Friday, September 28, 2007

Welcome, Telecom Dispatch - More Canadian Coverage

This is another better-late-than-never post, as I catch up on the week from being at the Ottawa Venture and Tech Summit (my post of that event will come either over the weekend or Monday).

Veteran Canadian telecom consultant Roberta Fox launched a newsletter this week, and I find it a really nice news digest for a couple of reasons. It's titled Telecom Dispatch, and is published under her corporate moniker, Fox Group. The inaugural issue went out last Friday, but because it's email-based - and not web-based - I can't send you a link. If you want to read it, you just need to sign up at the Fox Group website. It's free, and doesn't take long, so if you want a quick read on what's happening up here, it's time well spent.

I say that the newsletter is welcome news for two reasons. First is the simple fact that Roberta has a long history serving enterprises for technical consulting, and hopefully this will generate some nice business leads for her business. So, she brings a great industry perspective, and has surrounded herself with a solid group of contributors, all of whom have a similar pedigree to Roberta.

Secondly, and perhaps closer to my heart is the sad demise of print media, which is rapidly losing relevance in the Web-based world. Canada has a very small telecom media sector as it is, and the few publishers left are consolidating and/or losing their best writers to better opportunities. A while back, the National Post lost its two main telecom/tech writers - Mark Evans (went back to a startup gig) and Kevin Restivo (industry analyst now), and earlier this month, good friend Stefan Dubowski left Telemanagement for the PR world. So, in my view, Telecom Dispatch is a welcome voice in a space that needs new blood, and it's great that she's giving a platform to share with all these seasoned industry experts.

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Podcast with Jim Burton - Zeacom and Unified Communications

The TMC ITExpo took place earlier this month, and while the show is no longer newsworthy, I did a podcast there that has just been published.

Colleague Jim Burton runs the UC Strategies portal, to which I regularly contribute and often cite. During the ITExpo, Jim and I sat down to do a podcast, and we ended up talking about the overall state of unified communications, with a particular focus on an exhibitor that caught our eye - Zeacom. They've been making some noise about having had a UC solution for years, and based on the demos we saw, they do have a pretty interesting offering.

The podcast was posted to the UC Strategies portal earlier this week, and if these topics appeal to you, I think you'll find our chat worth a listen. Having been in Ottawa most of the week, this has been my first chance to post it, but I don't think you're missing anything picking it up now.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Microsoft Canadian Connections Newsletter - Fall Issue


Microsoft Canada's Fall 2007 issue of Canadian Connections has just been published, and they've asked me back for another article. I thought I'd share it with you, both here and live on their site. Feel free to share your comments now if you like.

Telco 2.0 � Easier Said Than Done

by Jon Arnold

IP is the foundation of what we call �Telco 2.0� � the concept of integrating voice into other applications to enrich the end-user�s communication experience. The good news is that with IP, anyone can deliver Telco 2.0. The bad news is that with IP, anyone can deliver Telco 2.0. For service providers with existing subscriber bases, the key will be understanding what customers really value and finding ways to deliver. If not, they will quickly be reduced to connectivity providers, while the real money is made by the content providers delivering services on top of their networks.

Conversely, operators without subscriber bases can develop their own Telco 2.0 offerings and enter the market to challenge the incumbents. With broadband becoming readily available, there are endless opportunities for anyone with good technology to be creative and devise combinations of services that are just right for a given customer set. In this regard, successful Telco 2.0 providers will simply be those that can deliver services at a low cost per bit as well as generate a high price per bit from subscribers.

This seems like an easy formula for success, but in reality it is very difficult to achieve. On the technology level, the elements that go into Telco 2.0 are in varying states of market readiness. There are still issues around standards, interoperability, reliability, security and scalability. It remains to be seen if either software-based or Web-based offerings can match those that are hardware-based, especially for mass market scale.

These will become resolved in time, and once that happens, the challenges will be about costs and margins. The balance between low cost per bit (on the carrier�s side) and high price per bit (on the subscriber�s side) will be quite difficult to achieve. IP-based communications are so popular because they are inexpensive to provide, meaning that many services and applications are offered for free or a low price point. Unless operators want to subsidize their offerings with advertising, only the most creative and innovative providers will find the right balance between free and paid services. So far, this has been the exception, not the rule, and is a key reason why Telco 2.0 will be harder to do than it looks.

