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Posts from July 22, 2012 - July 28, 2012

More Lessons From the Road

Yesterday I wrote about Regus, Priority Pass and Boingo as essential lessons learned from being on the road. Here are a few more.

1. Staying Organized with your Travel-Nothing beats TripIt as a SaaS based personal travel manager. With all my reservations in one place, and on my calendar I know what I'm doing, without having to go fishing through emails or carry a bunch of confirmations as paper. For BlackBerry users, the BB Travel app is a similar and as powerful app.

2. Easyjet Plus-I pay an annual fee and get gratis Speedy Boarding, which means I'm almost always one of the first ten to board (usually more like number one or two) and as much I fly around Europe, Easyjet is the Southwest equal. That said, learning how to use RyanAir isn't all bad, and discovering other airlines like Air Berlin, LuxAir, AirNiki and other "regional" and discount airlines over in Europe is making travel easier, cheaper and more convenient. 

3. Hotel VIP Programs-I'm a Royal Ambassador with InterContinental, and that means I've gone to the very top. They loyalty to one property in SF gets me amazing rooms in other parts of the world. Suites are the standard, and after being in Porto, London and Madrid with them the last six weeks, I really do feel like home. In Madrid upon arrival, there was a Hendrick Martini, iced tea and chilled water delivered to my room thanks to the team back in San Francisco. That kind of "personal" touch made Madrid feel like I was "home" in my home away from home, and as a road warrior, the kind of extra effort that keeps one loyal.


Six Weeks on The Road-What Have I Learned

After six weeks on the road, a lot of business traveler lessons continued to be learned or reaffirmed. Here are some that will help you.

1. Have an account with Regus- I've been using their "temporary" offices for the last half a dozen years or so and can't tell you how much having an account gives you an office, conference room or even a temporary work space in a communal lounge. Hands down better than trying to find a quiet place somewhere to work in a coffee shop of hotel lobby.

2. Priority Pass-Like Regus, a Priority Pass gives you a respite from the masses at airports. They also give you access to free coffee, water, snacks, and most importantly Wi-Fi and peace and quiet compared to the airport terminal, especially in heavy vacation season. While some AMEX customers get limited access to lounges, paying the annual fee means more lounges, in more places, and less hassles.

3. Boingo Wireless for Wi-Fi everywhere. More and more they are becoming the controler of Wi-Fi and mobile access at airports, especially in Europe. Between their easy to use mobile clients on iOS and Android devices, to fast log on via Macs and Windows PCs, the accounts I use, one domestic, one Europe and then a handful of mobile means I'm "Staying Connected."

Staying in touch is not hard, nor is getting work done. Having the three services above makes my travel life easier. So do hotels with really good broadband and Wi-Fi, but that's getting harder and harder as hotel operators are not getting the help they need from those who know better, or those who can help. More and more I'm seeing hotel networks overloaded, capacity and speeds capped and worse, no ability to really work as I did a few years ago. This means the hotel that was awesome a year ago, may no longer be. The answer is an unlocked MiFi and a local data plan on a Pre-Paid basis with a SIM. You have few hassles and usually the services you need work.


Boingo At Porto Airport

Boingo has pretty much nailed the smartphone and tablet log on experience at Porto Airport in Portugal.

Their iOS client did everything and the speeds were more than what was needed.

Luggage Forward

I can't say enough about the gang at Luggage Forward, the preeminent baggage handlers in the world.

My bag is home from Cascais, Portugal in two days. I won't be home for another week.

After working and living in Europe, traversing four borders--UK, Spain, France, Portugal and back, having my bag show up when I arrived in Perpignan France and only having to check it once allowed me the luxury of traveling light over what started as a five week trip and turned into seven.

Luggage Forward, out of Boston has been doing this for me since 2007 and continues to set the bar in both responsiveness and customer service. Zeke and his customer service/ops lead Anna are fantastic people to work with, as they take the guesswork out of getting the bag from anywhere to any other place and back.

