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Posts from April 2007

Native (and UNofficial) Blackberry clients for AIM, MSN/WLM and ICQ available (for some networks)

(Continuing my effort to flush my "queue of things I want to blog about"...)

Last week, per Rich Lafferty, I learned that there are now "unofficial" versions of native Blackberry clients available for AIM, MSN/WLM and ICQ.  I used WebMessenger a bit in the past and found it useful, but stopped using it for some reason I can't exactly recall...  in any event, I'll be curious to try out native Blackberry versions.   Of course, I can't right now.  I naturally tried to download the MSN/WLM client and was told that "this messaging service is not supported by your service provider" (Verizon).  Ah, well, I'll just have to wait a while.  I don't really need IM on my blackberry, but every once in a great while there's a time when I'm travelling and IM would be great to have.

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Gokul Blog: Top Ten Most underrated VoIP Contributors

(Continuing my effort to flush my "queue of things I want to blog about"...)

Some time back, I stumbled upon this post "Top Ten: Most underrated VoIP Contributors".  Yeah, okay, so I liked the list because it had my employer on it, and mentioned the work Mitel has done with VOIPSA, which is really the activities that I do. So, yes, it's nice to be recognized and nice to hear the kind words about Mitel's contributions.  Some of the other people on the list were also interesting as well, so it was good to be introduced to others whom I haven't read.

Telephony... *disrupted*: "Dudes in suits looking down at their hands and getting increasingly frantic"

If you are a Blackberry user (I am), you probably discovered sometime early this morning that you were not receiving email messages... and then you no doubt learned that pretty much all Blackberries in the entire Western hemisphere were offline since last night. For email, that is... they still worked as a phone, but I mean, you don't really get a Blackberry for the phone aspect. At this point, basically every major news outlet is covering the story, and I'm sure we can expect the stories to continue for quite some time.   The service seems to be back up now (mine is, anyway), but I'm sure it will take a bit for it to be restored everywhere.

Working in my home office today, I actually didn't notice the outage until I did one of my very occasional scans of Twitter and saw Chris Brogan complaining being stuck on a train without email access.   Knowing Chris, I figured I'd give him a quick call and was rewarded with this great quote about his trip around New York:

"Yeah, I was just in Penn Station and there were all these dudes in suits looking down at their hands and getting increasingly frantic!"  (Chris Brogan)

Indeed!  Given how much the financial industry (as well as the US government!) relies on Blackberries, I'm sure there were a heck of a lot of frantic calls being made all morning.

As a network technology geek, I'll be curious to see what information comes out later about the cause.  ComputerWorld is running speculation that it may have had to do with issues with one of RIM's Network Operations Centers (NOCs), but that is, at the moment, purely speculation and may be a red herring.  (Although it does raise another issue of why RIM has two NOCs that are both located in Canada.  With a global service such that they have, I would have thought that they would have gone for greater geographic distribution!)

In any event, something like this will definitely serve to remind people of how addicted they are to "push e-mail" and will undoubtedly cause larger customers to ask RIM serious questions about network availability (and perhaps to consider other alternatives).  Having some friends working at RIM (with whom I have not touched base), I can only hope they get it all sorted out rather soon.

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Rich Tehrani on DiamondWare, "3-D audio conferencing" and how the sound of telephony is changing

Those who know me well are aware that one of my hot buttons is my belief that one of the greatest disruptive potentials of VoIP is to fundamentally change the sound of telephony. With VoIP, we are no longer constrained to the 3.5kHz frequency range of the PSTN... I'll save my wideband rant for another day, but tonight I'll just point you over to Rich Tehrani's post "DiamondWare in HD", which talks about the power of DiamondWare's "3-D" stereo technology.  As Rich describes in his blog entry:

Once on the call I was able to easily position the three callers all around me. One could be directly ahead of me and one on either side. The computer can automatically position participants as well if you so choose.

When everyone was in place, Keith had one coworker start counting from 1 and another reciting the alphabet from letter “A.” While these two participants spoke, Keith proceeded to speak with me and the strangest thing happened. I could focus on anyone I wanted and was able to absorb what all three participants were uttering.

It was an amazing experience and the sound quality was beyond compare. I could hear everything in a conversation and more. A sniffle. Lips moving, etc. I swear I could almost hear eyes blinking.

