Erik Linask : Convergence Corner
Erik Linask

October 2010

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Asterisk Popularity Rises in Latin America

October 26, 2010

As Jared Smith and Derek Palouquin continued to get into the basics of setting up an Asterisk-based phone system this morning at AstriCon 2010, across the hall, Michael Skopek from 2N Telecommunications discussed the impact of Asterisk in Latin America, claiming that most Latin American businesses are very interested in open source in general, and Asterisk, in particular.   Why shouldn't they be? It provides a low-cost alternative to more expensive proprietary solutions without sacrificing functionality. In fact, with a few skilled programmers, it increases flexibility of the communications system.   More specifically, he suggests that Asterisks' flexibility - and all the things that Asterisk can "be" allow telecom providers like 2N to introduce new services to their existing customers.   "They buy a PBX system, and then come back for something more," he says. "The idea is to offer your existing clients a new solution every time."   Currently, one of the popular product 2N offers is its GSM gateway, which reduces costs for calling from fixed lines to GSM networks s well as sending and receiving SMS messages and fax transmissions.   Eventually, it will also introduce an LTE gateway, which will allow businesses to use VoIP as a communications standard across wireless and wireline networks.   "This is a great solution for Asterisk because the basic solution will not be going over a GSM network," says Skopek.   This is just one example of his theory that successful providers always be prepared to introduce new solutions that push the limits of existing capabilities and force developers to continually reinvent their solutions and allow providers to deliver full, integrated service packages.   One particular capability I found particularly interesting involves an entry door communications system, which 2N does have in its portfolio. It's a SIP-based system that can easily be integrated into an Asterisk environment. And, if you forget your key, you can unlock your door via SMS.

AstriCon 2010 Kicks Off with SRO Crowd

October 26, 2010

The last time I was here at the Gaylord National, Rich Tehrani was in the middle of a video interview with Parature's Gary McNeil when the U.S. scored in injury time to defeat Algeria. You can't miss the roar of the crown about half way through.   Today, I'm back at the venue as AstriCon 2010 kicks off, with a standing room only crowd at the opening session, Asterisk 1-2-3, where Jared Smith, Fedora project leader at Red Hat, began with a discussion of all the things Asterisk is, including a product for carriers and service providers.
"Carriers won't often admit it, but they love it," says Smith. "Some of the ways they use Asterisk include as a feature server, least cost routing solution, VoIP gateway, peering server, unified messaging server, calling card & international callback server, and much more."   But, perhaps more interesting was his short commentary on what Asterisk is not, including refuting several common misconceptions: 
  • Asterisk is not a consumer product
  • Asterisk is not a VoIP provider in a box
  • Asterisk is not a SIP proxy
  • Asterisk is not as hard as it looks

Smith did admit that, when he first began using Asterisk, he was overwhelmed because he didn't have a great understanding of the system. But, as he learned, he realized it is actually quite easy to work with. His goal for the session is to have attendees leave with a foundation for easily working with Asterisk.   The name Asterisk was chosen, in fact, because of its wild card nature. It can mean so many things, perhaps the most commonly recognized is within search functions.  Read more about Smith's discussion of what Asterisk is here.

Taqua Sets Game Plan for v6.2 of T7000

October 11, 2010

As much as Eric Pratt and Rob Riordan led off this year's Taqua User Group Conference in Dallas by emphasizing the importance of collaboration, Taqua's continued success will ultimately grounded in its ability to enhance its own product, the T7000 switching system.   As the third presenter at Taqua's annual user conference, Paul Borel, Director of product management and sales engineering at Taqua, was on hand to provide an in-depth look at the future of the platform behind the success of the Dallas-based company.  

  Well, if you heard Pratt speak, you know he gives much of the credit to the user community. And he should - they have allowed Taqua to grow to more than 250 users today.    According to Borel, release 6.2, scheduled for sometime in December, will include a number of enhancements, many of which have been implemented based on feedback from previous user group conferences.   They include:  

·         An enhanced admin portal

·         Routing groups (for increased flexibility in providing differing class of service)

·         Support for T.38 fax (if you've talked to any of the fax vendors that were at ITEXPO last week, you'll know how critical they feel fax is to a complete communications solution)

·         Screen pop enhancements (including IPTV caller ID)

·         Calling name and LNP caching (cost reduction from not having to dip into data stores with each call)

·         Automatic aging for changing number announcements

·         Billing enhancements (including bringing development of CDR to AMA/EMI conversion in-house to overcome integration issues)

·         Performance enhancements (including a faster boot process reducing reboot time to less than a 10th of current time, and increased calls per second on the chassis)

·         Various SIP protocol enhancements

·         PIC2 additional codec support (ILBC, G.726, G.729, G.728) and Gig-E interface support

·         Clock Card (component upgrades and support for international applications)

·         Wireless media gateway and lawful intercept delivery functionality

·         H.248 Media Gateway (enables selected ports on T7000 to be controlled by text-based H.248)

  I have likely missed a few. For a complete list, to get more detail on any of these modifications, or to learn more about the Taqua intelligent switching platform, please contact Taqua directly.

