Off the Top: Telecom Entries
It is quite apropos that Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOM wrote a piece on Over half of American homes don’t have or use their landline, as earlier this week I pick up my landline phone so I could call my cell phone so to find it, as I didn’t want to wake up the laptop to Skype or Google voice call it, then found there was no dial tone. I messed with the connectors a few times and still nothing. I think I only used it to check dial tone once or twice (it was less money to get a landline phone with internet and tv channels than with out it) as to sort out if internet or cable were out as a first step. I was a little peeved I didn’t have a landline dial tone, which is really odd as I haven’t had a landline phone since early 2008, as when I did it was never for me as my cell phone was my contact number from early 2000s.
After a couple days I was looking at the back of the cable router and noticed it had two RJ–11 jacks for landline phone. I thought I would try the other jack to see if I got a dial tone. Sure enough I did. Within 10 minutes the phone rang and it was a wrong number in a language I wasn’t quite familiar with. I then remembered a call in the middle of the night with a non-intelligble caller and I had then unplugged the phone. After hanging up, I reconnected the phone to the non-working jack again. Now I don’t really have a landline again. Phew.
For those about to ask, “What about those people who are going to call that number?” Well, I don’t give that number out and the only people that may have that number is the cable company and I have them sending email and they use my mobile number. Heck, I don’t even have that landline number should I want to give it out. Being that it is a cable landline and not the old copper landline, it will not even work if the power were out.
Many of you know I have a relationship of hate with my Palm Treo as it (well it has been four of them) a really poor phone and device.
I have been trying for some time to weigh my options for a new phone. I really have wanted a phone that works globally. I needs to be a great phone. I needs to have e-mail and web capability. It must sync with my Mac and be capable of handling my full address book (1300 entries - stop your nattering) and my calendar. It must be a stable phone (not crash multiple times each day) and be responsive. It needs to have a camera of decent quality of 2 megapixels or greater.
The Should Haves
I really want an unlocked phone. This has a few advantages that include being able to change carriers if one is not meeting my needs, drop in a SIM when I travel to get lower telecom rates, and the phone is not crippled. I not only have a crippled Treo (thanks to Sprint) that keeps me from transferring files to and from it via bluetooth, but my old Nokia 3650 was crippled by the old AT&T from similar file transfers and using it as a dial-up modem. My old Nokia was moved to T-Mobile and the transfer did not fix the phone being crippled. I would really like the phone to have 3G data capability, partly for Skype and part for downloading documents. I would like the phone to have quad band, which means it will work in most countries around the globe with out changing phones.
I really would like to have WiFi capability built into the phone. It should have the ability to add Skype. I should have the ability to add applications to the phone. It should have the capability of acting as a dial-up modem via bluetooth for my laptop or one of my other devices. It should be easy to use. It should be very responsive - I touch it and it immediately does what I ask and not sit for 3 to 10 seconds before responding. It should have GPS or the capability to use external bluetooth enabled GPS devices to use with phone based applications. It should have a full QWERTY keyboard (2 character toggles could work too). I also like the Treo screen size, which works well for web browsing and reading documents. I would also like a touch interface on the screen (it is an ease of use thing I have grown accustom to with my 8 years or more on Palm devices).
The Should Not Haves
It should not be locked to one carrier (this is not a deal breaker, but for the international travel it is important). It should not be more than $600 (USD), which is about the going rate for unlocked smartphones. It should not be huge (to quantify the Treo is bulky, so it should not be thicker or wider and/or longer than the Treo). It should not crash multiple times each day. It should not require wires to transfer data between my main computer (laptop) and the phone, as well it should not route this trough the internet.
Things That Do Not Matter
I really do not care if my smartphone can play music or play videos. Having this capability would be nice, but the occasions when I want this functionality I have my iPod with in easy reach and it serves me well.
Yes, I have been looking at the Apple iPhone. I have been looking at the Nokia E61i for quite some time. I have been looking at the Blackberry devices. Lastly, I have been looking at various Sony Ericsson devices.
This is an utterly amazing phone. I have spent a lot of time in Apple retail stores testing every inch of the iPhone. It is the most stunningly easy to use and responsive phones I have ever run across. It meets all of my must have requirements and does not match any must not have requirements. The lack of not being able to add applications (particularly GPS and Skype) means I need an data connection to get applications and functionality. This is really not good as international data rates are horrible and WiFi is not always within reach in many countries, so this is a huge problem (cheaper or unlimited international data would solve this issue, but it is not an option as of today). The lack of 3G and true GPS is also less than optimal for me. The ease of switching from mobile carrier to WiFi is fantastic and the preference for WiFi use is a great plus.
