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Posts from July 29, 2018 - August 4, 2018

On ClueCon Weekly This Past Week

With everything going on surrounding my new Pixelbook, the Vonage/Nexmo acquisition of Nexmo I almost forgot to mention being on FreeSwitch's  ClueCon Weekly this past week.

It's been a while since I did video, let alone remote video, but the overall conversation with Michael Mavroudis, aka Jersey Mike. We spent almost an hour talking all about AI, the Vonage buy of TalkBox and telecom.

Check it out.

P.S. As part of transparency in journalism, FreeSwitch is part of SignalWire, a startup I'm a consultant to.

My New Laptop Is a Pixelbook

I'm on my 5th Chromebook in about 7 years or so. I don't recall exactly when I bought a long gifted away Samsung Chromebook or the next one which has also been gifted away, but you'll have to pry the latest one, the Google Pixelbook, out of my hands. I LOVE IT.

After 10 months of a Samsung Pro being the alternative to any one of always available MacBooks, MacBook Airs or MacBook Pros, I spent most of the last two months shifting between the Samsung Pro and a Dell Chromebook as I start to ramp up things again. And while my desk remains a MacMini, more and more I found myself needing the MacBook less and less. So when there was a nice price drop on Amazon on the PixelBook I sent a note to my good friend, and now Chromebook Guru, Kevin Tofel of GigaOm and JK On the Run fame.

Kevin has been diving into the Google designed laptops for a while, and back in the day he and I used to compare notes on the advances, as well as some cool things you could do with them. My dilemma was do I go for all the gusto and dive in with the i7 based Intel processor or stick with the i5, which is half the price. A quick exchange with him sealed the deal. The i5 would be more than enough for what I'm doing. And he was right.

After 24 hours of bliss, I'm delighted with the Pixelbook...Between the Chrome OS, living in the browser all day, the fact that it's a 4 in 1, my favorite feature is how smoothly it runs Android apps....that's the dealmaker...

Vonage Buys TokBox

Two days ago I pointed out that CPaaS was the next big thing in telecom. About a month ago, I shared a comment with a client that it was time to watch out for Nexmo, as they were about to make moves. Yesterday, Nexmo, backed by Vonage cash since their acquisition, bought TokBox away from Telefonica for $35 million in cash and their liabilities.

The sale though has to be considered a bargain for Vonage given how prior to 2012, when Telefonica acquired TokBox, the Bay area WebRTC pioneer had already raised $26 million in venture money. It was considered by some to be a hail Mary fire sale.

In the announcement yesterday TokBox claimed to now have 2300 global customers and to be embedded in 1700 mobile apps. If we knew the debt load the actual price may be higher in what it will end up costing Vonage. 

My view is Vonage bought a team and technology that fills a gap in WebRTC for Nexmo as rival Twilio already has a WebRTC offering. TokBox likely also has some patents, and enough enterprise customers that Nexmo can sell more services to. The key tell comes from another long time friend, Mark Winther, of IDC who was quoted in the release about the acquisition:

Mark Winther, VP Telecom Consulting for IDC, commented, “Already a strong provider in programmable SMS, voice and IP messaging, this strategic move by Vonage builds out its portfolio of cloud communications capabilities. TokBox extends Vonage’s ability to gain share in the fast growing CPaaS market with a set of interactive video APIs and a customer base that proves the value of programmable video communications.” 

Given the past ownership by Telefonica, it wouldn't surprise me if there were some other "handshake" deals between Vonage and the Spanish telecom operator which has holdings in mobile and telecom networks that can end up sweetening the deal.

Telefonica has a massive enterprise sales operation worldwide, so with this asset going to Nexmo, why not have Telefonica serve as an extended sales force for the CPaaS company to deliver features and functionality not available from Telefonica but usable and useful to its customers. And given Telefonica's network into Latam and Europe, why not haul some of Vonage's voice and messaging traffic too. Deals like this make for interesting opportunities, and this could be a bigger win for Vonage if there's more than what looks like an asset, IP and acqui-hire buy on paper with some business on the books to make it an attractive buy.

I'm actually very happy to see this, as TokBox CEO Scott Lomond is an old friend, and a former client at SightSpeed (which was acquired by Logitech). Scott is a solid operator who put structure into TokBox and turned it into a well run operation, delivering a solid platform under Telefonica Digital's ownership.

Side note: Back in 2013 I wrote that it would be 5-10 years before Telefonica's acquisition of TokBox would be part of a spin out or sell off in 5-10 years. I only missed by a month as I viewed this, and other efforts like it, more as lab experiments for telecom giants like them.


Looking at CPaaS - The Next Big Thing in Telecom

Over the past year during various conversations with telecom insiders including analysts and reporters there always seemed to be a question about CPaaS from UCaaS providers.

At the present time, Twilio is likely the most commonly known CPaaS provider, quickly followed by Nexmo, which Vonage acquired. Plivo is another, and even has their own version of CPaaS they offer and Ribbon, the marriage of Sonus and GenBand offers KANDY. Even former client OnSip has their own CPaaS platform. 

In a nutshell, CPaaS provides a platform for custom development of applications and services that can hook into your telecom provider via an open or private API. If you use Zapier or IFTTT for app automation, think the same way about CPaaS.

As CPaaS gets more understood watch as enterprise developers begin to look more at it, to enable their telecom and collaboration services to do more that the carrier doesn't yet do.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications Is Out

Yesterday Gartner released the 2018 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, and to no surprise for the most part, the results are what's expected. Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel all made the top right quadrant, along with the surprising Phoenix like, Avaya,  while Unify popped up in the visionary category. 