To summarize, Telco 2.0 holds undeniable promise for both service providers and subscribers. Service providers need it to transition from Telco 1.0, and subscribers need it to take full advantage of what the world of IP has to offer. In time, both sides will be happy, but the road ahead will not be easy, and we see this taking longer than either side expects. The wait will be worth it, however, and just when we get there, do not be surprised to hear that Telco 3.0 is on the horizon. IP will remain ever-evolving, and for operators to succeed with it, they must embrace change as constant.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Next Stop - Ottawa - Tech & Venture Summit

Just a quick post to say I'll be participating at the Ottawa Technology and Venture Summit next week. I'll be there Tuesday through Thursday, and am moderating a panel about video convergence on Thursday morning.

Really looking forward to getting closer to the Ottawa tech market, and no doubt I'll meet up with some pretty interesting companies. If you happen to be attending, by all means, look me up.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deloitte Technology Fast 50 - Canada's Best

Last night I attended Deloitte's Technology Fast 50 awards event in Toronto. I've blogged about this event before, but this is the first time I've attended. It was really well done, and the basic message is that this is a great showcase for up and coming Canadian tech companies. Lots of really interesting stories, and several companies are in my orbit, and I'll get to that in a moment.

To learn more, it's a lot easier if I steer you to a couple of links. First is Deloitte's press release, which provides a good summary of the event and the key winners. Second, the Globe & Mail had a feature section today about the event, along with some very nice profiles of a few companies like Sandvine, who was #1 overall.

Also notable in their profiles were two companies I've been following - Octopz and MyThum Interactive. Octopz didn't make the Fast 50, but did win a company-to-watch award. They are definitely a rising star, and I'm partial to them as I was following them very early and thought they were special then. MyThum Interactive was also the big winner recently at the Canadian New Media Awards, and I've done podcasts with both companies.

Aside from these companies, other winners of note in my orbit inlude AirIQ, Ascalade, Bridgewater Systems, DragonWave, Evertz Technologies, Impact Mobile, March Networks, Redline Communications, RIM, and Tira Wireless. No shortage of good companies here, and I've got podcast material from this to keep me going a long time.

You might find it odd to see RIM there, but they continue to grow year over year, and it was noted last night that RIM is the only company to have made the Fast 50 in each of the 10 years they've been doing this.

Perhaps the most innovative twist to the event was the inclusion of the Technology Green 15, which is pretty self-explanatory. They recognized 15 companies that embody green tech, but none were really in my space. Making that piece more special was the presence of John Baird, Minister of the Environment, who was a very convivial speaker, which was great to see.

A few photos courtesy of my Nokia N95...



View from the bandstand (the only guys not wearing suits)...


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Red Sox Freefall - Bring it On - Where's our Mojo?


This may sound like heresy right now, but hear me out.

After last night's latest meltdown, the Sox are barely hanging on in 1st place, where they've lived comfortably for most of the season. Is The Nation in panic mode? You bet. Big time. I'm sure the New Yorker whispers of "who's your Daddy?" will be getting louder by the day. And no doubt, after the Jays play well enough to sweep the Sox at home, they will reverse the charges and lay down for a nap at Yankee Stadium the next 4 games. All of a sudden, my last post about the Sox, from our Holy Grail visit to Cooperstown - barely a month ago - seems so wistful and from another time and planet.

Amazing how much the world can change in a week. After their last win - an inspiring and emphatic 10-1 win over NY, personified by the "Hinske Charge" at home plate - order had seemed restored, especially after the unprecedented disaster the previous game. Don't forget, going in the series last weekend, the Sox had a rest day, and before that, 2 memorable come-from-behind wins over Tampa Bay. They were in a groove.

Since then, though, the Sox - like Austin Powers - have completely lost their mojo, and basically handed it to NY. These two teams have totally flip flopped compared to how the season started, and there's no doubt in my mind who the best team in baseball is right now. Have the Yankees ever had a more dominating lineup? And their playoff pitching rotation is good enough to win, and if things don't change, the Sox have nothing on them pitching-wise. All of a sudden Papelbon and Okijama - and of course Gagne - are not effective, and there are no more easy wins happening.

