21 June 2016

Cloud storage made in France


Sharing this good deal from HubiC, a cloud storage service provided by well-known French company OVH, whose datacenters are located in France.

Free 30Gb of cloud storage space with this code: TJDWYK

In addition to a basic drive sync service across devices, they offer a great directory backup service expandable to 55Gb totally free through their referral program.

06 October 2011

Being Steve Jobs' boss

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

from Steve Jobs' Stanford University Commencement Speech 2005

This is the occasion to repost this excellent article "Being Steve Jobs' boss" published in Business Week a year ago.

06 November 2010

Microsoft forecats cloudy weather over enterprise UC&C

Nearly 10 years after Cisco & Skype initiated the VoIP revolution that has transformed Telephony into Unified Communications, Microsoft is gearing up to rip the combined benefits of IP convergence and cloud computing with the launch of Office 365.

If the solution primarily takes aim at Google Apps -and also at "Skype for business" when the voice components are fully operational next year- on the SMB market segment, it should also be noted that it is a most valuable add-on to their on-premise UC&C offering for larger companies -as Lync server is claimed to be the PBX killer by Microsoft who has declared war to the incumbent vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens and consorts.

Microsoft's interest for voice applications in the enterprise communication space is not new (TAPI, Netmeeting, Speech API) but it gained momentum in 2007 with the release of Exchange Unified Messaging & Office Communication Server products.

Since then Microsoft has made consistent efforts to streamline the initial architecture of the OCS solution (thus allowing for it to run on virtual machines) and build a full featured API for application developers rather than trying to bring extra features & sophistication to the Enterprise Voice product in an attempt to compete with traditional PBXs capabilities.

This is quite the contrary of what Cisco did. We should see if this strategy is equally successful by the end of next year.

Lync Launch video

03 August 2010

Dial On Phone for Exchange Unified Messaging

Slimphony introduces the unified click-to-dial concept through its new Dial On Phone solution.

Dial On Phone is a SIP based click to dial productivity solution that enables users to place calls from any desktop applications or a URL link to any telephony target (PSTN or VOIP protocol) through their desk phones -or any other (authorized) phone device of their choice.

Most click-to-call solutions are adherent to the PBX and do not support the dialling of VOIP protocols (sip, skype, msn, gtalk, etc...) alphanumeric addresses. Dial On Phone is PBX vendor independent and can either transfer or bridge calls between PBXs, SIP gateways or SIP trunks.

The Dial On Phone solution was originally designed to allow Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging users to call back the sender of a voice mail by simply clicking on the Caller-Id URL link provided in Outlook -a capability only offered to Microsoft Office Communication Server users. Hence the name, in comparison with the "Play On Phone" Exchange UM feature, as well as the architecture of the "Dial On Phone" solution which is fully compliant with the Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging architecture with its Web Services front-end.

By leveraging on SIP both as a first-party CTI protocol and to interconnect TDM & VOIP communication silos, the Dial On Phone solution is the glue that turns your desktop into a URL & Copy/Paste style dialer, and your existing desk phone into a multi-protocol endpoint.

Visit the Dial On Phone site for further details & download.

06 July 2009

Electrosmog 2.0 unleashed

Why does this woman have such a great smile ? Because she's chatting up with friends on Facebook all day long from her office through a Wifi hotspot connection while answering one of the many GSM calls from her lovers ? Most likely. Or maybe it is just a side-effect of her exposure to the electrical field generated by the wireless devices she is using ? Who knows ?

There has been a massive worldwide adoption of wireless communications technology over the past decade and this is an ongoing trend -note that neither the telecom crisis in 2000 nor the financial crisis in 2007 had any impact on the ever growing user base of mobile operators (a very profitable business). As a result, the urban environment we live in is often saturated with electromagnetic waves. This is called the electrosmog.

Measuring accurately the electrosmog is not an easy task: it requires the use of expensive devices as well as following a measurement protocol. However, providing an approximative measure is possible with affordable electronic parts and good engineering -the main innovation shown below actually lies in the use of a shoe box as packaging material... not so stylish but at least 100% recyclable! ;)

Such a device is useful if you want to have a rough idea of your unwanted exposure to electrosmog. How much exposed am I in my bedroom where I spend 10 hours a day ? (OK I'm a lazy guy;) ? How far is this $500000 house from a telecom mast ? What if I stand near people using wireless devices ?

All of the questions above require instantaneous recurrent measures to get answered, and these can only be delivered by a personal electrosmog meter. Such devices already exist, but in my opinion their price and features can be much improved for the consumer market.

Below are a few snapshots of the data output provided by my low cost device which provides both average electrical field density in Volt per meter and peak statistics for the GSM/DECT, UMTS and Wireless LAN frequency bands.

04 July 2009

Shanghai surprise

As a celebration for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, a total solar eclipse will take place on July 22nd. If you have a chance to get into the path of totality, don't miss it! This is a very unique mind-blowing experience.

The July 22, 2009, total solar eclipse begins at sunrise in India, and from there the Moon's shadow zips across eastern Asia. The track crosses China for much of the morning before leaving the mainland near Shanghai. Observers just south of this city will experience nearly 6 minutes of totality. The track then moves out over the Pacific Ocean.

