Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Carriers two-tiered Internet, temporarilly necessary?

A week ago or so on a golf forum I frequent there was a thread on the possibility of a 'tiered' Internet. I have purposefully been waiting to post about this on this blog until I had worked out an all encompassing view and solution to the problem. But thats not how blogs works all the time, so I'm copying my post from that thread here.....................

From 2/1/06:

A link to this article was posted:
http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=1386967

followed by a bunch of fears about carriers clamping down on Google, Yahoo, and the like. My response:

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Yes, lots of people need to get involved before it gets out of hand. But lets make sure we understand the REAL problem before doing so. The 'controls' they are talking about aren't really going to be as draconian as many are reporting. Here is why:

Search, email, etc. are not what the carriers are threatened by and therefore will not be blocking, or controlling (it would be ISP suicide). They are threatened by voice and video. They are making overtures at controlling things that require 'special delivery' (high bandwidth and/or real-time); which basically means voice and video. In my professional opinion, they will not get away with controlling voice - they need to get over it and let that antiquated business go (they are just having separation anxiety, and it will get worse before it gets better). Voice does not have bandwidth requirements that can be reasonably controlled or bothered with (a 25kbps stream just ain't much on your multi-megabit connection is it?). Yes, imagine it if you can, but the carriers need to get over the fact that there will be precious little money to be made in voice in the near future. If you're a voice carrier - be afraid, be very afraid - the world as you know it is about to end and there's nothing you can do about it.

Since I deal in the future (somewhat) the voice argument for me is over - lets move onto the good stuff:

Video - this is where the real interesting argument lies today. And lets preface the argument by saying that its only a CURRENT problem - bandwidth solves lots of things, and this is one of them.

At this time, delivering enough Internet bandwidth to support multiple HDTV streams is difficult - again, at this time. So, what the carriers are doing is implementing newer technologies that will deliver more bandwidth - but they are going to control it. You can get yourself a, say, 5M internet connection for reasonable fees - but to get bandwidth enough for video you will have to subscribe to that carrier's service, no one elses. This is how they will get away with it - they still offer unfettered Internet access, but they neuter it. To get the high bandwidth for video you have to subscribe to that carriers video service. Rather that just giving the customer all the available Internet bandwidth, its reserved for that carriers offerings only. 'TV' from any other provider would be unreachable, or unusable given the artificial bandwidth constraint.

Some technologists (Mark Cuban for instance) that I believe would otherwise resist this are actually calling it a good idea. Why is this? Well, its because they cannot see beyond their noses. Again, the bandwidth problem will solve itself - there will be a day where its not an issue. So, however temporary this type of service is necessary - there will be a day when its no longer required. If we allow the carriers their way, this day will never arrive. What we have to do is allow them such a business model (again, it will be temporarally necessary) but still encourage competition from someone that does not have a vested interest in the vertical applications (such as voice and video).

There are several opinions on how to solve this problem, none of them perfect, but I've rambled on enough for now.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Call Recording with IP Telephony

Is a mess right now!

Let me tell you what companies are doing well - mimicking the functionality of the legacy services with IP-based systems.

Let me tell you what they are doing bad - EVERYTHING ELSE.

As you can tell, I'm very frustrated by this. If you want a model of 'tapping' into trunk lines or a contact center as a location - you're good with the state of IP call recording. If, however, you need to record calls throughout an enterprise or use contact centers that are not locations - you're screwed. Why are you screwed? Because all the solutions out there today require you to 'sniff' the RTP stream to record the call. This requires that you have voice sniffers located anywhere an RTP stream may pass. In large enterprises (like the one I work at) this is EXTREMELY costly and ugly.

The call recording vendors are not allowing us to take advantage of IP Telephony. We cannot reasonably make our contact centers virtual and we cannot reasonably record calls between any handsets on the network. The legacy choke point no longer exists - IP Telephony is point to point, no PBX to travel through. In order to really record calls between any handset on our network we would have to place voice sniffers in every wiring closet on our network - and that just ain't a gunna happen.

