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Posts from December 2010

Skype on iPhone, iPod Touch Now Has Video Calling

Today, Skype has joined Apple’s FaceTime and Tango at making video mobile on the iPhone and other iOS 4 device from Apple. After a week or more of rumors, Skype has set the stage for a different announcement at CES next week by making their news today in Engadget and elsewhere.

With the availability of Skype 3.0 for iOS4 users can place Skype video calls with their iPhone over both a 3G data connection or WiFi. The new Skype for iPhone app is compatible with the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPod touch 4th generation with i0S 4.0 or above. Video receiving capabilities are available on the iPod touch 3rd generation and iPad. Calls can be made between devices using the new Skype for iPhone app and desktops including Skype for Windows 4.2 and above, Skype for Mac 2.8 and above, Skype for Linux and ASUS Videophone.

A couple of key facts not in the announcement but important to Skype users. Due to codec issues, Skype mobile users can't have video calls with users of Skype on TV monitors where Skype is built in. This includes the LG, Samsung and Panasonic units announced at CES in 2010 or shortly thereafter but Skype iOS mobile app users can participate in video conference calls, but as audio only. Another nice twist is the abiility to have the video call in either portrait or landscape mode, taking advantage of the iOS positioning sensor technology. Maybe most importantly though, is the key addition of screensharing reception to the iOS devices, where you can receive screen shares from Skype for Windows/Mac users.

This is a welcome feature as someone who is making extensive use of Skype on the go, being able to see someone's screen while talking with them on an iPad makes for an even more engaging conversation. Often I'll collaborate with a team member and suggest changes to designs or layouts of a PowerPoint deck using my Mac Book Air while talking to them over Skype. With this feature added to iOS 4 devices, I can now do that on iPhones, the iPod touch and the iPad.

You can find the app easily by starting at the Skype web site,


Hot Zones From AT&T--But Where's The Voice Calling

The news about hot zones in NY and SF, as well as elsewhere was great news for the app developers. But, in the words of the late Clara Peller, "where's the beef?" By the "beef" I am saying, where's the calling?

Well, that would be SIP based VoIP using Bria for the iPhone or Android, Truphone, Viber, Nimbuzz, Skype, or FaceTime, all of which work just perfectly over Wi-Fi. The funny thing is that in all the stories and blog posts no one mentioned the fact that not only does data coverage suck eggs in those locations, voice is just as bad. I guess AT&T didn't address that point yet as the Femto cells don't work with any phone, only those programmed for them. And, these Wi-Fi hotspots aren't pico cells. They're just plain old 802.11 Wi-Fi and that means VoIP or Skype.

 

 

 


More Hot Zones, More 4G, More Connected

AT&T is touting how they are bringing more public hotspots to New York and San Francisco to help with what is called Wi-Fi offload for connected devices, like the iPhone and iPad. ClearWire has lit up San Francisco officially,

What does this mean.

For folks with iPads and the 5th generation iPod touch with only Wi-Fi more places to do things like uploading photos. This is very common over in London where BT OpenZone's and my Boingo Mobile Account let me log on without the need for 3G. That said, my 3G MiFi and the iPod touch help eliminate the need for an iPhone to do FaceTime so if you're not inclined to want Internet access all the time or don't mind carrying an extra small device then a MiFi or OverDrive capable of 4G plus the non-contract Wi-Fi only iPad or iPod touch is for you. But lets look at what this means for those with the devices that natively connect.

1. The Sprint EVO-I've been looking at this as a slick iPhone replacement. More and more slick looking iPhone competitors are coming, mostly with Android as the OS. The move by AT&T is defensive to keep their iPhone loving customers with them, and also to fend off the Apple incursion/insurrection that really is being led by Verizon Wireless that started with the iPad and MiFis.

2. ClearWire-they have the network, but their device plans remain obscured. You have to look at Sprint's plans for devices to get any sort of idea. On the otherhand, an Overdrive from Sprint and any device that works on Wi-Fi, is a rocking best deal, especially if you work in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento on a regular basis. My only caveat with the Overdrive is how it overheats sometimes, and there's no real solution other than having it sit on it's side.

