Friday, October 24, 2008

Ex OpenMoko Lead System Architect takes on Android's lack of openness

Two days ago I centered my frustration about the lack of openness in mobile handsets with Google's new operating system, like the T-Mobile G1, in the headline "WARNING: Android devices are NOT open". But now open source wizzard Harald Welte, former Lead System Architect for OpenMoko, explains Android's shortcomings much better in his latest blog post:
To me, those things are not a big surprise. As soon as you try to get in bed with the big operators, they will require this level of control. Android is not set out to be a truly open source mobile phone platform, but it's set out to be a sandbox environment for applications.

And even with all the android code out there, I bet almost (if not all) actual devices shipping with Android and manufactured by the big handset makers will have some kind of DRM scheme for the actual code: A bootloader that verifies that you did not modify the kernel, a kernel that ensures you do not run your own native applications.
He sees Android as little more than some sandbox virtual machine environment where people can write UI apps for. Nothing that gets him excited. "I want a openness where I can touch and twist the bootloader, kernel, drivers, system-level software - and among other things, UI applications", he says. And I want that too.

To Harald most Linux handsets don't deserve their name because all the freedoms of Linux software are stripped. Linux on cell phones is "definitely not to any benefit of the user" - but only to handset maker, who can skip a pretty expensive Windows Mobile licensing fee. That brave new world makes him sick.

I guess only on Nokia Internet Tablets the Android can be as open as we whish. It's time that someone takes the source code an ports Android for them, preferably without Google spyware, as we know it from Iron, the googlefree fork version of the Chrome browser. Until now Android only runs in a virtual machine on Nokia Internet Tablets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WARNING: Android devices are NOT open

The world is excited about Google's new operating system for mobile phones. But I am not such a big fan anymore since I talked to Rich Miner, Head of Mobile Platforms at Google. We met yesterday in Munich at the Communication World 2008 where he presented the Android. The system is not as open as I hoped. People will need to jailbreak and unlock their Android smartphones, like iPhones, if they want true freedom and make the most of them.

Of course the Android source code is free and you can develop everything based on it. But then? You don't get your new OS on that Android phone!

If you want, you can redesign the entire Android operating system and eliminate every Google function, even the kill switch for unwanted software. Our German readers at are worried about their privacy, many refuse to connect to Google's servers with their location aware Android phones. But the first device on the market, T-Mobile G1, does only work with a Google account. "You must sign in to your existing GMail account before you can do ANYTHING with the phone", writes jkOnTheRun. Big brother could be watching you! Therefore it would be preferable to have the choice to get an Android phone that's free of Google. I want my own GPhone, not a Googlephone but a Goebelphone!

Rich Miner shows his T-Mobile G1 at Communication World 2008 in Munich

"That's perfectly possible", Rich Miner told me. You can do whatever you want with the source code. "But will I be able to install my own Android version on a T-Mobile G1?", I asked. "No that's not possible", he answered. "You would have to change the ROM." People cannot change the Linux kernels of the Android devices which went on sale today. They can install every additional program, but Google controls the core system on the ROM. That's against the Linux philosophy and a big difference to the other open Linux device, Openmoko. As a Linux user I am used to bake my own kernels. I remove kernel functions that I don't need to make my computer faster. Or I add new features, such as virtualization, to the kernel.

With Android devices that's not possible. Only a handful of developer devices can do that, but they are not for sale to end users. So if you want to run your own fork of the Android operating system on a cell phone, you have to get a rare developer device or become a handset producer like Motorola or HTC. That sucks! Also: The marvellous G1 is locked to T-Mobile's network in the US and doesn't work with German SIM cards.

My take: It won't take long until we see a flourishing jailbreak and unlock scene, as we already know it from the iPhone. The Android system is not really open before I can bake my own kernel for the device and use it on every network. I asked Rich Miner what Google thinks about jailbreaking the G1 and he just returned: "Why would you want to do that if you can install every software?" Unfortunately I didn't find a good answer in this moment. But I should have said something like: Because it's human to reshape devices for unintended use. It's part of our DNA since the first monkey realized that fruits are not only food, but can make a good booze if you let them mature a little longer.

Mike Jennings presents the Android SDK at OSiM World in Berlin

Maybe Google doesn't even know what's coming their way, sometimes they are surprised at what people do with Android. That's what I learnt from my interview with Mike Jennings, Google's Android Developer Advocate, on September 17th at OSiM World in Berlin. He was astonished when I told him that I was running Android on my Nokia Internet Tablet since Juli. "That's not possible because the source code is still not free", he said. But yet there was an idiot-proof installer available on the internet.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finally Fring reveals how it wants to make money

Many people were wondering during the last two years how the Israeli mobile VoIP company Fringland Ltd. wants to make any money. Their versatile software works on virtually every platform and supports more than 1.000 mobile handsets. I heard that 200.000 new users sign up every month to Fring, as well as 80 companies which want to become a SIP affiliate. More than 500 SIP companies are already using the Israeli software as an easy to deploy solution for mobile VoIP, by sending a preconfigured Fring to their users' handsets or telling their customers how to use it. Fring invested heavily in software development and has to channel the other 500 companies' traffic over its own servers. Every voice connection goes first from the cellphone to Fring's servers, no matter if it's on Skype, SIP or Google Talk. Fring could take its share from the other companies' earnings, but hey do it for free. Also there is no paid version of Fring. All these business ideas are still in the cloud.

So how does Fring want to make money?

The cell phone multi messenger, which also serves perfectly for nearly free VoIP calls over 3G, should soon be sponsored by advertising. At the OSiM World conference in Berlin I saw an unreleased software version with banner ads for McDonald's in Fring's chat window. In a former occassion I could already see advertising by Gillette. The Israeli company with $20 million in venture capital seems to finally care now for revenue streams. Although CEO Avi Shechter had told me in February in an interview at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress that the entire year of 2008 would be dedicated exclusively to software development and revenues would be irrelevant. "The McDonald's banner ads are just a demonstration", said Fring's cofounder Boaz Zilberman when we met in Berlin. So until now Fring makes no money from advertising but is proving the concept.

Fring with McDonald's banner ad on a Nokia N95 8 GB | Foto: Markus Göbel

One problem is, says Boaz, that mobile advertising is not very common yet. The advertisers still don't understand it and therefore employ only small budgets. But these small budgets would be eaten up immediately on the millions of daily Fring messages. That's why the company is going for bigger clients and advertising networks like Doubleclick or others. Context sensitive advertising like at Google Mail is not on the agenda. "We would have to read every chat message", says Boaz. "But we don't want that because it would hurt our users' trust." The business model of another Israeli born company seems creepy: Pudding Media is even eavesdropping their users' conversations to deliver targeted advertising at the computer screen during the phone calls.

Fring is now developing from a sole software for messaging and VoIP to an universal contact solution, which even keeps track of your buddies' location by GPS. The latest version 3.36.6, which you can only download from Fring's developer website, has already joined the menus for messengers and social networks. The boundaries between these categories are every time more blurry, because for instance Facebook is also an instant messenger now. In future software versions, every person should appear only once in Fring's contact list. Until now some people appear twofold, threefold or even more times - because they are connected to Skype, MSN, ICQ or other services at the same time. One click at the buddy's icon will start a chat, no matter which messenger to other person is using, which can always be escalated into a Fring phone call via VoIP.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

O2 Germany unblocks Rebtel

Just a fast news break: O2 in Germany is not blocking the phone numbers of Rebtel anymore. Their blog says "Victory! Rebtel is officially back in town and we’re planning on staying for a loooong time without any unexpected interruptions." I just heard the good news from my contacts and already did some Rebtel calls with a German SIM card from O2. Rebtel's CEO Hjalmar Winbladh is very happy that the pressure from thousands of Rebtel users made this breakthrough possible. He had had asked to write emails to the boss of O2 in Germany, Mr. Jaime Smith Basterra ( or call the O2 support desk on 0049 179 55 22 2. Hjalmar told me in an email:
"We are very grateful for the overwhelming support we have received from our users. They proved that together we can make a difference. O2 would not have changed their mind without our users mailing, visiting and calling O2's CEO and customer support. Thank you all Rebtel friend! People can now stay in touch their loved ones again and afford to pay for it. We hope this has shown other operators that people do not accept being told who they can call and if they can use VOIP-services or not. We will continue to support our users and offer some of the world's lowest rates and best quality calling."
It cannot be overheard: Rebtel is happy, but they also send a message to incumbent telco operators to never try that again. Actually not only the Swedish company was affected. There are still more callthrough services and chatlines which see their numbers constrained by O2 and E-Plus in Germany. Their numbers are blocked or "limited", which is an especially nasty trick that user handytim explains in the web forum "The numbers are not blocked, only limited. In my test I could only establish 1 connection out of 100 trials". While blocking of certain phone numbers is illegal for mobile operators, limiting seems to allowed to save their bandwith. One has to ask what's the difference to a blockade if really one of 100 calls comes through.

