussion forums, if you want to stay on top of cloud communications, this will be the place to be. Again, I'll steer you to the press release to read about the details.

There you have it. Two smart guys who know their markets, doing cool things with TMC. You have to give kudos all around. First to TMC, for being open to new partnerships like this. There's always a risk with new events, but there's plenty of upside in terms of strengthening TMC's brand and reaching new audiences. Kudos as well to Larry and Tom, who are putting their faith in TMC to bring new ideas to market, and keeping the spirit of innovation going.

Most recently, TMC went down this road with Scott Kargman and Carl Ford for the 4GWE event, and again this fall with our Smart Grid Summit. The formula seems to be working, and I'm hoping for success all around. I'll be pretty tied up with our event, so I don't know how much I'll get to see of their events, but there's no doubt that the big winners will be the attendees. TMC now has an event with both great depth and breadth, and in terms of getting your money's worth, the upcoming IT Expo will be pretty hard to beat.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Google Voice and the Bigger Picture

I've pretty much gone AWOL from blogging this week, as I'm fully immersed with the Smart Grid Summit, which you'll be hearing more about quite soon.

My last post was way back last Friday, where I commented on the Google Voice/Gizmo5 news. There's more to this development than meets the eye, and I think it has potential to truly disrupt the voice market even further than what's been done already.

I don't have any bandwidth to comment further today, but here's the next best thing. Fellow blogger Andy Abramson weighed in with a lengthy post today that speaks to a lot of what's been on my mind. He's been in this since Day 1, and gives a great history lesson about all the false starts in VoIP to date from the IM players and the cablecos.

Skype is a case unto itself, but otherwise, Google Voice now looks to be the next one to really get it right. Echoing Andy's post, yet again, the most important disruption is coming from outside the voice industry, and with Google's clout, this should be sending shock waves through telecom.

Andy was a thread that ran throughout my post last week, and he's done a great job here with his perspective on Google. He's got a pretty unique vantage point for this space, and I encourage you to give this post a read, let it simmer a bit and think about what it could mean to you or your business. We all use Google to varying degrees, and to pass this off as not being relevant would be a mistake.

One way or another, I'll find a way to add my two cents next week.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quiet, but busy

Just a quick note to say I haven't been blogging this week as I need to be very focused on the Smart Grid Summit right now. It's been an intense few days, but we're seeing the results, and we'll have some nice announcements coming soon. As things settle down there, I'll get back to regular posting, hopefully by tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Google + Gizmo5 = More Disruption

Voice continues to be a really interesting space, and while I was attending Cisco's Collaboration Summit this week, a couple of notable developments took place. On the topic of disruption, Cisco is doing its best to upset the apple cart and reinvent itself as a software company. During their summit, we got a steady diet of collaboration, video, cloud services and the new world of work, but never a word about routers. Anyhow, you can review my earlier posts this week for more about that.

Back to Google. I'm going to keep things short and steer you to a nice piece that ran in Wired on Wednesday. It sums up the Google/Gizmo5 story quite well, and give appropriate kudos to uberblogger Andy Abramson, who has been on the right side of deals like this for some time. Many of his clients have had successful exits, and he's been writing about Michael Robertson and his Gizmo venture for ages. Great to see Andy get his due in a publication like this.

More importantly, Google is methodically building on their earlier GrandCentral acquisition (another Andy thread here) to create a bona fide service in Google Voice that should be cause for to concern to anyone in the voice business. In some ways, this could be the first serious challenge to Skype, especially since Gizmo5 is totally SIP-based, and can connect to all the mainstream IM platforms, including Skype - and Skype can't do that. So, this has the potential to become a truly global any-to-any service, and if the quality is there, this can be a big deal.

I say so for two simple reasons. First, between GrandCentral and Gizmo5, Google has move to the head of the line without even spending $100 million. They've been accumulating fiber for years - not likely at great expense - and through the wonders of the Internet and an endless expanse of server farms, they can now compete against any carrier in any part of the world, all of whom are struggling to compete under the weight of complex, expensive communications networks.

Not only that - my second reason - but Google doesn't need to make money with voice - at least right away. Skype needs every penny it can get from subscribers since that's their only real revenue source. Google still makes most of its money from advertising, so they can run Google Voice without much regard for making money, which is a luxury no other operator can afford. Pretty interesting set of circumstances to say the least.

