Wednesday, July 6, 2011

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eComm 2011 doesn’t disappoint

by alec on July 6, 2011

Each year around 300 people gather together for three days in San Francisco at an invitation only event to plot the future of communications. The event is Lee Dryburgh’s eComm, the Emerging Communications Conference. You can think of it as TED, for the communications industry. Topics have ranged from Voice over IP, to the Internet of Things, mobility, sensor networks, user experience design, augmented reality and social networks.

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I attended this year’s eComm last week, and it didn’t disappoint.

Monday morning kicked off with a series of presentations on how todays markets are evolving. The best of the bunch was Ovum Chief Telecoms Analyst Jan Dawson’s presentation titled Telecoms in 2020: A Vision of the Future. He made the case for the emergence of two categories of carriers: SMART players, where SMART stands for ‘Services, Management, Applications, Relationships and Technology’, and LEAN operators, where LEAN stands for ‘Low-cost Enablers of Agnostic Networks’. You can think of these as being similar to today’s retail and wholesale telecom markets. Dawson showed how carriers could build good businesses in either market, a departure from the common viewpoint that carriers must build value-added services rather than be so-called “bit pipes”.

Monday afternoon, another stand-out presenter was Raj Singh from SRI International. Singh’s research focused on enterprise mobile applications, showing convincingly that enterprise is ready to buy narrowly construed mobile applications in virtually every part of business, from HR to accounting, sales, manufacturing and more. This is a market which has been dramatically overlooked in the rush to build consumer smartphone applications, yet may hold more promise.

HP’s Dr. Peter Hartwell showed prototype sensors orders of magnitude more sensitive than the motion sensors in today’s mobile phones. Hartwell imagines a world in which highly integrated sensors, capable of detecting light, motion, send, and location are embedded into literally everything. Using a prototype he demonstrated how a single device could be used to monitor breathing, heart rate, location, and velocity when attached to a person, or an entire building when attached to a single piece of infrastructure such as a water pipe.

Tuesday morning was dominated by presentations around Voice 3.0, the Voice Web, including a panel at the end of the morning. Harqen CEO Kelly Fitzsimmons presented a wide ranging series of scenarios on how to extract relevant information from voice conversations, Vox.io’s Tomaz Stolfa showed his company’s web based telephone services, and Voxeo’s Jose de Castro gave an update on the latest Web RTC / RTC Web efforts to embed voice communications directly into the web using open standards. De Castro showed how to create a telephone call from a web page using just five lines of javascript, and according to de Castro the next releases of the Chromium browser will support RTC Web.

Martin Geddes also demonstrated an early prototype he and Dean Elwood have been working on, which allows the creation of voice “objects”. They propose encapsulating logic within a voice stream – a voice mail message, for example, with actions associated with it, similar to an HTML email message. A restaurant might leave you a voice mail message about a reservation, asking you to press 1 to confirm, or 2 to cancel.

Harqen’s security industry heritage was on display Tuesday afternoon, as they launched their Symposia product. Symposia creates automatic synopses from web conferences by following user actions, text communications, and tagging events in order to allow meaningful search of the entire event – voice, presentation and text chat.

The rest of eComm promised as much as the first day and half as it continued with presentations on augmented reality, open source voice, user experience and more. I was forced to leave early for family reasons, and was disappointed to miss Berkeley’s Alex Bayen, Skype’s Jonathan Christensen, 2600Hz Darren Shreiber, the always fascinating Dean Bubley and the closing talk by Richard Thieme.

eComm is unique in the communications industry in the extent to which it focuses on the future of communications technology. You won’t generate leads or sales from this conference, but you will walk away energized by the possibilities, and possibly with one or two great product ideas of your own.

I can hardly wait for next year’s event. In the meantime, there’s always the eComm blog, with its repository of presentations from years past.

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