Business business applications UC voip webrtc

How WebRTC will deliver contextual communication and AI in the contact centre

Contextual communication, AI and chatbots are on track to revolutionise the way we communicate, prompting experts to herald the dawn of a major communications revolution. What about the contact centre, and how does WebRTC underpin this shift towards improved customer engagement?

More than just chatbots

Most of us have already grown accustomed to talking more and more with machines. Consumers have been given a taste of this new era of communication with the likes of Siri and Alexa, but we’re starting to see this new technology make its mark in the business world. Some contact centres, for instance, are starting to use chatbots to deal with common queries and complaints based on database suggestions.  We’ve also witnessed a number of councils using a form of AI as a virtual agent to deal with front line requests. As the number of interactions increases, we can expect to see robots like this learning rapidly and becoming more sophisticated.

However, the impact of AI and machine learning is greater than just for improving chatbots. If we look at the bigger story we can see there is another innovation gaining a foothold in the industry: contextual communication. Made possible by open web technologies like WebRTC, it enables context to be added to every communication to make customer interactions more efficient, personalised and engaged. These contextual communications applications mesh together pertinent information in real-time from CRMs and other databases. The end result is the ability to deal with customer enquiries via web video, chat box or through a mobile app.

The value of context

This is where AI can make a dramatic impact. Determining the right information and communication “context” to serve, informed by a wealth of data, leads to better decision making throughout sales or customer service processes. This ultimately leads to a greater customer experience and applies equally to customer-facing chatbots as it does to virtual assistants. Imagine a VA that could recommend the next course of action for a customer service agent or salesperson to take. Then, move it a stage further and consider that cognitive interactions will understand accents, sentiment and context. This will enable even greater personalisation and decision-making capabilities – a far cry from today’s annoying automated services.

This is how the future of enterprise communications is shaping up –  making communication “transparent”, so it’s integral and inherent in applications, and augmenting it with context. What does it mean for ITSPs? We can start with differentiated propositions offering huge productivity and efficiency gains – and a more natural communications experience for customers.

Join us next week to learn more

We’ll be discussing these impacts and more at the ITSPA WebRTC Workshop next Thursday 28th September, Central London. Both Tref and I will be keen to hear your views on contextual communication and how it can drive new revenue opportunities for ITSPs in the coming years. If you are in London and want to come along, register here – it’s free – using the member’s registration.

Other WebRTC content on this blog.

Business UC

ITSPA Summer Forum

ITSPA Summer Forum and 10th Anniversary celebrations

ITSPA Summer Forum was a terrific success and a suitable tribute to the celebratory nature of the event. The afternoon AGM and series of talks and panel discussion went really well and we were lucky enough to have some serious industry players amongst the speakers.

The line up for the afternoon was as follows:

Keynote: Kevin Murphy, Head of Voice, BT

Market Update: Matt Townend, Director, Cavell Group

Regulatory Update: Pete Farmer, Head of Reguatory, Gamma Telecom

Provisioning Code of Practice:  David Cargill

Panel Debate – Retrospective and Futures for the ITSP industry in the UK: Trefor Davies, Matt Townend, Alex Kinch (Ziron), Dean Bubbley (Disruptive Analysis)

We were lucky to secure the services of Kevin Murphy who ran the highly successful BT London 2012 Olympics project and now runs the PSTN and all voice services at BT. That’s a big job. Also big thanks to Alex Kinch of Ziron for stepping in at the last minute due to the illness of another panellist. Alex is a contributor to and was one of the founders of LONAP.

In the evening we adjourned upstairs to the rooftop terrace of Le Coq d’Argent. Top class it was fair play. The featured picture is of the crowd on the terrace – maybe one or two faces you might recognise? I don’t have any more pictures as I spent the afternoon chairing the meeting then afterwards at the bar I occupied myself eating and drinking networking.

All in all it was a fitting way to celebrate ITSPA’s 10th anniversary. The industry is in a healthy state and I think the next ten years are going to be full of excitement, if impossible to predict. Also impossible to predict is whether I will be around for the 20th ITSPA Summer Forum. Hey, one game at a time…

Business voip

Tickets available for ITSPA Christmas Dinner

The build up for Christmas has begun. Well it starts to build up in our house in January as Anne buys up cheap Christmas cards and wrapping paper in the sales. Nevertheless it really is building up now.

With that in mind ITSPA is for the first time having a Christmas lunch sponsored by Magrathea.

5th December 2013
The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe, London
12.30pm for 1pm start

Tickets cost £65+VAT per person for ITSPA members and £90+VAT per person for non-members
To register please RSVP to [email protected]

We have a very interesting and highly entertaining guest speaker in Simon Burckhardt, MD of Vonage UK.

