End User internet Legal net neutrality

Consumer Rights and Net Neutrality

Consumer Rights is a far less toxic term than Net Neutrality.

I’ve previously written for Trefor.Net on the subject of Net Neutrality and what it means to members of the VoIP community. And I think it’s high time for an update, but this time considering consumer rights.

After a promising start the European Union went off the rails, passing a first reading of a text that essentially outlawed 4G services. VoLTE requires prioritisation. Hard line elements on the subject of “net neutrality” managed to convince a strange coalition that it was a good idea to promote their ideological definition just before an election. It was spun as a vote winner, this despite that fact that 999 calls would no longer be treated differently. Consumer rights being protected, were they?

Unforeseen consequences at their worse, which is why I believe that net neutrality is now a toxic term and should be avoided. In fact, I’ve worked on briefing documents that are four pages long that completely avoid the term. I also try to avoid “Open Internet” for similar reasons, as both — as I’ve written before — mean different things to different people.

That’s where consumer rights come into play.

What we want is a level playing field. We want a distribution system for content that doesn’t discriminate against certain types of lawful content for vested reasons. Most of all, we don’t want people misled, and we want consumer rights upheld.

If you ask the average consumer on the street whether Skype and YouTube are part of the internet, anyone other than a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia that would no doubt answer “no”. By extension, I defy you to find anyone, other than hardcore employees of EE and Vodafone, who would suggest that internet access does not include access to Skype, YouTube, or similar services.

Remember the outrage when people were buying 15 burgers for 99p and it transpired that those burgers were made from horses? It’s the same thing. It’s a basic principle of consumer law that you don’t mislead at the point of sale; be it overtly or through trickery in the small print. Consumer rights need to be protected.

This is why I was so heartened to see Philip Davies MP (Conservative member of Parliament for Shipley) build upon his great performance sticking it to Ed Richards (Ofcom CEO – 40 minutes into the video on the link) on the subject by tabling an amendment to the latest consumer rights bill. This amendment basically just said that you can’t call something “internet” unless it complies with the spirit of everything I’ve said before. For those who are interested, the amended stated;

A term which has the object or effect of permitting a trader to block, restrict or otherwise hinder the access of a consumer to any lawful Electronic Communications Network or Electronic Communications Service on the basis of an unreasonable or unusual definition of “internet access”, “data”, “web access” or similar word or phrase. Nothing in this prohibition shall affect filters for the purpose of child protection.

Electronic Communications Network or Electronic Communications Service shall have the same meaning as in the Communications Act 2003.

tn_own_consumer-rights_tweetPhilip Davies MP is a libertarian Conservative and as a result is one of my favourite MPs. This means he’s often at polar opposites to Her Majesty’s Opposition and an uncomfortable bed fellow with their coalition partners. That makes it even more incredible that the amendment was gladly supported by both the Shadow Minister, Helen Goodman MP and Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat Member for. Cambridge and a good advocate for the technological community). A rare moment of cross party backbench support that, alas, was defeated without Government support, which is still backing the self regulation horse.

All the amendment sought to do was to ensure that the likes of Vodafone and historically EE would be unable to call a spade anything other than a spade and that consumer rights would be upheld. As such, defeat was a great disappointment.

In any event, word on the street is that there may soon be new signatories to the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s Open Internet Code of Conduct. The amendment may get re-tabled in the House of Lords. And The Council of Europe may well get its ducks back in a row.

The battle is one that is very much being fought on three fronts, however the momentum is now behind those of us who just want a level playing field to compete on. Who knows, it might even be over by Christmas.

Business UC voip

What’s your Lync address?

Lync video call screenshot with Terry Bowers and Trefor DaviesThis good looking boy in the screenshot is Terry Bowers, Head of Professional Services at Timico Technology Group business Redwood Telecommunications. We are obviously engaged in serious conversation as neither of us is smiling.

The client itself is a feature of Microsoft’s Lync, something we decided to play with at Redwood following the UC Expo (UC = Unified Communications) trade show earlier this year. Redwood now have it installed at a number of their customers and it is regularly used in communications between these companies and also with suppliers.

We are using an all in one Lync box from Active Communications, This is a lovely appliance that removes the need to deploy the complexity of servers1 that has been Lync (note innovative & brand new collective noun). ACS have not only integrated Lync but have done it using virtualisation which means you can deploy it within your own virtual infrastructure. Also it scales very nicely.

