Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why are people like Jeff Pulver so crazy for Facebook and Twitter?

That was a funny to read yesterday: VoIP guru Jeff Pulver published the manifesto "Social Communications. A way of Life for me.", stating that "advent of Social Media provides us all with a great set of online tools we can use to build friendships and conduct business". He tells how he feels connected with hundreds of friends and collaborators without the need to ever meet the person face-to-face and declares 2007 as his year when social media extended itself into his life and changed everything.
Sometime during 2007, with the advent of my discovery/obsession with twitter and my recent adoption of Facebook as my iHome, the result of my actions have accelerated the way I have been able to create new relationships with people. These are people whom I've never met, yet over time people whom I feel truly connected with. And I would include in this list some of the people whose blogs I read as well as some of the people who have taken the time to leave a comment on my blog and whom I got to know afterwards.

The text ends with an invitation to join him on Facebook and Twitter, where we can read important information like "Good morning! Looks like a great day. I just hope the weather stays like this for my drive/ferry/drive to Boston on Thursday." or "Jeff is sleeping and dreaming about Jerusalem ROCKS!".

I nearly cracked up laughing when directly afterwards I read the post "Facebook Crap" on the Wireless Utopia blog. The writer Rajiv, a programmer from Bangalore, came straight to the point:
I finally have to admit it: I have not been able to figure out Facebook. No, not their business model. But what to do with it. I am on it and so are a decent amount of friends. But I hardly ever go beyond the home page. I see all my friends adding all sorts of applications, running quizzes, giving each other gifts, reading fortune cookies and whatnot. They seem to be having a good time.

But somehow I fail to enjoy it. None of the apps are really interesting. Or useful. To be frank, some of them are downright childish. Fortune cookies, comparing likes and dislikes. Who has the time for these things.

You are so right Rajiv! I feel the same. Facebook is a great time sucker.

On purpose I made there only "friends" who should be serious people: CEOs, CTOs, analysts, investors, sales people, journalists. I hoped to get in interesting discussions and to learn something. But what do I see? Messages like "Andy Abramson is going to dinner, about to drink wine..." or adult people pretending to be Zombies and virtually bite each other.

The groups, where we could have discussions, are barely updated with new posted items or wall posts. Even the page of the Rebtel group, with 153 members, didn't change in the last 12 days. Other groups that sounded interesting (EQO Mobile, Jajah, Ooma, FWD, ...) didn't develop further than some introductory statements.

Twitter is worse because it's only silly personal status messages. Have fun to read Jeff Pulver saying mostly "Good morning" and talking about the wheather on his Twitter page.

Who needs this? I wonder what Jeff Pulver would say.


Reuters: Facebook surfers cost their bosses billions
Mon Aug 20, 2007 6:29AM EDT

Monday, August 27, 2007

Funny feature race between Truphone and Wifimobile

There is an interesting competition going on between the mobile VoIP providers Truphone and Wifimobile: Both companies are adding more and more features, probably as reaction to what the other does. I nearly get the feeling that my blog was a pivot for their latest moves, Truphone Out+ and Wifimobile's international calls at local rates over normal GSM.

Last monday I wrote a review about Wifimobile's oneFone service, stating that it had one decisive advantage over Truphone:
Also you don't need to give a new phone number to your pals, like you have to do as a Truphone user, because oneFone uses your normal cell phone number as caller ID when it establishes the call. So the company can directly work on an international scale, other than Truphone which has only UK or US numbers and still has to apply with the regulators for numbers from other countries.

1:0 For Wifimobile. But only four days later Truphone strikes back with a similar feature, Truphone Out+:
1. Truphone Out+ is accessible to new customers from countries where Truphone does not yet provide local mobile numbers. Currently this means countries outside of the UK and USA.

2. For these new customers Truphone Out+ means that a customer's existing phone number is now displayed as their CLI when they make a Truphone call.

3. Carrier pre-select is achieved transparently: when a Truphone call is made the Truphone's servers recognise if the 'ordinary' telephone number being called is linked to a Truphone account. If the destination user is online, a free Truphone-to-Truphone call is setup.

