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Voice 2.0 Wrap Up

The inaugural Voice 2.0 conference is done. Organizer Ross Macleod ought to be proud. He, and the teams from OCRI and HighRoad, did a great job. The hall was full, the discussion spirited, and most of the people I spoke to afterward remarked on what a different event this was.

Martin Geddes kicked off the day with a talk titled simply “The Future of Telephony”. Key takeaways:

  • The economic model of telephony is inverting. Whereas in the past, the value was in the call itself, tomorrow the value will be (pre-call) in the devices, connectivity, privacy , presence, availability, directory, and application integration; (in-call) transactions; (post-call) social networks. Companies that don’t incorporate social networking into their models will fail.
  • Solve the identity problem, and you will be rich. The identity problem is about unifying identities across networks, users, and devices.
  • Calls in the new model will be initiated from many contexts, including phones, games, and PCs. If you own the context, then you keep the revenue. Hence the focus on disintermediation plays at the handset, and so on.
  • Power is shifting away from the network operator, and toward the user.

Following Martin’s session, there was a round table on open source. Jim Van Meggelen kicked it off with a keynote detailing the history of open source telephony. He does a credible job of being a dispassionate advocate for open source. Participants Mike Milinkovich, Chris Hobbs, and Wai Seto all contributed to an open discussion afterward.

Interestingly, while acknowledging that open source can be an effective tool, there was little of the rampant boosterism one might have expected. Instead there was a critical analysis of when open source might be appropriate and when not.

One interesting tidbit was Mike Malinkovich’s assertion that there is an Eclipse project underway for XMPP. Will have to check that out. ITBusiness’ Grant Buckler also covered this session in a story titled Telecom Industry Dials Into Open Source Potential.

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The session titled “Future Communications Platforms” touched off the first good debate of the day. ObjectWorld’s David Levy gave a great overview of his company’s software based communications solution, repeatedly touching the fact that it was all built on cheap commodity hardware and Microsoft BackOffice components. David’s assertion that all he wanted from the carrier was access became the flashpoint. Microsoft’s Brian Rusche, Firsthand’s Alain Mouttham and Nortel’s Peter Carbone all participated with David in the ensuing melee. Naturally Carbone is a strong proponent of the intelligent network model, and held out IMS as the model to challenge Levy’s statements. Rusche gave a typically Microsoft-nuanced view — the spoils of victory will go to the platform with the most developers.

It was a healthy debate, neatly illustrating the dichotomy between the enterprise telephony system and its evolution, being driven largely by companies like IBM and Microsoft vs. the carrier model of hosted telephony services. In the end, the question I wanted to pose was directed at Peter Carbone — what is the developer model for IMS?

Right before lunch was a session titled “Alternative Networks – a new Opportunity”. CANARIE’s Bill St. Arnaud led it off with a talk about customer owned fibre.  What a fascinating speech! The thesis is that municipalities would be better off selling individuals, and individual corporations their own fiber and rights of way. Bill backed it up with numerous compelling statistics, including IBM’s assertion that any customer spending more than $7,000 per year on leased access services would be better off buying a strand of fiber and managing the services themselves. Citing numerous examples throughout Europe and North America, Bill built a very compelling case. Backed up by Martin Geddes’ experience in Europe, and Ottawa’s own Stephan Monette (Unlimitel), the session painted a very appealing picture of a future consisting of readily available, high bandwidth access, owned by the customer. And, in a peculiarly Canadian twist, he asked whether, with the recent conversion of all the access players to income trusts, it might be the only cost effective way for us all to get high bandwidth access.

Following lunch, the session where I spoke was titled “New Applications of Voice Technology”. The focus of the session was the use of open API’s and mashups in the new telephony model. My co-conspirators (the other session participants) were AOL’s Ragui Kamel, TalkSwitch’s Tim Welch, Cisco’s Joe Burton, and Su-Nam Kim from Rogers. I have to say that Su-Nam has my sympathies. He had the keynote slot, but also the misfortune to be sent by the mothership with a deck of slides to talk about speech enabled portals. He was in the wrong spot. The conversation quickly moved to a very interactive Q&A on various approaches to web services, and pro’s and con’s. The most surprising thing to me about this session was how conversant most of the audience was with the nicky-norks of web services — WSDL, SOAP, XML and so on. Nortel’s Chris Hobbs asked, for instance, why Asterisk didn’t publish a set of WSDL definitions, and local Academic Luigi Logrippo asked why the WS telephony activities were happening outside the IETF standards like CPL, and LESS. It was clear to me that there is some fertile debate happening outside the public eye on these issues.

