Skype Meetings is A Me To, Me Also Service

We who hailed Skype, saluted and praised it, now are mostly part of the world that damns it. The service under Microsoft has become more challenging than useful. Calls don't always connect. Billing issues with credit card fraud turn off services of the legitimate user and with so many other options, Skype of old is much like AIM or ICQ (remember them)..

This week, the Skype for Business team unveiled Skype Meetings. If it reminds you of Google Hangouts, it should. A free offer, all designed to get you to subscribe to Office 365. It is also like the offer from Citrix for GoToMeeting. After a while you can have three people on a call, but no more.  Personally I find conference calls with more than five people to be few talkers, mostly listeners. But the real sadness here is that Skype and Microsoft have so much technology and talent that they acquired (Sunrise team being one) that you would think there would be more than a "me too" or "me also" type of product offering with Skype Meetings. Can you say, MSFT is feeling the heat from Slack and HipChat, which via their Jitsi purchase is able to do all this and more via WebRTC..Come one Microsoft, do something good.......

Well, I need to run..Time for another Zoom.us call.....cheerio...


Why Albarino When You Can Alvarinho

Today, Lettie Teague, the erstwhile wine reviewer and critic for the Wall Street Journal has taken a taste of the Spanish coastal wines made from the Albarino grape to task. Sadly her reviews are spot on, given the vintage and the state of the Spain's most exported white wine varietal. Lettie pretty much nails how dull and boring the wines that reach the USA are this year. 

I would rather she had compared them to the far more interesting Godello based wines from not far away or better yet, taken a page out of Mark Squires' searches in nearby Portugal where the Alvarinho's and Vinho Verde wines are far more complex, interesting and offer a better value.  For example, last week I tasted the killer 2014 Aphros Ten white wine as part of a flight of many wines at a local wine shop in Los Angeles which lets their customers decide on what they should stock next. It was as refreshing as the 2013 I enjoyed about a year ago in Lisbon with sushi. 

Unfortunately, Lettie has to write for the masses so she writes about what's widely available. With her notes today, the latest crop of Albarino's will likely languish on the shelves as after one or two bottles of those mentioned, many will start to look elsewhere for more interesting summer whites.

 

 

 


Verizon Wireless "They're Watching You" as You're Now Their "Person of Interest"

As the hit CBS series "Person of Interest" winds down its run, the line "they're watching you" never rang more true that it does today, especially if you're a Verizon Wireless customer who has installed their mobile app so you can manage your account better.

Unfortunately, the app does more than that, and with the acquisition of AOL, all kinds of "marketing" led initiatives are starting to be unfurled by the telco giant. One of those is the "tracking" of customers physical movements. As one telecom attorney I spoke with about this said, "one would think after the super cookie issue they would know better." But nothing was as damning as the comment to me by a long time Verizon Wireless enterprise facing sales executive. "We know when Google folks visit Salesforce and who they are seeing. That gives us a good indication of what's about to happen." He then went on, "It's (i.e. the tracking) one of the most asked questions we're hearing from enterprise customers..how do I turn it off?"

I learned about this wandering by the Union Station Verizon store in Washington, D.C. two week ago. I was asked by the app what I thought about my experience today in the store. Only problem was I didn't go in the store. The same thing happened as I was having coffee in a cafe next to a Verizon Wireless store in Del Mar, and again after I had walked into the store to ask what they heck was up with the tracking of my movements.

The store rep said, "oh if you don't like to be followed, you can always delete the app." To me that was a stupid, untrained, and ignorant response, but also, pretty straightforward. I then called support and was told to turn off a few things in the app, but they already were. After the rep said she would turn off the marketing functions I checked my phone and found that one of the toggles that had been off, was now on. I immediately turned it off. Then I dug deeper into the Verizon app location setting on the iPhone app management inside the settings app, and there I turned off the actual link between the phone and the app

Candidly, a great app to manage usage and your plan, which was a nice service to have, has been ruined by wanting to know more about the customer than should be known. By forcing an opt-out vs. encouraging an OPT IN, this is a less than desired move by Verizon's leadership to allow this. If it was the first time I've encountered this type of thing from them, I would not be so concerned, but it's not. Back in the early days of data cards, they had Smith Micro create some type of tracking software that wormed its way into your Windows PC. Again, without telling anyone about it. 

