Erik Linask : Convergence Corner
Erik Linask
writer

February 2009

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Mobile Broadband Primed for Major Growth

February 19, 2009

I wrote yesterday about the promise in the newly announced partnership between Opera and Yahoo!, where the latest Opera Mini mobile browser will be bundled with the new Yahoo! Mobile application for smartphones.    A new study by The Nielsen Company, commissioned by Tellabs, suggests the timing of the alliance couldn't be better, as more than seven out of ten of American's surveyed say they expect to make daily use of mobile Internet and other similar services.    This revelation comes amid a major economic slump, where businesses are laying off thousands and spending is down as a whole. But, as has been suggested by many, the telecom sector, while not immune, may be better off than other industries. In fact, despite the economy, and despite their concerns about the cost, speed, and quality of service, a strong majority of respondents suggest a major increase in mobile data usage over the next year.   The survey, conducted in the U.S., and five Western European countries, included more than 50,000 consumers, suggests that, in these six markets, providers can expect mobile data services to be adopted by more than a quarter of current non-users. It also indicates an overall increase in usage -- including current users and non-users -- by more than 100 million subscribers. For comparison, that's about 40% more total subscribers than Verizon Wireless reports.   The results of the survey, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, come at a time when there is significant debate as to the viability of and need for mobile infrastructure and its support, along with government support of such projects.   Not surprisingly, the consensus at the GSMA Leadership Summit was that government support is a necessity, and that the build-out of mobile broadband networks is vital to economic recovery. It will also help alleviate the concerns over the quality of mobile services among survey respondents.   Speaking to the need for providers to build out their networks and service offerings, Pat Dolan, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Tellabs, said, "By planning urgent and strategic network upgrades, operators can quickly and cost-efficiently address users' issues and meet increasing demands on networks."   As for the services most likely to be adopted by current non-users, Tellabs breaks it down:                                       U.S.         Europe Mobile Internet                         49%            34% MMS                                        38%            39% Uploading photos                      34%            27% Software/app download            30%            30% Email                                       28%            32%   Clearly, as the scope of news from the wireless community shows, mobile communications -- and mobile data services, in particular -- are in for a significant boost. It's now up to the service providers to ensure their networks are capable of handling the growth.   I suspect, given the projected growth of the mobile market, alliances like that between Opera and Yahoo! are only the beginning. And, as service providers continue to seek new ways of differentiating their services, they will also look to secure a series of new relationships that will enable them to deliver greater choice to their subscribers, as opposed to the one killer app that has for some time been the Holy Grail.

Yahoo! Partnership with Opera Sounds Good

February 18, 2009

As I wrote last month, Opera Software has a mobile browser, Opera Mini, which is well worth a try, especially when compared to many of the browsers that come standard on smartphones. I also said it should leverage the strength of its mobile application rather than trying to overtake Microsoft in the desktop browser market.   And I'm sure most of you are well aware that Yahoo! Plays second fiddle to Google in the desktop search engine space, by a long stretch.   But, the two have now combined their expertise to bring what should be an even better mobile Web experience to users. There's nothing wrong with the Yahoo! engine, and Yahoo! offers a variety of services and applications that quite good - it just isn't Google, but the company is clearly making an effort to compete in the mobile space, which isn't a bad move at all. We all know how the mobile market is evolving (which is precisely why that should be Opera's focus).   I've registered for the Beta of Yahoo!