4. Truphone is a mobile operator for the internet age, delivering a UK-based service accessible from around the world. Truphone Out+ is an evolution of the Truphone service. Truphone Out+ will be evolved to a full Truphone services as and when one or more of the following conditions are met:
- number portability becomes possible in a country;
- E.164 compliance is implemented in that country;
- Truphone introduces a local number range in that country.
Truphone is actively working with national regulators and operator partners around the world to bring about one or more of these conditions.

5. A customer can opt to make any call over GSM rather than via Truphone, if they prefer to do so.

6. Truphone Out+ is not yet available for existing Truphone customers.

7. All existing Truphone customers can continue to make free and low-cost mobile VoIP calls over Wi-Fi and the internet. Truphone-to-Truphone calls are always free.

James Tagg, Truphone's chief executive officer, said:

"Truphone Out+ will encourage access to the Truphone service from countries where we have not yet introduced local number ranges. At a stroke we have massively increased the number of people who can access and benefit from the Truphone service."

1:1 for Truphone against Wifimobile. One of Truphone's head honchos told me in a private email that they introduced this feature for me. But that must have been a tongue in cheek comment since I can't even use this new feature. Truphone Out+ is not yet available for existing Truphone customers. The first new Truphone users are already baffled as you can tell from this comment in Truphone's mobile VoIP forum:
Hi, I just registered in Canada, In the SMS from truphone, i got the same number as my provider. I thought i would be assigned an american number like some of the other people on this this a mistake?

Well, it's really difficult to please everybody, but I guess that most non UK and non US users will be quite happy to use their normal mobile number as Truphone number. At least I never gave my Truphone US number to any non US contact, since no German would call me back on that number.

But what about Wifimobile?

Business development manager John O'Prey was a little bit surprised by Truphone's move, since it kind of breaks with Truphone's established business model of relying on incoming call termination revenue to recoup money on their free mobile calls to 40 countries for the rest of the year. His official comment in an email to me was:
“Truphone obviously now support CLI as WiFiMobile have done for some time. I suggest that all users would assume that this service is a natural application. WiFiMobile’s stance is giving the end user simplicity with as much normal handset operation as possible. Our service automatically determines whether a call is free over oneFone or chargeable over GSM. The customer dials as normal. People already have an attached GSM number and do not want to be giving friends and family other contact numbers."

And then he striked out to score the next goal against Truphone: Wifimobile introduces an add on service for UK and USA customers who can now call internationally at local rates over normal GSM.

That's VoIP without VoIP!

Another great idea, born out of competition and giving more choice to the customer. “This addresses the fact that connection to Wi-Fi is not always possible and few people have an unlimited data plan”, says John O'Prey. I guess it's a callback service, because it would be easily to implement in Wifimobile's standalone VoIP client for Nokia mobile phones.

2:1 for Wifimobile.

Let's see what happens next in this interesting match.

Monday, August 20, 2007

oneFone's mobile VoIP is slick, but wiFon's seamless handover is even cooler

In the last days I played with Wifimobile's oneFone VoIP client for Nokia's E- and N-Series and liked it very much. Business Development Manager John O'Prey had invited me for a free trial.

The oneFone client is so easy to use that at first I did everything wrong. You just have to start the program and then you should forget it until your next call. Instead I pushed many buttons, because I didn't know how to dial a number. The program's contact list contained only four SIP addresses, which it had harvested from my address book. But how to dial other numbers? I didn't find a button and searched so much that that the program hung itself up.

I should have read the manual! In an email John explained to me:
To dial a landline minimise oneFone to the background and dial as normal. You can also dial directly from your contact list. Let oneFone run in the background and use your phone as you normally would.

