100 issues ï¿½ wow ï¿½ it has been an amazing ride. If you can believe it, the magnitude of this issue didnï¿½t hit me until I sat down and started to write this column. As many of you know, in 1997, when we decided to launch a magazine titled Internet Telephony, most people thought we were crazy. They told us outright that we were nuts. Certainly this attitude in the market was a bit scary when starting a new magazine, as the vendors who were mocking us were the exact ones we were supposed to be writing about.
In fact, in hindsight we were probably crazier than we realized, because without hundreds of companies to write about, it really is difficult to sustain a business-to-business trade magazine.
There were a few companies that were courageous enough to realize we were onto something and there are also some individuals that stood out in my mind as being instrumental to the success of the IP communications market, as well as the success of this magazine and the associated expo of the same name.
As this is a top 100 Voices of IP communications issue, most of the people in this column will be from this list. Many of the people I write about here are worth sharing with you because they were instrumental in the industry or they impressed me on some level over the years. Unfortunately, I just canï¿½t fit all 100 voices into this column, but we are truly indebted to all of the people who have played a crucial role in making IP communications as successful as it is today.
To get the ball rolling I decided to start with someone who isnï¿½t on the list. Chris Ward was working in the marketing department of Natural MicroSystems at the time of this magazineï¿½s inception and, when we announced our plans to launch, he and his management team were so ecstatic, it really gave us here at TMC a moral boost and reaffirmed our belief that we were doing the right thing. Hats off to Brough Turner and Mike Katz, who also work at NMS, for playing instrumental roles in bringing the worldï¿½s first VoIP gateways to fruition.
From here it makes sense to go to VocalTec ï¿½ which really popularized the softphone and IP telephony gateway ï¿½ and Elon Ganor, the companyï¿½s leader who, when looking at the first issue of this magazine, lit up like Times Square on New Yearï¿½s Eve. I know because I personally handed him the first issue at the Computer Telephony Expo in March 1998. In fact, at that time, the companyï¿½s CTO, Lior Haramaty, knew more about VoIP than just about anyone else, and we were fortunate to have him as a columnist in this magazine for a number of years.
Jeff Pulver was certainly another colorful figure in the world of VoIP. Jeffï¿½s VON conference became a gathering of industry insiders trying to figure out what to make of this whole VoIP phenomenon. The event became a good partnering venue and, to this day, itï¿½s still a good partnering locale for companies in the VoIP space. Jeff has also played a big part in the legal scene, advocating that VoIP should have minimal regulation.
Another unforgettable figure in the world of VoIP is Andy Voss who worked for Nuera when I met him back in the mid-nineties. Andy has a unique sense of humor and knows the communications market inside and out. He tells it like he sees it and I always learn something when I speak with him. After working for Nuera he went off to start the session border controller company Sansay (News - Alert) and is still the CEO of this successful endeavor.
Jon Shapiro is larger than life. He runs Alliance Systems (News - Alert) and his company was instrumental in building ruggedized PC platforms for the PC PBX (News - Alert), IP PBX, and Internet Telephony gateway markets over the years. Jon has been a good friend and has offered solid advice over the years and the industry is better off for having him in it. I am looking forward to him being back in the public spotlight the way he was in the nineties. He was a great force in the communications market of the last decade and his knowledge and experience is precious and worth sharing.
Another person of note is Gordon Payne, who was the face of Tundo ï¿½ an early IP PBX player. Gordon did a great job at Tundo, but when the bubble burst and Tundo ran out of funding, he decided to take some time off and then joined Net6, where he focused on bringing intelligence to IP phones ï¿½ allowing them to access applications and content. Net6 later was purchased by Citrix.
Tundoï¿½s failure is sad because at a few Internet Telephony Expos after the company folded, I was fielding questions from Fortune 100 companies as to why Tundo was no longer around. If they had held out a bit longer they might have become a major player in the space.