3. LTE from Verizon. It's really a beta and while I fully expect all of VZW's news out of Las Vegas to be LTE, LTE, LTE and what it means, the devices today that get you hooked up don't work on Macs (no software yet from Smith Micro, the company that writes that for VZW) and the devices themselves are very early. The dongles/USB sticks are mutil-radio, not one single chip like device. In essence to work on both LTE and CDMA Rev A. the device has to switch radios inside itself. They are also big and bulky. In a nutshell, not very Applesque. My feeling is waiting for LTE Generation 2 devices is going to be a far less painful experience for early adopters unless your an early adopting Windows OS user.

The above said, getting connected, at faster speeds is going to get easier. You just have to have the right accounts. Over in Europe when you buy a 3G plan you get hotspots tossed in for free or public establishments like coffee shops and restaurants offer it to their guests as a means to keep them there longer....which now that it's breakfast time here in London, I'm off to find.


2010 Best Products/Services/Apps of The Year

Om's post about the best gadgets of the year got me thinking about how similar we both are and for the most part we agree, 3 out of 4. I don't use SONUS but I do have Apple TV, and the three other gadgets he mentions.

So here are my top services of the year:

1. A tie-CallVine-the conference calling service that calls you.-Calliflower The most complete conferencing solution--HiDef Conferencing-It just sounds better than all the rest.

2. Boingo-i connect more easily in more places. I actually have begun to wonder why I still have a T-Mobile Hotspot Account but there remains some hotels where they are still only T-Mobile that I stay.

3. Twimbow-It has changed how I view Twitter, use Twitter and actually now appreciate Twitter

4. Facebook-I have reconnected with more friends who I had lost touch with each year. It's the SOCIAL Network that actually has business benefits.

5. Linked In-It is how to find and manage business relationships. Nothing else comes close.

6. Google Voice-I can forward numbers anywhere with it (and even Internationally with some tricks)

7. Skype-sure it's got the risks of being free, but the size of the "community" and how good the video is now...it has become an essential, especially with the FreeTalk Everyman Hands Free head set on my iPod touch or iPad.

8. TripIt-I travel 200+ days a year. I rely on this to know where I am, what I'm traveling on, where I'm staying, when I'm eating, etc. I also share the data with my trusted circle.

9. FlightStats and associated apps/services-with weather delays, flight delays a part of life, this helps know your options.

10.FlipBoard-I love to read on my iPad and Flipboard, along with Pulse and TweetMag give me a very personal view of what I need to read.  Toss in TechMeme and I have all the news summarization I need.

What's amazing here is that most of these are SaaS (software as a service) or CaaS, communications as a service. Sure there's a client for some to access the data but for the most part they are all web apps, and I predict that in 2011 we'll see Skype as a browser app not only a desktop app. That supports the iPad, Mac Book Air and even the Android devices, though my feeling is Android is like VW and Apple is like BMW or Porsche in the way they are made. Both provide reliable transportation, but the latter give you style, performance and turns heads. So do most of these apps and most of all, they make my life easier.

Honorable, but very deserved mention--My entire staff at Comunicano. They are the best (at) service a CEO can have and they're totally virtual all the time.


The Sunday Morning Post - You Can't Run A Business On Free

The Skype black-out of last week proved something I have been saying all along. You can't run a business on FREE.

For me, I saw first hand what happens, as my team and I were on a client call using HiDef Conferencing (a client), which provides both dial in and Skype In options to reach their bridge. The result was proof positive that having a dial in option saved the day. Had we all be conferencing via Skype or Skype Out the call never would have continued so the $40.00 per month we pay per bridge is clearly money worth spending, even when Skype keeps improving their multi-party calling capabilities, and at some point will likely roll out their own "pay" conferencing service as a "business" or "Connect" service, the fear of what happens when you use "free" is too great.

Ironically, the one service that's sort of "free" our email, which is hosted on an Exchange server, became the equivalent to the emergency phone in the elevator when it stops running and you're trapped behind the closed doors.  Email became the route that got the call restarted by reminding everyone about the dial in number so work could continue without interruption.