The affected companies are listed in a Google Spreadsheet which forum user Vesko keeps up to date: Budgetmobil, DialNow, Calleasy,,, VoipBusterPro,, Chat House, Bluerate, Speed-Chat,, and Phonecaster. As you might notice there are several Betamax services among them. If the company wasn't so reluctant to talk to its users, Betamax could make a similar call for help.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nokia leaves Asterisk users in the cold

A commentator to my last post "Why Truphone and Gizmo5 applaud that Nokia turns it's back on mobile VoIP" doubts my argumentation by asking:
I thought Truphone is based on the built-in SIP client? Then it would seem unlikely that Truphone applauds Nokia dropping the mobile VoIP stack from certain models.

My answer is the following:

Yes, Truphone until now works on top of the built-in SIP client. But the Truphone software develops more and more into a standalone application: with the inclusion of SMS, callthrough where no Wifi is available, presence information and so forth. They aren't afraid of building their own SIP app since it ties the customer even more to them. Therefore Gigaom wrote:
Truphone isn’t waiting around for Nokia to do something. A company spokesman told us: “From Truphone’s perspective Nokia has removed the VoIP client from all the N-Series phones for the planned future. We are putting in a replacement client functionality so that existing customers are not orphaned.”
Don't forget that Truphone has a very high pricing for Wifi calls! Their software is convenient to install, but many other VoIP companies are three times cheaper. That's why they would be very happy to be your only mobile VoIP provider. Vyke already launched their own client, as you can read here, and Gizmo5's CEO Michael Robertson officially applauded Nokia's move in a FierceVoIP article.

The only losers are the cellphone users, since these 3rd party apps are much more difficult to use than the native SIP client. Read this insightful comment, posted at Phoneyboy's blog:
"I’m using VOIP on Nokia’s phone via my own asterisk server. How can Nokia expect me to develop my own Internet telephony application so that I can continue to use it? There are simply thousands of small users out there for whom this is beyond what they could do. This will leave them out in cold.

And further comment. Any third party application will have hard time to match the comfort of integrated symbian UI, where normal and internet calls are integrated together and one push of a button decides which one to make. Just compare this with Fring whose UI is just terrible."
We tinkerers who use Asterisk, Voxalot, Voipstunt, PBXes and are out of the game for the new Nseries devices. I am afraid that the Nokia E71 is the last cool device for a VoIP aficionado like me. Hopefully the Android devices will have more to give. Phoneboy calls us, who use 10 VoIP providers on our Nokia devices, a "minority". Nevertheless he "understands the frustration". Thank you!

But still I think that he is wrong, or maybe just blue-eyed, when he says: "It sounds like the problem is only limited to these two handsets". The problem affects all Symbian Series 60 3rd generation Feature Pack 2 (S60 3.2)! This means: All new handsets from now on are affected. Nokia's VoIP isn't revolutionary disruptive anymore, but has changed to a big boys' only business.

P. D.: I have just found a new Gigaom article about the topic: "Nokia Clarifies Its Future N-Series VoIP Plans". Thanks for quoting my thoughts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why Truphone and Gizmo5 applaud that Nokia turns it's back on mobile VoIP

Om Malik has asked "Is Nokia Turning Its Back on MobileVoIP?", pinpointing to the fact that the new Nseries devices N78 and N96 lack an own SIP client, while Nokia before embraced mobile VoIP on it's Nseries and Eseries devices. Charlie Schick of Nokia Conversations says the report of the death of VoIP has been "grossly exaggerated" and people like Phoneboy, Gizmo5's Michael Robertson or the company Truphone are buying that argumentation, although it has its flaws. Truphone, Gizmo5 and Fring must have realized immediately that they are winning from Nokia's move. That's why they are holding back their horses.

Nokia says that it's no problem that they have removed the native SIP client from their latest handsets, since companies can develop their own VoIP software based on great APIs. But it's not as easy as Nokia is trying to say: There are hundreds or thousands of companies without an own software for mobile VoIP. They just rely on the SIP standard. In Germany it's GMX, 1&1, Sipgate and the several Betamax daughters. Together they have millions of customers, I am one of them. These people cannot use VoIP on the new Nokia phones. I have always ten or more VoIP providers installed on my Nokia E61i's SIP client. This way I can always use the cheapest route and leverage free on net calls.

It would be nasty if had to install ten or more pieces of software for that purpose. It's already annoying that Truphone requires a special software because they don't give me my SIP password. That's a perversion of the idea of standards. If I need a special software for every company's offer why is there a standard called SIP?

So as a VoIP tinkerer I have to stay with the older Nokia devices, or at most I can change to the E71. But Nokia's new Symbian release, S60 3.2, is no option for me - as long as it has no own SIP client. It's obvious why companies like Fring, Truphone, Gizmo5, Vyke and others are applauding the Nokia move. It ties their customer to them and makes it more difficult to use other companies' offers. With a native SIP client, which allows to be connected to several different SIP services at the same time, I can be promiscuous. Even the most disruptive mobile VoIP companies prefer to lock me in their walled garden, but I don't want that.

I still believe that pressure from mobile operators has caused this move of Nokia. HSDPA and HSUPA have brought great bandwith to the latest handsets, enough to use it for Voice over 3G. With the right voice codec you can talk about 15 minutes and use only 1 Megabyte of data. Filtering for VoIP packets slows down the mobile data networks and therefore it's not very common. If you combine that with the right VoIP provider, like Betamax, this means free mobile phone calls to more than 30 countries. Only data prices apply.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Vodafone and Nokia compete on a mobile social phonebook with GPS

I see a very interesting competition developing between Nokia and Vodafone. All signs indicate that they are in a race to present the first social phonebook on cell phones which makes use of GPS. The two contenders are their recently bought subsidaries: Plazes from Germany and Zyb from Denmark. Vodafone seems to be ahead in this race.

Three weeks ago I attended a press workshop at Nokia Maps, which has its developer center here in Berlin. I already wrote about it in this article. They showcased the latest functionalities of Nokia Maps 2.0 and how it can be connected over the internet with other services. "There are 60 billion phonebook entries on Nokia cellphones", said Michael Halbherr, CEO of Nokia gate5 GmbH. "That's the biggest social graph of the world." In the near future a Nokia cellphone's address book shouldn't show only phone numbers. A click on a name will also reveal the friend's actual location, what he does and what are his plans for later. Every entry becomes a node in a social network, as we already know it from Facebook, LinkedIn, XING or the like.

That's why in July 2008 they bought the German startup Plazes, also from Berlin. It let's you see on Google Maps where your friends are if they have entered their location either on Plaze's website, by SMS or through an automatic Wifi localization. Soon Plazes will become a part of Nokia's Ovi and work with Nokia Maps on mobile handsets. It will make use of the cellphones' GPS facilities.

The funny thing is that yet for weeks Zyb is announcing the same functionalities on their website. In the last months Zyb has developed from a simple tool for internet backups of cellphone numbers into an outgrown social network. The features on their website remind me of Plaxo Pulse and are all based on mobile phonebook entries.

But the real interesting stuff comes with their mobile software which is being announced on their website but cannot be downloaded yet. At least not with the 4 different mobile phones I have tried. Also there is no press release, which could have explained more, but that could be part of a viral strategy. At least blogger Pat Phelan got wind of it quite early and I heard from other exclusive previews. The new Zyb features look stunning and resemble quite exactly what Nokia has announced as future plans for Plazes:
The end of... "Where are you at?"
If your friends allow you to, you'll be able to see where they are right this minute. No more texting everyone from the restroom Friday night.
Using location technologies - and your own text input - the ZYB Phonebook quietly and securely transfers your location only to those you allow to see it.

