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Posts from August 2010

Skype For SIP Becomes Skype Connect-Takes Aim At Business and Enterprise Markets

Google is going after consumers with last week's news about Google Talk being able to make calls now, and binding to GoogleVoice accounts as well. Well Skype isn't sitting still, so while Google chases the no money crowd, Skype is following Willie Sutton's line when asked why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is" as the telecom disruptor goes upmarket and upstream into the Business and Enterprise realms with the renaming of Skype for SIP to Skype Connect.

According to today's announcement Skype Connect already has over 2,400 active global customers and is now certified to work with PBX and UC products from Avaya, Cisco, SIPfoundry, ShoreTel and other OEMs. My client's FreeTalk Connect offering is one of them and for small business provides the best option to blend Skype Connect (SIP) and Skype for Asterisk, plus PSTN lines all in one box. What's more, the PSTN port provides easy access to E911, something that Skype Connect doesn't offer but which other PBX suppliers can offer.

What's neat here is that Skype Connect also works with older TDM PBXs or Key Systems which can now add Skype calling capabilities through third-party IP gateways from AudioCodes, Grandstream and others. Skype has also created the Skype Manager, a simple web-based tool, to allow IT managers to set-up Skype Connect and control Skype usage in a company as well as adding new dedicated customer support which includes real-time chat, another longstanding challenge that was in the way of Skype being totally business friendly.

With Skype Connect they have made their first formal stab into the business community, and clearly thought through the pain points that exist. Now the ball gets passed to the various equipment vendors and manufacturers to better explain why Skype should be in their business, and become their carrier of choice.

GMAIL, GTALK and Google Voice-Not All in Sync

So this morning I took some time to play around with Google Talk/Mail/Voice and sadly, its not all Central.

I'll give it the credit it deserves. It does a lot but one thing it doesn't do is SYNC between the mailbox and the voice mailbox. Well, in reality, neither does Google Voice. Here's why.

A voice mail message now sits in three places.

1. Your Google Mail box. It is sent to you as an email, with transcription.

2. Your Google Voice inbox. It resides there forever.

3. Your Google Voice call in In box. It resides there until you listen to the messages. And, you have to listen to oldest to newest.

That means, if you don't call all the time to listen and delete your messages, they are all still there and you have to wade through them. Not exactly fun, and clearly not in sync.

Google Mail Calling - See You Soon

Google Mail now has calling. For years Google had click to call tied to phone numbers on Google Maps. They've had Google Voice and picked up Gizmo.

The media world has lit up over the fact that now from inside GMAIL you can make a phone call by clicking a button and up pops a dialing window. You can call away for free or for what Google feels are very low prices.

The installation is rather simple. And calls connect quickly. The sound quality is very good, likely based on the GIPS codecs. But the real sleeping giant inside the new offering isn't the free calling. It's video. And it becomes big and meaningful when you can call from your Google account to any Android device on a high speed network, and voila, Google has its own kind of "FaceTime" (and has come out before Skype) at getting to the mobile world. Next will be when Google Video becomes compatible and interoperable with FaceTime. Then video calling becomes, well, like calling.

The Value of TripIt Pro and Flight Status Alerts

Yesterday, I was supposed to fly back to San Diego and my wife to Sacramento. We each had flights booked four hours apart. She on United and your's truly on AirTran as I wanted WiFi. The weather in Boston was dreary. Fog. Rain. Plus President Obama in the area down in Martha's Vineyard meant that flights were a tad all running late. Add to it that VP Joe Biden was in Milwaukee, the Air Tran hub I was connecting through, while my wife was connecting through D.C and these massive flight delays started to mount.

About ninety minutes before her flight I got the first alert from TripIt of her delay, which I immediately forwarded to her with a love note that read. "Go to your gate and ask if you'll make your connection." A few minutes later, my flight, slated for a 5:59 PM departure came through telling me there was no way I would make my connection. Fortunately, I had a very late check out scheduled for 4 PM and was still in my lovely apartment size suite at the Boston Intercontinental. I called AirTran and got a surprised customer service agent who had yet to get a status update, asking what my options were and if I elected to travel questioning if I would have a hotel room waiting for me in Milwaukee or if I needed to take care of that myself. She had no real answer other than the option of rebooking for Tuesday, going to the airport to see what could be arranged or getting a credit for the flights. About thirty minutes later I then received a call from AirTran's corporate customer service wondering "how did you know we had a delay before we notified our CSRs?" I said, the FAA provides flight data to services I subscribe to and then discussed that I was simply hoping to learn what my options were and explained that being in control of my own travel destiny was a far better feeling, than standing in line at a gate, with 100 people, all trying to get somewhere, with no real options other than to then go to another airline in hopes of getting somewhere.

Instead, I sat comfortably in my hotel suite, and reviewed my travel options. With Flight Stats, I was able to also review the departure times for some Virgin America non-stops to the west coast that I saw had availability. While they looked good on the schedules, Flight Stats showed that the flights to SFO and LAX both were running into weather delays. Since my wife wasn't getting out either, I simply extended our stay, in a great hotel, then booked my flight for today, after all my conference calls would be completed.

