Monday, October 29, 2007

Andy Abramson the Citizen Kane of VoIP?

I always wondered about the power of Comunicano. That's the marketing communications company of Andy Abramson, one of the most intesting bloggers in the VoIP industry. From some of his blog posts I already had gotten the vague feeling that he must be some kind of mastermind.

Many of my blog posts lead back to information that Comunicano spread. But I could realize that only recently, because Comunicano's website is nearly empty. No press releases, no list of clients - while Andy, the company's founder and head, is one of the most influential bloggers in the VoIP industry.

Some weeks ago I wrote how I feel about this situation:
Especially the VoIP area, which became a main focus of this blog, is dominated by blogs of entrepreneurs who have an interest in maximizing their profits. Luca, Andy, David, Alec, Pat and others run great websites, but there you will hardly find tipps on how to hack their companies' services for free phone calls. They use their blog as a business tool.
Today I realized that my blog is full of Comunicano's clients: Covad, Entriq, IntelePeer, iotum, Junction Networks, Mobivox, Nokia, PhoneGnome, SightSpeed, TalkPlus, Thomas Howe, Truphone, Voxalot and Vringo. Comunicano has set up a blog with their latest press releases and finally published their list of clients.

Thank you for this disclosure, Andy. I feel better now. It helps me to judge the posts on your blog which often are starting points for my own articles. I would have written these texts anyway because the topics were interesting. But it's always better to know precisely who is feeding you an information.

Also now it's easier to get first hand information about these companies without delay. Kudos to Comunicano for interesting and not annoying press relations so far!

I appreciate openness.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Nokia's file sharing platform MOSH is full of illegal contents

Nokia has a serious problem with software piracy, but at least they are trying to solve it. Some days ago the company announced SEEK, a new search function for Nokia's file sharing platform MOSH which had been launched in August. MOSH exists as a small website for mobile phones and in a bigger version for computers. Every subscribed user can upload files and downloads even work without subscription.

Although new users have to give their personal mobile phone numbers to subscribe, MOSH is full of pirated software. For instance the program VirtualRadio for Nokia s60 3rd edition costs US $20.50 when you buy it from the company's website. At MOSH you just have to look up its name in the internal search engine. Within seconds you find the program and then you can send a free SMS on Nokia's cost with a direct download link to your cell phone. After the installation the software works without any restriction, although the MOSH user paid nothing.

Pirated software now much easier to find?

This search for pirated software, and of course also for legal contents, could now become much easier: SEEK allows MOSH users to make requests for content they crave and the community can then respond with suggestions or custom created content. "SEEK allows the rapidly growing, and global, MOSH community to connect with one another and to obtain content not yet available", says the press release. Instead of "content not yet available" they could also have written "in others places only available for cash".

Yet five weeks ago Jan Rezab, CEO of Redboss (one of the top distributors and developers of mobile games in the Czech Republic), told in his blog told that "the only problem is, that people are sharing free, illegal mobile games on the site. Games from EA, THQ, Fishlabs, and many companies are available on MOSH". I tried to verify that and found for instance the VirtualRadio software and many games. Of course Nokia doesn't encourage this kind of use. Instead they imagine that users share self created contents like a personal "video of a specific dive in the Maldives".

"MOSH has a strong focus on responding to the needs of its community of users and feedback from the community is the motivation for SEEK", says Lee Epting, Vice President, Forum Nokia. "We have always focused on MOSH being a service created for, and shaped by, users. Seeing users request content from one another, as well as the desire for community discussion, forms the foundation of SEEK." His words sound a little bit sarcastic to me, taking into account that many users take MOSH as a free one stop shop for pirated software.

Officially launching on December 14, an exclusive demo of SEEK could be seen at CTIA Wireless in San Francisco October 23rd through October 25th. MOSH, short for mobilize and share, has seen more than 6 million downloads since its beta launch on 9th August. Hopefully these weren't all pirated software downloads.

Hunt for piracy with fingerprints

After I wrote a short article about SEEK and the illegal content on MOSH for Areamobile, I soon got a phone call from Finland. On the phone was James Waterworth, Communications Manager Technology at Nokia. He said that the piracy problem is high on MOSH's agenda and should be solved soon.

For copyright protected music and movies they already have an automatic solution: MOSH checks the digital fingerprint of the file and prevents the upload if it's copyright protected. For that Nokia could use existing filter software that already had been used in similar ways at Youtube or Flickr. "Try to upload a song by Madonna!", Waterworth told me. But I didn't do so because I don't want to get in trouble. That's also the reason why I don't post any direct link to illegal MOSH contents in this blog post. Look for yourself, dear reader! Yet I wonder why still I can find Madonna's song "Hung up" at MOSH.

Much more difficult is it for Nokia to filter illegal software. There was no existing solution for cell phone programs, so Nokia now has to develop their own. In some weeks, Waterworth says, pirated software will be detected automatically at MOSH. Nokia will check against a blacklist from software companies which contains every piece of software they don't want to see for a free download at MOSH.

