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Posts from January 2008

Wacky Telstra TV commercial about the shutdown of their CDMA network tomorrow...

Courtesy of Pat Phelan, I learned of this TV commercial from Telstra about the shutdown of their CDMA network tomorrow:

Obviously the intent is to make sure you have moved over to their NextG network. Being no fan of CDMA (and pretty much stuck with it where I live in Vermont), I just had to laugh. Kudos to Telstra for doing something "funny" in the world of telephony!

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Heading off to Florida tomorrow morning for Internet Telephony Expo and a Voxeo visit

I haven't really written any blog posts on any of my blogs today (until this one) largely because I've been straight out trying to get everything tied up before flying out tomorrow morning down to Orlando, Florida. Once in Orlando, I'll be driving down to Miami Beach tomorrow afternoon/evening to speak at Internet Telephony Expo on Thursday, go to a SIP Forum meeting on Friday and then drive back up to Orlando to spend some time at the Voxeo office. I'll be in Orlando over the weekend and then there through next Wednesday, January 30th.

I am very much looking forward to trying out Jet Blue's new direct, nonstop service between Burlington, Vermont, and Orlando tomorrow. Flight leaves at 8:20 in the morning and arrives in Orlando at 11:50am. I am looking forward to NOT having to make a stop in JFK or any of the other hub airports.

I'll be speaking at Ingate's SIP Trunking Seminars at IT Expo in Miami next week

button_Miami08.gifIf any of you will be in Miami next week for Internet Telephony Expo, I will be speaking on VOIPSA's behalf at Ingate's SIP Trunking Seminar Series held in conjunction with IT Expo. Predictably, my session from 8:30-9:45am on Thursday, January 24th is titled "Seminar/myth 1: VoIP is not secure".

If you are going to be down at IT Expo, do check out the full schedule for Ingate's SIP Trunking Seminar Series. They have a good range of speakers and the seminars are free.

If any of you are attending either IT Expo or the SIP Trunking Seminar Series, please do drop a note as I'm always interested in meeting readers.

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Skype says "No" to VoIP interoperability - *because customers aren't asking for it!* - Well, I am!

skype_logo.pngSo Skype says that they have no plans for interoperability with other VoIP systems because their customers aren't asking for it??

By way of Dameon Welch-Abernathy today I learned of Phil Wolff's post back in December about ZDNet's interview (Got all that? ;-) with Skype's VP of telecoms, Stefan Oberg. The article was primarily about Skype's London phone number debacle, but this was the part that most irritated me:

Another issue which may concern business users of VoIP is the Enum registry, which aims to unite not only the various VoIP providers — referred to by some as "islands" due to their lack of interconnection with each other — but the entire VoIP and traditional telephony worlds.

Asked whether Skype had considered opening up its famously closed communications protocols, Oberg claimed that there had been no customer demand for interconnection. "[Customers] are not saying they would love to call a VoIP provider on a different network," he said. "Customers are asking for better video and better conference calling. If it is something that customers really ask for, we would consider it, but it is very easy for anyone to get on the island."

Well, Mr. Oberg, here is one paying customer of Skype who can state unequivocally:

"I would love to call a VoIP provider on a different network!"

Here's the thing, Mr. Oberg. There are a whole lot of us out there who are looking to build the next voice communication network. We're looking forward to the day when today's PSTN is just some story that greybeards get together and reminisce about. ("Remember when we used to have to dial numbers? And wait for the connections? And remember how much we had to pay our phone companies for the privilege? And remember those 'busy signals'?") We're looking to make it simpler and easier and so that ultimately voice just smoothly fits in to our communication as one of the several different ways we communicate. (others being text/IM, video, etc.)

The funny thing is that many, if not most, of us experimenting with what will be next are Skype users. Probably in many cases paying Skype users since we have Skype Credit and SkypeIn numbers. Because, like you said, Skype makes it "very easy for anyone to get on the island." You do a lot of things right. You've got a very simple and easy-to-use client. Your directory is good. Your use of wideband audio usually gives outstanding audio quality. Your ability to work from very different network environments and through firewalls is great. Some of us love that everything you do is encrypted. You work across the major computing platforms. You make a great product and because you have hit a critical mass with so many of us there, we like to use your product.