I use a number of multimedia clients such as the one shown in the screenshot. There’s Timico’s own Genband based Outlook client, Google and Skype. All are used to talk to different communities and whilst there are some differences they typically all work well.

A few observations arise:

Business voip

Microsoft to pay a lot of money for Skype? – back to dot com bubble days?

Rumours abound this morning on the Twittersphere that Microsoft is about to announce the acquisition of Skype for $8.5Bn. That’s 10x 2010 revenues, a year in which Skype reported a loss of $7m! That loss itself was a dramatic reduction on the previous year but Microsoft is still betting on big growth ahead.

This is all very good news for entrepreneurs who invested in private communications companies way back in 2003/2004 and whose businesses are actually profitable :).

I’m not sure however how the Skype brand fits with Microsoft. Skype is associated with free or very cheap. Microsoft is expensive although not as expensive as Apple. Microsoft is desperate to improve its web offering which Skype does for it.

Skype has a big overlap with MSN. Is this a problem? Do people still use MSN? Skype also overlaps with Lync. How will that fit? Lync for medium and large enterprise, Skype for small? Or will they just run Skype as a separate entity in which case where will the leverage come from? Note that only 2% of search engine traffic to this blog is from Bing!

I don’t have the answers. Also I’m sure there are many more questions than this. What I can say is that life is far from boring when it comes to the internet and the world wide web. More, I’m sure, in due course.

PS I don’t normally indulge in rumour mongering but this seems likely to break today and I will be out and about and not in a position to post to the blog. So I’m getting in early!

Business net neutrality ofcom Regs surveillance & privacy

Net Neutrality debate in Westminster – surprise vote turnaround

portcullisIn Westminster yesterday BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones chaired a Net Neutrality debate on a motion entitled:

“That this House agrees that traffic management is essential for the running of modern networks and that improved and enforceable transparency and market competition will ensure that consumers are protected from potentially negative effects.”

In an initial vote 50% of those present were in favour of the motion with perhaps 10 – 15% against but there was a twist.

Business internet mobile connectivity

Fixed Mobile Convergence needs a philosophical change amongst the mobile operator community

FMC is really the nirvana where all networks finally converge. We are already experiencing it with internet connectivity – I keep up to date with facebook, twitter (and, ahem, of course work and email) via the internet connection on my mobile phone. We use both WiFi and 3G/GPRS to do this and whilst service can be intermittent it does work and is reasonably ubiquitous.

Convergence of voice over fixed and mobile networks is really the final piece of the jigsaw. Since Timico started selling VoIP services around 5 years ago we have been looking at FMC solutions. These have all been based on WiFi for the mobile piece.

Business voip

Skype Sold

In what must be eBay’s biggest ever sale it looks like the online auctioneer has got out of jail free with Skype which it sold yesterday to a consortium of private investors. The deal valued Skype at $2.75 billion.  eBay gets $1.9 billion cash, a $125 million note and retains a 35% stake in the company.

It wasn’t long after eBay originally paid around $3 billion for Skype that the strategic value of the investment was being questioned. This eventually appeared to be acknowledged by the company with a $900 million write-off. This latest deal will likely now show as a profit on the eBay’s books and considering the hit that markets have had over the last year must be considered to be a serious result.

Skype turned over $551million in 2008 and says it will hit sales of $1Bn by 2011. Other VoIP service providers will be interested in the valuation. Assuming an even growth between now and 2011 this suggests that it will do around $700 million in 2009 which represents a multiplier of 4.14 times sales.

Skype still very much has issues that will need sorting out. It is currently facing a legal battle with its original founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis over the rights to use the Intellectual Property that underpins the whole service.

The only real option the company has is to strike a deal to continue to have access to the technology. The alternative would be a wholesale change to SIP which would involve a huge global investment and a logistical nightmare when it came to the switchover.

Nevertheless Skype does now look to be a better bet than other high profile VoIP plays such as Vonage who also became embroiled in patent litigation and ended up paying a fortune to wriggle free.

Business internet net neutrality voip

Net neutrality, Skype and Commissioner Reding

Continuing with the theme of reports I’ve been reading the EuroISPA report that comes across my desk every month. Like it or not when the EC magisterially waves its authoritative hand we do feel the ripples in the UK.

This month in response to a parliamentary question on T-Mobile blocking Skype over broadband networks in Germany, Commissioner Reding, interestingly, referred to the provision of the Universal Directive, namely art. 2(3), whereby National Regulatory Authorities are empowered to intervene by setting minimum quality of service requirements for network transmission services, “as an additional safeguard in instances where competitive forces alone, are not enough to safeguard the openness of the Internet”.