Anyhow, I have three posts to steer you to that cover the ground very nicely. First is the Wired piece I referred to earlier; second is Andy's post - which ran before Wired's story, and finally, Andy's post from today, which notes that the deal is now official. I'd say everyone connected to these posts is pretty happy today.

While I have you, Google/Gizmo5 isn't the only deal going on this week of note. These things always seem to happen while I'm away. A step or two away from the world of Google Voice/Google Talk is Jajah, a company I've followed and written about for a while. Sooner or later you know they'll be a target, and you may have picked up on this from TechCrunch. I don't have anything new to add, but this item doesn't surprise me in the least. They are another disruptor like Google, and following Ribbit's acquisition last year by BT, these companies are truly validating Web 2.0 as a platform for creating, hosting and providing all forms of communications services. This is not good news for incumbents.

Finally, let's not forget Logitech, who have made their second video acquisition of note. Following last year's pickup of SightSpeed, this week they announced their deal for LifeSize, valued at $405 million. This deal pales besides Cisco's dogged attempt for Tandberg, but together, all of this activity points to some serious consolidation coming in the video space. And this brings my post full circle to Cisco. For them, video is every bit as disruptive as voice is for Google, and when players of this size make moves all at the same time, you know big things are coming. It's made for a busy week, and I'm happy to end the week posting about it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cisco Collaboration Summit - Day 2

Tuesday was end-to-end Cisco, starting at 8, going through til 5 with a series of presentations around various aspects of collaboration and cloud services. It was a pretty intense day, and if there was one thing everyone could agree one, it was the overwhelming amount of information.

There was definitely a lot of interesting content here - a mix of demos, announcements and vision - but it's not the kind of thing you can distill into a sentence of two. To me, that's the strength and weakness of events like this. It's a strength in that having us all here is an efficient way to get all this information across - fair enough. However, it's also up to us to make sense of it all, and with so many new things to take in, everyone will have their own take on what Cisco is doing here.

Without a doubt, the word of the day around here is "collaboration", and it turns up in about every third sentence. Fair enough, and there's no doubt that the focus is on how people work together, and Cisco wants to be in the middle of all this. Until recently, most of Cisco's messaging has been around the network and convergence of various technologies. There's a definite shift now from convergence to collaboration, but as we're seeing across all the sessions, there are so many branches to this tree.

As hard as Cisco is trying to be the great enabler of collaboration, it's a very broad pallet, and these capabilities don't emerge overnight. They're about as far along as any company can possibly be, and as you get your head around the scope of all this, you have to wonder how willing and able enterprises are to run with Cisco. No doubt Cisco is getting its share of traction, but I think it's going to take some time for businesses to catch up with all this, especially since we heard very little about the ROI story.

I'll leave you with some photos and narrative to give you a sense of the topics we heard about yesterday. If there was one takeway to share it was their WebEx Mail announcment. I commented about this briefly in the last two photos below, but I'll also point you to an article that David Greenfield wrote yesterday on ZDNet about the news.

I should add that the genesis of this story very much embodied the spirit of collaboration we've been hearing so much about here. During the WebEx Mail demo yesterday, I was IM'g with David on Skype, and within an hour I had given him enough narrative and one of my photos for him to get an article written and posted. That's pretty much a real-time form of collaboration, and I'll bet he had the very first published article about this launch. Way to go, Dave!

I'll stop now, and leave you with some photos.

Demo with David Knight and the virtues for enterprises to use a blend of premise based and cloud based collaboration solutions

Charles Stucki and the rationale for Cisco's big push into video

Video demo where Charles talked about Tandberg and how Cisco can seamlessy interop with Tandberg, Polycom and Lifesize - all at the same time

Rick Emery, talking about what Jabber brings to Cisco

Laurent Philonenko demonstrating Cisco Unified Presence 8.0, and their advanced capabilities for working across various IM platforms

Murali Sitaram talking about ESS - Enterprise Social Software - and Show and Share, their new solution to enable video-based collaboration. Pretty neat stuff, including tagging video content and making it searchable, just as you would with text-based content.

Duncan Greatwood and the "evolution of email". This was the highlight for me, and we got a solid demo of their just-launched WebEx Mail service. For any heavy user of email, it wasn't hard to see how they've added intelligence, and made the user experience more powerful. It's especially attractive in that you never have to leave the email interface to do other things such as start a chat session, retrieve and review files, and access the personal profile and contact history of anyone in your log of messages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cisco Collaboration Summit - Day 1

Yesterday was the kickoff for Cisco's Collaboration Summit. Last year I attended virtually, and this was my first time going in person. As with other Cisco events, it's very well staged, and has the feel of a rock concert at times. Given that the focus is on collaboration and using all the multimedia tools to fullest effect, it all felt about right.

