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September 12, 2003

Good Skype Review

An excellent overview of Skype. Note Robin's comments re Vonage and similar services.

Please Skype Me: Disruptive P2P VoIP Technology Allows You To Call And Talk Free To Any Windows PC - Robin Good' Sharewood Tidings

The advantage(s) of this over other similar new services like Vonage and Free World Dialup is that Skype does not rely on a centralized infrastructure to maintain the directory of users and to route each and every call. This means that for those services based on a centralized infrastructure costs scale proportionally with their user base while providing quality and reliability becomes always more difficult to achieve.

Where I'd disagree with advice later in the article which recommends accepting calls only from friends. I'm happy for example to accept calls from around the world. However I will check the info button before answering. Or I can simply treat it as one to call back. You can't always answer your computer. If I don't know / recognize your name or it is made up.... and there is no country etc. then the caller isn't providing enough info to encourage appropriate courtesy.

Good Skype Review

An excellent overview of Skype. Note Robin's comments re Vonage and similar services.

Please Skype Me: Disruptive P2P VoIP Technology Allows You To Call And Talk Free To Any Windows PC - Robin Good' Sharewood Tidings

The advantage(s) of this over other similar new services like Vonage and Free World Dialup is that Skype does not rely on a centralized infrastructure to maintain the directory of users and to route each and every call. This means that for those services based on a centralized infrastructure costs scale proportionally with their user base while providing quality and reliability becomes always more difficult to achieve.

Where I'd disagree with advice later in the article which recommends accepting calls only from friends. I'm happy for example to accept calls from around the world. However I will check the info button before answering. Or I can simply treat it as one to call back. You can't always answer your computer. If I don't know / recognize your name or it is made up.... and there is no country etc. then the caller isn't providing enough info to encourage appropriate courtesy.

September 16, 2003

26488 + 40% vs Yesterday

A recent comment on my blog asked why the hype about Skype? "Aside from quality, why is everyone going crazy over Skype. I have used yahoo, netmeeting, and dialpad with success." I've tried them all too. What's inspired me to keep plugging away and digging deeper on Skype is it's base architecture. All the other systems use some form of centralized directory. Centralized directories create control and incur costs. Decentralized directory systems and input systems appear to create new markets. eBay never decided what should be auctioned, only how to auction it. eBay facilitates connectivity between buyer and sellers - flow and thus trade. I suspect if Skype or an open source substitute comes along it too will facilitate connectivity and create new markets around new very low cost voice exchanges.

If nothing else Skype is changing perspective on VoIP. Today I see 26488 users up +40% from the 18869 I saw yesterday about the same time. A good part of my practice has been scenarios for the last few years. While Skype should not be "news" to telecoms, MS or Yahoo for it's potential. I'd like to know how many have really thought it through and if even aware. Then what action and scenarios are they using to challenge their strategic thinking. Will US Telecoms be the next RIAA?

This link below to a comment sums up why it sounds good to me. It also suggests a solution is required for directory security. Can someone track this down and verify one way or the other? True or False?


An interesting editorial, but you might be wrong. My take on Skype is that it is using P2P technologies for the "white pages" portion of the VoIP network, not just in peers communicating directly. Super-peers store portions of these white-pages. Just as super-peers in Kazaa store indexes to music files stored on other peer machines, these super-peers store indexes to the phone numbers of other peers. They aren't clear if they are using this approach, but it's my take when they say "the network works just like Kazaa". This is also an unsecure approach, which is probably why they aren't publicizing it in detail. These super-peers could "lie" and reroute calls to the wrong peer, just as super-peers in Kazaa can "lie" about what music files are stored where. When you tell the system to find the phone number for 510-938-2222, it probably actually initiates a "search" on the network of super-peers to resolve to the actual peer that has this number, just as it would "search" for madonna.mp3.

This is an important approach, by the way, because if we don't need to maintain massive white pages servers then we can significantly reduce the capital needed to build such a network. In fact, we can reduce it down to such a marginal cost that businesses aren't needed to build these networks at all. The network, including the white pages, self-organizes out of the peers themselves. This network can then be used to build VoIP apps, virtual hard-drives, etc. I have been working on an open-source project named P2P Sockets that is attempting to achieve this; check it out at p2psockets.jxta.org. One significant issue that needs to be solved before this approach is tenable is that these white pages need to be secure even though they are also decentralized and human-friendly.
Comment at Rebels Without Cause


I really enjoyed this post from Jibbering Musings below. He's right. Skype is not a IM replacement. My words were probably sloppy earlier. However I remain convinced that it is a threat to the MSN AIM etc systems as all of them provide and have that centralized server. Some of the other points he makes... just reinforces to me the business opportunities that will emerge from a winner in the decentralized VoIP space. I think voice is also a bigger motivation for adoption than text. This voice solution may lead more people to trying IM.

I don't agree, Skype is a one at a time (currently one to one) communication mechanism. You can only talk to one person at a time, and whilst you're in that conversation you're out of communication with everyone else, even if they develop an answerphone system, you'll still have to listen to each message. Speech is a very slow medium of communication, and it requires full attention. You can't talk on skype whilst in your office, or in the middle of cooking a meal, or doing any other task that takes you away from your computer momentarily. (I have a bluetooth headset which solves some of the problems - but popping to the toilet, or to the door, or somewhere out of bluetooth range is still impossible)
refer Jibbering Musings.for more

More Skype enthusiasm:

CNet.  State regulators attempt to control VoIP phone services (Vonage).   Here is a more informative bit of analysis from Jeff Pulver.  LOL.  Let them try that with Skype. [refer J Robb]

Hope my Skype Blog Button left now works

So, you can Skype me TDavid of www.makeyougohmm.com answers my request for a Skype me link. Heres his explanation and the HTML tag and heres my Skype me link. Youll need to download and install Skype. On the this looks like a viral winner... [refer Ratcliffe]

November 9, 2003

Another Indicator of Disruptive VoIP

It's amazing that the old telcoms industry is still functioning. I'm not in a position to judge this new release from Stealth Technologies. However add this capability to Skype, add easy conferencing and companies like WebEx will be in trouble too.

<Light Reading - Networking the Telecom Industry

Any of these options is expensive. Using the Voice Peering Fabric, providers can connect to the peering point that Stealth has built for a fee of $500 per month for each 100-Mbit/s connection.

This makes it much simpler and easier for these next-generation companies that will compete against the incumbents to connect to each others networks, says Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, a telecom consultancy. This really going to accelerate the entire voice-over-IP issue, because its eliminating some of the costs associated with offering VOIP services.

IBM on VoIP

IBM's case for VoIP During a presentation Tuesday at TechTarget's Networking Decisions conference, Johnny Barnes, IBM's vice president of global IT solutions and standards, told attendees that his company plans to migrate at least 80% of its more than 300,000 employees to voice over IP by 2008.

Though the ambitious project will replace approximately 900 PBXs around the world with regional IP installations, Barnes said the effort will not only reduce voice costs significantly, but will improve worker productivity by enabling application convergence, as every new application going forward will have embedded voice capabilities.

November 12, 2003

Number Portability

Looking forward to a little change in perspective? When will the telecoms give us what we want. Carl Ford writes:


The Carl Ford Blog: Local Number Portability

For me, my cell phone and my home phone represent very different parts of my life. And the idea that I should combine them means that I will lose the selective call processing capability I gave myself with the cell phone.

Don't know me and want to reach me? Here is my home number.

I want to reach you anytime, I call from the cell.
I expect that about 20% of the landlines will get this kind of migration. I also believe they can get about 5% back in a few years.

Meanwhile you can still reach me on IM.


The issue here is not the phone number but managing degrees of access. What it demonstrates is we now want at least three lines each. We're used to a shared home line, we like the personal mobile line, and also have various IM accounts with different profiles. Managing this access is just a nightmare. Similarly managing various devices can be a nightmare.

In "early days" of Skype I posted on this. Numbers may still be required to connect certain services. However what's really required are relationships, introductions, mediated exchanges, conferencing capabilities. See this too on profiles.

On the 20% migration claim... I'l like to enable my cell phone to handle a second line that is shared with my family. I can toggle it off /on at various times of day. When everyones phone rings in the house we know what type of call it is. Voice messages there are for all etc. Then the phones really will become wearable.

That's what still excites me about the Skype type potential. Enabling me to manage access, profiles and multiple lines. At the moment my buddy list continues to grow. I want' to run my own exchange. Guess the phone companies aren't going to encourage me.


November 14, 2003

Landline May Need A Lifeline

Combine disruptive innovation, expensive upgrades, overvalued balance sheets, stratospheric sales and marketing costs, old technologies and trouble is on the horizon. This comment is on the numbers....

The leapfrog effect where one technology makes the next obsolete can work in two ways. The new technology can be so much better that it really undoes the primacy of the former. Or, the new technology can screw up the financial rationale keeping the old tech companies afloat.

Meanwhile, new phone companies, like the wireless kids and even some long distance carriers, get the same switching functionality for millions less. This adds up to a multi-billion dollar loss in competitive (dis)advantage for every landline company. And none of this appears (yet) to be calculated into their stock prices. Once it is....

TheFeature

November 18, 2003

Why Skype Growth is Slowing

What is ailing Skype growth today? The link below is hardly a statistical sample on Skype yet some numbers ring true. Read it all for more. What underlies the numbers is that Skype growth is changing. New users (like my son are online sporadically, he uses it with friends while teaming up to play games online). For the rest I hear the frequent story of I only have three or four buddies on my list.....

So a few quick notes on:

  • Number of buddies,
  • Always-on approach,
  • connection quality,
  • Conferencing and a
  • Telephone.

    But more people need to use Skype for it to really have an impact. So far, 67 people have taken the poll, and 64 percent of them say they are put off by the service because they don't know anyone else that uses it. A further 45 percent say they would be more likely to use Skype if their friends and family signed up for it.

    Still, less than 10 weeks after launching, 52 percent of poll-takers think broadband telephony services like Skype will absolutely replace the PSTN. Roughly 47 percent believe Skype won't accomplish this alone, but that future broadband telephony services might do it see Skype Spooks Operators).
    Boardwatch

    Number of Buddies: When I've spoken to others I find many only have 3-4 buddies on their list. That tends to kill the system, particularly if they aren't live all the time. As the research notes... Skype really works for globally dispersed families. I had a wonderful chat with a friend in the UK who has family in Columbia and the US. He said "Skype changes the way our family communicates". I know it has with mine. However many of these new Skypers are not used to IM and buddy lists. There's a discomfort factor with "visibility". That's going to take more than Skype's current iteration to change. It requires "profile management" with degrees of access. Voicemail would be a big help. Voice-mail cures the interruptions and creates accessibility.

    Always-On: The slowing of those online currently 144000 vs the number of downloads means SKYPE runs the risk of being and "on" or "off" product rather than an always on or one that's always active in the sys tray. Perhaps that is the preferred behavior. However, without the voicemail encouragement that is what it will be. Skype's utility vs other IM systems decreases when treated in this fashion.

    Connection Quality: I've had some occurrences with poor connection quality. I can't figure out what the problem is, why the packets are being lost etc. For the most part the sound quality holds up to the praise Skype has received. However, a new user with poor sound will give up after the first call and will fail to understand what all the fuss is about. I know two people that Skype fails with for me each and every time. One of these guys is a telco exec and the other is a collaboration expert. They have appropriate equipment and we've trialled other VoIP apps together which work. I remain baffled by it. One is local the other is international. I know Skype isn't working for them with other callers too.

    Conferencing: Will be a killer application for Skype. Business and collaboration reasons are great, I also know it will bring many kids along too. I've been watching my son's Skype adoption. He likes the hands free (no telephone to hold) while taking on the gaming world with a buddy. While Socom and other games have enabled it online the sound quality remains poor. They also have little control over who they are playing with. Enable the "pack" and they will run rogue in these games together. Running multi-phone lines off a single PC has been done. It will take something like this for them to move their buddies from AIM to Skype.

    Telephone: I've experimented with USB phones (they only sort of work and poorly so far) and in all cases the sound deteriorates from the headset. I've not tried a bluetooth solution. Although with the right cellphone that might become interesting. Skype and programs like it still need a phone. We no longer communicate locked down to our PC's, the tethered requirement is a deadweight.

  • December 2, 2003

    The Computer Becomes the Phone.

    This article in Time examines the world in which the phone becomes a computer, and the computer becomes a phone."Eight years after its introduction, VOIP is having its moment. Indeed, 2004 is sure to be the year in which the technology hits prime time."the author Duff McDonald states.
    Say Hello to the Next Phone War

    [Smart Mobs]

    December 8, 2003

    Wrinkles for Skype Hype

    Thoughts on Skype, Skype Problems, Skype Limitations, Skype Hype, Skype Product Development and Viral Marketing. A few things pushed me towards this post.

  • Continuing comments re the proprietary nature and performance
  • My son's Skype usage
  • Impact of potential Skype conferencing features
  • Continued "phone" perspective.

    Continuing Comments:
    Useful perspective was added by David Beckemeyer advocates taking a broader perspective. This market is changing quickly. There's a lot more in play than just POTS and calling granny. I'll take him up on his challenge to take a look at Free IP Call. So far I've not had much success with these types of services. I've not had the trouble that Robin writes about. I'm happy to try new things. The biggest pain is getting functional buddy lists. In organizations that can be forced. As an independent that just means run them all.


    I want to encourage you to think about employing a SIP-based solution, if not now, please keep it in the back of your mind.

    The advantage of SIP for all of us is that it is an interoperable standard, being embraced and adopted by many vendors. SIP is like the 802.11b of VoIP. It means we can (soon) buy phones at Bestbuy and like email, if we have a SIP address with one provider, we can still make calls to people on other providers.

    Skype, on the other hand, is like Compuserv. It is a proprietary closed system. It might even be that Skype today offers a better overall product experience in practice, so I can understand why people use it. SIP-based products and services have to compete........ (read it)
    Unbound Spiral Comment:


    There is no reason not to SIP. Just the functionality that most SIP phones are giving me are less that what I'm seeing over the horizon on my desktop. Instead concentrate for a moment on what my 15 year old son does.

    Gaming:
    He's recently become addicted to playing America's Army. This is not about whether it is good or not it is about the impact that it has. He's found that double teaming with his buddy using Skype increases their chances of success. So he's running the full game sound and listening to his buddy while in the action. I know now that they can't wait until Skype offers a conference capability. The pack mentality of young men on Skype is a scary thought. This won't just apply to America's Army. He plays "Warcraft" etc. The difference is he will be able to choose who is on his team. He's never managed to do that with Socom a PS2 Game.

    In a post on why "Skype Growth is Slowing" I noted that the always on number had slowed while downloads continue apace. Today some 3.5 million downloads.

    Imagine a little scenario for a moment. Skype announces a conferencing capability (see CNET) and provides the first 5 hours free. My son patches in his friends. They win games together. When his five free hours are up his buddy starts the hosting process. Ultimately they will either buy it themselves... or get Mum and Dad to buy it. If as expected this is less than the price of a new game for a year... they will be into it.

    In the theoretical world above, our kids become the first "visible society" members. By staying visible they get called into a game, added to the team. Having persistent identities easily shared within their circles closes the gap between individual PC pursuits and group online action. There is much more Skype could do with games if they would just open up their API. 3-D sound, player positioning etc. That's being promoted by Diamondware who has just won an award for this type of technology. I'm sure they understand player velocities and location. The release confirms tested by the military.

    Conferencing:
    This little scenario also illustrates the opportunity that exists in the business world. Many of us have adopted headsets for interviewing, and typing away at the PC. Using the Skype interface the conference addition could include conferences that your buddies are in and their topic when not private. There are some neat refinements possible to that solution which really impact on the virtual office. In the physical world I'm used to walking down the hall and we have some peripheral sense of where people are. That's not true in todays virtual world. The Diamondware publication above confirms this belief and opportunity. When conferences become visible then collaboration and project management is almost sure to be accelerated. Note this is different from chatrooms for it is difficult to monitor more than one at once. And the one you are monitoring you are participating in, idle or mute.

    Yesterday's post on Accidental Communities begins to illustrate the power of this peripheral vision in another way. To date it was only in the hands of the smartest site managers and network analysts. No more. Those connections can be pushed to personal desktops and become part of PKM - Personal Knowledge Management. This will enable the smart caller id systems and other RSS transport of content and connection information.

    Phone Thinking:
    On the phone we make "connections". With the exception of a few individuals no-one is really experienced in the multi-connect impact of conference calls that can be done on a whim. The phone paradigm and the IM paradigm is built round 1 to 1 and not many to many. Microsoft can offer an option tomorrow for their IM system. Select "text based" or "phone based", similarly so can the others. However, why add to the central server system to handle conference calling. Advantage Skype and P2P telephony, until MS and AOL adopt a similar approach. Could Passport become the Skype cloud?

    I should be able to do other things too. Like drag and drop invite buddies into conversations. See that other meeting rooms are occupied and see the topic. So I can text in... "when you talk about customer x" pull me in. I'm afraid that the telephone discussion only serves to make the course of action that Skype or its followers take even more disruptive. Let's make it a practical example. I'm using Spoke to ease my way into making a new business contact. Spoke locates my best connection and then waits until the "connector" has approved that they will do a voice introduction. Then when all of us are online together and available... the system initiates a call. This has major benefits. No e-mail requests. No connection, message waiting, an easy "yes lets extend this conversation. This can be extend further when an additional caller comes on line while 3-D sound helps the memory by placing them in a location. That is something I've never had on a phone call and am yet to see. This will make for a nice pictorial circle.

    Communicator Connect:
    Skype may not be the answer for this. However, get their conferencing capability running and enable the "ID Exchange" companies to plug in and they will create a new demand where there was none before. Before you know it social networking software may really have value. Ask yourself. Can Skype plug in Friendster, Tribe, Ryze, Spoke etc? See Skype Social Networks / Yellow Pages. Maybe a deal with Match?

    Viral Pricing:
    I'd like to close with an observation. Many may urge me to make a second post at this point. I won't. I want to suggest a viral aspect for the potential conference calling premium package. I found myself testing Glance the other day. They have a one day trial offer. In fact for me the first trial didn't go all that well. It was too slow. However I wrote them and suggested I was just the type of guy to test this product out. They generously extended the trial and I have had some better experiences with it since. However, I don't really have a regular use for it. So how should you charge to enable the viral aspect to take hold? You simply create a scale. A user that uses it infrequently, maybe two or three times a month remains free, unless the sessions are talking hours. Each time they use it they have the potential to infect others. I'm assuming the real target is "sales presentations, training etc". A new user that become a heavy user quickly will find themselves paying for the service. Make 20 presentation in two days and on the third you will be paying... Make 6 in the first month and then the 10th in the second month... and you start paying.

    What is the learning? Provide conferencing free for limited periods. Those that use it irregularly will infect others and get an even bigger feel good factor. It will make them even less likely to turn it off. Turn conferencing off or make them pay immediately and they simply won't. They have to become comfortable using it first. Watch out WebEx.

  • December 19, 2003

    Finding the eBay of Social Capital

    The blogosphere seems intent on finishing the year on a social note. I'm seeing plenty of posts on LinkedIn, ZeroDegrees, Spoke and continued tirades over what Ryze, Tribe and Friendster provide or don't. Yes it's an area I've read about and have followed closely all year. So in the closing moments I'll say I don't think any of these are real businesses. None of these are the eBbay of social capital. Some may have important functionalities that may add up to a business sometime in the future. However those that use $10 subscription rates for current functionality levels can forget it. They are all too expensive. It's cheaper to get in the Yellow Pages.

    Early in the year I found myself writing about identity and sharing human profiles to thinking through circles of friends and the impact of actions on branding and behavior. I've explored almost every one of these software applications as they have come along. There is not yet one pieces of software from this genre that I get real enjoyment from. Each one I can learn the system and get it to do a small number of things. I can get new introductions, however the people that really count and my long time referees aren't on the system and I've given up trying to get them there. In the end my blog and strategies that I execute around it are a better time investment for networking to new connections.

    Many of the social networking services provide useful functionalities (dating - matching is really separate to my comments here) however none of them provide the type of product / service that is going to be a big time winner. They are high maintenance for the most part and fail to integrate well into the day to day work that we do. Then there is trust too. Upload your outlook address book etc... They are all useful experiments and many of their features will be built into corporate systems. Yet, I believe the majority are barking up the wrong tree.

