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Posts from July 2010

HD Voice Coverages Shows High Def Voice Use Is About To Explode

I've been catching up on a few topics, one of which is HD Voice, and that means reading Doug Mohney's HD Voice News.

What's interesting is that now almost three years since VAPPs decided to become HiDefConferencing, and then was quickly acquired by Citrix Online to form the core of their Citrix Online Audio group, HD voice is now seeing it's day as more and more companies are moving in that direction. To see who, just peruse through Doug's definitive coverage of the sector.

Part Two-Staying Connected and Online When Traveling

Let's face it, we live in a world where data and online services are in many ways becoming as important as voice. But voice still remains important. While I've been able to take the pain out of mobile roaming with Truphone Local Anywhere and softclients from Skype, Counterpath and yes, the GizmoVoice/Google Voice client that wasn't ever released to the masses, as well as similar softphones on my smartphones, we still need other ways to stay in touch without breaking the bank.

FWIW and transparency- My agency represents some of the companies mentioned: BOINGO, COUNTERPATH, TRUPHONE, VOXBONE.

Phone Numbers in Other Countries.

Client Voxbone is one of the largest, if not the largest suppliers of DIDs around the globe and many of the leading Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs) rely on them for local in country numbers. For years I've had numbers that have come from their numbering pools via ITSPs that allows me to have an "in country presence" without being there. What I've been doing is routing those DID through my Gizmo account which is SIP based meaning every call in the countries I frequent have been local calls to it, and then cross it over to Google Voice at no charge, I've then returned my calls from there that landed in the GrandCentral/Google Voice mailbox, all at the expense of Google. This is not that hard to do, but until GoogleVoice opens up their SIP ID's without an existing GizmoVoice account, you're out of luck. But, what you can do is buy in country DIDs from an ITSP (I prefer CallCentric) and buy a series of numbers that go to the people you regularly call and make local calls to them. This is great and only suggested if you are in a country regularly and make a lot of calls to the same number, like your company's main switchboard or as a way into your company's PBX. Not far off from this concept is Skype To Go. Skype to go lets you designate a phone number and have it call a series of dedicated destinations and Skype buddies by dialing a local number.

WiFi Access While Standing Still

WiFi remains perhaps the most efficient way of staying online, if you know what you're doing. First tool in the WiFi tool kit is Boingo. Yes, they are a client, but I've been a Boingo user and fan since almost the day they started and I've been paying for accounts even while they're a client because I believe so much in what they provide to the global nomad and road warrior crowd. As the world's largest roaming network of WiFi hotspots no other provider comes close at being the Swiss Army Knife of connectctivty. Let me first outline how I use Boingo and then go through other WiFi options:

On my laptops I use the Boingo client to log on at most of the Boingo hotspot locations. In their 58 airport locations that they own and operate their software makes logging on a snap. Now, here's a key tip. Not all Boingo roaming locations work with the Boingo Client. By roaming, I am referring to hotspots deployed and managed by other operators. But, logging on at those locations is no harder than navigating through the sign-on pages and finding the roaming pull down tab, and then selecting Boingo. From their the walled garden sign on system they deploy to their roaming partners asks for your username and password and off you go. This is normal for me to have to do in Orly Airport in Paris and at Barcelona and Madrid International Airports. As an international traveler I pay for the higher priced Boingo Global plan. Yes, it's more expensive compared to their $9.95 Boingo Unlimited Plan that is valid in the Americas only but if I used the maximum number of minutes (2000 in a month) in say Europe without it, my costs would be $360.00. Game over, as the savings is $300.00 a month. Since I make at least four trips a year to Europe (usually five or six the last few years) the $59.95 a month plan at $720 a year is still a savings over hotel access charges where in some hotels is 25 euros a day. That means the cost of a two day hotel stay's WiFi access has paid for my connectivity for an entire month. Since I stay in hotels more than 24 nights a year in places that have those kind of rates, Boingo is easily at break even or in my case, a far better deal when you add in airport, cafe and hotel locations as Boingo makes it easy and so cost efficient.