There was a lot of buildup around the slew of releases coming from Cisco now, and they made this clear repeatedly, so the basic message is that Cisco is up to some big things and jumping to new curves. That's not a new message from Cisco these days, and they shared a lot of vision with us about how they're taking collaboration and the cloud to new levels, and how this is going to change the way we work.

A lot of the discussion was around plumbing and architectures, and not being an IT guy, the technical revelations were not as interesting to me as the focus on what collaboration and the cloud means to the enterprise and the end user experience.

Things opened with an appropos reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which happened 20 years ago yesterday. Of course, Cisco is trying to do the same thing with their vision for collaboration. They view this as a $30 billion opportunity, and in short, their definition of collaboration is people + teams + information. Fair enough, but it's going to take the better part of 3 days to explain all this to us.

Even though yesterday's session was only 2 hours long, I wasn't alone in trying to get my head around the multitude of announcements and initiatives Cisco shared with us. Lots of talk, esp from John Chambers, about the need to have strength in two areas - the underlying technologies, as well as being supported by business processes that are driven by specific goals for the enterprise.

They spent a lot of times demonstrating this by Cisco's own example in terms of how they've done a lot of this themselves. John Chambers talked about the cultural changes Cisco has gone through, shifting from "command and control" to "teamwork and innovation". He backed this up talking about Cisco making 4 acquisitions in the past 45 days, which could only been possible by having all these collaboration capabilities in place. Am not sure if enterprise customers have taken these ideas totally to heart, but Cisco sure seems to have made the move, and it's hard to deny that they have a lot of agility for a company of its size and global reach.

Otherwise, lots of impressive demos and messaging about how "the new normal" is driven by collaboration, especially video. Most of the focus is about Webex and Telepresence, with a few references to IP phones (esp the new 9971 video-enabled phone). Remember routers? Not a word here. This is all about defining the new normal - helping IT cope with the endless treadmill that IP is putting us on - more info than ever before, more devices, more access, more security risks, more storage needs, more power/energy demands, fast time to market, etc. More, more, more.

If you can figure all this out, then Cisco has the answers. I can't sum this up with a simple explanation - that's why we're here for 3 days. So, conceptually, we all get it, and in Cisco's mind, the path is clear. With each passing session, it's getting clearer to the rest of us, so just bear with me another day or two.

Waiting to begin - setting the stage...

See that glow above his head? That's the JC halo - it follows him everywhere - he's so good getting his message across...

Nice demo here, with a video image on the right for Telepresence, and the same image on the left on Cisco's new IP phone.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Telio - Still Going Strong

Telio is far from a household name in North America, but if you follow the residential VoIP market - or VoIP in general - they should be on your radar. I've been following them for years, and if this is news, here's what you need to know. They went public about the same time as Vonage, but let's just say the companies have gone in different directions. You can get a taste of this from my earlier posts, such as this one. Since this comparison post from 2006, the song has basically remained the same, and Telio keeps making money.

So, who is Telio? Well, if you do a Google search, you'll discover this is a Canadian fabric company whose website is under construction. Ok, well, let's try Bing. This search turns up a popular Greek restaurant on the the Upper West Side of NYC. Hmm - we're getting colder, not warmer.

If you dig a bit deeper, you'll eventually discover Telio Holding ASA, and that's where your search ends. A profitable VoIP operator based in Norway - who knew?

It's an old story for me, and you'll have to look at my older posts to get filled in, but basically Telio has got the right business model for OTT - over the top - VoIP, and with every passing quarter of profitability, they're proving that it can be done. And for what it's worth, they have some cool looking phones now and have made a strong push into video. I couldn't help noticing their latest phones on display at BroadSoft Connections last week.

I'm posting about them now as they announced their Q3 results a few days ago, and I'm determined to share this before the week is out. The results are not spectacular, and that's exactly what I like about this. They don't need an amazing quarter to get your attention and make you believe the worst is over. There never was any of this - they just continue posting steady growth - isn't that better?

In this economy, I'll take those numbers any day. Revenues are up, profits are up, the customer base is growing, and new markets are becoming established. They also mention making Deloitte's Top 50 Technology list for 2009. That listing hasn't been publicly announced yet, and I can't find it on the website, but I've followed Deloitte's industry lists for a while, and this wouldn't surprise me at all.

