Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cisco's New Vision for Telepresence and Collaboration

Last Friday I had an engaging briefing with Cisco about their latest vision for collaboration, Unified Communications and Telepresence - perhaps the largest words in Cisco's lexicon these days. I mean that in the strategic sense of course, as these have been major growth themes for them since last year. Their news was under embargo until today, but I've been quite busy both in and out of the office today, and this is my first chance to post.

We all know about Cisco's Telepresence ambitions at the high end of the market, and they've done a great job there. It's getting a lot harder to find takers in this economy, and it's been just a matter of time until Cisco scaled down the product for the rest of us. They've been going in this direction for a while, but the latest iteration puts it that much more within reach of the mainstream business market.

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, so much so that there were two news releases about it - here and here. All told, this forms the Cisco Collaboration Portfolio, and pulls together a multitude of technologies and solutions that serve to make us more productive in the workplace.

Apologies if I'm sounding a bit vague here, but I'm struggling to share the essence of this in words. We covered an awful lot of ground in our briefing, and touched on just about every form of communication and collaboration, with all of it in some way falling under this portfolio umbrella. I know there's a lot of good value here, and during the briefing we talked about the challenges of pulling this together and articulating a clear value proposition.

On one level, this portfolio concept is Cisco's way of building on network-centric solutions and becoming more applications-centric. Looking at the bigger pieces - Telepresence, WebEx, mobility, iPhone support, integration with Microsoft Office - it's mostly about apps and endpoints - not a lot here about routers and switches or their more recent move into blade servers. Fair enough - we know this is where the growth is, and Cisco has rightly bet heavily that video is a key driver.

All told, there is a lot to like about what Cisco is doing here, and I wish I could convey it in short, simple terms. On a marketing level that could be a challenge unto itself, as the story I'm hearing is mostly about productivity and efficiency rather than cost savings. I don't want to sound too pedestrian, but saving money seems to be the big - and sometimes only - thing people I'm in contact with want to talk about right now.

Cisco does not chase these cost-driven businesses as a matter of course, but it's harder to be picky these days. That said, there is certainly an important segment of the market that will buy into their portfolio concept - and one of the press releases is largely built around an independent study validating this.

My main takeaway from all this is that if collaboration and improving business processes is high on your strategy agenda, then Cisco's Collaboration Portfolio will resonate very well. It was great to see a scaled down Telepresence system - the 1300 - and I really loved the Recording Studio concept.

The very first time I saw Telepresence, I asked whether sessions could be recorded. At the time, the answer was no, but clearly it's yes today. During the briefing we touched on some great examples of how Telepresence is being used to record video segments for things like training, job interviews, making announcements and recording presentations for future use. To me, that's what makes this technology cool - enabling new ways of working that could not be done before. Not to mention in Hi Def.

To balance out this post, my main caveat is that if it's this complex to explain, then it's too complex for the market. Maybe not all the market, but a big piece, I'd say. I know Cisco has a good idea here and the right idea, but it takes a bit of effort to understand all the pieces and how they fit together. That's fine - it's an emerging space, and nobody has figured it out, so it's hard to expect the precision of Procter & Gamble here. That time will come, I'm sure, but we're not there yet.

On another level, of course, this is tricky territory in that Cisco is extending its market presence into areas that have usually been the domain of their partners, and invariably conflicts will arise - not just with these partners, but the channels and enterprises themselves. I don't have an easy answer to all of this other than saying business is business, and if Cisco has what the market wants, they must be doing something right.

Samsung Canada - Analyst Event/Omnia Launch/Other Thoughts

Last Thursday, I attended Samsung Canada's first in-person analyst briefing. Unless you follow them, this is one of those companies that's far bigger and more diverse than you may have ever expected. They're a bit like GE in that they only want to be in markets where they are either the number one or number two player. Like many Asian electronics giants, we were shown how Samsung came from humble roots, and now is a dominant brand across the full gamut of consumer electronics and home appliances. This was pretty evident from their showroom which had all of these products on display, so if you just think of them for one type of product, you're definitely missing the bigger picture.

The focus of our get-together was mobile phones, with four agendas. First was an overview of Samsung's position in the Canadian mobile market, with recent news showing them to be in the number one spot, which is pretty impressive considering the playing field.

It was pretty interesting to hear how well they've segmented the market - as any leading mobile vendor must do these days. Not only did we see various types of phones for various types of end users (I especially liked the CLEO model for women that looks like a makeup kit, and the RUGBY model for the well, rugged market) - but of course they have exclusive models for each carrier. So, Bell gets the Ace smartphone and Rogers gets the Jack, etc. Nothing unique here, but it's a good first-hand reminder of just how competitive the handset market is these days. We're a very long way from the days when a handful of models could carry a vendor a long way.

Second, Alec Taylor presented from Microsoft Canada about Windows Mobile 6.1 and how it brings out the best in Samsung's phones. This was a good opportunity to update us on what's new with their platform as well as how closely they are working with Samsung.

Third was the Canadian launch of the Omnia, their touchscreen answer to the iPhone. Being exclusive to Bell and Telus, it's for the CDMA crowd and will compete head on with the likes of HTC. The news was under embargo until today - which is why I couldn't blog about this sooner - and the release hit the wires first thing today.

We all got to play with it a bit, and at first glance it looks like a great device. Not being an iPhone user, I can't make a fair comparison, but what stood out for me was the 5.0 Megapixel camera, which is right up there with the Nokia smartphones I've spent so much time with.

Pricing wasn't discussed, and come to think of it, I don't think anybody asked - hmm. Anyhow, the tie-in to Microsoft was pretty clear as Windows Mobile 6.1 enables not just our everyday Office applications to make this a great device for work, but also for play with all kinds of multimedia apps, high-end video shooting/editing, cool online widgets and easy to use uploading/file sharing features for social networking. As the name says, Omnia does it all. That's a nice bit of branding - another example of how Samsung is a savvy consumer-oriented company. I like that.

