Skype apologizes for outage and offers 30 minutes of calling

Skype apologizes for the worldwide outage last week that had most users unable to use Skype services. Below is an email from skype CEO regarding the outage and offering 30 minutes of free calling to landline phones (note: some information in email letter has been modified to protect privacy).

Sorry for any inconvenience

Continue reading Skype apologizes for outage and offers 30 minutes of calling

Skype Out – no really it is OUT!

skype logo The blogosphere and the twittersphere is aflame with the news that Skype has an outage, making it clear that this outage is BIG – in terms of news and in terms of the duration of outage.

With more than 500 million friends, it is not surprising that many many people notice when Skype is down. According to a Skype blog post, about two thirds (2/3) or users still cannot log in. Skype is working on activating new ‘supernodes’, but at this moment, I cannot even get to the Skype blog .

Skype moves into the Asterisk IP-PBX

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Last month Skype announced an agreement with Digium, the primary developer of the asterisk open-source IP-PBX software, to enable Skype from Asterisk. What this means is that one could make skype calls, even long distance and International telephone calls, from your office office phone as well as receive skype calls on your office phone. The initial versions will only support voice, with video support to be supported in the future.

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Telephony Usage among U.S. Adults shows Cord-cutting continuing

Harris Interactive, a market research firm, has conducted a survey of 9,132 adults conducted in 4Q of 2007 to find out the telephony usage patterns of U.S. adults. The survey shows that about 14% of adults are cord-cutters, up from about 10% in 2006. The percentage of adults with landline phones has dropped slightly to 79% from 81%. This shows that the number of people who use a cell phone exclusively for voice communication (i.e. have no landline phone), also called cord-cutters, is increasing.

The Chart and the table below show the telephony usage patterns among U.S. adults

Continue reading Telephony Usage among U.S. Adults shows Cord-cutting continuing

Will Comcast be able to stop Online Movie downloading in its tracks

Amazon has the Amazon Unbox on Tivo service, and both Netflix and Apple recently announced online movie rental services, and eventually you will be able to see Joost and Babelgum programs on TV. All this point to a market crowded with new ways to get movies fast and cheap over the Internet

Naturally, the incumbents – cable TV providers such as Comcast that deliver movies and TV programming over cable and satellite systems risk getting swept aside. Comcast is not waiting like a sitting duck. In early January, Comcast, the largest cable MSO in the U.S., announced Project Infinity to upgrade of its video-on-demand offerings and boosts the number of on-demand movies from 1,300 a month to 6,000. The cable operator says its video-on-demand services account for roughly 275 million viewings a month.

What Comcast has done to expand its movies-on-demand offering is to leverage its existing deals with Time Warner’s HBO, CBS’s Showtime, and Liberty Media Corp.’s Starz, something most others will find hard to do immediately.

At the same time, Comcast also announced the launch of Fancast, an online service at fancast.com [http://www.fancast.com] where subscribers can watch more streaming videos of TV shows from the likes of CBS and Fox and also use the site to order videos, get iTunes downloads, and program their digital video recorders to record TV shows while away from home. Comcast also plans to offer the service to other cable operators, making money from advertising and affiliate fees from DVD or download sales.

In the voice telephony world Comcast and others Cable providers are successfully taking on both VoIP providers such as Vonage and telephone companies such as at&t. In similar fashion, Comcast has a strategy to ward off anyone in the Movie and TV programming space. Comcast will not be able to stop Apple, Amazon, and Netflix completely, but will make a big enough dent in their profit plans.

Finally a patent settlement where Vonage doesn’t shell out money

vonage_logo.gifIn the short history of Vonage, 2007 is the year when Vonage ended up losing four patent suits, and in each case, having to pay huge sums of money. Vonage has pay AT&T $39 million, Sprint Nextel (S) $80 million, and Verizon Communications (VZ) $120 million to settle patent infringement lawsuits.

However, Vonage’s patent dispute with Nortel Networks has a less-bitter ending for Vonage – the settlement allows for cross-licensing of each companies’ patents, but does not involve any payments by either company. These patents are related to making emergency calls and dialing 411. Vonage was dragged into this legal battle with Nortel when it acquired three patents from Digital Packet Licensing (DPL) in 2006. DPL had filed a patent infringement case against Nortel in 2004 alleging violation of those three patents, so Vonage continued with the lawsuit. Nortel countersued, claiming that Vonage violated 13 of Nortel’s patents, and asked that Vonage be kept from using the technology. The settlement is subject to final documentation.

Om thinks that Vonage’s problem is playing the cheap voice game, but Vonage’s primary risk is not cost management (OK marketing/advertising costs has always been an issue), but that Vonage has no Intellectual Property protection. So far mainly the service providers have filed patent infringement lawsuits, but there are many equipment vendors and with many VoIP patents (much like Nortel) who could go after Vonage. Vonage still has many challenges ahead of it, but this settlement gives it yet another breather.

