Posts categorized "Telecom Industry"

WhatsApp Calling Arrives on iOS - More Telecom Disruption Ahead!

Whatsapp callingAs I checked my AppStore updates on my iPhone this week I was surprised but pleased to see that WhatsApp now includes "WhatsApp Calling". As it says:
"Call your friends and family using WhatsApp for free, even if they're in another country. WhatsApp calls use your phone's Internet connection rather than your cellular plan's voice minutes. Data charges may apply.

How many ways can you spell "disruption"?
(Hint: w - h - a - t - s - a - p - p)

Sure, there have been a zillion mobile apps providing Over-The-Top (OTT) voice services, many of which I've written about here on this site.

But this is WhatsApp!

This is the application that just passed 800 million monthly active users! (Techmeme link) With projections to hit 1 billion monthly active users by the end of the year.

Oh, and it's owned by Facebook! :-)

Now, I personally don't use WhatsApp that much right now. The people who I want to message are primarily using iMessage, Facebook Messenger or Wire. (And every once in a great while I'll fire up Skype on my iPhone.)

But obviously there are 800 million people who do use WhatsApp each month... and they now have free calling! (If they are on Android, iOS or BlackBerry 10... and subject to a staggered rollout, i.e. people will get the actual ability to call over the next while.)

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

WhatsApp provides a messaging app with a very simple user experience (UX) that works seamlessly inside the iPhone. Now that same app can be used for calling. And most importantly, WhatsApp has the massive directory of users.

The legacy telcos are going to be saying good bye to even more of their diminishing calling revenue...

Interesting times ahead!

More on this topic:


Goodbye, Gigaom - So Long And Thanks For All The News!

GigaomThis one hurts. There have been many failures in the tech media industry, but the death of Gigaom is one that hurts. The word started filtering out early last week from people such as Mathew Ingram:

And then there were the confirmations from people such as Om himself:

And the starkly worded message on the main page of Gigaom that said in part:

Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased.

"All operations have ceased."

And there it was... the end of this particular dream of Om's. He followed with his own post, ending simply "Goodnight sweetheart, I still love you!"

MUCH has been written in the past two days. Some of the posts:

I struggled about whether to write anything... but I felt I needed to.

The "VoIP Bloggers"

I say that "this one hurts" because I watched Om grow Gigaom from the beginning. Back in the early 2000's when "blogging" was still new, there was this whole cadre of us who wrote about "voice of IP" or "VoIP" and how the Internet was fundamentally changing telecommunications.

There was Andy Abramson with VoIPWatch, Jeff Pulver with his various VON sites, Martin Geddes with Telepocalpse, me here with Disruptive Telephony, Tom Keating with his "VoIP and Gadgets Blog" at TMC, Aswath Rao, Alec Saunders, Stuart Henshall and so many more...

But perhaps the most prolific of all of us was Om with his site simply titled "Om Malik on Broadband." He brought his incisive reporting and his way of helping put news in context of the larger picture.

In those glory days of blogging we read each other's posts... commented on them... excerpted them... trackbacked... pingbacked... learned from each other... and so much more...

But Om had grander ideas...

Gigaom

I was impressed to watch the growth as "Gigaom" was born and soon became about so much more than just one person. Om added more writers... more topic areas... just more content in general.

It was impressive!

And in a sea of so many tech media sites I always enjoyed reading Gigaom. It was one of the "go to" sites I visited when I wanted to learn more about a topic.

In particular I enjoyed the work of Mathew Ingram who gave such great coverage to the way that the Internet is changing the ways in which we communicate - a topic I find so fascinating and write about both here and over on Disruptive Communications. I enjoyed his writing... as I did Stacy Higginbotham and so many of the other writers.

I watched the expansion into events and in particular into research. I was extremely intrigued by the "Gigaom Research" idea of paying a basic fee for the year and getting access to all sorts of research.

And Then

And then... suddenly... it ended.

"All operations have ceased."

In the days that have followed, there have been some reflections emerging with more details. A few I found more interesting and useful:

All really point to some of the financing, and particularly the debt, as the challenge the business faced and in the end couldn't solve.

I do, though, like what Mathew Ingram said in his "exit interview" with the Columbia Journalism Review:

"There’s a sort of barbell effect: If you are super small and super focused and super niche you can succeed, arguably. And if you’re super huge and mass and gigantic and growing quickly, you can succeed. But in the middle, is death. The valley of death. So arguably we got caught in that valley of death."

The whole piece is worth a read!

Goodbye, Gigaom...

And now it's gone. Nothing left but to wind down the final operations.

I have to think that most of the writers will land on their feet. They were excellent and have to be receiving job offers ... other media companies would be crazy not to try to snatch them up!

