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Posts from April 2009

Skype Winning With 3? Actually It's 3 Winning With Skype

Two posts this week about Skype and mobile operators by Om Malik and Rich Tehrani underscores why playing with your competition makes sense.

What's interesting is neither has had any first hand experience (that I know of) using the 3 Skype service in the UK as I have. If they did, they would have been even more effusive on the positive side of things in their commentary.

First, from a price and performance perspective, I can't make calls any more cheaply in the UK while on the go than I can with the Skype phone from 3, running iSkoot's technology. Once 3 opened the service up to allow Skype Out calls, it was game over to any other carrier for someone who has to reach a community of people I deal with the way I can via Skype (or for them to reach me) or to make International Long Distance calls. The only rival is client Truphone and that's because their service is a mobile phone derived service at the core. The Skype phone though has the second largest telephony addressable audience in the world, next to the regular PSTN, so when the two are combined, 3 wins the game.

The key is presence. I spend almost no time leaving voice mails, as the presence data available via Skype makes it easier to reach someone I need to talk to. After that, everything else is just another feature.

By selling Skype as a service now, 3, is going to sell more data plans, and connect more people to more people. Other carriers should carry the same idea forward. What's more, since the new SkypePhone2 can be tethered, I can always us it connected to my laptop as a 3G modem, making it a great value for those who don't want to buy a separate 3G stick or card.

To me, both Om and Rich have made solid points why some USA carrier should embrace the SkypePhone from INQ. It will be a win, once their networks can support all that Data traffic of course.

Update: Jim Courtney weighs in with his thoughts a few days after this post.

More on The Innovators Dilemma by Alec Saunders

Alec has written a killer post about the problem that both Microsoft and Apple are running into. The Netbook craze, and he's very right on.

Here's some history, from a very early adopter. I've been buying Netbooks since the were called UMPCs. I've purchsed OQOs, Medions (both underpowered using the older VIA chips which have since improved) as well as original EEE PCs from Asus (ask my wife our French EEE PC story-that one is in the hands of our winemaker friend, Sylvain Fadat) and then many more. Over 15 at last count. Why? I learn more and more about their utility with each model first hand.

But I digress. Back in 1980 I had a similar dilemma. I knew I needed to computerize my office operations, as I was charged with running Hockey Central, the Philadelphia Flyers Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs as it would become known as a few years later upon the arrival of Bob Butera as team President. Given I was always out and about the idea of a desktop computer from Apple or Radio Shack seemed hard to fathom. Many computers were expensive and didn't offer an all in one solution. As someone who never had owned (or used) a computer, the learning curve was monumental. But along came the Osbourne and my dilemma of buying one was solved. Why? It had everything in one box and was PORTABLE. That was the hook.

A short time later I bought a Osbourne II (blue grey case) and that became the daily luggable. Then out came the IBM PC and a short time later the Compaq. My boss at the time with the Philadelphia Flyers was a brilliant tax and finance guy named Donn Patton. He knew we needed to automate, and I was tasked with helping do that. He made me a deal. I would buy a Compaq and he would buy a desktop IBM PC running DOS. Together we learned more and more each week, and then when I started using MCI Mail for email, email to hard copy and a Western Union program that turned the Compaq into a Telex/TWX machine that immediately caused a sensation. No longer would a secretary (one of three have to log into "receive or send the twx" something that meant a lot when it came to the waiver wire or to confirm a trade, a contract or more associated with the NHL. Now, even Donn (or I could do it and I did-reading some very interesting emails from some very interesting hockey people---but my lips are sealed) That led us to buy one for the GM's executive assistant, and as a result I somehow became the go to guy for all things micro computing vs. the mini's that were handled by an IT consultant.

I share this story because the idea of a laptop/portable computer back in the 1980's was something very strange. Men didn't usually touch anything with a keyboard unless they were in the PR or media. (Some PR people wrote longhand and had their secretary type the release--YUK) bit today, these Netbooks are to me what the luggable PC's were almost 30 years ago. The shape of things to come. Along the way I've owned NEC Multispeed portables, the first Mac portable and a host of laptops with a Dell Inspiron back in the 90s being the PC that changed my lfe. With the arrival of Mac laptops I went back to Macs this decade, but now find with more and more things cloud oriented, that Mac or Windows (or even linux) the OS doesn't matter. It's the lightweight that does.