    Here's some top of mind reasons why.

  • Mobility: These systems are static, don't integrate well with our cellphones and our SMS or what is to come in this arena. PDA's with Pocket Presence etc.
  • Presence: A few like Tribe provide some indication of presence. However have you ever been there where there are more than one or two people that you know online at the same time? Ecademy provides another method. None of these enable quick voice brokering. Although there is an Ecademy group that has experimented with that. IM already does this.
  • Voice: More than half of all knowledge is communicated verbally. These systems aren't adding in the additional cues. (If you want to see a great piece on this read Tom Coates). Skype uses both presence and Voice Quality to really change the game and the location --- integrated with the PC.
  • Conferencing Calling: 2004 will see the introduction of effective VoIP voice conferencing at effectively zero cost. This will have significant impact on knowledge sharing, networking. and getting to the right questions quickly.
  • Buddy Lists: IM is accelerating. IM is displacing e-mail. IM redefines addresses, personas, and access. Expect to see some RSS in with IM. Buddies want to sell a car... just blog it. All your buddies see it. Buddy broadcast. It's already done with SMS messaging.
  • Blogs: Is TypePad not in the Ryze social networking business? From what I've seen everyone there can have a profile / about me section in minutes. Feedster provides another example of networking around content. Just search the blogs for "social software".
  • Search: I think we are going to want to capture the searches that personally network us with people we want to connect with or who are also investigating an area. I'm also surprised that Google doesn't make it easy to link a search that returns a link to a blog to an IM opportunity. Makes even more sense in large corporate databases. Would that make it a decentralized Ask Jeeves?

    So where does that lead? Right bang on the doorstep of the phone system. It's where all the money is, and where the above is likely to be most disruptive. Vonage's new softphone like Skype is just another indicator.

  • February 1, 2004

    Skype: "Catch Us if You Can!"

    A great article in last weeks (Jan 26th) Fortune written by Dan Roth on Skype. He travels to Estonia and beyond tracking down and talking to the creators of Kazaa and Skype. Can't help but wish I had been travelling with him. For potential innovators what is interesting is that Skype emerged from over four years of experience. Experience in the music industry, experience building P2P systems and a perspective built round intellectual property, lawyers and regulation. Headquarters now being established in London.

    Two quotes really caught my attention.


    It costs Vonage-the top provider of paid Internet telephony, with 97,000 users-almost $400 to add a new customer. It costs Skype one-tenth of a cent.

    and
    "What Skype is doing is like a toy," says Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs. "They will realize they can't scale it, they don't have a brand like the AT&T brand, and they don't have the local footprint, which we have. It's going to be very hard to compete with someone like AT&T."

    I would have liked to have seen (in Dan's article) some reference to Skype's experimenting with forums and even bloggers. The "SkypeMe" initiative, the rapid infusion of ideas has from my perspective clearly helped Skype. My bet is they are learning from their marketplace faster than the "traditional company" or organization. That's a cost saving for development. The trick now is to accelerate

    Add to that the tenth of a cent that they are demonstrating very effectively. Orkut like Skype is capturing people at a very low cost. I mentioned it with my first post on Orkut that I'd already created a larger network there than on Ryze or any of the other networking services. It's also true for Skype. However for Skype I don't know if I'm unusual or not (I assume I am) however I have more "connections" on Skype than I have on MSN, Yahoo and AIM combined.

    Then there is the other perspective my SBC bill last month was $72m my Comcast Cable $91(std tv + broadband) and my mobile $70. Franky I can't wait to get rid of SBC, that is the least useful of all these services. I only keep it for international calls for which my bill has been cut by more than half in the last five month due to Skype. Plus I spend more time talking.

    February 17, 2004

    Morpheus a Phone Company Too?

    The latest VoIP announcement suggests communities driven by fat broadband connections will join the VoIP telephony game. Streamcast's announcement below is correctly identified as a VNO or Virtual Network Operator by TechDirt. Short-term the opportunity exists to convert a number of large communities (eBay comes to mind) over to VoIP. In the case of eBay they have an incentive to bring the cost of calls to zero. Given the hours ebayers spend online it would be a pretty neat service. While despite current optimism the flat rate plans aren't going to do it in the long run. In fact the Vonage model probably has a pretty short life ahead. Concurrently the need for adaptors will be eliminated in most households.


    StreamCast's jump into VoIP is part of broader trend among peer-to-peer software makers, which are trying to use their presence on broadband-enabled desktops to launch Internet phone service. Several months ago, file-swapping software maker Kazaa unveiled Skype, a peer-to-peer VoIP service that's been downloaded six million times already, according to the company. StreamCast's voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service is open to the 120 million people that have downloaded Morpheus, provided they also buy a Morpheus-branded adapter. The adapter is needed to allow traditional home phones to make calls over a broadband connection.
    CNET

    Techdirt's perspective: Perhaps Mike has it right. Anyone can set up a phone service. The real question is where the value added will be. It won't be in the cost of the calls or a cheaper service. It will be in sound quality and enhancement, and in the ability to connect it to information and location sources. It may have no relationship or it might just be an interesting look at what "voice" attributes could be enhanced. See todays launch notes on Wave Market and apply a voice context, then add stereo.

    The obvious connection most people make will be with Skype, the software-based voice-over-the-internet play, because it was written by the folks who created Kazaa - a competing file sharing system to Morpheus. However, the Morpheus offer is quite different, and opens up a much more interesting line of discussion. In this case, Morpheus is just becoming a virtual network operator (VNO). More commonly, people have talked about mobile VNOs (MVNOs) such as Virgin Mobile, where some other network operator handles all the dirty technical details, and a company like Virgin simply slaps their brand and marketing efforts on top. In this case, Morpheus is basically offering a Vonage-like service (powered by i2 Telecom), but with their own brand. It will be interesting to see if other brand companies start jumping into the VoIP VNO business as well. It's even easier to do than jumping into the MVNO business, and I could see a lot of companies deciding that there's a fit - though, it may be a tough sell to a lot of customers. Are people really going to gravitate to a Morpheus service over a Vonage offering at the same or similar price? Still, one of the nice things about such a VoIP system is just how easy it must be to create your very own VNO. How long until companies are offering the ability to automatically set up your own VoIP telephone company the same way you become an Amazon affiliate or put a Google search on your page? Anyone interested in signing up for a Techdirt phone service? Techdirt

    Wave Market is worth more study:

    WaveIQ consists of three software products, all now available:
  • WaveSpotter—a cellular map interface that allows users move about, letting users drill down to street level and post or consume blogs.
  • WaveBlog—a company-hosted super blog serving as a multiple channel informational clearinghouse engineered by uber blogger Russell Beattie, WaveMarket director of blog engineering.
  • WaveAlert—wireless operator infrastructure that allows users to be notified whenever they enter or leave a designated area. The server software powers a scalable system that reduces network loads and hardware requirements.
    Wavemarket
  • February 18, 2004

    Skype's Mobile Conference Potential?

    Last night I had a mind bender from a friend who said: "With our solution each Skype conferencee (each on a different continent) could be on a cell phone - and each one could be on a different continent to their PC-now there's a weird extension!"! It sounds pretty farfetched and I'm still trying to get my head around it. Yet effectively this is just one of the possible implications that may emerge from current progress.

    PCPro gets the news out today heralding in Skype's new conference service, while Clay Shirky sums up my ramble from two days ago in a nice crisp short sentence. However, I think it runs deeper.

  • Today sees Skype claiming the accolade of the world's first IP-based conference-call service using peer-to-peer technology. PCPro
  • The biggest difference between VoIP and the circuit-switched phone network we've got is not going to be cheap phone calls. It's going to be ridculouly easy group-forming. Many-to-Many

  • Via Roland I know more than a few perked up their ears at the next link from Telepocalypse. This brief paper makes clear the emerging disruptive world of WiFi. When WiFi become mobile many new things happen and not only with mobility but also the handsets and who competes in that market.

  • You don't have to be a genius to see that low-latency plus high-bandwidth looks like a tasty recipe for next-generation IP-based voice apps. Voice is still the akiller app. But it is evolving once freed from the clammy dead hand of circuit telephony. Should enterprises start demanding end-to-end encypted voice, then Flarion can deliver it using off-the-shelf technology. Integrate presence, IM and voice a-la Skype? No problem. Anyone left with a faux-circuit network will be left spluttering. Telepocalypse
  • The cool thing about 802.20 is that it has "doppler tolerance" which means that unlike the currrent version 802.16, 802.20 can be used for mobile. Go Wireless ISPs and 802.20 go! Roland Tanglao

  • However that's only the tip of the iceberg. In all of the above we are only talking about new mobile solutions to the same old problem --- how can you talk while on the move:

    Voice Avatars:
    Last night I suggested we take a deeper look at Wave Market, while I've also had a few more thoughts about Flickr. The real voice applications are still to emerge. While I'm encrypted in conversation with Skype I think for the most part I pretty much sound like Stuart Henshall. Now imagine a different world. A mobile world where people are not identifiable by their live voice but rather by a voice avatar. You may never hear the real me if you are outside my direct social network. Peeling away layers of identity may involve exposing voice too. Think this is weird? Just think of the TV interview where the investigator wants to protect someone's identity. Extend that to conference calls you are in. Some may hear the real you others may not! This game is played in chatrooms around the world. Provide the same anonymities as text and watch for an explosion. Join a wireless chat channel in the Airport etc.

    Voice and Location:
    Similarly, as systems improve full stereo may become the norm. Total immersion in a game would enable me to hear where my friends are and where the danger is. I still want to play America's Army this way with my mates in the soundscape. In other situations walking towards one another in a crowd could be directed by sound.

    These last two items just begin to show new ways for rapidly forming groups and tying them into social networks. They are just one part of trying to solve the "always-on" connection questions and what it means to have an open line and varying degrees of presence no matter where you are. I'd also suggest we don't limit the exploration to the current paradigm. Small group conferencing via Skype is just the beginning. Playing music to the group while in conference might be the next item.... Might just give a reason to leave an open channel on.

    For those trying to learn more about Skype's conference call function a forum group put their experiences down in this pdf document. Skype Forum

    See also comments via Skype on future conferencing additions.

    March 11, 2004

    Integrating Communications

    A great summary by Rajesh Jain on converging technologies and telephony. Reading between the lines I think Rajesh may just want to try out a Nokia 9500. Me too! Add to it the BT Communicator / Yahoo announcement for their new VoIP IM service today for another indicator of rapid change.

    Nokia recently announced the 9500 model which is a Wi-fi enabled successor to the 9200 Communicator series. In another announcement Skype developers said they had plans to port their popular P2P net telephony software to PDAs. Can unified telephony become a reality, made possible with the convergence of Wi-fi, VoIP and cellular services? These three stories speculate on various outcomes.

    One Person, One Phone


    Indoor Wi-Fi coverage would be offered by cellular carriers as an added service. Subscribers would likely have to pay an extra $5 to $20 a month for it, says Ken Kolderup, vice president of marketing at Kineto Wireless in Milpitas, CA, but they’d get cheap Internet calls when they were on the Wi-Fi network. And by providing more reliable service indoors, the cellular carriers would be able to fully compete with traditional telephone companies...

    And Kineto has developed a network controller that can be installed on a cellular-telephone company’s network to bridge cellular and Wi-Fi. If a cell-phone user is indoors and near a Wi-Fi access point, his or her phone would sense the stronger Wi-Fi signal and tell the controller that it should route any incoming calls through the Internet, and ultimately through the local access point. Three carriers in the United States and Europe are now testing Kineto’s technology; Kineto expects dual-mode service to be available this year.

    Net2PhoneÂ’s VoIP play


    Net2Phone, one of the oldest Internet telephony services in the US announced Voiceline, a VoIP service that is custom tailored for the cable operators. A prime example is St. Kitts’ lone cable provider, The Cable, which is going to roll out VoiceLine to provide their customers with a reliable VoIP service using their existing infrastructure and with minimal cap ex. Cable operators can also choose Net2PhoneÂ’s PacketCable Managed Telephony, a managed broadband telephony service. I have a feeling that Net2Phone and Vonage will be butting heads in their bid to capture the private label VoIP market.

    Could WiFi Kill the Cellular Star?


    New voice-over-IP (VoIP) phones promise free wireless calls while at work using special phones that let you run voice on Internet packets. But this technology is only now maturing, previously beset with long delays and poor quality phone calls. I tried out a VoIP phone from Clarisys recently, along with a Vonage SoftPhone on a laptop. The phone was wired into my laptop, but I could make and receive calls through my laptop anywhere on my wireless home network. The quality was decent and my phone conversations were nearly normal.

    [E M E R G I C . o r g]

    March 17, 2004

    Skype Phone I

    Via Geekzone. Add this to Skype Business Model (See also Red Herring). thinking for a September European Launch. Some of the other product Siemans announced at CeBIT look desirable. This one would eliminate a couple of plugs and more.


    siemensm34.jpg

    Siemens is launching the Gigaset M34 USB PC Adapter. This is the world’s first consumer Internet telephony and messaging solution for cordless phone products. Developed in partnership with Skype Technologies, the peer-to-peer telephony company, this product merges data and voice communications technology in a simple and intuitive platform, expanding the frontier for consumer choice and flexibility in communications.

    This new telephony product allows consumers to easily utilize and manage all of their traditional Internet applications such as instant messaging, chat, buddy lists, Internet radio and emails, from their Gigaset handset, wherever they are in the home.

    Gigaset M34 USB PC Adapter offers an open interface to enable third party solution providers to integrate cordless phones into their applications for VoIP, messaging and home control. To encourage developers Siemens provides a free Software Development Kit (SDK), Internet-based support, as well as 24 hours hotline via the Siemens mobile developer portal. The portal contains detailed information about the interface, the SDK and the hardware and tool environment.

    The Gigaset-Skype Internet telephony solution is the first product from the Siemens Cordless Product VoIP Integration Roadmap that will soon include Gigaset Residential Voice and Data Gateways, and Gigaset WiFi devices.

    The Gigaset-Skype I
    Geekzone, mobile forums

    iTALK2U - Skype Clone?

    Is the P2P telephony space too crowded? Here's a potential Skype twin that may just emerge. Litfiber has announced iTalk2u --- although no "beta" can actually be downloaded. Beta supposed to be released in May.

    Note:

  • Litfiber recently went public,
  • All Litfibers announcements have a strong "Homeland Security" emphasis. This may be politics. It may also suggest a new political play in the VoIP arena. (What do others know?). Now what sort of Spyware are we talking about? What's this mean for iTalk2u?
  • If Litfibers strategy is to own the towers (their site says 200 but from a source I heard they control 2000? of 2600 nationally??? a key footprint) then this is not just a Skype play but a WAN development to really fill their 770 strand highly underutilized pipes.

    From their site.


    italk2u.jpg
    Litfiber is proud to announce that it will be releasing its BETA of its new VOIP product iTALK2U in May 2004. The product will be based on two initiatives while focusing on its users needs:

    (1) Homeland Security: The number one concern associated with any large organization is communication, also the need for security, speed, quality, hardware cost and bandwidth cost to name a few.

    If thats not enough, What communication suite can offer features that include all that a major Telco would offer? Includes all of the security features that a government institution would require and provide a solution to have low maintenance, bandwidth and hardware cost?

    (2) General Public Use : The number one concern to a public user is "ease of use", with the introduction of ICQ, AIM, Kazaa, Skype, MSN messenger, Yahoo and "Multi IM's such as GAIM and Trillian to name a few, multi user communication seems to be a very important issue with the internet user.

    Among other growing concerns is privacy: NO "Spyware" or "ADWare" or ect...ect...

    I think the question to ask is why so many products? Is it that no one has built a product that services all the needs of a internet user? Is it that cost is prohibitive to a end user or a service provider to implement?

    In steps iTALK2U! a new revelation in P2P communication to serve the Security industry as well as the common internet user.

    Here is a short list of some of the features:

    - Global users directory
    - P2P Platform
    - IM
    - VOIP Calling (PC to PC, PC to POTS, PC to Mobile Device)or any combination.
    - SMS
    - File Transfer
    - NSA1 encryption
    - E-Mail to Mobile Device
    - Customizable skins
    - Automatic program updates
    - Community input and more!

    See also the Yahoo Newsrelease, Additional Information

  • Continue reading "iTALK2U - Skype Clone?" »

    March 23, 2004

    Skype Business Plans Revealed

    Estonia March 23, 2004* WTF Spoof Newswire

    Skype Business Plan details released today outline large scale enterprise ambitions. Throwing caution to the wind and responding to recent enquires from international press sources Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom released new products and service details in a closed session post CeBit conference for the Enterprise market. Earlier Skype announced partnerships with Plantronics and Siemans Mobile. The most important announcements disclosed details of the Skype "Supernode" Corporate Server, the Skype "Presence Manager and Skype for PDA's and Symbian Skype Messenger.

    Skype testing began with a free to consumer "telephony" application released in August 2003. With over six months in testing billions in connected calls, and online callers exceeding 300000 concurrently Skype announced that HP would begin an immediate world wide corporate implementation. An unnamed HP spokes person said it was their "Windows" opportunity. It will be deployed in consulting services over the next three weeks. Concurrently HP will release new look PDA's and bluetooth headsets. Skype recently received $18 million in funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Index Ventures who said""The Skype team boasts some of the world's great corporate innovators, and is the hottest viral marketing phenomenon since Hotmail"

    Speculation of Skype next moves was enhanced when their early PDA alpha was demonstrated. While details have been known for some weeks it wasn't until the CeBIT presentation that the loosely joined piece came together. As you will see Skype's combination of emerging products provide the enterprise with the lowest cost VoIP service and the highest "presence" management functionality available. Complete with a secure solution to enable enterprise mobility while enabling the rapid convergence of texting, calendars and e-mail in simple handheld devices Skype looks confident and scaleable.

    Skype "Supernode" Corporate Server:
    Skype's new server platform tested with a worldwide user base continues to get glowing press reports. For more details on Supernodes and how they work see Page 29 + of this write-up. Skypannouncede focus on the corporate enterprise market displays real savvy and the depth of thinking that has gone into this emerging platform. As Skype's CTO explained. Security, presence management and service are the key deliverables. Skype solution is as simple as the user interface. When Skype first launched their free public service we retained and held back the use of certain key characters. Most notable the @. This simple variable is the "connectivity" solution.

    Skype Supernodes Server logs the company rather than the individuals into the cloud, thus managing the identity and pass codes for its employees. (This also disperses the security risk inherent in the initial log-in cloud structure) Corporate accounts will have unique sign-on addresses eg first_last@company.com. By adopting e-mail addresses Skype makes it easy to authenticate that the caller is indeed from Company X. This is the simplest form of reputation that a corporate can apply. So if you are Skyping with a company e-mail name then you can be pretty sure that they are official and still employed there. Skype will hold a central list of all companies and will maintain an independent complaints registry.

    The Supernode system provides further additional functionality. For example. If the Supernode fails to detect an active PDA or Computer as being online it simply activates voice-mail and e-mails the message or text to the individual. Thus corporate Supernodes maintain an always on aspect. Vacation Away message can be logged on the corporate Supernode just like todays email solutions. The Supernode also provides secure encrypted connectivity and systems oversight. By being the active component in the corporate system it also manages all the encryption keys, thus providing the potential for record keeping, monitoring and recording of sent files etc. Future functionality will enable the auto blogging of this content as calls are automatically categorized. This is important for legal reason and for training in corporate call centers.

    Corporate Supernodes will provide additional capacity for the growth of the global system. They will also enable "corporate virtual rooms" and conference calls with up to 50 participants in a structured sound environment. Enterprises may also choose to refuse to accept Skype calls that are not 1)already on a buddy list, and 2)not approved or authenticated in some way. These actions are designed to create additional legitimacy for the system. This transparency is expected to enhance business relationships.

    Skype Presence Management:
    SPM sits on top of Skype Supernodes server system. By managing the collective buddy system the corporate system recognizes that most communication withing groups is within the group walls. Only a few need to go outside or frequently accept new incoming unknown callers. Thus all important suppliers and customers are integrated into the company network. Network analysis will further help enhance relationship management. This reduces the number of traditional inbound lines required while enhancing connectivity within the value creation network.

