March 24, 2004

Call-in-one phone

Today SIPPhone announced that they have started to market an adapter that has both PSTN and IP interfaces can route a call to either of the network. This is in contrast to the joint announcement from Skype and Siemens regarding a similar device. It is a good development in that the industry is paying attention to the devices rather than service providers.

Unfortunately there are no further details on the capabilities of this device and I have so many questions:

  1. Can the device register for multiple accounts? To multiple proxies?
  2. Does it generate Caller ID on the FXS port?
  3. If I am on a SIP call and a call comes on the PSTN interface, what happens? A call waiting tone on the FXS port? How about Caller ID?
Let me know if you know the answer.

Update: After exchanging a few emails (they are prompt and complete in answering your questions) the answers to my questions are:

  1. The device can register to only one proxy
  2. It does generate Caller ID
  3. Call waiting works only on the same interface. So if you are on a PSTN call, the call on the IP interface will go unansered and so forwarded to voice mail.

Posted by aswath at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2004

Internet Phone Patch

Martin Geddes talks about his idea of a Skype user facilitating local PSTN connectivity for another Skype user. Pulver Innovations sells a product called Internet Phone Patch, with password protection and the like. If Skype client is programmable, then what Martin envisions can be done. Probably Skype will include this in a later release.

Interestingly, I thought of the same idea when I read that a European cordless phone manufacturer (turned out to be Siemens, but without the patching capability) is going to make a Skype compatible device. I even developed an elaborate economic system (have to come up with some business plan for Skype; the more devious, the better) where Skype users can exchange tokens to allow for calls to be completed through their device. Added to the problem Martin identifies, there is an additional problem. The calling user can not, in general trust the user that is patching the call. Since the call goes out on the open PSTN line, the calling user has no assurance of privacy (even among friends, especially friends, I guess). That is why, I am skeptical of general use of this feature.

Posted by aswath at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

Do we really need a .mobile domain?

It was reported last week that companies like Nokia, Vodafone and Microsoft proposed a new top level domain be formed that would indicate that the sites under it would be “specially tailored for a mobile device”. Is this really necessary?

I do not use cell phone much, let alone for web browsing. But I suspect that those who do, visit sites that they visit often. Meaning they navigate either through inline links or bookmarks. So are we trying to solve a non-problem?

Granting that there has to an explicit indication that a site supports mini browsers, then why not use “mmm” prefix, rather than “www” prefix in the URL. Why do we have to create a new TLD and force all the companies to register under it as well?

Posted by aswath at 07:31 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

BYOA Service Providers Revisited

A major news item today in the VoIP market space is the partnership between Vonage and Circuit City. I want you to contrast that against a study released by Forrester. This study concludes that “Few consumers are ready to pay for bring-your-own-access (BYOA) services.” Once the consumer market accepts VoIP as a technology, the ISPs can easily bundle ATA along with the modem, undermining BYOA VoIP providers. This is what I was trying to say earlier. Martin Geddes is also making a similar conclusion.

Posted by aswath at 04:42 PM | Comments (1)

TiVo is a Product, Not a Service

Previously I had written that not withstanding TiVo marketing success, PVR is really a product. Today AP has published a review of Beyond TV 3, a software that offers capabilities similar to TiVo (with the help of a TV capture card). As part of the purchase price (~$80), one gets free subscription to a TV listing service. TiVo charges $13/month for the same. Further research indicates that TV listing grabbers are available for many countries.

Posted by aswath at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2004

Plan B is no different than Plan A

A few weeks back, I commented that even though Shirky correctly states that VoIP is a product and not a service, he nonetheless considers Vonage to be a success. Well, a few days back he recognized that “Vonage and a number of the other VoIP startups present themselves to the customer as phone companies, emulating the incumbents they are challenging.” He calls this “Plan A”, that is aiming to "replace the phone system slowly and from within." He identifies Skype and other IM clients that let users talk as having a more radical plan of "replac[ing] the phone system. Period." This is “Plan B”. But these are not products; they are also service providers. It is true that their services are currently free. But their architectures require network resources. IM based service providers have deployed servers and the voice traffic goes through them. Recently I read a quote from one of them (unfortunately I am not able to locate it now) that they are not publicizing voice chat capability because of this. Skype requires Supernodes in the public Internet. As more and more people subscribe to broadband and use home-based routers, the fraction of Skype subscribers who could act as Supernodes will diminish. Already in countries like Australia where bandwidth consumption is tracked, people are complaining about being a Supernode. That means, Skype has to deploy their own Supernodes, thereby exposing the fact that Skype is a service. So the search for a product continues.

Posted by aswath at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

Human Dynamics will Limit Technology

In a speech at University of Illinois recently, Gates spoke about interesting and challenging problems that computer science can address. At one point he suggests that with a proper, adaptive software model, we can make phone tag or busy signals things of the past: “If you call somebody and they're not available, if you can prove who you are through some caller-ID-type mechanism, if you're a person who works with that other person, their software ought to negotiate with you, looking at your schedule, to find exactly the best time for you to meet or be in touch with each other, and the idea of phone tag or busy signals and those things should really become a thing of the past. But we need a software model. We need something that's adaptive, that learns, that has the right authentication built underneath.” This is an extension of the ideas of those who envision that Presence information will eliminate phone tag and busy signals. I am of the opinion that technology can not adequately solve the phone tag problem.

Even today, many feign the presence information. There are times when the Presence information is not current and so an IM query goes unanswered. When two persons communicate in person and setup a meeting time, it is possible that that schedule to be bumped. Why the software based solution would fare any better? In the ultimate analysis, even in POTS, we convey the presence information through voice mail greeting. The difference is, in IM we get the presence information with a glance. The progress we have made is in this immediacy; nothing more. Busy signals will be replaced by “Away” or “Busy” notifications and phone tags will be replaced by “offline” messages. Just to clarify, I am not rejecting Presence; I am concerned with raising expectations beyond what could be delivered.

Posted by aswath at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

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