Friday, April 28, 2006

Residential VoIP - Facts and Figures

A colleague of mine passed along a very recent report published by eMarketer about the U.S. residential VoIP market. No 'aha' insights here, and much of the data is actually culled from other sources. However, sometimes it's nice to get an update on some basic facts and figures that you can pick up in one place. So, I'm going to do the same here, and share with you some of the numbers I found interesting.

- For 2005, there were 5.2 million residential VoIP subscribers in the US, and the penetration for broadband households was 12.3%. In other words, 12.3% - 1 in 8 - broadband HHs had VoIP.

- For 2010, the forecast is 32.6 million subs and a broadband penetration of 38.5%. So, 5 years from now, only 40% of broadband HHs will have VoIP. I would have thought the penetration will be much higher. 2010 is a long time away, and I'd think by then VoIP would be further along as a replacement for POTS. That said, these basic subscriber numbers work for me. When I was at Frost & Sullivan, I published a report in 2004 that pegged the number of subs as being quite comparable to these numbers.

- Landline telephony accounts for about half of all communications revenues in the US (2005). But interestingly, the ARPU for each type of market is fairly similar. No doubt this profile will change, as landline declines, video goes to digital and IPTV, and wireless goes to WiFi/WiMax.

Market type// Revenue, $billions// ARPU

Landline// $192// $50
Broadband Internet// $20// $40
Basic cable // $87// $45
Wireless // $119// $50

- In 2005, global VoIP numbers were as follows:

US - 5.5 million
Europe - 2.8
Asia Pac - 8.8
Total - 17.1 million

So, already, Asia Pac has over half of the world's VoIP subscribers.

- VoIP minutes is another good growth metric. The report cites TeleGeography data saying that VoIP traffic was 72 billion minutes in 2005, and will more than double to 183 billion this year. Their forecast shows the market basically doubling each year over the next few years.

- The report shows the mix of traffic (VoIP minutes) by two basic types of operators. One type is the network operators - telcos, cablecos and ISPs, and the other is the pureplays, including VoIP operators (Vonage, 8x8, etc.) and Skype. Including Skype can be misleading, but remember, the metric here is minutes, not dollars or subscribers.

Based on minutes, the mix at year end, 2005 between network operators and pureplays was 53% vs. 47% in North America. Europe had a pretty similar mix - 51% vs. 49%. The research doesn't break out the minutes by operator, so it's difficult to tell how much of the pureplay volume is driven by free P2P services like Skype and FWD. It's still interesting to note how much the pureplays account for total minutes overall, though.

- Market share by number of subscribers tells a different story, however, at least in the US. The report segments the market into 3 buckets - MSOs, Telcos/others, and Pureplays.

In 2005, MSOs had just over half of US VoIP subs, at 54%. Pureplays had most of the rest - 40%, with Telcos mopping up the remaining 6%. This is not really surprising given how little the RBOCs have done with residential VoIP - so far. Of course, the MSOs came on strong in 2005, and I suspect data for 2004 would have shown the Pureplays being the market leaders. That was then, and this is now.

The outlook for 2010 is a bit different. MSOs are still forecast to lead the market, actually growing their share slightly to 57%. Pureplays, as one might expect, lose ground to Telcos, with shares of 25% and 19% respectively. By then, one can only hope that the RBOCs will have a major focus on VoIP, as there won't likely be much left of their POTS business by then.

- The report takes a quick stab at the U.S. IM market, and there's nothing new here. However, when you've got your head in the VoIP numbers, the IM numbers provide some interesting context.

Using January 2006 as the benchmark, we see AOL having 53 million users to lead the Big 3 in the U.S. by a wide margin. MSN Messenger is next at 27 million, followed by Yahoo at 22 million. All told, then, these platforms have 102 million users in the U.S. For 2006, the U.S. VoIP subscriber market is forecast to hit 9.6 million, less than 1/10th of the number of IM users. And we're not even talking about Google.

Something else to think about. There are now more IM users in the U.S. than there are residential landlines. How many years has IM really been around? Just one of those things that hits home about how quickly Internet technologies are being adopted. And what's happening to voice is starting to happen now with video.

As a postscript, I just want to acknowledge that all the data herein was drawn from the eMarketer report. There's quite a bit more where that came from, and you can have it all for the princely sum of $695. It's all there on their website.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

IPTV With a Twist - Bird Watching Reality TV

A colleague of mine here in Toronto, Mike Kinrys, sent this my way yesterday, as he knew about my interest in IPTV. I thought this was really neat, and wanted to share it here.

Disruptive technologies work in all kinds of ways, and here's a great example. Mike's wife is a bird watcher, and a fellow bird watcher out in British Columbia has done something that sure looks like IPTV to me - with a twist.

He's trained a webcam 24/7 on the nest of a bald eagle who is incubating her egg(s). This doesn't make for compelling viewing for me, but apparently it's HUGELY interesting for bird watchers out there.

How interesting? How about 3+ MILLION visits per day. I'd say that's traffic to die for. All to watch and listen to a bird sit in her nest and not do a whole lot else.

The site is called - not surprisingly, Eagle Eye - love the name. This is so Seinfeld, it isn't funny, but this guy is definitely on to something. Unlike the pilot of Seinfeld, where Jerry and George had a hard time getting network executives to buy into a show that was basically "about nothing", Eagle Eye has just gone out and done it.

Well, Eagle Eye is arguably about nothing, unless you're a bird watcher. But he didn't have to sell it to any producers or networks that controlled the content, the channel, the distribution, the rights, the money, the syndication, etc., etc.

He's got the perfect business model for the Web 2.0/IPTV world:

- a totally open channel to reach his audience, and at no cost
- total artistic control
- zero production cost (maybe a few bucks for hosting)
- zero time to market
- real time content that refreshes and updates itself
- a huge built in audience
- zero marketing costs
- lots of sponsors who want to get in front of his traffic

Now, I don't know if he's really making money. And due to the huge traffic loads, he runs out of bandwidth to provide streaming video sometimes (which I'm sure can be fixed). However, once you see this, you just go, uh huh! Anyone can do this, I suppose if you're creative enough and see the opportunity.

