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New Beginnings @BlackBerryDev

In early 1999, I experienced a technology that would change the world.  From the backseat of a taxi in Las Vegas, I edited a press release on a RIM 950 Inter@Active pager.  It was an early device, with email but no real PIM capability to speak of.  Still, it was enough to open my eyes to the potential of wireless email. And, shortly after, employees all across the Microsoft campus where I worked at the time were carrying these devices, as they became the de rigeur technology that year.

On July 25th, I joined RIM’s QNX subsidiary as their Vice President of Developer Relations and Ecosystems Development, and today it’s public that I’m now Vice President, Developer Relations for all of RIM.  Over on the RIM DevBlog you can find a short interview with me, describing my role. (Shout-out to Andy Abramson, who reported this on Sunday… always the bloodhound.)

Over the last few days I’ve been in San Francisco at the Mobilize conference, and speaking with developers.   It’s clear from those conversations that the primary problem we face is lack of support from application developers.  My team’s job is to correct that – to win the hearts and minds of mobile developers again.

The good news is that we have plenty of great people to help with this challenge, and a wonderful story that’s largely untold.  Today, there are more than 120 million downloads per month from AppWorld, the RIM application store.     And according to Evans Data, BlackBerry is the best platform for making money as a mobile developer.  You might get more downloads with the competition, but with BlackBerry you can actually make a living!  That’s a novel concept, I know…

And speaking personally, the best part is that I get to work with the software development community again.  For most of my career – whether it was the early days of Microsoft C7, the 1993 launch of MS-DOS 6, the trench warfare of the Windows 95 vs OS/2 battle, the Internet Explorer vs Netscape battle, or the launch of QNX Momentics – I’ve worked with developers, platforms, and ecosystems.  Authoring this blog for the last 9 years has been a constant reminder of how much I enjoyed doing that.

It feels great to be in the thick of it once more.

A.

P.S. We’re hiring developer evangelists – technical articulate people with a passion for mobile platforms.  Interested?  Contact me at alec dot saunders at rim dot com.

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Start-up advice, from the wine industry

Sunday morning Janice and I took a quick trip to Picton, Ontario. One of Janice’s photographs has been juried into CLIC, the Eastern Ontario Photo Show, and so we made the trip to Picton to drop her entry off before the exhibition begins next week.

It happens that Picton is in the centre of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s eastern wine growing region.  So we made the rounds to some of our favourite tasting rooms – Norman Hardie, Huff Estates, and Long Dog – as well as a couple of new wineries.

Prince Edward County has seen an explosion of wineries in the last few years.  When we first visited the county in 2006, there were 21 wineries.  Five years later, there are 34 or 35.  It’s a bit of a gold rush as start-up wineries are springing up all over.  Like many start-ups, they sometimes make mistakes as well.   One winery served us a chardonnay tasting from a bottle that had been open for two days – it was clearly oxidized.  Another opened a new bottle of cabernet franc, and served a “corked” taster.  Another had just varnished the walls in the tasting room, which made it impossible to smell the wine – all you could smell was varnish.  And another had cranked the price of their new white up to $49 per bottle after winning first place in the recent Ontario Wine Awards.

I was chatting with Long Dog co-owner Steven Rapkin at the end of the day about some of what I’d seen, both yesterday and other trips.  He made the following comments:

  1. Winemaking is a retail business.  It’s true that everyone has a different perception of wine, which more than ever drives home the old maxim that “the customer is always right”.  Address the perceived flaws in your product and services immediately, because it’s always easier to retain an existing customer than to recruit a new customer.
  2. Winemaking is a word-of-mouth business.  Very few winemakers can afford the huge marketing budgets of the large wineries.  They rely on satisfied customers who tell friends in order to bring new business.  See point 1!
  3. Don’t sweat the loonies (that’s a Canadian 1$ coin).  Today it’s common to charge a nominal fee for a tasting at a winery, largely to combat the busloads of wine tourists who sometimes show up intending only to drink sample without buying.  Most wineries waive the sample fee for buyers, but some don’t.  In Rapkin’s own words “you’re not going to get rich on the loonies”.  You have to price your product fairly, and reward customers by treating them fairly.

