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Posts from October 2012

Ameche Lets Telcos Add Apps Into Regular Phone Calls To Add Value And Services

AmecheImagine you are driving fast along a major highway in traffic and you receive a call from a critical customer. She wants to know immediately when you can meet tomorrow with her team to go over the final proposal and sign the deal. There's no way for you to pull over and look at your calendar on your phone or computer... and it's really not safe in the high-speed traffic for you to be flipping through your calendar while you talk. What do you do?

Do you tell her you'll give her a call back when you get to a safe place? Or do you do the unsafe action of looking at your calendar on your phone?

What if there was a different way?

What if you could say something like "Let me check my calendar for tomorrow at 3pm" and then suddenly have a voice whisper back to you - on your call, but only heard by you - "your calendar is free at 3pm. You have meetings at 2 and 5."

You could then reply to your customer after just this brief pause letting her know that you could meet with her.

Sound like science fiction?

Perhaps... but that is the type of functionality that the team over at Voxeo Labs is looking to bring to calls with the launch of their new cloud service offering called Ameche. They are using the tagline "Apps in your Calls™" and produced this brief video to talk about what can be done:

I admit that I find their overview page and their introductory blog post a little bit over-the-top in terms of marketing-speak, but it starts to get interesting to me when you look at the page about apps in your calls. I'm not sure that I personally would get too excited about the "Social Calls Status Updates" example but it is extremely cool and valuable that they have this capability to connect with social networks. I find the other use cases such as integration and context-based routing, and including the case I described at the beginning, far more compelling. It's also very important to note, as they do farther down that page, that Ameche is a platform and so can be used to build many different types of applications:

Ameche possibilities

That platform itself, described on the Ameche technology page, sounds quite intriguing. As I understand it, they are essentially deploying a virtual machine running Node.js into a carriers network and then deploying applications inside that VM. They provide this network diagram showing how the pieces can fit together:

Ameche technology

The outstanding part here is that they are using common web programming languages and fitting directly into existing carrier networks. This platform will let telcos create new services that can work with existing phone connections and existing phone numbers. No need for the customer to do anything except order the new service. No apps to download, no numbers to configure.

Obviously the primary market for this service is really the telecommunications service providers / carriers who are looking to offer additional services to their customers. At a time when those telcos are so threatened by the rise of various VoIP services and are looking for ways to build customer loyalty and keep the customers from leaving, Voxeo Labs' Ameche may just be the type of platform those carriers need right now.

Congrats to the team at Voxeo Labs on this launch - and I look forward to seeing what telcos will build with this new platform!

Full disclosure: I worked at Voxeo for 4 years and as a result am a small shareholder in the company. However, I would not write about the company or its products unless I thought they were worth writing about.

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Hypervoice - The Fundamental Flaw In The Proposal

MartingeddesI am a huge fan of Martin Geddes, but he and I disagree fundamentally on one key part of what he is now calling "hypervoice".
NOTE: Today's VUC call at 12noon US Eastern will be with Martin discussing his ideas. If you'd like to weigh in on the issue, please join the call. (Unfortunately, I'll be waiting to board a plane home from Mumbai and can't make it... hence this blog post.)

To back up a bit, Martin has always been one of the "big thinkers" in realm of VoIP and telephony/telecom. Way back in mid-2000s when a number of us all started writing about VoIP, Martin's Telepocalypse blog was brilliant. He was always thinking about the "big picture" and drawing connections where they were not already apparent. His work with "Telco 2.0" was excellent and it was no surprise when he went to work for BT looking at their strategy. Now that he is back out on his own as a consultant, I'm a subscriber to his "Future of Communications" email newsletter (subscribe on the sidebar to his site) and enjoy reading his frequent issues.

Recently he gave a closing keynote presentation at the Metaswitch Forum titled "A presentation about Hypervoice" that is available via Slideshare or PDF.

The presentation itself is very well done. In typical Martin style it nicely lays out the history of both telecom and the web and brings them together to talk about what comes next.

I actually agree with almost all of what Martin writes. Much of what he talks about as "hypervoice" I see already happening in so many ways.

But here is where we fundamentally disagree... this slide early on:


That includes the text:

"However, the Internet cannot and never will carry society's real-time communications needs. It is fundamentally unsuited to the job."