Even though I live in Toronto, I've been unusually lucky to be able to watch the last 5 Sox games on TV. Saturday they were on FOX, Sunday they were on ESPN, and the Toronto games here were all televised. Can't remember the last time I saw them 5 games in a row on TV. Aside from Mike Lowell, the entire team is either hurt or playing in a stupor, no doubt feeling the pressure. Oh - Schilling has actually been great too - can't fault him his last 2 starts - losing 1-0 to Sox-killer Kazmir, and then taking a 2-1 lead into the 8th Sunday, until throwing 1 pitch too many to Jeter(shades of Bucky Dent there).

Actually, if you have to boil their troubles down to one thing, it's the 8th inning. That's where they've been losing their games lately - last night's grand slam to....Russ Adams - huh? Or Tuesday night's double - again to Russ Adams. Or Jeter's bomb on Sunday. Or Okijama's total meltdown last Friday, giving up a seemingly rock-solid 5 run lead, and allowing 6 runs for the Yankees to turn a 7-2 loss into an 8-7 win. All of these in the 8th, and all our relievers had a hand in the damage. I don't know how to solve that one, other than getting the mojo back. And fast.

Enough. So, why do I say "bring it on"??? Gotta think strategically here. It's all about the playoff matchups now. NY can handle Cleveland, but not Anaheim. Right now Cleveland is hot, and even though their record is the same as Anaheim's, they should be able to finish with a better winning percentage. IF that happens - and it's a big if - it behooves the Sox to stay the course and concede 1st place to NY. It would be tough to give up home field advantage and swallow your pride for a chance to finally take the division back from NY. However, if Cleveland can finish ahead of Anaheim, the wildcard is where the Sox want to be. Am pretty sure that's how it works for the matchups.

I like the Sox's chances a lot better in this scenario - who wouldn't? Last time they played Cleveland in the playoffs (Pedro, Nomar, Bruno, Valentin...) they won in memorable style. Of course, these teams are totally different now, and today's Tribe is a very good team, but I think the Sox could beat them, and wouldn't have to leave their time zone. Let the Yankees play Anaheim and do the West coast thing, where they do not win very often. The way things are going right now, it's much better to let Anaheim do the dirty work, and give us a chance to round into playoff form with Cleveland.

It's all for naught, of course, if the Sox don't get their mojo back. If God is a Red Sox fan, Manny will come back to life, JD Drew will start hitting, Ortiz will stop trying to stretch singles into doubles, and the pitchers will revert to form. That's the team that can win it all - no doubt - but what's on the field today is going nowhere fast. Anybody seen our mojo???

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Susan Stearman Hangs Out Her Shingle

Just a quick shout-out to welcome a colleague to the world of independent consulting.

I've known Susan Stearman for a number of years, particularly from her days at Envivio and NetCentrex. She definitely knows the convergence and video spaces, and she's put the word out to launch her indie practice.

The word went out today for SMStearman Group, where Susan's focus is on B2B - business-to-business (something I've done for 20 years) marketing consulting, with a particular focus on emerging media technologies. Her practice will provide services such as go to market strategies, product management and corporate communications.

These are definitely things that up and coming companies need and are in short supply of, so I'll tip my hat to Susan, and say that I think you've got a pretty good niche to serve. The website provides more detail, but being fresh out the gate, the content is limited - but no doubt, that will change over time.

So, with that, I'd like to welcome Susan to my world, and wish for all the best. If her focus speaks to your needs, by all means, drop her a line.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IP Convergence TV Portal - Launching Tomorrow

Tomorrow - September 19 - is the beta launch of IP Convergence TV. Chances are this will be news to you, but hopefully not for long.

IP Convergence TV is an industry-based web portal focused on the broad spectrum of IP Convergence, which includes IPTV, Triple Play, FMC and some IMS. The portal has been developed to become a focal point of thought leadership and high quality content to help service providers better understand how they can effectively adopt convergence technologies.

I'm involved in this initiative and serve as the Portal Editor and Community Advocate. It's a pretty engaging role, and my job is keep the content on target, and I'll be making regular contributions of my own. I should point out that this is a non-commercial site. The core content is contributed by a charter group of sponsors, led by Comverse. That said, we are also drawing from a wider pool of thought leaders, so the perspectives will be pretty broad.