    Skype's initial release will add employees pictures further enabling identification and personalizing connections. Andreas Sjolund Project Manager at Skype expects to provide all the functionality that Spoke or Linkedin has been chasing with the voice link. SPM enable buddy link management to provide the opportunity for other incoming Skype calls to be diverted when someone is not available depending on category. The option to apply social network learnings are apparent in initial screens as all employees have access and can search the whole database at the same time. Individual "private" connections will be known to the system and are handled similarly to private appointments in Outlook. The capabilities do not stop there. Should someone leave the firm --- the firm retains their contacts and the "association" memory even if someone new now takes the auto directed inbound call. Skype plans also include new buddy categories including "commercial" eg for your personal shopper who may only have limited or periodic access. Similarly eBay resellers are looking at this as a new method to notify on auctions and build more lasting relationships. Corporate Skype buddies appear in the corporate font and color.

    Mobility and Symbian Skype Messenger
    Niklas: Our PDA' solution provides a mobility solution that until now could only be achieved using the most sophisticated cellphones. Cellphones are expensive to run relative to a WLAN voice connected network and few cellphones really integrate PDA functions at at a reasonable price point. Concurrent with this are demands for organizations to upgrade and introduce new VoIP phone hardware. With software centric solutions like Skype proliferating investing in "phone specific" hardware no longer makes sense. By contrast adding new software capabilities to PDA's and phones transforms their capabilities. With a corporate Supernode incoming calls from non-Skype enabled accounts can be simply routed at no additional cost to anywhere in the world. Concurrently, a Skype install may reduce the number of incoming or outgoing lines required. Corporates adopting Skype also provide a significant incentive for suppliers to do the same. The benefit for both parties is control of "presence" and speeding up "real-time" communications. PDA's combined with bluetooth headsets further enhances the utility of the devices and makes them on campus more useful than the majority of cellphones. Examples also include hospitals where the majority of the personnel are mobile and an increasing number of smart programs on PDA's being tied into patient care. Having 'presence" may save lives during the crucial critical care moments.

    Note that Corporate PDA users that use their Corporate Laptop in WiFi enables homes remain connected to the secure Skype Corporate Communication system. Thus the corporate line may go home and it also rings at home.

    Our other initiative involves integrating Skype with GPRS options using Symbian enabled cellphones. By offering at text only on Symbian cellphones we can retain presence indicators and can connect quickly via text or voice regardless of whether someone is Skype to Skype, Skype to Cell or PSTN, or PSTN or Cell to Skype. As Corporate Supernode Servers can all bridge this link this connectivity comes at no extra cost. Further announcements in this area will be released in the coming months. Concurrently we are looking for OSX and developers to enable Skype on the Mac platform. Combined with emerging Linux solutions we believe we are on the verge of a universal communications system that will integrate and flow with next generation networked work methods.

    Value:
    There are too many variable to lay out a quick cost-benefit analysis here. There is also more than one product in the above. The Skype Supernode, Skype for Enterprise PC's, Skype for PDA's etc. Add to this A text based Skype for Corporate Mobile phones or "Data" accounts like used with a Motorola Sidekick and a methodology for managing corporate communications. What we know is we are at the tipping point where this type of VoIP install is much cheaper than a Cisco or similar solution with many times the functionality. Additional value for information sharing can be created. Over time significant enhancements for managing presence will emerge. Concurrently your costs for conference calling facilities go to zero resulting in immediate savings in both cost and in time scheduling. We expect to partner with some additional desktop sharing applications in coming months. As to pricing our solution is simple. Apply the corporate Windows pricing model. First year licenses will be available and granted free to the first 10 million corporate users. You will see that ongoing fees are less than the cost of a current extension. Call costs as always on the Skype network remain free.

    To summarize. I expect we will begin shipping the Skype server and individual application products in early September 2004. Welcome to the new world of Global telephoney... no scratch that global communications.

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    NOTE:

    * This is a spoof. The author has never seen a Skype business plan or any statement other than publicly announced or revealed details. None of this information or speculation came from Skype so your interpretation and judgement should apply. I have been following Skype since it launched. If you have gotten this far it must have either been compelling or intriguing. If you repost any of it you may want to insure that you note this was a spoof.

    I posted these thoughts in this format for sometimes the most compelling way to make managers stuck in a paradigm see what is coming is simply to tell them a story. When one uses Scenarios is it less important to get it precisely right. It's unlikely that every element in the above is true or a certainty. It could be completely wrong. The point is to ask yourself. What could we do? What should we do right now if Skype emerges with all the above capabilities by September 2004? That is where strategy comes in. If you are HP or IBM the context is completly different to WebEx or Vonage. If you are SBC you better have answers. They are different in each case. The purpose of this type of exercise is to enable an interest in gaining strategic foresight. Companies that are open to exploring strategy outside their comfort zone are more likely to succeed in the long run. Concurrently two other things happen. First embracing change becomes easier for the recognition emerges that it is already here. Second making things happen are now in an accelerated context.

    I don't get to go to David Isenberg's WTF I'm on vacation at the time. Still this might be a fun way to think about it.

    And that sums up this post. WTF --- nothing to lose.

    April 21, 2004

    The Online Presence Spiral

    - The Online Presence Spiral - an interactive experience that is engaging, accessible, immersive - not just IM indicators but sound quality - active cams, mobility etc. Emergent thoughts that we need a new "Presence Formula".

    This post represents rough notes on how online presence is being redefined by new audio solutions. These are creating a sound spiral and an unexpected tipping point for tel co's and cellular phone providers while redefining consumer / user audio expectations.

    Driven by IM systems we are becoming increasingly accustomed to knowing; available, away, do not disturb, not available, invisible and custom forms thereof. In parallel there has been a growing interest in the social networking sites like Ryze, Linkedin, Orkut, Tribe etc. Most of these haven't had the critical online mass to activate an effective 'presence" indicator yet. They also fail to have the immediacy of an IM buddy list. Learning gained in social networking software will be applied to IM systems in the next generation. In fact ICQ has recently been releasing upgrades. As will more complex access profiles which further refine definitions of availability, access, privacy, security etc. However this focus on presence and "presence management" is limited an IM style focus on smiley faces and social networking that may limit developments. As VoIP and IM systems integrate interaction designers should take a broader view of presence.

    Let's just step back for a second and consider real life examples…. Eg "you felt his/her presence when they entered the room. Or the speaker carried real presence. Take it further and over the years there have been interests in telepresence from science fiction books to research studies. This objective that i found quickly appealed to me. "To design forms of interactive experience that are engaging, accessible, and immersive". I'd like to think about this as presence cubed.

    The IM style is helping with accessible, however the other aspects engaging and immersive still have a way to go. The point is recent posts on "Presence Management" are really missing the broader picture. The post I've seen from Dina, and Dave I think support my point of view. They are looking for a much broader integration of presence. In fact presence management is an oxymoron just like Knowledge Management. Similarly telecoms and VoIP providers that simply believe they can step up with a VoIP IM solution are going to find they are continuing to chase the curve. Using Skype as an illustration, it masters the current state of consumer presence pretty adequately. It also redefines voice presence. Our ears are extremely sensitive to vocal cues. And yet we are accepting. We accept or are forced into landline and cellular systems that clip our voices, reduces our gravitas and thus reduce vocal presence effectiveness. The narrow band spectrums simply doesn't compare favorably with a well connected wide band Skype type call. In fact I was told the other day how different I sounded on Skype. Apparently, I had more presence!


    Now imagine you were part of a larger conference call negotiation. You could hear the other party with brilliant clarity. They were restricted to a mediocre cellphone standard. You could easily position each of the individuals and easily decipher the stress or excitement in their voices. Now which negotiation team has the upper hand? If you are looking at new solutions then thinking about presence in terms of availablity indicators and not audio quality will only will only result in an early replacement as higher quality more efficient sound solutions become available. For conference calls you have to have an audio connection that is equal or better than those your are connected to. For the most part the highest sound quality will result in better conversations. It's pretty self-evident. Just like the e-mail that can be misinterpreted. The brain fills in the blanks in poor quality sound.

    Now I would like to know if any commercial or consumer SIP applications so far have been initiated with a codec comparible to Skype. For it is not SIP that is restraining the voice quality it is the VoIP telecom providers that seem to think current sound codecs are good enough. I have a Vonage line. At no time does it compare to Skype quality. It's better than my cellphone at home, and often doesn't match my landline for quality. Via the Register today, Morpheus launched a VoIP solution. They are in fact just playing off their P2P name and number of users. As far as I can tell it is a standard VoIP solution a little cheaper than Vonage. Other than trying to leverage the Morpheus userbase I'm not sure that there is a P2P relationship in this system although they are claiming that with VoiceBox to VoiceBox you get higher quality.

    With Skype we are only just getting a taste of what's to come. As our understanding of "presence" is broadened by better audio experiences the industry will compete and collaborate to bring even more interesting "presence" experiences. Then the solutions won't stop with sound. There will be a huge awakening in equipment solutions too. Just think what happened when we when from mono to stereo, and then how quickly so many have gone to home theaters. The consumer knows Dolby and 3-D sound. While we may not want a total immersion experience for all calls (you may want to listen in on another simultaneously) we will want the ultimate immersion for some calls. The movie industry has already demonstrated what is possible.

    Skype also shows what happens when increased audio presence is combined with appropriate visual cues. Those black heads don't look very friendly now, still when they become real faces and an inbound call is generated then our connection to the caller will be further enhanced. Photo's are a first step that will aid adoption adoption of real-time web cams.

    Consequently I periodically find myself running updated experiments on the latest online video solutions. It is almost a couple of weeks ago since I tried out various alternative with Dave Pollard. I'd read Dave's post and he was willing to try out his new webcam. We started with Yahoo cam and voice. The voice connection was crap and so we soon closed voice and opened a Skype connection why retaining the Yahoo cam. In this instance there wasn't much of a delay on the cam although 2-3 seconds is not uncommon. Still as a free solution I've personally found little to beat it.

    Next we tried out Sightspeed, The cam was much faster, however the voice connection was not up to Skype quality. We retained it for a period. However by that time we were doing what I think we should be doing. We were sharing http links, and looking at other alternatives. The cam had simply disappeared into the background replaces by texting and browser links. From my perspective this is not unusual.

    Durning this week I also tried out CamFrog. While I didn't try the premium edition the basic one didn't provide me with confidence. While these observations and ongoing trials are fun from time to time I'm yet to find a wow solution. Robin Good in particular has shared some great conferencing solutions with me. They do require some customizing to context. It also takes time to master these tools. So ultimately there won't be hundreds of winners.

    What I've found is I'm not prepared in any of these online sessions to put up with poor voice quality. That simply is a killer.

    Second I dislike screen delays. The update has to be quick. Screen synch between individuals fast. Last year I'd experimented with Glance a product that shares your desktop. More recently Bill Campbell generously got me set up on tightVNC. Many use it for remote access to their computer. It's also perfect for sharing your desktop with multiple users. WIth tightVNC working there is no need for expensive services like MeetingASAP, you can share your desktop at anytime. There are other synch capabiliities that MeetingASAP provides however no matter how beautiful the last time I talked to them they could not confirm that the voice quality was not equal or better than Skype. BTW... if you want a cheap conference where everyone cam is synched on a page and one person is showing a powerpoint. Just cram it all on your screen and then tightVNC. The refresh rates on the cams will be poor for other viewers however it will cost you nothing. Everyone will know who's at their desk and watching the presentation rather than making coffee while wearing their bluetooth headset.

    For working with others expecially new people where you have never had a picture before and never met them an early introduction with a web cam is effective. For family and friends it may be appropriate. However my belief is that sharing pictures is a pretty good substitute right now. The issue is most webcams are effectively passive. They provide a head shot as the person is sitting behind their PC. Usually the cam is not directed very effectively. I really don't believe that web cams will be the big thing until they are "active" cams. By active I mean people using them while on the move, out and about. Thus when we get our PocketSkype+ installed in a UltimateWi-Fi PDA with video capability and users are out roaming we will have a webcam usage that really adds a sense of presence along with the mobility and narrative. It still won't be telepresence although we will be a lot closer.

    Finally from what I've seen and been fed about Skype performance and connectivity, their sound solution still eats up too much computing power. Add to that limitations on uploads and downloads to maintain voice quality and Skype video and Skype file exchanges may break what is good. That may provide some opportunities for others. So while Skype may have brokered new connections for some, and thus encouraged additional experimentation with webcams this user is still looking for better sound first and foremost. In that regard so should you.

    What's more this user has learned that Wi-FI Skyping from HotSpots is better than a Mobile phone when available. Thus the paradigm that threatens the landline system may have more impact on mobility than current projections suggest. Some of you may have seen the recent releases of mobile phones like the Nokia Communicator 9500 that provides the traditional cellphone features along with Wi-FI. So now consider the user experience. When they are in a hotspot sound quality goes way up. When they get home their cellphone automatically becomes the home phone and the cellphone and the quality is way up. It's just possible that the mobile providers are entering a sound spiral as well. Then I also know that despite not being to Skype via my mobile phone to laptop connection Dina has proved to me that she can do it. Looks like the Indian cellular structure is more advanced than the US!. That will make cellular connections a commodity just like the landline in time.

    Good place to close. The Online Presence Spiral. The emerging business experience parameters for communications.


    Peter Cochrane Skype and Hype

    Peter Cochrane on the future for telecoms and he should know. Great thoughtful piece.

    Everywhere I go in the United States I now see people with PDAs, laptops and headsets making VoIP calls. This has been compounded and supported by the rapid spread of Wi-Fi providing a very powerful platform for users on the move.

    The mode of operation spans the normal fixed/mobile phone behavior, plus the use of e-mail to establish contact and prompt the use of Skype, iChat, etc.. The more adventurous are also linking screens and working cross platform--with common applications and displays--in a manner forecast a decade ago but still seldom seen on corporate networks.

    I think it would be foolish for any telco to dismiss VoIP and especially Skype. It seems to me that DIY telephony is on the march and will soon be on the scale of Kazaa.

    VoIP hype and Skype - News - ZDNet


    April 22, 2004

    P2P Music and VoIP

    I brushed over the Morpheus Voicebox announcements yesterday as not really all that interesting. However today I saw moves by Net2Phone announced TCMNet and WiFi Planet. All these mention I2Telecom and Net2Phone who is now obviously making a larger strategic play.

    Boardwatch today also provided the news that Sharman Networks is working to add Skype to the file shareing program Kazaa.

    VOIP is emerging as a new line of business for many file-sharing companies. Sharman Networks Ltd., a StreamCast rival, is developing a version of its Kazaa P2P file-sharing program that comes integrated with Skype, a VOIP software program created by Kazaa's inventors (see Skype Me? Skype You!). In March, StreamCast launched a version of Morpheus that includes Morpheus VoiceChat, a VOIP software program from Talking Tech Enterprises Inc.

    Unlike Morpheus VoiceBox, Skype and Morpheus VoiceChat run on PCs and let users talk only with other users of the programs. The VoiceBox is the first foray into hardware reselling by a P2P company.

    href="http://www.boardwatch.com/document.asp?doc_id=51527">Boardwatch: Analysis of telecom software, services, and strategy

    BTW. Kazaa integrating Skype if approved by Skyper would bother me. I think there are better options for "music" relationships that use Skype. Skyper better be careful with that one.


    May 8, 2004

    Internet Phone Services

    Rafe Needleman posts a guide to Internet Phone services.


    INTERNET PHONE SERVICES
    Consumers and businesses alike will come to appreciate the low monthly rates, useful features, and clear voice quality of an Internet phone service. We reviewed five such services and found one clear winner.

    Internet phones: CNET Editors' guide to VoIP - CNET reviews

    May 13, 2004

    Personal VoIP Network

    Do you hate dialing with your cellphone internationally? Tends to cost a lot. Here's just another example of how personal VoIP exchanges will change the way we connect and get charged. This is another illustration of the power that is coming to consumers as we move to morphed personal IP PBX solutions.

    Technology from i2 Telecom will let cell users dial their home phones and connect to a voice-over-IP network, then dial anywhere in the world for no extra charge--offering big savings on overseas calls. InformationWeek > Cell Phones and VOIP

    Networld Interop

    NILV.jpg I spent a few hours at Networld Interop in Las Vegas over the last couple of days. I'm only going to report on two items after noting that this show will be at a smaller venue next year. I was also taking a look for future "stand" reference points and filled a couple of pages with what was good and bad. I saw too many "cloud diagrams" they all look the same, found few had a short elevator pitch and the presentations for the most part required free t-shirts to keep people interested.

    As I said two things caught my interest. First for collaborative sharing Advanced Reality and second for some big company thinking Siemens Openscape product provides at least a reference for where "some" industry thinking is.

    Brian Hoogendam President of Advanced Reality introduced me to their products. So far demo's are available for Excel and Powerpoint although according to Brian the same sharing technology can be applied to other applications using a simple plug-in creation formula. On Excel and Powerpoint it was pretty neat . I'm not quite sure why there were at this show. This screen sharing app enabled multiple parties to update concurrently.

    The blurb from their website:


    Presence-AR is the first real-time, peer-to-peer system and enablement platform for adding synchronous collaboration capabilities to existing and new software applications. Presence-AR uses a patent-pending data-centric architecture to provide a full range of collaborative features, and to eliminate the need to modify applications. Presence-AR is the only collaboration platform with support for fail-over and persistence that allows a session to continue uninterrupted when a host signs-off, or is inadvertently disconnected. This enables participants to join and leave a session at will, and supports both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. By providing collaboration on the data layer, Presence-AR:

  • Allows users to collaborate on the same data using different applications
  • Dynamically adapts views of the same data for the capabilities of any access device including PCs, handhelds, and mobile phones
  • Enables collaboration across firewalls, LANs, and dial-up connections
  • Provides secure collaboration through support of encryption, authentication, and access control systems

    Advanced Reality - Products and Solutions

  • Separately take a look at Siemens OpenScape. I gather it is being used within Siemens currently. It does have a tie-in to WebEx to aid and facilitate conferences and similarly will connect to MS Messenger.

    Siemens describes OpenScape as a multimodal communications application that provides presence-aware, real-time communications to quickly and easily synchronize people and information to facilitate action.

    So what was notable? Looking at the laptop screens... It had a dialer, a more detailed "my contacts" (presence re phone, messaging and e-mail) and a list of conferences. Some of the conferences were effectively persistent. In many ways the interface for Convoc's Meeting ASAP provides similar details although more efficiently. On the Siemen's page link above scrolling down does provide a few white papers. They may provide some resouces and facts for the payback that can be achieved from "presence".

    May 17, 2004

    VoIP Future

    Jeff Pulver picks up on a theme that I'm now investing a lot of time in. I've bolded his statement where it counts and resonates from my perspective.

    The time has come for the IP Communications Industry to start to move beyond the HYPE of VoIP and start to deliver some of the services which are only possible because of the advent of IP based communications. Some of these services start to become very visible only when we start to blur the line between instant messaging, presence, and voice communication. Throw in things like blogging, social networking and gaming and things just start to get interesting. (my bold)

    The advent of a technology like SIP means that for the first time in the 127 year history of telephony, the same protocol can be used on an end-to-end basis between customers on two ends of a telephone call. This represents a total radical change in the engineering of communication networks and ways, which value added services, can be and will be introduced in the near future.
    I look forward to reading about the next wave of companies, which truly will help redefine the future of the communications industry. My hope is that such services start to arrive in 2004.
    The Jeff Pulver Blog

    June 8, 2004

    Online Presence Spiral Two

    "It is said that the present is pregnant with the future." ~ Voltaire Or similarly.... "the future is all around us we just don't know it yet!" --- a line delivered by many. If you read my last post you know I'm actively pursuing my future and it is all around me. One task I wanted to take care of before sending friends and colleagues to my second blog, and new company affiliation was to have something to send you to. It's a little selfish I know. Keep people in the dark, don't blog for a few weeks and then pour out the details. Then part of my job is to create traffic and interest in DiamondWare. So forgive me for being self-serving. You can help me. Come and visit, subscribe to our syndicated blog.

