Fone.Do @ ITEXPO Official Industry Disruptor!

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January. The time of year that Telecom Snowbirds head down to Southern Florida for ITEXPO,  Usually held in Miami, this year Fort Lauderdale will host the thousands of attendees. Fone,Do will be exhibiting for the first time our new WebRTC based PBX phone system for small businesses.

Ten years we sold the “same, same” small business telephone solutions, while the internet reinvented itself many times over. Last year we decided it is time to bring small business telecom to the Internet. Fone.Do built from the ground up, a small business phone system using Web Developers instead of Telecom Engineers.

Fone.Do is so easy to setup and maintain that anyone who uses Gmail or Facebook – can be up and running with a Fone.Do system in just 3 minutes.

ITEXPO  announced that Fone.Do will be one of  the industry disruptors to be judged at the IDEA Showcase on the 2nd day of the conference. IDEA Showcase is focused on bringing companies transforming markets to a select audience looking to catch the next wave of technology innovation. Companies will have five minutes to present their unique value proposition and the audience and panel of judges will determine who is the most disruptive.

We are looking forward to see you in Fort Lauderdale on Jan 26-28th. Fone.Do will be demoing our system at Booth 636.

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Can Pigs Fly? Sometimes they can!

Moshe presenting Fone.Do at TADSummit  2015

Moshe presenting Fone.Do at TADSummit 2015

Can Pigs Fly? I don’t want to offend anyone, but I am just using a common idiom to make a point…

Last month, I took part in TADSummit 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal. TADSummit is  an intimate conference which brings together  small innovative developers like  Fone.Do together  with Big Telco and their suppliers. Among the 250 attendees, there were big guys like Telenor, Orange, T-Mobile, Cisco, Oracle and Huawei, rising stars such as Nexmo and Kandy mixing with relative small outfits such as Apidaze, Telestax, Zen.ly, Vivaction and others (just to mention a few!).

Towards the end Alan Quayle the conference organizer, led a panel and  announced the TADS Mentor initiative. The mentoring  program will assist innovative startups with technical and business mentorship. Werner Eriksen of Telenor Digital, who was sitting in the audience, pointed the discussion in a new direction when he suggested that maybe it is the Telcos who need a mentoring program!  Sad that it may be, I must say that there is something to that statement. While Werner’s company, Telenor is probably one of the most innovative Telcos, most of their innovation is shunted off to a small group that it is kept at arms length from the mother ship.

At other companies the situation is even worse. So while people like Werner, Sebastian Schumann of T-Mobile, Fernando Mendioroz of Digicel, among others are doing great work – in most their work stays in the PoC stage.

Same story for many of the other Big Telcos. Features like MultiRing (one number on multiple devices) are considered new, innovative products. Now, lets take a look at the  Internet, see how it has changed tremendously in the last decade, while Telecom has stagnated. With new technologies like WebRTC, ubiquitous bandwidth, abundant APIS and smart mobile devices, so much more can be done.!

CEOs of the Big Telcos need to turn innovation into their personal mission. The technology is there, as is the need. Those who do not heed the call for change, will be left being that term that they all abhor – Dumb Pipes!

So, while it may be true that Pigs can not fly – Telcos can! But it is up to their captains to take control. Will they?

The Biggest Revolution in Telecom since Alexander Bell

 

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Those are definitely bold words. “Biggest”, “Revolution” “Since Bell”. But I am convinced that we are crossing the chasm into a new world and Telecom as we know it is changing.

For years improvements in Telecom were incremental such as replacing the copper analog pipes with digital and then Internet  Protocol packets. Even when we moved to IP Switchboards, we more or less copied existing features in a new format. Hosted PBX, a product I have been selling for years at The Flat Planet Phone Company, was basically just moving the existing system from the comms closet in the office to a Data Center aka as The Cloud. Functionality was the same.

My friend, Jeff Pulver spoke about this years ago. Jeff used to love to say that voice is just another application and at the end of the day, it is just bits and bytes. But, like many prophets, he was before his time.

But today we can definitely say – Voice is just another application and it is just bits and bytesWhat happened? What has changed? A number of things have come together, the main ones being technology and the ubiquity of high quality internet. 