But... with statements like this you're living in the same delusion that Facebook has been in until recently. You see, there's this wee tiny little problem:

You are NOT the only island!

Sure, you're probably the largest island with the most parties and easiest docks to land at. But there are a lot of other islands out there. Some of them are other services with whom you admittedly compete. Some are startups. Some of them are the traditional carriers now offering VoIP services to consumers and businesses. A lot of other islands are the companies and organizations now wiring themselves up with IP-PBXs or using back office software from Microsoft or IBM to "voice-enable" their infrastructure. Ditto for some cities and towns that are doing the same thing. In some cases, those islands are wiring voice so far into their business processes and systems that it's truly amazing.

Now some of us, seeing all these islands out there, say... "Hmmm... why don't we just connect the dots?" Let's build some bridges or high-speed ferries between those islands. Let's get them talking together. Let's interconnect the islands and build the new infrastructure. Let's bypass the old PSTN and build the new voice network entirely across the Internet. Let's forget all about those geographic boundaries... let's let voice flow to wherever wherever someone can get an IP address. Anywhere. Anytime. Let's interconnect business systems with other voice systems.

And you know what? We're doing it. Slowly. Very slowly at times. But we're doing it. We're using protocols like SIP and RTP and all the many others coming out of the IETF. We're creating "mashups" and using XML flavors like VoiceXML and CCXML to weave voice into the web. We're starting the interconnection. We're enabling businesses to connect to each other and dial each other directly. We're using SIP trunking to let local systems make and receive phone calls from other parts of the world. We're giving people their choice of endpoint... they can use a range of "hard" phones (traditional pieces of hardware) or "soft" phones (like you are). People can ring my deskphone simply by calling "[email protected]" using their SIP phone... goodbye hard-to-remember telephone numbers... hello user names.

Oh, sure, we've got lots of problems still to work out. Security is a huge one. You are extending your trust boundary out to include other networks. How do you know they won't send you tons of voice spam? Or abuse your network? Or run up bills on your dime? Privacy is another one. How do you show others only the information you want to? Sooner or later the various governments and tax authorities are going to wake up and realize how badly they are going to be screwed out of revenue by all we are doing - and we're going to have to deal with that. We've still got to agree on how to do certain features between systems. We've got a lot of work to do.

But we're doing it. We're rewiring the phone system. We're creating a new one, not shackled by its history.

The question for you all at Skype seems to be whether or not you want to help build that larger interconnected world. Or whether you want to just hang out on your island and hope that if you throw big enough parties and advertise "Free Beer" enough that everyone will forget about their own islands and just come over and join yours.

You know what? You'll get a lot of people to come on over. Today. And probably for some time. You've got a fun island to hang out on.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will keep on with our rewiring and remixing. We're building the fabric of what comes next. We're coding the DNA for the future of voice. We'd love it if you joined us. I'd love it. It would be great if I could call my colleagues on SIP extensions from directly within Skype. Not through some Skype-to-PBX gateway that really winds up running multiple instances of Skype... but through an actual SIP gateway. I'd love it if I could give them a SIP address like "[email protected]" that they could use to call me on my Skype client wherever I was. You know, I'd probably wind up using my Skype client more if I had that capability! You have a great UI. Why shouldn't I add my SIP contacts there, too?

What SIP contacts you say? Yes, clearly I'm an "early adopter"... one of those geeks who goes around chasing bright shiny objects. Guilty as charged. But each day what I do is becoming easier and easier for others to do. And you know what? If you supported SIP contacts, those of us who talk and write about topics like this would probably do a lot to evangelize you. We'd actually help you with your marketing.

Now you do make this excellent point:

"In order to provide richness, we have to create our own protocols," Oberg added. "SIP and the standard [VoIP] protocols simply can't do it."

You're right. Almost all the traditional vendors in the VoIP space do use their own proprietary protocols to give the rich communication experience people want. Cisco. Nortel. Avaya. Alcatel. Mitel. Others. But you know what? Their hold on the market is being disrupted. Lots of new players coming in. Big ones like Microsoft and IBM - who are interestingly supporting the open standards we're using. So the traditional vendors are evolving, too. They're supporting SIP for interconnection. Sure, they still have their parties on their islands and show people how great it is there, but they do allow bridges to be built. They understand the need to interconnect.