The end of... "What are you up to?"
Show your ZYB shouts as your status line, let your friends see your Facebook status or Twitter tweets.
Millions of people including some of your friends already tell various services what they're doing right now. We'll use that information and combine it with ZYB shouts and your phone's calendar to show your friends what you're doing. If you allow them, of course.

The end of... "What new number?"
"The number you've dialled cannot be reached". We hate her voice as much as you do, that's why the ZYB Phonebook updates your friends' phone numbers automatically.
In ZYB there's no such thing as outdated contact information. The minute your change your own phone number, it is distributed to your connected friends in your ZYB Phonebook. They'll simply have your new info as soon as they sync their phones.
Vodafone bought Zyb in May 2008 for $50m, just some weeks before Nokia snapped up Plazes. Zyb's screenshots remind me very much of the Powerpoint about Plazes' mobile future.

New Zyb mobile app brings Twitter, Facebook, Plazes and LBS.

To me it seems that both applications will do basically the same, only that Vodafone's Zyb is nearer to market. On Wednesday I will probably get more information because I do an interview to a person involved.

Craving for Android

Some say that Google's Android is losing its mojo after it turned out this week that only the contest winners of Google's Developer Challenge get the latest SDK, while all the others have to use an outdated version from February. I hope that this is no real issue but just Google holding back its latest version until they iron out the worst errors. If not, they would get the same error reports from the developer community over and over again.

I really believe in Android since I installed it on my Nokia N810 on July 8, 2008. It looks much better than the original Maemo Linux and the browser is a dream compared to the device's original MicroB. Although Android runs only virtualized inside of Maemo, its browser is faster than Maemo's and versatile. It fills the entire screen and gives some kind of smooth iPhone feeling to the often stubborn Linux device. Here you can see a screenshot we made for

Website of on Android browser

In the German language article I explain how to get Android running. Kudos to a user of the Internet Tablet Talk forum who goes by the name of QWERTY12! He made it all possible, you can find his installation instructions here. Although there isn't even a dedicated device on the market and the numerical keys don't work on the N810, I love to surf the web with Android. It's a wonderful preview of things to come. Some geeks even posted a video on Youtube about how to run Android on a Nokia N95, but I am not sure if it's a fake.

What I am sure about is that Android could get the best out of my Nokia N810. I use it nearly exclusively for websurfing and some casual emails, that's where the device has its flaws. Mozilla's Fennec browser could give some hope but usually it crashes in less than a minute on my N810. That's why in most cases I use a Symbian based Nokia E61i for websurfing and emailing to go. That's even more ugly but at least it works.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

easyMobile comes back, but the calls aren't free as Stelios had announced

The British phone company easyMobile is back, 18 months after it had to shut down. But this time the brand name doesn't stand for a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). The Greek serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou, also founder of the airline easyJet and other successful low cost product ventures, has changed the business model entirely and doesn't comply with his former announcement about the future of easyMobile.

Exactly one year ago Stelios told me that he wanted to resuscitate the company as MVNO with free phone calls, sponsored by advertising. A similar business was already in the making under the name of Blyk, a UK based start-up by the former president of Nokia Corporation, Pekka Ala-Pietilä. It launched some months later but it seems that Blyk hasn't conviced Stelios, because the new easyMobile is nothing more than a new face for the Swedish VoIP company Rebtel. The press release says:
Rebtel, the people's global communications company, today announced a brand licensing agreement with easyGroup that will allow Rebtel to increase its presence in the UK and reach new markets for its mobile VoIP services.

easyGroup is the business of easyJet founder and serial entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Under the agreement, Rebtel-powered services for making low cost international phone calls from any mobile phone, over any UK network, will be sold and marketed on easyGroup's web site.
Rebtel's CEO Hjalmar Windbladh sounds very enthusiastic. "Sir Stelios and easyGroup are our kind of partners", he says. "They want to make a difference in people's lives. They offer services for the many, not the few. They take on the big boys in the market and treasure relentless innovation. And most importantly they're open and honest. Those are all values that Rebtel was built on."

Hopefully his cooperation lasts longer than the former easyMobile. Stelios is a genius in lending his brand name, but he also tends to end franchising very fast. The first easyMobile was planned as pan European MVNO in 12 countries. The Danish operator TDC licensed the brand from Stelios' easyGroup but things didn't turn out so well. TDC got bought and changed their business strategy which made Stelios retract the brandname. In just 48 hours the German branch had to change its name into callmobile. „You always have to be cautious that the franchisees don't damage your established brand name“, Stelios said in our interview.

Hjalmar be careful!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finally Truphone Anywhere comes out and proves me right

Truphone finally makes it public: According to fellow VoIP blogger Alec Saunders and the UK site Techworld, Truphone is set to announce Truphone Anywhere, a service that lets you acccess the Truphone network from any mobile, whether on WiFi or not.

You know what? I know this service since February and better didn't tell to not ruin Truphone's surprise. Research Director James Body showed it off secretly to me at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. That's what I wrote in a later blog post on February 29, 2008:
They always have much more advanced Truphone versions installed than normal users. The last lab version I saw in Barcelona was quite promising and solved a problem I was always nagging about.

I am don't think that the new Truphone Anywhere feature with its beautiful Skype like "A"-logo is a direct reaction to my nagging blog post "To make money from mobile VoIP, companies have to accept certain realities" from February, 1st. But it attacks the problem that "WiFi isn't everywhere and callback costs double", which was always my strongest point against many mobile VoIP business ideas like Truphone.

To solve it, I recommended a network of international callthrough numbers which users can dial for local prices to channel their mobile phone calls into the VoIP system of companies like Truphone, Gizmo5 or WiFiMobile. It seems that Truphone finally took my advice, after Wifimobile had already announced a similar solution and Gizmo5 always cooperated with Sipbroker for local callthrough.

Techworld now writes that Truphone could join the bandwagon because they have bought the travel SIM card provider SIM4Travel. But I guess that Jajah or Tpad could also have provided with the necessary infrastructure.
Truphone Anywhere dials a gateway on a local number, which then connects through to the destination number, saving money if it is an international call. Unlike some other services, this is transparent, with the call set-up handled automatically after the user dials the remote number. It is enabled partly by a recent Truphone acquisition, SIM4Travel, which provides cheap international calling through gateways in Europe.
Let's see if it's as cool as the Israeli mobile VoIP software miracle from Mobilemax which automatically connects the cheapest way. I am also wondering what came first: 1.) the acquisition of SIM4Travel, 2.) the last round of financing, 3.) Truphone Anywhere? The official Truphone version is 1, 2, 3. The financining allegedly followed one week after the acquisition on April 17, 2008. But I am pretty sure that it went 3, 2, 1.

I have now installed the new Truphone software 4.0. Anywhere doesn't work yet in Germany.

After contact with Truphone's tech support and a complete erase and reinstall it works now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boxbe anti spam filter – a cure worse than the plague

To all my friends who received annoying marketing email messages from a miserable Silicon Valley internet startup called Boxbe: I beg your pardon.

After I signed up to Boxbe, more than 500 of my email contacts received annoying invitations, saying "I'm using Boxbe to screen my email and I've added you to my approved Guest List. Can you take a minute to make sure your contacts can reach me?". Many people have received this message already six times. Now I get emails back from buddies saying "could you please stop spamming me and my girlfriend? Boxbe sucks!".

All this happens only because I once hit the "invite friends" button at Boxbe. But have hit it only once and it was only by chance.

There is no reason for Boxbe to flood my friends with unsolicitated email messages. Most of them are Germans and don't even understand what Boxbe is. To them a Boxbe invitation is the same as an email from a Viagra pharmacy. My 73 years old aunt Gerda forwards all Boxbe messages to me and prays that I can take away this plague from her. My mum does the same. I then click the link at "If you would prefer not to receive any further invitations from Boxbe members, click here" and hope that helps.

What upsets me most: I was already aware that something like this could happen. The Canadian blogger Alec Saunders had published it under the title "Boxbe’s spam. A fatal mistake for them and me". Therefore I only "approved" my friends' email addresses at Boxbe and never "invited". Unfortunately one time I mixed it up and that's how it all started.

I have contacted now the Boxbe tech support ( as well as Boxbe Product Manager Randy Stewart ( to stop these annoying invitations. Boxbe, you can't sell yourself as an anti spam solution by being a spammer yourself!