Fourth, but not finally was the green theme. They talked about the "Blue Earth" phone, which was pretty neat, and was green by virtue of being solar powered and having biodegradable corn-based plastic components. Am not sure why it's got blue in the name, but these are pretty forward-thinking ideas. It's hard to tell just how effective solar power will be here, but they sure have the right idea. I'm not a huge mobile device user, and am astounded - among other things I won't express here - at how they're treated pretty much as disposable gadgets.

I'm sure the vast majority of cell phones we move on from work perfectly well, but are simply out of fashion and can't compete with the latest cool models. No doubt there's an element of fashion to these devices today, and marketing is all about turnover, but it doesn't ever seem to be the vendor's problem when it's time for a new phone.

As some of you know, my son Max has become very adept at buying and selling phones in the secondary market, but he'll never make a dent in the untold millions of phones that we stop using but don't know what to do with. I better stop now, and let's not bring up Apple, who takes the cake for planned obsolesence with batteries that aren't meant to be replaced and devices that are only built to last 1-2 years.

Enough - let's end on a high note and stay friends, ok? This is a long-winded way of saying that I admire what Samsung is doing here, and would love to see more of the same down the road.

Finally, I'd like to come full circle to the beginning of this post and pose a simple question. There aren't many companies out there that make just about every electric or battery powered product we use on a regular basis both inside and outside the home. Maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't Samsung in a great position to tie all these things together with Smart Home-style solutions?

It couldn't be that hard to embed broadband-enabled RFID tags in all these devices so they can communicate with each other and have centralized control. On the bright side, there was a touch of this with Omnia, which can easily/quickly relay video files wirelessly to TVs and PCs. That's not really what I'm getting at, but it's the closest thing that I could see from what was on tap.

Y'know, poll your family on your Jack - collaborate a bit - and decide what's for dinner. Pick up what you need in the store, and on the way home, send off a message to preheat the oven (for those of us who still cook with a stove!). Then you get a message from your dryer saying that the clothes could use another 15 minutes - click yes to start now. If it works as advertised, it's a beautiful thing. Of course if it doesn't - or your clever but angry teenager does some hacking - you may come home to a house that's burning down.

You get the idea - how cool would that be? I've seen the futuristic vision that Microsoft has with Natural User Interfaces, so why not partner up and let us have some fun stringing all these things together? It would sure be an interesting way to cross-sell Samsung products and come up with some creative bundling for retailers and the builder/developer community. Well? I'm either dreaming or giving away some good ideas here. The meter isn't running, so I'll stop now. Thanks Samsung, and maybe next time around we could have a session built around this.

Samsung's Paul Brennan and the Omnia launch; Microsoft Canada's Alec Taylor and Windows Mobile 6.1

Monday, March 30, 2009

Project GhostNet - Canada (and Google) Saves the World From Cyber-Spying - Again!

Wow, what a story. While most people I know are at either VoiceCon or CTIA this week, this one is worth staying home for. Also, I'm sure all the Skype followers are focused today on the news about working with the iPhone - and that IS a big story. However - for very different reasons - I'm sure you'll find this one of interest too.

This was a front page story in today's Globe and Mail, and no doubt many other Canadian dailies. I don't particularly follow cyber-crime, but this story is pretty incredible, and for the VoIP crowd there's an important Skype tangent. This will make a great thriller movie some day (maybe I should write it!) with all kinds of angles that normally don't have much to do with one another - China/Tibet, cyber-spying Toronto, Canada, Google and Skype. Are you intrigued? Read on, please.

In short, a team of academics/tech researchers based at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, discovered a Dr. Evil-like cyber-spying network with global implications. The threat is largely around how data that is sensitive to Tibet's security is being poached and monitored from PC's all over the world, and how many of the links point to servers located in China. I'll stop there - am sure you can imagine for yourself just how charged these issues and allegations are. Phew!

I'll leave the politics aside, but as the reports describe, it's a story that took a life of its own with one small discovery leading to many others, and finally to the news that went public today. I'm no hacker, but can appreciate how complex these things are, and how you have to think like a hacker to reveal the Rosetta Stone that gets you on the trail to the source.

Incredibly, the breakthrough that cracked the code was not an ingenious repeat of what went into Colossus (the famous Bletchley Park-developed computer that solved the code of Nazi messages - arguably saving Britain from defeat in WWII) - but a simple Google search!!! Amazing, Mr. Smart, as Harry Hoo would have said to Agent 86 in his slow, incredulous manner.

If that doesn't get you going, I don't know what else will. There's a lot to this story, and I'll steer you straight to the article from today's paper. I love citing the online edition of stories because you also get the reader comments. At last count there was well of over 500 comments, so if cyber-spying is your thing, you could be reading for a while.

This story should be of huge interest to anyone working in PC/Internet security, as it highlights just how vulnerable we can be. As smart as we think we are, the bad guys are often smarter, but in the end - and here's the scary part - nobody is smarter than Google! What does it say about cyberspace when an operation this sophisticated can ultimately be exposed by searching on Google? Sure makes you wonder what else about our personal/private lives is just a few clicks away from those don't have the best of intentions.

So many implications to consider here, but I want to just touch on a couple here - and perhaps this will lead to some interesting dialog about other things...

First, waving the flag, it's great to say that this discovery/expose came from Canada, primarily Toronto, and some from Ottawa. The article provides quite a bit of detail about them, but the key players are Nart Villeneuve, Greg Walton and Ron Deibert from the lab at U of T, and the Ottawa-based SecDev Group.

Second - here's where the Skype connection comes in. This isn't the first time China has been associated with compromised data security. Last fall, just after the Beijing Olympics, there was an unsettling discovery about how Skype traffic was being monitored in China. Ugh. I posted about it, and the story was widely covered in the media and blogosphere.

So why am I dragging Skype back into this messy place again? Well - the same team at U of T that just exposed this cyber-spy operation also discovered what was happening to Skype in China. I know what you're thinking --- if they're smart enough to do GhostNet, when you've got a cyber-spy problem, who ya gonna call?