If you cannot make it this time, check out the following map of the forthcoming total eclipses of the Sun. Maybe there is one closer to your place in a few years!

03 April 2009

Open source hardware

Embedded product development is on the edge of going mainstream as the main barrier for product innovators, which used to be the lack of ready-to-use, customisable & documented hardware has collapsed. Indeed companies such as Raisonance from France or Hitex from Germany now provide low-cost and full-featured devices to get quickly started on a project.

The latest Primer2 whose design is fully documented is built around the latest STM32 microcontroller from ST Microelectronics and is about the size of a cellphone, and comes with a 128x160-pixel color touchscreen, audio capabilities, a built-in USB port, a MicroSD card slot, and other features, such as an accelerometer and an infrared transmitter/receiver, that allow developers to quickly add extra capabilities to their applications.

The STM32 circle online community, named after the open source CircleOS project that powers the Primer2, counts around 6000 developers from hobbyists to professionals who want to quickly turn a concept into an attractive-looking demonstrator -rather than a conventional engineering development board- with minimal design-start investment.

The explosion of the mobile phone market has made embedded devices affordable enough for new usages in home automation or environmental monitoring for instance and this is clearly a market opportunity for innovators... which should receive a boost from Microsoft who is trying to commoditise the embedded software development process with its .Net MicroFramework... but the task is tedious given that there is a number of hardware manufacturers (Atmel, Freescale, Microchip, NXP, ST Microelectronics, Texas instruments) who are adressing vertical markets each with a significant market share... -no Intel-like company in the embedded world to partner with that is!

19 December 2008

Electrosmog 2.0

The "no cellphone under the age of 12" advertising campaign recently launched by the city of Lyon is the first ever of this kind in France. Indeed, the telecommunications industry still is a flagship industry in France and RF safety -that is the effects on the human body and the environment of radiofrequency radiation- is not really a major concern today. As a result, independent research in the field do not get enough public funding (this is an understatement) and the government's rules regarding human exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are laxists (another understatement;)

However, the topic is taking momentum amongst the scientific & medical communities and, as for other environmental related health issues (pesticides, food additives, chicken flue, nuclear safety, etc...) it will take some time to make the headlines, but it undoubtedly will... Why ?

Because even though there is still not enough evidence of their nocivity -equally due to the lack of hindsight and the lack of proper monitoring and funding- the effects of RF radiation on human tissues & the hormonal & nervous systems are obvious. The questions to answer are rather : when does it become nocive ? to what extent ? how can we best accomodate for it -at both individual and collective levels ?

Electrosmog (RF radiation exposure -I am not talking about the 50Hz electrical wires exposure here) has been around since radio broadcasting took off and has kept increasing ever since.

  • Eletrosmog 1.0 (radio & TV broadcasting) is characterized by high signal levels in the lower RF frequency range (below ~700MHz)

  • Electrosmog 2.0 (wireless networks) is characterized by low to medium pulsed signal levels in the higher frequency range (above ~700MHz up to ~6GHz)

Electrosmog 1.0 mainly goes through the body whereas Electrosmog 2.0 is mainly absorbed.

Today the top contributors to Electrosmog 2.0 in terms of intensity (at short distance) usally are the microwave oven (~900 or ~2400 MHz), the DECT corless phone (~1800 MHz), the cellphone (~900 & ~1800 MHz) and the wifi devices (~2400 MHz). But the top contributors in terms of exposure (duration/distance) are the GSM (~900 & ~1800 MHz) and UMTS (~2100 MHz) base stations antennas.
Radars (military & civil) are the biggest contributors -but are usually not directed toward the ground ;) whereas satellite communications systems are the smallest.

Finally, it is interesting to note that "natural" radiations (from the cosmos) at the frequencies stated above are almost nonexistent.

24 September 2008

Un-unified communications

Cisco recently announced the take over of Jabber & Postpath to complement their unified communication offering. This news item would have probably gone unoticed if the two companies were not editors of... open source software! I wonder if the next one on Cisco's shopping list isn't Digium ? -the well known editor of Asterisk! ;)

It really seems that Cisco's UC strategy is shaken since Microsoft launched its offensive in the field... and Microsoft's comment about the deal is quite acid :

"In early 2007, Cisco was touting their three year lead on Microsoft in UC. Now, Cisco seems to have decided they were running in the wrong direction - and perhaps even in the wrong race. In the last month, Cisco has added two new software pieces to their UC puzzle and are now playing catch up to companies like Microsoft and Nortel who have long seen that the path to UC was in powerful, well-integrated software, not wires. Cisco’s offering is the definition of un-unified communications. With more than 40 products, their solution is a patchwork of technologies and networking. The risk for customers is that a patchwork system is slower to roll out, harder to train users, and more expensive to manage and maintain over the long term." according to Microsoft's UC vice president.

Indeed, Cisco is no longer a challenger in the UC arena but is not the leader either. The challenger role has been taken over by Microsoft and Open source solutions, while historical telecom manafacturers (Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Siemens, etc) are no longer seen as old-fashionned, have adapted to the VoIP paradigm and have preserved a significant market share.