What is the solution? Well, what I told one call recording company over a year ago (and still have not seen them change) is to make call recording a 'conference' feature. If we need to record that call, conference in the call recording server as end-point in the call. This allows us to manage call recording servers MUCH better - leveraging the efficiencies and security of centralization. This would also allow us to include ANY phone call in our recording solution as new sites are added - anywhere.

I'm I all alone on this (assuming anyone even reads this blog), or are others suffering from the same short-sightedness from call recording vendors?

Deceased - Voice Carrier Cash Cow.....

I love Om's rants about VoIP silos and breaking down the walls. Its good to get frustrated about boneheaded moves by companies, but we must remember - they are new companies out to establish themselves and make a buck. By embracing interoperability they open themselves up to CHOICE - something a new unknown company fears greatly. They do not have the brand recognition and consumer trust to make a go of it when other more recognizable brands are offering the same thing.

Its also funny to me that we are getting all bent out of shape over something that is almost a non-issue and extinct (almost being a relative term, it will take years). Again, as I mentioned in a previous post on free voice - transmitting voice traffic on the networks we're building today is extremely easily done. The bandwidth required is a mere pittance of what is available - with consumers paying for multi-megabit links into the home, ~25Kbps really isn't anything is it? My point is that in a short time (again, this is relative) there will be precious little money to be made in voice. As we transition away from the PSTN to the Internet the market is all but finished. Carriers need to get over this and get over it now. The voice cash cow is dead - flatline, there is no reviving it.

They are not letting it go though are they? Nor are the new broadband players. In order to make the money they all thought was out there, they continue to lock consumers into their product. Once again let me say - there is no money to be made in being a voice carrier. Not anymore. There is some money to be made in 'PBX' software and handsets, but the margins are going to get pretty thin. There is a little bit still out there during this transition from the PSTN to the Internet too, but once that transition is complete - fuhgetaboutit. We should be frustrated - the transition will take too long for most of us. But it will happen - if we exercise enough patience we'll get by.

The market will also not accept what is starting right now - hardware bound to a provider. As more and more players emerge this model will be smashed by the first company that doesn't care about consumer lock-in - those in which voice isn't their sole reason for existing. Enter the portals I spoke of in that previous post - Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL. Just point your SIP phone to your portal and bingo - you have service. These guys should (and likely will) blow Skype, Vonage and the like right out of their vertically designed shoes.

These companies (legacy and broadband voice providers) made a big mistake in forecasting their market for services in the future and they are desperately trying to make it happen anyway - detrimental to consumer choice, but that's the way it goes. They will have to learn that's its not your fathers voice network anymore - its new, its dirt cheap, and it has killed your cash cow.

Deceased - voice carrier cash cow (Elvis has left the building). Services to be held at UCLA, eulogy delivered by Vint Cerf.

Those that think Elvis is still alive - AT&T, Verizon, etc. Suspension of disbelief - astounding.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Am I all wet on 911?

Recently posted here I suggested that GPS was the obvious solution to 911 services in an IP world. However, even given my significant exposure to satellite issues I overlooked the obvious - GPS doesn't always work (right now). Weather has an affect as well as things that attenuate such frequencies - buildings and the like.

Given that emergency services are required whether or not its raining outside, GPS has some limitations. Also given that the essence of emergency services is an emergency - its rather important that these things work under all sorts of nasty conditions (rain, floods, earthquakes, things your dog may eat, etc.).

I still like to idea of GPS and do not see a better solution, but must acknowledge that it may not be ready to be branded as THE solution.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

'Free' voice and why I think Vonage (et al.) is dead

Several people (not just voip bloggers, but 'real' people ;) have been predicting free voice for a little while now - heck Om even predicts it to be ushered in in 2006. While I agree with these people, just not the 'within 2006' part, I have slightly different reasons. Its essentially what they are saying, but they just aren't saying it: we're ditching the expensive, closed network we call the PSTN and migrating to the cheap, open Internet. Its really that simple. We can talk about what company is offering what all they want, but that's all just noise - the signal is ditching the expensive vertical network in favor of the cheap 'flat' (application-wise) network.

