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September 2009

Posts from August 2009

The Joys Of Flying Virgin Upper Class

I'll admit, I'm spoiled when it comes to flying to London or Paris and back to the states. I have flown all but one flight in either business/premium economy or UpperClass over the past two years using points, upgrades and bonus coupons on Virgin Atlantic, the late and lamented MaxJet, Eos or even L'Avion/Open Skies. And it sure makes a difference.

This summer, since June 3rd there have been three round trips from the left coast to London, with this trip combining what would have been two trips back and forth by wrapping my vacation in the middle of them in Europe. Without flying Upper Class, it never could have happened.

As a road warrior I know what I can do to stretch/stress my body (and my mind) and be able to get off a plane and go right in to "work" mode. Coach may be good for holiday travel, and I flew mostly coach around Europe this trip including flights back and forth to Barcelona, then Club Europe, which is more like Economy plus to Mulhouse, coach back from Montpellier and over to Vienna and then Club Europe back from Vienna to London (the legroom is the big plus) but most of all this mode of travel starts to make a business person's life much easier.

But the amenities inside the Virgin Clubhouse are what makes it my favorite experience in flying.

1) Salon and Spa--I have zero time this week to get my locks sheared after what is about six weeks or so. Sure I could have tried to get a trim in London or Vienna, but after a cut in Barcelona my hair is a tad out of shape and with a panel to moderate at IT Expo this week I'd like to at least not look like Cosmo Kraemer or the second coming of Professor Brown from "Back to the Future."

2) Food-not only is the food cooked to order, its fresh and tasty.

3) Room to relax. There are five or six different zones ranging from a sit down dining area, a work zone, an upstairs meeting area and a bunch of relaxation couch areas that make it easy to sit back and enjoy the soccer matches on the 15 foot widescreen.

4) Power stations--Virgin realized people will be plugged in, or want to plug in, and there's more than enough outlets, both USA and UK format to keep you powered up and working.

5) Wi-Fi- powered by T-Mobile, Virgin gives you the access for free, and while it's not FIOS or FTTP speeds, it's at least the speed of a T1.

Most of all, you get to relax before you fly, and then when they call your flight, you just walk a few minutes and board your flight.

Call it spoiled. I call it civilized when you travel as much as I do.

Amazon Needs To Learn How To Write and Read

A few weeks ago I tried to order a Verizon Wireless Novatel Wireless MiFi from Amazon for my wife as a birthday present. I was tipped off to the pricing deal of one cent by Gizmo's Michael Robertson and felt since I was going to order one for her, the price savings was worth buying via Amazon vs. going through my sales rep. WRONG.

After placing the order, a few hours later I received an email from Amazon saying Verizon Wireless' ACE team needed more details. So I called and was shuttled to four different people before the truth came out. There wasn't any issue with my credit, as the letter implied, nor was any of the information I supplied inaccurate. Nor at any point in time did Amazon ask a disqualifying question about my already being a customer of Verizon Wireless, which was their justification for bouncing the order.

In the three weeks that have passed, I have not heard a peep back from Amazon despite two contacts (one by email-which is useless and another via their web forms) to my comments that no where on the web page (but maybe in the clickware agreement) does it say EXISTING VERIZON WIRELESS CUSTOMERS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR THIS.

What it does say on the web page is:

Price: $0.01 (with new service plan)

So, what part of NEW wasn't NEW when I went to buy a NEW MiFi with a NEW service plan for a NEW person to join the Verizon Wireless family of customers?

In all the years of being a loyal Amazon customer, I found this matter to be totally distasteful. I'm fine with the rationale, but now three weeks later the web page still omits any reference to NEW CUSTOMERS ONLY, so you have to figure that it's more than likely the person who read the terms and conditions and the person who writes the web copy are in two different departments that never TALK to one another. But since Amazon is a company that doesn't want to TALK to customers (or write back to customers either it seems) one has to wonder if the guiding principals of the company are being marginalized.