On my mobile phones, iPod and iPad I make extensive use of three Boingo accounts I have that are Boingo Mobile which at $7.95 a month is a no-brainer if you are a mobile data or mobile VoIP user. Like on my Mac I use the Boingo Mobile Client to jump on Boingo hotspots. On my Nokia N-95, E71 and N810 (yes I have one of those and still think it was the best palmtop ever made) I can surf the web, read and reply to email and use the auto connect feature of the Boingo client to latch on and both place and receive Truphone calls using the Truphone application on the N-95 and E-71 or my choice of ISTP or Skype on the N810. The luxury of using Boingo Mobile on the Nokia phones is the auto-log on feature of the Boingo account that is resident and operational, as long as you have WiFi scanning turned on. This means that calls to me that are routed via my USA Truphone application number, or calls made via Truphone on the Nokias are part of my Truphone Unlimited Plan.

FON-I've not been a fan of FON that much as many readers know, but on my last trip to Paris I became a convert. The model is the cooperative or communal model of connectivity. If you're a FON hotspot operator you can get on any FON hotspot for free. If not, you simply pay. And paying is as easy as sending an SMS if you have a local country mobile phone, even one that's pre-paid, and you have enough credit. If you're spending time in cities or areas where FON has a heavy presence buying the low cost router and leaving it turned on back home isn't a bad idea. With hotspots located in the UK, France and Spain in quantity and roaming relationships with the likes of BT, if you're willing to share your home broadband with others, buying a FON isn't a bad way to go.

T-Mobile Hotspot-I've had an account since this service launched, and while its value has been reduced by their pulling back in the USA, there are still plenty of places where I find their locations, some of which are not roaming partner capable yet. Dollar for dollar, their hotspots in the USA are the best around, and like Boingo, as a member of the Broadband Wireless Alliance, they too provide roaming in places that sometimes Boingo doesn't. For that reason, I look at the two services as complimentary, but over time I can see this service being dropped as Boingo has not in anyway, shape or form stopped growing, but T-Mobile has.

Hotel WiFi-the odds of having great connectivity in hotels is as predictable as the weather in London or Seattle on any given day or day-part. You just never know. I've become less and less enamored with it in most "business" hotels and have begun staying in the more boutique like properties found in Tablet Hotels. For example, the Hotel 1000 in Seattle did the smart thing and brought in XO Communications and added a 100 meg fiber drop to their property. My stays there have proven that building out connectivity the right way makes for a happy guest. Other hotels like the Andaz in London have amazing connectivity provided by InterTouch, a DoCoMo company, as do most, if not all of the Sofitel's around France and my favorite Parisian hideout, MamaShelter. I give up the convenience and high price of being in downtown Paris for the amazing bandwidth, funky and hip surroundings of the Philip Stark designed hideaway up in Paris's 20th. With great food and drinks in the restaurant, thin crust pizza from their own pizzaria and the rock solid 5 megs per room connectivity, I'm hooked up and happy in Paris.

WiFi Access On The Go

Let's face it, we're part of a mobile society, and WiFi access to 3G has become a reality. Sure you can tether your iPhone, Android or Nokia phones very easily now either natively or with an application like JoikuSpot. As long as you're already paying for 3G data on your mobile phone tethering is a great way to go for light use of your laptop. But if you're going to be spending lots of time on the go, then a PocketSpot and a 3G/4G plan is a great investment.

Here in the USA in markets where Clearwire is operating, no one beats their 4G speeds. Over the past few weeks I've used my Sprint Overdrive in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Franklin, TN on Clearwire's 4G network and have been more than pleased with the connectivity, low to no latency and ease of connectivity. If there is one drawback, it's battery life on the Overdrive. I'm also not overwhelmed by Sprint's speeds as their consistency is lacking from market to market on 3G. There either a MiFi from Verizon or AT&T comes in handy. Since I'm a global nomad, the unlocked Novatel Wireless MiFi USA edition or the global version which I use.

