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.