Jajah – Conversation Broker – Strategy?

May 31, 2007

in Mobility, Skype Journal, VoIP

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.

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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew May 31, 2007 at 8:08 pm

I have been very surprised with Jajah’s (apparent) success. Only for the reason that what they do is very simple, and extremely easy for a Tier 1 or 2 carrier to replicate – literally in a few weeks.

Stuart May 31, 2007 at 11:39 pm

Hi Andrew,
Perhaps the problem is most carriers are stuck with what happens after they connect the two end points? Maybe there is some vision there afterall!

David Beckemeyer June 1, 2007 at 12:41 pm

In response to “When Jajah can connect with Gtalk or Gizmo or connect a PSTN caller with a Yahoo number they have something pretty special.”

PhoneGnome can do this today and works on mobiles too, including the “broker” two phones no box or other hardware needed: http://www.phonegnome.com/blog/?p=93

Stuart June 1, 2007 at 8:58 pm

I’d missed this announcement! That’s fantastic and I’m not surprised. Now I just need to get you 10 million users.

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