Switch Raises $35 Million More to Power Cloud Telephony

San Francisco based Switch Communications today announced they raised $35 million dollars in a strategic Series C round, adding to their $18 million already raised previously. TechCrunch's Ryan Lawler has the news. Switch offers a cloud based telephony service aimed at businesses and enterprise customers and also supplies conference calling services under the UberConference brand.

The round is viewed as strategic because a large percentage of the new money into the company is coming out of Asia, and in turn the partners who are putting money in, which includes SoftBank, are connected to the mobile operators in that part of the world. For Switch this means a greenfield play in the areas of cloud telephony and conferencing, in a part of the world that is already mobile first, and lacking in wireline PBX competitors offering a no-hardware solution. The move into Asia by Switch comes at at time when 8x8 and Vonage Business are pursuing business in Europe which further underscores the strategic nature of the monies invested.


Why T-Mobile Is Winning Customers

I keep watching as T-Mobile is winning new customers and have to admit, that having been one of their customers for over 15 years, as well as with Verizon and AT&T, the Magenta network is constantly getting better. And they are doing a better job than the competition of telling the world that they are.

Honestly, I haven't used my Verizon iPhone 5 that much since the iPhone 6s arrived. The first reason was how poor the voice quality on Verizon has become, especially on calls routed via Google Voice or Switch to the phone. This is the opposite when compared to T-Mobile, where the audio quality is either HD when the other party is calling also on the T-Mobile network, or just better, because their network isn't as crowded. 

The second reason was obviously that I had new iPhone 6's (6 and Plus) that were only GSM editions. 

The third was  even more important. When I'm on T-Mobile's LTE network and using a conferencing service that has an app, like WebEX or GoToMeeting, the audio quality exceeds Verizon and AT&T, though the coverage areas is not as large.  Too often, especially on AT&T if I'm in motion on the highway, I'll drift from LTE into 4G coverage. Out here in San Diego, in the areas surrounding I-5 I found that T-Mo's LTE coverage was not as geographically wide, but where it was, it really was and it didn't come and go as often as AT&T does. 

Lastly, I'm a big user of iTunes Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn when I'm in the mood for music, and while I also have access to SIRIUS XM in the car and via their Apps, sometimes I just want my music or the music I like. T-Mobile's unlimited music delivery means none of what I'm listening to goes against my data cap.

My primary iPad, the iPad Air 2 is also on T-Mobile, so while I haven't yet given up my iPad on AT&T's SIM that is totally and will forever be "unlimited" I found that for the most part I'm not lacking in coverage that often.

Ironically, where I have found T-Mobile to be weakest is at major airports, and that's something they need to address. But it comes at a time when I'm also finding AT&T's coverage in some airports to be less available as airports like San Diego have modernized, but their DAS system is virtually non-existent, if they even have one.

Right now, I'm loving how good T-Mobile is. I'm sure though that the Blue and Red guys will catch up, but by then Sprint will have expanded their network enough to be someone to consider again.

P.S. And, there's one massive reason why they are winning too. It's all in the customer service. Over the past seven months every single need I've had has been addressed professionally, and within the day, on a par with American Express' level of care. 


Just Call Me - Conference Call 3.0

I have seen the future of Conference Calling, and it's "Just Call Me."

Just Call Me was created by Voxygen, the UK telecom product design company started by Dean Elwood (VoIP User, Truphone, etc.) Voxygen started up a few years back with the premise of approaching telephony as "Voice as a Service", the new Just Call Me service is currently only available for O2 users in the UK, but given Voxygen's relationships with Telefonica and other mobile carriers I suspect that won't be the case for long. (To learn more about Voxygen check out the profile from back in January by pal Martin Geddes.)

The quick start guide and video on the O2 web page is a great place to start as it makes it easy to understand how the service works, which is simplicity itself:-

  1. The organizer schedules the call and invites participants

  2. At the appointed time the participants just dial the organizers mobile number to join the call.

No PINs, no dial-in codes.

For those who are asked to join but didn't receive an email invite, they just call the organizers mobile number and the organizer allows them to enter. What's really cool though is the ability for the organizer to direct non call participants to voicemail. This "in call" and in session whisper feature allows the right non-invitees to join the call, while keeping the organizer squarely in control. The host just dials “321” from their mobile to join. If they need to dial in from a landline (deskphone for example) there’s an admin code enabling that.