I've contacted my corporate rep about this at Verizon Wireless, and now that I'm heading back to the west coast I intend to pursue this with the Amazon PR folks, as I said to the reps I would. Given it's been almost three weeks since the incident they've had a fair amount of time to change things with the offer, but they haven't, which tells me that at Amazon no one is reading, listening or hearing. They're just selling.

This reminds me of Starbucks, and how the mighty can fall, when you're not listening to your most loyalist of customers.

P.S. Just for laughs I redid an order today stopping after reading the agreements. Unless I missed it buried in the mouse size type, nowhere did I see anything about NEW CUSTOMER mentioned.

Why is AT&T Negative on Android?

In burger land they call it "share of stomach" and in the mobile world it should be called "share of voice." Just a short while ago Information Week rehashed some news from last week about AT&T once again rejecting Google Android phones, this time from Motorola.

Here are a few reasons why I think they are doing so:

1) AT&T's network is Overdosing on Data. Until the network is at full capacity, and until iPhone sales simmer down from the boiling hot streak they have been on since launch, the last thing AT&T wants is more data centric users clogging an already stressed network.

2) Never Feed Thy Enemy-if AT&T's Dallas folks haven't figured it out, I'm sure those who really run wireless/mobile in Atlanta have. Google is not their friend. Google is a frenemy. That's someone who talks cooperation, then turns things into coopititition and eventually into competition. Why? Follow the ABC's of business.

A) At the Internet infrastructure layer Google owns lots of fiber capacity. This means traffic that used to go over AT&T's IP network goes elsewhere and that means AT&T phones traffic hits their network for a short time and migrates away. While it sounds good from a traffic perspective, in that the packets go elsewhere, it means AT&T is marginalized down to nothing more than an access provider and they're not making money all along the way.

B) Google is an investor in Clearwire now via the XOOM roll up. Their partners there include Motorola, Comcast and more. Their mission is to create a competitive 4G network. Why feed that development if you're AT&T.

C) Nothing is Unique to the AT&T Models--if you look at the Android devices, in many ways the only uniqueness is the casing. Much like Windows Mobile, you can get an Android in any case you want, as long as the inside is Android. I saw the Android 2, called the Touch, at a T-Mobile store in London over the weekend. Nice touchscreen, no Keyboard to slide out and you know what. It looked just like every other Android design I've seen from HTC or MOT or Samsung, or......

D) AT&T and Nokia are getting cozier. While Nokia may be my client, I'm about as far removed from sales as anyone these days so this is not based on inside knowledge. However the new, soon on the market, Nokia N900 looks perfect for an AT&T as it gives them a combined consumer and enterprise device that does a lot of "smart" things and is new and different. My guess though is both AT&T and T-Mobile grab them up as the WiFi and 3G capability fits with the AT&T hotspot strategy around the purchase of Wayport very well.

3) There are many new handsets coming to market from new players. INQ who is already making phones for Three in the UK is high on my list to make inroads into the GSM players in the USA, and AT&T has to be high on their sales gun's list. The same for ASUS/Garmin's NuviPhone whose new devices may be just good now, but if you look at how ASUS has gained market in the laptop arena, especially netbooks, you can see over time how they chip away at market share using price and style as their lead in. I would expect an AT&T to be looking at more devices that are different, than are "me too" which is what Android to date has been peddling.

A Conference Worthy of Attending

If I wasn't already committed to matters on the west coast the week of September 14th I'd be heading to New York for the second in a series of conferences on HD Communications put on by Jeff Pulver.

While for many, HD communications is a niche, it's just like VoIP and SIP were ten years or so ago. Right now when people think of HD, they tend to think about HD TV, but for those of us who has experienced my agency's client HiDef Conferencing via the service by the same name or played around ZIPDX you really can hear the difference. Think Skype wideband audio all call long. That's a big change from flat and sometimes hard to hear calls.

Read Jeff's post of August 14th where he was putting the Cable Industry on notice and references how Orange/France Telecom has over 500,000 HD customers across Europe.

HD Voice is not just for the early adoptive types like those who read VoIPWatch. It's really for the mainstream and will be. So learn why, how and who, and head to New York.

