Disruptive Telephony... ... disrupted?

Disconnected handsetIt's been a while since I've written here on Disruptive Telephony... too long. :-(

It's not for a lack of topics ... my queue of things I would like to write about continues to grow and grow!

It's easy to say that my day job has consumed much of my writing time... and there's definitely a great bit of truth to that.

There's also the fact that I have two young children and a wife whom I adore and want to spend time with... as well as other priorities in life that have taken me away from writing as much as I used to.

I do, though, want to get back to writing here, and indeed across all my sites, a bit more.

Stay tuned...
 


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Join Me On VUC Today At Noon US EDT To Talk IPv6, IoT, WebRTC and more...

Today at 12 noon US Eastern (in about 3.5 hours), I'll be part of a panel on the VoIP Users Conference (VUC) talking about IPv6, WebRTC, the Internet of Things (IoT) and much, much more... you should be able to watch it live at live.vuc.me or embedded here:

VUC host Randy Resnick had a scheduled guest be unable to attend and so he asked a group of us to come on for what he is calling a "VUC Vision" session. I will be on there, as will, I believe, Tim Panton and a number of others. I expect the discussion should range over good variety of topics. It should be a good time... you're welcome to join in the discussion.

It's probably best to also join the IRC backchannel where links are shared, questions are answered and other comments occur. You also can visit the Google+ event page for the VUC session today where there may be additional links and info.

If you won't be at your computer, you can also call in via:

  • sip:[email protected]
  • +1 (646) 475-2098
  • Skype:vuc.me

The session will of course be recorded so you can listen/watch later.

Vuc vision 20141003


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Talko Looks Very Cool, But Needed A Firewall Change To Work

Talko directoryThe big telecom story today certainly seems to the be launch of Ray Ozzie's new "Talko" application for iOS. Tons of attention in the tech media, and many of my friends on social media have been trying it out. There's a brilliant article posted on Medium about the "Brave New Phone Call" along with a great blog post from Ray Ozzie about how this new app will revolutionize the voice experience.

I think Talko has great potential to do so, particularly after using it.

But...

... I had to change my firewall rules in order to make Talko work. :-(

And I don't know how long it will continue to work.

Perhaps worse than that... it wasn't clear initially that I had a firewall problem. Frequent testing partner Jim Courtney sent me a message and after installing the Talko app on my iPhone I tried to talk to him, but all I seemed to be able to do was send him a voice message or a text message.

Subsequently I tried connecting to Tim Panton and again could only send voice messages. It made for a very asynchronous "walkie-talkie" style of communication that clearly seemed to not be what was described in the article.

At that point my many years in VoIP kicked in and I realized the firewall at the edge of my network was probably blocking something. Sure enough, when I pulled up the live firewall log and filtered on my iPhone's IP address I could see blocked connections from my iPhone that were intended for an IP address in Amazon's EC2 cloud. These blocked connections happened when I tried to initiate a voice conversation within Talko.

I first tried to create a firewall rule that would allow specific ports through, just by guessing from the firewall logs what ports Talko might be using. However, they jumped around and what I ultimately had to do was create a rule allowing any connection from inside my network to the specific IPv4 address of what I assume is one of Talko's servers on Amazon EC2.

Once I did this, I was able to have a voice conversation with Tim perfectly fine. It was actually rather cool how it would record the conversation and let me easily go back, listen again, advance through it, etc.

But...

... poking a hole in my firewall to a specific IP address is very definitely NOT the way to have a telecom application work.

And... Talko will only work on my network as long as that destination IP address doesn't change. If they add more servers or change their architecture, it's dead to me. At least... dead on my home WiFi network. Presumably it could still work on my mobile data network (at a cost to me).

Now, to be fair, I'm a bit more security-paranoid than the average home user and so I run a Linux-based firewall/server/gateway on the edge of my home network with a fairly restrictive set of firewall rules. The default policy is to deny outbound connections unless they fit into various rules. I've had to add rules allowing VoIP and IM protocols... and it's not uncommon for me to have to add new rules for applications like this. For instance, I had to do so for Tox when I was playing with it a few months back.

Odds are Talko will probably work fine for the vast majority of connections from WiFi networks with less paranoid firewall rules.

But... for an app like this to really challenge the existing telecom infrastructure, it needs to work from almost anywhere. This is why Skype usage is so ubiquitous - Skype "just works" and has its ways to work around firewalls. Within the SIP and WebRTC communities there are all the STUN / TURN / ICE servers and technologies that enable this kind of transit of a firewall. The technology is out there. And there will certainly be some enterprises and other businesses that set up firewalls at least as restrictive as mine is.

