This show rocks! I knew it was going to be a good show when I arrived at the Santa Clara convention center and the parking lot was full! I ended up in a lot across Great America Parkway—in one of the many abandoned dot-com office parks.
But if the VOIP market has anything to do with it, the valley will be humming again. This is one hot show. Weve got lots of at eWEEK.com, but what follows are the pieces I found particularly interesting, amusing or just plain fun.
The big news: AT&T rolled out its big, big answer to Vonage, called CallVantage. At $40 a month for unlimited U.S. calling, its available now in Jersey and Texas (home respectively to big hair and big hats). Shortly after AT&T launched its service Monday, Vonage slapped them with a lawsuit, claiming the name (Vantage) was too close to its name (Vonage).
Theyve got a point. And the AT&T people were walking on pins and needles at the show. I wandered up to the booth to ask for a demo, and was told by the booth staff that they were unable to talk to me because I was press. Instead they directed me upstairs to a non-existent AT&T hospitality booth for the official spin. I nearly ripped the press tag off my badge, but luckily ran into the Death Star flack, who tugged me back to the booth and gave me a clean bill of health.
The demo was pretty impressive. Using a D-Link VOIP adapter—which you get for free with a one-year contract—the software looks clean and inviting. Im eagerly looking forward to our comparative review between CallVantage and Vonage.
I also ran into my old friend Jeff Bonforte, former CEO of failed dot-com startup iDrive. Hes currently CEO of SipPhone, Michael Robertsons VOIP play. Jeff filled me full of cool facts about what SipPhone will launch over the next few weeks, and then swore me to secrecy. I cant give you details, but suffice to say that a comparison between Vonage, Vantage and SipPhone might be a pretty hot horse race.
Jeffs best story: Robertson, who took on the music industry with MP3.com, and Microsoft with Lindows, is getting a similar reaction from telcos. “Well bury you,” they claim, when Robertson extends the olive branch. Hmmm. This is the guy who had a hand in killing the music industry as we know it, and is taking Microsoft for a ride worldwide. I wouldnt bet against him! More on SipPhone in the weeks to come.
-Fi and VOIP”>
Bridging Wi-Fi and VOIP
Ive been yearning for an effective bridge between cellular and Wi-Fi-based VOIP phones for years. I want one phone, one number, that works great on a cellular network as I roam around town, and then on my wireless broadband network at home and in the office.
The phones are finally here. Sony Ericssons lame P900 has built-in Wi-Fi, as does Nokias forthcoming Communicator 9500. The Treo, Samsung i600 and other smartphones could as well, once Sandisk provides SmartPhone 2002 and Palm OS drivers for its SDIO Wi-Fi card.
Last week at CTIA, though, I got some depressing news from the telcos I talked to. Roaming and billing are the big problems, they claimed, in making my dream reality. Its hard enough to hand off a call from cell-site to cell-site. Adding in Wi-Fi, with the possibility of roaming from access point to access point to cellular, creates a thorny and almost intractable problem. Sigh.
I take that sigh back. Here at VON I sat down with LongBoard, which claims to have solved the problem. Their edge device, a telco-installed switch, enables Wi-Fi to VOIP routing. Heres how it works.
The companys software runs on your Wi-Fi/cellular phone. When you make a call, it determines which of the available networks are stronger, and uses that network to make the call. The companys box, installed at the telco, routes the call, and communicates using a 1XRTT or GPRS data channel back to the app running on the phone. Between the two of them, they monitor signal strength for both networks, and switch between them when one fades.
For example, imagine a call initiated via VOIP on a Wi-Fi network. If it begins to fade, the phone signals the switch, which initiates another connection from switch to phone using the cellular network. The phone ends up with two conference-style connections to the switch. If the Wi-Fi signal fades too far, the phone quickly switches over (within 300 milliseconds) to the cellular connection. Go back in range, and the connection switches again.
You cant buy the service today, but a major European wireline telco will be rolling the system out in a series of trials, which will culminate in publicly available service later this year. Here in the U.S., a major hospital is trialing the system—because cell phones can interfere with certain medical equipment. The trial hospital expects to replace a variety of phones and pagers with a single phone.
Billings another problem, but the company claims to have that solved too—by working with large partners like Siemens.
Im looking forward to seeing some successful trials—and giving up all these phones and phone numbers for one device that roams with me everywhere.
Intertex Delivers SMB SIP
Intertex Delivers SMB SIP Server
This years VON show is all about SIP, the standard for VOIP calling around the world. But SIP has a problem, especially for home users: in most cases the SIP device has to be outside the firewall. That makes it hard for a home or office user to enable a single network to work with both firewall-protected PCs and VOIP phones.
Enter Intertex, who has developed a $200 firewall appliance and DSL modem that sits between your service provider and your network hub. The companys IX66 supports the SIP protocol as both a proxy and a registrar—or put more simply, it turns your home network into a SIP server.
Why is this a big deal? Well, today most SIP users connect to a server and PSTN gateway in the cloud. Turn your SIP phone on, and it connects with a server at your service provider—which often will charge you a fee for the privilege.
If you want to call a PSTN phone, your SIP provider also typically provides a PSTN gateway, often connecting you to the plain old phone network from just a handful of locations in the U.S., meaning your call is mostly handled the old-fashioned way.
When you run your own SIP server, you can choose the PSTN gateway you wish to connect with. If you expect that most of your SIP to PSTN calls will be to phones in Romania, youre free to hook the IX66 to a gateway provider in Eastern Europe, and thus end up with lower rates.
But the fun really begins when you load the IX66 with Intertexs $500 SIP switch software, which is currently in beta. With this software, youre free to hook up with as many SIP to PSTN services as you wish. Contract with one in Britain, and get a local U.K. number. Keep the Romanian connection. Add an Indian one as well for an East Asian presence.
Then instruct the router to send Western European calls to your U.K. gateway, Eastern European calls to Romania, and Asian calls to India. And because the SIP gateways can each give you a local number, you can receive local calls direct to your U.S. office—and route them accordingly.
At least thats the plan. Its a bit pricey and complex for the average user, but sounds pretty cool for many small and midsize businesses. Well see how well it works, when the software ships later this year. I did play around with the demo on the show floor, and it was impressive. But I cant say whether it was all smoke and mirrors, or the real thing.
Here Comes 100 Megabits
Here Comes 100 Megabits
100 megabit to the home is coming fast. At the companion Fast Net Futures show, MetaLink Broadband conducted an actual demonstration of VDSL running at 100M bps down, and 50M bps up. It was pretty impressive. The silicon is available now, and is being adopted in Japan and other countries. However, it only works at those speeds up to about 300 meters from the CO. But at those speeds, over copper, its much more cost effective than fiber to the curb.
The falloff was impressive too. Bandwidth down dropped to 20 megabits at 2 kilometers (about a mile and a half), twice that of traditional ADSL. After about 3 kilometers, though, ADSL and MetaLinks Total VDSL exhibited similar performance characteristics.
On the upstream side, effective performance started around 9M bps, but dropped off rapidly over about a mile, and ended up equivalent to ADSL2+ at about two miles. Still, these bandwidth rates are impressive. Message to SBC: Roll VDSL out in my neighborhood, and Ill become a customer again—and Ill toss my Comcast cable modem into the trash.
However, cables not sitting still either. 100-megabit cable was also discussed at the show, and its also right around the corner.