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March 2009

Posts from February 2009

VidTel Is Video Done Right But Seeing Is Believing

This is more of a fast and quick "observation" note about Vidtel, something I've been trying to play around with for a few months, but anything that involves connecting to my new and improved network here at the house I wanted to wait to do until the team from Xceptional Networks got things to a point where everything is simple to manage.

So far, what I'm seeing, is that Scott Wharton and his team in Sunnyvale have NAILED the concept of phone based/SIP Video down cold. It is simple to install, I simply plugged it into my Linksys Ethernet switch that's connected to my Covad Bonded T1 (3 megs) and powered it up. After a few minutes the firmware update was complete and I was connected.

I made a few trial calls but no one was home. Yesterday I used the service with Counterpath's EyeBeam on the Mac and also was able to update my EEE PC from ASUS (the 1000H) with the software thanks to some friends at Counterpath.

The call to one of the Vidtel tech team was perfect. So were calls to Jim Courtney using EyeBeam.

At first blush, I like what I'm SEEING from VIDTEL. The second box is going to my wife's house in Sacramento. I'm tired of not seeing as much of her when the laptop isn't near her. This will change things....My thought is I guess I'll SEE more of her, more often and she'll see more of me.


Skype To Go Now Open To All

Skype continues to work in the direction of getting more people to dial out via their service. Now they have opened the lightly used Skype to Go service to all PAYING users, meaning those that have Skype Out credit in their account.

Basically this is a credit card calling replacement or a way to compete with services like Gizmo5 or Truphone, Rebtel, Mobivox and others who all offer a mobile dial around solution.

For Skype it's an economic move, as having all those dollars/credits on their books is treated as a liability on the balance sheet. What's more they also have lots of reciprocal compensation from inbound calls they also need to chew up.

Now for the downside of this move.

Skype used to make this a valued feature in their UNLIMITED plans. Now they have further diminished the value of that by a factor of one. When you offer items in a bundle as a bonus those services are attractors to people to sign up and in the case of unlimited plans, actually pre-pay for them at times.

Unfortunately the more Skype makes moves like this, the more they are behaving like a telco, as this move is very much like what MCI or Sprint used to offer when they were alternative long distance carriers.

Is it time for Skype to admit they are a telco and conform to the same requirements as everyone else? Or should they keep being one of the rogues of telco?


eComm Pricing To Change, Reserve Today or Pay More

I got a note this morning from Lee Dryburgh reminding me that the early bird pricing for eComm ends today.

eComm starts on March 3 and looks set to be hot. It's a whole day affair for three days and in reality it's the equal of at least five days. The schedule is packed and there will likely be some very big news coming out of the event that's just across the freeway from San Francisco International Airport at the Burlingame Marriott.

If you want to save some money, use the promo code 'VoIPWatch09' which when entered on the first page of registration will takes 20% off or better yet, just click here and you'll receive the discount immediately.

See you there!


Skype and Wiretapping

One of Skype's biggest fears is the regulators. They spend lots time and money educating (or at least trying to) making sure their position is clearly understood.

With the recent succession of stories out of first Italy and now Belgium, it appears the regulators are lining up/ganging up on Skype outside the USA. Interestingly, this occurred after Skype started to signal the market that they were moving to Luxembourg as a corporate base of operations.

By no means do I think this is accidental. Skype is a viable, and growing threat to the traditional telcos, and yes, the mobile operators. Like Skype these companies also employ for regulatory specialists who bring matters to light.

In my view, the battle lines are just starting to be drawn. Ironically, with a more populist leadership in government here in the USA Skype may find a much more friendly and cooperative FCC, while in Europe we'll find that Skype (and by default eBay) becomes the next Microsoft, IBM type target but not for the same reasons. In those cases the threat was their monopolistic perception. In this case it's the oligopoly at work to preserve what they have.

Isn't it funny how time makes old perspectives change, and of course, whose in power.


Hotels Need Business and Broadband Is The Answer

For those of us who travel, access to proper Internet connectivity is not a luxury item. It’s not an amenity like a bathrobe in the room, nor is it something to be taken lightly. Let’s face it. We have wine snobs (guilty here), water snobs (guilty here too) and travel snobs (guilty as charged) so why not a bandwidth snob?

I men, for the business traveler, high quality, in room Internet connectivity is an essential.

Over the past three weeks I have gone from great to average to downright poor connectivity. What’s worse though is the lack of consistency between brands in the USA vs. what I consistently see in Europe where in my not so humble opinion, they have not only caught up with us, but also greatly surpassed us in both speed and value per megabyte.