If you’re like me your mind goes blank when you read all this regulatory jargon.  However with this one we need to note that in the pursuit of net neutrality, which as a consumer I’m all for, setting minimum quality of service levels requirements on ISPs is going to cost money. Skype should not be blocked by anyone but neither should ISPs be obliged to prioritise Skype traffic without someone footing the bill.

By the way you can use Skype to your heart’s content on the Timico network though most of our business VoIP customers chose to use our own VoIP service.

Business voip hardware

Interview with Dean Elwood of

deanelwoodDean Elwood runs the industry leading website Over the 6 years this has been going Dean has come into contact with most of the major thought leaders in the communications space. He has also seen many of the new developments in VoIP play out in the form of discussion and comment on the website’s forum which has given him an unique insight into the workings of the VoIP industry.

TD I understand that for many of us there was life before VoIP and that you were in the legal profession. How did this enormous career step change come about?

DE Organically. 16 years of corporate law has its way of taking toll on you. I always maintained an interest in technology and looking back that’s really where my heart was. The defining moment happened in 2000 when I originally built a GSM conferencing system for two-way radio. VoIP User came about because of that in 2003.

TD VoIP has gone from being in the domain of the technology enthusiast (quite a long time ago now) to being mainstream. Has the growth in subscribers reflected this and how has the nature of the discussion topics changed in this time?

DE That’s an interesting question and one I re-visit myself from time to time. VoIP User has experienced a growth rate average of 50 new members/subscribers per day and it has not deviated from that in 6 years. It’s still the same as it was at day one. I’m not sure I can explain the reason why, other than to say that I feel VoIP User is an attraction to the early adopter and this maybe represents the rate of growth in the early adopter space.

We have noticed a change in the discussion topics to more mass market type threads however. I’ve noticed that in particular in the business space – a lot more IT professionals realising they are having to become PBX specialists due to the fact that telephony is more and more falling into their remit. These days if you’re an IT manager, that will typically involve you in voice services. 5 years ago that was a role relating to PC hardware and software management. That’s a change which is very obvious when you look at some of the threads in our Business Forum.

TD Would you say that you had had a scoop of any kind on voipuser?

DE Several over the years, but recently as we’ve become a bit more mainstream we tend to get embargoed. I had the scoop on GrandCentral/Google Voice back in December but was asked (very nicely) not to publish as it would interfere with Google’s marketing plan. So I obliged which is what we typically do. We do not wish to be seen in the same light as traditional media – we’re not here to interfere with marketing plans, we’re here to inform users. So with that one we waited until it was public and then talked about it. What I did do was have a detailed piece pre-written and ready which sat on my laptop for about 2 months awaiting the go-ahead. I prefer it that way. Making scoops can mean making enemies of marketing directors 😉

TD In the early days VoIP service providers had pride of place at conferences such as Voice on the Net (VON) and would attract the attention of every single device and handset manufacturer in the world. Nowadays there are hundreds if not thousands of ITSPs and almost as many device manufacturers. Do you think that it is too late for new players to get in the game.

DE I don’t think being too late is the issue; I think the issue is understanding what “the game” is. From my perspective there are huge opportunities. For example, the compliance and regulatory space is wide open. Life is getting tougher on lawyers and accountants to produce audit trail evidence of conversations.

There are plenty of ways that a niche specialist could build a business in that space alone and there is precious little out there serving that customer base. I think a product that serves those specific industries and integrated SMS and voice call trails into existing systems (MimeCast for example) would do extremely well.

That’s a simple example of providing a solution to a very real-world problem and I still feel there is scope for that approach in this space. Niche yourself, attack a specific market and do it extremely well. Long gone are the days of wanting to be the next Vodafone or IPO or Skype level sale, but that’s not to say that there is no room left. I think there’s plenty.

TD What in your mind have been the major milestones in the VoIP industry?

DE I could say the obvious – Skype sale to eBay, ubiquity of broadband and of SIP etc. But the truth is I don’t feel we’ve really seen any major milestones yet from a consumer perspective. VoIP as a technology is still yet to prove it’s value in terms of offering advantages over TDM.

At the moment it remains an alternative technology for voice and that’s all (with most providers playing on the cost-saving end). It’s not yet become an alternative *product* in it’s own right. That needs to happen. That would be a real milestone.

TD What is the recipe for success for a VoIP business today?