And it really works like this. You start the program once and then let it disappear by hitting the "Back" button. Afterwards you can forget it. When you dial a number, in the same way as you always do on your mobile phone, the program kicks in and establishes the call over VoIP. Before the call really starts a voice says "Thank you for using Wifimobile". That's to indicate that this call will not appear on your normal phone bill but goes for free over Wifi. Unless of course that you make the oneFone call over 3G. I did that once and it cost me only 3 Cents of a Euro. The quality was acceptable, it nearly sounded like a normal GSM phone call. But taking into account the high data costs in Europe I recommend to use only the "Auto WLAN" mode which prevents VoIP calls over 3G.

The entire oneFone application seems like a least cost router for mobile phones. Comparable to Cellity the program kicks in only if it can connect the call cheaper than your cell phone contract. The website explains it:
Only £15.99 €11.99 £7.99 Per Month

The oneFone service from WiFiMobile allows you to make unlimited* free calls to landlines in over 40 countries as well as mobile phones in certain countries including the USA. For a list of countries that you can call for free click here.

All calls to landline and mobile numbers to countries not listed here are automatically routed through your normal GSM provider. This allows us to guarantee that customers are never charged more than the set monthly line rental.

*The unlimited free calls are subject to a fair usage policy.

The list of free countries covers probably every destination you need. I was happy to see that even Peru is free. What I really like about oneFone is how inobstrusive it is. You just don't notice the program anymore, once you have it enabled. They don't even give you a login to their website for a call history list. Calls go over oneFone free of charge, covered by the flatrate tariff, or they go over GSM and appear on your cell phone bill. So why keep track of them.

Also you don't need to give a new phone number to your pals, like you have to do as a Truphone user, because oneFone uses your normal cell phone number as caller ID when it establishes the call. So the company can directly work on an international scale, other than Truphone which has only UK or US numbers and still has to apply with the regulators for numbers from other countries.

Both companies give Wifi calls between their members for free. But oneFone's presence application, where you can see if your friends are online for free on net calls, really works. Other than Truphone which recently had to disable the presence feature in their client because "it was hammering the servers and becoming less reliable as more people upgraded and began to use it".

John O'Prey told me some more points which "distinguish oneFone not just from Truphone, but all providers who use the Nokia client":
  • oneFone is a self developed and wholly owned stand alone VoIP client and Works in all Nokia E and N Series phones
  • Presence is fully supported and operational
  • Support for automatic roaming between WLAN and 3G
  • Automatic selection of best Internet Access Point
  • oneFone works in far more NATed environments than the Nokia client
  • Adhoc conference support coming in a few days

By not relying on Nokia's own VoIP client they circumvent the mobile incumbents' agreement to lock down alternative VoIP providers. A smart move.

But would I really recommend oneFone? Not necessarily.

£15.99 / €11.99 / £7.99 per Month is quite a lot of money for Wifi phone calls from a mobile, given the fact that Truphone gives nearly the same countries for free until the end of 2007. And with VoIP from Betamax, which you can also install on your Nokia E- or N-Series, you get 120 days of free calls for just €10. My personal costs for mobile and fixed line telephony are together not more than €10 per month, although I am a busy journalist with family in Peru. So people have to think good if they really need Wifimobile's offer. After all it's a normal VoIP flatrate and, e. g., with the bellshare flat you get more or less the same for just €5,99.

Also I think that the proprietary oneFone client could do much more. Look at what they do at Eteleon! Their wiFon client allows a seamless handover between Wifi VoIP calls and GSM. During a phone call it continuously checks the strength of the Wifi signal. If it drops under a certain point the software tells the Eteleon server to continue the call over GSM. The German webzine Teltarif has tested the handover and was quite pleased. wiFon even gives a free fixed line number from your local area, so that also your friends can save money when they call you on your mobile.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Voipbuster offers free SMS from mobile phones

The Betamax company Voipbuster now offers free SMS from a mobile phone. I have just checked it out and it works great. You just have to install a small Java applet on your cell phone. Voipbuster routes the message as so called "UrlSms" over their servers. The SMS is free, besides of a little 3G data traffic. I have just sent two totally free SMS over Wifi from my Nokia E61. The messages arrive within minutes and seem to be a tiny bit slowlier than normal SMS.

