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Making Sense of it All


Rich Tehrani

Spring is in full force here in Connecticut, which is where TMCs headquarters are located. I know this for a fact as there have been two days this past week where I didnt need to wear my jacket I just carried it into and out of the office. This has been the mildest winter I recall in years and while the meteorologists might disagree, I believe its due to the heat being generated by the IP communications space.

The speed at which new announcements are emerging is great, but it makes it difficult for those of you on the purchasing end to make sense of all the noise. I decided to present a digest of some of the recent announcements with some opinion and analysis. Hopefully you can get some information from this column that will help you make a purchasing decision.

Verizon (news - alerts) has noticed that there is money to be made in managing in-house PBXs. A number of years back I suggested companies like Verizon get into the business of helping companies deploy WiFi networks. This is a step in that direction as they can manage your PBX or host your PBX service via Broadsofts (news - alerts) software.

Why would you want Verizon managing your IP PBX install you ask? There are a number of good reasons starting with not having to hire a whole new staff to deploy your solution. How about having an external opinion on what you need without politics being involved? Finally you dont need to hire certified engineers to install and maintain your equipment. This is a smart move for Verizon, as it guarantees another revenue stream for them. By the way, Verizon couples their service with a class-leading SLA: three-and-a-half hours to repair a problem and guarantee voice quality as well.

Speaking of hot, VoIP is hot in Brazil as evidenced by session border controller vendor Netrakes (news - alerts) recent announcement that they are partnering with Telefonica Brazil (news - alerts) and NEC on a fully tested converged network. What may be most impressive is that the solution will support 3.5 million SIP endpoints! This is the sort of announcement that shows how VoIP solutions are indeed now being deployed in massive numbers.

Back to Broadsoft I finally got a chance to see the Broadsoft toolbar that integrates with applications such as MS Outlook and MS Word. The toolbar is the future of telecom as you shouldnt be forced to start a new application just to make a new call. Service providers can allow users to customize the telecom toolbar with a logo and intranet links if they desire. Interactive Intelligence (news - alerts) subsidiary Vonexus has similar integration with Microsoft software. But Vonexus is not a hosted service, but rather an IP-PBX. More than one person has suggested Vonage (news - alerts) needs this sort of toolbar functionality to make it a truly killer telephony service.

Another sign of massive growth in VoIP is that softswitch maker Sonus (news - alerts) hit 19 billion minutes a month carried by their customers! This is quite a milestone. The company continues to be committed to IMS and warns that other vendors who look to be IMS players arent decoupling their architectures sufficiently.

Moving across the pond, Teleware (news - alerts) is a hosted service provider in the UK that is 14 years old and provides some leading-edge services that allow SMB/mobile workers to increase their productivity. They are in the Just in Time Communications space and are looking for U.S. partners who want to provide their services on our shores.

On to wireless, Glenayre (news - alerts) has a new application that allows a voice mailbox to have embedded VoiceXML, which means service providers can do things like send video or voice messages to subscribers with music clips. The subscribers can purchase the songs if they like and since the user is already authenticated in their own mailbox the transaction doesnt need a credit card.

This is a killer service in my opinion, and it bodes well for those people waiting to see how service providers will make more money to help pay for all the wireless and wireline investments they are currently making.

The hosted VoIP market continues to heat up as evidenced by a talk I had with Intelliverse (news - alerts), a company that changed its name from VoiceCom as it merged with Inuntius. They provide a hosted platform for VoIP resellers with full private labeling and provisioning built in. There are many templates that the company provides and you can customize their services extensively to create a friends and family type plan for example. You can also chose from a variety of CPE devices from the likes of Belkin (news - alerts) or you can connect with videophones. They can fulfill and also ship the products. There is also full support available. The point here is that you can become a service provider overnight with limited expense. Dont underestimate the marketing expenses needed to become a service provider, but by the same token if you have an affinity group it may be easy to start a phone company to capture their business.

Digium/Asterisk (news - alerts) seems to be moving faster every time I see the company. Mark Spencer, the companys well-known founder, showed me a series of new cards that do a variety of things such as premium echo-cancellation and others that offload transcoding from the CPU. The company has a similar model to Skype (news - alerts) in some ways in that most of the products are free but as the base of free users grows so does the volume of paid products.

D2 Technologies (news - alerts) has come a long way since I saw them last. They now have a silicon independent development environment allowing the OEM/ODM market to use the best silicon for their application. They use a single RISC-based CPU as opposed to a CPU and a DSP to maximize power utilization and minimize cost. In addition to chip independence they are OS independent and work with off-the-shelf operating systems and have an API layer that allows their solutions to work on another operating system if needed.

