Posts categorized "Wireless"

Updated "Directory Dilemma" Article Now On CircleID...

Back in December, 2014, I published a post here called "The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App". After receiving a good bit of feedback, I've now published a new version over on CircleID:
The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War

I incorporated a good bit of the feedback I received and also brought in some newer numbers and statistics. Of note, I now have a section on WebRTC where I didn't before. You'll also notice a new emphasis in the title... I'm now talking about the potential winners versus the challengers. I also chose "Directory Dilemma" not only for the alliteration but also because the situation really isn't as much a "problem" as it is an overall "dilemma". It may or may not be a "problem".

I'm not done yet.

I'm still seeking feedback. I intend to do yet another revision of this piece, but in doing so intend to:

  • Change it from the informal tone at the beginning to more of a "paper" style;
  • Include a bit more about potential solutions.

Comments and feedback are definitely welcome... either as comments here on this site, on social media or as email to "[email protected]".

I'm not sure when I'll do that next iteration, but probably later this year.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. An audio commentary on this topic is available... see the embedded audio plater at the bottom of this post... (below the graphic)


Directory dilemma




Wire Launches WebRTC Voice/Chat Web App For Windows, Linux, more - Includes High TLS Security

Yesterday the team over at Wire launched a new WebRTC-based "Wire for Web" app that lets people on Windows, Linux or any other platform now communicate with people using Wire on iOS, Android or OS X. You can get to it simply at:
https://app.wire.com/
If you already have an account you simply sign in with your credentials. If you don't have an account you can easily create one.

I've been running both the native Mac OS X client and the web client for a bit now (I was part of web beta program for Wire) and it is truly amazing how well the team has made the web experience to be seamless between the web and native client. Here's a screenshot showing both side by side (click/tap for a larger image):

Screenshot wire for web

In the web view on the right you have the browser bars at the top and one of the images did not go the full width of the column, but otherwise the experience and visual display has been essentially identical between the two platforms. The synchronization between the two is nearly instantaneous and all the features work really, really well.

Notifications in the web browser (if you allow them) work great to alert you to new messages.

And the voice calls from within the web browser have the same outstanding audio quality I've come to expect from Wire.

All in all the web implementation is quite excellent.

This new web app also addresses a concern I had from the initial launch of Wire back in December - the lack of a client for users on Microsoft Windows. With this web app Windows users - and Linux users - can now equally participate in communication over Wire. This is all courtesy of WebRTC that allows modern browsers to be able to use voice and chat from directly within the browser. Wire co-founder and CTO Alan Duric published a post about how they use WebRTC.

Alan also clued me in to the strong degree that the Wire team takes security extremely seriously. In fact I would say they take it more seriously than many other similar web apps I've seen. If you go over to Qualys SSL Labs and plug in "app.wire.com" you get a result of an "A+":

Ssllabs app wire com

The same can NOT be said of other similar web interfaces that I tested from similar services.

I've been writing about Wire for a bit now (see my various articles) and I have it running on my Mac all the time, primarily because of the great value I get out of a couple of group chats that I am in. From a chat / messaging perspective it's one of the best I've seen and I find it extremely useful.

Curiously, I don't find myself using Wire as much for actual calls, primarily because I find that much of my interaction has moved to video calls, and Wire doesn't support those yet. When I do use Wire the audio quality is truly amazing, but that has to do with the audio pedigree of the team behind Wire, and the fact that they are using the Opus codec. On a larger level, there is also the continued "directory dilemma" that I've written about, namely that Wire has the same struggle as most other new tools in that you need to gather a strong "directory" of people who are actually using the app for it to be an app that people regularly use. Most of the people with whom I regularly communicate aren't users of Wire ... yet.

Still, the release of this "Wire for Web" gives me hope that Wire may be able to build some momentum now that, for example, Microsoft Windows users can now join in. Time will tell... but this will definitely help!

Kudos to the team at Wire for this very excellent web release?

P.S. If you are using Wire, or try it out, you should be able to find me on Wire as "Dan York".


Note: an audio podcast about this topic is also available:

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:


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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Congrats to the Wire Team for TNW Apps of The Year Selection

Congratulations to the Wire.com team for having Wire be selected as one of The Next Web's "Apps of the Year"!