Furthermore they will not fight to death with Microsoft as they did with Cisco, because Cisco was attacking their core-business (voice switching) whereas Microsoft is on the edge (computer telephony integration). Their strategy against Microsoft consists in providing fully fledged interoperability (as well as for the other collaboration software editors like IBM or Novell) and a cheaper proprietary alternative.

However, I have to agree that this is nothing but the same patchwork architecture that was used in the TDM environment... indeed, VoIP has not changed much things in the application space to date (the only really new application that has come forth being the softphone).

03 September 2008

Telepresence 3.0

Cisco and other players such as Polycom are making a lot of marketing fuss around telepresence solution (basically a HD video conference on large screen with audio surround effects) and it is often seen as a "green" solution as it is supposed to cut down business trips.

Frankly speaking, I do not find video conference solutions as useful as they are claimed to be given that they do not bring much value to existing web conferences (voice + application sharing) and do not substitute to a face to face meeting, but do require much more hardware and power!

However, I have to admit that I have been very impressed by the holographic telepresence demo made by Cisco a few months ago. I think there is a future for that kind of engaging communication experience, so long as engineers can make it an affordable box size solution!

07 July 2008

Flashphony goes P2P

Enabling new application such as unified messaging, presence, videophone, etc... has probably been the most widely (mis)used selling point from Voice over IP technology vendors, well ahead of more basic but real benefits such as cabling, hardware and maintenance optimization.

Indeed, there are actually very few new applications that have come along VoIP. Amongst them, Flash based telephony is probably one of my favorite.

Along with the Ribbit project (which I have already addressed previously), there is a number of new projects popping out here and there that I wanted to share with you :

  • Tringme bridges Flash with SIP

  • Tokbox is a Flash videophone

  • Vawkr is a chat room for web 2.0 sites

All this is very well, but one thing to bear in mind is that Flash telephony is based on a client/server architecture which results in poor scalability & call quality since all the network flows have to be bridged through the Flash interactive media server.

Hopefully, Adobe has announced support for P2P in the forthcoming Flash 10 release -making therefore all previous flashphony implementations legacy! Furthermore, the P2P feature will probably be embedded into Flash Lite, the Flash plugin for mobile devices (whose market penetration, although growing, is not so good to date because mobile OS vendors are considering it a major threat for their own API).

However, a Flash server will still be required as a registrar and to handle some signalling trafic as well. A good way for Adobe to protect its revenues, all the more some alternative implementations of the Flash media server such as Wowza or Red5 become increasingly popular.

02 July 2008

Our body

"Our boby" also known as "bodies" and "bodyworld" is a fascinating exhibition that show in details how is made and how works the human body. The bodies presented are all real human bodies provided by the Anatomical & Technologies foundation of Hong-Kong.

The exhibition has been seen so far by more than 30 million people and is currently being held in Lyon, France. This is a very unique opportunity to discover & learn in a way that is normally reserved to surgeons only.

Visit the web site for more information (only in French).

Below is an excellent commented tour of the exhibition that took place in the USA.

27 May 2008

web 2 - voice 0

The introduction of voice interactions into the social web seems to be a failure in most cases as reported by most observers of the voice 2.0 scene. This article published on the LatestGeekNews blog unveils voice applications usage on Facebook statitics that clearly show how useless they seem to be. It is very much likely that the mainstream Facebook user is not quite the target for these applications, but another major concern about voice applications is that their unicast connection model does not fit well in the social networking space, built around multicast connections. Furthermore, a voice interaction is by nature conversational and content-rich unlike instant messaging interactions : engaging in a phone conversation is a much deeper experience than dropping a chat line on a wall under a nickname cover; not only is it real-time, it is also real-life!

Looking beyond voice applications for the social web, it is an understament to say that the voice 2.0 has not come up with much innovation as pointed in a recent article on FierceVOIP that acknowledges the failure of the VoIP industry to deliver more than IP transport: "Voice 2.0 is here, but there's been no big killer application, it's all just variations of a theme for call forwarding and voice mail and some APIs to slap voice into a web service."

The telecommunication industry, who has embraced the unified communication concept -that is preserving communications silos by providing unified access- is clearly not fostering innovation -which will come from software companies. But after all, this best-of-breed approach is maybe just commonsense as suggested in this crystal clear post from a media expert.

There is however an area where voice 2.0 seems to have delivered its promises : voice search. Indeed, the is a real market need for that kind of application, notably for nomadic users, and providers are fighting to differentiate themselves from the plain old voice search services :

  • Google focuses on ASR technology

  • Chacha is powered by real agents

  • Jingle is building a voice ad network

  • Yahoo focuses on mobile web-enriched content

01 May 2008

Big blue wants to be big green

The costly mainframe technology was ditched out in the 90's in favor of x86 based server platforms but global warming considerations give a significant TCO advantage to large systems according to IBM. The company has performed several surveys regarding the energy efficiency of IT systems and is coming up with results that fully support their green computing approach.

Nearly 60% of the total energy consumption of a computing system is dedicated to cooling.

