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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The race to the new and world wide telco

Globalization is everywhere. Still one of the most crumbled markets is the telecom world (classic telephony or mobile). But we are tired of changing SIM cards as we land, we are tired of remembering to redirect numbers when we leave the office, we are tired to memorize all our phone numbers, someone's gonna fix it ... lots of money still there and the seat of a world wide telco is yet free.

The race (could be called war as well) started: Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft moved troops, stroke and changed the strategies. We know who is top search engine, top gadget maker, top social networking platform or top operating system vendor, but who is going to win the top world-wide telco crown? Time will decide, first for now just a quick look at top fighters.

Microsoft

Being still hot, let's look first at Microsoft and its acquisition Skype.

Deal was agreed, but it is going to take some time to get approved by authorities. This period is a big waste of time. Besides that, the whole eco-system is a mixture, fitting pieces (i.e., Microsoft applications with Skype communication) together to build a puzzle that was not designed for this goal from the beginning it is going to cost more time and quite some money in development and deployment.

Another weak point for this team is poor presence among end user mobile terminals. Windows 7 for mobiles is at its very young age, iOS and Android have far more third addons that significantly balance the end user decisions of what to buy. Moreover Microsoft does not have a branded hardware yet that attracts customers. Buying Nokia can bring them the infrastructure, the knowledge to build mobile hardware and more distribution channels, still the 'device' is not there since Nokia does not have it either. Therefore more lost time.

Many presented their friendly relation with Telecoms as a strong point, I see it completely different, we talk here about taking parts of telecom cake, so it can turn against rather than help them. I expect Telecoms reducing Microsoft's revenue on other channels (desktop and server OS, productivity applications, a.s.o.) once it starts direct competition.

Apple

The company is lone rider. Does cool stuff, good looking devices and rich user experience that everyone want, but for the other companies is hard to do business with them. Apple has a 'good' reputation of changing the rules in the middle of the game as they like.

They are well positioned regarding mobile devices with iPhone and I would count even iPad and iPod Touch. The upcoming iCloud can provide the needed infrastructure to run telecom service.

Facetime service looked interesting, still none of my close contacts switched to use it as primary communication channel. I don't have figures about their subscriber base, but can be the seed for the telecom plans.

Google

By using Gmail ID Google solves quickly the addressing space with unique user ID in a convenient way. The subscriber base is big enough to be very appealing to use the service or interconnect with.

With GPhone and especially with Android OS for mobile phones and pads, Google is extremely well positioned at this moment, recently outselling iPhone.

Google offers GTalk and Google Voice products for voice communication, too separated so far in my opinion.

Facebook

The famous social networking relies primarily on its user base. They realized that lack of a public Facebook unique ID is working against them, so recently they added own email service and try to force users to choose their Facebook address.

End user controlled device is missing completely right now, there were rumors about a Facebook phone, nothing for sale so far. Their messaging system is open for federating through XMPP, an open standard, but internally it is different.

My thoughts

Money is not a big issue for any of these companies, what matter is the time and the immediate gain of taken decisions.

What I would like to see from the new telecom model? Freedom in communication and mobility for users, plus a proper mapping of the service on the Internet architecture and use what drives the Internet and made it famous (the DNS). What I expect?
  • be able to choose my contact addresses (what used to be phone numbers), where people can call me. I am Daniel, not the only Daniel in this world, but I am the one at Kamailio project, so daniel@kamailio.org can uniquely point to me.
  • be able to interconnect easily with my own brewed telco system. Look at how email is working - Internet domains (DNS) for routing.
  • be able to migrate easily my own brewed service to world wide telco's infrastructure (porting my addresses) and the other way around. DNS is again straightforward the solution
  • be free in the content of the communication, no restrictions on media type imposed by core network
At this moment I see SIP, the open standard protocol very popular in Voice over IP, as the right direction. Yes, I am a SIP guy, but it is hard to argue against the next facts:
  • SIP has a very large end user equipment base in place - SIP is deployed by many operators and present in form of hardware or software to hundreds of millions of people, probably more than Skype has as Tim Paton stated. That means if one of the companies starts a very appealing SIP service, it costs nothing to all those owners of SIP devices to join the club - a huge market already prepared.
  • Interconnection still drives a lot of money in telecom - a trusted world wide company that can offer direct SIP-to-SIP interconnect at cheap rates can secure good revenue from existing SIP-based VoIP operators just by offering a bypass of PSTN.
  • SIP was designed with IP networks in mind, therefore it has email-like addresses and DNS in the core of the protocol
  • Native extensions for end-to-end (proxy model, see below) Text Messaging and Presence
  • It works with any real-time media streaming communication - voice, video, desktop sharing, a.s.o.
Using SIP is not easy though, has to be done carefully, the most important aspect is to forget what a classic Telco does and design a new telecom model:
  • forget about implementing the intelligence in the core network - back-to-back user agent model does not scale to world-wide telco target and imposes restrictions on type of communication. Proxy model scales much more better and requires only the basics of SIP - just interconnect people and operators.
  • stick to basics of SIP - specifications that worked always and they are very simple to implement. If your engineers cannot design the service using less than 10 SIP related RFCs (3 being the core of the protocol), fire them, is going to be too much of classic telecom.
  • let the end device be in charge of communication - people like smartphones, they pay a lot for such devices and then want to use them to full features set
  • charge based on time or volume of data, not type of communication - I may have my new SIP application doing 3D holograms, don't hunt the content type to rise the price, it is a set of bits flowing around for anything, period
  • TLS as primary transport layer - protect people against ISPs blocking VoIP, ensures encryption of content (texting and presence) and privacy (who is calling who). Moreover, for Interconnect services will provide good authentication of peers, without the overhead of setting new access rules for any new server a company is powering up, removing as well the risk of SPIT
  • no allocation of random numbers - provide the option for people to choose their contact ID, email-like addresses is something people are familiar with and remember easily
Regarding the technology, if there is nothing developed in-house for the infrastructure part, using open source would bring real advantages. From the applications I am familiar with:
  • Kamailio SIP server for proxy - hard to beat scalability for routing SIP, including secure TLS communication from end user to core network or for interconnect, plus SCTP as a good choice for within core network communication
  • a good range of software for dedicated Voice application servers, e.g., Asterisk, Freeswitch or SEMS
  • gazillions of extensions already in place for add-on services and interaction with social networking or other IP services
  • access to source code to develop further enhancements in-house for new needs and be able to integrate with the other services offered by third parties or the company itself
How about you? What would you like to get from a new world wide telco? Which technology would be today the best to choose? Do you think of any other company able to run in the race?

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