Doug on IP Comm – An independent voice on VoIP, telecom, and IP Communication

AT&T, trying to avoid a FCC dope-slapping, announced that yes, it would allow Skype to make lower cost phone calls on the iPhone.  Interestingly, this comes on the heels of Vonage’s iPhone client last week.  Regardless of the outcome, don’t expect AT&T to rollover and play dead when it comes to net neutrality.

Allowing Skype and other mobile VoIP apps on iPhone to dial up phone calls on its 3G data network was in some respects inevitable.   Pressure from both the FCC and Congress and a Democratic administration (Note to the Republican Party:  You know where to get funding for 2010 and 2012, right?), meant either having a long, drag-out, dog-ugly PR fight with enough media floggings on how poor the AT&T’s 3G network already delivered — not exactly a winner when Verizon is looking to spin up LTE ASAP and the exclusives on the iPhone may be going away.  Best to simply bite the bullet and keep the focus on more important battles.

Ironically, all those media complaints about poor iPhone/3G service will serve AT&T well when it has to go into FCC and Capital Hill hearings. “We need to have the ability to manage our network,” will cry AT&T executives, “Look at the problems we have now.”  Will it quiet angry Congressmen? No. But expect Verizon to smile smugly on the panel.

There’s been a slew of announcements fluffing a second wave of anonymous-style phone calling via the web. Nobody made money on the first wave, so I’m not sure where the beef, er, green is the second time around.

Three and four years ago, it was all the rage to A) Give away free phone numbers for web usage and B) Provide anonymous phone calling between two parties over the web.   Two and three years ago,  smaller companies went into the tank while larger companies just ditched the idea of “free.”

Digitrad, making a big push at DEMOfall ’09, seems to be the latest of the guys marching down the old trampled path to doom, offering up a free “multimedia” phone number, a .tel domain name and “free call forwarding” and a flat fee to “free” dialing to locations around the globe.

If your business model is JUST providing voice via the browser, I can kinda sorta get it.  C2Call (www.c2call.com) has got a Friendcaller.com app, but then it slips into the “Gee, you can also call phone number for only pennies (well, Euros) per minute” mode… which didn’t end well for very many of the Telecom 2.0/Phone 2.0 wave…

Vivox may have the most interesting play in the space, just having announced its beta launch in Facebook and using a wideband (but not G.722) codec for all of its logged minutes on SecondLife and multi-player games where part of the fun is talking smack in real-time.

Hmm, I’d love to leave short voice messages to certain people in “Mafia Wars”…

No sooner than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) talked up formalizing Net Neutrality policy than did Verizon CTO Dick Lynch appear a week later and talked smack about metered bandwidth options. Hmm, could these items be related? Hmm…

In the past, Verizon lobbyists have left the option of a metered plan open, prefacing it with the thought of “We don’t need it since FiOS just slays cable company infrastructure.”    The party line out of Verizon last week was “We can’t continue to grow the internet without passing along the cost to someone” and the idea floated about at the Fiber-to-The-Home conference was a tiered approach with people paying more for the amount of bandwidth they consume per month.

Currently, Verizon DSL and FiOS customers pay a flat rate per month for the speed they get delivered to their home, paying much more for the very highest tier of service than the entry level and mid-range speeds.

For those of us with gray hair, this isn’t the first time Verizon has invoked the idea of paying per byte.  It has come up with dial-up and mobile broadband, so this not really “new.  But the current crazy talk is Verizon’s way of signaling its discomfort with the FCC’s latest proposals.

One also might wash to consider the potential for anti-trust considerations if Verizon and the cable companies introduced tiered pricing at the same time net neutrality legislation came into the fore.

After plenty of foreshadowing statements on earnings conference calls, Vonage has released Vonage Mobile, a free downloadable application for low-cost international calling on smartphones.  The app is said to provide “seamless” low-cost international calling while on Wi-Fi or cellular networks.