This same issue of "free" could apply  to any service, like GoogleVoice for example, where nothing is really paid for, so there is no assurance of "uptime." Of course if reliability falters then your audience goes away, something GoogleVoice has not suffered from, as Vincent Paquet and his team have proven they can build something that scales. But reliability comes at a cost, and the cost of reliable Telecom and IT services is not free. It's like the difference between "amateur" and "professional."

Ken Rutkowski, with whom I co-host the World Technology RoundUp likes to say this. "A professional's expensive, but an amateur costs you a fortune." The Skype black out just proved that free is for amateurs and pros pay for the tools they need. Will I keep using Skype? Sure. Will we keep bridging in using it to reach the conference bridge? Sure. But we've got back ups with for pay mobile phones, landlines and all the things a real business needs to operate. It's called a back up plan.

Does your business have a telecom back up plan in place? If it's based on FREE you may want to think about it again.


Skype's Overreaching Efforts

Today's New York Times has the "first" interview with Skype's new CEO Tony Bates. In the article there is the very direct message of how Skype see's its future growth coming from the Mobile and Enterprise usage. In the same New York Times edition there is the article on the F.C.C. and Net Neutrality. The two articles could not paint a more conflicting picture if someone had handed brushes and canvas to Monet and Renoir and said, paint that view. As a matter of fact toss in Degas and Cezanne, all from the era of Impressionist art, and the views would be even more strikingly different.

In the Bates article, his interview limited by the SEC S-1 filing about going public, mobile is viewed as a growth area, and points to the Verizon wireless agreement in the USA as an example of how Skype and mobile operators work together. Yet, in the F.C.C. article, it's clear that the cost of doing business with the mobile carriers means they make money and Skype sells it's soul for access. In an interview I conducted last February with former CEO Josh Silverman, the enthusiastic Silverman pointed out how working with the likes of Verizon got Skype "closer" to the handset manufacturers than they ever could have sooner, as Verizon's leverage with Motorola, RIM, etc. would speed up handset adoption. So while it did help with an initial number of handsets and provided inner working knowledge to speed up application development, Skype's efforts to innovate in mobile were thus hog-tied by what Verizon wanted, (i.e. no Wi-Fi calling on their devices-as the NY Times points out) further supporting the weaker F.C.C. Net Neutrality position towards wireless Internet. In essence, the framework of the Verizon deal, did more to seal Skype's fate than staying the fierce independent, and now they have to message around it.

In fairness, Bates inherited that thinking, and now has to live with it. He also inherited thinking about the Enterprise, and how that's the business market that will grow Skype's fortunes, just like he inherited the Silverman desire for a Windows like look and experience within the Skype client on the Mac (an abortion in its own right that is being fixed.) That giveaway on the point of Wi-Fi ends up be nicely countered by the T-Mobile and Cisco right now with a UMA solution announced recently that provides a very easy solution, and embraces the existing enterprise buyer, while also giving Cisco's Call Manager one more leg up over Shore-Tel, which has yet to deploy the Agito Networks solution they acquired, as the Cisco-T-Mobile carrier relationship helps further cement the reality of the concept of UMA/FMC.

So while Skype now has the "endorsement" of Verizon, for the other three major carriers in the USA, Skype remains an over the top play. So while Skype provides a user a better solution set, they still yet lack the other carrier's "endorsement" and thus with the pending net neutrality laws, runs the risk of being "blocked" or needing to be paid for. That's  something the more draconian mobile operators in Europe did for a while, but now are loosening their belts when it comes to VoIP over 3G. They can begin to do that because as their network capacity and speeds increase, they are also seeing they can manage their networks better, with technology from companies in the wireless eco-system, which enable the mobile operators the same kind of packet level management now used by their wireline brothers in law.