I use my Netbook more and more, and now that I can watch iTunes videos on it, and the battery life is better than my MacBook Pro, I find the myself using it more for lightweight computing tasks when on the go.

So the dilemma I see for Apple is really one of simply saying, we can make the best Netbook, not simply dismissing what's there today, but really changing the game once again.

Early adopters are agents of change. We shape the future and waste lots of money along the way. But that investment in an Osbourne was just that. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today, without having spent that money as "tuition" so many years ago.

T-Mobile 3G USB Stick-First Impressions

My first thoughts about T-Mobile's 3G card for USA are ... this.

1) No Mac support yet. But it is coming they promise.

2) Coverage area-very spotty so far, at least in San Diego County

3) Easy to install software for PCs. Installed quickly and fired up without issue on my Asus 1000HE Netbook. The software comes pre-loaded on the USB sitck.

Small, light. Made by Huawai, so the software for Macs won't be hard to write, as already 3 in the UK has that up and being offered.

More to come..

Update-I was at San Diego International Airport and ran a speed test. I was underwhelmed. I'm used to seeing speeds in the 1-1.5 range these days on 3G or even in the high hundreds. What I saw was sub 500K down and under 200k up. That's not what we should be seeing on a network that has such a small number of users. Maybe it was the location?

FreshTel Coming Online More and More

Australian VoIP player Freshtel, has been quietly making some moves. I just spotted their Mac Beta, but was more impressed with their calling rates.

Doing some quick math, I quickly realized that for 1.2 cents per minute in USA currency, one can be making international phone calls. Only drawback is you can't add a USA DID (yet). With their easy to use configuration guides you can certainly configure any SIP device or softclient like CounterPath's EyeBeam or Bria as well, as use their own softphone.

They are promising an iPhone app shortly, and appear to be a coming player in the world of VoIP, and Mobile VoIP as their app now works on many Nokia N & Ehandsets ala Truphone and Gizmo5.

My prediction: Watch for more foreign carriers and SIP based companies to enter the USA market with advanced services and better International pricing.

Passion Pours Out About AT&T CallVantage Getting Hung Up

Ever since I wrote about my interest in learning more about T-Mobile @ Home experiences a few weeks back, I've been getting notes via email from many a reader who like me has had AT&T's CallVantage service. I've also seen blog posts like this one, from others who were part of the early testing programs like me that AT&T executed so well with bloggers and journalists.

Just this week, as I reported, the letters regarding its near term demise are being received by CallVantages faithful customers. Just like the "geniuses" of Time Warner killed AOL Phone Line, simply to sell VoIP over Cable, AT&T made a decision in 2008 that Uverse needs to be the product that delivers VoIP in their market areas, thus forsaking customers in the rest of the nation who have had no complaints about the service and who have been paying their bills.

Let's face it, the service was the best on the market, hands down. No one knew it was VoIP if you didn't tell them, and in its heyday the service when being marketing by a team of telephony veterans who weren't either shackled or being bridled were making history. They developed and marketed a game changing product.

Now consumers and small office/home office workers (like me) are faced with finding other alternatives of proven, quality voice providers which also offer the suite of services and quality of service that CallVantage delivered. By having AT&T's infrastructure and network, the service started out better. AT&T's peering relationships with the cable operators and other telcos certainly gave them a leg up from everyone else. No other independent operator could match that, which was why I found only the AOL offering and later, Earthlink's True Voice to be in the same league as CallVantage. To put it bluntly, AT&T's offering made Vonage look and sound like tin cans and wires as it was better than the PSTN, so no one knows it's a VoIP call.

I don't know when my service ends, but the letters all say sometime in 2009. I'm trying to explore Uverse but there are some issues, most around alarm monitoring and having the telephone wires routed to my new data closet. We'll see how far that goes. Given I have a T1 from Covad and rock solid cable carrier supplied Internet, I may end up with simply my landline being PSTN or Cable company VoIP just for 911 purposes.

All my calls at this point go over any number of VoIP carriers and the quality I'm seeing from those that have taken the time to work with the better networks is good enough for business. The concern I have with all of them, is simply not wanting to lose my phone number should one of them go out of business. To AT&T's credit, if you are losing CallVantage service, you can port your number. I suggest all that are affected think about moving their number to a service like Junction Networks. I did that with a number I previously moved to Vonage and was able to keep the number. Junction Networks offers a lot of what SOHO business needs via either SIP Trunking or their OnSip service. Other options would be inPhonex, BroadVoice or VoicePulse. Each has of these four companies possesses solid technology and management, are professional with their customer service and are run by nice folks who have always been responsive and courteous in my dealings with them over the years.

