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Posts from January 2013

Miami Calling---Hello Startup Camp and IT Expo

Image representing Craig Walker as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase

Tomorrow I say "cheerio" to London for the second time this year. And for the second time this year I'm not leaving London for home, but for an industry conference. In my mind the new year hasn't really started as I've only been home for five nights in my own bed before hopping on a plane. Well, I did create the idea of Working Anywhere so, I guess to life does imitate art of sorts. Tomorrow I head to Miami and the winter edition of IT Expo put on by the good folks at TMC. They have me moderating a few panels on Thursday and Friday, and of course there's the never ending number of meetings, briefings and impormptu catch-ups that happen at the IP communications winter fest.

But the event I'm looking forward to the most has to be StartupCamp, put on by pal Larry Lisser and his colleagues at Embrase. This years line up looks super impressive and Larry decided to enlist me to moderate the group of judges he's assembled and are they ever an illustrious group including: 

Craig Walker, CEO of Firespotter Labs, a telecom focused incubator that's launched UberConference, Nosh, NoshList and Jotly since its founding in April 2011. Many of you know Craig from his days as founder of GrandCentral (now Google Voice) and before that at Dialpad, so he's no stranger to StartUps or IT Expo as he's graced the stage many times. 
Also on tap to shape the fate of the four startups are:

Jeff Uphues, Vice-President, Cbeyond, a leading communications provider that delivers cloud services and communications to SMBs. and Gerry Dehaven, senior partner, QAdvisors, a top merger and acquisition firm deeply rooted in technology, communications and business services.

This year's group is also impressive. Larry tells me the choices were tougher this year, as the startups all seem to be upping their game even before they get to the event.  The four will battle it out and then be judged by the trio.

  • Flowthru extends voice anywhere. By plugging into a provider's existing infrastructure with near-zero impact, we enable their service when & where it matters most to users, on smartphones, tablets, PCs.
  • Proteg-GO's "Guardian on the Go" app keeps you and loved ones safe and informed during an emergency, via its one-touch alert system, call center and social media components that together serve as a compliment to traditional 911 services.
  • ThruView reduces truck-rolls and makes customer care agents more effective for large providers of services to the home. Its mobile applications stream video from smartphones directly to the customer agent, offering the visual context agents require to deliver more efficient customer service.
  • VerbalizeIt delivers real-time access to human translators to make sure that nothing is ever lost in translation. We empower businesses and travelers with the ability to instantly connect with a live translator any time of day, anywhere in the world and from any device or application.

And if the competition wasn't enough, the whole night is made even more special with an appearance and fireside like chat with former Apple CEO, John Scully.  Now that's really an event.



Yahoo Voice Shutting Down

Yahoo! Messenger IconYahoo! Messenger Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just learned that Yahoo Voice is shutting down at the end of January. Yahoo! will no longer offer Phone In and Phone Out services to our users, although free Messenger-to-Messenger calls will still be available through your Yahoo! Messenger service.    

Interestingly, the news came to me from Jajah which has managed the service for a few years.

FaceBook Calling

So Facebook is again trying to become a bigger part of people's lives with free member to member calling in the USA. That means they're still not doing what Skype does, but this is today. What Facebook is doing is pretty much ICQ era presence and ICQ era voice calling. See the person online, connect and talk. 

Maybe in the future you'll be able to call a brand, order a pizza, or arrange for flowers. Maybe you'll connect to your personal banker who is also on Facebook, but if the person isn't using an iPhone, isn't online, you're not talking.



Ins and Outs Are Hurting Conference Calls

Like many of you, I live on conference calls. Meet me on the bridge is a standard part of our vocabularly, with calls on the calendar to avoid a call you're expecting being missed by a call you didn't expect.

Yesterday on a conference call using Citrix's GoToMeeting with James Tagg, CTO and Founder of Truphone, as well as a few others. James and I were calling in via the GoToMeeting client on our Mac Book Pros. One of my team was calling in via a mobile phone on AT&T, another person on the Truphone team was calling in via a SIP based PBX, and others who were doing more listening than talking were hearing clearly via GTM's clients on Macs or iPads.

The call quality ranged from crystal clear for those using the GoToMeeting clients, to muddy, depending who was doing the talking, and who was doing the listening. And this was on a conferencing bridge that actually mixes the audio (and video) to provide a combined stream back to all participants (Note Citrix is a former client, and they incorporated technology from former client Hi-Def Conferncing which they acquired.) 

James and I heard each other like we were across the table from one another. But my colleague, on an iPhone over AT&T sounded very tinny, and almost mechanical to James, but not to me. One of James' colleagues calling via an IP phone, but like my colleague, was dialing in via a local dialup POP number provided by GoToMeeting in the USA and UK. James' comment about his colleague was even though he was one floor down, sounded "unintelligable." To me the other Truphone person was slightly audible, but not as clear to me as my colleague on the iPhone who to James wasn't.

Here's the problem. I call it ins and outs.

Ins and outs are the way calls connect to the conferencing bridge. It includes the number of hops and number of network handoffs. It's the routing and it's the conversion of codec mismatches. It's the Session Border Controllers from multiple manufacturers and most of all, it's the conversion from IP to TDM, back to IP, vs. the all IP calling that James and I were experiencing that was crystal clear and coming through in beautiful Hi-Def audio.

I'll compare this experience to calls on bootstrapped startup Voxeet, where the audio, over 3G, 4G or WiFi is amazing. No calls ever touch the PSTN. None are dependent on a SIP based PBX that has to dial out over the POTS line. Pal Craig Walker's company, UberConference, uses WebRTC inside Chrome. There, if everyone uses WebRTC and calls from the browser, the experience is much like using CounterPath's Bria and either ZipDx or TurboBridge, if everyone calls in via a SIP URI and has the g.722 wideband audio codec installed.