Friday, March 27, 2009

eComm 2009 - New Presentations Online Now/Mobivox White Paper

I've got two eComm messages to pass along here. While the conference took place earlier this month, there's a lot of sharing still to be done. Another of Lee's virtues is his commitment to building community and sharing knowledge.
In earlier posts following the conference, I've mentioned that Lee will be adding content from the presentations to the eComm website as time allows. This is a big job, and it's great that Lee is still doing this, long after the main buzz from eComm has run its course.

So, in case you missed it, or want to read transcripts or view videos of the sessions, head over to the eComm blog page for the latest content, such as:

- Smule's Ge Wang - among other head-turners, he'll demonstrate how to turn your iPhone into a bona fide musical instrument

- Asterisk's Mark Spencer talking about how Skype and Askerisk fit together

- Columbia University's Tony Jebara talking about how mobile devices and apps are impacting social behavior

- Skype's Jonathan Christensen talking about their new SILK codec and how improved voice quality makes Skype a better experience

Staying with eComm updates, I wanted to pass on a link for Mobivox, who was on my Voice 2.0 session. They launched a white paper at eComm (which I wrote) on how voice can be used in new ways to add value to CRM. If you didn't pick up on it at eComm, you download a copy of the paper by using this link.

Busy Thursday - MTS Allstream, Samsung, Canadian Blogging Idol

I had a triple-header on Thursday, with 3 different events. They were all different, so I covered a lot of ground, and got all my meals covered from sunup to sundown - that worked out well. Being out all day/night set me back on things today, and before the week is out, I wanted to share the basic highlights.

Stop 1 - MTS Allstream at the Board of Trade

The Toronto Board of Trade runs a breakfast series on IT, and I was invited to attend this one. The keynote speaker was Dean Provost, President of Enterprise Solutions at MTS Allstream. He's definitely an up and coming exec on the Canadian telecom scene, and he gave an up-to-the-minute presentation on the challenges faced by CIOs and IT in today's challenging economy. The themes were familiar but really well handled, and if MTS Allstream can execute on these challenges, they'll be in good shape.

Preceding Dean was John Pickett, long time Editor and now Community Advocate at ITWorld Canada, and he shared highlights from some recent research on what's on the mind of Canada's CIOs. Again, no surprises, but it was interesting to note how much focus CIOs put on reducing costs, and how much lower innovation and new services is on their list of priorities.

John Pickett, ITWorld Canada

Dean Prevost, MTS Allstream

Definitely a full house

Stop 2 - Samsung Canada

This was their first-ever analyst get together, and I was glad to be part of it. This is one of those companies that's bigger than you think, and their market presence is pretty impressive. The news of note, however, is under embargo until Monday, so the rest of Stop #2 will have to wait until then.

Stop 3 - ITWorld Canada - Canadian Blogging Idol Contest Launch

I had a double shot of ITWorld Canada Thursday, but this time with a whole different set of people. ITWorld Canada has come up with a blogging competition, and the launch of Canadian Blogging Idol was my evening destination. I'm not an IT guy per se, but I'm close enough to the space and comment on their stories often enough to be considered for the contest. Well, let's see how it goes.

All I can say right now is to check it out, and vote for the posts you like best. Also, it's not too late to enter, so jump in if you think you can win! You can follow the posts and participate in the voting from their website. By all means, tell your friends, read the posts, and cast your votes. I just got this going this afternoon, and look for me to start posting for real next week.

ITWorld Canada's Shane Schick leading us through the demo

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Service Provider Views - Surviving in the New World of Telecom

The latest TMCnet article for my Service Provider Views column was posted today, and I hope you give it a read.

This article is the first of two on high level service provider themes that came out of eComm 2009 earlier this month. There is a lot to talk about that I think is relevant for service providers, and while the new world that's emerging in telecom poses all kinds of threats, I saw lots of opportunities at eComm.

A lot of ground was covered in three days there, and my intent is to provide a taste of what the possibilities look like for operators ready, willing and able to embrace what many are calling Telecom 2.0.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Calysto White Paper - Social Media and PR

Calysto is one of the PR firms I've been close to in this space since I began covering it in 2001. They've got a solid track record and do a great job updating us on the comings and goings of the industry through their client e-letter PR Vibes.

They just launched a white paper about the role social media can play in today's marketing and PR programs, and I wanted to help create some awareness about it. I reviewed this early on, and now it's a public document, which you can download from their website.

PR firms, especially indies, aren't known for their own thought leadership, and this is a pretty good example of an agency being proactive and sharing some best practices with the market. Social media is a huge unknown for everyone, and we all feel compelled to use it one way or another. PR firms and their clients all struggle with this, and nobody is ever quite sure about what tactics to use or how much to spend. However, PR firms are increasingly expected to know how to handle this space, and I'm sure it's one of the big questions companies have when hiring an agency.

So, it's great to see Calysto doing something about this and outlining their thinking on how social media can be incorporated into PR programs. Is this a pitch for business? Well, sure it is, and after reading this paper, you'll know exactly what kinds of programs and capabilities Calysto has to offer.

I'm ok with that, because I think most people will come away with some new ideas and answers to some basic questions they have about the value and impact social media can have on their business. A lot of you may be very immersed in social media, but I can guarantee you that a lot of people are not, and for that audience in particular, this white paper will serve a useful purpose.

Kudos to Laura Borgstede and her team, and I'm glad to see PR companies doing things like this. I know it's an important focus for Calysto, so hopefully this will be the beginning of something good that will help us all make sense of how social media and PR can best work together.

Monday, March 23, 2009

BroadSoft Launches Hosted Video with Tandberg

Can't help but notice there's a trend happening here. Last week I was briefed on this news before it came out, but wasn't able to blog about it until today. Nothing earth-shattering here, but definitely a continuation of a theme that I'm happy to see unfolding. On Friday, BroadSoft announced a partner solution with Tandberg for a hosted video communications offering for the SMB market. BroadSoft provides the hosted services platform via BroadWorks, and Tandberg provides the endpoint in the form of the E20 video phone.

