Internet Telephony Publisher’s Outlook August 2006

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Internet Telephony Publisher’s Outlook August 2006

Please enjoy by Publisher’s Outlook from the August issue of Internet Telephony Magazine. It was great fun to put this together as I thought back on all the places I have been to in the last few months and of course all the new people I met and old friends I have visited with.

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Hitting the Road in the Name of IP Communications

By Rich Tehrani

I am a blogger. Alas, I have been blogging less often lately. There. It feels much better to get that off my chest. Sometimes it helps to get past something by confessing it. It feels even better to write it in a column that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

I have a reason for my lack of blogging, and that is customer meetings and speeches. I have been traveling all over the country giving speeches and visiting customers, learning about what is happening in the world of IP communications. Generally, the more meetings I have the more I have to write about, but I may have exceeded the breaking point as I have met so many companies that it has been difficult to write it all up. So I decided to slow down for 24 hours and write up some of the things I have seen. Don’t expect this column to have broad concepts about the industry, but instead lots of juicy tidbits about the most intriguing companies and people I have recently met.

Resellers
Last week, I keynoted at VoIP Sizzles in Miami . The event targets resellers, and at the show there was a great deal of optimism about the future of VoIP products and services. Resellers had a few questions and concerns and were trying to figure out the best products and services to sell. In the exhibit area there was great interest in the Allworx booth among others. Word on the street is that Allworx is doing some very exciting things. The people at the company are more enthused than at any other time - I have known them for years.

I also moderated a panel at the above conference, with Alan Percy of Audiocodes and Michael Baus of Linksys sitting in with me, discussing how resellers can make money in voice over IP. The audience led the session and they were pretty savvy, asking lots of great questions. One of the better ones was related to Skype and the fact that products in the future will likely have to incorporate the Skype protocol so as not to ignore the massive user base of Skype callers in the world. I made a statement that in the next few years I expect all IP communications vendors targeting the enterprise to have Skype support. Even after further reflection, I think this comment is right on.

Another theme echoed by Alan and Michael was that, if you are a reseller, the biggest pitfall you are likely to experience is trying to sell IP communications products and services without adequate training. So make sure you get trained before you sell something.

From there I went to the Synnex Corporation annual conference, which was being held in South Carolina . I met with many more resellers that had some great questions. Most of the questions centered on how to pick a company whose products to resell and also how to sell solutions and not merely push boxes.

For my part, the presentations really focused on this theme. Box pushers will be squeezed out of the reseller business in the next few years so if you aren’t focusing on solutions, you might be history.

Also, there are some traditional interconnects out there. The PBX resellers who refuse to embrace VoIP. Your days are numbered if you don’t evolve.

I really enjoyed meeting all these resellers and I was happy to see that most of the people at these conferences were readers of TMC publications and go to TMC events. It is always great to meet the TMC community in person.

Cisco
I also had a chance to spend a day with Cisco in San Jose and I learned a great deal about the company’s products and services. Cisco’s cable offerings are doing well and they have actually built their own head end on campus, which was extremely impressive. We took a tour of their labs and got to see some of their testing procedures that ensure quality. We then got to see a real live home (of course this was in the lab) laden with Cisco and Linksys products. This was the home of the future if you will, with streaming audio over WiFi, HDTV, etc.

Cisco has always done a good job of branding and one of my favorite taglines from the company is “empowering the Internet generation.” Their new tagline may be “the network is the platform for experience.” I may be paraphrasing but this is the general concept. The point is that podcasting, online dating and other activities are increasingly network-based, and as Sun’s Scott McNealy famously said, “The network is the computer.” Really though, “the network is the experience,” or at least it provides the experience.

Another interesting tidbit from the meeting is that consumer Internet traffic has surpassed business Internet traffic for the first time. This is not good for service providers as consumers pay much less for Internet connectivity. The point is that service providers had better start selling new services soon or they are in for some serious trouble.

Some of the ways to ensure this revenue is generated is by allowing service providers to take advantage of Cisco’s service exchange framework or SEF allowing providers to provide the identity of users and subsequently allowing for things like content filtering, IPTV, and newer concepts like a “turbo button,” which allows a customer to have a speed and QoS bump on their broadband connection for a few days. This could be useful for someone who plans on downloading movies on the weekend for example.

