Fall VON Review, Part 2

I managed to blog at the end of Day 1, but it's been out of control busy since then. Most of the good stuff has been covered by the uberbloggers who are more "always on" than me, and if you haven't been there, and still want to read about the show, check them out - Mark Evans, Andy Abramson (especially his comments about the poor broadband quality in Hilton hotels!) and Alec Saunders. Jeff Pulver has some recaps, and lots of photos, so that's the place to go to see what show actually looked like! Also, Jeff has a terrific guest blog from Michael Powell, the previous FCC Chairman. Given how there was no FCC presence at the show - conspicuously absent, for sure - this posting is great to see.

Jeff's Keynote

I didn't see many presentations, but I did want to briefly summarize the main messages from Jeff Pulver's opening address, which really set the tone for the conference.

Transformation was the key theme for Jeff. He spoke about how the worlds of computing and communications are converging, and that's never been more true than the past few months. Makes you wonder if the show should be renamed CON, instead of VON - there's a lot of "C" words in what he's saying!

This led to comments about our lack of emergency preparedness for natural disasters, and how IP was the most reliable source of communication during Katrina - not just voice, but blogging and video podcasting. True to his roots, ham radio got added to the mix as another medium of last resort, which is totally true. To make this real, he noted how the American Radio Relay League had shown support for an idea he proposed - Internet Field Day - which is the Internet version of an annual event held by the ham radio community.

Another interesting topic for transformation was television. Jeff talked about how the Live8 broadcast this summer was a real proof point that IP is ready for video. Not only is the quality better than broadcast - at least for the mass market - but more people watched the concerts via AOL's webcasts than the various broadcasts on TV. I think that speaks volumes about how quickly and profoundly IP is becoming an agent of change. The scary part for the TV networks, of course, is that IP can do the same end-run around their networks as they are doing now with telecom networks. It's just another type of network, but the outcome will be the same. In short, as Jeff said, TV is just another IP application. End of story.

Jeff noted a great personal example of how the world hasn't caught up to IP and TV yet. While in a London hotel recently, he was able to watch TV over broadband using his Slingbox - but the hotel was blocking his SIP traffic for voice. TV takes up so much more bandwidth, but they weren't looking for that - gotta like the irony there.

From there, he picked up the theme that disruption will continue, which is good for the IP camp, and not so good for the old guard. To keep the momentum going, he reiterated the need to focus on Net Freedoms - pretty much echoed by Jeff Citron on Monday. On that front, Jeff noted the formation last year of the Global IP Alliance, which is focused on supporting "smart" regulation - easier said than done.

Finally, Jeff talked about how transformation is impacting his business operations. Pulver.com has become pulvermedia, and Free World Dialup has been renamed FWD. As he noted, it's like KFC - nobody wants to buy something that's fried. Likewise, nobody's going to buy something that's free, so let's just use an acronym.

FWD is also going in some interesting directions. He spoke of how their federation now has some 120 IP operators interconnecting their voice traffic. They also have a block of 500 numbers, provisioned by MCI. The tricky part, he explained, was getting these numbers to work if you're not on the MCI network. Finally, Jeff noted the newest service along this path of perhaps becoming the next P2P operator to become acquired - listyourself.net. It's a free service to aggregate phone numbers into a mega 411 directory - any type - IP, cellular and PSTN. So, if you've had an unlisted number but still want to be found on 411, this is the way to go. Same of course, for all cell and VoIP subscribers.

The Blogger Panel

This was a fun session, and I felt fortunate to stand in for Om Malik, who was not feeling well enough to make the show. Alec Saunders's blog has the best real-time account on this that I've seen so far. Great job, Alec!

VON Panel.jpg

Other Thoughts/Observations

Aside from Jeff's keynote, the video broadcast for Skype's Niklas Zennstrom was probably the most anticipated event of the show. I don't think there has ever been a bigger IP story than Skype/eBay, and here we have Niklas at VON so soon after the news. Well, wouldn't you know it that they couldn't get the video feed to work. How ironic! Just seemed silly that for all the tech challenges Skype magically overcomes, they couldn't get this to go. They ended up giving up on the video, and after a while, they just did audio, which probably worked just fine. I couldn't hang on, unfortunately, and missed it. Am told the presentation was pretty high level, and there wasn't any breaking news or clues as to why this deal really happened.

The VON event had a really strong international presence - over 60 countries - pretty similar to VON Europe in that regard. An International Lounge was set up to welcome these visitors, which makes a lot of sense to me. I had a chance to speak with many foreign visitors, and it's really interesting to hear how important the US VON events are for them. It's another validation that VON is where the IP industry comes to meet and be in one place. Along those lines, the VON experience is now going global. There was ample signage at the show letting attendees know that VON will soon be coming to your part of the world.

It's all about branding. Others have already commented on the key technology themes at the show - especially IMS and video - but I couldn't help notice how branding-oriented this space is becoming. Vendors I've been following for a while all of a sudden have a catchy logo, slick marcom, cool clothes, and booth spaces on steriods. I don't want to name names, but a few others are soon to unveil their new looks to keep pace. There must be quite a few marketing makeover specialists out there doing a booming business. To me, it's another sign of how IP is maturing, as little companies grow, as survivors begin thrive, and how the big get bigger through acquisition. It's been commented about how the show is attracting more finance people now, and the exhibitors want/need to look their best. It's bit like boys and girls lining up on opposite sides of the gym for the school dance, and nobody wants to be left standing alone.

Finally, I have to mention Tom Evslin's blook. Isn't that a great word? Anyone staying at the Sheraton - maybe other hotels too - had this mysterious looking message imprinted on their room key - hackoff.com

What is it? It's the title of his blook. It's a murder mystery novel that's being serialized in blog form. This is fun - it's almost too real to be fiction. Totally different experience from reading a paper-based book. It's all virtual, but very engaging. He's not the first one to do this, but I'll bet it's a window on how web-based publishing is evolving and starting to become real.