Until then Nokia asks users to report copyright infringements and illegal contents to the moderators who monitor MOSH day and night. They will delete them by hand. The responsible for the illegal upload will be warned and if he does it again his account will be canceled.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Jajah offers pure play VoIP over 3G, inconsistent with their No Headset campaign

The web based callback operator Jajah starts to offer real VoIP calls over a 3G HSDPA cell phone network in Japan. That's funny since it undermines their own "Smash your headset" campaign which Jajah uses to attack competitor Skype. But Jajah's press department again did a great job of reality distortion so that bloggers and old school media didn't realize the the contradiction. I already covered the topic for the German news website Areamobile where I now work more often.

Normally people have to pay double at Jajah. After they enter their own number and the callee's number on a web site or in a mobile phone, Jajah's server establishes two phone calls to connect them. That's not always the cheapest option, compared to calling cards or pure play VoIP, and has nearly nothing to do with mobile internet telephony. Jajah uses VoIP only in the backend to connect the calls. The callers just need a normal PSTN or cell phone to start a Jajah conversation. But now Jajah starts to change these rules with a new operation in Japan. The per minute price gets cheaper by eliminating the double calls and Jajah does more or less the same like Truphone.

The Japanese company Emobile will be the first mobile operator in this country to offer VoIP over HSDPA. The start is scheduled for October 18, 2007, and the application has been developed by Jajah for the "One Alpha" devices of Emobile, which until now were data only and could not make phone calls. The phone calls go over the Jajah network and cost per minute about 9.7 Euro cents to Japanese cell phones and 1.4 Euro cents to the PSTN. Emobile makes its money by charging a flatrate tariff for the VoIP and other data usage. Emergency calls or calls to free numbers are not possible, as we already know it from other VoIP providers. The VoIP application comes preinstalled on new devices, or can be installed on existing devices, and the customer only needs to sign up with Jajah, which gets him a 300 Yen (1.80 Euro cents) call credit.

I would really like to know more about this application, but the information is spare. Jajah did not send out an own press release and their public relations people don't know more either, I learned from emails and phone calls. The big question is how the new Jajah VoIP application looks from inside and if it's the first outcome of the recent investment by Intel. Jajah's co-founder, Roman Scharf, said in May 2007 on this occasion: "The deeper Jajah can be embedded into Intel solutions, the better for customers everywhere. It is our intention to bring a best-of-class, next generation solution to the market which can be embedded and optimized for any computing device." Fellow blogger Moshe Maeir then explained in his blog posts "Jajah gets $20m and Intel’s patents" and "Behind the scenes of the Intel, Jajah deal" how Jajah's access to Intel's patent portfolio helps to embed Jajah's telephony functions at the chip level of mobile phones.

Maybe that's what's happening now with Emobile? The birth of a new mobile VoIP hardware?

The funny part is that you have to connect a HEADSET to the "One Alpha" device from Emobile, which runs Windows Mobile 6.0, to make a Jajah call. That's so ironic since Jajah is badgering their opponent Skype yet for months with a campaign under the claim "If you liked Skype, You'll love Jajah". It makes fun of the fact that Skype users are tied to their PC and have to use a headset to make a call. "Jajah is revolutionary because it lets you make free and low-cost global calls using your everyday mobile or landline phone," said Roman Scharf in the regarding press release. "Services like Skype require headsets, software downloads and sometimes other technical equipment, making them way too hard for the everyday consumer to use."

With the new VoIP service from Emobile Jajah works exactly the same way. But at least nobody has to pay double for a phone call.

Friday, October 5, 2007

New York Times has to correct article about Cubic Telecom's Maxroam

Please don't think that I am obsessed with Cubic Telecom's Maxroam. But one more thing has to be added. CEO Pat Phelan says that his company made a big mistake this week. I guess that refers to the wrong prices they communicated to their customers. Cubic Telecom sold more than 1,000 SIM cards in the first weekend of pre-sale, says their public relations agency. But now even the New York Times had to apologize to their readers for a very positive article about Maxroam that suddendly appeared wrong in great parts:
This review got an awful lot of people excited.

There's only one problem: those were the wrong rates. The Cubic phone still saves you money, but not as much as I wrote.

The company's Web site hadn't yet gone public. I asked its chief executive several times if I could see the Web site in his beta form, but he never did give me access.

So I sent him a list of sample calls I wanted his per-minute prices for. He returned the list with his prices filled in. They were incredibly low, around one-tenth the price you'd pay T-Mobile or AT&T.

But when his Web site ( finally went live, the same day my review appeared, readers immediately started sending me e-mail—sometimes very angry e-mail—letting me know that the Cubic prices online did not match the examples in my story.

At first, I thought that he must have been quoting me prices in Euro cents rather than American cents. That would explain about half the discrepancy.

But no, the prices online don't match what he quoted me, even in Euros. (Furthermore, the list I'd sent him included the T-Mobile and AT&T prices for all those sample calls in dollars. I assumed he'd know I wanted a comparison of apples to apples.)