I realize today's news is the initial public launch and that this is early days for the app. I hope the Talko team can figure out a way to make the voice conversation work through firewalls. I really like what I see inside the app.

Meanwhile... I'm just hoping they don't change the IP address of the server with which my app is communicating!


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Three Years At The Internet Society

Internet sign london

Today marks three truly amazing years at the Internet Society.  It was September 19, 2011, when I visited the main office in Reston, Virginia, and began this wonderful journey.  I wrote back then about why I was taking this job to fight for the open Internet - and in truth the reasons haven't changed.

If anything, the situation has only gotten worse.  

There are now far more threats to what I've taken to calling the "Internet of Opportunity" ... the kind of Internet we have today where anyone can start any kind of service or publish any kind of information.  

Within the Internet Society (or "ISOC" as we are often called) we call this "permissionless innovation", not needing to ask permission of anyone to innovate.  If you have a new idea or a new service or product... you can just do it. You don't have to plead with a "gatekeeper" or pay someone in order to launch your service out onto the Internet.

But that could change.

Some of the legacy telecommunications companies who have lost out on revenue as everyone has moved away from phone calls would really like their revenue back.  Some of the entertainment and traditional media companies would like their revenue and control back, too.  And many governments would like to regain some of their control - and tax revenue.

Money and control.

As I wrote in that article three years ago, there is a great quote from the 1992 movie Sneakers:

“There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!”

That is definitely the case.  And that war is only gotten stronger... and it's going to get even more fierce in the years ahead.

I'm personally glad that there are a group of organization including the Internet Society that are dedicated to shining the light on the changes that are happening... and arguing for why we need to keep the current "open" nature of the Internet so that we and our children, and their children, can all benefit from the kinds of opportunities we've had to date with the Internet.

Last year I wrote a good bit about how pleased I was to be part of the Internet Society.  That hasn't changed!  My passion for the work that ISOC does around the world has only grown stronger in this past year as I have learned more of the amazing things happening around the world.  I continue to love my own work with the Internet Society Deploy360 Programme - I wake up each morning excited to write more and do more to help people learn how they can deploy new technologies to make the Internet work better, faster and be more secure.  I absolutely love what I do!

But I was reminded this week of how many other things are done by my colleagues all over the world.  I just game back from a 4-day all-staff retreat at a hotel in Virginia.  This was the first time an event like this had been held in over 3 years and we've added so many new staff that many of us had never met each other.  We spent the time talking about what our priorities should be... where did we see the organization going... how could we best help the Internet... what could we do......

It was an amazing time.  VERY intense... although certainly with some time for fun mixed in.   We came out with some great ideas and plans that I'm looking forward to making happen in the weeks and months ahead.

What struck me most is that the people are amazing.  It's truly an honor and privilege for me to serve with them and to do what we do.

The mission of the Internet Society is quite simple:

To promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.

It's that mission that brought me here... and that's the reason I continue to be as excited as I am about what I do. As I celebrate three years with the Internet Society, I'm very much looking forward to the next three years... and the next beyond that!

P.S. One great way you can help is to join the Internet Society to stay up-to-date on current issues affecting the Internet - membership is free for individuals. You can also subscribe to my infrequent email newsletter where I hit many of these topics.


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Watch Live TODAY (Sept 19) - CITI State of Telecom 2014

Citi logoWhat is the future of telecommunications and the Internet? As more entertainment moves to being over the Internet, what are the implications for the media and for the technology?

Today, September 19, 2014, there is an interesting set of presentations happening at the Columbia Club in New York City, organized by the Columbia (University) Institute for Tele-Information (CITI) called the "CITI State of Telecom 2014". Subtitled, "From the Internet of Science to The Internet of Next Generation Entertainment Implications for Content, Technology and Industry Consolidation", the session description states:

The goal of the early Internet was to connect research institutions. Yet today 71% of all Internet traffic consists of video, games, and music, and that number is growing. This transition raises issues for media content, technology, industry consolidation, business strategy, and regulatory policy. Media companies, academics, policy makers, and technologists must think ahead.

You can watch it all live at:

http://new.livestream.com/internetsociety/citisot14

The sessions are being recorded, too, and are available at that address.