The Future Requires Teamwork

October 11, 2010

After Taqua CEO Eric Pratt introduced him as a prime example of a user who has embraced the ideal of user collaboration to enhance the value of the T7000 for everyone, Nsight EVP Rob Riordan had little choice but to take the stage and present a compelling case for following in his company's footsteps.   Having been at the house that Jerry built - new Dallas Stadium - a day earlier to watch the Dallas Cowboys battle the Tennessee Titans, Riordan, looked to the Cowboys' owner as a model for Taqua users.    "Jones is not in the football business," he said. "He is in the entertainment business."   The point is that there is little opportunity for additional individual revenue with the NFL's revenue sharing structure. Jones, however, recognized the value in entertainment and has turned his stadium into the ultimate game experience, including the obscenely large screen - though if you weren't sure who sang the national anthem, the screen left little doubt it was country star Trace Adkins.  

  "You are in a business too -not just communications, but the service business," added Riordan. "You can be a Jerry Jones too."   What he means is that service providers have to provide a service for their customers above and beyond the basic offering. Instead of just a football game, they have to offer a complete experience and, importantly, in order to do that well, they have to listen to the customer. In fact, they have do more: they have to understand what customers are actually telling them.   Nsight, for instance, seeks to maximizing on its assets to ensure its customers receive the best overall service, which includes becoming an market resource, whereby it informs customers of the latest technologies even if they aren't yet available. The goal is to build a trusted relationship - a stickier relationship.   The reason is simple. By becoming a trusted partner to its customers, Nsight significantly reduces the likelihood of churn and, perhaps more importantly, the residual impact of churn, typically manifested in what Riordan calls feeding the hog, meaning that customers don't simply leave, they tell others why they are leaving, the impact of which is significantly increased by the growth of social media.   The key, however, is for operators to understand they don't have to do it all on their own, that this entire user conference is built around the idea that what works for one provider should be shared for the benefit of the whole user group.   Riordan discussed a number of future opportunities, from home network monitoring and home automation to network-based IP cameras, QoS, and application mashups. In order to make any of these solutions work, partnership are crucial.    "The future requires teamwork," he concluded.

If he can get more teamwork on the field, Jones might be a happy as happy at his weekly "user conferences" as Pratt is today.

Taqua User Conference Kicks off in Dallas

October 11, 2010

This morning, as Taqua CEO Eric Pratt kicked off the company's 4th annual user group meeting in Dallas - after treating its participating partners and customers to an exciting football game yesterday  (less so for Dallas Cowboys' fans than Tennessee Titans' faithful) - his focus was entirely on ongoing collaboration between Taqua and its users, as well as between users.

As Taqua continues to focus on the next gen voice market, Pratt says the company is more intent than ever on fostering a collaborative environment between its users, including the more than 50 in attendance.


"Rob Riordan is a prime example of someone that has taken a company from where a lot of you are and taken it to new heights," said Pratt of the Nsight EVP, who also keynoted today's user conference. "He has embraced the idea of sharing his ideas with the rest of the community."


Nsight, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based provider of wireless and wireline communications services, embodies the fundamental preached by Taqua that there will always be rural areas that will never get the attention they need from Tier 1 operators, leaving open the door for local and regional operators with an eye on providing their customers the stability few others can by partnering with a switch vendor that is financially in better shape than it has ever been.


Through its partnerships with companies like Cisco, Vodafone, Broadsoft, and Acme Packet, Taqua is enabling its customers to reach their rural customers with a service reliability larger operators are unable to offer - they are simply too large and are not able to focus on the needs of rural customers.  Quite simply, they focus on the masses, which means Taqua and its users have a clear path.


More than three years after heading down that path, a focus on North American Tier 2, 3, and 4 operators, is one which many predicted would end in failure, Pratt boasts of Taqua's growing user base, which is evidenced by the largest conference attendance to date.


"Taqua is not technology - it is the people," he said.  "The people in this room have seen it, and the reason you are here is you have seen the commitment."