If it wasn't for these stupid marketing messages, Boxbe would be one of the greatest solutions to keep up with the information overflow. It could keep my inbox clean from emails which are worse than Viagra spam: unsolicitated press releases and stupid advertsising messages. A doorkeeper for emails.

My problem is, that German law requires me to post a working email address in the contact section of my website. Another annoying fact is that PR agencies seem to sell my email address which I use for journalistic work. Therefore I get tons of messages to these addresses. Most of them are filtered as spam by an automatic solution. Only once a week I have to check for false positives, but the anti spam filter nearly never goes wrong.

But then there are marketing messages like the one I got from Dow Chemicals two days ago. Something is wrong with some crop, they said, and only pesticides from Dow can help, supposedly. WTF? Where did Dow get my email address from and why do they send this message? I am no peasant and as a journalist I am only interested in technology stuff, mostly when it's related to VoIP or mobile communications.

Boxbe would have put this message from Dow under a quarantine. Since it didn't come from an authorized contact, it would have had to wait at Boxbe before it could enter my real inbox. Messages from authorized contacts would go straight to my email inbox and are shown on my cell phone. All other messages have to wait in the outer office. Once a day Boxbe sends a summary of all these waiting messages and you can kill or authorize them with one click. Users of Yahoo Mail, Gmail or Outlook can have it even more comfortable.

"With Boxbe, your inbox is no longer a free-for-all", is the company's claim and I like this idea very much. By using the tool wisely and combining Boxbe with other technologies, your inbox would not only be free of spam about Viagra or penis enhancement. But you could also have a great fence against unrelated messages which slip through the spam filter but are unwanted anyway.

If only it wasn't for Boxbe's stupid bulk invitations!

I hope they will stop now. I have the feeling that Boxbe only sends them out when I make a change in my settings. Hopefully that's true! In this case I could give it another try.

In an other blog I found this alleviating comment from Boxbe: said...

Just a point of clarification here. We're not planning on sending invitations every week to users. Rather, if multiple Boxbe users invite the same person, we'll only send a maximum of two to that person in a given week.

Ideally, if multiple Boxbe users want to invite someone, we need to figure out how to send that person one invite from all those people combined.

We're still pretty new at the invite game, but hopefully we can work all the kinks out sooner rather than later.

Randy Stewart
Boxbe Product Manager

Hope that helps.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A free bridge from Skype to phone

Do you remember my blog post "A SIP address for Skype? Better the other way around!"? This mission has now been accomplished. As of yesterday you can call me on Skype and I will answer this call on my desk phone or cell phone using SIP VoIP telephony. As I always try to achieve, this is a totally free solution.

I have joined Voxeo's developer program for their Evolution application, a visual design tool for interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Part of the deal is that you get a strange phone number with a +990 country code. There is no country associated with this code and Skype users can call these numbers for free. My Skype account is now being forwarded over Voxeo to a SIP address from Gizmo Project which I manage on Voxalot to make use of it's call connection rules and voice mail.

Have a peek on my settings:

A better explanation can be found at the Voxeo support forum. I wonder what VOIPSA's Dan York would say. In January he started a discussion with his blog post "Skype says "No" to VoIP interoperability - *because customers aren't asking for it!* - Well, I am!". He is, by the way, working for Voxeo and this partly solution for his problem comes from his own company. So I guess he was always aware of this trick.

I am happy now that people can call me with Skype and I don't have to keep me computer running or buy a special Skype phone for this purpose. That's the reason why I nearly never used Skype. I don't like applications which keep me tied to my computer in order to receive messages or phone calls, like Skype or the MagicJack normally do. Let's see which other solutions I can develop with Voxeo. Their visual tool makes the design of VoiceXML fairly easy.

Finally an own country code for VoIP, as I always wanted

I feel quite visionary, now that Voxbone has announced their iNum service. That's a new initiative to make worldwide portable VoIP telephone numbers available under the new virtual country-code +883. VoIP News explains it very well under the emblematic title "Creating A Country Called VoIP":
The new VoIP country number is 883, the counterpart of the 44 one dials to reach the U.K. or the 81 one uses for Japan. Putting those three digits in front of an individual subscriber's number will produce what Voxbone calls an iNum, a portable, permanent global phone number. Calling the iNum will ring the Skype or other VoIP account to which it is registered, anywhere in the world. Only companies such as Inmarsat Global Ltd. had previously obtained country codes based on technology rather than geography.

Voxbone is dealing now with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and with phone companies to make the new number range accessible for cheap prices from every country. "The goal of iNum is assuring free connectivity for all the world's VoIP users, more low-cost connectivity between VoIP and the PSTN, and unique identifiers for VoIP users worldwide", says CEO Rodrigue Ullens. That's exactly what I advocated for in July 2007 under the title "A new number range for worldwide mobile telephony is missing" in this blog:
So I think that an entire new number range is missing for worldwide mobile telephony. The best thing would be a cheap interconnect to the ++882 or ++858 number range, or something similar. These are international codes that don't belong to any particular country, but to ENUM services. It would be great if people could call them from every country for local prices. So you would never have to change SIM card or number for travel. You just had a virtual number, similar to German 032 numbers which don't belong to a particular city but to VoIP.
OK, so +883 is planned for VoIP and I envisioned it for mobile telephony. But companies like Maxroam or United Mobile will surely find a way to make the new number range usable on cell phones and thus slash roaming prices for incoming calls. Be it with multi IMSI SIM cards, which can be local in several countries at a time, or as free call forward from a fixed line VoIP number as they do it today. After all it makes no difference if you have a number from Liechtenstein, Isle of Man, Iceland or a virtual country called +883 on your travel SIM. They are all weird.

Needless to say that I have directly signed up for iNum's public beta test which is scheduled to begin in June 2008. Let's hope that iNum has more success than the +878 initiative had six years ago or the Universal International Freephone Number (UIFN) with country code +800, which has also failed. "Without a strategy to get all the Telcos in the world to set up routing and tariffing for this number range, calls to this number range are going to go nowhere. The problem here is that they have very little incentive to do this", says a user at the VoIP user blog.

I keep my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Call Skype contacts from a mobile phone's browser with Hipsip!

Hipsip is a nice and easy mobile VoIP service which let's you call Skype and SIP contacts from a normal cell phone without a Wifi or 3G data connection. In the last weeks I could try out the service as beta tester and now they open to everyone. Hipsip does basically the same like iSkoot or Mobivox, but is easier to handle. You don't have to install a software on the mobile phone or talk to a computer voice to establish the connection. The user just opens a mobile website where he sees his Skype contacts and calls them with a click on the name. The phone then starts a GSM call to the nearest Hipsip callthrough number where a server converts it into a Skype call. In my case it goes to a landline number in Hamburg, Germany.

Screenshot from the Hipsip mobile website.

One big difference is that Hipsip has no hosted bridge from the cell phone network to Skype. Your computer must always be switched on and you have to install a small software called Hipsip Bridge which has to be running together with Skype. Otherwise the mobile website on the phone says "Please connect your Hipsip Bridge to see your Skype contacts." That is a big disadvantage to the other mobile phone Skype services like iSkoot, Mobivox and Fring. But at least it's cheaper than ideas from SkyQube or VoSky. They not only require you to leave your computer running, but also to buy an extra hardware which hands your mobile phone calls over to Skype. Again, they also let you receive Skype calls on a cell phone.

Call your Skype contacts with one click on a hyperlink.

If the Hipsip Bridge doesn't run, you can still call every SIP address of choice or even email addresses, which will be explained later. I conducted a small email interview to the developer Christian Rees. He comes from Germany himself, where he long time ago used to write about Atari ST computers for the famous c't magazine. On the phone he had told me that they are already considering a hosted solution without Hipsip Bridge, but that's not so easy.

I see that you use HTML code like <a href="tel:+4940306988028">Call</a> on your mobile website. What does it do? A computer's browser doesn't know what to do with it, but a cell phone starts a call.
The answer is, that the so called telephone URL, tel:, is supported on converged devices (in the sense that they support circuit and packet data) like cell phones with a web browser. When a tel: URL link with a phone number is clicked in the browser, the phone starts dialing the number. It works on all phones that are less then 4 years old. It's customary for the phone to prompt the user with the number, as a safeguard. Our users can be assured that we are only returning our local callthrough numbers.

Who is the company behind the Hipsip offer, Inc., the parent of Hipsip, is a California corporation with offices in Menlo Park. The company was founded in 2004, is privately funded and in the process of raising more capital. We are less then 10 people with backgrounds from academia, VoIP and the mobile industry. We consider ourselves an international company, that happens to be located in Silicon Valley.

