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Posts from May 2012

Skype Microscoped In the NY Times

In a story clearly orchestrated by Microsoft and Skype PR,  and what has really is the first deep dive look at Skype by a major publication since their offical takeover last October by Microsoft, the New York Times' Nick Wingfield examines what's up with the market leading online real-time communications service.

Wingfield did a very good job, keeping the story balanced, not taking all the Skyperosoft party line, especially by pointing out the dislike from mobile operators to have Skype "in the family" on Windows Mobile phones. The other key point that came out is how hard Microsoft is working to get Skype integreated into Windows 8. This means to me Skype has to be very, very slick on the Windows tablets most of all, and be integrated into Lync. Right now, Lync, the Microsoft business communicator and Skype don't interoperate, nor does Skype interoperate by the not mentioned Windows Messenger--a key omission, and one that likely means something is up in that direction that no one wants anyone to know YET.

The main purpose of this story coming out now, is that in six weeks or so Microsoft holds their massive customer conference in Toronto in early July, and Skype clearly will be on the minds of enterprise customers and mobile operators, as Microsoft has been pretty quiet up until now, by design, emphasizing through their sales folks that Skype is a separate company, a point reiterated in the Wingfield story.

I'm not convinced and figure its a slow roll, but by 2015 Skype and Microsoft will be one integrated entity with Skype buncled into every copy of Office, fully interoperable with every Microsoft real time communications service, like LiveMeeting, and OCS, and most of all, linking up with Messenger and Lync. It's all too logical, and to likely to have to happen.

Pal Tom Keating also has a post on the subject.


Are Changes Coming At Polycom?

Today the very influential conferencing industry analyst report, Electronic Telespan which is written and edited by Elliot Gold lobbed a bomb and a hand grenade in the direction of Polycom in the subsription only newsletter.

First off Elliot who uses the numbers to guide his business analysis points out the problems at Polycom-basically saying the numbers don't add up and that videoconferencing endpoint systems sales were down "14.6% from the same quarter a year earlier and down 20.2% sequentially from the fourth quarter last year." Gold also points out that the average sales price of group video endpoints fell leading to a flat a number, likely from pressure from the growing incurrsion of soft clients.

But the chilling comment was about video revenue being down for Polycom, 11% on a year over year basis. Net net-Polycom sold less and made less. Ouch.

But beyond painting a bad picture for Polycom's sales challenges, J.D. Vaughn lobbed the bigger explosion, reporting that Polycom CEO Andy Miller is on the ropes and hanging by a thread. Vaughn went out on a limb and basically saying that Miller's days are numbered at the top. 

I have been subscribing to Electronic Telespan for some years as it provides great insight and is not web content. It's a bit old school in approach, in that you only receive a link to a PDF file. So, while it's old school, it's still full of news every month and editions like today's make the subscription worthwhile.


Cable Operators Implement WiFi Roaming

Wi-Fi Signal logoWi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Today, many of the USA's cable operators are already passing settlement free phone traffic between one another. Now they are going to become a wireless operator without spectrum costs as the leading MSOs (Cox, Cablevision, Comcast, etc) announced a WiFi roaming offer that's designed to keep their customers connected.

GigaOm's Kevin Tofel has the story.

My take. This idea is a long time coming and it clearly pits the MSOs against the wireless operators. It also means that the idea of WiFi offload is going to get very interesting. For example, if you subscribe to a video or music service that comes over your mobile phone, and now you're on a cable operator's WiFi network, will they let it pass if they offer the same content? Who gets the commercial insertions? We're talking big time rights issues and money.

For example, if you subscribe to MLB.com's ATBat on your iPAD to watch games that could be seen on your MLB plan from your cable company, who gets paid? Part of the revenue from MLB's subscription plan with cable goes to the MSO, but if you purchased it directly using your iTunes account, only Apple and MLB.com see the revenue.

We're going to see what pal Martin Geddes calls "sending party pays" rise up and start to take hold. Don't think for a minute the cable operators are going to let your baseball games, or your calls that should be on you mobile operators spectrum contrained networks ride for free forever. To me, this is a classic razor blade strategy where the MSO's will give their customers all the "free" access they want, but control the pipe in the middle and make money from both sides of the deal, the supplier and the consumer.

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Why Free Wi-Fi Doesn't Work

Today, CIO Journal has a story on public Wi-Fi and how customers are clogging the networks at Panera, someting that's nothing new to me. And I'm taking a bite out of it. Back in the day when public hotspots were just starting out, only a few of us were even using public Wi-Fi, and locations were not so easy to find. Places like Starbucks and Panera Bread locations offered access, paid at Starbucks vs. the free it is today when T-Mobile was powering it, and Panera which was powered by ICOA.