I will miss the site. What I enjoyed most was that Gigaom did NOT try to go after views with click-bait headlines or other gimmicks. They tried to just give us solid news with context.

Thank you, Om, for creating the site - and for aspiring to lead journalism in new and different directions. Thank you Om, Mathew, Stacy and all the others for all the news your wrote.

Thank you.


An audio commentary on this topic is available:


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Net Neutrality: Did We "Win" A Battle, Only To Possibly Lose The War?

FCC logo

Friends don't understand why I'm not jumping for joy after the FCC's "Network Neutrality" decision yesterday.  After all, they've been hearing me passionately argue for years about how we need to wake up and pay attention to the choices we have to make for the future of the Internet.  They've heard me rail against the Internet access providers here in the US who seek to be the new gatekeepers and require people to ask permission or pay to get new services online.  They've heard me strongly say that "The Internet Way" is for services to be "decentralized and distributed".  They've seen me write about "permissionless innovation" and the dangers we could face.  In fact, I'll be in Austin, TX, next week speaking at the NTEN conference about "Our Choice of Internet Futures"

They know that I joined the Internet Society in 2011 specifically to fight for the open Internet - and that a large goal in my life is to be one of the voices helping advocate for the open Internet and ensuring that my children have the same "Internet of opportunity" that I've been able to have.  Friends could hear in the closing words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler many of the same phrases and words that I have been so passionately advocating about over many years.  
 
Why, then, am I not dancing in the streets?
 
Two reasons.
 
1. What Is In The FCC Order? - Seemingly lost in all the media euphoria yesterday was a basic fact:
WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FCC ACTUALLY VOTED ON!
No one outside the FCC Commissioners and their staffs have seen the actual "Order" that the FCC voted on yesterday.  Sure, we've heard all the lofty rhetoric and seen the summaries... but the rumors are that the actual document is over 300 pages and full of details.
 
Perhaps I’m just cynical, but the telecommunications industry in the United States employs hundreds of lawyers in Washington, DC, to influence and shape legislation and regulations in ways that benefit the telecom industry - and they've been doing so for over 100 years.  And so while some of the companies may line up to file lawsuits against this FCC Order, odds are very good that their lobbyists and specialists have been hard at work attempting to shape these new regulations. I know some people at the FCC who are strong open Internet advocates and who I'm sure are trying to do the right thing... but I also know that 300+ pages has a whole lot of room for things to slip in.
 
My greatest fear is that when we actually see the full text, we may find that while there are some provisions we like, there are many others we don't - and there may be loopholes big enough to drive an entire residential network through.  

    
"The other problem with rules is that they are brittle. Teams of lawyers will comb through whatever the FCC finally publishes and find any loopholes. There will be defined bright lines going forward and, make no mistake, ISPs will now get as close to those lines as they can. Whatever the Internet's rough consensus of "acceptable" was before, it's about to be thrown out in favor of a set of rules written by lawyers. Ironically, that may end up resulting in a regulated network that is less neutral than what we have today."
 
2. The Internet Is Not (or WAS Not) The Telephone Network - For so many years (in fact, decades for some people), we who are advocates of the open Internet have said at every chance we could one simple fact:
The Internet is NOT the telephone network.  The Internet is NOT the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).
 
And therefore the Internet should NOT be regulated like the traditional telecom network.  The Internet should not fall under traditional telecom legislation and regulation.  The Internet should not be regulated by the traditional telecom authorities and telecom regulators.  
 
You cannot apply the old rules of telecom to the new world of the Internet.
 
The Internet is something new.  The Internet is NOT telecom.   Again and again and again and again we've all said this.  Going back many, many years.
 
If you remember back to 2012 and the whole World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) where so many were concerned that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was going to try to assert authority over the Internet, millions of us around the world rallied together to encourage our advocates in governments and organizations to say at WCIT that: 

The Internet is NOT telecom.  You cannot apply the old rules of telecom to the new world of the Internet.
 
And the outcome of WCIT was that the Internet was left alone and was recognized as being outside the scope of a treaty focused on telecommunications/telephony.
 
We all within the Internet have been saying this consisistently again and again:
The Internet is NOT telecom.  Those are old rules - we are living in a new medium.
 
But guess what?  
 
Yesterday's ruling by the FCC says (as best we understand it) - the Internet does fall under telecommunication regulations.  Internet service providers should be classified under Title II just like all the other telecommunications service providers.
 
The FCC has effectively said: 
The Internet IS telecom.  The old rules DO apply.
I am not sure that is something to celebrate.
 
Many countries around the world have followed the lead of the US in treating the Internet lightly - but now that the FCC is effectively declaring the Internet to be like the telephone network, what is to stop those countries from doing the same?  Indeed what is to prevent the ITU from now using this action to justify a larger role for it in regulating the Internet?  After all, it's just telecom now.
 
