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Posts from October 2011

GoogleVoice's Next Moves?

TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid shares his observations on GoogleVoice and what he things should happen or may happen.

The VoIP angle he mentions actually used to exist when GV had the Gizmo option. It does today with GTALK but GTALK on mobiles isn't fully baked in Googles own apps yet either. There are some third paty apps like Talkatone on the iPhone actually bring a lot of the 3G/WiFi capability to the service too. 

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CounterPath's Bria Gets Silkier

Skype SILK codec has some of the best sound around, especially in Super Wideband mode. CounterPath, a client, which has the best and most installed SIP based softphones on the planet, just added the SILK codec to their iOS client for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

SVP Todd Carothers tweeted about it.

What this means is Bria now offers both G.722 and SILK as High Definition codecs, making for a better sounding experience overall.

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iPadenomics and the Hotel WiFi World

Behold the iPad in All Its Glory.Image via Wikipedia

Today's story in the New York Times by Joe Sharkey may be news to many, but to me, its not. The crushing of WiFi networks by the influx of iPads and smartphones being used by travelers, road warriors and meeting/conference attendees at hotels is nothing new. Back in the early days of hotel WiFi access per night was under 10 percent of the available room nights..not the actual room nights rented. Now it's over 60, if not 70 percent of the rooms rented. Those subtle differences in how things are tracked change the picture a lot. Now add in multiple devices, especially in larger properties and you, well, get (um..don't get) the picture.

Hotels usually had a DSL line or maybe a T1. Then they went up in speed, but as you can imagine, if you did the actual math, the line speed ended up at about dialup like speeds, and that point in the story isn't really new. As a matter of fact that problem has existed since hotel broadband began and then added WiFi not for convenience, but because wireless is less expensive than retrofitting the property with wires. Electricians and IT networking guys aren't cheap, and it costs a lot more to rewire, than to go wireless, making this all a dollars and sense game (pun intended.)

So let's talk about what wasn't said.

1. Hotel WiFi equipment doesn't keep up with the times (no, not the NY Times) the current state of the art technology. While iBahn's CEO can point to the adoption of the iPad, one culprit ommitted is the fact that many hotel WiFi deployments use 802.11 b or b/g radio networks. The way 802.11b works is the network moves overall as fast as the slowest device connected. Put someone on at the end of the hall with an aging laptop or WiFi card only running 802.11b and the network speeds drop from a theoretical throughput of 11 megs to whatever the device can pull.

2. There's a lack of packet filtering and packet inspectionbeing used. I don't mean to restrict download speeds, which has been the answer deployed by some hotel chains, especially those using Nomadix gateways that always seem to top out at 500kbps when I come across one. I'm talking more along the lines of technology that manages enterprise wide traffic, especially to fight downloading and file sharing using P2P technology that swarms for pirated content.

3. Not enough bandwidth. Most hotels guests are lucky if the hotel they're staying in has a 10 meg symmetrical pipe. Often times when I ask I learn that they have a bonded T1 that offers 3megs up and down. I used to laugh when I heard that, as my house had one supplied by Covad in a trade for services relationship for three years. I used that as MY own pipe while my family and staff used the bigger, fatter cable modem pipe.

The problem is that the suppliers of Internet to hotels, who are also charged with managing the infrastructure, bid on the contracts over multiple years. They don't often spend much to upgrade the services or the equipment during the life of the contract. Wayport, which was bought by AT&T used to be a major player in the hotel bandwidth and WiFi game. Their secret sauce was bandwidth on demand, and that provided for usually a better experience, especially when hotels advised them on the anticipated guest and conference attendee size in advance, so they could provision circuits. That's not something that many other providers even consider. But today, companies like GuestTek, LodgeNet and many others who supply and mange in room guest interactive services (data, voice, video, temperature, etc.) are facing a declining market on overall revenue. Their technology is usually based on copper wire and an outmoded idea called Long Range DSL, that allows for boosting the signal inside large buildings. It works to a point, but the whole architecture is flawed for todays use. Sure the signal gets there, but when the network is getting slammed, it just takes a very, very long time. But their revenue, largely based on overly expensive movie rentals (i.e. porn and kid flicks) is declining and The iPad and iTunes in general are the leading culprits, plus services like Hulu, Netflix, with Spotify and other services for music more and more are all slicing and dicing revenue away from them. Their answer--slow down the downloads, make it harder for outside content to come in so you pay some mid teens price for a movie.

My answer to one smart hotel GM I know-install Apple TV's make them available for free. Add the extra cost for them into the room night. After 20 nights at $5.00 more it's a breakeven proposition on the AppleTV plus it lets guests download and watch what they want from their device. Download a movile while the iPad's on in a meeting at the office, take it back to the hotel. That's no different than ordering a pizza and having it delivered. But that's exactly what the interactive services companies don't want to hear. To combat that they're offering all new hardware to get the network up to speed. But that only solves the problem for today, not tomorrow.

