Alan Percy : The SIP Invite
Alan Percy
| Observations by Alan D. Percy on VoIP enabling technology, industry and our personal reach for success.


iPhone Shame?

September 7, 2007

I had an interesting experience today at lunch - for the first time since the new shiny iPhone was released, I saw someone exhibit "iPhone Shame" - that's the realization that in their rush to get the newest cool gadget, they really did overpay for their phone.  And even the manufacturer agrees!

This is how it goes:  Someone at the table notices the new iPhone and says "hey is that the new iPhone?".  The previously-proud owner says "yea" and pushes it under a napkin while everyone at the table thinks "boy I hope that poor sucker gets his $100 rebate"

Europeans are cool on the idea of Mobile TV?

September 24, 2007

I just read an interesting article from Reuters on the level of interest of Europeans and having TV available on their mobile phones.  See: TV on cellphone screens? No thanks, say Europeans - Yahoo!

A lesson in over-engineering

January 4, 2008

Over the Christmas break, my father and I were talking about interesting events in his life when he slipped into his office to retrieve some pictures.  He returned with the below collection of pictures his father took of the Antarctic Snow Cruiser as it came through little Avon, NY in November 1939.  This behemoth of a machine was designed to be a complete mobile living quarters and laboratory that could traverse wide open and frigid Antarctic continent.  It was so big, they had to drive it from the factory where it was built in Gary, Indiana to Boston where it could be loaded onto a ship for transport to Antarctica. 

Lessons learned from the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD battle

February 20, 2008

Thankfully the battle is now over between the competing high-definition DVD formats and Sony's Blu-ray format is the victor.  Fortunately, this played out a lot faster than the Beta/VHS battle that lasted through most of the 80's (BTW: to this day, I still have one of each in my AV cabinet) Settling the Blu-ray / HD-DVD battle will end much of the consumer confusion and let us get back to spending our "economic stimulus" checks when they arrive later this summer.

Now that this is behind us, what can we learn from this?

Apple opens up the iPhone

March 17, 2008

It's with great pleasure that I read about Apple opening up the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch platforms to developers this week.  This move surely is due to pressure from the iPhone user community (and trying to keep up the the Microsoft Mobile developer community)

If you participated in my session at Internet Telephony this January, you know how strongly I believe this is a big deal.  History has shown over and over again that allowing the creative minds of application developers to fill market needs is the best way to expand the market and build new solutions. 

Verizon Fios - an update

October 17, 2008

Okay, time to update you on how my migration over to Verizon Fios has gone so far.

Just a little background on the situation here: I work primarily from my home office in Orchard Park, NY in a neighborhood that was built in the mid-70's (pre cable and definitely pre- fiber-to-the-home aka FTTH).  When moving in seven years ago, I had then-Adelphia cable broadband, Verizon wireline phone and DirecTV for television.  A bit of a mish-mash of disconnected parts, but it worked (most of the time).  
  • Here in snow country, we regularly lost DirecTV due to ice and snow on the dish.
  • The long cable run between my house and the nearest telephone pole causes problems with the broadband internet incurring day-long outages that seemed to stymie Adelphia.  
  • The aging analog phone lines I used for both my wife's and my home office were noisy, which interfered with our frequent long conference calls and webinars.
  • To save money on the infrequently-used home phone I switched it over to Vonage about a year ago, which I must say has worked out really well.
So, when the Verizon trucks rolled through town this winter and installed the conduit and fiber infrastructure for Fios, I was literally first on the block to sign-up.

Installation started with broadband internet and two phone lines.  This went pretty smooth with mounting the Optical Network Termination (ONT) in the basement and a WiFi-enabled router.  Cut-over to the new 20Mbps broadband was literally as easy as moving an RJ-45 plug from one router to the other.  Frankly the hardest part was untangling all the old wires and moving them to the new router!  After a reboot of the computers in the house and the Vonage gateway, everything was back up and running.

Getting the phone lines configured correctly took a couple calls to Verizon.  I have my office line forward to my cell phone after three rings or if I'm on the phone and it took a couple support reps to understand how to configure the new switch correctly.  End result after one day - faster internet, no more noise on the phone lines and everything is working perfect. 

It took a couple calls to get the guys to come back and bury the fiber-optic cable that laid across my lawn.   Frankly, it was a race between my 13 year-old son that mows our lawn and the Verizon crew.  Was my son going to mow over the cable and cut it to shreds or was Verizon going to bury it first?  Fortunately, Verizon won.