Get on down…

Engineer peering Regs voip

A Day In The Life #ITSPA #Lonap

Trefor DaviesI read the news today oh boy. Andy Murray through to semi-finals. I saw the last hour or so on the TV when I got home from work last night. Goo’on Andy!

Today I’m off to the big smoke on the 07.20 for a full day of industrialising.

This morning I have and ITSPA council meeting. After lunch it’s the ITSPA AGM followed by the Summer Forum we have, every summer, natch. These ITSPA workshops are always most informative. We have an update of how the market is going by Matt Townend of Illume. The market for VoIP services is on the up.

Then Pete Farmer of Gamma is going to discuss what’s going on in the industry from a regulatory perspective. There’s lots to consider: Draft Communications Data Bill, Narrowband Market Review, Non Geographic Calls Services and more.

Then after the break yours truly is going to chair a panel discussion entitled “Federated Communications and Call Terminations – Is free the way forward?” Should be an interesting debate. Bear in mind when considering the “free” bit that we will all still want to get paid.

After a short reception I then shoot off to a dinner being thrown by Lonap where I will be chairing a debate on the merits of connecting to overseas POPs. This dinner is restricted to CTOs and Chief Technical Architects of network operators and should be a most useful and informative evening.

Then tomorrow morning I have a breakfast meeting, but tomorrow is another day…

I read the news today oh boy. Four thousand POPs in Blackburn Lancashire. You probably need to be of an age to understand that one!!!

Engineer webrtc

ITSPA WebRTC workshop at Google Campus

itspa logoChaired the ITSPA WebRTC workshop at Google Campus yesterday. It had a great turnout so there is obviously an appetite to find out a bit more about WebRTC.

I’ve written about WebRTC several times before including here. The workshop comprised of presentations about the technology from Rob Pickering of IPCortex and Peter Dunkley of Crocodile Rich Communications Systems (they need an acronym methinks 🙂 ) followed by some demos (IPCortex, Crocodile and Drum).

In one sense these  demos are not very interesting. They are just showing video calling – no different to skype or google talk et al. The biggest difference is that with WebRTC the “client” is embedded in the web page that you are visiting. No need to download anything to run on your PC or phone. In theory therefore WebRTC could make for far more ubiquitous online real time communications.

WebRTC should facilitate communities of interest. For example if I have a WebRTC service in this blog then it would be easy to set up conference calls and discussions around specific posts – a big enhancement on the current commenting system. It should even be possible to record such discussions and embed them for others to listen to later.

You always hear about the next big thing that is going to kill off the good (?) old fashioned PSTN and WebRTC was mentioned as a contributor to this yesterday. The PSTN is eventually going to die but not for a long time yet. The WebRTC model, like the original Skype is not about minutes.

In any case, the PSTN is slowly moving away from a minutes based model to a fixed price all you can eat one which makes the death or otherwise of the PSTN a moot point.

WebRTC is potentially very interesting though but there is still a lot of work to be done. The standards are far from complete, even to the point of discussion as to which video codec to use. Half the industry wants to use H264 which is an existing and well bedded in codec. Unfortunately this half is also the half that owns all the patents for H264.

The other half supports Google’s push to use its own VP8 codec which it is making available royalty free.  Of course the H264 camp doesn’t like this and Nokia has apparently said that it owns some codecs that are applicable to VP8 in an attempt to stop it being “free”. You could take the view that Nokia won’t be around for much longer but you can’t base the codec decision on that and in any event someone would probably maintain ownership the patents.

For the moment most of us will have to get on making real money with existing products. SIP trunk anyone?

Engineer webrtc

Web RTC workshop – get yer tickets ere

googlecampusIf you work in the Unified Communications industry you need to know about Web RTC. You can either Google it or come along to ITSPA’s Web RTC workshop at the Google Campus on 14th May to find out more.

This workshop is intended to provide a fairly detailed drill down into the workings of WebRTC and is suitable for the VoIP tech community. It includes an introduction to the technology and presentations and demos from a number of companies involved in the area. We will also be having a few beers afterwards, natch.

These events are seriously worthwhile attending. More details below – the event is open to non ITSPA members so git on down.

Tuesday, 14th May 2013, 14:00-17:30
Google Campus, 3rd Floor
4-5 Bonhill Street, EC2A 4BX London

Part 1: Technical background and introduction
Presentation from John Parr (Crocodile Rich Communications Systems) and Rob Pickering (IPCortex)

Part 2: Demos and real-life implementation: products, services, and more
Speakers TBC – Google, Drum, IPCortex, Crocodile Rich Communications Systems, Voxhub

Part 3: Roundtable discussion/panel and audience Q&A
Discussion moderated by Trefor Davies on the impact of WebRTC:
What are the challenges, opportunities, and threats – to software phones, video market, fixed infrastructure and more?

