Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ringfree will be free of charge

Ringfree is a great service which let's you use whichever VoIP provider for callthrough from the iPhone. I explained it some days ago, but I still said:
RingFree is free in the first month, then it costs $30/year.

That barrier is going to fall now. Ringfree confirmed the VoIP Weblog that they are switching to a free model.

Why there never will be a hosted-Skype-to-SIP

Phonegnome's David Beckemeyer has a great post, explaining why my dream of a "hosted-Skype-to-SIP" will not come true, as long as Skype doesn't publish its interface.
So don't blame the operators and service providers - blame the cause of the situation SKYPE! Skype needs to provide "data center" solutions if you expect more operators and service providers to deploy "hosted Skype" services.
Thanks for explaining how many hacks are necessary at Fring and Mobivox to build bridges to Skype. And please don't try to call me on Skype! I am most probably not connected.

Read David's post.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jan Michael Hess is reengineering Blyk’s Business Model

My friend Jan Michael Hess, CEO of the Berlin-based management consultancy Mobile Economy GmbH, has just published an interesting whitepaper "How to build a profitable ad-funded M(V)NO and maximise Ad ARPU". Since he is an expert in mobile advertising and MVNOs, he decided to reengineer Blyk’s business model, share his findings and develop a number of strategy recommendations that might be valuable to Blyk as well as future ad-funded MVNOs and MNOs.
I believe that it is possible to build a profitable ad-funded MVNO. It is also possible for MNOs themselves to introduce ad-funded voice and data tariffs. You don’t necessarily need to build a new MVNO brand like Blyk to maximise Ad ARPU.

Since the actual values in Blyk’s business plan and the wholesale prices negotiated with the Host MNO Orange in the UK are secret, Hess uses his own assumptions for the parameters driving revenues, costs and profit in the whitepaper's calculation. The outcome is a very educated guess work which probably hits the spot and helps to understand the ad based MVNO business model.

A SIP address for Skype? Better the other way around!

There is a much quoted explanation from Emoci of Toronto how to create a SIP address that will ring to your Skype name using the Net2Max.com service. It's quite difficult to implement but has received many kudos.

I like these kinds of solutions very much, but I would prefer it the other way around: that Skype rings my SIP address. So I would never have to switch on Skype again. I have all my SIP accounts nicely consolidated to ring my phone or my cell phone. I could do the same with Google Talk, Yahoo and MSN. Only on Skype I am nearly never reachable because I don't like communications that force me to switch my computer on. That's why Skype is Oldschool to me. VoIP has left the PC world long ago and goes along with me.

Mr Blog, David Beckemeyer, thinks the same:
I couldn't agree more, particularly "So I would never have to switch on Skype again." Why doesn't Skype simply offer a 'forward to my SIP address' option? Of course we know why. They want to keep everyone contained in their world. They say it's because Skype users don't want interoperability - if you are a Skype user, maybe it's time to tell them, not me. I agree with you! :)

That reminds me of the recent discussion started by Dan York: "Skype says "No" to VoIP interoperability - *because customers aren't asking for it!* - Well, I am!".

Me too. As well as Martyn Davies and the commentators to his post at VoIP User.

How to edit Thunderbird's e-mail preferences on the small screen of the Asus EEE PC

Yesterday I checked out the EEE PC from Asus and I like it very much. It comes for €299 in Germany, is super handy and makes no noise when you use it. So it's perfect for checking e-mails or reading websites while in fact you have to other things, like listen to your professor or something like that.

The EEE PC is a very unobtrusive device, but it also has its odd qualities: The screen is often too small for configuration purposes on the built in Xandros Linux. In many cases you cannot reach the OK button at the end of a configuration window and often configuration options are left outside the usable screen.

That almost drove me crazy when I configured the Thunderbird e-mail program. The "Leave Mail on Server" option was unreachable outside the screen and there is no possibility to change the default resolution on the Asus EEE PC. Since the EEE PC has only few Gigabyte of storage it's not exactly the device where you want to download all your e-mails.

But fortunately I found a workaround: Thunderbird can be configured by editing the about:config page. That's a powerful feature of Mozilla applications which lists application settings (known as preferences) that are read from the profile files prefs.js and user.js, and from application defaults. Many of these preferences are not present in the Options or Preferences dialog. Using about:config is one of several methods of modifying preferences and adding other "hidden" ones. In Thunderbird 1.5 or later, about:config is accessed via "Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> General -> Config Editor (button)".