So the issues-the SIP providers don't peer with Citrix's Go To Meeting, so an IP based call that should stay IP, has to go in and out a few times. In the case of AT&T Mobile call, the dial in POP was not in Georgia, but in California. That caused latency in addition to going from and to and back between IP and TDM. 

The problem isn't new, but it's getting worse and worse each month. It's a subject I've discussed in the past with Walker, as well as founders of Voxeet, TurboBridge and even with Alec Saunders, back in the day when he was leading iotum which operates Calliflower.

It seems I'm not alone in sensing the problem. Leading headset manufacturer, Plantronics is conducting a survey about conference call quality. Sadly, this is not an issue that is simply related to the input, but what's all going on in the middle. And that's something, the headset, or input device can't solve.


Lyncing Skype and RIM's BB10-What's The Play?

Rumors are out there that ooVoo, the video conferncing and calling app will be on BB10 when the new OS and devices make their debut end of month, will be there and Skype won't be.

Well, rumors like that are good for ooVoo but in reality, Skype on BB10 is likely to happen. It's not a technical thing, it's all about what Microsoft wants from RIM and that's why you're seeing the ooVoo news now.

You see, the last thing Microsoft wants to do is lose the audience for Skype to a rival, upstart service because they have too much invested in it, and have added more assets to the mix that help them move more towards being THE COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE across all device platforms. They added GroupMe and QIK as acquisitions, so ultimately they need to be on the third biggest OS, just as they need to be on iOS and Android.

My hunch is that RIM and Microsoft make peace on this and if not at launch, sometime right after, Skype appears on the new BB10 devices and more importantly, Microsoft continues to move towards a Lync-Skype interop and eventually one service for all communications. To get there, Skype/Microsoft will want at least one thing from RIM---access to BBM, the over the top messaging service. Add in Group Me, instant calling and all that MSFT now has inside Skype and you have the Enterprise's communicator that goes over carrier networks, works over private networks and ties into Lync.

WebRTC Chatter, Thoughts and More

Recently WebRTC has come into the forefront with active discussions on the VUC and now a back and forth on Twitter with some of the brighter minds I know on the subject of technology adoption chiming in. The Twitter back and forth reminds me of a group of guys sitting around the bar discussing the latest new player on a sports team, minus the beers and shots. And since we do it in 140 characters, comments are not exactly always fully explained. But I digress.

What is happening with WebRTC is actually very exciting. It means that inside the browser will be all the communications elements that allow for a high-quality audio or video call, plus the guts to wrap other real-time collaboration around (screen sharing is likely the first and most logical) but also other services like remote desktop, personalized messaging (think presence based comms) and more.

The chatter on Twitter though surrounds mobile and when WebRTC will be there. My gut tells me we'll see it first on Android, but I wouldn't rule RIM out with BB 10 given how BBM and WebRTC would be a killer combo. Some think Windows Mobile, but even if Microsoft does implement the technology inside Internet Exlporer, given their history of things not always working right, it would need to be a Skype port, as they now have too much invested in the property. Skype has been working in that direction, but so far, there hasn't been much follow up to the talk that Jonathan Rosenberg gave a few years ago on the subject at eComm so I'm not holding my breath there. And, as for Apple, right now they continue to push Facetime, so hopefully, they take what they learned from it, and put it inside Safari but again, I think it will be Chrome on Mobile that leads the way, with Firefox right behind.

What do you think?

The January Juggernaut Begins

Today marks the end of a two week respite of sorts. By working from Cascais, Portugal and now Paris, France I was able to spend time with friends and still work remotely using a combination of blazing fast 60 meg symetircal broadband in Cascais, and mobile technology when I was out and about.

But, starting Monday, with Pepcom Digital Experience as a prelude to CES in Las Vegas, the January Juggernaut begins, with plenty of hardware and apps finding their way to us all. Right on the heels of CES in New York is the annual National Retail Federation conference and trade show begins on January 13. There, whats new for retail and e-tail makes their marks. Then over in Hawaii, the annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference takes hold on January 20th before we end the month with IT Expo East starting on January 30th in Miami Beach, FL.

So what does this all mean? Well for starters it means a lot of NEW and a great deal of hype being played out. What's old doesn't make the news as much, and speculation on what will be the next big things starts to mount. In reality a lot of that work began months before and really goes live during the events, and surrounding activity points, taking what was once an ideal or concept, all the way through to the finished goods.

For the media it will mean long hours, races to beat their competitors to the news that will break down into there categories:

  1. New and Shiny-this is where press releases rule, where notes about something new comes out, where testing and validation are not part of the news. Largely, the informaton comes from the companies, and sometimes a third party speculates.
  2. Release and Review-here, what's new actually gets tested or reviewed by the reporter, with some degree of experience ranging from holding it in their hands, having someone show them the features to having actually used the product or app for enough time to share their views on how good (or bad) it is, or if it's worth buying, trying or should be passed up.

  3. Insight, Perspective and Opinion-This is perhaps the most valuable but least found writing or coverage weeks of shows. It means someone takes the time to look at what's "new" and evaluate it's impact on society, business or the market at large. It's less about the wow factors that seem to envelope the news during show weeks, and more about the what it means and how things will change, could be different or be the means to make things different.

For those on the other side of the screen, it means information overload, too much delivered that looks to be the same, and the need for greater curation, aggregation and what none of us have. Time. Starting Monday, January 7, we become time famished, time challenged and time contrained. Hopefully some of the new products and services find a way to eliminate those...but I doubt it....