Reserve tickets here:

Engineer fun stuff ofcom

And the hot news is…

Normally I’m fending off ideas for blog posts. This last couple of weeks I’ve been wading through a soup of Awards Entries which take yonks to write, especially when they limit you to writing your life story in 250 words. Bit of an  exaggeration but those of you who have to do that sort of thing will know what I mean.

So I’ve looked up, drawn breath and thought what do I want to write about. There’s the massive DDoS attack against CloudFlare that was in all the news earlier in the week. “Internet grinds to a halt” – that kind of thing. It didn’t affect us.

Then there was the cable cutting by Egyptian insurgents, demonstrators, rebels, whatever they were. Didn’t affect us though I know one or two people with operations in the Middle East and lots of traffic to Pakistan that were affected. Not us though like I said.

I note today the Register talking about how capital expenditure by network operators is very rarely recovered. I guess that doesn’t apply in our case as we are not just a bits shifter. We are into added value services that generate good gross margin. We are in this game to make money.

If you’re not in the trade you might not have noticed the Ofcom consultation on Narrowband Markets which closed on Tuesday. Amongst it’s various nuggets the Ofcom proposals contain suggestions like “if you get your line rental from BT then they would also be able to compel you to get your minutes from them as well”.  Not good really and I’m to sure that is what Ofcom wanted to say but that is how it came out on paper. Timico responded through ITSPA, that fine Trade Association that looks after everyone’s interests in the Internet Telephony space – that’s yours and mine if you but knew it. I thought about a specific blog post on the subject but no, too tedious! Yawn…

Yesterday’s news was the 40th anniversary of the mobile phone. In those days it was the size of a phone box but, hey, you could stick it in your boot (trunk) and drive it around. That was yesterday’s news. This blog ain’t a retrospective. It’s progressive and funky. Move on.

Today all the broadsheet tech pages, at least the currently free to access ones such as the Grauniad and Torygraph, are talking about the leaks of info about the forthcoming Facebook phone – poetic license intended – more here. It might interest some people but not me. I don’t trust Facebook though I do use it to keep in touch with the kids and have to admit to having two Facebook Pages of my own (here and here). One assumes btw that with modern spellcheckers they never get the Guardian spelling wrong these days, unless they use an American dictionary maybe. Whilst claiming immunity to nostalgia there are still some things worth gazing back wistfully over your shoulders. The Grauniad spelling is one.

I’m a bit of a mixed up kid when it comes to these social media platforms and online privacy. On the one hand I complain about it and say I don’t trust any of them. On the other hand I still carry on using them all in one form or another. It’s unavoidable unless I just take an allotment and spend all my time growing carrots (or peas, beans and spuds – that kind of stuff anyway. Not sprouts as I’m not very fond of them and as for broccoli!!!). #isnotgonnahappen!

Anyway I can’t think of anything to write about today so I’m going to give it a miss. Feel free to post some ideas as comments. If nobody does I’ll take it as an endorsement of my own inactivity and assume that you are either still in Tenerife catching some rays, or skiing in Bognor Regis, WL.

Catch ya later 🙂

Engineer nuisance calls and messages ofcom voip

Nuisance calls

At last week’s ITSPA Council meeting we discussed nuisance calls. This post on on the subject was written by Pete Farmer, writing in a personal capacity. Pete is the Commercial and Regulatory Manager for Gamma  a wholesale supplier of telecoms services. Pete is a colleague on the ITSPA Council  and chairs their Regulatory Committee. His contact details can be found via his LinkedIn profile.

Nuisance Calls

No-one doubts for a second that silent or abandoned calls – the current focus of Ofcom’s attentions whereby predictive diallers make more calls than they have agents for- are a pain. It is even worse for a vulnerable person to receive a prank call at 3am let alone one where the content is potentially violent or sexual. These are often criminal acts that require decisive action from law enforcement.

What people don’t talk about so much though, is the effect such calls have on businesses. The economic harm as well as the effect on the staff can be commensurate with that suffered in a residential setting.

A business can of course be pseudo-domestic; by which I mean that a plumber, electrician or window cleaner procures their telephony services much as they would at home

Business voip

Plug for ITSPA Christmas Dinner (hope it isn’t turkey)

The ITSPA Xmas dinner - you know it makes senseI’m going to the ITSPA Christmas Dinner on 5th December (2012). Are you? This year it is at Roux at Parliament Square c/o Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Parliament Square in London.

It’s a great opportunity to network with people in the VoIP/Internet Telephony space and we have Peter Dawe, founder of Pipex1 coming along to do a bit of a talk – amusing anecdotes, incisive views etc.

