Thursday, April 30, 2009

Acme Packet Acquires Covergence - Surprised?

I didn't know this was coming, but am not really surprised. This morning Acme Packet announced they were acquiring Covergence for a little under $23 million. In this economy, it's hard to say if that's a lot of money or a little money, but Acme is pretty shrewd and their management team is very seasoned, so my guess is that it's probably about right.

The basic details are in the press release, which adds that there will be a concall later today to share a bit more with those who wish to learn more.

I'm not surprised by the news in that it's very much in line with how the network infrastructure space has been consolidating over the past 2 years. It's part of the evolution process as leaders emerge across the various segments, and the followers have to make decisions about their future.

Acme and Covergence are really the last ones standing among pureplays in the session border controller space, and this move is no different than what has been happening in the other segments, especially media gateways and application servers. For gateways, look no further than GenBand and the moves they've been making; and for AS, it's basically BroadSoft's world now.

I've followed the SBC space since inception, and the much-anticipated consolidation process is now complete. What was once a face-off between Acme and Netrake (remember them?) for the Tier 1 carriers has now become another BroadSoft-like scenario. Early players like Kagoor and NexTone are gone, and while smaller players like Mera and Sansay are still out there, Acme pretty much has won the game.

For those who always felt SBCs could not survive as a standalone category, you can feel vindicated today - more or less. However, as was shown with Juniper and Kagoor, the Tier 1 equipment vendors have not succeeded in taking this market and simply adding SBCs to routers or gateways. To some extent this is being done by the likes of AudioCodes and MetaSwitch, but with Covergence being acquired, Acme can lay claim as proof that standalone SBCs have a future.

They may not capture all demand for SBC solutions, but there is definitely a value proposition there. Now that they don't have to deal with any head-on competitors, Acme can concentrate on keeping that value prop strong. Will they eventually be acquired by a Tier 1? Probably - but that's down the road.

Before that can happen, they must tie up their served market first, and that's what we're seeing today. With both companies being Massachusetts-based, the integration process should be pretty expedient. In terms of staying competitive - and alive - it's a good move for both companies, and hats off to Acme for living up to their name and finally getting to the top of the mountain.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Test post with vPost

Test post with vPost
Just trying a post with Vayyoo's vPost version 2.

This email composed using vPost. Download at:
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Monday, April 27, 2009

Service Provider Views Article - Learning from Tier 3 Carriers

My latest Service Provider Views column is running now on TMCnet.

It's the first of a series I'm writing based on my learning from the MetaSwitch Forum, which I was involved with earlier this month.

This article is my take on what big carriers can learn from small carriers, and there were a lot of small carriers at the Forum. MetaSwitch has done a great job tapping into this market, and their customers are doing some pretty impressive things. I got some first hand exposure to this there, and my article provides some examples about how they're using IP communications to stay competitive in a difficult market. You can download the article here, and if this is your cup of tea, then I'm sure you'll like my next couple of articles which will continue on this theme.

Friday, April 24, 2009 Offers Virtual Numbers

This may not be the Google Voice killer, but's announcement yesterday is another example that innovation is alive and well, and that disruption come from anywhere.

So, what is Virtual Number? Well, it's a lot of things, and that's the beauty of Web 2.0-based voice services. I should probably call it a telecom service, since a lot of's look and feel is very much about this. However, that's not enough to compete these days, and the real value comes from all things offers that you can't do with a telephone service.

As the name implies, Virtual Number is a variation on Google Voice, which is a great way to go since Google has laid the groundwork for creating mass market buzz. Now the challenge is getting attention for, and once you see what's on offer, you'll understand why it's so much more than Google Voice. To start, yes you get the Grand Central-style virtual number service and all the convenience of having all calls come to one place.

Aside from the price being right for today's economy - under $5 a month - Virtual Number has lots of other cool features that take this well beyond everyday call forwarding. Things like being able to upload your address book to enable click to call, LNP, no contract, text-based voicemail, fax, etc. Actually, I think you'll be quite surprised at how many interesting features they have - see for yourself.

Aside from this, they have some very interesting twists to encourage viral marketing, which is really the best way to grow without going broke. Two in particular would be their Reward$ Program - where you earn credits the more you use the service, along with a referral system that brings down the cost of your Virtual Number service the more new customers you bring in.

