Friday, December 15, 2006

Skype. Take a deep breath

Skype's free outbound calling to any phone in the U.S. and Canada ends at the end of the year, but they are making it easy to keep this great feature for only $15 for the next year (Link to Skype. Take a deep breath). Until the end of the year you can sign up for unlimited SkypeOut to any North American phone for 50% off. The deal includes over an hour of credit for SkypeOut Global calls. What a simple way to enable outbound calling from any location with Wi-Fi.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

You Will and They Didn't

Empty promises someone else.  Back in 1993, just before I left the company, AT&T released a series of advertisements narrated by Tom Seleck dubbed the "You Will" campaign.  These commercials described great things that AT&T will bring to consumers in the future from vast remote electronic libraries, to automated toll taking, to video on demand.  All most every innovation described in these commercials was successfully brought to market but not by AT&T.

Other companies capitalized on these innovations that frequently began in Bell Labs.  AT&T was unable to execute or capitalize successfully on a single innovation mentioned under its own name.  Although the Labs housed some of the greatest minds in science and engineering, management did not have the skills to harness probably the greatest pooling of IP in history.  One arguable exception is video on demand that the "new" AT&T is delivering with Uverse.

These failings are indicative of a company that orchestrated one of the biggest breakups in history only to completely decimate the resulting organization.  Divestiture was orchestrated by the top executives and lawyers of AT&T to maximize what they thought were its greatest opportunities:  long distance phone service, computers, and international reach.  The operating companies were perceived as a burden with their capital and labor intensive operations.  Besides the AT&T management assumed that they would still dictate the operating companies' future because they would be their biggest customers and exclusive equipment supplier.  WRONG!

What the DOJ, Judge Green, and Bob Allen and Company took apart, the free market put back together.  Last week Lucent was reunited with its distant offspring Alcatel.  If FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is allowed to vote on the AT&T/BellSouth merger, then the U.S. will be down to three strong regional, full-service telephone companies. 

At the trivestiture that separated AT&T, Lucent, and NCR, Bell Labs was divided up among the three companies.  Neither AT&T nor Lucent Technologies was able to successfully capitalize on the innovations from their respective laboratories as described in the "You Will" advertisements.  Now that the new AT&T is being managed by old SBC executives and Alcatel-Lucent by Alcatel executives, the innovations have a better chance of materializing into profitable business opportunities. Maybe it is time for AT&T to dust off the "You Will" campaign and spruce it up.  This time they may be right.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sharpcast Keeps Your Data Synchronized

Occasionally I find a product that simplifies our digital life that is worthy of mention. No, it is not another Web 2.0 social networking site. The company is called Sharpcast, and their mission is to keep our digital lives synchronized independent of the devices that we use. For years I have struggled to keep my work laptop synchronized with my home desktop computer. Since I travel frequently with my work computer, I need to manage my personal and work life from the road. Neither Apple nor Microsoft have stepped up and made it easy to keep data synchronized from one machine to the next. The best that I currently have in Microsoft's SyncToy. Now I have a web enabled phone, laptop, and desktop computers where I would like access to the same data.

Sharpcast aims to put an end to the complexities of spreading data between multiple machines. Hummingbird plans to be a universal synchronization platform for all of your files. Files can be shared between PCs, Macs, the web, and mobile phones. The software acts as a virtual drive on the device keeping data replicated on their web servers. Not only does it offer the ability to access your data anywhere from any machine; it also provides a secure off-site backup. No more mailing files to yourself at home to work on that project at home. Files can be shared between multiple users to allow for simple collaboration.

Currently the product only works with photographs, but they plan to start alpha trials with Hummingbird soon. I for one will be anxious to test this software. Hopefully they will allow for storage of a few GB of data because I presently keep about 2 GB of data in My Documents. I assume that they eventually will charge for storage, but this is a service I would gladly pay $5 per month to use.

Although the utility for the Sharpcast service is high, I wonder how they will position it to make money. Businesses will be reluctant to use it for collaboration because it lacks the features and security of Microsoft's LCS. Its performance, capacity, and security does not make it a replacement for network attached storage. Hummingbird fits nicely in the informal storage and collaboration space where companies are concerned about security. If the a business acknowledges that employees informally share information and frequently take it home, then they may see some business penetration. Their best bet it to partner with major broadband service providers to offer it as a service to residential and small business subscribers. Maybe Microsoft will absorb them into their Live Services. Just let me get my hands on it. I need it now!

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

The End of an Era: Say Good-bye to Western Electric

On November 30, Alcatel and Lucent Technologies announced the completion of their merger along with a new name and corporate identity: Alcatel-Lucent. The new company will be the undisputed market leader in telecommunications equipment and solutions in almost every category. Alas, Lucent once again is the market leader, but not due to its innovation and leadership. It reached this position by selling itself to Alcatel who has built itself as a world leader in the industry through many wise acquisitions and R&D investments over the years.

Pushed as merger of equals, the new company will be led, for the most part, by Alcatel management in Paris. Although personally heartbreaking because I started my career at AT&T Bell Laboratories, it is probably for the best that Alcatel manage the new company and leverage the assets of the intellectual property contributed by Bell Labs. Lucent/AT&T Network Systems was never known for developing good managers.

Lucent Technologies grew from AT&T Network Systems that got its life after divestiture from the roots of Western Electric and Bell Labs. WECO built innovative high-quality products and managed factories like no one else as long as they were a monopoly. The problem came after divestiture when the new AT&T Network Systems emerged. All levels of management were unequipped for the new challenges of operating in a competitive marketplace that were ahead for the company. Risk taking was not encouraged. Managers that took a risk and were wrong were persecuted by their peers. Managers that avoided decisions and went with the consensus were promoted and had very successful careers. This led to the loss of leadership in digital switching, wireless, and transmission products where AT&T Network Systems was a market leader in those categories.

Hot shots and politicos rose to the top and decimated the company. Some of these managers eventually left to ruin other great engineering companies. Talented entrepreneurs and innovators left the company to take advantage of the opportunities created by the influx of V.C. money. What was left at the beginning of the millennium was an empty shell of a company that lost its edge.

Contrasting the decline, Alcatel was bent on building a company to be a global leader in telecommunications equipment and services. They formed from what was once part of AT&T: ITT. Through the years they acquired major firms like Rockwell and DSC Communications. This gave them a foothold in North America and market leadership over Lucent around the world.

So in a way Lucent has made a full circle gaining back its international arm and market leadership. Serge Tchuruk and his team will continue to lead the company with Lucent executives in mostly subordinate roles. My bet is that they will continue to leverage the great intellectual assets of Bell Labs, Rockwell, and DSC in North America. They will be a strong force in wireless, IP, mobility, and fiber optics with the knowledge of how to put it all together. Alcatel-Lucent lacks some of the software depth to provide complete triple-play and IMS solutions, but they are spending money on acquisitions and development. This ability to look forward was something that Lucent could not do very well in the last two decades.

The new company will dominate in the network equipment and services business with a growing desire to take some of Cisco's enterprise market share. This is where the next big battle will take place for Alcatel-Lucent.

So say good-bye to the Western Electric/AT&T Network Systems/Lucent Technologies/Bell Laboratories that you knew. There will never be any place like it again, but one could question the wisdom of having most of the industry's innovation in one place. What divestitures took apart, the free market put back together. Alcatel-Lucent has come a full-circle as the telecommunications leader that it once was. The only difference is that it is playing by free market rules.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Joys of Children

Aaah, the joys of children.  So innocent.  So beautiful.  So contagious.  As they build up their immune system, they bring all sorts of bugs home.  You feel so sorry for them when they get sick that you smother them with love and affection while telling them that you wished you were sick instead.  Then the next thing you know, you are sicker than a dog, and they are running around playing again.  It hit me last week when my daughter Madisen came home from daycare sick with something. I held and cradled her then the next thing I know I am in bed for a couple days aching from head to toe.  Now I am playing catch up. 