My one concern with Christmas dinners is that I find turkey to be such a boring meat that it should be reserved for Christmas Day itself, assuming we have to have turkey, and not produced on any other occasion just because Christmas is “just around the corner”. I don’t mind Christmas pud though. I quite like Christmas pud with a bit of brandy butter.

That is all. If you want to come along email [email protected] or call 020 3397 3312.

1 many of you won’t be old enough to remember Pipex 🙂

Engineer webrtc

ITSPA Leeds workshop Adelphi Shabab

Shabab LeedsITSPA held its first ever out of London workshop in Leeds last Thursday, chaired as usual by yours truly. We had three interesting talks. The first was by Adam Beaumont from AQL on mobile VoIP and why mobile networks will need regional peering for voice over 4G. Next up was Thomas Mangin of Exa-Networks/IX Leeds who discussed QoS for VoIP and finally Rob Pickering from IPCortex on WebRTC.

We were also given a tour around AQL’s new data centre in Salem chapel opposite the old Tetley Brewery in the city centre. The brewery has been knocked down and turned into a car park – criminal 🙂 IX Leeds is hosted free of charge in the new data centre and is developing as an alternative northern POP for people looking for connectivity in the area.

The workshop was highly successful and is something we will have to repeat sometime next year. Afterwards Adam Beaumont very generously bought the Timothy Taylors at the Adelphi pub and then a traditional Yorkshire curry at the Shabab.

End User mobile connectivity phones

what price a taxi? – charge what you like courtesy of Vodafone

Vodafone in taxi chargerNever before in the field of blogging have I devoted such a large header photo to a post. According to Scott, my style guru and graphic designer the header is meant to be quite thin giving a tantalising glimpse of what lies within and tempting people to either click to see a bigger image or read the post below.

This one is almost three times the normal size!!! The subject merits the attention for on my way to an ITSPA meeting in a taxi this morning I saw a vision. In this vision Vodafone loomed large and loud and in my face. Well at my elbow actually because sat in that London taxi my eyes fell upon a mobile phone charging point compatible with multiple phone types.

Wow! Cool! So good I could envisage people asking the taxi driver to drive round the block a couple of times to give their phone more time to charge.

The taxi driver gets a few quid a month for hosting the “service”. Vodafone gets great publicity and feelgood factor. They made me think what a great bit of PR. Whoever thought of this in Vodafone’s marketing department deserves a bonus.I will seek them out

Well done Vodafone.

Business voip

And the winner is… yay Timico #ITSPA Awards

Last night at the House of Commons Timico wasTrefor Davies and Timico VoIP Product Manager Gemma Jankiewicz show off the ITSPA Award for Best ITSP (Enterprise) presented with the ITSPA Award for best ITSP serving the Enterprise market.

This is very exciting. Not only was the HoC a fantastic backdrop for the event but the winning of the Award is a great reward for all the hard work the Timico team has put in over a sustained period of time.

The category we entered was Enterprise. In order to serve customers in this market you can’t just sell them a VoIP service. It requires a whole service wrap that can include broadband, Ethernet, hosting and mobile services. This market also requires a certain scale of operation – for example running an effective 24×7 Network Operations Centre needs a certain size of tech support team.

So the Award for best ITSP is also an award for an overall service set. I’m not going to say anything else other than if you want to know more about our VoIP services check them out here.

PS I know the fashion conscious amongst you will be wondering about my t shirt – it’s the Commons And Lords Rugby Club tour to South Africa for the 2009 British Lions.

Business voip

it’s coming up to awards season – ITSPA

ITSPA Awards 4pm  21st March, Members Dining Room, House of CommonsThat time of year is here again. Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association Awards time.

We have been fortunate over the years to win some good recognition with the ITSPA Awards – last year it was the Large Enterprise Category. Timico are finalists in that category again this year. It’s the only one we entered.

Most ITSPs in the UK are squarely in the SMB space. This is usually due to the fact that larger businesses are reluctant to look at what are effectively startups – the industry has only been a going concern in the UK for half a dozen years or so. We have been fortunate in that we have a wide portfolio of services that has facilitated good growth across a number of technology platforms.

For example a customer that initially just uses Timico for managed MPLS networks will then migrate to using our SIP and then mobile services. The Timico Technology Group is now big enough to be considered a key communications partner for FTSE100 businesses.

Anyway the awards are being held in the Members Dining Room of the House of Commons on Wednesday 21st March at 4pm. A great venue. Wish us luck 🙂

Business ofcom online safety Regs voip

Sat in an ITSPA council meeting discussing strategy.

Many of you will perhaps not have heard of the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association. It is one of hundreds of industry trade associations serving their stakeholders in the UK. ITSPA was formed about 6 years ago at the “dawn of the hosted VoIP industry in this country”.