Hotels need to change how they look at Internet and overall mobile device connectivity, as it's not just about installing a fat pipe like Seattle's Hotel 1000 did. They have a 100 meg pipe from XO and it works great. But the installation, done by pal Chris McKewon's XCeptional Networks was done using all Cisco equipment. The network rocks, even working in the elevator. Between their wired network and wireless technology, it's hands down my favorite technology ready hotel in North America, while the Andaz in London wins the prize in Europe. It's the networking that matters, and how it's managed.

But to go one step farther, it's also mobile coverage inside hotels that's in need of improvement, where cell service can be upgraded through deployments of neutral carrier DAS systems that bring in and manage all of the mobile operators' signals.

Another solution is to make FEMTOcells available to guests for rooms with spotty coverage. I call in hotel mobile coverage "cell phone roulette" when I stay in San Francisco at the Intercontinental, a property that usually has exceptional bandwidth, unless President Obama is there, or just left, as the hotel always has to do some "repairs" after his stay there. In large cities, cell towers are not always near large hotels. In SF the problem is really bad and the fact that the Bay is on one side and the ocean on the other makes antenna tower placement tricky. Depending on which side of the hotel my room is on impacts which mobile operator has better coverage. And, since most tower radios point down, being on anything over the second floor already places us all at a handicap. Add to that the totem pole effect of GSM and AT&T was doomed from the start in SF, meaning hip, early adopter iPhone users were bound to have a bad experience.

That all means that even with mobile data, speeds and often connectivity will be challenged.

So, what does this all mean? Quite simply, hotels need to do more of the following:

1. Update to 802.11n/g/b/a radios. Stop slowing down the networks by using old technology.

2. Rooms need to have both wireless and wired access. The hotels in Europe I stay in, boutique or chain often have both. With wired access you avoid the 802.11b problem or can use your own travel router (I carry one all the time)

3. Hotel networks between public areas, conference rooms and guest rooms all need to have their own "elastic" or "expandable" pipes. Let's face it. If the hotel is going to be full you don't run out of water or bars of soap, towels or other essentials. Well bandwidth is one now.

4. Hotels need to invest in carrier neutral DAS systems. The offload of WiFi traffic by operators is going to put more strain on hotel WiFi and broadband. But guests also want to use their own mobile phones, not the hotel room phones.

5. Hotels need to take more control of their guest experience. Outsourcing your technology today to third parties is like turning your check in experience over to outsiders. Especially when your most frequent guests know the technology better than they do. 

Net-net--UPGRADE is the idea, but doing it right, well, that's a different story. 

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My Credit Card Was Cloned (Again)

It never fails. Each time I head to Europe, or just get back, one of my credit cards is cloned. It doesn't matter as to the flavor (Visa, Amex, MasterCard) they've all been cloned or some payment processor somewhere has had their data compromised, with the end result being a new card being issued. But this time, I'm in the middle of a trip that takes me more off the beaten paths and into some locations where there isn't an easy way to get a replacement card overnight.

What's daunting me here though is the charges were all made 90 miles from my home, using a phoney card that was presented, while the credit card company was previously made aware of my travel plans--my specicific dates and locations--so here's the rub. This same company stopped a transaction tied to where I was headed before I left for the trip, even though the merchant is a repeat recipient of my orders in London.

So now, instead of using the technology that stops legitimate transactions from passing through, the card company will be out some $23,000 in a theif's spending spree that was done all in one day and all within roughly five miles of shops in Orange County, CA. One would think the credit card fraud technology would be better than it is, and that someone could match up where you are, with where you're card is being used. In this case the card was actually presented. To me that's too easy, especially with apps that now work on Smartphones, and the smartphones all have easy...but also how privacy invasive some may claim.

Now to make it worse. I called the Nordstrom store and asked the security person to keep the video from the day in question. I was told to call management on Monday. Hey--Nordstrom. When a customer calls your staff that has a reputation of doing cartwheels the last thing I want to hear is call back two days later when I'm trying to help you mitigate loss. Get serious. Get a new security team.

The good news. The Newport Beach Police Department (thanks Tina Parker) are on the case. This desk officer/civillian was cagey enough to understand that I'm in Europe, and wanted to file a police report. She took it down and is sharing it with the other neighboring departments where stores where hit as well, but in an era of no one cares--the professionalism demonstrated by Ms. Parker deserves priase and mention. She was cool, polite, and picked up my state of agitation with the whole process, and did a fantastic job of being on the mark.

So here are some tips:

1) Set up alerts on transacations and limits- I was notified by email of a transaction that could not be verified by the perpetrator-it still didn't stop them from making it happen. 