I missed some good things to talk about, but there will be more.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

IEEE Event for Colorado Tech Week

Testing the Bandwidth of Your Connection

I typically use to test the performance of my cable modem link to the Internet. Since installing McAfee Internet Security Suite 9, I can no longer view results from this site. My suspicion is McAfee ISS. The site worked before the upgrade and I have had many other issues with ISS accessing other sites and blocking programs.

I was driven to this exercise because I wanted to test Comcast's new "Speedboost" feature. Since I could no longer use, I let my fingers do the Google to find a new site to test my connection. After browsing through a few sites, I stumbled on Maybe I am a sucker for a pretty UI, but this site is slick and easy to use. It displays your location, based on your IP address, along with test serers on a nice world map. The main window is Flash based. Just click on a server and the server will test your download and upload bandwidth automatically. Intermediate and final results are displayed in a speedometer like graph as well as numerically along with a one-way trip time, IP address, and server location. Previous test results are displayed in a table below the current results. Users can customize the units displayed in the table and it is probably stored in a cookie since they do not require any registration or knowledge of the user.

Speedtest even creates a small graphic for display on your web site. I was able to pull down 10 Mbit/s from their Chicago server a few minutes ago. If you want a slick, simple to use bandwidth tester, go to Speedtest.

Speedboost works as witnessed by the results above. There are not many people using my CMTS node at the moment so I can hog up 4 Mbit/s more bandwidth than currently allotted. I just wish that my upload speed would occasionally go above 384 kbit/s so my VoIP service would work a bit better although QoS would really solve the problem.

IEEE Events for Colorado Tech Week

Colorado Tech Week came and went without much fanfare the week of September 18th. I am sure that the governor kicked it off with a proclamation and it usually ends with the CSIA DEMOGala. The domain name wasn't even registered until a month before the event started. Colorado has many high profile and successful technology companies, and this week should have been the time to promote it to its citizens, potential investors, and entrepreneurs thinking of relocating or starting a business in Colorado.

Kevin Johansen of The Business Catapult The only event that I knew about was hosted by the IEEE. The local IEEE chapter hosted three days of events for Colorado Tech Week at Qwest's headquarters downtown Denver. I attended two of these excellent events. The Tuesday session on Entrepreneurship and Careers was the most useful, and the Wednesday session provided a great perspective on electrical engineering achievements in Colorado past and present.

Russ Farmer of PBC, Inc. My hope for the next administration is that they embrace Colorado Tech Week and actively promote it in and outside of the state. It is a wonderful opportunity to educate the public on the great discoveries, inventions, and innovation that our talent pool can produce.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Should Motorola or Cisco/S.A. Be Worried About Apple?

Apple did something very uncharacteristic of them in their much ballyhooed "It's Showtime" event. They preannounced a product two quarters before it will ship. Forget the iPod announcements, the product code named, iTV, has the potential to do what Microsoft could not with Media Center: replace the set-top box. There are other appliance-type boxes out in the market that download and store content for playback, but what makes iTV a serious contender is that it comes from Apple.

Anyone in marketing or technology realizes that Apple has mastered the art of marketing. They are able to gain an almost religious following because they understand the concept of whole product. For those of you not familiar with marketing and product management concepts, the whole product is not just a specific box, piece of software, or service. It includes the whole ecosystem surrounding the product that delivers utility to the consumer. Couple this concept with a coolness factor, add some mystique, and you have a category hit on your hands.

Apple's 75% plus marketshare in portable music players is no mistake. Apple successfully accomplishes what Microsoft struggles to do...they made it easy for the average consumer to buy, store, and play music on the go even with mediocre hardware quality. You do not have to be a computer genius with knowledge of MP3 and AAC encoding, USB, virtual drives, and digital rights management (DRM) to take your music on the go. All you have to do is to plug your iPod into the supplied cables, fire up iTunes, and purchase your music at the iTunes Music Store. Apple takes care of the rest. While the geeks and techies were arguing about DRM, encoding restrictions, and batteries, consumers were downloading millions of songs from the iTunes Music Store. They make cool products. Even the packaging is cool. This attention to design is a must for any consumer product. Apple's marketing genius combined with a thorough understanding of the process consumers use to purchase content makes them envy of any product manager trying to introduce a successful new product in an overcrowded marketplace. You bet several product managers in Redmond are green with envy. It is these magic beans that makes the iTV a potential market disrupter to the set-top box market.

The iTV picks up where the set-top box leaves off. A consumer can purchase this box, available 1Q07, for $299, plug it in, turn it on, and start enjoying rich multimedia on their TV and audio system. No external clunky PC with Microsoft's Media Center is required. Just a nice, neat appliance with a sexy user interface delivering movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and photos. Nothing from Motorola or Scientific Atlanta even comes close to date. TiVo and Moxy are contenders but they are missing the mobility/portability factor.

Content comes through the iTV's built-in wireless network interface, probably based on 802.11a/b/g until 802.11n is fully standardized, so it can be placed in the entertainment center without trying to figure out how to run Cat5 cable to it. Apple did not disclose whether a hard drive was built in to the unit so I assume that a modest one is included so it could store and display content without the help of another PC. If not, then one can easily be connected through the USB 2.0 port on the back of the unit. Otherwise, media can be streamed from any PC or Mac running iTunes sharing their content. It has component video or HDMI connectors for connecting to a conventional or High Definition TV set.

The user interface is characteristically Apple. It looks like FrontRow supercharged and crossed with Media Center. Movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and photos on the iTV or any other computer running iTunes are available without DRM worries. You can purchase a TV show from the iTunes Music Store that downloads to iTV but you don't have time to watch it all. Just fire up iTunes on your PC and move it to your iPod. Maybe you can connect the iPod to the iTV. Take that Comcast! I do this all of the time with podcasts. I start listening to them on the PC, then move to the living room where they are streamed to my AirPort Express before finishing them up on my phone while doing yard work.

So what makes the iTV a threat to the traditional set-top box? There are technical, marketing, and business reasons. Let me explain:

  1. Apple's ability to sell a whole product or whole solution is a proven formula for success. They provide the complete ecosystem from providing access to the content all the way to enjoying the content in a simple almost non-technical way that brings the product into the mainstream beyond the early adopters.
  2. Apple is a name brand with a reputation for cool and quality products. Their reputation for quality and innovation is beginning to surpass Sony's! Can you say, marketing muscle?
  3. Movies, TV programs, music, podcasts, and pictures can be enjoyed on a PC, iPod, or iTV. It is truly portable and mobile. The cablecos and telcos are still wrestling with the mobility/portability problem. Verizon is just beginning to lighten up and allow recorded programs to be viewed on multiple TV with their new Motorola set-top boxes, but not on computers.
  4. They provide integrated content delivery beyond video. Apple is not dependent on cablecos or telcos to provide access to content. They have their own deals with content providers like Disney. Although this may threaten cablecos and telcos, they are missing real-time content.
  5. The iTV is similar to a set-top box so users will immediately understand how to connect it to their entertainment system. No external PC with Microsoft Windows OS that requires constant care.
  6. Internet content will now be available on the TV. Listen to downloaded music, podcasts, and video content from the Internet. Only TiVo has this capability now.

If Apple's marketing machine can leverage these benefits without directly taking on the video content distributors, then they will have their next hit on their hands and drive content revenue through iTunes. I know that I will buy one if they do it right. Also, I'll cancel my NetFlix subscription and stop purchasing OnDemand movies.