In true Web 2.0 fashion, Virtual Number will not stand still, and new features such as SMS are coming. I don't see taking down Google any time soon, but to me they increasingly look like the prototype for a successful Web 2.0 service provider. Kudos to Ari Rabban and his team - I think they have a pretty good read what people are looking for, and aren't afraid to try new things. If you follow where telecom is going, they should be on your watch list, and if you won't take my word for it, then Garrett Smith and Fierce VoIP can vouch for me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

CATA Innovation Awards - Vote Now For Canada's Best!

CATA - the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance - is one of Canada's better-known industry groups advocating our tech sector, and they're putting their 2009 Innovation and Leadership Awards together now.

There are 9 categories, and you're all welcome to vote for best-in-class for each. Two categories are of particular interest to me - Emerging Technology and Mobile Communications. The latter is called the Ericsson MoCo Award, and I have some familiarity with all 3 companies nominated. I'm not going to tell you who I voted for, but they're all worthy choices - how's that for a balanced, analyst-like response?

Anyhow, you can review the categories and nominees here, as well as cast your vote. It's a great way to support Canada's tech sector, and the winners will be announced about a month from now, so check back with me then if you're dying to find out how your choices did.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Toronto Meetup Event - b5media and Blogging

Last night I attended my first Third Tuesday Toronto networking event in ages. It's part of the Meetup network of in-person events/get-togethers/networking/socials - you get the idea. Whatever you want to call them - you know what they are, and it's a great way to engage like-minded communities on a local level. I've attached myself to a few of these here in Toronto, and this was the first one where the schedule worked out for me to attend.

The topic was definitely of interest - blogging and online advertising - with the guest being Jeremy Wright, Pres/CEO of Toronto-based b5media. His company is a blogging network, and they've been evolving a business model for bloggers over the past 4 years. What made his talk so interesting was hearing how the whole space has been adjusting to the economic downturn, which of course impacts the advertising that supports so much of this activity.

Jeremy addressed many of the questions you'd expect from an audience no doubt made up largely of hopeful bloggers. I followed his company early on, but not recently, and it's nice to see that there are models here for bloggers and companies like this to make it in our brave new world of digital media. It's still not clear to me how the quality of content or integrity of the bloggers can really be monitored in a network such as theirs, nor how you get off the slippery slope of fact-based journalism vs. opinion-based blogging.

I know they have some basic editorial guidelines and QC, but I still have a fundamental issue with trying to monetize user-generated content that has no true peer-review process. It's the same problem that YouTube has, and as long as the model stays this way and the hosting costs don't put you out of business (remember, there will be no shortage of people willing to do this. But is there money to made here?

It's the $64K question, of course, and I saw glimmers last night that b5media has some ideas about how to do this, even as advertising falls off. A lot of this has to do with moving beyond the atomized world of individual bloggers with individual followings, and creating more integrated communities that generate new forms of value from collective knowledge. That's where the social media phenomenon comes in, and when these pieces get mashed together, I can see things getting to the next level - Blogging 2.0 I guess - where everyone makes money, and there's dynamic, multimedia, real-time content that people will pay money for. I would - wouldn't you?

With that said, I've always been very wary of how the Internet seems to legitimize any form of writing, just like how being seen on TV magically makes you important. I guess we just have to accept that anything goes on the Web, and it's up to the readers to decide what's real and what's crap. Well, it is all free, so you get what you pay for in the end, and that's why we pay to subscribe to newspapers - although, the latter looks to be on shaky ground these days. I'd better stop now - there's just way too much to talk about here, and hey, nobody pays me to write this stuff. :-)

Anyhow, about 130 people turned out, and it was a very friendly crowd. As one might expect from this group, some people have posted reviews already, and you can check them out here. And after that, you might want to consider looking into your own local Meetup groups - looks like these things are everywhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cisco, Ifyphone, Jaduka - 3 News Items, 3 Different Innovation Stories

The last couple of days have been interesting on the news front, and I'm highlighting 3 items that are all coming out around the same time. I'm citing them all here to show the diversity of things that are going on, and that innovation is alive and well. Of course, innovation can be very subjective, but there's no doubt that companies of all sizes are trying to differentiate along this spectrum.

The following three examples are completely unrelated aside from the fact that they're news items right now. Each tells a different story, but they're all after the same thing - trying to bring something new to the market that adds value for their customers. To me, this is a much healthier sign of life than the steady stream of new product releases or line extensions that are of more benefit to the sellers than the buyers.

