eComm Europe 2009: Can We Get Down to Business?

When Martin Geddes started out his eComm Europe launch keynote talking about real customer pains and how they needed to be addressed from a user interaction viewpoint, I had hope that maybe we would be hearing more about real business cases in the emerging communications world. What we have learned from the subsequent presentations include:

  • Carriers and operators are gradually figuring out they need to be in the “Internet pipes” business (as a channel simply for transporting IP packets) OR the service provider business (acting as a retailer providing specific services as basic as email or as complex as multi-currency transaction processing engines). Those that don’t get it will fade away.
  • We’re a long way from having LTE accepted, let alone available, as an ultra high speed wireless protocol. The business case, from both a technology and financial perspective, has yet to be made.
  • Value add is through “wow” user experiences; value your customer’s time when handling voice communications and the issue of cost goes away.
    • Calliflower detects callerID to eliminate need for PIN numbers
    • Time Warner will auto-confirm that a service person is coming.
    • Voxygen’s “revolutionary callerID” demonstrates a “rich callerID” experience for both the customer and the merchant in completing an online sales transaction.
  • Layar.FeaturedScreen.Canada.180px The most promising and innovative application: Layar – an “augmented reality” web browser that sets new levels of performance for location-based services; they won the eComm Application award. Available at the Android Market and the iPhone App Store. Watch for Layar to spawn a network of location-based services application developer partners such as Winvolve.
  • Small but important facts that came out:
    • GIPS Video engine is using the H.264 SVC codec to allow the viewing experience at the end points of a video conference call to reflect the quality of connection at the end points.
    • Skype’s SILK codec is the first voice codec that has not evolved from a TDM codec which has implications from an engineering and development viewpoint (noted by Tim Panton of in his presentation on deploying the SILK codec in a yet-to-be-announced project).
    • Skype’s Sten Tamkivi pointing out that, whereas most carriers will have, on average, 2,000 calling corridors for completing calls internationally, Skype has over 40,000 calling corridors. Very significant as Skype for Business launches its new services. (A calling corridor determines that actual routing of an inter-carrier call from the caller end-point to the terminating end point.)
  • Perhaps the most interesting prototype demonstration was Tim Panton’s Google Wave – Skype – Asterisk prototype demonstration. Phil Wolff at Skype Journal calls it a “Cool  Demo”.

But, I’m with Alec Saunders on a key point: we heard lots about the technology, the carrier and financing issues, “neat” applications. But we heard little, if any, about business implementation cases. We need to hear more about:

    • Who is using these offerings?
    • Where have the new paradigms for telecom allowed small businesses to take advantage of what were previously enterprise level services, such as call centers and voice as a service?
    • Where are the business case studies of implementations?

Alec sums it up best in his post, eComm: Time to Change the Station,:

It is, however, time to stop talking about the death of the incumbent. Let’s instead change the conversation – acknowledge that the carrier network is a platform, and that the carrier has a need for an application community, and begin the dialog between network partners and developers about the ability for those operators to help us get to market.

While we’re at it, let’s also change the channel, dial away from the conversation about “mash-ups”, and focus instead on user needs, the user experience of communications, and the economics associated with that user experience.  By focusing on the business value of the services being developed instead of the technology platform, we can all become better able to reach the customer with game changing new communications services.

Make sense?  It’s an idea who’s time has come.

Full disclosure: Why do I have this viewpoint? I have recently completed managing a project that takes advantage of cloud computing and software-as-a-service to develop a website for a vacation home condominium project where the primary hotel renting our units went under and closed due to Mr. Madoff’s impact on the owner’s finances. As a result we, as the condominium owners, had to implement our own reservation management and booking website with services that would have cost over $500,000 fifteen years ago but had an initial cost this  summer under $20,000. We replaced a telephone switchboard, an onsite reservation system and guest registration system with much more flexibility in the entire guest experience from initial reservation to final check-out. We incorporated WordPress, OnState (with Skype as a calling option), InnRoad, YouTube, Google Maps and Twitter.The entire story will be in another post but you can check out the website here.

There must be many similar stories building up these days; eComm needs to find and tell these types of stories. (And, Lee, you have your first submission for eComm America 2010.)

However, to end on a positive note, eComm Europe 2009 was still the learning experience I was looking for. How important was eComm? My own home carrier, Rogers Communications, had two attendees – one of the few carrier companies at this most important industry-altering event.

Acknowledgment and disclosure: The author’s attendance at eComm Europe 2009 was supported by In Store Solutions, vendor of the FreeTalk Everyman Headset for Skype. In Store Solutions provided an Everyman headset to all eComm Europe 2009 attendees. The author provides business development services to In Store Solutions due to his previous experience with distribution channels and partner programs.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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7 Responses to eComm Europe 2009: Can We Get Down to Business?

  1. Aswath Rao November 1, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    Why do you not consider Speex codec to be the first one that didn't evolve from PSTN codec? This is analogous to Skype getting credit for NAT traversal technique when schemes were well known, documented and used in the gaming industry. 🙁

    • Jim Courtney November 1, 2009 at 7:26 am #

      Aswath, thanks for your comment. In this case I am only reporting what I heard (and Lee reinforced the comment during a break). Let's hope someone with more familiarity than I can comment.

  2. Tim Panton November 1, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    Aswath – I think you can argue a good case for Speex to be the first VoIP codec –

    it has similar quality/bitrate etc settings.

    The difference for me (and the key point in our second SILK deployment) is that with SILK you can tweak the encoder settings from packet to packet as the network changes. In the Speex version I worked with you would have to re-inititialize the encoder when you want to adapt to changing conditions.

    This sounds esoteric – but in a domestic setting, my wifi network varies wildly, depending on the Youtube usage of my children – with SILK we can adapt around that _during_ a call.

    SILK also lets me set the expected packet loss, so the encoder can add an appropriate amount of redundant info for the PLC to use to recover the audio when a packet is lost.

  3. Aswath Rao November 1, 2009 at 8:47 am #


    What you are expounding on the reasons why you prefer SILK. It might be valid, but that is not the contention. The point I am contending and that is characteristic of eComm crowd is to claim the world for one of them, fairness be damned. One would think that self-described disruptors will prefer true open source efforts, like Speex and CELT. OK, eComm decided not to shine light on them. But at least be historically accurate.

    Jim: This is one of the troubles of deferring to people, especially when the person is amenable for open discussion.

  4. Aswath Rao November 1, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    Of course I meant to say "NOT" amenable for open discussion.

  5. Tim Panton November 2, 2009 at 1:28 am #

    Aswath, I hope I am always amenable to discussion 🙂

    The point I was making (in my 15 minute talk at ecomm) was that SILK represents a best-effort codec, i.e. for any given connection/time it does the best it can by monitoring lost packets – rather like the way TCP/IP works. This contrasts with the TDM codecs which allocate a static amount of bandwidth at the start of a call and stick with that throughout.

    In those terms I see Speex as (just) on the TDM side of the fence (and I agree that is a _totally_ subjective viewpoint) because the bandwidth 'allocation' is fixed for the duration of a call.

    I'm totally with you on the disruptive benefits of open source. Skype is aware of them too, if their submission of SILK to the IETF as a standard goes through then they will almost certainly open source SILK too.

    I'm afraid I'm ignorant of CELT – but I read that the benefits were in the higher sample rates (e.g. 48kHz), which isn't really current VoIP territory.


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