Available now in the UK, the elegance and simplicity of the service has me wanting to use the service. Beyond the simplicity of Just Call Me, it also overcomes the two biggest hassles I have found with conference calls of late. First, is simply getting people to be able to log on via apps. The second is the disruption that’s caused by echo and delay that third party services seem to arise on IP calls due to a multitude of network, software and hardware.

What Voxygen has done, by integrating the service within the mobile operator's network (O2), helps avoid much of that, as the service has the backbone reliability that carriers and operators can provide. This level of quality can only be achieved because mobile operators have interoperability standards they must follow for calls to pass between networks. Apply that approach  to conference calling, and you have a far better base to build on top of. That's something that has been missing from all the new over the top types.

 

While services like GoToMeeting, WebEx, Calliflower and UberConference run over the top (OTT), what Voxygen has done is "Through the Telco" or "TTT" as Elwood calls it. It's an approach whose time has come, and for constant conference call participants, something that has been needed for a long time.


Interesting Times in VoIP and RTC Comms

It's getting interesting again in the VoIP world. After months of basically not much happening, we're beginning to see the return of what Jeff Pulver labeled Purple Apps and Alec Saunders highlighted in his Voice 2.0 Manifesto of years ago. It's almost hard to believe this has all taken almost ten years or more to see the excitement really get rekindled again, but for some reason after years of "me too, me also" but not much "me different" I'm feeling that the winds of change are a comin'.

Let's start with Google. Today 9to5Google reported about GMeet, a service that will provide users with the ability to:

"schedule and join teleconference calls with one click. Instead of having to dial into a teleconference call, one user could create a meeting topic in GMeet, then invite everyone else to the call. People who received an invite would be able to then join the call with a single click."

If you think this is simply Google Hangouts, I'd say you're wrong. Hangouts is a cumbersome service to use, and from the summary it seems Google is striving for Apple like simplicity.

Next is the riveting debate about WhatsApp adding VoIP that pal Tsahi Levent-Levi of BlogGeek.Me penned yesterday. Tsahi takes WhatsApp to task for poor quality in Israel, challenging Facebook if they are using WebRTC (they're not--yet). But what Tsahi did was begin to expose the fact that WhatsApp really can be in the voice business, something I have been wondering about for years since I started using the next generation of the marriage of IM and SMS. 

Pal and uber analyst Dean Bubley wrote about the world passing the point of Peak Telephony yesterday. Dean's point is highlighted as he writes:

"In other words, between 2008 and 2013, the total net amount of outbound phone traffic in the UK, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands and US fell in absolute terms. In Italy, Germany and Korea it was flat. We are past the point of "peak telephony" in many markets."

In the UK, the Register reports that EE, a distant relative of T-Mobile in the USA, is following on their USA siblings IMS based Wi-Fi calling with the introduction of the service. While Three (3) has had an app based Wi-Fi calling service for a while, this is the first pure Wi-Fi calling capability by a UK mobile operator.

"Subscribers will not need to install any special apps: their phones should be able to seamlessly and automatically send and receive text messages, and make and receive calls, via wireless networks when there is no cellular network signal. You're out of luck if there's no usable Wi-Fi to latch onto, obviously."

TMCNet's Rich Tehrani took time recently to interview Comunicano client, Temasys. In an interview with CEO Chip Wilcox, Tehrani elicited a lot of candid insight on the Singapore based company's efforts to address browser interoperability with WebRTC. Tehrani's opening paragraph pretty much nails what Temasys is doing to solve the problem that faces service providers and users.

 "Temasys is spearheading the effort to alleviate the interop challenges facing the WebRTC community"

Maybe its me, but I'm feeling the vibrations coming again in VoIP, largely around WebRTC at the core, where ten years ago SIP was IT. As services like ScreenHero, Apper.In and others get embraced by services like Slack and HipChat you can just feel the changes coming our way..and for that, I'm thrilled to be "watching" out for you.....

 

 

 


Muni Broadband Still Mangled By Incumbents Political Clout

If you look at the US Telecom preemptive lawsuit against the FCC's Net Neutrality action taken this week and then look deep enough at what is being done in Tennessee you'll likely see the same players working behind the scenes to limit muni-broadband providers expansion out of governmental footprint.

