Author Archives: Ari Rabban

HD Quality Voice Calls

by Ari Rabban

Last week in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) we celebrated the dedication of the HD Voice Network. Thanks to the team at WorkInProgress for hosting us.

Guest post by Daniel Berninger. Reach Dan at dan@danielberninger.com.

Dan Berninger with Edwin Grosvenor the Great Grandson of Alexander Graham Bell

Dan Berninger with Edwin Grosvenor the Great Grandson of Alexander Graham Bell

Quote from a speech Alexander Graham Bell delivered in Kensington, England in 1878:  “It is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories etc., etc., uniting them through the main cable with a central office where wires could be connected as desired establishing direct communication between any two places in the city. Such a plan as this, though impracticable at the present moment will, I firmly believe, be the outcome of the introduction of the telephone to the public. Not only so, but I believe, in the future, wires will unite the head offices of the Telephone Company in different cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth with another in a distant place. I am aware that such ideas may appear to you Utopian… Believing, however, as I do that such a scheme will be the ultimate result of the telephone to the public, I will impress upon you all the advisability of keeping this end in view, that all present arrangements of the telephone may be eventually realized in this grand system.”

Contemplating the original challenge Alexander Graham Bell sought to address – placing voice on a wire – helps place the benefits of the new all-IP telephone network aka HD voice Network (HDN) in perspective.  Alexander Graham Bell sought to eliminate distance as a barrier to communication.  The HDN provides fresh start and much more promising platform than the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or old telephone network in this regard.  The technology limitations of the PSTN continue to shape the telephone business long after the technology limitations in modes of deployment disappear.  Pause for a moment and contemplate the complete absence of any attempt to improve the experience of telephone call from the creation of the Federal Communication Commission in 1934 to present day.  All manifestations and changes in telephony for 80 years exist for the convenience of government or network efficiencies, so the loss of interest in a plain-old-telephone-call should not come as a surprise to anyone.

The HDN provides a fresh start for thinking about the means of global communication.  The elimination of distance requires elimination of friction impeding communication at a distance.  The HDN doubles the number of octaves associated a telephone call (four to eight) and sets in motion near term implementation of full spectrum (10 octave) audio.  Conventional wisdom regarding the adequacy of standard definition voice rests on a circular rationale.  By definition, the uses of the old telephone network include only those activities feasible with standard definition voice.  Asserting the adequacy of standard definition voice addresses only the narrow set of uses associated with the old telephone network.  No one can dispute people still find it necessary to invest considerable time and money to convene in remote locations in order to communicate – by voice.

A review of incremental industry accomplishments after 1876 (e.g. first transcontinental and transatlantic calls) and the recent decade of euphoria around a revolution in mobility address without exception the question of distribution.  There exists a tremendous accomplishment in solving the challenges necessary to make seven billion devices reachable by telephone numbers.  The accomplishment nonetheless means exactly nothing for the experience of an individual call.  The automation required to make covering the planet with telephones practical degraded the experience of calling from the days when an operator connected every call.

Edward Tuck notes in a 1996 IEEE Symposium speech:  “Telephone service I had in 1984 was in most ways worse than the service I got when I was a little boy in the South in the 1930s. Then, I’d pick up the receiver, and the lady would say, “Number, please,” and I’d say, “I want my Mommy!” She might say, “Well, Skippy, she was over at Miz Ferguson’s, but she left there and now she’s at Miz Furrey’s. Somebody’s using the phone there right now, but I’ll break in and tell them you need your Mama.” We had call waiting, call forwarding, executive override and voice recognition. I didn’t even have to dial. Things went straight downhill from there.”

Alexander Graham Bell’s recognition a voice communication imperative reflects an immersion in the world of the hearing impaired.  His father and grandfather were prominent teachers for elocution and the hard of hearing.  His mother lost the ability to hear at age 5.  The emotional isolation caused by the difficulty of communicating was not an abstraction.  Alexander Graham Bell made a living as a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing throughout the period of his experiments leading to the telephone.  The failure to continue improving voice quality owes to a loss the imperative driving the original invention of the telephone.  The “modern” PSTN and the seven billion telephones on the planet impose a hearing impairment on callers sufficient to justify a hearing aide in daily life.  Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed (as we should be) of a failure to improve voice quality from the standard set in the 1930’s before the invention of the transistor and decades before computing.

