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February 27 – March 1, 2007
This is the second year of the ETel, Emerging Telephony, conference by O’Reilly. Last year The WAVE Report was at the first one and found it of high quality and rich with insights. We were not disappointed in year two. Attendance is at 500. The reason for our assessment is quite simply that the conference is well managed. There are quality speakers, time management is very good and the focus is on relevant topics. Speakers give presentations that are generally well thought out. Lightning talks run only 5 minutes and are just essence of a concept or business. Most of the presentations are only 15 minutes and at times one would like longer ones but this is a small price to pay for the overall high quality conference.
Emerging Telephony represents the convergence of Web 2.0 and voice. This is broad and poorly defined. But the opportunity spurs innovation. Ideally one is not held captive of the PSTN or the notion that voice is just voice.
Microsoft Research Discusses India as an Emerging Market
Following what seems to be the norm in reaching villages in India Microsoft began with the kiosk model. PCs are provided at a central location which is run by a literate individual. Villagers would come to the kiosk to get information or transactions performed. In the Warana Wired Village Project there were 54 kiosks in 54 villages at an investment of $500,000. The focus was on the sugar cane cooperative and connection to the sugar cane factory was via landline phone.
One objective of the system is to provide information to farmers who supply the Warana Sugercane Cooperative, including the current price of the cane. What the system ended up being used for is: to register land, issue harvesting permit, buy fertilizer on credit and to issue pay stubs. The implementation of the system faced significant problems which included: high maintenance costs, intermittent power and a poor network.
As the research project reached a decision point they scrapped the PC kiosks and went to SMS enabled cell phones. This system went directly to the farmers using the existing GSM/CDMA SMS network. The SMS cell phones in the field were connected to a smart phone at the factory. This phone was in turn connected to a PC over USB.
The use of SMS phones transformed how the network was used. The results cited included:
The result was that this saved, over the use of PCs, 1m Rupees a year, which in this environment was significant. Another advantage is that the solution was truly mobile and met the farmer needs. A key finding was that anytime anywhere access to data helps organizations even when the employees are poor.
Microsoft then went on to define an SDK for an SMS Server which linked a back end to SMS phones. This is can be downloaded from the MSR India site on the Microsoft web site.
Google – Building Free Networks is not Easy
Chris Sacca, Head of Special Initiatives, Google gave a compelling story of their efforts to implement the free Google municipal network in Mountain View, CA. This went operational in August 2006 and is still being refined. Key points made in the presentation included the following:
VoIP and SIS Scares
Dan York, Mitel, gave a smooth flowing presentation on VoIP security using basically one word per chart. Dan stressed that as voice migrates from the PSTN network administrators must be very cautious that the security they assume with the PSTN does not extend to VoIP. His example, focused on internal hacks to the network. Examples included the ease of conversation recording, the ability to inject audio into the voice path that only one person could hear and the ability to extract PINs from voice calls. The bottom line is that network administrators must enforce strong security procedures when VoIP is a part of the network, begin with the design of a secure network for handling voice, to exercise diligent personnel policies and to implement defense in depth.
Truphone – Making Your Phone Disrupt the Cellular Operator
Truphone has implemented a download to cellular phones which have WiFi. Its technology enables calls to be placed and received over the Internet. Think of truphone to cellular as Skype is to the PC. Using Open Source truphone has developed code which will run on Nokia phones via download. One gets a truphone number. Any calls to that number are routed over the Internet to the phone when the phone is connected to a WiFi network. As truphone states: Competing with the Mobile Network Operators by using Open Source components is their mantra.
GeoVector – Point and to Learn
GeoVector is as simple as pointing the phone in the direction of interest. It is deployed in Japan on the KDDI network as a BREW application with 700,000 objects in the location search. These objects are identified based on the user location and heading. One only has to point the phone at an object, be it a building or a retail establishment or a scenic location. This launches the local search based on the position and pointing direction. An enhanced version goes live 1Q 2007 with KDDI. It adds sponsored channels, banner advertising, maps, point to call and guide me. Impressive.
Future of Asterisk
Mark Spencer, Digium, outlined future development in Asterisk. This includes:
SMS and MMS
There was an abundance of open source enthusiasm from the interesting to the absurd. We might call interesting the botanicals project done by students in New York, which allows individuals to call their plants to determine its condition. The foundation of many of the open source projects is Asterisk – the Open Source software PBX. This is a significant accomplishment and we found the potential of a small box called the Asterisk Appliance important. The disruptive potential of Asterisk has yet to be realized in the market.
Most of the projects/products described at eTel were on cell phones including an Open Source phone from Openmoco, the open module communications platform and the truphone which uses Linux to accomplish VoIP phone capability on an existing celluar phone which has WiFi connectivity.
Presence is seen as an important future opportunity. But we have doubts about the degree of invasiveness presented by jaiku. We wonder if the public would accept that someone could know your physical environment and future plans as a part of presence. At the same time, integrating location (GPS) with presence and buddy lists provides the opportunity to link up with individuals one cannot readily see but who are nearby. The WAVE came away with the impression that most speakers talked about social networking but few had any ideas on how to improve it and to help create a market beyond what exists today.
What about new applications on the cellular network? This was bashed multiple times. Any excitement about bringing a new revenue stream to the market is quickly dashed by the 65% or so toll the carriers charge as the participation fee on the network. We found none at eTel interested in playing this game.
If eTel is representative of the future of telephony, the opportunity space is quite limited. It is just impossible to get traction with arbitrage; the carriers are very reluctant to let anyone provide services, and Open Source as not shown significant market penetration in telephony.
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