I'll leave it at that for now, and would simply encourage you to visit and learn about what the portal is all about and what it has to offer. There's lots to explore, and you can sign up free for regular updates. The portal is definitely going to evolve, but as a beta site, it's quite good, and if you're following IP convergence, I'm sure you find the content and the concept of interest. Hope to see you there.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Microsoft Surface - This is Cool!

On Saturday, Max and I had a private briefing of Microsoft Surface. First off, I just have to say this is a bit like Telepresence - you have to see it and experience it to believe and understand what it's all about. You can get a good sense of this from the Surface website, but sitting down and seeing it first hand is something else.

Most people haven't seen Surface before, so if that's you, I think you'll really enjoy this post.

Toronto was the second stop on their North America media tour - following New York, and I suspect Max is the first teenager in Canada to have had a private briefing, so he's a pretty happy guy. Surface has been public for several months, but commercial deployments are another story. This particular demo was held at the downtown Sheraton Hotel, which is part of the Starwood hotel/resort operation. Am not sure just how far along they are in offering Surface to their guests, but we got a pretty good taste of what it might look like if they did.

I'll let the pictures and video clip below tell the rest of the story. I have no doubt Surface will find a home for some pretty cool commercial settings like hotels, but we also got a glimpse about how this will become the uber-cool coffee table of the future in your smart home. The mind boggles.....

Surface is a tabletop console, and it's touch-based. Just think of it as a giant iPhone - but much more powerful. This example is a restaurant, where all the menu items can be viewed, and you can place your order directly from the console. That's just the beginning...


Now it's time to divvy up the bill. Kyle and Max are going Dutch, and they're now going to drag each item that's theirs into their own spaces so they can figure out how much each of them owes to pay the bill.


Max's portion is $14.63. He just puts his credit card face up on the console. The back of his credit card is tagged to interface with Surface, and presto, the bill is paid on the spot. Of course, this cuts down on interacting with the waiter, but for the 2.0 crowd, how can you not like this?


Let's switch to the fun stuff - home entertainment. Check this out - the video puzzle. This is a car racing video, and the image is broken up over a grid of plastic tiles. They're all tagged, and each one shows a portion of the video clip. The challenge is to assemble all the tiles in the right order - just like a puzzle - to get the complete image as fast as you can (there's a timer on the console to show how long it takes). Lots of ways to play this game - 1 on 1, or kids vs. parents, etc. So, just like doing your daily crossword puzzle, imagine subscribing to a service where you get a daily video puzzle to solve. It's not hard to see how Surface opens up a whole new world of entertainment possibilities. You'll see even more in the video clip down below.


And of course, the Paint program. Just pick your colors and doodle away. The possibilities are endless, and it won't take long for people to figure out creative ways to use this.


Here's a short video of the demo, led by Microsoft's Kyle Warnick. He does a great job illustrating some of the cool things you can do with Surface. Check out what he does with a digital camera, and then with a couple of Zunes. Where can I get one of these???

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Friday, September 14, 2007

TMC ITExpo - Show Highlights

It's been a long time between posts, but the week just sort of worked out that way. I flew out on Sunday to LA for the Fall edition of TMC's ITExpo, and was there the first 2 days. I moderated a couple of sessions, took in a bunch of briefings, saw a few sessions, did a podcast with Jim Burton (coming soon!), and made my way around the show floor a few times.

All told, it was a pretty strong show - good size, but not huge, so there was time to see everything, which was great. Seemed to be a lot of energy, and most of the exhibitors I spoke with said the quality of the traffic was very good. No huge announcements and nothing radically new at the show, so the world I came home to was pretty much the same as when I left.

As expected, there was lots of enterprise-focus, with dedicated tracks for call centers, unified communications, SIP, open source and SMB VoIP. I saw what I could, and what I missed seeing the most was the IPTV track on Monday. Seems a bit out of place for such an enterprise-focused lineup, but as with most of the shows today, to cover IP effectively you need to have content in hot areas like IPTV.

Definitely worthwhile, and as always, it's a great chance to get a whole bunch of in-person briefings done, and of course do some business development. Met some interesting new companies, and I hope to be blogging about them soon.

I should also give kudos to Rich Tehrani and the TMC team for putting on another good event. My only quibble would be the lack of WiFi in the press room, but otherwise I think everyone went home happy.