We're building networks faster and faster all the time - and voice bandwidth is becoming a mere pittance of what is available today. This renders the transmission of voice traffic extremely cheap on new networks. We are also making the voice application cheaper - rather than expensive cabinets and proprietary software, its cheap servers and open software. Such functionality can easily be made 'free' by a portal company (Yahoo, Google, AOL, MSN, etc.).

We've already established that the bandwidth is next to nothing in the grand scheme of things - so that's not a problem. Now, how do we get free voice - the application? Easy - its the same way we get free email. Its all marketing. Now, I'm certainly not saying we should expect ads in our voice streams - although someone is thinking about it I'm sure (much to our dismay). The solution is this: there will be a day where your primary method of voice contact will not be a number - its will be an address much like an email address: user@portal.com. Just slap sip:// or some XML method in front and you're directed to my device (PC, phone, etc.).

Now that our voice contact identifier is consistent with email, that's a hell of a thing for the portal isn't it? A free advertisement for their site in every address passed from user to user. Isn't that advertisement worth something? Worth the cost of some servers and software management? I'll bet it is - just like email is, just like IM is, etc. Bingo - 'free' voice!

Naturally there could be many different ways to charge for cool features, and I'd likely splurge for a few - but basic voice will be free...... one day. In the meantime we still have to deal with the expensive PSTN for many contacts, which is why I don't see it happening too fast. Actually not fast enough. Some are getting all bent about this 'VoIP boom', but I still think its a blip - the boom is yet to come, its coming to kill your voice coffers, and its not coming fast enough. There is no money to be made in simply being a 'phone company' any longer. Which brings me to......

Vonage. A trivia answer that few will get right in 20 years. As you just read about free voice - its all in the address, your contact management. So, why in the world would I want to check multiple sites for my messages? Why maintain multiple accounts at multiple sites? When it comes time for me to choose between my Lingo ID and my Yahoo ID - Yahoo gets my business hands down. Lingo doesn't have the portal - they're dead. Neither does Vonage - they're dead. Broadvoice - dead. Packet8 - dead. Neidermeyer...... OK, you get the point.

Which also brings me to the great Skype hype and why NO ONE should buy a broadband voice company - there's no money in it that you cannot generate yourself! The money is in the portal - don't have one - get one, and fast (Ma and Pa Bell - you listening?). eBay - ya make me laugh son, ya make me laugh. But, at least eBay has a shot at becoming a portal and surviving the debacle. Vonage and others must be green with envy over that deal - their value will diminish, if they are looking for suitors (foolish ones at that) they best get moving and sign the paper before the old folk realize the emperor has no clothes.

And while I'm thinking of it - what made Google trip over themselves and create Gmail? Again, the address is a marketing tool - why create an additional name? Another brand to pump money into achieving brand recognition. That was a major folly. And just when ya thought Google could do no wrong. Sometimes folks just out-think themselves I guess.

So - voice becomes free, Vonage et al. die, and Google isn't perfect. I'm on a roll :)


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"911" in an IP world - gotta start NOW

I know people are talking about the next generation of emergency services and how to accomplish it - but I don't think enough is being actively done with it. We seem to be too caught up in VoIP and its adherence to existing 911 services. Its really no fault if the IP folks, the FCC has made it very difficult and it takes valuable time away from the next generation solution that really needs some movement - now!

First things first - we need a consistent model for all devices and connectivity, and we have to abandon old thinking. We can no longer rely on infrastructure devices to locate someone. A POTS line (how its done today), switch port, DSLAM port, etc. - none of them will work for us. Wireless renders all that irrelevant, and, again, we need a consistent method for ALL devices and connectivity options. This means that whatever is required for wireless had better be the same method used for 'wired' devices.