You guys Rock!!!

Why Stay with Old Telco When New Telcos Offer More?

One has to wonder why consumers and many businesses still stay with their “non-phone company” when today a number of service providers really want their business. These next-gen providers bring a wider range of services, offer better support and deliver telco-grade or better voice services. Many of the upstarts also have a dedicated focus on the customer as a person, not simply as a number and usually offer better pricing overall.

Granted, for some, staying with the old-line telco isn't a matter of choice. It's the only course of action. But for others, the options are there, and should be seriously considered. Today's post will explore some of those options, using first-hand knowledge and experience and by applying a market-segmentation approach to help decision makers know where to start. At the end many consumers and small businesses currently with the company "formerly known as “THE PHONE COMPANY" hopefully will be able to switch providers and move forward.  This post aims to achieve this by explaining who the ideal customer is for which provider using an interpretative approach to how the various service providers describe themselves today.

But before we get there, let’s look at some valid reasons why some consumers and small to medium size businesses are still using “Old Telco…”

1. No broadband. Ok, they're stuck.

2. Slow upstream broadband (legacy DSL). Well, you could try VoIP but it won't work very well. (Who keeps them captive? Yup, the old telcos)

3. You are a small business with decent broadband but you don't know where to look for reliable VoIP. See below.

4. You’re a consumer with decent broadband but you don't know where to look for reliable VoIP. See below.

This list is written by looking at suppliers that offer what the single-family needs at home all the way up to small to medium-sized business. It is not for those looking for a service provider that’s fully focused on the enterprise-size company or organization, though some of those listed can handle business of that magnitude, too. For me, the dividing line to work with the enterprise today means calls running over a managed network vs. the public Internet.  For many potential customers of old telco needing to switch, that’s not even a needed consideration point. 

How to Decide

Below is my list of which new telco style providers that consumers and companies should consider based on actual trialing of the services, either as a customer, a reviewer or knowing someone well enough who uses the service to see things work right.

Over the past 9 years I've likely trialed, used and played with many of the better-funded and now more mature VoIP and IP communications services out there, including Skype and the late, lamented GizmoVoice, both of which provide/provided phone company-like services without being a phone company. But neither offered E911, nor personal support, both of which made them “non-phone companies” under the eyes of the regulators and for this discussion. That removes Skype from consideration today.

For me, to be a real phone company, you must deliver E911, provide true LNP (Local Number Portability) and offer real-time, live customer support. Another deciding factor in picking a service provider has to include a deep look at customer service and what the provider’s churn is like. Consumer-focused Vonage was always noted for heavy churn, much of it voluntary -- customers deciding to leave due to call quality and support issues --  and, of course, a good chunk of it was also involuntary. Involuntary churn means getting disconnected for non-payment. Vonage seems to be improving in both call quality and support under current management, so it made this list. So did  publicly traded and business-market-focused 8x8, which has continued to reduce churn from what was already an amazingly low percentage.

Thus when it comes to where to put your business telecom service, look first for a provider with low churn and high customer retention, as low voluntary churn usually equates to high customer satisfaction.

Also look closely at support. In an era when Internet-based support is thought of as customer service, being able to talk to someone who owns the problem and accountability to solve the problem cannot be stressed enough. In the words of MasterCard’s ads, it’s priceless.

Beyond that, the determining factors have  to be the features you need today, and the capability to receive what you will need tomorrow. The offering needs to support the highest voice quality, deliver reliable and easy calling experiences, with standout customer service, technical support and easy-to-understand billing. 

The VoIPWatch Chosen

1. Comcast, Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner Cable (I'm sure others among the Tier One Cable Operators fit the bill) are cable operators that provide basic services that mimic what you can get from the traditional telco.

They all deliver a managed service, which means calls and sessions run over their owned network and are not using the Public Internet. Over the past few years, all the cable operators have begun offering business or @work services, starting with broadband. This very much is a direct take-away play from the telcos and one that needs to be looked at, but often is not the best choice as the services are more telco replacement of the bill and the wire, and not much more.