Then there is the AT&T issue, which is a provider of last resort for me. The downsides of the iPhone are not huge and can be worked through, many likely getting resolved with software updates over time (3G requires different hardware and is the only non-upgradable detractor), but AT&T/Cingular has notorious high rates for data and horrible customer service. The rates I figure could get resolved, but getting AT&T to let existing customer change with out charges or other painful experiences (read hours on the phone arguing and debating). When I compare AT&T to T-Mobile there is comparison for customer service, T-Mobile is utterly fantastic, has a great site that lets you add and remove features with out penalty and their customer service is kind and will often bend over backward to do what ever it takes to keep you (their customer) happy.
Then we have the AT&T censorship and customer monitoring issues, which are not new. In recent news AT&T admits it has censored many bands (after getting caught censoring Pearl Jam) and the censoring is nearly always political in nature. AT&T has also been overly willing to offer up customer data to the government. With all of the name changes AT&T has gone through it seems that it has also confused its own country of the USA for the USSR.
The iPhone being tied to AT&T makes it really a difficult choice for me. Moving to AT&T will be done as a last resort.
I had a lot of interest in the Nokia E61, which did not have a camera and a camera is a must for me. The Nokia has all of the must haves and none of the must not haves. It is nearly perfect in every way, but does not have a touch interface on the screen. It also can be a little quirky in Nokia kinds or ways, which means interactions are not always as easy or seamless as the could be. I have read bits with getting the E61i to work with WiFi properly problems. The E61i is not as beautiful as the iPhone, but it does cover many of the bases that I need it to, including SIM card swapping and being fully unlocked (or the ability to buy it that way). One slight downside has been finding a place to find the Nokia line up in the US to try and buy. I have resorted to trying international friends phones and looking at Mobile Planet to purchase (Dell is now selling the E61i, but it takes 2 to 3 weeks to ship).
I continually have looked at the Blackberry as an option. The bulk of most of the devices (other than the Pearl) has been a turn off, as the device will likely live in my pocket. While I like the functionality of the Pearl (it has a camera and meets the must haves) and I really like the size compared to other Blackberries, the lack of a full keyboard and the smaller screen are drawbacks.
The Sony Ericsson phones have a similar problem to Nokia phone, in that they are rather difficult to find in the US unless you go to Mobile Planet. I have mostly resorted to trying international friend's phones. The lack of a full QWERTY keyboard has been a downside and some of the models have seemed a little bulky. The P1i, which is new to the market has been really interesting and could fit the bill, but I have not seen one. The P1i does not have a full QWERTY keyboard, but has a similar keyboard to the Blackberry Pearl, and it has a touch screen. It is missing WiFi too, which is not a killer. The biggest downside is it is over $600 price limit (making it more expensive than the iPhone).
After much debating options I am going to try the E61i as I can return it in 15 days if it does not work well for me. The little quirks and WiFi access will be the biggest potential frustrations. How much it frustrates me will be the key. It seems like it will be a large improvement over the Treo, which would be difficult to not beat. The ability to try the phone is really important for me. One thing I need to sort out is how to move my number from Sprint to the T-Mobile account easily (I will like move my T-Mobile number to Sprint or Verizon for a second phone option - as I have come to learn there are CDMA and GSM cities in the US and having at least a cheap phone on each is a good plan).
Should my trial with the Nokia E61i prove too frustrating the international carriers for the iPhone will likely be selected in the next couple weeks and I will see if that changes options for the iPhone being completely locked. The next question will be iPhone or the Sony Ericsson P1i, which will depend on the pain of AT&T.
Communicating is simple. Well it is simple at its core of one person talking with another person face-to-face. When we communicate and add technology into the mix (phone, video-chat, text message, etc.) it becomes more difficult. Technology becomes noise in the pure flow of communication.
Now With More Complexity
But, what we have today is even more complex and difficult as we are often holding conversation across many of these technologies. The communication streams (the back and forth communication between two or more people) are now often not contained in on communication channel (channel is the flavor or medium used to communicate, such as AIM, SMS, Twitter, e-mail, mobile phone, etc.).
We are seeing our communications move across channels, which can be good as this is fluid and keeping with our digital presence. More often than not we are seeing our communication streams fracture across channels. This fracturing becomes really apparent when we are trying to reconstruct our communication stream. I am finding this fracturing and attempting to stitch the stream back together becoming more and more common as for those who are moving into and across many applications and devices with their own messaging systems.
The communication streams fracture as we pick-up an idea or need from Twitter, then direct respond in Twitter that moves it to SMS, the SMS text message is responded back to in regular SMS outside of Twitter, a few volleys back and forth in SMS text, then one person leaves a voicemail, it is responded to in an e-mail, there are two responses back and forth in e-mail, an hour later both people are on Skype and chat there, in Skype chat they decide to meet in person.
Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?
When they meet there is a little confusion over there being no written overview and guide. Both parties are sure they talked about it, but have different understandings of what was agreed upon. Having the communication fractured across channels makes reconstruction of the conversation problematic today. The conversation needs to be stitched back together using time stamps to reconstruct everything [the misunderstanding revolved around recommendations as one person understands that to mean a written document and the other it does not mean that].
Increasingly the reality of our personal and professional lives is this cross channel communication stream. Some want to limit the problem by keeping to just one channel through the process. While this is well intentioned it does not meet reality of today. Increasingly, the informal networking leads to meaningful conversations, but the conversations drifts across channels and mediums. Pushing a natural flow, as it currently stands, does not seem to be the best solution in the long run.
Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?
There are a few reasons conversations drift across channels and mediums. One reason is presence as when two people notice proximity on a channel they will use that channel to communicate. When a person is seen as present, by availability or recently posting a message in the service, it can be a prompt to communicate. Many times when the conversation starts in a presence channel it will move to another channel or medium. This shift can be driven by personal preference or putting the conversation in a medium or channel that is more conducive for the conversation style between people involved. Some people have a preferred medium for all their conversations, such as text messaging (SMS), e-mail, voice on phone, video chat, IM, etc.. While other people have a preferred medium for certain types of conversation, like quick and short questions on SMS, long single responses in e-mail, and extended conversations in IM. Some people prefer to keep their short messages in the channel where they begin, such as conversations that start in Facebook may stay there. While other people do not pay attention to message or conversation length and prefer conversations in one channel over others.
Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels
Since there are more than a few reasons for the fractured communications to occur it is something that needs resolution. One solution is making all conversations open and use public APIs for the tools to pull the conversations together. This may be the quickest means to get to capturing and stitching the conversation thread back together today. While viable there are many conversations in our lives that we do not want public for one reason or many.
Another solution is to try to keep your conversations in channels that we can capture for our own use (optimally this should be easily sharable with the person we had the conversation with, while still remaining private). This may be where we should be heading in the near future. Tools like Twitter have become a bridge between web and SMS, which allows us to capture SMS conversations in an interface that can be easily pointed to and stitched back together with other parts of a conversation. E-mail is relatively easy to thread, if done in a web interface and/or with some tagging to pull pieces in from across different e-mail addresses. Skype chat also allows for SMS interactions and allows for them to be captured, searched, and pulled back together. IM conversations can easily be saved out and often each item is time stamped for easy stitching. VoIP conversations are often easily recorded (we are asking permission first, right?) and can be transcribed by hand accurately or be transcribed relatively accurately via speech-to-text tools. Voice-mail can now be captured and threaded using speech-to-text services or even is pushed as an attachment into e-mail in services as (and similar to) JConnect.
Who Will Make This Effortless?
There are three types of service that are or should be building this stitching together the fractured communications across channels into one threaded stream. I see tools that are already stitching out public (or partially public) lifestreams into one flow as one player in this pre-emergent market (Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The other public player would be telecoms (or network provider) companies providing this as a service as they currently are providing some of these services, but as their markets get lost to VoIP, e-mail, on-line community messaging, Second Life, etc., they need to provide a service that keeps them viable (regulation is not a viable solution in the long run). Lastly, for those that do not trust or want their conversation streams in others hands the personally controlled application will become a solutions, it seems that Skype could be on its way to providing this.
Is There Demand Yet?
I am regularly fielding questions along these lines from enterprise as they are trying to deal with these issues for employees who have lost or can not put their hands on vital customer conversations or essential bits of information that can make the difference in delivering what their customers expect from them. Many have been using Cisco networking solutions that have some of these capabilities, but still not providing a catch all. I am getting queries from various telecom companies as they see reflections of where they would like to be providing tools in a Come to Me Web or facilitating bits of the Personal InfoCloud. I am getting requests from many professionals that want this type of solution for their lives. I am also getting queries from many who are considering building these tools, or pieces of them.
Some of us need these solutions now. Nearly all of us will need these solutions in the very near future.
FTC to the Rescue?
Monday the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC Chairman, Deborah Platt Majoras, stated the FTC was going to look into the Net Neutrality issue. Her statement already shows the outcome based on her language and the tools they are going to use to investigate.
Chairman Majoras has formed an "Internet Access Task Force", which could be good, but depends on who is on the task force. Where things get troubling is the Chairman&'s preference for reliance on the markets to sort things out and using "cost benefit analysis" as their policy tool.