The session agenda and list of all the speakers is available on the CITI event page. The quick summary is:

  • 9:00am Welcome and Introduction of Topic
  • 9:15am Session 1- Technology and business drivers of the transformation of the Internet
  • 10:25am Session 2- Emerging business, marketing, and transaction models for Next Generation Video (NGV)
  • 11:35am Coffee Break
  • 11:50am Session 3- Public Interest Dimensions in Next-Generation Video and Networks
  • 12:50pm Lunch
  • 1:50pm Session 4 - Consolidation in the network platform industry: drivers and impacts
  • 3:00pm Coffee Break
  • 3:10pm Session 5 - New TV and (video) OTT issues for telecom and media policy
  • 4:20pm Session 6 - Defining the future: initiatives to lead the next generation of internet video
  • 5:30 Closing remarks and reception

The sessions began 3.5 hours ago at 9:00am US Eastern and will continue for another 5 hours. I've learned a good bit from a number of the sessions - and am listening right now to the discussion around the challenges of getting Internet infrastructure deployed in rural areas of the USA.

Great sessions to listen to!


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How Do We Define 'SIP' For Telecom In 2014?

Sip question"What is a minimum set of specifications that a vendor must implement to be able to say that it is SIP-compliant?"

A friend asked me that question and my response was:

It depends.

and even more unfortunately:

I don't know.

It turns out to be a challenging question to answer... and it led me to ask:

  • How do we define what "SIP" is for telecommunications in 2014?
  • How do we help vendors move their products/services to be based on SIP?
  • As we talk about "turning off the PSTN" and "moving all telecom to IP", how can we make it easier for companies to switch to using SIP?

The reality is that being "SIP-compliant" does turn out to depend upon where in the larger SIP interconnection ecosystem the vendor is located.

Is the vendor:

  1. a SIP client, in terms of a "hard" phone, a softphone, or other application that is seeking to connect to a SIP server?
  2. a SIP server seeking to connect to a SIP "service provider" to have connectivity out to the PSTN and other SIP networks?
  3. a SIP service provider seeking to interconnect with other SIP service providers and to the PSTN?
  4. a middlebox such as a firewall or session border controller (SBC) seeking to be in the middle of a SIP communication stream?
  5. an application that interacts with SIP systems in some way? (ex. call recording, IVR, networking monitoring)

To be "SIP-compliant" really means you need to figure out what amount of "SIP" you need to implement to play your part in the larger picture. Particularly when the SIP "architecture" we describe isn't the pretty little picture we use:

Sip architecture

but rather a much more complex reality:

Sip architecture reality

Unfortunately, the "Session Initiation Protocol" (SIP) is no longer just good old RFC 3261 and a few friends. RFC 3261 provided a radical new way to do telecommunications... it was "HTTP for voice"... it was simple, easy and pretty amazing. If you have a moment, go back and read RFC 3261. It's a remarkable document and set of ideas.

However, there were two factors that started to complicate "SIP":

  • the "Internet" community kept thinking of new and innovative ways that they could do more with SIP-based telecommunications; and
  • the traditional telecom companies/vendors kept wanting to bring across more and more legacy PSTN functionality into the world of SIP, typically without changing that PSTN functionality so that they wouldn't have to change their business models or processes.

This combination set SIP up to slowly become more and more of an accretion of various hacks and kludges designed to either enable SIP to unleash new possibilities and/or to take over key functionality from the PSTN.

But in doing so it became so much harder to define what "SIP" was.

Back around 2008/2009, Jonathan Rosenberg tried with his "Hitchiker's Guide to SIP" that was published as RFC 5411 in February 2009:

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5411

Now consider that this contained about 26 pages worth of documents to be referenced... and this was back in 2009! In the 5 years since, the "Realtime Applications and Infrastructure (RAI)" area of the IETF has been extremely busy and a similar document today would be be MUCH longer.

But does such a long list really help?

Going back to to my list of different roles within the SIP ecosystem, do we need more narrower lists for each role? A SIP client connecting to an IP-PBX may not need to implement all of the same specifications as a SIP service provider connecting to the PSTN.

What is the minimum set of SIP specifications for each role?

SIPconnect sipforumThe good news is that for the second role I mention, the SIP server to SIP service provider, the SIP Forum has done some outstanding work with their SIPconnect initiative. You can find more info at:

http://www.sipforum.org/sipconnect

You can download the SIPconnect 1.1 technical specification and see the great amount of work they have done. The idea is that ultimately any "SIPconnect-compliant" IP-PBX or other SIP server can connect to any "SIPconnect-compliant" SIP service provider. It should "just work" with a minimum amount of testing. The goal is to allow the more rapid deployment of SIP-based IP-PBXs and making this part of the interconnection puzzle work that much better.