  • Telephony has moved to the web. Adding a “telephony” like feature to an application is the same as any other web feature (WebRTC)
  • APIs have replaced the traditional network (Twillio, Tropo, Plivo, Restcomm etc.)
  • Acceptable QoS, “good enough” for telephony, is common.
  • Democratization of telephony. Any web programmer can add so called telephony, voice, text and audio to his application without knowing anything about how telephony works. All she needs is a few APIs.

I have been talking about this frequently for the last year. But today it really hit me. We were having a product planning meeting at fone.do and one of the participants suggested a real exciting feature. The consensus was, lets do it! It will be ready in a few days. That is unbelievable. In the past introducing a new feature in a telephone service took years of design, planning, testing and then more testing. Not to mention the whole marketing process. Now we are only limited by our imaginations, and web people really have  great imaginations. Unlike Bellheads who may be limited by the past (I hope all my bellhead friends excuse me….)

With these thoughts in mind I am heading next Monday to Lisbon, and if you are in the Telecom world, so should you! At TADSummit, disruptive developers will meet up with legacy carriers and their suppliers to chart innovative courses in this new exciting world.  It is fitting that this conference is taking place only a few hours drive from where Columbus set out on his trip. Like Columbus who had his theory, but found other lands, who knows where we will go?!?

Fone.Do is presenting on Wednesday at 10:20am. See you in Lisbon!

 

 

 

Is There a Future for Asterisk?

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The notice from my friend Dan York that he will be giving a keynote at Astricon, (the annual get together for Asterisk geeks), on Open Source And The Global Disruption Of Telecom – got me thinking…. Is there a future for Asterisk?

Many of you may never have heard of Asterisk, the popular open source phone system, but chances are that you have used a phone  system based on Asterisk. If the voice of Allison Smith sounds familiar – you have  used Asterisk!

Created in 1999 by Mark Spencer  who could not afford to buy a phone system for his business (so he built one), has become the most popular software based phone system in the world with over a million downloads! Nothing talks like success, and Asterisk was definitely revolutionary at the time. A whole new world opened with the proliferation of  Asterisk and the surrounding eco-system. No longer did you need to but an expensive proprietary phone system for your business. All you needed was an old computer and you were set to go.

On the other hand, Asterisk code is complicated, and requires a high level of expertise to fully enjoy its benefits. Over the years programs such as FreePBX have been written to ease the pain for the rest of us, but these programs also have the downside of complicating the code even more.

Asterisk was born in an age of stand alone computers and software delivered on disks. So the question needs to be asked is Asterisk still relevant when  our computer services are accessed thru the browser and the computer is only as strong as the network it is connected to?!?

Just to make myself clear, I am very appreciative of what the developers of Asterisk have down and we have even built a couple of businesses based on Asterisk systems. But, I do think it is time to ask after 16 years – What is Next? Can Asterisk adapt to the new computing landscape and if so –  how? How does Asterisk compete with open source web services for telephony like Plivo, Restcomm etc. ???

As someone who is involved in both Asterisk based service providers (The Flat Planet Phone Company, Omega Telecom, Newtel Systems) and  a nextgen web based service provider (Fone.do), this is a question which intrigues me.

Astricon 2015 would be a great time to discuss this question. I will be there part of the time and would be happy to talk with you!

 

 

Alan Duric joins Fone.Do Advisory Board

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I am super excited to announce that Alan Duric has agreed to join the Fone.Do advisory board.  Alan, whom I have known and admired for many years, is a true disruptor of traditional telecom.  Co-founding a number of successful startups such as Telio (TELIO.OL)  and Sonorit (purchased by Skype/Ebay) , he is now the CTO  and co-founder of Wire.com, the WebRTC messaging app, which is being billed as the “Skype Killer”.

Alan was nice enough to spend most of the day yesterday with me and to share his views and experience on building  innovative telecom startups. At the end of the day, we exchanged shirts and went  up on the roof to take a picture!

Is the End of the “Cloud PBX” Near?

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Almost 10 years ago, at The Flat Planet Phone Company, we were one of the first companies to offer a  Hosted  PBX for small businesses now known as  a “Cloud  PBX”.  Over the years, thousands of companies joined the party and are now offering a Cloud PBX solution. Time flies, and  it is now time we declare the ‘End of the Cloud PBX”

Some readers of this blog may ask, where are you rushing to?  If it ain’t broken, why fix it? My answer is – why use old inflexible technology, when we can give our customers a better experience ?!?