I would have personally been far happier if the U.S. Congress had come up with new legislation that enshrined the principles of the open Internet in a new form  of legislation that didn't carry with it all the legacy baggage of 100 years of telecom regulation. Yes, the legions of lawyers might have made it a hard fight, but it would have at least been something new - and at least we would have known more of what was actually being voted on. But that didn't happen - and so here we are today.
 
The "devil is in the details", as they say... and now we have to wait to see what exactly the FCC actually did yesterday.  I'd like to be wrong and just be cynical and jaded.  I fear that I am right.
 
I applaud FCC Chairman Wheeler for the lofty language he and the other commissioners used yesterday.  It is a huge victory to have the heads of the FCC saying publicly so many of the things that so many of us have been advocating about for so many years.  It is also a huge victory to have so many millions of people, not just in the US but all around the world, rise up and pay attention to these issues as a result of this whole issue here in the U.S. That is HUGE.  We've needed something like this to wake people up to the choices we have to make.
 
But I do worry that in "winning" this victory yesterday, we may in fact be setting ourselves up to lose the larger war to keep the Internet open.


Congratulations To Alec Saunders On His Move To Microsoft

Alec saundersCongratulations to Alec Saunders on his new role working with Microsoft Ventures in Canada! Alec's been a long-time friend and fellow blogger dating way back to the mid-2000's when he was proposing his "Voice 2.0 Manifesto". When he was leading Iotum a group of us were doing the daily "Squawk Box" podcast that was a lot of fun. Alec and I used to see each other all the time on the VoIP / Unified Communications conference circuit (which is where I took the photo that he now uses on his blog). Back in September 2011 I wrote about his joining Blackberry and then a year later when he made rock music videos with Blackberry.

And now he's returning to his roots! He was one of the first product managers for Internet Explorer at Microsoft... and now he's back at Microsoft again! As he says in his post:

As of last Monday, I’ve rejoined Microsoft in the role of Principal Technical Evangelist. My beat is Canada – not just Kitchener-Waterloo. My boss is Microsoft Chief Evangelist and Corporate Vice President for Developer Experience, Steven “Guggs” Guggenheimer. I’m part of the global Microsoft Ventures team. And we run programs, like the Microsoft Ventures Accelerators, that are focused on helping early stage companies achieve their full potential.

I've long been skeptical about Microsoft and frustrated with many of their products and services. In particularly I haven't been pleased at all with the lackluster evolution of Skype (or really lack thereof) under Microsoft's watch... but the list of other products that have frustrated me can go on.

BUT... I'll admit that they've been doing some interesting things lately - and their new leadership seems like they have a clue. It's probably a great time for dynamic people like Alec to re-join Microsoft. The role sounds perfect for him... using so many of his different strengths!

I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in that role ... and if my travels bring me back up to Canada I'll look forward to catching up with him somewhere in all the madness.

Congrats, Alec!


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Aswath Rao Says I'm Wrong About VoIP In India

Whatsapp logoAs a follow-up to my post yesterday about how Indian telcos are complaining to the the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) about WhatsApp's plans to launch VoIP, long-time VoIP blogger Aswath Rao took issue on Twitter with one particular sentence in my article:
India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically, and so we'll have to see what happens here...

In a series of tweets Aswath pointed out that the TRAI has in fact been very supportive of IP-to-IP VoIP services and has left them unregulated. The regulation has all been around VoIP services interconnecting to the Indian PSTN. Aswath's tweets: https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548681349344034818

You are mistaken when you say "India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically". And I have pted it out many times.
https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548681697227980800
From the get go, TRAI has regulated only IP to Indian PSTN. IP/IP & IP to foreign PSTN have been unregulated
https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548687939862290432
My point is that TRAI has been very enlightened in its ruling. Even after 11/26 attack & pressure it has not reg IP/IP

Given that Aswath has been very involved in VoIP in India for many years, I'll defer to his opinion on this one.

Thanks, Aswath, for challenging me on this sentence.


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To No Surprise, Indian Telcos Want to Block WhatsApp OTT VoIP

Whatsapp logoTo the surprise of absolutely no one, telcos in India are objecting to plans for WhatsApp to launch VoIP and complaining about it to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). So reports The Hindu Business Line that includes this glorious quote from a representative of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI):
“Allowing the use of VoIP/ Internet telephony at such massive scale without licensing regime would lead to a significant disruption in the existing business of TSPs and can substantially derail their investment capability”

Gee... allowing a new innovative entrant into the market would lead to "significant disruption in the existing business" of the existing telcos.

Yes. Exactly.