Startup Ribbit finally comes out

ribbit_logo.jpgBack in July of last year, I wrote about Silicon Valley startup Ribbit when it was a yet another startup in stealth mode, surmising that Ribbit is a softswitch-based VoIP telephony service that is accessible from a browser via a Flash application. Well, Ribbit has “come out” – and announced that its new platform is expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2008. And this prediction turns out to be correct, but there’s a little bit more to Ribbit than just a Flash application.

The technology is designed to work through virtually any Flash-enabled browser and from any mobile phone or fixed location with an Internet connection, meaning that Ribbit is not limited to a particular device. For example, calls placed on mobile phones can be answered via a Flash widget on a Web browser, on a regular phone, on a VoIP client, or through a desktop widget. Ribbit’s platform will even transcribe user voice mail into text messages (another also ran). And it will offer support for existing Web-based voice services, such as Google Talk, MSN, and Skype.

Basically, Ribbit is trying to make voice easy-to-use by untangling voice from the regular (POTS) phone and alleviating the need to download a client. However, this is not new because Jaxtr, Skype, and others are also trying to achieve that.

What’s interesting is that Ribbit is integrating with other applications – One example is the Ribbit for Sales force workflow integration application, which will enable mobile calls, voice messages, and text transcriptions to flow right into Salesforce.com’s CRM environment on the Web. Ribbit will provide third-party partners and application developers tools for integrating voice into their applications using Adobe’s Flash and Flex tools.

Overall, Ribbit is taking the right approach of integrating with other applications – but this is nothing new. For example, Microsoft is also building voice and ‘Unified Communications’ into applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, although Microsoft OCS (Office Communication Server) is mostly geared towards business customers

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Ribbit claims to be “Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company”, but there are others such as Ooma, which are also phone companies because they provide call switching. Most importantly, Ribbit is trying to package this as something new – this is nothing but a marketing tactic and smart people will recognize that Ribbit is just one of many in this space.

Solicall reduces Background Noise in VoIP calls

solicall_logo.pngHave you ever been on a conference call where someone’s talking while on the go and its hard to hear the conversation because there’s a lot of background noise? If you have, and are annoyed by it, there’s a solution for it.

SoliCall, Israeli-based privately-held company, announced the release of its PBXMate – a technology that reduces background noise and improves voice clarity in VoIP networks that use SIP. PBXMate runs on Linux & Windows and can work with any VoIP Network that supports SIP. Of course, this is VoIP only, circuit switched phone users need not apply. The device filters calls entering a conference room to enhance the audio quality in conference calls, and reduces background noise coming from external cellular phones or from other external systems.

PBXMate appears to work alongside the conferencing server, rather than be client based. Given that PBXMate has to process the real-time speech to filter out the background noice, it should add some delay to the conversation. The big question is whether PBXMate can do this quickly enough without introducing noticeable delay into the voice path.

Another question I have is “How big is the problem”. I can only imagine that only a handful of conference calls will actually have voice technology delays. In my experience, background noise is a problem in only a small percentage of conference calls (VoIP and TDM-based), so I question how big a problem this is for those who conference call a lot. I haven’t tried this out, but you can download and evaluate the software from http://www.solicall.com/

Voice over IP revenue around the World skyrocket

Last month, I wrote that US Voice over IP (VoIP) subscriptions are skyrocketing. That was about VoIP in the U.S., but the VoIP story around the Globe was no different. Worlwide revenue from retail Voice over IP (VoIP) services almost quadrupled (4x) from $1.834 Billion in 2005 to $6.908 Billion in 2006, according to research by Point Topic.

North America, with the third highest number of VoIP subscribers (8.6 million), generated $2,411.7 million in revenue. Western Europe, with the highest number of VoIP subscribers, generated $2639 million in revenue. The Asia-Pacific region, a close second in terms of VoIP subscribers with about 14.5 million generated $1750 million,

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Interestingly, North America had the highest Monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) at $20. Western Europe and South and East Asia had comparable ARPU at $15, while both Asia-Pacific and Latin America had an estimated ARPU of $10.

While some of the better known U.S. based VoIP providers, ala Vonage and Skyrocket, may bring up concerns about the viability of VoIP (and there are strategic issues with standalone VoIP service), VoIP is a phenomena that is here to stay – primarily because of the cost advantages and the flexibility and extensibility that comes with IP technologies. The cost advantage is because an IP network can be shared by multiple services or in other words, IP allows multiplexing of services. For example, with an IP network, a user can have both a VoIP session and a Web browsing session at the same time (whereas with traditional circuit switched voice service, both voice or fax cannot be used simultaneously on one connection). The flexibility and extensibility comes from the ability to transform voice into multimedia seamlessly as well as transform the service experience with enablers such as Presence.