July 20, 2004

VoIP Press: A Cacophony

It is fun to read some of the recent articles on VoIP in the popular press. Actually it is more fun to read some of the bloggers taking strong exception to one or the other story. But today I will stick with discussing only the news items. But it is time for these writers to become a bit analytical and balanced. Here are some examples:

1. BUSINESS FRONT LINE / NTT Comware sees big future for VoIP by Hiroshi Hirai / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer:

Imai said VoIP technologies have to be attuned to the mentality of Japanese, who are more concerned about the reliability of telecommunications services than Americans or Europeans.
"We Japanese tend to seek perfection. But Americans and Europeans think more pragmatically--they don't mind being temporarily cut off if the price is cheap," Imai said.
"It's almost impossible for VoIP to be as reliable as fixed-line telephone services. But when technologies reach a point that is acceptable to Japanese, VoIP will became highly popular," he added.

Now they tell us. All this time we are lead to believe that Yahoo!BB phone service is highly successful and that we have to follow their lead.

2. Security delays net calls by Rob O'Neill, July 20, 2004, Next:

"Telephones are a critical tool for members and senators," Ward says. "We wouldn't want to move over [to a VoIP system that was deployed a couple of years back] until we are absolutely sure it is reliable and secure."

Aren’t two years long enough to evaluate the system. How about letting us know at least a preliminary verdict? Even the “12 Angry Men” came to a conclusion a bit quicker than that.

3. For Tech’s Sake: VoIP: Reality amidst the hype by Gary Arlen, 07/16/04
Special to Washington Technology:

Yet after two years of the aforementioned hype, the Commerce Department is the only sizeable federal agency to acknowledge a widespread VoIP deployment.

Same two year trial and still not much progress has been made. Is there a reason?

Yet details remain scant about VoIP usage within federal or state/local agencies. For now, the paucity of data is being attributed to pilot deployments at intelligence agencies (handled by the vendors directly rather than through integrators). Such secure installations are typically secretive.
Although economic benefits – namely the lower cost-per-minute of long-distance connections – were once touted as a major driver for VoIP services, that factor is negligible in government sales, where existing networks such as FTS2000 have virtually eliminated price burdens.
Well, maybe not the biggest challenge. A recent Yankee Group study of VoIP adoption in commercial enterprises, found that 76 percent of prospective users are concerned that high upfront equipment costs offset cost savings, while 59 percent cite barriers such as installation, configuration and training costs. Another critical group – 49 percent – mention the “single point of failure” as a key impediment to their embrace of VoIP.

Wait a minute. Huge upfront costs, negligible cost savings, expensive/complicated deployment issues. Then why the continuing hype about VoIP?

4. Dialers' New Choice: An Internet Phone Revolution Is Upon Us, by Christopher Stern
Washington Post Staff Writer. Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page F01:

In an era in which consumers are used to picking television providers, cell phone providers, long-distance providers and Internet service providers, it seems anachronistic that there is still so little choice when it comes to basic local telephone service -- your dial tone.

Which is more correct to compare PSTN dial-tone service to VoIP or Broadband access? The latter is more appropriate. In that case, the consumers have more choice, but not as much as it has been made out to be.

Ashton sees other benefits of Herndon's new phone system as well. It is helping employees manage the deluge of e-mail and voice mail. Voice messages are encoded and sent to desktop computers as e-mails. When Herndon town employees want to listen to a message, they open the e-mail and the voice of the caller can be heard over the computer's speakers. They can forward the voice mail to a colleague with a mouse click. Away from the office, employees who dial in to their voice mail have the option of listening to a computer-generated voice read their regular e-mail.

Herndon does not have to deploy VoIP to get this feature. One more time, web-based voice mail and unified messaging can be and are being offered to PSTN subscribers as well.

5. VoIP Options Answer the Call by Rob Pegoraro, Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page F07:

And unlike land-line phone service, you can find real choice in the VoIP market. Companies act as though they actually need to win over their customers, competing to offer the best bundle of services for the lowest price.
You'll soon see cable or DSL modems with built-in VoIP circuitry, eliminating the confusing setup -- followed by VoIP phones that include their own WiFi receivers, so you can make calls using any available WiFi signal.

