January 21, 2005

Verizon One is PSTN and not VoIP Phone?

Andy asks whether the newly announced Verizon One, an integrated modem, router and cordless phone is a VoIP phone. Any mention of VoIP is conspicuously missing in their press release; but they say that it is configured for their iobi service which is associated with PSTN line. So I strongly suspect that it is not a VoIP phone, but a standard PSTN phone.

I chuckled when I read their CIO claim, “It allows our customers to tap the intelligence of our network in ways never before thought possible.” First of all, the CIO is proudly proclaiming that the network is intelligent, countering the “rise of the stupid network”. Second they are repeating the phrase that has become standard by now – “in ways never before thought possible”. Except they were possible from mid-80s and they themselves were/are offering these. I suppose that that is why I don’t write press releases.

Posted by aswath at 01:09 PM | Comments (3)

January 20, 2005

Is Skype Voice Messaging Worth the Price?

Stuart writes about his experiences in using Skype’s new add-on – Voice Messaging. Since my points are related to the service objectives and the business aspects, commenting on it is not premature even though the software is going through preliminary testing.

A quick summary of the application follows: Stuart takes effort to point out it is not the typical answering machine. One does not leave a message after failing to reach the intended party; the intention is to leave a short message. Stuart makes the distinction very clear. Skype currently restricts the message to be only one minute long. Skype is planning to charge a premium for this service. Indeed Stuart does a back of the envelop calculation and concludes Skype is sitting on half a billion dollars in the bank and concludes by challenging the competitors to come up with an answer. How to pass up a challenge like that?

I have already described how to implement answering machine in the IP Communications space. That idea is equally suitable for VM application as well. Indeed more so. The idea is to formulate the message as an attachment and send it to the recipient as an email attachment. iLBC codec uses about 2 kBps or 120 kB for a message that is 1 minute long. Most free email services allow messages that are much longer than that. So the proposal is feasible. Now let us look at the requirements that Stuart lists in his entry:

  • Unlike Skype VM, you know exactly where the message was uploaded
  • There is plenty of time to preview before sending the email
  • Email acknowledgement scheme can be used for receiving receipt of delivery of the message.
  • More importantly, the user community is still holding onto its half a million dollars in their pockets. I recall (unfortunately, I am not able to locate it) an interview where Skype CEO made a bravado statement, something to the effect that multi-billion dollar telecom industry is coming to an end. It could very well be true. The challenge is really in coming up with a meaningful and revenue generating service. VM is not it.

    Posted by aswath at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

    January 19, 2005

    VoIP is not VoIP is not VoIP

    A few days back, there was a discussion as to whether Covad’s Line Powered Voice is VoIP or PSTN. But in a short order, there was a general agreement (comments to Om's entry, Om, Phoneboy and Andy) that it is not VoIP. Now Dr. Daniel Ryan has given a succinct summary of different forms of VoIP and also tells us what different regulators think about each of them. I could more easily put forward why many VoIP services fall under standard regulatory framework by using the architecturally based characterization that Dan uses.

    Dan divides potential VoIP service providers into 5 groups:

    1. PC-to-PC VoIP, pure VoIP like Skype (and I suppose other IM systems)
    2. Phone-to-Phone over the Public Internet, non-geographic (like Vonage, I like Pulver’s term “Parasites”)
    3. Fixed Local Networks with IP Throughout, fixed location for access (like Optimumvoice from Cablevision and other cable providers. Note that these players not only do not object, but they want regulatory parity with ILECs, because that is their competition)
    4. Traditional Local Loop with VoIP in the Local Architecture, where the existing PSTN service provider is replacing network elements to IP technology purely for operational reasons
    5. IP in the Interoffice or Long Distance Network, like AT&T Long Distance network (not to be confused with CallVantage).

    He points out that there is a general agreement between the regulators that category 1 is not to be regulated and that category 5 can not be free of regulation. He suggests that category 4 will not escape regulation; category 3 is iffy. For me all this suggests that only category 2 is under discussion. I suggest that this confusion and uncertainty is created because of “geographical” red herring. The way to look at it is the network architecture and Carterphone precedence. If you recall, Carterphone basically identified the boundary of the network. It gave birth to new terminology, NT reference point.

    I suggest that we look at the NT reference point to decide whether something is PSTN or not. For category 4 there is no change in the NT reference point. So there shouldn’t be any change in the regulatory regime as well. For category 1, the NT reference point is only at the application layer. More importantly, a user can concurrently have business relationship with multiple service providers, because there can be multiple reference points. This is the fundamental reason to suggest that there are no reasons to have regulatory restraints on such service providers.

    In categories 2 and 3, the decision on the regulatory regime should depend on where the service providers want to place the reference point. So consider the cases where the service providers “own” the ATA and do not allow the customers to customize the ATA. In these cases, it is clear that the ATA is on the network side of the NT reference point, which means there is no difference between this and the standard PSTN. So there shouldn’t be any difference in the regulatory regime as well. If on the other hand, the user owns the ATA, then as in category 1, the user can concurrently have business relationship with multiple service providers. So the service providers who provide such freedom must be free of regulatory constraints.