Of course, you may hear from wildlife activists decrying exploitation. And what do you do when the eggs hatch? Will the nest stay in its location? What happens if the eagle packs up and leaves, or somehow the nest gets dislodged? All kinds of what-ifs here, but I think the basic idea is there - for all to see and run with.

This is reality TV of the lowest order, but there is a market for anything, especially in the always-on world of broadband. So, if you can do something like this, and attract traffic volumes that any major network would be happy to get - at no cost - you can be pretty sure that we're on the verge of some very interesting times as the worlds of IP and broadcasting collide.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Mark Farmer, QuickPlay Media

This week's podcast was all about mobile media. Definitely a hot space, and QuickPlay Media is doing some interesting things on that front. This is a Toronto-based startup, and I spoke with their Marketing Director, Mark Farmer.

So, if you're interested in how the mobile media space is evolving, and closer to home, how a Canadian company is faring in this space, you'll find this podcast a good listen. You can download it here, as well as learn more about Mark and QuickPlay.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Is Tech Really Helping Productivity?

I'm a reflective person by nature, and I ask myself this question a lot. Anybody under 30 would probably never question this, but I can tell you that not everybody else feels the same way. Tech is wonderful, of course, and our livelihoods largely depend on it, but it's not the great emancipator. I could go on big time on that riff, but not now.

I'm not writing this post to be anti-tech, but some things only become apparent when you step outside your everyday skin, like when you go on vacation and learn to manage without broadband or cell phones for a while.

Today I was at a conference focused on the HR sector, and one of the speakers hit on this theme in a way that gives you pause for thought about our relationship with and growing dependency on tech to do our jobs. The speaker was Dr. Linda Duxbury, a Professor at the business school at Ottawa's Carleton University. She's well known in HR circles, and focuses on the impact of tech on corporate culture and employee performance. She's done some really great research and is a very engaging speaker. Sure takes me back to my MBA days and focus on Organizational Behavior, but PCs weren't around then, so the issues were very different!

Anyhow, one of her key points runs contrary to what many people living and breathing IP take as gospel - the always-on workplace is really not so great for employee performance. The expectations from employees at all levels increasingly spills over into our personal time/lives, and puts us all on an endless treadmill of managing information instead of living our lives.

In theory, all our tech tools, like email, Blackberries, cell phones, etc. are great in terms of what they can do. However, Dr. Duxbury would argue they're not necessarily translating into to better employee - and ultimately - organizational performance. Too many people are becoming addicted to managing all these flows of instant communication, and simply don't know how to push back and say - I need time to think and do my job. Sound familiar?

So, in her view, and from an HR perspective - when technology is not properly managed, it becomes a drag on productivity and performance - not an enhancer. She cited familiar examples of the anxiety people get on the weekend that they'd better clear up their email backlog before going back on Monday, otherwise they'll start the week way behind. There is some truth to this, but that's a treadmill you can never get off.

An interesting solution she mentioned was a company that simply shut down their servers over the weekend so this problem wouldn't exist in the first place. That may not work for everybody, but it's certainly one way to manage your information flow.

This is obviously a BIG issue, and we're not going to tackle it here. However, sometimes it takes a day away from the routine to see how things look in a different pair of shoes. Personally, I'm onside with Dr. Duxbury's message, and from there, I can see lots of opportunity for organizations to get a better handle on how tech is impacting their culture - and for vendors as well. It's really just another problem to solve, but one that will need more balance between what the technology can deliver, and an understanding of what is really going to be the most helpful to performance. Always-on is not a means to an end - unless you're a machine.

Getting Your Blog Out There

Wanted to share a terrific post from colleague Alec Saunders today about getting the most out of your blog. Alec is a tech savant of the first order, so these things come easier to him than the rest of us. However, one reason why Alec's blog is well read is his ability to communicate his applied knowledge and experience in a way we can all understand.

So, if you're interested in getting more mileage out of your blog, it's a great read. I'll certainly be taking some of these ideas to heart. Based on all the comments he's been getting, I can see that others are too.

A lot of what Alec is passing on are simply good principals of journalism, with a bit of marketing and web savvy thrown in. Couldn't agree more about the need for catchy headlines, writing regularly, and replying to comments. Alec underscores a key point that can make a blog truly valuable to a broader community - open dialog. Big diff between a diary and a dialog, right? Diaries are too personal and self-centered to be much use in the blogosphere, but a dialog is really what the essence of the Internet is all about.

And sure, build that blog roll and link to other blogs, and comment about other blog posts. All fairly easy things to do, but they all work, for sure. I've got a ways to go myself on these things, and Alec has done a great job of putting some collected wisdom into one place, and getting it out there for all to use. So, spread the word, and put these ideas to work!

Monday, April 24, 2006

TrendIQ - A New Way to Look at the IP Market

Got something here that VoIP watchers should find interesting - maybe even fascinating.

I've started developing some ties to a company called TrendIQ, and wanted to share what they're doing. They provide an interesting form of market intelligence, as it's based solely on information gathered on the Internet using proprietary software. On one level, it's a bit like a search engine, but they've customized their data gathering so as to focus on variables that reflect things like what they call "market sentiment". It's not really primary research, but it's more sophisticated than secondary research.

This may not catch your eye right away, but it's intuitively appealing to me. I say this because I suspect the vast majority of people reading my blog do not come from a marketing research background. I've got 20 years experience in this world, and I haven't come across too many people who know the VoIP space and have this in their background. In that regard, I'm probably an anomaly, but that's fine by me.

Incredibly, during my years as an in-house analyst at Frost & Sullivan I didn't come across one telecom analyst who had real world market research experience, which to this day astounds me. If I learned one thing during that time, it's that analysts come from all walks of life. I digress...

