In the PSTN world Number Portability is an important consumer right albeit a recently gained one. Without number portability, new entrants will be very much disadvantaged. But the right is severely restricted. I am not sure the reasons for the stipulated restrictions, but my suspicion is they were politically motivated. One of the important restrictions is that the line corresponding to a phone number must terminate in the same rate area even after a port. This has implications even when VoIP is involved.
That point is important for us to note, because the moment a VoIP service assumes a PSTN number, that service takes on many aspects and restrictions of PSTN. For example, if a subscriber moves from one location to another which is outside of the current rate area, the number can not be ported to the new area, even if the service provider is operating in both the areas. Granted, many VoIP service providers maintain the old number, legally the number is not ported. Instead the service provider assumes the ownership of the number and “loans” to the subscriber. So a service provider has to select one of the two conflicting options – give ownership of the number to the subscriber and allow that subscriber to port the number to another carrier or assume ownership of the number, allow the subscriber to use it from any location, but then the subscriber cannot port it to another carrier. This is an important point because most of the VoIP carriers have opted for the second option. In the case of SunRocket, its customers are facing difficulty because of this – they are not able to port “their” number to another service provider because it as not “theirs” to begin with.
This is a cautionary note for those subscribing to services that offer phone numbers for life whether they are now part of “God” company or they are a stable CLEC. PSTN number is like a cake, you an not have it and eat it too. So consumers have to pick one or the other.
In a post today Telco2.0 introduces to us France Telecom’s Livebox . After describing that box, the post goes on to suggest how one can use such a box to “become your own telco”. If you are a consumer, you can currently buy a box like Livebox with more features in the retail market. That is the purpose of this note. I will also extend some of the service concepts suggested in Telco 2.0. DISCLAIMER: I am an employee of ZTE and have worked on the strategy and feature development of this box for more than 2 years, even though currently I am not working on this product. So I do not know the current roadmap and what I say here is not to be construed as a suggested roadmap. I passionately believe in this product category and the service implications of such products.
My tag line for ZTE H110 was: “The little box that can.” The hardware platform provides multitude of interfaces and the software, built on Linux-derived OS, provides functions and features that take full advantage of the hardware platform. H110 is at once a Wi-Fi router, an unlocked ATA that can support two VoIP accounts with failover to PSTN, a mobile router that can connect to an EV-DO network with an appropriate EV-DO PC card and a file/print server. These are the basic capabilities. But there are many advanced features.
The box is not just an ATA; it behaves like a PBX. The two VoIP lines and the PSTN line will be used like “trunks”; the two FXS port and an optional Bluetooth phone will be used like “stations”. The stations can talk to each other as intercom. The route for outgoing calls can be selected based on static configuration or dynamic dial plan.
As a router, it supports multiple VPN/VLAN and facilitates QoS. As a Wi-Fi access point it can support upto four SSIDs, with each SSID potentially belonging to different VLANs. One use of this capability is to allocate an SSID for guests so that they can access the Internet, but at the same time isolate other devices in the home. Different VLANs can be given different priorities.
H110 has a master USB 2.0 port to which one can attach a printer or an external storage device. If a printer is connected, the printer can be shared with the PCs on the LAN. If an external storage device is attached then PCs on the LAN can retrieve contents from the storage device. As suggested by Telco 2.0’s post, the box can act like a gatekeeper of the contents in the storage device and allow access to authorized users in the WAN. This can be done in conjunction with a service provider or by the users themselves.
A consumer may not be ready to configure and operate a sophisticated box like this one. The box can be configured and managed remotely by a third party, they be service provider or a contracting agency. Hands-on consumers are assisted by a browser-based GUI.
(In case you do not see the reasoning behind the title, in Mathematics there is something called Hilbert’s Problems that set the tone for most of the 20th Century mathematics.)
During a recent session titled “Where are the VoIP Services?” a frustrated Jeff Pulver admonished the industry for sheepishly pursuing the PSTN services and not offering services that take “advantage of the IP based platform presented to them to deliver innovative services.” He further elaborates that traditional model (and by extension the current model pursued by current set of VoIP players) requires long development and deployment cycle. He thinks that IP based platform can reduce this dramatically. He is even willing to provide initial financial support for those who have ideas along this line. In a follow-up comment, he states that he is looking for real fresh ideas and faces who are not already involved in executing their ideas. Given the intellectual challenge and financial incentive, you may have started to polish up a proposal. If so I would like to share some of my thoughts with you. I may not help you to get Jeff’s attention, let alone get his help to turn your proposal into reality. But I feel that the following points will help you not to fall into the same trap as the current set of players.