Starting a winery sounds a lot like starting a technology business, doesn’t it?

We left with Prince Edward County with three cases of wine, including a half case of Long Dog’s wonderful 2007 “Bella” Riserva Chardonnay, which will soon be sold out.  On the way back to Ottawa, we also stopped at Fifth Town Cheese, and bought a half dozen of their excellent artisanal cheeses to enjoy with our wine.

What a way to spend a Sunday!

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Want proof of pent-up demand for Blackberry Playbook applications?  Announced in March, and reportedly due to be available later this year, an early beta of the Playbook Android Player was inadvertently made available for a short time on Blackberry.com yesterday.  RIM pulled the software, and issued a statement telling people not to use it, but not before a group of developers on Crackberry.com grabbed it and started testing every Android app they could get their hands on.  What you can see from the conversation on Crackberry.com is that although the leaked code is an early beta, many Android applications worked immediately.

Don’t feel like hacking your Playbook to see what Android Player looks like?  No problem.  The Crackberry team has helpfully posted the following video so you don’t have to.

Source: Crackberry.com

Are you excited?  I am.

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Phono, by Voxeo Labs, is a simple jQuery plugin and JavaScript library that turns any web browser into a phone, capable of making phone calls and sending instant messages. Phonegap is an HTML 5 framework that lets any web based application become a mobile application, for virtually any modern mobile device – Windows Phone, Android, iOS, Blackberry, and so on.

Pair the two of them together and what do you get?  An HTML 5 based mobile voice development platform.  And that’s what they announced this morning.

I like it.  A lot.

  1. It lets web developers become mobile developers using tools that many people already know and understand.
  2. It gives mobile voice developers a single framework to target, and hopefully a single codebase to develop for.

Both of those advantages add up to reduced time to market, reduced investment, greater profits.  And for customers, they might mean many more innovative uses for voice in mobile.

Nice job!

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The Blackberry Playbook is now the first tablet to gain FIPS certification, which means that it meets US government standards for data security and encryption.  Playbook also won Best in Show and Best of FOSE in handheld devices at the federal government IT conference in Washington DC this past week.

This certification and these awards certainly reinforce RIM’s position that the Playbook is the first “professional grade” tablet on the market, and may be a good indicator of how the market will evolve – Android and iPad devices for consumers, and Playbook for professionals.   Now, what will Avaya and Cisco do?  Both companies have announced  business focused tablets as well, but built on Android.

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Like a lot of other folks, on Wednesday I was playing with the newly launched video chat capability on Facebook.  Done in partnership with Skype, it brings video chat to the masses via the 750 million Facebook users out there.

First I chatted with Larry Lisser in San Francisco.  Not a good experience.  Grainy, laggy video, and bad audio synch problems.  If this is what Facebook video chat is all about, I thought to myself, it’s going to be a failure.  Next I talked with Dan York and his two year old daughter Cassie.  Great experience, and entertaining as all get out due to young Cassie’s antics on the screen.  Don’t tell Mrs. Saunders, but that little flirt was blowing me kisses the whole time!  And the video was wonderful and in synch.  Clearly the quality problems with Larry were simply network related.  And then I chatted with Jim Courtney, where we quickly started digging through the nitty gritty of the user experience.

What do I love about Facebook video chat?

  1. It’s a little thing, but the window pops up on screen directly below my center-mounted web cam.  It forces me to look into the camera when i’m chatting, which means that I’m meeting the other person’s eye, rather than looking at the screen.
  2. I can leave a video-mail message if the other person isn’t available.  Why isn’t this in the standard Skype application?
  3. It’s SUPER easy to set up and use. For many people, Skype has an intimidating UI with a lot of options.  Facebook video chat is pure simplicity. I could see my wife, or my brother-in-law, both of whom have resisted Skype until now, using this.

