Author Archives: Stuart Zipper

About Stuart Zipper

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.

The Death of the Telegram

by Stuart Zipper

With just a little thought and research one can easily trace the evolution of the technology behind today’s VoIP telephony back to the earliest days of communications over wire – the telegraph. The dots and dashes that made up the Morse Code used in early telegraphy are directly analogous to the binary on-off that’s behind all things digital today, including VoIP. It’s simply a matter of the speed that the signal moves, and the way and how its interpreted.

So it’s with a deep sense of history that I read this week of the impending death of telegraphic communications.

Now many Americans, being very provincial, think the last telegram was sent, via Western Union, on Feb. 2, 2006, with other countries around the world following suit. But the world doesn’t revolve around the U.S.A. The truth is that telegraph service has continued to live on in India, with Indian government-run BSNL still delivering an estimated 5,000 telegrams per day. Now, that’s due to come to an end on July 14, BSNL has announced. Indeed the announcement is said to have precipitated a rush to the Indian telegraph office by people seeking to secure a piece of history.

And just as a matter of interest, it seems the first telegraph system was built by British colonialists in India, back in 1833, in the Calcutta area. The inventor was a surgeon named William O’Shaughnessy, and that was 11 years before the legendary event in which Samuel Morse wired “What hath god wrought?” from Washington D.C. to Baltimore in Morse code, an event that most Americans think marks the invention of telegraphy.

As to what has killed the Indian telegraph system, the answer is the cell phone. According to India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) there were 861.66 million mobile connections in India as of February – a number almost three times the size of the entire population of the United States! With such a mobile user base, it’s hardly a surprise to me that telegrams aren’t used that much any more. The result is that BSNL’s telegraph service has been running deep in the red.

And of course for written material, e-Mail can easily replace telegrams – if you have an Internet connection. While the percentage of businesses and households in India with broadband is still not a majority, it’s getting there fast. India has the fastest Internet traffic growth globally and is expected to have 348 million users by 2017, according to networking giant Cisco’s latest Visuals Networking Index (VNI) forecast (Phone.com offers Cisco VoIP hardware, including its analog terminal adapter (ATA) and a very attractive entry-level VoIP phone).

As for VoIP in India, it remains highly restricted by laws that protect traditional landline companies. But use of PCs to call to numbers outside of India is legal, and I would guess it’s only a matter of time before the Indian laws change and open a vast new market to the VoIP industry.

Still I will always remember the old days, when I would drop off my newspaper stories at a Western Union office in some remote place in the U.S., or perhaps at the post office in another country, to be sent via telegram back to the city room.


The Great Wireless OS Debate

by Stuart Zipper

It’s decision time again around my house. Time for the wife to get a new cell phone (not quite as urgent as my need a couple of months ago, after I dropped my old phone in a parking lot and a car ran over it). But these days a new phone involves an agonizing decision, given that the long-term price of a smartphone rivals that of a powerful desktop computer.

At least with the desktop your choice of operating system remains pretty clear: You get a Windows-based machine, or you pay somewhat more and you get an Apple. Every attempt to unseat those two over the years has failed. Not so in the world of the cell phone.

In this corner we have Apple and the new iOS 7. For now, Apple is the king of the heap, but remember not so long ago it was Blackberry that was the king – and these days Blackberry is desperately trying to make a comeback with some slick stuff released and more already “previewed.” More, the latest two generations of Android-based phones have been rated as roughly equal to – some say a tiny bit better, other a tiny bit worse – Apple’s best. And finally we have the Windows Phone, whose latest iteration, Windows Phone 8, is blazing hot. I know, because that’s what I have, and it looks like after a half dozen tries Microsoft has finally figured out a winning smart phone formula. Given all of that, Apple’s perch may indeed be precarious.

But, as good as Windows Phone 8 is, it still can’t begin to match the applications base that both Android and iOS have built up. And don’t forget the old saw in the PC world: He who has the most applications wins. Microsoft knows that, and its working like crazy to get an applications base built up for its phone software.

Now my wife’s thinking goes like this: A Windows Phone is more likely to integrate seamlessly with what’s on her Windows-based desktop. But an Android-based phone may synch best with her tablet, and from her Android tablet (and Windows Phone 7) experience she knows that there are more Android apps that she wants than there are for Windows Phone.

Oh, and price isn’t an issue: The Android and Windows phones she’s looking at cost roughly the same right now (Windows because of some big marketing concessions on the model of HTC phone I’m toting, Android because she’s looking at a Samsung that’s one generation back).

And comparing features doesn’t help much. From what I’ve seen, both are great, indeed all of the contenders have their strengths (and weaknesses). Windows Phone 8 does browse a slight bit faster (assuming you can get LTE, which I can) than the others. On the other hand, Microsoft recognizes that Android may well become the market leader, so it is quietly backing Android software to link to desktop Windows.