DE  Understand your customer. Release products that are a direct reaction to their specific requirements or solve their specific problems. Don’t release products or buy other companies simply because your engineering department thinks it’s a “cool” technology.

Technology is meaningless without a valid product reason for its existence and a sales channel to get it out. We saw a lot of meaningless and/or cheap minutes plays in 2008. The only things that people will buy from you in 2009 are products that solve specific problems your customer or target market is experiencing.

Martin Geddes (BT Director of Product Strategy) is someone that understands this very well. His headline statement is “People are expensive, minutes are cheap”. If you can get an employee off the phone 20 minutes more quickly then your customer (as an employer) will be quite happy paying you 5p/minute more than your competitor is charging because the customer saves real money, not pennies. That’s where the profits lie in this business, not in cheap minutes. If you’re in the latter space, watch out for the price wars and high customer churn rates. VoIP as a technology is actually an enabler to doing clever things like call avoidance and dynamic call control and routing.

TD VoIP has come a long way since the beginning. Quality of Service has all but disappeared as an issue and we are now starting to see VoIP calls with much better sound quality than traditional PSTN calls. How much farther do you think VoIP has to go?

DE I’m not convinced that QoS has all but disappeared. I still have clients experiencing this issue today when not in control of the last-mile of connectivity (where most of the QoS problems actually arise). Timico solves this problem because you’re in control of that last-mile as an ISP, so QoS is something that you can offer your customer and perhaps it’s therefore something you don’t see anymore. That’s a good place to be in, but many are not in that position and have to look elsewhere for their value adds.

Moving further forward, I think hi-def audio is a good place to be in. That really makes a difference, especially in conference calls or when you’re speaking to people with strong accents or native language differences. The clarity of hi-def solves the problem of understanding someone in those situations. It is something that requires the support of hardware manufacturers though, for obvious reasons, to really come to fruition.

Most ITSP’s that I speak to really want to do hi-def, but don’t have the hardware support to make it possible for their customers. It’s a critical mass/chicken and egg problem but I do think that loop will be broken. Jeff Pulver is going all out to try and break that loop at the moment as you know.

TD Do you think the term VoIP has had its day? The world seems to have moved on to using the term Unified Communications and even this in my mind is inadequate as a description of the experience that users are going to get with new communications technologies and tools. How should we be describing this new experience?

DE VoIP as a buzzword and sales point has definitely had its day. If you take 100 consumers and ask them what VoIP means 95 of them will respond with “Skype” in the sentence. The other 5 are early adopters/technology enthusiasts. Skype achieved that brand position by productising the technology. Unified Communications is an inadequate expression only because the 95% don’t understand what you mean. Nobody has productised it yet.

If you say to an accountant that their voice calls can be logged into the same compliance system as their email they’ll understand the point and see the value to them. That’s what productisation is. I don’t believe there is any single expression that will make that point to the mass market. Like Skype, I believe this movement will be product-led and not technology or catch-phrase led. There is an opening right now for a brand to immerse itself into the UC space in the same way that Skype immersed itself into the VoIP space or Google in the search space.

TD We do live in a world where volumes are almost the be all and end all. Who do you think will be the major players in the global VoIP game. A couple of players seem to be nosing ahead of the pack, in the consumer market at least.

DE I only see one player ahead of the pack at the moment in the consumer space and that’s Skype. Everyone else, as Jeff Pulver remarked at the ITSPA 2007 event, is “just noise”. Whilst there is money to be made in the noise it’s becoming much harder in the economic downturn that we’re experiencing. I honestly don’t believe for a moment that many of the tech-household names that we know in this space will be around in Q1 2010. I still feel the market is wide open for a clever product play and I think it will take that to ensure survival.

TD You personally produced an embedded client for Truphone for Facebook. Where else are we likely to see such clients and will we recognize them as such? Is the VoIP enabled fridge any nearer happening (it being one of the trendy futuristic uses of VoIP for almost the whole 10 years I have been in the industry).

As soon as the VoIP enabled fridge is available you and I will be buying one, so there’s two customers! I don’t think we need to recognise what they are, as consumers, I think we only need to recognise value in the product. We don’t really care what’s driving it or how it works, just that it adds value somehow. If that value is simply that I can make hands-free calls from my kitchen then that’s great. That might be all that device needs to do to satisfy me as a customer. In that case it could be my toaster – we don’t have to stop at fridges!

I do think we’ll see more voice oriented applications within the social networking space and there is definitely an opportunity to be capitalised on there. Second Life is currently routing one billion minutes per month between its users, for example.