If we look a little at the history of the Cloud PBX, we will notice that the original Hosted PBX offerings were not really innovative. All we did was take the old office switchboard and put it in a data center, which we renamed as The Cloud. The functionality stayed the same, but we now had the advantage of accessing and using our PBX from multiple locations. Nice but still not really revolutionary.

Remember the Browser War that ended the 20th Century? Netscape vs. Microsoft? Well they are coming back. Maybe you have noticed that most of your computer tasks are now done in a browser and not on your computer. Google has been pushing this for years. It is of course to their advantage that you stay in their browser at all times. The browser has become so important, that Google built a new type of computer,  the Chromebook, that is  based on using a browser exclusively!  The importance of the browser is the reason  Microsoft is putting such a big effort in porting their software to the cloud and in developing a new browser – Microsoft Edge. We are now in the midst of Browser War II!

Ok, so we do our email, our purchases, our banking and our social life in a browser. But there is one function that we still use external apps for, on the most part, and that is Telephony. Google noticed this about five years ago, and as a result, dedicated a team to promote WebRTC. What is WebRTC? As my friend Tsahi likes to say – WebRTC is a technology that brings Voice over IP to the browser natively. Tsahi has a very good post that explains this. The bottom line is that you can have all the functionality of a PBX in your browser without downloading or installing anything.  Goodbye Cloud PBX.

Anyone who has worked in the telecom industry is familiar how conservative and slow moving it is. Telecom must be super reliable and over the years the industry has developed standards and rules that ensure that new developments are deployed very slowly. Building a new feature or service with telecom engineers can take years. However, now that telephony is on the web, you no longer need telecom engineers. Want to develop a new telephone service? Web developers to the rescue! Not only that, you can build applications and mashups just like you would do on any web service.  The sky is the limit.

This is why I am so excited about Fone.Do. When we established Fone.Do last year one of the first decisions we made was to hire  developers without any telecom experience. We are happy we did that. Just think, there is so much data on the web. Wouldn’t it be great to receive a call and know much more than just the name of the caller? How about if you  could do something with that call  based on the info?  Like I wrote above  – The Sky is the Limit. We are flying above The Clouds. Look up and wave!

 

Fone.Do: Want to try it out?

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Want to be one of the first to try out the fone.do  WebRTC based business phone system?

fone.do is announcing the release of our alpha version with limited features. And we are looking for a few good people to be part of our Alpha Test. Those who join us will have the pleasure of being part of the revolution and receive many other benefits! (Such as free phone service for your business for a year…)
Requirements: Presence in USA/Canada or that you do business with USA/CA.
If you are interested or are need more details please contact alpha@fone.do

Thanks for joining the revolution WebRTC is changing how businesses communicate!

 

$100b of Revenue is Going Up in Smoke!

A $100b of revenue is a lot of money anyway you look at it. Even for Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) who was once quoted as saying “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money”, $100b is a lot of money!

In this case we are not talking about “real money” but about electronic pulses (AKA SMS Text Messages) that produced this insane revenue. Later in this post, I will suggest how to get some of it back…

Dean Bubley the telecom analyst, puts these numbers in context:

The telecom industry used to make over $100bn a year from SMS. It still makes a decent fraction of that, although the exact amount depends much on accounting and bundle-allocation chicanery. Excess SMS profits of close to a $trillion over the last decade or two seem probable – with minimal service innovation from reinvested cashflow. To put that in context, it’s probably larger than all banking bonuses worldwide over the same period.

Ever since VoIP and Instant Messaging were introduced 20 years ago, the doomsayers have predicted that the end of tremendous profits for telecom carriers is near. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, those reports may have been  premature, but their time has arrived. Looking at the chart below, we may think that SMS usage is in a slow decline, but that is only because the chart tracks the number  of messages, but the truth is that revenue (in this  age of unlimited monthly packages) is in a freefall.