Our history goes back quite a bit, starting in 1999, with the idea that email addresses will eventually turn into phone numbers. We attempted to raise funding in 2000, targetting the mobile space already back then. However, it took until 2004 for the climate to be right to start again with new ideas. In early 2005 we began developing the Hipsip Bridge for Skype. Due to our funding situation back then, it has taken until now for the relase.

What are your further plans?
We are planning to make Hipsip more useful and convenient for our users. One priority is to improve the Skype experience. We have already put emphasis on providing ISDN like voice quality for Skype calls over SIP, since Skype is so exceptional in this respect and we don't want to loose too much of that. However, there are limitations to the current phone networks. We are not so hot on vaporware, so we'll announce new features when they are available. And we are very interested to hear from users what they need.

When will it be hosted, so that my computer doesn't need to stay switched on?
See above, but it is a high priority for us.

And what about new features?
One novel feature that we provide is EmailCall. With EmailCall, a user can turn their email address into their phone number, so to speak. This is how it works: if the user has verified his mobile number and email address and opts-in to EmailCall, he can now be called by his email address:

  • by dialing the email address on any SIP phone registered on Hipsip, which will ring the users SIP devices (you could say we are sippyfying the email address).

  • from any mobile phone by entering the URL: (as an example). When the URL is entered, the current mobile number of the owner of the email address will be returned. This is limited to other users of Hipsip, and is strictly an opt-in feature. The user can change his current number anytime, while the much easier to remember email address can be used to look it up in real time, and dial immediately.

The idea behind this is, that we will eventually see a convergence in the addressing space just as we are seeing it with networks becoming all IP, so that a single SIP/email/URI address will be sufficient for all the different modes of communications for which we have to remember identifiers today. This day is not here yet, but we believe that it will eventually happen. Today it is already possible to dial a URI on the Nokia N-Series and E-Series phones, which works very well over WLAN and 3G. Things will only improve when pure packet networks like Wimax and LTE come online.

My take: we have to wait and see how Hipsip develops. The market for such services is already crowded. But nobody has built yet the perfect bridge from Skype to SIP. Hipsip has potential if they get the service hosted, but then they would have to cover higher server costs. The EmailCall is funny but nothing new. Jangl already does it for nearly a year.

Side note:
Respect to blogger hero Russell Shaw who unexpectedly passed away last weekend when he was on his way to cover the Emerging Technologies Conference and VON.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Watch Qik mobile live videos on your cell phone!

Qik is the latest favourite gadget of famous video bloggers like Robert Scoble, Jeff Pulver, Steve Garfield, Loren Feldman, Laura Fitton, Cali Lewis and others. They can simply switch on their mobile phone's video camera and yet they are sending live videos onto their viewers' internet browsers.

When I met with Qik's VP Marketing and co-founder Bhaskar Roy, he said that they were planning to bring these videostreams also to mobile phones. "Qik is developing a new live streaming to other mobile handsets", says Bhaskar. "You won't even need a browser to watch a livestream. We send a Realvideo stream directly to your friends' cell phones." The cell phone will not only be a camera for mobile live video streams, but also a tv set to watch them. Everyone is a sender and a receiver, because Qik plans to stream its videos in 3GP format to mobile handsets.

Well, they can stop now their development or should at least consider this blog post (just kidding!): I am already able to stream my Qik live videos as 3GP videos to mobile phones. And I am not even a techie. I just did a mashup with another hot startup in mobile space: from Berlin, Germany. Here you can see a screenshot, showing a Qik video on a Nokia E61:

Screenshot from a Qik video stream on a mobile phone
Qik offers and RSS feed to every user's account which can be subscribed in So the Qik streams don't come as live videos to the phone, but they are fairly often updated. "The more often a video RSS feed is updated, the more often we send it to the phones", explained CEO Michael Merz when we met this week. His service is basically a content aggregator for mobile phones. They bring tv shows and video podcasts into 3GP format which basically every mobile phone understands. So is also a good way to watch video podcasts in weird formats which only an iPod can handle. The Symbian Freak wrote a good introduction into the service:

The mobile phone television service,, started a TV push service just in time for the CeBIT, that automatically brings video files and podcasts to subscribers's mobile phones. DailyME is the simplest way to have mobile access to premium TV content and a wide range of Videocasts. Users have the opportunity to be their own TV manager: register, program your own TV and video channel and have it updated automatically, whenever you are online with your mobile phone (WLAN, UMTS, GPRS, HSDPA).

One can choose from a wide selection of different channels and divisions, offered by the service provider. There is no live streaming and content can be downloaded over an internet connection and currently there is only client for Symbian S60 3rd edition phones. Thanks to the unique transmission technology (patent pending) on the basis of the technologies on-hand today, an individual program can be made available for mobile phone users 24 hours per day.

A fast internet connection over Wifi or 3G is necessary for GPRS could also be used, but then you should expect longer loading times. The videos have a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, and picture quality is reasonable at 350 Kbit with 12.5 pictures per seconds. What I like most about is that they are able to transcode every video format, even the *.flv Flash videos from Qik. Over Wifi it doesn't even suck much battery. From time to time the handset connects for very short to download the latest videos. A drum sound of the Devicescape software reminds me that again started a download.

I can watch the videos later in idle times while commuting. "From April on we will start to offer also for Windows Mobile 5 Phone edition and Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition", says Michael Merz. "Then we will send our videoclips also in WMV format." I think he should also talk to Qik, which has great XML interfaces. They already offer one click integration of their videos into Twitter, Seesmic, Mogulus, Blogger,, and Youtube. Great names, but none of them has such a cool application for mobile video.

Disclosure: I am not on a payroll. I just like their service and that it comes from Germany. Qik is also a mostly Russian company, only the head office is in Silicon Valley.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Truphone's new pricing not as I thought

I have to admit that I was wrong in my last blog post about "Truphone's new pricing". I had bet that Truphone would offer free calls for another two months, as they always did when their free offer supposedly ended. But now they came up with a new pricing, called Tru Zone, that in the words of Stuart Henshall's blog "fails to motivate". Here is an example:
You can call any of the 40 countries in the Tru Zone for a tiny 6c to landlines and 30c to mobiles. Some countries such as the USA, Canada and China are double special. Calls to both landlines and mobiles are a flat 6c! Calls to much of the rest of the world are flat and simple too – just 10c to landlines and 30c to mobiles.
That makes Truphone now one of the most expensive VoIP services I know. But at least I was partly right with my bet: "as a big thank you for being one of our early supporters, you can continue to enjoy your existing Launch Offer pricing (that means free calls to 40 countries) until June 1st", says the email I got last week from Truphone.

So early adopters can still enjoy free calls. I guess that Truphone was afraid of a big wave of signoffs and criticism in VoIP blogs. New customers have to be attracted by Tru Zone's easy pricing and new features which you can't find at cheaper VoIP services. If you meet James Body or other members of Truphone's staff sneak a peek on their handsets! They always have much more advanced Truphone versions installed than normal users. The last lab version I saw in Barcelona was quite promising and solved a problem I was always nagging about.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Phone company Jajah enters wholesale business

The VoIP company Jajah is entering more and more markets and now they are gearing towards the wholesale business. That's what I learned at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress, where I met a company which had been approached by the Austrians who wanted to sell them phone minutes in a big scale. "Roman is flying high", said my contact about Jajah co-founder Roman Scharf. "He is moving on Tier 1 carrier level and wants to have his part of the phone card business." A similar impression I got from my interview in Barcelona.

Roman tells that so many new users are signing up to the the company's latest callthrough service, Jajah Direct, that there has to be a shift in business. After beta testing the service in Germany, UK, USA and Austria there will be a big rollout in 30 to 50 countries. In some weeks we should see it in every European country. Jajah Direct assigns local numbers from your country to contacts abroad for cheap phone calls over the internet. People can save a lot on international phone calls. That's why the Swedish company Rebtel had invented the same business model yet two years before, as they point out in their blog. "With Jajah Direct we found a way to make VoIP as easy as a normal phone call: dial a number, press the call button and start to talk", says Roman Scharf. Even his grandmother in Austria has a number in Salzburg that she can call to make his office phone in the US ring.