Had I not received the TripIt Trip alerts or had flight stats I would have been at the mercy of the harried gate agents, had to fend for a hotel room near the airport, and dined on airport area cuisine vs. had all the comforts of home and all of Boston at my door step.

Given we live in an information rich era, there's no reason not to use all the tools at our disposal to regain control of our lives, know our options and be able to decide what's best for ourselves vs. having someone who has layers of process and procedures staring them in the face, with no end of the day concern for what impact their actions or in actions cause you. To me, a good night's sleep, in a great bed with my wife, sure beat the daylights out of being stranded in an airport somewhere without any flexibility in options.

Oh, and yes. Air Tran will fly me today, and to where I need to be tonight, not where I was going yesterday. All at no additional cost other than one more night in Boston.

Cloud Net, Mobile VoIP on Blackberry and CounterPath All in One Day

Yesterday I saw three news stories that all seemed to bring one thought to mind. Mobile PBX.

First was the story about a startup in the UK called CloudNet which trickled into the mailbox over the weekend. Cloudnet is offering a 14 day trial (with the purchase of the mobile app) of a mobile PBX play with an app for iPhones and iPads that ties into a backend PBX.

Next was Om's post about Mobile VoIP coming to the RIM Blackberry. There's only one catch, the TringMe service only works on pre BB 5.0 devices. That's fine, but I already have Wi-Fi calling on my current release OS using T-Mobile's UMA capabilities and I don't have to go backwards.

Last up in the space was news from client CounterPath. They announced a deal with with NEC Unified Solutions which Fierce VoIP's Mike Dolan made his lead story of the day. In a nutshell, the NEC Smart Mobile Client brings to the mobile world full functionality of an extension on the NEC communication servers offering customers full access to a company's communications network when on the move.

These three examples clearly show me that VoIP isn't dead...

P.S. A fourth example of how things are converging is the new iPhone client from Acrobits, named GroundWire.

Startup Camp Returns to IT Expo in October

One of the major highlights last February at IT Expo in Miami Beach was "StartUp Camp" organized by pal Larry Lisser. The event focuses not on the big guys with lots of money, but on the newest ideas from the newest companies just entering the marketplace.

Organized in the same vein as GigaOm's Launchpad, TechCrunch Disrupt or DEMO, each company gets their five minutes up on stage to showoff what they've got that's new, how it works and why the world needs to know all about it.

This year's event, on Monday October 4 is set to be as exciting as last winter's, plus with Jeff Bonforte, the leader of the pack at XOBNI who has his telephony roots at Gizmo and then Yahoo Voice, the keynote should be compelling for startup and developers who need to know how to get from nowhere to somewhere, fast. What's more the line-up of demonstrators is growing rapidly. Phil Wolff has some details on that, but it's the one event at this fall's IT Expo, I really want to see.

Startups can apply here.

Attendees coming to L.A. should mark this event on your calendar..

Three Devices That Keep Me Connected (In Photos)

iDapt Multi Device Power Base

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With the iDapt I can charge three device. For me that's an iPhone 4, a Nokia E-71 and either a Blackberry Bold 9700, Motorola Droid or a MiFi.

Monster Six Outlet Outlets To Go Power Strip

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The Monster Outlets To Go power strip means even when I'm in a hotel I can have all the outlets I need to plug in and use my Mac Book Pr, iPad, iDapt and more.

FreeTalk Everyman Headset

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With the FreeTalk Everyman headset, all my Skype calls sound great because its a Super Wide Band HD headset and microphone.

Content Curation Comes to Starbucks

Cross Posted At

In reading the Mashable story about how Starbucks is going to create their own digital network of content as their way of justifying "free Wi-Fi" I had to admit I was intrigued. Over the past few years Starbucks has done pretty much all they could do to alienate the long stayer. They have cranked up the volume, turned up the Air Conditioning, reduced the number of "comfortable" chairs in many locations and worst of all, brought in AT&T to replace T-Mobile, and with that, dropped the capacity and speeds of connectivity from business grade service to some kind of DSL in many locations.

First, I was intrigued by the concept of content curation, and I applaud the effort. But like their burnt coffee bean flavor, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth of questions unanswered. For example, are they storing the content locally by caching the data on a server, or will each new patron "pull" the content? I think it should be the former as it will reduce network overload, and also reduce the load on AT&T's network for upstream backhaul. Second, how does this multimedia rich experience impact those of us who go to Starbucks or any hotspot for essential access to email, web browsing, file downloading and IM? Translation, will the pipe be clogged with "fat" content, vs. essential transport?

I for one want an open broadband connection to the Internet, not a walled garden of someone else's idea of content, when I'm in a public hotspot. And, I'm willing to pay for it. I paid, and continue to pay T-Mobile $19.95 a month for my access where they are, and I pay client Boingo $59.99 for Global Roaming access. With both, I get an open pipe, that's free of clutter. It's the same with BT OpenZone in the UK, Orange or SFR in France or SwissCom in Switzerland. The pipe is there for me to do what I want, how I want (within reason of course).