So if you are a vendor of a SIP server, whether you call it an IP-PBX, a call server, or whatever... or you are a SIP service provider seeking to connect to SIP servers at your customers - in either case you have SIPconnect that you can use to be "SIP-compliant".

But what about the other roles?

What if a vendor has multiple products?

What if a service provider or enterprise is just trying to get "SIP" products to work together? What should they specify beyond the vague statement that a product should support "SIP"?

Now, there are other organizations that have attempted to answer this question. The 3GPP has a list of SIP specifications and the GSMA seems to have similar documents. The ITU-T has many recommendations but since they rename everything it's hard to understand what really links back to SIP - and many of the ITU recommendations are only available to members and so you can't easily view them.

Which brings me back to these questions:

  • Do we need a new IETF document that aims to update RFC 5411 with a newer list and perhaps "profiles" of what would be needed for different roles?
  • Is this something the SIP Forum or some other organization should take on?
  • Has someone else already created a concise list/document/specification and I just haven't yet found it?

And perhaps the even larger question:

  • Do you believe this is an issue that we collectively should be working on as an industry to help make the deployment of SIP easier?

What do you think? How do we define SIP in 2014? What should we do? I'd love to hear your comments either in response to this post here on this blog or out on social media where this is posted. (Thanks!)


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Walk-Through: Skype 5.4 For iPhone Lets You Host Audio Conference Calls

Skype 5 4 for iosSkype released a new version 5.4 of it's iPhone app that includes an interesting ability to host "group audio calls". In a post on Skype's "Garage & Updates" blog today, Skype's Gary Wong writes that the goal of this release is "to make it easy for you to host a group audio call with just one tap." They did that... and I'll show that below in a series of images walking through the process.

A couple of caveats and thoughts from the testing:

  • As Gary Wong noted in his blog post this first release is limited to four people in a group audio call.
  • It seems from the testing described below that the "group audio call" is limited to Skype users. I couldn't find a way to add in a call to an external phone number.
  • It also seems to be limited to the iPhone and is not yet available on the iPad.
  • Image sharing isn't seamless between Skype for iPhone users and Skype desktop users.
  • The user interface was a bit troubling when switching between parts of the group call.

With that in mind, here are more details...

An Architecture Change For Audio Conferencing

What's interesting is that this capability is a change from the way that Skype has historically "hosted" audio conferences. With the existing Skype desktop clients, when you launch an audio conference call, your computer does all the mixing of the audio streams.

For this reason, if you want the best quality audio conference (or "group audio call"... I note that Skype is pointedly avoiding using the term "conference call") your smartest plan is usually to find the person with the fastest computer and fastest Internet connection. The combination of those two factors can make your audio call work the best.

Perhaps obviously, as powerful as they are, today's smartphones aren't going to have the CPU or bandwidth to do all the mixing of the audio streams and sending them back out to all participants.

So this new "group audio call" feature from Skype has to be using some audio mixing happening back in servers in Microsoft/Skype's "cloud" (also known as their "central data centers"). Your iPhone then becomes the control center for the group audio call and also sends your audio stream and receives back the mixed audio stream.

Walking Through Group Audio Calls

Naturally I had to try this out and enlisted the help of two long-time fellow testers - Jim Courtney and Phil Wolff.

Part of this new feature is that there is now a "phone" icon at the bottom of every chat window on your iPhone. A simple tap of that phone icon will initiate a group call with "everyone" in that chat. I didn't have Jim and Phil in a group chat smaller than the 4-person limit, so I started out with a regular voice call via Skype to Jim. I then tapped on the "add a person" icon in the lower right and added in Phil. As the call was connecting to Phil, here is what it looked like:

Skype 5 4 p2

After Phil accepted the call, I could tap on the "multiple person" (or "group") icon at the top and see a list of who was on the call:

Skype 5 4 p3

Tapping the "star" icon on the bottom would add this to my "Favorites" in the iPhone Skype client. Tapping the "..." button brought up a small set of options:

Skype 5 4 p4 0

Choosing to "rename group" let me give it a new name ("Testing Skype") which then appeared at the top of the window:

Skype 5 4 p4 1

Now, Jim and I were both using Skype on our iPhones while Phil was connected using Skype on his Mac. Neither Jim nor I could easily figure out how to start a text chat, but as part of the call Phil had a chat open up in his Mac Skype client. Once he typed in that, Jim and I both had a chat window on our iPhone:

Skype 5 4 p5

Jim and I could then enter in messages in our iPhone clients without any problems. I also had a Mac Skype client open and Jim had a Windows Skype client open and we could see the chat messages there, too, and could type messages in those clients - it all worked fine.