Jeffrey Citron of Vonage (News - Alert) gets lots of credit for many things in the VoIP market. He was the visionary that decided to make Vonage a consumer VoIP play. He single-handedly scared the living daylights out of the RBOCs and cable companies, forcing them to develop VoIP strategies. This spurred billions of dollars of communications investment. He delivered on the promise of VoIP for the masses. He didnï¿½t do anything technically spectacular ï¿½ Net2Phone did more or less the exact same thing many years before Vonage ï¿½ he just was able to put together a company that knew how to market to consumers and he backed it up with enough investment to get millions of people to try VoIP. As they say, timing is everything and Citron probably had the critical mass of broadband subscribers needed to get his service to take off rapidly. Also, while branding Vonage, his companyï¿½s marketing caused the enterprise and SMB VoIP markets to grow more quickly and also made sure virtually everyone in the U.S. knew what Vonage and VoIP were.
It turns out this was a positive thing for VoIP until the Vonage IPO, which tanked, and now all the companies that pointed to Vonage as a role model are trying to explain to their investors how their business model differs from the orange logoed broadband phone company. Still, Citron should be commended in a major way for what he did ï¿½ he brought widespread understanding to the world of VoIP and educated the entire U.S. population on what was once an esoteric and exclusive technology. Thanks Jeffrey.
It is interesting that Vonage first started out life as a company focusing on selling VoIP service to cable companies. When the telecom bubble burst in 2001, there was a bitter struggle to determine what the company should do. Citron bet on becoming a phone company and made at least one enemy in the industry by taking this course. He obviously made the right bet ï¿½ but many in the industry believe the company can be even more successful if Vonage focused more on profitability and less on market share.
While Citron battled for control of Vonage, a strategy shift was taking place at 8x8 (News - Alert), which made a similar bet that selling to consumers their Packet8 service made the most sense. It would seem that CEO Bryan Martinï¿½s decision paid off and, even though the companyï¿½s stock price has been hammered lately ï¿½ in sympathy with Vonage, it seems ï¿½ I am impressed with the companyï¿½s branding and the fact they were able to hang on in the most difficult telecom environment in history. Unlike Vonage, the company was already public and did not have access to hundreds of millions of dollars of VC funding ï¿½ they had to make it through the turbulent telecom waters with limited resources.
Another major influence in the market came from Niklas Zennstrï¿½m, who co-founded Skype (News - Alert) and has changed the worldï¿½s appreciation for what IP communications can do. Hundreds of millions of people have downloaded this software and Skype may be one of the most viral software packages ever created. Much credit goes to Zennstrï¿½m for educating the world about VoIP and, more importantly, doing such a great job that Meg Whitmanï¿½s eBay (News - Alert) ï¿½ another member of this prestigious list ï¿½ decided to purchase Skype for more than 2 billion dollars. As time goes on, I expect to see tighter integration between Skype and eBayï¿½s services and, as the two companies work more closely together, we can expect both to do even better.
Many in the industry think eBay overpaid for Skype ï¿½ I still believe eBay made a very smart decision to purchase the VoIP software leader and, although the price was high, they will recoup this money more rapidly than people think.
Michael Powell was another major force in the VoIP market, and under his tenure, frequencies were freed up to allow WiFi (News - Alert) to become reality. This, in and of itself, is of major importance to wireless VoIP or WiFi telephony, but more importantly Powell was a huge proponent of VoIP and really seemed to care about allowing consumers access to the best service at the lowest prices. In fact, at his keynote at Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO ï¿½ his first after stepping down as chairman ï¿½ it become apparent that he would liked to have made more consumer-friendly pro-VoIP changes at the FCC (News - Alert), but just wasnï¿½t able to.
From regulation we go to the worldï¿½s largest Web portal and you should know I am impressed by Yahooï¿½s Jeff Bonforte because he is not only a brilliant entrepreneur launching i-drive.com in the bubble days, he is also amazingly witty. I am sure working with him on Yahooï¿½s VoIP initiatives is a unique experience. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at Andy Abramsonï¿½s recent birthday party and he made a fun dinner that much better.
Hats off to Seamus Hourihan, who was a driving force behind Acme Packet (News - Alert)ï¿½s ascent into the session border controller market. The company came on the scene post-telecom bubble ï¿½ many thought the timing would limit their success ï¿½ and was able to become a major supplier to equipment manufacturers and service providers in a very short time.
Robert Messer of ABP (News - Alert) is another important industry voice who is passionate about building the VoIP reseller channel. Without resellers, the VoIP market would have taken much longer to get off the ground. Perhaps no other person has been as passionate about VoIP resellers as Robert.