Nortel Launches CaaS Solution to VoIP-enable Web Services

February 16, 2009

It was a mere month ago that the communications community was wondering about the future of the telecom equipment giant Nortel, though the company was quick to highlight the potential in the communications market going forward and its continuing role as a market leader.  Now, though some questions remain unanswered, the company is making a move to solidify its position again, leveraging not only its position in the carrier VoIP space, but also the growing trend towards software-based communications, launching its Communications as a Service (CaaS) Solution.   The idea behind CaaS is to enable the integration of communications capabilities into network-based services and applications. It originated from service like "click to call" or "click for assistance," which have become commonplace on static Web pages. CaaS takes this a step further, delivering communications capabilities from directly within internal or public services to create an increasingly effective and inherently more effective communications and collaboration environment.   Communications capabilities have become increasingly more widespread with the move towards mobility and the proliferation of mobile networks, services, and devices. But, as Rob Scheible, senior marketing manager, Carrier IP Voice and Multimedia Networks at Nortel points out, they invariably go through a deskphone, mobile phone, or some other multimedia interface that requires a communications session to be initiated through that separate medium. The idea behind CaaS is to eliminate that extra step and integrate the communications process directly into whatever applications or services people use in their daily activities.   "Today, the communication business is no longer about selling a phone line to a home or business," said Samih Elhage, president, Carrier VoIP and Application Solutions, Nortel. "It's about being able to easily add communication services, like conferencing, IM and video, into any online network service."   Through its CaaS Transaction Broker, Nortel will enable any number of communications services -- including conferencing, click-to-call, IM, video, and other media services -- to be easily integrated into popular Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. According to Scheible, this includes social networking sites, online gaming, IPTV, CRM and HR applications, medical recordkeeping systems, job sites, and any other network-based service in which a user might suddenly need to communicate directly with a colleague, client, or potential customer.   Importantly, unlike its click-to-call predecessors, which often rely on best-effort VoIP, Scheible says that, with Nortel's solution, carriers are able to provide carrier-grade communications across their private networks, including any of the back-end operations they may choose to apply, like ACD to ensure call routing to a bank of operators.   He notes that a key element to the Transaction Broker is its ability to also perform accounting functions -- user verification and authentication, checking account credit, usage calculations, and any other means of tracking transactions service providers might use. This allows service providers to deliver this new wave of communications services and manage their accounting and billing aspects through a single solution.   The CaaS Transaction Broker leverages industry standard APIs, allowing for rapid deployment, even in today's multivendor networks, whether wireline, wireless, cable, or VoIP.   In rolling out its CaaS solution, Nortel also delivers a working model of the CaaS solution, having worked closely with IBM to integrate the capability into LotusLive, IBM's suite of online collaboration, conferencing, and email services. This is the first example of how the Nortel CaaS solution allows carriers to effectively create subscribers out of any individual or business in the world.    In addition to seeing an opportunity to leverage the continued growth of the SaaS industry, Nortel, after launching its Unified Communications solution with IBM last year, "Started to see how much value there was for the user in an integrated communications environment," according to Scheible. "As IBM was moving to this online, network-based environment with LotusLive, we realized there was an opportunity to create the same kind of advantage."   From the carrier perspective, he also notes that being able to deliver voice and other communications capabilities from within their existing Web applications and services offers a new recurring revenue stream --as much as an additional $10-20 per user for the addition of these voice services. In this environment, in particular, that potential is likely to create rapid demand for the solution.   But, the fact is that the combination of online services and mobility have been enabling innovative communications capabilities for many years, because of their ability to facilitate collaboration, file and document sharing, and simply access to resources and information. With Gartner estimating the CaaS opportunity to double over the next five years, this is a logical step, especially since many of these online interactions and transactions create an immediate need for further interpersonal communication, and since Nortel already has relationships with many of the worlds leading carriers, having shipped more than 100 million carrier IP ports worldwide.   "That's what it's all about," says Scheible. "It saves users from having to leave their communications environments to go to a separate device, and it doesn't involve contact look-ups or a multi-step process to initiate contact. It's generally a single click and communications starts."

Southwest to Test In-flight WiFi

February 11, 2009

The growing trend in communications, as we all know, whether personal or business, is toward mobility. Mobile handsets (including those with WiFi connectivity options) are being introduced regularly that challenge the limits of carrier networks with applications and features, laptop sales outnumber desktop PCs, and the mobile broadband market it thriving. And of course there's the iPod Touch, which offers purely WiFi connectivity. What it all means is that users are expecting to be able to connect to network services anywhere, at any time, on any device -- there's the old catchphrase that was used to promote UC from the very beginning.   Those connectivity options now include in-flight WiFi, which has already been introduced on many flights by American Airlines and Delta, and United Airlines is also reportedly readying to introduce the service.   Now, Southwest Airlines is preparing to join that group, as it test its new aircraft-to-satellite technology on one plane, with three additional planes on track to be outfitted next month. According to the airline, travelers will be able to use the service at no cost using their choice of WiFi-enabled devices during the test period.
   