Sadly, T-Mobile basically dropped out of the hotspot business for the most part keeping only a few locations, and Starbucks turned to AT&T for a solution. T-Mobile's service in reality offered amazing scalability and reliable connectivity and even today, long after the acquisition of Wayport by AT&T, the Starbucks spots have never been the same. ICOA's service at Panera was good until the growth of hotspot usage started to spike and my own experiences at Panera's were so bad that I stopped going to Panera or began bringing my own portable hotspots to breakfast there. The same good to bad experience occured at Sacramento and San Diego International Airports until they changed providers or brought the Wi-Fi in house.

Let's face it, people have a need for speed, but beyond speed, they want reliable connectivity, not slow loading pages, or choppy Skype, VoIP and Video calls. We want DNS that works to get our web pages on our screen, and email to flow fast, so as hotspot usage grew the service levels has never really kept up with it. Now today, with increased usage of conference calls and services like WebEX, Go To Meeting and LiveMeeting part of the business person's everyday life the demand, like with wireless spectrum is starting to outstrip supply.

The same is true at hotels, and largely the problem is understanding. Hotels, especially chain hotels, and chain restaurants, coffee shops and other "public" places where you find WiFi budget and plan their capital expenditures on an annual basis. But Wi-Fi is an operating expense once you get past the sunk cost for hardware and "smarter" sevrices that support on-demand levels are rarely implemented. And there is the rub. Capacity and the ability to get at it. 

As a road warrior who needs reliable, business grade Internet access, wired or Wireless, the mobile operators who are proposing WiFi offload so they need to step up and implement services that scale the WiFi because we know that they can't scale their spectrum today, but maybe someday, they will.

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Taking Aim and Telling the Truth

A Polycom VSX 7000 camera used for videoconfer...A Polycom VSX 7000 camera used for videoconferencing (top) with 2 video conferencing screens for simultaneous broadcast from 2 separate locations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image representing CounterPath Corporation as ...Image via CrunchBase

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

Image representing SightSpeed as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

Image representing Scott Wharton as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase

I went to bed last night in Paris after just reading Vidtel founder Scott Wharton's transparent post about the video conferencing industry. It's a must read, not only because Scott is a long time friend, and Vidtel is a client and a company which I'm an option-holder, but because it's just plain fact filled.

Having been involved in video conferencing myself, since SightSpeed was a standalone company, and through their acquisition by Logitech, the idea of reliable, fairly priced communications has not been a pipe dream. In my agency we use video every day and have for years. It could be Skype, it can be using Vidtel's MeetMe in combination with Cisco E20s, Skype and CounterPath's Bria, or even have people on other brands of equipment including Polycom and Lifesize, but at the end of the day, we see each other face to face and we didn't spend a fortune doing it.

That's why Soctt's point about Apple is the key though. Apple innovates in areas where the establishment languish. Look at music, phones and now tablets. For video, its no secret at all that Apple is already dabbling in real time communications with FaceTime, and Tango which first launched on Apple iOS devices is gobbling up market share the same way Viber is in voice. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple buys Tango at some point either, or Vidyo, because of their Enterprise market desires. Of course there's also Microsoft Lync that works well for those who like Microsoft software, so one can only imagine how much video calling is taking place there, given their installed user base. Enter Scott and his early on realization and vision that the installed hardware user base using multiple platforms needed to see each other regardless of brand or protocol.

Scott's point about cost and cost structures are also dead on correct. You can cobble together a video conferencing and calling service for a lot less than the "name" brand companies retail their systems for, and likely have more options. Given Scott's Vidtel was the first true hardware agnostic platform in the cloud (I remember using a Grandstream phone on one end and CounterPath software back in 2008) he's already done the math and woven the fabric of video communications together before anyone else who looked up, saw blue sky and put the video switchboard in the cloud.  Let's face it. When it comes to video few would dispute that Scott has video in his genes.

Scott's point about consertivism in video is also true. When you look at what radical's like Skype and Tango have done, without backgrounds in video conferencing, just smarts, determination and will, you have to realize that the old guard looks at things the old way.  Thankfully Scott looks at video a different way which means more of us will see more of each other.

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Boingo Wants You To Connect Safer and More Often

AllThingsD is reporting that Boingo is adding two key elements to their software that lets users connect to WiFi hotspots that are part of their growing network and others which are not. 

VPN

Crowdsourced hotspots

Both elements are steps forward in the game to help people connect and get better access. The one fine line that Boingo has avoided though is certifying those crowdsourced hotspots. When I think about credit card skimmers at ATM machines, I think how easy it is to insert a watcher type progam inside a WiFi access point that's not part of a managed operation like Boingo's or AT&T's network where one would expect the company sweeps them regularly for trojans, malware, spyware and other bad things that can harm both the network and their users. With the crowdsourced access points, the risk, IMHO, is greater, which in turn spurs the need for a VPN.