Adding a tuner and supporting OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), or minimally CableCARDS, would provide real-time video content that the iTV is missing. With the DVR and on-screen program guide, Apple now has a superior solution to Motorola and Cisco even with their TiVo and Digeo partnerships. The cable companies will quickly jump on the bandwagon because they would no longer have to supply costly set-top boxes; thereby, reducing their capital and operating expenses. This is the objective that they have been driving towards for years. Consumers would love it because they could save on their cable bill and most importantly have a choice where to acquire content. If the cable companies are worried about Apple cutting into their content revenue, I am sure that Apple would create cableco specific branches of the iTunes Music store that integrated with the cableco on-demand content.

I am confident that Jobs and company have already thought of adding these features, and they will include a version with integrated cable with the release of iTV. Apple's understanding of marketing combined with content mobility gives them the opportunity to be the first successful consumer purchased set-top box. Motorola and Cisco have a long way to go to catch up in features and cost. Look for some serious competition in this market in 2007-8.

If Apple can strike a deal with Comcast, I will gladly relinquish my Motorola DCT6412 (soon to be a DCT3412) and move my AirPort Express to the bedroom. Can I have it by February Steve?

All pictures in this article courtesy of Engadget.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Seeking Alpha Arrives on Yahoo! Finance

Seeking Alpha announced (link) today that its content will be included in Yahoo! Finance. Seeking Alpha provides stock market opinion from a variety of quality sources divided into vertical industries. This author is one of the contriubtors to the site for the telecom sector. Seeking Alpha is a great aggregator of information for and from investors, analysts, and industry insiders seeking information on their industry or particular companies. Their content will add a large quantity of quality analysis to the Yahoo! Finance site. Take a look at the site from my link to the right, and you will probably end up subscribing to its RSS feed.

Simpler Is Always Better

Some of the best inventions, and most successful, have been the simplest idea or at least the simplest to use. There are countless examples of this principle. Portable media players have been around for years before Apple came around with the iPod, but it was the simplicity of its single purpose design, complete ecosystem for easy use by the layman and brilliant marketing that propelled it to a generic noun in our lexicon today. In the last month I have had the privilege of talking to two companies with great potential with a very simple service.

The first one is H2West. Their PayNow service allows a consumer to pay for a purchase with just their cell phone. It works like a debit account without any extra devices, credit cards, or complexity. All a consumer has to do is send a text message with their PIN to H2West and they will send back a 4-digit PIN and their account balance. The consumer provides the PIN to the merchant that enters it into their point-of-sale terminal that generates a receipt. It is that simple. Consumers love it because it is quicker than a credit card transaction and it allows them to budget better. Retailers love it because it costs much less than credit card transactions and it is secure.

This service has the potential of being a real market disrupter because of its simplicity. The retailer only is required to have a new point-of-sale terminal and the consumer can use their existing cell phones. No new smart cards, RFID tags, Bluetooth, or any other chip is required to be implemented. In a matter of minutes a consumer or merchant can open an new account and start processing transactions. The consumer links their bank account or debit card to their account to keep a cash balance. This is a perfect tool for parents to use as a way to teach their children how to budget money. Periodically they can add money to their kids' account, and let them figure out how to spend that fixed amount. No more rampant credit card charges to surprise parents at the end of the month.

The real question is whether H2West will be able to successfully market the product to consumers and retailers. If I was a major credit card processor, I would be looking very seriously at this company.

The next potential market disrupter is MailCall. MailCall uses a standard telephone or cell phone to read and send e-mail messages from any POP or IMAP mail account. The beauty is that e-mail messages and attachments are available from any phone without any extra equipment or the fear of having secure information sitting outside corporate firewalls. Most mobile e-mail solutions require additional equipment like a Blackberry or Internet connection; not MailCall.

E-mail has become an indispensable tool for business and personal communications, but accessing it isn't always easy. Security concerns with personal mobile devices, traveling with laptops, and using public Internet terminals inhibit the utility of e-mail. MailCall eliminates all of those concerns using a standard telephone with its text-to-speech synthesis. Listen to a message and any attachment then decide whether to listen to the next one, delete it, or respond to it just as you would in the e-mail application. You can even send a message or attachment to a fax number if a printed copy is necessary. MailCall can even read web pages. These are just the most important features of the product. See their web site for more information.

Just like PayNow, MailCall's disruptiveness is in its simplicity. Users utilize their existing e-mail accounts and any telephone; no new equipment is required. The cost of maintaining a mobile e-mail system is eliminated along with the security headaches. A mobile workforce can manage their e-mail from anywhere on the road so they are more responsive to their customers. They challenge that Great American Technologies has is how to market this great concept where there are so many opportunities in the enterprise, carrier, and government segments.

These excellent technologies have the potential of disrupting their respective markets because their user interface is simple and their utility great. They utilize complex technologies to solve some very simple problems just like Apple focused on playing music with the iPod. Neither one of these companies has the marketing muscle of an Apple, so their success lies in their ability to market themselves or find strong recognized partners. Keep an eye on them or better yet, open an account and give their products a try.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fall VON is Upon Us

Many interesting conferences and conventions begin today in our industry, but the one valuable conference that has real value begins today in Boston. Of course I am talking about Fall 2006 VON. Jeff Pulver's efficacious meeting that brings together traditional telephony with new media and the Internet. There will be the usual waxing on about IMS and convergence, but the real action will be around IP peering and IPTV. There is revenue and real business models around these topics. Jeff threw in a session on Net Neutrality which is near and dear to our hearts although I am not sure that the panelists will generate that much productive discussion or controversy. The blogger session at the end of the conference expects to be interesting, but isn't it just more industry perspective? Hopefully they will discuss how they utilize blogging to affect the industry. All in all expect for a very informative and productive conference. I always look forward to attending especially Jeff's parties.

I started using the new Windows Live Writer software to prepare my articles. Its basic features allows me to focus on writing on the article instead of formatting it. I ran into a glitch when I upgraded my blog to the new beta version of Blogger. Unfortunately, Live Writer does not yet support Blogger beta. I hope to see a new version of Live Writer beta that supports Blogger beta. The Live Writer forum indicates that it is coming soon!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

UN Treaty to Stifle Free Speech

Cory Doctorow published an article Saturday on Boing Boing about a treaty that the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization is drafting that threatens the fledgling podcasting industry. It aims to give broadcasters more rights to control works that they do not own. The treaty also creates a new tier of copyright confusion for podcasters. The result of this treaty will be for countries to enact the provisions into law, and podcasters will have less rights to use non-infringing material in their podcasts than they do now. Innovation will be stifled and the only beneficiaries will be the traditional media and large Internet companies like Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft that can afford to license and pay for the content.

The EFF has prepared an open letter rejecting the webcasting right. This treaty smacks of intervention by old school broadcasters trying to protect their business models. The WIPO is suppose to protect intellectual property creators, not provide shields for big business. Find out more about the open letter to be submitted to the next WIPO treaty committee meeting on Monday. If you are a podcaster or organization supporting podcasting, there is a link for you to sign the letter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Verizon Hones Home Networking...One Step at a Time

Verizon announced yesterday that it is introducing the Home Media DVR (Light Reading - Broadband - Verizon Hones Home Networking - Telecom News Analysis) that allows users to listen to music and look at pictures while sitting on their couches.  It retrieves music and videos from networked PC and play them on connected devices.  The DVR allows multi-room capability, so shows recorded on it can be played on TV in the kid's room or master bedroom.  A later version of the software will allow videos stored on the PC to be played on the DVR. 

Finally some competition inside the home allowing networking of TV and other entertainment appliances.  Surprising that it comes from Verizon—competition works.  It is not surprising that they want to charge $20 per month for the DVR and an additional $4 per month for each additional set-top box networked to it.  I am unclear whether this is a charge for rent of an additional set-top box or just the ability to stream video from it.  What is noticeably missing is the ability to play videos recorded on the box on PC in the home.  My wife and I watch DVD from our notebook computers.  I assume that they will roll out this feature once switching to the IPTV platform with Microsoft's DRM software.