So, that brings us to TrendIQ. They've developed some pretty impressive software tracking tools that aggregate a whole lot of Internet-based information about companies. What I'm about to show you is a summary chart they call the VoIP Sentiment Analysis:

Trend IQ VoIP Sentiment.gif

What really jumps out here is how strong the sentiment is for Sun Rocket. There is a consistent methodology for compiling these numbers across 52 VoIP providers, and I can't really explain why their rating is so high. In that regard, TrendIQ may raise as many questions as they do answers, but I think it can be a very good tool, especially for leading indicators.

Their methodology is too complex to analyze here, but suffice to say, there is an awful lot of data behind the numbers, and their full reports provide an almost endless series of breakouts by provider, as well as other attributes.

For now, you can access the full data set for free once you register at their site. They will be moving soon to a subscription model, so if you want to play around with this, I suggest you do so sooner than later.

I'm in the process of getting my own website ready to launch, and once it's done, you'll be able to link up to TrendIQ from there. Their CEO, Paul Feldman, and I are exploring ways of working together, and adding more insight to the data so it's more manageable for end users. Paul has also got similar tracking studies going in WiMax and IMS, and you'll soon be hearing about some joint initiatives in these areas as well.

Until then, I hope you find this data of interest, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Google, Miro, Slingbox, Red Sox - Many Questions

It's one of those days where I don't have much to say, and am quite busy fulfilling projects for my clients. So for today, I've just got some loose ends to share - but these stories raise some really interesting questions. In this Web 2.0 world, the ground at our feet is like sand - always shifting, and everyone leaves a different imprint.

First up, fellow Canadian/Bruins fan/gadget guy, Jim Courtney.

Jim has recently become a contributing editor for Skype Journal, so he's got a great high profile soapbox now. Loved his post yesterday about getting interviewed by CBC about Slingbox.

It's a great sign of the times when our #1 national TV broadcaster does a story about Slingbox, which was just launched in Canada at the end of March. For those who can watch CBC, the segment is supposed to air next Monday or Tuesday at 6:30 according to Jim. Hopefully this piece will help spread the word about Slingbox and what place shifting is all about. As Jim says, it would be even neater if they made the segment available on their website, which is really another form of place shifting. Great going Jim - will try to watch it.

Next item - Miro and Google. You've all seen it, right?


Have to admit, it's well done, and the intentions seemed right - to honor Joan Miro's birthday. Given how Google is everywhere these days, you just know something had to come from this. I don't think this had much to do with their great earnings numbers, but there doesn't seem to be much right now they can't do.

Anyhow, I'm too busy to get into the details now, and I'll steer you instead to today's post by Alec Saunders. It's a great read and touches on the kinds of questions that come to mind for me.

It has raised all kinds of issues around copyright, artistic license, and plagarism, and makes you really wonder what rules will ultimately prevail in the digital world. I don't think Google expected the response it got, especially from ARS - the Artists Rights Society. And as Alec points out, the Miro family is probably missing out on a wonderful opportunity for Google to actually bring Joan Miro's art to a broader audience. Talk about a different kind of mashup! Just another hat for Google to wear - goodwill ambassador for the arts. Maybe this is the start of a trend where we'll start seeing stylized logos from Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. for other artists. The possibilities are endless and could create a whole new pot of gold for licensing logos to get treatments by other artists. No doubt Andy Warhol would just be loving this...

Finally, the Red Sox.

Am a bit anxious after last night's finale of their homestand. Should have swept TBay and gone 7-3, but we may be seeing an early Achilles Heel here - their inability to hit southpaws. Kazmir had them stoned, and Wakefield wasted another great outing. Go figure - he only gives up 1 hit through 6 innings - and is down 2-1. Huh???? Another passed ball cost us a run, and then the wheels came off in the 8th. Can we do something, please, to get Mirabelli back? At least Foulke pitched well, and the tying run did come up with only 1 out in the 9th. But it was not to be.

Well, I get to see the Sox for real tonight - no Slingbox for me this time, Jim! They're here to play the Jays, and I'm going with my 13 year old, Max - hope to post some pix and clips over the weekend. Jays took 2 of 3 at Fenway, so we'll be looking to get even. The big hope is that Manny hits very well at Rogers Center - nee SkyDome - and he's so due it isn't funny. And talk about a fab pitching matchup tonight - Beckett vs. Burnett - the 2 biggest off season pitcher signings. Should be a great game. Only a true fan can get this into a ball game so early in the season - can't help it....

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Michel Laurence, Octasic

This week's podcast was with Michel Laurence, CEO of Octasic. They're based in Montreal, and are an innovative semiconductor vendor, doing very nicely in VoIP. Not a household name, and I've long felt they're a great untold Canadian story. I wanted to get Michel on a pod to share his view of how the components space is evolving, as both carriers and OEMs require more sophisticated performance to support nextgen services. You can download the podcast here, and read more about Michel and what we talked about. Thanks for listening and supporting the Pulvermedia Podcast Network!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Save the Internet - and Win Fabulous Prizes!

Sounds corny, but it's true!

Jeff Pulver is driving another initiative to convince regulators and policymakers that keeping the Internet open and free is in the best interests of consumers. If not, the RBOCs and MSOs will carry the day, which will ultimately lead to a corporate controlled Internet and throw a damper on the kind of innovation that has made the Internet what is today. That's downright scary stuff.

This message may be preaching to the converted, but the appeal from Jeff and Jonathan Askin is to put our creative minds and spirits together to come up with some compelling messaging that Washington will pay attention to. That's where the fabulous prizes come in.

The best way to learn more, or even better - get involved - is to review Jeff's posting from earlier today. All the details are there.

And for all the bloggers out there - think of this as a chain letter. The more viral the message, the better. Please spread the word.

