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Blogging the Bloggers Roundtable

I’m sitting at the Bloggers Roundtable at VON.  Stay tuned for the play by play…

Andy Abramson is the moderator.  His opening can best be characterized as "VoIP is a wave".  He is talking through the massive wave of media coverage about VoIP over the last six months, and giving a great buildup to today’s bloggers — unhibited, uncensored…

It’s a fascinating and diverse panel.  Tom Evslin, James Seng, Stuart Henshall, Mark Evans, Aswath Rao, Martin Geddes, and Jon Arnold.  Great, and humorous introductions from each. 

What’s the story of the year?

  • Stuart Henshall says he used to say what’s your Skype strategy.  But now that the Skype / EBay story has been done, he says what’s your platform story?
  • Mark Evans says that the story, and the upcoming story, is the mega-merger story.  The internet giants are tooling up.  How long will it be until Amazon has a communications play?
  • Aswath says that IM clients will be strengthened, and no longer standalone.
  • Martin — the empire strikes back.  The telco’s are going to wade in.
  • Jon says that he’s with Mark — next year will be the year the Microsoft’s wade in, and change will happen.
  • Jeff says the game has changed.  Don’t look at just one company.  Look at history, and develop a perspective.
  • James Seng says that for the next two years, he thinks the trend will be regulation.  There will be lots and lots of focus on regulatory.  Big discussion here between Jeff and James, because obviously Jeff has a strong perspective on regulatory.
  • Tom Evslin get’s referred to as the esteemed guest.  He says that this is the year that VoIP grew up.  The regulatory reaction is a reaction to being grown up and being a threat.

I think one of the biggest trends, and not discussed at all is Web 2.0.  What happens when the internet’s web platform — SOAP, XML/RPC and so on — intersects with VoIP?  What commercial, business, lifestyle opportunities are unleashed?

Andy drags the conversation back to regulatory at this point, and asks what we should be doing about it as bloggers?

  • Jeff says that we need to continue to focus on the regulators.  Six months after Martin came to power, it’s like dealing with the KGB.  It was a mistake for them not to recognize the contribution of VoIP in the current disaster.  Maybe we should forget the FCC and focus on the FTC.  "I have".
  • Martin says that the unbundling regime in Europe has been very successful, especially in France.  Many places are also recognizing that the natural unit of connectivity isn’t necessarily the household, but perhaps the neighborhood, or the individual.  It sounds as if regulatory isn’t an issue there anymore.
  • Mark talks about the pain of asking the regulator to step back and not look at VoIP using their current reference framework as a bitter pill to swallow.  In Canada, Bell Canada and Telus are behind the scenes lobbying the regulator to bend the rules.  The result is that we don’t have a strong regulatory policy.
  • Tom says that he agrees with how black Jeff has painted the situation in the US.  The FCC led the way, and the rest of the world followed, but in the US the situation has reversed.  As a chauvinistic American he says that this is awful.  The US has led, but not the rest of the world is doing a great job, and the US regulator is going in exactly in the wrong direction putting Americans at a disadvantage.
  • James says that in Singapore, they’ve just released their final policy paper.  In Singapore, voice is just another application.  If you offer voice you have the same rights to interconnection, and numbers as an incumbent.  However, because VoIP providers are a new industry, they don’t have the same QOS or 911 requirements.  Wow!  That’s amazingly enlightened.
  • Mark jumps in and talks about the need for "smart" and "light touch" regulation in order to not impede regulation.
  • Maddog Hall jumps in with a question, and wants to know what’s happening in Singapore with respect to wiretapping.  James responds that it was intentionally left vague, and states only that service providers must cooperate with law enforcement officials.  This is a great question — Singapore hasn’t been known for respecting Citizen’s privacy.  James casts the question in terms of how can you do wiretapping in a fashion that doesn’t stifle innovation.
  • Aswath jumps in and says that two years ago it was routine to say that regulation needed to be approached in a layered fashion.  Hasn’t heard about this since.  Tom Evslin chimes in and says that it’s a very good point, and says that this goes back to the idea that VoIP is an application.  In order to give law enforcement the same protection, we need to look at which layer enforcement should interface with.  It’s hard to get politicians and law enforcement officials to talk about the 7 layers of the ISO stack!

