Voice Peering Forum (VPF) Summary

The VPF has become a must-attend conference for anyone focused on service innovation in telecoms, with over 200 attendees this year, its certainly bucking the trend we’re seeing in conferences closing.  This conference brings together a diverse mix of the telecom value chain: the IP Exchange and data center providers (Terremark, Telx, CRGWest); innovative applications that have a communications bias (Fonolo, Vidtel); traditional mobile, fixed and broadband operators (Rogers, Orange, Telecom Italia, Verizon, Swisscom); service layer suppliers (Oracle, Telcordia); enterprise communication service providers and integrators (Backflip, ifbyphone); and good mix of the Voice 2.0 leading lights (jahjah, Jaxtr, Tom Howe).

Keynote Session was from Gary Kim.  Bottom-line was the major transformation facing Operators is changing business models.  Simply witness the focus on bundling, advertising, exposing capabilities to applications (Telco API), etc.

Telecoms in Uncertain Times Session.  Mike Lee (CSO Rogers) captured the essence of the discussion with his three points.  The move from commoditized linear TV (broadcast) to on-demand, the culture change to open and real-time; and the critical importance of regulation to foster innovation through market forces.  Mike’s point of the cable operator’s focus away from commoditized broadcast highlights a perplexion a feel with mobile operators who focus on broadcast TV.

There was also an interesting discussion on why the US is relatively low on the broadband league tables.  In my opinion it’s simply due to inadequate US regulation on LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) pricing that stifled new entrant broadband ISPs in the US, which have been a driving force of innovation in markets such as the UK and France.  However, on the flip-side of that issue is it has enabled Verizon to roll-out FiOS, so for about $100 I get triple play (hundreds of channels including on-demand HDTV, broadband (20/5 Mbps) and good old fixed line voice (which I still use as its good quality and reliable). If I compare this bundle to UK prices, its a fair deal.  That last point on good old fixed line voice was also raised by Gary Kim, he stated that he’s changed his mind on voice, it is not a commodity, because mobile voice, Skype voice and PSTN voice are different, and the use cases are starkly different.

Carrier Hotels Session (Internet exchanges, interconnect (meetme rooms) and data centers).  These guys are witnessing the confluence of the internet going video, the flattening of the internet (as content providers connect directly to networks) and the explosion of SaaS (Software as a Service).  It’s interesting to note the background of some of the exchanges, one with a property management background explained that they get $4-5 per sqft when they rent to people; and $30-50 per sq ft when they rent to computers.  The focus of this industry is concrete, AC, power and interconnect.  These exchanges provide a possible point for operators to interconnect their service delivery capabilities.

My session on Telco 2.0 and Web 2.0: making Money Together? brought together Telcom Italia, Oracle, Swisscom and Orange.  Francesco Fraccalvieri focused upon describing NexTIM, their website for exposing new services for their ‘360 degree innovators,’ their early adopters.  Ty Wang, Oracle reviewed their experiences across both operators and application developers, highlighting the importance and challenges of exposing customer profile information and charging.  Stefan Kuentz, Swisscom described both their consumer and business experiences in exposing capabilities.  Asha Vellaikal, Orange described their broad range of activities across Orange’s Widget, picture sharing and OpenID APIs, which are now coordinated through the Orange Partner site.

The discussion demonstrated the proactive approach operators are taking to foster service innovation, but highlighted the dichotomy of operators taking an approach focused on protecting customer sensitivities and experimentation; while application developers are focused upon speed to cash and the freedom to innovate.  This brought up the role of application aggregators such as uLocate, which can play an important role in managing this dichotomy.  The issue on how the diverse operator initiatives can be aligned to present a common front to application developers was left unanswered.  However, I’ll take this issue up on a later weblog entry.

Voice Mashup Session: provided some specific real-world applications from ifbyphone, Jaduka, Jaxtr and Backflip on how communications can be embedded into business processes and everyday activities.  For example, improving the accuracy of lead generation for new car sales.  Many of these required customization to the specific enterprises requirements.  This raise the important role local SIs (System integrator) and how carriers need to expose capabilities that SIs/VARs can use for the SMB segment.  Here BT’s relationship with RingCentral provides a small but useful proof-point.

Overall the VPF was a pleasant surprise, it presents a cost effective event to meet the main players across the ecosystem of communication service innovation.