You're right, too, in that SIP only supports basic calls. We know that. We're working on it. So come join us. Join the IETF mailing lists. Send someone to IETF 71 in Philadelphia in March. Advocate for how we should interconnect to you. Building the Interconnect is long, often glacially-slow work, full of many people with different agendas, many of whom will all disagree. Join with us. You'll lose some battles and win others. But together we might just have a chance at making it all happen.

Or... just keep hanging out on your island throwing parties and trying to attract new people. Maybe it will work.

In the meantime, please don't say that customers aren't asking for interoperability. Count me as one who is:

"I would love to call a VoIP provider on a different network!"

I bet if I ask around, a few of the people I know would like that, too.

If you read this far, thank you for listening. You can now return to your island. Meanwhile, we've got some rewiring to do...

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Voice mashups - Notes on Alec's conference call today

UPDATE, Jan 11: The recording of this conference call is now available.

As I mentioned in an earlier post today, Alec Saunders convened a 30-minute conference call today on voice mashups. The call was recorded and will be available as a podcast from his site. (I'll add the link here once I'm online.)

I was traveling down through the state of Vermont today and so while I had no Internet access I did call in and joined the call from my Blackberry. (My wife was driving the car at the time.) I wrote down the following notes on my laptop during the call.

Alec introduced the call, mentioned that it would be recorded and distributed as a podcast. He then muted all the callers except for himself, Thomas Howe, Jim Courtney and Andy Abramson. For callers with Facebook open, they could press a button to "raise their hand" at which point Alec could unmute them. I was calling in on my cell phone while traveling with no Internet access, so for me it was to press "*2" to raise my hand.

Alec tossed out the first question which was "what is a voice mashup?" Thomas laid out one definition which Andy then amplified. Alec then asked if a mashup could involve something like Skype to which Jim described the results of the Skype Mashup contest and the winning PamFax app. Alec asked for examples and Thomas gave several. Alec asked how this looked like to the end-user. Thomas mentioned that it could be a web interface, but it might also simply be a telephone interface. The user would just call a number and do some kind of service. (Thanks for the mention of Voxeo, Thomas!)

Alec asked next "why do people build these?" Thomas... they are lightweight, easy to put together, easy to build for small interest groups (and therefore easy to put together a business case). Most ubiquitous interface is the phone. Business case can be small, but because of the architecture the application can actually scale massively if necessary. Jim... talked about ROI of PamFax... ability to take business documents from one location to another. Andy... mashup apps need to serve a purpose. Small, focused apps will be the general rule. However, that can be repurposed. You can globally deliver an app to small pockets of people who need that application. Andy recommends you look at's app exchange. Mentions Mashery and the work they are doing looking into how you manage the rights around the use of mashup apps.

Alec - "So how do you monetize mashups?" Thomas... at least 3 hooks for monetization: 1) make businesses run faster, eliminate delays; 2) customer satisfaction - giving users a view into your system without; 3) make businesses more efficient. Question from (Dean - someone on wall) - who is making the money? Thomas - most of the work is in professional services. Focus is on developing apps, not necessarily in sale of apps.

(At this point I pressed *2 to raise my hand to ask a question related to monetization. A few minutes later I pressed *2 again.)

Tony from Voxalot talked about his voice mashup for an Australian dating site that allows users to be anonymous callers. Jim Courtney mentioned that PamFax is getting revenue on every transaction. Tony, I believe, also mentioned that Alec is getting revenue based on the usage of his conference call app.

Thomas... mashup architectures allow you to not have to pay upfront capital costs. You don't have to pay for a phone number and manage it, for instance. You can just temporarily use a phone number. Mashup architectures lower the barriers to entry.

As it was now 10:00am, Alec suggested that we should wrap up the call and throw it out to the assembled crowd for questions. It sounded from the tone of his voice that he wasn't seeing anyone raising their hand (and I was wondering what happened to my *2!). Thomas started answering...

... and then I entered one of those glorious pockets of Vermont where Verizon has no cell phone coverage - and so I was dropped off the call. Since it sounded like it was going to be wrapping up, I didn't bother calling back in a few minutes later when I was back in a coverage area.

All in all it was an interesting discussion. It undoubtedly could have gone on much longer. As I've been wanting to write more about this whole topic of voice mashups, I'll probably have some further posts on this soon.