UTStarcom (news - alerts) is such a large company I could fill this entire issue just talking about all their products. Lately I have seen a really useful demo of a Hummer equipped with their technology allowing communications to take place in a post- disaster scenario. This demo was done in conjunction with Qualcomm (news - alerts).

In addition the company has EVDO revision A equipment, which provides screaming fast broadband wireless access. I also learned there are 50 million users on the companys softswitch so far. They also have a feature server that connects GSM and WiFi networks and 50,000 users are supported on just two blades. The next release of the server will support CDMA/WiFi networks.

Accuris Networks (news - alerts) is an Ireland-based company that focuses on fixed mobile convergence (FMC) solutions such as WiFi/GSM or DECT and GSM. They can help a cable company with an MVNO relationship to provide seamless wireless coverage, for example. With so many people in the market I asked company executives why they are worth considering, and they told me they provided FMC solutions in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. At the time the networks they used were GSM and TDMA. They have also allowed FMC with the Iridium (news - alerts) Satellite network and GSM. They say that while other companies have been coming into this space they have focused on new features such as least cost routing (LCR). The dual mode/FMC space is going to be a huge market in my opinion so this company is well positioned as an early leader to benefit from the inherent growth and is also a likely takeover candidate.

The Chinese market is bristling with telecom companies aching to become the next global communications leader as evidenced by the UTStarcom news above. ZTE, (news - alerts) with 30,000 employees, is also looking to be one of these companies and with an arsenal of products in CDMA, TDMA, and VoIP they are in all the right spaces. They are also providing many IDEN solutions to the market. IDEN stands for Integrated Digital Enhanced Network and is mobile communications technology developed by Motorola (news - alerts) allowing for push to talk.

Movero (news - alerts) is interesting for a few reasons. The first is they are transitioning their call center from Avaya (news - alerts) to Asterisk and say they will save $1,300 per seat and hope to achieve better QoS! The company has a call center that supports mobility devices. For example if you have a problem with a Blackberry you call RIM (news - alerts) and if you have a problem with Cingular (news - alerts) , you call Cingular. If you dont know where your problem is you call Movero who can also support the device and wireless network problems. I asked how easy it is to build their call centers in Texas and was told that with all the call center jobs being lost to India from the Texas computer companies they are having an easy time hiring! Good for them.

The MVNO or mobile virtual network operator market is taking off around the world and allows a company to resell a cellular network. Why would someone want to do this you ask? Well the best reason to become an MVNO is that you want to reach an audience that is not being targeted currently or you want to extend your wired network or you have content you want to distribute wirelessly.

Telcordia (news - alerts) is one of the companies that are supplying the MVNO market with infrastructure that supports such things as billing. They further allow you to have a flexible and configurable system that allows you for example to alter the parameters of your business on-the-fly.

For example, lets say you see that a competitor launches a new service allowing a free music download for every 10 downloaded. You can come back with 100 free minutes of talk for every five downloaded. These are just random examples, mind you, but should give you an idea of what these systems allow you to do. Telcordia is currently the only partner certified on the Sprint (news - alerts) wireless network which puts them in an enviable position.

Perhaps the most exciting MVNO announcement recently from a Telcordia customer is the Disney (news - alerts) phone that is a parents dream. It allows a parent to make sure their child isnt speaking more than they should or text messaging more than they should. Of course, your take on these measures of control may vary but the parents at TMC seem to think this is a great service.

For those situations where wireline communications is slow or unavailable, Multi-Tech (news - alerts) has launched a suite of cards that can be inserted into a PC to give wireless connectivity over a variety of networks such as EDGE, GPRS, or CDMA. Some naturals for such technologies are emergency responders, lottery terminals, tax preparers, POS, and construction. Multi-Tech was one of the most popular modem companies in the eighties so it is good to see them adapting to the brave new world of telecom in 2006.

How many people are still listening to archives of their favorite music courtesy of Napster (news - alerts)? While I dont know the answer to that question I am sure youll be interested to hear that Napster has inked a deal with Ericsson whereby they allow service providers to give their customers access to the Napster library of two million tracks. (No, that is not a typo.) Ericsson is selling the hosted service to wireless carriers around the world. They have a slick mobile, very Napster like interface and the product is called Napster to Go,

The President of Napster, Brad Duea told me he feels this is a great way for his company to combat the entrenched nature of iPods as there are so many more mobile devices than there are iPods in the world. As long as your device has WAP or J2ME (for now) you are all set. There is a powerful recommendation engine that should keep operators and customers happy by increasing ARPU. I asked about the Napster churn rate and was told that while it is not disclosed, it has come down.