    This post aims to do a couple of things. Help kick off a new corporate blog and achieve some visibility with enough intrigue for what you may find there. DiamondWare's roots are high performance audio software. The DiamondWare story is here. We are moving from developing the engine (audio media stack) to building the vehicles / applications for next generation communication. The website is a work in progress. For me this is a first iteration. Release and update may present the best way to get feedback and accelerate message development. So blog friends are beta readers for a current marketing department of one. So, now you know and I'll be very receptive to new ideas and honest input. I hope that over time a successful blogging component will outweigh all the static pages created to date. If I'm working towards real-time communication then a blog componet is a key to the way forward.

    Why DiamondWare?
    Beyond the great group of people are core elements for the next generation of VoIP solutions. That was key to attracting me to join the team. Plus the desire to create new answers and leap forward with an "always-on mobile presence communicator". For me this opportunity emerges at the intersection of where new audio processing capabilities, VoIP networks and collboration tools converge. This Online Presence Spiral also includes solutions for social networking, privacy, security and digital identity.

    While this diagram may look static imagine it spinning like a turbine creating an always-on environment that emerges as a conversation accelerator.

    First, leveraging communications is driven by presence that nurtures events. That happens at the front line so to speak on your desktop, with your handset. Presence becomes really interesting when combined with mobility.

    Second, the communications velocity is enhanced when we become better listeners. Telephony today is not for listening it's for telling, contacting, reporting etc. Few calls are made just to listen. Listening is a learning characteristic. The traditional telephone is somewhat restrictive in this regard. It's been hard to do multi-party conference calls. While compared with IM many complain that the telephone is invasive

    Leaders facilitate conversations. We will only spiral the velocity and flow of conversations if we find ways to make encounters more appealing and integrate with the ways that people want to use them. Lets say that the online conversation broker needs an upgrade.

    "Online Presence Spiral Generator"

    The Always-on Presence Communicator



    In the organization it's often the water cooler conversation that is instrumental, or the unexpected connection that create new value. Just one reason open plan offices are effective. Put every one in virtual offices and we need a communication system that more closely mimics the open plan. So far that has been difficult. In fact, asynchonous is a frequent label for online collaboration. By contrast creating more transparency by running multiple conversations concurrently is similar to what many kids (and some of us) do with IM. It's just not integrated with voice. An illustration of what I'm talking about would be a multi-channel Audio IRC. A multi-modal intercom on steroids.

    It seems a lot to ask. I'm sure many will look at the preceeding paragraphs and say I don't want to work in a world like that. However there are some that already do. Traders run multi-lines. Call centers need the capability to bridge and share calls quickly. There's are more thoughts on always-on conferencing here. There we said "A communications format is required that enables enhanced listening and positioning of voices while engaged in the call." Which brings me back to intercoms and audio processing capabilities. Only DiamondWare is in the field with a 3D Hi-Fidelity VoIP solution. This enables the positioning and the mulit-level listening along with other capabilities.

    So in a nutshell technology is enabling an online presence spiral and I am now directly involved in next generation communication solutions. These are brief reasons for my excitement. From the DiamondWare site:


    1. Sound Quality: Hear an audible difference as telephony moves to higher quality audio. There will be a clear perception and audible improvement over the sound of traditional telephones.

    2. Spatial Positioning: Since Stereo first introduced the sound stage, we have increasingly brought the surround sound experience into our lives. Telephony has not kept up. Stereo VoIP technology closes the gap between the online conference and the physical meeting room.

    3. Presence: Online presence reduces the number of failed connections and repetitive messages, and it improves understanding of availability. Presence is only now becoming multi-modal and being integrated from the desktop into other devices.

    4. Communications Centric: IM systems have traditionally been text centric with poor support for voice. Communications-Centric presence platforms are redefining how calls and texting work in tandem as the first step in enhanced collaborative communication.

    5. Always-On: As call costs trend to zero, closing a call (hanging up at the end) resulting in termination may no longer make sense. In an open plan office chatter goes on all the time. In an always-on world of telephony, you may participate in multiple concurrent conferences.

    6. Push to Talk: Push to talk and intercoms may seem like a very old idea. However sometimes a short voice message is appropriate. Look at a money trader example, or any other fast-moving information environment.

    7. Mobility: As devices combine PDA's, mobile phones, tablet PC's and Wi-Fi, solutions are enabling new forms of connectivity and decision-making. We are preparing for a day when every mobile device has the capabilities of today's PBX. Engineering reflects small devices and efficient solutions.

    That is all I will tell you right now.

    June 9, 2004

    Supernova - See You There!

    I just took a look at the list of people now signed up for Supernova in Santa Clara on June 24-25. Kevin Werbach has assembled a great group for another deep dive exploration into our decentralized future together. This will be the second time I'm attending having thoroughly enjoyed the first (December 2002) soon after beginning this blog. I'm going to be pressing the agenda for answers on Presence and Mobility with a VoIP / Collaboration hat on.

    Supernova 2004 -- June 24-25, Santa Clara, CA
    Voice over IP...Social networking...Web services...WiFi and unlicensed wireless...Blogging and syndication...Broadband applications...Next-generation email...Grid computing...Digital identity...Collaboration tools...Digital content distribution...and more. Supernova links together the most compelling technologies, and uses many of them to enhance the conference experience itself. SUPERNOVA 2004

    Start tracking the SuperNova weblog and there is the SupernovaWiki. If you can't make the event but will be in town for the dinner. Come join us all there. It will be fun.

    June 11, 2004

    Stanaphone

    This post represents quick notes on Skype and Stanaphone. As Om Malik worries about a price war. Frankly I'm just surprised Stanaphone has the money and commitment to go down this route.

    After Andy Abramson blogged Stanaphone as Free Calling... huh?. I downloaded it and made a couple of phone calls. They were adequate. I only made calls within the US. In one quick test we held a Skype connection and Stanaphone connection open at the same time. We ran a count while the listener listened for latency. Skype PC to PC and Stanaphone PC to phone. Frankly on this simple test latency results varied with one ahead of the other and then reversing. Not enough to really effect the conversation.

    A key difference remains Skype call quality which simply provides a clearer sound. I've made this point for awhile now. Now here's the problem for Skype. As soon as they run the PSTN interconnect their call quality goes down. I've had a few calls from Skype beta testers. Over a week ago I had one from Luxembourg to my Vonage account. It was only ok and the quality was worse than Vonage, the PSTN or my cellphone usually is. I think that connection remains through Denmark. While I presume they are still working on correcting poor quality IP to PSTN connections at this point the quality will not set the world on fire. Comparison? How many do you know that use Yahoo Messenger's Net2Phone function for example?

    Additional notes on Stanaphone:
    When installing Stanaphone I noted it was an SJPhone from SJLabs. The latest version version that launched this week. Stanalone is in beta. You can also receive calls. Stanaphone to Stanaphone works ok

    So if you have Skype live in India and can't call your Mac buddies then download Stanaphone and try calling your friends in the US on a landline. The quality may suck. This will enable free dialing for a few other countries too. I don't think this is quite what the company had in mind. Then you could register as many different addresses as you want currently to get the 100 free minutes for each of them. I really wonder how long this beta will last?

    Additional notes on Softphones vs IM-Voice. There needs to be a mental shift in what we turn out as softphones. The traditional phone was a dialer and not much more. The problem is we are creating desktop dialers and call them softphones and expect people to get excited. A phone in that state is a commodity! You go to Target and you buy a commodity cordless handset. Perhaps the upside is these products require little learning if (big if) they install easily. More imagination will be required.

    June 15, 2004

    Skype VoIP Costs

    More details on the Skype VoIP showdown. See VoIP suffers identity crisis | The Register for "VoIP suffers identity crisis".

    Still no rates published. So how much will it cost to SkypeOut? I've held back on this rate card for some time. However the address is still there. It's not officially announced and suggests European rates only. At less than two cents per minute US it is pretty cheap to call across 25 countries. Not as cheap as Stanaphone I'd add which is free for the first 120 minutes per month.

    SkypeOut Global Rate: 0.012 €/minute
    With the SkypeOut Global rate you can call regular phones in 25 countries around the globe, while only paying the price of a local call no matter where you are calling from. All Skype-to-Skype calls are of course free of charge.
    SkypeOut Global Rate

    Implications for Cost.
    At two cents per minute $10.00 will buy you 500 minutes. That's a pretty cheap option. More importantly, those are likely to be rollover minutes further cutting costs for most users. If cellphone operators would provide automatic voicemail to e-mail forwarding then this becomes even more attractive. My kids wouldn't burn cellphone minutes at home and the home phone in our case could go.

    Why has Skype not yet launched?
    Problems with a US partner? Agreeing call rates. We don't know. Quite probably getting a decent interconnect without a huge deterioration in sound is difficult. Users will discover that every Skype to PSTN call is at a lower audio than Skype to Skype. Plus when people pay... they will be very angry if a poor connection burns up minutes. It's a completely different equation to getting it for free. Consumers have zero tolerance for poor service. "Can you hear me now?" Not to confuse with Verizon my former cellular provider.

    June 21, 2004

    Summarizing: "The Presence Spiral"

    I've been looking back over my posts to capture a summary on "presence", the always-on VoIP factor that radically changes communications

    VoIP Wi-Fi and Mobility are converging with "presence" to redefine communications environments. A failure to understand "presence" will lead telephony firms towards disaster. Making sense of presence is poorly defined by conventional distinctions between content delivery and communication. I believe the future of the industry is not making dollars on telephony rather it rests in the service of presence.

    The online presence spiral is an interactive experience that is engaging, accessible, immersive - not just IM indicators but sound quality - active cams, mobility etc. VoIP can deliver these emerging functionalities when we throw away the "phone over internet" perspective and develop a "presence formula".
    IM systems introduced us to online presence. Available, away, not available, do not disturb etc. Now these same systems are appearing on mobility devices. With few exceptions, the texting lives separately to the voice. From early IM's to an emerging crop of simple presence-centric soft communicators (Skype, FireFly, etc.) the writing is on the wall for number centric approaches, whether software or hardware, landline or mobile. Even AOL believes AIM is the phone of the future.

    I believe they aren't even close. The current crop of solutions hasn't scratched the surface for rich presence systems.

    Limit presence to buddylists and we restrict the opportunity. Our sense of presence is framed by real life examples; "you felt their presence as they entered the room (visual). The speaker carried real presence (audio"). Enhancing presence requires an abandonment of traditional audio restrictions, new forms of image sharing, and "contextual" input, not just availability (new ways; where, device type, situation etc.). Context includes ready transfer between devices. Cellphone partnering with Laptop. As presence peels layers away to create richer connections, new solutions will be desired for transparency, privacy etc. Our presence becomes our cloud.

    Presence changes the focus from telephones and communications to collaboration and conversations. As connection costs trend to zero, presence-centered communications grow exponentially in an always-on world. Multi-conferencing, persistent rooms, redefine talking and listening into conversations and storytelling webs. Add in mobility and embrace presence in the palm of your hand.

    June 23, 2004

    Supernova

    I'm about to go off and attend the pre-dinner Supernova event. Looks like a great crowd. Plus I put an initial post on the Supernova blog. The copy is also retained below.

    Continue reading "Supernova" »

    July 22, 2004

    VoIP Extension Strategies - Closed Gardens

    Verizon announced a move today into the VoIP market. Accelerating towards VoIP by major carriers is now inevitable, however this move lacks the innovative edge of British Telecom's move with Yahoo last week. That move is easy to communicate. Remember you had your first phone, then you got a bedroom extension! Now you can take it with you on your laptop on vacation etc.

    When I first saw the BT announcement my response was not the one reflected in this article which suggests it is wrong to charge consumers landline prices for VoIP connections. Actually this is a perfect transition strategy and I expect many more to follow it. The key reason it will work is consumers don't want to change their telephone numbers. If you don't believe how difficult it is read Rich Tehrani's tirade on Vonage in this months Internet Telephony Magazine. His experience is not his alone. While AT&T have plenty of numbers the majority of the ITSP's (Internet Telephony Service Providers) can only provide limited area codes. This will be a topic for another day.

    A partnership with Yahoo will let BT users make phone calls from their PC, but with no price advantage over existing UK tariffs

    The service, called BT Communicator with Yahoo Messenger, combines voice over IP (VoIP) technology with Yahoo's instant messenger service. BT says it will let users handle various communication methods, such as phone calls, Webcams, text messaging and IM, from their PCs through a single application. BT also said that it expects to add the ability to make multi-way video calls next year.
    BT launches consumer VoIP with landline pricing - ZDNet UK News

    The point missing in the BT announcement is the "closed garden" reality of the Yahoo/Communicator offering to consumers. While I've heard complaints about Skype's lack of SIP interconnectivity here we have a brazen large carrier consumer play applying the same tricks. We'll need a more open interconnect strategy if VoIP is to reach it full potential.

    July 27, 2004

    Mobility and Message Control

    Russell captures the frustration and the complexity of linking mobility with our texting and presence desires in this post below. I know I use less SMS and I certainly use my Agile Messenger but so far the synching he wants eludes us all. For those with data connections this could be made a whole lot easier if my laptop was the equivalent of a traditional bedroom extension for my mobile phone. Now all these things could be synched plus I could get better sound quality when at my desk. I'm not sure the answer is SMS to the co-workers phone, rather the point is to deliver a short text message. Having presence available would provide additional confirmation of "appropriateness". Mobile Carriers hold the keys to this converging future. In a VoIP world they can go direct to the users with the offer.


    I want my phone to work with every single messaging app we use here. I want to be able to send an SMS and have it alert people via IM, get copied to people's phones, send off emails and get logged to a central blog available via RSS. I want people to respond and have those messages go back to the original user wherever they are. I don't want to think about it either, I want it to "just work".


    SMS messages are so great because they're 1) Reliable 2) Available to everyone and 3) easy to use. No setup, two fields to fill out (or just one if you're replying) and off the message goes. It's no wonder people are sending billions of the things - they're just damn nifty. But I spend all day online at work, so I want SMS to cross that border into my PC-based world. I want it to skip the gap from my pocket into my office.


    When I get a message, I don't want to have to stop, look around for my mobile, click a few buttons and get some info that I can't immediately copy into a window on my PC. I mean, I'm sitting in front of a full keyboard and can type 60+ words a minute... why am I click on on this damn keypad again?


    I wonder if what I'm looking for is integration or remote control? I think integration. I want to step out of the office for a sec and ping the IM client of a coworker without making an effort. Yes, I have Agile Messenger and yes I have their phone numbers. But I want to use SMS as what I'm doing is definitely under the definition of "short message" and maybe that coworker isn't particularly down with SMS just yet and isn't sure why his phone beeps randomly at him every once in a while.


    [Russell Beattie]

    July 28, 2004

    Broadband Parasites

    Jeff Pulver's blog posts come without any fulll feed subscription so I scan the titles from time to time and then visit (I can provide the full feed template!). Today this took me to a post of Broadband Parasites, however what I found most interesting was this quote on his original paper from one year ago. Jeff is not alone in thinking that mobility is the real VoIP play.

    To keep things even more interesting, think about using the internet to peer between broadband based voice over broadband service providers and wireless service providers. If/when this is done correctly, it will have an impact on the importance and strength of what is and was the "legacy phone network." The Jeff Pulver Blog: The Rise of the Broadband Parasites

    Om Malik's VoIP Daily » IP Mobility unplugged


    From Om Malik:
    I have long believed that the mobile operators should be the ones to integrate VoIP offerings. Forget Vonage, if Verizon Wireless offered a VoIP service (over my DSL or cable modem) that integrates with my wireless device, enabling me to synchronize my phone book (on my phone and via outlook on my desktop) I would sign up right away. And with the integration with at home VoIP with my mobile phone, I would be less likely to churn from Verizon when Cingular comes up with a better pricing plan. Tim McDonald

    It won't be just voice and data specific. It a knowledge society where people collaborate, communications will be the marriage of high quality multimedia, voice and all enabled by broadband. The network today treats me as a fixed part of the network. I think the network in the future would be intelligent enough to see me as a person. Greg Mumford
    Om Malik's VoIP Daily » IP Mobility unplugged

    Then like HP's latest announcement for IPAQ we know the converged devices are coming.


    However, on the flip side, a VoIP implementation in the shape of mobile over WLAN (MoWLAN) may also be a way for mobile operators to eat more of the fixed-line operator's PSTN lunch in both the home and enterprise. Kineto Wireless, a US-based start-up, certainly seems to think so and so it should - the company manufactures the kit that makes MoWLAN possible.

    "By offloading [cellular] traffic onto the WLAN network they [mobile operators] can put themselves in a position to offer competitive 'homezone' tariffs and displace more fixed-line traffic."
    a title="Telecommunications Online " href="http://www.telecommagazine.com/default.asp?journalid=2&func=articles&page=0311i05&year=2003&month=11&srchexpr=sonus">Telecommunications Online
    Telecommunications Online


    July 31, 2004

    Interconnect Billing Changes

    Via Martin Geddes upcoming changes to interconnect policies. Restricting the flow to bits is not good for you and me.


    an impending change in the US in the way carriers settle for internetworking. The traditional solution has been for payments to be made to the party terminating the call by the party that initiated it (who is collecting the money from you for making the call). The future approach is called "bill and keep", where no such settlements are make......

    Not only should the network be dumb as possible, but it should say as little as possible about how to make dollars flow in the opposite direction to the bits. In that way capitalistic evolution ensures only feasible and sustainable interconnect settlement models emerge, at both the connectivity and application layers.
    Telepocalypse

    August 2, 2004

    Telephony's Changing Audio Paradigm

    This links to a post written four years ago. Even then "better audio quality" was predicted for telephony. It's part of a changing paradigm. Sometimes it takes a long time for these things to work their way through.


    What can a movie critic, a fat man in a tweed jacket, teach us about telephony? A lot, as you will see. Telephony, because it is so widely used, is about what people want, much the same as making and showing movies.
    -------------------

    What about telephony? Both IP telephony and voice-over-ATM systems have the prospect of delivering a truly better product, in audio quality, in call information, in lightning-quick connection, in integration with PC and Palm-based information, in the richness and friendliness of voice interface. Why use bells and tones and buzzes when you can explain things to the user and offer alternatives? Still, makers of new-style systems seem to think their work is done when it is "almost as good as" phone calls delivered over the very first, and now decades-old electronic exchanges.

    Are the developers of new telephony systems stupid? No, they are merely tired. By the time they have gotten their products to work, with their investors breathing down their necks, they are happy to have something that will satisfy a specification and a business plan, rather than make a customer say "Wow!" But if you really want success, you won't stop until you have something that is really remarkable, not just respectable.
    Telirati:


    I often believe that nothing is really very new. Jori Liesenborgs submitted his thesis in May 2000. "Voice over IP in networked virtual environments" At the time his perscription was for 3D VoIP in virtual environments. Today it is reaching the marketplace. Recently testers including myself were impressed with the capabilities of Smart Meeting. Those that have read my blog know I believe in the potential for 3D Stereo VoIP. See also Polycom who recently announced their 3D surround sound and video solution. As we know from Skype IM, conferencing and collaboration tools are converging. Add in 3D environments and we may go from calls singular to connection plural. Then in case you missed it.

    The Q3D audio positional technology brings a surround-sound experience to the wireless device by controlling the position of virtual sound sources in the space around the listener's head. QUALCOMM See also QSound

    August 6, 2004

    Seeking Intelligent Presence

    Packet Pick Pockets is the best review I've seen on the FCC ruling this last week. I alluded to this in my FCC post, Martin just says it so much better.

    The way out from the conumdrum of whether to wiretap VoIP is to understand it’s the wrong question. There’s a paradox at the heart of the wiretap concept. Wiretapping is aimed at real-time communications. These are connection-oriented; there is a session in place. But session encryption is (now) easy. Store-and-forward data encryption is hard, because you need to involve all sorts of third party key management and directory services. The very data you want to intercept is the least likely to be interceptable on an Internet-style network.

    So we’ll see a shift in focus from the real-time intercept of transient data on the fly, to after-the-event recovery of transaction data. The real questions are do we force all intermediary application services to retain and hand over copies of stored messages and transactions? And if not, is there a well-defined subset of those service capabilities that should be intercepted? My take is “maybe” and “yes”.
    That said the core routing services "directory, presence and identity" are clearly defineable and limited in scope. A reasonable trade-off is to make it easy for the state to know who is associating with whom, even if the state has no knowledge of the purpose of the interaction.
    Telepocalypse: Packet pick pockets

    Plus I'm warming to the the opportunity to re-think "status" in terms of sharing and who might need your presence information. For example it may be useful for my neighbors to know I am away, or it may help to know to simply have a system that acts as a watchout notifier someone approaches my house while I am gone. Police may receive different data to the Neighborhood Watch. It is too easy with today's simple IM presence to stop with the current definitions rather than thinking about how it could serve us in new ways. I googled "Intellgent Presence" and in a quick search found little. Far from just being visible to everyone, "intelligent presence" may just serve us in ways yet to be dreamed up. I'd think the IM/VoIP platform that enables a "Presence Agents" market may shock incumbents.