Brightspark's Blog Getting Noticed

I try to post daily, but it was a slow news day yesterday, and didn't really see anything worth posting about. I know thou shalt blog daily is a cardinal rule for fame and fortune in this arena, but there are just some days when it's not happening. Could have posted about the Red Sox game, but I'm saving that for this weekend when the Sox come to town to play the Jays. Should be a great series, even at this early stage of the season.

Last week's podcast was with Salim Teja of Brightspark, and I noted in the post that they just launched a blog - which I think is great.

I was very pleased to see both Mark Evans and Alec Saunders take note of the same on their blogs today.

It's good to note these things as I think we're going to see more companies using blogs to demonstrate thought leadership and build their brand. I've noted earlier how NexTone has a blog on their site, and they're the only vendor I know who's doing this so far. Am sure others have picked up on this by now, but I haven't been noticing.

Mark also notes that a few other VCs have done so - but this appears to be a first among Canadian VCs. So, again, hats off to Brightspark for going down this road, and helping keep Canada on the map!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Brightcove, Cody Willard, Blogs and IPTV

So, there's a handful of ideas, but there's a method to my madness -usually is. Got a few things to cover in this post, and let's see if how well I can tie them together. Here we go...

This all started off as a goodwill gesture to welcome long-time colleague, Cody Willard to the blogosphere. Cody is well known and speaks his mind about tech and investing - and not just IP-related stocks. Actually, he's had a blog for some time, and I have cited Cody a few times on my blog.

His blog was re-launched last week - I believe - and there's enough common ground there now that I've added him to my blog roll. So, first order of business - welcome to the IP blogosphere CW! Please check it out - The Cody Blog - and while you're there, you'll see the variety of ways he covers and writes about the markets.

So, here's where it gets interesting. Cody is becoming a regular guest of Kudlow & Co. on CNBC, and last week he was on talking about Disney's news to start broadcasting live content online.

Joining him was Jeremy Allaire, President/Founder of Brightcove, which is as hot as they come these days in this space. Cody has a link to the clip on his blog post about it, and it's a great segment if you're interesed in this space. Warning - it took a few minutes to download, so you may need to be patient.

Cody is introduced as the "James Dean of new media" by Kudlow! How's that for a buildup - I hope it sticks, Cody. The gist of the segment was that this is very early days, and the cablecos aren't doomed - so don't run out and short Time Warner. They talk about how the power and control is shifting from the cablecos to the consumers - much the way VoIP has unfolded, and the potential is there for content to be king, and the MSOs to becoming just one channel instead of the channel. Brightcove has recognized the power of the Internet to be one of these other channels, and they're betting that both viewers and advertisers will rapidly adopt new behaviors around how and where they watch their favorite shows. Not only can viewers now have a direct connection to the content providers, but over the Net they can now do so globally.

I really enjoyed the segment, especially since much of what they discussed was consistent with my posting on this topic from last week. On a related theme - mobile TV - I have also voiced similar thoughts and concerns, especially in terms of how this impacts local broadcasters.

Another tie-in here is Jeff Pulver - no surprise there. I just wanted to mention that anyone who attended Spring VON got a chance to hear Jeremy Allaire in person, and Brightcove was certainly one of the big stories at the show.

Finally, I wanted to add that Brightcove has their own blog, and there's a posting there as well about the CNBC segment.

There, I think that covers everything.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mobile TV in Canada - More Thoughts

I think I'm on to something here, and I know I'm not alone.

Yesterday's post about this topic has triggered some things, some intentional, and some not.

One of the things I'm most concerned about is how mobile broadcasting is going to impact local broadcasters, who really make up the backbone of the national networks. We all know it's very early days yet, and we've barely begun to feel or understand the impact of what I would loosely refer to as "Broadcast 2.0". I certainly share Jeff Pulver's well known views on how disruptive IP is starting to become for the whole broadcast sector, and anyone who has been following the VoIP space can vouch for what's in store.

I know mobile broadcasting isn't just about IP - that's just one piece of the puzzle, but the underlying trend is clear. New technologies are just starting to change the nature of the broadcasting sector - as we know it - but the transformation will be complete, and it will happen fairly quickly - I'd say within 2-3 years.

I saw a short piece in today's Globe & Mail that captured the essence of this quite nicely. CHUM Ltd - perhaps Canada's most successful local broadcaster (and truly an innovator in both radio and TV), announced their Q2 results. For me, the real story is how new technologies are already impacting their business.

The article notes how their CEO, Jay Switzer is lamenting how the advent of digital TV and time shifting is killing their advertising. Can you imagine what he'll be saying when mobile TV and place shifting start to hit home? Slingbox was just launched in Canada at the end of March, so that's hardly on the radar up here - yet. The solution Mr. Switzer advocates is regulatory reform - now, not later. That is coming soon, but the way our regulatory rulings have been flying lately, it's a coin toss as to which side of the fence the CRTC will come down on for broadcasters.

What's interesting about CHUM is that they have both TV and radio, and are also looking to be the 3rd satellite radio provider. That's another story altogther, and clearly, the mix of media properties owned will have a lot to do with how each broadcaster responds to these emerging technologies.

I don't know about you, but I'm a fan of local broadcasting, and would sure hate to see it become subsumed as borders and boundaries fade away. I actually had some time to reflect on this last night, as my wife had tickets for our family to be in the audience for a studio taping of Royal Canadian Air Farce. Any Canadian would know the show, and if you don't, it's a long running comedy troupe that does great satire on a weekly show. It will be on the air tonight, so if you watch, you just might see us on camera! Our youngest son just turned 10, and in between skits, he was one of the people cited by the emcee, which he really enjoyed.

Sitting through this gives you a real appreciation up close about all the goes into producing a television show. It looks so neat and tidy when you watch, but as we all know, if you pull back the camera, you'll see a whole army of people behind the scenes who make it look so easy. So, I don't care how much technology goes into driving how/where/when we view broadcast content, watching Air Farce last night really drives home just how human an endeavor TV really is. It's a lot more than bits and bytes, and if local broadcasting withers away, we'll be losing a lot more than a few TV shows.

