Project REBOOT: WebRTC is Definitely For Winners!

While traveling to London for the WebRTC Summit, I read Dave Michels’ post “WebRTC is for losers“. After three very interesting days there, I can not disagree more.

To put my comments in context, lets step back for a moment and remind ourselves what is WebRTC? Do you use the web? Do you need to download anything to read text, view photos, fill out a form, pay with a credit card, chat with a friend? No you don’t. Well five years ago Serge Lachapelle and a few other people asked the question why can’t you communicate with voice & video on the web? Why do you need special clients and/or extensions?

Out of this question was born the WebRTC (RTC = Real Time Communication) Project which is currently a opensource project supported by Google (and others…). As Serge put it in his presentation last week

When we started WebRTC it wasn’t a telco play it was about making innovation on the web.

The idea is simple. Audio and video communications are a built in function in the web browser. There is no need to install anything. For a great example on what you can do with WebRTC go to www.vline.com to setup a video conference call in a few seconds.

WebRTC is disruptive. Everyone has browsers. Millions know to program web based services with HTML5. Services that would take carriers a year to launch, a web programmer can do in days or less.
When you first see WebRTC in action it is shocking. I demoed it last week to a MVNO CEO, in his words

If this is true, we are out of business.

Now lets see why Dave Michels says that WebRTC is for losers… His main points are that WebRTC did not live up to its claims of to be ubiquitous, plugless and free. I think it is too early to make such a statement. As the English like to say it is still “Early Days”.

Is WebRTC Ubiquitous? In my mind it is. Any desktop user should have access to Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers that support WebRTC. OK, MS IE doesn’t support it yet – I emphasize the yet) How about Mobile? Well it is supported on Android and Android is 80% of the world market. How about the 12.9% of you that like to overpay and use Apple smartphones? Well there are a number of fallback solutions available until Apple openly comes out with WebRTC support. Besides in the Free Dictionary Ubiquity is defined as “Existence or apparent existence everywhere at the same time… :-)

Dave also mentions that there are distribution and legal issues concerning the codecs. Yes, but hey, hasn’t it been a similar situation with VoIP codecs since day one? There will be some kind of solution.

Bottom line – WebRTC is not the cure for cancer, unfortunately. But it is a major disruption of the telco world. Time will tell how the innovators and incumbents will handle this disruption. Interesting times.

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Project REBOOT: IP Telephony is exciting again!

When we look back at IP Telephony (or what was called in the ole days – VoIP), we can discern three unique stages. Stage I – the invention and introduction of VoIP services by the likes of Vocaltec, Deltathree etc. Stage II – the launch of Hosted Services by companies like Vonage, Packet 8, Ring Central and of course yours truly. Stage III – is just starting and is truly exciting.

We can define Stage I by calling it the “Pipes Era”, replacing legacy telecom pipes with shiny new VoIP pipes that transport the bits and bytes of our voice from one side of the world to the other at very low cost. Stage II – has become known as the “Cloud Era” where new providers took legacy phone systems and trucked them over to “The Cloud”.

Ok, so we replaced the pipes and removed the boxes from our offices. Bottom line we are talking costs savings and some convenience, but where is the innovation?? Well it is almost here!

Now that we are all connected up and in “The Cloud”, voice is truly just another app. On that same cloud (AKA “The Web”), there are tons of data and applications. The “Phone” (if there is still such a thing), can be tied into and manipulated by all those bits and bytes on the web. Businesses can serve their customers needs with custom recipes. Mix in data, voice, video, chat, real time info etc as the context warrants. The “Contact Us” page on your website will no longer have separate contacts for phone, chat, email – all media will flow on one platform, adapting itself as needed.

Now That is Exciting!

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Project REBOOT: Entrepreneurs – How Advanced is Too Advanced?

A big part of my rebooting is meeting with entrepreneurs and other thought leaders. I am interested in hearing what they have to say about the future of business communications. Recently I had a discussion with Jacob Ner David, a serial entrepreneur and recently one of the founders of Zula.

While we were brainstorming about different features and how customers communicate with a business, Jacob made a remark, which raised a question that should be on the mind of every entrepreneur developing a new product.

That question is -How Advanced is Too Advanced?
Brainstorming and dreaming is very important when planning a new disruptive product or service. The problem is that it is very easy to think about new exciting features, while forgetting one important point. Will customers use it? Inventing the latest and the greatest might give you a wonderful feeling, but will it get you customers?

On one hand, you definitely do not want to introduce just another “same, same” service. But, on the other hand, if your features are too advanced, you might get some good PR, but paying customers (which is why you are in business – right?) will be harder to come by.

During my rebooting journey, I am finding that the hardest part is to leave some of my dreams behind. Dreams become a part of you and deleting them in the name of success is not easy…

As I move along, I would love to hear your comments and even your dreams, practical or not. After all, dreaming is the first stage of any endeavor!

