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Posts from May 2013

Is WalMart Becoming Your Telco?

TracFone WirelessTracFone Wireless (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WalMart sells phones, landline and mobile. WalMart sells phone services, both mobile and landline, and I'm not saying they are the operator, but they are bringing out with consistency, services that provide an option to the traditional phone company or mobile operator. 

First up, is StraightTalk, which for $45.00 a month offers you unlimited wireless voice, text and data, and runs over your choice of T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon Wireless depending on your device. This is a all brought to you by the same people who make Tracfone available, Carlos Slim and American Moviles, the runaway market leader in Mexico. 

Now WalMart is the featured merchant for Vonage's new offering, BasicTalk, a $9.99 a month service that bascially is an ATA that connects your existing phones, the same way Vonage does, but at a mass market price.

This is a real shift in where consumers obtain their basic communications services and demonstrates that WalMart is able to productize and merchandise better than many others who failed, including Staples and BestBuy both of whom have had many chances first to sell phone services. BestBuy prevously owned, and jettisoned Speakeasy, putting it into what is now Megapath as part of a Covad roll up play. Basically, BestBuy's purchase of SpeakEasy's DSL and phone service was supposed to drive even more installations by the GeekSquad and add-on hardware like routers, switches and cables. Staples has had multiple shots at VoIP dating back to being offered services like AT&T CallVantage, PhoneGnome, IDT and many others, but neither BestBuy or Staples ever put the kind of effort, or had the clout, to make them the go to source for phone service. And they could have.

WalMart is know for everyday low prices, and now they are offering everyday low price phone service.

 -- Andy Abramson

Jeff Pulver's Back In Communications

Long time VoIP personality Jeff Pulver, is back in the communications business with the recent funding of Zula, his cloud based mobile collaboration venture that he's starting with one of the original founders of DeltaThree, Jacob Ner-David. Pulver is best know for the VON Conference Series which he once sold, reaquired and then saw pulled out from under him by lenders, and who also was credited in playing a big part in the start of Vonage

The initial source of outside venture capital came from OurCrowd, the hybrid VC-crowdfunding platform for accredited investors based in Israel, and which invests in companies coming out of the country.

Pulver, for many years has been cultivating and investing in companies in the land of Milk and Honey, and has established a close kinship with Yossi Vardi, best known as one of the people behind ICQ, a forrunner of today's Instant Messaging apps and services that was acquired by AOL.

Skype Is Just Another Microsoft Product

If there ever was a time when Skype was ripe for being knocked off their throne, it's now. You see, Skype despite all of Steve Ballmer's promises to telecom leaders after the acquisition was first announced, and the claims that Skype will be an independent company, under Tony Bates' leadership, all signs indicate that Skype is really just another app inside the Redmond company.

The integration with Lync that's coming, as well as the recent XBox news involving group video calling continues to demonstrate just how tightly woven Skype is getting.

-- Andy Abramson


Random Thoughts from an Idle Mind for Saturday May 18 2013

Have you noticed that Google put Hangouts on iOS? And did you see that AT&T is saying the same thing to Google that they said to Apple about FaceTime and data plans...Do you think the billions into the network updates are not buying as much capacity as needed? At the same time the updates to GoogleTalk on Android are guess what? Hangouts. I got the notice today on my Google Nexus while sitting in the Virgin Clubhous airport lounge at Heathrow.

Vodafone in the UK added a new top up NFC based Swipe card. Pretty neat. You link it to your pre-paid account and get it swiped when you pay for a top up. No more entering numbers. They need this in more countries than the UK. 

My SFR PayCard is still a challeng to add cash to it for France. Despite the promises that over 24,000 points of sale can be used to add credit, my trys around the Languedoc last week proved fruitless. SFR PR played the game of all answers from the web site. Major failure for MasterCard who is the back end provider of the service. Given they rolled this out over six months back you would think the field force would be more aware. Biggest failure though is you can't even top it up in an SFR store.

Great to see BlackBerry open up BBM to iOS and Android. It was an idea Alec Saunders and I discussed over a year ago before the 2012 BlackBerry Jams.

 -- Andy Abramson

SFR Paycard-Setting It Up

A credit card, the biggest beneficiary of the ...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting the SFR Paycard up and running was mostly an easy experience. Going to the product website, and using Google Chrome which translates foriegn langueges on the fly, made it easy. 

I went to the activate page, filled out the form, and found that I needed to use an address in France, so I did, using one I a normally a regular resident of and the card was active. That was a bit of a hurdle, but the card is for the "unbanked in France" or as a secondary credit card.