Gizmo
I also had a chance to meet with Michael Robertson who founded MP3.com and who founded SipPhone/Gizmo Project. Gizmo Project is a SIP-based solution that is very similar to Skype and it has been gaining lots of momentum lately. Oh, by the way - the Nokia 770 tablet uses the SipPhone software to provide VoIP service.

Robertson has also founded a company doing AJAX work and as such you can expect to see a Web-based version of Gizmo Project soon and the solution will be heavily integrated with AJAX . AJAX is a technology allowing a Web browser-based application to seem like it is software running locally. Outlook Web Access and Google Maps are examples of AJAX implementations. Expect VoIP to go the way of the Web browser and AJAX and lose that bulky software.

Switchvox
From there we go to another company that has a number of MP3.com alumni called Switchvox. The company makes an easy to use interface for Asterisk phone systems. In my opinion the biggest barrier to greater Asterisk adoption is the difficulty in setting it up. Switchvox helps solve this problem and their interface is really slick and will have more and more AJAX elements over time. I am told practically anyone will be able to manage the system once it is up and running.

Another interesting Switchvox feature is the integrated IVR that is programmable meaning you could build an application allowing customers to call in to check on their account balance and then pay via credit card. The IVR also has Web integration, which allows customers to track packages via the phone as well.

Wireless
I recently met with a Coppercom executive with whom I had a long discussion about how rural LECs are in dire straits if they don’t wake up and smell the wires. Or lack thereof. You see, the next generation is going wireless and if you aren’t figuring out how to keep your customers using your service, you are in real trouble. Attention all regional phone companies! Start selling WiFi networking installation and maintenance, anti-virus support, file transfer services, and backups. And that is just the starting point. If you aren’t looking for new revenue today, you won’t be around tomorrow.

Don’t be afraid to be creative. Get into the photo archiving business. Get into IPTV and carry local stations that aren’t accessible via cable. Broadcast high school football or archived high school lessons.

Coupled with the fact that these companies might soon lose their Universal Service Fund financial support things are looking bleak for those providers who choose to stand still.

SyncVoice
I also met with a company called SyncVoice, who focuses on unified management of VoIP networks in IP communications and especially hybrid networks where vulnerabilities lurk. The company allows an enterprise CIO to manage voice as if it is data and moreover to TiVo the network to play back any problem events if needed.

Unimax
I also got a chance to go to Minnesota and spend time with my old friends at Unimax who tell me that business is going very well and they are in the great position of advising their customers on what VoIP systems to install. The company is well known for their collaboration tools as well as their software for making moves, adds, and changes easy to perform. Basically if you are migrating to IP communications in your enterprise you will benefit from talking to these guys before you migrate. They really have the experience to help you make migration much easier to perform.

Commetrex
I also had a chance to stop in the Atlanta area and see Mike Coffee from Commetrex. His company has been instrumental in making enabling technologies for voice and fax. More recently the company is playing in the IMS space and I expect to see a number of innovative products from them soon. What I like about Mike is that he studies markets thoroughly. I am not aware of that many CEOs that study a new market like Mike does. I am looking forward to getting him to write for our sister publication, IMS Magazine soon.

If you read my columns or if you’ve heard me speak, then you are aware of how I harp about voice communities. Well, one of the best community building sites I have seen is radiohandi.com, which was launched by telecom veteran Brian McConnell. You can SMS a message to group, leave a voicemail that is converted to e-mail and sent, and basically interact with a group in real time via variety of communications modes. This is the ultimate product for a Soccer coach for example. There are myriad business applications here as well.

Miles to go Before I Sleep…
Ironically, as I dropped this article onto the desk of my editor, I was headed out the door for another meeting! This industry is enjoying some tremendous success right now, and the level of innovation and creative energy coursing through the community certainly makes this an interesting trip. Speaking of trips, I’m off again. You can read the daily adventures of Rich Tehrani and even comment on my blog at www.tehrani.com.


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Sidebar

Rich Speaks With NMS Communications’ Mike Katz

RT: Mike, what are your general views on IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)?