It’s probably not going to steal away today’s Skype user.  The experience isn’t as rich, quality isn’t as high, and you have to be logged into Facebook to receive calls.  Instead, Facebook video chat is a great compliment to Skype.

Bottom line: I don’t agree with Om Malik that this is a one-sided deal in Facebook’s favour.  Like Andy Abramson, I think this is a good thing for Skype and for Facebook.  Facebook gets a feature that will allow it to compete against Google +, and Skype gains an audience that they might not have otherwise had access to.  It won’t be long before there are a billion video chatters on the planet, all using Skype technology, and that’s what Skype’s management wants and needs.

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According to the Globe and Mail’s Hugh Thompson, next month will mark the 10th anniversary of the Personal Video Recorder, or PVR, in Canada.  And what a boring and dull ten-year old our PVR has become.  Almost none of the promise of the PVR’s first released in 1999 has ever been realized here.  Instead, our PVR has become little more than a glorified video cassette recorder.

Yes, the satellite and cable industry trumpets the advent of “whole home” networked PVR’s.  What a yawner.  ReplayTV had this ten years ago.  In fact, the current crop of PVR’s is missing a whole host of features that used to be common place!  How about:

  • In-video content search, pioneered by Ottawa’s own Televitesse.  By scanning the caption stream, Televitesse could find specific spoken words in a program, and jump the viewer to that scene.  It was perfect for news hounds.
  • Search and record by cast member, subject, genre, or review ratings.  All delivered by ReplayTV over a decade ago.   My favorite feature of ReplayTV?  Once you had created the search, it would simply record anything on any channel at any time that matched search.
  • Tivo Season Pass – record an entire series, every week, even if the time or the day or the channel changes.

The tenth anniversary of the PVR in Canada is a legacy of mediocrity.  The television companies – Bell, Rogers, Shaw – apparently don’t have the imagination or the desire to improve the viewing experience for the user.

Is it any wonder that so many people are turning to the web, instead of television, for video?

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eComm 2011 doesn’t disappoint

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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Open Standards

I’m at eComm, the Emerging Communications Conference, for the next couple of days. Over dinner last night a heated debate erupted over open standards in telephony, the genesis of which was my Voice 3.0 piece posted on Friday. I didn’t explicitly state that open standards are important to the Voice 3.0 vision. Dan York took me to task over the same issue last Friday, and then we discussed it again on the VUC call this morning.

It wasn’t an omission on my part.

In a business that depends on network effects, as the communications business does, interoperability is critical. How we get there, whether it be through a standards body, or via a de-facto standard as Skype has become, isn’t that important. What’s important is that there be sufficient open-ness for an ecosystem to flourish.

In platform markets those that call for Open Standards are typically the number two or three players in the market, seeking to unseat a dominant incumbent. In other words, the adoption of a standards body sanctioned standard is a competitive strategy, and not an inherent “goodness”.

The dominant player can do three things when faced with an one standards competitor: compete harder, adopt the standard, or find a standards body willing to anoint their proprietary technology as a standard. It would not surprise me in the least to see Skype, for example, choose any of these strategies in the future.

And that’s the reason I left the adoption of an open standard out of the Voice 3.0 manifesto.

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In October 2005, I published The Voice 2.0 Manifesto. The Manifesto’s theme was the marriage of voice to the web, and all of the accompanying technological and business shifts that might occur as a result. Five-and-a half-years later, some – indeed I would argue many – of the predictions made then have come true, or at least partially true. Voice minutes cost next to nothing, voice applications are creating real value beyond just carriage in some segments, and open programmable architectures for voice services have emerged.

A lot has changed in five years, however. Skype, which was an early stage start-up with no revenue model, is now the dominate supplier of international long distance calling minutes worldwide. Smartphones finally exploded onto the scene, and in the process dashed the old mobile models to pieces. And the internet has morphed into the “semantic web” as increasingly device to device communication becomes as important as device to human.