Loading money on it, well that was more of a challenge. Despite saying that any of the SFR phone recharge locations can sell users of the SFR Paycard a recharge coupon, it wasn't that easy. As a matter of fact, all three SFR sales points, including one SFR owned shop had either people or sales terminals that did not know how to sell a Paycard recharge coupon. That means Plan B-sending an interbank transfer from an account with my name on it which will be done this week, as there's no rush. Once I set up a "optimum" level account money can come from anyone, and I'll have a higher limit, but given this is more of an experiement I'm not so inclined to rush into it.

Given the unfortunate confusion on the part of the point of sale merchants and SFR's own shops not knowing how to recharge the card, I have contacted SFR Public Relations to try to get more light on that and other questions about the NFC and Chip N' Pin based debit card. Stay tuned.

Sidenote-in light of Travelex shutting down their card in the USA, MoneyCorp not having a prepaid card that can be sold to non UK residents yet, and the Orange prepaid card requiring too much advance ordering, tells me that the pre-paid debit card market for global travelers is both a challenge and an opportunity, that both MasterCard and Visa seem to want to play in, but are unable to easily execute on.

SFR PayCard

With the demise of Travelex's Euro or British Pounds availability in the USA while they and MadterCard sort out their differences I have been searching for a new way to not get caught up in the PIN code less traps around Europe. 

The SFR PayCard, sold in France may the answer so over the next few days I will put it to the rest.

The SFR PayCard offers both PIN and NFC contact less payments, works like a stored value card, and promises reloading across France or vi bank transfer. What I like it for is I can now again have a Euro based card that gets me around hassles that are increasing as I travel at railway stations and autoroute toll booths that no longer have live collection agents. It also helps to avoid currency exchange issues, swipe card misreads, reduces the credit card skimming risks but most of all allows me to register the card with mobile operators, at least in France, to recharge my phones credit or buy flights in Euros.

You may be wondering why with all the credit cards I carry I need this?

Over the last 48 hours my Amex had been subject to false positives for fraud, my Visa being unable to be used to buy a train ticket because it lacks Chip and PIN technology and I was forced on the autoroute to use cash to pay tolls as some autoroute toll gates simply will not accept USA credit cards due to chargebacks and fraud.

Next- Activation

-- Andy Abramson

Watch Toll Free Numbers Change due to Skype/Lync and WebRTC.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

AT&T Princess Signature TelephoneAT&T Princess Signature Telephone (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

If you remember ever asking "do you have a toll free number" or if you have ever dialed one, you always were thinking how calling that number saved you money, and maybe realized that the cost was being paid for by the receiving party. Most times the number called was for some type of service, support or reservation.

With unlimited long distance, 800 numbers sorta for many became irrelevant, and with mobile calling plans really being unlimited in nature, the need was sort of also reduced as people stopped paying for minutes, with one exception. The party on the receiving end of an 800 number.

Last week in London, uber-analyst Dean Bubley and I had one of our regular get togethers over a cocktail, some food and conversation where we chat without an agenda and let stream of consciousness and relevance become the compass. As we chatted we got onto the topic of both WebRTC and Skype and how the 800 toll free market was a common target for both.

Dean quickly pointed out something that has been in the back of my mind, the upcoming Skype/Lync integration, and how instead of advertising toll free 800 numbers, or usually being regional in nature, how the presenters of toll free numbers could start presenting SKYPE ID's as with Lync, the interconnection into the "PBX" in the call center occurs. Then we switched to talking about the same implications of WebRTC and how this all occurs in the browser. 

If you think about it, already inside the browser we get pop ups asking for a chat if we are filling out forms, struggling with a reservation, or making a transaction that seems to be taking longer or is being rejected.

Both Skype and WebRTC would work to remove the barriers of geography, further driving more call centers in more places, but with call transfer ability for both Lync and WebRTC - once it interconnects to the PBX, means more expertise available. The current path of WebRTC is richer than what we have seen so far from Microsoft, but I don't think their not thinking about the on screen, in browser experience. Quite the opposite, I feel that they are, and that we'll see more screen sharing, on screen video calling with remote support and collaboration from them, all within the browser as Skype partially migrates from an installed app to a Web app and has that Lync connection going.

But if one thinks about this, and as Dean and I discussed, this is also where Google has a running start, as the Android OS is already seeing beta builds of WebRTC inside Chrome, and since it will be natively available on Android devices that operate on both Wi-Fi and LTE, this means in many situations, "calling for support" doesn't have to mean dialing up over the PSTN any longer. Conversely, Microsoft and it's Windows Mobile is going nowhere fast.