The remaining 40% are mainly used for powering peripherals (70%) and the CPU (30%).

When taking a closer look at the CPU, it turns out to be idle 80% of the time. Indeed, the processor activity rate is only 10% for a x86 Microsoft Windows system, 25% for a x86 Unix system but can reach up to 75% for a mainframe system.

Beyond these technical facts, IBM research have come up with calculations that have a much greater marketing impact :

  • A single search request on the internet affords for the electrical comsumption of a 70W bulb in a year

  • An avatar on Second Life requires as much energy as a middle-class brazilian

A Gartner study says information technology was responsable for 2% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions last year - equivalent to all the planet's airlines combined.

Big blue strategy to address the market is three-fold : better cooling, enhanced hardware design and last but not least virtualisation.

Find out more about the greening of corporate data centers on the Raised Floor blog and on the IBM website.

30 March 2008

HMI 3.0 : sensitive objects ?

HMI 1.0 (Human Machine Interface) was keyboard/screen. HMI 2.0 came with the mouse and the graphical user interface. What will be the HMI 3.0 ? Voice recognition technology is so complex that I doubt it will ever reach maturity. The successful come back of touch screen technology in the mobile computing segment seems to have given a new momentum to haptic technology -to such an extent that Microsoft is about to releasing its own MS Surface product.

Remember the cutting-edge HMI in "Minority report" ? This is precisely what haptic technology is all about. Sensitive object, a spin off from the French National Research Center (CNRS), has developed a technology based on the recognition of sound waves propagated in an object when the user touches it. A tap on an object produces a pattern of sound waves through the material. This pattern creates an acoustic signature that is unique to the location of the impact.

With this technology, it is possible to turn most objects into usable HMI. Beyond the "demo flat" marketing hype presented in the video below, the technology can have many innovative & useful applications across many domains of activity.

28 February 2008

Voice... the last 2.0 frontier ?

Ever since I discorevered Wengo's flash based widget allowing voice & video calling from the Web nearly two years ago, and when I later heard about GrandCentral, it was clear to me that the long awaited reshaping of the communications market was under way! It seems that Ribbit, who claims to be the first Silicon Valley's phone company, may be the first to deliver this vision.

Ribbit is about to release an API to its multi-protocol class 5 softswitch that will allow any developer to easily integrate voice into all kind of applications, with a focus on social networking apps in the first place.

On top of the telco & web features, the ribbit team has crammed into the platform a bunch of cool features such as the speech-to-text transcription, the caller-id 2.0 & the revenue-sharing style licensing.

On the user side, access to the service only requires sms messaging and the ability to activate conditional call forwarding. If this latter is provided free of charge by most US mobile carriers, it is not the case in other countries (notably in Europe) and this is clearly a contentious issue : mobile carriers, through their call charge policy, have the capacity to make third-party telco 2.0 initiatives stick to a niche market (note that the rates applied by Ribbit for moving around the calls have not yet been made public). This is the very reason why Google's plans are to shake up the mobile carrier market in every possible way.

Below is a demo of the amphibian softphone, which makes my forever4035 look like a legacy one! I guess Ribbit will be facing a much stronger competition from Skype, Google and Yahoo! ;)

14 February 2008

A vision of students today

"A vision of students today" is a video clip that is only a piece of a very interesting initiative led by Prof. Wesch from Kansas University around digital ethnography. There is indeed a lot to say about the dramatic impact of the media into the classroom. The clip sadly highlights that the classroom is no longer a sanctuary for learning, and that students tend to turn away from academic knowledge.

According to Prof. Wesch "the most significant problem in education today is the problem of significance itself. Our students, our most important critics, are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education".

I fully agree with him. However, significance is a human concept that does not like the vacuity of our mass globalized society : significance in education is the result of a combination of secular academic culture, years of learning effort, endless days of self-questionning and unforgetable hours spent in the classroom with charismatic teachers. Our world has destroyed most of this in less than two decades! Useless to say that it will take much longer to restore a hint of significance in education -if ever!

Knowledge is not information. Knowledge can be wrong, not fake. Knowledge cannot easily be found in a search engine or in a YouTube video. Knowledge is not a product. Knowledge can grow, can be lost, can be useful or useless. Knowledge loves to be chased. Knowledge loves to be shared. Knowledge's home is the brain, knowledge's house is the classroom!

06 December 2007

Desperately hilarious Web2.0 bubble video

Brought to you by blonde2.0 whose blog is worth a visit if you are interested in social networking issues.

03 December 2007

Mobile OS : Google in the starting blocks

With Android, the brand new mobile OS from the Open Handset Alliance led by Google, the mobile phone industry, is about to experience what the landline phone industry went through over the last decade : a small revolution. This open-source initiative is very promising in terms of software innovation and will foster competition at all levels of the chain : device manufacturers, mobile network operators, OS providers & application providers. However, if mobile network operators have a keen interest to deliver more services to their subscribers, if they are ready to share a part of their revenue with other players on a niche market (like for the introduction of Apple's iPhone), most of them are clearly reluctant to change their very profitable business model for the mass market (3 billions users worldwide).