The star, in my opinion, of the session was AOL’s Ragui Kamel. Not only did he paint a compelling picture of AOL as a pragmatic, business focused company delivering new voice services, he also did a very credible job of showing AOL as a visionary with its AIM Phoneline Developers Program. As I commented during the session, I think that AIM Phoneline is likely the single most significant development in telephony this year. Here you have a company with arguably the largest marketing muscle on the planet opening its platform to developers, and inviting all to play. Take a deep breath, all you incumbents and the folks that supply them — the world of telecom just changed.

Next up was a double header on user experience. Mitch Brisebois’ “Designing for the Long Tail of Mobile Applications in Voice 2.0 World” was an excellent kickoff for the session, touching on niche markets in mobile telephony and the design issues around those markets. Perhaps the most exciting speaker of the day, though, was Microsoft’s researcher Bill Buxton, who challenged us all to think about design in new ways. What is a phone? What is telephony? Is more better? I don’t think my comments can really do the presentation justice. Please, OCRI, post Bill’s slides online, along with the video, as fast as you can. The panel afterward, including Carleton University’s Gitte Lindgaard, and Leo Ferres, plus DI’s Desmond Ryan, and Bill and Mitch was a lot of fun, provoking lots of discussion. At one point Des Ryan held up the Blackberry as an example of a design for a niche that was very successful. I couldn’t help myself — the Blackberry is the best of a bad bunch, in my opinion — and I had to contradict Des. If it didn’t do email so well, and hold my contact list hostage, I’d pitch it and be done with it. I am sure I’m not the only Blackberry owner with such a love / hate relationship with this device.

The wrap-up for the day was led by Skype Journal’s Jim Courtney, and consisted of panelists Bill Buxton, Martin Geddes, Talkster’s Jim Wanless, and Nortel’s Chris Hobbs. One of the points that Jim made was that a lot of the convergence activity we had talked about all day was taking place right now on the edge. He held out his Sony Mylo as an example. It combines Skype, photos, and a bunch of other stuff on a handheld device designed to use WiFi, rather than the traditional telecom network (photo below). My takeaway was that Voice 2.0 is healthy and whole and heading for a bright future. With our focus on user-centric communications paradigms, it seems clear to me that the telecom model of the past 125 years, including IMS, might finally be headed for oblivion. Hallelujah!

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There were several references throughout the day to the Voice 2.0 Manifesto I wrote last year. If you haven’t read it already here are the links:

All in all, the day was a great success. The one downside was the “unconference” track. Not a single participant defined session. Bummer! We had a taste that this might be coming though, from Kaliya Hamlin’s observation a couple of weeks back that unconference and formal conference don’t necessarily make the best companions. Lesson learned.

Following the conference, Martin Geddes, Jim Courteny, Nortel IMS architect Todd Spraggins, Ross and I retired to Milestones for steak dinner. I was struck by the comment that Martin made during dinner — “iotum is trying to sell better telephony, and nobody’s tried to do that for 125 years. It’s a hard problem!” But isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? Isn’t that what Voice 2.0 is about?

Additional photo’s on Flickr in the Saunders / Voice 2.0 set.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • luca October 17, 2006, 6:20 am

    As I supposed, your wrap up is great. Wish I was there.

  • Mitch Brisebois October 17, 2006, 9:01 am

    What a great "souvenir blog-card" Alec… Thanks!!

  • Laura Slater October 17, 2006, 9:59 am

    Thanks for the shout out and for participating Alec. Glad you had a great time.

  • Ronald Lewis October 17, 2006, 11:59 pm

    Great entry. For those who couldn’t make it, you certainly missed out on some great content! I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference! Ross and the other organizers have the right idea and approach.

  • MGU October 18, 2006, 1:56 pm

    There is a lot of stuff here that ordinary folk like Mum and Dad don’t understand. The photo show is great tho! Dad

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