Enabling HD voice represents for communication the equivalent of the invention of glasses in the visual realm.  VCXC’s dedication of the HDN on January 6, 2015, during the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada included Alexander Graham Bell’s great grandson and granddaughter in recognition of the need to resurrect the spirit of the inventor of the telephone in the HDN.  The HDN provides an opportunity to return to the original inspiration of – placing voice on a wire – driving the invention of the telephone.  The HDN places communication on the Moore’s Law ramp of continuous improvement for the first time.  HDN offers the immediate benefits of HD voice quality and global unlimited calling, but there remain unknown horizons and opportunities for expanding communication capacity for the rest of the 21st century.

The VCXC Phase II HDN Trial implements a dual provisioning functionality allowing operators to make telephones reachable via both the PSTN and HDN through an existing Local Number Portability Database.  The adoption of HDN by network operators involves publishing IP/HD routes (IP addresses/routing for Session Border Controllers), identifying a media path, and working through an interoperability checklist.    Enabling the provision cool new services via the HDN provides a first opportunity for network operators to compete with over-the-top service providers.  The replacement of the PSTN by the HDN will pick up momentum and show up on “radar screens” during 2015.  The HDN dedication ceremony marks for the HDN the same type of moment as the deployment of the first few hundred Internet websites by industry insiders in 1993.  The Netscape IPO kicked off hyper-growth as the subsequent phase in the case of the Internet.  The time has come to place bets on whether the HDN follows the same pattern.

Closing Comments (by Ari Rabban):

By now many of us (or perhaps all) know HD TV but not many enjoy HD Voice. The simplest way, to explain HD voice, is to simply have you imagine phone calls with CD quality or better. Dan Berninger has been a big promoter of HD Voice over the past several years and in the 90s was a strong promoter of the then young, VoIP industry. We at Phone.com are proud to be one of the first phone services to introduce HD voice capability on our network. The HD voice network still has a way to go, but we are happy to celebrate its progress we believe it will be another major evolution in this 100-year-old plus industry.

There is no better way to celebrate such progress then to do it with the great grandson and granddaughter of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the phone! As well as some of the founders of the VoIP industry including our very own Alon Cohen, who co-founded the first VoIP company and the VoIP industry most public evangelist Jeff Pulver (also co-founder of Vonage).

With us at this event were other pioneers: former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley, who helped make HD TV a reality and also Jeff Rohdman Co-founder of Polycom, an HD voice pioneer. We also have David Frankel founder and CEO of ZIPDX, the company that pioneered HD voice conference calling. CEOs and senior executives from Cogent, AT&T, Qualcomm and others also participated. Today we face a business environment where the technology of HD voice, which is pretty much ready for mainstream and policy, is one of the primary reasons it is not more readily available.

When Bell died, the US shut down the entire phone network for one minute in his honor. We can’t do this in 2015, but we can take a ceremonial minute of silence as a final farewell to the old phone network.

Stevens Institute of Technology, A Hidden Tech Gem

by Ari Rabban


Logo for Stevens Institute of TechnologyLast Friday, I was privileged to spend the morning on a private tour of the Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted by the institute’s President Nariman Farvardin. With me were three CEOs of other New Jersey-based tech companies, all of us board members of the New Jersey Technology Council. Our goal? Learning how to increase cooperation between the corporate world and academia.

As a sponsor and supporter of the NJ Tech Meetup, which is hosted at Stevens, I am a frequent visitor to the institute. I know how beautiful the campus is and the amazing view it has of the New York City skyline. What I wasn’t aware of, is the institution’s rich history. Alumnae include Samuel Bush, patriarch of the Bush family, and Henry Gantt, inventor of the Gantt Chart, along with Eugene McDermott and Charles Stewart Mott, founders of Texas Instruments and General Motors respectively. I was also unaware of the pioneering research done at Stevens, its innovative approach to tech education, and how it prepares students for the emerging tech-oriented job market.

Visiting Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens has a student body of 2,900 undergrads, 3,200 in graduate programs, and a real-world focused curriculum that boasts partnerships with leading corporations from finance giants to Broadway entertainment.

As President Farvardin explained, after the 2008 financial crisis, higher education, especially at the undergrad level, began adjusting to meet market demands. I am no expert but can’t imagine many traditional universities teaching music the way they do it at Stevens — with a focus on technology that leads to many graduates landing jobs on Broadway and the like.