The incumbents already have easements and rights of way, usually grandfather agreements dating back to the last century, where there was only one telephone provider, cable tv was a dream, not yet a reality. The cable guys had to fight, buy and struggle to get the same access, which they eventually did, and as more new communities sprung up, the cable guys got rights at the same time as the telco.

That was before others came along who wanted access. Now with success stories like the Chattanooga public gigabit broadband network that have proven models that can work elsewhere, state government wants to restrict their expansion efforts.  But really, do government leaders want to limit the growth, or are they simply following the requests of their political donors.

One doesn't need to be a genius to figure out that for the USA to be competitive there needs to be more competitive carriers, both public and private to deliver faster, better and more reliable competition for broadband.


Enterprise Connect and My Views from Afar

I just read pal and uber analyst Dean Bubley's recap on the first day of the 2015 Enterprise Connect that's being held in Orlando. I have to admit, that the lack of excitement in Dean's post came through, further underscoring a feeling I have about events, conferences and summits being less and less about the news and really coming back to being what trade shows were created for. To sell.

That makes it far less interesting to people like Dean and I, who are looking for the next big thing and how to propel it. You see, today, you don't need a trade show to launch a service or product. Apple and Google prove that all the time, as the media and analyst are all so connected these days that a good story gets told and retold regardless of where it's announced. 

Dean's comments about WebRTC are very much also in line with mine, and I'd go one step farther. At a conference like Enterprise Connect the news or solutions we're going to hear about are those that solve the problems that the enterprise has, not the ones that mobile operators or ISP's have. Save those angles for other events that are more targeted.

To go farther, I'm not surprised that the WebRTC angles are all around Skype replacements and VoIP parallels when in reality there's so much more that can be done with WebRTC and things that are far more exciting like sensors, beacons, IoT and Wearables to me. But, those are not yet ready for Enterprise Connect, but give it a few years.

 

 


Honored and Humbled-IT Expo 20 Years of VoIP Pioneers Panel

I have been both honored and humbled at the same time. Two days ago, TMC's Rich Tehrani presented some of my closest friends in world, some who are or have been clients and I with an award.

That award is all about our contributions that made us Pioneers in VoIP by helping make the industry what it is today. For me, it was about as emotionally charged as the day I graduated Temple University, my wedding in Montpeyroux, when I produced the retirement night of the Flyers' hero and longtime captain Bobby Clarke, or the night I brought him out of retirement in 1988 to play against the Celebrity All Star Hockey Team. 

Being up on stage with Jeff Pulver (Von, Vonage), Craig Walker (GrandCentral, Switch, UberConference, DialPad), Andy Voss (NeuEra, Sansay), Mike Tribolet (Vonage, Dialpad, YipTV), Alon Cohen (VocalTec, Phone.com) and Danny Windham of Digium was a rush.

It was a rush because when I first started VoIPWatch, back in 2003, I did it for four reasons:

  1. To be asked by media about the subject and to be an authority about it.
  2. To speak at conferences
  3. To attract new clients
  4. To make new friends

I can safely say those goals were met and continue to be met every day. 

It was also great to see Rich start the IT Expo Hall of Fame and induct friends Alon Cohen and Jeff Pulver. I'm happy to have contributed my part in making that possible too. So if there's one more guy who belongs up on that list of Pioneers. It's Rich himself. He's done as much as anyone to help propel the industry, so while he moderated, he just as easily could have been one of us.

As for whom else could be on that list of pioneers, I've got a few in my mind who can't be overlooked at all.

  • Erik Lagerway for XTEN and what is now Counterpath, as well as many other VoIP based businesses.
  • Dr. Ed Guy and James Tagg, for their work with Mobile VoIP at Truphone
  • Alec Saunders who created iotum and what is now Calliflower
  • Ben Lilienthal of HiDef Conferencing for bringing us HD before its time
  • Jeff Bonforte and Michael Robertson for giving us SIPPhone and Gizmo Project
  • Nicklas and Janus for giving us Skype
  • Om Malik for BroadBandits and the start of GigaOm the first mainline publication to give a SIP about VoIP plus for his willingness to give me "link love" when I needed it back at the start of this journey.