Vonage is still with us, but they're not so much in the public eye any more, and they're still struggling to find a niche for long term survival. The market has changed so much since their debut, and I'm not sure if that time will ever come. Telio, on the other hand, has stuck to its plan from the beginning, and they continue to execute with ongoing innovation, nominal marketing spend and a focused value proposition.

Perhaps most important is their ability to enter new geographic markets and grow their footprint. While markets like Holland and Denmark are pretty small, Telio has proven they can replicate their domestic model elsewhere. Just you wait - it's only a matter of time until they set their sights on bigger markets, and if they can scale successfully, Telio will be a company you'll have to follow, not want to follow. Just remember where you heard it first.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Next Stop - San Fran - Cisco Collaboration Summit

It's been a busy few weeks travel-wise, and my last stop is finally coming up. Next week, I'll be in San Francisco, attending Cisco's 2009 Collaboration Summit.

Not much more to say, but I feel lucky to be part of this group, and collaboration is definitely of interest to me these days. Cisco has been active in this space all year, even if you put the Tandberg story aside. Am sure that will be one of the topics of discussion, but I'm particularly interested in how they'll be going to market with scaled down collaboration solutions that will have broader market appeal. As I saw on my Telepresence panel at Supercomm last month, Cisco is doing just fine there, but not everyone needs or wants full scale TP.

Anyhow, I rarely get to San Francisco, so this will be nice stop. I'm there Monday through Wednesday, and if things go to plan, I'll be done traveling for 2009. Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

October Media Roundup

Not a lot to report for media coverage last month, but for good reason. October was my busiest month travel-wise in ages, plus I had two new projects underway that kept me pretty focused. Plus, planning for the next Smart Grid Summit is in full swing. For regular readers, you'll know that this is becoming an important focus for me, and I'm regularly posting content to our Smart Grid portal, but not normally citing any of that here.

With that said, here's where I turned up otherwise last month. First, a mainstream business citing:

- Business Week - "Vonage: Smartphone Apps for International Calls"

Next, I was interviewed by about Smart Grid. Ok, yes it's Smart Grid, but I'm not usually the subject of an interview...

- "Smart Grid in an ICT Eye"

For TMCnet, my regular Service Provider Views columns:

"Why Skype is Good News for Service Providers, Part 2"

"Service Providers: Be Careful What You Wish For"

Finally, I was quoted in a press release from, a company I've been close to since inception. Long time industry colleague Ari Rabban is their CEO, and he's really moving this company ahead. They just keep adding features, and in time, I really think they're going to validate the web-based hosted model for SOHO and home communications.

If you haven't checked them out, you should. It's pretty hard to get more for your money, and they really get it when it comes to innovation and constantly building on their value proposition. Ok - commericial over - here's the press release. I should add that Jeff Pulver was cited in this release as well, as it fits his current focus on HD voice. Nice to see Jeff turning up again in these circles!

" Launches First Hosted HD Voice Phone Network"

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reminder - Media Gateway 2.0 Webinar Tomorrow

Just a last call for tomorrow's webinar I'm doing with TelcoBridges. Basically, I've completed a White Paper for them on what I can Media Gateway 2.0, and we're sharing the highlights on the call.

There's still time to register, so join us if you're interested. All the pertinent details are outlined in my earlier blog post, so I'll steer you there for next steps.

Monday, November 2, 2009

BroadSoft Connections - Recap on Microsoft's Blog

Just when you thought I was done with BroadSoft Connections! Wait - there's more, but with a twist. Microsoft's Communications Sector recently started a blog called Behind 3 Screens - referring of course to the three screens they're trying to serve in our digital world - PC, TV and mobile.

Anyhow, they've been on me for a while to submit a guest post, and this is my first one for their blog. If you follow my blog and/or BroadSoft, you'll know they're working closely with MSFT, especially for hosted UC. As such, they were keen to hear my thoughts about Connections, and I prepared an exclusive recap post for their blog, which is running today.

So, if you haven't quite got Connections out of your system, I welcome you to read my post there, and I'm sure MSFT would love for you to leave a comment or two behind. Even Microsoft likes to hear words of encouragement from time to time! Me too...

Smart Grid Portal Traffic - On Track for 1 Million Views

The October traffic stats for the Smart Grid portal are out now, and the trend remains very strong. October page views were just under 600,000, and unique visits were almost 200,000. Based on the growth to date, we're on track from 1 million page views and 400,000 unique visits by year end. Not bad for a venture that just started in July. This is a hot market for sure, and we're doing our best to be in the middle of it, and ultimately put on a successful event in January.

