I just wrapped up a two-day visit to the VON.x telephony show in San Jose. Below are some of the highs and lows from my experience at the show.
Most Lively Booth: BroadSoft
BroadSoft, a company that makes VOIP platforms and applications, then resells them to carriers and ITSPs (Internet telephony service providers), was at VON to talk about a new development effort called BroadSoft Xtended. In essence, BroadSoft has put together a snazzier and simplified interface for its old development APIs and protocols, and invited third-party developers to create applications to work with the platform.
The program's genesis was last summer when someone developed Unified Connector for Salesforce.com integrating BroadSoft's communications services directly into the CRM service -- allowing users to place and manage calls directly from customer records. Basically, this mashup sparked a flare within BroadSoft suggesting where to next take the platform.
Among the new applications for BroadSoft that were on display in the booth were ACT! by Sage, an even more fully featured communication integration into ACT! software; a Facebook widget allowing users to place a "CallMeNow" button on their Facebook pages; and SimulScribe, a voice mail-to-text translation service.
Of course, users can only really reap the benefits of these integrations if they are customers of one of the service providers powered by BroadSoft, but as Director of BroadSoft XTended Marketing Michael Lauricella boasted, BroadSoft powers over 300 ITSPs worldwide, including seven of the top 10 (and 13 of the top 25) globally. It looks like nine service providers are on board already (including SimpleSignal ), with many other interested parties currently in discussion now.
Best Single Demo: D2
D2 Technologies, a company that generally makes low-level VOIP software for chip implementations (protocol stacks and the like), was showing the newest fruits of its mCUE Mobile Convergence Software Solution. Representatives demoed for me a mobile contact manager solution that was above and beyond anything I'd seen before.
Every time the user logs in to a communication service (such as GMail, AIM, e-mail or an enteprise directory) the software would add the user's contacts to the mCUE contact list. Over time, the user builds an über contact list, and under every contact is each of the contact's different personalities. So if I wanted to contact my colleague Cameron Sturdevant, I would select his name and a submenu of his available personalities would pop up on screen, allowing me to decide whether to AIM him, e-mail him, send him text message or simply call him at any of the numbers I have on file.
I'm probably not doing it full justice here, but it was really slick.
Unfortunately, at this time, D2 is only working on Linux platforms, with Windows Mobile and other mobile operating system availability depending on customer demand. Bodes well for future Android users, I suppose, but leaves pretty much everyone out in the cold for now.
Best About-Face: Digium
In past VON conferences, Digium has extolled the Asterisk Appliance and AsteriskNow as the next big things from the company. Neither was to be seen anywhere at the show. Instead, Digium wanted only to talk about Switchvox, the Asterisk-appliance maker it bought last fall.
I have to admit, I've been pretty curious about Digium's purchase of Switchvox, since it already had so many distributions of Asterisk in the works already. Now, admittedly, the Switchvox management GUI was really nice when I looked at the product a couple years ago, and apparently there are a lot more features in the newest version, Switchvox 3.5. But I wanted to know exactly how Digium was handling the different versions it has to offer.
From the looks of things, Switchvox is going to be the new path forward on the open-source side of things for a full distribution (the actual Asterisk binaries for the central software will of course still be available as well.) For companies looking for indemnity, Asterisk Business Edition is still available and being actively developed for.
But what about those hardware and software appliances?
Apparently, the Asterisk Appliance is still being sold where applicable, but I didn't get the sense there was much activity from partners looking to adopt the device -- which was the whole point of developing the device in the first place.
On the other hand, it really seems like AsteriskNow is a lame duck, even if Version 1.0.2 did just come out last month. Mark Amick of Digium's Business Development group basically stated that the developer community hadn't embraced it, and without that community support, Digium had to look at going another way. So now there is a Switchvox Free Edition.
Best Tagline: iRobot and Trinity Convergence
iRobot and Trinity showed me their collaboration project: a social proxy/surveillance robot called the ConnectR Virtual Visiting Robot. iRobot outfitted a Roomba with a video camera, speakers, a microphone and a Wi-Fi radio (instead of a vacuum), while Trinity provided a Web-based management console and NAT tunneling software to remotely access and drive the robot (and its components).
When Bryan Adams, iRobot's research program manager for Home Robots, told me, "It's a whole new way of interacting with your pets or your kids," I thought perhaps we'd hit a new low in absentee parenting.
Pretty cool watching it roll around though.