During our tour, we visited the Hanlon Financial Systems Labs for computational finance. The freshman class we observed were all computer-science, mechanical-engineering and chemical-engineering students, all gaining solid, real-world training. We also visited the amazing Cybersecurity Lab, a program that works closely with corporations and government to address the growing risks of cybercrime. Students work with companies to solve existing problems, and many students go on to intern and eventually land full-time jobs with the university’s corporate partners and supporters.

Now before I upset friends at CMU, my alma mater, I’m not saying Stevens is the only leading tech-focused university. But institutions like Stevens and Newark-based New Jersey Institute of Technology, where Phone.com is based, are prime examples of a shift to technology-oriented education. And if high-school graduates have the opportunity to get a tech-based college education in any of the engineering disciplines, and certainly in computer programing, I would highly recommend it!

Another lab we toured during our visit, was the Immersion Lab, another amazing example of how academic research can partner in a very practical way with the corporate world and government. The lab’s main conference room is more like a command center, with wall-sized interactive monitors. Yet their research is what’s key. The Immersion Lab partners with the State of New Jersey to evaluate the risk of another catastrophe like super storm Sandy, using visualization techniques and simulations.

Finally, since I am sharing lab stories, in my opinion the crown jewel of what we saw at Stevens was the Davidson Lab. Located in a World War II-era building, you will find a 350-foot-long concrete pool that is used to model and assess marine craft designs. From navy torpedoes to America’s Cup racing vessels, the Davidson Lab at Stevens is one of only a couple such labs in the United States. The pool allows scientists to simulate high-wave conditions, and it was certainly the highlight of my visit to see a simulation in action!

Davidson Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology

net-neutrality

The Net Neutrality Debate, or Is It a Net Neutrality Debacle?

by Ari Rabban

I wrote about the FCC’s Net Neutrality proposal a few months ago and the debate is heating up again.

Perhaps comedian John Oliver explained it best back in June: At issue is the creation of a two-tier system, or rather an HOV lane for those services that can pay more — players like Netflix, who recently signed service agreements with the largest cable provider Comcast.

Some time back, the FCC asked the public to comment on Net Neutrality and now those comments are being published. A report summarizes more than a million of the comments received, the gist of the feedback indicating that less than one percent of those commenting oppose Net Neutrality.

Is this surprising? No—of course the average person favors Net Neutrality because it means equality, paying less and getting better service. The bottom line, though, is that we are still in a messy situation and, sadly, I can only anticipate that further lobbying will win the day for the big players. The term Net Neutrality can be confusing, even though there is nothing unclear or neutral about implementing a fast lane.

I agree that broadband providers building out multi-billion-dollar networks only to see large customers like Netflix or Google or Facebook reap the rewards at no cost is a problem. Just as big of an issue, though, would be those same providers—ATT, Verizon, Comcast and the other big cable companies who connect most US homes to the Internet—selling their own content to consumers in competition with smaller services that have to use their networks to reach our homes.

Treating Broadband as a Utility … Read On!

It is my opinion that broadband should be viewed as a utility and delivered as a utility. Consumers should be able to select and pay for the level of broadband they want, choosing the content and add-on services they want too, even if that content is provided by a smaller competitor of, say, Netflix that can’t afford the fast-lane rate. Content from a smaller provider should be available to consumers at the same speed as Netflix content, and not at a higher price either.

Furthermore, broadband providers should not have the ability to slow the delivery of another service, be it movie streaming or telephony, just because it competes with their own service. In our case, Phone.com may use broadband to deliver phone service, and having Comcast or AT&T block or slow our delivery because they too offer phone service should not be allowed.

Keeping It Commercial!

Google is trying to roll out its own broadband network so that it won’t need to rely on Verizon or AT&T. The Internet giant has started offering broadband in Austin, Texas, for example. Perhaps Microsoft has the power to do this too, but no one else comes close. Even Apple relies on either residential broadband or 3G/4G networks to support their devices.

Small service providers have no choice but to rely on large broadband providers, which is why I believe broadband should be delivered as a commercial utility, as opposed to a public one. I live in New Jersey, and after Hurricane Sandy I can tell you that no one here needs a reminder of the quality of public utilities. The Internet must evolve to meet the challenges of scale technology and scale that lie before us, so we need whoever provides broadband to be continually upgrading their networks.

To be fair, if a particular service (and again, Netflix is often the example given) appropriates much of the bandwidth and slows the delivery speed of other services on the network, is that a desired result of Net Neutrality? Is it fair to Verizon? Verizon’s Fiber Optic Service (FiOS) customers will complain that service is slow and Verizon’s billions will be going to benefit Netflix while others (including Verizon) will suffer.