In about:config this option has to be set on true:
mail.server.default.leave_on_server = TRUE

And if you want to save space on the flash drive, it's recommendable to empty the trash bin every time you close the Thunderbird e-mail program:
mail.server.defaul.empty_trash_on_exit = TRUE

That's all. Have fun with the Asus EEE PC! It's the perfect mobile device for quickly answering e-mails, because it has a full QWERTY keyboard and boots up in 30 seconds.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ringfree brings VoIP callthrough with every provider to the iPhone

In the last weeks I was displeased with the state of VoIP on mobile handsets. Wifi coverage is spotty and callback services like Jajah require two phone calls at the same time, which makes them too expensive for penny pinchers like me. That's why I am a fan of callthrough applications which involve only one call leg. The call goes to a local number where a server converts it into a VoIP call. But unfortunately this needs numerous key strokes in addition to the destination number and makes callthrough a cumbersome activity.

Software like MobileTalk from Packet8 would help, but it is bound to just one VoIP provider and could be done much better. Unfortunately the underlying software from Mobilemax gets distributed only to companies and not to end users. So people have to wait until their VoIP provider of choice implements it.

But salvation is near, at least for iPhone users: RingFree let's you use every VoIP provider or even your own Asterisk / SIP server for outbound calls on Apple's "Invention of the year 2007" (according to Time Magazine). iPhone Atlas has the story:
Here, in a nutshell, is how the app works: A user registers with RingFree, entering his iPhone number and providing some other information. The user is then prompted to call a country-local number to confirm their information by entering a PIN. Once logged into the site, the user selects from a list of pre-defined VoIP providers (including VoicePulse, Gizmo Project, PhoneGnome and others) or defines his own by entering a proxy address, username and password.

After selecting or defining a provider, the user can access the Web app’s keypad, which looks something like the iPhone’s standard dialer, selects the preferred VoIP provider from a menu, and hits “Call.” The call sends a bit of JavaScript over EDGE to retrieve a local number from the VoIP provider, which the user is prompted to dial with the iPhone’s native phone application. When this number is dialed, the VoIP provider is triggered to dial the number entered in the Web app, and the call goes through.

RingFree is basically a website with a virtual dialer. It is linked to VoIP providers of choice and uses standard voice minutes to make VoIP calls. Therefore it doesn’t require any hacking or jailbreaking, nor does it require the presence of a WiFi network. Only a small amount of data is transferred over the EDGE network to signalize the call. The voice quality is reportedly good, and calls go through without too much delay so that a commentator at IntoMobile states:
Thank you for this. This is the most useful iPhone application yet. I set it up in less than 2 minutes and I made a call to Ireland using Gizmo Project. Sweet and simple. I am happy and would be jumping up and down with joy if it let me call Skypers.

That's exactly what I was looking for. RingFree is free in the first month, then it costs $30/year. You can also call Google Talk, Yahoo or MSN contacts from the iPhone. I wonder when someone will launch a similar service for other platforms, such as Symbian. It could be a great new feature for Voxalot, whose mobile callback I often use with my own VoIP providers. It costs €0.01 of data or less to establish the call, but still it demands two simultaneous phone calls.

First hand comparation from a Tringme Beta Tester and Ribbit Developer

My last blog post "Tringme does the Ribbit" received an interesting comment from a person who seems to know the topic very well. The anonymous commentator calls himself "both a tringme beta tester and a ribbit developer" and reveals that Ribbit applications will cost their clients an arm and a leg, compared to normal VoIP prices. Skype and Jajah will seem cheap compared to Ribbit. Although I hardly ever use them because I get my VoIP calls much cheaper from other providers.

I hope this comment wasn't just a plot from Tringme to take on Ribbit. To me it sounds reasonable. At the end both companies will suffer when Adobe makes Pacifica a standard VoIP feature for the Flash Player.

Read the entire comment from the insider!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tringme does the Ribbit

There are Copycats wherever you look. Smith on VoIP today criticizes that "Rebtel Borrows Iotum’s Idea; Now Offers Facebook Conferencing App", while Rebtel themselves feel copied by Jajah Direct:
We want to tip our hat to our friends at Jajah for the introduction of Jajah Direct. Those folks have done a brilliant job at making something that Rebtel has been doing from the start sound brand new and innovative.

What I’m talking about is free or low-cost international calls without the need for Internet access. Or said another way: Rebtel service as it’s been from day No.1.