The technical part is tricky because Jajah relies on shared phone numbers. "We can serve millions of customers with just 99 numbers per country", says Roman. Therefor Jajah has to know the caller's number. Users have to tell their home, office and mobile numbers before they can assign up to 99 consecutive Jajah numbers to their contacts from abroad. Jajah knows that when caller A dials number B he has to be redirected to number C abroad. Another caller, D, who calls the same number B, will be connected to number E. Only anonymous callers, who don't transmit their phone numbers, can't take part in this game.

Roman sees Jajah Direct as great chance to grow dynamically in the important telecommunications markets. About the companies former flagship service, which relies on callback, he now says that it's only useful for people sitting in front of their computers. With just one click on the Jajah button in Outlook or the browser you can start a call. "Other technologies we have also tried, like Java or Symbian software or SMS bridges, were too different from normal telephony", says Roman. Too few people installed an extra software on their cell phones for international calls.

Also the telephony backend has its quirks, Jajah had to learn. When the company was young they didn't have own networks and had to send all traffic to wholesalers, always chosing the most competitive offer. Until Jajah learned that this was an Achilles' heel. They just couldn't guarantee for voice quality, but customers expected their calls to sound like normal phone connections. Also the price margins were razor thin for Jajah. "That's why we started to build up our own infrastructure at the beginning of 2007", says Roman. "You will hear a lot about it in the next weeks and months."

According to his plans, other Internet companies, competing VoIP services, cable TV providers and incumbent phone companies will realize that this infrastructure doesn't have to be only useful to Jajah, but also to them. Roman says that Jajah is already terminating international calls for a Canadian telco company. With two big US cable companies they have similar contracts. "We are negotiating with seven or eight big European players", he says. "We have the most interesting infrastructure of the industry", touts the Austrian high flyer. Then he explains how Jajah can power even the most outdated fixed line phone systems, every kind of mobile phone network (GSM, CDMA, UMTS) and the latest freaky services like Emobile's data only cell phones. They don't even have a voice channel, but the Japanese users can make cheap VoIP calls over SIP with a preinstalled Jajah client.

Why I am disgusted with Plaxo Pulse

I don't like Plaxo Pulse. It feels scary and gives me a sense of lost privacy. For years Plaxo was just an address book service in the internet. I could store my friends' address data and access them from whichever computer. From time to time I sent automatic emails which asked the to update their information.

But all of a sudden I got emails from Plaxo that someone commented on something. On what please? Wasn't Plaxo my private address book, available only for me? How could someone comment on that? Plaxo's weekly update started to tell me that friends had updated their blog or started discussion groups. Again that was information I didn't ask for. Today I received an email which took me to a comment on a Plaxo website. There someone writes about a photo of mine "It's interesting how one's imagination about a person changes when we see a photo. I imagined you very different." Scary, isn't it?

Why does my private address book make me get comments about my appearance from people I interviewed only once, on the phone months ago? I don't like that. I would like to turn all this Pulse crap off at Plaxo. But it seems that in this case I would also loose the address book update functionalities. That's what I have learned from the forum entry "Re: Plaxo Pulse violates privacy policy"

Why must this Web 2.0 crap invade everything? I don't want my address book to autonomously "connect and socialize with one another". That's much more abilities than I ask for! An address book is a very private thing and a social network is something public. I don't want these two worlds to mix. I don't want Plaxo to automatically publish my private connections and exploit them for their company purposes.

Maybe I have to dump Plaxo at all.

German Chancellor Merkel about Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1: It looks like the iPhone!

It was fun when I was at Hanover's computer fair CeBIT this week, and saw how German Chancellor Angela Merkel stopped by the booth of Sony Ericsson. Again she proved great repartee. With few words she made the crowd crack up laughing and the suit wearers of Sony Ericsson got long faces. Axel Kettenring, General Manager of Sony Ericsson Germany, proudly introduced the new top model Xperia X1, allegedly "a seamless blend of mobile web communication and multimedia entertainment within a distinctive design". That's what at least the press release in February said. But when our Chancellor held the touchscreen mobile phone in her hand, she only said: "Ah, like the iPhone". And again Apple could be happy for free advertising.

German Chancellor sees no difference to the iPhone

Kettenring was so puzzled, he could only say that the Xperia X1 is also great for phone calls and short messages. But you don't need a $1140 smartphone for that, and our passionate SMS writer heading of the state of Germany knows that. With pleasure she asked next: "And where do you produce?", wherupon Kettenring proudly replied "everywhere". After one second to take a breath he had to add "but in Germany" which got him a grim look from Mrs Merkel. The globalized company produces its handsets only in distant countries like Malaysia, Japan, and China.

The Chancellor's round tour over CeBIT is always a media highlight of the world's biggest electronics fair. Big hordes of photographers, TV crews and reporters followed the head of state through the exhibition halls. The eleven companies where Merkel stopped over were honored to receive her. Among them were pack leaders like Deutsche Telekom, IBM and Microsoft as well as smaller companies like Funkwerk Dabendorf or Komsa.

Also network operator Vodafone had to put up with Merkel's criticism. Germany CEO Friedrich Joussen actually wanted to proudly present a new picture search engine for mobile phones. Instead of entering a search term, you shoot a picture with the camera phone and load it on a server. In response you get information about the depicted buildings or the person photographed. With images of the Berlin Cathedral it worked flawless at CeBIT. But not with a mobile photo of Angela Merkel. "Your sought after motive is not yet in the Otello database", the Chancellor read from the display. "That's a serious void, I think", she added. Although Friedrich Joussen could play down the embarrassing situation with a laugh, he later must have bawled out his employees heavily.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Truphone's new pricing

Will the free lunch finally be over? That's what most Truphone users are wondering. The company has extended it's introductory offer several times. Some people are enjoying free Truphone calls to the landlines of 40 countries for an entire year already. Today is one of these days that the party is supposedly over. The Truphone press website still says:
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Truphone freezes call charges until the end of February 2008

Truphone today announced that all Truphone call charges have been frozen at their current rates until February 29th 2008. For the next two months, Truphone calls will be free to landlines in 40 countries, and to mobiles in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. Using Truphone to call EU mobiles costs just 15 pence per minute or less.

In Truphone's Mobile VoIP Forum users get nervous and say things like: "It is a bit lame though now being the 29th and no prices given on the website. How are people supposed to take a company like this seriously." They are right. February 29th is nearly over now, but still there is no new pricing. Truphone team member JackieG says in the same thread:
Yep, Feb 29th has long been marked in our calendars. We've been putting the finishing touches to a spruced-up website and a new price offer.

Check out tomorrow afternoon (Sat 1st March) to get full details. We will also be sending good news to existing customers by email and SMS...

So this time it's just a relaunch of the website? That makes me guess that the new price offer will be the same like before: Free calls for another two months. Later we will see much more technical advancements from Truphone, as Research Director James Body showed me in Barcelona.

Bhaskar Roy: Qik should be a part of Nokia's Ovi

Qik is one of the greatest mobile internet applications I know. You just start the software on a Nokia N95, and yet you are broadcasting live video to everyone over the internet. Have a look at my company's Qik stream at Mogulus if you want to see the next transmission.

I immediately thought that this kind of live video broadcast is the last feature that's missing on Nokia's social platform Ovi. There you can already share photos, videos, comments and blog entries in more than 100 file formats. "We support nearly every existing file format”, said Serena Glover, Director Service Operations, Connect New Experiences at Nokia and ex CEO of Twango in an interview with me at the Mobile World Congress 2008 in Barcelona. But Ovi always keeps you waiting for your friends to upload a new video. You can't just tune when it's still being filmed. It feels more like Blockbuster video than real television. Unlike Qik, which lets you broadcast and see events while they are still happening.

"Absolutely! Qik should be a part of Ovi", therefore said Qik's VP Marketing and co-founder Bhaskar Roy when we talked in Barcelona. He also related how venture capitalists are competing to do his company's second round of funding. Our chat was very interesting and insightful. Who had thought that this Silicon Valley company is mostly based in Russia? While India born Bhaskar and his friend Ramu Sunkara run Qik together with some other Stanford graduates from the Californian city of Santa Clara, most of their employees live and work in Moscow. Nilolay Abkairov, who was a former speech codec developer for Skype mobile, and his team are busily porting Qik to all smartphone platforms.

