The post-telecom era – still undefined but less fuzzy.
I spent most of last week at eComm – a conference who’s goal was to
‘Define the post-telecom era’.
There was a huge number (90!) of short (15 mins max) presentations
packed into 3 days. This was so much information, I’m still trying to process it.
The talks varied widely, but roughly they split into ‘where are we going’, and ‘how will we get there’.
So for example, we heard from Malcom Matson of OPLAN which advocates the setting up of a city based low open cost networks.
The man from t-mobile illustrated the huge costs of running data networks as compared to the profits made from more conventional voice and text services, at the moment they make a loss on data services, but a profit on SMS.
Conveneer on the other hand were very interested in data, they add small web servers to smart phones, so that web pages can mash-up data (such as location and presence) from the phone with external servers, only problem is that the software does not support the iphone.
More pragmatically, Tropo is a new service from Voxeo allowing developers to develop business apps that include telephony – or ‘spice’ as Thomas Howe the new CEO of Jaduka calls it. This was a sub-theme of the conference, everyone is trying to recruit developers to their programs. IfByPhone was offering $25 iTunes vouchers to attendees of their tutorial. Voxeo offered a bounty of $100 for demo apps contributed to their samples. Adhearsion Inc is offering a sandbox, so developers can write Adhearsion code just by installing a local copy on their laptops (which takes 5 mins) and using Adhearsion’s telephony infrastructure. Grid launched a one-stop-shop for services that a developer might want.
The common theme was to facilitate web developers adding telephony to their commercial applications, telephony as a an added feature enhancing the efficiency of business processes .
This whole developer-hunt was kicked off at last year’s eComm where Ribit set up it’s developer program, recruited hundreds of developers and was almost immediately bought for $105M by BT.
Everyone was competing to be ‘more-open-than-thou’. Adobe has created openscreen program which allows device manufacturers to add flash to their devices license free, providing the implementation passes a compatibility test.
Skype opened their new SILK wideband codec, they will release a binary implementation, but not the algorithm.
The result of all this openness is that we can build apps cheaply and quickly,
which allowed Dave Troy’s ad-hoc team to develop the ‘Twitter Vote Report’ in a couple of weeks, because “it was the right thing to do.”
The extreme instance of this new openness was the Open BTS project which is an open source GSM provider David Burgess demo’d a laptop plugged into a universal software radio. The laptop was running Asterisk and the Open BTS middleware. When switched on, David was able to register a stock GSM handset against his Asterisk open source pbx, and place a call to a softphone via the asterisk instance, all over his own GSM provider. Even the hardware designs of the radio are open source.
This was a highlight of the show for me – It is worth reading David’s interview with Lee Dryburgh (conference organizer) to hear what change this project could effect.
I particularly like the comment David got from a telco executive “That’s great; you can show me a network that costs less to operate. Now what do I do with the network I just installed? How do I leverage my existing SS7 infrastructure?”
There were many debates about infrastructure (de)regulation and spectrum allocation in the USA which I found rather parochial so didn’t listen closely, but I swear I heard someone say that Dolly Parton was involved in a $4.7 Billion subsidy for rural broadband organized by the department of agriculture. I’ve now bought some ear wax remover.
I finally got the concept of net neutrality explained to me (Thanks Jay!), it made me realize just how well Ofcom have managed broadband in the UK. Jay asked me how many ISPs I could choose from, I said hundreds, he nearly choked and explained that he had 2 to choose from.
Mark Spencer from Digium gave an update on the Skype-for-Asterisk gateway and it’s progress so far. One of the issues he mentioned was to do with the fact that Skype ID’s that were signed up as individuals won’t be eligible
as business IDs for Skype-for-Asterisk as the terms and conditions for a business are different. This raised an interesting area about the value of brand names in the new emerging name spaces of twitter, Skype, Facebook etc. John Todd (of Digium) and I had a discussion about this on the VoIP User’s conference.
This is evidenced by the fact that as part of the launch of Grid.com, they bought the twitter id ‘grid’.
Shai Berger (Fōnolo) gave an interesting analysis of the 500 IVR systems that companies expect us to be able to use (“Press one if…” etc). I reccomend looking at his slides once they go online. This is the past we want to escape from.
Looking to the future there were some rosy remarks e.g.
“Content for the Crowd in the Cloud will print money for all of us” from
Gerd Leonhard of MediaFuturist.com, it seems this is already true in Japan and Korea, where mobile social networks are highly profitable (unlike facebook etc). They are profitable because they sell virtual goods to users (music etc) not advertising to corporates.
There were several new communication modes demonstrated all of them trying to cure the problem that Jeevan Kalanithi, Taco Lab described: “computers and mobile phones suck you out of the physical world”. One of the most charming was Ge Wang of Smule, who’s Ocarina application lets you play the iPhone like a flute, but also lets you take part in a sort of global orchestra (But there is a no ‘amazing grace’ rule it seems!).
Outside the talks there was still time to meet the other delegates. There was a fantastic array of bright people, all willing to share notes and exchange ideas. Undoubtedly some business deals were done. Everyone had a mad iPhone app they wanted to write (I’ve got several!).
An exhausting and brilliant 3 days – Thanks to Lee for organizing it and many thanks for Imran for the ticket that let me go.
Some of these photos of ecomm (and many others) can be found at photos.duncandavidson.com