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Hitting the Road in the Name of IP Communications


Rich Tehrani

I am a blogger. Alas, I have been blogging less often lately. There. It feels much better to get that off my chest. Sometimes it helps to get past something by confessing it. It feels even better to write it in a column that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

I have a reason for my lack of blogging, and that is customer meetings and speeches. I have been traveling all over the country giving speeches and visiting customers, learning about what is happening in the world of IP communications. Generally, the more meetings I have, the more I have to write about. But, I may have exceeded the breaking point, as I have met so many companies that it has been difficult to write it all up. So, I decided to slow down for 24 hours and write up some of the things I have seen. Don�t expect this column to have broad concepts about the industry, but instead lots of juicy tidbits about the most intriguing companies and people I have recently met.

Last week, I keynoted at VoIP Sizzles in Miami. The event targets resellers, and at the show there was a great deal of optimism about the future of VoIP products and services. Resellers had a few questions and concerns and were trying to figure out the best products and services to sell. In the exhibit area there was great interest in the Allworx booth, among others. Word on the street is that Allworx is doing some very exciting things. The people at the company are more enthused than at any other time � I have known them for years.

I also moderated a panel at the conference, with Alan Percy of Audiocodes and Michael Baus of Linksys (News - Alert) sitting in with me, discussing how resellers can make money in voice over IP. The audience led the session and they were pretty savvy, asking lots of great questions. One of the better ones was related to Skype (News - Alert) and the fact that products in the future will likely have to incorporate the Skype protocol so as not to ignore the massive user base of Skype callers in the world. I made a statement that, in the next few years, I expect all IP communications vendors targeting the enterprise to have Skype support. Even after further reflection, I think this comment is right on.

Another theme echoed by Alan and Michael was that, if you are a reseller, the biggest pitfall you are likely to experience is trying to sell IP communications products and services without adequate training. So, make sure you get trained before you sell something.

From there I went to the Synnex Corporation annual conference, which was held in South Carolina. I met with many more resellers that had some great questions. Most of the questions centered on how to pick a company whose products to resell and also how to sell solutions and not merely push boxes.

For my part, the presentations really focused on this theme. Box pushers will be squeezed out of the reseller business in the next few years so, if you aren�t focusing on solutions, you might be history.

Also, there are some traditional interconnects out there. The PBX resellers who refuse to embrace VoIP. Your days are numbered if you don�t evolve.

I really enjoyed meeting all these resellers and I was happy to see that most of the people at these conferences were readers of TMC publications and go to TMC events. It is always great to meet the TMC community in person.

I also had a chance to spend a day with Cisco in San Jose and I learned a great deal about the company�s products and services. Cisco�s cable offerings are doing well and they have actually built their own head end on campus, which was extremely impressive. We took a tour of their labs and got to see some of their testing procedures that ensure quality. We then got to see a real live home (of course, this was in the lab) laden with Cisco and Linksys products. This was the home of the future, if you will, with streaming audio over WiFi (News - Alert), HDTV, and more.

Cisco has always done a good job of branding and one of my favorite taglines from the company is �empowering the Internet generation.� Their new tagline may be �the network is the platform for experience.� I may be paraphrasing, but this is the general concept. The point is that podcasting, online dating, and other activities are increasingly network-based and, as Sun�s Scott McNealy famously said, �The network is the computer.� Really though, �the network is the experience,� or at least it provides the experience.

Another interesting tidbit from the meeting is that consumer Internet traffic has surpassed business Internet traffic for the first time. This is not good for service providers, as consumers pay much less for Internet connectivity. The point is that service providers had better start selling new services soon or they are in for some serious trouble.

One of the ways to ensure this revenue is generated is by allowing service providers to take advantage of Cisco�s service exchange framework, or SEF, allowing providers to provide the identity of users and, subsequently, allowing for things like content filtering, IPTV (News - Alert), and newer concepts like a �turbo button,� which would allow a customer to have a speed and QoS bump on their broadband connection for a few days. This could be useful for someone who plans on downloading movies on the weekend, for example.

