Thoughts About Clouds

My thoughts about the evolution of cloud computing and cloud telephony.

Let's begin by thinking about the history of computing. First we had mainframes, since they were very expensive we shared them, hence timesharing. Then as computers became smaller and more inexpensive we put mini-computers in our businesses, and ultimately personal computers on our desks. This lead to fat client, client server computing. Unfortunately we found that supporting complex applications on our employees desks was very expensive, so we began to move applications back to the data center and ultimately to the clouds.

The same evolution is occurring in telco. In the beginning of telco all complex components where centralized in central offices and switching stations. Then as PBX systems dropped in price, enterprises installed PBX systems, and ultimately many small businesses installed key systems. However, these systems were limited in their expansion capabilities and expensive to support, so business have begun to look for alternatives. The alternative is to move telco back into the clouds with your telephone becoming your voice and multi-media browser accessing cloud delivered services.

In the telco industry we have always lived in the clouds. I would propose that Cloud Computing is in fact just the latest terminology for Timesharing and in the world of telephony Cloud Telephony is in fact the latest evolution of "The Network is the System".

It is ironic that while traditional telco is the gold standard of quality and reliability, you probably remember 5 nines of reliability in the old days, cloud computing and cloud telephony are viewed as inherently less reliable. In fact it is just the current implementations that are not as reliable as they need to be.

To summarize I predict that in a place not to distant from today, your computers and telephones (often the same device) will be browsers for multi media content which will include voice, audio, video, images and text and that the "cloud" industries will resolve the reliability challenges.

Here at Ifbyphone we are leading this revolution by providing automated telephone applications that reside in the clouds and work on any telephone.


Ifbyphone Interview about Cloud Telephony with TMCnet Rich Tehrani

This interview between Irv Shapiro CEO of Ifbyphone and Rich Tehrani of TMCnet explains the Ifbyphone services and their integration into the telco ecosystem.


The Telephone Technology Pendulum and AnyPhone Technologies

Arthur Schopenhauer a German Philosopher, wrote an often misstated quotation, "Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom".  We can apply this quotation in general to technology and specifically to telephony.  Telephony technology swings between complacency and advancement.  In these exciting times, when telephone technologies are rapidly advancing, we are often faced with the pain of innovation.

This pain is partially caused by the instability of change. Many of us have moved the majority of our telephone use from the over 100 year old, stable and reliable, plain old telephone service (POTS) to mobile and VOIP communitations. This pain is also partially caused by the transition of telephony from a hardware driven industry to a software industry with all of the advantages and shortcomings of software systems. Software, unlike hardware is relatively easy to change. This ease of change indirectly leads to reduced testing and an increase in software failures, commonly called bugs. With software innovation in the telephony industry the bugs in the system have increased. So next time you are walking down the street and your cell phone drops a call, recognize that this might be caused by a poor signal, an ineffective network design, limited cell capacity or even a plain old software bug.

As an entrepreneur I am happy to accept the pain of change over the boredom of stagnation. The next evolution of telephony, returns telephone services to their roots, it moves them into the clouds. Traditionally most people used telephone services connected to a centralized telephone utility. As networks expanded and became more sophisticated additional capabilities were added to the centralized utility.  In 1977 Julius Marcus, VP of Networks and Communications at Digital Equipment Corporation coined the phrase "The Network is the System".  This phrase, in various iterations, was later used by AT&T and Sun Microsystems.  With the development of Cloud Telephony, the network is the system.

Cloud Telephony provides hosted telephone services accessible from anywhere at any time.   However, many of the first Cloud Telephony services, such as hosted or virtual PBX solutions, still require dedicated specialized telephones.  This isn't limited to hosted PBX solutions.  In the United States, most of the cell phone carriers require telephones specifically configured for their networks.   So while cloud or network based telephone service are expanding our communications horizons, they are not freeing us from device dependence.

At Ifbyphone we are taking Cloud Telephony to the next level with AnyPhone Technology. The concept is very simple. We believe you should be able to add telephone features and applications to your business without purchasing any new equipment and while using your existing telephones,  any telephone.

The Ifbyphone automated telephone technologies work with any phone with a traditional phone number.  This includes home phones on POTS lines, business phones, VOIP phones and mobile phones.  With AnyPhone technology you have no hardware to buy to add new features and applications for interacting with your customers.

Today,  Ifbyphone AnyPhone Technologies support a wide range of inbound, outbound and API based telephone solutions. Over the coming months we will release new and innovative applications that push the limits of traditional call center and PBX solutions.  And they all work on any phone.


Why Skype for Asterisk is more important than Skype for SIP

Back in September of 2008 and now today, Skype has announced initiatives to open the Skype network to SIP users. These two solutions; Skype for Asterisk and Skype for SIP are very different and offer significantly different capabilities.