This all leads to the very obvious solution (to me anyway) - GPS. This has been driving me crazy for over a year now - no one has been talking about it. At least not very much - I did see an article last month where the writer said GPS was the way to go - one article, finally! But other than that - not much to highlight it. Why is this? Is there really another solution that maintains consistency between ALL devices and connectivity options? I don't see one.

We can use GPS lat, long, and alt to pinpoint a persons location. This information can be placed into the call (or other emergency packet - doesn't have to be a voice call) - all the traffic and/or voice carriers have to do then is route that call to the proper PSAP based upon the lat/long info. The servicing PSAP would feed that call information into a mapping database to establish the persons location for emergency services personnel and law enforcement. Heck, EMS personnel could even have GPS in their vehicles; knowing its location and being fed the callers location, it could give them directions right to the person in distress. Seconds, even minutes potentially, saved makes a difference - ask any EMT or Paramedic.

Altitude hasn't been mentioned much, if at all, but I think it valuable for multi-floor buildings. Go beyond an address and give EMS personnel the floor and wing of a building as well - even an office number if the mapping software is accurate enough.

Now, this all does re-introduce the problem of "Hi, I'm Prince Albert - please let me outta this fridge!" type of pranks. Someone could obviously spoof GPS data and send EMS all over the place chasing their tails - very bad things indeed. I don't have all the integrity and security answers, but I do not believe they have been addressed by other IP solutions either. Again, we must start now to solve these problems.

Another problem - we still have loads of old analog phones out there. Obviously we can continue to leverage the existing 911 system for such lines, but when those phones are plugged into an ATA for broadband use and are wireless themselves - where is that person? Perhaps its enough to have the ATA mine the information (seems acceptable to me, we live with it today), but my phones can reach three houses down my street - how about yours?

What to do:

  1. Get consensus on the method - not the details, just the method. GPS seems obvious enough to me, but I'm sure there are detractors - people that think it too expensive to put GPS chips into wired phones (a tiny price to pay for REAL location information for emergency services IMO).
  2. Once consensus is built, we have to get the government to ensure that all new phones (and ATAs) have GPS built into them. ALL phones. And we have to start NOW, or it will never get done. Look to HDTV signaling for all TV as a model we do NOT want to follow.
  3. Use the phone 'seed-time' to polish the details on the communications and update the PSAPs.

But, again, we must start now. Full migration to this model will take long enough without complacency and foolish FCC distractions slowing it down.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Voice VLANs" - something else I just don't get

The voice VLAN recommendation has been around for a very long time. I understand what the idea was for them, but never really bought into them then - and even less so now. But what do we continue to hear from the vendors, security 'specialists', and even NIST? "Separate your traffic" for better security. Well, I'm declaring shenanigans on that one right here ;)

"I don't want all the data hackers attacking my voice system, so I want them separated." Well, if that were truly the case, every application on your network better have its own VLAN. I have visions of the people that make this recommendation as being the same ones that don't want your chocolate in their peanut butter or their corn to touch their mashed potatoes (my brother was like this - had compartments in his stomach ya know). I think someone started using voice VLANs to sell their gear - and everyone else had to follow suit or be considered less secure. We just keep echoing these things without really looking at the impact of it.

How in the world can you really separate voice and data on your network and still provide the functionality we all want and need? If you really want to integrate voice you must allow for CTI-like functions to cross boundaries (SIP, XML, etc.). Management functions as well I'll assume (SNMP, HTTP, SSH, etc.). And once you allow these kinds of things between the networks ask yourself this question - what other traffic would a voice system even listen to? I know in the system we have built, that the handsets and soft switches are hardened - listening only to pertinent traffic. But if that's all they are listening to, what is the value of ignoring it twice? All the things that the system needs to do, and are then allowed by the firewalls or ACLs to do, are exactly the only things the system will listen to anyway. What value does the remaining firewalling provide? And at what cost to provide it?