Martin's argument, which he has made multiple times before, including in a comment he wrote in response to my post about how WebRTC will disrupt real-time communications, is that the Internet as it exists today cannot provide the level of service that is truly needed for real-time communications. He believes we need to have different classes of service on the Internet and separate "flows" of communications. He comes back to this point later in his "Hypervoice" slide deck:

Hypervoice polyservicenetworks 1

This is where he and I part ways. As I said in my own response to Martin's comment to my earlier post:

Martin, yes, I've read your newsletters on this point and while I understand the concern I'm not ready to say that the plain old Internet can't deal with the contention. Back in the early 2000's I was the product manager for Mitel's "remote teleworker" product and there was great concern from the traditional telecom folks within Mitel about this idea that we were going to put an IP phone out at some random point on the Internet where there was no QoS or anything. In fact, some folks wanted us to say that it had "cell-phone voice quality" so that we wouldn't set high expectations about voice quality. The reality was that through appropriate codecs, jitter buffers and other technologies the connections almost always worked and almost always had outstanding quality (usually FAR better than cellphones).

The other reality is that we've seen OTT providers like Skype and others providing excellent services that work the vast majority of the time. We're seeing new and improved codecs coming into the market. We're seeing new traffic shaping technologies. The list goes on...

If the (brief) history of the Internet has shown us anything, it is that the Internet's capacity to adapt and change is boundless. We'll see what happens in the time ahead.

And no, I haven't written off the telcos as having a role in real-time comms. I just don't know that the "role" they may have will necessarily be the one they would like to have! ;-)

I believe fundamentally that the "open" Internet can and will adapt to the needs of carrying real-time communications. I would argue that it already has in so many ways... and it will change even more as we continue to move more and more real-time comms onto the Internet, particularly with WebRTC and other emerging technology.

And yes, you might expect me to say this as a passionate advocate for an open Internet, but I firmly believe this:

We do NOT need separate layers of the Internet based on class of service.

That, to me, is a dangerous path. I want to continue to see an Internet where all nodes are treated equally ... and where real-time communications can work for all.

Martin and I will probably have to agree to disagree on this. It's doubtful he can convince me nor I can convince him.

What do you think? Do we need different layers of the Internet? Or can the Internet adapt without that? Leave a comment here... or join in to today's VUC call and comment there.

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Today's VUC Call - Setting Up A Cellular Network In The Desert For Burning Man

TimpantonToday's VoIP Users Conference (VUC) call at 12:00 noon US Eastern should be quite an interesting one. Tim Panton from Voxeo Labs and Tropo will be joining the call to talk about his experience setting up a mobile network in the middle of the desert for this year's Burning Man event.

Tim recently described the experience in a guest post at TechCrunch: "What We Learned Running A Mobile Network At Burning Man" and on the VUC call will talk more about what he did. The FAQ from the Papa Legba camp at Burning Man makes for quite an interesting read. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Tim... and the call is open for anyone to join in.

You can join the live call via SIP, Skype or the regular old PSTN. There is also an IRC backchannel that gets heavy usage during the call. It will be recorded so you can always listen later.

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Slides: How The Hidden Secret of TCP/IP Affects Real-time Communications

Recently at Voip2day + ElastixWorld in Madrid 2012, Olle E Johansson gave a great presentation outlining where we are at with telecom and VoIP in 2012 - and where we need to go! Olle is a long-time, passionate and tireless advocate for the open Internet, IPv6, SIP and standards and interoperability. I've known Olle for years via Asterisk-related issues, via the VUC calls and via work on SIP over IPv6.

This presentation (slides available) really hits a number of key points about where we are at now:

In particular I was struck by his slides 24-28 that strike the same theme I've been writing about across multiple blogs, namely the way we are reversing the "open Internet" trend and retreating back inside walled gardens of messaging:

This is what customers wanted to avoid

He goes on to walk through what happened with SIP and how the protocol evolved - and evolved away from interoperability. His conclusion is that we as customers need to take back control, avoid vendor lock-in and demand interoperability.

He also points people over to his "SIP 2012" effort where he is undertaking to compile a list of what really defines "SIP" in 2012, i.e. more than just RFC 3261. (I'll note he's looking for feedback on these ideas.)

All in all an excellent presentation... and yes indeed we all collectively do need to "WAKE UP" and demand better solutions!

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