3G Data Dongles/USB Sticks

I've been using a combination of data dongles since they first were invented. Driver issues, Mac compatibility problems (that still seem to pop up now and then) have always been a concern, but they do work. But with Pocketspots the need for them is waining as why only connect one device when you can connect more. What does make sense though is to buy the dongles in countries you are going to be traveling in, with a PrePaid SIM card, add the credit you think you'll need and then pop the SIM into the Novatel MiFi 2352. You will need to know the settings, but those are easily found on the PrePaid Data Wiki.

iPhones and iPads

Let's face it, the more you use the iPhone the more you become hooked on the apps. When it comes to the iPad, I'm even more hooked. If you have a 3G iPad they are sold unlocked, but getting a SIM that works with the iPad on a pre-paid basis in some countries isn't always easy. I've succeeded in the UK with 02 as the carrier, but the rest of the UK providers have very strict rules on selling SIMs only to in-country residents. The same seems to apply across the EU, but I expect that to change as the iPad becomes more widely available and the Micro SIM's do too. (note Cubic Telecom does sell a roaming micro SIM)

Staying connected isn't hard when you're on the go. It just takes some planning.

Sprint Calls Coming on Bria, Truphone and Skype to iPods

Sprint wants you calling. And not with a cellphone. The new Sprint Peel is a backpack, charger and carrier for the Apple iPod touch. Well as it turns out, three of my favorite applications CounterPath's Bria, the Truphone of iPod/iPhone app and Skype all work very, very well on the iPod Touch. Add in a headset and mic and off you go making calls over 3G. Call it the poor man's iPhone.

Now here's something to drool over. Bria works over BlueTooth. So that means in the car, your iPod on Sprint over 3G connected to your in car BlueTooth system or your headset when your out and about equals a phone. Reportedly the next version of the iPod will also have a webcam and a built in speaker too. That means calling will just be getting easier.

Part One: Staying Connected- Beating The High Cost of Roaming

The New York Times story on saving money on mobile calling internationally hit home, so I thought I should add my spin to it. It's something through trial and error I've become sort of a subject matter expert on.

Upfront, I think David Kelly did an excellent job of highlighting some of what’s possible (and I really appreciate his mentioning Truphone and Boingo - both agency clients - in his story) but I felt with more space, more could be told.

Like so many international travelers I’ve also hated roaming rates for as long as I could remember. Given I’ve been traveling and working internationally on a regular basis now for at least the last 10 years, I’ve picked up tricks and tips that have helped, but until my most recent trip, I never really had what was really the ultimate solution when I'm away from my computer, where Skype has been a blessing, but not quite full solution.

Well, that solution has arrived, and it comes from Truphone with Truphone Local Anywhere.

Here's why:

1. I know what I'm paying per minute on Local Anywhere’s Pre-Paid plan, just like when I used buy local SIMS in local countries.

2. I can top up from the phone or from their web site

3. My friends can find me everywhere and pay local. I can call them and pay local. U.S.or UK (and soon elsewhere)

4. I don't have to swap SIMS any more. I can now use one phone, with one SIM anywhere in the world.

5. I have the luxury of having both a UK and a USA number that rings in both places. That means I can now consistently provide my UK number to my UK friends vs. telling them "the number I'm calling from won't get answered after I leave the UK," as has been the message I would leave when using a UK T-Mobile, Vodafone or Three SIM. This means a true end to number confusion.

6. When I'm calling around the UK and more importantly, over to the EU, I'm paying rates even better than the EU-to-EU international rates, not the extortion-priced rates as a USA roamer there, from wherever I may be. Even better, when I'm calling back to the States, it's as if I'm making a local call from the USA to someone down the block. That's because with Truphone, I'm viewed as a local on the Truphone network wherever I may calling to, not where I'm calling from.

7. I was able to port an existing AT&T number over to Truphone, thus allowing me to keep my USA number from one of my many accounts here in the USA and not get a new number.

Let me give you some background why this is so important. Before every trip I’ve spent many, many hours, figuring out how to minimize or eliminate those painfully high roaming rates, especially when I was visiting a new country for the first time. And, that my friends, was almost always a losing battle. But now, after my most recent trip, I can see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And that light really is called Truphone Local Anywhere.

