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Innovate, or integrate?

I want to clarify a comment I made Wednesday, regarding the Grand Central / Gizmo mashup. What I wrote said:

I wouldn’t want you to think I’m singling out Grand Central and Gizmo for special treatment, by the way. They’re simply guilty of being locked into the same full-on Carrier 1.0 tunnel vision view of the world that is true of virtually every other carrier and VoIP player on the planet, from Verizon all the way to Vonage. Very few companies, excepting Skype and AOL, understand that there is an opportunity in leveraging the creativity of 3rd party developers to bring new capabilities to the telephony platform.

We had a conversation around innovation versus integration some time ago in our shop. The net of it? iotum can interoperate with other IM networks, and other carrier networks until the cows come home. All that will accomplish is to chew up cycles that we could be putting into creating a great customer experience.

Craig Walker and the Grand Central team have built a compelling service which I would use myself if there were phone numbers available here in Canada. The promise of Grand Central is not realizable, however, within the strictures of the industry which we work in today, and the Grand Central / Gizmo mashup is tangible evidence of that. No carrier will hand a call off to a third party to provide services, nor will they integrate a third party directly into their network. Not even the "innovative" carriers like Michael Robertson’s SIPPhone will do this. In this regard, they are no different from the railroad barons at the turn of the last century advantaging their own freight at the expense of their competitors.

That forces innovative third parties like Grand Central, or iotum for that matter, to build their own networks or find other means to market. The world doesn’t need more networks, though. Moreover, it’s totally unnecessary from a technical point of view. SIP allows redirection to application servers to occur from within a network. SIPPhone could, if they wished, simply hand the call off to Grand Central for processing. Grand Central, in turn, could hand the call back to SIPPhone for termination. Grand Central wouldn’t need to build a network or issue phone number. SIPPhone would gain innovative new services for their customers. Most importantly, the customer experience would be of one seamless network, with new services available from a variety of third parties. You wouldn’t need separate phone numbers, or redirection from one phone number to another, and it would be a way better experience than wiring networks together through phone number hacks.

What the world needs is network operators that don’t constrain innovation. Until that happens, the future we all want to build around VoIP is not much more than an onanistic fantasy.

And me? Well, I owe an apology to Craig and his team. They were on the end of a grumpy rant that they didn’t deserve. Sorry guys.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Craig Walker February 23, 2007, 11:15 pm

    Alec…no apologies necessary! The monopolistic architectures of the traditional telco companies get us all fired up for a grumpy rant! – best, Craig

  • Markus Goebel February 25, 2007, 9:21 pm

    Hello Alec,

    I totally agree with you. And have some more thoughts why all this what GrandCentral and Gizmo do is no big news to me and we can all do this at home:

    If we all would be using ENUM the deal between GrandCentral and Gizmo wouldn’t be big news. With ENUM I can already route my PSTN number to my Gizmo account. VoIP users that call this number and do an ENUM lookup can call me for free.

    Why bother for another number from GrandCentral?

    I can implement the same call routing features of GrandCentryl in my analog telephone adapter (ATA). I actually do. So whenever somebody calls my years old PSTN number I can let it ring wherever I want (for instance on my Gizmo Project soft phone or my mobile phone) and I can also filter the callers like GrandCentral offers.

    Why pay extra for a service which I can already use at no extra cost at home?

    Well, some say that ENUM is difficult or that they just don't know it.

    But the point is that it’s totally easy to do an ENUM lookup before every call. SNOM VoIP phones do it automatically before they start the call. The VoIP providers could do it automatically before the VoIP call starts. Also they could enlist all their numbers in ENUM. The client wouldn’t even notice that ENUM is working in the background. It would just be all over IP and for free. But the VoIP providers don’t do it because the earn very well not doing ENUM and charge for calls that technically could be for free.

    Others say that we should at least give GrandCentral credit for is their rules processing.

    Well, the newest versions of the Fritz!Box do this out of the box. No complicated acronyms needed for installation. Just some clicks in the browser.

    Incoming calls can be treated individually. You can for instance block unwanted calls or pass them to an answering machine. Friends and business partners can be redirected to a mobile phone, even if the call signal of the phone that’s connected to the Fritz!Box is switched off.

    I am using such a Fritz!Box at home. It’s connected between my old telephone and the DSL connection. So all my calls go for free or for very modest prices over the internet. I do the configuration in my browser and it’s very easy. You can see an example here.

    In fact the Fritz!Box is an entire PBX and cost me only 30 Euros, because I bought it used. It can do everything that GrandCentral does. Even an ENUM lookup before every call. But this is a hidden function for which you have to tweak the Linux that runs on the box. The Fritz!Box is getting better and better with every firmware update.

    So to me GrandCentral is no big news and no necessary service.

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