As GetVoIP explained on March 30th of this year, there's a big difference between the two MQ's from Gartner. The two different grids and reports separate out UC and UCaaS. The latter report is where the emerging cloud players like RingCentral, 8x8, Dialpad, Vonage and soon Google will all be considered for. That report comes out in a few months, just before Gartner's big fall shindig in Orlando,  ITXpo.

In reality, it would be best if Gartner released both reports simultaneously, as there's the initial "hype" cycle as we're seeing already from Avaya in the media, and Mitel as well, that tends to cause buyers who are shopping for UCaaS to say "but I don't see you in the Gartner UC report" to companies who are selling the cloud first offerings. 

What's the difference? The UC is more of a premise based solution set that offers access to the cloud services. The UCaaS offerings start in the cloud, as a cloud service, are far more oriented for the mobile workforce, and tend to be more nimble in delivering new service solutions and features. Governments and the very large scale enterprise are likely better suited for UC type solutions today, while the more rapidly growing companies with nationwide or global footprints are more suited for UCaaS . In the future, UCaaS will be the bigger market, but for now, UC is the big dog in the yard, and that's why Gartner shares those details now.

Redux: Vonage, RingCentral: "Me Too, Me Also, Me (not) Different

Oh, how I laughed as I read two news releases via Telecom Reseller this morning, one apiece from Vonage, and the other from their formidable competitor Ring Central. Back in 2005 here on VoIPWatch I coined the phrase "Me too, Me also, Me different"

Every few years I would find a reason surrounding activities in the VoIP community that I've been "watching" and engaging in for now over 15 years (actually almost 20) to find more examples of that unimaginative behavior by businesses in telecom. I even strived to find differentiators and highlight them too, as thinking and doing different always lets you stand out from the crowd. So as I read the two releases, I had to do a double take as the lead paragraphs were almost identical and released on the same exact day. Oh, and the quotes too, but I'm getting ahead of read on...please.

From Vonage:

 Vonage (NYSE: VG), a business cloud communications leader, has launched an integration with Google Cloud’s new Contact Center AI, a solution that combines multiple AI products to improve the customer experience and the productivity of contact centers.

From RingCentral:

 RingCentral, Inc.(NYSE:RNG), a leading provider of global enterprise cloud communications and collaboration solutions, today announced plans to integrate with Google Cloud’s new Contact Center AI, a solution that combines multiple AI products to improve the customer service experience, as well as the productivity of contact centers.

But don't only blame the messenger, or either company. Blame Google's approach to media releases. The way that works is Google makes their announcement, usually by preparing what they want to say to the public. They then ask each company to submit their news release for approval, and have the companies conform to their already developed messaging, both for releases, as well as blog posts and social media efforts. They do this, as Google wants to control and manage the narrative. But it's more than the narrative that is getting controlled.

While this is all good for Google, having two competitors put out news the same day, with almost identical language really doesn't do much to show how the two companies are doing anything different. But as both are public companies, and both likely briefed sell side and buy side analysts at Google Next last week the news had to come out immediately after that disclosure, but usually that's reserved for a "material event" and I don't consider signing a vendor agreement material, or maybe the SEC does, but I don't think so. These announcements by both companies are designed to advise the customer base this new functionality is coming and to shore up stock price by making it appear that Google "partnered" with them, when in reality Google simply sold them a service...both of them. And so, both could day "hey, look at us. We have this too..." Big Whoop..

Google also said their cloud AI technology will be part of their new Enterprise version of Google Voice, so one has to really wonder why Vonage and RingCentral are so quick to be on the paying side of the beta test. If you recall, Google said that Enterprise Google Voice was a beta which also may mean that Apple may not let an app go in to the app store as Beta apps are usually forbidden, unless Google gets special treatment.  Where's the difference in how either are going to deploy AI in the contact center space? Not a peep about that...why? Because neither Vonage nor RingCentral own the AI IP. They are "borrowing" it from Google....OH.....OH.

But the release is really so "me too" as it gets worse as the quotes provided really don't offer any degree of differentiation either at all. We call this a fill in the blanks release model in the PR world as everyone gets the same statement:

From Vonage:

“Contact Center AI empowers enterprises to use AI to complement and enhance their contact centers,” said Rajen Sheth, Director of Product Management, Google. “Google Cloud’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to use AI for contact centers through our relationships with key partners like Vonage.”

From RingCentral:

“Contact Center AI empowers enterprises to use AI to complement and enhance their contact centers,” said Rajen Sheth, Director of Product Management at Google Cloud. “Google Cloud’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to use AI for contact centers through our relationships with key partners like RingCentral.”

Key partner---ugh... Both are "key partners" are all the rest of the companies who ride on Google Cloud, not key partners. Seriously, partnership is so overused that for years we have been telling clients not to use it as the official definition of a partnership in legal terms is:

Definition: A legal form of business operation between two or more individuals who share management and profits. The federal government recognizes several types of partnerships. The two most common are general and limited partnerships.

In the case of Google along with any partner, there's not much in the way of sharing management or profits. Google is being paid, or will be paid, for Google cloud services. These are customers pure and simple, the same way my three businesses use Google Cloud, Apps, Drive, Hangouts, etc. We pay for it. And given I've been "paying" Google since 2007 for a G Suite account (or whatever it was called back then) I guess I can say "I'm a Google Partner" too....NOT.

Now here's where I get concerned if I'm a Vonage or RingCentral shareholder or customer. And this concern points to why both 8x8 and Dialpad (I'm a shareholder) are going their own ways in the realm of Voice AI. A concern that what Google does with AI is no different than how Google uses your analytics data. Sure it gets sanitized to a point, but Google's AI needs to learn from somewhere, so who better for Google Voice to become better than by learning from the overall platform users on an anonymized basis.

Yes, the word "key" sure works Vonage and RingCentral. You just handed Google your keys.