    August 10, 2004

    Blogs and Quick Links

    Some advice on bloggers and your startup strategy in the news today. Some get it and some don't. Then it is also a reminder to bloggers that real people are behind the startups and there are lots of them who have done their research. So when one is jaded by new launches it is possible to be too dismissive. I'm both dismissive and ready to hear more below.


    Weblogs could help make or break your startup's marketing strategy. Here's how to get them on your side. Red Herring Article

    In the copy camp another Skype competitor emerges. TelTel. (Note I downloaded this, then one friend got crashes each time they loaded and the other couldn't get it to log in to their server and I couldn't log in this morning.. So I don't know whether it works.) As it doesn't claim to be better than Skype and misses many of the features and comes with a name that sounds like the babytalk dressed in baby blue I'm at a loss to get excited. Oh they are prepared to buy some traffic and testers with a free call bribe. You must have at least three friends on the system, and there is no guarantee the calls will go through. There is nothing new here and I can think of others including italk2u and Peerio maybe phonegaim? (still new) which will probably vanish.

    TelTel is telephony with a new perspective. We are not aiming to reproduce the standard phone. We are looking to combine the best of the familiar features of the phone with the rich possibilities of the internet, coupled with the flexibility and power of your PC. TelTel.

    On the emerging companies with blogs and talking to bloggers I got an immediate response to my earlier IM posting yesterday which linked to a post by Stowe Boyd on InterComm. I still haven't tested out the product although I did look at it in more detail. Glenn Reid wrote me and added a few new details.

    I think you hit the nail right on the head with your observation that IM infrastructure is the "fat pipe" on which business applications will be built. This is exactly where we're headed. InterComm is our introductory product, but we have a very rich protocol that we've developed (called XSIP) that's intended for computer-to-human and computer-to-computer conversations that simply aren't possible with the human-language centric protocols that carry most IM traffic today. Imagine a database in your buddy list that pops up a form interface when you double-click it.

    ....we see IM networks as being more structured and involving business-class data transfer, not just human language.


    As you would expect there is a real depth of thinking to InterComm's approach. So if you are an Enterprise I wonder what your current shortlist for enterprise IM clients is? Anyone know of a list? I still believe that voice and mobility should now be part of any "presence / IM" startup strategy. This is Glenn's blog . He's using metaphors Eg "circles" which i like and I hope he keeps blogging away. I'd also like to see some thinking on IRC vs... IM for groups and teams. The trick will be helping to define this emerging category of products. That's a hard thing to do.

    Getting further away, this also reminded me of a friendly note that pointed me to Pangean Technologies. There is no demo to try out although the claims looks interesting. They have announced some "push to talk" features.

    August 17, 2004

    Vonage Mimics Telecoms

    Is there a connection between lousy customer service and being an incumbent telecom manipulating for advantage. Perhaps only if lousy Vonage service mimics the old telecom format while incumbents work on raising consumer prices for landlines. That will squeeze them! How much longer can they survive financially?

    Some time ago I added a fax line via Vonage for an extra 9.99 per month which I really don't need and wanted to cancel it. So I went to the website and looked and looked for how to cancel it. It is easy to add services on Vonage. Just a point and click will do. Dropping their services is more difficult.

    Finally after searching a second time for a simple delete option I called customer service. 1-866-Vonage. It took 16 minutes of which I spent less than two minutes with the operator. I have the cheapest Vonage account limited to 500 minutes. Their accounting system lodged the call against my minutes. So I pay for their lack of responsivness. Had they answered at the ring rather than after 14 minutes I'd be a lot happier.

    I'm not quite ready to give up my Vonage line although the only reason I have it is because my cell phone service isn't reliable in the office.

    Separately, each day sees a new player in the ATA - VoIP solution space. Lingo offers international numbers as a option as part of your plan. As you might expect the countries are limited. Still now rather than taking that ATA box to Japan Joi you can simply get a second international line. Bet call forwarding to a local cellphone from either one works too.

    Another way of getting that unique inbound number may come from LibreTel who promises to disintermediate the relationship between "inbound" and "outbound". Costs are similar to a very stripped down phone line. Then there are moves afoot to hike those rates too.

    August 19, 2004

    More P2P Wannabe's

    I'm completely bored with yet another stupid P2P telephony play. Last week it was TelTel and this week it is Buzzfon. Oh and I forgot GeckoPhone Really, these aren't newsworthy and the claims they are making are not compelling. Before saying anymore I should add I'm rather jaded so I've not downloaded any of these.

    The similar claims start with everything from dialup connections to fantastic sound quality. Most of them use a dial format and eschew any instant messaging capability while centralizing something in the process. Some are giving away the free calling to anywhere on earth just to get you in the door while the "operators" try to build volume.

    At this point there should be some marketing basics. If these are the products dreamed up post Skype then the designers failed to do their due diligence on the product, explore consumer behavior and work out how to position a better product. Even the feature sets on these products don't stack up much less the real benefits. Let's be clear a better product than Skype is possible and given time and some rapid learning even one of the motley crew above could evolve into something interesting.

    However, these are starting points.

  • Easy to Install: You are up and running in two minutes. No firewall problems. (Skype when are you going to provide a test numbers?) And it must just keep on running. Any early failures will kill it.
  • A clean GUI. You will need to win a design award with your solution. There are a few elegant solutions. Eg If FireFly came before Skype I'd guess it influenced them. Or was it the other way round? What are you going to add that is new or different? Userplane is clean and Pangean identifies some new modifications.
  • Fantastic sound. I've only head one Internet sound engine that provides an experience that may compete with Skype's. So for all these wannabes... I want to know who provided your sound codec. It's not that easy. At the moment if the audio engine isn't provided by GIP's then I'd suggest you better be able to make a story of your own home grown one and if it is not wideband or stereo don't bother.
  • Something new. From presence, to lifestyle provide me with an economic model or insight into why this will be really different. It's not enough to say P2P, you must give me a perspective on how you beat Skype's cost structure and profile. Alternatively create new listening experiences. Plus despite the current infatuation with video, I don't think that is the key driver.
  • Critical Mass. Consumers aren't stupid. I look at each one of these and ask how many will adopt it. If my experience with Multiply invites is any indication (I've not yet responded) people are jaded on social networks. For these VoIP Communications applications it is even more difficult. If you are going to be able to use it you have to have buddies online. Getting buddies onto a new system is no simple matter. Orkut certainly managed an accelerated launch. If you want to operate as a Skype competitor your business model must ramp to 500K users on line almost after a weekend. Unless you have a deal with eBay or an angle like Chatango or a deal with "Friendster" you are going to find it rather difficult.
  • Identity: Think identity not numbers. People are connecting from phones with click to call. How often do you want to dial a number? How often do you type an e-mail address. Numbered accounts are an increasingly an anachronism from the consumers point of view. So each time I see number-centric dial pads I think old telephone, old model.

    On day I may just post little pictures of all the soft phones out there.

  • August 26, 2004

    Link VoIP to Activities

    Kevin Werbach tells a nice story in " Not Your Parents' Phone System" and asks "Who is the biggest voice over IP service provider in the US? Every piece that adds to the VoIP stretch puzzle is worth thinking about. While he makes the point (illustrated with Gaming and IM) that VoIP isn't the same thing as telephony he identifies "activities" (watching TV, difficulty with your camera etc.) as the critical focus for identifying where VoIP may provide solutions that depart from traditional telephony and a standalone device.

    It is worth reading. My question is still how fast? We've seen BT's play and Consumers are moving much faster. To counter the go fast trend we still have money pouring into Vonage which makes no sense at all to me.

    September 15, 2004

    Clips

    Recent links on P2P.

    One application I can already predict is a micro-Napster like file sharing system, which streams instead of shares files based on these breakthroughs. So with only 128 megabytes of memory you could have a decent jukebox to share with people Om Malik on Broadband: When P2P Goes Mobile

    We chose file sharing to illustrate how SIP can be used to build an alternate P2P application, but file sharing itself is not the point --- file sharing, of course, has been done. EarthLink SIPshare demonstrates that it is conceivable that voice over IP, where voice is just content of a different form, itself can be implemented using SIP in a fully standards-based P2P network. In other words, the effect of Skype, but with one important difference: using standards-based protocols, as EarthLink SIPshare does for content sharing.
    Mr Blog

    Grouper is a P2P software application that allows users to share their personal media within private groups. Using P2P technology it connects users directly to friends hard drives allowing the sharing of large files in an encrypted environment. The Social Software Weblog

    I stumbled across an interesting group today, at www.onlinestatus.org, which provide a free service allows its users to indicate there presence on the major instant messaging services: namely, AIM, ICQ, IRC, Jabber, MSN and Yahoo. I added the status indicators... Get Real: r

    Unlike other social software, AllPeers does not rely on a central server. Instead, users manage their profile and other information and media locally. Users can choose precisely with whom they want to share specific information or files. The Social Software Weblog

    But the Internet brings us a new kind of software: software that's about human-human interaction. When you're writing software that mediates between people, after you get the usability right, you have to get the social interface right. And the social interface is more important. The best UI in the world won't save software with an awkward social interface. It's Not Just Usability Joel on Software


    September 21, 2004

    VoIPuser

    Still mulling Aswath's comment on VoIP User (obtain your free UK local-rate telephone number (DID) which can be forwarded to any landline in a number of countries in the World, your SIP software or hardware phone) over.

    How is it that the service is so inexpensive? Indeed, VoIPuser gives away virtual numbers in UK and will terminate the calls to not just any SIP or IAX2 destination, but also landlines in selective countries for, get this, free! For me this all the more remarkable, till I realized that they are taking the kickback charges they receive for terminating the call, to pay for the forwarding of the call.

    Given the service offered by VoIPuser (and soon to be joined by LibréTel), one clearly observes that VoIP technology is not needed in the access to offer virtual number service. More importantly, another "revolutionary service" afforded by VoIP turns out to be an arbitrage play. What happens to the viability of the business plan of this service if the "bill and keep" regime advocated by many VoIP players is indeed instituted? Aswath Weblog

    Mobile + SIP Convergence

    More on how converged networks mean I could get my cellphone ringing on my PC, my homephone ringing on my Wi-Fi enabled cell phone etc.?

    The initiative shows that, however reluctant some cellcos have been to embrace Wi-Fi and the potential erosion of GPRS/3G revenues, there is now a critical mass of operators that realize multiple networks are the way of the future. Wireline and full service carriers such as BT and France Telecom are also moving rapidly towards converged next generation networks and services that support cellular, wired telephony, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi/cellular hand-off standard proposed :: Voip User ::

    Be interesting to see some mobile operators provide some SIP interconnect packages. At least then i could effectively use my cellphone number on my computer at home. This is not a new thought.

    "We believe SIP-based instant messaging on the fixed Internet could take off as fast as SMS and create a significant market for SMS to SIP gateways. In this scenario, it is likely that mobile operators will benefit most from SIP deployment." Session Initiation Protocol: SIP

    September 22, 2004

    One Step Beyond the Buddylist

    I sometimes get a little disenchanted as I see yet another article on "presence" as a killer app that starts with buddylists and little icons. (See below.) I don't see much discussion on methods and means to enhance presence and make it even more useful. I'm not using the term "presence" broadly here. This is a brief note that says it is time to start thinking about how presence indicators and information can be integrated in the emerging messaging systems.

    At the simplest level the opportunity exists to create new categories of presence. "SkypeMe" on Skype just an example (you can search Skypers for those with "SkypeMe" now active. Current presence status lists just aren't very imaginative ( They also tend to be single state. Online, away, Not Available, DnD, etc.). The context of sharing presence is also limited to buddies. However there are many opportunities for sharing presence that will come available. For example sharing presence info with an information service. That might trigger news updates, and synch me with people who have similar interests in a story. Also sharing presence information with a vetting service or reputation service may filter and eliminate unwanted interruptions.

    The explosion of interest in presence is also driven by communication companies trying to solve every call forwarding / call location issue ever dreamed up. This feels like a dead end. By contrast there is an opportunity to use IM and presence as a better routing tool. Routing information via IM whether RSS updates, travel advisories, calendar reminders all make sense to me. However, sometimes I'm not available for those services. Thus presence is broadened by extending it beyond the "buddylist" metaphor to enable different forms of access management.

    Then there is another kind of presence. The 'I was there' kind of presence. News events, corporate meetings, gatherings, where presence information may be useful to others for follow-up. A variation would be a document that you wrote being read or reviewed by someone else. In an organization knowing the author is available may be important even if you are not on their buddy list. When we leave presence trails "Stuart was here" on websites or otherwise there can be great benefits. I can imagine problems too! Just an example like spray paint on a rock. In these cases the presence information should have some form of expiry / renewal capability. For example I may participate in an online forum, I forget about it, I may not want to continue broadcasting my presence there. However leaving presence information on another person's blog with a comment may encourge more follow-ups and more interesting dialogues. However, that same info could expire and disappear after a few days, or be controlled in a different fashion.

    Similarly, when I want something fixed, or information from a call center, why do I have to go through that long wait. Why can't I just leave my presence information in a way that gets dealt with when convenient for me. Once its answered my presence data, disappears from the call center. This same methodology could work for call-back requests. Eg I put in a Skype text message a call back request. They may provide different presence information even if my global presence is set to not available.

    The killer app is presence. IM users see evidence of it every day in their buddy lists as a little icon that shows someone is online. But down the road, experts say, presence will separate itself from IM and evolve into a network service tapped by applications and corporate communication services, including telephony Presence applications poised for takeoff
    When one just scratches the surface one begins to see that the traditional IM offerings (MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ) have failed to leverage the opportunities that are hidden in presence . Enabling the connection of "Presence" data to new services, and tying it to call response and connection capabilities and services requires an approach that is more open than these IM offerings have created todate. Concurrently they are also hampered by their own structure and design. As they run centralized presence servers as part of their application broadcasting presence information costs them money. So far they've not seen fit to spin off their "presence operations into separate businesses as the article above implies. However, even then they won't create a presence market. A presence market will exist when an API exists that enables a multiplicity of vendors to start selling different types of presence services. Skype with limited resources, no effective central server, seems perfectly positioned to midwife next generation presence.

    October 11, 2004

    VON and PopTech

    I'm hoping a trip to VON and Poptech will get me back into the blogging habit.

    I’ve been asking myself why one falls into a trap of neglecting their blog for a few weeks. It’s not complete neglect although time has played a role. Plus I’ve got posts that were drafts and just never posted. So perhaps I should question why I didn’t post them?

    I think the answer is I’ve been looking at some really exciting new applications in social networks, collaboration, VoIP and what Skype’s new API will mean. I’ve run some reviews and updates for myself on all the well-known products and some newer lesser know ones. Some have changed and some are still dogs. It’s left me with screeds of information and not in a format for easy sharing.

    I’m also off for VON in Boston next week. There is a bloggers dinner planned on the Tuesday night and then later in the week I’ll be at PopTech. So if you are going to be at either of these event ping me and let’s meet up.

    Open Minded Telecom

    A great post on why PoIP is not open, rather too closed. It's worth a broader discussion.

    So I paid a not insignificant amount of money to hear marketing pitches from AT&T and Vonage, telling me how they are open and building open platforms. Open platforms that you and I can use after our snowball fight in hell. These are independent closed platforms that operate on a model like that of putting my own apps in my car, only after GM approves it and I make a business deal with GM.

    Mike McCue said some great stuff, e.g. "What we want is the ability of anyone to write any application for the telephone."
    As attendees asked about APIs and real web services platforms, like those being offered by Ebay, Amazon, Google, and others, we heard the Phone-over-IP (PoIP) folks first tell us they were already open (by their definition) and besides they will build all the applications we will ever need, so there is no need for a web services model. Example quote: "None of our customers are asking for a better 41
    Mr Blog

    October 13, 2004

    Linksys and CallVantage.

    Andy writes that the convergence between Call Vantage and Linksys is a perfect marriage. Frankly I'm not sure I get it. Is everyone who sells a router now going to give away the phone portion of the component with the hope we all engage a VoIP provider? Why can't ATA boxes mimic Skype or alternatively use a SIP registry like FWD? How difficult is it? Why don't Linksys, NetGear and others just provide free telephony? Plug your cord into the router and viola the phone rings. All part of the initial router setup. No fees unless you want to connect to the PSTN. Want more there are options.

    This is a short-term offer. It will be obsolete well before this time next year. The only way for them to make this much more appealing is to enable "free calling in network". Now that would be a typical telephone company strategy. Buy two routers and sign up for two accounts and you can call your friend for free.

    More appliance options for VoIP are coming. What's being identified here is that people turn off their computers but never their routers and modems. Phone services that run with a cable or use WiFi will just become a one-time payment. It's getting easier to give up that landline everyday.

    Linksys to Deliver New Home Networking Options for
    AT&T CallVantage Service

    Wired and Wireless VoIP Devices Simplify and Enhance
    Home Networking and Broadband Phone Service

    AT&T and Linksys®, a division of Cisco Systems, Inc., today announced the offering of new Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) devices that combine the capabilities of a wired or wireless router with an analog telephone adapter (ATA), giving AT&T CallVantageSM Service customers simplified options for their VoIP home networking needs.

    The new AT&T CallVantage Service Certified Linksys equipment consist of a Wired Router with 2 Phone Ports and a Wireless-G Router 2 phone ports, which will be available in retail outlets by the end of October.

    These new devices help eliminate the need for multiple devices for broadband telephony and computer networking when a user wants both. In these situations, these devices make it easier and more economical to set-up AT&T's broadband phone service solution.

    [VoIP Watch] (post cut by me)

    November 4, 2004

    VoIP Adoption

    Are you thinking outside the box. Yet another article suggesting that telecoms are underestimating the threat of VoIP and new entrants like Skype. It's notes like this that tempt me to blog "If I was a major Telecom CEO today.... ". One of the interesting elements is that many telecoms have worked with scenarios that include rapid VoiP adoption. Yet it's clear that the delivery has never got them at the visceral and gut level. That's a shame and poor execution. For the result is no immersion in "what could be" and thus they aren't creating new options for their stakeholders.

    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Making cheap telephone calls over the Internet could be much more popular among consumers than previously estimated, leaving incumbent telecom service providers highly vulnerable, a survey revealed on Thursday.

    Over 50 million western European consumers with a broadband Internet connection at home may use telephony software and special phones by 2008, British research group Analysys found.

    "The impact on traditional telephony providers' revenues could reach 6.4 billion euros in 2008, representing 13 percent of the residential fixed-line voice market," said analyst Stephen Sale, adding this was a worst case scenario drawn up for operators who want to know how badly Yahoo News

    November 11, 2004

    The Q-Card Jyve-Tag

    So what makes the first Skype application from Qzoxy and Jyve so very interesting? It's a smart VCard and here is a picture and of the working prototype today, a mere illustration of what will exist a year from now. If you are operating a call center, a social networking site, dating site, 900 business etc. think it through. I'D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT USES YOU SEE EMERGING?

    Marc Canter of FOAF fame? Then to quote David Weinberger "It'd integrate with other applications on your phone device. It'd know who's calling from where and spin up a web page to show you the relevant information. It'd link to everything the Net knows.". Is this part of what you want David?

    qzoxy jyve 111104.jpg
    You too can add it for free at Jyve. Click on the Jyve-Tags button. You will need a Jyve profile to participate. A simplified form is likely to be in the works. There is no charge. Jyve won't be alone offering Q-Cards, others will come to offer the Qzoxy Q-Card. Where I think an interesting immediate experiment could be made would be to provide the Q-Card with TypePad accounts substituting for the current e-mail link.

