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!