I'm supposed to spend time and money to implement and maintain something that blocks traffic the voice system is going to ignore anyway. Does this make sense?

Now, obviously there are some things you can do to protect a data center implementation of IP telephony servers - and I will concede that voice VLANs make that a bit easier. However, we already have certain protections for our data center applications - IDS and other things. Why, again, duplicate those efforts for voice? That is not convergence. If we want to consider voice just another application on the network - then treat it like one. A very important and sensitive one yes - but there are better ways to protect your system than the false security provided by voice VLANs.

And if you still want to use voice VLANs, tell me this: are you not going to allow softphones on your network? Ever?

Spend your time and effort on real security measures (hardening your systems, good patch management, etc.) and stop worrying about what vendors and NIST say about voice VLANs - I don't think they've thought it through.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I never 'got' Skype

The hoopla anyway.

Sure, its a fine product - but jeesh, what mileage its received in blogs and the press. Well beyond its value IMO. I always kinda thought of it as the Tucker - some great ideas, even industry influencing; but was never going to be what the owners, and press, thought.

Reason #1 I didn't drink the Kool-aid: Its still just voice. We've been talking over the Internet on our PCs for years now - sure Skype-out was new, but not revolutionary.

Reason #2 I didn't drink the Kool-aid: Its proprietary. Yes, they say that standards inhibit innovation - they innovate, then submit for standards approval later. OK, but I just saw it as yet another "who's IM do you have?" problem. Why re-create that mess? I'm on Yahoo, my buddy is on AOL and I have to jump through hoops to talk between them. Its a mess, and Skype was re-creating it all over again. Bah!

(obviously voip peering could help solve this, but proceed to #3 on why that won't matter.)

Reason #3 I didn't drink the Kool-aid: It was irrelevant unless they made some real moves towards becoming a complete portal (same goes for Vonage, Lingo and others - more on this in a forthcoming post). Voice is going to be a service (already is?) integrated into your 'portal'. If I have all my contacts, calendar, email, and IM with Yahoo - why would I not use their voice as well? If you don't have a portal, you aren't a long term player - period. Skype was not a portal; still isn't, but at least with eBay they could grow into one - if eBay 'gets it'.

So, people wrote way too much about it (and I'm adding to that now - shamefully enough), eBay paid way too much for it, and it will hardly be a footnote in the migration of voice to packet-based delivery. And if you look at #3 again - you'll see that I think Vonage and others will likely follow the same path into irrelevance (and yes, I'm a Lingo customer anyway - for now).


Thursday, December 15, 2005

My oldest best idea...

Well, not my oldest by any stretch - but most before this one smelled something rotten; perhaps this one does too ;)

While no longer revolutionary, it was a bit ahead of its time when I had it. I had neither the resources or cajones to get it done but I am convinced it would have worked. Afterall, Moxi did and my idea went much further. It was 2000 - I was 31, the bubble had decidedly burst (making any investment seeking difficult) and, again, I didn't have the cajones to leave my job and make a go of it, having no programming talent of my own (at least at this level). Again, think Moxi - and a whole lot more....

It was going to be your home's media center - Internet proxy/modem/router/switch/firewall/AP, DVR, a home 'portal' with applets, NAS for the home, 'smarthome' control, home security system, stereo system, answering machine, etc. - everything a geeky family would need, and in the future - ALL families. Was my plan anyway. I was not only looking to market it to cable/satellite companies, but also housing contractors, and even provide consumer availability. It was not just a set top box (although that was to be an option) - it was infrastructure, destined for mounting next to your circuit box, wired throughout the house, and controlled via RF remotes, TVs, and network access. No more box-per-TV models, one box for the whole house, with all sorts of home control and media access - a selling point for contractors and housing developers I thought (didn't turn out so easy, but...).