1. Cisco - "Everything as a Service", and enhanced security

Last week, Cisco did a lot of media and analyst briefings for these two items, which were under embargo until this morning. This seems like a long time for an embargo, but maybe I just got briefed early in the pack, and they needed to speak to a lot of people last week. Anyhow, these two items are quite different, and are fairly complex, especially the first one.

On the first front, Cisco is boldly moving further into cloud computing territory, and this announcement is meant to showcase what's possible when WebEx is paired up with extensive collaboration features. Seems like WebEx on steroids, and I suspect it needs to be ramped up like this to show why this acquisition was money well spent. By calling it "everything as a service", this news pushes Cisco well beyond its hardware roots into the realm of applications. Cisco is not shy saying this is a big growth story, and that they are determined to get their share of it.

I've been on this theme since their last analyst conference, and I'm hardly alone in noting how big of a leap this can be. Of course, Cisco is very good at this sort of thing - arguably better than Microsoft - and WebEx gives them the platform they need to become a serious SaaS player. Fair enough, but this news can also sound a bit like a scorched earth policy where Cisco will do what it takes become a leader in this amorphous collaboration space, and that's where I find it all a bit hard to follow.

It's clear that they have solid technology here, and their focus on the cloud and collaboration is right on. What isn't clear - at least to me - just what the vision is for the customer. No doubt it's great to have all this capability, but if you are a soup-to-nuts Cisco shop, it doesn't look like there's much room anywhere for anybody else. As with other markets Cisco has entered as a newcomer, they will invariably bump up against others who would normally be strategic partners.

Sure, that's what competition is all about, but it's hard for me to tell if Cisco's vision is to wholly own the customer, or work in concert with everyone else and keep the best-of-breed model alive. Even within their own world, I'm not quite sure how this vision works. For example, it's easy to see how collaboration and Unified Communications are related. Cisco has an awful lot invested in UC as well as telepresence, and I can't really tell how much this WebEx solution is complementary or competitive to each.

In short, there's good news here, especially for WebEx fans and enterprises looking to leverage the cloud for more powerful collaboration tools. However, the overall vision strikes me as being very broad - maybe too broad - so it's a bit hard to say what it potentially means for the competitive landscape. Will have to wait a bit to see how this plays out with everyone else.

The second Cisco story is about a more extensive suite of security features. John Chambers is speaking about this today at the RSA conference, so I'm sure you'll be hearing about it from a few different sources. This space is not my forte, so I don't have much insight to add, but it is a logical extension to the first news item in this post. People will only collaborate to the extent they trust the environment they're working in, and that's what today's security announcement is about.

I really can't say how much of this is innovation versus line extension, but one security aspect that sounds intriguing is IPS 7.0 - Intrusion Protection System. During the briefing, they focused on their sensor software, and how extensively it protects the network from external threats. It seemed pretty comprehensive to me, but I'm no security expert, so I'll leave it at that.

Stepping back, all I can say is that by pairing the WebEx news with this security news, Cisco is sending a strong message to reinforce what I suspect will become their new mantra - "Collaborate with Confidence". I think you'll be hearing that phrase a lot over the next few days and beyond.

2. Ifbyphone gives carrier more tools/new tools/better tools

Speaking of the cloud, Ifbyphone is a pretty cool company that gets it, and is definitely driven by innovation. I briefed with CEO Irv Shapiro yesterday about yet another interesting offering they've come up with to make Voice 2.0 real for service providers. Their latest innovation doesn't have a name, so it's not so simple to describe. Basically, they're offering Voice 2.0 services to carriers in a very easy to do way. Any operator with a softswitch platform can partner with them to use as many features as they like. It's a classic utility model, which allows operators to maybe just try one application or ramp up for a busy season to meet spikes in demand.

I see this as a great way to experiment with new applications or trying to bring new value to a specific segment of a carrier's customers. This will be especially appealing to Tier 3s - CLECs, RLECs, IOCs, etc. - who are new to cloud computing, but have the SS platform in place to offer new services. While SS vendors like MetaSwitch and BroadSoft already offer a wide range of applications, Ifbyphone offers more flexibility for smaller operators, lower cost, as well as distinct Voice 2.0 features developed specifically for this market. Irv also notes this can also be done on a white label basis, and combined with their SIP Trunking offering, carriers can have a very competitive SMB offering with an end-to-end IP experience.