And the representative further pointed out that this could lead to a "significant loss of revenues" for the government in the form of taxes.

Yes. Exactly.

This is the nature of Over-The-Top (OTT) applications and services. In providing better services for customers they very often DO cause "significant disruption" to existing businesses.

This is the nature of innovation.

This is the value of the "permissionless innovation" that has made the Internet the amazing tool for communication, collaboration and creation that it is today.

The folks at WhatsApp don't need to ask anyone to roll out VoIP, as articles seem to point to them being ready to do soon. (See also this AndroidWorld.nl article in Dutch.)

They just do it.

And... of course... the legacy telcos fight back using every tool in their formidable arsenal, which includes of course legislation and government lobbying such as that shown in this article.

India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically, and so we'll have to see what happens here...

[UPDATE: Aswath Rao says I'm wrong with this last sentence and that India has been friendly to pure IP-to-IP VoIP systems.]

... but while they can attempt to throw up as many roadblocks as they can... in the end my bet would be on the OTT services and applications to win.

They provide the services the customers want... and can probably do so at a much more reasonable cost... and in the user experience that the customers want.

A classic example of "disruptive telephony"...


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The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App

Skype directoryAs much as I am enjoying the new Wire app, there is a fundamental problem that Wire faces... as well as Talko, Firefox Hello and every other Over-The-Top (OTT) or WebRTC application that is seeking to become THE way that we communicate via voice, chat and/or video from our mobile phones and desktops. That is:
How do they gather the "directory" of people that others want to talk to?

The fundamental challenge all of these applications face is this:

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

And where I say "talk" it could also be "chat" or "message" or... pick your communication verb.

It's all about the "directory" of users.

There's a war out there right now... and it's a war for the future of our communications between each other. It's a war for messaging... and it's also a war for voice and video.

And it all comes back to... which communications application or service can provide the most comprehensive directory of users?

Which communications tool will be the one that people use the most? Will any of them replace the default communications of the mobile phone?

NOTE: A number of updates have been added to the bottom of this post.

Today's Fragmented User Experience

The reality is that today we use several different tools for real-time communications ... and that creates a bit of a frustrating user experience. If I want to send a message to Joe, do I send him a message on Skype? Facebook? WhatsApp? Google+? Twitter? SMS? iMessage? BBM? Wire? email?

If I want to call him and speak via voice or video, do I use Skype? Facebook Messenger? Google+ Hangouts? Facetime? Wire? Talko? Viber? Firefox Hello? <insert WebRTC or OTT app du jour here>? Or just call him on his regular old phone line?

By trial and error we start to figure out which of the people with whom we regularly communicate are available over which channels. Certain family members may be through Facebook... others through WhatsApp or Skype. Work colleagues through Jabber or Yammer... except for some of them who primarily use Skype. These friends detest Facebook and so they are in Google+ ... and then there's that guy who thinks all of these new apps are junk and only wants to talk to you via SMS and phone.

It's a mess.

And every new app and service wants to fix it... and wants to be THE communications application/service that you use.

Skype/Microsoft Has A Directory

Over the years, I think it would be impossible to count the number of times we've seen new communications applications trumpted as "Skype-killers". "This new app/service WILL be the one to replace Skype. It's new. It's better. It supports (something). Everyone will switch and the world will be so much better!"

Except they don't switch.

Even when Skype's audio quality is no longer what it once was.

And why not?

Because Skype has a massive user directory.

When I speak at a conference I can ask the attendees "who has a Skype ID?" and usually almost every hand goes up. They may not use Skype as their primary communication tool, but they have an ID. They can be found on Skype.

Now a large part of this is because Skype has now been around for over 11 years and truly led the disruption that "consumer VoIP" has caused in the larger telecom industry. Part of it is that Skype prioritized the user experience and made it drop-dead simple to install and use. Part of it is that Skype made it easy to find other Skype users.

But the point is that Skype amassed this huge directory - and now is the default way that many of us communicate via voice or video over the Internet. Certainly many of us, myself included, would like a better mechanism at this point... but we still use Skype because that's where the people are! The directory of users is there.

Facebook Has A Directory (Two, Actually)

Facebook messenger callWhen it comes to a user directory, certainly one of the biggest in the world right now is Facebook. With over a billion users Facebook has an enormous ability to connect people together.

With Facebook Messenger, they are definitely aiming to replace SMS and become THE messaging application you use on your mobile phone.

And now in many regions of the world, Facebook lets you initiate voice conversations through simply clicking on a telephone icon in the Messenger interface.

They make it simple and easy... and it works because "everyone" has a Facebook account (or at least 1 billion people do).

Facebook has a massive user directory.

