More than two weeks back, I was catching up on my reading material that were backlogged during my trip to India. It so happened I came across three articles that seem to be not related just as I was fighting jet-lag. They were: I’ll be bach by Martin Geddes; Mobile is where innovation will happen by Gary Kim and VoIP is core to the future of Communications by Jeff Pulver. As I read through the articles and was thinking about the points raised by them, it occurred to me what we as an industry should be focusing on in the coming months.
In his stylistic fashion, Martin admonishes the industry for not offering useful services/features by narrating a personal experience. He has done this before while describing other real life stories. I do not have the inclination to search and locate the specific references, but I can quickly abstract the common idea: utilize the rich message signaling capability that the Internet affords to the end-points of a communication session to enhance the user experience in one way or another. For example, in the recent post, Martin would like to attend to some other business when he has been put on hold instead of he holding the phone and listening to some piped-in music. Most of the times he discusses such points in the context of VoIP technology. But in this post he explicitly states that the absence of UI-rich clients is the root of this problem. Let me add that once we have such clients, one can offer most of these features even over POTS lines. If you are mystified as to how that can be done, I can describe to you if I am sufficiently rewarded. (By the way this post is remarkable for another reason – unreserved criticism of Skype both on business and technical aspects by Martin, a long time Skype apologist.)
In his post, Gary describes the advances made in the smartphone technology, especially in the area of user interface. Gary argues that “landline VoIP” does not change the user experience. But smartphones changes that because of the rich user interface. Let me add that the overriding reason for this is that invariably smartphones have sizable screen. If we were awed by iPhone demo, it is primarily because how the screen was utilized, not the transport technology. iPhone is more a POTS phone than a VoIP phone. So one can certainly introduce radically improved user experience even to POTS phones.
Finally, Jeff tells us that CEOs of some of the largest phone companies discussed with him regarding VoIP. He does not say what did they discuss, though one can be certain they discussed the set of new features they can introduce as they roll out the “Next Generation Network”. So I decided to call Jeff and tell him that he should be meeting with the CEOs of small device manufacturers like Uniden and CIDCO and generate an RFP (not like the one related to ATAs) that focuses on UI enhancements without much worrying about the transport technology (POTS or VoIP) and not depend on the service providers at all. Remember the refrain: “intelligence at the end”. As I was reaching for the phone, my boss walked in calling my name and saw my dazed look. He left my office murmuring something to the effect of daydreaming once again ...
One of the patents that Verizon was able to successfully assert against Vonage in their recent and widely discussed patent suit is the patent number 6,104,711. The main aim of the invention is to replicate the AIN like services for “Internet Telephony”. As the patent itself describes in layman terms, the idea is to map a domain name based address to different IP address based on some conditions. It seems incredulous that people working on H.323, especially given that most of the participants were from incumbent telephone service providers, would not have considered this.
In a recent post Jeff points out that in the first implementation of FWD, he had implemented “conditional analysis” that is fundamental for AIN-like services. He also refers to a book that he authored TWO MONTHS BEFORE the patent was filed – “The Internet Telephony Toolkit”. I do not have a copy of the book, but we can view the contents of the book at Amazon. There are section titles from which one can clearly infer that those services would have used “conditional analysis”: The Growth of Voice Mail Delivered over the Internet (Chapter 4), Offline Voice Mail (Chapter 7), Party-Specific Call Blocking (Chapter 7).
Also I thought DNS allows for one to have records with “weight”. I will argue that it is a form of “conditional analysis”; but I am not sure whether that constitutes prior art. It is important to ascertain the ownership of “conditional analysis”; otherwise nothing of consequence could be provided from a central server.
Periodically somebody writes about neat things that VoIP can do. Though it is not stated explicitly, the implication is that POTS can not offer such features. A more exhaustive list of such features was recently compiled by VoIP Now. Based on what Rich Tehrani has unearthed, it looks like we can add the 26th item to that list – voicemail transcription. (If this were a multimedia blog you would be seeing my cheek bulging because tongue is resting on it.)
Apparently, Rich has learnt that Vonage will transcribe the first two minutes of voicemail spoken in English and will be sent out as email. The unconfirmed rumor is that Vonage will charge 25 cents per voicemail. Of course intelligence has moved to the edge only as far as it concerns to PSTN luddites, but features offered by VoIP service providers like transcription require more intelligence that the edge can muster. Hallelujah!
"No one is arguing that the S in SIP stands for simple. It is a large and complicated system. But any advanced phone system that deals with such a large number of features and the amount of interoperability and the ability to add new features by upgrading only one end is going to have a similar level of complexity." - Cullen Jennings in ACM Queue
Now we are being told. Some of remember the size of the specification was used as a favorable argument. Oh well.
Enough has been written about the patent ruling against Vonage on behalf of Verizon. Given the legal nature of the dispute, I have to declare I do not understand the nature of the dispute. This is complicated further because it is not clear who else will be affected by this. The general consensus seems to be that Verizon will go after others after this. In today’s post Andy suggests that there is a technical reason why Verizon targeted Vonage: they use Session Border Controllers and Media Gateways and not Softswitches. I feel this can not be the reason.
First of all Softswitch is a marketing term and can not be precisely defined. In one definition, Softswitch is that entity that controls a Media Gateway. With this definition, Vonage clearly has Softswitch in its architecture. Since Media Gateway is used to interconnect to PSTN, any service provider that provides PSTN interconnect service will have Media Gateway, suggesting that they all will be affected. Since Session Border Controller is used to protect the core network elements, one suspects that other service providers have them as well.
So the question remains. I would think that equipment vendors will indemnify the service providers from such patent disputes. So if Vonage uses vendor supplied equipments, then they will not be in such a predicament. I have heard through word of mouth that they have developed their own infrastructure elements. If so then they have to face Verizon alone, without the support of the vendors. Till shown otherwise, I think this is the reason for Vonage to be vulnerable for patent infringement cases.
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