It's a good way for both companies to extend market reach. Tandberg has a full line of video, ranging from the E20 desk phone to the immersive MXP telepresence and HD solutions. They also have Movi, a PC-based video application, but that's not tied in with the BroadSoft news (but it's coming). The hosted service allows Tandberg to ride a more complete offering to market, and opens the door for businesses to scale up from desktop video to the larger systems. They're fighting Polycom every step of the way, and they need partnerships like this to get beyond being just a hardware or endpoint solution.

BroadSoft gets more market traction by adding another top tier video partner to their stable. They already partner with LifeSize and Polycom, and last week had a nice announcement with the latter for their VVX1500 media phone.

Taking this back a step or two, the BroadSoft/Tandberg news comes on the heels of Vidtel's announcement last week about their entry into the SMB video telephony market - which BroadSoft had a hand in. And going back a bit further, desktop video pioneer SightSpeed was acquired by Logitech in November.

Sure looks like a trend to me, and I have no doubt we'll be hearing more news on the video telephony front from both startups and majors in due time. Overall, the timing definitely seems right - video technology is good enough now, bandwidth is affordable, people are more accepting of video, and we now have affordable, practical solutions.

No doubt video can be a great proxy for traveling to meetings, and SMBs will be very receptive to saving money. The only hitch is that you need to spend some money to save this money. The Tandberg phones won't be cheap, so the VARs and service providers pitching hosted video will have to be creative. This is a very cost-conscious market, and I'd have to say that the marketing angle will be every bit as important as the technology story. I think that's largely true for most IP communications offerings, but particularly here where you need the hardware to make it work.

Friday, March 20, 2009

VoIP-News Webinar Now Archived

The VoIP-News webinar I presented on the other day drew a lot of interest - a couple of hundred - and we certainly could have gone on beyond the hour we had.

If you missed it, or had to drop out early, the archive is now available - just follow the link here - and once you register there, you'll have access to the replay.

To give you a flavor of who we had on the call, here are the results of a poll question of the audience:

Are you planning to deploy a VoIP system in your organization?

Already have a VoIP system 35.8%
In process of implementing a VoIP solution 3.7%
Planning to implement VoIP 11.0%
Evaluating VoIP 23.9%
No plans to implement VoIP 25.7%

It's pretty much what I'd expect - some have VoIP, some have no plans, and some are looking into it. Overall, though, 3 out of 4 have VoIP on their radar, and that's the news that I'm looking to hear.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MyAlltop - Personal Websites Now Launched - I Got Mine

Am sure Guy Kawasaki will be familiar to many of you, and last year he launched an interesting blogging venture called Alltop. It's best described as a digital magazine rack, where you can quickly scan the latest post headlines from the top blogs on a particular topic.

Alltop covers a whole range of topics beyond tech. There are lots of lifestyle categories, and I find some of these just as interesting as the tech stuff. One of the tech categories is VoIP, and I'm glad to say that my blog is included there.

Yesterday, Alltop launched the next iteration of Alltop - MyAlltop. In the spirit of social networking and personal portals, each Alltop contributor can now have their own webpage where we round up our own personal favorite blogs from across the spectrum of blogs covered by Alltop. I've only explored a fraction of all the Alltop blogs, but I've listed my favorites, and you can see them on my personalized Alltop webpage. It's mostly VoIP and telecom, but I have some Red Sox and Judaica, and others will come over time. There's also a Facebook link, so if you're in my group of contacts, you'll be hearing about MyAlltop there.

So, if you want to know what I'm reading and following, MyAlltop is one way to stay connected.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reminder - VoIP News Webinar is Tomorrow

One more shout-out to register for the webinar I'll be participating in tomorrow. I'm the lead presenter for a webinar hosted by VoIP News and sponsored by Qwest. We'll be talking about strategies enterprises can follow to get the most out of their communications investments and technologies during a recession. It's a popular topic right now, and I'm looking forward to being part of this.

You can get more details from my recent post about this, as well as how you can sign up and listen in. Hope you can join us!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Amazon Kindle Users - You Can Now Subscribe to my Blog

Here's something new that I'm pretty excited about. Amazon Kindle readers can now subscribe to my blog. If I was out and about more frequently I'd use Kindle, but regardless, I think it's great technology and can see where it has a lot of value.

The process to subscribe seems pretty straightforward, and for a measly 99 cents a month, you can truly have my blog on the go! If you're in that crowd, I'd love to see you subscribe, and then hear how you find the experience.

I still have a small bug to work out for getting the badge properly coded, but you can certainly sign up now directly on the Amazon website. Just open this link, and you can see my blog in the Kindle Store and you're 1 click away from being getting this on your Kindle. Ready...go...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vidtel Pushes into SMB with Polycom

Been trying hard to get this post up before the day is out. It's been an intense week on a few fronts, and it's been a good week for Vidtel. This is Scott Wharton's startup, and he's put together a solid team and a great offering since launching in early December.

You can read up the background in that post, but the story today is a nice progression. Vidtel came to market with a Grandstream video phone, selling a video telephony service to consumers. It's a huge opportunity, but you have to win business one household at a time, and that will take a while for an unknown startup. No matter. Scott has a plan, and with a solid offering, I'm confident he will make this work.

The SMB market is another frontier altogether, and to tackle that, they need an upgraded handset and partners with an installed base of customers and/or channels. Well, they have that now with Polycom, and together, this should be a winner.

Earlier this week, Polycom announced the launch of their VVX 1500 media phone, which features HD voice, video telephony, and open APIs to support third party and SIP applications. It's another step along the path of how telephones and PCs are morphing into appliances that support IP and Web-based applications.

Vidtel enters the picture with a follow-on announcement about how they are now the world's first provider of an SMB services offering built around the VVX 1500.

Now we're getting somewhere, folks. To me, this is big news - it's probably the coolest, sexiest SMB offering out there, and once people wake up to what's on offer, they should be running to get this service. Speaking with Scott today - on Vidtel of course - I can see how excited he is about the news. It's truly an industry first, and Vidtel has come a long way in a very short time.

