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By Rich Tehrani
Our 100th Issue of IP Communications Thought Leadership
100 issues - wow - it has been an amazing ride. If you can believe it, the magnitude of this issue didn’t hit me until I sat down and started to write this column. As many of you know, in 1997 when we decided to launch a magazine titled Internet Telephony most people thought we were crazy. They told us outright that we were nuts. Certainly this attitude in the market was a bit scary when starting a new magazine as the vendors who were mocking us were the exact ones we were supposed to be writing about.
In fact in hindsight we were probably crazier than we realized, because without hundreds of companies to write about it really is difficult to sustain a business-to-business trade magazine.
There were a few companies that were courageous enough to realize we were onto something and there are also some individuals that stood out in my mind as being instrumental to the success of the IP communications market as well as the success of this magazine and the associated expo by the same name.
As this is a top 100 Voices of IP communications issue, some of the people in this column will be from this list. Many of the people I write about here are worth sharing with you because they were instrumental in the industry or they impressed me on some level over the years. We are truly indebted to all of the people who have played a crucial role in making IP communications as successful as it is today.
To get the ball rolling I decided to start with someone who isn’t on the list (I won't comment on whether anyone else in this column made it). Chris Ward was working in the marketing department of Natural MicroSystems at the time of this magazine’s inception and when we announced our plans to launch, he and his management team were so ecstatic, it really gave us here at TMC a moral boost and reaffirmed our belief that we were doing the right thing. Hats off to Brough Turner and Mike Katz, who also work at NMS, for playing instrumental roles in bringing the world’s first VoIP gateways to fruition.
From here it makes sense to go to VocalTec – who really popularized the softphone and IP telephony gateway -- and Elon Ganor, the company’s leader who, when looking at the first issue of this magazine, lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I know because I personally handed him the first issue at the Computer Telephony Expo in March 1998. In fact, at that time the company’s CTO, Lior Haramaty, knew more about VoIP than just about anyone else, and we were fortunate to have him as a columnist in this magazine for a number of years.
Jeff Pulver was certainly another colorful figure in the world of VoIP. Jeff’s VON conference became a gathering of industry insiders trying to figure out what to make of this whole VoIP phenomenon. The event became a good partnering venue and to this day it’s still a good partnering locale for companies in the VoIP space. Jeff has also played a big part in the legal scene, advocating that VoIP should have minimal regulation.
Another unforgettable figure in the world of VoIP is Andy Voss who worked for Nuera when I met him back in the mid-nineties. Andy has a unique sense of humor and knows the communications market inside and out. He tells it like he sees it and I always learn something when I speak with him. After working for Nuera he went off to start the session border control company Sansay and is still the CEO of this successful endeavor.
Jon Shapiro is larger than life. He runs Alliance Systems and his company was instrumental in building ruggedized PC platforms for the PC PBX, IP PBX and Internet Telephony gateway markets over the years. Jon has been a good friend and has offered solid advice over the years and the industry is better off for having him in it. I am looking forward to him being back in the public spotlight the way he was in the nineties. He was a great force in the communications market of the last decade and his knowledge and experience is precious and worth sharing.
Another person of note is Gordon Payne who was the face of Tundo - an early IP PBX player. Gordon did a great job at Tundo but when the bubble burst and Tundo ran out of funding he decided to take some time off and then joined Net6 where he focused on bringing intelligence to IP phones - allowing them to access applications and content. Net6 later was purchased by Citrix.
Tundo’s failure is sad because at a few Internet Telephony Expos after the company folded I was fielding questions from Fortune 100 companies as to why Tundo was no longer around. If they had held out a bit longer they might have become a major player in the space.
Jeffrey Citron of Vonage gets lots of credit for many things in the VoIP market. He was the visionary that decided to make Vonage a consumer VoIP play. He single-handedly scared the living daylights out of the RBOCs and cable companies, forcing them to develop VoIP strategies. This spurred billions of dollars of communications investment. He delivered on the promise of VoIP for the masses. He didn’t do anything technically spectacular - Net2Phone did more or less the exact same thing many years before Vonage - he just was able to put together a company that knew how to market to consumers and he backed it up with enough investment to get millions of people to try VoIP. As they say, timing is everything and Citron probably had the critical mass of broadband subscribers needed to get his service to take off rapidly. Also, while branding Vonage, his company’s marketing caused the enterprise and SMB VoIP markets to grow more quickly and also made sure virtually everyone in the U.S. knew what Vonage and VoIP was.