(Of course, every chat and voice conversation can then be mined for data for Facebook advertisers... but that's a topic for another post...)

Facebook actually as two massive user directories if you consider that they also own WhatsApp and most stats right now say that WhatsApp has over 600 million users. (Which is actually more than Facebook Messenger, which recently crossed the 500 million user mark.)

Put these two together and while there is certainly duplication between the two directories, they do represent a huge directory of users.

P.S. And Facebook actually has a third user directory in the form of Instagram (which now has 300 million users)... but we've not yet seen them do anything with real-time communications there.

Google Has A Directory

And then of course Google has its own massive directory. Everyone who has a "Google Account". Every Gmail user. Every Google+ user. Every Google docs user.

Hundreds of millions of Google users.

Google's focus today seems to be on Hangouts, which is available from the desktop and also from the iOS and Android mobile platforms. While Hangouts started out inside of Google+, Google has separated the application out. I'll note that just today they are rolling out a new version of Hangouts on Android that lets you add your phone number so that you are easier to find. They may at some point also integrate their Google Voice offering better into Hangouts.

Apple Has A Directory

Apple idIt goes without saying that Apple has its own massive directory from the hundreds of millions of iPhone and Mac users, almost all of whom get integrated into Apple's iMessage and Facetime services through their Apple ID. With iMessage and Facetime, Apple's directory includes my own phone number, as well as my email addresses.

Apple also makes the user experience insanely simple. When I go to call a contact, I am offered the choice of calling them via Facetime (audio or video) or the regular phone. When I send a message, Apple automagically sends the message over iMessage if the recipient is registered in Apple's directory. As a user I have no clue about this unless I realize that "blue bubbles" are iMessage and "green bubbles" are regular SMS.

The point is that Apple can do all this and make it so simple because they have this massive user directory.

LINE And WeChat Have Directories

While we in North America don't tend to know their names, there are apps building huge user directories in Asia. WeChat, based in China, now has over 468 million monthly active users worldwide. LINE, out of Japan and used in much of Asia, has over 170 million monthly active users. There are others such as KakaoTalk in Korea that have large directories.

The Telcos Have Directories

Of course, the original user directories for mobile phone users reside with all of the mobile service providers / telephone companies. They have the customer names and phone numbers. Their challenge is one of sharing that information between each other - and also their general challenges with embracing the world of OTT communications apps that threaten their basic revenue streams.

Some telcos have tried - and continue to try. Telefonica had "Tu ME" and now has "Tu Go". Orange has Libon. T-Mobile did have "Bobsled" but that seems to have disappeared. And then of course there was (and still is, although on life support) Joyn, the traditional telcos attempt to provide rich communication services and fight back against OTT apps. As Dean Bubley wrote at the time, RCS/Joyn was in trouble from the start and now seems to have faded from consideration.

I should note that Telefonica is doing some great work in the WebRTC space and is involved with Mozilla's latest Firefox Hello effort. There are other traditional carriers who are also doing some good work with WebRTC and other OTT works ... but I've still not really seen any of them figure out how to tie their apps and services back to the large user directories they collectively have.

Everyone Wants To OWN The Directory

Notice a common thread across all of these directories?

They are all owned / controlled by corporations - some of whom are among the largest in the world.

They have NO interest in sharing their directories.

They are all about the "lock-in".

Well... I should say... they are glad to "share" in the sense that they are glad for you to use their directory as a source of identity in your application or service. "Login with Facebook" or "Login with Google" or "Login with Twitter" ...

A better way to say it would be:

They have no interest in federation / interoperability between directories.

They want to own the directory. They want to be THE source of "identity" ... but that's a topic for yet another post.

And each of the ones I've listed is a commercial entity with their own investors or shareholders and their own ideas of what they will do with your data and your communication...

(NOTE: This is not a new problem - I wrote about "walled gardens" back in 2007 with regard to email and messaging - some names have changed but the problem remains.)

One Directory To Rule Them All?

Amidst all this we've seen various attempts to provide a global directory for IP communications. ENUM was one in the open standard space, but the original vision of "public ENUM" ran into a barrage of security and privacy issues and faded from view. (ENUM is still heavily used within SIP-based networks either within telcos or within peering relationships between telcos.)

On the corporate side, he original Google Voice was an attempt to put users in control, at least as far as a telephone number. Give out one number and have it ring many devices or apps. The .TEL people tried this with their original vision for that top-level domain. iNum tried to offer this with their numbers. Many other attempts have been made...

The question with all of these is how to make the directory accessible to other entities in a secure fashion - and how to deal with privacy issues, telemarketers, spammers, attackers, etc.

Back to the "Directory Problem"

How, then, does a new startup like Wire or Talko or Firefox Hello or whoever-releases-their-WebRTC-app-today build up a significant enough directory of users so that the application is usable by large numbers of people?