I'll leave you with some photos, courtesy of the Nokia N95. Yes, you heard me right! I've been talking this phone up for ages, and I've finally pried it away from Max, and it's now my turn to use it.

Approaching the LA Convention Center - lots of interesting curves, angles and shadows from this perspective...


Fellow blogger Ken Camp and his legendary technosack. This man is prepared for virtually any high tech situation at conferences.


Ken's session on enterprise security; Norm Stout, Inter-Tel


Chris Lyman showing off Fonality's Trixbox; Hmmm - not sure what they're doing here, but yes, they got my attention! Actually to get the real story, and several views from the front, a smiling Tom Keating can fill you in. Lucky guy....


Simon Gwatkin, Mitel; Steve Johnson during Ingate's SIP Trunking session


Chuck Rutledge, Quintum; Janice Hewins selling me something at the Comverse booth!


Rich Tehrani - thanks Rich!; Bryan Martin of 8x8 doing a video interview from the booth


Andy Abramson's wine tasting dinner for clients and bloggers - doesn't get better than this...


Saving the best for last - maybe. The show venue is adjacent to the Staples Center - home of the once fab-U-luss Lakers and the always mediocre Kings, and the Clippers too, I think. Things are pretty quiet there this time of year, but it was fun to walk around a bit. So, right by the ticket office, there's the "L.A. Sports Arch of Fame". Ok, pretty neat idea for honoring your heroes. You can see behind the arch a statue, which you really can't make out from this photo. With all the Lakers' titles - and nothing for the Kings, a lot of legends come to mind for who this person just might be. Not hard to come up with a few all-time greats who brought titles to LA - Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, even Kobe. Any of these would be a good - and logical choice, right? So who is it?


Drum's.... The Great One - Canada's Wayne Gretzky. Wow! Can you believe it? Sure, he made hockey a glamor sport in LA, which was great, but no Cups. If you're from Canada, you just have to smile a bit at this one. Is there any statue in Canada as bold and beautiful as this honoring him? If not, there should be. But here in LA? How can hockey possibly trump basketball in this town? Some questions are probably better left unanswered....


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Friday, September 7, 2007

Ooma Revisited

Just a short post to say my review of Ooma the other day has received attention, and a number of interesting comments were left there by readers.

Wanted to follow up with a post from yesterday that cited my post as well as another post - from another Jon - with a contrary view of Ooma. Great to see both sides there, although the poster doesn't do much more than say what each of us said. I don't know this blog - Steal This VoIP - but thanks for doing this.

I also got an email from David Beckemeyer, who brought PhoneGnome to market over two years ago. I'm not going to share the details here, but David rightly points out there's not much new here, as PhoneGnome was basically offering all these things for a quarter of the price. So, I stand corrected, David, if I gave the impression here that Ooma came up with this stuff first. They certainly did not, and to be fair, my post was a product review, plain and simple. I didn't see that as the place to provide a broader perspective, since I had already done that in a previous post.

It's important to share that point from David here, because PhoneGnome really is a good product and was out there way before Ooma. I did note this in my initial post about Ooma, along with citing David's own comments about this.

On the other hand, if you had only read my review, I can see how readers would not pick up on this. So, to be clear, Ooma did not invent all this stuff, and if you're curious, feel free to read my review of PhoneGnome from two years ago.

Comparing the merits of PhoneGnome versus Ooma is a different conversation, but not here or now. Thoughts?

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Microsoft UC Vision Team Meeting

A few months back I was invited to join the Microsoft Canada Unified Communications Vision Team. It's basically a forum to provide insights about their unified communications initiatives from people following this space. Most vendors have forums or councils like this, and I think it's a great to way create a dialog with the outside world, and I'm glad to be part of it.

Yesterday I attended my first group meeting at Microsoft Canada's offices. They usually do these as a conference call, but the in-person setting is so much more engaging - good idea. The Vision Team draws from all kinds of spaces, including academia, but also telecom consultants of various stripes. I was the only analyst and blogger in the room - at least from what I could tell - and it was great to hear all the different points of view about what Microsoft is doing, and what unified communications means to each of us.

Lots of talk about end user experiences, and we all shared our personal regimes of the devices and applications we use on a daily basis. That was fun, and it sounds like the Microsoft team - Bryan Rusche and Erin Elofson - had lots of good takeaways.