You see, there are many pioneers, so to be singled out on the first panel, and part of the first ballot inductees into what really is the Pioneers of VoIP Club is truly a big honor for me.

Thanks TMC. Thanks Rich. And thanks to all the people I was there on stage with. To be honored along with each of you is to be truly humbled.

 


Citrix Wants To Be In the Phone Business with Convoi

Citrix, best known to many readers here for GoToMeeting and many other enterprise services is getting in the phone business. The are quietly inviting GoToMeeting users into a soft launch for Convoi and they are aiming it to be your second line on your mobile phone, but with features that are geared around business, all based on an Over The Top (OTT) approach.

Convoi

Key highlights include a second number, voice calls and text. Much like Line2, FLYP or the original pioneers in this space Truphone and TalkPlus (both at times Comunicano clients). What's interesting is that Citrix's Convoi is how they upfront are linking it to conference calling, something I'm waiting for Switch to do with their sister UberConference as a native service.

Convoi2

Will Convoi go where others before it haven't? Maybe. And that's because they have likely leveraged the Citrix network, lots of experience at building scalable technology, are adding WebRTC smarts from their free three party GoToMeeting service and just sheer marketing muscle.

 


Will AliBaba Do With DingTalk What eBay Didn't With Skype?

AliBaba, the Chinese eCommerce giant has launched a social business communications service called DingTalk in Beta (Translation required) bringing back memories of what eBay hoped to and failed to do with Skype.  The dream back when Skype was acquired by the online marketplace pioneer was to connect the business to business ecosystem that powered it and the customers who shop. That's exactly what AliBaba is trying to do today with DingTalk.

Dingtalk2

The Chinese market is rapidly expanding, and today, DingTalk is only available in Mandarin. But already AliBaba is claiming their multiple ecommerce platforms have 8.5 million users, so they could have a running start with users and the key features that delivers Over The Top services that bypass the telcos just like Skype:

  • Free messaging
  • Free multi-party calling
  • A business contacts directory that links the eco-system and customers
  • Message Read/Unread status

DingTalk, designed to be a mobile service first, offers voice communications, messaging and team collaboration and already has a downloadable app for Macs and mobile apps in the Apple iOS App store and Android Play Store.

Another Wrinkle

Ironically, there's another wrinkle with DingTalk. It's the fact that Apple has allowed a BETA service app in the App Store. Perhaps something got lost in translation (Apple techs only use Safari not Chrome which auto translates) or Apple has softened their stance on allowing Beta services in the App Store now.

Nails__a_new_generation_of_team_communication__communication_security_companies_from_Ali_s_mobile_office_software

A bit of Deja Vu

Long before Skype became part of Microsoft, it was acquired by eBay because then CEO Meg Whitman (now at H-P) and her team thought that Skype would be a great way to connect those buyers and sellers together too. Unfortunately, that wasn't what eBay's ecosystem wanted, or maybe Meg and her team were just too early, as today we're seeing a shift in how buyers and sellers interact with services like Amazon's MayDay. and WebRTC.


2015-The Year of WebRTC

WebRTC is alive and well, and in reality all the AT&T announcement did this past week was move it from the world of early stage and forward looking companies like Citrix with their free version of GoToMeeting, to Switch.co, Talko, Wire, iotum with Calliflower and a cadre of collaboration service providers like appear.in who all see what it means for them and their customers.

At the same time Cisco, Ericsson, Firefox are sticking more than their toes in the water, each finding ways to want to swing their weight, while emerging companies like client Temasys, Telefonica Digital’s TokBox and Acision all are really making things possible by providing platforms that are making WebRTC really work.

What AT&T is doing is basically saying “people call from their computers. We’ll make it possible to move the call from the computer to their AT&T mobile phone.” That’s what Switch is already doing. If AT&T was thinking about changing the game, they would enable that to happen so a call could be “switched” to an iPad or any device as mobile phones are so yesterday.

The real power of WebRTC is only now starting to be seen. The reality is that the new worlds of Internet of Things and Wearables are where the future resides making voice, video, file and screen sharing simply table stakes. You have to do that, and with WebRTC any developer can. It’s what they do beyond the basics that makes WebRTC interesting and game changing down the road.