How do they compete with these massive user directories being built by Facebook, Google, Apple and others?

I don't know.

(If I did I'd probably start up a company... ;-) )

What I do know is that, as I said in my initial thoughts on Wire, "my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use."

Some may opt to use the identity systems of one of the major vendors mentioned before - but now you are putting your user directory in the hands of some other entity and relying on them to be there. And... you are excluding people who may not use that system.

Some apps/services may make it easy for you to "find your friends" through using your "social graph"... the connections you have on Facebook, Google, etc.

Some apps use your phone number as an identifier, but they still have to build up their own directory of users.

I don't know the answer... but I see this as a fundamental challenge for any new entrant in the space. How do they gain the directory of users so that people will be able to communicate with others using this new service?

THAT is what the team at Wire needs to answer... and Talko... and every other app.

Unless, of course, they just want to be happy as a smaller, more niche player.

But most of these apps and services want to be THE communication platform you use more than any other. Their success - and funding - is tied to that goal.


A Final Thought - The Bigger Picture

Let me end with one thought... this "directory problem" is in fact tied to the larger challenge of "identity" on the Internet. Back in the pre-Internet days our "identity" for real-time communications was simple - our telephone number. We might have had several phone numbers, but they were ours and they were/are globally unique and globally routable.

With the Internet, we gradually moved to where email addresses were (and still are in many ways) our "identity" online and became the identifiers that we used for many forms of communication.

BUT... when we've moved to IP-based real-time communications, first with instant-messaging / chat and then with voice and video, we've also moved into a realm of fractured identities and identifiers with, as noted above, many different companies vying to have us use their system so that their directory is the most complete and comprehensive.

I do definitely worry about a future in which our identities and the user directories are controlled by large corporations. This, to me, seems like it could be a severe barrier to the "permissionless innovation" that has brought about the "Internet of opportunity" that we have today.

I'd like to hope that we'll arrive at some form of distributed and decentralized identities and directories that can be federated together so that people can find each other. (Which is why I'm intrigued by what the Matrix.org folks and others are doing.) I do worry, though, that the financial incentives are there for the larger corporate players to fight each other for dominance... and leave us regular users of the Internet without a choice.

Thoughts?


An audio commentary on this topic is available on SoundCloud:


UPDATE #1 - On Twitter, Aswath Rao asserted that Firefox Hello doesn't have the directory problem because it provides a way to pass a URL out to anyone so that they can simply call you at that URL. I documented this myself in a post back on December 2nd. I can see his point, but I would argue that for Firefox Hello to be truly useful to me in my regular ongoing communications, I need some form of a "directory", either as a directory in the cloud maintained by Mozilla, or as a local address book in my Firefox browser that keeps track of those URLs. To the degree that Mozilla wants to let Firefox Hello users build up their contact list, I think they still have this issue of building the directory.

UPDATE #2 - In the comments to this post, Tim Panton points out that in many cases people do not want to be contacted. I agree, and in fact I think that the prevalence of email spam is in part what has driven so much of us to separate (walled gardens) messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Within those walls I have MUCH stronger control over who may contact me at what point. I do agree that any communications app/service needs those kind of controls - whether that is part of the directory or part of the client application or in the service infrastructure seems to be a bit of an implementation consideration.

UPDATE #3 - The folks at FireRTC contend that they don't have to worry about the directory because they are leveraging PSTN telephone numbers. As I replied, they can certainly use the phone number as an identifier to locate other users. This is a great idea and is done by many similar apps, including Facetime, WhatsApp, Viber and more. BUT... all that does is help bootstrap the directory creation process. They still have to build their directory so that users of their app can find and contact other users.

UPDATE #4 - Aswath and I have been engaged in a Twitter discussion where he points out that WebRTC addresses can be much more decentralized like email addresses have been. He argues that they can provide much greater richness and freedom than a static directory of users.

He's right... BUT... we now come back to the "discovery" issue that directories also address. How do I find your WebRTC URL to call you at? Sure, you can email it or IM it to me ... and I can then store it in my address book or contact list. But somehow I have to get it first - and I have to know that it is the current and best address to use for you.

I often use Facebook to send a private message to someone because it's easier than finding their email address and sending them a message. Now, if I synced my contact lists across all my devices perhaps it would be easier... but I don't and so sometimes FB messaging is easiest. I can see the same kind of thing happening with WebRTC URLs.

UPDATE #5 - In response to this post, Phil Wolff wrote a long series of tweets with ideas for further research on this topic.


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Catching Up With Mitel ...