As with Cisco, it's too early to say whether this complements or competes with what the SS vendors are doing. However, Ifbyphone continues to remain on the right side of the innovation curve, and I've seen enough here to know they're on to something good. In terms of what's new, I think the innovation here is more about business models than technology, and I have no problem with that. Service providers need all the help they can get, and this being early days for Voice 2.0, the market needs companies like Ifbyphone to show the way in putting all these pieces together - cloud services, SIP Trunking, mashups, voice applications, etc.

To learn more about how they're doing this, you should spend some time on their website, which features Irv's personal blog (check out his post about where Google Voice falls short for SMBs), the company blog, as well as a White Paper they just released on what I've been writing about here.

3. Jaduka Exchange

Last but definitely not least, Jaduka just launched their thought leadership portal, Exchange. Good name, good concept. Collaboration and innovation go hand-in-hand, and this portal is a great one-stop-shop to get Jaduka's latest thought leadership - not just from their team, but posts from across the industry and individual bloggers, and relevant content such as articles, white papers, etc.

There are lots of portals out there, but consider the source. Jaduka is a good news story waiting to happen, especially now that Thomas Howe has joined as their CEO. None of this will be news to my regular readers, but for everyone else, it's not too late to get on this bandwagon. Jaduka's world is about many of today's hot topics - mashups, CEBP, collaboration, Web services - and the broader 2.0 convergence opportunity between voice and the Internet. Lots of opportunity and innovation going on here, and given how little most of us understand this world, Jaduka Exchange is the right idea at the right time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Podcast - 5 Things You Need To Know About SIP

I'm a regular contributor to the TechTarget family of portals, and they recently had me do a podcast about SIP. It's part of their Reality Check series, so these are short podcasts focused on key issues/trends about various IT topics.

They asked me to talk about 5 things you need to know today about SIP, and that's what we did on the podcast. The segment runs about 8 minutes, and I made sure to touch on key things driving SIP, such as SIP Trunking, the SIP Forum and mobile SIP. You can access the podcast here, on their Search Unified Communications portal, and while you're at it, feel free to check out the other content. I've got more things coming on TechTarget, and I'll be posting about those once they're running.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stardust Global Ventures Interviews/Thomas Howe

This post is what I'd call a twofer. If you remember buying vinyl LPs, you'll know what I mean - a twofer is double album, like Chicago I, Allman Bros. at the Fillmore, Exile on Main St, Layla. Gee, now you know some of my tastes in music - now THAT would make for a great blog - anyone want to join me?

Anyhow, I'm posting a twofer here - it's about what Sheryl Brueker and Ken Camp are tirelessly up to with their interviews, as well as an update on our good friend-turned CEO, Thomas Howe.

Sheryl and Ken have done a great job recently producing a series of podcasts with industry leaders - they call them Incidental Interviews. Reminds me of what Garrett Smith was doing a few months back with his interviews, or the podcasts I used to do a couple of years back. So, the first part of this twofer is to call attention to their series, and you can access all the podcasts on their site, Stardust Global Ventures.

The second part is a nice way to hear what Thomas Howe is up to in his new role as CEO of Jaduka. For this segment, Ken did the interviewing, and you can pick up the podcast on his post here from earlier this week. Their interviews run on the long side, so set aside the better part of a half hour if you want to take it all in. If you can't, the Reader's Digest version goes something like this - Thomas and Ken talk about the value of voice for improving business processes by being integrated with work-related applications. They touch on email and why it's still so important, as well as exploring the power of CEBP to make communications more personal, effective and easy to use. However you choose to take this in, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Springtime Sports - Other Things to Follow

It always takes a few days to catch up from being away, and I've been pretty heads-down trying to line up new business. I'm hardly alone, and it's tough out there, no matter who I talk to. Blogging has taken a bit of back seat as a result, but I'll get things going again once I've got the pipeline going. Sound familiar?

Aside from that, I'm wearing my sports hat a lot now, with my Bruins and Celtics starting the playoffs - Bruins tonight - and the Red Sox off to a very worrisome start. Putting food on the table is by far more important, but I need bandwidth for these things too, especially now. It's a golden age for Boston sports, and things haven't looked so promising since the mid-80's. Up til this morning, actually, it would not be unreasonable to think there could be 3 titles coming with these teams in 2009. If the Bruins stay consistent, they can go all the way. Same for the Celtics, but now that KG looks to be done for the season, it's looking much more like a Cavs/Lakers final. You never know, but if he's done, things would have to go amazingly well, which means getting lots of bench production and winning some big games on the road.