One interesting issue was the support of sharing files or photos across the clients. When Phil dropped a photo into the chat on his Mac desktop client, I was unable to see it in my iPhone:

Skype 5 4 p6

Tapping the "i" icon next to the message brought me to a page explaining that the iPhone client only used Skype's new "cloud-based" photo sharing service. Curious to explore this more, I tapped the camera icon and shared out an image I had on my iPhone. The result was visible to both Jim and I (and no, that's not me but rather a contractor working on our house):

Skype 5 4 p7

However, now Phil was not able to see the photo in his Mac desktop client (nor was I) but was instead directed to go to a URL in his browser to see the image:

Skype

Phil said on our call that in order to view that photo he had to login to his Skype account. After our 10 minutes or so of testing this, Phil dropped off and navigating back to the "call" screen I could see that he was no longer on the call:

Skype 5 4 p8

At this point I could have tapped on the green phone icon to bring Phil back in, but we were done.

When this was over, I did now have my new "Testing Skype" chat with Jim and Phil in it - and at the bottom was a phone icon. Jim tapped the phone icon on his iPhone and reconnected all three of us into a call.

Final Thoughts

If I used Skype on my iPhone a great amount, I could see how this feature would be quite useful for initiating group audio calls. I could create a "group" (effectively a "chat") with a group of people and add that to my "favorites". Then I could simply go into my "favorites" on my iPhone client and initiate the call. Obviously the initial four-person restriction limits the usefulness to only small teams/groups right now, but presumably Microsoft/Skype will raise that limit over time as this feature rolls out more.

The audio quality was fine. I didn't see a way to find out the technical details, but the audio sounded high quality, i.e. it was using Silk or another wideband codec to give rich audio.

I did find the navigation to be a bit cumbersome and not intuitive. Switching between the chat window, the "call status" window (showing the participants) and the regular call window was not as easy as I would have liked. It took some poking and tapping to figure out how to move around.

We did wonder why Skype was rolling out this particular feature right now. Phil wondered if there might be competitive pressures with Apple's announcements coming on Tuesday - for example, will we see group audio calls for Apple's Facetime? We'll have to tune in to see!

It also may purely be Skype seeking to reclaim some of the leadership on features for OTT voice apps given that so many other players have entered the market. Whatever the case... the feature is now out there and available for iPhone users.

If you'd like to try this out yourself, you should be able to download an update from the AppStore.

If you have already tried it, what do you think?


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Why Is Skype Forcing A Software Upgrade On All Of Us? (Plus The Community Outrage)

Today when I opened up my laptop and switched to Skype, I found that I had been logged out:

Skype

The text in that image says:

We've signed you out because you're using an outdated version of Skype. Download the latest version now.

Now, to be clear, I wasn't using an ancient version of Skype. My laptop had version 6.3.0.602 from sometime in, say, March 2013 - so yes, it was over a year old, but the thing with Skype is that it has had a history of always "just working", which perhaps we as users have gotten used to. The upgrade went fine on my MacBook Pro that is still running Mountain Lion (10.8) and I'm now using Skype version "6.15 (334)".

Community Outrage

In a Skype public chat in which I participate a number of other users said they'd been logged out - and looking in the Windows Skype community and Mac Skype community web forums I see MANY messages from people who are experiencing problems over the past week. The frustration is even visible in the Linux Skype community (a community Skype has often ignored), where a staff moderator posted last Friday, August 1, this message:

From today, users with Skype for Linux version 4.2 and older will not be able to sign in to Skype. The error messages user will see during sign in may include “Can’t Connect to Skype” or ”Can’t login on Skype”. To continue using Skype, please update to the latest version.

The replies mostly indicate that the "new" version of Skype won't work on various configurations of Linux. The 99th response to the threadperhaps sums up the anger best:

In all your web content you people claim that forcing us to drop 4.2 and move to 4.3 improves our lives and makes our Skype experience better. If you have bothered to read all the responses in this topic, by now I hope you understand: YOU ARE NOT MAKING SKYPE BETTER FOR US. 4.3 breaks audio compatibility. Pulseaudio does not work with my USB external audio equipment, and running it causes my other audio-based apps to stop working. If you want to make Skype better for us, put ALSA support back in. Or release the source code so we can do it ourselves. Or stop blocking 4.2 so we can continue using the version that DOES make our lives easier. What you have done to Skype is an abomination.