1) How to install:
  • On your mobile go to (on some mobiles you need to choose 'download application' on some phones you can just go to the webpage).

  • download and install the application, start the application (for most mobiles: in the menu, go to applications)

  • in "settings" fill in your VoipBuster username / password and your mobile phone number

2) How to send SMS:
  • start the application (for most mobiles: in the menu, go to applications)
  • go to options --> sms
  • you can select the person you want to send a sms from your mobile phone contacts through options --> add from contacts
  • type your message and hit SEND!
  • your mobile phone will ask you to open a data connection. This uses just a tiny bit of data traffic.
  • Voipbuster charges you nothing! Yes --> NOTHING!
Again I wonder how Betamax will refinance this service. But they already surprised me a few times with such offers. Normally they don't last too long and then become paid services at cheap prices. I guess it's just an introductory offer.

My apologies to David Beckemeyer from PhoneGnome

In one of my last posts, "Why isn't the US the "land of the free" also in VoIP?", I critized US American VoIP companies that normally lock their ATAs to just one provider. I also mentioned PhoneGnome, but that was a little bit unfair since they are a real example of openness on the market. Their box does exactly what I want from an ATA: Be open for other providers too. CEO David Beckemeyer explains it in a comment on GigaOM:
Users of the PhoneGnome box can select ANY third-party SIP-based provider for call termination (in response to Fritz!box comment). We offer a number of plans from our partners, but users do not have to use them. See ‘Bring Your Own Provider’ option on this page: and also, we have promoted open and interoperable as a cornerstone of our philosophy, so it comments tossing PhoneGnome in with all the closed services out there is a tad annoying:

David also gave a good explanation of "free on net calls", just to show afterwards that PhoneGnome has something even better:
With a service like Free world dialup (FWD) or Skype, it means I can call another FWD user using FWD, but I dial a weird FWD number (not their normal number) and the call rings to their FWD “bat phone” or PC (not their regular phone).
In comparation PhoneGnome provided when introduced in 2005 and continues to provide a unique version of on-net calls:
1. I dial the person’s real phone number
2. The call rings to the person’s regular phone (fixed or mobile)
3. I pay NO monthly fees

So PhoneGnome seems to store normal PSTN numbers in their system to reach them for free by VoIP, similar to what Fonality does with its new trixnet service for free VoIP calls.

Sorry, David Beckemeyer, you seem to be one of the good guys in the industry who really embraces the openness of the SIP standard for VoIP. It was wrong to choose PhoneGnome as a negative example of how VoIP companies use the feature of "free calls between their members" in their marketing message. I should have chosen another company which really doesn't any offer more and uses closed ATAs.

As long as there is no flatrate for worldwide free calls we need the ability to tinker with many VoIP providers in one ATA. Luca already made the call "Let’s give up on the PSTN", and said "if any broadband owner became a FWD member, the dream of PSTN-free communication could quickly become reality". Yes, if all broadband owners would listen to Luca and use the same VoIP provider, FWD, then we needed for phone calls only our "weird FWD number", as David calls it.

All phone calls would be free on net calls. No need to install several providers in one ATA.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Finally Ooma information straight from the source, while others wonder how to hack it for worldwide free calls

The blogosphere has criticized Ooma for various reasons, while traditional media have praised it to the skies for Ooma's unlimited free calls to the US, probably not knowing that this is part of most VoIP offers today. Now Ooma's co-founder Dennis Peng took the time for some explaining words comments section of GigaOM:
There are three pillars to our core value proposition that are unique to ooma:
* unlimited calling to any number in the US - with no monthly fees
* the Instant Second Line - the easiest second line you’ll ever use
* the Broadband Answering Machine - the best voicemail experience ever

His insightful comment is quite interesting to read. Especially for sentences like: "Both the Instant Second Line and Broadband Answering Machine are unprecedented features. To do them requires a unique combination of assets (processors, lights, buttons, speakers, inter-device networking, etc.) and architecture (star vs bus) that no ATA or other embedded device has ever had". Or: "What they will see, however, is a continual set of new services and the trained-eye will realize that we’ve designed this platform so that new services don’t all need to be “in-the-cloud”, but rather a unique blend of client/server intelligence and interactions".