Let’s first look at what I’ve found in the USA

1. Eden Roc Resort by Renaissance in Miami Beach-Amazing bandwidth, offering high quality, low latency, no loss connectivity and they offered both a wired and wireless connection.

2. Hotel Victor, a Hyatt property. Amazing bandwidth, offering high quality, low latency, no loss connectivity. While they only offered wireless, it was T-Mobile and like always, it performed like a champ.

3. South Beach Marriott, Miami Beach-horrible. Slow, bad coverage and some outages.

Now granted, people don’t go to Miami Beach to surf (the net) but those of us who head there for events (like the September Channel Partners and VON conference) will need it, especially in light of how deplorable the bandwidth is at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

4. The San Francisco InterContinental Hotel—with 50 megs already on property and more available on demand, the Wayport powered hotel is my first choice to stay in the city by the Bay. What’s more their options of wired and wireless, ability to secure a private IP address and on-sight IT manager makes this road warrior heaven.

Europe

1. In London I stayed at what has become a second home, even at a slightly higher price than some other properties around the City. I’m referring to the Liverpool Street Andaz that includes free Wired and Wireless Internet access in the room rate. The in room coverage is fantastic and the speeds are most always rock solid. Even Apple iTune HD video downloads whiz by compared to elsewhere.

2. Barcelona’s Hesperia Presidente-after a challenge in the room I first was placed in due to a faulty access point I was moved to a similar room near the top floor. My connectivity went from under 20 percent to over 80 percent and my speeds, especially the all -important upload soared to T1 or better through out my stay.

3. Paris’ new hipster spot, Mama Shelter is clearly one of the new hotels that got it right. Every room or every other one seems to have its own access point all connected to a very fast fiber connection. Running speed tests, making Skype calls with the call quality indicator showed a solid 5 megs in both directions no matter where I was or floor 4 or 5. I’m also a fan of the Accor hotels, like the Sofitels and the Pullman upper end properties, as well as even their Mercure properties. Many have both wired and wireless, with the wireless coming from France Telecom’s Orange which means Boingo works perfectly if you have their global plan. You can even use Boingo Mobile accounts too. The difference is that the Mama Shelter Internet access is free, while Accor guests have to pay Orange for access, but it’s worth it.

4. At Heathrow Airport one has the choice of a Hilton, Sofitel and the Yo-owned Yotel. That’s the cruise liner size cabin you rent by the hour or the night. My three stays have always been perfect. You get bed, bath and broadband. Not much in the way of frills, but the cost savings covers round trip taxi rides to Southall for Indian food at Madhus, Brilliant, Gifto’s or Lahore Kahari for amazing Indian food well below London’s prices (put it this way my flight from Paris to Heathrow, the cab rides and the hotel was far less than the Eurostar, a London hotel room for the night, the Heathrow Express or Connect, cabs to and from Paddington, no taxi queues – plus amazing meals where a ten PM reservation is not abnormal.)

At the Yotel I have always experienced perfect call quality over Skype or SightSpeed, and been able to down load videos to watch on the plane back to the USA. Their connectivity is now both WiFi and Wireless.

So, what does it take to make a great connection in the room? First I carry a Belkin wind up Ethernet cord with me. I also travel with two travel routers. My Apple Airport Express and an ASUS. The difference? IP Address blocks. Hotels use either 172.x.x.x, 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x so I have one set for the opposite of the two most common and have no conflicts most of the time. I even changed my 192.168.x.x to a higher starting point when I ran into the conflict once and presto, the conflict was over.

The preference of using my own access point where I can is simple. I can run as many devices as I like behind it, which means Wi-Fi calling off of my mobile handsets, IP calling using Truphone on the Nokia’s and iPhones on the inbound side as well as of course VoIP on the mobile devices.

The Hotels

Now for the property, what does it take? For starters it’s not running a long range DSL clone version over the in room TV network. That may have been good ten years ago when three to six guests per night used in room broadband. Now with usage creeping closer to 70% of in room guests according to hotel GM’s and managers I speak with, the old DSL approach won’t work. Neither does a T1 or even a pair of them.

Let’s do some fast math. If a T1 is 1.5 megabytes per second and you have a 200-room hotel with 100 rooms occupied and 70 rooms using the Internet at the same time you have slightly more than 20k for each room in each direction. Gee, I had a 36.6 modem in 1996. It gets worse if someone is uploading a big file, doing any P2P swarming or if two or three guests are swarming and file sharing. The network just flat out craters. Bottom line. Hotels need more pipe. 20 megs or more.