You can see similar sentiment in the lengthy thread in the Mac community. Here's the 78th message in the thread:

Hello. Okay, straight to the point. THIS is not a solution. I've tried many times diferent ''approaches'' to this problem. From trying to use an old version 2.8 to just plainly updating in the skype app as asked (which I downloaded and when I tried to sign in it logs me out cuz its asks AGAIN for the update); I even tried unistall skype and download it again, but everything fails. And no, I won't update to Mavricks; I'm fine with the current version I have; thanks. So, plz, I do like skype, its awesome for work (which I use EVERYDAY) and keep in contact, but this is waaaaaaay out. PLEASE GIVE A SOLUTION. THANK YOU. :happy:

A big issue in reading the threads seems to be that many people still need to use older versions of their base operating system - and the latest versions of Skype will not work with those operating systems. Here's an example:

I'm ready to drop Skype. I do not allow even APPLE to tell me how to configure my computer, much less MICROSOFT (who owns skype since 2011). There is no way I'm upgrading to Mavericks. Absolutely no need, and I still use applications that require Rosetta, which is not available in anything past 10.6.8.

Bye bye skype. I'll use it on my iPhone, but no more on my desktop, and if it gets weird on my iPhone skype will simply lose a customer. Period.

There are MANY more examples... and many more in the Windows community as well. All in all it seems that this "forced upgrade" is not going down well with many people.

Skype's Statements

As far as I can see, Skype is pointing people to this support article about upgrading that says:

We want everyone to experience the best Skype has to offer – from enhanced quality to better reliability to improved security – and the newest version of Skype is the way to do that. So everyone can benefit from the latest improvements, from time to time we retire older versions of Skype across all platforms, including mobile devices. It’s easy to update Skype; once you do, you’ll have access to the latest features our team has worked hard to deliver.

When we retire older versions of Skype, if you are still on an older version, you would be signed out of Skype automatically and won’t be able to sign in again until you upgrade to a new version. Simply follow the steps below to download, install, and sign in to the latest version, and you’ll be back in Skype in no time.

Skype also provided a bit of a preview of this action in a July 16, 2014, blog post titled "Update Skype now to improve your experience" where they trumpted all the benefits of upgrading and included one little line about the impending retirement:

So everyone can benefit from the latest improvements, we’ll retire older versions of Skype across all platforms, including mobile devices, in the near future.

where it turns out that "in the near future" meant about two weeks later at the end of July 2014. :-(

But Why, Skype?

The lingering question is... why now?

I mean, I do understand that one of the strengths of Skype historically has been that it "just worked" and that pretty much any version of Skype would still let you connect. This has allowed Skype to become the amazingly ubiquitous communication tool that it has become.

The down side of this for Microsoft/Skype is that they can't get people to use all their new services - or see their new ads - if there are so many older versions.

Similarly, they can't move to new technical architectures that may provide better service when they have to also support a long history of past releases. (For example, their move away from the peer-to-peer architecture that was their original highlight to more of a centralized "cloud" architecture to provide better support for mobile clients.)

I get all that.

I can understand why Microsoft would want - even need - everyone to use newer versions of Skype.

But why now? Why the end-of-July 2014 point? Was that just an arbitrary date? Is there something else driving it?

And what changes are being made in these newer versions? Is it, as one friend said, because Microsoft wants to move away from P2P chat? Or make some other technical changes?

What are they doing that caused them to decide NOW was the time to move?

The somewhat crazy thing with the timing is that it is not like Skype is the only choice for people now. There are a ton of competing communication channels. I've personally been using Apple's Facetime and Google+ Hangouts a good bit more these days for communication. As I wrote about recently, Facebook is clearly looking to make their Messenger be a mobile tool for voice and chat communication. And there are many other mobile apps that are trying to be "the next Skype". Plus... there is the whole world of WebRTC and the zillion new apps and sites that are providing new ways to communicate.

And maybe THAT is the driver. Perhaps Microsoft realizes that to compete with all these new services and to be able to evolve Skype they NEED to force users to come up to the latest versions. Perhaps they are hoping that any disruption in users behavior will be only temporary and that after that migration they can then move ahead faster.

Or perhaps this is just part of the general changes that Microsoft is making to re-focus their energy and staff. As shown by their recent large round of layoffs, the way they have been doing things hasn't been working - and they need to change. Perhaps they view the customer hostility (and potential switching) that will come from forcing these upgrades will be balanced out by their lower support costs by not having to support older models.

Or perhaps they just think of us all as sheep who won't be bothered to change.

I don't know. And Skype doesn't seem to be saying beyond their vague platitudes about how upgrading will benefit everyone.