It turns out this was a positive thing for VoIP until the Vonage IPO which tanked and now all the companies that pointed to Vonage as a role model are trying to explain to their investors how their business model differs from the orange logoed broadband phone company. Still, Citron should be commended in a major way for what he did - he brought widespread understanding to the world of VoIP and educated the entire US population on what was once an esoteric and exclusive technology. Thanks Jeffrey.
It is interesting that Vonage first started out life as a company focusing on selling VoIP service to cable companies. When the telecom bubble burst in 2001 there was a bitter struggle to determine what the company should do. Citron bet on becoming a phone company and made at least one enemy in the industry by taking this course. He obviously made the right bet - but many in the industry believe the company can be even more successful if Vonage was to focus more on profitability and less on market share.
While Citron battled for control of Vonage. a strategy shift was taking place at 8x8 and the company made a similar bet that selling to consumers their Packet8 service made the most sense. It would seem that CEO Bryan Martin’s decision paid off and even though the company’s stock price has been hammered lately - in sympathy with Vonage it seems - I am impressed with the company’s branding and the fact they were able to hang on in the most difficult telecom environment in history. Unlike Vonage the company was already public and did not have access to hundreds of millions of dollars of VC funding - they had to make it through the turbulent telecom waters with limited resources.
Another major influence in the market came from Niklas Zennstrom who co-founded Skype and has changed the world’s appreciation for what IP communications can do for you. Hundreds of millions of people have downloaded this software and Skype may be one of the most viral software packages ever created. Much credit goes to Zennstrom for educating the world about VoIP and more importantly doing such a great job that Meg Whitman’s eBay - decided to purchase Skype for more than 2 billion dollars. As time goes on I expect to see tighter integration between Skype and eBay’s services and as the two companies work more closely together we can expect both to do even better.
Many in the industry think eBay overpaid for Skype - I still believe eBay made a very smart decision to purchase the VoIP software leader and although the price was high they will recoup this money more rapidly than people think.
Michael Powell was another major force in the VoIP market and under his tenure frequencies were freed up to allow WiFi to become reality. This in and of itself is of major importance to wireless VoIP or WiFi telephony, but more importantly Powell was a huge proponent of VoIP and really seemed to care about allowing consumers access to the best service at the lowest prices. In fact, at his keynote at Internet Telephony Conference & Expo - his first after stepping down as chairman - it become apparent that he would liked to have made more consumer-friendly pro-VoIP changes at the FCC but just wasn’t able to.
From regulation we go to the world’s largest web portal and you should know I am impressed by Yahoo’s Jeff Bonforte because he is not only a brilliant entrepreneur launching i-drive.com in the bubble days, he is also amazingly witty. I am sure working with him on Yahoo’s VoIP initiatives is a unique experience. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at Andy Abramson’s recent birthday party and he made a fun dinner that much better.
Hats off to Seamus Hourihan who was a driving force behind Acme Packet’s ascent into the session border control market. The company came on the scene post telecom bubble - many thought the timing would limit their success - and was able to become a major supplier to equipment manufacturers and service providers in a very short time.
Robert Messer of ABP is another important industry voice who is passionate about building the VoIP reseller channel. Without resellers the VoIP market would have taken much longer to get off the ground. Perhaps no other person has been as passionate about VoIP resellers as Robert.
Mark Spencer is yet another important name in the industry and without his efforts the open source communications market may have begun much more slowly. He and Bill Rich of Pingtel have been major players in this market. Similarly David Mandelstam of Sangoma has made it a business to equip Asterisk servers with high-end, high quality boards allowing Asterisk systems to scale very nicely.
Terry Matthews, the communications industry’s most successful serial entrepreneur. The number of companies he has founded is awe-inspiring. He has picked virtually every niche in communications and launched a successful company in it. He should write books on how to launch and run communications businesses.