Bringing It All Together

If providers were to offer broadband as a commercial utility in a just and equitable way, they would charge consumers the appropriate price for the level of broadband service they choose. They could also put measures in place to regulate general Internet traffic speed, based on need, without allowing larger players to sideline competitors. As regulated commercial broadband utility suppliers, they would also not favor their own content in the market at the expense of other content and service providers.

I don’t see Verizon (and AT&T and Comcast) offering services like phone service, TV and their own Internet services, while at the same time controlling the broadband that other competitive content providers need in order to reach the consumer. That for me is the Bell System breakup of the 21st Century. Before the Bell breakup, we had one big AT&T controlling all phone services nationwide and also, through Bell Labs and its product arm, controlling all the switches and other phone network infrastructure that was needed to provide service. This monopoly broke up in several phases over 20 years and it began when competitive phone companies started popping up.

So to summarize, the US needs a different kind of broadband-provider model—one that offers multiple, competing sources (fiber optic, coax and wireless broadband, for example), provided by companies prepared to focus on developing infrastructure NOT on providing content over those networks. And the markets are sure to figure out the right pricing model that, with the help of positive regulation, will prevent incumbents’ advantage and foster innovation.

Port Your Google Voice Number to Phone.com Today!

by Ari Rabban

google_voice_to_phonecomThe free Google Voice service has been around for several years now, but its days may be numbered. Google is opting to discontinue support for third party services, migrating it into their Google Hangouts platform.

For those of you currently using Google Voice who are concerned about losing your number and phone service, Phone.com has a fantastic offer for you!

Any Google Voice customer can easily port their number to Phone.com free of charge and then continue to use their Google Voice number with Phone.com. This includes free use of the Phone.com Mobile App, along with a wide range of phone features for you to enjoy. We also offer a variety of desktop phones, giving you the convenience of VoIP calling.

Now for the icing on the cake: We offer 24×7 phone support! Phone.com service starts at $9.99 per month but I am happy to extend a special offer of 90 days free to any Google Voice customer. Click here to get started!

Should Your Gas Company Sell You a BBQ Grill? Talking About Net Neutrality

by Ari Rabban

net_neutralityNet neutrality. If you work for a company that does business online, you’ve likely heard this term. The concept and goals of net neutrality seem simple and fair: Don’t let the big kids bully the little kids or stop them from playing on the playground. The concern is that when net neutrality is jeopardized, everyone using the Internet can be affected, either by reduced services, higher prices or both.

It seems every few months there is some new ruling regarding net neutrality, and it can all become a little ho-hum. But the FCC’s recent announcement on net neutrality astounded many.

In a nutshell, the debate is whether the large commercial broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others have to allow free and equal rights to any content provider (think Netflix or YouTube) to deliver their media to the consumer. The big players contend that popular web-based services are clogging the network that they paid billions to develop. This also applies to web-based businesses and most regular content providers, not just those streaming video content.  Netflix and YouTube don’t feel they can offer the service level they need because the network is clogged and if, as the new ruling suggests, content providers will be allowed to pay broadband providers to get faster access, then small content and service providers will suffer.

From all the pundits who voiced opinions, and all the protests and write-ups on the topic, one caught my attention—a New York Times op-ed piece called The Wire Next Time by technology law expert Susan Crawford. Crawford’s article suggests broadband should be delivered to homes and businesses using municipal-level fiber networks. She states that MUNI networks can be a long-term solution to dealing with the costs and political wrangling that make net neutrality difficult. Crawford also offers real-life examples of towns where municipal fiber networks operate successfully. Sadly, her solution seems impossible in most places because of the stronghold and lobbying power of the big broadband players.

Frankly, I believe that we need to go one step further and see broadband simply as a utility. Like electricity, gas and water, broadband should be delivered to consumers by providers who are responsible solely for delivering broadband.

If you think about it, we don’t see electricity companies trying to sell us washing machines, and if they did, I doubt you’d see them blocking the sale of other brands. Likewise, if gas companies started selling BBQ grills, I can’t imagine them lobbying to prevent the sale of Broil King or Weber grills.

So whether fiber or wireless (the latter may prove to be the way of the future), Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and the other big kids on the playground should not be allowed to control the network and sell the content. I believe that we have today is bad—an infrastructure and climate that benefits the big kids and hurt startups, innovation and the consumer.