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Posts from August 5, 2018 - August 11, 2018

AI, Voice and Transcription

Longtime media maven Jeremy Wagstaff, who has done stints with the WSJ and other legit media, has penned a very insightful piece about Voice AI and Transcription. In the post, Jeremy highlights services that are doing decent work in the AI-assisted transcription industry.

I read this with a keen interest, as my agency's very first technology client was a startup, MobileWord, way back in the mid-90s.  A lot of what is now more than possible, and actually working, was envisioned back then by founder Bob Cox, but he was way too early, and the computing power to do what is now possible today just wasn't there. Back then, the files were shuttled to human transcribers, and then returned to the person who had done the dictation via email. It was a cutting-edge idea back then, but today seems so expected.

The big issue remains transcription of accents and regionalized dialects. This is one of the learning hurdles that the services are all just starting to address. One person's English from say Seattle is far different in accent to a Bostonian. Add in EASL (English as a Second Language) speakers from South America, Asia, Europe or Africa and the learning that the voice engines need to undertake is a massive computing job.

Today, with the kind of cloud computing power that's available, Bob's vision is now a reality. Give Jeremy's post a read and check out some of the services he highlights. 

Cloud Telecom Edges Into Legacy Carriers

While no one would accuse Telenor of possessing a legacy carrier mentality, as they did birth Appear.In and other VoIP based properties, they like so many of their fellow telephone companies have done for years, they're outsourcing VoIP and packaging it up, as a white label play. They've gone with San Diego VoIP innovator, VoxOx.

Much like Vonage buying Nexmo a few years back, and now TokBox, these types of moves are done usually with the decision to buy vs. build. The buying can be an acquisition or it can be reselling under either the original brand, or in this case, rebranding VoxOx's service offering.

This is also interesting as the Asian market is very wired, but it has been largely a mobile play. One of the biggest challenges I hear is the lack of conference calling solutions that are "localized." I expect that with VoxOx making this move, that other players where they offer CaaS solutions will be looking east...way east to bring more cloud to the cloudless communications market.

Facebook Takes Aim at Yodlee

A series of stories about Facebook and their interest in banking all basically say the same thing. That banks may be willing to share information with the social media giant.

One angle I didn't see come through was the impact on Yodlee. For years, Yodlee has been a key data interchange player in the banking world. With Facebook getting in the mix, Yodlee could end up the loser. Third parties have for years been beholden to Yodlee as the company has had almost an unbreakable stranglehold on the transport of data between entities. Now with Facebook entering the picture that lock appears to be coming lose.


Boingo Buys Into the Apartment Market

In what may be overlooked by some as "just another acquisition" former Comunicano client (right up to the IPO) Boingo made a very shrewd buy today that gets them into the growing apartment and condominium market quickly. Long the provider of choice in airports, shopping malls and office buildings, this expands their reach into apartment houses and condominiums which either rely on an IT company to wire up their building, or the cable or telcos to install Wi-Fi that worked in the common areas like hallways, gyms and lounges.

With more new properties going mixed use, and the eventual arrival of 5G Boingo's bet is more than just about installing Wi-Fi and some fiber to connect to it. Long the connector that overcomes dead cell zones at airports, Boingo is really one of the largest DAS players on the planet, and their leadership likely sees how having more apartments and condo properties under their control can give them even more leverage with the mobile operators. But it also gives them the ability to be an ISP of sorts. 

If you look at FON which has struck deals with the telcos to make it easy for subscribers to roam from place to place and stay connected,  Boingo is poised to be that and more, serving as the connective tissue between work, residence and play as the customer who is a resident of a Boingo powered apartment can then be connected once they get to work or while they're traveling too.

The reason this is so important is wireless in an apartment house, like in a hotel, requires far less cost to install vs. going room to room, or apartment to apartment. With everything going more and more wireless, Boingo can install their wireless gear, connect it to fiber, 5G or both and be easily upgrading wavelengths or connective devices to Wi-Fi access points. This eliminates the running of cables or the very expensive truck roll, as all you need to do is connect to a WiFi SSID and you're online.