Actually, Scott noted that my call with him was probably the world's first real-world session using the VVX 1500 over Vidtel's network. Well, that makes two of us who were excited to be talking about this today - cool! So, for what it's worth, maybe I have the scoop for a change, and I can tell you that the call quality was great. The video image was crisp, the colors were bright, and the session ran pretty much in real-time. No noticeable jitter or image degradation - it was a solid experience. That may be the most important takeaway from this post - it works, folks - and I'm sure the market will love it once they try it out.

When I presented about SIP Trunking last month at the IT Expo, this is exactly the type of offering everyone is looking for to leverage the power of end-to-end IP. HD voice is a big part of the story, and you'll know what I mean if you've experienced it. Combine this with high quality video, and the VVX 1500 becomes a powerful communications hub, and will be a great driver for videoconferencing, something I've been bullish on for a while. For more background on HD voice, I'll steer you to an interview I did recently with Polycom's Jeff Rodman, who is regarded as the "father of HD voice".

To sum up, it's been a big week for Vidtel, and a good one for both Polycom and BroadSoft. Scott had a long tenure at BroadSoft prior to Vidtel, and their BroadWorks platform is a key component to enable and support the applications that make the VVX 1500 such a powerful communications device. Lots of familiarity here, and in this case, I think that's a big reason why all these pieces fit together so nicely.

Max's Take on the new iPod Shuffle - Small is Beautiful

Got a new post to share from my closest blogging competitor - my son Max. He's written a review on the latest iPod Shuffle, and has an interesting take on its size and perceptions in general about the size of Apple's devices.

It may not be of interest for telecom types, but as always, a teen's point of view of tech and gadgets is distinct, and Max in particular has his own take on things. Enjoy, and by all means, let him know your thoughts!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Google Voice - VoIP is Alive and Well

I don't jump on news items all that much, but today's Google Voice story is a good one, and is a great validation for my position that VoIP is far from dead. Followers of my blog would be familiar with that topic, which I wrote about in a favorable light in December, but sparked lively debate on both sides of the dead or alive argument about the state of VoIP.

I've been trying to get this post out all day, but project work is keeping me busy, plus I've been fielding a handful of media calls about Google Voice. So what's the fuss?

You should start first with the media - Fierce VoIP and the San Fran Chronicle, then move on to the blogs, namely GigaOm and Andy Abramson. Andy has to be particularly happy since he was an early backer of GrandCentral and they were one of his many clients to have successful exits - very nice.

I was happy to be contacted about this story by the media, as I've followed GrandCentral for some time, and wrote about their being acquired back in 2007. This morning I was cited on the BBC's coverage of Google Voice, which was also picked up by Negocios. That one's in Portuguese - I've got no idea what they're saying, but I'm in there! The SF Chronicle called about this yesterday, but the timing didn't work out, so I missed that one - sorry Verne.

Finally, Wired got my take on Google Voice this afternoon, but it's not running yet. The article running there now on Google Voice is from yesterday, and the updated story should be posted any time now. I'll revise this post once it's up.

UPDATE - the Wired article referenced above has now been posted. I figured it best to leave the link for the earlier article, and now provide the link to today's Wired article that I was cited in.

As mentioned, this is good move for Google, and really helps make their Google Apps suite more sticky, and with GC's voice rec piece, it could be an important driver in bolstering their mobile search capabilities. It makes them a more interesting alternative to Skype, but I'd say it's more of a threat to Microsoft and even IBM/Lotus for business users. There's enough here to keep you busy for a while, but if you still have questions, please drop me a line!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vayyoo Service Now Launched

I wasn't able to post about this at eComm last week, but I was using their service then, and posting with it to my blog. I'm referring to Ottawa-based Vayyoo, who had their official launch last week of vPost for BlackBerry users.

vPost is this cool application that allows you to capture and upload multimedia content on your BlackBerry smartphone device to an online destination, whether that's your blog, website, etc. It's easy to upload one item at a time today - an email, a photo, a video snippet, etc. However, it's much harder to upload multiple items at once, so vPost can be a real time saver. Plus it allows you to integrate the content, such as annotating a photo. vPost is a natural for power bloggers, social networking junkies, mobile workers or anyone who wants/needs to post information in near real-time to a broader community. Think of being at a music event with your friends, or a journalist with breaking news on location.

vPost got a nice review the other day on CNET/Webware, so if you don't believe me, give this a read. This is just the beginning for Vayyoo, and as things progress, they'll be extending this application to other mobile platforms, so don't worry if you're not a BlackBerry user.

I'll have more to say about Vayyoo as I have more time to use it and as they build on this announcement. For transparency, I will note that I'm an Advisor to Vayyoo, but that aside, you have to admit it's a pretty neat application!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

February Media Roundup

I'm later than usual getting this monthly roundup post done, thanks largely to eComm keeping me so busy last week. February was light in terms of press coverage, but I was quite active with the launch of 2 white papers and an industry study - 1 of which is cited in this post, and another will be cited in my March roundup.

On the press front, I have just two items to steer you to:

- Tech Media Reports - Mobivox's Talk-Out customer announcement (subscription required, but I have a soft copy)

- Calysto PR Vibes - IT Expo roundup (posted on Rich Tehrani's blog)

Technically, I can point you to a third citing, but it's actually a mis-attribution. I'm really doing this to illustrate the lighter side of the blogosphere, as I'm sure it happens all the time. I have no idea who these people are, where they got this quote from, or why/how the attributed it to me! This is either sloppy blogging (I'm hesitant to call it journalism), or a really botched job of stealing content from other sources.

- Live Journal - Skype's video calling for the Mac

Regarding those launches, one had a press release last month that cited me:

- Jajah - launch at Mobile World Congress of their 2009 Telecom Industry Issues Index - you're welcome to download the report from my website

On TMCnet, my bi-monthly Service Provider Views columns ran, both of which built on the SIP Trunking seminars I presented during the IT Expo in early February:

- SIP Trunking – the 6 Cs of Communications Evolution

- SIP Trunking - What's in it for Service Providers?