So, while Starbucks is right in creating a curated content network that is really all about lifestyle, largely as an instore entertainment effort, there are still those of us who simply want to connect to the open Internet, and are willing to pay for that option, and receive the kind of connectivity that allows us to make VoIP calls, have a video conversation with someone, upload and download files (work, not hijacked P2P content), send emails with rapid upload and have web pages load in the blink of an eye.

To put it in terms they'll understand. Some of us just want a good cup of coffee, without foam, sugar, flavoring, or any other special additives. We want the same in the way of 'net access. Deliver both and you'll have a customer for life.

Now, back to the Mashable post:

"In fact, when it comes to SDN, there’s no money changing hands between Starbucks and the content providers. Content providers are giving away restricted access in the hopes of attracting new business, and Starbucks wins by having something completely unique and customers benefit from by getting something of value at no cost. Brotman says, “It’s a win-win for everyone.” "

Plain and simple, this is called Sampling. It's not new and it's been consistently one of the most most successful forms of marketing in a retail environment for many, many years. Sampling is what you see at Costco, where the nice man or lady offers you a taste of new food products, lets you try a new health and beauty care product, or offers you a trial of a new electronics item. It's not breakthrough, it is all just packaging. And, what Starbucks is doing is simply providing a new sampling venue for content and downloadable media. Now how can it be made better? Quite simply. More power outlets, more comfortable chairs, couches that don't look like they've been slept in for years and a more sun blocking/tinted windows. Also, less "canned" audio that is so loud you can't talk to your spouse, colleague or new found friend without leaning over like you're going to make out with them.

I'm thrilled that Starbucks has recognized that Sampling is a wonderful entertainment opportunity, and applaud them for their efforts. But to make this work means more than what's on the laptop, it's the whole experience that matters.

P.S. I'm a Starbucks Gold card member, and never once was I, as an early adopter, and frequent user of Starbucks and heavy consumer of coffee and Internet access in many locations, ever surveyed about what I would like my in-store experience to be and have been in their stores chasing Internet access since the day they started offering it.

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Google's Dark Fiber and City Light Up + Verizon's FiOS Technology = Domination Game

The Gigaom story about Google and Verizon this morning by Stacy Higgenbotham was thought provoking on its own merits. But I'm looking at this another way. Dark fiber.

For years Google has been reportedly amassing dark fiber. A few months ago they announced a plan to light up 100 cities with fiber connectivity, bringing a faster, more responsive Internet to communities around the USA. At the roughly the same time Verizon (constrained by regulatory footprint) has reduced growing the coverage map for FiOS, the fiber to the home technology that pretty much has nothing but happy customers across the USA.

Now it's time to put two and two together. Take Google's initiative, co-venture with Verizon on the technology, and instantly Verizon becomes a nationwide player, going on par with AT&T, who has really, only Yahoo as their partner. Yahoo, which has it's own share of problems, including a rumored disgruntled board and most likely, on her way out Carol Bartz as CEO, not for her own doings, but really the divided management and board on top and below her, and you have opportunity for Verizon and Google to make a run against the cable MSOs who are week by week winning more of the voice and data network business from individuals who give up DSL and switch to faster, and more reliable cable connections, and who are dropping POTS based dial-up. You also don't need to be a genius to see that the cable operators are gunning for the bread and butter small business market. When Comcast acquired NGT a few months ago, that was a sign. Following what Cablevision is doing, and the recent IBBS acquisition of SinglePipe shows that the even the tier two cable folks want to be in the voice business too. And, as we've seen, the telcos with uVerse and FiOS want to be in the TV content delivery business.

Google's moves with the GIPS acquisition (note GIPS was an agency client of mine up through acquisition) and with the acquisition last year of On2, plus some other pieces and people, shows that Google wants to be your video delivery company. Add in, YouTube as a way to get your attention, and you quickly see that video is the game that's being played, and the delivery of video content, real content, not a bunch of amateur videos, but slickly produced, broadcast quality content is where the money is.

Now where this gets interesting is Google's perceived partner in all this is Verizon. But Google also has a partnership, in Clearwire, with Verizon's biggest enemy. Comcast. Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision has the most to lose in a Google-Verizon tie up with potential customer defections.

At the end of the day, this is all a chess game, and the customers are simply pawns. The real domination is being played in the board rooms and at the investor retreats with Google seeking to be the whip. Verizon, is simply their slave.

Apple Moves In Deeper On Campus

When you look at a story like this from Phillip Elmer DeWitt, it is easy to see why Apple is winning and others are not faring as well. The growth of Apple across the board, since the launch of the first iPod, then iPhone and now the iPad has led to even deeper adoption of Macs year by year.

With college and university students turning to the Mac in increasing numbers, the future of business computing and office/enterprise workers will become more and more Mac centric and that means companies like Microsoft need to develop for Macs earlier.