Southwest is a low-cost airline, so the question now is whether they will charge for the service once it receives FCC approval -- and if so, how much. Currently, it boasts the mantra that, "At Southwest Airlines, fees don't fly," and they don't charge for the first two checked bags (within size and weight limits) or ticket changes. It will be interesting to see if that holds true with the WiFi service.   Still, what the new service means is that travelers will be able to stay in contact and continue to work on flights. Obviously, the transmission rates won't match what we're used to at home or in the office, but, at least on American, Greg Galitzine tells me the speed is surprisingly good. Of course, that may be a result of AA charging for its service, which likely dissuades at least some potential users from connecting.   The question is, is there really a demand for in-flight WiFi? Well, if you rely on email as your primary means of communication in a busy work environment, it is without a benefit to be able to stay on top of those emails while in transit. I'm not sure of the viability of more bandwidth-intensive applications, but those, too, will be usable as the technology evolves. If nothing else, Southwest is making its case to travelers who might otherwise pay a higher fare on other airlines without WiFi once it rolls out the service on a wider scale.

Daytona 500 - MWR Boasts New Satellite Communications for NASCAR Opener

February 10, 2009

When 43 drivers line up for the official start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Saturday's 51st Daytona 500, the Michael Waltrip Racing team will be using a new satellite communications system from Spacenet
   
Most of the communications systems -- whether wireline or some form of wireless -- I write about focus on the more traditional enterprise and SMB environment, but there is a whole market for the mobile communications space, for which satellite-based solutions are ideal.   Of course, for any business, its communications system is the heart of its operation, and nowhere is this more true than during the several hours between the white and checkered flags. Michael Waltrip Racing has deployed Spacenet's Connexstar Performance series, a portable satellite solution, to support its communications needs, which extends from the track to its engineering teams in Charlotte, North Carolina. The system was designed by Orbital Enterprises, an expert in both fixed and mobile satellite communications.   Read more on the MWR's Spacenet deployment here.   "In the NASCAR world, speed and performance is everything," said Michael Waltrip Racing Director of Information Technologies Patrick Hughes.  "Shaving seconds off the clock can make the difference between winning and losing,"   Hughes said the team explored several options, but settled on Spacenet because of its service guarantees, which exceeded those of any competitor. MWR hopes that its new communications network will allow it to react more quickly, resulting, in a fast start to a long race season.   If you don't think a split second can make a difference, think again. Just ask Kurt Busch (.002 seconds behind Ricky Craven in 2003), Kyle Busch (.005 behind Jamie McMurray in Daytona in 2007), or Jeff Gordon (.006 behind Kevin Harvick in Atlanta in 2001). In fact, four of the 14 closest finishes in NASCAR history have come in races run in Daytona.   MWR's David Reutimann, driving the #00 Aaron's Toyota, starts 18th Sunday, and teammate Michael Waltrip (co-owner and MWR Chairman), in his #55 NAPA Toyota, starts 34th.    Still, even with the new Spacenet communications solution, the pair faces a daunting challenge, as they look to overtake pole sitter Martin Truex Jr., as well as the Hendrick Motorsports team, which starts all four of its drivers among the top 12 spots: Hendrick newcomer Mark Martin (2), three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (6), Jeff Gordon (9), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12).

   
  All eyes will be on the Hendrick drivers and other favorites, and I'm not sure even the best communications system can make up for pure driver talent ahead of MWR in the starting grid. But, Waltrip does have three checkered flags at the Daytona International Speedway to his credit, including two Daytona 500 wins, in 2001 and 2003. Regardless, I can't wait for what are known as, "The most famous words in motorsports" to be called out Saturday: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

 