Once the access provider deploys this kind of box, all potential choice of VoIP service provider will go away. Be rest assured that box will be programmed to work with the carrier’s partner and no one else.

6. The price of VoIP's thriftiness by Ben Charny, Staff Writer, CNET News.com, Last modified: July 19, 2004, 4:00 AM PDT

Bottom line: If you're thinking of jumping on the VoIP bandwagon, be aware that your TiVo may not work, you may not be able to list your number in the phone book, and you may run into trouble if you try to call for help through the 911 system. All of these things remain problems, at least for the time being.

Enough bloggers and bulletin posts have jumped on this article. It has to be pointed out that this clip points out lack of research in many respects. The most serious one is regarding 911. A service provider (especially a carrier based one) can easily overcome this by restriction the service to one location (excepting for the power issue).

Posted by aswath at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2004

Closing Comments Section

Today I was hit with comment spam. This has prompted me to close the Comments section. If you would like to share your opinion on any entries, please email me at aswath (dot) rao (at) rediffmail (dot) com. I will manually add your comments (if appropriate) to the entry for the benefit of future readers.


Posted by aswath at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Unregulated VoIP? Think Again

It is almost fashionable to categorically state that VoIP should be unregulated. Of course I don’t think so. Back in December 2003, I submitted to FCC my views on this topic. One of my concerns is related to protecting PSTN subscribers. This is what I wrote:

“There is one aspect that did not come up in the Forum that I would like to bring to your attention. What is the nature of a call between a VoIP user and a PSTN user? If, for the sake of argument it is decided that VoIP is an Information service, is the interworking call a telecommunications service or an information service? The reason this is important is the phone user has certain rights. Will they be preserved now? Should a VoIP provider facilitate Malicious Call Tracking? Can they? What happens to Do Not Call registry? Will it be preserved?”

Now a “telephony hacker” is helping to popularize the need for controlling interworking of VoIP and PSTN networks so that the normal expectations of PSTN users are not undermined. He points out that it is easy for a VoIP subscriber to undermine the integrity of Caller ID.

Posted by aswath at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2004

Does SkypeOut Undermine FCC Regulations?

Recently, Skype announced their new service called SkypeOut, which is a PC-to-phone service. This announcement has created a huge buzz; the latest addition is (via Jeff Pulver) a column by Kevin Werbach, entitled “Tune In, Turn On, Skype Out”, which argues that SkypeOut “creates new fissures in the FCC’s shaky VoIP regulatory edifice.” Following the previous postings (1,2) regarding Skype, this posting points out that SkypeOut is not that novel or radical and that SkypeOut does not introduce any new regulatory issues.

A quick review of SkypeOut tariff suggests that it is very similar to many pre-paid calling card tariffs, including 3-month life for the credit. Based on some of the postings in the Skype Forum, it looks like Skype has reached interconnect agreements with a few PSTN interconnect service providers and deliver voice traffic to them for completing the calls to the phones. If this understanding is correct then there has not been any “innovation”. Other VoIP service providers have similar arrangements: periodically, FWD offers interconnection to PSTN; SIPPhone has partnered with Singapore Telecom. Werbach is a bit generous when he says that, “SkypeOut also shows how quickly a company can innovate when it leverages the open Internet data platform.”

Next, he claims that, “(SkypeOut) blew a hole in the Federal Communications Commission's halting efforts to micro-manage the transition to a VOIP world.” I do not agree. FCC has made two rulings – Pulver ruling and AT&T ruling. He mischaracterizes the Pulver ruling to be “software-based VOIP service should be treated as an unregulated information service” and he goes on to say that when Skype’s partners embed Skype software in handsets, Skype “no longer fits neatly into the FCC's framework.” Pulver ruling is not contingent on a PC application. For example, FWD and SIPPhone and many others sell adaptors and devices in phone form factor that you can use their services without a PC. AT&T ruling says that access charge regulation is applicable if only the middle uses VoIP technology while the two end-points use POTS. FCC has said that it will rule at a later time on the scenario where one of the end-points happens to be a “native” VoIP end-point. It is for this reason I claim that SkypeOut has not created any new hole in FCC regulatory regime.

Any apparent contradiction is solely based on the fact that even in PSTN there seems to be two regulatory regimes based on whether the service provider is an IXC or a dial-around service provider.

Posted by aswath at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

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