Comcast came out with a glib response stating, “It’s just something we choose not to do at this time.” Chose not to do or could not do?  I am curious how Comcast believes they are going to do this.  Verizon uses MOCA for networking their boxes over coax, but Comcast isn't using MOCA in its homes.  I have a dual tuner HD DVR from Motorola equipped with Ethernet, USB, and PC Card ports, but it cannot communicate with anything except the head-end.  I would like to use the Ethernet connection to connect the DVR to my home network, but it is inactive.  The only way that Comcast could offer this capability is to do it the same way that Verizon is doing it—with MOCA.  Hopefully Comcast chooses to do it soon with a better set of capabilities at a better price than Verizon.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Samsung A900: Toy or Tool?

My old Sanyo 8100 from Sprint finally gave out.  I could not charge the battery no matter how long I left it charging.  Since my contract was up with Sprint, I had some leverage to purchase a new phone.  I won't regale readers with the trials and tribulations I had with Sprint over this issue, but I am happy with the result.

My choice was the Samsung MM-A900.  I have heard it referred as a RAZR knock off, but it is so much better than the RAZR.  This Bluetooth enabled device has many of the feature that will allow me to replace my PDA.  My first phone choice would have been the Treo 700p, but I could not see paying $400 for it.  The phone does about everything besides phone calls like playing games, music, streaming music and video, SMS messaging, and Internet access via EV-DO.  The phone is Java-based so I can download third-party Java applications without paying Sprint, Samsung, or Qualcomm.

The best thing about it is that I can send my contacts, appointments, music, pictures, and programs to it via Bluetooth.  The transfer is simple and painless.  I wish it had more than 50 MB of memory, but it has not been a limit so far.  Samsung and Sprint loaded it with some useful applications, USB cable, charger, and stereo headset.  The audio quality is very good, and streaming video looks well on the modest size screen.  The picture above was taken with the 1.3 Mpixel camera during a sudden Boulder down pour.  About the only thing I would change on it would be the ability to adjust the font size in text messages and turn off delete prompts (i.e. expert mode).  Samsung hit a home run with this phone that I am sure that I will enjoy for many years.

Taking A Break

I'm going to take a break for the rest of the week to visit my parents in Iowa. I may post an occasional note from the road when something interesting comes along.

This picture was taken at the Boulder County Fair with Madisen. Although she is usually a dare-devil, she was afraid of the ponies. She enjoyed the petting zoo much more.

Getting the IPTV Jitters

AT&T U-verse set-top box Apparently AT&T is having some problems rolling out its U-verse IPTV service (Light Reading - Video - AT&T Still Has IPTV 'Jitters' - Telecom News Analysis).  They are experience a loss of a couple of IP packets every minute which manifests itself as a short screen freeze or some pixelation.  It is not surprising that they are experiencing such problems with new technology comprised of a very complex delivery mechanism. 

Microsoft, their IPTV middleware provider, suggests modifying the UDP protocol that includes a resend mechanism if the set-top box detects a missing packet.  Won't that make UDP like TCP?  It seems that this non-standard workaround will not solve the problem unless signals are delayed even more than the quarter second that they are today.  If multiple requests for a resend are sent back to the headend at the same time, then this flood of traffic may create even more congestion problems.

The solution that AT&T engineers are pursuing seems a bit more pragmatic.  They are adding forward error correction (FEC) near the encoders to repair the damaged packets.  Whatever solution is chosen, the question remains as to the scalability of IPTV in large deployments.  End-to-end error free transmission through many network elements must be ensured for a high-quality picture to come through.

There is no doubt that the industry will figure out a solution, but implementing a solution in this multi-vendor environment will take some time.  Scaling IPTV nationwide is a very challenging engineering feat similar to the roll-out of nationwide long distance phone service.

Microsoft Offers Software to Simplify Blogging

The latest beta version Microsoft Live Writer was released today according to CNET's  Writer is suppose to simplify the sport of blogging for those that are not familiar with HTML coding.  I have been reluctant to download Vista or the new version of Office for fear of trashing out my mobile office.  I was less reluctant to download Writer.

After a quick download and install, I found that the software is very simple to use.  The interface is intuitive for web experts and novices.  I created this article using Writer in just a couple of minutes without the typical HTML tweaking that I have to do once posted to Blogspot.  Inserting links just as easy as in Word or FrontPage. 

Why would you use Write over Word, FrontPage, or a web application?  Because it is a simple application that hides the complexity of blogging for the typical blogger.  Its WYSIWYG editor lets you see what the post will look like before posting it.  Inserting links, pictures, and maps is a breeze.  Changing the layout does not require an HTML expert either. 

Let's hope that Microsoft keeps this tool free to drive people to their Live Spaces service.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Vonages Woes Are to Be Expected

I do not know why anyone is surprised at Vonage’s financial and stock performance.  They are trapped crossing the chasm.  Vonage was an innovator in the industry introducing VoIP to the masses.  They successfully transformed their customer base from early adopters to mainstream by making the service simple conceptually and operationally.  They chose the path to expand their customer base by attracting the mass market instead of continuing to introduce new services that may attract business customers—that was not their market.

Like any maturing technology, incumbent phone providers began to see their market share slowly decrease and new providers like cable companies found it easy to enter the market.  Now the innovators had real competition.  Incumbent telcos faced the innovator’s dilemma because they were hesitant to cannibalize their POTS revenue, but cable companies jumped on VoIP as a way to increase ARPU.  Time Warner and Cablevision’s bundling of voice video and data gives them an eight point market share lead over Vonage for residential customers according to Infonetics Research.  This lead will only increase with offers like Comcast’s $99 per month triple-play bundle.  Vonage is failing to articulate its strategy for the future past the short-term explanation in the prospectus is why real investors are hesitant to invest in them.

Vonage’s stock price lag is a result of spending 50% of their budget to acquire new customers and lack of innovation driving a business plan to counter the cablecos successful bundling strategy.  What are they to do to survive?  Embrace wireless.  Voice over Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies offer a way to reduce churn and bring on more customers.  Vonage should partner with leading Wi-Fi service providers to offer a package allowing their customers to receive and place calls through public and private Wi-Fi networks.  A good place to start would be with T-Mobile.  Leveraging T-Mobile’s hot-spots with Vonage’s residential service will expand T-Mobile’s presence into the home and Vonage out of the home.  There is even a SMB play here too.  T-Mobile benefits from increased coverage until it can purchase more spectrum, and Vonage ads value creating a seamless voice service.  

Their feeble entree into Wi-Fi with the UTStarcom phone is just the first step in what must be a grander strategy for their survival.  Without the ability to guarantee call quality, offer more than just voice service, or mobility, Vonage has no future.  Investors realize this fact.  Consumers are increasingly moving to integrated communication providers to simplify the use of communications technology.  Vonage or any other stand-alone VoIP provider does not offer enough value to residential subscribers to be a long-term viable business concern.  They need to tie their exit strategy to mobility services and a larger carrier or face obscurity.

Tag: VoIP, Vonage (VG), T-Mobile (DT)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Poor VoIP Service Invalidates Net Neutrality Theory

In principle you know that I support net neutrality but not how it is typically defined by the Internet digerati.  Last week Brix Networks came out with a press release summarizing the results of over one million VoIP test calls made by people that use their site.  I for one contributed over a hundred tests.  Almost 20% of all tests indicated a call of unacceptable voice quality and that trend is increasing.  This problem will only become acerbated as $120 billion is spent worldwide, according to Infonetics, on VoIP services from 2005 to 2009.

Late packet discards, lost packets, and round-trip latency are the culprits caused by congestion going through switches and routers in the network.  So here we have a true case of degraded service without a tiered Internet.  Oh my God, Molly Wood better call the FCC and her Senator.  The principal of net neutrality is the reason that VoIP services from Vonage, SunRocket, telcos, and cablecos are experiencing low mean opinion scores.  Real-time services like VoIP need to travel through the network in a deterministic fashion quickly.