    For example FWD and SIPPhone allow their subscribers to own the ATA. Coincidently, using a different logic FCC has concluded that they are not regulated. Some of the other providers (you can lookup who they are or can ask SIPPhone) “own” the ATA in one form or another. For example they may “lock” the ATA so that can access only one proxy or the subscriber has to return the ATA if the service is terminated. My reasoning suggests that they should be regulated as if they are PSTN providers. But so far FCC has not made a general ruling. But NT gives a framework to classify the service providers and place regulatory regime on these classification in a consistent manner.

    Added later:
    Nothing here suggests that previously granted rights of a called PSTN user can be compromised by an unregulated VoIP service provider. Some of these rights are the ability to trace a call and rules regarding recording a call. I want to bring to your attention that some VoIP service providers will not be able to assist law enforcement authorities in tracing a malicious call (I am NOT talking about CALEA here). The question we need to address is how do we reconcile the conflict.

    Posted by aswath at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

    January 14, 2005

    It is Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!

    Today Covad took a press release announcing that it is trialing a new technology to offer voice services over UNE-L loops. They dubbed this service to be Line Powered Voice. Based on the sketchy information available in the press release, it looks like Nokia has incorporated “Access gateway” in the DSLAM and is controlled by a Softswitch to offer voice service. They say that, “Line-powered voice access marries the usability of traditional phone service with the advanced features of VoIP, while allowing CLECs to leverage the cost efficiencies of VoIP in their networks.” Covad is careful in not calling it VoIP. But enough confusion has been created. Broadband Reports calls it a new take on VoIP. Techdirect titled the story, “I Can't Believe It's Not POTS VoIP”. Om says, “it is a simple [like] VoIP minus headaches.”

    It may be true that with this technology, Covad and CLECs are able to offer voice services easily and inexpensively. But that doesn’t mean, it is based on VoIP technology. It is true that the ATA is at the CO instead of at home. But that doesn’t make it VoIP. If so, ILECs can place a gateway behind the Class 5 switch and declare they also offer VoIP. In other words, if we are not careful in defining what VoIP is, then the good old POTS can also be arduously called VoIP.

    Posted by aswath at 12:52 AM | Comments (1)

    January 09, 2005

    Recording Regulations and VoIP

    There was a storm in a teacup over use of Skype Answering Machine and Skype. I have already commented on this point. But what is interesting is that both Andy and Stuart introduced the legality of recording conversations. I had raised this issue long time back. I would like to point out that VoIP is wild west. As successfully being lobbied by the VoIP proponents, VoIP is regulation free. At least we don’t have to worry about the state laws. Remember, VoIP is not telephony, so old rules about telephony do not apply. So go ahead and record as much as you want. (Hope you see my tongue strongly planted on my cheek.)

    Posted by aswath at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

    Compensation Scheme Peppered

    Dr. Robert Pepper, Chief of Policy Development at the FCC is quoted as saying that “the current system of compensation for phone calls was like getting a cab at the San Francisco Airport and getting a different fee based upon what city one arrived from. “You’d pay $10 if you came from DC, $20 if you flew in from LA, and the cab driver would pay you $5 if you came in across the bay from Oakland.” The analogy is incomplete because it does not describe the position of VoIP industry. He is too infatuated with the technology, so let me complete it for him: “You would pay $20 if you flew in on a propeller plane, $10 if you flew in on a jet and the cab driver would pay you $5 if the plane was made by this nascent company. After all, propeller planes are inefficient dinosaurs and Boeing is not protected, it will be wiped out by the giants.”

    If you feel that I am too critical, di you read the previous quote in the same article: “Pepper cited the success of CallWave securing over 825,000 paying VoIP customers.” Is CallWave service equivalent to Vonage? If you agree, then shouldn’t CallWave be the poster child for the VoIP industry?

    I would like to restate my position: While interconnecting to PSTN, VoIP happens to use a new transmission technology and so requires no special treatment. Previously we didn’t have different tariff structure whether the trunks were microwave, copper digital or fiber. If we don’t do, the only thing we would have created is an arbitrage play.

    Posted by aswath at 06:05 AM | Comments (0)

    January 08, 2005

    DialpadUSA Interpreted

    Dialpad announced their new service DialpadUSA that gives “unlimited calling to the U.S.. and Canada for $11.99 per month”. This service uses the broadband connection for outgoing toll calls and uses standard PSTN connection for other outgoing calls and for incoming calls. But the interesting aspects of this news item are in the fine print and also what it suggests to be the real value of VoIP.

