December 14, 2010

VoIP still remains a service and products are disappointing

Recently a new VoIP related product called Obi110 was launched. I have not personally evaluated this product but Phoneboy and Tom Keating have reviewed it. Based on their review I am disappointed that the industry has once again failed to move the needle, but has opted to continue to be wedded to a service provider model.

Based on these two reviews, Obi110 looks like an ATA that can interface to PSTN, the company’s own VoIP service and an additional two SIP providers. Additionally, it can switch a call from one interface to another. In these respects it is very much like Phonegnome and Ooma. But unlike Phonegnome, it doesn’t use the PSTN phone number as the id for its service. This means users of this device have to provide their Obi ID to their contacts. On the other hand, like Ooma, it allows for a call originated at an Ooma to be switched to a far away box to be terminated at the local PSTN. But Ooma faced considerable push back because people were concerned about potential misuse. Obi110 addresses this concern by restricting this capability to a handful of pre-configured phone numbers, called “Circle of Trust”. But otherwise, the functionality and business model are replicating the good old wireline POTS.

There are so many consumer pain points that can be alleviated with proper consumer technology. For example we all have had frustrating experience of being put on hold when we call a call center. Shai Berger describes a service called virtual hold and apparently three approaches are being deployed. In particular one approach being pursued by Lucyphone is getting good press and at the same time has some potential privacy concerns. Of course this approach deployed as a consumer premise solution would alleviate the privacy concerns. Obi110 could have added this capability.

Fonolo made its debut by attempting to eliminate irritating IVR experience by offering a service that they call “deep dialing”. Here is another example of a real consumer need being met with an intermediary service. Consider an alternate approach: websites provide the key sequences to reach each leaf of the IVR tree, visiting consumers can pass the appropriate one to the Obi110 box (after all the browser and the box are on the same LAN) and the box dials aout the IVR sequence at the appropriate time. This way, the two end points eliminate the pain point without involving a third party.

We all are used to the benefits of SMS on our mobile phones. As Google Voice has demonstrated that this could be offered to landline numbers as well. But there are no indications that incumbents are even considering such a service. So a third party can step in and offer a form of SMS service if only appropriate equipments are at home. Since Obi110 is connected to the internet, it could receive the text messages sent by the service provider. If they also provide cordless phones like Ooma, the base station can deliver the text messages using DECT technology.

Like these one can add additional, useful services and capabilities to consumers. Of course the industry has consistently failed to offer any of them during the past 10 years. Many in the industry talk “Intelligence at the End” talk, but their walk is decidedly “bellheaded”. I hope this changes in the near future.

Posted by aswath at December 14, 2010 07:40 AM
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