Remember that I was on DirecTV?  I loved the service and the new HD DVR, but we were averaging $85/month and still suffering from weather-related outages.  So when I caught wind that the town of Orchard Park finally signed the franchise agreement with Verizon to allow them to offer FiosTV, guess who called Verizon the same day to order Fios TV service?  Me.

Installation day for the TV started with a really nice technician surveying the coax TV cabling that already ran through my house and making a few quick additions for Fios.  He was able to add a splitter next to the entry point where the four DirecTV cables came from the dish outside and headed out to the three different rooms where we had TVs.  All the old DirecTV set top boxes were pulled out and set aside with new Motorola devices going in their place.  Lots of cables for our HD TV and audio system in the family room - component video, optical audio (5.1) connects between the DVR and my audio receiver. One surprising connection was between the TV cable and a coax jack on the back of the router - I later found out that the STBs use this to access the program guide information and relay purchases back to Verizon.  End of this day - and the TVs all worked and I was ready to figure out the new Motorola set top boxes and DVR features.

Now things get interesting.....

Later that same evening, I turn on the TV, DVR and audio system to find a great picture, but no sound.  Okay, what changed?  Cables are all okay and my receiver is showing the optical input is active, but still no sound!?!  Go to the DVR and start digging through menus - settings - sound - all of a sudden the sound comes back.  But I didn't change anything!?!  Weird.  Next time the DVR gets turned on, same result.  Okay this is screwy.  After doing some trial and error, I find out that upon power-up, the DVR doesn't activate the optical output for sound, you need to go to the menu each time to activate it.  Bug!  Unplug the optical cable on the audio system and live with just stereo sound for now.

Next day - the STB in the basement shows all dashes on the screen and no picture.  Now what?  Unplug, reboot, call Verizon and they send out a technician.  Remember that splitter in the basement?  One of the ports died.  It took him most of an hour to find a .99 broken splitter.

So at this point, I've had three separate visits from Verizon techs and finally have almost everything working, but still learning the ins and outs of the new DVR and STBs.  More on this in the next posting.....

Verizon FiOS TV - Part II

November 1, 2008

Okay, it has been a few weeks since the last post on my FiOS installation and I promised you a review of the newly activated television capabilities.

FiOS TV is installed pretty much like any other cable TV with one big exception - Fiberoptics cable from the central office to the Optical Network Terminator (ONT) in my basement.  From there, it is standard RJ-6 cable-TV coax cable to each of the Motorola Set Top Boxes (STBs).  The data traffic from the STBs goes over the same coax, avoiding a separate Ethernet and/or phone line run to each box (which was required for DirecTV). The installer was able to re-use the existing wiring in my house, which dramatically simplified installation.  

AudioCodes Launches IP Phone Product Family

November 6, 2008

This week here at AudioCodes has been very busy.  You may have seen the post on Monday, announcing our HD VoIP strategy  which will dramatically improve the clarity and quality of voice communications.

Yesterday, we announced our new line of IP Phones, all of which will support HD VoIP.  As far as I can tell, we will be the only manufacturer that will have a 100% HD VoIP capable phones (even the low-cost entry model).

The market analysts seem to agree:

"AudioCodes entry into the IP Phone market is a bold and strategic move. It enables AudioCodes to address the fast growing market for 3rd Party IP Phones with the latest developments in High Definition (HD) voice technology," commented Jeremy Duke, President & CEO of Synergy Research Group, Inc. "The IP phone market has consistently delivered strong shipment growth over the last 8 years as it continues to displace the large installed base of TDM phones worldwide. We believe the second growth phase of the IP Phone market is just beginning to take hold, driven by increased deployments of SIP in the Enterprise and an increasing number of Service Providers offering Managed VoIP services (hosted telephony)."

The line will initially include three models: 
  • The 310HD IP Phone is positioned as an entry level IP-Phone and includes a basic display and user interface. 
  • The 320HD Premium model includes a large Monochrome LCD screen. 
  • The 350HD Executive model has a large Color LCD. All models support HD VoIP.
The phones will include many important features for a range of applications, including:
  • Support for popular wideband coders such as G.722, G.722.2 (WB-AMR), G.729.1 and G.711.1.
  • Power over Ethernet is optional in all models.
The products will be available for testing and evaluation beginning in February 2009.

To more information on the devices or HD VoIP, click here

Verizon FiOS TV meets Tivo - like Peanut Butter and Chocolate?

February 12, 2009

If you have been following my blog entries on Verizon FiOS TV installation, you know how unhappy I was with the Motorola 7216 DVR that they supplied with the service.  I've been a huge fan of TiVo's user interface, ease of use and features - so I wanted to see the fantastic pictures provided by Verizon FiOS TV and Tivo HD work together - I envisioned mixing two great products (like Peanut Butter and Chocolate) to the ultimate home entertainment experience.  So after doing some research, checking the varous forums on-line, I took the bold leap and ordered a TiVo HD from TiVo and two CableCards from Verizon.  