Laptops for Teachers in Estonia

February 9, 2009

The economic crisis facing the U.S. today is by no means a localized phenomenon -- it is a turbulence felt across the globe. However, the trend towards mobility, which is also evident in North America, also extends to the corners of the globe. How are they related?   Well, as many here in the U.S. have already experienced, teachers in Estonia are now facing a salary freeze. In fact, according to Tõnis Lukas, the Minister of Education and Research of Estonia, the Ministry is facing a 7% budget cut this year. Despite that, a proposal is on the table that would offer some level of compensation by providing laptops for the educators, according to a report in the Baltic Business News.   Some, like Hille Eek, Director of the Viimsi school, argue that laptops are a luxury, and that, at least among Viimsi teachers, each has a PC at home and access to one on school premises.    However, if you consider the added convenience and mobility laptops provide, along with ever-lower price tags -- it's no coincidence that laptop sales outnumber desktops today -- the argument can easily be made that they offer significant improvements in productivity.    According to Andres Ammas, director of Haapsalu Gümnaasium, "Nowadays a laptop is like blackboard and chalk used to be."   It's an interesting proposition. Without question, teachers' ability to work without being tied to a desk or having to constantly transfer files between PCs would be significantly enhanced. On the other hand, despite the low cost of laptops today, the proposition would, nevertheless, present a budgetary dilemma. But the potential productivity gains have to be weighed against the cost.    My take: the benefits outweigh the financial burden, both for the educators and the students. I can't imagine working without a laptop these days, and though it may be an extreme case, my mother, who teaches in Estonia, is able to connect to her school's network from Connecticut when visiting, able to develop lesson plans and communicate with students and colleagues.   For a small nation, but one that has been in the immersed in the communications space for several years now, it is the obvious choice in a world that is becoming more mobile by the day.  

Can Google Translate?

February 6, 2009

If you're multilingual, you can easily translate between the languages in which you're fluent but, as a writer, I often find it useful to have a resource for translation, for effect, or simply for clarification. Sometimes, it's a case of translating a single word, which is pretty easy using any one of the language-to-language dictionaries available.   But, what about phrases, entire sentences, or even paragraphs? I've actually received a number of foreign language press releases, in fact, which I would like to be able to translate.   Well, it's hardly surprising that Google has built out its own Web-based service, Google Translate (currently in its Beta phase), which now supports 41 languages. Google has developed its own "statistical translation system" between any two pairs of supported languages.   The statistical machine translation system, according to Google, is different from the typical rules-based translation systems that require significant definition of vocabularies and grammar rules. According to Google, its software is fed "billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages, and then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model."   Google says it has achieved "very good results" using this model.   I'm not so sure a translation model that doesn't incorporate complex rules can produce consistent results.   Google has recently added Estonian to its list of supported languages, so I decided to have a look with some simple sentences.   Estonian: Sinine on sinu taevas, kallis Eesti kodumaa. My translation: Blue is your sky, my dear Estonian homeland. Google: The blue sky is yours, for my own baby.   Estonian: Ma tahaksin kodus olla, kus õunapuud õitsevad. My translation: I would like to be home, where the apple trees blossom. Google: I would like to be at home, where the trees are blossoming.   Estonian: Musta lehma saba on kirju lehma taga. My translation: The black cow's tail is behind the (multi)colored cow's tail. Google: Black tail of a cow is a cow behind letters.   Estonian: Mu arvuti on parandusel. My translation: My computer is being repaired. Google: My computer is a correction.

ITEXPO East 2009, What a Week for the VoIP Industry

February 5, 2009

What a week it's been! I just got home from ITEXPO, and had some time to reflect on the show during my trip home.    After filming close to 50 videos during the past three days, the overwhelming impression I was left with as I left the Miami Beach Convention Center was that, having come to Miami with some level of uncertainty about what was to come, nearly all of the exhibitors and sponsors at the show left with a sense of overwhelming success. Take a look a images from the show to see what I mean.   In particular, the CALA region was well represented - a comment made to me more than once. Of course, knowing the growing interest in VoIP in the region, that comes as no surprise. But, more importantly, the success of the show -- underscored by a group of attendees still in a session at Ingate's SIP Trunking Workshop as I left (see picture below) -- serves as notice to the entire communications industry that the struggling economy is not something to fear, but to leverage. 