Where is all this going? Beacons, sensors and apps on mobile devices can be a good thing. There's some  technology that's coming from companies likeQualcomm that work at the chip set level which could allow marketers to really be smarter in how they deliver messages to customers and prospects, and how employees of companies can be made to be smarter using AI, machine learning, big data and the cloud, but it needs to include some greater degrees of control by the user.  While using mapping software is great, I don't want my every visit to the gym known, or to the ice cream shop later because the next thing you'll see is ice cream being offered at the gym.....The same is do we really want Macy's knowing we were shopping at Bloomingdales, or that I was at the car dealer twice this  past week (with two different Audi's for annual servicing) as that could be misinterpreted as my having car trouble. Next comes the level of encryption of our "data" that's been collected. Of course if Verizon was using the data to install microcells where coverage isn't so great, that would be a useful outcome, but instead of "cells" for coverage they're more interested in what they can "sell" in the way of ads...

To be fair with Verizon, I did call their PR team. All three calls went unreturned..I guess they don't want to talk about it.


Uber Picks UberConference and Dialpad to Modernize Business Communications

Ride sharing service Uber is following Lyft for a change. While Lyft has been using Los Angeles based Telzio as their communications provider, Uber has turned to Dialpad in addition to using UberConference, The choosing of cloud based communications solutions providers is making it far easier for both companies to communicate better internally and get things going faster, as the game changing ride services both expand into new cities and countries around the world.

Dialpad founder Craig Walker told VoipWatch exclusively yesterday, "we started working with Uber as they were heavy users of UberConference for a while before we even launched Dialpad. Both products fit their culture of innovation and disruption, so Dialpad was a natural fit once they started looking for a modern business communications service."

The move to adopt what Walker has labeled "modern business communications" falls well in line with a long belief that disruptive startups, especially those from Silicon Valley, want more and want different in what their telco can provide them and are bypassing the long established companies like AT&T and Verizon.  Instead the newly minted, high growth companies are choosing to embrace the more nimble, service providers that have come on stream post the birth of the cloud era.

These newer companies are the earlier adopters of where businesses are going, and they want services that are easy to deploy and cloud based, just like the way their own businesses are based, using similar service from the likes of Amazon Web Services. So while they still need and require the core features that the traditional telcos provide, these new companies also need modern era features that were birthed by companies like Skype and GrandCentral (Walker sold that to Google and led the transition to GoogleVoice. Google are  now investors in Dialpad) with the online management that Vonage and 8x8 pioneered in telecom.

These new, modern services and the companies delivering them are largely being fueled by API's both public and private. The API's are spawning a new economy, new ways of doing business, and entire ecosystems. That's something that will be well talked about and explored at All About The API, the upcoming conference being held in Las Vegas in July.  An example of how API's work is best seen in the Dialpad app today on the iPhone and iPad. By connecting to an SMS interconnection provider like recent Vonage acquisition Nexmo, Twilio or Syniverse, modern UC companies able to enable SMS to the desktop and from within their apps, much like iMessage or Google Hangouts. The API's allow for the interconnection and interfacing to between customers and the carriers in the middle making them the modern day middleware. 

And, Apple, long resistant to opening up the iOS dialer to Unified Communications providers gave them a big shot in the arm on Monday. At the World Wide Developer Conference Apple announced the opening up of the dialer on the iPhone. This is a significant move as it will allow unified communications providers like Dialpad, Telzio, 8x8 and others to no longer need to use plain vanilla softphones that have been the only way users could interface with UC providers.  Once released the UC players will be able to make use the iPhone's native dialer as the front end for dialing, while allowing their own apps to be where the more customized features are placed.

"Since launching GrandCentral and Google Voice nearly 10 year, we always were frustrated by the inability to make our services work smoothly with the iPhone. The announcement today opens the market up to the type of competition Judge Green envisioned back then. Now businesses again can choose. Of course, I hope they choose Dialpad," said Walker.

The opening up of the iOS dialer by Apple parallels that 1984 decision in opening up the Bell System to alternative long distance carriers. Previously, the only long distance carrier that a caller could use was the one that was aligned with the local Bell operating company, and that was usually AT&T. With the Telecommunications Act of 1984 consumers and businesses were free to choose any long distance carrier. In essence, with Apple opening up the dialer, they are doing the same thing, turning the mobile operator into a pipe. With LTE and LTE-A coming online, those in the more built out mobile high speed data areas will be able to avoid using their mobile operator for voice, and text, and move everything over to the data side where a more feature rich experience will be had.