Net neutrality wags would have you believe that throwing more bandwidth will solve the problem—not true.  Bottlenecks exist all through the network.  Theoretically adding bandwidth would solve the problem if it was done ubiquitously.  Practically it cannot be done ubiquitously and the problem will be solved until that bandwidth is consumed.  Packet prioritization (a.k.a. tiering) solves the problem despite the bandwidth condition and carrier.  This is the only way in which real-time service can be guaranteed to be of sufficient quality.

Let’s say that net neutrality legislation passes.  After and the ACLU celebrates their victory, companies like Vonage and SunRocket will continue to see the quality of their service decrease while the telecos and cablecos move their service from their Internet access to dedicated bandwidth.  Vonage currently leads the market with a 27% share for residential services according to Infonetics, but the cablecos are catching up.  With net neutrality legislation, the cablecos can move their VoIP service to dedicated bandwidth on their plant and let Vonage rot.  This is the true tiered Internet.  They along with the RBOC will inherit that 27% market share driving these service providers out of business.  So the legislation that the telcos fought so hard to defeat can actually help them in the long run.  Bottom line:  they win either way.  This is the law of unintended consequences.

The only answer is let the Internet be without government intervention.  Innovation will continue and alternatives to the status quo will emerge.  

Disclaimer:  I am not supported by the cable or telco industry in any way although I would not mind some support, but it will not change my opinion on competition or net neutrality.  If you have a project where my talent could be utilized, please feel free to contact me.

Tag: VoIP, Brix Networks, Vonage, SunRocket

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

IMS: Investing Many Shekles

Is it just me or does any one else see that IMS is over hyped and too complex?  At the last two trade shows I attended, Globalcomm and the Cable-Tec Expo, all of the major vendors and many smaller ones too where hyping IMS as the next big thing.  What next big thing I ask?  I walked around from booth to booth asking vendors what services would justify the huge expenditure to purchase and operate IMS solutions.  I invariably received the reply that any service can be provided on any device.  That’s nice, but they did not describe a service or even a business model to increase ARPU.  Lucent Technologies demonstrated a roaming service for TV.  How often do you go to another person’s house and where they don’t have similar channels?  Are you going to pay extra for that luxury that is probably limited to your MSO?  Longboard announced yesterday “MediaRoam” that allows a video stream to roam between wired and wireless networks.  They tout that a person can be watching the news at home then continue watching the broadcast in their car as they drive across town.  MediaRoam can truly be the killer app for IMS—pun intended.

IMS is not needed for these fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) applications.  There are many ways to implement it without the complexity of IMS.  Voice is the most frequently discussed application for IMS because it has the most potential for enterprise and mobile users.  Voice FMC can be used by wireless carriers to replace wired connections in the enterprise saving companies the expense of maintaining a wired and wireless infrastructure.  Sprint-Nextel is charging ahead in this area as we speak.  Sprint can charge customers an extra fee per subscriber and for the dual-mode handset.  Although they are going to implement the service with IMS, it is not necessary.  

The case for non-business mobile users is less obvious because this group is looking to utilize free or cheap Wi-Fi access to reduce their minutes on the mobile carriers’ network.  These users can be tacked on as incremental revenue to the business case for enterprise users.  Sprint-Nextel can offer this service through its MSO partners as a feature on their digital telephone service.  Each member of the household can have their own number that rings their dual-mode phone over Wi-Fi when in the home or at a hot-spot.  The MSO can charge an extra $10 per month per person.

The true benefit to IMS is the delivery of all services over IP regardless of the underlying transport medium along with unified service creation, management, and billing.  The question is whether there is a positive ROI for this value proposition.  Providers of IMS products need to find a way to articulate the true value proposition for IMS instead of hyping all of sorts of cool applications that may or may not increase ARPU.  The current implementation of IMS by many vendors is complex because it is full of servers, software, and interfaces which screams complex to purchase, implement, and maintain.  Vendors need to take a page from their own slides on convergence and simplify the functions into as few boxes as possible.  Also, they need to simplify the message to carriers on the real value proposition and business case because now it reminds me of EU regulations comprising thousands of pages of documents.

Cool applications that improve the business case will eventually be developed to take advantage of the capabilities that a single silo service creation environment provides.  These applications will be multimedia in nature but evolve from applications that we use on our PC today.  Social networking and content delivery everywhere will drive IMS once it is deployed by mobile carriers. The vendor that understands this pragmatic approach will be the one most successful with their IMS products.

Tag: IMS, Sprint-Nextel, Lucent Technologies, Longboard

Monday, July 17, 2006

Net Neutrality Gets Emotional

The title is actually a misnomer because net neutrality has been an emotional issue from since Ed Whitacre uttered his famous statement in Newsweek. The latest round of the net neutrality battle is not taking place in the halls of Congress, but in cyberspace at the CNET site between Molly Wood and Scott Cleland. Molly takes off the gloves to present a more emotional than factual discussion of net neutrality. In her article she blasts Scott Cleland of and his blog of providing a false and manipulative interview on NPR. While I do not personally know Scott, I can say that he as built a sound reputation as an industry analyst which is why he often is interviewed by PBS, The New York Times, and other widely respected publications. His analyses are typically thorough, unbiased, and accurate which is why I find Molly’s attack emotional and incredible. Scott makes no mistake of disclosing that communications companies may sponsor his work and sites. If he was a lap dog for the industry as Molly proposes, would he have taken a shot at MCI calling it one of the largest failing CLEC when he surely knows that WorldCom was the failing CLEC that acquired MCI. I derive my revenue from the industry. Does this mean that I am an industry wag? I think not.

Scott’s arguments and web sites present a good discussion of net neutrality that are not often present is discussions by so-called journalists like Molly Wood. We both support net neutrality and no government regulation of the Internet. The absence of regulation has spurred innovation and investment in the Internet. Injecting regulation into the Internet just as we did with telecommunications is a recipe for disaster just like we have with current telecommunication policy.

Check out Scott’s site and blog for some very insightful articles. The most amusing thing on the site is the counter of how many days without a net neutrality problem although I question the accuracy of the counter that changes every second for a day. Maybe Scott could clarify his algorithm. I do not agree that we have sufficient competition in the industry. In some areas like business services I would agree, but for residential and last mile access, I would like to see at least one more provider per market. If you are into the whole net neutrality debate, go on over to the CNET web site, read Molly’s editorial, then click on the TalkBack link to read the banter. Wade through the chaff to find a few tidbits of insight.

Tag: net neutrality, MCI, Verizon

Who Will Deliver Broadband to Small Markets?

I am going to take a break from the net neutrality discussion to talk about something else that is not happening where government should have a role.  I am talking about how to deliver broadband services to cities where the major telecommunications providers do not see a sufficient return on investment to build broadband networks.

For 20 years, I have been chasing the dream of delivering fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) for various carriers and equipment manufacturers, and the case studies were always marginal at best in any situation except for Greenfield applications.  Equipment costs keep coming down and ARPU goes up with the inclusion of bundled services which make FTTH and FTTB an economical business proposition for fairly densely populated areas.  That is great for urban and surrounding suburban cities, but where does that leave cities with under 200,000 inhabitants not close to a major metropolitan city?

Small local exchange providers have banded together in places like Iowa to get economies of scale in purchasing FTTP equipment so they can prove-in broadband network deployment.  Home builders have seen it as a differentiator for their products, and they have partnered with firms that can engineer and build the networks.  I have come to believe that the best method to drive broadband in small markets is for the municipality to take an active role in creating a communications infrastructure framework.  Notice that I said framework not network.  The framework is an all encompassing plan that guides policy in delivering wired and wireless services to homes and businesses in the community.  It contains elements of public and private partnerships to deliver advanced broadband services to the city.  