Mitel logo 2014By way of a tweet I stumbled upon analyst Blair Pleasant's UC Strategies post, "Change - The Only Thing That's Constant", that showed me that while I've been off in the worlds of IPv6 and DNSSEC there has been a great amount of activity happening in the world of my former employer Mitel.

Heck, I didn't even realize they had a new logo! :-)

But indeed they do (apparently back in 2013 in October 2014 (see comments))... and Blair's great look at the world of Unified Communications mentions that and a good bit more. I was aware of the acquisition of Aastra, but did not realize that PrairieFyre had finally been folded into Mitel (it had always seemed to be a likely acquisition candidate as its products worked primarily with Mitel's systems).

With my focus changing a bit, and most of my interest here on Disruptive Telephony focused around WebRTC and some of the newer disruptions to Internet communications, the last time I really mentioned Mitel was back in April with the passing of Simon Gwatkin. My posts about Mitel prior to that go back to 2011 and before.

In looking at Mitel's web site, their rebranding is clear in so many ways. From the nice clean website to the "Mi<whatever>" product naming... there's obvious a great amount of work that's gone on.

Congratulations to the Mitel team, too, on being named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for UC. Having worked with Gartner analysts in the past on these reports (as a vendor representative), I know what a huge amount of effort goes in to making your case for why your company should be positioned highly - and I also know how powerfully these reports can help in enterprise sales. I read the UC Magic Quadrant report, too, and Gartner had very nice words about Mitel.

While I no longer really focus on the IP-PBX and the "enterprise" side of UC, it's great to see this evolution of Mitel. I still know many excellent people who work there and certainly during my time there (2001-2007) the R&D teams were (and presumably still are) some of the best in the industry.

Congrats to all involved at Mitel!


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More Observations About The "Wire" App

After yesterday's launch of Wire, I continued to use it a bit today and am writing these notes, mostly for my own memory.

Group Chats ARE Persistent

In my post yesterday I said that it seemed like Wire group chats were "persistent" (something I'd previously written about with regard to Skype). Today I can confirm that they ARE persistent. When I fired up the Wire app this morning I received all the messages that had been posted into the group chat overnight while I'd been offline.

Further, when I went to add someone to the group chat, I received this message:

Wire add people

The Wire team also deserves credit for how smoothly they make the scrolling back through the chat history. Works very well!

No IPv6... yet

Friends tested Wire in an IPv6-only network and confirmed that it unfortunately does not yet work. In reaching out to someone at Wire the word was that they are definitely investigating this to see what can be done. The issue is that the Wire app connects to Amazon EC2 servers - so it's really an issue of Amazon's capabilities.

I will say again that Wire at the very least deserves credit for coming out with a website, www.wire.com, what works over IPv6! That immediately puts them far ahead of most other communications startups.

The Mac OS X Client Rocks!

Wow! What a great desktop client! It works extremely well. I loved the ability to drag and drop images directly into a chat window. Calls worked great from the client. So far a great experience!

The Heavy Use Of Profile Pictures Takes Getting Used To

The profile photo you use winds up being the background for the entire screen on the mobile device - or for the sidebar in the Mac and iPad clients. And that photo changes to be of the last person with whom you communicated. Sometimes that can lead to a bit of strange user view depending upon the profile photo used. Here's one that worked fine for me:

TJ Evans

... but others were a bit strange. The ubuiquitous presence of the photos does take a bit to get used to.

The Use Of Colors Is Fun

Wire lets you choose a color in the settings. This is then used for the highlighting and cursor color that you see. It also shows up in other places such as this listing of people:

Top people

... where it shows the colors people are using. I can see people having fun with this.

Pings Are Useful

At first I was skeptical of what a "ping" could really be useful for (remember Facebook's "Poke"?). But then a friend sent a ping while I was off in some other app - on my Mac I got this nice big box:

Ping

I could then just hit "REPLY" and flip over to the Wire app. Of course, he sent another ping and I then had the option to silence the pings:

Ping

It was a useful way to know there was something to pay attention to over in Wire. Obviously this could be abused... I've not yet checked into what settings there are to control this.

More To Explore...

I continue to be quite impressed with both the iOS and Mac versions of Wire. More thoughts as I get a chance to experiment further...

P.S. If you are using Wire, feel free to find me as "Dan York" or "[email protected]" ...


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Initial Thoughts On "Wire", The New Communication App From Ex-Skypers

Wire com 400Another remarkable day in Internet communications! Today brought the launch of "Wire", a "modern communications network" that runs on iOS, Android, Mac OS X and soon in WebRTC-equipped web browsers.

My first thought was naturally - do we really need YET-another-OTT-communication app?

After all, my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use. (And indeed I've written about many of them here on this site.)