Voice 2.0 was about how the internet intersected with the voice network. Voice 3.0 moves beyond Voice 2.0, as the voice network becomes the Voice Web – the amalgam of voice, and the internet and its intersection with real world problems to create new forms of value, useful in everyday life. By extension, Voice 3.0 is therefore also about how voice applications incorporate the best of the internet to increase the options and opportunities for developers, and ultimately create new value for users, corporations, and investors.

Like Voice 2.0, Voice 3.0 is a user and developer focused view of the world. It’s “all about me”, about how the focus is shifting from a supply driven world managed by the some of the largest corporations in the world, the telephone networks, to a demand driven world managed by users of those networks. We’ve already seen dramatic evidence of this momentum in the mobile world, as customers flocked to devices supplied by Apple and Android partners, primarily because of their ability to be infinitely customized via mobile applications to the customers’ needs and desires. In the Voice 3.0 world, we see the same dynamic as the large suppliers of voice services are beginning to recognize that innovation comes from users who find and adapt tools to new uses, and from the developers who build applications to “productize” those new uses. Just as in mobile, the winners will be those who successfully unlock the demand driven model.

Defining Themes

Let’s start with the ubiquity of voice, or how voice gets embedded into the fabric of ordinary digital life. As Martin Geddes points out, we humans have really only got three modalities of communication available to us – gesture, voice and the written word. Despite the rhetoric around video, voice, which represents at least 1/3 of our communication palate, isn’t going to disappear at any time in the near future.

In fact, voice is being adapted to many different uses than before. For example, my own children communicate with their friends more often on the xBox network using spoken words than on the telephone. And, in fact, when playing multi-person internet games on a PC, they will turn to Skype as a substitute for xBox voice.

There are two billion voice “input terminals” in existence on the planet today, including telephones and computers. Many people now suggest that an explosion of voice enabled devices is imminent as all kinds of devices become voice enabled. Just as the internet has become embedded in billions of devices, the Voice Web will also be.

So what does the world look like when 10 or 15 billion devices are now voice enabled? When two or three voice enabled devices exist for every man, woman and child on the planet?

Two obvious possible outcomes are that:

  1. The personal voice terminal, or the telephone, disappears. There will be no need to hold a microphone to our faces when one can simply speak to the ether, and make communications connections.
  2. Voice control as user interface becomes much more prevalent. When you can speak to your automobile, television, computer or home appliances, then interaction models change dramatically.

Perhaps the largest promise of the ubiquity of the Voice Web is that the over 1.5B people who are functionally illiterate can join suddenly get off the sidelines and begin actively participating in the emerging commerce model of the voice enabled web. Until now, much of this population has been unable to participant online. In India, for example, a great deal of commerce is conducted by illiterate women en masse via dumb phones. This type of commerce is equivalent to the dark web today — important, but off-limits. With the Voice Web, phones don’t need to be smartphones to connect people to the larger network. Global economics will change when the participation of those previously sidelined becomes active and at significant scale.

The second big theme of Voice 3.0 is the programmable Voice Web. Programmability has been a topic in voice circles for years, beginning with the old-fashioned computer aided telephony right through to today’s hot topic, Communications Enabled Business Processes.

Today’s state-of-the-art is to marry a voice channel to a processing channel to create new kinds of applications. The earliest interactive voice response systems simply allowed individuals to press keys on the telephone keypad to alter a call path – press 1 for sales, 2 for support, and so on. More advanced systems today can automate different kinds of business processes, by separating business logic from the voice channel itself. For example, using analytics tools to track incoming customer response to advertising on voice channels as Ifbyphone does, performing database lookups in response to incoming caller ID information for customer relationship management purposes, or creating outbound reminder and polling systems.