Now lets look at the routers. A 10 Base T/100 megabyte router divided by 70 is 1 a maximum throughput of 1.42 megs per user max, trying to get to the net…can you spell traffic jam? Nowadays the gigabit routers mean much more flow and go. But many hotels have been slow to the uptake. Next are the wireless access points. Many are just better than consumer grade Linksys APs when what are really needed are the higher-grade products from Cisco and other. The kind that can handle the increased traffic, and the number of concurrent sessions, not what’s in many today.

Most of all hotels need GM’s who understand the issues. Most I talk to are reliant on an IT guy and don’t know the questions to ask. Some chains are mandating certain solutions. For example Hilton mandates a series of providers. End result, the lowest bid likely gets the work. Bandwidth and hardware be damned. I know one property where the bandwidth is so bad that I have to use a 3G card to get over 500 k.

The End Game

Here are some tips.

1. Book a boutique hotel. I’ve found they have the bandwidth and access usually far better than the chains. What’s more they seem to be more helpful to guests with “needs.” Lastly they are less populated by the IT heavy types.

2. Get familiar with a hotel if you travel to the same market area. I’ve pretty much given up the of bargain hunting. Instead negotiate a preferred rate with the hotel. If you visit a market once a month the “home away from home” feeling and the perks of being a regular will greatly out weigh the slightly higher price. But do keep a market centric knowledge of pricing. If you find the rate you’re paying is higher than you can find on the web, bring it to the attention of the hotelier you’ve now befriended.

3. Run speed tests. I prefer to use Speedtest.net and also a secret site from a cable operator. Based on the two, I can see how good or bad things are. The secret site gives me a reference I can count on. Track what you see. If you end up with less than a Meg ever, find a new hotel.

4. Don’t just settle. Make sure your concerns are expressed to the hotel GM directly. He or she has Profit and Loss responsibility. Given them the chance to fix things. The last thing they want to do is lose a regular. Lose to many guests and guess what? They’re job is on the line. If it’s simply a location problem, the can move your room. If it’s a pipe issue, they can add more. A T1 runs between $275-$500 in most parts of the country. If it costs $3500 to get proper pipe, at 70 room nights using broadband per night, for an average of 20 nights the cost per room is less than $3.00 per guest. How? 1400 room nights rented in the month divided into the $3500.00. Of course infrastructure, upkeep and such may bring the cost to twice that, but the payback is there, and besides, it keeps the guest happy, and a happy guest keeps coming back for more.

The bottom line is that hotels still will have travelers and for those who need business grade broadband, the hotels, especially some that offer bargains would be wise to boost their connectivity and become truly “designed for business.”


Friends and More Friends

People ask me often, how do I do what I do. Travel as much as anyone on the planet (last year less than 50 days in my own beds in two houses-but they were under repair too and sort of still are.)

It all started with the dual city life my wife and I keep. And then there was the weddings in 2007. But it goes further than that. For years I was the guy who had wunderlust in my heart. To go where I can be local, without being a citizen. A nomad of sorts.

I've also developed very close friendships in many parts of Europe with people who share similar passions, and no surprise, one of those passions is wine.

One of those people is my good friend, and one of the groomsmen in my vineyard wedding of 2007, Mark Williamson, the owner and mind behind the most celebrated wine bar in the world, Willi's Wine Bar. Mark often introduces me as his technology advisor. Really I'm more of the nudge, always reminding him to add something new. The good news is he actually listens, and I am regularly surprised, most happily when he shows me he's actually implemented what I suggested, though I have to find out why the WiFi disappeared at Willi's.

Yesterday at the most amazing chocolateria in Paris, a new on on Rue de Turenne, 133, not far from Chez Jenny, one of my favorite Alsacian brasseries around, I was buying some of their hand made artisan teas when who strolled in, but Mark himself. It was Williamson who on his FaceBook page had drawn my attention to a story in French in FigaroScope that highlighted this most amazing place. Named the La Chocolaterie de Jacques Genin, this is an architectural wet dream, as the building may be one of the most pretty places to have a bite of chocolate and some tea anywhere.

Earlier I was at Willi's having lunch, texting with Mark about which wines I was tasting and he was suggesting. Go for the Anjou he said. A few hours later, we were having tea. The timing was perfect as we needed to actually talk about who will be where at an upcoming invitation only, trade and journalist wine event in the Rhone Valley which we're both attending.

Small world. Getting smaller. I have to wonder if he was tracking me on Google's Latitude ??? Nah..I haven't shown him that YET!


