December 30, 2007

Meaningless Exercise in Ranking VoIP Blogs

Periodically somebody or other publishes their list of blogs focused on VoIP. Originally Jeff Pulver used to publish one which used to be very inclusive. You just have to inform him for your blog to be included in that list. Then last year Garrett Smith published a more restrictive list containing only 30 blogs to which Luca Fillighedu posted a response. But both of them have been lost to the archives. Subsequently, Alec Saunders published a very expansive list, but raked them based on a site that computed “the juice” of a blog, which is a function of the number of subscribers in Bloglines, Alexa ranking, Technorati ranking and the number of incoming links. This is supposed to be more scientific, probably because it uses a mathematical formula and takes input from multiple seemingly independent sources. Then this year VoIP-News published a list of 25 blogs that they deem to be “loudest and most influential”. It is not clear they intend the list to be an ordered list; but it is apparent that at least some of the honored bloggers think so. Interestingly they do not identify their criteria for selecting this set of blogs. But it is an interesting exercise to see their ranks, according to the juice calculator.

This is not sour grapes. But it goes against the basic idea of blogs – being long tail. Each post is a point in the long tail and the whole technology – feeds, tags, feed readers and search engines – allow each entry to contribute to our collective understanding. So why this fascination about ranks – are we reverting back to our childhood days?

Update: Pat in an email exchange subsequent to his comment expressed his disappointment that "new and interesting guys were left out, I couldn’t believe no phoneboy and what about Vinay (3.3)/Markus Gobbel (1.8)." Mea culpa. When I generated the juice count for different blogs, I planned to only include Alec's list and the new 25 list to suggest that a different measure may generate a different list. I should have added the new bloggers as well, especially those that are in my feed list. I think I inadvertently reinforced my original point that any list however expansive will omit some "gems". My point was gems are individual posts and here I omitted blogs altogether. But if anyone took my list as an ordered list, I failed to establish my point. :-)

Posted by aswath at 11:10 PM | Comments (9)

December 27, 2007

Another Missed Opportunity

Only yesterday I observed that there is so much innovation that can be done at the End. Today I came across a site that is marketing a device called Ringboxx that generates custom ring tones for landlines. With this box, one can customize the ring tone as one can do in a mobile phone. One can specify ring tones based on the caller ID. The unit costs $40. It is all and good. But it doesn’t go all the way because one has to buy the ring tones from them and each tone costs $2 or $3. It is not clear that you can generate a tone from your music library. A better product would be to integrate this function as part of a cordless phone and allows importing an MP3 clip.

Oops. I have already vented on this product. Sorry!

Posted by aswath at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

To Push? or To Pull?

In a user-centric social network (aka distributed social network) two friends who would like to share data will nominally use different servers. So we have to decide how the data will be shared between the four entities – the two servers and the two clients. In effect we need to decide who will pull the data from whom.

You can read the full analysis at EnThinnai blog. The summary is that the data is always stored in the user’s server from which the buddies pull the data. In certain cases, a short notification is passed from the user’s server to the buddy’s server and the buddy’s server uses an external mechanism to notify the buddy. There are supplementary benefits to this approach. There is no requirement for a buddy to run a server or be part of a private social network; it is sufficient to have access to the Internet and have an OpenID. The user can monitor who and when the buddies accessed the data and can maintain a log.

Posted by aswath at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2007

Bandwidth Conundrum

Elaine C. Kamarck writing an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe has is exploring how to fund the required build-out of Internet capacity. (Hat tip: Andy Abramson) I have never fully understood the peering business in Internet and this column has not helped much. So this gives me an opportunity to raise some questions.

This is my understanding (mostly based on Tom Evslin’s multiple posts on this topic) of how peering works in the Internet: Peering between two ISPs take place when one delivers traffic to another when the former requires the help of the latter to carry the traffic further in the Internet towards the intended destination. If historically the two ISPs exchange comparable amount of bandwidth, then each carry others’ traffic with no further monetary exchange; otherwise there is a pairwise business agreement on how much to charge for the excess traffic. So far so good. The first confusion comes when people say that Internet peering uses a different model than PSTN. In my understanding, this IS the PSTN model. So what am I missing?