His friend Alexi handles the video streaming issues, which make use of quite nifty technologies: The handset shoots the video as MPEG4 and immediately streams it as H.263 over a 3G or Wifi connection to Qik's server. There it's being transcoded into Flash for Qik's website or into a Realvideo stream for mobile handsets. "Qik is developing a new live streaming to other mobile handsets”, says Bhaskar. "You won't even need a browser to watch a livestream. We send a Realvideo stream directly to your friends' cell phones."

So soon the cell phone will not only be a camera but also a tv set. Everyone is a sender and a receiver at the same time – if he has the right handset. "Qik works on all S60 platforms and a version for UIQ is in development”, says Bhaskar. "A version for Windows Mobile will be launched soon.” Their aim is to make Qik work on every possible camera phone. That's why the team in Santa Clara is also developing a Java client for cheaper handsets. They even tested Qik successfully on phones with just 100 Megahertz CPU and only an EDGE connection to the mobile internet. "Qik consist of a layer that's different for every platform and a platform independent layer”, explains Bhaskar. "That's why it takes only some weeks to port Qik to a new platform."

So while the future looks technologically bright for Qik, I asked Bhaskar how his company wants to earn money. Until now the service is free and Nokia hasn't made an offer yet. "In this year we will only concentrate on consumer acquisition”, is his answer. Advertising on Qik's website would be easy to implement, like Google does it on Youtube. Also companies could sponsor certain channels on the website. "We could also offer value added services for very cheap prices like $1 per month", says Bhaskar. As an example for a premium service he mentions privacy. Until now every video appears directly on Qik's starting page as soon as you activate the camera. Every stranger can see it until you switch off or hit the "0” key.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tpad has cleaned out dormant accounts although they were in use

One of the most reliable VoIP services I know is Tpad. Not only that it worked flawlessly for more than one year, they even credited $10 to my account when I found an error this weekend. Needless to say that Tpad never got any money from me penny pincher, because I use their service only to receive calls.

Long before Jajah Direct, Wifimobile or Gizmocall started similar services, Tpad already had break-in numbers in 39 countries. It's an entire callthrough system: You can dial whichever of these 79 numbers and the number of my Tpad account to reach me for the price of a local call. That's much more reliable than the other services, which depend on the Caller ID to connect the call. In poor countries with bad networks this Caller ID often cannot be transmitted for technical glitches. I am permanently connected to Tpad with my SIP ATA so that my Peruvian friends in Lima can always call me for the price of a local call.

Today it's more than one year that I started to write about Tpad and I have used it since then. But some days ago I realized that my SIP devices could not connect to the Tpad server anymore. Not from my ATA, not from Voxalot, not from a Nokia E61, not from a Nokia N810. Other German friends had the same problem. What was wrong? I asked in their forum and learned that Tpad had cancelled my account because they thought I didn't use it anymore:
Tpad performed a cleanup of "dormant" accounts, without remembering that call records are only captured for calls that use the Tpad softphone. Since you use Tpad exclusively from an ATA or non-Tpad softphone, your call activity is not remembered. So, it is very likely that your account was improperly considered dormant and was suspended. Tpad should be able to restore it for you pretty quickly.

What really impressed me was that the forum admin immediately wrote "Send me a PM of your Tpad Number(s) and we will fix asap". What a difference to other VoIP services! His answer, apology and $10 to my account arrived the same Saturday. On Sunday they fixed the problem. What a great service!

I think I should charge some money to my Tpad account as a gesture of gratefulness. If only it was necessary! With $10 I can call for more than ten hours to Germany and this credit never expires. That's another big difference of Tpad to other VoIP companies.

Before you call Betamax a scam, read the Terms of Service!

In the last weeks I received many messages from people who want to start a lawsuit against the VoIP company Betamax from Cologne, Germany. They feel betrayed by the mothership of Voipstunt, Voipcheap, Sparvoip, Lowratevoip, Nonoh and other offers. Something must have gone wrong with their billing or they believe that Betamax wrongfully charged too much. Aside from the problem that Betamax themselves are apparently victim of a scam, I can only say that for me everything works flawlessly. But I get the impression that many users don't understand the company's Terms of Service. This morning a Betamax user called Robert wrote:
The company I work for happens to be in Moscow so I call them regularly. Why do they suddenly want to charge me for these calls? It doesn't make any difference whether I call the U.S.A., Italy or Russia. They are all free and perhaps I call Moscow three times a day but perhaps twice a week.

I told him to first look at the website There you can always see the latest prices and you will realize that with most Betamax companies you can call Russia's landline phones for free, within a Fair Use Policy (FUP) of 300 minutes per week. This FUP seems very fair to me. I never exceed it, so Betamax' normally works like a flatrate for me.

In fact I am very surprised about their cheap prices for Russia, because I know that connections outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow are very expensive to buy in wholesale markets. Therefore e. g. Rebtel users have to pay $0.019 Cents to Moscow and St. Petersburg landlines - but $0.079 Cents to other Russian cities. So Betamax' $0.00 Cent is a great bargain. For the German company it makes a big price difference whether they terminate calls in the U.S.A., Italy or in Russia. Although it might be difficult to explain to the average user like Robert.
Now I see that calls, which were originally free, are now being charged under the 'fair use policy'. This I don't understand.

There can be two reasons for that:
1.) Robert calls for more then 300 minutes per week.

2.) He shares his IP number with other users, so that Betamax thinks that it's only one user. That's what happened at Voxalot, a virtual internet PBX: All Voxalot users had the same IP number to Betamax. Therefore they jointly exceeded the FUP very fast. Voxalot managed to strike an agreement with Betamax to pass the original IP number, so that every user now has his own FUP.

So, if Betamax charges for actual free calls, there might be a technical problem. Otherwise it seems a great bargain to me to get 1.200 minutes per month from Betamax for just €2.50. (Taking into account that that you have to pay €10 every four months to get the €0.00 to Russian landlines.) People should also consider what user satphoneguy wrote in Voxalot's forum:
having lived in many parts of the world I think that a lot of what is happening is relate to cultural differences and expectation of customer service. from what i have read the vast majority of complaints are coming from the USA. here in the USA it is somewhat expected that if you are unhappy with a service or feel deceived by misleading marketing that you should be eligible for refund on what you spent. most American companies do indeed give 100% refunds to their customers no questions asked when they complain. i do know from having lived overseas that is not the business etiquette everyplace. there are a number of reasons why many people may feel deceived since the betamax 'fair use policies' are not very clear. in particular concerning additional charges for use of SIP devices on some services. it is all exasperated in that americans also feel that every company should have a customer service line where they can call with questions(or complaints) or at very least email support with a quick turnaround to response(same day)

i do have to say though that it seems many people who complain about numerous betamax companies continue to try the others. this is very similar to what i dealt with working for a very large retail company - some of the biggest complainers and returners of products for refunds were also some of the biggest shoppers; i would see them on nearly a daily basis.

i personally have never had a billing issue with betamax. although in recent months my only funded account is nonoh; since the rates are so much less for the mobile destinations that i call than with any of the SIP options and i have unlimited calls to NA and most landlines through another provider.

Many people in Europe accept a lousy service, as long as it's cheap. But others expect a great service although they pay nearly nothing. That's just not possible to deliver for a company. Good service always has its price, especially in a country with sky-high wages like Germany. People who want more than just plain phone minutes should subscribe to companies like PhoneGnome, Packet8 or Sipgate which have real hotlines by phone and email for their clients. That's what I also told Robert, who finally admitted:
I suppose, like most people, I never fully read the 'Terms of Use', although in these terms there is no exact reason mentioned and more than that, there is no exact time limit per country or city mentioned where this might be relatively easy as an adder to the price information.

Please always have a look at the small print at the end of every Betamax web page!
* Max 300 minutes per week of free calls, measured over the last 7 days and per unique IP address. Unused free minutes cannot be taken to the following week(s). If limit is exceeded the normal rates apply. With your FREE DAYS you can call for free to all the destinations listed as free! When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply. You can get extra Freedays by buying credit

They say it very clear that free calls are limited to 300 minutes per week and IP address. That's not too difficult to understand, isn't it? What still remains a mistery to me, is the sentence „When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply“.