Will Users Move To Alternatives?

The question is, of course, will users actually move to alternatives?

Judging by the outrage in many of those community forums it appears that Microsoft may have underestimated the technical problems that users would face with these upgrades. I see a lot of people saying they can't upgrade to Skype due to their operating system version or other issues.

Skype is effectively dead to them.

So in this case they will have to find an alternative because they simply can't use Skype.

But there is no easy way to know what percentage of people are affected by these upgrade issues. It could be quite small. It could be that the vast majority of users have automatically updated with no problem.

I took a look at Hudson Barton's Skype user statistics but unfortunately his system stopped collecting statistics on July 31st . He's restarted it now... but the data has been lost for this past week that might have shown us what, if any, impact there was. He is showing 77 million Skype users online right as I write this, which is consistent with recent numbers.

It's also not clear where Microsoft/Skype is in rolling out this forced upgrade to their users. From the user community posts it seems many people started experiencing this problem back on July 30th or 31st. I just received the notification this morning, August 6th. I know from others online that they are still using older versions and have not yet received the forced upgrade notice.

We've been here before, too. Back in December 2010 there was a Skype outage that disconnected almost everyone for several days. Many of us thought this might provide a push to people to try another service... and it didn't. Once the outage was over people generally went back to using Skype. It was easy - and the directory is there, i.e. so many people you know use Skype that it makes it super easy to connect with people that way.

Times are different in 2014, though. There are more and better choices than there were four years ago. Offerings from Apple, Google and Facebook all are quite compelling - and bring with them a directory of users. Perhaps not as many as on Skype, but still quite solid.

What will you do?

Switch to using more of another service such as iMessage, Google+ Hangouts or Facebook? Try out a startup such as Tox?[1] Use one of the many mobile apps?

Or will you just stick with Skype? (Assuming, of course, that you can upgrade.)


[1] Naturally I'm trying out Tox, but that's just because I'm always trying out new services... and hey, how can I not try out a service that encourages people to use IPv6? :-) (And if you want to try connecting to me there, my Tox ID is the incredibly hard to relay string of B1B85CBFB6DFBC72729F8D6113A626B116317A224C09A50BFB9C5ABDCCE5187A13701016DE8A ... I think they need to work a bit on the user experience for this to really be useful!)


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The Mobile Messaging Wars Continue - Facebook Forces Separate Messenger App On Mobile Users

In the ongoing war for mobile messaging dominance and "what will replace SMS", Facebook has decided to annoy a serious part of their user base and force all mobile users to move to Facebook's separate Messenger app. In a short period of time, you will be forced to install the Messenger app if you want to send messages to Facebook friends while using your iOS or Android mobile phone.

Here's the thing... I already tried Messenger on my iPhone a while ago... AND I *UNINSTALLED* IT!

I don't want a separate messaging app. I already have a ton of those. When I am in Facebook I want to do all my Facebook activities and messaging within the one app. I tried Messenger and found the switching between the apps to be painful enough that I wanted nothing to do with it.

Now... in fairness, being someone who tends toward the "early adopter" stage, it was a while ago that I tried Messenger and before their "big update", so presumably they've made improvements. As Facebook so helpfully tells me, 190 of my friends use Messenger already. Knowing some of the people whose images I see on that ad Facebook show me, I can't imagine them tolerating a poor user experience... so yes, perhaps I should try it again.

But it's annoying to be forced to do so. Basically what it says to me is "we (FB) have tried every incentive possible to get people to move, but they aren't, so now we're going to make them move." Facebook already forced most of their European users to make the switch - but now they are making everyone switch.

There has been a great amount of media attention to this move today, and I received the email directly this morning:

Facebook messenger

The text itself says:

We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that's faster and more reliable for everyday messaging. Messenger also includes: new ways to send photos and videos, voice calls, stickers, group conversations and more.

Soon, we'll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you'll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you'd normally see your messages. At that point, we'll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You'll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it'll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.

We appreciate your taking the time to install Messenger and know it will take a little while to adjust to using a second app. We look forward to sharing this fast, fun and reliable way of messaging with you. You can learn more here.

Where the "Soon, we'll start guiding you..." is really just marketing-speak for "Soon, you'll have no choice if you want to continue using Facebook messaging on your mobile phone."

The Bigger Picture

I understand why Facebook is doing this. They want a separate, lean "messaging" app that integrates tightly with your mobile phone operating system (iOS or Android). They want it so integrated that eventually you use it only and stop using the messaging app that is part of your o/s.