Since most of the current crop of Internet applications consume bandwidth asymmetrically. By that I mean, the consumers generate very little bandwidth towards the Internet, but consume inordinate amount of bandwidth from servers at the other-end of the connection. This means that when the access providers like telcos and cablecos must be receiving revenue from the ilk of YouTube/Google. If so why do they place a limit on the amount of downlink bandwidth consumed by their users? Also, shouldn’t this be enough of an incentive for access providers to make sure that the backbone has sufficient capacity to support all these applications?

If the peering deals only with the consumed bandwidth, why should we worry about which application generated bandwidth? Even the blindsided PSTN didn’t/couldn’t charge a different rate for fax/modem call. In my opinion the solution lies in letting the consumers generate bandwidth and the access providers monetize the uplink traffic. This means as a first step, the access link should be symmetric; after all the backbone is.

Posted by aswath at 03:58 PM | Comments (2)

Telecom Paycheck

Two days back Brain McConnell wrote a guest column damning the current nature of telecom business captioning it with the lead line from the ballad made famous by Johnny Paycheck. In that post, Brain laments the fact that there are no more profitable niches and all services “have become low-margin commodity markets dominated by established companies.” Even the mobile space is not encouraging till the carriers open their platform and have meaningful revenue sharing program. Given the gloomy evaluation, Brian has decided to move away from the telecom business.

Predictably, those who are still in the telecom business, like Moshe Maeir and Pat Phelan have taken exception to his conclusion. Moshe suggests in a comment, that there is a great promise in applications that treat voice as a component. I agree that we can do a lot by mashing voice with other components and create cool and useful applications. I suspect that Brian will not disagree as well. But the question is whether these applications require a service provider model. In a comment, Scott Rafer raises the same point by quoting the Stupid Network paper.

Of course this paper also suggests that the industry has ignored developing meaningful and intelligent Ends that have sophisticated UI. Brian himself raises the point in a follow-up comment but dismisses it by saying, “the UI is fundamentally limited to doing phone-like things.” How can he say that in this year of Apple iPhone? Even the demo video suggests how easy it is to put a call on hold or retrieve a call. Contrast this to a device like PhoneGnome, which is otherwise a feature rich device. Because of the limited UI, it has to restrict concurrent VoIP and PSTN calls it can present to the user. How many devices provide a mechanism to specify the subject of a call or to escalate the communication from a chat session, to a voice session and then video if necessary?

No, I am staying in the telecom business, but with a special focus on the Ends.

Posted by aswath at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

End of a Profession

“Why would I send her a letter?” Mr. Sawant asked, perplexed. “I’ll just call her on the phone.”

A professional letter writer's instantaneous response when one offered to hand-deliver a letter to his daughter residing in New Jersey.

Posted by aswath at 01:28 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2007

Distributed Social Network

I posted the following entry in my other blog.

A couple of days back, Anne Zelenka wrote about DiSo, an approach to building a distributed social network using Wordpress as the basic platform. A week back, Chris Messina mentioned in his blog about his plans to work on a “prototype project to build a social network with its skin inside out” and he called the project DiSo. As I mentioned in a previous post, others have expressed a desire to have a distributed social network as well. Based on the comments posted in response to Anne’s post, it is apparent that many others (including yours truly) have been working on realizing this objective. Anne’s post is focused on DiSo and Wordpress. If the objective is truly distributed social network, then neither is critical. One could have multiple platforms and multiple implementations. They all should work just fine.

As I mentioned in my VON presentation, three things are needed: a web-wide identity mechanism, an open API to post and retrieve data from one site to another and finally a way to authenticate the entity that is invoking an API call. OpenID and OAuth provide the needed technology for the first and the last items. So the critical item is a generally accepted set of APIs. I am hoping that OpenSocial will be that.

A friendly competition between multiple efforts will do all of us good. So be open and give your attention to all of us. If you are interested in distributed social networks, please take a look at other efforts as well.

Posted by aswath at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2007

Bonfire Could Undermine Beacon

A couple of days back, Louise Story wrote in Bits/NYTimes that, “More than 1,500 Facebook users have started placing advertisements on their own profile pages–despite the social networking site’s rule against such ads.” A Canadian company called Weblo is providing the ad network and compensates the owners. Clearly there is a tendency to disintermediate Facebook and generate ad revenue. Yesterday, I came across a Facebook application called Bonfire which spoofs, the much maligned Beacon. I think we can use Bonfire to take the disintermediation to its limit – users deriving direct benefit by placing recommendations in their profile pages.

