2009 – We are Talking Emerging Communications Again!

January 1, 2009

in phweet, Skype Journal, VoIP

Periodically a new buzz arises around VoIP’s future. I’ve just been reading posts by Jeff Pulver, Jon Arnold, Ken Camp, Andy Abramson and Lee Dryburgh. I naturally have my own perspective, both as a user and strategically. My position is simple. It’s about conversations. And if you want to change telecom you must shift power to the user.

I’d like to start with a comment Ken made yesterday about Phweet. I’ve edited slightly and added some bold… Ken really gets what we have done with Phweet and I’m sure Lee does too.

Stardust Global Ventures » Two highlights from 2008 – TwitterFone and Phweet

Phweet does something else that’s new. For telephony geeks, we remember that before SS7 signaling was implemented to take phone network signals out of band to a separate network, signaling frequency (SF at 2600 Hz) was carried within the voice badn. SS7 took signaling out of band to a separate packet network. Phweet also moves signaling out of band, but to the Internet. And not just PSTN signaling. It’s an example of using IP-based Internet technologies not just as a collaboration tool for ad hoc conference calling, but for using IP as a command and control channel for network resources in a new way.

Ken recognizes that under Phweet all the signaling rules can be defined by the user. I’ve said variously that our text based signal represents a contract between two or more users. That if accepted it escalates to the call. Note the if accepted. The power has shifted not only out of band but to the receiver. The signaling process also creates new options for “records” which in the current case are simply recorded in Twitter. I don’t feel a need to dwell on it here for I’ve stated before that we’ve disintermediated the directory service, shown the way to leverage real-time record keeping, and enabled a “rich data” exchange on the call setup. We’ve also enabled a world in which telephone conversations can be threaded using a persistent PhweetURL between two or more parties.  All these are things that the current system doesn’t do.

Lee Dryburgh is also one of the smartest guys around. Yet I still don’t buy this statement that argues connecting to IP services via E164 is sensible.

Skype, Openness, and “Walled Gardens” – Emerging Communications Blog

You can call between Skype and Gizmo using the E.164 namespace. I see no reason Skype should have to support the SIP URI namespace to help bolster a competitor! But again, this argument completely lacks vision of the long term evolution in communications, sticking to telephony calls over IP (yawn) being the future.

I’ve argued for years that Skype should sell a SIP URI (eg stuart_henshall@skype.net). I’d pay $5 per year for it. The reason why become even more apparent when you look at how Phweet can connect calls. Currently there’s an unnecessary interconnect charge. Hook Phweet up to Gizmo and there’s no need to pay more. Skype then has the account – billings for connecting and forwarding to the PSTN etc. The problem with Skype is they still control the directory service. This is potentially their Achilles Heel! As long as they provide an efficient routing to an end point it’s attractive. Their profile is better than anything in the PSTN and their IM system does enable some context before the call.

Phweet’s approach could enable calls to any IP endpoint or decent mobile to be more secure than Skype. Skype is only secure P2P and is open and not encrypted whenever it connects via its gateway to the PSTN. Many analysts and writers have said over the years that they should get a view into Skype’s encryption policies. Others have questioned the “chinese” backdoor. What they really want is to control the “keys” themselves. The encryption layer can be handled by your own trusted third parties and doesn’t have to be sent / signaled in the traditional way. I think these elements may pose a real challenge to Skype’s longer term architecture.

Lee was bothered by the discussion around Skype being open or closed vs Gizmo. I too don’t think it matters. Let the user choose. Using Gizmo with Phweet is definitely cheaper than Skype for I don’t need a SkypeIn or SkypeOut number and $’s.  The point is… we use different channels for different reasons. These include, where we are, what the situation is, the quality we want or need, etc. In fact Andy Abramson sums up yet again what users are going to do and are already doing, behaviorally and in terms of service.  Grand Central came closest in my book to helping you with routing. The downside. You had to have yet another number. That’s where I have a problem.

In a PSTN world there’s a problem having the exchange in the middle. As Jajah, Mobivox and others have found it is hard to challenge Skype when your cost to call is 2x the competition for there are two legs to the call. They simplified with dial-in options etc. That’s also true in many mobile markets where dialing in to the exchange is using minutes that are paid for anyways. There’s also security issues with the man or exchange in the middle.  I’d suggest these can both be overcome. There are real value added opportunities for having an exchange (mobivox provides a great example with your virtual assistant) and simply convenience and control. When the users control the exchange they can make it work for them. When it does they will be prepared to spend more.

More numbers also aren’t the solution. I’d pose that there is only one place we really want “notifications” and that’s on the mobile (PC too if you want). Although some notifications are more important than others. I’m keen on call handling… handling interruptions in total not just calls. It’s also dependent on our context. The world is increasingly filled with richer communications options. Yet traditional communication still treats each exchange separately. Skype IM has a history and the iPhone can thread SMS. However I may have two or more conversations going on with the same person. One about an important business contract I may pick up on at any time. While a “casual call” that isn’t related to our “business” could be postponed.. handled with a simple text etc.

Jeff writes about challenging the status quo.

The Jeff Pulver Blog: VoIP is NOT Dead!

In order for these dreams to be realized, it will require a new group of people who believe in challenging the status quo, to stand up and be counted on.  While I am looking for others to join the NEW revolution, I am ready and prepared to do what it takes to continue to push for the promise of what IP Communications can offer.  So while some of my friends may declare that VoIP is Dead, I don’t.

Well lets just do that! How to challenge the status quo!???!!!

1. Turn the focus from the end points and numbers to the exchange. Note the comments like Andy’s Jeff’s and Alec’s which are framed by social media / social networks etc are already headed this way. If you want to change telecom you must enable the users to control the exchange. Phweet does this in a simple way. Our PhweetURL is the exchange.

2. Separate the CallerID / Profile from channel and ensure that the design of your exchange is agnostic to both the profile/directory service and whatever channel the users want to participate with. Again Phweet does this. It also means users have “real” options on determining the routing call by call.

With Phweet we made a conscious decision not to involve ourselves in the identity layer. (I also wish there was more progress on oAuth!) None of us have one single identity and we share different facets of ourselves in different ways at different times. This was one reason I gave up earlier on a “one ID for all communications”.

3. Enable the user choice over how to signal, public, private, “fast” “slow” and separate that signal completely from the voice channel. This signal is richer… for it can carry context, terms, expiry, usage, privacy, etc. Now… if you keep this simple what does the user want. They want to signal that they would like to talk. (Disclosure we’ve applied for patents in this area.) A short text message may suffice, or something longer. You also want quick escalation. DTMF tones don’t do this very well. Similarly our interest in “Click to call” type solutions. Just punch, click or even just say their name. And I’m fine with voice to text signals. This signal is an offer for a contract. It’s also my exchange so I may pay all the bills no matter where you are etc.

4. Let the users broadcast their profiles, contact details etc without fear of unwanted interruption or breaches of privacy. We”re doing this already on Twitter. Put the receiver in charge. If I want to set it so your call automatically come though that’s cool. Equally if I want context before accepting that’s fine too. Access is built on trust and relationships. It should no longer be based on the fact you have my number. (Just another reason

5. Make telecom billing records irrelevant relative to the exchange. It’s the service, the conversation, who, what about, etc that was really important. That’s just one new area for value adds.

So whether VoIP is dead or not really doesn’t matter. We still need to talk and setting that up must become both easier and at the same time, more filtered. Everyone is looking for richer communications. It should be easy to escalate and know how to do it. The final terms may be up to the receiver. Eg Video, Voice, just text etc. And I’ve not even mentioned “presence” and “location” both of which are being redefined.

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