I'm looking forward to continuing with this group, and I know there will be some tangible outputs that will help Microsoft better sell its vision to enterprises.

I'll leave you with a few photos, via my Nokia N93, of the meeting and the demos we saw.


Bryan and Erin demonstrating a typical UC session. Using presence, they see each is available, so they start to IM chat. This gets escalated to a video call, and you can see here Bryan in the larger picture, and Erin in the tiny picture embedded in Bryan's screen view.


Demo of Live Meeting and Roundtable, which is their 360 degree view of the room, split across multiple screen images. This will be launching later this month, so stay tuned.

This photo doesn't do much justice to the concept. I attended a more extensive demo of Roundtable this summer, and for a better look at this, have a look at my post and video segment of the demo.


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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Series - Brief Hiatus

I've been doing my weekly podcasts on the Canadian market for almost 2 years, and there's no shortage of interesting people to talk to.

No podcast this week, though, nor next week, as I'll be at the TMC ITExpo.

Am also on a mini-hiatus with these, as there are some internal admin issues being sorted out right now at Pulvermedia, so I don't have a production partner for the time being. This should be taken care of shortly, though, and hopefully I'll be able to resume my pods there in a week or so. Until then, you'll have to make do with my written posts, but if the spoken word is what you really want, then click on the Odiogo widget on my blog page!

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Iotum Wants Your Voice on Facebook

I had fun putting my Ooma review together yesterday, and was worried it would get lost in the overdrive coverage Iotum has received on its just launched voice conferencing application for Facebook.

I'm not Facebooking - but will be quite soon (getting too many invitations not to be doing this)- so I'm pretty oblivious to all the buzz around this. Facebook for business is THE craze right now, and in our world, I think Jeff Pulver has been a big driver of this. Once he made this his de facto social networking tool in favor of LinkedIn (which I still use and like), well, everyone gets on that train pretty fast.

Anyhow, I can't really comment on Iotum's application since I'm not on Facebook, but I certainly get it. Totally makes sense, and I think they're smart to jump on this and become the conferencing app for Facebook. I know Iotum has been working very hard lately to point their business in this direction, and anyone following my blog will know they've been courting success for a long time. Conferencing is very much a hi volume/low margin business, but hey, everyone except me seems to be doing Facebook, so the volume is there. Iotum is very much a "2.0" company, and Facebook is a 2.0 tool - but voice conferencing is still pretty 1.0. I sure am rooting for Iotum on this one, and I have no doubt they'll find ways to make this a 2.0 experience, and along with it, hopefully some good margins.

If you're on Facebook, you really should give this a try - you can try it out yourself now for free - just go to Iotum's site, and you're on your way.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I've Got Ooma - Call Me!

About 6 weeks ago, Ooma had a rather eventful launch, and generated some very lively debate among the blogerati and mainstream press as well. I said my piece, and felt I was being pretty balanced and fair compared how others were reacting.

Anyhow, the proof is in the pudding, and I can finally say that I've had a chance to live with Ooma for a bit, and would like to share my experiences with you. There's no substitute for trying out the service to provide a fair assessment, and while I previously had the benefit of a detailed briefing before Ooma's launch, I'm now using it first hand.

As an aside, I have to tell you this wasn't easy to arrange. Being in Canada always seems to present challenges for U.S. companies, and Ooma was no exception. The service is really only set up right now for the U.S. market, so we had to make some adjustments to provision the service for me, as well as to register online. That delayed things quite a bit, but I have it all working now, so here you go.

I'm not going to rehash what Ooma is and is not - that's another conversation. Basically, Ooma is a product, not a service. You buy their box - one-time purchase - and you keep your existing phone line. There is an Ooma "network" for routing calls over VoIP, but you don't pay for that. So, you get the best of both worlds - the reliability, 411, 911, etc. of PSTN, and the cost efficiencies of VoIP. In time, Ooma will provide feature richness too, but not yet.

So, once you get by the idea that Ooma is a product, it's pretty straightforward. You get the box - the Hub - a sleek ATA that looks more like an answering machine than a broadband adapter (actually,that's what it is) - then you connect it to your router and your home phone, and you're done. That's a good thing in some ways, but as I'll explain shortly, not-so-good in other ways.