And then there are the Red Sox. They've only faced tough teams so far, and very little has gone right. It was great to see the Yankees get demolished today - esp against CC for their new stadium debut - but the Sox have their own problems to deal with. On paper, they should be WS material, but a lot of big questions are coming up only 9 games into the season. Hopefully Wakefield's strong start yesterday gives them a lift - plus some rest for the bullpen - and coming home to play a couple of weak teams should hopefully get them on track. So much more to talk about, and feel free to jump in. Just wanted to get those thoughts out there, and then back to business.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What to do with Skype?

Big question, and lots of interesting solutions. I've been out of the news loop the past couple of days, but this eBay/Skype story was hard to miss - examples here, here, here and here. Without rehashing the mainstream headlines, it's clearly on the table now that eBay has given up trying to create synergies with Skype, so the focus now is on making the best of things as distinct entities.

The preferred route for eBay would be to keep Skype and recoup their investment via an IPO sometime next year. That would certainly bring an end to things with both parties leaving on a high note. Of course this hinges heavily on the state of capital markets, and the optimist would say that by next year we'll be so fed up with the recession, investors will happily jump into anything resembling a good news story. Skype IS a good news story, and no doubt Wall Street would play this up as the IPO that kick starts tech stocks back to life. If so, Skype could ride this wave a while by validating this space for investors and giving us all a reason to believe that tech stocks can make us wealthy again.

And what do I mean by "this space" anyway? To me, this is where things get interesting. Most people associate Skype with VoIP and PC telephony, and we all know how poorly that "space" has done for investors lately. Don't forget Vonage got first mover advantage by going public ahead of Skype, and contrary to great expectations, their IPO set VoIP back a very long way with investors. I like Skype's prospects a lot more than Vonage, so for those looking for a second chance at the VoIP space, a Skype IPO would be ideal.

However, I see Skype being much more than a VoIP play. I won't deny that's important, but to me Skype is really a Web 2.0 story. Their revenues are built almost entirely around VoIP, but there's so much more potential if/when they can monetize their community of over 400 million users - video, mobile apps, social networking, file sharing, business users, etc. Of course that's a big IF, but think about what that would mean for all those Web 2.0 companies out there with huge communities but no real business models - Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. If Skype can show the way, then I could see their IPO being much bigger, not just financially, but providing some validity to invest in all these other stories, which then makes Web 2.0 the next BIG THING.

I'm guessing that's why Niklas and Janus want to buy Skype back. It has to be a good sign when the founders want back in, and they certainly aren't hurting for cash. Joost was their follow up to Skype, and it really hasn't done much - but probably could with Skype back in the picture. Talk about interesting possibilities. Of course, there's another big twist here - Joltid - which appears to be the core technology Skype was built upon. It's a mystery to me why this didn't come with the Skype acquisition - and I'm guessing the Skype folks felt it was too important, and maybe that's turning out to be true now. So, a lot depends on how this plays out, and who will end up with lawful control. I'd have to say all bets are off until this is resolved. If Joltid ends up with eBay, Skype may not be as attractive to the founders, and vice versa should it go the other way.

And then there's the scenario of Skype being acquired by one of the usual suspects - Google, Microsoft, Yahoo. There's a storyline around all these, but for my money, I've long felt Apple would be the best fit, or possibly a Web-savvy company like Adobe. I got to share that view with the BBC yesterday, which was nice, but we'll need a longer conversation to take this further. Back to work...

Friday, April 10, 2009

MetaSwitch Forum 2009 - Day 3

The MetaSwitch Forum 2009 wrapped up today with a nice mix of panels and keynotes. My day started prompt at 8:30, as I moderated a session on consumer VoIP. I could do a whole day on this topic, so with only 40 minutes we barely got going. That's fine - it was still good. Joining me was Kevin Edwards of Embarq and Richard Wardell of Wyoming-based TCT. It was a nice contrast between large and small operators, and I'm not going to tell you which of the two is doing more interesting things with fiber and converged services. The audience turnout was strong and we had some good Q&A at the end.