On my iPhone Apple has done a brilliant job with the "Messages" app integrating Apple's iMessage service in with regular SMS text messages. By default Apple tries to send your message via their OTT messaging service (iMessage) and then falls back to SMS when the recipient isn't registered with iMessage.

Facebook wants you to use their Messenger app as your default messenging app. They would like me to replace Apple's "Messages" with their "Messenger" app as my place to go do send a message. So they need a lean and focused messenging app to do this.

The OTT War For Mobile Messaging Dominance

And this IS the end-game. The war now is for which of the many "Over-The Top" (OTT) apps will be the replacement for the dying world of SMS messaging. People aren't sending as many actual SMS messages and are instead using:

  • iMessage from Apple
  • Facebook Messaging
  • WhatsApp (also now from Facebook)
  • Line from NHN
  • WeChat from Tencent
  • Hangouts from Google (as part of Google+ or separate)
  • Skype from Microsoft
  • Viber
  • Twitter
  • Blackberry Messenger (BBM - see update note below)

and probably another hundred smaller ones.

[UPDATE: A Canadian friend noted that I missed Blackberry Messenger (BBM) in the list and while I admittedly don't think about BBM that much these days, he's right that there is still a population that uses it on their smartphones.]

And yes, these are all separate "walled gardens" of propriety messaging (as I wrote about back in 2007, although the names have changed substantially). You can't message someone on a different system. You both have to be part of the same system - or potentially the system may fall back to sending a SMS message as iMessage does.

The attempts to lock Internet users into closed, proprietary walled gardens continues.

Make your app easy and simple to use... and get the most people using your app so that they won't want to switch to some other app.

The Broader OTT War For Mobile Communications

Notice, too, that Facebook mentions using Messenger for "voice calls". With this on iOS they are clearly aiming to take on Apple's "Facetime Audio" that Apple now presents as an option each time you make a call. And they can take on Microsoft's Skype and Google's Hangouts.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

All trying to be THE app/service that you use for communication on your mobile device. (And you can probably expect folks like Amazon to enter the game at some point, too.)

Giants on the playground.

And who is missing are the past giants of telecom. The "telcos"... the "carriers"... the "service providers". They are well on their way to being commoditized down to "big, fat, dumb pipes" of data... and they don't like that.

Hence you see them trying to coming out with their own apps and services (as Telefonica has done) or trying to come out with a rival offering such as Joyn (which Dean Bubley rips apart while pointing out the fallacy of talking of the "messaging market")... or using their control of the underlying data network to slow or block services... or using their powerful lobbying capabilities to attempt to get governments to regulate or intervene.

THIS is why so many of the upcoming ITU events matter. THIS is why the discussions on "network neutrality" matter.

The war for the future of mobile communications is well underway... and Facebook's move this week is just part of that much larger battle.

Even if that move will severely annoy Facebook users like me... most of whom will, of course, suck it up and install Messenger... because whether we like it or not we do want to communicate with Facebook users while mobile.


You can also listen to audio commentary on this topic:


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What is "5G" Wireless Technology? Watch LIVE in 2 hours to learn more...

5gWhat is "fifth-generation" (5G) wireless technology? In about 2 hours at 12noon EDT (16:00 UTC) today, July 24, 2014, there will be a live video stream of a presentation happening at IETF 90 in Toronto, Canada. You can watch the live video on the IETF Google+ Page and also embedded in this blog post below (but check the Google+ page for any updates). The session description is:

Discussions on fifth generation (5g) wireless access has rapidly intensified during the latest two years. 5G wireless access is seen as the long-term enabler of the overall networked society, not only providing enhanced mobile broadband access but being a tool to provide wireless connectivity for any kind of application.

This speech will provide an overview of the state of 5G efforts around the world. We will discuss the specific requirements and challenges being identified for 5G wireless access and the different technology components and alternatives being considered. We will also outline possible time schedule for 5G in ITU and 3GPP.

Given that so many people are getting their Internet access through mobile networks (and increasingly will be doing so in the future), I think it's extremely important to understand where these mobile technologies are going.

The speaker is Erik Dahlman from Ericsson and more information about his background can be found on the lunch session description page on the IETF website.

The presentation will be recorded and will be able to be viewed in the viewer below after the session is over. (And again, check the IETF Google+ event page for more information about the session and any updates.

UPDATE: Unfortunately Google's YouTube Live service when down for maintenance at the time we wanted to start our session:

Ytl maintenance

Instead you need to watch the session on LiveStream.com at: http://new.livestream.com/internetsociety/IETF90


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