Despite their strong market position & "welcome-in-our-world" attidude, Symbian & Microsoft must be sweating out watching this video! The mobile phone market is huge : Nokia, the leader manufacturer with a 35% market share claims to sell 1.2 million phone a day!

More about the technical aspects of the so called GPhone in this excellent article from the InformationWeek blog.

More about the impacts of the GPhone initiative in this article from the NYTimes blog which also figures out why Google will probably have to either build from scratch or take over a mobile network operator in the US (even though Sprint Nextel & T-mobile have already jumped on the bandwagon). Google has announced it is applying to participate in the 700 MHz spectrum auction in the US.

Finally, check out the official Google mobile blog for the latest news.

20 November 2007

Free video softphone for Alcatel OXE

Video call escalation (peer-to-peer) is now supported in forever4035. It works with any webcam that has a Windows driver. The video is encoded on the fly with the TrueMotion VP7 Personal Edition codec which delivers amazing real time video quality even at low bandwith (300 kbps). VP7 Personal Edition is a free version of On2's industry-leading award winning VP7 codec used in Skype.

Version 1.3 gets rid of the netmeeting conference capability (replaced by Meeting Spaces in Vista) and can therefore be installed on any Windows distribution. Follow this link to download the forever4035 UA softphone freeware.

Unleash the power of the proprietary Alcatel UA protocol and rip out the benefits of computer-telephony convergence. The forever4035 is a full-featured .net emulation of the famous 4035 e-reflexe hardware phone set. In addition it provides a set of API both for first party CTI integration & Softphone integration into business application : design the softphone that suits your own specific needs in your own custom environment!

forever4035 main features :

  • All telephony features available on the 4035 e-reflexe hardware phone set, including telephony presence
  • Click to dial selected items from any windows application (custom windows hot keys)
  • Toggle PC speakers, headset and speakerphone devices in one click
  • Conversation recording
  • Message Waiting Indicator
  • Phone set supervision bar
  • one-click peer-to-peer video call escalation
  • Embedded Web browser
  • Windows desktop toolbar & taskbar integration
  • Windows Internet Explorer integration

forever4035 APIs :

  • . NET in-process library (can also be exposed as a COM interface)
  • XML-RPC out-process server (web services interface)

forever 4035 codecs support :

  • G711
  • G723 & G729 : upon request
  • QoS : DiffServ

forever4035 language support :

  • English
  • French
  • Other languages : upon request

forever4035 pre-requisites :

  • .NET framework 1.1 or later
  • IE6 or later
  • OXE (or 4400) with IP phone support

12 November 2007

Video capture & streaming made easy with VideoCapX

The video call feature in the forever4035 softphone is powered by Fathsoft VideoCapX component. VideoCapX solves the need to grab, save and/or stream images and video sequences. VideoCapX works with any WDM / VfW - compliant device. That means, if a camera has Windows drivers, it works with VideoCapX.

VideoCapX is a very powerful ActiveX that hides the complexity of capturing & streaming video from the developer and comes with a complete set of samples for all flavours of windows programing languages.

Fathsoft is also the editor of a number of affordable ready-to-use components that can drastically streamline application development in the field of video & image processing, bar-coding solutions, as well as encryption, compression, email and ftp utilities.

17 October 2007

Microsoft knocks down pbx vendors

Microsoft's entry into the unified communication business was expected to shake the market, but their plan go beyond merely challenging the established leaders. As opposed to Cisco who challenged a few years ago the telecom manufacturers on VoIP with a bottom-up strategy (from the trunks to the unified app), Microsoft has a top-down strategy, which is quite understandable.

Microsoft's marketing campaign "voip as you are" is not as bold as it gets : the message it conveys clearly goes through. We can expect pretty much the same as what happened with Cisco in the early 2000's where their strong marketing & branding allowed them to enter the market with an offer that was not mature enough. All the more the unified app technology is not disruptive unlike VoIP.

Unlike the VoIP revolution that took them by surprise, all Pbx vendors are already prepared for the challenge: they all have a unified communication suite... but they just don't sell it! Why ? Because it's not quite open, not quite convergent, not quite useful either but damned expensive! So in the end they have left the door wide open for Microsoft! Cisco may be the one vendor who has the most to lose in this battle. And Google yet has to join the fray... the reshaping of the corporate communications market is under way.

Keep up to date with Microsoft's UC Group Team blog.

23 August 2007

C2C and the valuation of knowledge

The popular Consumer to Consumer (C2C) business model is extending from goods to knowledge. If people can sell what they own, why shouldn't they be able to sell what they know ?

Early (pure) players are Ether and Bitwine from the US and Wengo from France. They allow anyone to register a service and provide a C2C communication and billing platform. A major player, Skype (owned by eBay -the C2C reference!), has recently launched a similar service and this should boost the market given its 170+ millions user base. Another smaller player is Yedda (acquired by AOL in November 2007).

However, the initiative may not prove as successful as expected in the first instance : knowledge is an intangible asset that is not easy to monetize -all the more we are dealing here with informal knowledge or information. Up to now, the only pricing model offered is based on a premium call rate per minute set by the service provider.