"This is the missing link that we have been waiting for on iOS ever since the first iPhone came out. Android has had this for years, and Apple did add VoIP specific features a while back such as  battery saving via the background notification feature, but we have been missing the ability to have a VoIP services coexist on an iPhone," said Peter Rank Schrøder, CEO of Telzio. "This will make life much easier for anyone using a secondary number such as a business number, on an iPhone."

Apple's move further makes the mobile operator, the modern day "dumb pipe" something smart entrepreneurs like Walker have been exploiting for years dating back to his days at the original Dialpad, and which new kids on the block like Schrøder are also breaking new ground.

 

 

 


Yahoo Messenger-Going, Going, Almost Gone

For those of you who remember Yahoo Messenger, which was at one point wanting to be able to be like Skype oh so many years ago, it's going to go away. But, don't think it's really gone as last year Yahoo introduced a combined platform that marries WebMessenger with app based Messenger. 

Both Yahoo and Microsoft at times had visions of telephony being part of their respective messenger platforms as noted in the various posts linked to below. Given the interest in messaging bots and platforms one has to wonder if both companies giving up the ghost of messaging came too early, opening up the door to platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, LINE, QQ Chat, Kik, Telegram and so many others. 

One of the features of Yahoo Messenger that garnered attention back in the VoIP hey day was it's interoperability with Microsoft Messenger. That functionality was killed off in 2012 after launching in 2006. One can only imagine what may have happened to Messenger had Microsoft not bought Skype.

This makes one wonder how many people are still on AOL's AIM and ICQ, the two biggest forerunners of messaging apps that many of us grew up using.

 


Developer Stats-Can You Buy The Numbers?

According to the S-1 filing by Twilio, they have over 900,000 developers who have registered to use their APIs. Nexmo, according to a Vonage company spokesperson in the IR Department has registered over 114,000 devs and 350 "enterprise" accounts compared to Twilio's 28,000 Active Customer Accounts that are not broken out by category. And if you read the S-1, it's those enterprise accounts that Twilio plans to go after.

But, as the Vonage spokesperson pointed out "these developers may be students who are learning how to code."  That means a large portion of the developers in the aggregate million or so of both companies, not allowing for duplication, between the two services are LPBs (low to no paying buyers). That's something Twilio sort of explains in saying they don't factor in accounts that pay less than $5.00 a month in services fees. In the car industry, those types of customers are known as tire kickers. They factor into the number of people who walk into the dealership or onto the lot but never buy a car. Tire kickers are not buyers, and Car buyers are what is a real customer, so in developer parlance, a customer would be someone who actually deploys and pays for something.

So, 350 companies out of 114,000 developers is .003 percent conversion rate if we chose to treat the enterprise as ONE developer vs. them having say 25 each. For this exercise I won't go to 350 equals one argument, though I could. So, even with 25 devs in each enterprise company then the conversion rate for Nexmo is .077 percent. If those same 350 companies employ 100 devs each then the percentage increases to .30 percent. My guess is the number is somewhere between the .077 and the .30.

Now let's apply the same "math" to Twilio.

900,000 devs and 28,000 paying accounts. That's a conversion rate of .031, so the two companies appear to be far from equal in conversion percentage, but it would appear that Nexmo is clearly making more money per developer, converting more to paying and revenue generating, and carrying a lesser percentage of non or low paying students.

Twilio is projected at a $240,000,000 income level for 2016 if they continue to generate the same amount each quarter. With 900,000 devs that translates to just under $277.00 a developer on average for the year, but with really only 28,000 paying accounts the number grows to $8,571 per paying developer so clearly there's a big difference between the $5.00 a month/$60.00 a year paying dev and the $714 a month outlier. I would say that to be on par with Nexmo, Twilio needs a lot more of the outliers and less of the "students."

Nexmo reported $71 million in revenue with only 114,000 devs or $622 per developer so if I use the model of like to like of total devs for each, Nexmo trumped Twilio by more than 2.5x per registered dev on average. And that's the problem with large numbers and why Twilio had to couch their claims with "only 28,000" being counted.

So, smaller developer base. Higher revenue per developer. An existing base of enterprise customers (that they have to of course keep), the win goes to Nexmo....now all Vonage has to do is keep the customers from going to Twilio, Plivo or any of the API platforms that are on line and also growing.


Dialpad--Life For Old iPads

 

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Like many of us, I have an iPad Air2 and an iPad Mini in storage. My current iPad is the 9.7 inch iPad Pro, with the keyboard and I find that in many situations I can do most of what I do on my MacBook with it, especially while traveling or sipping an espresso at a cafe. But, really, one iPad was enough, and the older ones became hand me downs or simply sat in the storage drawer. Well, not anymore.