In its early days ITSPA was involved in the formation of codes of practice – working with Ofcom to define how an internet telephony provider should behave/operate. Things then went quiet for a while though the organisation has top notch networking events where executives get the opportunities to meet other people in the game to catch up on issues (and gossip).

Over the past 12 months industry affecting issues have started to come out of the woodwork.

Business UC voip

ITSPA talk at UC Expo, SMB – the forgotten majority of the Unified Communications market?

I’ve just been preparing a talk I’m giving on behalf of the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (ITSPA) at UC Expo in London on Tuesday. When I was asked to do this talk a few months ago I proposed the title “SMB – the forgotten majority of UC?”

The title held an element of provocation intended to attract punters to hear me speak. However when I dug in to the market numbers on the face of it this is very much the case. SMB represents roughly 15.% of the total market for Unified Communications equipment. This is despite the fact that his sector represents over 50% of the PBX market and, according to the EU, 99% of all businesses in Europe.

I guess this is down to two factors. Firstly most UC vendors provide the functionality as part of a bolt on to big PBX systems, presumably as part of their added value sell. A small business might not necessarily have the expertise or be able to afford to implement UC. A vendor may also not be able to afford the cost of selling these systems in to SMBs.

Secondly when I looked into some old market research into the use of individual components of UC, (Instant Messaging, presence, Unifed Messaging, collaboration , conferencing etc) the benefits of these functions when used by a business were expressed in time savings and moreover the bigger the business the greater the compound benefit.

So by and large UC remains the domain of big business.

There is no real reason why this should be the case. Many of the features mentioned above are openly available as low or zero cost somewhere on the internet. Some even have an element of integration, which is how UC is sold to bigger companies. Skype for example has integrated voice, video, IM and an element of conferencing. There are very few service providers that provide a true UC experience on a hosted basis (Timico is one).  An experience that matches the functionality  of expensive systems bought by large enterprises.

In fact ITSPA dropped the UC category from its Awards because Timico was the only service provider entering in that category (bit of a shame 🙂 ). Timico today does a lot of business with companies with between 250 and 500 staff but when we started selling VoIP we were firmly in the game of selling mainly to small business. As small business owners become more internet savvy I think their responsiveness towards the use of technologies such as Instant Messaging is changing. This has been recognised by the likes of Cisco who have been introducing new products into this space, albeit at the upper end of the spectrum.

Because UC market share statistics are gathered largely from traditional voice equipment vendors I doubt that the true level of penetration of UC features into the SMB market is known. The fact is that due to the cost of selling to SMBs UC services for this market will have to be cloud based and not based on a piece of kit in the corner of the office. I would expect that over the next few years, as SMBs grow comfortable with outsourcing services into the cloud, we should see a change in the penetration of UC into this market which will redress the balance of market segmentation to be more along the lines of the PBX market. This has to be a large opportunity.

Business security UC voip

#ITSPA winter workshop tomorrow – life beyond POTS and #VoIP #security Gigaset Magrathea

If you can you should make it to the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (ITSPA)Winter Workshop being held tomorrow at The King’s Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square. Sponsored by Gigaset and Magrathea two main topics are being discussed:

  1. Life beyond POTS and
  2. VoIP security

Both are interesting areas. The first looks at whether we really have moved beyond just using the telephone for simple voice conversations. The second addresses the wave of VoIP fraud that has been going on in 2010, directed in the main at unsecured open source PBXs. We will be discussing an ITSPA developed position paper on the subject which will include advice on best practice for securing your VoIP service.

The event is between 2 and 5 pm tomorrow with drinks afterwards. If you want to come please contact the ITSPA secretariat at [email protected] or 020 7340 8733. I am moderating both panel sessions.

Business voip

HD Voice Peering Federation launches in UK

Next Gen interconnect carrier XConnect has in the UK today launched The HD Voice Peering Federation, a High Definition Voice initiative. This is something that was discussed at the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (ITSPA) HD Voice workshop I chaired back in June. Whilst it is still early days should provide a good breeding ground for high quality voice interconnects amongst VoIP service providers.

Without such an initiative HD voice services would forever be high (quality) walled gardens with no contact with the outside world.

The initiative is supported initially by vendors Polycom, Broadsoft and Dialogic and has signed up Simwood,

Business internet mobile connectivity voip

Orange HD voice – when will the whole world go HD?

Mobile operator Orange has hit the headlines today with the launch of its HD voice service. Trials for this service, which uses the Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband codec (AMR-WB – otherwise known as  G722.2), began in June this year in the south of England.

The service is initially only for Orange HD handset to Orange HD handset.  This is quite easy to do as “on-net” HD calls using the same codec don’t require transcoding and also do not therefore enter into the black art world of interoperability. 