Call Vantage Coming Closer To An End

A longtime reader shared with me that they received an early warning message from AT&T regarding the coming end of CallVantage.

I'm waiting to see the notice, as mine has not arrived yet, but this reader is in the Boston area and that's Verizon country. It seems from the reader's note there was a mention of uVerse, but that would be out of the 22 state AT&T market.

Let's see what happens.

Twitter = CB Radio

Alec Saunders labels Twitter a Megaphone.

I call it CB radio. Here's why

1. Everyone has a handle

2. There is no continuous thread of one person talking-translation-someone walks all over you

3. Every word is searchable, meaning it has many "channels"

4. Some people are anchors just like channel hogs in the CB era

5. Some people are on it night and day, just like CB radio

6. Some user find ways to "sell" via their Tweets, so did many

8. Conversations can go on for days, with no end

Skype, Nokia and Mobile Integration

Wireless Moves has two very strong posts about the benefits and challenges of Skype and SIP on mobile handsets, such as the Nokia N and E series devices which have been used for SIP based VoIP for a few years now.

Part One

Part Two

Worth a read if you give a SIP about the next stages of where things may go and the speedbumps we can expect to see.

You may also want to check out the viewpoints of the Telco 2.0 team regarding Skype and how as more people start using Skype there's a lesser need for PSTN internetworking.

Why Free Is Doomed

I have long been an naysayer about the "free" model of technology, preferring to PAY, rather than use a free service. Beyond the ability to bitch for not getting what you pay for, I've often found the "free" (i.e. we're burning up our investors money) model as one that is not a direct sibling of "sampling" something I consider a proven marketing concept and one that does indeed accomplish the three basic tenants of promotion:

1. Stimulate Trial

2. Drive repeat purchase

3. Promote brand switching

You see, as Om points out in his Cricket League Fail post about the IPL, they went with a model that was both free and underpowered.

This is not a surprise, nor in the purest sense of the concept of broadcasting, ad supported would not be purely free. But we're in an era where supply (server drain, bandwidth capacity, access devices and clients) are at levels never before seen, and despite all the modeling that can be done to predict if startup x has enough of everything in really still an art form, not a science. If it was a science, would we see Twitter outages? Would Amazon blink from time to time or would Google Mail ever go down?

The "free" model is limitless, and in turn the free users tend to only hang around as long as someone else is paying the freight. It also leads to faulty projections of users. What used to be 4-6 percent of conversion in media free to paid sites, is now in the one percent range. With telecom services the range is even less. Offer someone free minutes and they'll sign up. Ask them to pay, and they'll go elsewhere. Same with video.

So, if you have a free service that wants to go paid, my advise is simply this. Start with a paid model, offer samples. Time limits and tracking. Once the sample period has expired, survey and monitor the users behavior and attitude towards your service. The real stat to look at isn't users, it's conversion. The ones that convert are your customers. Everyone else is just a freeloader.

Mixed Signals on Skype With T-Mobile

Radio Netherlands has an interesting comment about T-Mobile/Netherlands not being opposed to Skype on the iPhone, while sister T-Mobile Germany is.

In the Netherlands, T-Mobile is the exclusive provider of iPhones. T-Mobile Nederland is not against the use of Skype on its network. The German branch of the company, however, is blocking its use by mobile phones, officially to prevent the network from becoming overburdened.

Interestingly, when I queried the USA folks who represent T-Mobile I received this response from a T-Mobile spokesperson:

"T-Mobile is supportive and working towards a more open wireless experience that invites innovation to our network and embraces customer choice and we are committed to enabling a broader set of devices and applications to run on the T-Mobile network. Our goal is to provide an optimal wireless experience for our entire customer base, and if it's determined that a customer's use of a third-party application may lessen this experience for our other customers, we will take the necessary precautions to protect and maintain an excellent customer experience on our network."

So until Skype is running on the T-Mobile handsets in the USA (meaning Android) in a big way, over 3G or other apps like Truphone and Fring, or even SlingBox, we won't know just how far T-Mobile will go here.