My kids had my Nokia N90 monopolized, and got a couple of photos in between skits. Half the fun is watching how they do set up and tear down between sketches. Also - dressing room door of Don Ferguson, one the stars.

RCAF studio.jpgRC Air Farce.jpg

I have a short coda to add. In yesterday's post, I cited Mark Goldberg's post, and it was nice to see him keep the thread going on his blog today. Mark was picking up on my post as well as Mark Evans, and we're of the same mind that mobile radio should be pretty easy to do for the carriers, and with right content - such as podcasts - could be very appealing. You see, I'm not alone on this. And yes, Mark, I would love a Red Sox feed! Although, the way they played last 2 night against the Jays, I'm getting nervous. That's another post for later...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mobile TV in Canada - CRTC's Light Touch

I don't know about you, but I'm getting a headache trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing in Canadian telecom the past few weeks.

First we get the Telecom Review Panel's forward thinking report, recommending that market forces should prevail and a scaled back role for the regulators. Then we get the CRTC's Forbearance Decision last week, showing that the rule-makers still rule, and that telecom apartheid regs are still the way to go.

And now this - the CRTC's latest position on mobile TV. Interesting how when it comes to voice over IP, it's all about nuturing competition, and a different set of rules for the ILECs. But with video over IP, it's a whole new ball game, and now we're seeing the "light touch", much like the FCC advocated under Michael Powell. I'm not really sure why it has to be that way. They're both over IP, and they're both bits and packets. Isn't a bit a bit a bit? In Canada, telecom and broadcast are regulated under different regimes, but clearly with the lines rapidly blurring, this can't continue.

That said, things continue to move quickly in the "broadcast 2.0" world, which I think is going to be THE story of 2006. Following the recent news about Disney offering prime, live TV programming over the Internet, today's CRTC news is another step along the road of making broadcast an any where/any time/any device medium.

The Canadian mobile TV story is a small step in this journey, but each step raises new issues - and opportunities. For example, Mark Goldberg rightly notes on his blog that mobile TV is a threat to satellite radio, which is just taking root in Canada. Surely, if the mobile carriers can figure how to provide TV that people will actually pay to watch on their mobile devices, how hard can it be to offer subscription-based radio programming?

Another issue this topic raises is about ensuring Canadian content. In an unregulated environment, there is no obligation for Canadian quotas, so mobile TV could become yet another channel for foreign content to dominate the cultural landscape. This may not sound like a big deal to Americans, but living in the U.S.'s shadow, it's a concern in Canada. Broadcasters will tend to only offer channels that have decent demand, and if nobody is asking for Canadian programming, we're not likely to get much of it.

For many people, this is just another step along the path of our Americanization. At this point, mobile TV is so nascent, I don't see that being much of a threat, but when you allow a new technology or content delivery platform to enter the market unregulated from the beginning, there will be little incentive early on to give it some homegrown character. VoIP certainly didn't get a green light like this. Is mobile TV really so different?

On the plus side, of course, I think mobile TV opens up new markets for custom content, developed around the needs/wants/habits of "mobile viewers". I have no doubt this will give rise to new forms of programming, content, advertising and bundling. Rogers and Bell Mobility are the largest mobile carriers, and their parent companies both own lots of content properties, so it will be interesting to see if they come up with new synergies, or if they go straight to using popular American programming. Telus is the other major mobile carrier, but they don't have much content, and will likely end up making new partnerships - or even investing in some original content to help differentiate themselves. Personally, I'd love to see them - and the others - focus on the latter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Canadian IP Thought Leaders Podcast - Salim Teja, Brightspark Ventures

This week's podcast was with Salim Teja, VP at Brightspark Ventures here in Toronto. I really value the views of VCs, especially Brightspark, as they focus on early stage financing. They see a lot of what's new, and we talked about the realities facing Canadian startups, particularly in the IP space. Their portfolio includes three IP/telecom plays, all of whom I like - VoIPshield, Tira Wireless and VoxLib.

Another neat thing that I like about Brightspark is that they're opinionated! Not really a renowned Canadian trait, but that's ok. Along these lines, then, they just launched their own blog this month. If you like what you see, you just might want to add it to your RSS feed.

To listen to our podcast and read more about Salim, click here. You can also access all of my podcasts there at the Pulvermedia Podcast Network website, or subscribe if that's easier.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Comverse Acquires NetCentrex - It's Insurance

Busy day for IP stories! This deal was announced yesterday, and at first, I didn't quite see the fit. I've since talked to some people and given this more thought, and it's coming together for me now.

Looking at the big picture, and in the wake of the AT&T/BellSouth deal, Comverse's move seems to be akin to buying insurance. Each company brings benefit to the other, but longer term, the motivation seems to be about Comverse insuring future revenue streams from existing customers.

Comverse has lots of cash to go shopping, and what they lack, NetCentrex has in spades. That is, a proven, widely deployed nextgen suite of applications that generate revenues today. Comverse is not really a nextgen company, but what they do have is a huge customer base - over 500 service providers, tons of Tier 1s, and customers in over 120 countries. I can't think of any startup or nextgen vendor with that kind of footprint. Their offerings, like SMS and billing provide decent revenues, but NetCentrex's IP-based platform can be a much better cash spinner, especially in the triple play arena, which is their real forte. Thinking more broadly, Comverse needs an FMC and IMS platform to be ready when carriers start to deploy along these lines, and they have that in NetCentrex.

On the other side of the coin, of course, NetCentrex has been in play for a while. Their biggest problem was gaining mindshare and market share outside Europe, especially in the US. They've developed a very strong business in Europe, with major deployments in France (Wanadoo), Italy (FastWeb) and Germany (AOL Germany). No doubt, Comverse saw these as proof points that NetCentrex can scale to the level they needed, and it's really not surprising that it took an Israeli company to recognize these strengths. You could argue that a U.S.-based vendor would be too focused on their home market as a litmus test, and since NetCentrex hasn't gained much traction there, it's easy to see how they would be overlooked.