2. Vonage. Yes, surprise, surprise. While I no longer have a Vonage line, they've done a good job at providing consumers with cheap, reliable voice services over broadband and it works. Would I suggest it for your small business? Not really, if you need anything more than voice and voice mail, plus some basic services like call forwarding and call waiting, but they sure are a lot cheaper than the traditional telco. Perfect for the solo line user.

3. Broadvoice. I've had an account in the past, and always found them reliable and very competitive with Vonage, and offering more support and better capabilities. For families and businesses under five people, they are still a winner.

4. Now we're starting to get into companies that are oriented toward the Small Business market. is nimble and well run, and, best of all, they really are designed for the SOHO type of business, or the consumer who needs more capabilities from the  phone company. Other providers out there may offer the same suite of that may fit the bill, but dollar for dollar fits the bill nicely for SOHOs. That makes them the right choice for companies’ sized 10 people or less.

5. I've been an OnSip user for years. Their standards-based SIP platform works very reliably, but does suffer from one weakness. Their SBC (session border controller) is not up to snuff and I find issues when I'm in hotels or working Internationally. The service works very well and they are very supportive. Their browser-based portal is easy to navigate and their support of softphones, like CounterPath's Bria, makes them ideal for companies from that are sized from 3-20 people, but with the ability to go higher as their hosted PBX capabilities give you lots of value for the money.

6. 8x8--For small to medium business, and the growing mid-market, 8x8 has really nailed the complete proposition by market segment with their Virtual Office offering. Long before many others were trying to sell voice and video using the Internet, 8x8 was delivering that starting in 2002. Since then, 8x8 has also added many cloud-based enterprise-grade features, backed by a rich patent portfolio of their own. When you add in Polycom-based video, web collaboration, a browser-based portal for self management, plus a browser-based softphone, address book integration, the ability to have a business directory, rich voice quality, low churn and solid customer service, it’s easy to understand why their numbers are up and the reasons behind having a record quarter.

Let’s face it, when it comes to customers, large telcos are taking a longer time to fix what breaks, so unless you have a real, dedicated account rep going to bat for you, the time to resolve a problem for many is also a reason to leave. As a growing business owner, poor customer service is a deal breaker for me, because when something goes wrong, it needs to be fixed today. Not in four or five days. To counter this the cable industry, as a whole, has already spent millions of dollars to fix the perception of the “bumbling cable guy” making them their front line to customers. The approach changed the way cable companies deliver an experience making it more like the phone man of days gone by where consistent, reliable and trusted were how you described them. Oddly enough, the incumbent “old telcos” have now become more like the Jim Carrey nightmare character than what they once were.

The Omitted, and Why

I have left out three service providers that are all in the competitive space and are worthy of consideration:

1. RingCentral

2. PhoneBooth 

3. Grasshopper

These providers are mostly self-service platforms and are predominantly designed and positioned for businesses that want to appear to be bigger than they really are, or where price is the key factor. The three all seem to send that same message. This doesn't make them bad choices, but they may not be for every business person out there, especially those who like the idea of a real relationship with a company.

For large enterprise customers, service providers worth considering include TW TelecomTelesphereM5, Smoothstone (now West IP Communications) and TelePacific .  All focus on the enterprise market. In the enterprise, the deciding  factors are much different than in consumer or small-to-medium business segments, as everything from longer purchase cycles to  requirements varying company by company to the need for relationship-based customer service really take hold after the sale.

A closing note:  Back in the early days of consumer VoIP, AT&T's CallVantage provided me with the best experience around, starting with call quality. I recall my testing of CallVantage vs. Vonage, Broadvoice and others, including the AOL and original Earthlink offerings. CallVantage would always win. 

When I look at what's out there today, I still remember the great CallVantage experience and find that only and 8x8 are in that same "experience" league where call quality and ease of using the service really matter.