MK:
Today IMS is in the early adopter stage, however we are starting to see adoption plans from at least the Tier 1 carriers and service providers. Right now there are key deployment and business issues being decided by the market makers. One trap IMS followers do not want to fall into is the belief that IMS will solve everything. In fact, IMS raises the need to differentiate using new applications while enabling subscribers who are using these applications to roam seamlessly to a competitor’s network. The advent of IMS raises tough technical and business issues!

RT: What are some of the types of new IMS applications we can expect to see?

MK:
Truly new applications will come from the combinational effect you get when reusing IMS technology elements from different core applications. For example, a video content store used by a SIP application server for a core offering like videomail could be using IMS, easily repurposed to support a video blog, video share application, or a “rich voice call,” not necessarily created by the original vendor but more likely by a new third-party vendor using IMS’s SCIM (service capability interaction manager) layer. This creates a new ecosystem that takes out the “vertically integrated” silos of the past and fundamentally changes the time-to-market for network-based applications.

RT: What are some of the future problems of the all-IP network in relation to the carriers, the customers, the solutions providers, and so on?

MK:
The problems are two-fold: technical and business. The technical issues are mostly around clarity of IMS definition in the applications space and interoperability. The business issues in IMS surround applications, what it means to offer one, how the users perceive more value from it (being IMS or not) and how the operators “play nice” among themselves and decide how they will allow subscribers and their applications to roam freely between operators in an all-IMS universe.

RT: Please comment on the importance of interoperability to the all-IP network.

MK:
If IMS simply creates bigger and newer “vertically integrated silos” then IMS will have failed, and failed badly. To win in the future telecom market means to make money while providing accessibility and choice to consumers and businesses. Hence interoperability of IMS implementations is a must. Carriers should be able to “mix and match” IMS components within layers for the best possible return on their investment. It’s also true at the application layer as well, requiring a similar interoperability effort from the developer ecosystem. I’d define the unspoken interoperability need between legacy networks and IMS and between operators’ IMS implementations as a major pothole in the road to IMS success.

RT: What is the role of NMS Communications in providing interoperability based on their communication platforms?

MK:
IMS comprises 1,500 documents covering 60 network elements across architectural layers. NMS desires to create simplicity and value for its customers. NMS and its partners will provide IMS solutions in service offerings, service components and through its partners’ service test equipment that enable the best of breed and mix and match IMS solutions to exist. This is exemplified by NMS’s pre IMS solutions for rich voice calling (using GSMA standards) from our Mobile Applications group, our Vision server family (IMS-ready) and partners like Empirix building IMS interoperability test equipment with our Open Access family of products.

RT: What revenue generating IMS services we might see evolve over time?

MK:
IMS services will initially evolve from simple “legacy replacement” voice applications to more robust and rich offers that include: video sharing, video blogging, mobile TV, interactive gaming, mixed mode messaging (IM to voice/video etc…), presence and location applications (such as playing coupon ads to your 3G mobile when your in range of a particular advertiser in a mall), streaming video service tutorials for fleet service personnel to enable faster, cheaper service repair strategies for commodity products (i.e., copier repairs, mobile Centrex for business, networked-based directory services)… The list goes on.

RT: Will there be enterprise applications or will IMS applications target mostly consumers?

MK:
The mix of applications will start with consumer because the vast majority of carriers’ subscribers are consumers. While much has been said about IMS consumer applications, historically consumers have had the least incremental cash to spend on “new applications.” Operators will need to develop more of an enterprise focus for their new applications. Areas to examine include mobile Centrex, (call completion, bridging IP and TDM networks), networked-based directory services (bridging enterprise contact data into a network service) and fleet support services (streaming video tutorial content over IP or 3G-324M services to 3G phones). Consumer applications to watch are video blogging and video sharing.

RT: What do you think of the acquisitions being made in the DSP resource board space?

MK:
Some companies come and go, but NMS has been a stalwart and will continue to be one in the DSP resource board market. Our position in this market, along with the hundreds of NMS application partners developed over the last 20+ years puts us in good stead as we move forward to address the challenges I mentioned earlier. It has been said that after a battle the dust will clear, and you need to look to who’s left standing to determine the winner.



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