But what makes Wire different for me from so many other similar apps that have launched (and faded) is really the PEOPLE involved. The news announcement mentions, of course, Skype co-founder Janus Friis as one of the big names behind Wire. Jonathan Christensen is also the co-founder and CEO of Wire. The news post says this:

The company's team comprises former product and technology leaders from Apple, Skype, Nokia, and Microsoft. Christensen held leadership roles at Microsoft and Skype, and was co-founder and CEO at Camino Networks. Along with Christensen, founders include Alan Duric, Wire’s CTO, a co-founder of Telio (Oslo exchange TELIO) and co-founder of Camino (acquired by eBay/Skype); and Priidu Zilmer, Wire’s head of product design, who led design teams at Vdio and Skype. Wire’s Chief Scientist Koen Vos, created SILK and co-created Opus, the standards for fidelity and intelligibility in voice over IP that billions of people use today.

I've known Jonathan over many years from his time at Skype. Alan Duric is a personal friend from the world of SIP, IETF and more. Some of the others are names I've known - and I've been told privately of others who are there, including apparently Jaanus Kase, who was one of the first working on Skype's community relations back in 2006/2007.

It certainly looks like an excellent team!

Does that mean it will succeed? Not necessarily... but it certainly has a far greater chance in my mind than many of the other attempts.

I have a GREAT amount I want to write about with regard to Wire, but for today I just want to write a few initial thoughts.

VERY Minimalist User Interface

When they say that Wire is about "simple, beautiful conversations", they aren't joking about the "simple" part. The user interface is extremely minimalist. All based on gestures and revealing just the information you need.

It's very cool as you get used to it... but it's also a bit non-intuitive - at least for older greybeards like me. At one point I simply wanted to reply in text and wound up calling someone (Alan, as it happened).

It is definitely great to see someone experimenting with a new UI to the degree that they have.

I installed it on both my iPhone 5s and my older iPad2. It worked great on both devices. The iPad, in particular, had a very nice view in the landscape mode. I did not yet install it on my Mac but spoke with several people who did.

Chats With Photos, SoundCloud and YouTube

When you start chatting with someone, it's very easy to add photos. You also could just drop in a link to a SoundCloud sound or a YouTube video and the player would automagically appear in the chat stream. And yes... animated GIFs work, too.

Call Quality - and Chats During The Call

I made several calls today and the quality was excellent. All high-quality voice. Presumably using the Opus codec or something similar. It's great that during the call you still have the full chat capability as I was sharing text and photos with the person I called.

Persistent Group Chats

I was extremely pleased to see how wonderfully well the "group chats" worked. Someone pulled a bunch of us "early adopters" into a chat room and it felt like we were back in 2006 or so in the early days of Skype and many of the early VoIP offerings. A very pleasant experience.

The group chat also synced very nicely between devices. A message I wrote on my iPad showed up just moments later on my iPhone. Others reported a similar experience with the Mac client.

Perhaps best of all the group chats appeared to be persistent group chats. After shutting down the app and then reconnecting later, I seemed to get all the messages that had been exchanged when I was offline. I've written before about the power of persistent group chats in Skype, and it was good to see what looked like something similar here. (Need to do more testing to confirm... but it looked good.)

What's Missing?

I realize today was the first day of the launch and that the product will evolve considerably, but some initial things I found missing:

  • Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lack of video, purely because that seems to be included in almost every other OTT communications app these days.
  • Not having a Windows client also seemed odd, given that they had a Mac OS X client. (Not that this mattered to me personally, but it just seemed odd.)
  • I also missed the ability to edit a message you've already posted.

So Now What?

I'm definitely intrigued by what I see... I'll keep using Wire and will install the Mac OS X client.

There's still the larger issue that this is yet-another-silo-of-communication that is separate from all the other mobile apps and services out there... but that's the topic for another post.

And there's the ever-present "directory" issue, i.e. how will Wire grow the directory of users so that you find the people there that you want to communicate with? But that, too, is a topic for another post. It's not clear, too, what the business model is.

I was also initially intrigued by the idea that Wire might work over IPv6 ... but while the www.wire.com website DOES work over IPv6 (yea!), further examination and network sniffing shows that the traffic going from the application goes to Amazon EC2 servers that are only on IPv4. I'm looking forward to learning more about what might or might not be true here.

All that aside, Wire looks so far like a very cool new entrant into the realm of mobile communications apps... and I'm looking forward to more experimentation and usage in the days and weeks ahead! If you are using Wire (or decide to try it out), please feel free to contact me in the Wire app as "Dan York" or via "[email protected]".

Congrats to Jonathan, Alan, Jaanus and the rest of the Wire team for their launch today!

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What Do YOU Think?

Have you tried Wire out yet? What do you think? Will you use it?


An audio commentary on this topic is available at:


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