For more detail, I wrote a short article about the news today for the portal, and TMC issued a press release earlier as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Media Gateway 2.0 - TelcoBridges Webinar, November 4

Just a heads-up about a webinar I'm presenting on next week.

I just finished a White Paper for TelcoBridges, an up-and-coming Canadian media gateway vendor. They've actually been at this for a long time, and are finally gaining some nice traction and industry recognition.

The focus of the webinar is on the evolution of media gateways from 1.0 to 2.0, as well what TelcoBridges brings to the market in terms of their intelligent media gateway product portfolio.

We're doing the webinar at two times next Wednesday - November 4 - at noon for the North American market, and again at 9pm for Asia. The press release is out now with more detail, and if just want to register now, here's the link. Hope you'll join us!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

BroadSoft Connections - More Day 2

Am not quite done yet posting about Connections. I wanted to share a few more highlights from the Solutions Showcase. Aside from having 60 exhibitors, BroadSoft had pavilions of their own, and this year they had dedicated showcases for their various UC solutions as well as their home-based solutions. Aside from that, they had some nice demo setups for specific aspects of the BroadWorks platform and the Xtended Marketplace, which just launched.

For me, Marketplace is the coolest step forward from what was on display. It's exactly like the Apple apps store, but for BroadSoft customers. Most of the apps are for business use, like SpinVox or Salesforce, and it's pretty easy to see how this can be a great value-add for carriers to generate new revenues that make their customers more productive. There are a few consumer-type apps there as well, but I suspect this area will take a bit longer to develop. Anyhow, BroadSoft claims to have 2,000 developers in their Xtended ecosystem, and I have no doubt we're going to see some great apps coming in 2010 that will really help re-define what communications services can be in the world of 2.0. It's great way for BroadSoft to differentiate themselves as a solutions partner, and it's equally true for what this brings to service providers who are ready to get beyond TDM and even basic VoIP.

Finally, I'd be remiss to say nothing about the after party Tuesday night. It was every bit as fun as the House of Blues parties at Supercomm two weeks back, and I'm lucky enough to have been at both. BroadSoft has an in-house jam band of their own, and I had no idea Alex Doyle loves to rock. They sure were fun, and if the stars line up right, you just might see me up on stage with them at the next Connections. I'd better keep practising.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BroadSoft Connections - Day 2 - The Appys

Well, it didn't take long for the buzz around apps to reach iconic status, but BroadSoft has taken things to a whole... otha... lay-vel. Yes, yesterday we saw the Appys - their Academy Awards of sorts for the best apps from their ever-expanding community of Xtended developers.

I'll have more on this later, but wanted to post some photos before boarding my flight home...

Yes, they even had the red carpet out...

Shirish and the two Alexes kicking things off

Polycom's Mike Seto - their phones were quite prominent for the demos - gee, it looks like product placement is finding its way into our space now...

BlackBerry mobile integration with BroadWorks

All the way from New Zealand - Zazu - a neat way to integrate all your social media/messaging into one app

IBM's mashup portal with Broadworks. Between IBM and Microsoft, BroadSoft has the market nicely covered.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Service Providers - Be Careful What You Wish For

I was at Supercomm last week, and came away with some distinct impressions about the challenges facing carriers, especially mobile operators. I've summarized those thoughts in my latest Service Provider Views column on TMCnet.

I've titled the article "Be Careful What You Wish For", and it was posted today on TMCnet. I hope you read it, and would love to hear your thoughts.

BroadSoft - Day 1, Part 2 - Video Everywhere

The show goes on, and it's all good. Got a lot to talk about, but I only have the brainpower right now to post photos. This post has a single focus - video. Yesterday afternoon I walked through the Solutions Showcase, which had 60 exhibitors. That's a pretty nice group and shows the depth and diversity of BroadSoft's partner base.

The prevalance of video is what really jumped out for me - either as an interface for deskphones, or variations on HD video monitors. It's all very high quality and sure gives the handset a very 2.0 look and feel. My only question, though is utility. I don't know about you, but I have a PC screen next to my phones. These phones certainly do a lot, but I think it will take some getting used to when a much bigger PC screen is right nearby. Obviously, these vendors don't agree, and they all add some spice to support the BroadWorks platform, which is the reason we're all here.

More posts coming, but here's a sample of what I'm talking about...


Telio's phones, made by LG/Nortel...