I caught a bit of Doug Mohney's IPTV panel following mine, and again, you'd be surprised how far along the curve some of these IOCs are. From what I can gather, a lot of these rural households are getting way faster broadband speeds than I can get back in Toronto. Go figure. Well, frankly, give MetaSwitch a lot of the credit. They've done a great job providing their customers with the right technologies as well as some vision about what is possible. I guess that helps explain why so many customers came out to the forum - they're there to learn, not just from MetaSwitch, but what many of their peers are doing.

The rest of the day took place in the main hall with a keynote and a couple of panels. First was a keynote by Dennis Huber, CTO of Embarq - he talked about their approach to innovation, and as big telcos go, they seem to have the right focus here. It sure will be interesting to watch how things unfold with them and Century Tel.

After that, there were two panels. First, Carol Wilson moderated a State of the Industry session. There was some good discussion there about a favorite topic of mine - the service provider of the future. Although this was a pretty conservative audience, I would have liked to have seen them push the envelope a bit further. They touched on many important issues, but didn't really address emerging business models, which I think needed to be there. I was glad to see Gary Kim bring up machine-to-machine or person-to-machine communications, which is another area that I think will be huge.

Following that was a closing Q&A with the MetaSwitch exec team, which I thought was a fitting way to wrap up. It was great to see all of them up there together, sharing their views on what's coming, and having some open dialog with the audience. One of the things I really like about MetaSwitch is the collective nature of their culture. There isn't any one guy - like Steve Jobs - who drives everything. All of the exec team brings something to the table, and it was nice to get this full range of views on where the company - and the market - is going.

All told, it was a very worthwhile event, and they pulled it off pretty much exactly to plan. Kudos to Carol Daniels, Andy Randall and the full Marketing team - they sure make it look easy. After the wrap up session, there were some recreational activities for the afternoon, and I did the Hoover Dam tour. Highly recommended - that was a great experience, and I've included a couple of pictures below.

Dennis Huber, Embarq

State of the Industry panel

Exec Q&A session

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Service Provider Views - Latest Column - Innovation

My latest Service Provider Views column is running now on TMCnet. This is my second column picking up on some key themes from eComm 2009, and the focus here in on innovation.

It's a nebulous term, but we all know it when we see it. There was a lot of great innovation on tap at eComm, and there's no shortage of opportunity for service providers willing to make this a core part of their modus operandi. My column looks at some promising examples being deployed today as well as some of the more futuristic possibilities that were so effectively demonstrated at eComm. It's a big topic, and hopefully I make the case that there's more to innovation than just making your network faster or smarter.

You can read the column here, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MetaSwitch Forum - Day 2

Today was a bit more hands-on for customers with several vendor-specific breakouts and the Expo showcase opening up. New Board member Kevin DeNuccio opened with a keynote outlining major trends impacting telecom. It set the stage for big picture issues that I know customers were talking about throughout the day. I'll be touching on some of these myself in tomorrow morning's panel on consumer VoIP. Am really looking forward to that.

Otherwise, the big story today was a couple of MetaSwitch announcements. First was a series of new features as part of their Version 7.0 release. Lots of Google-based widgets that give their CommPortal more of a Web 2.0 look and feel.

was the launch of the Innovators Community. I really like this one, and represents their formal entry into the third party apps space. Any vendor with an appreciable customer base and partner ecosystem needs to be doing this now, and along with the news, there's a dedicated website to support the community. You need to register first, but here's the link. Judging by the heavy traffic around the MetaSwitch demo setups today, interest was justifiably high.

Kevin DeNuccio's keynote

Polycom's VVX 1500 media phone

Expo showcase activity

MetaSwitch Forum - More Day 1 - Fun Time

Last night was party night for the MetaSwitch Forum, and as usual, it was a blast. Literally. It was held at the Stratosphere, which I'm sure is the tallest vantage point in Las Vegas. We were blasted up the elevator to the observation deck for food, entertainment and a great 360 view of the world 866 feet below us. It sure gets windy up there, but being a full moon, the skyline was just amazing.

Talk about cool - a MetaSwitch ice block at the bar

The Rat Pack lives...

The Strip and beyond

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MetaSwitch Forum 2009 - Day 1

Finally getting a chance to post about the MetaSwitch Forum, which kicked off last night. I had some serious PC problems just before flying out, which has impacted my blogging, and I'm making do as best I can. Before updating you on today, I should say that Rich Tehrani got the jump on posting, and he blogged about the reception last night, so if you want to start at the beginning, go here. Rich has been posting regularly since then, so you might want to follow his blog along with mine.