Enough preamble. Here's what I really like about Ooma...

- Love the name - as intended - Ooma sounds soothing. Any word with lots of vowels will do that, and that's a good thing in a market full of noise, hype and me-too offerings. The flipside is that Ooma can mean whatever you want it to mean - sort of like Skype. Problem is if you don't establish a strong brand identity right away, the name doesn't register much meaning. That's not good, as it weakens your brand and you waste a lot time trying to explain it to people over and over.

- It's a product - not a service. Had a good chat with Andrew Frame, their CEO, about this, and I agree. It's a different approach to the market, and the idea is that it's supposed to be easier for the public to grasp. Products are tangible, services are not. Remember, Ooma is a mass-market offering - it's not for early adopters. When you buy Ooma, you're buying a box, and that's what you get when the courier arrives at your door. As Andrew pointed out to me, when you order Vonage, guess what? You get a box. You've bought a service from them, but you still end up getting a physical product. Some people are bound to find that confusing. I agree with Andrew on this point - but I'm still not so sure the mass market is ready to think of telephony as a product. Time will tell.

- The packaging - it's great (photo below). Very slick, very sleek, very Apple. No doubt, Ooma has stolen a page or two from the Apple book of consumer marketing - good idea. The whole look and feel screams iPod - you can't help but get a sense of anticipation when you see the boxes and look inside.

- The design. Again, the product - the Hub - is the same - very slick, very sleek, very Apple (again, photo below). Consumers like well designed products, and this is something you don't mind leaving on your desk for others to see. You cannot say that about any ATA or router, right? Point, Oooma.

- Voice quality. Nothing else matters if this doesn't cut it. Well, I can tell you that it's great. Every call I've made or taken with Ooma has been carrier-grade. Crystal clear, no hitches. I regularly use 2 VoIP lines for business, and both have their share of problems. It's passable, but it's still VoIP. So far, Ooma doesn't feel like VoIP at all, at least quality-wise. They seem to have gotten this part right.

- Easy set up. I'm not very geeky, and don't enjoy playing around with wires. This took maybe 10 minutes, and the set up guide was well written and easy to follow. It was up and running the first time around, and I've had zero problems since then. Again, this is not a universal truth for consumer VoIP, so Ooma scores high here.

- Instant Second Line. This is their big feature, and it's pretty neat. They're not the only ones who offer this feature, but it's definitely not common with VoIP providers, since they'd much rather you pay to have a second line. This isn't quite the same idea, but it's pretty close. Basically if your phone number is engaged, Ooma enables dialtone for all the other phones in your house, in effect, giving you a second line. If someone calls your house while you're on the line, the other phones ring through for the new caller. Same for making concurrent outbound calls. And - you can link both lines together for an impromptu conference call. Gotta like that. To do this, though, you have to use another Ooma box - called the Scout - a smaller version of the Hub. Once they're all linked together, you get the second line effect - and if you're currently paying for a second line, you'll probably want to drop it once you're using Ooma.

- Ooma Lounge. This is the website you use to manage your calls online. It's similar to other consumer VoIP portals where you have call logs and can listen to your voicemails. As with Skype, this is where you can add funds to your account, which you'll need for making calls outside the U.S. I found the rates pretty competitive - 1.3 cents for Canada, and 2.2 cents for Western Europe. So, you just put $10 in there, and you're covered for a while - nothing difficult about that.

- Broadband Answering Machine - another big selling feature. The Hub is actually two products in one. It's your ATA, but it's also the answering machine. When you have messages, one of the keys flashes to remind you. The other keys are there to manage your messages - play, replay, delete, send a call straight to voicemail, etc. Very intuitive, and pushbutton easy to use. I should also add that once the service was provisioned, the voicemail service was enabled right away - even before I had a chance to record my greeting message. Am not sure if this is true for other phone services, but I thought this was pretty good. I actually missed a call before my greeting message was recorded, and I just figured it went into a black hole. Nope. Sure enough, it was there in my inbox - have never missed a call.

- The Ooma "dial tone". When you pick up the phone, the first second or so plays a unique musical snippet, which is your cue that you're on an Ooma connection. Not a bad idea - takes some getting used to, but you forget about it once you start talking.