Ah, and Apple, in its latest technology previews, has more than hinted at integrating VoIP compatibility right into its operating system, its demonstrated it in public. But somehow I think VoIP is coming to every operating system, and it won’t be long before my cell phone, via its wireless data persona, is an extension of my Phone.com small business phone system. After all, my Windows laptop already is.

Of Dinosaurs And Telephones

by Stuart Zipper

Traditional business telephony, a category that now (at least in my book) includes IP-based on-premises phone systems as well as more traditional PBXes, took it on the chin again in the first quarter of this year, according to a recently released report from research house Infonetics Research. In a press release touting their 1Q13 “Enterprise Unified Communications and Voice Equipment” report, Infonetics says that the global enterprise PBX market was down 9% from the last quarter of 2012, and down 10% from a year ago.

The market is still hefty in size, at $1.8 billion for the quarter, but what I’m hearing reminds me of the demise of the once-dominant massive mainframe computers of yore, the dinosaurs of the computer age.

Meanwhile, Infonetics also reports healthy demand, worldwide, for unified communications (UC), with UC revenues up 21% year over year.

So what do we make of this.

The way I read it, it’s telling me that business telephony is moving in two directions. For the small and medium-sized business world, it’s moving into a purely cloud-based solution, with virtual PBXes completely replacing traditional on-premises key systems on the lowest end, and small PBX switches as one moves slightly upscale. And of course that’s exactly where Phone.com is targeted.

The other direction, favored by large corporations, is to host their own networks, on which they combine voice, video and data for their corporate needs – unified communications, if you will. But even here, it’s important to remember that while the largest of corporations may be able to put offices everywhere on the globe, their networks can’t always reach those places. So even the big companies need cloud-based communications carriers, again such as Phone.com, to help tie those outlying offices into their fancy new unified communications schemes.

Rural Broadband Gets A Big Boost

by Stuart Zipper

With surprisingly little attention the FCC a week ago released almost half a billion dollars – to me that’s a lot of money – to help connect rural homes and businesses to high-speed broadband.

The money, some $485 million, came from the Connect America Fund – what used to be the Universal Service Fund in the days that the goal was simply to provide traditional analog phone service to every nook and cranny of the United States. The latest tranche is the last in Phase I of the fund. In Phase II, even more cash is on the line, with some $1.8 billion annually available to service providers to underwrite building high speed fixed and mobile broadband to unserved communities. Total FCC investment in expansion and support of rural fixed and mobile broadband and voice through the Connect America Fund is budgeted at $4.5 billion. The FCC also estimates that untold millions more will be invested by carriers from their own funds in the effort.

“Without broadband, consumers and small businesses are cut off from the $8 trillion global Internet economy, severely limiting opportunities for jobs and economic prosperity,” the FCC said in announcing its release of the funds. Full details of the latest FCC action, including a history of the program, can be found here.

What the FCC is doing can’t help but be a boon to companies such as Phone.com, which stand ready to provide VoIP services to small businesses and residential users in rural areas the minute they do get adequate broadband. The FCC estimates that market represents about 15 million people, which one suspects translates into millions of small businesses, creating a fertile new market opportunity for VoIP phone service providers.

Customer Disservice

by Stuart Zipper

A week ago I wrote about my broadband service quandary. As some readers may recall, the $20 a month I had been paying my broadband provider was about to soar to $50 (or maybe it was $60, it depended on which customer service person you spoke with). What happened was my customer loyalty discounts had expired.

Now $30 a month, (for six months only), would have gotten me cable-based broadband service, but the cable company added to that an unstated installation charge. And taking the charges out a year or more, the cable-based DOCSIS broadband would have cost a little more than VDSL from the phone company  – but maybe not depending on the upload and download speeds.

To make a long story short, I’ve decided for now to stay with VDSL, after an agent magically came up with a $10 a month loyalty discount, so my bill will only double starting this month.

But that agent then said “plus tax.”

“What tax?” I asked. The $20 was the total price I paid, and I was shocked when he said the new $40 was “plus tax.”

The tax is on the line on your bill that says taxes, he blithely replied. There’s Federal Tax and local taxes.

No such line on my bill, I replied. There is no Internet tax, I said.

Yes there is, he insisted. The computer says so.

Read my bill, I replied. Show me.

Finally, after talking to a supervisor, the customer service rep admitted that there really was no tax. But, he added, the phone company’s computers had automatically added tax to his quote, even though by the time I got the bill there wouldn’t be any tax.

So, it seems I’m facing incompetent computer programming along with very poorly trained customer service reps (gee, last month one rep couldn’t tell the difference between upload and download).

Now I try really hard in my blogs for Phone.com not to diss the competition, but why am I happy that I don’t get my phone service from these guys any more, although for now I don’t have a choice about the broadband over which my Phone.com service flows? 

But looking on the brighter side, every report and study shows that people are fleeing traditional phone service to both VoIP and wireless (or both). The means that inevitably, the traditional phone companies are going to have to spiff up their broadband act, to the benefit of we VoIP users.