And while we’ve always thought our service was innovative, it’s super nice when you get validation from a competitor that you really did break new ground and that all the other ways of making a VoIP calls are “old school.”
When I received today the following announcement from Tringme, I couldn't but wonder: Don't I know this story from somewhere else? Then I realized that it was Buzzword Bingo time again. While Tringme recently got great publicity for their Flash based click to call widgets, some days later Ribbit took it all away by also presenting Flash apps and additionally alleging to be Silicon Valley's first Phone Company.
At the core of Ribbit's technology is the Ribbit SmartSwitch™, a sophisticated multi-protocol soft-switch that bridges the worlds of traditional telephony with next generation networks and protocols.

Ribbit is an open platform for telephony innovation. Unlike any other phone company, we are giving our developers unprecedented access to our technology, through the Ribbit API and allowing them to innovate at will. Our business is built more like a software company than a phone company.

Now Tringme announces the "Tringswitch" which sounds quite similar to me. Both products promise to fulfil every VoIP necessity. But nobody has seen them yet in public. Bingo!

TringSwitch Launch and Demo at HeadStart.in

Dear TringMe User,

First of all, we wish you all a very happy 2008!!

Life at TringMe continues to march at a fast pace and we wanted to share some recent developments with you.

Very soon, we will officially launch TringMe's platform server - TringSwitch. TringSwitch is a highly reliable and real-time platform optimized for web-based telephony applications. It's the core back-end of TringMe widgets and is now available for others to build interesting and innovative applications on it. TringSwitch can be integrated with any telephony back-end including SIP server, PSTN gateways, SMS gateways etc. TringSwitch can be used within an enterprise infrastructure setup or can be used for consumer facing web-based applications.

TringMe's Mobile VoIP client can be easily configured without downloading anything. We can remotely configure your mobile to use TringMe by merely sending you a special SMS. This is a novel way for a user to start using the mobile device without having to spend any time configuring the device settings for using TringMe. Alternately, you can also download TringMe’s Symbian client (which will be available soon) from our website to enable Mobile VoIP on your Mobile and leverage additional functionality (e.g. sending an SMS over IP) from it.

With Mobile VoIP support, using your mobile, you can connect to your friends not just on landlines and cellular device, but also on IMs like Gtalk. Essentially, all termination points that are accessible by TringMe widgets from a PC are available via Mobile VoIP as well. This has been one of the key requests from many users of TringMe and hence we are extremely delighted to provide the same.

We also added speech recognition (ASR) capability in TringSwitch thereby making it convenient for TringMe users to initiate voice-based actions. New innovative applications like voice-enabled yellow page, voice enabled vertical searches, interactive games etc can be developed quickly with TringSwitch with almost no effort or coding.

We are very happy to announce that TringMe was selected as one of the companies which should demonstrate it's capabilities at HeadStart (http://www.headstart.in) which is going to be held from Jan 18th to Jan 20th in IISc, Bangalore, India. If you are attending HeadStart, please stop by for our demo. We will demonstrate TringSwitch including TringMe's Mobile VoIP capabilities. We will also show how to develop a rapid prototype application using TringSwitch and Speech Recognition in merely a few minutes without any coding efforts.

We look forward to seeing you at Headstart and thanks again for your continued support and suggestions. Write to us: bizdev@tringme.com

Feel free to let us know if you need any assistance.

TringMe Support

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am looking for interviews about VoIP security for a big German magazine

Dear readers,

I need your help: Until Januar 25, 2008, I have to deliver an article about VoIP security to a big German economy magazine with 770.000 readers. Therefor I am looking for interesting information and interviews. One focus of the article is mobile VoIP security, but not the only one.

The magazine regularily engages me as a freelancing writer for such topics. But this time I want to unleash the power of Web 2.0 by posting this inquiry to my blog.

Do you have interesting material that could be helpful for this article? Maybe I should do an interview to you?

I am looking for speeches, presentations, whitepapers, blog post and similar stuff about VoIP security threats (wiretapping, minute stealing, man in the middle attacks, DoS attacks...) and how to prevent them (encryption, firewalls, ...). So please send me your PDF, URL, Powerpoint or Word document about the topic in the next few days!

I will read the information and then contact you for an interview. These points are interesting to me:
  1. What are the most common / most dangerous / latest security threats?
  2. Interesting cases of VoIP security breaches and actual hacks?
  3. How to protect VoIP / mobile VoIP?
You can find my contact data here or simply post a comment to this blog entry.