Furthermore, this emerging C2C business model is facing other more conventional challenges which seem rather tough to address :

  • creation of value
  • quality monitoring
  • selectivity & differentiation
  • customer retention (on both ends)
  • regulatory issues
  • up-selling & cross-selling strategy

Indeed, unlike B2C business models, such as private coaching for instance, there is no control over human ressources.

Nevertheless, this is also the very reason why this initiative may lead to new usages and ventures by enabling minipreneurship.

I strongly believe there is a huge potential around this concept. I also have a few ideas around service standardisation, interoperability and pricing that could be worth it... basically, introducing a B between the C's like in C2B2C!

11 August 2007

C2C goes mobile : for better or for worse

The mobile industry is thriving : m-commerce has become the latest B2C frontier. Every organisation wants its fair share of the cake : network operators, software editors, device manufacturers, banks, advertising agencies, online stores and doughnut street shops as well! Why that ?

For serving customers better ? No.
For making life easier to customers ? Maybe.
For bombing customers with targeted ads ? Yes.
For squeezing more cash more often out of subscribers ? Undoubtedly.

Do you remember how the cookie technology has revolutionized the Web ? How it is serving organisations of all kinds to gather information and build marketing datamarts ? Well, think of the mobile phone as a persistent private cookie capable of providing localisation & presence information and you'll get the picture! M-business clearly brings customer reach & segmentation to the ultimate level : the individual level.

The C2C business model being precisely built by and for individuals, it should be at the forefront of m-business applications. Indeed, while the B2C industry focuses on m-payment, m-ticketing & m-navigation applications, the C2C industry has come up with some interesting ventures :

Want to set up mobile premium services ? Check out Zong.

Want to set up a MVNO business ? Check out Sonopia.

Want to benefit from VoIP flat rates from your mobile phone ? Check out Mobivox.

Want to publish for mobile users and create your own QR-codes ? Check out Winksite.

Finally, for those who want to keep up to date with the mobile industry, visit the MobileMonday network as well as the telecom & mobile section of Springwise.

04 July 2007

Google is moving one step further in the VoIP segment

With the purchase of GrandCentral, Google is clearly showing its intentions to become a major player in the VoIP arena.

With recent initiatives like the Click-to-call and the Goog411 services, Google is pushing the integration of voice interactions into its core product portfolio. With this acquisition, Google is extending to unified communications.

The next step for Google is to enhance its Google Talk client application in order to have it compete with Skype, MSN or Yahoo real time communications client so that it reaches a much larger user base. The challenge being to make Google Talk as attractive to home users as to business users.

Finally to achieve full fixed & mobile convergence for voice and data, Google is taking a close look at the upcoming 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction in the US : read the story on BusinessWeek and on Google's public policy blog. In other countries, Google is seeking partnership opportunities with leading mobile operators, such as Orange and Vodafone in Europe.

16 June 2007

Voice signature

The voice vault solution seems promising as more and more transactions are performed through a call center interaction and from mobile devices : customers are not willing any more to speak out loud over and over again their private details or to key in PINs they can't remember to authenticate themselves.

The concept of voice signature can bring innovative alternative ways of performing tasks that require strong authentication such as payment for instance : Voice-Pay is a start-up that is doing just that.
The solution can be hosted or integrated with existing IVR systems. More information on VoiceVault web site. You can also check out the site of another player in the field of voice boimetrics: Persay

However, this technology is a clear threat to privacy. As far as I know, only intelligence agencies had access to this kind of technology. Now every one is in "the first circle" (in reference to a famous novel).

15 June 2007

Open source softswitch

Freeswitch is a brand new initiative led by a former Asterisk developer.
It is rather a softswitch than a PBX whose main interest lies in its modularity, scalability and integration capabilities : it can provide in-process and out-process call control in a variety of programming languages. It can be compiled & executed both on Linux and Windows platforms.

The first release is expected shortly. In the meantime, you can read the story behind Freeswitch.

01 March 2007

The corporate communications business model : time for a change!

Until the recent advent of so called IP communications, corporate communications services were siloed and the market was dominated by historical telecom equipment vendors.

A few years ago, the model was challenged as VoIP was pushed into the corporate IT infrastructure. At the same time, broadband internet connections have become more and more commonplace both for home & corporate users who were given the opportunity to experiment rich & cheap communications technology, while mobile communications reached out the masses.

This has resulted in a drastic change of the corporate communications paradigm : from proprietary technology to open standards, from client/server architecture to peer-to-peer, from multimedia to unified communications.

All leading technology vendors have jumped on the bandwagon, with different strategies to achieve the same goal : to protect their revenues. As a matter of fact, innovation is far below expectations at the end of the day.

But they missed out the fact that, so long as network continuity & interoperability is guaranteed, unification is not achieved at the infrastructure level but rather at the end user level :

  • The Network side is the job of integrated fixed & mobile network service providers

  • The End user side is the job of device manufacturers & software companies

Indeed, mobile devices & portable applications are bound to supersede any other type of end user equipment for the corporate user who will expect a true unified & seamless communications experience both at and away from the workplace.