Apple Snow Leopard Hangs Up EyeBeam and X-Lite-Means No Talking

Last Friday for many was a "SNOW" day. It was the day that Apple launched their updated (and from my testing) better Operating System. It's smaller, faster and does many things better. In my testing of major Voice applications I found a few things out rather quickly:

Good News Department:

Skype 3.8 works fine

Gizmo5's latest build works fine

SightSpeed's latest build works fine

Bad News Department

Neither of Counterpath's VoIP clients work. That means neither Eyebeam nor the new and sleek X-Lite Beta work at all. Eyebeam loads up and dials, but crashes. X-Lite just crashes and burns. The Snow Leopard Compatibility Wiki also reports that the regular X-Lite has problems also. This makes this the second time in memory that when Apple has upgraded their OS that CounterPath software failed. The last time the OS changes impacted everyone in the SIP space, but it seems this time only the market's largest was caught up in it, possibly because Apple released earlier than expected. In the EyeBeam forum there was a comment about a new build coming, but as of today, Monday the 31st in London, it's still not available.

So here's my advice.

If you really need to talk, the Gizmo client allows you to add a secondary account to your login. That makes it possible for you to make and receive calls using your regular SIP accounts from your company or your telephony provider as long as you have your SIP credentials. Of course you also have to sign up for Gizmo, but that's free as is the application.

My Travels and Upcoming Telecom Events-Update

After almost six weeks in Europe, with stops to see clients and company executives I advise in no less than four countries (UK, Spain, Austria and France) I feel very good that I was really able to combin both business and pleasure over my much too short two week vacation with my wife. We got to see many friends, from both sides of the Atlantic, and after six weeks one would think that "home" would be the first place on my list I'd want to head after I leave London on Monday, along with Truphone's Director of Applications, Karl Good as we both head to LAX and IT Expo.

Could I have flown home today or tomorrow, and then drove back and forth to Los Angeles. Yes. Would I be tired and fatigued due to the last weekend of Summer traffic on a weekend. Yes, and given this weekend in London is a Bank Holiday that makes London very easy to get around as most of the Londoners are heading to the coast for sun and surf, while I'll stay here enjoying the suds at a pub or two.

But home is still almost a week "away" for me, as next week, starting August 31, which is why after landing in Los Angeles I'm doing my part to reduce my carbon footprint by going right from London to the City of Angels and the fall IT Expo Conference. After a few days home for Labor Day Weekend, its off to San Francisco and the Mobilize conference, bookended by meetings with clients and some dinners with friends in and around SF and Silicon Valley.

The week of September 14 has me heading over to Sacramento with my wife over the weekend and on Monday for a few client meetings, then right down to San Diego for what will be the start of at least 10 days there. Demo starts on the 21st, and it's the last DEMO under longtime friend Chris Shipley, so I'm organizing a few of the legendary "Demo Wine Dinners" with her longtime business partner, Mike Sigal as always. Sadly, DEMO competes head to head with VON, and as much as I'd like to be in Miami Beach, this is sort of a farewell to an era for Chris and Mike, and friendship won out this time.

Around all this there are other conferences, like CTIA starting the 7th of October, also in San Diego and then a trip back to Europe on the 18th to be ready for eComm Europe in Amsterdam the last week of October.

A Warning To Skype? Nah, Not in My Book

Skype was sent a warning by Peter Csathy, on his blog this week, explaining why Skype, which is currently using the ON2 codec should be worried after Google acquired them. Google is also using parts of Vidyo and video technology from client GIPS, and sometime back purchased a company with video expertise out of Scandinavia.

Actually, ON2 made the move at the right time to sell, just as Csathy did when he pulled a rabbit out of his hat and successfully exited SightSpeed to Logitech last November. But I have to disagree about Skype needing to worry about ON2 and Google.

In my view Skype with their technical team has the internal know-how and expertise to build their technology based on standards, not proprietary technologies. So while ON2 uses h.264 their own technology and optimizes it very well, this is much like the purchase of TellMe by Microsoft. You buy it for what and who it has. Google has yet to demonstrate they play the "patent" game, and their video chat is just that, chat while what Skype is likely working on goes after Cisco and other telepresence suites, democratizing them the way their voice platform has leveled the cost of talking.