As with Beacon, using Bonfire users can place web claims similar to what Beacon partners do. Instead, these sites can prompt the users about placing such a note in the user’s profile page. It will be easy to include a URL that friends of this user can click and visit the commerce’s site, which can issue a credit if the friends take a specified action. This way, Facebook is kept out of the loop with the users directly benefiting. Of course somebody should maintain the credits earned by the users, across the entire ad serving sites. Since the rewards will be of low value, what we are looking for is a micro-payment system. Amazon already has such a system called Amazon Flexible Payment System. Of course Google Checkout and Paypal can easily setup such a system as well.

Posted by aswath at 02:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2007

It is Easy to become a Bellhead

Many in the VoIP industry use the term Bellhead derogatively. Usually it is reserved for the loathsome phone companies and equated with people using circuit-switch technology as well. But I am of the opinion that it has nothing to do with the technology. There have been many recent examples of companies in the IP domain have revealed their bellheadedness. Some choice quote from a recent story about cable companies’ plans for VoIP applications. (Hat tip: Andy Abrmson).

“SIP has some shortcomings in primary line voice. Putting a lot in the end device is tough to scale, because every time you add more subscribers, you have to add equipment, and there are security issues.” (And you thought the intelligence has moved to the end?)

“CableLabs has collaborated with 3GPP to cross-pollinate specifications, producing cable extensions to the IMS spec and IMS extensions to PacketCable 2.0 including a feature server and service engine components supported by a consolidated customer database serving all applications.” (So forget about going where applications are; you need to get them only via Cablecos.)

“IMS and SIP support 7-Kilo-hertz “high definition voice” codecs, nearly double the speed (sic) of standard telephony codecs and able to produce quality that “sounds like natural voice,” he said.” (So will they stop shipping ATAs and instead supply new phones?) Of course not: “Black phones don’t get replaced often”.

Posted by aswath at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2007


Redacted at the advice of my consiglieri (yes, plural).

Posted by aswath at 02:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2007

Do They Think End is not Intelligent?

This morning I came across a description of this product that can generate ringtones for landlines. It is box to which you download ringtone from the same company via your own PC. Then it can generate a ringtone based on the caller ID information. The box costs $50 and each ringtone is between $2 and $3. I have heard before that one needs to buy ringtone from AT&T for the iPhone, even though it is also a musical device to begin with. Why do people in the phone business think “the End” is not intelligent?

Posted by aswath at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

Data Portability

I posted the following entry in EnThinnai blog. But since the idea is of general interest, I am reposting here.

With the rise of social networks, a sizable number of people have expressed concern that user generated content is being locked up in hands of a few who benefit enormously. To protect this, these networks have hindered attempts by users to port the data from one network to another, confirming the concerns expressed by the first group. In a recent post, Abhishek Tiwari echoes these concerns and suggests that these networks should enable web-service access to these data. To a large extent this is the idea behind OAuth and OpenSocial from Google. Bill Wishon while commenting on this post observes that large networks like Amazon and Facebook have no incentive to share the data. So it appears to me that an alternate solution would be for users to save a copy of the data they generate in these sites for later use. During the days of typewriters, we used carbon paper to make a copy as we typed; email clients routinely save a copy of the mail we send out. So why not the browsers make a copy of the data that we generate at these sites? To elaborate further, I am suggesting that a plug-in for the browser that will scrape the local screen, collect the data as it is being generated and uploaded to the social networking site. Thus collected data can be stored either locally or if further sharing is required, in a user-controlled server residing on the public Internet. Not surprisingly, I am thinking of EnThinnai here. Since EnThinnai provides controlled access to the stored data, users can decide which other third parties can access which portion of the stored data and when.

Posted by aswath at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2007

2008: Year of Flash based VoIP Clients

This time of the year traditionally people predict what is going to be a big hit next year. I am going to try my hand at this.