TD Where is it all going?

DE Voice minutes are a commodity. I think many business models exist with a long history that shows us what happens when a service gets commoditised so we don’t really need to guess, we can just look back.

Aviation is one such example. When you look at times in history when the airline industry has hit rock bottom (through price cuts in times of trouble), a few go bust, several consolidate and a scarce few do well. The ones that do well are the ones that are selling an expensive service with a value add. They rise above the commodity price by adding value to the raw service.

During a terrible climate for the aviation industry between 1999 and 2003 the airlines that did well looked at user-experience and made changes there. They did video on demand. They created rapid check-in processes. They saved you time (see Martin Geddes quote above) and gave you good in-flight entertainment which meant the time you had to spend (in flight) at least had some value. A good end to end user-experience.

That’s all they needed to do to pursuade flyers that it was worth spending the extra money to fly with them. They started selling expensive airmiles, coupled to value-adds focussing on the value of peoples time.

I see the telecoms industry going the same way. But while everyone else is jumping on to the cheap minutes bandwagon and causing commoditisation the best thing to do is the opposite. Be in the expensive minutes business with a value add and great user-experience that saves your customers more money than cheap minutes alone. All of this really just equates to recognising the value of your customers time and recognising that VoIP is a technology that has the capability to rise above the low-end proposition of cheap minutes.

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 internet voip

Data Retention Act Absurdity

The Data Retention Act, as you will know from previous posts requires Communications Providers, when requested, to store information concerning voice calls, emails and potentially Instant Messages sent and received by its customers.

I learned yesterday that this will not apply to IM services of companies such as Facebook that are defined as “information society services”.  This does tend to make the whole Act an absurdity in my book.  Also what happens when Google launches VoIP in the UK? Is Google an information society service?

It would be interesting to understand how the reg will apply to P2P services such as Skype?  I’m sure I must have been told sometime.

Business mobile connectivity

Mobile VoIP action hotting up

One of my predictions for 2009 was that mobile VoIP would finally come of age. In the last two weeks there have been significant announcements in this space.

Firstly Google announced a service called Google VoIP that is intended to be a rival to Skype. The service will also do voice to text when someone leaves a voicemail and send it to you via SMS or to your Gmai inbox.  Ther service is initially only available in the USA and then only to customers of telephony company Grand Central who Google bought some time ago and have since temporarily stopped accepting new customers.

Secondly Nokia has announced native support for Skype on its new N97 handset available later this year. The Skype service will run over either WiFi or 3G when the former is not available.

However all the mobile networks apart from Vodafone have said they will block VoIP calls over 3G. Whether they do or not it is a fact that VoIP over 3G is not a cheap option.  I did a rough calculation last year and the bandwidth costs from handsets are such that the cost would be much the same as if you were making a normal mobile voice call.

Whether the networks block the VoIP traffic or not this is another step toward mainstream mobile VoIP.  I will be looking at a similar service myself this year.

Business ofcom security voip

Skype Security Italian Style

The BBC today has reported that Italian crooks are using Skype to avoid detection by police who use traditional wiretapping to monitor phone calls. The Skype signaling and  media path is encrypted which makes it very difficult to tap into. Also because, as a Peer to Peer protocol Skype doesn’t use any centralised servers that might be able to be monitored it adds to the difficulty for law enforcement agencies.

The whole problem is then compounded by the fact that because VoIP/Skype is a very nomadic service, ie you can use it from any internet connection anywhere, it becomes difficult to track the location of a caller.

This is a problem being looked at by Ofcom as part of the process of caller location identification for the emergency services. Currently if someone makes a 999 call from an unknown address, it is difficult to pin down where that call is being made from, at least in a timely manner.

There was a high profile Canadian case where someone dialled for an ambulance and it went to a location three thousand miles from where the call was actually being made from because the address held by the operator was not the address from which the call was being made. 

When a VoIP call is made the details of the call logged by the Internet Telephony Service Provider include the IP address of the originating party. If you are an Internet Service Provider (note the distinction between ITSP and ISP – an ITSP often does not provide the underlying broadband service) you can correlate this IP address with a physical address (ie house number and street).

The problem is that this is a manual process and would likely take hours at best and potentially a couple of days. This is a process that could be automated but it is something that would probalby cost billons to implement universally in the UK.

I’m sure there will be more to say on this subject in 2009. As a final note it is often said that the security forces, aka GCHQ and CIA et al have not cracked the Skype encryption technology. I find this difficult to believe.