So, how does Boingo take this to market? Via property management companies for established and already built properties and by working with developers, architects and builders for new properties. Given we're seeing a high rise housing continue to happen in the major cities, the timing for Boingo couldn't be better.

Uber's Most Important Asset-People

Uber, the ridesharing service has been making a ton of mistakes, but the biggest one is ignoring the most important asset they have. People.

Recently they announced a deal with Cargo, to put snacks and other products on sale inside their drivers cars. There's only one problem with that. They never told the drivers. In three cities I've had Uber rides in since the announcement, not one driver has been told about the new way for them to make money, nor do they even know what a Greenlight Hub is. This tells me either the program is a test program (and being overhyped) or that communication to the field is worse than ever. For years drivers have complained how they're not spoken with, and that everything they ask is handled by email. One driver lamented that when he bought a new car to drive it took months to update his profile, causing riders to not be able to find his car.

Down under in Australia, the drivers took to what is effectively a walkout, protesting upfront pricing and other working conditions. From a consumer's perspective upfront pricing is great, but from a driver's perspective, traffic jams and other unforeseen trip extenders eat into their revenue, so they have a point. Given taxis charge time and distance, the Uber rider trapped in a traffic jam is only charged distance based fares. This issue is compounded by the variations of offerings that Uber has by market, based on what's permitted. 

Over in Spain Uber (and Cabify) is going to feel the pressure of the government, which has sided with the taxi drivers to limit the number of ridesharing drivers there are out on the road to a 30:1 ratio of taxi's to Ubers. This effectively limits the growth of ride-sharing and creates more demand than there is supply to fill. By not effectively working with the Spanish government, Uber has negatively impacted both driver and rider near term and possibly longer.

Uber needs to think long and hard about their customers and their drivers as the their technology can only take them so far, before it takes the entire business for a ride.



Tsahi on The TokBox Acquisition

I read Tsahi's well thought out post about the recent TokBox acquisition. Overall I found very little to disagree with, and appreciated the candor about the global carriers in ability to execute. Let's face it. The legacy folks have been making money off of services like landline and dial tone for years. The mobile folks make money from subscriptions and add on services. But neither have innovated.

One key point that Tsahi brought up was how Vonage was dependent on Amazon Chime. My view is Amazon eventually enters the "phone" space and  Vonage doesn't want to rely on a looming competitor. By the "phone" space, I'm referring to calls and texts, which basically means just like every other industry Amazon enters, there's a flattening of the competition. Amazon's entry won't be hard, as integration of voice and text into their apps is rather easy, and they already have Amazon Echo's in almost 25% of the USA houses. The Echo's become the end point, or "desk phone."

Given you can already integrate services like Dialpad and OnSip (though Telzio did it first) to make calls using your existing contact directory. Google's Home integrates with GoogleVoice so it makes calls also, the Echo becomes your phone. Integrating the Echo into a conference service is likely the next frontier and with the Echo Show and Fire tablets and TV's the video end point is already there too. All this adds up to Amazon being a "phone" company one day in the future and are proof points for Vonage to need to move away from the big A.

Tsahi also points out the failure of Telefonica to do anything at all with TokBox. I figured it would be a 5-10 year slog when they acquired TokBox, and at just about year five, they booted the company, likely recovering their investment and not much more if any profit was there to be made.

This is nothing new.

Back in the VoIP hayday, AT&T (pre-SBC) had CallVantage, a service developed inside AT&T's Labs that back then offered the best voice quality and was well poised to change the game. Unfortunately, once SBC acquired AT&T everything stopped and CallVantage died off.  Verizon also dabbled with Wing, that had not a prayer of a chance of going anywhere. Both were Vonage competitors and due to the Triple T effect (TYPICAL TELECOM THINKING) the powers at be treated them both like lab experiments. 

Give it a read..