July 27, 2006

Skype Founders CAN Take on TV

A couple of days back, Om quoting a Business Week article stated that the Skype founders may be involved in distributing video content. At that I time I was wondered how would that happen given their arguably acrimonious relationship with the recording industry. Today comes the news that Sharman Networks has settled global lawsuits brought by the entertainment industry. I guess this telegraphs that the Skype founders may be close to negotiating whatever deal that is required for their Venice Project.

Posted by aswath at 09:22 AM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2006

Skype has been cracked! So what?

Many have commented that a talented team in China has reverse engineered the Skype protocol and that soon they will license the application code. Some of them have gone on to suggest that Skype can neutralize the effect by opening their protocol. I am not sure that that is a good idea. Earlier studies have attempted to get some understanding of Skype, the application. In this context, the study by Philippe Biondi and Fabrice Desclaux is noteworthy. They point out that a set of renegade nodes can create a havoc in the Skype network including intercept voice traffic (slide 103). Another critical thing is that Skype “fully trusts anyone who speaks Skype” (slide 113). Since Knaves can enter the village, I suspect that Skype has a major problem in their hands, protestations notwithstanding.

Posted by aswath at 12:48 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2006

Tragic event in Mumbai

By this time you would have heard the tragic bombings in India. It is shocking o your homeland and in a city where you spent three years, it is hurting as well. But this is also the time people demonstrate their magnanimity. It is heartening to read that so many bystanders, many living in slums helping (materially even) the victims, many of whom are First class passengers.

India experiences occasional (nay, periodic) indigenous communal violence. But the ray of hope is in how people react during and after such incidents. “I can only pray so that the world is rid of wicked souls set to destroy its peace and harmony. I can only hope against hope -- perhaps, some day these terrorists will attain self-realisation that what they are doing is brutal.” (quote by a tearful poet Javed Akhtar)

Posted by aswath at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2006

Place Shifting by IP Communications Clients

Om has posted an exclusive that Sightspeed will facilitate placeshifting (a la Sling Media) via their voice/video soft client. Now we have a semi-official confirmation of this by Andy. If you really think about it, the whole thing is kind of easy for Sightspeed to do. After all, their soft client handles video. In other words, it is able to take a video stream, encode it and stream it across the Internet to another client. The only catch is whether the video codec is good enough to render commercial TV. In a whitepaper, they explain that they have a proprietary codec that uses 400 kbps for full motion video to present 30 fps 320x240 video while consuming only 15 ms delay, even though the codec is implemented in software. It seems it uses a “psycho-visual model” – you need to read the paper to know what it is.

Om may have scooped the specific information regarding Sightspeed and Andy tells us that this was a “skunk works” project taking place over the last few months. But readers of these pages would have known of this from previous posts here, here and here. These posts appeared seven months back.

Of course other IP Communications clients can replicate this feat, by selecting an appropriate video codec. My preference will be that they not use yet another proprietary codec; instead they should consider using Ogg, “a patent-free, fully open multimedia bitstream container format designed for efficient streaming and file compression (storage)” (taken from Wikipedia entry).

By the way, I want to draw your attention to the fact that Sightspeed uses a SIP URI to identify the “server”, unlike Sling Box, which (if I remember correctly) uses a long, alpha-numeric string. Also note that embedding this into a device (as opposed to run it on a Media Center PC) is not that difficult and I am sure they will do that once they identify a market need for such devices.

Posted by aswath at 03:07 PM | Comments (3)

July 04, 2006

Comment on FCC Order regarding USF

Recently, FCC issued a report and order and notice of proposed rulemaking regarding Universal Service Fund. Jeff has given a detail summary of the report and how it impacts IP Communications. The following is a draft of my comment on this report that I am planning to submit to FCC.

Honorable Commissioners:

In your recent R&O & NPRM, you state that actions need to be taken to ensure the stability of sufficiency of the USF. You identify that interstate long distance revenues have been declining and that correspondingly wireless service and interconnected VoIP services have been growing dramatically. It looks like this is the main supporting point for your decision that the two latter services need to participate in and contribute to USF. I would like to respectfully submit to you that this approach may be insufficient from a practical point of view and may be fundamentally faulty from a technical point of view.

Just as interstate long distance revenues are declining, the revenue generated by interconnected VoIP services will also see a corresponding decline. The reality is that as other communication modes are adopted, the revenue generated by voice service (independent of the technology) will decline, thereby threatening the sufficiency of the USF.

More importantly, once more the Commission has missed the opportunity to broadly interpret the spirit behind the Act that created the USF. As you state that a goal of the Act is “ensuring the delivery of affordable telecommunications services to all Americans”. I want to emphasize that the goal is “telecommunications services” and not “voice services”. For example, even if a line is exclusively used for Fax or Data modem application exclusively, it needs to contribute to USF. Similarly, an interstate call generated by such a line is taken into consideration for USF (even though the network can - no, indeed - distinguish such calls easily). So it has become customary to include all access to then communications network (PSTN). In as much as the nation is moving towards an alternate communications network, it is imperative that all Americans have access to this network as well. Accordingly, the scope of USF should be extended to cover this network as well, both from the point of view of contribution and consumption.

Chairman Martin states that, “I still believe that this system needs fundamental reform, and I remain committed to adopting and implementing a numbers based contribution system.” This is very hopeful; but I would urge you consider an alternate scheme. After all, it is possible that the network could move away from “numbers” based system. Commissioner Copps’ comment is closer to the mark: “Last August the Commission put in motion a process to exempt DSL from contributing to the support of universal service. There were other options available to us that would have been more in keeping, I believe, with Section 254 of the Communications Act …”

In summary, I think we should consider that “public Internet” is becoming an alternate communications network, on par to PSTN. So we must include access to this network as part of our larger objective and this new network must contribute equally. But at the same time isolating a single application for contributing to USF is counter to our actions in PSTN and does not anticipate the possibility that the interim proposal may also not be sufficient.

Respectfully submitted,
Aswath Rao

Update: Phoneboy had made the same point that USF must be applied to ISPs and not VoIP. It is important to note that the logic for this proposal is that this is based on PSTN precedence. After all PSTN provides access to a communications network AND provides voice as an application. For every regulation in PSTN, we can easily deduce whether it is applied to "access service" or to "voice application service". Then, if a regulation is for the former, then the corresponding regulation should apply to ISPs in the new network. I had made this observations here and here.

Posted by aswath at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)

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