- Perhaps most importantly, once you've got it set up, your behavior doesn't change. You still use your same phone, you keep your same number - nothing really changes. Even the "*" features you use to configure PSTN features - call forwarding, call return, etc. - are the same with Ooma. It's all very familiar - there isn't a mention anywhere that Ooma is using VoIP (don't tell that to Vonage). It's all about preserving the existing telephone experience, but at a lower cost. Even though Ooma calls use VoIP and the service is broadband-based, you still get 911 and 411, and if the power goes out, Ooma simply goes dark, and you revert to full PSTN service. Sure, there are concerns about caller ID, but for the most part, nothing really changes - again, ease of use - which goes a long way to gaining adoption.

Ok, so what's not to like? Aside from all the criticisms from the blogs - many of which are valid - I'll just say a few things here.

- Once you've got Ooma all set up, it kind of fades into the background. It's pretty passive - much like an ATA, and that's not good if the box is what you're paying money for. Unless you're making regular visits to the Ooma Lounge, you don't have much reason to interact with Ooma aside from listening to your voicemails.

- Since you're not subscribing to anything, Ooma has no occasion to be in regular touch with you. There's no monthly statement or line item on your credit card. Aside from the Lounge, there's no reason to go to their website, and this is totally a Voice 1.0 product. There's no IM feature or video calling feature, or mobility capability to engage you beyond making regular phone calls. I'm told mobility is coming, but we don't have that now.

- Behind the scenes, Ooma basically takes over your phone service and cancels what you already have in place with your carrier. So, whatever voicemail setting you have, archived messages, and calling features will all be lost. You've got to be comfortable with that, since that's the only way they can what they do. Not everyone will be cool with that, as you cede a fair bit of the control you used to have over to Ooma.

- On that note, if you're not keeping track, you may not be aware of the calling features you've given up, and it's up to you to figure that out. Ooma supports most of them - caller ID, call waiting, etc. - but maybe not everything you're using now. Of course, the upside is that you no longer need to pay for these features, including your answering service.

- The business model here is totally built around the idea that all the money you save in monthly add-on charges will handily justify the $399 investment in the Ooma box. I don't know how much people spend on average, but let's say these features are costing you $10 a month. On that basis, you'll need to use Ooma for 40 months - 3.25 years - to break even. That's a pretty long ROI for a service that's getting cheaper by the day. Of course, I'm not factoring the long distance savings, which will probably be the big attraction. But I'm not so sure about that. LD rates are so cheap now, that this may just be an incremental savings.

Heard enough? I think I've said enough for now. Bottom line - Ooma works, and I think it's a well designed product. That's the easy part in my mind. Getting this to market and convincing people to spend this kind of money upfront from an unknown company will be the real challenge in my mind. Right now, Oooma is very Voice 1.0 - maybe Voice 1.5 with the Lounge. But there's nothing new for the telephone experience. I'm told that enhanced features are coming, but we don't have them now. Well, I just don't know if replicating what we already have will be enough to make this work in a heavily commoditized space. Ooma has created a big splash, but it's expensive to keep the buzz going until the market discovers them. The product is good - no doubt about it - but I don't know if that will be enough to see them through. We'll find out soon enough.

Want to talk more about it? Hey - call me, and experience Ooma for yourself. I'm not about to broadcast my Ooma number to the blogosphere, so drop me a line and I'll give you a ring!

Want to see it? Here you go...

Nice packaging...


Ooma Hub, with the Scout parked on top...


Here's what the Hub looks like when both lines are engaged. The red lights show that both lines are engaged - on separate calls - neat!


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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Odiogo - Read Me, Hear Me, Feel Me...

Tommy can ya hear me? Couldn't resist that one, but you get the idea.

Last week, I posted about Odiogo, and how you can voice-enable your blog posts. I think it's a great idea, now my blog is on the bandwagon. They've be very helpful getting this set up for me, and the posts that I've listened to sound really good.

So, you can now get my posts anywhere, any time, on the go - with Odiogo - hey, that's got a nice ring to it....

Just click on the widget and you're good to go with an RSS feed - it's in the right hand column, at the end of the "Categories" section.

I should add that Odiogo is catching on a bit. I picked it up from Jeff Pulver, and fellow blogger Moshe Maeir has it going on his now.

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