    A couple of things worth pointing out. You don't need to have Skype to send in a call request. Thus even POTS only can request a Skype call back which at your option can be executed at SkypeOut rates. In time I'm sure this VCard no Q-Card will evolve to tell you the best way to get me at any moment and how long you have to wait. Q - Que. That's more useful than Plaxo (I don't use it) which merely updates phone numbers. Then there are a lot of paying businesses that work around the "click to connect". There is a lot of opportunity here.

    The Skype API has been noted by Tom Keating and Andy Abramson of course. Still if you go back to the Skype API announcement page you will see that they missed the real story as "presence" isn't mentioned. Frankly I think it is the biggest story of all and they clearly need to get a team working on it. There's some additional client features that the developers and us users will require. The picture above should be worth way more than a thousand directory services! The fun is only just beginning.

    December 20, 2004

    Skype + Podcast Recorder = SkypeCasters

    Introducing instructions for SkypeCasting. The front-end solution for podcasters to create great sounding audio recordings from interviews and conference calls using Skype. For the last few days I've been recording podcasts using Skype. As the call ends with a couple of clicks it is converted to mp3 and uploaded to a blog. This is a real bloggers solution providing podcasting in almost real-time without resorting to studios, or fancy gear. Let the New Year ring in with new voices, and new conversations. Audio and podcasting will make a difference. Let's get the thoughts out into the world. Innovate in 2005 --- start podcasting. This post contains my first podcast and the instruction on how (links at the end).

    The SkypeCasters' recipe is simple and we have written it up in detail. Add together Skype, Virtual Audio Cables, Windows Sound Recorder, a simple Wav to mp3 converter MT_Enclosures and iPodder and you can be Podcasting later today! The solution will cost you $40.

    Why podcast? Why record? Where are immediate opportunities.
    There are many situations on the phone or Skype where you would like to be recording. Professional interviews are a prime example. Makes it easier to write up your notes later while you can completely focus your attention on the interview. Then we have the equivalent of "panel" discussions. The mini conference call fueled by good chatter and a great topic. Perhaps you are a budding poet wanting to spread a reading to a small group? Want to send a joint message or birthday greeting where the parties are dispersed, record a Skype conference call and e-mail the mp3. Similarly, finishing up a conference call --- create a simple 5 minute SkypeCast of the key action points. Blog it to your group. An hour in five minutes. It's over to you now. Tell us how you use it.

    Approaching podcasting like this is different to staged professional recording studios, and big production values. We know that if you have a talented studio behind you then mixing and turning out a professional Podcast will be no problem. This is the solution for those with no money who are happy to create SkypeCasts on the fly.

    multiparty recording.jpg

    What we have done: (GET INSTRUCTIONS)

  • A simple Skype recording solution for capturing "great" audio.
  • No extra overhead. It all works on one Windows XP PC.
  • A blog platform - MT- that "reads" for podcasts.
  • A lowcost way to distribute podcasts without running up bandwidth bills (podcasttorrent)
  • Quick and simple to do.

    Here is the recipe. I'd never have completed it without BIll Campbell's help. Our "proof of concept" SkypeCast is here. We are still learning some of the mic and audio tricks. It is converted at 32mbs... although perfectly passable at 16kps it begins to sound more like a telephone... and that might not be the best Skype proof of concept test.

    Looking forward to your feedback. I'll move the recipe details shortly to a wiki so they can be updated. In the meantime let us have your comments and learnings.

    Lastly, unleashing the capability to record Skype calls isn't meant to bypass common courtesy and the smarts of asking permission before you start recording. You could get yourself into trouble sending out a podcast without permission. You may want to get it via IM when you hit record. It's clear to me that recording without permission is going to happen. I'd appreciate getting some more insights in this area. I'd note that one can SkypeOut and record this way without the other party knowing or even the caller ID being identified currently.

    Instructions
    Podcast on SkypeCasting

  • January 11, 2005

    The Future is Voice Messaging

    The future is voice messaging, not voice mail. Voice messaging only comes into its own when matched with "presence" applications like Skype. It's an important distinction, for voice messaging will be used differently.

    Links in the forums and some recent press comment around Skype have included reference to voice mail. It's probably a natural reference as we talk about "left a" and "getting voice mail" all the time. However in Skype's case what they are soon to implement is not really voice mail. Rather it is voice messaging. It's a subtle yet significant difference and I hope their language comes to reflect it.

    Here's why.
    Voice Mail is typically a voice message that was left when there was a communications failure. The intended recipient either wasn't near the phone or didn't want to answer your phone call. You leave a voice message you have no sense of timing. We call this telephone tag.

    By contrast the "voice messaging option" on Skype doesn't require that you try calling the person first. You have their presence, you know at what level of importance you want to put the interruption. In this world the voice messaging function is different. A voice message is less invasive, less disruptive to workflow.

    As a long time user of Skype I seldom get "out of the blue" calls. If I do, these calls are from people not on my buddy list. Frankly it is better they all go direct to a voice mail preferably with a different message from the one I leave my buddies. The message for the "unknowns" is probably no soliciting, state your business etc. If you pass these hurdles etc. and it is important then text me.

    Thus for the most part my buddies text first. As they / we have a crude sense of each others presence there is no need for failed voice mail. Most dialogue starts with chat. It may or may not escalate to voice. Thus voice mail is for the most part superfluous. More importantly forcing me to leave a voice mail when I know they are there is a little silly. Messages aren't supposed to play tag by design. Thus the context changes from voice mail to voice messaging.

    I probably haven't made myself clear. Coming up. Send a Skype voice message without ringing the other person's Skype client. That is a major difference to the telephone.

    In Skype, voice messaging is for the occasions when I don't want to interrupt someone's workspace. It's perfect for update messages, invites to the weekend party etc. Messages that will benefit from a vocal / personal touch. Yet they don't have to interrupt the work flow. Let's face it... if I work with someone all the time and they aren't on Skype, then leaving a voice mail isn't the best place to try and reach them or deal with an urgent problem. I either have to now deal with it myself, postpone until we are mutually present (text can work well here) or call their cellphone.

    Voice mail implies dump it in a box. Voice messaging heralds in a new more efficient age. Voice mail shouldn't be in Skype's vocabulary. Similarly the current "test" recorded message should be re-scripted to reflect the changed paradigm. It currently refers to voice mail. However you would have to know a tester to have tried it.

    January 25, 2005

    iPod Radio and Skype

    This post provides a "how to" on creating a personal iPod Radio that you can use in your Skype calls or simply leave running for your friends to call. The implications are disruptive, and the "ease of use" likely to further Skype's adoption when solutions are available for effectively using Skype as a broadcast service. It's perfect for low volume delivery of recorded messages off websites. Perhaps another zone for convergence between music, media and voice?

    (UPDATE: 02/01/05 I've taken iPodRadio offline. It's been a fun experiment and hundreds of people have participated. In the last week they have had more use of my iPod than I have. Thus I'm taking it back. If you want more info please contact me. Thanks)

    iPod Radio came out of a desire to play music in a Skype call. Something I've wanted to make work for a long time. While I've tried before it was the iPod that made it relatively simple. So now I can add background music to a Skype call. I felt it would shift perceptions and the ebb and flow of what one shares in a call. So far I've learned that music closes the distance gap even more. With Skype it was already like being in the same room. Now I can concurrently listen to the same music. It's best when Skype is running the ISAC codec. The result is the music helps to synch the two spaces making it easier to drift in and out of conversation. However, the real learning is the implications go way beyond everyone being able to listen to the same music and hold a concurrent conversation. Music over VoIP wasn't supposed to be a big deal. No one talked of PodCasts over VoIP or using VoIP as the communications mechanism. We should. Skype + iPod Radio may provide another option for the PodCast world.

    This Skype experiment confirms a number of possibilities.:

  • Add background music (radio) to your Skype calls, personalizing the experience.
  • Run a second Skype line so your friends can hear what's playing on your iPod, even when you aren't home.
  • Broadcast podcast audio using Skype saving bandwidth, and eliminating buffering and streaming issues.
  • Demonstrate infomercials. Examples: snow report, customer update, daily briefing, etc. Access direct from website via callto: tags.
  • Note when we automate the recording selection from a website you will listen to Skype playback your request. This will be HUGE!
  • What are the implications for Streaming Media models? Why wait for the buffering? What is tomorrow's transit mechanism?

    From a Podcast perspective distributing podcasts via SkypeCalls provides the the opportunity for the Podcaster to know who's listening and even whether they listened to the whole thing. Statistics are a big deal! Further automation could enable one to listen and then via a text message to request a full file download. Bye Bye bandwidth problems and hello Podcast communications transport mechanism. No ports to open, no special FTP. Sounds perfect for when you get 30 people listening for a podcast if you are lucky!

    Document pdf Creating an iPod Radio on Skype

    Click the picture above or this link iPod Radio on Skype to connect with iPod radio. I've set it up so if it is busy you will get a short Skype VM message. and you will have to try again. It's just playing tunes off my iPod and I have no idea what it may be playing when you ring. I will try and leave it on. It's running on my laptop which isn't going anywhere in the next couple of days. Clearly this is very narrowcast radio, not quite what the Pirates thought. Still I bet there are some uses that the above could be put to that we've not even begun to consider.

    Other links that may be of interest:
    SkypeCasting: How to Record Skype Conversations
    Telephony and Music
    Jeff Pulver on Ringtones: This could be extended.
    VoIP Predictions for 2005. Music and VoIP don't seem to be in the picture. Perhaps it should be!
    iPod Pirate Radio

    iPod Radio on Wi-Fi?
    The Pirate Radio Station
    iPod-FM 95.9 Great Picture... now what is the SkypeRadio tag?
    Engadget's take on Pirate Radio
    Why VoIP is music to Kazaa's ear

    Is radio really the right metaphor for this? Perhaps not, although you could plug a radio station in just as easily as I plugged in the ipod. However it does make it easy to broadcast audio content and even extend it to a multiparty conference. Then it may create a new Skype option for "Music" on hold.

    So ultimately! How disruptive could this be? Think this way and there are some new opportunities. Engineer out a few little things and use a proper recorder and it becomes very interesting. I hope the sound quality holds up. It has been very good.

  • February 1, 2005

    Share a Line? That's a Joke Right?

    Who wants to share a line? I couldn't find Om's motivation to download and install Bellster and so far have quite happily managed to live without it. Still I'im usually one of the first to test these things. Even force them on my buddies. Not this time. So I've not tested it. After reading Andy and Aswath I'd still want to attempt a simple point. In a world of VoIP and Mobility (Cellular) who needs a line? And why would you want to set up a business to start sharing them cooperatively? It's hardly going to help the third world and locally in the US there really isn't the incentive.

    So it would be great if it makes broadband more pervasive. There's certainly not a good argument for using Bellster to call foreign cellphones, many times they are very expensive to call in the home countries and thus hardly a local call. Finally, nothing, absolutely nothing promises me a better audio / sound experience. Telephony is supposed to be getting simpler, faster, easier to use and doing more things. Bellster just didn't smell to me like it was going to. Take a look at the setup guide.

    February 4, 2005

    VoIP Cellular Convergence?

    I'd like to learn some more about this product. It's just what I want to do.

    PCTel's new product permits users to make and get calls using the same number on cellular and IP networks. InformationWeek > VoIP > New VoIP-Enabled Roaming Client

    February 15, 2005

    Teleo Tallyho

    Teleo 2.jpg
    In principle Teleo (launched at Demo@15) should be on to a real winner. Its SIP compatible, claims a GIPS audio engine and offers very competitive calling rates. In my book they should be very close to what I want. I get an inbound Oakland 510 number on my laptop, and I can forward it to my cellphone. The rates are cheap $4.95/month for an inbound line and 250 minutes. After that you have to add minutes. They also have a Teleo Lite program which is similar to SkypeOut. Some functionality is claimed but not working yet. This includes conference calling (how many is unknown) and voice mail. Currently limited numbers are available for the US and Canada onlly. It is only available for Windows. Still I've played with it and it is at best a Vonage substitute. Apparently it is not a mega-million dollar idea.

    Teleo costs $29.70 per six months ($4.95 per month). This includes unlimited voicemail, call forwarding, conferencing, and an inbound phone number that can be called from regular phones. PC-to-PC calls to and from other Teleo users world wide are free. Calls to and from regular phones are charged using PSTN minutes at the lowest rates around (see rate tables). Teleo activation includes $5.00 of PSTN minutes. Teleo

    How was the testing experience?
    Once installed (I had some issues which may or maynot have been attributed to Teleo) it activates in an easy fashion. I began testing with Bill Campbell, we tested Teleo to Teleo, Teleo to SIP (Vonage) Teleo to PSTN. After I resolved my install problems the quality became very good. I'll have to do more testing before I'm certain. I'm leaving it online for now. I did find that rejecting an incoming call... just resulted in it continuing to ring. Thus I'm in the directory if you want to test it. When you only have one friend these systems are less friendly. I expected everything to have a right click (am so Skype trained) I missed it. The biggest miss of all was no text / chat system. That simple means that Teleo can't replace my IM system and thus for me it is just another PoIP solution only required for the number and the voicemail forwarding to my cellphone.

    What Teleo needs to do to beat Skype.
    They currently have SkypeIn like capability for the US must begin to offer global numbers. Their account system is neat maybe they could be better if they have the capability to do global credit cards etc. Teleo needs to add both chat and video functionality. Without them it's dead when Skype adds SkypeIn. I'm looking at it as a temporary way to dump my Vonage line. At the moment it's another smart PoIP play. It's most likely to hurt Vonage and similar competitors. It won't do any damage to Skype. Some other difference are clear in the search function. Skype's profile offers more infomation than Teleo's. Ultimately it's an important difference. There is also no way to block unwanted callers. There was no approval function when I added my first friend. Status is limited to online and offline. Thus "presence" isn't understood or managed here. Teleo is developing a voice mail component. By contrast Skype is adding voice messaging. They are fundamentally different. Net net it clones the voice and adds a number and will find that doesn't equal a Skype beater.

    What are we learning?

  • The current charge for a "line" --- your own VoIP number is going to cost you almost $5 per month. This is also consistent with Jeff Pulver's LibreTel Offering.
  • Charges above two cents per minute are now daylight robbery.
  • VoIP providers like Teleo are all going to call-forward to your cellphone. Thus mobile operators better VoIP offer our mobile numbers. That's worth $5.00 per month. Otherwise it is just revenue lost.
  • Teleo has focused on providing a service for laptop road warriers. Still there is no reason why they can't also offer a SIP ATA box and enable us to replace that Vonage adapter with one that is tranferable later and rings a standard phone too. Just needs a few instructions on the website.
  • I'm still waiting for Teleo or Skype to make it easy to run more than one profile at the same time. I'm sure I can run two Teleo profiles, it's just not convenient.
  • Prepaid minutes are the way forward. At two cents per minute Vonage's plan equal $25-5=20 @2cents... or 1000 minutes per month. Their 500 minute plan the same. Just another note to self. Vonage is way overpriced now for what I use it for.
  • SkypeVM will provide an advantage in the "lite version offering when it comes time for Skype to price their premium services. Skype potential service charges are "obvious" now in my book.

    SIP's Final Gasp?
    As I look at Teleo I can see there is a lot right. It seems to work, it ties to SIP addresses, captures e-mails etc. And still I can't help wondering. It comes 18 months after Skype's launch, their product plan has been spelled out for over a year and relative to Skype it is functionally crippled. The no chat/text feature blows my mind. This may be their design, however I'm guessing it is more to do with integrating Chat into their SIP solution. SIP SIMPLE is available. Xten in EYEBEAM has managed it. Presence is the future.

  • September 28, 2006

    Fring - Fringing Interesting

    Fring, a new mobile app looks interesting. I want to try it out on my N80 with Wi-Fi and so do many others in the Fring forums. Come on Fring make it available for the N80 and N91. I'd say "fringing fantastic!". Lots of claims on the Fring about page including Skype and GoogleTalk compatibility.

    "fring is a 3G mobile application that allows you to make free mobile calls, send instant messages to other fring users, and communicate with PC based VoIP applications such as Skype and Google Talk." Fring

    Andy points me to a new Ken Camp. Alonge with VoiPNow they talk Fring. The Red Ferret really has the low down. Unfortunately, I can't test it till I get home and change handsets. It will work on Nokia N70's and similar. The challenge for Fring is there just aren't enough handsets out there yet. For my two cents. Go after Nokia N80 and N91 users.

    The Wi-Fi enablement in these handsets makes the 3G connection irrelevant. My guess is a flat rate GPRS in that mode is all you need. The people already buying the N80 and N91 are ready to push them to the limit. It will spread. At the moment these handsets lack applications that really use their WiFi strength. Example Shozu2.0 preview. It's is set up to synch when I'm on Wi-Fi hotspots; like work and home. I don't burn a data plan when traveling outside the US and I still get my Rocketboom on my mobile.. It could become much cooler.

    Still someone is going to ask. Will the operators block it?

    November 4, 2006

    Orkut and GTalk Married Up

    No surprises for me here. I've  been an advocate of merging SNS with real-time voice communications. We're finally at that stage with Google apparently ready to blend Orkut with GTalk. Orkut's on fire in India, and Brazil... thought at one time they owned it. Other pointer? Well just see the Match / Jangl announcement for MatchTalk also in Forbes below. It is still very early days. These new marriages will create some new problems --- we will want solutions for.

    Orkut members will be able to text message and voice chat with other members of the community if they choose to communicate in that way. Google believes the new functions might add a sense of immediacy to member interaction on the social networking site. A Google spokeswoman says some of the functionality of the Orkut site will be built into the free standing GTalk client. Orkut "friends" (and their "presence" status and information) will show up on GTalk users' buddy lists. Light Reading


    The system protects privacy by assigning the couple a unique number that they can use to talk to each other without fear of giving away their real telephone number or other personal details. People with caller ID will see the matchTalk number instead of their actual listing. Forbes.com

    November 9, 2006

    Skype 3.0 Dev Notes - Call Transfer 3.5

    Skype 3.0 Dev Notes including one element I advocated and requested many times over. Call Transfer is finally here in the Skype3.0 API. That's a big deal and will grow Skype's appeal with developers who now have all sorts of call routing options. At a meeting in Estonia just over a year ago (that happened as the eBay sale was going through) a group long term adovacates put the case for it. I'm very pleased to see it has finally happened. I'll have some other comments on Skype 3.0 although I want to share them in a broader competitive context. My buddies at Skype Journal are writing plenty on the new public chat feature. See Phil and Jim.

    See Alec's comment. Skype Dev Zone (lots re extras), Antoine's Dev blog

    Skype 3.0 introduces the long-awaited interface to enable call transfer. Call transfer is being phased in over two releases, and won’t be exposed to users until the 3.5 release. The reason for this phased release is to ensure substantial penetration of Skype 3.0 among users, because call transfer requires that all parties are running Skype 3.0 or higher. Our goal is to enable you to start building and testing great new apps now which will be ready to blow peoples’ minds away when we release 3.5 next year. No more playing catch up with the client!



    With the call transfer API, users can transfer calls to other users, and all parties receive status updates so they know the call is being transferred. Users can transfer calls to individual users or to a group. When a user transfers a call to a group, the first user to pick up takes the call.
      Skype Developer Zone Blog


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    November 10, 2006

    Tech Crunch on Communcation Platforms

    While we are on Skype don't miss this TechCrunch post. Important to understanding the changing competitive landscape. TechCrunch UK » Blog Archive » Skype 3.0 (beta) starts the communication platform wars.


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    Twitter - Broadcast Presence Info via SMS

    For a one trick pony Twitter is pretty neat. In Twitter you get a glimpse for the future of presence.

    Ever find yourself alone in a room thinking something fun must be going on, if only you knew what? Well, Twitter is here to help. It’s a free website that helps you and your friends keep track of who’s doing what where at any given time. You can update your current activity from anywhere using your mobile phone, and your friends can subscribe to these updates on theirs.  Michael Anuzis » Get Closer with Your Friends

    This is Powazek: "Twitter lets me SMS to a group all at once and creates a handy 'what I'm up to right now' insert for my site. A kind of in-situ, realtime, status message blogging. Fun!" 
      Twitter Blog: August 2006


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    January 31, 2007

    GizmoVoip Truphone Talkster Jajah Mashup

    Mobile VoIP update.  These are my impressions of GizmoVoip, Truphone, Talkster, and Jajah. I've been using and trying to use them all on my Nokia N80i, which I'm still raving about; especially the VoIP functionality. So how well do these programs work?