Tnw app of year wire

TNW's Napier Lopez talks about how beautiful Wire is and how much it is a platform that he wants to use... and suddenly he is the one asking people to join him.

Many of comments mirror my own opinion of how much I enjoy using the app. It's just a pleasure to use for communication.

Napier Lopez does, though, hit Wire's real challenge:

Still, I mentioned earlier that I started using other messaging platforms because my friends made me, and therein lies the crux with Wire, or any new messaging platofrm, really: you need to get users on the platform.

This is indeed the "user directory problem" that I wrote about at great length. And I, too, hope that the Wire team - and we all as Wire users - can find ways to help bring people to the platform.

Meanwhile, congrats to the Wire team for this recognition - and I look forward to seeing what may be coming up next in the app!

P.S. I notice a version 1.2 for iOS just appeared in the AppStore and it includes the ability to invite people to join, so that's a start....


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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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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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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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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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Telcos Should Be Worried - Facebook Controls More OTT Messaging With WhatsApp Acquisition

WhatsappTalk about disruption... the telecom part of the media world is buzzing with news of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. Techmeme is currently showing MANY posts on the topic and the day is just getting started.

The key point here is that WhatsApp is a prime example of what is often called an "Over-The-Top" or "OTT" application. It uses the data channel on a mobile phone to provide services. Here's another key point from the Facebook news release:

  • Messaging volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume.

The traditional telecom companies ("telcos") have already seen their voice revenue seriously eroded by Skype and so many of the other OTT voice applications (such as Viber, which was just acquired) and they've been watching SMS traffic and revenue plateau and decline.

WhatsApp was already one of the major players in the mobile messaging space... indeed I have friends in Europe who tell me they can't remember the last time they sent an actual SMS message because they use WhatsApp for all their messaging. Their usage, too, is not just about the "free" cost of WhatsApp messages - it's also about the richer messaging experience they can get over WhatsApp versus plain SMS. They can send photos, display an online status, engage in group chats and much more that was just either difficult or expensive to do with SMS. And... they can send messages to anyone using the app regardless of where they are in the world. They don't have to worry about fees to send SMS messages internationally.

The user experience is so very simple and easy.

Plus, WhatsApp (and other OTT messaging apps) solves the directory issue by just using your mobile phone number as the identifier within their system. With a quick approval of access to your contact list you can immediately start sending messages to any other WhatsApp users. You don't have to try to get anyone's number... it's all stored in the big giant (and constantly growing) WhatsApp user directory.

And now... instead of WhatsApp being a venture-backed startup out there building its service, it is now backed by Facebook, at this point one of the more powerful corporate entities on the global stage today.

Note, too, that Facebook has also been an OTT messaging player for some time with their "Facebook Messenger" application, which even introduced voice calling at one point in the US. In a post today, Mark Zuckerberg writes about how the two apps will co-exist for different communities of friends/contacts (see also the WhatsApp blog post). Zuckerberg also writes of how WhatsApp is, in his mind, on its way to connecting a billion people.

And that is really what should concern the telcos - one of the largest OTT messaging apps is now owned by the largest global social network.

A Larger Danger

There is, though, a broader concern, not just for the telcos but for all of us. All of these OTT messaging apps... whether they are WhatsApp, Line, Facebook Messenger, Apple's iMessage, Google+ Hangouts, Skype ... or any other... are creating SILOS of users.

They are proprietary "walled gardens" of messaging.

You can ONLY send messages to people who have the app installed on their mobile device.

Say what you will about SMS, but the reality is that you can send a message to pretty much anyone with a mobile phone, anywhere on the planet. No apps to download... it's just a "feature" of having a mobile phone.

WhatsApp requires the app. And specifically the app from Whatsapp and not anyone else's application. WhatsApp does NOT have an open API that anyone can use. In fact, WhatsApp's legal counsel was recently sending DMCA takedown notices to crack down on projects interacting with Whatsapp (presumably in the run-up to this acquisition). WhatsApp - and now Facebook - are in total control of the user experience and interaction for mobile messaging on the service.

Is this REALLY what we want for the future of mobile messaging?

Way back in 2007, I wrote about how "e-mail" was returning into walled gardens and while today's players are different than the diagram I had then, the situation is similar.

This is not the open Internet.

And that should concern us all.


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