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Please Join me on Project:REBOOT

Since we founded The Flat Planet Phone Company in 2006 we have been doing the same thing. Providing Small Businesses and Call Centers the best Hosted PBX System with unbelievable support.

At the time we were a pioneer. Today there are hundreds if not thousands of providers. It is time to look ahead and
become a pioneer again! While I am very proud of what our team has done, building a successful and profitable organisation with thousands of customers, the world is changing and we we need to change with it!

Therefore I decided to step back and for the next few months work on Project:REBOOT. I plan to learn more about technology, the market and users needs, speak with thought leaders and poll our customers. We don’t want to be another me too company! We need to look 5 and 10 years ahead and built solutions based on the future not the past.

I am inviting you my friends and colleagues to join me on this exciting journey. Don’t be shy! Let me know what you think about the future of business communications!

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Omega Telecom is going to Macau and not to Gamble!

They say Macau is the Las Vegas of the East. While Vegas is definitely not one of my favorite destinations, I have been there numerous times to attend and exhibit at industry conferences. So it is with mixed feelings I am planning our trip next month to Macau for the IFXEXPO (the biggest B2B Finance Conference) . On one hand I am excited to learn more about the exploding Forex and Binary Options market in that part of the world, on the other hand I really don’t like the glitz!

As the leading provider of Telecom solutions for the Forex market since 2007, we see how many of our customers are opening up offices in Singapore, China, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand so it is time that we strengthen our presence there.
After all we got where we are by providing the solutions and services that our customers need where they need them!

As many of you know Omega Telecom provides phone numbers and Dynamic Caller ID in over 60 countries. We also probably have the best and most cost effective Call Center solution for the Forex market.
So if you are plan on taking part in IFXEXPO make sure to stop by the Omega Telecom booth #17 at the Venetian Hotel, Macau on January 22nd and 23rd. It will be definitely worth your while!

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OK, So Why Do People Immigrate?

Historically, immigration was caused by economic or political reasons. Wars, religious persecution, economic hardships have all been strong factors behind immigration trends over the years.

Surprisingly, over the last decade a new factor has joined the list. Technology is not only changing the way we live, but also where we live! On the forefront of these life changing technologies is IP Telephony (also known as VoIP – voice over Internet Protocol).

Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Israel. Tens of thousands of new immigrants to the Startup Nation are employed in jobs that would not have existed without VoIP (Which by coincidence, or not, was first invented and patented in Israel). In fact many new immigrants made the decision to move to Israel, based on the knowledge that they would be able to continue their existing job in their new home due to VoIP.

How does this work? We all are familiar how we can see our email from any computer no matter where we are, just by entering our user name and password. Well with VoIP, a telephone number is just like an email address. I can take my VoIP phone and plug it anywhere in the world and calls made to my NY number will ring there. Physically in Timbuktu or Kalamazoo, telephone-wise I am in NY and no one knows otherwise…

Joe Asher is a good example. Joe was a stock market analyst living in Los Angeles with his wife and three kids. Since they finished college, Joe and his wife had dreams of moving to Israel. One day sitting at home during their Sabbath meal, they decided to make the move. “With the kids starting school, it was either now or putting off our dream until we retire”, Joe related.
Today the Asher family lives in Jerusalem, Joe works for a NY investment firm while sitting in a small 2 desk office in Jerusalem. On his phone are two buttons, one for his Israeli number and one for the his USA number.

But VoIP is not only for individuals. Aryeh Freund the CEO of Newtel Systems (a Lawrence, NY based IP Telephony Provider for the SMB market) relates with excitement the story of “1-800-ICE” (not their real name). “It is unbelievable what they are doing. They are disrupting a whole consumer sector back in the states, a sector with a legacy of high pricing, “1-800-ICE” is offering customization, low prices, fast delivery and great customer service, all from their office in a suburb of Tel Aviv!”
Newtel provided “1-800-ICE” with a USA 800 number and customers don’t have a clue that when they call this innovative company they are actually speaking to someone in Israel.

Based on the number of telephone lines that Newtel and other IP Telephony companies are selling to Israeli based companies, success stories like these are only the beginning.

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Yes, There is a Storm Proof Telephone System

Small businesses depend today on technology more than ever. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast at the end of October 2012, many small businesses discovered to their chagrin how extensive their dependence on technology was! With electricity, Internet and Phone Service down in many areas, businesses ground to a halt. Not only were many offices flooded and without power, communications – the lifeline of most small businesses were down.

In the age of the Global Village, no communications meant an immediate loss of revenue. While companies scrambled to reopen, many businesses were closed for weeks and a few were able to resume business only a few months later!

Newtel Systems, a Lawrence NY based provider of IP phone services for businesses was one of those hard hit by the storm. The building that houses their sales and customers service office, was flooded and closed for weeks. As a phone company, Newtel could not afford even one hour of downtime.