From what I can tell, I'm the only industry analyst here, so I'm keeping myself company. There are a handful of press/media here - Rich, Gary Kim, Carol Wilson, Dough Mohney and Richard Martin (you should tap them as well for their coverage of the forum) - so that's my default crowd to be running with. Aside from us, of course, it's all about the customers, and there are plenty here. It's been great talking them up - you learn so much this way about the little things that go on in their world, and hardly ever turns up in the media.

Overall, it's been great so far. Attendence is up from last year - some 630 all told - and that alone tells you a lot about the support for what they're doing. The sessions today have been about the MetaSwitch roadmap, along with a media/press-only luncheon where we had some quiet time with their senior management team - but that stays off-line.

There have been 2 public news items so far - 1.) the appointment of John Lazar as the overall CEO - up til now, he was sharing the role with Graeme MacArthur; 2.)the addition of Kevin DeNuccio to their Board - he brings solid Tier 1 experience, which may tell you a thing or two about some of their plans. You can read more about these items here and here. Tomorrow will see a slew of press releases from technology partners, along with an important new focus for MetaSwitch.

That's all for now, but here are a few photos and some brief commentary...

Andy Randall in his customary role welcoming us to the forum. He talked about the "No Limits" theme this year, with the message being that operators have many options now for providing services, and they shouldn't limit themselves with legacy telecom thinking.

John Lazar and Graeme MacArthur with the CEO-level view of the market. Very good job connecting the dots between the weak economy and what it means for both carriers and vendors. Also talked about the MetaSwitch culture and why the company is well positioned for growth. They made it clear that MetaSwitch intends to remain independent and to become a true Tier 1 player. A key lever for doing this is their focus on staying customer-centric, and investing heavily in R&D - roughly 30% of revenues, which is pretty impressive.

Anthony Zuiker - WHO is this guy? Wow, what a treat. TV watchers should know him as the creator of CSI, which I didn't realize was so HUGE. Aside from getting a taste of what makes the show so special, his main message what about what calls cross-platform story telling. I see so much of this my everyday work, and it was great to hear someone outside of telecom talk like this. His basic premise is that our behaviors are different today, and nobody simply watches TV any more. People want a more immersive, involved experience - one that they control - not the TV networks. It's not good news for TV as we know - no surprise there. Anthony is basically showing a better way - a new business model that the TV industry needs to adopt. I love what he's doing, and the takeway for MetaSwitch's customers, is that they need to start thinking in these terms as well. MetaSwitch gives them a platform and the tools to create these new communications experiences, and hopefully he'll inspire them to start thinking more outside the box.

Chris Mairs giving his CTO vision, with a key focus on the idea that service providers are experiencing a separation of services from pipes, and it's going to be really hard for them to be good at both. It was great to see him talk about Skype's SILK codec and Google Voice as important disruptors. He presented at eComm last month, where those items were very much part of the landscape. That's less the case with their customer base, but that needs to change, so kudos to MetaSwitch for bringing this into the mix.

Once you've had your fill of keynotes, there's always the beach - Las Vegas style...

Finally, a bit of reality. It's fairly quiet in Las Vegas these days, so the go-go energy isn't what it used to be. Here's a telling example - the sign here sure looks welcoming, but the Welcome Center is empty - literally. It's hard to see this, but in the left corner of the storefront window is a big For Lease sign. Ugh.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Next Stop - MetaSwitch Forum 2009

The MetaSwitch Forum is one of the best customer events going, and I'm really looking forward to attending again this year.

UPDATE - due to a late scheduling change, I'm going to be moderating one of the panels now. It's on Thursday morning, and is about one of my favorite topics - strategies for succeeding with VoIP in the consumer space. Most of MetaSwitch's customers are Tier 3 operators, many of whom are in rural markets. The competition may not be as intense as in larger centers, but it's still a factor, and VoIP is relatively new for consumers. Should be an interesting session, and you can learn more about it here:

Time to Raise or Fold? Consumer Telephony Strategies in a Down Economy

It says a lot in this economy for companies like MetaSwitch who are still willing and able to do events on this scale in Las Vegas. The important thing is that they value their customers, and they use this forum not just as a way to show it on an individual basis, but also to build community. All customer events strive to do this, but there's no doubt in my mind it's very real here.