The Chairman's preference for the market to sort things out is very problematic as there is really no market. In economic terms the market normally applies to a "free market", which is setting where their is open competition and many players. With Net Nutrality we are talking about the telecom companies being the the providers of bandwidth that stands between the consumer and those with the content on the Internet. It is rather funny to call the telecom industry a market as their are now four players and possibly three soon (Verizon, ATT, and Qwest) for landlines. That is not a market but an oligopoly (a small number of providers). An oligopoly does not act like a free and open market, but much more like a monopoly. The prices do not very, there is very little differentiation between products. The consumer has little choice, well they get a different brand on their phone bill.
The Chairman stated she was going to use a "cost benefit analysis" to determine what is happening. There was one very strong point that came out of graduate policy school, cost benefit analysis (CBA) is highly biased and really does not pass the laugh test (mention it in serious settings and you are not taken seriously or you are out right laughed at).
The problem with CBA is the variable you are investigated are weighted with nothing to back them up. Lets say you want to compare sheep and cows and figure out which is better. You can examine weight be market value divided by the cost to raise the animal. But, if you live in a cold climate you may value the wool of the sheep more, so you use CBA to give weight to the wool in the equation, which is fine until you go to assign value to the wool. Assigning values makes the CBA highly biased.
Two Wrongs Do Not Make a Good Decision
The Chairman said she prefers markets to sort things out, but a free market does not exist. She said she wants to use a heavily biased tool to sort things out. These are not the words of an open arbitrator, but somebody who has made up her mind. She is trusting a biased market to be good players (we broke that market up once before for similar tactics).
Whom Do We Trust
I have worked in the telecom industry a couple of times. In the early post Ma Bell break-up doing work for an alternate long distance carrier (one that barely served a whole area code in the California Central Valley) I put speed dialers into homes and businesses to help them deal with the many extra numbers needed to dial for the cheaper service. I also did analysis work for market entry for telecoms in the late 90s (including work for Bell South involving market assessment tools and visualizations of the data for policy work and decision making) mostly focussing on wireless and satellite broadband.
I did have some trust in the telecoms when they were in a free market, but they have not been playing fair as their numbers have dwindled. In the Net Neutrality debate they have taken a three legged argument (telecom, consumer, and content provider) and removed themselves from the argument. The telecoms want people to believe a lie that it is the content owners and the customers that are on opposite sides. But, in reality it is the telecoms that stand between the people and the content and the telecoms have threatened to extort money from the Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. The telecoms fed the lies to Senator Ted Stevens to make him look like a bufoon talking about the "Internet are just tubes".
Do we trust Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo? Well the content providers are far more in number than those. Every web start-up is a content provider. MySpace, YouTube, Dabble, RocketBoom, Ze Frank, and every blog and videoblog are your content providers too. I do trust Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo with my content, but I also have trust and have faith in the small players.
The Real Market is Bottom-up Innovation in a Free Market
Who stands to lose if the FTC mangles its investigation (remember they have already claimed their bias)? It is the small players that will not be able to pay the extortionist pricing of the telecoms. Innovation often begins with the small players taking risks. Google started a few years ago as a small player in a free market. Companies like YouTube, Dabble, RocketBoom, etc. are the new Googles, but they need a free market, not one that is biased toward the oligopolies.
Push-to-talk is just nuts, unless you are the network engineers, tech support, courier, or plumber it is a rude tool. There is little purpose for push-to-talk other than make grown men feel better because they never were allowed to have walkie talkies growing up. I love to pick them up and announce "clean-up on aisle 7".
The New York Times has an article on voice telephone access in Africa, particularly voice over Internet in Ghana. This is of interest to me for many reasons, but it is very good to see the Internet can break the insanely high calling rates in Africa. Communication is a key to doing business and providing medical care, now the African monopolies are may be broken and advances begin. Yes, there are many more problematic growth and philosophical questions to overcome. The more than one dollar per minute outbound call rates may now have room to fall. Part of the solution is wireless access to get around the lack of in-ground infrastructure.
The Apple iChat AV is insanely cool and easy to use. My TiBook had a built in mic, who knew? My friend Jeff rang and started talking. I typed back that I could not talk. Then Jeff asked why he could could hear Steve Jobs talking, which was being streamed on my TiBook. He said talk, I did. Jeff heard.
Once again Apple has made an application that is insanely simple and just works. I have never been repeatedly impressed with any computer company the way I have with Apple. This is the way we all dreamed computing would be. Who knew it would take so long, yet who knew it would be today to make voice over computer so simple.
I just flat out love Apple. There have been no headaches or other problems with any of this. How un-PC and how very Apple (yes I know the Mac is a personal computer). You must get a Mac and join the ease of computing and get out of computing hell.