As Aryeh Freund the Newtel CEO relates “Our customers depend on us to run their business so our servers are housed in some of the best and most secure data centers worldwide. We weren’t worried about our actual phone service going down, but we knew our customers would want to talk to us, and we couldn’t afford to close our customer service department, just because our office was flooded”.

To the surprise of their customers Newtel Customer Service was up and running almost immediately. Newtel (like many of their customers) had automatic rerouting of calls setup in anticipation of such an event. As Freund tells it., “We did not miss a beat. The Newtel Phone System automatically detected that our office is down and rerouted calls to alternative phones. Due to the built-in Disaster Recovery feature in the Newtel System calls are not lost and as the business recovers, settings can be reset on the fly.

Disaster Recovery is just one of the features offered for free to Newtel customers. When a disaster or even a simple loss of power hits, Newtel will automatically reroute calls to cellphones, portable IP phones or other land lines. Customers will still hear the same “Auto Attendant” and “Music on Hold” and will not have a clue that they are calling a temporary office.

While some companies spend large sums on special DRP sites which are very rarely used, if at all, Newtel customers have a DRP solution feature in their phone system at no cost!

As Newtel reps like to say “We are Storm Proof, Certified by Hurricane Sandy!”

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Are we ready for universal phone numbers?

A number is just an identifier. It is universal in the sense that as long as your phone number can identify what you are dialing it can then route the call for you.

The question should be when will such a directory be available to the general public? A directory which would list all numbers and advise you what is the quickest and cheapest way to route your call to that endpoint.

The SIP protocol partially solves this issue. According to SIP your phone number is similar to an email address. For example if you dial moshe@flatplanetphone.net on a SIP phone today you will reach me. How does that work?

A SIP address like an email is divided into 2 major parts. Your name and your domain. Like email SIP uses the DNS system to figure where is the server that hosts my domain. When you call me, your phone will contact my domain and say I have a call for Moshe, where can he be reached? The server will have that knowledge based on what I have registered with him. My server will forward a message to my phone saying someone wants to speak to you, do you want to speak to him? In reality the phone will ring and if I will pick it up the message will go back to the originator – “please initiate the call”

The problem is that SIP while it is proliferating very fast is not yet ubiquitous. Many phone companies use a general directory and peer between themselves, but this is not open to the public. So for example if you are on AT&T and call a number on Cablevision, AT&T will look up the number, see that it is on the CV network and send it directly to CV via a IP peering arrangement saving money and resources for both companies.

There are a number of initiatives out there, but none have caught on yet. Unlike email which introduced a completely new medium, the phone network is based on a legacy network and change will take many years.

If we look into the future – internet everywhere, voice recognition etc. All you need to do is say out loud “Call Moshe” and a device somewhere on your body will place a call to “Moshe”. Here is the catch – there must be a directory somewhere. How will the network know where Moshe is? In order for a directory to be effective it must be universal. There are a number of open source protocols that bring us very close, but they need to be implemented. That is already a commercial and political issue

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Hosted VoIP is Dead!

Yea sure! That is what they have been telling me ever since I founded The Flat Planet Phone Company, almost 6 years ago. You have competition, the big guys will kill you etc. etc.
Recently I came back from the annual ITExpo (Internet Telephony) conference in Miami Beach. Based on the vibrancy of the show, the growth in the number of participants, the excitement in the air – the Hosted VoIP business has never been better.

As one of the analysts at the show told me there are now over 1000 VoIP providers in the USA alone, and Surprise Surprise there is plenty of business for all of us. IP based communications have opened up endless opportunities for the user and the entrepreneur. Recently, API platforms such as Twillio and Tropo have blown the telephony application wide open. Literally anything is possible. Companies like ifbyphone and phone.com are just the beginning.

Contrary to those who tried to discourage me, the last 6 years have been great. Our company has grown very nicely, It has been exciting working with resellers and building together with them, profitable ventures. The best is still ahead of us. If you are a VAR or reseller in the internet and telephony space please contact me to see how can join us and build a nice recurring income stream!

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When a Zero is Worth Money!

Zeros are like restaurants, value is all a matter of location.

$00001 is almost worthless, but $10000 can get you places. The same thing with phone numbers.
A phone number like 408-506-1020 is not worth nearly as much as 408-560-1000. Although Google has changed the way we search for phone numbers to the extent that some companies do not advertise their phone numbers anymore and they advertise “look for us on Google”, phone numbers are still important.

Numbers with a string of zeros in the right place are still sought after! In addition to being easy to remember they still have an additional job.
212-550-6000 conveys a message of size and stability, whereas 646-567-8921 looks more like your cellphone. Today when anyone can open a website and compete with you for business, a premium number gives you an additional advantage.

My belief in the importance of phone numbers is so strong that over the years I have built up a collection :-)
But like with any collection, there comes a time when you need to part with it. If you feel that a good number can help you, feel free to contact me.

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