  Attendance at the show was great but, more importantly, the quality of the attendees was what stood out for the exhibitors I spoke with. As Allworx' Chris Talbot told me, the tire kickers stayed home, leaving a show filled with people truly interested in finding solutions that will help them grow their businesses in a cost-effective, practical way. For Allworx, he also said it was a fantastic event that brought significant business opportunities -- more than they could have expected.   I also had a chance to chat with SIP Print's Don Palmer and Jon Fuld back at the hotel after the show. They, too, were overwhelmed with the amount of real business they conducted at the show. In fact, in addition to signing up for the next ITEXPO, SIP Print is also going to sponsor a Call Recording community on TMCnet.    SIP Print, by they way, won a Best of Show award for Most Innovative Product, for its SIP call recording appliance. In addition to offering an SMB solution, it has now built out that offering in an enterprise-class version, and is working on a service provider version for the near future.   Allworx won an award for Best SMB Solution. For the complete list of winners, check out Greg Galitzine's blog entry.   And of course, to cap the show off, we gave away a new Jeep as the end of the show. Rich Tehrani was quick to post a picture of the winner, Frank Schirrmeister the director of product marketing at Synopsys. Here are a few more.
 



I've got a lot more to talk about from the show tomorrow, but for now, thanks to everyone that attended ITEXPO this week and helped make the show a resounding success. As Greg wrote, "See you in Los Angeles!"








The VoIP Industry Speaks at ITEXPO... more videos

February 3, 2009

What a day at ITEXPO.  I didn't have a chance to attend any of the conference sessions, but I spent the day interviewing various industry experts on the show floor.  The list of interviewees reads like a who's who of the IP Communications space and, as you might expect, they had some great insight as to what's going on in the industry, and why that has all resulted in a turnout for our show that reinforces the strength of the industry, even in this trying economy.

Today's list: TI, Fujitsu, VoltDelta, Digium, TelcoBridges, Grandstream, Orecx, Interactive Intelligence, IPitomy, Ingate, and Allworx.    It's safe to say whatever you're looking for in the way of communications solutions, you can find it from these companies.   But what was truly refreshing about talking with industry experts from all corners of the industry is that the level of appreciation they exhibited for the commitment of the audience that showed up for the show in this economy.

ITEXPO - It's On!

February 2, 2009

The exhibit floor has finally come together, the lights are on, and the doors are open. There's quite a buzz from people looking to get the latest scoop on IP Communications technology. I've had a short break between videos - NET Quintum is up next - so I took the opportunity to snap a few quick shots of the excitement.   Also don't forget to check out all my videos from the show. Here's what's been posted so far:   Peter Weyant, Interlink John Porter, Camrivox Alan Percy, AudioCodes John Drolet, Aastra John Hart & Charles Studt, IntelePeer David Byrd, Broadvox   There are many more to come, so check back regularly.
 
The crowd gathered, waiting for the doors to open...


Citel's booth became an instant hit.



Digium|Asterisk World



Someone is going home with the Jeep in the middle.
















First ITEXPO East 2009 Videos Online

February 2, 2009

Well, I'm watching the show floor come together -- that's always an exciting part of the last few hours before the exhibit hall opens. If you want a peek at the exhibit hall before 5:45pm, you can see it in the background of my first two videos from this morning, with Interlink's Peter Weyant, and Camrivox's John Porter.   Weyant discussed two key elements of Interlink's current strategy. The first is a name change vis   vis a partnership with Network Dynamics, which also adds a key new element to its solution -- service and deployment. This means that, not only can Global Convergence offer a best of breed, multivendor solution, but it can now also provide service and set-up as well.   Porter talked about the need to provider Outlook integration with Camrivox's Flexor CTI, as well as its integration into CRM solutions, including Salesforce.com and NetSuite.   And, as I've been writing this (I had to stop to chat with Digium's Tristan Degenhardt about the latest release of Switchvox, version 4.0), there's been an addition to the videos: my chat with Alan Percy, AudioCodes' Director of Market Development, is also online now.   If you've been following my series of Webinars with Alan -- you can find them here -- you know that AudioCodes has been focused on the benefits of SIP-based communications and the variety of ways it can be applied. The latest Webinar, in partnership with Bandwidth.com, focused on SIP Trunking, and specifically how to cut communications costs without a complete forklift.   Anyway, I've got Jon Doyle from Communigate up next, but check out the all the videos from ITEXPO at TMCnet Videos.