Municipalities have the advantage of being able to take a long-term view to investments and payback.  Return on investment does not have to be measured strictly in revenue from the network.  There are benefits to the economic development of a community because the network can attract knowledge-based companies with higher paid workers.  Communications networks improve the ability to educate a community by allowing citizens improved access to schools and other educational institutions.  Government can be more efficient and transparent by taking advantage of the Internet.  These are the intangible benefits that a municipality can include as its ROI.

The question that the framework should address is who will build this network?  Early in the twentieth century when the electrification of America was a concern the government financed much of the wiring of rural America with the Rural Electrification Act.  Municipalities formed their own electric utilities and cooperatives to deliver energy to their community.  This act is still in existence today (Do bureaucracies ever go away?) and expanded to include broadband services.  Unfortunately it is not sufficient to serve communities with more than 20,000 inhabitants.  Communications is a part of a city’s infrastructure so the concept of a municipal communications utility is a valid one.  The purpose of this utility should be to develop a framework and act as a catalyst for the building and operation of a broadband network.

I carefully chose the word catalyst and not carrier because the government should not be in the business of selling communications services.  Actually some states, such as Colorado, have laws prohibiting a government entity from becoming a carrier.  So if the city cannot sell services, then how will they build and fund the network?  There are a variety of different business models that a city can utilize as its framework to build a broadband network.  Any network built by any public or private funding should allow for non-discriminatory access to any service provider.  This competition creates lower prices and greater utilization of the network creating economies of scale by amortizing any expenditure across multiple service providers.  

The exact content of the framework is dependent on a city’s objectives, demographics, geography, and existing infrastructure.  Architecture of the framework will contain a metro backbone and last-mile access.  Many cities built fiber rings as a metro backbone early this millennium paid for by bonds.  They leased bandwidth on these rings to carriers building out wireless and wireline networks to reach homes and businesses.  They receive revenue from the carriers utilizing their bandwidth, and the carrier delivers the service and bills the user.  Build-out of the last mile can be accomplished by a CLEC wanting to reach a business or a third-party working with home developers to build and sell triple-play services.  Mobile service providers can utilize the backbone to build their network to provide mobility services to users in the community.

This is just a few ways that a city can create an advanced broadband network without taxpayer subsidies.  The city may build and own some facilities funded by bonds and revenue from carriers, but they do not actually sell the service.  They act as a pipe for any service provider that sees an opportunity for their business in that community.  Incumbent and competitive carriers alike can take advantage of the facilities.  Where the city actually funded the network, it may eventually see a positive cash flow from service providers over time.  

Cities with less than 200,000 people can have a broadband communications network without spending taxes or waiting for incumbent local exchange providers to build it.  Establishing a communications infrastructure framework will guide the development of the network with the city facilitating the development with infrastructure developers and service providers.

Tag: municipal broadband networks

Friday, June 30, 2006

Living Large at the White House

I'm glad to hear that Bush is enjoying his time in the White House, but there is nothing that beats Iowa beef. At least they chose a decent Chardonnay: Clos Pegase. If you haven't tried Clos Pegase, get a bottle. If you have time, visit them in Calistoga.

Tag: Clos Pegase, Bush

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Net neutrality amendment dies/Telecommunications bill goes to Senate without provision sought by Web firms

In a sign of common sense, the Senate committee voting on the latest telecom legislation decided to shelf the net neutrality ammendment. Apparently they want more time to study the issue to make intelligent legislation. For now this means that the Internet remains as it should: unregulated.

Read the article at Net neutrality amendment dies/ Telecommunications bill goes to Senate without provision sought by Web firms

Tag: Net Neutrality, Senate

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2007 Will Be the Year of VoIP Peering

What the courts give us the FCC taketh away. Last year 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 3% excise tax charged on long-distance calling to fund the Spanish-American War in 1898 was illegal. Finally last month the government finally gave up challenging the obsolete tax, but not before it had a new scheme up their sleeve. Last week the FCC announced that VoIP providers would have to start contributing to the Universal Service Fund (USF) and that wireless providers would have to contribute even more. The few cent break that customers thought that they would receive is actually turning into a tax increase. The catch to the tax is that it will only be charged on VoIP calls that terminate on the PSTN. All wireless calls will be subject to the tax increase.

This new tax is just the motivation that VoIP providers, especially broadband VoIP carriers, need to focus on keeping their calls totally IP. I had always been disappointed that Vonage, SunRocket, Packet8, and the other broadband VoIP providers never banded together to form peering relationships. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of peering, just like the Internet peering is where carriers of equal size agree to interconnect their networks to share traffic. Smaller service providers purchase capacity from larger VoIP transit providers that peer with carriers of equal size. The alternative is to interconnect with one of a handful of peering providers. I can see why the large VoIP transit providers never started peering because they make money from PSTN terminations. This new FCC ruling will be the catalyst necessary to push peering to the forefront of VoIP provider priorities. PSTN terminations are expensive anyway, and they add extra coding and decoding processes that introduce distortion into the signal. Delaying peering may drive customers to other VoIP carriers that can keep the cost low because most VoIP customers switched from traditional POTS to save money. This group is very conscious about any increases to their monthly phone bill.

Broadband VoIP providers are already concerned about their future as the cable companies and RBOC offer competitive VoIP services. The cable companies are already taking a serious look at VoIP peering to reduce the cost of carrying calls inside and outside their networks. They see the potential cost savings and quality benefits. RBOC will drag their feet on peering because they have Metcalf’s Law on their side. Broadband VoIP providers have the biggest motivation to implement peering to keep their customers’ phone bills small and costs low; thereby, reducing churn. Companies such as NeuStar, VeriSign, Xconnect, and InfiniRoute Networks will benefit selling peering and ENUM solutions to large and small VoIP providers. While last year was the year of SIP, look for 2007 to be the year of VoIP peering. It continues to amaze me at why many businesses wait for a government action to motivate them to a competitive response.

Tag: VoIP Peering, NeuStar, VeriSign, Xconnect, InfiniRoute

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Net Neutrality Bill Scheduled for Vote

Will wonders never cease? The Telecom Bill that was scheduled for a vote Friday is actually being debated tonight after Tom DeLay (R-TX) gives his farewell speech. Apparently Congress is ready for their summer recess. I was hoping that this legislation would be postponed until the fall session to give time for a full debate and education on the issue, but I guess that Members of Congress want to appear that they are doing something.

One of the amendments being proposed to the Telecom legislation by Rep. Lemar Smith (R-TX) will give the FCC main responsibility for resolving net neutrality disputes. Another amendment proposed by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has a bit more teeth to it defining net neutrality. This situation is a classic case of a red herring with the pols passing some toothless legislation just to satisfy a noisy minority.

The Washington Post published an editorial today written by Larry Lessig and Bob McChesney to sway the opinion of the House before the vote. I generally respect what Larry has to say but this editorial was written as if the telcos and cablecos were the new USSR. They compared AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to Tony Soprano. Their alarmist point of view is totally out-of-line since these companies have not violated any principles of net neutrality. They have only proposed that Internet service providers can pay extra to guarantee a consistent user experience. Net Neutrality is a ghost chasing a red herring.

Let’s hope that common sense prevails and our elected officials listen to the arguments of the engineers from the telephone and cable industry; otherwise, the Internet that Larry and Bob warn about as any packet regardless of type fights its way through the Internet like autos through Roman streets. Their argument is an oxymoron because they want the government to regulate the Internet to maintain its openness based on light-handed regulation.

There is too much misinformation being propagated by organizations like and the American Library Association. Let’s hope that Congress does the right thing and just pass some weak amendments like that of Lemar Smith so they can tell these groups that they did something about Net Neutrality.