In all these examples, the voice channel is treated as a relatively linear audio object which is only loosely coupled to other systems. The user communicates with a standalone IVR that exists solely for the purpose of providing the application. It’s as if today’s state-of-the-art voice systems are the walled garden AOL’s and MSN’s of yester-year, and the world wide web hasn’t yet happened. The result has been successful unified communications systems which give a great experience in totality, but the learning curve is high if customers choose to switch service providers.

The internet, however, grew well beyond those old systems. It evolved from the hyper-linked world of the early web to container objects supporting media and programmable objects, with sophisticated tracking systems, scripting, offline execution, mobility and more. The web went from being a hyperlinked text library, to the largest programmable application on the planet, fuelled by open standards, lightweight communications infrastructure, standards which allowed content to be separated from logic and presentation, and an explosion of end-user devices, including today’s mobile devices.

Voice is on the cusp of the same revolution – a revolution that will be defined by letting the customer define the business logic of the application, not the service provider. Imagine a “hyper-talk” protocol, where the voice servers of today evolve to become more akin to a web server – a hyper-linking voice application with the ability to autonomously download and execute other data and voice objects. In that world, for example:

  • Voice mail wouldn’t be the linear audio message it is today. It would be more like HTML email, with live links and buttons embedded. Made a reservation at a restaurant? A day before, the restaurant’s reminder system might leave a voice object in your mail box: “Press 1 to confirm your reservation, 2 to cancel or 3 to speak with an operator”. Your voice mail box would know how to correctly execute the scripts embedded in that voice object, process the button presses, and inform the restaurant’s reservation system of your responses.
  • Caller ID spoofing would be a thing of the past. If your bank phones, an authenticated caller ID system, akin to HTTPS on the web, would give you the confidence to deal with them directly.

Not only is this world coming, it’s required if voice and the phone is to stay relevant as a communications medium. Phone is so far behind today that it’s losing traction for business, in favour of the impersonal web where identity and programmability already exist. And yet what could be more important in business than personal contact, and more personal than a voice conversation?

Ultimately, we’ll build systems where communications result in artefacts that can be consumed by services that have not been pre-specified. Think, for example, of the role that RSS played in the syndication of content, and imagine a similar world for voice. Tool chains will be created that will allow people to participate in building these services, and an explosion of new applications to consume these voice artefacts will be built.

And that leads directly to the third big theme of Voice 3.0, which is the arrival of the semantic voice network. In the world of the internet, massive businesses have been built around the collection and management of huge databases of content – think of businesses like Amazon and Google for example. On the Voice Web, these databases will exist, but more likely as the proprietary property of enterprise. In their quest for accountable, measurable and actionable IT assets, management will turn an eye to voice—the last opaque data object in the organization.

We’ll see the advent of:

  • Voice as an Asset — The combination of Voice Analytics used to help organize and categorize voice content, metadata surrounding the original voice object to assist with relevancy, weighting, and prioritization. We’re already seeing this in the post-Enron era, as corporations struggle with making voice an auditable asset, and these efforts will only become more sophisticated over time.
  • Voice as Relevant — Voice content will be findable. Just as Google is a query mechanism that sources and displays relevant text (mostly) content, voice will have its search engine unlocking the value of those stored voice assets throughout enterprise.
  • Voice in Context — Voice content will live side by side with other data types within enterprise transactional systems like CRM, and ERP. Voice will be used to provide the emotional context around the other data objects to help provide richness to the inquiry. Imagine searchable sales calls in the CRM next to the account information and text logs for a customer.

As voice becomes a “big data” asset, databases of conversations will be built, cut into snippets, decoded, analyzed, and added to the enterprise knowledge base. The Voice 3.0 tool chain will provide APIs that give access to these snippets, both privately and on the web. And ultimately, the content, context, and meaning of audio conversations will become a key input into business processes.

Voice 3.0 impact

Accompanying these three themes will be a radical shift in business model – from a supply constrained model to a demand driven model. Customers will want to be able to choose a dial tone provider, and applications independently. Innovation will accelerate as customers take these new services and use them in even newer and more different ways than anticipated.