The bottom line here is when picking the new company to replace your “old telco” choose the one that right for where you’ll be as a company, by not choosing the new one based on what you had from the old one.



Vidyo Announces, But Is Yet To Deploy, Free MultiVendor Video Conferencing

Vidyo has announced a new and free multi-vendor conferencing service called "Vidyo Way" that will enable business quality video conferencing for multi-party or point-to-point meetings. Described as a "self-service, executive-friendly interface, VidyoWay connects Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize other H.323 and SIP-based room systems, Microsoft Lync clients, mobile devices and telephones." The service is similar in nature to those already out there from Vidtel and BlueJeans and could start off a bidding war in the "any to any" video space.

The absence of Skype is interesting as it is globally the most often used and minutes seeing service of video hands down, albeit with consumers. But Skype is used in business today as well, so the wide deployment of Skype and its absence may impact the desire to switch over to "VidyoWay." But more importantly it also sets up the possibility by acquisition hungry Microsoft of buying Vidtel or BlueJeans, both which are already deploying the multi-party technology that Vidyo is promising, thus bridging their Skype and Lync audiences and opening the door to the rest of the market the same way Vidyo is hoping to.

Microsoft's coffers are also much deeper than Vidyo's plus there's already the installed user base of both Skype and Lync that dwarfs all the other "platforms" in use today. Cisco, Polycom, Logitech (owners of Lifesize and Sightspeed) and Avaya also could also be acquirers of Vidtel or BlueJeans, and immediately begin to offer a similar service. Those companies could use it to maintain their sales pipeline by offering a hedging technology, even if it means eating up their bridging and exhange partners. These companies could also look to acquire Vidyo, but with over $100 million dollars already invested and Vidyo at "Series D", the price will be much steeper than for Vidtel and BlueJeans. Venture investors want big wins and will want a nice return, plus with Juniper Networks invested with Vidyo already as a strategic, Cisco's appetite to feed it's biggest competitor's bank account isn't likely, in turn further opening the door to their chasing Vidtel and BlueJeans. 

The idea of totally free multi-party, multi-vendor is interesting, but it's not also without significan risk to Vidyo as the company is taking a "loss leader" approach for a service that has yet to launch, with no firm dates revealed, as a lead generation process to attract customers who hopefully will switch to their service based offering. The risk is that the "free" and "subsidized" service will actually delay the need for Vidyo service licenses to be purchased or the need for potential customers to switch over to the Vidyo platform for businesses and enterprises already deploying existing legacy video end-room and desk based hardware which have been, and remain, Vidyo's targets.

On the upside, once released "VidyoWay" may also put some hurt on the legacy bridging and exchange companies, as their customer bases are already looking at Vidtel and Bluejeans, and now will face competition with the free offer from Vidyo. This freeing up of cash gives IT manages a way to save operating costs and recover some of that money to apply elsewhere. With the reduced OpEx those managers can go out and buy iPads and Android tablets and thus put more people on the video platform. This is where Vidyo is betting VidyoWay  and compatible apps win them over by driving greater utilization of their already sunk costs in video conferencing gear, and getting more people to use their technology over time.

Apps are the reason Skype is being left out. While Vidyo today has apps for some mobile devices (iOS and Android),  those apps will be supplemented and complimented by "VidyoWay" specific apps as the current Vidyo apps are for customers of Vidyo or of service providers offering Vidyo conferencing. Those customers will be able to call into VidyoWay and participate in the multi-party, multivendor video conferences. Also missing from the line up of compatable companies is Avaya, which recently acquired Radvision. One other interesting point was that VidyoWay will not require anyone to be using or holding a Vidyo license, thus making it open to anyone using their to be released software on iOS and eventually Android platforms as well as the legacy gear.

Other coverage of this can be found:


Telepresence and Video Conferencing Insight

The Next Web

Note: I hold shares in Glowpoint and am am an option holder in Vidtel.