Thanks a lot.

Best regards,
Markus Göbel

Monday, January 14, 2008

Interesting article for Facebook haters

"I despise Facebook," writes Tom Hodgkinson today in The Guardian.
Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries - and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.
Mainly, Hodgkinson has a go at Facebook's backers, Peter Thiel and Jim Breyer. He presents an entire conspiracy theory about how Facebook is funded and aided by the CIA and neocon circles to exploit its users, who create all the content only to see it sold as advertising space which makes a few people even richer. He also writes:
After 9/11, the US intelligence community became so excited by the possibilities of new technology and the innovations being made in the private sector, that in 1999 they set up their own venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, which "identifies and partners with companies developing cutting-edge technologies to help deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency and the broader US Intelligence Community (IC) to further their missions".
As far as I remember 9/11 happed in 2001. So if the CIA discovered its interested in internet startups already in 1999, it had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and the subsequent War on Terrorism. Still the text is interesting to read and could make me shiver if I knew that it's entirely true. But from my desk in Berlin I just can't check the facts, whether in favour or against Facebook. However I can perfectly understand the story of Hodgkinson's friend who spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk.
What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.
At least Facebook always eats up more time than I had planned to spend and it hasn't give me much in return. At least it's free and I can switch off its email notifications.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Packet8 announces free trial program for MobileTalk

Maybe Packet8 heard me nagging about the high price for their Mobiletalk callthrough software, which includes no VoIP minutes. Just hours after my blog post told how great their Mobiletalk software could be if it wasn't mutilated and overpriced, Packet8 announces the launch of a no obligation, no fee trial program.
With the MobileTalk free trial program, wireless customers can download the MobileTalk application onto their mobile device and use the service at no charge until a total of $2.00 in per minute fee is reached.

The Mobiletalk software is great and now people can get to know it before they subscribe. But the one-time $9.99 activation fee for the service and a monthly fee of $9.99 for non-Packet 8 subscribers seems too much to me. Packet8 should slash the monthly fee and sell the software for $30.

After all they make their money with VoIP minutes.

Israeli mobile VoIP software miracle automatically connects the cheapest way

Last year I was nagging that "Packet8 MobileTalk could be done much better", and I was right. I could learn that now when the Israeli company Mobilemax installed for me on a cellphone the underlying software which powers Packet8's MobileTalk. It is a real mobile VoIP wonder weapon which I covered in an article for Areamobile. Companies like Truphone, Gizmo5, Wifimobile and Tpad should make its features a part of their mobile services to make them work also outside of the spare Wifi areas.

Internet telephony could be a killer application for mobile phones. But it has it quirks, shows a series of articles I wrote. In most cases you need at least a cell phone which can open mobile websites. It let's you do a mobile callback with VoIP providers like Jajah or Voxalot. After entering the phone numbers of the caller and the callee on a mobile website, a server rings up both and connects them over the internet. Of course this also costs double, but for international calls it's still cheaper than the own cell phone provider's prices. Only Wifi cell phone calls are less expensive. They only cost a few cents per minutes and often they are free. But Wifi isn't always available.

Mobilemax thus developed a software which automatically sends mobile phone calls the less expensive way over the internet whenever that's cheaper than normal calls. No need to open mobile websites on the phone or to trigger callbacks by SMS or instant messaging. The software simply sits unobtrusively in the background and automatically determines the way in which the call is connected. The user only needs to enter the number.

Establishing a call with VoIP software from Mobilemax

The program works on about 500 phones with Palm, BlackBerry, Symbian or Windows Mobile operating systems and last month it has been deployed for the first time by the US VoIP provider Packet8. Once a number has a foreign area code, the software starts to act and connects via a landline number to the server by Packet8. The server connects the telephone conversation with the other party over the VoIP network. Calls from the United States to Asia or Europe cost only a 2 to 5 US cents per minute more than the price of a local call. The American mobile operators normally charge up to three dollar minute. German companies like Running Mobile or Cellity offer similar solutions.