During the last couple of months there has been lots of talk about people building Flash based SIP clients to simplify web-based calls. In case you do not recall them, here is a list:

  • Ribbit Phone announced at 360|Flex that it is working on a Flex-based phone component that “will give Rich internet application developers the ability to make and receive calls, record/send and receive voicemail, as well as add and manage contacts.” According to Ryan Stewart who has seen a demo of this widget: “The widget allows you to dial any phone and answer calls to your phone right from the browser. As part of the service you can specify a number to dial from which then shows up on the caller id of the person you’re dialing. There is a messaging feature built into the application so that anyone can call your number and it will ring both on your phone as well as inside the browser application. You can answer it from the app and use a microphone to talk. If you aren’t there, the system tracks your messages so you can see a list of them and play them back individually. It sounds like they’ll also be offering a transcribing service so you can get an email with both the sound file attached and a text version of the message.” It looks like the general release is scheduled for December 13th.
  • TringMedia has announced a softclient that is close to the above description of Ribbit Phone component. It is possible there is a tie-in there somewhere. (Techcrunch saw it fit to mention them in two different posts.)
  • Tom Keating reported on a softclient/service from Flashphone, which uses Flash. He noted in the passing that there is “a bit of latency”. Alec Saunders in his post that referred to Flashphone indicated that the current crop of Flash based clients have latency and jitter issues possibly because they use TCP and not UDP. In an unrelated post he had mentioned that PuddingMedia has reached an agreement to supply a Flash based VoIP client to Meebo. (According to a Google translation of a web page, Flashphone is independent of Ribbit Phone.)
  • With all these activities based on Flash 9, recently Adobe announced a new project codenamed Pacifica. According to their blog:

  • Pacifica is built on top of the open standard SIP protocol.
  • Our first mission is to maintain the highest quality voice experience possible, pushing the boundaries of the Flash Platform.
  • Right now, Pacifica enables point-to-point (P2P) transmission of the media channel once the connection is established via our servers.
  • We are dedicated to a complete P2P solution going forward, to eliminate the complex server back end and configuration needed with most VoIP technologies.
  • Finally, Tom Evslin and Jeff Pulver announced recently that they are planning to fom a R&D team in Israel to work on FWD International. In a recent post, Tom writes about the kind of people they are looking for: “Lots of flash experience never hurt, either; and SIP or other VoIP experience, preferably at the UDP level, would be helpful.”

    Don’t you agree with me that we are set to see lots of VoIP clients based on Falsh that uses UDP for media transfer?

    Posted by aswath at 12:23 PM | Comments (6)

    December 01, 2007

    Big Hang-ups in “The Big Hang-up”

    Andy Abramson points out a story in As he says, the platform may be high-browed and intellectual but the story is certainly sensational. It is clear that the correspondent (who writes in “professional” third person with no clear identification) needs a bit more exposure to telephony and the editors have not done their job. And I am not talking about the regulatory matters at all, of which I plead ignorance.

    Here are some of the pearls that I hope don’t require any further explanations:

    1. [Allocating its own switched circuit for the duration of the call is] what made the old telephone service so reliable—and led to the notion of “five nines” (ie, lines being up and running for typically 99.999% of the time).
    2. [S]witched circuits proved a hopelessly inefficient way to meet the burgeoning demand of general use. (Isn’t bandwidth cost negligible or is it only in the Internet?)
    3. [VoIP] being digital to start with, it makes it easier to implement and cheaper to provide things like three-way calling, call forwarding and caller ID … (A couple of years back, widely acclaimed router guru who was considering to get on the VoIP bandwagon claimed that PSTN is analog till he was poked. The reporter obviously does not realize that three-way calling is natural in the analog domain. Don’t we get Caller ID on the “analog” PSTN?)
    4. Remark about Skype and its inexpensive interconnect rates. (I guess your correspondent hasn’t yet received the memo that Skype is not the darling anymore. Or this person not making it clear that the interconnect charges is no better than what a PSTN caller can get it from many calling card companies.)

    Of course the biggest omission is that this correspondent fails to point out that most of the VoIP providers fail to deliver on the promises of VoIP. For example, SIP provides for the caller to indicate the subject of the call. Can you imagine an email client that does that? But most of the VoIP clients do not have this capability. And the list goes on. I think this is “the big hang-up”. After all the historical high cost of PSTN calls is not news anymore – it has been taken over by events.

    Posted by aswath at 02:18 PM | Comments (2)

    Copyright © 2003-2009 Moca Educational Products.