Tello a near term solution?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Tello a near term solution?

Tello was launched today by Pulver with some help from Craig McCaw, telecom banker Michael Price and former Apple CEO John Sculley. What is Tello? Tello enables enterprise users to see the presence of the person they are trying to reach - whether the users is on a phone, cellphone, etc., regardless of which IM client service they use, i.e. MSN Messenger, AOL/AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc. (Note: only SIP-based IM services are supported as far as I can tell.)

The concept is simply to "bridge" the various IM services and be able to see the presence of the user. It features IP-PBX integration with the likes of Avaya and even the popular Asterisk open-source Linux-based IP-PBX, as well as a Blackberry client. Ironically, I just blogged about IM interoperability between AOL & IBM's Sametime and I predicted IM interoperability would finally happen in my 2006 predictions. Thanks for proving me right Mr. Pulver! :D

IP Democracy has some thoughts on this news worth a look, as does BusinessWeek, Om, SiliconBeat, and the WSJ. Mostly positive reviews from what I read. Also, according to Tello, "The solution is delivered as a hosted Instant Communications and Collaboration network service, Tello Connect, and is available with complementary Desktop and Mobile Client applications. It provides a Real Time Communications Presence & Connectivity Hub that allows people to instantly locate, contact, and connect with friends, colleagues, and partners using the devices and applications that they already know. Using the Tello Desktop and mobile applications, individuals can, at a glance, easily determine the availability of their contacts at any time anywhere in the world and initiate rich media multi-modal communications with the click of a button."

Here's how it works by leveraging the SIP standard. Tello's VoIP federation service is built around a directory which provides SIP routing based on dialed telephone number or SIP URI. When a call is dialed (either via a SIP UA or an IP-PBX), the dialed call is signaled using SIP to Tello Connect which checks several databases and applies a set of customer-defined policies to determine the optimal SIP route. Thus, using this solution which queries multiple IM databases, you can increase the percentage of calls that remain all IP and thereby save money.

If this sounds eerily similar to FWD, the Free World Dialup service Pulver created, a SIP-based direct SIP URI dialing directory, you would be correct. In fact, when I read this news on a few news sites, I thought to myself "Didn't Jeff already try this with FWD?" The added benefit with Tello is that it performs "hosted federation" and integration with just about any IM service that supports the SIP standard, which includes MSN Messenger, AOL, Yahoo Messenger, and several others. At first glance, this hosted solution to the IM interoperability dilemma seems like a great idea. However, it seems like a near-term solution to me. If the big IM players get their act together and decided to use the same SIP/SIMPLE IETF standard, which allows for presence sharing, you wouldn't even need Pulver's hosted solution. In addition, many of the IM players have announced federation plans already, including Google.

Honestly, I'm not convinced a hosted service provider that centralizes and consolidates all of your presence information is going to be a "killer app" that people will pay a monthly fee. The target for this service is the SMB market, not consumers, so it's possible that SMB CEOs looking to improve employee productivity will sign off on essentially "renting presence knowledge". It could especially help sales people quicky and easily reach their B2B sales prospects instead of playing voicemail tag or even email tag. Still, the verdict on IM in the enterprise being a productivity enhancer or productivity waster (chatting with your spouse or friends at work) is still out. I should mention this service won't work with Skype's proprietary chat mechanism, which is the #1 used VoIP application in the world today.

Also, I'm going to assume Tello's hosted service requires your various usernames & passwords to the various IM services in order to logon, authenticate and access your presence information. If that's the case, then Tello will also face an uphill battle against users that don't want to share their various IM client username and passwords. Considering MSN Messenger accounts use Microsoft's Passport which shares the same account as your email address, Hotmail users might be wary over sharing (with a third-party) their password to their email account containing personal and confidential emails. Am I wrong here?

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