Syspine's ITEXPO VoIP Offer: Buy One, Get Two Free, including Microsoft Response Point

February 1, 2009


We know the economy is impacting the communications space, despite its seeming immunity for a period. Earnings numbers are down -- rather significantly for most ­-- and customers are simply being extremely cautious with how the spend their dollars.   Even though IP Communications offers significant cost savings, in a space as crowded as this is, vendors have to go the extra mile to drive attention to their solutions and away from their competition.   Syspine is literally going that extra mile, traveling to Miami to exhibit at ITEXPO this week to show its DOS A50 base server, which provides a complete telephony solution for up to 50 IP 310 endpoints and as many as 8 PSTN lines for backup or to connect existing legacy endpoints.   The Syspine solution is powered by Microsoft Response Point -- which is a Platinum Sponsor of ITEXPO -- offers all of the popular elements of an IP Communications solution: unified messaging, SIP Trunking support, voice mail, auto attendant, speech recognition and text to speech conversion, Outlook integration, and much more. Basically, it provides the cost savings of VoIP (and SIP Trunking), the convenience and productivity enhancements from UC, and the added benefit of being built on a solution designed to integrate with Microsoft applications, including the inherent features, like voice recognition.   Voice recognition, in fact, is among the primary features of Response Point, allowing the Syspine VoIP phone system to accurately recognize most spoken words, ensuring simplified calling by merely picking up a handset, pressing the Response Point button, and saying the recipient's name.  It's that simple. The Syspine platform looks up the number in your company directory or your Outlook address book and dials.    Through March, Syspine is adding an additional bonus -- anyone buying a Syspine DOS A50 will get two free IP phones to start their network.    To find out more about Syspine, Response Point, how VoIP can save your business precious dollars while improving your communications capabilities, and for more about this offer, visit Syspine at booth #929 in the exhibit hall.

Motorola, Super Bowl, ITEXPO

February 1, 2009

The big day is finally here -- for football fans worldwide, and especially Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals fans. We're only hours away from the opening kickoff at Super Bowl XLIII, and all week, the media has been abuzz with features on the NFL's season finale (ok, the Pro Bowl is yet to come, but who really watches that?).    Even late last night, as I finally went to sleep after a long day of preparations for ITEXPO East 2009, which itself kicks off tomorrow morning at 8:00 from Miami, a mere two hours or so from tonight's Super Bowl, I fell asleep to various TV shows discussing the big game.   The point is, this is one of the single biggest media events of the year, and the NFL certainly would have been remiss to consider that when choosing its wireless supplier for the event. So, it's not all that surprising that it again chose Motorola to provider end-to-end WiFi coverage. Not only has Motorola been the NFL's vendor of choice for three years running, but it has a wealth of experience to draw upon as it provides reliable, high-speed wireless connectivity from more than 4,000 media members covering the game.   The temporary nature of the deployment, combined with the high user density and network traffic congestion, not to mention the critical nature of the communications network, all make for as demanding a deployment scenario as one can imagine.   Motorola overcomes these challenges, enabling access in several official Super Bowl venues, including team hotels, the Super Bowl Media Center, Raymond James Stadium, and more, using a combination of its Motorola RFS6000 wireless switches, AP300 access ports, AP5131 mesh-enabled access points, and Motorola AirDefense Solutions wireless security sensors. The solution offers not only the network speed and reliability media covering the Super Bowl require, but also the security that is required for any network solution.   So, as the Steelers and Cardinals prepare to do battle this evening, we're here at the Miami Beach Convention Center getting ready for ITEXPO, which, as I said, opens first thing tomorrow morning. The Motorola deployment is significant because it speaks to just the kinds of wireless technologies that will be on display on the exhibit hall floor (along with their wired counterparts and everything else that creates an IP Communications solution), accompanied by conference sessions on the latest wireless technologies at 4G Wireless Evolution, which a collocated with ITEXPO.   It may not be "the" Super Bowl, but ITEXPO promises to be the Super Bowl of the IP Communications industry. The winners will be those who attend. See you tomorrow.