    First and foremost, the service determines whether a call is a toll call is by the presence of initial digit 1. So if you are making a local, but toll call, then you must dial the full 11 digits. Forget that they say “you don't have to change your dialing habits”. It also looks like international calls will always use their network. For quality reasons if you want to use the PSTN, then one has to use another extension. Their press release says that “In addition, the new service comes with a broadband adapter, the dpPhone, which bridges the gap between VoIP and the traditional telephone network (PSTN) by combining the two services into one phone.” One would think that this means that they give the ATA for free. Not so. When you try to sign up, you realize that the ATA costs $30; there is an activation fee of $30. Of course there is a shipping and handling charge of $10. I say that they are charging $70 for the ATA.

    DialpadUSA is nothing more than “local bypass” service. Almost ever since I started in this industry (just before divestiture), people have been obsessing over this and have devised various schemes. For this we don’t need VoIP; a special phone that is programmed to dial out the access number followed by the PIN number will do the trick. Moreover when the access charge regime is rationalized, this games comes to an end. A true VoIP proponent will be asking where are the promised features of VoIP.

    Posted by aswath at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

    Lowdown on MoJo

    Motorola announced a videophone called Ojo (in fact they are distributing Worldgate’s product). It is sleek looking; uses H.264 coding with 30 frames per second. The interesting aspect is the pricing structure. So let us assume that it is a fine product, meets anybody’s expectation of a videophone. Let us also not pay attention to the initial price – is it $800 or $700? Last summer it was stated that it will be in the range of $500 to $600. But what I am focusing on is the statement that “users will also be required to pay a monthly service fee to enable use of the Ojo.” This is along the lines of other videophone services from others. I have already taken issue on this point. This time I am asking fellow bloggers who have mentioned this news item: Please explain why this is justified. If you can not, please spread the word to the consumers at large that there is no need for this fee and ask them not to go for it.

    Posted by aswath at 01:37 PM | Comments (1)

    Walking a Few Inches Shorter

    Some ten days back, I had posted a quote by a priest remarking on the negligible differences between religions and men. That day I was proud that MY India has produced this man. Today I read another news item where religious and caste differences are marring relief efforts. Worse, a government official in charge of relief efforts is reinforcing these differences. I am not interested in many of the rationalizations. I hang my head in shame and walk a few inches shorter because the same India has produced this man.

    Posted by aswath at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

    January 07, 2005

    Skype is Insecure?

    Andy informs us about an unexpected experience while using Skype and an independent but associated Skype Answering Machine. When he “skyped” a colleague who was already in a Skype session. Evidently, the colloegue was also running SAM, an independently developed answering machine for Skype. Instead of an independent session, he was conferenced to the existing session. Is there a security problem with Skype?

    It is obvious there is a bug, but I doubt the problem is with Skype. Since SAM is running on top of Skype, I suspect that SAM has access to unencrypted media and my suspicion is SAM is mixing the two flows. If I am proven right, then Skype will face issues like this because third party developers make erroneous use of Skype API and by implication Skype is faulted.

    If I remember correctly, Om’s reference to Skype’s security issues are related to NAT/Firewall traversal as narrated by Peerio CEO.

    By the way, SkypeOut calls are not encrypted and could easily be intercepted by the supernode involved in the call.

    Update: Andy heard back from Skype PR. According to them, as I suspected, the problem is with SAM. They are planning to certify add-on programs to avoid this kind of problems in the future. Another source of revenue for Skype? Good for them, they need it. :-)

    Posted by aswath at 07:15 PM | Comments (1)

    January 03, 2005

    Difference Between VoIP and File Sharing

    Om mentions about a P2P application called Hamachi. It allows two computers to share files and other resources between the two computers. It can be summarized (may be oversimplified) to be consisting of the following three aspects:

    1. Hamachi clients register with Hamachi server, which facilitates in locating other Hamachi clients. Clients are identified by “Hamchi network address”.
    2. The server “enables peer-to-peer communications between two computers [in] bidirectional NAT traversal.”
    3. Hamachi clients provide application specific functions like user interface and encryption of data.

    I am sure you have noticed by now, that the services provided by Hamachi is isomorphic to those provided by a VoIP system: Hamachi server is analogous to SIP proxy server; Hamachi network address is equivalent to SIP address; NAT traversal scheme is the same. Hamachi specific application routine is equivalent to a SIP client that follows SIP signaling protocol and voice codec and also provides a user interface. Cynically speaking then, Applied Networking can easily reposition itself to be a P2P VoIP provider and raise funding instantly.

    Seriously though, the industry is developing multitude of software to do two basic functions that are fundamental to IP Communications – client identification and location; NAT/Firewall traversal. Not only it is sufficient to have a single way; but these multiple implementations are undesirable because they all require identity issued from separate entities. In other words, we need a Skype address, a FWD address, a Hamachi address etc. Since this is the only source of revenue, these entities will extract fee from us (protestations notwithstanding). So we need to devise an universal way to do the first two functions and an addressing scheme that is not beholden to one commercial entity. Then all these applications can be used for the specific purpose for which it is designed.

    Posted by aswath at 02:50 PM | Comments (1)

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