As AT&T's deal triggers the inevitable carrier consolidation, the domino effect is spreading to the vendors - such as Lucent/Alcatel. Being a major vendor with a dominant position in the messaging market, Comverse is simply following the script, bulking up to stay at the front of the pack, and I'm sure other acquisitions will follow.

What I also find interesting about this deal is that both companies are essentially applications plays. They're not about building core network infrastructure - they're about enabling revenue-generating services. Sure, NetCentrex has a softswitch, but that's not material to the deal. Applications are what carriers need to make IP pay off -it's all about the revenues - and not reducing costs. It's another sign that the IP sector is maturing and becoming more like any other business, rather than the bleeding edge disruptive threat it was a few years ago.

Finally, the Comverse deal begs the question - why didn't they buy Sylantro or BroadSoft instead? Both have bigger customer bases and both have proven platforms. I don't really know, but I suspect a couple of reasons.

One is that they're U.S. vendors, where most of their deployments have been relatively small. Perhaps Comverse didn't feel comfortable that their platforms could scale to the degree that NetCentrex has already demonstrated in Europe. U.S. carriers are less willing to go big-time with IP since their legacy networks still work so well, whereas carriers in Europe and Asia are further along the IP path, and willing to go further with it.

Second could be the triple play, which neither vendor can match NetCentrex on. Especially for IMS, Comverse may simply be thinking ahead here, and seeing that there is more money to be made from their customers from video and IPTV than from VoIP and IP Centrex. On that count, they're probably right.

I Want My IPTV....

I've been dying to say this for so long, and the time has finally come!

I won't get into the details about Disney's news yesterday about making some prime time programming available over the Internet. Of course, the hitch is you have to watch the commercials, but the sheer novelty I'm sure will far outweigh the inconvenience among early adopters.

As a shortcut to the details, I'll refer you to a heartfelt posting yesterday from Jeff Pulver. I say heartfelt, because as anyone knows from Spring VON, that Jeff is now championing video, and as he says at the end of his post, "welcome to the age of Broadcast 2.0". I couldn't agree more.

We've seen the signs leading up to this. NCAA March Madness over IP was a hot story just recently, as was Disney's earlier deal with iTunes for downloading episodes on the iPod. All steps along the way, but now we're talking about live, prime time TV - not re-broadcasts, or one-off events, which lend themselves very well in a pay-per-view model.

Yesterday's news gives real legitimacy not only to IP as a content delivery channel, but to the PC as a bona fide endpoint for viewing broadcast content. It wasn't that long ago that VoIP was not taken seriously because nobody believed that people would want to make phone calls on their computers. Doesn't that just seem so quaint now?

Bottom line is this - the Internet generation is different!!!!!!

Their world revolves around the PC, and now they have the tools to do just about everything that's important to them there. Gaming, chat, email, VoIP, iTunes, and now TV. Is it really that big of leap for this audience to embrace TV on their PC? I don't think it is. Coming back to Jeff and his love affair with Slingbox, and you can certainly see an industry starting to shape up now around viewing broadcast content that's viewed anywhere but on a TV.

If this isn't broadcast 2.0, I don't know what is. IP is quickly starting to reshape the business of television, and I'd say the faster the networks jump in and start experimenting, the better. Habits and loyalties change real fast in the IP world, and the business models are going to change too.

My main concern at this point is the impact this may have on local TV affiliates who rely on the big networks for content, but also on local advertisers for revenue. I can see people flocking online to watch big name franchise shows like American Idol that have a brand supported by hugh national sponsors. But if your PC viewers are mobile - watching shows while on the road, local advertising may be useless.

This could have implications about the kinds of programming that are viable for PC viewers, and we may end up only getting safe, mainstream fare at the expense of the diversity supported in the 500 channel cable universe. I'm getting ahead of the game here, and I know all kinds of programming alternatives will emerge. But I can also see how the food chain for advertising and content will be disrupted, with no way of telling yet how it will turn out.

Coming back to the title of this post, that's still the song that sticks in my head when I think about how IP is starting to impact broadcasting - much the way it did for telecom in 2004. It also reminds me of an article I wrote for CNET News that year on that very topic, entitled "I Want My VoIP". Re-reading it now, I realize that the basic story line hasn't changed much - once people discover that this technology works, the demand will materialize, and the market will become real. I have no doubt Disney sees things the same way.

Skype Brings the Secret Sauce In-House

Today, Skype announced their acquisition of Sonorit and Camino Networks for $27 million. Not earth-shattering news, but Skype watchers are anxiously looking for clues as to how they're going to spend eBay's money and build themselves up into something that reflects what they themselves were acquired for.

The press release is not up on Skype's home page yet, but it's included in Phil Wolff's informative posting from earlier today on Skype Journal.

In short, much of Skype's initial success was due to the voice processing technology they licensed from Global IP Sound. Some key people left GIPS last year and formed Sonorit, which has developed their own voice processing technology. GIPS has been contesting this in a lawsuit over unfair competitive practices, but that doesn't seem to be moving very quickly.

Skype's acquisition of Sonorit comes off as a shrewd move in that they now can keep their secret sauce in-house - presuming, of course, that Sonorit performs as well or better than GIPS. Buying Sonorit is a clear signal to me that Skype recognizes the value of this technology, and deems it too important to share with others. GIPS has a healthy roster of blue chip clients, and as the Googles of the world start to horn in on Skype's turf, it's going to become increasingly important for Skype to protect its advantage, which in large part is its voice quality.

Why leave this to chance and let Google, et al license the same stuff as you from GIPS? Or worse yet, let one of them acquire Sonorit/Camino themselves. So, looking at it that way, Skype is playing it smart, and really not breaking the bank along the way.

I'm late to the game posting about this for good reason. As a shareholder, I'm obliged to stay quiet until this becomes a public story. Even then, I have reservations, but given how widely the story was covered, I'm hardly speaking out of school here. Fellow blogger Erik Lagerway is in the same position as me, and commented to similar effect on his posting today.