If you have not read about this new service that is couched as a product, you can get more detailed information from Om Malik. Apparently he has been briefed on this and likes what he has seen, because he has written uncharacteristically gushing post on it. Of course many others have written up and I am sure your RSS reader has located many of them. Since I have not been briefed about it and my source is just Om’s description, my understanding of this product is very limited and prone for error. Still, I am decidedly negative and let me share my reasoning.
As I understand it, Ooma is a standard ATA with an FXS port and FXO port. This means that you can connect a standard phone to it (at the FXS port) which will connect to Internet. Just like with any other ATA, this will (presumably because Om does not go into that much detail) “register” with a central server so that the server can create a directory. I also presume that they use SIP, but that is immaterial here. You will use the phone connected to Ooma to dial out the person’s “number”. If that number is an Ooma number, then the central server will inform the far-end user. If on the other hand, it is a PSTN number, then it does something which is being billed revolutionary: it will look for a Ooma device in the neighborhood of the called number and also connected to PSTN via the FXO port. If one is available, then the call will be routed to that Ooma box, which will patch it to the called number.
BellsterfwdOUT, you say? Oh, you have long memory. That is not good.
Secondly, the device itself is not anything radical. There are many devices like this. Sipura makes one; my employer has one and I am sure there are many others. PhoneGnome has developed some additional software that can run such boxes that simplify and enhance user experience considerably. And all can be had at a much reduced price. So what is new here?
Thirdly there has not been much discussion on practical realities. The fwdster concept (which Jeff Pulver has pointed out is derived from Ham radio community) requires a community feel. Is it realistic to expect that in the wild? How to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the patched calls? Of course, how to ensure that the central server will be around to provide the needed directory service? After all without that, Ooma is just box.
Om compares it to the PC revolution. But he also points out that Ooma is planning to offer enhanced services on a subscription basis. But with the PC, I could develop applications and run it on my machine without paying anybody anything. Will Ooma allow me to develop my own features? Why do most of the times, Netheads emulate Bellheads while denigrating them?
My negative outlook was sealed when I read in their website that the phone “industry that hasn't innovated in 100 years”. Oh really?
Lest Andy’s recent post give wrong impression to you, let me bring to your attention a report published by ITU. A clip from that report: “VoIP is (explicitly) legal in Algeria, Australia, Austria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad (internationally), Chile (at the local level), Colombia, Croatia, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Rep. of Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama (domestically), Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Rep., Slovenia, S.Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan (China), Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, UK, Uruguay, US, Viet Nam, Zambia.” (emphasis are mine).
One should not confuse interconnect regulation with illegality. We have to use Pulver ruling as the basis, since that has been the long standing rallying cry. Come to think of it given the recent SunRocket debacle, some form regulation protecting the rights of consumers may be a good thing.
Earlier in the day, Om reported that SunRocket has closed down their service. New York Times is confirming the story indirectly, by attributing to somebody who has been briefed on its status. This is not good news for the subscribers who had to pay ahead of time for a year. It is not clear whether their service will be interrupted and worse whether they even have the right to port the number to a provider of their choice. NYT is indicating that SR is moving their customers to other providers. I suppose not all is lost.
Andy suggests that getting a GrandCentral number will be good solution, because then calls can be forwarded to the new number. GrandCentral has closed their open registration and indicate that they will allow limited registrations. It is possible that GrandCentral may decide to open registrations to SR customers. But it is less certain that GC will be able to port SR’s numbers. So we have to assume that Andy is suggesting a future course of action. Even so it is not that it is without risk. Having acquired it, Google can redirect the service or even cancel that service. It is not that we have not heard of a company closing down a service it has acquired. What happens then?
Taking on the role of Dr. Frank Bryant, my advice to potential VoIP consumers is that they should not lose out on the rights of telephony users. One of their rights is that the phone number belongs to them (within limits) and they are allowed to take it with them to any service provider. So before signing up with a service provider, it is incumbent on you to get clarification on this point. If one shouldn’t falls for low charges or claims of fancy services. I hope VoIP consumers become Susan again.
Just listened to an interview given by NEA’s Managing Partner Kittu Kolluri. There he says: "Success makes you look better than you really are; failure makes you look worse than you really are." I can use the quote as an excuse for myself, but for a person who is arguably a "success", it reveals that person's outlook. As Tamilians say, "Nirai kudam thathumbathu" (full pot does not slosh).
He also mentions a book "Fooled by Randomness". I have not heard of this book before. I am planning to read now. My telecom life itself is full of those events: a random encounter of a classmate got me into Bell Labs; a random utterance in a meeting gave me my first break there; accidental reading of Padlipsky's monograph formed my thinking on Internet. The list is too long, but of significance to one individual. Indeed many setbacks also seem to be random events, but considering them to be so may not be productive.
In any event listening to the interview gave an opportunity for some introspection.
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