Business ofcom voip


Monday 8th of September is an important day for Internet Telephony Service Providers. This is the day by which they have to support Access to the Emergency Services by VoIP phone ie 999 must work when dialled.

There has been much debate amongst the global VoIP provider community as to how much regulation should be applied to VoIP. In the USA it centres largely on commercial issues. In other words telephone calls are taxed but VoIP calls were not taxed, at least initially. The argument was that VoIP calls are actually just computer to computer data traffic and not telephony as traditionally defined.

The incumbent telephony providers have fought hard to have VoIP  calls taxed in order to remove the competitive advantage notionally handed to VoIP companies.  Clearly it is in the interest of the VoIP provider community not to be subject to taxation. The justification for this is that it would stifle innovation amongst new market entrants. There is a case for this.

In the UK the argument is different. Regulation is not so much about taxation as personal safety. In this case Ofcom, the UK regulator, has mandated that if you provide telephony services that allow connection to and from traditional PSTN phone numbers you must provide access to the Emergency Services.

The Ofcom pronouncement comes with constraints including making sure that customers are aware that VoIP calls probably aren’t going to work if there is a power cut of if the broadband connection carrying the calls is down.

I am fully supportive of the Ofcom position.  What is going to be interesting is how the regulator responds to companies like Skype who at this time do not support 999 access and as far as I am aware have no plans to do so. Buyer beware.

End User security voip

Identity theft – Skype style

If your business uses Skype then you could do worse than check out all the cases of identity theft that have been occuring in the Skype user community. For those who don’t know Skype is a free PC based VoIP telephony service that also allows paid for calls in and out from the PSTN. It has always been tagged as an insecure service which potentially opens a corporate network to hacking.

Recently Skype users have been having their identities stolen, and their accounts being used to make illegal phone calls. What’s more if you periodically top up your Skype account using PayPal note that people have found their bank accounts being debited of funds to pay for someone else’s calls. This on it’s own is bad enough but the problem is compounded by the fact that you can’t ring up Skype to complain or get it sorted. Skype relies on email contact for support with apparently slow or non existent response.

What’s more your exposure as a business is exacerbated by the fact that in stealing your identity a Skype hijacker can also steal the business contacts you keep in your Skype account with who knows what consequences.

You can read more about the Skype problems on The Register and if you want to phone a VoIP service provider to discuss how to get a professional service call 08700 949600. 

Business mobile connectivity

Another angle on tromboning

Tromboning is the method used by some operators providing access to mobile services in the UK. It is cheaper to route the calls via the USA and back into the UK than to do it directly to a mobile. The downside is longer call set up times and sometimes poorer call quality.

I have just invented a new type of tromboning. My friend Terry has an American daughter. She is over on holiday (vacation) and he got her a pay as you go SIM from Orange (Orange). There was as usual a bewildering choice of tariffs. He settled on one that charged 20p per minute for any UK network including landlines and only 6p for calls to the USA.

If she needs picking up from town she calls he mum (mom) in Oklahoma and mum calls dad in Lincoln (England) using Skype (insecure consumer VoIP). Even if she used her landline service it would still be cheaper than a call to a UK network from her UK pay as you go mobile.

broadband Business security voip

Supernode Discovery

I am quite excited because I think I might have discovered a Supernode. A Skype Supernode that is.


Skype doesn’t have it’s own network infrastructure. Instead as a peer to peer technology it takes data from Skype clients around the world and identifies which users have plenty of bandwidth and processing power available. This user then becomes a Supernode which handles some of the Skype network signalling functions.


Being a broadband Supernode is not at all super as what you are effectively doing is  letting other Skype users use the broadband bandwidth that you are paying for yourself.


This customer was complaining that his quad bonded ADSL was underperforming. He was right. He was getting 1Mbps instead of his normal 9Mbps. We sent an engineer onsite and found that the customer had taken it upon himself to do some internal rewiring and had laid the ADSL cables on top of his ring main power cable. The interference from the main was causing the poor performance.


We moved the cables away from the main and hey presto the original high speed returned.


As part of the debug process we did some traffic sniffing on his network and found serious levels of peer to peer packets which turned out to be Skype.


I’m not saying that Skype in this case caused his broadband connectivity to slow down but business users should be aware of the problem. It should also be noted that Skype traffic is encrypted, at least the IM part. This means that virus scanners can’t pick up potential problem packets coming into the corporate network. Look out sensitive competitive information! Don’t keep your bank details on the network!