I also had a chance to meet with Michael Robertson who founded and who founded SipPhone/Gizmo Project. Gizmo Project is a SIP-based solution that is very similar to Skype and has been gaining lots of momentum lately. Oh, by the way � the Nokia (News - Alert) 770 tablet uses the SipPhone software to provide VoIP service.

Robertson has also founded a company doing AJAX work and, as such, you can expect to see a Web-based version of Gizmo Project soon and the solution will be heavily integrated with AJAX. AJAX is a technology allowing a Web browser-based application to seem like it is software running locally. Outlook Web Access and Google (News - Alert) Maps are examples of AJAX implementations. Expect VoIP to go the way of the Web browser and AJAX and lose that bulky software.

From there we go to another company that has a number of alumni, called Switchvox. The company makes an easy to use interface for Asterisk phone systems. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to greater Asterisk adoption is the difficulty in setting it up. Switchvox helps solve this problem and its interface is really slick and will have more and more AJAX elements over time. I am told practically anyone will be able to manage the system once it is up and running.

Another interesting Switchvox feature is the integrated IVR that is programmable, meaning you could build an application allowing customers to call in to check on their account balance and then pay via credit card. The IVR also has Web integration, which allows customers to track packages via the phone as well.

I recently met with a CopperCom executive with whom I had a long discussion about how rural LECs are in dire straits if they don�t wake up and smell the wires � or lack thereof. You see, the next generation is going wireless and if you aren�t figuring out how to keep your customers using your service, you are in real trouble. Attention all regional phone companies! Start selling WiFi networking installation and maintenance, anti-virus support, file transfer services, and backups. And that is just the starting point. If you aren�t looking for new revenue today, you won�t be around tomorrow.

Don�t be afraid to be creative. Get into the photo archiving business. Get into IPTV and carry local stations that aren�t accessible via cable. Broadcast high school football or archived high school lessons.

Coupled with the fact that these companies might soon lose their Universal Service Fund financial support, things are looking bleak for those providers that choose to stand still.

I also met with a company called SyncVoice, which focuses on unified management of VoIP networks in IP communications and especially hybrid networks, where vulnerabilities lurk. The company allows an enterprise CIO to manage voice as if it is data and, moreover, to TiVo the network to play back any problem events if needed.

I got a chance to go to Minnesota and spend time with my old friends at Unimax, who tell me that business is going very well, and they are in the great position of advising their customers on what VoIP systems to install. The company is well known for its collaboration tools as well as its software for making moves, adds, and changes easy to perform. Basically, if you are migrating to IP communications in your enterprise, you will benefit from talking to these guys before you migrate. They really have the experience to help you make migration much easier.

I also had a chance to stop in the Atlanta area and see Mike Coffee from Commetrex. His company has been instrumental in making enabling technologies for voice and fax. More recently, the company is playing in the IMS space and I expect to see a number of innovative products soon. What I like about Mike is that he studies markets thoroughly. I am not aware of that many CEOs who study a new market like Mike does. I am looking forward to getting him to write for our sister publication, IMS Magazine soon.

If you read my columns or if you�ve heard me speak, then you are aware of how I harp about voice communities. Well, one of the best community building sites I have seen is, which was launched by telecom veteran Brian McConnell. You can SMS a message to a group, leave a voicemail that is converted to e-mail and sent, and basically interact with a group in real time via a variety of communications modes. This is the ultimate product for a Soccer coach, for example. There are myriad business applications here as well.

Miles to go Before I Sleep...
Ironically, as I dropped this article onto the desk of my editor, I was headed out the door for another meeting! This industry is enjoying some tremendous success right now, and the level of innovation and creative energy coursing through the community certainly makes this an interesting trip. Speaking of trips, my team is waiting for me in the car. You can read the daily adventures of Rich Tehrani and even comment on my blog at IT

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