But the more one looks at it, the more one sees WebRTC and Skype as having all the potential of being a massive disruptor to the toll free and call center markets, so it's no wonder why the telcos are both looking at WebRTC (Telefonica buying TokBox, Ericsson fueling AT&T's Foundry, etc.) and trying to manage its deployment. 

-- Andy Abramson

Orange France and Spain Easiest Now

Over the past few months I have been all over Europe and been testing SIM card purchasing for smartphones and tablets.

In France and Spain, Orange previously had been a bit of a challenge. Not any more.

In Madrid obtaining a Nano SIM for the iPhone 5 at Vodafone was impossible but Orange had them. Same for the iPad Mini with a cut down one.

In France here in Marseille the experience was rapid, even when transacting a multi-SIM purchase of both Nano and Micro SIMs us recharges.

As a long time SFR customer since December there have been nothing but issues with SIMs previously used, APN settings and recharges even with valid coupons.

After years of Orange being more pain, it seems the have upped their game, if only in Marseille.

Ask for Mark, Chantel or anyone in the Veiux Port store and be satisfied when you walk out. But don't expect this service at the Paris Shop near Madeleine. There getting just one SIM can take all day

-- Andy Abramson

Redux of Jangl and TalkPlus But With A Twist

Image representing Jangl as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

Image representing TalkPlus as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

Back in the heydey of VoIP, circa 2006/2007 GrandCentral was the "buzz and da bomb" quickly gaining likely some hundreds of thousands of users before getting snapped up by Google and turned into GoogleVoice. But they had rivals, not direct competition, but services that did different things. Two of the rivals that ultimately fell to the wayside were TalkPlus and Jangl

TalkPlus and Jangl each did something that today, many turn to GoogleVoice for. To be a "hook up" number for those in the dating world. While GoogleVoice has the Get lost feature where you can block anyone's number and send them a "this number is not in service" to the "dumped" or "jilted", TalkPlus gave people the ability to add a second number to the mobile phone by using the network to present a second number on the outbound, or route a call to your phone from that number-basically call forwarding on the inbound with data showing up telling the recipient what number was incoming, or spoofing the ANI and Caller ID on the outbound via the network switch. Jangl was a bit similar, but it used a series of numbers to pair up between callers. Jangl was eventually acquired by Jajah, as part of a mercy sale, with Michael Cerda taking on a BizDev role there for a short time.

Well now some dating service AshleyMadison is bringing back the combined ideas of both TalkPlus and Jangl for the hook up crowd. Both companies, TalkPlus and Jangl were ahead of their time, as the apps world was not really alive yet. Basically, only BB, Nokia Series 60 and Series 40 and some Windows Mobile devices were able to have more apps installed, and finding them, and often times getting them to work perfectly was an issue.

With companies like Twilio, Plivo and Voxeo squarely in the API space, and clients Voxbone in the numbers biz, and Flowroute in the SIP based origination and termination world, creating these kinds of services in the cloud isn't hard, so expect more of these "disposable" type operations to rise up. 

One can only wonder if TalkPlus and its team led by John Todd, Jeff Black, Julie Lynch and Michael Topel had been around fully in the era of apps with iOS and Android, because back then, the idea of a private number was their's first, and the market for dating clearly defined. Same with Jangl as they cut deals with but the uptake was limited, and the churn rather high.

Well today, people can use GoogleVoice for their dating number, but as the term coined by Microsoft in their counter to Google as a search engine service I can see "scroogled" taking on a whole new meaning too. Bada Bing!

-- Andy Abramson

Taking Aim At Skype

New TeleGeography MapNew TeleGeography Map (Photo credit: Emilie Ogez)

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

It's time to bring down Skype. I don't mean take their network down. No way. But Skype is now about as pedestrian as the telcos that Skype sought to bring down, and in reality did.

Skype has taken a stranglehold in the International long distance market as Telegeography reported back in February as well as having a strong opportunity in the landline replacement biz according to the likes of Forbes. But Skype as we know it today is an unregulated supplier of telecom like services, and is continually positioning to be the non-carrier, the way T-Mobile seeks to be the unCarrier.

But as more minutes, numbers and users subscribe and use Skype, the more they are like the companies Skype sought to bring down, and likely has started to do, the more we'll see actions to bring Skype in line with those companies. This means that it won't be long before the FCC looks at Skype and says, behave, do right and become what you are, another telco that offers E911, contributes to the Universal Services Fund (USF) and allows legal intercept access without hassles. Now with the Lync federation only weeks away, we can likely expect to see Skype do the things they have avoided for years in order to secure and maintain the business market share that parent Microsoft wants to continue to control so badly.

-- Andy Abramson