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So that is the SMS story. What about the other cash cow – Voice? Well besides the fact that prices  per minute is on the decline, most markets are already in the “unlimited” world or on the way there. So what is in store for the telecom behemoths? How will they continue to generate billions of revenue for their owners? Some have suggested that the telcos should fight the IM & Application providers (or as many like to call them OTT providers) on their own turf. But how will that generate new revenues? Pure messaging is no longer a stand alone money maker. As Dean Bubley puts it:

That $100bn+ revenue is not coming back from simply sending mobile messages. It might partly come back from adding value to other ecosystems, or enabling particular purposes through A2P (application to person) messaging integrated into business processes, but in terms of straightforward A-to-B transmission of text or pictures, it’s gone. An SMS is not much more valuable, inherently, than an email, and will converge with email in terms of pricing.

So where do we go from here. Obviously the telcos can not sit back while someone else skims off all the fat from their business. Contrary to what we wrote at the beginning of this post, this tremendous amount of money is not going up completely in smoke, rather it is moving to other business models. How do telcos redo their business models to adapt to this new world? In my opinion, it will be very hard for them to do so. Telcos by definition are very stable slow moving ships. For them to chart a new course can take years.

So is the future of Telecom going the way of the Titanic? I would not be so fast to write off Big Telecom.  Their strongest card is something that is very hard to duplicate. Every telco owns millions of customers. They have a long relationship with them and are experienced in how to maximize revenue from their  customer base.

Unlike the biggies, most small innovative companies in the telecom space,  have great products but are lacking in easy access to customers. Seems to me that this may be a match made in heaven. Just imagine what these aggressive telecom startups could do if that had access to the gigantic customer base that each telco controls. Developing such a relationship is tricky and in order to succeed the core business groups at the telco will have to keep their hands off the innovators.

How should it be done? The telcos need to act like a good pedagogue and provide only support and resources (money, connections and knowledge) on request. Give the startups the freedom and mandate to break rules and protocol. No efforts should made  at first to integrate the newcomers in to the existing infrastructure or organisation. Such  efforts are destined for failure.

I would like to see telcos put  every year between 0.5% to 1% of their revenue into in-house accelerators. Do have some kind of selection process, but otherwise just give them freedom to develop crazy things. You can be sure that any dollar invested there will bring a 10x return compared to traditional R&D. Some telcos such as Telenor (good post here by Chris), Telefonica,Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile and Singtel are already active in this direction, but if the industry wants to not only survive, but grow, this method should become the standard.

 

Google’s 7 Step Plan to Eat Microsoft’s Lunch

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In a very unusual step Google has revealed how they plan to “Eat Microsoft’s Lunch”. For someone like me who hasn’t really used MSFT products for many years this doesn’t mean much. Or does it? Lets take a closer look at the exclusive Business Insider article that reveals the details. What can we learn from Google’s strategy and implement in our own business strategy?

The article details a 7 step plan. The first step is:

Step 1: Make sure that the apps Google offers have “85-90% of the functionality” of Office.

Notice that Google is not trying to be as good or better than Microsoft, “85-90% of the functionality” is enough. Many times app developers get bogged down in beating the competition on features, instead of concentrating on the features that customers actually use and want. The extra 10-15% are much more time consuming, complicated to implement and eat up tremendous time in customer support. When we started to plan a year ago how we want to reboot the Hosted PBX market, one of the first things we noticed was that the main competition is on features, on some websites there was so many features that it was very easy for the potential customer to get lost, very quickly. Continue reading

Telecom Grandpa Still Going Strong!

Fone.do is making waves with the development of our new low cost
super-easy to use phone system for the Small Business market.
While we are not the only innovative startup in the telecom space,
there probably aren’t many with a Telecom Grandpa at the helm!

Last week I was invited to speak on a panel at ITEXPO, and Eric Lebowitz sat down with me for an interview.
Eric related how I decided to start Fone.Do

As a veteran of the telecom industry, Moshe Maeir began to notice a hole in the PBX market, especially as it relates to the cloud. He kept hearing that professionals—especially small business owners and managers—were having trouble with overly complex PBX systems. They were getting bogged down with more features than they needed and having difficulty with simple tasks like changing IVR messages when they went on vacation.
So about a year ago, Maeir took three months off from his other businesses to travel to tradeshows and talk with small business professionals about what they were looking for in a phone system. He discovered, as he suspected, that these businesspeople were looking for simple systems that were quick to set up and easy to use. At the end of his three-month journey, Maeir decided to found fone.do, a cloud-based small business phone system.

Continue reading