Telephone as a platform, deconstructed

Last week I moderated a session that was supposed to discuss “how rise of IP (Internet Protocol) has turned telephone into the new platform”. My favorite VoIP guru, Aswath Rao, heard the MP3, and came-up with things which were not addressed at the panel, where I screwed up, and how the guys on the panel sent mixed messages. Here is what Aswath has to say:

The panel, mostly turned out to be mud fest between AT&T and Vonage. Given that you can hear the full session and many have blogged the event and my tardiness, I am not going to summarize the discussion. But I would like to tell you my reaction as I was hearing the session; it is a good opportunity to get on my soapbox.

  • Eslambolchi (AT&T) says that in PSTN, phones were dumb and that switch did all the work. But that has all changed in VoIP. (No, don’t ask him how this is so in CallVantage which uses MGCP.) That is why they are not calling it VoIP, but S(ervices)oIP. If the intelligence has really moved (and allowed to move) to the edges, then won’t the services be realized there. If so, then what is the role of the service providers? The forum didn’t address this point.
  • McCue (Tellme) says contradictory things: VoIP and VXML is a winning combination (according to CNET, he has been waiting for VoIP to take off) and there are infinite (2B was it?) PSTN phones that needs to be served. But nobody calls him on it. He chides AT&T and Vonage that they are thinking like phone companies (it is a put down if you didn’t know). He tells them that they should allow others to use the billing system so that others can offer “exciting new services” for a monthly business. In other words, everybody wants to be a phone company. In any event, what is an example of an exciting new service? It is Voice mail. Nobody tells him that voice mail could be realized by the customers for no additional cost . It looked like everybody is satisfied if there was an ARPU – the curse that is making VoIP look like POTS with a sex appeal. The same technology segment comes up with GMailFS that treats an email account as a file system, but tells us that we need something special to store voice messages and nobody raises an eyebrow.
  • From the floor Marc Cantor asks exasperatingly when will we have interoperability between different service providers and the rest of the audience agrees with a thunderous applause. Instead he should have said to the panel that we don’t need them because we can realize all the benefits of VoIP by ourselves without contributing to anybody’s APRU.
  • Nobody asks Om about the glaring absence of terminal vendors so that we can ask them why they are marketing their wares to the service providers rather than directly to us and when will they improve on the user interface, but maintain 12+1 button user interface.
    In short the forum did not instigate a change to the business paradigm; indeed it reinforced the false promise of ARPU business model.
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