Finally, I wrote an Ask the Expert response for Tech Target's Unified Communications portal. You need a membership to access the content, but it's free and just takes a minute. I'm about to start doing a few more things with them, so look for more contributions from me there soon.

- What is the future of VoIP in the remote emerging telecom markets?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why You Needed to be at eComm 2009

I've been posting photos and snippets during eComm this week, but composing my overall impressions has been another matter. Sitting through 3 days mostly filled with continuous 15 minute presentations is a surefire recipe to fry your brain, and most people I talked to were topped out well before things wrapped up Thursday night. It's information overload of the highest - and best - order, and I'm not alone in needing some time to decompress and gather my thoughts about what it all means.

Here's my top-line takeaway, and reading the rest of this post is really just detail. But it's detail you'll probably love if you really want to know what you missed. So, what does it all mean, this eComm thing? I don't know - really.

Was it a conference? Sure - we met, we conferred, we learned, business got done. A trade show? Definitely not - thankfully. It had elements of an unconference and the feel of an academic symposium at times. eComm has a distinct feel that's different from other events, and I'm beginning to think it's becoming the prototype for 2.0-style conferences - whatever that means.

Leaving all that aside, my main message is this - how I feel at the end of the day is what really matters. Whatever you want to call eComm, I came away feeling that Lee was right - this wasn't an event you should have attended, it was an event you NEEDED to attend. If you already know that, then you don't need to read any further - but if you don't know why, then stay with me here for a few minutes.

First off, the requisite kudos to Lee Dryburgh must yet again be pronounced. I've never seen a conference organizer get a standing O before, but it was warranted, and everyone felt good doing it. As an Advisory Board member, I know all too well how much heart and soul Lee has put into eComm, and in case you didn't know, he's not doing it for the money. Sure, he wants to make a buck like all of us, but it's not his motivation for doing eComm - otherwise, it never would have gotten this far. Thanks again Lee - now go spend some parental time with your daughter - am sure she misses you.

Lee's still a novice in the show business, and while many things could have been done better, nobody was complaining - there's a feeling here we're all in this together - kind of like the way rock music was before it became big business in the mid-70's. Before that, audiences had a much more direct connection to the bands, and it was all about the music. Nothing like the way it is today. Many of us in the audience at eComm were speakers, and there was a fluid flow of engagement between listeners and presenters - the way it should be. And of course with most people Twittering away, there was a real-time sense of community developing and bonding before our eyes. I'm pretty sure that was the vibe Lee was shooting for, and he got it in spades. You can't buy that, and it sure doesn't happen at bigger, more professionally run shows.

I should also mention that Lee added a nice touch by donating 10% of the show profits to a local charity, and had a brief presentation around this towards the end of the last day. As mentioned, it's not about the money for Lee, and while we're all happy that eComm 2009 did turn a modest profit, it says a lot when someone who gets such a small return for so much work still has enough heart to share with those who truly need a hand, especially in today's economy. This is not how show business is usually done, and it's another reason why eComm is different from other conferences.

Before moving off the thank-you soap box, kudos are also due to Comunicano for all their behind the scenes work to get eComm in the media spotlight and help generate the coverage it deserves. Andy Abramson and his team know this territory as well as anybody, and their pro-bono support makes them an important part of this emerging community.

It's always a special feeling being part of something from the start, and that alone made being there great. Most of us were more than just passive spectators, and Lee was quite receptive to giving people a chance to contribute. Many of the speakers would not fit into the formats of other shows, so the diversity of viewpoints and topics was another important reason to be there. The eComm format is fairly rigid, but content themes were the opposite - loosely defined at best. There weren't multiple tracks where you go to Hall B for wireless, Hall G for video, Hall J for regulatory issues, etc. It all took place in one room, and we were all subjected to a nearly endless parade of 15 minute speaker slots.

Lee was the ruthless timekeeper, and when the gong sounded, off you went. Some begged for 10 seconds more, but to no avail. I was very sceptical about this approach last year, but he's made it work, and now I'm a fan. Anyhow, this is a long-winded way of saying eComm is a pretty distinct breed of conference, and if you came for the content, your time and money was well-spent. The challenge, of course, is trying to absorb it all. That's my major concern, but even if you just take half of it in, I'm pretty sure you'll come away some very fresh and inspired thinking.

Oh - one other thing - and it's a big one. Although the audience makeup seemed heavy on developers and light on service providers, it's not clear to me whether eComm is friend or foe to the carrier community. I had this fundamental concern last year, and I'm not sure if it's any clearer this time around. You may say that's a red herring since it's obvious that the eComm crowd is not a fan of big telcos. It's like trying to ignore George Bush while he was in office.

No amount of chest thumping from iPhone-toting developers is going to change the status quo. I need to be careful here, of course, since good changes ARE happening. eComm is helping define an incredible market opportunity that will happen, and you could just as well argue that the onus is on the incumbents to decide if they want in and be on the right side of history. And a few of them were at eComm - Sprint, T Mobile, SaskTel - either bravely or with a sense of vision. So, maybe it's by design that eComm is ambiguous in its embrace of the telcos - or maybe Lee hasn't figured that part out yet himself.

It IS clear, though, that Lee is calling for an evolution in the telecom world - not a revolution and overthrow of the evil regime. This problem is not unique to eComm. In its heyday, VON was not seen as carrier-friendly by the telcos, but some came along grudgingly because they knew change was coming and needed to see what all the fuss was about. Tricky stuff here - let's move on. The main thing I'm getting at is that the eComm message needs to be heard by the incumbents - it's still their world. On that count, I think eComm still has a ways to go.

So, I'll share some of the content highlights with you now. I should preface this by saying that from what I could tell I was just 1 of 3 industry analysts at eComm, and the only one from North America. Lucky me. So, don't waste your time scouring the websites of Gartner, IDC, Forrester, etc. for first-hand accounts. This is the only one you're going to find on this side of the Atlantic.