DAMN… just lost a whole bunch of great stuff about the Skype / EBay megamerger because I am using an IBM Thinkpad which has a stupid non-standard keyboard.  A wide ranging discussion of the merits of the merger, with many saying they don’t understand the value of it.

Was Microsoft brilliant in acquiring Teleo for less than $100 million?

  • Mark Evans says that Microsoft has done very little successful. He’s scathing.  Says the market doesn’t believe they can execute.
  • Andy says Microsoft has a history of acquiring companies for bits.  Who knows why they bought it? 

Andy asks what’s next on the M&A front?  What about Packet8, Vonage, Covad and so on…

  • Mark says no, obviously not.  Google pushing dark fiber is an interesting story, but 8×8, Covad, and DeltaThree are bit players.  Vonage has lost it’s mojo…
  • Tom Evslin says there will be lots more little companies that get overpaid for.  Lots of companies are getting asked "What’s your strategy" at their quarterly meetings, and now is a good time to be a company at the company auction.  He thinks we’re entering a period when there’s more money that ideas.  The company’s getting funded now are the children of the greed being created by the sale of Skype.
  • Martin Geddes says that the unbundling regime in Europe is causing players to be winnowed out, and a second tier of new entrants coming in with cost structures built around the dumb pipe realities.
  • James says he doesn’t believe either in mega-mergers. 

Andy asks "Where’s the innovation coming from?"

  • Tom says — all over the world.  And that’s a good thing.  It used to be hard to innovate outside of Silicon Valley and Route 128, but it’s not that way anymore.
  • Jon Arnold jumps in and says that it will be a long time before VoIP takes over here, but in Asia — India, China and so on — where communications systems are still not widely deployed, it could happen in Asia.  The biggest enemy of VoIP right now is that it’s cheap… no killer app yet so no reason beyond price to migrate.  And what about wireless?
  • A bunch of people now talking about price.  Price is a really important thing, several have argued.  James says price is really important.  In Japan, broadband is huge, and many people just buy it Yahoo Broadband for voice. 
  • Tom Evslin makes a very good point that price is a killer app if you have no voice service already.  The value of a network is proportional to the number of people using it.  The number of people usin
    g it is proportional to the price.
  • A member of the audience jumps in and points out the Clayton Christiansen theory about innovation — that innovation happens when it targets underconsumption.
  • Martin Geddes: the PSTN is a tremendous undershoot.  When you start to look at technologies like presence, and the ability of technology to enhance our ability to communicate, then underconsumption is rampant on the PSTN.  Does 5 9’s matter, when you can’t reach the person you are trying to reach?

David Beckemeyer jumped in and made some comments about the session related to his development of PhoneGnome.  What he said was that, vis a vis non-consumers, they learned that people were using VoIP for different things than their normal phone services.  Martin Geddes — if there was lesson that can be learned from the conference is that Voice 2.0 will look different, and be used differently than what we expect today.

Great panel.  Spirited debate.  Lots of audience participation.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Michael Elling September 29, 2005, 2:17 pm

    Alec,

    When will people realize that all these issues fall under 3 conflicts:
    1) vertical vs horizontal orientation
    2) subscription vs subsidized access
    3) supply vs demand drivers

    The future will actually look like the past; many blueprints exist. Once people agree on the terminology and context the outlook for the broadband, IP future will become more clearly defined and better understood.

    Michael Elling
    Information Velocity Partners, LLC

  • Alec September 29, 2005, 2:52 pm

    Michael,

    That, of course, is the issue. The blogging community is probaby uniquely well equipped to have this debate.

    A

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