Peter Csathy Interviews Fuze CEO

Pal and Sorenson Media CEO Peter Csathy has interviewed the CEO of Fuze (the company formerly known as CallWave) on his blog this week as part of a series of CEO interviews.

His post gives some good insight to what's been happening over at CallWave, one of the companies with great ideas in the past, but burdened by very poor execution, and the status of being public. Something Csathy elicited from the new CEO.

Is Skype in Play?

TechCrunch's fearless leader Michael Arrington is reporting that Mark Andressen's venture fund is looking to be a part of a larger consortium of investors that wants to buy Skype before eBay spins it out as an IPO.

While this could be a short term win for eBay, a company that I'm convinced has the blind staggers, it won't be in their shareholder's best interests.

First off Skype is a brand that is growing in stature each day. As more and more people use Skype, the value of the brand increases, even if the minutes paid for drops as Skype to Skype calls potentially increase. Given they are still increasing and their day by day sales means more people are using more minutes to call others not on Skype or forwarding calls via Skype Out to their mobile phones.

Second-JoltID was good for Skype as a P2P technology, but it makes Skype an island and not a part of the contiguous landscape of telephony. Skype has to constantly interconnect to the rest of the telco world. So while Skype and their Estonian braintrust knows more about the Internet's inner workings, and maintains a better nerve center than most online companies that monitors traffic conditions and more, eventually they will ditch Jolt and switch to a more standardized platform ala SIP. As a brand, as long as it works like Skype, just like why consumers switch to Vonage, because it works like a phone, and costs less, the public won't care. My contention is simply this--you really don't care which brand of spark plug is in your car, and often you don't know. People who use mobile phones don't know if it's a Nokia-Siemens switch or an Ericsson switch any more than in the USA they don't know the difference between CDMA from Verizon and Sprint vs. GSM from AT&T and T-Mobile. To the public the mobile phone works like, well, a mobile phone.

Third-Skype could make the switch to SIP and as long as the service worked the same (or better) and as long as the customer and user experience didn't change one bit, and as long as the call quality remained high, the public using Skype won't leave them.

Fourth-The fact that eBay bought Skype without Jolt ID will likely result in a huge shareholder suite. Those of us who bought eBay stock believed they bought all of Skype and what the founders had put into it, not kept the core technology outside the deal. This seriously questions the due diligence process and the way the story was told in filing made by eBay to the SEC. To sell off now, to private investment would dramatically reduce the upside potential and in turn that would be diminishing what Skype could make back to eBay to help stave off or offset a shareholder greenmail suit.

Fifth--Buying up Skype with venture fund money is bad for the venture economy. It means a large chunk of cash that was designed for early stage companies is being put into an already more mature entity. That's not venture capital, that's investment banking or private equity.

Sixth- Very few VC's are currently of the mindset to be directors of a company the size of which Skype has become. Their hands-in approach, which is often needed in early stages of a companies. As directors good VC's play roles by being a director of the startup where they are constantly getting involved in tactical issues that affect the every day issues of the companies they invest in versus the role of a director of a large publicly traded company. There they are charged with the setting of long term vision of the business thus presenting diametrically opposing approaches requiring a very different operational mindset. This means a complete behavior change has to occur in the way they would do business.

I for one think Skype's best exit is an IPO from eBay. Josh Silverman has demonstrated a solid vision and plan, and seems to be executing on that plan, which is why the sharks are swimming around the Valley trying to wrestle Skype away from Ebay. These are largely the same people who made money on the sale of Skype to Ebay. For that reason it's important to separate what Ayn Rand called "greed" and "anti-greed" as the latter is a very dangerous and destructive form of capitalism, that slows down the economy and prohibits competition.

Some Candid Comments from TMC's Rich Tehrani

As TMC Publisher Rich Tehrani was waiting for his flight at JFK to head to the west coast for the annual fall IT Expo, he and I exchanged a series of emails about this year’s event in Los Angeles which is shaping to be one of the best IT Expo’s ever in recent years.