I've not yet personally tried DiamondWare's stuff (although I've met CEO Keith Weiner several times at various shows and he's offered to take me through it) but I am aware that it's also being used in the SecondLife voice beta trial (also another topic for another day).  To me I just think this kind of thing (and publicity by folks like Rich) is great to see... with VoIP (or IP Telephony or whatever we want to call it today) we have the very real capability to have far better audio communication than we've ever had with "traditional" telephony.  It's here now already (just ask a Skype user, but that's yet another topic)... but companies like DiamondWare are showing us just how much farther the boundaries can be pushed.  Cool stuff!

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Mitel connects directly to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 via SIP

In my incredibly long queue of things I've wanted to write about for the past few weeks, one item was the Mitel news release about making a direct SIP connection to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging. The cool part is that you can just use our basic 3300 ICP communications platform (or IP-PBX, or whatever you want to call it) and connect it directly into a Microsoft Exchange Server to use the Exchange Server for a unified inbox (email, voicemail, fax, etc.).  No other boxes or gateways necessary.  Just a nice, standard SIP trunk.  As a long-time proponent of open standards and general "standards geek", it really can't get much better.  It's great to see.

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My article "Using IP Communications as a Tool for Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity" is now online

I just realized that I never wrote here that an article I wrote recently came out online.  Published in Mitel's "Presence" magazine, it's titled "Using IP Communications as a Tool for Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity".  Okay, so the title's not overly catchy, but here's the first paragraph:

If a hurricane devastated your main office, how rapidly could you restore telephone connectivity? If a branch office had a fire or other disaster, how soon could you connect back into the main office? Or if Avian flu or some other pandemic created a situation where you needed to stay out of the office, could you access remote phone capabilities equal to that at the office? How long would it take your business to recover? How much (and how many customers) could you afford to lose in the process?

I go on to talk about why IP communications/IP telephony/VoIP fundamentally changes the traditional way you might address these issues and offers tremendous benefits.  In fact, to me, the ability to put an IP phone pretty much anywhere you can get an IP address remains one of the major - if not the single biggest - disruptive aspect of IP telephony/communications.  Remove geography as an issue and suddenly things like disaster recover and business continuity take on a whole different view.

While it's in a Mitel publication, there's nothing in the article that is really Mitel-specific.  Listeners to Blue Box or readers of Voice of VOIPSA probably won't find it terribly new since I've been talking about this before in those sites... but for those of you not familiar with DR and BCP and how VoIP can change that, I think you'll find it a useful read.

Skype begins private beta of Enterprise Edition, rolls out new versions for Mac (including Call Transfer), Windows beta...

Quite a bit of activity lately, it seems, over in Skype-land:

1. Private beta of an "Enterprise Edition" - First seen on Jan Geirnaert's weblog and then subsequently confirmed, it appears Skype is sending around an email looking for participants in an "Early Adopter Program" for a product that would include:

  • Enterprise network compatibility.
  • Company-owned Skype Name creation.
  • Customisable to your corporate requirements.
  • Direct technical support from Skype.
  • Ongoing upgrades maintenance.

A bit more text about it on Jan's weblog.  Will be interesting to see what evolves out of this.

2. New version 2.6 for the Mac with Call Transfer, public chats, Skype Prime, etc. - Over at Skype Journal, Jim Courtney writes about the new Mac version that brings the Mac version closer to parity with the Windows client (as seen in the release notes). It also apparently includes "call transfer" that will, per the download page, "Transfer calls to your Skype contacts - effortlessly." Jim provides a teaser to us that Windows users can use this Call Transfer as well... and this will be described later this week. 

If Call Transfer does indeed work, this is the first time I've really seen it in a P2P client.  (I'm suddenly thinking my wife's Macbook might need some "system administration" time spent with it.)

3. New release of the Windows 3.2 beta - Jim notes in the same post that a new build of the Windows 3.2 betaa is available, which, per the Release Notes, seems mostly about bugfixes.  (Hmmm... I suddenly become curious what the "odd background noise" is that apparently appears in the silence between two 3.2 users...)