HD voice has been the subject of discussion amongst the VoIP community in the UK this year.  A fair few vendors

Business internet video

Polycom Telepresence impresses ITSPA

I’ve only seen a single screen telepresence demo before and that was on a noisy exhibition floor.  At Polycom’s City Executive Briefing Centre yesterday I was treated the to a full blown demo and boy was it impressive.  The quality was astounding.

Attendees at the ITSPA Summer Forum sat on one side of an oval conference table that was mirrored on 4 large screens in front of us. A Polycom representative (sorry didn’t catch his name) did the spiel from the other room located in Slough.

It was as if he was in the same room and he could even hear the side conversations going on on our side of the table.

Business ofcom voip

Mobile operators wreaking havoc with pricing

At the ITSPA Summer Forum, held yesterday at Polycom’s City offices  there was a panel of VoIP wholesalers debating the health of the market. The panel consisted of representatives from BT, Gamma, X-Connect, Magrathea and Timico (ie moi).

The market it turns out is very healthy with everyone reporting growth in VoIP minutes over and above old fashioned TDM minutes. We also debated number porting – a large subject in its own right that has already featured on this blog but is going to be a lot more visible over the next few months.

Business voip

ITSPA AGM and Summer Forum at the v plush Polycom offices in the City

Just stepped into the Polycom offices at 69 Old Broad Street in the City. I am here for the ITSPA council meeting, AGM and Summer Workshop.

The offices are super plush and impressively I didn’t have to sign in at reception. The receptionist pushed a button on a panel and a lift door opened to take me directly to the 16th floor. There were no buttons inside the lift to press other than “door open” and “alarm”.

I was whisked straight to the 16th floor and the lift door opened. The receptionist on the 16th floor said “welcome Mr Davies” and showed me to the coffee lounge.

Business voip

ITSPA event just two weeks to go #VoIP #polycom #microsoft

It’s only two weeks to the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (ITSPA) Summer Forum due to take place on Tuesday 13th July at the Polycom offices, Old Broad Street, London.

These events, chaired by yours truly, have become “must attend” occasions for ITSPs in the UK. On this occasion we have a Keynote Speech from Microsoft, an update from BT Openreach on their NGN VoIP plans, a talk from Polycom and a panel discussion on “Wholesale “VoIP. There is also an update from Matt Townend from Illume on the “State of the Union” in the VoIP market.

The wholesale panel has representation from the leading wholesalers in this space: Gamma, Magrathea, BT IP Exchange and X-Connect.

If you want to come there are still some places left though these things usually sell out nearer to the day so you need to be quick. Email [email protected] for more info.

Business ofcom voip

Freshtel leaves Tesco in lurch

Tesco has been using Freshtel as the underlying provider of its VoIP service. Unfortunately the Australian VoIP company announced in March that it was closing its UK operations – something to do with an operating loss of $1.25m.

Tesco service is now apparently scheduled to be shut down on the 27th April. Nobody knows how many customers are affected but the Tesco was aggressively marketing the service for some considerable time so it could be quite a few.

The biggest problem is that Freshtel, being an Australian company and moreover  not being an ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers Association) member, did not have any porting arrangements with anyone in the UK. Ofcom are looking into it but time is short.

I understand that Tesco is talking to both Virgin Media and Cable and Wireless to try and find a solution.  If one of them already hosts the Freshtel number range that could be an easy way out.

The situation is however further complicated by the fact that Tesco not only used low cost equipment at the customer premises but it is also locked to the Tesco service so that changing the VoIP service information for a new service provider is not easy or straightforward.

The whole subject of number portability is still an issue in the UK. Large service providers (BT, C&W et al) have no incentive to make it easy.  They are the likely losers in the portability game.

Although on the face of it these service providers do say that they are willing to engage with other ITSPs in the interest of the customer the reality is that as large organisations they are a) staffed by teams of lawyers who have their jobs/reputations/companies to protect and b) often reluctant to deal with very small organisations who could go bust at any time and leave them with liabilites. These are actually quite understandable problems for large companies.

Dealing with a member of ITSPA notionally does mean that porting to other companies should be relatively easy but it is still early days and the system is not yet necessarily smooth. ITSPA has been campaigning for a standard porting contract to be made available for everyone in the industry to use.  This almost certainly won’t interest the big boys but it could at least make setting up porting arrangents generally easier for everyone else. I’ll report back as I see progress being made here.

Engineer internet

HD voice workshop London #HDvoice

I’m chairing a High Definition Voice Workshop in London on 27th April if anyone is interested in coming along.

The workshop is being organised by the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association and will be held at their premises at 111 Buckingham Palace Road, starting at 2.30.

Business Cloud internet UC

2010 is “Year of the Home Worker”

At Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road rugby ground on Thursday Timico launched “Meet Me Now”, a brand new Web Collaboration and video conferencing service with Presence and IM.