The forum is also a great way to showcase their latest solutions as well as their technology partners, such as ADTRAN, Acme Packet, Aastra, Occam Networks and many others. Am very much looking forward to getting all the updates and spending time with the MetaSwitch team - as well as their partners and of course the customers.

Customer events are usually pretty closed, and I'm one of only a handful of outsiders attending, so if you follow MetaSwitch, you'll want to keep tabs on my blog.

Aside from the business aspect of the forum, MetaSwitch always runs a fun event. It will be pretty hard to top last year's New Orleans forum, but I think we'll do just fine in Las Vegas.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

March Media Roundup

I had a pretty nice mix of media involvement in March, including some A-list sources, namely the BBC, Wired Online and the Wall Street Journal. Can never get too much of that, and I hope they call again soon! Let's start there, and move on to the rest.

BBC - Google Voice launch

Wired Online - Google Voice launch

Wall Street Journal - coverage of my Voice 2.0 panel at eComm 2009

The Google Voice story had global coverage of course, and I turned up in a couple of these. I have no idea how this happens, but the Web does work in strange ways. As long as they spell my name right, I'm happy...

Negocias - Portuguese financial sector journal

Nikkei Net PC Online - Japanese coverage

Elsewhere in the English language press...

ITWorld Canada - Assessing the new CEO at Rogers

Tech Media Reports - Bell's acquisition of The Source (subscription required, but soft copy available)

Internet Telephony - IT Expo Industry Outlook Roundup

On TMCnet, my bi-monthly Service Provider Views columns ran:

Surviving in the New World of Telecom, Part 1

4G Focus – Interview with Crossfire Media

Going back to eComm, Mobivox announced the launch CRM over Voice, which included a White Paper that I was commissioned to write:

CRM over Voice press release, plus link to download White Paper

Finally, last week marked the launch of Canadian Blogging Idol. It's a fun contest being run by ITWorld Canada, and I've been brought into the mix to blog.

I've had a few posts so far, but it's too early to tell how I'm doing. Stay tuned - and don't forget to vote!

Branham Top 300 - Spotlight on Canadian Tech's Rising Stars

The Branham Top 300 is an annual survey of the Canadian tech sector, and as with all "lists", makes for good copy in the press. Backbone Magazine has been publishing this for a couple of years now - it's always a good read, and I've posted about it in the past. The 2009 Top 300 just came out in their April/May issue, and I wanted to touch on a few highlights.

The Top 300 covers a number of sectors related to tech, and I'm really only looking for companies that I follow. They also have several sub-lists for various categories within tech, and I want to simply draw attention to companies on these lists that are in my orbit. Many of these are clients and I'm an Advisor to some of them, while others I just follow in the course of my everyday work.

With that said, here are the kudos I'd like to extend to those who made these lists:

Top 25 Up and Comers: Fonolo, Protecode, Tungle, Vayyoo

Top 25 IT Hardware: Nortel, RIM, Mitel, Aastra, Vecima Networks

Top 20 Movers and Shakers: Counterpath, Sangoma, Espial Group

If you want to get a more thorough read on the Canadian tech landscape, there's lots to explore there, but on a high level the dynamics of this market remain the same. The top vendors are the usual suspects - Nortel, RIM, Celestica, Open Text, Mitel, etc. - and for service providers, you can pretty much count them on one hand - two at most. In short, Canada is a small market, with classic concentration of ownership, and the rest being tiny.

That's not to say these tiny companies aren't worth following! Regular readers of my blog know how world-class many of these companies are, and the Branham 300 definitely helps get them on the radar. Then it's up to people like me who have working relationships with many of these, to do some flag waving and in-the-trenches validation. So, here I am, telling you that if it takes the Branham 300 to turn you on to some promising Canadian tech companies, hats off to them. Now, if we could only find VCs willing to fund these companies...

Otherwise, the Top 300 is dominated by IT and software companies, most of which fall well outside my orbit. There's not that much in the Top 300, actually, related to the IP communications space, and those that are there are very small. I had expected to see more wireless players, and even though they had a list of top companies, there were only 10 of them, and none registered for me. Enough said - don't let that stop you from exploring the list a bit more. We've got great companies up here, and with our cheap dollar, it's a mystery to me why more of them aren't household names.