Erik's post also makes references to two earlier posts, both worth reading for followers of this story - uberbloggers Andy Abramson and Alec Saunders.

RIM - It's the RedBerry in China

Nothing seems to be easy for RIM these days, and no doubt their space is going to get more crowded, not less crowded.

Very interesting piece in today's Globe & Mail about China's homegrown version of BlackBerry - the RedBerry. Aside from the story itself, I thought it was interesting that this ran in the front section of the paper, and not the business section - where you usually see stories about RIM. However, this is really a bigger story - touching on the realities of global competition, how technology is transforming our lives, and privacy.

On a business level, the story is not good news for RIM. J-u-s-t as they are about to launch in China, China Unicom (China's #2 mobile carrier)comes to market with their own RedBerry. Asia is notorious for knock-offs of all shapes and sizes, and this one is right up there. In Hong Kong, RIM has been getting $64/month for their service. RedBerry is under $1, "plus a few cents for each email sent". How can they possibly compete with that???

What's really interesting is why RIM's China launch has taken so long. As the article explains, one reason for the delay was "China's concern that the high-level encryption technology...could make it difficult for China's security authorities to gain access to email messages". Wow. So, RIM is up against the same issues plaguing the likes of Yahoo and Google in their efforts to bring IM to China. We take privacy for granted, and it's that very concern that's led to RIM's network being so good and so secure. To enter China, it sounds like it has to be not-so-good and not-so-secure, as "Chinese security agents routinely monitor email".

So, clearly, what makes RIM so successful in North America could become their Achilles Heel in China. Maybe that's why China Unicom can afford to offer the service at under a buck a month. Sounds like if RIM is going to compete they need a really dumbed-down version that costs very little to develop and support. Of course, RedBerry is going after the consumer mass - literally mass with 400 million wireless subscribers - market, while RIM is trying to crack the far more demanding enterprise market. Still, if the government requires access to monitor business emails, RIM will not have an easy go of it.

That said, one could also wear the cynic's hat and say Chinese "security authorities" have been deliberating with RIM as a stall tactic to give China Unicom more time to get their RedBerry ready in advance of RIM's big launch. This tactic certainly wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond movie!

You also have to wonder with the world coming to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, how long they can realistically maintain this Big Brother mentality in the Internet age. Just a thought, but it's a real issue in my mind.

While RIM has been successful on many levels defending its brand and technology, they probably won't get very far going after the RedBerry name in their home market. Global competition sure is a tough game, and politeness - one of Canada's virtues - won't likely get you very far in a market like this.

So, to my good friend, Howard Thaw, a friendly word of caution - don't flaunt your RedBerry too much around these parts - but I suspect you'll be very popular in Beijing...


Blogging Gaining Respectability

I was quoted today in a press release from MetaSwitch, one of the stronger nextgen vendors who I've been following for some time.

The story is about how they've partnered with Dash 911 to make it easier for their carrier customers to comply with E911. It's a good story, but the real reason why I'm posting is how I've been referenced in the press release.

I'm usually referred to as being a "VoIP analyst" or "telecom consultant" - that sort of thing. Which is the case here as well. In addition, however, I'm first referred to as a "VoIP blogger".

I haven't seen that before, but I kinda like it. It tells me that blogs are gaining credibility and are starting to be seen as a validator for the person behind it. Hats off to MetaSwitch and their PR firm, Eastwick Communications for thinking this way. I suspect we'll start to see this become more commonplace as blog become more widely followed. Works for me!

Papi Hapi - Let's Play Ball!

Gotta put VoIP aside for a few minutes to contemplate Opening Day at Fenway for the Nation. It's the 95th home opener for the Sox, and for the first time in many seasons, all looks well. Strong start on the road, everyone is contributing, the new players are fitting in, the Yankees look anemic, and we've got Mr. Ortiz on our side for the forseeable future. He got his $52 million, 4 year extension, and everyone seems happy about the situation. So, bring on Josh Beckett's Fenway debut at 2pm - against the Jays - of course!

Papi Hapi.bmpFenway Opening Day 06.jpg

Monday, April 10, 2006

How to Attract a VC, Eh

Well, these days, that doesn't seem hard to do. Getting funding is another story of course. I keep coming back to Iotum, but, hey, these guys continue to get noticed in all the right places. Now all they have to do is get funding and some big name customers - don't we all?

Alec Saunders, Iotum's CEO, has a great post about their pressure cooker appearance in Boston on Friday at a Price Waterhouse Coopers event called Canadian Exposure. Iotum was one of the companies on a panel I moderated last week at VON Canada. Entitled "Success Canadian Style", Iotum talked about the steps they've taken along the way, and based on Alec's posting, it's clear they are continuing down the right path.

I'm also living vicariously a bit through this, as Alec talks about how PWC took them to the Bruins game that night, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I'm a diehard Bruins fan, and watched the game here in Toronto with my older son (while playing Monopoly - the "Original 6" edition, of course). It was actually a very good game, and the Bs finally won a shootout, so I was a happy guy. But Max cleaned me out in Monopoly - that's another story. Alec wasn't too happy either, as his beloved Sens went down to the Habs that night.

Moral of the story - at least in the Northeast - you don't have to be a hockey fan to get in with the VC crowd, but it doesn't hurt!

Friday, April 7, 2006

CRTC Forbearance Decision - Here We Go Again

Yesterday's CRTC decision on telecom forbearance and competition stands in stark contrast to the recommendations put forth by the Telecom Review Panel late last month.

I'm not a regulatory expert, but here are the main points and takeaways I see here...