    First a little perspective. I got them all working in the US over Christmas. As a family we began using GizmoVoIP to call New Zealand in preference to the usual SkypeOut as the Nokia provides an effective Speaker Phone capability. That was worth the extra call costs on these occasions. For the last few weeks I've been back in India. Frankly that is where the real tests and benefits begin. Saved a small fortune already.

    At the apartment I have an Indian quality broadband connection; they claim 275K down and 150K up however this afternoon it was 70K down and I have no idea of the up speed. Sometimes I do see the higher speeds, still this is a long way from our office performance or what I get back in SF from Comcast. After some negotiating with our office network adminstrator (port 5060?) GizmoVoIP and Truphone both confirm connections at both places.

    After the connection part there is really no comparison in services. Truphone works even when my bandwidth sucks. To far corners of the world it connects and I don't have any problems with just silence. You know where this is going. Nokia provides Gizmo as installed on the N80i. However, Truphone in my view has proven to be the much better service. It does have an advantage currently in calling to the US... (free through the end of March). Note not all my buddies have noted the same and I had my first bad call today Jim Courtney on Truphone.

    By contrast GizmoVoIP seems to have a hard time connecting my calls. If bandwidth is tight then nothing definitely happens. As I have money to burn on Gizmo I'd like to use it. I just can't connect any calls. However, they still charge me for some of these attempts. I have a suspicion that these two approaches don't use the same audio codecs. I'm guessing that Truphone's is much more efficient. Ultimately, that's going to be important when HotSpots are overloaded.

    Where else is Truphone better? It's much better in it's voice mail feature. It's now integrated into my Nokia speed-dial. works perfectly. Still there is an even more important aspect that seems simple enough. Truphone I think comes out of the UK. They understand how to dial internationally on a mobile. By contrast Gizmo doesn't. It's simple. I travel and most of my numbers are now entered and set-up to be +919899xxxxxx or +44208xxxxyyyy. Mobiles use the + to get to international. Gizmo wants you to use 00 or 011. By using + it doesn't matter if I specify internet or GSM call, the number works. All those + numbers need editing for me to call them from Gizmo.  This seems to contridict how mobiles work.

    Now having knocked one versus the other. Truphone should come in for a few whacks too. This learning also applies more broadly. Truphone... selling there services to mobiles with Wi-Fi should have a mobile enabled site. While I managed to top up my account it is painful. Give me quickly a mobile.truphone.com. I don't care about fancy graphics. If I'm out of money I want to be able to add it fast from my phone. Gizmo is a step ahead in this regard also providing a link to the Gizmo directory and thus all those free sip numbers. With Truphone I think this is automatic. Still until the whole office is on it...

    So how do these two services relate to the likes of Talkster, Jajah or Rebtel and why should I with a VoIP enabled mobile even be interested. First a little about my Talkster experience. Talkster is providing a very generous $5 with their testing at the moment. I tried a Talkster call to Indonesia and then followed with a Truphone call.  Again Truphone provided the better audio quality and service. (Note this was still using Truphone to call in to me)  Talkster allows you to choose whether you can call in and they will then call out for you. Or like Jajah they will call your phone and that of the party you wish to speak to... simply by clicking on a link.

    First challenge. I wanted to call into Talkster using my Internet connection. Afterall it's a free call to the US.. why pay for that leg. However the link click launches my GSM (not sure if I turn my phone to VoIP first) and thus I set it to call me back on my US VoIP number. So I set it to call me and the other party. We connected, and the quality was adequate. Still the bonus of Talkster is I can enter numbers easily in my Nokia Phone browser. That means I can use it over a GPRS connection when necessary to make a call although I doubt I'd use this often.

    In principle Jajah offers this too. Except their webpage provides buttons that simply can't initiate a call from my Nokia browser. Their mobile client doesn't work with the N80. Still, why do I need a mobile client? What I do need is a mobile friendly webpage.

    Both these services seem to point to a service I'd expect to get from Truphone. Although really it's only really attractive for making international calls. How would I use it? Perhaps to direct calls away from my cellphone to a local number; eg friends house, office etc while making an international call. Both connections then get landline rates. Still I find it hard to find this very compelling.

    Overall my curiosity with all this testing just leaves me feeling that the pieces are still sort of broken. I know what I want is integrated channels that make it easy to talk, message or email with my contacts. With VoIP puts a new perspective on Talk for my mobile the associated messaging, presence, address books etc are just missing my expectations.

    Gizmo has most of these pieces. It's on the Nokia. There are chat clients that run jabber etc. It has simple presence. Still my perception is of a cheap look we can do this demo rather than what was required. Gizmo could have done Skype for Mobile in execution with a SIP and Jabber platform. It still could. Truphone by contrast seems to have the technology more grounded. I'd like to see them connect it up to Gmail / jabber. I'd add more... 

    In the meantime I've been paying Skype for a SkypeIn line. That connection uses SIP. Skype could provide my VoIP in line without any problems. They have my SkypeOut too. They could even set my Presence to Talk/VM only if they still can't deliver a chat client.

    To conclude VoIP in the hand is worth more than VoIP on the desktop. I can kiss that SkypeIn line goodbye. If we thought the migration to desktop VoIP has been so-so. I'd predict that the shift to mobile it will be even faster. And yes I know there are hardly any phones out there that currently support it. One it is compelling. Two the investment required for these new phones is less than laptops etc. They are more personal, more about status, and go everywhere. 

    One day soon I may even write about why I'm not interested in an iPhone.

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    February 1, 2007

    Fring - Fringing Talking - Beyond Skype

    I've just been playing with Fring. I wrote a post some months ago Fringing Interesting. It was a quick glance at Andy's blog today that told me to take another look.

    Download and install was simple and easy to do. At first I couldn't get Fring to connect to my Skype Account or Google Talk. Their support department suggested that demand may have been a problem. Anyways tonight on my lousy home Indian broadband it connected. Initial call quality better than my recent calls with Truphone. And I've been swearing by Truphone. See my previous post. In a day in this world everything can change.

    Possible Impact: (based on six hours of experience)
    Anyone that has a Skype centric-life and has a N80 or appropriate Nokia, can connect with WiFi and manage the interruptions or the beeps will adopt this for their general Skype messaging around the home and office. I will turn Skype on my desktop off for the rest of the week and see how it goes. (This means that Skype has really blown it re mobile) Just obsoleted all those WiFi phones that are coming out. Why waste the $150 or so....

    These elements are standouts.
     

    The Mobile Integration: Nokia makes it hard to keep apps running in the background. Almost all other apps die as soon as you close them. Unless Nokia interrupts your browsing with the call manager you usually find yourself logging back in. Fring is best in class from what I've seen. You can disable the automatic startup (which I have although I'm not sure this will be necessary). Nothing like turning your phone on and knowing (what could quickly become) your favorite app is again up and running.

    A simple hide brings you back to Nokia. Hold down the menu key and a the shortcuts appear and you are back straight into Fring. Very nice. For those that have messed with sorting out UI and navigation for an app that needs to run continuously in the background this is about the best you can currently do. Nokia doesn't provide a windows task bar type facility on their NSeries.

    Chat. I constantly bleep about mobile chat and how everything from the lastest Nimbuzz to a recent test of Talkonit and other mobile chat programs all take you to a separate screen for text entry. The exception was Agile Messenger. Frings clearly taken a good look at the best in class.

    This needs work:

    Whose Calling:
    Name doesn't show when I get an inbound call! What no caller ID!? Hard to believe. This is a huge potential problem. For it includes calls on my SkypeIn number etc. One of the things about Skype is it is clear who is calling. Maybe I am missing something. Still I don't think so.

    What Channel?: I don't get the Fring graphics next to the names. Haven't read the directions so don't understand whether these are google accounts at times or Skype Accounts. As I have to decide which is the preferred channel you are making it difficult for me. I often have two names that look almost the same. Sent two messages to gmail accounts when I thought they were Skype accounts etc.

    Characters: I have a few buddies whose Skype names don't use English characters. I have no idea who these people are in Fring. Similarly you can't currently rename them.

    I've not imported my Nokia address book into Fring yet. It has 1400 records. I'm going to have to set up a smaller list to test that feature. Still the find buddy by search works easily. I don't seem to have all my Skype buddies yet in the list. Guess they will get there.


    Implications:
    What's the business model? See the Register. Not sure what to believe yet myself.

    The interconnects are pretty interesting. Using SkypeOut may be a detriment to Fring with the latest changes in Skype rates and their addition of a calling fee.

    Skype?: Skype has simply lost the high innovative ground. It's worth a separate post. Fring will enable something that Agile Messenger never managed. It's set up well enough already so you can hang out at hotspots and manage your buddylist and simpy chat. If I look at my kids and their SMS usage it would all transfer to chat if they could. WiFi enabled phones like the N80 will take time to proliferate. Still I'm now sorry that I bought my daughter an N73 and not an N80. Fring type programs may even be attractive to blackberry users. 

    Why didn't Skype launch a Symbian mobile app? It's beyond me and yet I have a theory. I'm writing about that next. It may also answer the why Skype is going to miss this party.






    Has Nokia Crushed Skype's Mobile Ambitions?

    Time to pose a fun theory tonight (when I finally seem to have a blogging mood back) and ask if Nokia has had a subtle hand in crushing Skype's mobile ambitions?

    For a few months now my Wi-Fi mobility with the N80 has taken a step into VoIP land. Even  before Fring I was beginning to ask myself... Why is it that Skype is not on Symbian?  There were demos almost a year ago. Fring clearly proves that it's possible and works. So what's the deal?

    Now put yourself in Nokia's shoes.
    They are launching the most advanced Wi-Fi phones on the planet. The N-Series. In fact even Om says just yesterday or the day before that they have overshot the mark. I think not but that's another post.

    Nokia wants these phones to have real impact in the business market. SIP is business. They also know it is going to take some of these global travellers just like me to say... whoa... this hotspot / WiFi thing is better than Skype. No more headset, back to a handset. It feels good. Voice quality ok.. almost as good. Still as we fall back to phones and handsets because the cost now lets us, it feels good and natural. Note I've made about 3 SkypeOut calls in the six weeks. I've made many many calls by comparison on Truphone and GizmoVoip.

    SIP to Win Mobile:
    Oh... what did I say. I've made many calls on SIP. Ouch! It works! Ouch! It never worked as well as Skype on my desktop and I have so many buddies now on Skype... you can't convert me. Still boy oh boy I have SIP now all over my mobile. As of tonight it is full time active with GSM via Hutch, GizmoVoip and Truphone and Fring which means Skype and Gtalk. Gosh... the only buddies I may be missing are long lost on Yahoo or MSN. Doesn't really matter.

    Open vs Closed:
    Isn't SIP open? Isn't Skype closed? Aren't SIP to SIP calls generally free. It is in the SIPphone world. What do mobile users really want to do? Talk! What matters little to Nokia? The cost per minute. So... guess the users will chose. Who provides the best or cheapest SIP plan. Oh doesn't that create choice and competition. Plus isn't Symbian open (although the Nokia call manager is pretty structured - please open it up Nokia!)

    SIP not Skype:
    So you keep egging Skype along, as they are the gorilla in the park.. you feed them stuff that says don't need to be too early on this one and continue not only testing but launch with GizmoVoIP. Probaby help out the Frings and Truphones etc. Why. Nokia benefits from an open platform and communication market. Launching their Wi-Fi phones too soon with Skype would destroy that potential.

    Maybe Skype knows and has buried their plans and gone back to aping the PSTN. Not sure. Still in Nokia shoes I'd keep it tough for Skype now as long as I can.  Every new purchaser of a Wi-Fi phone will soon know the benefits and think SIP or just VoIP.

    Disruptive:

    Did anyone say that VoIP on the mobile wouldn't be disruptive? You have got to be kidding. Accounts are as simple as a new chat account and the best services just let you use your gmail account. It's validated. Once you add your mobile and they send you the SMS so's your mobile number.

    All of this is creating a new mobile operating environment. It will be as convoluted as the desktop with as many different services. Still SIP and Jabber eliminate many of those problems. So is Nokia big enough and the Mobile market fast enough to shift the whole VoIP world off Skype?

    Okay have probably said the obvious now over and over. Nokia break out the Sippagne and i suggest putting free hotspots in every store you have in India in the next six months. Readers! They have a lot of stores in India and probably sold 5 million phones here last month. Do this throughout Asia and do it quick.

    What Next?

    Then what.... Nokia buys Gizmo and SIPphone and launchs Nokia Stores in the US and becomes their own MVNO. I change my phone to packet centric from Cellular. Prepaid minute plans here we come.


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    May 7, 2007

    Lust to Love in 24 hours

    I was asked yesterday how I would answer the question "What's your most cherished possession?" My friend was thinking a painting, a classic car, or some keepsake. I answered immediately; my mobile phone and I got shock - horror. Then my answer may have been influenced by a brand new Nokia N95 waiting for me on Friday; the very phone I have  been lusting after ever since I first saw the specs, (soon after I bought an N80 last June)



    From Lust:
    Where did the lust come from? I'm not quite sure. It certainly was a view of a dual slider, and larger screen. I also wanted to try the latest geekery in GPS devices. Most importantly I wanted the camera. Five Mega pixels and auto focus built in. In the last two years I've used an N70 not bad for photos but the n90 was 2mpx and auto focus. That was the best. The N80 never really achieved the clarity despite its 3mpx. And I knew it. My daughters N73 with 3mpx and autofocus just does a much better job. So lust traces to high expectations for the camera.

    Practicalities
    :
    My next phone had to have everything the N80 had and more. I no longer recommend new cellphones to anyone without Wi-Fi. Plus with T-Mobiles new VoIP plan (coming in June) this feature becomes even more compelling. It maybe the current free rates - I just can't do without my Truphone account. Plus there is something telling when all my family calls (where no notes or sharing are required) go via the handset rather than a Skype headset. I simply like the freedom.

    Back to Lust - What I learned from my N80
    The N80 has been my constant travel companion. It's my "always on" connection with unlimited GPRS and WiFi in the home and office. I run the Nokia mail programs, Gmail Mobile, Google Maps, AgileMessenger, Truphone, GizmoVoIP and Nokia Podcasting. While also trying out Fring, Nimbuzz, Shozu I won't be quite so quick to install these on the N95.

    Where the N80 fell down was on the screen size. It is a magnificent screen in detail, the type size is a little too small for web browsing (and my bi-focal eyesight). It also constantly got the thumbs down from others that picked it up for "thickness" and "weight". I'd have to agree, I too wished it was more like the N73, which is so light, bigger screen and packs so much. I always did like the N80 key pad. It was great for texting.

    I never used it much for music. Putting music on it was more for ring tones and alarms. I did experiment with movies but found the player not advanced enough to skip commercials for programs transferred from myTIVO. Memory also slowed me down. I only ever got to a 1gb memory card. Was plenty for daily use but limited it competing versus my Video iPod.

    Love and the N95:

    It dropped into my hand slimmer and much much lighter than the N80.Despite that it doesn't feel more flimsy or cheaper. It is actually more tactile in the hand. The slider a nicer pop movement. While a little broader the bigger screen makes everything so much easier to read. While the N80 locks on close the N95 lock and unlock features are just better thought out. They become an easy motion. There has been a huge amount of design thought put into the N95. It will stand on its end and speakers in each side!

    Did I mention my thumbs. The keys on the N95 have a little more definition than the N80. I find it easier to text from. I'm also thrilled that it has a standard USB style plug. I can ditch that nokia cable now and just use my harddrive cable backup. Great! Plus we finally have a proper socket not only for earphone but also TV/Video out. Something I'll have to try.

    Then we have that dual sliding feature. That means web browsing videos and gaming can have a horizontal wide screen rather than vertical. and rotating content become pretty easy. As I use it more this will become more important. I've already found You Tube videos via the new Podcasing App. First appearance make it pretty slick.



    Not enough reason. Well I now know exactly how many yards it is to the local bars and restaurants (there is no reason not to walk). The GPS features will have to wait. I think I will just buy the plan so I can use it in the car to provide directions. Still even without the driving element it is pretty effective at providing a directory of local sites.,

    Stepping up to the N95 from an N80 is pretty straight forward. Use the Nokia transfer function set both phones to bluetooth and soon you are synchonized. I really wish I wasn't abandoning "old" mobiles so quickly; it is part of the pace of change. However at least in India there is a ready resale market which makes it all easier. I added in my favorite programs. Truphone, AgileMessenger, Gmail, and Gmap (although I'm not sure I am going to need this one).

    So is it really Love?
    I'm not sure yet. It is definitely a  cherished possession and as an all in one type of mobile one I can't really live without. Where are the problems?

    Number One:
    Battery Life. With WiFi connection at home via Truphone I'm getting just over half a day and I've turned off UMTS seeking. I know I already want a double sized battery and popped back plate for this phone. I won't be alone. If you are a talker and want all the WiFi be prepared to charge frequently.

    Number Two: Lack of storage capacity. I stuck a 2gb microSD in it. That's the largest currently. I'd like that number to be 10 or 20 times that. Then I'm pretty sure my iPod would be history. The lack of memory does seem a little short sighted to me. Still with WiFi and products like ORB I may find I really don't need it as I can just stream it. I can see I have some testing to do.

    Minor... :
    When you synch phones and get a new one it would be so nice if the predictive text dictionary would be transferred. Each new phone needs training in this regard and I think this is true when you do a software update too. I've also never figured out how to edit out words that get into your dictionary that keep appearing and that you don't want.

    Love Tests to come
    Taking pictures and videos - I'm not sure it if exist but I want a N95 tripod attachment that fits in the headphone socket. Then finally I'll have a phone with a self-timer that is really userful.

    Playing with the GPS. Is it true I can no longer get lost and always find my way? 

    I should note. The phone was provided by Andy Abramson courtesy of the Nokia Blogger program for me to try out. I'm definitely a Nokia fan. I bought an N80 as soon as they were available and I've never used a Treo or Blackberry although I recently tested a Nokia E61 (don't like the keyboard!) and I think I have tried living with almost all the N-Series Phones. Example bought an N73 for my daughter who still gets envious comments from her friends six months later.




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    May 30, 2007

    Skype and Relevance in Communications

    What do we do when our communication systems keep fragmenting? Alec and Ken comment of Skype losing relevance. The key point is "cost". What made Skype work was free P2P telephony that worked. Now the same proposition is emerging everywhere.

    The result is even more highly fragmented communications. A colleague complained to me last week that I have too many numbers (time to try out Grand Central again!) and they were right I do. In fact I have way too many "handles" from phone numbers to messenger accounts and mail services. Really nobody needs them all. Yet what should I hand out? Often it is defined by the perceived relationship. Setting it right later may add to the confusion. Concurrently callerID becomes more irrelevant because it doesn't effectively represent me when I use a different number to call them. Don't believe me - then check out emerging profile aggregators.

    I too have a sense that many in the early adopter group have moved on from Skype. With Wi-Fi handsets GizmoVoIP and Truphone have proven to me that I don't need to wait for Skype on the mobile. Also, massive exposure to shared presence (broken today) doesn't enable better access control. Nor does it enable you to manage your availability selectively. Yes a few companies are working on it.

    Like Alec says. There is still huge potential in leveraging the desktop. I agree. While Twitter is broken, the opportunity for shared context has never been greater. Presence information will become disintermediated from the communication channels. There is absolutely no reason to think that your presence service should or must tie to a specific communication channel. What it reveals and to whom is another matter. As presence breaks off "numbers" go back to being numbers. The "Presence Dialer" will be under a user's control. This works when an "Abstract Identifier" emerges (Eg OpenID or similar with better authentication).

    Sharing availability on the mobile is even more important. It's more personal than the desktop; even more intrusive when the wrong person calls at the wrong time. Skype provided a view that was part of the way there and has completely missed the boat on mobile. As such its "handles" will never become the number of the future. "Click to talk" is what we want. IM lists prove it. Jaiku Mobile takes this a step closer (but nobody keeps using it - another post in that!), while Skype and other IM presence data is too simple to be meaningful. Available says "channel is on", anything else means the "channel is off or may effectively be off". We don't live in an "on" or "off" world. You just have to sniff out the open channels for communications.

    Thus what Ken and Alec really allude to is their connections have shifted. They are more available now on new connections and perhaps less available on others. My guess is they don't talk or message less. Probably it is more than ever; without the shackles of cost.