Over the past few weeks, thanks to pal Craig Walker, founder of Dialpad and creator of GoogleVoice (GrandCentral), I was able to put the new DialPad app through its paces on the iPad while the new version of the app was going through TestFlight beta trials.  While I've used Counterpath's Bria and Skype on the iPad before as a way to make and take calls, I never really felt I was having a real "phone" experience. There was always something clunky about the way the call was being handled. Instead I would find myself reaching for the nearest smartphone, as they always seemed to ring first, even with SIM ring functions turned on, with GoogleVoice ringing every inbound number. Finally, I can stop that behavior.

The Dialpad iPad app is very different and may be the best softphone ever created bar none. First off, it rings at the same time as the SIM ring to my mobile phones. Second the audio quality is second to none. On a thirty five minute call with the CEO of a client yesterday not one pop, or drop or anything that one wouldn't have experienced on a cell phone call. Third is the ease of use and very clean, easy to use interface. It's natural and effortless, much like Skype was in its pre-Microsoft days. The consistency between the desktop, smartphone and iPad in look and feel makes it that way. If you are using the desktop app or plug-in, you'll have no learning curve as the UI (user interface) is identical. About the only drawback is the non-ringing when you have the app in the foreground, which is likely an Apple iOS notification issue. In many ways Dialpad's app on the iPad reminded me of the first experience I had with Gizmo, the company acquired by Google that was perhaps along with Truphone, the only real rivals to Skype. The Gizmo app always had this very natural, phone like feel to it, and also had the sound quality that was natural too. 

The fact that I was calling from a tablet reminded me why the old Samsung Galaxy Tab 1.0 with both calling and data was such a great device, just not a great form factor. On the call, I used my wired headset that I use on my iPhone. The call sound was full, rich, robust. There wasn't any hiss or popping. On the other end, not once did my client, ever ask me to repeat what I had said, and he was on a mobile phone in a noisy environment. The large buttons made it easy to hit the mute button, and because of the adjacent "Recent Calls" tab, I was also able to text people who were calling me to let them know I was on a call. 

Candidly, not having mobile phone service in the iPad prior to LTE was always one of the drawbacks, and I always felt Apple should have made the iPad a phone also, with the codecs and chips that would let it really be one. Well, Dialpad has made it just that good. 

About the only thing lacking is video. Dialpad is experimenting with that on their Mac and PC desktop service so my guess is that, and Apple TV integration are not far behind.

If you're using Dialpad on your iPhone, you'll love it on your iPad, and if you're like me, you'll finally be finding use for those older iPad's that are sitting in the drawer somewhere.....


WebRTC - Like Wine, Is Coming of Age

Over the weekend Tsahi Levent-Levi, penned a contributed article over on Venture Beat about WebRTC which I enjoyed reading.

Tsahi, has been deep diving into WebRTC as long as anyone, and perhaps along with Dean Bubley, is one of the better informed blogalysts on the subject, only likely surpassed by long time pal, Counterpath and Hookflash founder, Erik Lagerway when it comes to being as well informed on the technical and aware of the possible. That's why it's always fun to read Tsahi's collection of facts to stay more up to date on things that one may have missed. The article is a very good read so take a few moments and check it out.

In the roundup recap of why it's time to pay attention to WebRTC Tsahi draws out the fact that most of the modern browsers, with the absence of Apple's Safari, have WebRTC included now. This includes Microsoft new browser candidate, Edge. That's all nice, but for me, it's always been having WebRTC embedded in apps and inside new services that mattered most, as the browser is really just the commodity for transport, but it's what WebRTC connects and connects to that's so important.

That's a point that Tsahi makes when he discusses the data channel, something client Temasys' team has been saying for a few years as well and why pal Andy Voss' Sansay has been so busy the past few years making sure their SBC's are WebRTC capable

Take for example two new  offerings Tsahi didn't mention that are now breaking ground that Tsahi didn't mention. Ottspott and Yodel. These apps and services are living where things are going. Inside the Bot and Messaging platforms like Slack and Hipchat that are the future. They both start away from the browsers which is where things are really happening, and where more daily workers are living. Workforces are getting out of being trapped in email and voice mail hell, and to give credit to Skype of old, the workforce of today is yearning for more personal interactivity without the annoyance of being bothered when they can't talk.