Two other people that are helping grow the IP communications market are Shrihari Pandit of Stealth Communications and Hunter Newby from Telx. The two have been instrumental in building the Voice Peering Fabric, a widely used fabric with billions of minutes of VoIP traffic flowing across it. VoIP peering is one of the biggest things to happen to the VoIP market and it is worth noting that in the last week XConnect, a peering competitor, has made big news by acquiring a peering company and in doing so raising its profile in the voice peering community.
Sphere is the company that invented the IP PBX but at the time (the mid-nineties) it decided to use ATM instead of IP. They were at least five years ahead of their time. Todd Landry has been a steady voice at the company and even now Sphere is a telecom leader with their focus on leading-edge SOA technology.
Manuel Vexler and Michael Khalilian have been two of the major voices in the world of IMS with their exemplary and tireless IMS Forum work; the pair has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the forum to ensure IMS can continue to excel as a framework for next-generation communications.
Ben Guiderian is the most significant voice in the world of WiFi telephony and his company SpectraLink has been at the forefront of this technology. Hassan Ahmed is just one of the faces of Sonus, a company that was the premier IP communications company of the pre-meltdown days with a stock that skyrocketed beyond anyone’s expectations. The company has made it through the dark times and is doing much better now as they position their products to be leaders in the IMS market.
Few people in the market are as knowledgeable about enterprise VoIP as Mark Straton who represents Siemens. Expect to see great things from him. Similarly, Harald Braun is one of the best champions of IMS I have met. Harold by the way is also as dynamic as they get and is able to speak to you about technology in an animated fashion you wouldn’t expect from someone so technical. No offense intended towards technical people mind you, but I am an engineer so I think I can comment safely on the matter.
Quintum’s Chuck Rutledge is soft-spoken but as the company spokesperson Quintum has launched a raft of new products and continues to do well in the market competing against some true IP communications giants.
Thanks to all of the people thathave contributed to the IP communications market. it has been a wild ride. I am proud to be in the company of such an important group and most importantly I am humbled by your support over the years.
Thank you my loyal readers who read my columns and give me so much feedback on what you agree with and what you think I am wrong about.
It is because of all of your efforts that this publication is consistently the most successful and thickest magazine in the communications market. Many have told me that Internet Telephony is as thick or thicker than just about any technology magazine they subscribe to. Magazine thickness by the way is generally the gauge of a magazine’s success level. We could not be where we are without all of the support from the IP communications community. Once again, thank you.
I have always believed that as communications transitions to the world of IP, new and exciting possibilities await us all. The last 100 issues are just the beginning. We have only achieved a small part of the industry’s potential. In the future, communications will become a more and more integral part of business and our lives. We will see IP communications as a more and more strategic part of enterprise and service provider investments. Technologies like WiFi, WiMAX, IPTV, SIP and IMS will only allow us to have greater impact on the world with the new ideas that continue to come out of some very bright industry minds.
The next ten years will see more and more communications innovations from traditional communications companies but we need to remember that telecom is also now part of the computing world. What this means is that we will not only see innovation from the likes of such companies as Lucent and Avaya, we will see more Skypes pop up around the world too. This means the pace of innovation in IP communications will likely continue to grow and this will lead to more and more choice for the companies looking to take advantage of all that the IP communications market has to offer.
Personally I look forward to helping to provide clarity in this new world of IP communications for another 100 issues and more. I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
The World’s Best Attended IP Communications Event Comes to Florida in January
I know this may seem early to you but the world’s first IP Communications event takes place in a few months in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Yes, I am talking about Internet Telephony Conference & Expo and you can expect a collocated IMS Expo and Call Center 2.0 conference. There will be a tremendous focus on open source, cable technology, conferencing and collaboration, VoIP security, OSS/BSS, IPTV, voice peering and wireless technologies. We recently put together the tracks for this show and without a doubt this will be the best conference in the world for IP communications. The sheer volume of sessions will ensure that regardless of whether you are a service provider, enterprise or developer there will be enough high-quality, unbiased content to not only educate you but ensure that you become an expert in your topic(s) of interest.
Please mark your calendar now for January 23-27, 2007 and I suggest you book your hotel immediately as this is peak vacation season and this event continues to quickly sell out every hotel in its area, months in advance.