Vonage says the service will have custmers more than 50 percent on calls to “dozens” of counties as compared to rates charged by wireless carriers — and no calling cards required.  Vonage Mobile will be available for download on the iPhone, iPod touch, and BlackBerry and features include the ability to use an existing contact list for click-and-dial, using the existing clel phone number for caller ID identification, and real time balance updates.

By the end of the year, Vonage says it will enhance the app to include the Vonage World plan initially intro’ed for home service in August, giving mobile customers to make unlimited calls to over 60 countries for one flat monthly fee.

While the concept of a mobile app to make long distance calls sounds “old,” Vonage is the largest independent carrier/ITSP to load up the concept and cooperation with Apple to make the app available through the Apple app store implies that Vonage has played nicely (i.e. maybe some sort of recurring revenue) with Apple.

Be interesting to hear the field reports once the app is more widely deployed.

Yesterday, Cisco announced it bought Tandberg for $3 billion.  The deal effectively gives Cisco a video sales pipe into the enterprise boardroom. Speculation today is that Polycom might be next on the shopping list.

It’s an interesting premise, since purchasing Polycom would give Cisco an effective lock on the videoconferencing/telepresence market AND add some sizzle to Cisco’s enterprise desktop phone line.   As of Friday morning trading, Polycom’s market cap is around $2.1 billion, so if you were to pay a 2x premium, that’s be a top end cap of $4.2 billion — pocket change for Cisco’s warchest.

But I don’t see it happening today, or tomorrow.  Cisco needs to assimilate Tandberg first and, judging from the *ahem* way Linksys fits so neatly in with Cisco,  the process is likely to take a while.   If someone at the Department of Justice is awake, there also might be some anti-trust implications — Cisco suddenly grabbing up a large chunk of the IP phone market.  It would likely make people uncomfortable.

Others are trying to spin the purchase of TANDBERG as a Good Thing for other nimble telepresence players in the market since it will take a while for Cisco to assimilate TANDBERG and the whole process may slow TANDBERG down in the marketplace.   Not sure if I’m hip with this interpretation, since Cisco has a big marketing force, a big marketing presence, and is probably cutting a deal to do some product positioning for TANDBERG gear on “NCIS” or some other hot TV show.

This week, word came out that Verizon is pulling the plug on its Hub media phone and VoIP service — all the more ironic given a report out this week saying media phones will be big business in the future. In retrospect, Verizon’s Hub product was doomed from its launch for three reasons.

1)  Hub was neither fish nor fowl — it was a broadband service being sold through Verizon Wireless stores/outlets because Verizon (wireline) had no consumer outlets.  There was no real champion for the concept and you didn’t see it get the (advertising) airwaves that the stock Verizon Wireless service did week after week.

Sure, it had some whistles that allowed it to access Verizon Wireless services, but you could get those through any vanilla web browser.

2) Priced to fail – You needed a two year contract for the Verizon Hub AND pay for the hardware. Oh yes, let me run to the store, pay $35 per month for an (overpriced) VoIP service and then shell out another $200 bucks for the hardware.

It’s the same sort of “Let’s charge more” strategy that has kept femtocells on the backburner at wireless carriers. Which leads me to the final point..

3) It wasn’t anything Really Special.  People will pay more for better service, but Hub was a glorified cheap tablet PC with a vanilla VoIP contract anchoring it.  I could be catty and say it would have been better with HD voice, but that’s an apples and oranges comparison — HD would have been a superior service to vanilla VoIP.

I’m going to be at Digium’s AstriCon conference, the Asterisk developer’s conference, on October 13-15 in Glendale, AZ.

Digium head hoo-hoo, er Community development guy John Todd has asked me to be a Master of Ceremonies (MC) for two of the AstriCon tracks on Wednesday and Thursday. Which means I get to herd cats, er developers to sessions, make sure tracks keep rolling along and generally try to keep everything moving.  Probably wash John’s tie-dye shirts in the evening…

Asterisk is part and parcel of a LOT of IP Telephony projects these days these days, ranging from ooma’s handsets to high-end workings with HD.