With the decline of Skype, post acquisition by Microsoft, as the place everyone has hung out to stay in touch, teams, especially distributed teams and organizations that work across timezone are already turning to platforms like Slack and HipChat. (I would contend that Basecamp, a platform I love is missing the boat with the lack of Real Time Comms beyond their Campfire platform that is in need of an overhaul.)

Slack already has built in calling, and with their API's are enabling cagey development teams to build in even more sophisticated voice tools, like Ottspott and Yodel. Both use Slack to set up or "receive" a call, then spawn a web browser page and use WebRTC to power the conversation. This blend of old and new thinking makes these two companies Voice 3.0 companies.  

And, Slack's voice beta has only gone from good to better as you try it and use it. Now that its been rolled out to their iOS and Android apps, it really is becoming a way to stay in touch and quickly shift from text to voice. For those in well built out LTE areas, or those who live on Wi-Fi, you really don't need a voice plan if you mostly live in the app world with Slack and the voice, conferencing and video services that integrate with it.

But the world is changing right before our eyes and ears...and thanks to watchers like Tsahi, Dean and others, we're all able to stay better aware, informed and involved.


Telcos Are More And More Just Old Pipes

Last month, pal Dean Bubley had a blog post about the rising tide of non-traditional telcos. I tend to agree with Dean (as usual), but not for all the same reasons. The reason telecom is changing is because of where the brain drain is going. In the past getting hired by AT&T, Verizon, BT, France Telecom, Bell Canada was an opportunity to have financial security, an opportunity to work with best and the brightest in the lab, develop new services and be part of the changing landscape within a global industry. 

But at some point, Bell Labs became a thing of the past, the cable companies created CableLabs, third parties like Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel all took over running parts or all of the modern day telco's wireless networks, in essence outsourcing the management and operations, which in turn drove what is called vendor lock-in. Those companies took the talent from the telcos over onto their payroll, kept the best, shed the rest. That ensured for the Communications Equipment Providers, who have now also became software providers, a steady stream of business, while the telcos moved from operators to really managers of networks, not builders and maintainers, or improvers of them. Add to that, the US operators steady moves to gut the unions by selling off assets that were heavily unionized and you have a cadre of information pipe owners, not innovators.

However the innovation wasn't coming from that sector anyway, it was coming from startups in Silicon Valley and across the USA, Israel, Asia and elsewhere. And, as a result, talent and thinking wasn't going in the direction of the telcos any longer anyway. It's also going to the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook. It's also residing inside Microsoft and Apple. Twilio is a perfect example of the decoupled telco. Buy the parts and pieces you need, avoid the rest. Companies like Comcast and Cablevision in the USA have long been building their own networks too, looking to leap over and be unencumbered by the telcos and as they too want to be less encumbered, they will be building upon the infrastructure of the likes of Twilio and the Twilio like companies which is why Vonage bought Nexmo, as both a hedge, and as a way to sell very customized services that previously were the realm of the CEPs. 

Once the largest customers of AT&T and Level3, the cable operators in the USA realized early on that their enemy was the telco and that someday, the telcos would be their competition. Just look at AT&T buying DirectTV, Verizon buying AOL, having a property to add to with Go90. This was after the cable companies rolled out VoIP using Level3, the established telco's biggest nemesis for years. 

Amazon's cloud is a big part of the developer's world. And in turn, a major supplier of service to so many businesses that telecom is part of the fabric, without anyone even knowing that Amazon is likely the switching platform for the calls. Using AWS and the other Amazonian infrastructure is powering new services today, that used to be invested in by businesses at all levels. Now, a startup can run on Amazon, hook in Twilio, Nexmo or build their own features and services in on their own. As Dean wrote today,  "telephony and UCaaS do start to look a bit more like today's other SaaS offers - which can be hosted in telcos' own data-centres, but are more often anchored in Microsoft's or Amazon's."

Talent rich teams is no longer the sole domain of the established. The brain drain started as innovation inside the large companies began to be outsourced along with the technology itself. So, if the reasons companies are being acquired is for technology or talent, and often both, one only has to look at the reason why. Management outsourced, gave away and shifted their focus. No longer was it the best and the brightest who shined, but who was the best corporate politician, and who gave better PowerPoint and Excel presentations. 

Today, the best and brightest don't use the tools that big telco relies upon. They use others that cost less, work better and create more value more quickly. That all means, in the brave new world we're in today, that no matter how much smarts telcos embed in their networks, its the upstarts that create universal value, for all. Just watch as Google, Facebook and Microsoft's investments in underwater fiber further devalues the likes of those who own and control the current undersea cable world, as those new pipes won't be anything like the old pipes.......