Emerging Communications Conference 2009

Last year I heard many people talking very positively about a new conference, eComm (Emerging Communications Conference), last year attracted 300 people and 80 speakers from 15 countries; this year the number increased to 350, which given the current environment is a remarkable achievement.  eComm brings together people leading the change in telecoms from both inside the industry and out.  This conference provides a unique forum for anyone working on open innovation / third party applications, community and communications, open networks / handsets, communication enabled business processes, convergence of media / entertainment / telecom, service innovation, and cloud computing/telephony.

What stood out at the conference was the variety of commercial innovations based around the integration of the web and communications.  And importantly the real business being generate by services such as with Fonolo, Jaduka and VoiceSage all of which will benefit greatly as operators open their networks.

Briefly summarizing the sessions I attended:

  • Malcolm Madison, OPLAN Foundation: Vision of muni-broadband as a driver for net neutrality, interesting take on using shareholder value to drive operator co-operation in opening their ducts.
  • Doc Searls, Harvard University, Reframing the Net: Analogies of the internet to shipping, real estate, publishing and mass media.  For me he mixed web and the internet concepts.  Conclusion was the internet is a place/real estate – which is just the web.
  • Mark Roettgering, T-Mobile USA, Communications Value System: described the thinking behind TMO’s Open Development plans.
  • Russ McGuire, Sprint, Cutting the cord on Big Bell Dogma: Reviewed Sprint’s developer initiatives, which remain ahead of the pack.  He got some rough questioning.
  • Conveneer announced their peer-to-peer client for mobile phones, opens up the phone to web-based applications.  Interesting approach, their challenge will be getting it onto phones.
  • Phweet demoed their service, anonymous free calling between twitter friends.  Essentially using twitter messages as a form of availability management.
  • Alan Duric gave a great review of how he made Telio (VoIP provider) successful; they recently launched a MobileMe type service that reduced churn by an order of magnitude for subscribing customers.  Telio are now focused upon adding video.
  • Grid – interesting API aggregation proposition, unclear how it differentiates from the other API aggregation plays.
  • TokTok (Ditech Networks) similar to Dial2do – voice control for search, reminders etc.
  • Christopher Allen gave a great tutorial on iPhone app development: its just like the web!
  • Florent Stroppa, Voxmobili, gave a great case study on Android development and the degree of customization possible; which has not, as yet, been realized on the G1 or G2.
  • Skype announced a free codec as they try to embed Skype everywhere.
  • Symbian, LiMO and Android had an argument on who is the best, which was of little relevance, they should focus on developer needs and let the market decide.
  • Alec Saunders of Iotum gave a great review on the realization of his Voice 2.0 manifesto. He then reviewed his experiences on web based and iPhone based app development for his Callifower service; clearly showed iPhone dev is as easy as the web.
  • Shai Berger gave a great status update on the progress of Fonolo.  Service now works across 500 companies.  Some interesting statistics on enterprises’ IVRs.  He’s now working directly with a number of enterprises because Fonolo improves CSR (Customer Service Rep) efficiency and customer’s experience.  This is a key development, corporations like Fonolo because it makes the customer experience better – this was a concern with many of the operators I introduced to Fonolo.  Once Fonolo announce the corporate tie-ups it will provide the direct objective evidence that means operators should adopt Fonolo.
  • Mark Spencer, Digium: announced a ‘Skype channel’ for the Asterisk server, another example of the greater integration of Skype in the communications landscape, it will be interesting to see if this will significantly increase the value of the Skype network.
  • Chris Mairs, Metaswitch, Service Innovation Ecosystems: Key requirements are an opportunity to innovate, low barrier to creation, and most importantly a clear route to market.  However, why are there so few good telephony apps on iPhone/Facebook?  Issues include maturity, regulatory, billing, error handling, and security.  So recommended focus on devices such as SIP business phones and the recently launched Verizon home hub.
  • Graham Brierton, VoiceSage: Cool communication enabled business process provider operating on a managed pay per use model.  Gave a number of simple examples of adding SMS and voice messaging to business processes, e.g. “where’s my stuff” app to reduce in-bound IVR calls, then added payment reminder, which increased orders!
  • Smule: cool social music app – wacky but engaging.  Reminds me of the Stylophone.
  • Gerd Leonhard, MediaFuturist.com gave his view that value is moving to experience from content.
  • Trevor Baca, Jaduka, How to do Things with Voice: Described their buyer verification services, critical support conferencing and weather alert services.  Identified the critical characteristics for service success: urgency, simplicity, context, scale, integration and the enterprise-focused.
  • RebelVox, new user experience for voice: Like Bubble Motion, with cute fast-play function to speed through listening to a voice message (based on a military technology), and ability to break into a live call.
  • Mark Rolston, Frog Design: Phone is a window, and described how many brands are creating their experience in that window.  Key message was the integration of real and on-line lives, giving some cute overlays of virtual worlds on the real.
  • Tom Howe, Jaduka: CEBP (Communication Enabled Business Processes) makes voice a spice – an ingredient in many applications.  CEBP engineers are not voice engineers.  Small number of methods: notifications, diary, click to call and instant conference that are frictionless for an enterprise application developer (not the voice engineers).  This is a critical point beyond just CEBP to the whole of operator service exposure.

On my presentation ‘The Business Case for Opening the Network’ I gave a perspective on the business case for opening the network, slides shown below.  The focus is an operational business case, identifiable services and revenue, rather than a ‘strategic business’ case such as femtocell.  I gave some background on the changes driving operators to open their network including customer expectations, explosion of ‘open’ service platforms at the edge, e.g. iPhone, Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii etc; and that most developers consider operator open development initiatives just noise compared to Apple and in time Android because of direct customer access.

I then discussed an example business model, the key messages are it’s focused upon generally enterprise applications: communication enabled business processes e.g. Jaduka, VoiceSage, etc.; voice mash-ups e.g. Dial2do; presence and location e.g. M2M, asset tracking, enterprise messaging; content 2.0 (breaking away from messaging) and set top box services.  From which generates within 2 years of service launch around $40-65M for an operator with 10 million subscribers, assuming a 30:70 rev split between the operator/developer and the user choosing the purchase model of usage, subscription or advertising sponsored.  The critical point is it is not a revolutionary business case, for a business generating $10-20B per year, its really down in the noise.  However, as customers’ expectations change given the prevalence of OTT (Over The Top) services that are engaged in a dialogue with customers to sustain engagement, operators have no choice but to adapt and leverage their assets to remain relevant as service providers.