I missed it due to ITSPA prize awarding duties at the House of Commons. I also had to miss out on a long planned trip to watch the annual Oxford v Cambridge varsity match at Twickenham which was also on the same day. You might say that this was very poor diary management!

I’m told that all events went really well. I can vouch for the ITSPA one of course because I was there. Timico was a finalist in two categories (SMB and Enterprise).

Anyway this is not the point of this blog post. We have been reviewing the year at Timico HQ today. The business has grown. Considering the market conditions in 2009 and that the interim results of some of our competitors show shrinkage this has to be taken as extremely positive news.

Next year is I believe going to be another tough one for business. We ain’t though this recession yet. This means that customers are still going to be looking for cost savings and productivity improvements. More so probably.

In 2009 Timico very much saw a trend towards home/distributed working. This, for example, saw one hosted VoIP customer shut their office and set their six employees working from home. There was no disruption to their comms as a result – they were on hosted VoIP.

Clearly for 2010 a product that makes it easier for people to work from home makes a lot of sense. Enter “Meet Me Now”.

Meet Me Now is a multimedia Meet Me Voice Video and Web Collaboration service. It can be used in stand alone mode or for customers using the Timico VoIP For Business service it can also be integrated with your existing voice communications.

Our (home working) sales force has been playing with Meet Me Now for some months and using the service the channel team in particular can sit at home churning through 8 or 10 online Business Partner meetings in a day. It is hugely productive and in fact has encouraged a high number of channel partners to take up the product from day 1. They have already seen the power.

There’s also been a lot of talk about “The Cloud” in 2009. For ease of support reasons home worker solutions are largely going to be “cloudy” if that is the right adjective and certainly this is the case for Meet Me Now.

Quite exciting really. Semi sales pitch over.

Engineer voip

Thus pulls out of VoIP and leaves customers to fend for themselves

Had this link sent to me via the industry grapevine today.  Basically Thus  is closing its “Pipecall” voip service and appears to be leaving customers to their own devices.  This isn’t just a case of people going off and finding an alternative provider.  They need to be able to port their numbers. Typically only BT has porting agreements with absolutely everyone so in this case  Thus’ beleaguered customer base is probably stuck with whatever solution (and pricing) BT might be able to offer them. And it might not be a VoIP solution.

Thus is particularly a special case as the company likely hosted its own numbers on its own interconnect to the BT network.  THUS is not a member of industry trade body ITSPA and does not therefore adhere to the ITSPA Code of Practice in which members endeavour to offer porting to other members.  

The Pipecall user base would almost certainly have had more choice had they been dealing with an ITSPA member company.  Many ITSPA members use wholesale partners to host their numbers and interconnects to what is after all a declining network (ie the PSTN – it doesn’t make sense to invest in “old fashioned” network infrastructure). Thus (not very good pun intended) migration between Communications Providers on a wholesale platform is a lot easier.

As it stands Pipecall customers probably now need help with their comms. If anyone wants to get in touch for advice feel free to contact me  directly. I’ve pasted below the content from the Thus/Demon website on this subject for ease of reading. Oh and by the way Timico is just investing in a major VoIP platform infrastructure upgrade.  Watch this space.  We are in it for the long run.

Why is my account being cancelled?
THUS has made the decision to close the platform which carries the service you are currently using.

Why are you putting an end to the service?
The platform has reached the end of its serviceable life. It is not possible for THUS to effectively maintain it and deliver acceptable levels of reliability, performance and security and as such, the decision has been taken to close it.

What are you putting in place or what are you offering to do with our numbers?
There will not be a directly comparable Voice Over Broadband service available from THUS. See below on how to port your numbers to an alternative provider.

What is being done with my details that are held in your database / system?
These will be deleted.

How do I port my numbers?
Customers wishing to port their numbers should contact BT. If they select an appropriate product from them, BT will port the numbers over themselves when the service goes live.

What will happen to the personalised IVR on my service?
As the service is closed all IVR functionality will be lost. Customers will need to replicate what they had with their preferred new service provider.

What will happen to my stored faxes etc on the control panel?
This functionality will be lost with the service termination.

Will my hardware work with any provider?
We can’t guarantee that it will. However the Voice over Broadband service was built using industry standards, so should your new service also be SIP based, your hardware should still function.

What if I need to collect previous CDR data or invoices post the closure date?
These will be available for 3 months afterwards.

When will the system close?
The system is due to close at the end of September.

I’ve heard about the cease of service but I haven’t received my letter of notice?
The letters were all sent out to our customers registered addresses at the end of August.

While the numbers are being ported, will that cause any downtime to my service?
No. Should your new provider follow the correct procedure there should be no downtime.

Will support still be available after the closure date?
As the service will no longer be operational support will not be available.

I am still within my 12 month contract, will that cease also?