What are these normal rates after 300 minutes? I couldn't find them either.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Native Skype for Symbian announced – not by Fring and not by Skype

One thing I heard in Barcelona was that the mobile network operator 3 is not so happy with the 3Skypephone. People are allegedly using it like crazy and 3 is required to install more and more servers from the US startup iSkoot which powers the service. As you remember the 3Skypephone doesn't do mobile VoiP but makes an GSM call from the phone to the 3-iSkoot server, which then cannels them over the fixed line internet to Skype. The data connection is only used to show the presence of the Skype buddies. These iSkoot servers must be quite expensive.

Skype on mobile phones is generally a problem, said Eric Lagier, Business Development Director for Mobile at Skype, last year. A native version exists only for Windows Mobile devices because only they have a strong enough CPU. Symbian users already gave up all hope for a native Skype on their handsets. For more than two years they are waiting for Skype to solve its battery drain and latency problems. Only a prototype was reported in February 2006. Symbian users still have to rely on 3rd party applications like Fring, iSkoot or Mobivox – most of them eat up phone minutes.

But now a real native Skype version for Symbian cell phones will come out, I have been told at the Mobile World Congress. Maybe next week already. It will enable to make Skype calls over 3G and Wifi. The most interesting fact is that this software will NOT be released by Skype and also not by the Israeli software maker Fring, which until now was the only option for a Skype data call. Stay tuned and remember that you read it here first! I am quite excited to see when this rumour will really come true. Unfortunately I cannot tell the name of the company to not ruin their surprise.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

OpenMoko urges Android to release everything as source code

While I was in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress 2008, I received a message from Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of OpenMoko, producer of the world's most open mobile phones. Their Freerunner, Neo 1973 and Dash Express devices use the open source operating system Linux and people can install every software they want on it with just an apt-get. Where other companies have a Linux kernel with a locked proprietary stack on top of it, the OpenMoko phones are open from top to bottom. You can use your own tools, compile your own kernel. Everything barring a few small drivers is open source under GNU General Public License (GPL).

In Barcelona I talked to a representative of the LiMo foundation who doesn't want to be quoted with his name. He revealed that LiMo Linux is in fact a closed shop. The only aim of the LiMo companies is to produce cheap handsets with a versatile operating system that doesn't cost them a dime. Most end users won't even notice that it's Linux because they are not allowed to install any software for „security reasons“. More open is Android of Google's Open Handset Alliance, he said, but the most open system is OpenMoko.

Read what their CEO Sean Moss-Pultz thinks about the Android and other actual developments! He has answered my interview questions by email.

What's the actual status of Openmoko?
We limited our production of handsets for developers. Our goal was to sell a small number to an enthusiastic crowd. When we sold out in 3 days, we realized that we need to build another batch of phones. From our standpoint the developers are engineers in our company. We don't have more than 10,000, currently. As the project became more noticeable we got inquiries from many different directions. So, for the next release of FreeRunner we will plan for more at the start and get ready for ramp up of consumer oriented products. The coolest thing about a Neo is what it doesn't do. It doesn't lock you out. It's a GNU/Linux computer. It does what you want.

What is the most difficult thing about building a GSM phone from scratch with Linux?
OpenMoko started as a project inside FIC (Taiwan) and has recently been turned into it's own company. So, we've had to build a open software stack, build a team, build a product, plan a future, and build a company, while everyone gets to watch.

Most of the challenges, I would say, are philosophical in nature. Not technical.

In an closed company you go through various stages of hardware development. These stages are hidden from the general public. Prototype hardware is built and passed out to a few select internal developers. Later, more hardware is built. In a pilot run. This is distributed internally to more engineers in the company. Finally, it's presented to the public like it just came out of the oven.

OpenMoko is inside out. Our prototype are shared with developers around the world. Why? because our engineers are outside the company as well as inside.

In some ways we are like a reality TV show. Showing how one builds a gadget of the future. It's like a cross of Survivor, Dirty jobs, and ice road truckers.

What can your handset do, the Neo1973? Give us some specs and tell what is so great about it, compared to normal mobile phones!
The hardware specs for the phone are on, but in short its a GSM phone, with GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3D graphics acceleration and accelerometers. But this is not a spec war and this is not a beauty contest. Neo branded phones unlock the hardware and unlock the software. The software on the phone, the applications you use are totally open. If you program you can change them. If you don't program you will download popular programs that others have built.

Which people do already have such a handset, the Neo1973? Can people buy it somewhere? Is it planned to be sold to the general public some day?
Our Neo 1973 has been onsale since July of 2007. We're totally sold out now and won't make anymore. Our next produce Neo FreeRunner is coming soon.

I think we primarily appeal to technologists now and will stay this way for the some time to come. But this is not at all limiting. What I find most appealing about OpenMoko is that we just have to provide the right framework for change to happen. Our community is the one that pushes the revolution. The more people that develop for this platform, the larger the target market becomes.

We've found a strong and influential niche. In the age where mass market TV advertising is dead, this is crucial. Marketing a product initially to the masses is impossible, I would argue. People have too many choices and not enough time.

OpenMoko stands out because we are different. We speak directly to the needs of an extremely creative group. Our goal is to provide them tools and inspiration so they can realize the have power to revolutionize the world. OpenMoko is a company from their community. We will amplify their voice.

How did the OpenMoko project start? Whose idea was it and who pushed it forward?
About a year and a half ago I was a product manager at First International Computer (FIC) -- a large Taiwanese OEM, charged with Defining the product roadmap for our division. I was quite limited, unfortunately, by having to create only Windows Mobile devices.

I quickly realized that it didn't need to be like this. I could step outside the box any time I liked.

The phone that I really wanted to create was the modern equivalent of the programmable calculator. A device that is simple to use, but almost infinitely extensible by the end user.

The main idea was that the driving force behind the Internet is Free and Open Software (FOSS). It's the superconductive medium that powers the Internet. Without FOSS the Internet would be trapped in 1995.

In a nutshell, OpenMoko is about spreading this technology to mobile devices. Letting people everywhere "Free your phone." It's the birth of a new Internet. Not merely a revision, not simply 2.0, but rather a connected, interconnected experience wherever you wander.
Without FOSS the mobile phone still lives in 1973.

Our first open mobile device is called the "Neo 1973". It's internet connected, location aware, and completely FOSS. In a way, I see the mobile industry as a matrix. The industry is hindered by proprietary systems and Neo is trying to tear down the walls unplug humans from the matrix and give them back their power.

I took this idea and pitched it to our senior management team with the help of Timothy Chen -- a very smart businessman. Without him, this whole project would only be another unfulfilled entry in my sketchbook.

How is Openmoko organized today? How do you include all those Linux developers worldwide? Is there a boss or a structure?
We are a fully independent company now:

Lots of people trying to make great open mobile devices.

What is your opinion about Android?
We support FOSS endeavors. In our philosophy, a software platform needs to be free from the iron to the eyeballs. That means FOSS code from the lowest levels that talk to hardware to the highest levels that present images to users. We hope Android moves in this direction. We encourage them to.

Is Openmoko involved with Android?
Yes. We lobby them to join the FOSS movement and release everything as source code, all the way down to the drivers like we do.

Has Openmoko been contacted by Android?

Is Openmoko source code involved in Android?
Our source code is freely available GPL.

Maybe Android source code is involved in Openmoko?
If they posted GPL code and our community found that it was good and useful it would get used. That's what FOSS is all about. This is how FOSS gets stronger for everyone.

How does the launch of Android affect the Openmoko project?
It's rather humbling. We never expected a company like Google to endorse our concept of freeing the phone. It's also exciting because we realize that with their support of developers many new open applications will come to the FOSS platform.

Why did Harald Welte leave? He was Openmoko's "Senior Software Archtitect System Level" and we were very proud that he was from our city, Berlin.
Berlin should be proud. Harald is a great programmer and was key to getting The first phone, Neo 1973, shipped. He did a huge amount of work and is still a part of every Neo that ships.

What does this change?

We have our goals which Harald helped create, and we are meeting those goals and going beyond them. We are prepared because of his diligence.

How do you see mobile communications in ten years? Everything seems to "open" now. Verizon and AT&T open their network, Google bids for an open spectrum at 700 Mhz, Mobile Wimax promises more open mobile communications...
You could say there were two theories. In one theory the user pays for bandwidth (time on line) and the device (phone, set top box etc) is free. In the reverse world, bandwidth is free (like free WiFi) and people buy great devices.

In one world you pay premiums for bandwith, in the other you pay premiums for devices.

Opening the network...levels the playing field and gives people more choices. This is what Openmoko is all about.