Mark Spencer is yet another important name on this list and, without his efforts, the open source communications market may have begun much more slowly. He and Bill Rich of Pingtel (News - Alert) have been major players in this market. Similarly David Mandelstam of Sangoma (News - Alert) has made it a business to equip Asterisk (News - Alert) servers with high-end, high quality boards allowing Asterisk systems to scale very nicely.
Terry Matthews, the communications industryï¿½s most successful serial entrepreneur, definitely belongs on this list and the number of companies he has founded is awe-inspiring. He has picked virtually every niche in communications and launched a successful company in it. He should write books on how to launch and run communications businesses.
Two other people that are helping grow the IP communications market are Shrihari Pandit of Stealth Communications and Hunter Newby from Telx. The two have been instrumental in building the Voice Peering Fabric, a widely used fabric with billions of minutes of VoIP traffic flowing across it. VoIP peering is one of the biggest things to happen to the VoIP market and it is worth noting that in the last week XConnect (News - Alert), a peering competitor, has made big news by acquiring a peering company and, in doing so, raising its profile in the voice peering community.
Sphere is the company that invented the IP PBX but, at the time (the mid-nineties), it decided to use ATM instead of IP. They were at least five years ahead of their time and this is part of the reason why Todd Landry was chosen to be on this list.
Manuel Vexler and Michael Khalilian have been two of the major voices in the world of IMS with their exemplary and tireless IMS Forum (News - Alert) work; the pair has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the forum to ensure IMS can continue to excel as a framework for next-generation communications.
Ben Guiderian is the most significant voice in the world of WiFi telephony and his company, SpectraLink. has been at the forefront of this technology. Hassan Ahmed is just one of the faces of Sonus, a company that was the premier IP communications company of the pre-meltdown days with a stock that skyrocketed beyond anyoneï¿½s expectations. The company has made it through the dark times and is doing much better now, as they position their products to be leaders in the IMS market.
Few people in the market are as knowledgeable about enterprise VoIP as Mark Straton who represents Siemens (News - Alert). Expect to see great things from him. Similarly, Harald Braun is one of the best champions of IMS I have met. Harold, by the way, is also as dynamic as they get and is able to speak to you about technology in an animated fashion you wouldnï¿½t expect from someone so technical. No offense intended towards technical people, mind you, but I am an engineer so I think I can comment safely on the matter.
Quintum (News - Alert)ï¿½s Chuck Rutledge is soft-spoken as the company spokesperson, but Quintum has launched a raft of new products and continues to do well in the market competing against some true IP communications giants.
I could wax poetic about all the people in the market for pages and pages, but I am out of space and, if I get enough positive feedback, I will focus on the rest of the list in another issue.
What I would like to say, however, is thanks to all of you. I am proud to be in the company of such an important group and, most importantly, I am humbled by your support over the years.
Thank you to the loyal readers who read my columns and give me so much feedback on what you agree with and what you think I am wrong about.
It is because of all of your efforts that this publication is consistently the most successful and thickest magazine in the communications market. Many have told me that Internet Telephony is as thick or thicker than just about any technology magazine to which they subscribe. Magazine thickness, by the way, is generally the gauge of a magazineï¿½s success level. We could not be where we are without all of the support from the IP communications community. Once again, thank you.
I have always believed that, as communications transitions to the world of IP, new and exciting possibilities await us all. The last 100 issues are just the beginning. We have only achieved a small part of the industryï¿½s potential. In the future, communications will become a more and more integral part of business and our lives. We will see IP communications as a more and more strategic part of enterprise and service provider investments. Technologies like WiFi, WiMAX, IPTV (News - Alert), SIP, and IMS will only allow us to have greater impact on the world with the new ideas that continue to come out of some very bright industry minds.
The next ten years will see more and more communications innovations from traditional communications companies, but we need to remember that telecom is also now part of the computing world. What this means is that we will not only see innovation from the likes of such companies as Lucent and Avaya (News - Alert), we will see more Skypes pop up around the world too. This means the pace of innovation in IP communications will likely continue to grow and this will lead to more and more choice for the companies looking to take advantage of all that the IP communications market has to offer.
Personally, I look forward to helping to provide clarity in this new world of IP communications for another 100 issues and more. I look forward to sharing the journey with you. IT
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