Tag: Net Neutrality

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Vonage's Stock Price Isn't the Only Thing That Has Problems

Mid February I attempted to cancel my Vonage service because my LNP request to Broadvoice was complete. I was convinced by the Vonage customer service representative to suspend my account instead of terminating it. She assured me that suspending it would not cost me any money. At the time it sounded like a great idea because of all of the problems that I was having with Broadvoice. So I agreed to put my account in suspension should I decide that Broadvoice’s service was just too intolerable. I promptly put my ATA into its box and stored it in the basement.

Three months go by before I start seeing charges to my credit card from Vonage. I log into their web portal and notice charges for calls made on their network. How could this be since my ATA was disconnected? I decided to call Vonage to figure it all out. After waiting 2 hours on the phone and 2 disconnected calls, I finally reached an account representative. The representative stated that the charges were valid because their computers said that I made the calls. I countered with my assertion that my ATA was packed away in the basement and my router logs showed no activity to their application servers. Since she would not escalate my case to the next level, I terminated the call.

I wonder how many other previous Vonage customers have had their credit cards charged for calls they did not place after terminating their service. The problem is probably due to the fact that I ported my number from them to another service provider. Occasionally they are receiving a CDR from the CLEC that still thinks my number is a Vonage number and bills my account. The amounts are small but add up to about $60 per year which is enough for me to want to see it stopped.

The other thing to watch out for is their account suspension service. After 90 days, Vonage began charging me $4.99 for basic service plus additional calls and taxes. The customer service representative did not notify me of that fact or I would have just cancelled the service.

If anyone else has experienced problems with Vonage’s billing, comment to this article. Maybe there is a common thread to this problem.

Tag: Vonage

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rocketboom on Net Neutrality

Okay so I can’t leave this subject alone. Rocketboom decided to check in on Net Neutrality today. While I expected that they would take a protectionist stand on the issue. They are still researching the topic. Why do so many people want to legislate Net Neutrality when no communication provider in the U.S. has purposely restricted or impaired services from other sites? Stick to jump roping Amanda.

Tag: Net Neutrality, Rocketboom

Friday, May 26, 2006

Net Neutrality vs. Packet Prioritization

Last article I said that I would detail the concepts of net neutrality and packet prioritization. I have discussed these points at length in several previous articles, and this article is what will be the final philosophical discussion of the issue—I hope. Unfortunately the concept of packet prioritization is being associated with denying certain service and application providers’ unfettered access to the Internet or degrading their service. Packet prioritization is a tool that can improve the user experience of real-time services like VoIP or streaming video. The two concepts can co-exist in harmony to provide a superior Internet experience for users and service providers. What follows is a rather matter-of-fact comparison of the two.

There are two principals for companies that make a business of the Internet should always keep in mind:

  1. Internet access has no value without content provided by a variety of sources. This fact is a corollary to Metcalf’s Law.
  2. Users expect a certain quality of service from their application providers regardless of the underlying network infrastructure.

So there is a symbiotic relationship between service and access providers. Neither one can stand on their own despite AT&T’s desire to distribute content and Google’s attempt to build a network.

Packet Prioritization Net Neutrality
Allows time sensitive packets to travel through the Internet first while not restricting or impeding traffic unless a bandwidth limitation exists then traffic is gracefully limited until the condition clears Does not limit or impede any type of traffic
Reduces impairments to voice and video Does not attempt to manage the user experience or quality of service
Provides no noticeable impact on other applications like web browsing and e-mail Some definitions require all packets to be treated equally so browsing and e-mail could arrive before your movie or phone call interrupting the call or movie
Manages bandwidth efficiently to maximize the amount of traffic through the network Believes throwing more bandwidth will solve the problem.  There will always be more traffic than bandwidth
Can improve the quality of some Internet applications May restrict access providers from allowing application providers the opportunity to improve the quality of their services
Does not have to be used by all Internet applications Internet Access providers should not give preference to their content over competing application providers

Net neutrality should be defined not to exclude Internet Access providers from providing packet prioritization. Packetprioritization is a valuable tool that all content providers can use to insure a superior user experience and most efficient use of bandwidth.

Tag: AT&T, Google

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Net Neutrality-Why Would We Rely on Congress?

Every time I hear that another bill is introduced in Congress concerning net neutrality I cringe.  Several of the versions introduced recently would cripple the ability to voice and video services reliably over the Internet.  Language in the bills are often vague and open to interpretation that would make implementing any quality of service mechanism in America illegal.  What is ironic is that this move would hurt the companies that support these bills.

Why are Internet application providers supporting legislation that could reduce the quality of their services?  FUD is why.  Google, Yahoo, and others are afraid that their users will not have access or reduced access if they do not pay additional fees to AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest.  They know the ILEC’s history and distrust them.  The ILECs have not been exactly forthcoming in marketing the benefits to Internet application providers.  Recently all three CEO have publicly clarified their intentions.  Richard Notebart, CEO of Qwest, came out with an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that was very articulate and full of analogies against net socialism, but it was defensive.  This adversarial relationship between access providers and application providers is being perpetuated in the press by companies like CNET.  The industry’s inability to resolve this situation by itself means that the battle will be taken to Congress where the companies with the most influence will determine the outcome.

Why is there so much resistance to prioritizing some services over others?  Is it so complex that only engineers understand the details?  As with relationships, it is all in how you present the issue.  Name changes and big advertising agencies have not changed the nature of how the ILEC communicate with their customers.  Initial statements by the CEO of AT&T and Verizon that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Vonage are freeloaders were truly argumentative.  I am sure that the middle managers in these companies did not intend for the message to be delivered in that manner;  call it CEO prerogative.  Eventually the rhetoric was toned down and they clarified their intent, but the damage was done.  Application providers and the press were in a defensive posture.

This whole mess could have been avoided by a smart public relations campaign that communicated two simple messages to application providers and the public:
  1. All applications are not created equal.  Voice and video services need to move through the network before web browsing and e-mail.

  2. All services will operate as they do today without prioritization.  No services will be purposely degraded by implementation of this mechanism, actually all services should operate better.
In reality the ILEC were announcing a new product release so they should have carefully planned its introduction.  Engineers and developers in application providers and the technical press would have been given privy to the details of the implementation.  Given all of the details in a non-confrontational manner, my belief is that they would have supported it and asked when they could sign up for the service.  Now the issue will be resolved in Congress which will give us a non-optimal solution.  

Should packet prioritization be illegal, the United States continue its decline in broadband access and services.  As I have stated in previous articles, we are already behind Asia and some European countries.  This move will facilitate a continued decline.  We can have net neutrality with service prioritization.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Hopefully any legislation passed will account for that fact.

In my next blog article, I will compare principles of net neutrality with packet prioritization.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Comes Around Goes Around

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, stated in his keynote speech at Interop 2006 that that the network will become more intelligent to ease application development.  Simply stated, Cisco will build systems for carriers that contain more intelligence taking control from the network end-points.  This philosophy reminds me of the Bell System days where we built intelligent networks for dumb appliances to hang off the end.  It seems that we have gone a full circle back to the Bell System philosophy.  Everything old is new again.

Cisco was founded on empowering businesses with the ability to design their corporate networks to meet their own business needs.  Their philosophy was that the network was dumb and the end-points intelligent.  AT&T and its Baby Bells were professing the opposite that having intelligence in the network enabled more powerful services at less cost.  Cisco and other companies determined to create a new communications paradigm (you don’t hear that word much any more) based on their success at proving that the old Bell mentality was obsolete.

They were successful at unseating the Bells.  IP won out as the protocol of choice over a fairly transparent optical network.  TDM and ATM are giving way to Ethernet and IP/MPLS over DWDM.  Innovation is coming not from the big iron vendors, but from companies developing equipment and applications based on intelligent network end-points.  VoIP, Skype, BitTorrent, Wi-Fi, DVR, TiVo, camera phones, iPods and countless other devices are products of this pendulum swing.  This millennium we have seen an unprecedented period of innovation enabled by thousands of entrepreneurs that do not require billions of dollars to bring a new application or service to market.