This is why the driving forces of corporate unified communications will no longer be telecom equipment vendors but network service providers & end user experience champions who will have succeeded in the residential market segment.

Recent news illustrate this ongoing trend :
  • Yahoo! has partnered with Nokia Siemens,

  • Microsoft has partnered with Motorola, Philips & Nortel,

  • Cingular Wireless has partnered with Apple in the US,

  • SFR mobile has taken over Tele2 Internet broadband business in France,

  • Skype has a miriad of hardware device manufacturer partners,

  • Orange business services has partnered with Microsoft to provide hosted unified communications services

  • Google, who has partnered with Cap Gemini, is targeting the corporate market with its Google Apps suite,
and the hosted solutions business model (outsourcing & midsourcing) is more and more appealing to companies of all sizes.

However, as opposed to the home market, the corporate market does require professional & consulting services on top of the technology offer. On that front, Microsoft, along with IBM & HP clearly have a distinct advantage. This is also why technology integrators are taken over by service providers.

The reshaping of the business model is also an opportunity for open source initiatives to go mainstream in the corporate segment so long as they are backed up by established firms like Red Hat & Novell, should they recall that “marketing comes first, management next and engineering last” - but not least!

18 February 2007

forever4035 vs MyPhoneIpDesktop

This article aims at clarifying two contentious issues that have been raised by Alcatel with regards to the publication on this blog of the forever4035 softphone :

  1. intellectual property : the UAUDP protocol is a proprietary protocol that cannot be used without authorization from Alcatel

  2. commercial competition : the forever4035 jeopardizes sales of the MyPhoneIpDesktop application

Before I proceed with this, it is important to recall that these two points are not independent of each other (Intellectual Property Law is meant to protect revenue), but for the clarity of the discussion, I have chosen to address them separately.

First point : intellectual property

Alcatel’s UAUDP protocol clearly is a proprietary protocol. Application partners can request authorization to use it in their products and will receive support from Alcatel to do so if their request is accepted.

Slimphony not being an application partner of Alcatel it has no chance to be eligible for support from Alcatel. As it is stated in the forever4035 license agreement, the forever4035 softphone implements some parts of the UAUDP protocol (on the client side) and this implementation has been achieved through reverse engineering.

It is of course not in my intention to breach any intellectual property right held by Alcatel over the UAUDP protocol.

To date, there is to my knowledge no evidence that this could be the case.

I hereby suggest Alcatel to provide detailed information on any patent or end user license agreement regarding the use of the UAUDP protocol on the client side and to clarify what is allowed or not when an IP Phone license is purchased for the OmniPCX Enterprise system.

Second point : commercial competition

I believe this to be crystal clear for anyone who plans to download and use the forever4035 softphone : as opposed to the MyPhoneIpDesktop application, the forever4035 is not a commercial product and does not benefit from a professional technical support, neither has it taken any formal compatibility tests with the OmniPCX Enterprise.

Furthermore it is clearly stated in the license agreement that the forever4035 is a freeware that cannot be used for commercial purposes.

However, the forever4035 has some innovative features that make it attractive and unique. I believe these features can make OmniPCX Enterprise users aware of the benefits of genuine IP Telephony and therefore act as a booster for developing further computer telephony integration.

14 January 2007

Asterisk Voice Portal

Voice portal technology (in short VoiceXML capable IVR technology) is now available for the Asterisk Open Source PBX from I6NET at a very competitive price.

Voice portal technology vendors are either big players such as Genesys and Cisco or niche players such as Voxeo and Voxpilot and the like. Their offer is so expensive that it only targets the carrier and large enterprise market, leaving out the mid-market either to the legacy IVR vendors or to the hosted application service providers.

However, legacy IVR do not meet the requirements of the mid-market companies who are massively adopting ToIP & convergence whereas application service provider pricing is clearly dissuasive for most of them. There is therefore a huge potential for a low-cost full-featured voice portal platform in the mid-market segment. This makes sense to Microsoft as well who has entered the IP IVR market recently with its competitive Speech Server offer.

Asterisk is to date the #1 Open Source PBX on the market and benefits from a vivid ecosystem. I6NET has designed VXIasterisk, a VoiceXML commercial but very affordable plugin for Asterisk, that allows to turn it into a true voice portal. This Asterisk voice portal can be used as a standalone server or in a behind-the-switch configuration with SIP connectivity as illustrated below.

The VXIasterisk feature list is already impressive and is extending quickly with ASR and Video support in the pipe!

I have successfully tested the VXIasterisk 1.4 release with Asterisk 1.2 in a HA (2 redundant Asterisk servers in hot stand-by mode) behind-the-switch configuration. The switch was an Alcatel OXE R7 (Asterisk vxml ports declared as SIP users).