It's an Apple world, folks. No surprise, given we were in San Francisco. The vast majority use Mac computers and iPhones. I'm definitely in the minority with my Bold and Toshiba notebook, but hey, the broadband worked just fine for all of us. Despite that, I have no qualms recognizing how brilliant Apple is at branding their products. I was onstage only once, moderating the Voice 2.0 panel. Looking out into the audience, I couldn't help but notice a sea of illuminated Apple logos beaming back at me from the covers of everyone's Macbooks. Great marketing.

I digress. Regarding content, the iPhone was a recurring theme, perhaps the most common one overall. You'd think developers have sworn wholesale allegiance to Apple. Actually there was quite a bit for Android too, and this points to a broader meta-theme of wireless applications. No surprise there, and if mobility is your passion, you would have found something of interest in almost every presentation.

Baby, baby it's a wireless world. I've been waiting a long time to use that line, and I'm sure Cat Stevens won't mind. Aside from all the life-changing - or just plain fun - wireless apps we learned about, there was a lot of time spent around wireless spectrum issues, and the broader topics of regulation, social policy, net neutrality. It's actually a pretty bleak picture for those of us in the U.S. and Canada for that matter. There's so much opportunity being squandered by a lack of will, vision and the trumping of private interests over the public good, and we just look so philistine compared to Europe and Asia. The people who have the right answers were in our midst at eComm, but there's a sense of frustration, anger, resignation, etc. about how to get good governance in place to properly equip us for the Information Economy. Lee - we need more focus on this in 2010.

The future is cool - really cool. I found Thursday the best in terms of speakers telling us what the future holds. In particular, there were really engaging presentations from Mark Rolston of Frog Design, Jeevan Kalanithi of MIT Labs, and Stefan Agamanolis of Distance Labs. Other standouts that made me think and re-think about what's coming include Thomas Howe - now of Jaduka, Malcolm Matson of OPLAN Foundation, Xuedong Huang of Microsoft, futurist Gerd Leonhard, Ge Wang of Smule (can you perform Stairway to Heaven on your iPhone? - he can show you how). I'm not going to expend another 2,000 words telling you what we saw - just take my word for it, or do some searching on your own. Better yet, plan to come to the next eComm and see for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Ok, folks, this post is getting long, and I'm not getting paid to do this, so I'll close off with a few more quick highlights that made eComm worthwhile for me.

My Voice 2.0 panel. Not so much because of me, but we had a great lineup who showed the audience that innovative and profitable voice-based applications are out there today. It was also very satisfying to see that the Wall Street Journal picked up on this theme and wrote an article about our panel.

Daniel Brusilovsky/Teens in Tech. My personal favorite highlight. Daniel is just 16, and is a budding 2.0 star. He's got a cool portal, does quite a bit of consulting, and manages to stay in high school. This is another thing that makes eComm cool - where else are you going to see a 16 year old up on stage? It was particularly sweet for me, as my oldest son, Max, presented last year (he was 15 then) and set a nice precedent that I hope Lee continues. Anyhow, Daniel spoke about how teens are using things like the iPhone, and pretty much stumped the audience when he asked what the average age of an iPhone user is. Care to guess?

Two more quick snippets that have been rolling around in my mind...

Martin Geddes - he's gone to BT now, and was the first to go in Andy's draft list. He spoke via video, and was very good - he always is - that's why BT hired him on. Anyhow, he said one simple thing that seems very much at the root of the tension eComm is trying to get us focused on. Telcos have long assumed that our time is not valuable, but their network operations are. No doubt that networks have historically been expensive undertakings, but just because we pay for the privilege of using your services doesn't mean our time is cheap.

Martin correctly notes that today the opposite is true - networks are relatively inexpensive to operate (IP, anyway), and our time is in fact quite valuable. With so many options for communications and entertainment, our time is damned valuable - why the hell do you think we multitask so much!?!? Too much choice can be a bad thing, but in this world, we have to make choices about where we spend our time, how we spend it, and with whom. Telcos that take our time for granted will be left with expensive networks and no customers. I can only presume that BT gets that.

Ribbit's presentation - Crick Waters gave a nice Darwinian-flavored overview of how communications has evolved and how the natural selection process explains which features survive. No revelations there, but I don't think he ever referenced the fact that Ribbit is now part of BT. Interesting, since his talk followed Martin's, who was clearly wearing the BT hat. Is it just me? For those of you who follow Ribbit or read my TMCnet column, you'll know that the Ribbit brand stays in place, and in fact, they are free to pursue other carrier business outside BT. Am not sure how they did that, but it gets them the best of both worlds. Nice.

Anyhow, given my earlier comments about whether eComm is friend or foe to big telcos, I thought this would have been a great opportunity to say how savvy BT was to embrace this space and put their money on the line for Ribbit. Whether they overpaid is another story, but considering where Ribbit was a year ago at the inaugural eComm, they are without a doubt the poster boy to which all voice platform vendors aspire to - and I think it's great that eComm attendees get to bear witness to how much can change in a year's time - wow.

There were quite a few Ribbits-in-waiting at eComm - Voxeo, Mobivox, Jajah, Jaduka, Ifbyphone - and my instincts tell me that at least one of these will have a good news story to share with us at the next eComm. If so, Lee, you'll start to get a rep as a king-maker, and in that case, you'd better start raising the cost of admission and sponsoring!

That's my story, and it's a long way of saying eComm was a great event, and should now be considered a must-attend for thought leadership, innovation and community in the telecom/communications sector. I'm glad to have been a part of it, and am looking forward to helping get the next one going.

If you haven't had your fill, have a look at posts from fellow eCommers such as Dean Bubley, Andy Abramson and Jim Courtney.

And if you can spare another few hours, hop over to the eComm site to review the play-by-play Twitter backchannel, the eComm blog, and Duncan Davidson's photo gallery. If you can do all that, you'll make Lee feel real proud, and you won't have any excuse not to attend eComm 2010.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

eComm 2009 - Day 3

The eComm 2009 blur continues, but we're done now. Today's sessions were the best and most thought-provoking. Really good stuff, and if you just came for today, it would have been worth your while. I only have enough energy to post some photos, but I will add my overall impressions after I've had some time to decompress.