This makes me hungry for more details, because the public still doesn't know how Ooma manages its Peer-to-Peer network, and whether it can survive if the company breaks down. Vinay has some interesting thoughts under the overpromising title "Ooma VOIP to offer Worldwide Free Calls?":
Some people reportedly said, Ooma won't work if they got closed down without understanding how they exactly work? No one really knows whether they use a Hydrid P2P or pure P2P. If they use hybrid P2P, then they have a central server that keeps information on peers and responds to requests for that information. I guess this could be required since regulation might require companies to know about their customers and some quality/security issues related to it. If they use pure P2P, they could have serious legal issues but ooma will continue to run irrespective of the company, coz the peers are responsible for data transfer and there is no central server.

Unfortunately Vinay's text doesn't mention how to use an Ooma device for worldwide free calls, although the title promised. Technically this should be possible, since there are many countries with free local calls or cheap nationwide phone flat rates, such as Germany. Jeff Pulver tries to build a worldwide free communication network around this with his fwdOUT service for Asterisk, yet for more than two years.

As I see it most ATAs run Linux and have been hacked for other purposes than the intended.

So will be Ooma.

Why isn't the US the "land of the free" also in VoIP?

I don’t understand the US American market of VoIP devices. The PhoneBoy tells terrible things in the VoIP Weblog:
It seems that the VoIP providers are just as bad--or worse--than the mobile phone carriers in the United States, which generally don't let you take your phone to a competing provider. Unlike with US mobile phones, where there are two standards, pretty much all customer premises VoIP hardware speaks SIP, the lingua franca of VoIP. Just recently, I threw a Vonage-locked Linksys ATA/Router combo that Vonage refused to unlock for me. What a waste!

And Garrett Smith explains "How to Unlock SunRocket Gizmo For Use With InPhonex".

"Poor Americans", must I say. Why do they accept ATAs that are locked to just one provider? Because they don't know it better from their mobile telephony? Why do Vonage or Sunrocket users have to throw away their hardware and cannot simply use it with another company? Why doesn’t PhoneGnome admit that “Free calls between PhoneGnome members” is a normal feature that is available with every other VoIP provider. It’s called "on net calls" and nothing special.

In Germany we use open devices, such as Fritz!Box, where you can install up to 10 VoIP providers of your choice. One of them can be PhoneGnome, because it also supports the open SIP standard, but it doesn't have to be the only one.

With intelligent ATA dial plans you can assure to make only free on net calls and to always use the cheapest provider for your other calls. People use to play around with the cheapest routes of the various Betamax brands, depending on where they are calling to, and they like to install several of them at the same time.

In the USA, in contrast, VoIP devices are commonly locked to just one provider. Like cell phones that you have to throw away when you change the provider.

Is this really the "land of the free"?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Who needs Sitófono when he can have that for free from Voxalot?

The PhoneBoy writes at The VoipWeblog about Sitófono, the click-to-call solution from Abbeynet.
Sitofono is a rather unique product in the VoIP marketplace. It enables customers to click on a button on your website and they can connect with you. All a customer has to do is input their phone number into the computer and their phone rings, connecting you! Meanwhile, Luca Filifgheddu, the CEO of Abbeynet, let's us know on his personal blog that getting a Sitofono is even easier than it used to be. Four steps and a few hundred Euros later, and you've got click-to-call on your web site for a year.
Why pay a few hundred Euros for click-to-call? I have it just set up for free with Voxalot, powered by free VoIP providers of my choice which are automatically selected by a dial plan:

This is a real phone service. Think twice before you call me at night or try to annoy me with this click-to-call! I live in the Central European Time zone and have those calls filtered, so that my phone rings only at reasonable times. Also I have a nice call log where I can see all the callers' numbers and might call you back.