The paradox of success is that the larger a company becomes the less they innovate and the slower they grow.  Cisco is experiencing this paradox.  They have grown to become the 800 pound gorilla.  To continue a reasonable growth trajectory, they have to come up with new communications paradigms that require carriers and enterprises to purchase new hardware, software, and services.  Without major shifts in philosophies, their growth will level out and possibly decrease.  It is a perfectly natural response, and you have to acknowledge Chambers’ drive at trying to appear as the great innovator.

Personally I do not believe that the industry is ready to shift innovation back to large corporate labs like Bell Labs, PARC, IBM, and RCA Labs, and control to their corporate sponsors.  Those companies are relegated to our technology history books. We will witness the same happen to Cisco Systems, Intel, and Microsoft over time.  These are all great companies, but they cycle of innovation will swallow them as well.  The Internet and intelligent network end-points has spawned the Cheap Revolution that empowers any smart individual or small group with entrepreneurial spirit the ability to be the next Skype.  

Tag: Cisco, Chambers, Interop

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Comments on Net Neutrality

I wrote the following article as a response to the frequent comments on CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast misrepresenting the RBOCs intentions to prioritize traffic on their networks.  The hosts commented on my article but they did not seem to comprehend what I was saying.  The press is misrepresenting the concept of net neutrality.  Packet prioritization and net neutrality are not mutually exclusive.

Once again Congress may screw up a valuable resource.  Senator Ron Wyden's bill will cripple Internet access services to millions of Americans and stifle the creation of new and innovative services.  There is no question that Internet access providers should not give preference to their services or content that they distribute.  Likewise, they should not negatively impact any potential service competitor's traffic that goes over their networks.

The press, Congress, and many others are confusing bandwidth and speed with packet prioritization. All packets travel through the network at the same speed.  The speed at which a packet travels is somewhat less than the speed of light dictated by the medium they travel through.  Along the way they are slowed down by transport equipment, routers, and switches.  So saying that there is a "fast lane" is technically incorrect.

Traffic becomes limited because interconnections and equipment are limited in the amount of packets that they can process.  We call the rate at which information flows through equipment or interconnections: bandwidth. Bandwidth is always a limiting factor. Internet carriers attempt to fully utilize their bandwidth to reduce cost and improve margins.  There are many places in the network where bandwidth can become constrained, but the most common location is the last mile to the consumer.

When there is more traffic than bandwidth, then some packets have to wait their turn until bandwidth is freed to pass them on to the next point in the network.  Currently all packets are treated equal so e-mail is just as important as web browsing as VoIP calls.  Here's the rub.  If there are several web browsing, p2p, and e-mail packets waiting to go through the pipe, VoIP packets will have to wait a long time to reach their destination. As long as they only wait a couple of hundred milliseconds, users will not hear the delay.  If the wait is longer then users will hear garbled speech, echo, and in extreme cases the call will be disconnected.

This is the reason why we need to prioritize certain traffic. Packets from services like VoIP, IPTV and interactive gaming need to be moved to the head of the queue to provide an excellent user experience; otherwise, consumers will not find them acceptable over today’s alternatives. Each packet should be labeled depending on the class of service it requires enabling bandwidth to be used more efficiently and better quality of service for all users.

Throwing more bandwidth at the problem is not the solution because bandwidth is always consumed as soon as it is provided by new services and greater usage of existing services.  The bandwidth answer is a never ending spiral.  The only true solution is creating tiered services for all service providers to use.

Notice that I have not mentioned who is providing these services.  The point is that all service providers whether RBOC, cable company, or Internet service provider benefits from implementing quality of service (i.e. packet prioritization). Actually tiered services provide a level playing field for Vonage, Netflix, or any other IP service providers as long as they can purchase these service guarantees for the same price that the access providers’ charge their internal content distributors.  In other words, the RBOC or cable companies do not give preference to their own services. The way services are delivered today, the RBOC or cable company can control the quality of their VoIP or IPTV services; thereby, providing a higher quality user experience than service providers that use their networks. The current situation is not fair. Google, Yahoo!, Netflix, Vonage, and all of the other IP service providers should welcome this new service from the RBOC. It offers entrepreneurs that do not have billions of dollars to build a network the ability to create new and innovative services.

What alarms me is that the industry cannot work out this issue on their own and are relying on 535 old men and women that have their staff print their e-mail to decide the future of the Internet in the United States. These people do not have a clue of what to do about this issue. Instead they depend on industry lobbyists to help draft this legislation. Wyden’s bill is too restrictive and will stifle competition. Frankly it scares the hell out of me.  Barton’s bill just gives more power to the FCC over the Internet. Neither one is good for our industry. Unfortunately there are too few people in the industry that understand the issue and the ones that do are less than eloquent in explaining it. The bottom line is that we should let the free market sort it out. There are already sufficient laws in place if the RBOC or cable companies give preference to their own services. Let the market work!

Tag: net neutrality

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Postage Due

A recent article in the New York Times detailed AOL’s and Yahoo’s plans to charge a quarter cent for companies sending their subscribers’ e-mail. Their objective is to dramatically cut down on the spam and phishing that ends up in our mailboxes. The scheme will allow those that pay postage for their message to receive priority and bypass black-lists and spam filters. In addition, addresses in user’s address books will not be subject to paying postage and receive the same service.

There are many reasons why this scheme is not a solution to the spam problem. First, spammers will still send messages. Some will pay the fee. It is still cheaper than direct mail. Second, the ingenious spammers will use zombie machines to send messages to recipients in user’s address books. Third, it will impede senders of legitimate e-mail. Under this scheme, if I met someone in a business meeting and I wanted to send them a follow up message, I would have to ask them to add me to their address book or pay the quarter cent. Not much, but it is an additional expense I thought came with my Internet service. Corporate users will just consider this the cost of doing business, but personal users will find paying postage burdensome. I suppose that it will put and end to those pesky chain letters that people are always sending me. Proponents claim postage is just the solution that we need to reduce spam to a trickle.

What is puzzling is that these same proponents are opponents to the RBOC charging for tiered service. According to the NYT article, AOL and Yahoo are positioning the postage as a superior class of service just like the RBOC. Where is the opposition to this scheme? Tom Evslin, ex-executive of AT&T’s Worldnet service, is against it for one. His argument that it will adversely impact subscription services and legitimate e-commerce is extremely compelling and lucid. I have no problem if service providers want to charge extra for a service like certified mail that validates and guarantees the identity of the user as long as it does not impact how I send mail today. Will it stop spam? No way.

The widespread use of digital signatures is another effective way to prevent spam, but the cost of a digital signature has to come down to under $5 per year before we see widespread use. You can buy a domain name for $1.99, why not a digital signature? What I would like to know is how AOL and Yahoo will make the service any different than using a digital signature? It seems to me that they work about the same way. Why not credit senders a quarter cent until they pay for the digital signature. That way there would be a cap on how much user’s are charged. Once everyone has a digital signature, the e-mail client would verify the message header against the digital signature. If they did not match, then it would be filed as junk mail. Other solutions like Sender ID or DomainKeys are effective at preventing spam and they do not require user intervention.

Spamming is an arms race. Legislating it away did not solve the problem. Spammers either ignore the laws or moved off shore. Charging will not solve it. They will hijack machines or continue to use best effort and hope they get through. There are even ways around Sender ID or DomainKeys, but these solutions are more effective than blocking messages that do not pay a toll. So go ahead and charge for a higher class of e-mail. If users want to only accept mail from certified senders and people in their address book then that is their prerogative. Anything less is creating a walled garden and against the spirit of the Internet.

Tags: AOL , Yahoo, e-mail, Tom Evslin