I am in credit on my account, will that be paid to me in full?
Yes – Please contact Customer Services by email via [email protected] or via telephone on 0845 009 0080 (Contactable between 9am-5:30pm Mon-Fri) so that we can arrange for any outstanding payments to be made to you.

How long does it take to port a number?
You will need to speak to your new provider to find out the timescales.
The minimum lead time is 5 working days but your new provider may take longer.

Business ofcom voip

Ofcom market research

Had an interesting meeting with the Ofcom market research team.  This is the team responsible for the Annual Communications Market Report which is a must read if you are in our game.

The meeting was arranged by Ofcom’s Chris Rowsell because the VoIP service provider  industry, via trade body ITSPA, had expressed concern that the VoIP content of last year’s report showed a decline in consumer use of the technology.  This was not the actual experience of the ITSPA membership so this year we wanted to try and help make sure that the research that was conducted was more accurate.

After the meeting I did come away with a certain degree of sympathy for Ofcom.  It is very difficult to come up with an easy definition for VoIP that can be understood by the general public so that accurate research can be conducted. 

It didn’t really help that some of the example service providers used by Ofcom in the research questionnaire were of services that no one in the room had ever heard of. If industry experts could not answer what chance Joe Public?

Another interesting part of the mix is that the only bit of the Annual Report that Ofcom is required to cover under statute is the TV market. This means that the mobile/fixed line telephony/internet bit is optional and the regulator is only interested in covering bits that might affect the legislative decision making process. So consumer VoIP is of interest to them but not business VoIP.

As a Business to Business VoIP provider Timico, along with most ITSPs in the UK is only interested in the business market numbers. This is somewhat disappointing to the industry which is left without a particularly accurate metric of its size.

We left the meeting with a some positive actions. Ofcom is quite happy to take on board suggestions from ITSPA as to how the research can be improved and although there isn’t much time this year to get it done, this is something we will take onboard. Secondly, in the absence of their own data, Ofcom appears to be willing to publish the numbers collected by ITSPA member and Communications Consultancy Illume which gathers basic industry subscriber numbers on a quarterly basis.

Hopefully we will be able to help improve  the VoIP aspect of the report this year.

Business ofcom voip

Ofcom will point to huge VoIP growth in 2009 market review

What is the difference between VoIP and Voice over Broadband? In last year’s Review of the Communications Market in the UK Ofcom specified VoIP as largely PC to PC based services and VoB as a service that looked like a traditional phone line.

The regulator did this because it wanted to characterize the space and understand whether the likes of BT continues to wield Significant Market Power in a fixed line market that is rapidly being replaced by VoIP technology. Fair enough.

The biggest problem was that the market research wasn’t adequately specified and the results suggested that the VoIP market in the UK was going backwards. This is patently rubbish and helps nobody, especially when trying to justify capital expenditure budgets.

In all fairness to Ofcom they recognize that they got their specs wrong and are now keen to remedy this. Yesterday they suggested a get together with ITSPA next month to thrash out ways of better assessing the market size. In the first instance a direct survey of all ITSPA members should cover a large percentage of the numbers.

The next report should therefore suggest a huge, recession busting increase in the number of VoIP users. This is because in the first instance the market will have grown significantly but also the numbers will be compared with an artificially reduced figure the last time round.

In fact it is understandable that the VoIP market should grow in these uncertain economic times. One of the selling points of the technology is cost saving, whether that is by a direct reduction in costs or an improvement in productivity.

What is also interesting is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between a service that is overtly not a traditional phone look alike service and one that is. Skype, for example, sells itself as an IP application and therefore claims to be beyond the law when it comes to having to support 999 access to the emergency services. However Skype can now be used from a handset which looks and feels like a normal phone.

How Ofcom determine which camp Skype fits into will be interesting to see.

Business ofcom voip

Meeting between ITSPA and Ofcom

Had a very interesting and constructive meeting with Chris Rowsell of Ofcom yesterday.  We covered 999 access for VoIP, the Ofcom Communications Market Review and Number Portability. A couple of posts will follow this morning.

Business voip

ITSPA Dinner

Extremely good dinner (booze-up) last night at Percento restaurant on Ludgate Hill in the City of London. The Internet Telephony Service Providers Assocition periodically holds dinners in town where the great and the good of the VoIP industry get together for a bit of networking.

These dinners are astonishingly good value because everyone speaks frankly about what is happening in the industry and it is a great opportunity to keep up with what is happening out there. There is always a lively debate chaired by yours truly.  Steve Ashley Brian of Illume Consulting gave a short talk on the health of the market.  Illume’s quarterly survey of hosted VoIP sales is suggesting a definite slowdown over the last two quarters. 

My thanks to the evening’s sponsor “Digitalk” and to their MD Justin Norris.