Monday, August 6, 2007

German Mobile Network Operators are now definitely banning the use of VoIP

Vodafone and T-Mobile are now definitely banning the use of VoIP in their mobile networks in Germany. This had been long announced. Yet two years ago Vodafone Germany changed its Terms of Service (TOS) to reserve its right to block VoIP from the 8th of july 2007 on. But they weren't sure whether they would really do it. In february 2007 Vodafone Germany's speaker Heiko Witzke still told me that it was unclear whether or not Vodafone would really adopt the ban.

Now, since the deadline has passed, the German webzine Teltarif inquired and got a straight answer: It's forbidden to use Vodafone Germany's data plans for VoIP, says the press department. The other German mobile telephony providers, E-Plus, O2 and T-Mobile, have similar footnotes in their TOS. T-Mobile even forbids the use of instant messaging over GPRS and 3G. But none of the four companies seems to filter their data traffic for voice packets yet, maybe because this would slow down the entire network.

Crippling VoIP would be really annoying for a friend of mine who recently signed a Vodafone contract to use 3G instead of DSL on his laptop. He doesn't know much about technology but loves to use Skype. With Vodafone's HSDPA and HSUPA 3G he enjoys download speeds of 3,6 Mbps and uploads at 1,45 Mbps in the whole city of Berlin, which makes him quite happy. Vodafone charges him 45 Euros monthly but someone should tell him that he is violating the TOS. I am sure that he would directly cancel his contract.

He had weird problems anyway. The service, Vodafone Mobile Connect, doesn't run on Windows Vista. But as a newbie he has a brandnew laptop with Microsoft's latest OS. We installed everything from CD as told. But it did not work and so we went to a Vodafone shop for a reinstallation. The clerk was quite friendly and invested one hour of his valuable time for a reinstallation, but all in vain. Then we went home and downloaded the latest Vodafone Mobile Connect software from the website and did all possible firmware updates. Still no success, although the Vodafone website tells that the latest software should work with Vista.

Luckily we found this solution which tells how to use the Vodafone 3G PCMCIA card as if it was a normal network adapter. This works great. My friend could uninstall the crappy Vodafone software entirely and is now happily surfing the internet.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

No Truphone over Fring anymore

With its new version 3.0 Truphone has not only added new features, they have also closed a security breach. I realized it today. Until the latest version there existed a trick to retrieve Truphone's SIP password and then install it on every other SIP device. This was quite convenient for people who don't want to use Wifi continuously on their Nokia cell phones because it drains the battery.

These people could just install Truphone on their softphone or ATA to receive phone calls with their Truphone number. UK users of a Nokia N95 with crippled VoIP could avoid their problems by using Truphone together with the 3rd party software Fring. I guess Truphone was not too happy with that since one of their revenue streams is call forward: When you are outside a Wifi area Truphone forwards incoming calls on your cost to your cell phone number and takes its share from these costs. Unless you have a US mobile phone number, then the call forward is free.

If you have installed Truphone 3.0 it's now impossible to find your SIP password on your mobile phone. At least unless another hacker finds another way to retrieve it. I can't reveal how it had been done before, since there are still users of version 2.0 who could make use of it and therewith violate Truphone's terms and conditions:

Compatible Handset

You may only use the software and service with compatible handsets or devices identified on our website You must check the list of handsets on the Truphone website to ensure You download the correct software for your phone. Truphone is not liable if You do not have a compatible handset or if You have downloaded the wrong version of the software for your handset. Truphone reserve the right to terminate this agreement should you be using the Truphone service with a handset or device that is not identified on the website as compatible.

I suppose that call forward and interconnection fees are Truphone's way to fund their recently anncounced free mobile calls to 40 countries around the world for the rest of the year. That's why they are so happy to have won the court injunction against T-Mobile which had blocked calls to Truphone's new numbers. More insight on the issue and how Truphone earns from calls to it's numbers can be found here.