    So when Alec says he's abandoned Skype for technical reasons, he's made himself a little less available to some. He's also making more use of "mobile" solutions that are more useful to him. Eg Jajah . I've done the same. There are some workplace issues (don't install that program on your PC) that encourage Meebo and the newer Yahoo Messenger on the Web. Skype doesn't have a solution for these.

    So relevance relates to communications needs; Skype remains relevant although its lack of reach into mobile makes it less and less relevant when I am on the move. We underestimated the general goodness in the handset and the impact that "handsfree" with a bluetooth headset can provide. So when "free" communications are now available to me from any WiFi hotspot on my Nokia I pull the phone out before booting up a PC. I do the same at home.

    May 31, 2007

    Jajah - Conversation Broker - Strategy?

    Jajah recently had an infusion of $20million from Deutsche Telekom. That's a big deal. It may also prove interesting for Jangl, Jaxtr and Grand Central. However what I'm reading in the press doesn't quite gel with my sense of where this is going or what the prize is. Example see this Information Week article or this The Browser overview. Each of these state that Jajah isn't out to compete with the telecoms etc. They also reference Trevor Healy “If you’re at your office, your laptop may ring, but when you’re in your car, your mobile should ring, and when your home, your PSTN (public switched telephone network) phone will ring.” I'd agree and he'd extend this to include presence. However, I don't think this represents why DT bought in. DT also got a cheap price if Jajah's user base is in the millions or regular users, although the infusion suggests their burn rate and margins are tighter than reported.

    What is Jajah? Jajah is a conversation broker. It brokers conversations between two or more channels. Jajah smartly chose to use VoIP rates to connect traditional PSTN handsets from a simple web app. Thereby collecting prepaid calling cash and millions of users.

    Why DT? The real prize in Jajah and similar brokers is all the other communications that can be routed. Jajah has voice and email (they know it if you opened an account) and has yet to add chat and SMS. From a DT perspective this "switch" / "broker" is outside their network. This switch could also connect every number etc on earth. It just needs critical mass. When Jajah can connect with Gtalk or Gizmo or connect a PSTN caller with a Yahoo number they have something pretty special. Add in other ways we communicate and you have an all in one communications solution.

    The Challenges for Jajah
    Identity: Right now my identity is the PSTN number you are trying to call. However as a Jajah user there is no reason you shouldn't just ask to connect with Jajah Stuart. The problem to be overcome is providing me with an identity that I want to use that represents all my communications. Jajah Stuart may be unique to me; the problem is there are many Stuart's out there. Identities also reveal different things about each of us. So Jajah looks well poised to add the infrastructure and make us all agnostic about the channels we use to connect with each other.

    Presence:
    Jajah Users knows little about presence. In fact their model currently PSTN to PSTN doesn't involve devices or calls where even simple presence indicators are involved. Perhaps that's why I like the Iotum link to Jajah? As Alec knows routing calls without presence information to different devices can quickly result in disaster. However, add a change of routing function via SMS or Web interface and all of a sudden the value for a Jajah identity goes up exponentially. What's nice about this strategy is the SIP to SIP etc calls can all be free. It will also take them into the desktop. Inferring a little more ---- they already have this client built. It may need an update as it predates the current web strategy. WiFi mobile handsets make this even more attractive.

    Competitors: Jajah has a jumpstart because their model for capturing paying users is almost as good as Skype's was. However, it does appear to come with a cost of infrastructure. Jajah mobile remains a little simple but works. Integrate Jajah mobile with Jaiku and additional interesting propositions emerge. In fact between registered Jajah users (I bet the calls are much higher to non registered users) there is no need to even share the "connection" identifiers. As Jajah connects more sophisticated VoIP devices they can pass their own information on who's calling. Now Jaxtr has already proven this is possible (they recently extended it to email). Jangl appears to have a less efficient model for building numbers (just guessing).

    There are also a number of mobile upstarts. Fring, Nimbuzz etc that are enabling users to connect and share presence. They are connecting so many different communication channels on the mobile that they are headed to being the Trillians with Voice for the mobile world. The downside is lack of handsets and users that get it. Jajah's mobile strategy for now is low cost and almost zero development while working on any web activated handset. TalkNow has integrated it with a mobile directory on the Blackberry. In the end this is more attractive in some countries than others depending on the users mobile plan.

    Could Skype still upset Jajah plans? Technically yes. They could move quickly into this market (almost surprised they haven't). They are ahead on "handles" and "profiles" and would solve their mobile issue in a new way. They have rudimentary presence. It would undercut the Jajah model on price for many calls while enabling new Skype users without Skype apps.

    Trust:We know we already have a "telecom" in the middle when we make a traditional call. There are also plenty of govt regulations that apply to telecoms. That's where I get a little more worried about how "security" is engineered in. Conversation Brokers connect both ends of the call. FreeConferencing brokers conference calls for us. They provide recording capabilities too. Whether it is Jajah in middle or someone else you want to make real sure that you "trust" the relationship. As these brokers become more capable of managing more than just PSTN channels the data they will have could be much much more. Until now most of us never trusted our Telecom with our email address. Our Email account POP is usually separate from providers for IM and mobile. We've had some comfort while they are separate. However they are converging and becoming more complex. In the end I'm not sure I want to support this potential new "man in the middle". While I like the idea that one point of contact could broker all my communications I really want it to be under my control.

    In the end small change for a Telcom. No surprise to me that it is European rather than American.

    June 1, 2007

    Jeff's VoIP Questions

    Now you almost just know I am going to disagree with the framing of the next question. Jeff Pulver asks (prompted by Luca) "What kind of VoIP user are you? Do you prefer Softphones or IP Phones?"  "For myself, when I am in the office or in my home, I prefer using “a phone”. And when I’m on the road if using my cell phone isn’t an option, I will use a softphone. But not as a first choice. What about YOU?"

    I simply don't think we "users" "people" think about this as a trade-off. There is no useful learning from knowing what kind of VoIP user I am, other than that I am a geeky enough to know there are trade-offs. I do think Jeff is close in his answer which I think means he prefers a handset. Ie communicating via voice by speaking into something he's holding in his hand.

    I'd suggest that the deciders are:
    Handheld - Stationary (increasingly VoIP handheld N95 or cordless phone)
    Handheld - Mobile (at home it is VoIP on the N95 set to automatic)
    Handsfree - Stationary (headset often when working and at the PC - My Skype Mode most often)
    Handsfree - Mobile (travelling in the car - bluetooth)
    Video Communication -Stationary

    It doesn't matter whether it goes over VoIP or PSTN or some satellite. What matters is the connection and call quality. Cost is becoming less relevant. Frankly if you came into my house and used my phones you wouldn't know whether it was VoIP or not.

    Handsets require us to listen better than headsets particularly full headsets often used with programs like Skype. Plus you only need to look at a kid to see how they walk around with the phone to find privacy etc. Handsets also enable more gesticulating or related positions than being tied to a headset where notes may be being taken, typed in etc.  Headsets are more conducive to conference calls (less attention being paid) etc. Video is a strange mix and obviously VoIP.

    At this point the whole handset thing become more complicated. Because SMS is still better than chat for many things; we just don't really know how to reach for it first yet.  Blackberry proves the point where users are emailing in real-time and not using SMS.

    I prefer click to call or simple voice dialing. My mobile or a Skype buddylist is better than dialing numbers. So softphone style interaction with my buddylist is helpful. Thus the mobile wins again as they tend to be click to call. Still they are dumb directories and I may get the wrong choice of number for you.

    What this means to me is my super Nokia N95 mobile with Wi-Fi, like the N80 before is winning the battle. It's cheap / free VoIP where I work and at home. It's handsfree when I need it. Increasingly all the VoIP calls I make are free. I know they are VoIP and my wife knows they are VoIP to NZ when the phone is too far away from the Wi-Fi signal and the call drops. It also happens to do that chat / SMS thing.

    Example: My brother SMS'ed me yesterday "out of the blue" with a "what was the best holiday you ever had?" He was in a group they were all reaching out to find out. It's a new norm; something you can do!

    The reality is we don't think about VoIP. It is just an underlying enabling technology. Thus all the battles continue to be on price! We do however think about talking, leaving or sending messages, and about exchanges. We do think about:
    • Who's calling?
    • Is the ringer on? Silent mode? Will a phone call now embarrass me?
    • Where's the number?
    • How do I get in touch?
    • Is it a good time to call?
    • Will they remember who I am?
    • Will they know who is calling? Etc.
    These are examples of things we should be fixing and considering. VoIP is part of the enablement of new solutions for addressing all of these.  So far we've really only just seen them beginning to emerge in formats that are more friendly on the desktop. We've also learned that the desktop is only a small portion of the total talk time.  The answer will emerge on the mobile; however not before a lot of new thinking has gone into the User experience.

    Unfortunately even questions I disagree with can be useful. Still I'd never start probing a focus group on VoIP I'd start with communications. VoIP remains a great technical step forward; it will only really be meaningful if it enable new services. I think some of the comments Jeff got actually confirm this to. It goes to the mode of communication something I've written about many times. On the softphone side (Skype) itimacy also plays a role. The risk is that this question is not answered at a deep level. Skype's sound quality (hey Gtalk too) still provides for the most intimate communications; better nuanced than the phone. I'm sure many  traveller's would prefer it calling home or to their partner rather than the phone. So for some calls taking the laptop to bed to make it is natural. However, it is not VoIP or the laptop that is winning it is the need for deeper intimacy. You won't get this answer by just a superficial question.

    In the frame of future technical questions I'd like to know 1) What will make the increasing fragmentation of channels from a user point of view simply go away? and 2) How we will manage the coming deluge of Voice Spam?






    July 18, 2007

    What's your Facebook Strategy

    Jeff writes: What's your Facebook Strategy? A message I flogged about Skype for a long time. He's made his perfectly clear.  As noted there are many apps just waiting to happen. While the obvious apps are going in little focus is being placed on the threat that Facebook as a global directory makes to communications; or the power that "groups" might acquire in relation to media and access or the new distribution channels being created.

    While the white pages never made any real money without them there would be no telecom industry. Facebook is certainly much more than white or yellow pages. From my perspective it is doing a great job at creating very rich profiles. Nothing else anywhere comes close. For the moment Facebook's strategy is "numbers"; more and more converts. Telecom companies should worry about it. For media companies it is a threat of a different kind which will over time turn over all their ad model assumptions.

    The Jeff Pulver Blog: Facebook is: Self-Healing

    And now is the time to think about what YOUR Facebook strategy is or is going to be.
    I'd add I still have some reservations about Facebook, however these are not material in terms of where we are on the development curve today. Facebook is the one to study and the real question to deal with is "What's your Social Media Strategy?"

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    July 19, 2007

    Ooma - Will Blow $27 Million

    OOOOOOOOOOOOMAAAAAAAAAAA or Ooma. Alerted by Andrew Hansen to Ooma's premature launch announcement (Available September), I read Techcrunch (a corporate release blurb rubbished in the comments). Then Saunderlog, and Aswath. Like them I don't get to try it. Aswath provides the technical reasons why it doesn't work. Alec I think tempered his comments. Ooma is already battling price perceptions in Techcrunch comments. 

    The reality. Ooma is a box. It is supposed to replace a landline --- which most of us don't want anymore (except for 911). The cost of just the hardware $400 before they try and nickel you to death with additional charges doesn't add up for anyone. I'm not sure how that ever got past first grade market research. Although there still seem many that want it... or is that just the free giveaway ones via Gigaom?  There there will remain plug and play technical hurdles in the home for anyone that has cable rather than ADSL as the phone line may or may not be close by.

    On the competitive front. Phonegnome provides similar technology options at a much lower cost. Skype and various handset suppliers provide various options for wiring your house and achieving the same thing with some sense of security on a computer that's already paid for. I'd add often at a sound quality that beats what this solution is likely to provide.

    So far I've not seen it compared with mobile Wi-Fi related devices. My experience with Nokia's N80, and N95 have convinced me that before long everyone will carry a dual mode device. Too bad the iPhone still looks crippled in this regard. So, the comparison must be made with T-Mobiles Home Hotspots and what's already available though GizmoVoIP, Truphone and Talkplus type plans.  Dialing out for free (or almost free) is no longer much of an issue.

    The marketing angle is wrong here. Lots of money, star appeal and yet at the end of the day those that both understand it and might love to use it won't go out and promote this product. While my VoIP friends and advocates may try and convince me to buy an iPhone; there is at least something to that. It's called progress. Ooma will never pass that test. It won't grow as your communications needs grow. It will become obsolete.

    The VoIP blog world will give this a complete thumbs down. I hate to be the bearer of really bad news. I've given some other products some harsh reviews usually after I've done the "test" and considered how it works for me and a broader audience. The launch blogs Gigaom, Techcrunch and perhaps other haven't done their readers any favors by not providing more skeptical initial reviews.

    Part of the corporate and investment problem here is the gestation period. Money has been in this baby for over three years. That shows up one of the big development challenges for hardware. Development is not fast or agile like software. The plumbing is now about software while the hardware is being driven by mobile handset cycle times of just months. This product is years late. It may also have a questionable legal interconnect strategy. Still those problems may come later.

    This is not the next revolution in VoIP and certainly not the innovation the corporate site claims. In the end David Beckemeyer has the best response to Ooma. He simply says VC's you
    can have it all in days before they launch for a lot less than 27 million. I agree, and it is possible
    in that time to launch with a competitive brand platform and positioning with technology that is already deployed and tested with customer research etc. More importantly it creates an IP asset that the company can leverage even after the cost of calls go to zero.

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    July 26, 2007

    The "Social Strategy" and Alec Saunders

    I have to tip my hat to Alec Saunders. His blog, his writing and the topics he's writing about. Including "Stop Using Me". Well Alec I'm using you today, as a friend, blogger, and  pointer to a person who writes a great socially aware marketing blog. Who acts as both the customer for many products and the CEO of Iotum. I'm holding you up today. It's both a knack and a creation.

    I think I will go looking for more blogs like yours. It's an emerging genre and for some companies a foundation element for success with "Branding" and "Marketing" in a 2.0+ world.

    Great commentary:

    I enjoyed your Ooma insights and somehow you still managed the thumbs down politely. While I was described by you as thumbs down in criticism. I was certainly blunt in providing the feedback that I won't shell out $400 for this product.

    Where I want to pick a bone is on your perceptions that the PR and Marketing failed to have the right blogger outreach. While it may have helped the real problem is still the product and the price point. Still I think it goes further than just the product and there are lessons for hardware / physical product launches everywhere.

    In a 2.0 world marketing is reframed; the consumer is dead, and the users are people. Every product requires a social strategy. Products like the message are inherently social. All media is now social. I know you know this. Iotum has a presence and SOCIAL standing way beyond it's footprint. This traces to trust, transparency and a sense that "we" know and understand what you and your team are trying to do. Most importantly Iotum seems communications as social.

    The Ooma marketing failed on all these fronts. They are not transparent about the technology. The product suggests security compromises. They brought in an Actor and and that's supposed to make it cool. They thought they were in control of the "message". That's an old school thought and thinking that too many companies are continuing to make. Ooma is not a social product.

    The brand manager cannot own the message. We the "people" are the message and collectively "place" the product. In many ways it's always been that way. Just in this case --- no one seemed to ask... "what will the WOM (word of mouth) be?". Andy perhaps characterises this very well describing it as "Hype".

    While I started this post with Alec, and close with Andy both these guys are exemplary examples of participating in next generation marketing and branding programs. It has become a "trusim" that if you want to launch VoIP products then you better think and build relationships with them; and I could name a dozen others. VoIP products today require a social context and backdrop to be successful. Names, branding, pricing etc all matter. However, if you are not prepared to talk about it early and often you can forget about it.

    Just in the VoIP space these are (just some of the companies) that share their stories and are learning faster from their customers. Truphone, JajahFring Phonegnome,etc.
     
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    September 25, 2007

    India Online - in the palm of your hand.

    What's your strategy for India? Would you rethink it if you thought that in less than 3 years 250 million could be online, with an email account, networking on Orkut and responding to localized ads? This is not completely far fetched. Even if the number is only half that, it's quite possible if we look at the mobile as the computer in the palm of your hand.

    When I first went to India 18 months ago it was still unusual to see an auto-rickshaw driver with a cellphone. This trip every driver / cabbie that drove me around had a phone. The houseboat captain had a phone etc. Today even in the smaller villages you can recharge your prepaid mobile. I've experienced Indian "broadband" (256kbps if you are lucky) in the home and noted that it is hard to buy routers and Wi-Fi accessories from the local electronics store. Concurrently,VoIP lines are going into homes; most of the infrastructure seems to be creaking from the pace of growth; customer service is often lousy and billing may be a mess. Phones will always come before PC's.

    I know the big players in mobile (eg Vodaphone and Nokia) already understand why India is "THE" market they must win in. Many other tech players understand this. Eg Orkut and Google, probably HP etc. I also believe many companies don't or many not be managing it well. Eg Yahoo, Dell, Motorola and many more.

    I keep returning to India because I believe successful global companies and startups must all have an India strategy and you won't understand it from 12000 miles away. The impact of mobile growth is only one of the reasons and the focus of this post. The "numbers" simply dwarf other markets (other than China). As these new users come on line they will tip product development, reshape the web and teach us new ways to interact. Real innovations in mobile are likely to come out of India.

    The rough numbers:

    Internet: Approx: 40 million online of which 25 million are active (weekly). Of that 10 to 12 million are on Orkut and most probably have a Gmail account. Note in India there is only 40 million landlines. Internet access is dialup or a choice of DSL and Cable. Speeds remain slow. A Reliance wireless network connection remains a viable or only option for some.

    Mobile. The number ranges from about 180m to 240m. The article below uses 185m of which 39.46m are rural. Thus approx 20% of the user base in India is now rural. Penetration in major cities is approaching 50% while rural penetration ranges from 3% to just over 20%. Of the next 250 million users that go mobile at least 100m will be rural!

    Growth: Mobile dwarfs Internet / PC market. In two to three years India will have doubled the current number of users. I have a suspicion that many Internet users are "Users at work"; Orkutting as soon as they arrive at the office. They may not have a connection at home. Internet in the home is likely to remain disappointing.

    Other leading indicators that are important!

    Airtel recently announced and has been promoting Prepaid for Life. This means you buy a prepaid SIM 495rp and the number never expires (requires 200rp spend every 180 days). It's clever as it provides phones for those that can't even afford to make calls.

    Vodaphone which bought Hutch back in Feb 2007 has recently changed the name and is has announced new links to Orkut. Concurrently Google is offering an Adsense like program for Mobile. See this article for Google details. Nokia is also active in this space (see enpocket).

    Observations:

    What we really do today with computers can be done on mobile. email, directories, networking, search, maps etc. Enable all these mobile phones with email accounts / Orkut accounts and you are looking at 100+ million users in no time flat. Given the price differential for mobile advertising rates and it is easy to see how Google can potentially arrange a revenue split with carriers. It's not too far fetched to see limited mobile data connections being "free" as a result.

    Broadband to the home in India will remain disappointing. It will lag behind mobile growth. Already programs like Reliance NetConnet (USB to PC or PCCard) are popular 3G programs and the coverage is reaching deep into rural areas. The speed can be variable and is often not much better than a dialup connection. I am fairly sure GPRS can not scale to the data requirements of hundreds of millions going online. Thus only the infrastructure and its installation is likely to stall or frustrate the growth of online mobile web users.

    It needs to be free: They aren't going to pay for it as they don't understand the value. They want email but it must be free etc. They will happily view an ad while an email is downloaded. Ads can be ajaxed down earlier and retained in the background.

    Big Education Job: Only a combined effort by Mobile operators, perhaps Google and businesses can make this happen. It's not impossible. Just a few years ago almost no one had a cellphone in India. Most people in India still don't really have an address (street address). Given the speed of adoption of the mobile - they will want these!

    Whether you are a marketer, run commerce, trade, provide services etc. it is time to prepare your strategy for India. The numbers are just too huge. The companies that learn how to reach these new communicators and create the channels for conversation will create powerful platforms for growth. The battle will move to the handset and will never be for the desktop in India.

    About VoIP

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in the VoIP category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    Trust is the previous category.

    Wikis is the next category.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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