Rich, who has to be the only guy in Voice Communications who travels more than me, tossed some interesting news nuggets my way. I’m going to emphasize some key points:

1. On the show, our exhibit hall numbers are now ahead of last year – these are the buyers coming to find solutions. Frankly I think this is amazing as our show took place last year the week of the Lehman collapse meaning the registration database did not operate in an environment where the word depression was thrown around.

2. In addition, we learned in Miami that people who take the time to register these days – tend to come to the show (assuming they haven’t been laid off). Regarding the “industry” there are always people who have cut budgets, etc but my sense is the industry is coming in good numbers based on the large number of people reaching out to me. Many in the industry passed on Miami as well and then mentioned later they regretted the decision.

3. Interestingly some people who didn’t ever come to past ITEXPO are now drawn by another collocated event.

4. BTW where the show is light is on paid conferees (for obvious reasons) but these people often wait to for the last second to pay us making it tough to predict actual numbers.

5. Also, the hotel sold out our room block well over a month ago and this is the best indicator of attendance I have seen in the past. Especially in an economy where you don’t need to worry about finding cheap hotel rooms at the last second.

6. I feel we have saturated the news-stream with content about the show – we even added two new full-time editors to cover news related to the industry and event to ensure you can’t use a computer without hearing about ITEXPO, 4GWE, etc.

7. We launched a number of collocated events with Jon Arnold, Carl Ford and others – the numbers show people are registering for these collocated events but new events can always use some TLC.

Here's my take--

1. Selling and buying is taking priority over "networking" and "business development".

2. Companies that are allowing executives to travel are doing so to have them either sell or buy.

3. Networking-when Rich says paid conference attendance is down this means there are less "extra bodies" in the audience, but those that are there are looking to a) learn, b) get the attention of those speaking c) will have a better chance of making contact with those they need to be working with

4) Importance of good media relations-extra writers means more news is coming at TMC every day. Getting them the news the right way so they can report on it is key.

5) The hotel room block being full-people thought they were getting a good deal and locked in. This tells me that people want to network at the hotel and also that I need to teach a course in trade show travel shopping as it seems the travel desks and agencies are buying into early offers, that lock you in on price. Case in point. Initially I took a higher, non-locked in rate and then watched the prices fall then rebooked at the lower rate. My rate which I rebooked at a much better grade hotel near by dropped by over 35% this week. I an now paying under $175 a night for a room that just four months ago was priced at nearly $300.00 a night. In a buyers market this is how to book a room for large trade shows. Get the better hotel, at the same or better price.

6) I've said for years that there are too many shows that attract an overlapping audience in an audience sector that is converging. What Rich has done with Carl Ford on 4G, Jon Arnold on Smart Grids and maintaining his event's upward trajectory was done by broadening his reach and reduced the need for event attendance frequency. In media terms this means more people will be at "fewer" events but by increasing reach Tehrani and team has reduced the total cost of overhead by spreading the costs across more sectors and increased revenue. At the same time, instead of traveling to three shows, those who would have now only travel once. This is far more efficient for all.

Let's give Rich and his crew some well deserved credit. After the VON fiasco where the investors hijacked the company away from the leadership, leaving many without work, companies without a key bi-annual event and more, it was Rich who stepped up and figured out how to retool his own series of events with the needs of the telecom industry as his guiding principal. What's more Rich quickly mended fences with ex Pulver Media execs Carl Ford and Scott Kargman, as well as hiring on some ex Pulverites to make his shows better and putting on more depth inside his sales organization. Lastly, instead of trying to keep the print publications as their primary mode of publishing, Rich and his crew moved to a highly energized online model with niche after niche being filled with information, making the never ending number of TMC web sites a consolidated group of highly charged, search engine friendly new repositories that deliver stories to a thirsty audience.

In an era where Telephony Magazine just laid off and consolidated, following on the heels of what has already happened elsewhere, and when one hears how much trouble SuperComm is facing, it clearly appears after my exchange with Rich that he and his team are making the right moves to be around for the good of the industry.

So to him, I say Thanks!