I've neen a user of HotSpotVPN for years and also used some others on various devices. The issue surrounding WiFi and the ability to latch on to users data in the air, as well as the ability to put up rogue access points will only proliferate, just as skimmers have whereever ATMs, and credit card readers are found. With mobile money on the rise, and Wi-Fi hotspots growing in use so people can connect risks mount.

Banks, like email operators, likely will get blacklists of suspected hotspots, just like the spam-cop lists of old that made many a yahoo.com email address a suspected spammer, and even hosted domains at Yahoo of customers. Banks and other financial agencies already use various threat detection tools, some that work, but often slow down legitimate transactions versus stopping the phoney ones. This issue will magnify as IP address lookup is one of them so with Wi-Fi and it's ability to enable Ad-Hoc networks, and the lack of a trusted system all spells potential trouble, which is why the mobile operators are pushing SIM cards to their limit. But the SIM doesn't verify the integrity of the hotspot, so with the VPN, Boingo is taking a page out of T-Mobile's book, as TMO when they had a large number of hotspots in the USA deployed also went the VPN route.

In my mind this is the right step, but not the ultimate answer as WiFi has already proven to be even easier to tap than a phone line....so what Boingo and their operator partners do next is really what matters.

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Google Hangouts On Air Open Up

If you haven't been using Google Hangouts for free multiparty video conferences and presentations, your missing out. Long time friend Randy Resnick at VoIP User Conference has been bullish on them since the start and has begun blending the cutting edge free "on air" service into the communities weekly calls, as have many others.

GigaOm, and others, are now reporting on the news.

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No Surprise-Comcast Topping Business VoIP Market-But Is All Business VoIP Created Equal

Comcast Center, the headquarters of Comcast - ...Comcast Center, the headquarters of Comcast - nearly completed, photographed 3/14/08 EspaƱol: Comcast Center, la sede del Comcast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While many in the business of business telecom may be surprised to see Infonetics Research reporting that Comcast, along with Verizon, are topping the list of business VoIP deployments, I'm not at all. You see, back when Comcast purchased NGT, in what was really a mercy take over as Comcast already held a significant portion of the company, I felt that the Philadelphia based cable giant was positioning to be big in voice, including out of their own market, and back in March I penned that cable companies are your next telco.

Well the Diane Myers led research at Infonetics seems to prove this out. The announcement also highligthed 8x8, West (which acquired Smoothstone), Bandwidth.com amongst others.

But all business VoIP is not created equal. For example, one point that is not detailed in the news release is the differene between traffic carried over a public network and a private network that's managed. Just recently Skype dropped the pure "open" super node concept and took the first step of managed calling, by adding their own server environment. In essence Skype is now emulating one giant phone company, for free, on the public Internet. Translated, Skype just became a true competitor to Vonage and even MagicJack, but with an existing number of users/customers. 

For most businesses, calls going over the public internet don't really matter. But if privacy, security and control are for you, then asking the question about public vs. managed Internet will be a deciding factor on which carrier you choose.

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Ooma Reviewed

Pal Tom Keating over at TMC Net has written a review of the newer Ooma and gives it high marks. What I liked about the review was how Tom intelligently compared and contrasted the services to NetTalk and MagicJack, as well as Vonage.

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Breezing Through the Airport Lines

Image representing Clear as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

Getting through airports lines has become a game with me. 

Each trip I think about how do I have to pack my bags to not fall into the "what's in your bag" secondary screening trap? I think consciously about which airports are okay with not removing both my Mac Book Air 11" and iPad from the same bag, and which aren't? Then there's the thinking that goes into what ticket to purchase based on time of day so it makes sense to fly in first class so you breeze through in the premiere traveler line (i.e. Business Select on Southwest, or the better grade of economy on Virgin America, or even upgrade on Alaska? Since I fly the most convenient WiFi enabled route, and don't take on a brand loyal approach I also don't get the "perks" of the elite fliers as often.

That's where carrying the right cards matters. For example, on this trip when I'm in Orlando or Atlanta my recently revived Clear card does the trick. I've also got the new Global Entry ID card which puts me into the PRE check program atomatically. So when I fly Delta and American I can avoid the hassles of even taking things out of the bag or maybe leave my shoes on, but I've yet to try that out, but as an ID card, it works great, as long as the screener knows what it is :-) That said, the Global Entry card really works great when I fly back from Europe into most major USA airports. Now all I need is to be in Nexus and crossing into Canada becomes easier too.

Bottom line, flying in premium classes, carrying a Clear card, or enrolling in Global Entry card, all help speed you through the lines, coming or going.

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