This most recent trip included 39 days of business travel spanning 13 cities, 9 flights, 4 trains, 12 hotels (in four countries) and regardless of where I was, I was able to make use of my mobile phone and, for the most part, with really only one phone number as far as the outside world was concerned.

Sure I used my Google Voice number that everyone has, but I pointed that to both my Truphone applications' inbound number and to my USA-based Truphone Local Anywhere number. In the UK, I simply gave out my UK number from Truphone and I was totally, connected and local and thus avoided those high roaming charges. You see, with Truphone Local Anywhere you can add local numbers in the countries they are operating in. That meant my calls back to the States were local and my calls in the UK were local. When I called someone in Europe my calls were on EU/UK International rates, not what someone from the USA usually ever pays, and thus I realized a massive per minute savings of up to 80 percent. The local number also meant I could give people in the UK (like the restaurants I booked at) my local number, so they could confirm my booking, or provide it to others who needed to reach me who are in London. For those who had my pre-existing UK mobile number I simply forwarded that to my UK Truphone number.

With Local Anywhere active I was able to beat the high cost of roaming at every single turn. And it also put a big dent into even higher data roaming rates, too.

Sure, I kept playing with all those old SIMs that I’ve acquired along the way the past few years, swapping them in and out of my cadre of unlocked phones, MiFi's and 3G Data Dongles that I usually carry. But that was more or less to see what worked with which carrier and what doesn't work where, as well as to burn up some leftover credit. But, now with Local Anywhere, those days are basically over.

What this all means.

1) For my next trip I'll pretty much be able to toss all the excess baggage of many phones and too many SIM cards away and simply use one carrier. Truphone.

2) I won’t have to race to the Phone House, Three, T-Mobile or Vodafone store in London to get my phone topped up.

3) I’ll be able to enjoy London, grab a curry lunch, instead of something fast, so I can get my phone services up and running.

4) When people check voice mail, I’ll only be checking one voice mailbox regardless of which country I’m in. That’s something most people can’t easily do even with Google Voice (trust me, I’ve done the telephony gymnastics on that one).

5) By October, other countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Australia should be online, too, with more being added. More places, local numbers, local rates for global nomads, ex-pats and other people who visit friends and family regularly.

Most of all, next trip I won’t be leaving unused credit on travel or local SIMs anymore as the Truphone Local Anywhere pre-paid calling plan just simply guts the travel SIMs where those prices may look good on the surface, but what’s hidden in the pricing really isn’t good at all. With Truphone Local Anywhere I know what I’m paying for, and what’s left over to use next time.

Add to the fact that with my Nokias or an unlocked iPhone I can also use the Mobile VoIP apps from Truphone to make calls over WiFi or 3G for even more savings, and it all means that I’m now calling everywhere as if I’m there.

Up next, more on how I saved money internationally to beat the high cost of roaming using 3G, Boingo WiFi, hotel broadband and public hotspots.

It's Official SinglePipe Picked Up By IBBS

Back on July 12th, while sitting in Paris, I posted that IBBS (Integrated Broadband Services) was going to acquire SinglePipe, a provider of Voice over IP to Tier Two and Tier Three cable operators.

Well, it has happened. This is an example of gap filling, while also a "take away" type acquisition. Reports are the buy was for under $2.0 million dollars, meaning the investors behind SinglePipe had pretty much given up pouring more money into the company while IBBS, clearly a company making a roll-up within the industry that services the cable operators, saw an opportunity to widen their offerings to the second rung of MSO's like Bressnan Communications.

For IBSS, which largely provided testing and monitoring services to the cable operators, the pick up means they can now go back to their customer base and offer Voice services, and know which operators can handle the technology and which need to upgrade their network infrastructure. With the National Broadband Plan's efforts currently underway at the Federal level (FCC, State Department, FTC, etc., the acquisition is very well timed for IBBS as it gives them a missing piece to be the one-stop shop up to the point of two way video communications. My guess is that could be the next piece of the pie, either directly or indirectly.

Light Reading has some additional perspective.

Telcos Are Losing the Battle to Cable Operators

A few days ago Om Malik drew my attention to the state of the telcos vs. the cable operators and how it's not only voice that moving away from the telcos. It's broadband too. The reason in my book though goes beyond simply the speed issue. It's also about customer service.