Useful resources for building your own sandbox without any hardware :

12 December 2006

Alcatel OmniPCX Entreprise VMware appliance

Run the OmniPCX Enterprise in the VMware environment and benefit from virtualization for :

  • testing : new features, new versions, upgrade procedure
  • demonstrating : to customers, to trainees, wherever they are
  • support : build as many systems as you need effortlessly

  • Detailed installation procedure

    Limitations :

  • there is no software equivalent to the Media Gateway or Crystal hardware which means : no voice guides, no PSTN access, no transcoding, etc... nevertheless the MG hardware is supported in this configuration

  • 30 days (renewable) trial period since there is no appropriate license for that purpose

  • performance may also be an issue depending on your host machine CPU/RAM configuration
  • 26 November 2006

    forever4035 softphone for Alcatel OmniPCX

    Slimphony is proud to announce the release of its compelling softphone for Alcatel OmniPCX Enterprise : the forever4035 softphone [download].

    Unleash the power of the proprietary Alcatel UA protocol and rip out the benefits of computer-telephony convergence.

    The forever4035 is a full-featured .net emulation of the famous 4035 e-reflexe hardware phone set.

    In addition it provides a set of API both for first party CTI integration & Softphone integration into business application : design the softphone that suits your own specific needs in your own custom environment!

    forever4035 main features :

    • All telephony features available on the 4035 e-reflexe hardware phone set, including telephony presence
    • Click to dial selected items from any windows application (custom windows hot keys)
    • Toggle PC speakers, headset and speakerphone devices in one click
    • Conversation recording
    • Message Waiting Indicator
    • Phone set supervision bar
    • Embedded Web browser
    • Windows taskbar integration
    • Windows Internet Explorer integration
    • Windows Desktop Toolbar integration

    forever4035 APIs :

    • . NET in-process library (can also be exposed as a COM interface)
    • XML-RPC out-process server (web services interface)

    forever 4035 codecs support :

    • G711
    • G723 & G729 : upon request
    • QoS : DiffServ

    forever4035 language support :

    • English
    • French
    • Other languages : upon request

    forever4035 pre-requisites :

    • .NET framework 1.1 or later
    • IE6 or later
    • OXE (or 4400) with IP phone support

    Download forever4035

    The forever4035 softphone is a freeware for use in a non-commercial environment. It is packaged as an MSI setup and can be installed on Windows 2000, XP and Vista -including in a VMware environment.

    The software can be downloaded from this link : forever4035 1.3 Freeware (final release, dated 20 November 2007)

    The zip archive's password is : pass4035

    See the README file for post-install and other useful instructions.

    You may need to download the .net framework. It is freely available from Microsoft.

    22 October 2006

    OXE VMware appliance setup

    This is a step by step guide for installing the OmniPCX Entreprise software in a VMware environement which can prove very useful for testing, training & support purposes.

    The VMware environment used here is VMware workstation 5.5 but other flavours should be working as well

    Step 1 : Create a new virtual machine with the VMWare wizard

    Step 2 : Configure a serial port on the VMware host

    Configure a serial port either mapped to the host physical port or to a named pipe for remote access.

    For serial port mapping to named pipe, use vmwaregateway or NPTP (named pipe tcp proxy) on the host to map the named pipe to a tcp port for convenient access from your favourite telnet program.

    Named Pipe TCP Proxy
    VMware Named Pipe to TCP Gateway

    Below is presented a snapshot of the NPTP configuration :

    Step 3 : Configure the OmniPCX Entreprise Installer

    If you don’t change the .vmx file settings to use a static address, start & stop your VM to have it generated. You can read it directly on the VMware console screen or in the .vmx file.

    Then configure the OmniPCX Installer. The call server type can be either "Appliance server" or "Blade server"(recommended).

    Step 4 : Start your Virtual Machine

    It will boot from the Network and load the linux and binaries for the telephone application.

    Up to R6.1.1, there is nothing else to do but wait for the installation process to complete.

    From R7, the network interface is no longer working after the linux has loaded so a few additional commands need to be entered by hand to have the system up and running.

    1. While the linux is loading, monitor the process on the console port. When it fails, hit return to get a prompt. The following error line should display : /sbin/runinstall: line 11: 38 Segmentation fault install --ks=ramdisk
    2. At the prompt, enter the following commands sequence : "ifconfig eth0 down" then "ifconfig eth0 hw ether [your MAC address]" then "ifconfig eth0 up" and finally "/sbin/runinstall" to resume the setup process
    3. Upon installation completion, make the hack above persistent across reboots by vi-editing as root user the /etc/rc.d/init.d/network file and adding a NIC configuration command line as shown below (replace the specified MAC address with your own):

    When the installation process is over, your VMware console screen should be looking like this :

    Step 5 : Configure the PBX

    You can now connect on the V24 console port of the PC or telnet the Named pipe TCP proxy to perform the configuration of the PBX : netadmin, database creation, etc... and insert your OPS in the system. Due to the mismatch between the VMware UUID & the CPU-ID, you have 30 days to go.

    Step 6 : When the 30 days period has elapsed...

    The painful way : either create a new empty database and reconfigure it from scratch or go through this installation process again and restore your existing database

    The painstaking way : submit a CPU-ID reallocation request to Alcatel and update your OPS configuration file ;)

    The smart way : renew the 30 days period by renaming /usr3/mao/software.mao to /usr3/mao/software.old, then reboot. Do it again the other way around.