If you havent heard, Level 3 (news - alerts) may have become quite a good investment. The company is buying up competitors around the country and in doing so is playing Monopoly with nations fiber. What this does is increase the price for fiber substantially. I have heard reports of fiber costs doubling and tripling recently. This is not 100 percent attributable to Level 3 of course, as there are other companies buying cable companies and the demand for fiber is increasing steadily.

What the company is doing with this fiber is things like reselling it to VoIP and other providers and they are also chasing wireless providers allowing a company to bypass the PSTN altogether by utilizing a fiber ring in multiple geographic areas.

I got my hands on a Motorola (news - alerts) Q and was impressed at how this Windows Mobile device was able to be so thin and have such a crisp clear screen with great sound quality. The keyboard is too small for my fingers but is about the same size as a Treo. On the plus side the word completion is first rate and among the best if not the best I have seen to date.

The company also showed me the A910 that is a quad-band phone handling GSM, WiFi, Edge, GPRS and it runs on Linux. The form-factor of the device is pretty similar to the very popular V710.

Currently mobile and wireline operators are scared of VoIP but perhaps there is a way to get them to embrace it. Bridgeport Networks (news - alerts) has come out with something called a Mobile Stick which is like an iPod shuffle. You use the stick as an extension of a wireless network allowing you to take your mobile calls over an IP network.

The way it works is with a software download of a VoIP client when the stick is inserted. There are so many benefits to allowing your customers to have such a device. Imagine being able to take minutes off your wireless network and put them on VoIP. There is tremendous savings potential. In addition you can give your customers applications via VoIP they cannot access via cell phones and in addition your customers are ensured a secure connection. Bridgeport thinks that Skype would have much less intrinsic value if this sort of application was rolled out years ago.

Another interesting mobile company is Brightpoint (news - alerts) as they are responsible for the global distribution of wireless and now VoIP devices. They shipped 42 million devices last year alone. As you might imagine, VoIP is a huge area of growth for them.

Another wireless player looking to expand its influence is Venturi Wireless (news - alerts). If you use Verizon Wireless Broadband you have seen he small purple V in the lower right hand corner of your screen that turns into a tornado when it is working. When it works, it speeds up your connection considerably.

What the company does is optimize transport. As we know TCP/IP was designed for wired networks and there are inherent inefficiencies that the company squeezes out of the network. They also make up for poor wireless connections and in the process reduce the costs wireless service providers incur by increasing spectrum and equipment utilization. They will soon focus on mobile devices with a thinner client and they are hoping to help us have better mobile entertainment and gaming experiences.

CGI (formerly American Management Systems) (news - alerts) is one of those companies that has kept a very low profile but is quite important in the communications space. With 25,000 employees, they are a powerhouse in fields such as BPO as well as Tier 1 carrier consulting. They also sell to large enterprise customers and have strong practices in government, healthcare, and other areas. The company is expert in rolling out new services based on IMS and SIP and I am very impressed with the many people in the telecom practice I have encountered.

I had a breakfast meeting with Soma Networks (news - alerts) and was excited at the prospect as I remember Soma being something good from my past reading. I looked it up and heres what I found: intoxicating plant juice probably from a leafless vine (Sarcostemma intermedium) of the milkweed family used in ancient India as an offering to the gods and as a drink of immortality by worshipers in Vedic ritual and worshiped as a Vedic god.

Breakfast was good but wasnt intoxicating. Perhaps I should have had the mimosa with my bagel and lox. The company with the intoxicating name may have such an effect on operators who use their WiMAX solutions to generate revenue as the company focuses on the business case for WiMAX.

Somas customers will potentially give their clients a buzz with a package that includes a base station and an ATA with a SIP user agent that allows fax transmission and VoIP.

Aside from VoIP, the company is focusing on maximizing the radius of coverage. One of the ways this is done is with at tuned antenna in the ATA that is supposed to work seamlessly even in the basement of a building

There you have it a smattering of some of the interesting companies I have seen as of late and what they are up to. I have been in a bewildering number of meetings as of late trying to glean some sense of where the communications market is headed. In the end, it seems that customers are winning out as there are so many options to choose from. I should amend that to educated customers because one of the challenges customers face is the need to understand all the choices before them. Hopefully this column, this magazine, our Web site TMCnet and our TMC events can help you in this endeavor. Make sure to check out the VoIP Demo show ( this August in Santa Clara, CA to see some of the best and brightest companies in IP Communications on one stage, in one place. IT

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