While I waited for the TiVo to arrive, it was time to run Cat5 from the router in the basement to the A/V cabinet.  After some bumps on the head and cursing the builder of my house, the network run was in and ready for installation day.

Once the TiVo HD arrived, I had a technician from Verizon come in to do the CableCard installation and activation.  You know when the first words out of the technician's mouth are "Hi, I'm from Verizon and I've never done this before" that you are for an interesting experience.  So off to the family room and after working together for a couple hours, downloading instructions from the web and calling supervisors a couple times, we were able to get a picture on TiVo.  Success (or so I thought).

After a couple days of watching TV via the TiVo, I started to have problems with some programs "pixelating" - where the picture would break up into large colored blocks and the sound would get interrupted.  Not all the time on all the channels, just some of the time on some of the channels.  (Yea - you engineers out there love those kind of intermittent problems, don't you)  Time to get working on identifying a pattern and start reading the forums on this issue.  After weeks of watching the problem, experimenting and reading any and everything I could find, I determined two things:
  1. There clearly is an issue with the tuner in the TiVo HD that causes it to loose synchronization with the signal that come from the FiOS ONT.
  2. People that post frequently on forums know just enough to be dangerous and generally don't know the subject matter very well.  I read more stupid posts from someone purporting to be an "expert" that didn't know what a dB of attenuation was if it hit them on the head!
If you want to do some interesting reading on the issue, check out the TiVo Support Forum, the Verizon Support Forum and the TiVo Community Forum.

So I started following all the various suggestions by changing cables, inserting a Di-plexer, attenuators, low-pass filters and everything just short of holding a TiVo exorcism.  At one point, I had Verizon send a technician to help with his hand-held signal analyzer (and big surprise, everything was perfect according to his readings).  After a couple weeks of trial and error, I was able to get close to resolving the issue, but I still get the occasional burp of distortion.  What was the solution?  In my case, adding a 860 MHz low-pass filter and a total of 14 dB of attenuators, both of which I got from the Verizon technician. 

It's really too bad getting TiVo working on FiOS was so complicated and frustrating. I originally planned on getting two TiVo HD units for the house, but with all the troubles I had getting one to work, I've decided to hold off until TiVo fixes their tuner issues.

So, is TiVo HD and Verizon HD like Peanut Butter and Chocolate?   I'd give it a "almost", but make sure you get the low pass filter and attenuators in hand before trying to even start the installation, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches.        [UPDATE!!!! See:]

Oh, and make sure the Peanut Butter is from a reputable source!


Broadband, NetFlix and the Future of Television

August 24, 2009

Two weeks ago, I spent four days at CableLabs - talking about and seeing the new developments in the cable television business.  Truly fascinating stuff with new DVRs, on-demand programming and even a 3D TV demonstration.  However, based on what I seeing at home, I suspect someone is about to "move their cheese".

If you have been following my now year-long adoption of Verizon FiOS, you know that we've been using a TiVo-HD with FiOS to record and watch television. We subscribe to the FiOS triple-play bundle with HDTV, 20Mbps Internet and two work telephone lines.  As in most households, my teen-age kids have been the primary users of the television all summer and I've been watching their behavior on how they use the television, what they watch and how much time they spend watching.

They spend hours in front of the TV, but they don't watch "TV".  No, they don't play video games - it's NetFlix over the Internet that has become their primary source of visual entertainment.  You see, the TiVo-HD includes an optional NetFlix on-demand client that allows the kids to choose programs from the vast NetFlix library and then watch them instantly on our TiVo via the Internet.  It really is amazing - no waiting for the DVD anymore - just click and watch.  The kids have even put the NetFlix mobile client on their iPod Touches, allowing them to browse the NetFlix library from the couch.  

So what does this mean to the Cable Industry?  Think about it - here is a generation that who's world is a broadband connected and able to access virtually any/all information almost instantly.  And most of that information comes from other sources, not the cable operator.  Based on their usage, the cable operator is just a supplier of broadband Internet.

This really means that when the millennials grow up and start controlling household spending, things will change dramatically.  Our generation values the TV programming, Telephone, then Internet in that order.  I suspect they will reverse it, with their highest value being the Internet and then TV and Telephone being almost irrelevant.

Where does this take both the cable companies and legacy wireline operators?   Their focus will soon need to shift to reliable and very high-speed Internet access being the "high value and primary product", because the rest is quickly going the way of the Dodo bird.

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