Developer ecosystems will form a “virtuous cycle”, a self-reinforcing market that gathers momentum as more adopters flock to the platform. Platforms will try to recruit applications developers, customers will look to the ability of platforms to deliver the third party applications that they need and want as a key differentiator in the market, and as more customers adopt the platform, more developers will also, seeing opportunity.

Some applications will be pre-built, some custom built, and some modular. As a result we’ll see a thriving market for suppliers like today’s Ifbyphone, Twilio. and Voxeo You can think of Ifbyphone as the Ikea of voice, supplying modular components, and Twilio as the Home Depot of voice, supplying building blocks and materials. Both are important in the market.  Recognizing the broad range of needs in the market, Voxeo plays both ends of the spectrum with services ranging from the self-service Tropo and Imified platforms, all the way to custom built applications with100% uptime SLA’s based on their Prophecy and Prism platforms.

The voice service provider of tomorrow will probably be much more like today’s SaaS providers – a hosted Voice as a Service business. “VaaS” will deliver a core managed and hosted voice service, decoupled from both the context of use and from the internet service provider. The service package will include not just voice, but detailed statistics, group management controls, and more. And it will bristle with API’s that will enable an ecosystem of other players to be built around it.

These in turn will unlock the value of stored voice assets, allowing the growth voice as an organizational asset. Iotum, for example, has stored every recording made by users of its Calliflower system since it was first introduced. Newcomer HarQen takes this to the next level, focusing exclusively on what do to with voice data once a call terminates. Both companies are in contrast but complementary to metered transport models, and both recognize that there is value in those voice assets beyond the termination fee charged during their creation. For example, HarQen has built a database of over 100,000 phone based job interviews that is not only valuable today, but as that database grows into the millions, may transform recruiting tomorrow. HarQen’s business model focuses on monetizing voice as a rich media asset that can be archived, which is how they’re able to turn a $.10 phone call into an $11.57 voice asset that customers are lining up to pay for.

Winners and Losers

For some time, Voice 3.0 is going to be a messy hybrid of delivery technologies. The Internet will be “reliably unreliable”. Telcos will stake out a corner. The “under the floor” players like Ericsson will take an increasingly large role in creating and managing voice-ready delivery networks. Some of the cloud communications and commerce infrastructure players like Apple, Google and Amazon may reverse themselves into owning delivery assets to just “make it work”.

Don’t be confused by the messiness.

Today’s large voice network suppliers – the companies that have always relied on constraining supply as their business model – must change or fail in the wake of companies focused on meeting demand. Ironically, the network asset that many telco’s market as their chief advantage may just be their largest liability. The technical rigidity of large telco infrastructure (and sclerotic business models) may just lock the incumbents out of the game, as they struggle to keep up with the massive proliferation of 10 billion non-telco voice nodes on networks. Moreover, the temporary solution of bridging to and from the PSTN actually weakens their ability to compete by artificially enlarging the network effect of upstarts like Skype.

Network effects in the Voice 3.0 world become even more important. Will an open standard emerge? Although many die-hard networking folks would prefer that scenario, it’s hard to say. We may find ourselves in a world where a dominant proprietary player like Skype controls the platform, as a result of winning the race to build thriving developer ecosystems, and the applications that customers use and want.

And new opportunities will explode onto the scene as businesses perhaps not even imagined today will discover how to turn a $.10 phone call, into a $10 voice asset.

Acknowledgements: Many people in our industry contributed their time and ideas to this posting over the last few weeks. I’d like to publicly thank Andy Abramson, Jonathan Christensen, Evan Cooke, Dean Elwood, Kelly Fitzsimmons, Martin Geddes, Thomas Howe, Erik Lagerway, Irv Shapiro, Dan York, and most of all Lee Dryburgh, who provided the initial impetus.

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