After watching a presentation a few weeks back on Microsoft's Lync, their unified communications platform, I find it hard to fathom that Skype's got a snowball's chance in hell to best the Redmond giant. Microsoft, like Cisco, already has the IT departments' permission to be inside their network, and what's more, works with all the same equipment providers Skype would like to be "partners" with. What's more Microsoft's relationships with the likes of AT&T, Verizon, Level3, Global Crossing and the rest of the International telcos gives them a line of defense that Skype has to cross. That line of defense is, would the carrier rather work with the company that wants to reduce their margins and take business away from them, or really work with someone who only is interested in selling the solution, not the services itself. To go one step further, the Skype-Avaya partnership likely hurts Avaya in this area more than it helps, because of the application of the "enemy of my enemy is my friend rule" in reverse. That means, the friend of my enemy, is now my enemy too, so while Skype trumpets the success of having a deal with Avaya (both are Silver Lake invested companies) the competition to Avaya (Cisco, ShoreTel, NEC, Panasonic, etc.) can all yell and scream to their carrier buddies--"why do business with Avaya? Why help them sell?" as all Skype wants to do is play take away, even with the dangling of some token SIP trunking minutes as bait to the carriers.

Be not mistaken. The big bucks for carriers comes from the enterprise. The second chunk comes from consumers paying for landlines on a monthly basis, that require little, if any real care and feeding other than moves, changes and installation. In the middle is where Skype should be focusing on growth, and that the Small Business person, something TMC's Tom Keating has recognized around the launch of FreeTalk Connect. Why should Skype focus on the obvious and very reachable market, vs. going upstream? Well for the same reason eBay buying Skype was a bad idea. The audience. In the case of eBay, their sellers didn't want to talk to buyers. In the case of Skype the small business person loves Skype because it lets them compete with the bigger, more robust enterprise, but giving them parity and in some case nimbleness, something that with all the layers of IT management, policy and security, the enterprise folks treat as a foreign invasion. As such for Skype to be successful, and to make their IPO worth something for the future investors, vs. the current ones, Skype should readjust it's focus and work on getting more paying business from their core users-outside of minutes. That's where Skype's  Jonathan Rosenberg's web services efforts come in to play. But the adoption of those services are far more easily seen by smaller more nimbler business owners and consumers, than by the gatekept enterprise size organizations, meaning it's easier to sell to the customer you already have, than to the one you don't.

Skype has the opportunity to keep being the disruptive force in the telephony and even Unified Communications sector, but to do that, they will need to start showing they can upsell to their existing users, put those dollars on the board, and then get the bigger game, the Enterprise on board, as the slower, longer lead buying cycles of those customers work counter the core DNA that built Skype. They don't like to buck the status quo, and the last time I looked, the traditional telcos were still the status quo. That shift is not hard to make, and if Tony Bates can move the rapidly growing Skype ship into that direction near term, those revenues that keep growing will look better and better to Wall Street, versus the dream that may never come to life of the enterprise being their best customer segment and thus Rosenberg's vision can become a reality versus a seriously misguided hallucination.

 


Why Google Can Enter Video Conferencing

TechCrunch is reporting that Google plans to go into the video conferencing space in a big way. Here's why they can do it.

1. Google purchased Marratech back in 2007. This gave them a platform that enabled multi-party video calling and presentation

2. Google purchased my former client GIPS this year. GIPS gives the incredible understanding of video codec and video conferencing. It also helps makes them independent of Vidyo at some point in the future. Google previously acquired On2, a video compression technology company.

3. Google acquired Gizmo5 this year too. Everyone forgot that Gizmo had SIP based h.264 video built in. But Google got more than a softclient, they also got a network that could handle video call routing.

So, for far less than Skype has ever been bought and sold for, Google has all the makings of a standards based IP video calling business, which can also handle having video (IPTV) run over with some very pristine looking video that can be HD from the get go.


The Taxman Cometh To VoIP (Again)

Skype may want to look at how they bill all of us in 2011, as taxes are about to hit online calling companies as states and municipalities get tougher to make up the lost revenue from landline and coin box pay phones. This is not the first time we have seen this type of thing come down the pike. In the past, the National League of Cities pushed for this as it foresaw the pending change to the calling landscape.

What's the answer? Just plan on paying more as the other options are more trouble than it's worth.

The news comes at a time when AMI Consulting says that VoIP use will become "critical" in the coming years.