It all started when I was playing with some X10 protocol stuff and home controls. I saw all the uses (lighting, HVAC controls, home security system) and I just started thinking about what else a home system/server could, and should, do. Network connectivity for DSL, cable and whatever else came along. Secure the internal network with a firewall, provide Ethernet ports for home wiring, wireless AP, integrated UPS, and on and on. I envisioned serveral web terminals in the home and even mobile devices (wirelss tablets, etc. - heck, the new Nokia 770 fits right into my plan).

Huge mirrored drives for storage that could withstand the failure of a device, a home filer for storage, a print server to share that printer, a web portal with applets for common household tasks and functions (a family calender, budgeting and account tracking tools, recipe database, photo albums, provisioning for your security system, answering machine, etc.), and finally - a DVR. Admittedly I didn't get the DVR bug until I read about Steve Perlman looking at starting another set-top box company (turned out to be Moxi), but even so, I was integrating many more household functions into this. Looking at Linux and open source projects - the web portal and applets were there, the networking and firewall functions were very ready, there was some work to be done with X10 and security systems on Linux, but I thought I could handle that. The answering machine capability was there but not polished; I would need some help with that. But it was the DVR that had me stumped - I had no idea how to do TV. This was where I needed loads of help. Or counseling, as it turned out ;)

What I failed to see at the time was cable and satellite operators not being willing to use just any box - they wanted control. The idea of a contractor building this into the home, or a family purchasing one from Best Buy would likely not fly with them. A tough sell, and one I didn't have the confidence to pursue. I had no product, no contacts, and was too comfortable in my current job. It died in the idea stage - didn't even finish the business plan.

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Refinements to the idea came about in 2001. With things moving to Internet portals it seemed somewhat unnecessary to have all the web apps on the home server. So, I thought why not partner with Yahoo? Have my home server be a 'cache' (sync'd would be more accurate) of Yahoo data for the users in the home and extend applications that they did not provide. Same data - available at home, on the road(Yahoo), and even when you lose your Internet connection - a natural backup for basic data. Nowadays it would be good to have a more generic data sync process to integrate with Google, AOL, MSN, etc. as well. Think Intellisyc, AvantGo, and more - it was there ready to be used.

______________________________

But it is sooo much easier to do today that I just cannot figure out whats stopping Moxi, Tivo, etc. from doing it. Even a new company or one not in that market right now (Cisco/Linksys are you listening? Nokia perhaps?)

Today we have CableCards, MythTV, Asterisk, more advanced web apps, better home controls and home security features. You can get most of this yourself now. Even today we have several devices doing these various things for us - DSL/Cable modem, router/switch/AP, security panel, thermostat, lighting panel, answering machine, multiple PCs (where is that file?); ALL controlled seperately and differently - nothing bringing them together. Heck even multiple DVRs now too - which one has what show? With this system you would record something once, centrally, and just choose which TV to watch it on. You could do or change most anything without getting off the couch - beer runs and restroom breaks were still left as an exercise for the user :)

I still think it works, but have been wrong before...

From a fairway near you..... well, perhaps the rough

My first post is just a copy of my profile intro....

I've spent many years in the networking and computer industry, almost exclusively working for enterprises (financial services, manufacturing). This blog is the result of my vanity... I have this false impression of being smarter than the average bear on several topics and want to see if I can express these ideas... to see if others agree or can improve them, as well as establishing who else dislikes me (get in the back of the line, its been forming for years now - pack a lunch).

My fear is that I may be unsuccessful in feeding my ego as a result of a mediocre talent for writing. I am confronting that fear now. Your feedback is welcome, even the bad stuff (if you enjoy being ignored).

Many of these posting are extremely latent - thoughts I've had in my head for years and never publically posted. They will become more timely as I get the old ones off my chest. Also - don't expect lots of updates. This is a hobby, I have a real life (much to your surprise :-) and will only update as the mood or current events strike me.