It was also an interesting usage of Alec's Facebook "Free Conference Calling" application. The Iotum gang has certainly developed that app further and I'll definitely be looking at it again and toying with some ideas about how to use it. The recording feature is certainly an interesting one for someone who likes producing podcasts... :-) (Although it does not seem to be wideband so you are still limited to lousy PSTN audio.)

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Want to talk about voice mashups? - Today, 9:30am Eastern US - Conf Call with Alec Saunders - Talking about Voice Mashups

If you are interested in "voice mashups", as I am, and are available today from 9:30 - 10:00am Eastern US time, you might be interested in joining a conference call hosted by Alec Saunders and several others. More information can be found over at Alec Saunders blog:

Talking about Voice Mashups: "Thursday morning a few of us will be doing a round table discussion on Voice Mashups using the iotum FREE Conference Call service. Andy Abramson, Tom Howe, Jim Courtney and myself will convene for 30 minutes to have a con-cast (Conference Call + PodCast).  If you're interested in the topic, please join us and contribute. "

I'm going to be traveling today, but if cell service works, I'll be joining in. Should be an interesting conversation.

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Digium launches the "Digium Asterisk Marketplace" to promote members of the Asterisk ecosystem

digium-the-asterisk-company.gifDigium recently announced that they have launched the "Digium Asterisk Marketplace" as a way to help connect users of Asterisk to partners in the "Asterisk ecosystem" who make products that work with Asterisk. Many of the folks listed there have been parters with Digium for some time and are often in Digium booths at various trade conferences but there were a few names new to me. At the time I am writing this, there are 30 members listed in the Marketplace but with the application form readily available, we'll see how much this grows. The Asterisk blog entry lays out the terms:
The price is right – a listing starts at $395 per quarter. In return, your company gets exposure to the thousands of unique visitors that cross the Digium site daily. Or you can get a more prominent “premium” listing for a few extra bucks. For a limited time, you can get a listing for a full year starting at $795 - about half the regular rate.

Later, we plan to add more cool features, such as the ability for users to provide feedback, more categories for listings, and the ability to buy selected partner products directly from the Marketplace site.

The question will really be how many Asterisk partners view this as a value and jump in.

In any event, I think it's great to see this type of listing coming out for Asterisk and I'll look forward to seeing how it grows over time.

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My thoughts are certainly with Om Malik as he recovers from a heart attack!

gigaom.jpgI was rather shocked today to learn that Om Malik is recovering from a heart attack! The good news, based on his post, is that he is recovering!

My thoughts are certainly with Om. Ever since I started paying attention to the VoIP blogosphere a good number of years ago, Om was one of the folks to whom I always paid attention. I wish him well and hope for his speedy recovery!

And yes, as he notes, it's a good reminder that we all need to watch our health. (Something I've been thinking a lot about lately.)

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A SIP phone for the iPod Touch! (Just add microphone...

Fascinating development on the Apple frontier... in late December some developers posted information about a SIP phone for the iPod Touch! They included this helpful demonstration video:

The team has obviously received a lot of questions and has therefore released a lengthy FAQ list. If you have an iPod Touch, you can download the software. Of course, you really need a microphone to use it... which the Touchmods folks are building.

All in all an interesting development. I look forward to seeing how it moves along!

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Another print pub bites the dust... say goodbye to "Business Communications Review" / BCR

200801021114In learning about the new "" blog recently, I also learned from Eric Krapf that Business Communications Review, commonly known simply as "BCR", was joining the ongoing exodus from the print publication business. Effective January 1, it will no longer be published in print form and, in fact, the name will retired for publishing purposes. They will continue to use the name for their training business, which is apparently going very well. The publishing focus for the BCR team will apparently be this new NoJitter blog, which I mentioned in my last post.

Personally, I'm sorry to see them go. I definitely do understand that the economics of print publishing today are quite difficult, but I did value the work that BCR did, particularly in their comparisons of products and services. It will be interesting to see, too, how well their current readership makes the switch with them. I know personally that once InfoWorld folded its print edition, I know longer paid as much attention to their writing as I once did... except when it randomly came up in searches. I'm not currently a BCR subscriber, so if anything this move may mean that I see more of their writing.

In any event, I wish them all the best with moving to the online world with and look forward to seeing how that site evolves.

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