Just to recap the details. Skype for Asterisk, which is still in closed beta, is a true Asterisk channel driver. This allows Asterisk based solutions to make, receive and transfer Skype calls. A significant capability of the SFA solution is its support for terminating a call to a Skype user name, for example a PC based user of the Skype client.

Skype for SIP is a very different animal. This service provides VOIP trunk support for existing SIP based PBX systems, which may include Asterisk. Unlike SFA where calls may be place to any Skype user, SFS calls may only be terminated to PSTN end points.

So what does this all mean to the Voice/Telco 2.0 marketplace. Overall Skype is beginning to leverage their extensive VOIP network to compete in the VOIP origination and termination marketplaces. Both of these services would enable a SIP based PBX user to utilize Skype as their transport vendor. For example, a traditional SIP PBX customers would directly use SFS for call termination and would provision Skype in numbers to provide origination.

From our perspective as a cloud telephony company, providing hosted telephone applications, SFA is much more interesting. While either service would allow us to provide IVR services to Skype users, the SFA Asterisk channel driver architecture allows us to terminate calls into call centers with no PSTN transport. Each call center Agent would just utilize a headset connected to a computer running the traditional Skype application. Customers calls would be able to originate from either a PSTN device or a Skype client, then route through the Ifbyphone IVR infrastructure and terminate to a call center via Skype's computer to computer transport. This has the potential to change the cost structure associated with supporting call centers. A Skype based call center would not require a PBX or for even any centralized telephony components. The call center agents could be virtually located anywhere in the world on high quality Internet connections.

Overall Skype's moves to open their network are exciting and create significant opportunities for innovative Cloud Telephony companies.


Google Floats all Boats

Over the past week and a half, Google Voice has prompted an exciting increase in the volume of discussions about Voice 2.0 and the evolution of telephony from a facility based to an Internet based service. This evolution will free millions of businesses from the limited features provided by their local telephone company.

For some background on the impact of Google Voice I recommend reading the excellent posts from Andy Abramson, Wired.com, Gigaom, and Jon Arnold.

Once you have caught up on the industries first reactions think about the following. We are experiencing a dramatic revolution in telecommunications driven by the disaggregation of telecommunications transport from telecommunications features or applications. In the pre-voice 2.0 days, just a few of years ago, a business would call “the telephone company” and lease a telephone line with a set of features. These features might include call waiting, three way calling, voice mail, etc. While you were able to select a long distance carrier that was different from the telephony company providing you with dial tone, to gain access to additional features you had to install a key system or PBX in your business.

Unfortunately the installation of an in house telephone system often locked your business into a fix or very slowly improving set of features. Try upgrading your traditional TDM or POTS based small business key system. It often can’t be done.

Now that many alternatives exist for telephone transport, that is to say, dial tone, a business is no longer limited to the features provided by their dial-tone provider. You might choose to purchase your business lines from AT&T and then use your Google Voice telephone number as your public facing number. When a customer calls, Google will ring both your cell phone and your AT&T landline. In essence you now have three telephone companies. AT&T for outbound calls from your desk, your cell phone carrier for out bound calls from your cell and Google for inbound calls.

This works well since advanced features such as enhanced voice mail and find me are triggered based on an inbound call. The introduction of the trusted and innovative Google brand into the telecommunications landscape will hasten the acceptance of using multiple telephone providers for your business communications needs.

However, Google Voice is just the beginning. Once a business tastes the benefits of enhanced telephone applications they rapidly want more. That’s where companies like Ifbyphone come in. Google has demonstrated proficiency in deploying applications such as search and email where customer service and a consultative relationship are not required. Businesses requiring and willing to pay for a more direct partnership will find the Google approach unacceptable for critical business telephone services. Put more simply, businesses want the ability to pick up their telephone and talk to someone about their telephone application needs.

Additionally, Google Voice is currently limited to a very narrow range of telephone applications. Since Google applications are built for extremely large user communities they leave a wide berth of opportunity for innovative and more narrowly focused organizations.

At Ifbyphone we provide a complete suite of hosted telephone application services focused on the needs of small to medium sized business. We support these services with real people who spend thousands of hours a week consulting with new and existing customers.

While our entry-level services include unified telephone number support and overlap with Google Voice they extend into sophisticated sales, marketing and service delivery solutions. The power of Ifbyphone derives from our instant on-demand IVR services that are available to any web site initiated, in bound or outbound scheduled telephone call. Our customers see our services as toll free and local telephone number call routing, call queuing, interactive voice response, click to call and voice broadcasting.

In conclusion, I believe Google Voice will rapidly become the wave that floats all of the Voice 2.0 boats. While Google does the heavy lifting of educating businesses about the power of utilizing multiple telephone solution vendors for your business, Ifbyphone will focus on the delivery of innovation IVR based solutions that begin where the Google Voice technologies end.