International Calling Done Very Modestly

Over the past few weeks I've been in a few places (to say the least.)

Miami Beach and calling anywhere was easy. My mobile phones with unlimited plans on T-Mobile and AT&T made that easy for stateside calling, and for international there was Truphone Anywhere or on my laptop, Skype.

But the real challenge was once I get to a foreign country. There the roaming rates of the USA operators, and those in the EU don't apply to us Yankees. So I the past two weeks I've been using a combination of Truphone Anywhere and Skype, both laptop, and when I'm in the UK on the INQ SkypePhone2.

Let me make it easy. When I use the SkypePhone in the UK, I simply buy a dayplan for data from 3, the carrier. For a one day pass it's .50 pence, or about .70 cents in USA currency. I made a ton of calls last night over Skype. One was a 25 minute Skype To Skype call where I was called as I was awaiting the arrival of my bag at Heathrow. The next few were to family and friends. Total cost. The .50 pence I spent as the Skype Unlimited World Plan and the Skype to Skype calls were FREE.

Now, when in Spain and France there wasn't 3 or a Skype deal, so I used Truphone Anywhere. All my calls were local, and what's more I was able to route calls to my USA Truphone number via always trusty Grand Central and those calls were sent free also.

That's the easy part.

Now for how I returned calls that were left as voice mail back in the USA in my GrandCentral mailbox. That's simple. I've set up a series of DIDs in countries I visit regularly. These are all SIP inbound DID's that route to a Gizmo5 number. That number is perpetually forwarded to GrandCentral, and since they peer with one another (something I had a hand in helping make happen) it is also FREE. All for the cost of a local call. Once I'm in the GrandCentral system, I simply return my calls based on messages being left.

This may seem like a lot of work, but once it's set up it's really easy.

Oh, and next month, when I'm international again, this time with my wife on vacation, I even picked up a SIM for her to use and give her Truphone Anywhere too, and the second SkypePhone to call on when she's in the UK before we go off to the wine regions of France for my twice delayed vacation with her.


Skype's Big News at Mobile World Is Nokia

Skype didn't hear back from Apple soon enough about receiving approval of their WiFi based iPhone app is my guess so they went with what some would consider a bigger gun. Nokia.

Today at Mobile World Congress Skype announced that the next pre-load of Skype will be with Nokia on the Q3 release of the Nokia N97, a very hot device that Nokia first unveiled last December at Nokia World.

One of the things that was obvious is that Skype has learned a lot from their SkypePhone partner, iSkoot, and the iSkoot created client that comes pre-installed and th server that sits inside the carrier network. That intellectual capital was espoused by Josh Silverman who rattled off all kinds of stats related to the 3 customer, many of whom are Skype users, who chose to switch.

Basically the underlying message the Skype CEO shared was carriers who will work with Skype will pick up users who spend more money than the non-Skype using mobile phone customer, or at least they did with 3.

One more note. With services like Skype coming out on the new Nokias, and an already existing Skype-Boingo relationship, and an existing Boingo client already running on the N and E series phones, one doesn't have to start seeing the alignment that is going on, and its all very smart and well thought through on all of the companies parts.


Companies To Watch At Mobile World Congress

Here's my shortlist of companies I'm going to be watching at Mobile World Congress (including a few clients of course):

HTC-this is their coming out party. Their relationships with Microsoft and T-Mobile make them a big factor.

Google Android-now that they have the live beta dubbed the G1, expect to see lots more of what's next from these guys.

Garmin-Asus and the Nuvifone-these guys have nailed the concept of LBS/GPS and social community into a pocket sized device.

INQ-New management team, with more coming. Hot devices and very low price make these folks a real threat. High end finish and the Qualcomm chips makes them very sweet new phones.

Truphone--big news on Tuesday but mums the word.

Vringo--if video is becoming hot on the laptop, video ringtones are beginning to take off. Vringo 2.0 really works and their new Studio is key to user generated content.

Palringo-cool location based services, with full featured chat. New versions keep getting better and better. Who needs MMS when you can Palringo.


What I Expect from Skype at Mobile World Congress

Today I expect to see and hear that Skype is working more closely with handset manufacturers. Ericsson and Nokia are my bets for who they major players will be.

I also am suspecting that there is more heat coming around their planned Apple iPhone release. Unfortunately, Apple decides when an app is released so despite all the best efforts from the Skype developer team event imposed deadlines don't really matter to Apple. When it does come out, I expect a very light weight client that lets you do two things, chat and talk to your Skype buddies over WiFi.