In the 80s and 90s the cable operators as a group began attacking the "Cable Guy" image head on. They worked very hard to change the perception that they had acquired. And it worked. That said, we all hear the horror stories about Comcast or Time Warner, and that has come as a result of simply rapid growth. That said, I'll take my cable folks over the telcos any day.

To me, this creates opportunity. Municipalities, like Cambridge, MA and over-builders, like SureWest in Sacramento have proven they can be better, and cheaper, than both the telcos and the cable operators. To me, the future of great service, and competitive pricing will come from these upstarts, not the legacy carriers who have forgotten how they got to where they are today.

Logitech's Paradial Acquisition Is Good News For SightSpeed/Vid

I have always felt that one of the last remaining hurdles that SightSpeed faced in the past to widespread adoption of SightSpeed for Business was the nagging issue of NAT and Firewall traversal, especially in hotel and multi-stage router and access point deployments that we would always seem to run into at the most inopportune times. Sure from their offices to my home office and to then CEO Peter Csathy's home office it all worked, but when I would change into Road Warrior mode the hurdle that would arise when you last needed it to appear, like Mr. Murphy, was that pesky pest of IP packet traffic, NAT traversal.

In my heart I knew that once SightSpeed crossed that hurdle, their SightSpeed for Business product could be the best bet for small business as dollar for dollar nothing beats it. Even now, given that Skype's multiparty play is maxed at five as an offering it offers four less end points and thus SightSpeed, with now 9 users-ala the Hollywood Squares- was hands down the better option as their video to this day remains the most pristine and sharp and is so good it's just short of moving upstream to the far more expensive box based video conferencing solutions on the market today, and far simpler to deploy. You simply install the software and off you go. No IT guy required.

Well, it looks like that problem is going to go away, as SightSpeed's parent, Logitech earlier this month acquired Paradial.

Speeding in Philadelphia-One Users View

I'm in Phialdelphia for a family matter this weekend. It was ideal timing as my monthlong tour of duty in Europe and the UK had ended, and the timing of a few family and friends activities made for a perfect mid-point to my west coast return trip the end of this week in time for a BBQ on the beach next Saturday with some friends from the UK.

So being in Philadelphia meant a few things had to be done in advance beyond my hotel and car reservations. It meant bringing along two devices that normally I have no need for in Europe. My Sprint Overdrive with 4G and the Nokia N900 which has a radio inside capable of HSPA+ on T-Mobile's USA network. The only issue with carry both is they will only be at their maximum potential for me while I'm in Philadelphia this trip, but I'm looking forward to the day when both networks expand to more places (Note: I can use the Overdrive in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Portland and Seattle when I'm in those places) but as far as T-Mobile goes, their rollout of 3.5G+ over HSPA+ is just starting.

Oh, how I wish these services were everywhere, at least when I'm outside. You see, both are spatially challenged. While I'm getting great speeds on both, the T-Mobile HSDPA+ speeds are over 6 megs down and close to two megs up, when I'm outside. But inside, I'm seeing 2.5G connectivity making WiFi essential. With the Sprint/Clear/Comcast 4G network I have more in-building coverage, but when I was in the back of the Kite and Key Pub just a few blocks north of Comcast's HQ my speeds were only 3G and with only 20 percent of signal.

So here's my take......

Coverage is the key. While the speeds are great, the access to them is akin to finding an open stretch of highway on I-10 near Banning, CA on the way to Palm Springs, CA where you can push the pedal to the floor and know that your speed will be as fast as the car can go. Here in Philadelphia my "speeding" experience has been best on Clear, followed by Verizon, where the consistency of upload speeds has been best, and while I have seen more high speed downloads over AT&T, often in the 1.2-1.7 meg range from AT&T on the iPhone, Ma Bell's great grandson still needs an octane boost on its upload as those tests on the MiFi, iPhone and iPad have consistently been slower than Verizon and Sprint, and woefully lagging behind the Internet on Steroids like T-Mobile when I've had the coverage and the N900 with me.