But the Israeli software has much more functions which the competitors lack and also Packet8 doesn't use. The program could also automatically decide to connect a phone call as a callback or over Wifi. Even VoIP calls over 3G will soon be possible, although all German mobile network operators seem to block them now I realized in some self-experiments. Mobilemax' software is a real miracle weapon for mobile VoIP and the handling is particularly pleasant, because no extra buttons have to be pressed. The software even senses in which country the user is and automatically chooses a local number for callthrough or callback. What a pity that consumers cannot have it. Mobilemax distributes the software only to companies. "We don't see ourselves providing the underlying service of the application and compete with our customers", said Mobilemax' Director of Business Development, Perry Nalevka, to me in an interview. The Packet8 customers pay $10 per month only to use it. In addition they get the VoIP telephone minutes billed.

Configuration also allows other VoIP flavours

Other companies want to follow the same business model, Nalevka said, which started as a one-touch-dialing solution for calling card users and roamers who had to use tens of access numbers, PINs and dial flows to make a call without being ripped off by the mobile operators. Six different service providers worldwide and several IPBX and enterprise mobility providers are now testing the software. So far several tens of thousands of licenses purchased.

Other companies who use it:

Today it supports the following configurations:
  • Callthrough with PIN or PINless (CLI based).
  • Roaming location based callthrough with multiple access numbers automatically selects the relevant access number according to the user's location.
  • Seamless callback triggered by: DID, USSD, SMS, IP. The application triggers the callback, answers the incoming call and if needed sends the destination number.
  • Dial around replacing prefixes in the dialed number (1010).

Further developments:
  • Support additional phone models as they are released.
  • Add new routes to seamlessly divert calls to: VoWIFI, Vo3G (to SIP or termination).
  • Adding in-call Mobility features.

You can find more information about the software in Rich Tehrani's interview with Perry Nalevka: "MobileMax: Bullish on Fixed Mobile Convergence" (December 31, 2007).

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Let's get rid of Twitter and Facebook!

Pat Phelan has a very interesting blog post about "what's the cost of Twitter?". He extrapolates that the worldwide economy will loose $13.5bn in 2008 because people waste time with silly Twitter updates. His thought provoking text caused a big discussion and reminds me of last year's story "Facebook surfers cost their bosses billions". But while Pat seems to agree that Facebook is a terrible time sucker, he still declares Twitter a "tool I couldn't live without". For me they are of the same category.

I like Pat very much. But I don't need a status update every time his airplain is delayed, he buys a CD of Take That or answers a friend's question. That's the kind of information I find in Twitter feeds. For me that's not useful and causes a false sense of intimacy. That's why I don't like Twitter. I am very happy that Pat doesn't publish his "Daily Tweets" so often anymore, blog posts where he just mirrors his Twitter feed. They are mostly noise between his excellent articles. As a technology journalist I have to follow hundreds of blogs and filter out such distracting information.

That's what Twitter costs me, although I don't even use that tool. I whish my browser had some kind of Adblocker for irrelevant Web2.0 crap.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Get well soon, Om Malik!

My hero Om Malik, blogger of GigaOM, had to be hospitalized because of a heart attack. Fortunately he is on the road to a full recovery and promises to stay away now from cigarettes, whisky and fatty foods.

Get well soon, Om! I would miss you terribly.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Worldwide free calls through a security breach

I got a tip about four free phone gateways in a European country. They let you call almost every fixed or mobile phone number in the world at no charge. "The gateways haven't a pin authentication, so the minimum security rules aren't respected", says the tipster. "If you test it will you see also caller ID is forwarded. A real good service." Oh yes, I understand the guy's enthusiasm. People love free phone calls.

So these four numbers could be the ultimate callthrough solution, the new Yak4ever. If it only wasn't illegal. That's why I don't publish them. The tipster even sent detailed instructions on how to use these numbers. You just need free calls to that country, which you get for instance from Truphone or several Betamax companies. After the tone you type in the callee's number with international prefix, followed by the hash key (#), to be connected.

A poor company must have forgotten to take the most basic security measures. This security breach is said to be open for more than one year already, since December 2006. Which makes me wonder whether it's a bug or a feature. If a study from Stealth Communications is right then phreakers steal a staggering two hundred million minutes per month valuing around $26 million. No wonder if some companies make it so easy.


Just minutes after posting this blog entry I had a reader from Sindh, Karachi, Pakistan. I looked him up in my log files after getting his message: "Sir I am the regular reader of your forum, I want to make a free call to my relatives outside the country, Actually I am from a very poor family, Sir can you give me that 4 gateways number where i can call free to my relatives. plz".

Unfortunately that is not possible, although I still feel the giving spirit of Christmas. What's illegal is illegal. There is a not so thin red line between free phone calls from companies with loads of venture capital and plain theft.