2) Monitor your activity using your computer, don't wait for the statement




Skype on Three-Me Too, Me Also, No Longer Me Different

Skype Technologies S.A. logoImage via Wikipedia

It started few years ago. Skype worked with 3 in the UK and elsewhere with a special Skype handset manufactured by INQ and software from iSkoot (now owned by Qualcomm.) Skype worked and worked flawlessly. Uptake was enormous and 3G data took off like a fourth of July firecracker.

Now 3 no longer has the same Skype service in the UK or in most other parts of the world. And, it wasn't their call. It was Skype's according to two different 3 retail management executives spoken to since Saturday. It seems as one said "Skype used us to prove a point. That there was a market for it in mobile."

I agree. But like so many sideline projects that "proved things" now Skype is back to being just a IM based calling service online with a few hooks to the PSTN.

Now if you want to make Skype calls on 3 you have to download an app, hope it works and hope you're in 3G range. Before it worked over the circuit switched network...just like it does today (for now) on Verizon Wireless in the USA on a few handsets.

Any bets on what stops working next?


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Skype Deal Officially Closed - Now A Microsoft Division

After clearing all the regulatory hurdles in the EU and USA, Skype is now a division of Microsoft.

For the first few months we likely won't see much change in how Skype behaves, but over time, we will. For many Skype users the change won't impact them, but for some, expect to see some things end. 

My predictions-no more effort on business, especially the Enterprise. The departure of David Gurle a few months back was the tell in that direction, but other moves have also been made, including an internal resturtucturing over the last few months that has realigned power under a more consumer centric team led by Neal Stevens. Stevens came out of Apple and Apple Retail in Europe.  The bigger indicator though is Microsoft's push of Lync. So much has been invested in Lync that there's no way Skype is going to derail that.

Next is mobile. Skype's mobile strategy has always been rather "mobile operator" oriented. That will continue, but with a different twist. They'll ride the coat tails of Microsoft's mobile oriented efforts to work with the leading carriers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, etc.) and likely begin work on a killer app for Windows 8 Mobile.

Interoperability with Messenger. In the past Yahoo and Microsoft worked on integration between their two IM clients. Yahoo's juggernaut management approach, the defection of the architects behind it (mostly Jeff Bonforte now CEO of Xobni) and the overall lack of focus there meant that dev work never really got past the cross network chatting---YAWN. Now with Skype part of the Microsoft family, the interoperability opportunity is too large to pass up. Start with Skype's open sourced codec, SILK, provide common directory, and the community and accessibility will only go up.

For now, most of what we see will be the same, but one thing's for certain, Skype on the Mac will likely suffer. Already the stepchild in development efforts, watch Skype for Windows excel but Mac and mobile users likely will feel left out for a while. I smell opportunity....(note I'm an adviser to HookFlash)

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Mobile Ops Go With VoIP

A few days ago T-Mobile in the USA went live with Bobsled, a VoIP service that ties into Facebook accounts for what I like to call Social Calling. Now out of the UK we have Telefonica's operating brand, O2, going live with a service, not that different from their parent's VOYP service offering. I think this will be a trend as operators begin to realize just how much they have been losing to Skype.

I'm also guessing that the new O2 sevice is new, as it appears freshly minted, and in the abscence of any refererence to the Jajah or FonYou services that Telefonica is using in other parts of the world that this is likely something new that their UK team cooked up.

Moves and Grooves ...Changes At Openwave, Additions at Broadsoft

Former client and CEO at Bridgeport Networks, now a part of client CounterPath, Mike Mulica, has joined OpenWave as CEO.  Mulica is known best as a sales guy. My gut says he's there to sell the Openwave business as a whole or to sell of some of their patent portfolio.

Broadsoft, in a move to strengthen their User Interfaces, something that has been a sore point with many of their customers, has added the Movial Applications group to their portfolio. This has to put pressure on Polycom, which is attempting to go from hardware to software. As one of Broadsoft's biggest partners, they are moving into the software space with video and voice apps, notably, the M100 and M200 clients. 


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Sunday Question-Why Do Banks and Some Credit Card Companies--

Why do credit card companies do the following:

1. Make you call in to tell them when you are leaving your market area? They already have my spending history. They know where I travel too based on prior usage patterns?  

2. Why do they want me to sign my card? Forgery is easier than asking for ID at the time of transaction yet they want you to sign the back of the card the moment it arrives. Funny thing is the cards that I signed in the past were cloned and forged. Cards without signature, they ask for my ID before approving the transaction face to face.

3. Make the type so small you can't read the call in numbers. I'm part of the aging population (over 50) and while I don't need glasses to read, smaller type is hard to decipher especially when the credit cards are on backgrounds of dark colors, the type is small and it's not in a nice contrasting color.

All of the above are usually called "security" proceedures if you ask. But instead of making things more secure, the companies are adding to customer frustration. The only company that is the exception is American Express. They simply think things through from the Cardmember experience first.


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