So I wrote him just after the first reader complaints came in. "This has been set up too quickly this morning," he wrote back. "Pricing model will be fixed for tomorrow AM. Just an error from a rushing web designer, sorry."

Whew. Crisis averted.

Except the next day, there was no change to the prices. I wrote him again. This time, he replied: "This error was totally down to an error or miscommunication by our company. We have, however, decided to completely honor this error and update our prices accordingly. These new rates will be lodged today. We apologize for this and error and would like to thank you for bringing it to our attention."

Crisis averted?

Well, sort of. As far as I could tell, he planned to post the super-low prices he'd originally quoted me—but only for the country examples I'd supplied! Those were no longer representative samples; they were artificial samples to match my review.

And besides: he never did, in fact, change those prices (Bahamas, Russia, Greece, Iraq, and so on). They're still higher than what he originally told me.

That's not good, even for a startup company. It shouldn't have happened. Still Cubic Telecom has great features. New York Times' David Pogue lists them:
One of them, for example, lets you choose up to 50 phone numbers for your single phone, in cities all over the world. The idea is that your friends in other countries can now call you for the price of what, for them, is a local call. The Cubic phone is also a Wi-Fi phone, meaning that you can make unlimited calls around the world for a flat monthly fee when you're in Wi-Fi hot spots. And finally, Cubic's higher prices are still much better than most cellphones' international roaming rates. On average, then, it looks like the Cubic card saves you between 25 and 75 percent off the big carriers' rates. Not 90 percent, as I reported.

Journalists don't like it to be fooled. It makes them look stupid to their readers. Cubic Telecom's Sean O'Mahony has more explanations:

We've had lots of great comments from customers and we've made quite a few mistakes as well.

The biggest one was our rate sheet. A couple of times we posted the wrong one so people were confused about whether it was in euros or dollars. We also garnered the attention of David Pogue over at the NY Times who corrected his original piece. Of course Andy Abramson was onto the bandwagon immediately.

I say it's been a funny week because you'd think from all the comments from the "intelligentsia" that we were out to fool people. Our rates are public. They are good and they are honest. If you can find a better deal somewhere else then by all means buy that service.

Hat tips to Andy Abramson for reading that much media that he found the New York Times' correction. See also David Pogue's update article "Cubic Telecom Kerfluffle: The Final Chapter?" from October 6, 2007!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cubic Telecom's Maxroam stirs up emotions

On tuesday, October 2nd 2007, Maxroam has fixed their rate calculator. It doesn't say anymore that you can call to wherever in the world for just €0.35 when roaming in Germany. Now different prices apply for each country.

After Maxroam went live last week and sold 573 SIM cards on the first day, a big discussion broke out that you could also follow in the comments to my blog. People couldn't believe that when roaming in Germany you can call to wherever in the world for just €0.35. It sounds too good to be true. An anonymous poster even said:
Pat. If you are reading this please fix your rate calculator. If its correct than I will sign up but I promise you that you are going to lose a lot of money from me since I will be calling cuba for several hours a day and I know that there is no way you can cover the termination charges if you charge me based on the website. I work in the telecom industry and know what is and is not real. Please get of the correct rates.

But today the Maxroam rate calculator still says the same: €0.35 to wherever. I cannot verify the real rates either since I don't have a Maxroam SIM yet. Another poster, who calls himself Satphoneguy, commented last night:
I called and spoke to Pat Phelan on the phone today. There is definatly a bug in the rate calculator. He is working on it. For now I would not trust any of the rates to be accurate.

Soon we shall know what the actual rates look like.

I am not really sure if that comment is trustworthy, since Maxroam has to deal with "nasty comments over the last few days from corners seemingly jealous of maybe a tiny bit of growth for this fledgling company". That's how Cubic Telecom's CEO Pat Phelan calls it. He even put up a "new living room policy" to deal with annoying comments on his blog, not allowing them anymore.

From my desk in Berlin I am not yet able to verify what's true and what's not in Maxroam's rates and the commentators criticism. So I beg your pardon if perhaps I copied wrong prices from Maxroam's website. But one thing is for sure: Cubic Telecom is working day and night to complete the product. Pat Phelan even made an exclusive announcement on my blog:
I will give this to you exclusively here. We will have 15-20c USA roaming in next quarter, we will have MAXroam TO MAXroam regardless of country for under 20c in under 5 months, full triggering of call without the callback and global data roaming in under 6 months,this is not the end of a product this is just the beginning.

We intend to change the mobile infrastructure and bring the customer back to the centre. We could launch UK mobile sims with just a flight to the Isle Of Man but we don't want to be just a reseller, you know my personal experience of this business if I thought UK, Lichtenstein, Estonia was a better model I would have just become a reseller and resold the best model possible.

I also note that you commentors are anonymous whilst my phone is on the front page of my blog.

We really appreciate all your feedback.

So these are the "15 to 20 cents" prices we read about in the articles around TC40. Stay tuned for more to come! I will try hard to get more verified information and to write soon a review of Maxroam.