Hats off to Lee Dryburgh - he's done a fantastic job to make this conference happen. I'm convinced now that eComm was not a one-off wonder, and that Lee has the makings of a viable, ongoing conference now. He's already talked about doing a European event in the Fall, so stay tuned.

Stefan Agamanolis, Distance Lab - thinking more broadly about how we communicate - imagine floating in a pool and speaking to someone while being in a sensory deprivation environment --- you had to see the video to see what he was getting at - loved it

Thomas Howe, Jaduka - as always, he grounds us all in reality

RJ Auburn, Voxeo - more examples of innovation around voice - their Tropo launch was one of the highlights of the conference

Daniel Brusilovsky, Teens in Tech - my personal favorite of the conference. He's 16, and gave a great presentation about how his generation is using today's tools, especially the iPhone - a star in the making. Many parallels here to my oldest son, Max, who presented at eComm last year, and was 15 at the time. These guys are the future, and it's not hard to see why.

XD - Xuedong Huang, Microsoft - great opening line - he explained that the reason why the audience was almost exclusively using Apple Macs instead of PCs was simply that they don't have Windows 7 yet! Gotta like that. He had a great video showing a futuristic vision of what's possible with ubiquitous broadband that's literally in the air - very magical, and similar to a video he showed recently at the IT Expo. I don't think Microsoft hired Pixar to make this, but it's certainly in that vein.

Martin Gedddes, BT - sharing his thoughts on the future of telephony remote via video

eComm Voice 2.0 Panel - Covered by WSJ

Yesterday, here at eComm 2009, I moderated a panel session titled Voice 2.0 - New Ways to Monetize Voice. We had a great lineup, and everyone on the panel had notable things to say about the opportunities that exist today for operators to make money with voice services and applications. If only we had more time to explore the topic - maybe next eComm...

The experience was definitely enjoyable, and felt a bit more special after learning that the Wall Street Journal picked up the session and ran an article about it. This link may expire by tomorrow, and if you need a text-based copy, just let me know.

WSJ writer Timothy Hay picked up on the key themes very well, and it was great to see Larry Lisser from Mobivox and Trevor Healy of Jajah getting some nice quotes. Let's hope this brings a little more attention and love from the investment community to this space. A little capital goes a long way with these companies, and as anyone attending eComm will attest, voice has a lot of life in 2009, and we've only seen a glimpse of what's to come.

For those of you not in attendance, there is a really nice photo gallery on the eComm website, with a few shots there of our session. You can view them here, starting at photo #172 - enjoy!

Service Provider Views - 4G Outlook with Crossfire Media

My latest Service Provider Views column is running now on TMCnet. For this article, I've focused on one of the strong themes that came out of the IT Expo last month - wireless. Under the Crossfire Media umbrella, Carl Ford and Scott Kargman launched 4G Wireless Evolution at the conference, and by all counts, it was a successful debut.

To keep that momentum going, I recently interviewed Scott and Carl, not just about their thinking behind 4GWE, but also their overall outlook for wireless and operator migration to 4G. You can read the Q&A here, and hopefully, their thoughts will set the stage for a larger event next time around.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

eComm 2009 - Day 2

More great content today here at eComm, but after a while, it starts to be a blur! Glad I'm taking notes. Just got time to post a few photos, and will add some commentary next time around.

Irv Shapiro, Ifbyphone

Jan Linden, GIPS

Chris Mairs, Andy Randall, MetaSwitch

Mark Spencer, Asterisk

Todd Landry, NEC Sphere

Dan York, Voxeo - relaxing after just finalizing the preso he's about to give

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

eComm 2009 - More Day 1 Highlights

Just a few highlights from this afternoon's presentations...

Alan Duric, Telio

Peter Diedrich, Mobivox

Jonathan Taylor, Voxeo

Jonathan Christensen, Skype - focus was on today's launch of SILK - their free, super wideband codec - pretty interesting stuff

Looking out the window, it was great to see that the weather improved considerably by the afternoon...

Quick post using Vayyoo

Here's a micropost to say that we're having WiFi problems and it's hard to get online right now. Hope that will be fixed after lunch.

I'm doing this post using Vayyoo, so this is a good showcase for them. I've been trying to add photos to Vayyoo posts, but my blog platform is not cooperatingm. Once that's fixed, I'll be doing multimedia posts with Vayyoo - which is what really makes it neat.Stay tuned.

This email composed using vPost. Download at:


Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Thomas Howe/Jaduka Announcement

eComm is not heavy on announcements, but here's one that a good news story that's been in the works for a while. Followers of my blog should be familiar with both parties - The Thomas Howe Company and Jaduka. Today, they held a conference call at the conference to announce that Thomas Howe has joined Jaduka as their CEO, and Jack Rynes transitions from CEO to COO.

I think it's a great move for both companies, but I'm not going to get into the details now. In short, Tom brings the kind of vision to help Jaduka take enterprise applications to another level, and more importantly, position them at the forefront for what I would call the service provider of the future. Lots to say around this, but I'll do that in another forum.

Time is tight here, and others have done the job already, so I'll steer you to their posts and news items. First is the press release, then coverage from Rich Tehrani, Andy Abramson as well as Jim Courtney, who was present with me this morning in the suite where the concall was held. His post isn't up yet, but it will be soon - try checking his site later today.

eComm 2009 - First Thoughts

Well, we're 1 hour into eComm 2009, and so far, it's been as promised. Lee's bang-bang format is going to plan so far, and we've had 4 presentations already. This pace will continue all the way through the conference, so you'd better take notes - which I'm doing.

I'm not into Twitter, so you'll have to look elsewhere for the real-time thought-bytes coming from most of the people in attendance. The "official" eComm Twitter backchannel is an easy way to follow things blow by blow - which I know my son Max is doing back in Toronto.

At this point, I'm just going to share a few photos, and will add my thoughts later in the day.

Lee, looking pretty relaxed 30 seconds before showtime...

Not much of a day here, but it's way warmer than Toronto. I just can't get Harry Chapin's great song Taxi out of my mind - "it was raining hard in Frisco..."