Canadian Telecom Summit - Day 3 - Skype Not Spoken Here

Today was the wrap up for the show, and for me, it had the best mix of speakers and topics. Highlights...

Panel session on consumer/SOHO use of VoIP - good insights there from Bell, Primus, Sprint and the newcomer Virgin Mobile. It was great to see them talking about MVNOs and the opportunity they see in prepaid wireless. It remains to be seen if Virgin can duplicate their success in the US with wireless up here, especially with 3 strong wireless carriers dominating the Canadian market, including their network partner, Bell Mobility. However, they sure bring some sex appeal to the game. Their Pres/CEO, Andrew Black gave some hilarious demos to illustrate the fun you can have with voice messages. He played one telling you that you have no messages - in a way that makes you feel like a lonely loser. Another was a morning wake up message with a reggae/Carribean vacation vibe. Then there was the "rescue ring". That's the call you initiate when your date is bombing out and you need an excuse to leave. This one played a woman - your girlfriend - screaming at you for being out with someone else - you get the idea.

The panel had mixed views on bundling - FINALLY - a session where not everybody agrees! Kevin Crull of Bell and Phil Hartling of Sprint were bullish, with Kevin citing over 550,000 Bell bundles sold as of Q1/05. He noted that churn reduction is real, and they seem to be having success using this to compete against Videotron's recent VoIP offering in Montreal. Conversely, Ted Chislett of Primus was more skeptical, saying that the only real advantages are lower price and a single bill. If the service provider can't properly deploy the bundle and support it from the beginning, it may not last, and the onus really falls on the service provider to deliver great service on all fronts. If one offering falters, the bundling benefit will not hold.

Darren Entwistle, Pres/CEO of Telus gave a no nonsense indictment of the CRTC's VoIP ruling during lunch. His basic message was the same as Michael Sabia's, but much more direct and tactical in terms of what the CRTC is doing right and wrong.

His basic thinking is that VoIP is different from PSTN, and the CRTC is simply not using appropriate metrics, such as the number of service providers in the market, or the market share held by ILECs for local access. These don't really apply in the IP world, which I agree with. The impact of wireless substitution or broadband voice providers like Vonage don't relate to this.

He's clearly a free markets thinker, and advocates open competition as the best way to provide choice to the consumer and stimulate innovation. He posits that if the CRTC treated cellular and Internet applications this way, why do it differently for telecom?

As you would expect from an ILEC, his view on the CRTC is that they have created an uneven playing field. It's one that penalizes the very carriers who have invested in building the networks Canadians have come to depend, and favors foreign-owned providers and cablecos.

Nothing really new here, but it was neat to see both Bell and Telus vent a bit at the same show. One gets the feeling that as direct as Darren was in his talk, he would have had a lot more to say behind closed doors. It's almost an afterthought to say his conclusion was that Telus will appeal the decision. What else can they do? Of course, they still have the customer base, so all is not lost. Hardly. The gloves are simply off now, and let the games begin.

Actually, he had another parting comment, which I thought was great. He noted that 2 CRTC officals had dissenting opinions on the ruling, and urged people to study them. Love it. I'm not plugged into the CRTC machinery, and it would have been great if he had told us how to access their opinions. Otherwise, I may never get around to it.

Skype - what's the story? Well, one thing really struck me as the conference went on. Kevin Crull of Bell briefly mentioned Skype during his panel today. At that point I realized that may have been the first time I heard a speaker refer to Skype at the show. I can count on my hand the number of times I heard things like Skype or SIP. I heard delegates talking about these things during the breaks, but hardly at all from the speakers.

I dunno. Having just come from VON Europe where you can't go more than 5 minutes without Skype coming up, I found that strange. Not good, not bad - just odd. I guess that reflects the nature of this show - it's not about the bleeding edge stuff - and that's ok. It's hard to complain when you get 3 days full of very senior people from the leading players in Canadian telecom. All in all, Mark and Michael put on a pretty good show, eh!