4. Multi-device presence - I didn't note here that last week Jim also had a post about two small features in the Skype 3.2 beta that made for interesting reading.  Skype is interesting in that unlike MSN/WLM or AIM, you can have multiple instances of Skype running at the same time.  (In fact, there's a security issue related to this that we've talked about on Blue Box before.[1])  Having multiple computers, one of which has a DUALphone connected to it, I make use of this feature to have Skype on both systems.  However, there is the very real issue of "which instances' presence setting do you broadcast to Skype contacts?"  And also to the web presence icon.  I've seen the issue myself when I look at my blog from my laptop (with Skype running) and see that my Skype web presence says that I'm "Away" or "Not Available"... due to the fact that my other PC has had enough inactivity for Skype to automatically change the presence setting.

It would appear that Skype's solution out of that is to have presence be pulled from whichever Skype client logged in last.  I guess it's one way to do it... but I'd prefer a checkbox in the options that said something like "Make this instance of Skype authoritative for my presence" (obviously worded a bit better).

In any event, these are all some interesting developments... thanks to the Skype Journal team for continuing to provide the investigative digging they do.

[1] In a nutshell, the "security issue" is that with the "multiple login" feature, you have no way of knowing how many instances of Skype are open with your username.  An attacker could open up Skype, enter your username and keep guessing passwords until he/she could get in as you.  If the attacker is successful, he/she can see all your contacts, all your chats, see your event history, etc. The attacker can't listen to your calls (since those are point-to-point), but they could make a call as if it were you and presumably could also deplete your Skype Credit.

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MAKE: Turning an antique phone into a USB headset (and therefore Skype phone)

Through a link from Phil Wolff, I learned that Bruce Stewart has posted at the Emerging Telephony blog about someone turning an antique phone into a Skype phone (which actually points to a post on the MAKE Blog).  Okay, so as best I can tell, it's really a glorified USB headset, but I admit that the geek side of me finds it rather a fun idea.  Bruce links to a page on the Instructables site that has more pictures and instructions. 

(I'd note that while the articles say that it is an "antique Skype phone", it really looks to me like it's a USB headset, so it could really work with any VoIP program.)

Fun stuff...

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Attaining BLISS... (at least in the world of SIP)... a.k.a. why can't we all just get along?

 So you'd like your SIP phones to all work together, eh?  And you'd like your SIP phone from Vendor A to work with the SIP phone of Vendor B and yet give you the business functionality that you used to have in the PBX from Vendor C?

Good luck.

Yes, they will (or should!) all work together for basic call functions, but if you want to do more than just the very basics, you rapidly wind up in the realm of incompatible SIP implementations.  Different vendors support different RFCs... or interpret RFCs differently.  It's a challenge to go beyond basic functionality.

Enter "BLISS", one of the latest working groups coming out of  the IETF. It stands for "Basic Level of Interoperability for SIP Services" and, as noted in its charter, the intent is to define a basic set of functionality ("minimum interoperability requirements") to allow SIP endpoints to interoperate on 4 specific telephony services:

  1. Bridged/Shared Line Appearance (BLA/SLA)
  2. Call Park/Pickup
  3. Do Not Disturb (DND)
  4. Call Completion to Busy Signal/Call Completion on No Reply

More details are on the charter page.  These are just the initial four issues chosen to be addressed and Internet-Draft documents are already circulating on some of the items.  I see it as a necessary group if we are to actually have real interoperability between SIP endpoints, and I commend the group organizers on scoping it to an initial 4 issues (rather than making it wide open).

If you work with SIP, I'd encourage you to check out the BLISS web site, read the "problem statement" and charter... and then join the mailing list (and please read the archives to see what's happened so far).  I've joined the list... and would encourage others to consider doing so.  If we do want real SIP interoperability, we need to hammer some of these things out.

For more information, you can download the set of slides presented by Jonathan Rosenberg of Cisco at the IETF 68 meeting stating the problem and why the BLISS working group is needed.  To make it easy to see them, I'm going to embed a SlideShare version here:

See you on the list...

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Shawn Merdinger - The Top 11 VoIP security issues you need to discuss with your vendor

Over on the Voice of VOIPSA weblog, security researcher Shawn Merdinger is 2/3 of the way through a series of posts on the "top 11 VoIP security issues you need to discuss with potential vendors".  His posts are:

with the third post coming at some point soon to cover points 9-11.  Shawn's posts are definitely "required reading" for anyone working on or concerned about issues around VoIP security.  He's done a great job bringing into one place the many questions that you should be asking VoIP/IP telephony/IP communications vendors about the security of the systems you are considering (or have already deployed).

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