The threshold for forbearance has been set at 25%. This means that an incumbent telco cannot compete on the same playing field as the competition (cable included)for VoIP until they have lost 25% market share. Well, that's one way to tie their hands, and the ILECs are predictably not happy about this. As per Bell's press release today, they are "profoundly disappointed". That's easy to understand from their point of view, especially since the forbearance threshold for competing in the cable market is much lower at 5%. On the other hand, virtually everyone has a phone, whereas when the cable regulations were crafted, market penetration was considerably below 100%. As such, there was still a lot of virgin territory to fill there, so there was less concern about monopoly control.

So, if I'm going after the incumbents, I know I'm pretty safe poaching their customers up to 25%. If I feel I can compete with them, then I continue to aggressively go after new business. But if I think it's futile to compete, and if I can make money with a small slice of the market, I'll just cherry pick around the edges up to 25%

The CRTC did make a concession to the incumbents by paring back the winback period from 12 to 3 months. So now the ILECs only have to wait 3 months before they can contact lost customers and try to woo them back. That said, the red tape is pretty onerous, it still looks like the deck is stacked in favor of the competition to keep these customers.

I'm not anti-competition, don't get me wrong. The CRTC has, at its core, a mandate to encourage competition, but their model just doesn't work very well given the nature of Canada's competitive landscape. It really is impossible for them to please everybody, and the overall impression is that they have too strong a role to effectively let VoIP take root in Canada.

Since this decision is what sticks, and the Telecom Review Panel is just a report, you'd have to say the forbearance is a win for the competition, and another setback for the ILECs. So, it's good news for cable, good news for ISPs, and good news for VoIP pureplays.

Is it good news for consumers? I'm not so sure. Maybe so in the short term, as competitors don't have to worry about being quashed, so they have more of a free hand to do their thing. However, longer term, we're just seeing a continuation of the regulatory regime that most people view as being out of step with reality. I think the TRP has a better sense of vision for Canada, but the reality there is that their recommendations may not get acted upon for quite some time given we have a different government in power than when the report was put together. What's next? Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

VON Canada - Walking the Floor and Podcasting

I mentioned in yesterday's post about the podcast I did with Ronald Gruia during the show on Tuesday. It's posted now on the Pulvermedia Podcasting Network web page, and you can listen to it here. Ron and I had some fun with this, podcasting on the fly on my cell phone as we walked the floor and shared our impressions of the show.

Next week I'll return to my regular podcasting format in my ongoing Canadian IP Thought Leaders series. One great thing about VON Canada this year was how it attracted a pretty broad spectrum of people who are new to the VON community. I've got a whole new batch now of people I want to podcast with, and in time, I hope to get to them all.

Later today I'll post my written impressions as a wrapup. Others have done the same already, and you can check them out via Jeff Pulver's posting this morning.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

VON Canada - Day 2

Another good day on Tuesday, especially with the exhibit hall opening. Lots more people and buzz than Monday. Again, I just have time to post some Nokia N90 photos and clips - will post some closing thoughts and more photos tomorrow.

I also did my weekly podcast at the show. Yesterday, I did it using Jay Leno's Jaywalking format, where my cohort, Ron Gruia and I walked the floor and did the pod live over my cellphone. We recorded our impressions of the show floor on the fly, including some impromptu booth visits and comments from exhibitors. Should be posted later today.

Stefan Oberg - Skype, Kevin Delaney; boy wonder Skype developer from Toronto:


Objectworld - they have a pretty compelling unified communications platform, including video. Here's a picture-in-a-picture effect of me photographing us looking at the screen which in turn is capturing us on video. Right photo - Stefan Dubowski, Telemanagement Magazine


Toronto Asterisk User Group meeting - standing room only, Jeff addressing the meeting:


The Americans among us (we have to let a few of them in, right?) - Carl Ford and Chris Celiberti, video guru Dave Burstein:


And now for some video clips....

First, the opening few minutes of the Skype keynote. As you know by now, Niklas Zennstrom had to cancel last minute. Filling his place was Stefan Oberg, GM of Skype for Desktop. Stefan explained that eBay needed Niklas to be in China this week, and well, I guess China is a way bigger market, so....

Second, is the Toronto Asterisk User Group ( I recently learned that Toronto has the world's largest and most active AUG - lucky us! One of my contributions to VON Canada was putting together a mini-event, where I connected with folks like Jim van Meggelen to bring the Asterisk community to VON. So, VON invited them to hold their April user group meeting at the show site, and they turned out big time. Their meeting last night was standing room only, and I got a short video clip of Jeff welcoming the group - he was quite surprised to see such a large turnout. Apologies for the abrupt ending of the clip - my phonecam ran out of memory! Jim is the other guy up on the podium with Jeff.

By the way, Jim is one of the leading exponents of open source, and is the co-author of the best-selling book published by O'Reilly, entitled Asterisk - The Future of Telephony. Also, I'd be remiss to not acknowledge Sangoma Technologies for sponsoring the refreshments, which were very popular with such a large and hungry group!

Monday, April 3, 2006

VON Canada - Day 1

It's been a full day at VON Canada here in Toronto, with the highlights for me being Alec Saunders's presentation (filling in admirably where Niklas Zennstrom was scheduled to speak), the Skype developer's panel, and the blogger panel at the end of the day.

Right now, time only allows for me to post some photos and a video clip off my Nokia N90. Hope to add some narrative tomorrow...

Mark Evans, Dror Bukai:


Alec Saunders, Ronald Gruia/IMS General Session:


Sue/Ally (VON's PR dynamic duo), Blogger's panel:


Jim Courtney, demonstrating the magic of Slingbox. My world stopped at 2pm when Jim told me we could watch the Red Sox season opener on his PC via his Slingbox home setup. Boy, it was hard to walk away from this. Second photo is a closeup capturing Coco Crisp's very first regular season at bat for the Sox (he struck out - but the Sox won 7-3!). Pretty good picture quality - this stuff works.


I had enough memory to do one video clip today. It was the first few minutes of Alec Saunders's keynote this morning. He did a great job, and the clip will give a good flavor of his message. Alec mentioned that the full slide set can be downloaded off their website, but I don't see it up there quite yet. You can watch the video clip here.