Vidtel Launches Today!

Been trying to get this post out all day. Scott Wharton is one of the few people I know in this space going back to 2001 when I started at Frost & Sullivan. He had a great run at BroadSoft, and it was surprising to hear him make the jump to his own startup this summer. Not only doing a startup for the first time, but moving from the East coast to the West coast to do it. That takes commitment, and he's done it on a shoestring.

His company is called Vidtel - gee, can you guess what the business is? - and today was the official launch. It's a bit like having a baby, so first off, congratulations Scott! You've got a good team behind you, about 100 trials going, the technology is ready now, the service is economical now, and maybe most importantly, video is hot. We're way beyond worrying about how we look on video now, and this isn't the 1964 World's Fair.

Sure, most people are camera-shy, but in the world of iPhone, Flckr, YouTube, Facebook, etc., it's not such a big deal any more. There's no shortage of people ready, willing and able to get onscreen at the drop of a hat. More importantly, Vidtel is about making an everyday experience - talking on the phone - a better experience. There's no shortage of friends and family-based situations where adding video to the mix would be welcome. Vidtel understands this, and the website does a nice job of explaining many of these scenarios and how they would appeal to different segments of the market.

To be clear, Vidtel is a consumer offering. It's not the videophone service that Packet8 was marketing to SMBs. This is a mass market concept, much like Vonage was in 2005. However, prices have come down, and video service like Vidtel is very affordable. The big BUT, of course, is how are you going to get customers? Scott's too savvy to fall into the Vonage trap of spending recklessly to acquire subscribers - especially in today's economy.

He'll start slow and virally, and will establish a loyal customer base and demonstrate proof of concept. That's what I'd be doing. It's not an expensive service to launch, and I'm sure the business can carry itself early on with a modest base of customers. After that, it's all about branding and scale - both of which can be addressed with capital and some sound management decisions.

I'm a fan - I have been ever since he told me about it. I'll soon be a beta user as well, and I'll be reviewing it once I've had some time to use it. Aside from spending time on Vidtel's website, I should add that Scott has a nice blog of his own, so if you want his personal take on how Vidtel came to be, you should read his post about it.

Again, congrats to you and your team, Scott, and it's great to see a startup like this come to life.

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magicJack - the Saga Continues - be Careful Out There

I first posted about magicJack back in June, and I've never had a post with legs like this. I don't generate tons of comments like uber-bloggers do, but for some reason this post keeps finding people, and I think it's a sign of the times.

If magicJack is new to you (yes, that's a small "m" - part of its charm I guess), then just read my post, and you'll have the story. Basically, it's a USB gadget that gives you "free" VoIP. The company/inventor behind the product is more interesting than the product itself, and that's what my post focused on.

Aside from the post itself, the comments tell you what people really think about this thing. Just when it looks like the world has moved on to other can't-miss ideas, I get another magicJack comment last night - here's an excerpt:

I am completely shocked at how Dan Borislow has misrepresented his product, and his "free, 30 day trial" which is nonexistant. I ordered 2 on the trial, just to have my credit card immediately charged. I went to their chat window customer service, and they refused all phone numbers to reach anyone at an administrative level. They charged my creditcard without my authorization, after they sent me an email stating it would not be charged for 30 days. They then refused to reverse the charge. I will not accept their delivery, I will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and look into a class action lawsuit against this company, as it seems thousands have been scammed by this company's blatant misrepresentation.

Oooh. Not a happy customer, and he has more to say - check it out for yourself.

I'm always happy to get comments, but this one sets off red flags for me. First of all, magicJack is still around. They are either the real deal and must be doing something right - or, there are still loads of people out there reading mass market advertisements who will jump sight unseen at the prospect of saving some money. Unless magicJack has changed its stripes - which is doubtful based on the above comment - there's a lot of fine print that prospective buyers should be reading and understanding before placing an order.

You don't need me to tell you how bad things are out there, and telecom is not immune. What worries me is how attractive the promise of magicJack is to people trying to save money any way they can. Nothing wrong with saving money in tough times, but magicJack is hardly a straight up proposition. It may seem that way if you're not careful, but Paul's comment from yesterday is a reminder that it's not.

His parting thought says it all for me...

The moral of the story is don't trust a phone company that tells you they do not have a phone number you can call if you have a problem with billing or anything else. A phone company with no phones sure sounds fishy...


The allure of FREE is pretty strong these days, and generally you get what you pay for. Clearly magicJack is still attracting interest, and based on some of the comments I've had, they do have happy customers. However, for a product I have concerns with, I tend to put more stock in what people like Paul are saying.

In short, caveat emptor. Free can be a beautiful thing, but everything comes with a price, even VoIP!



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Korea Tech Preview � Day 2

Day 2 was every bit as good as Day 1, and on the whole I found this excursion very worthwhile. Not a whole lot of IP communications on display here, but where else are you going to come across so many intriguing technologies, innovations, gadgets, etc.? I met quite a few interesting companies and will definitely be following up with some of them.

Here�s a quick recap with some photo highlights, and don�t be surprised to see some of these at your local electronics retailer in 2009.

Lunchtime keytnotes � Burrill & Co. (VC) and LG Electronics

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Neolux � e-reader � like Kindle. I thought this was really cool and since it�s read-only, it�s a great way to distribute copyrighted content safely. I can see lots of possibilities here.

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Commax � residential video surveillance/greeting systems. All kinds of applications - not only can you watch and talk to that stranger knocking on your door, as well as let him in, but you can monitor anywhere in/around your home where you can put a camera. I can�t help but think of all the Monty Python and the Holy Grail fun scenarios you can have with this --- �WHAT is your favorite color?�....

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Pavonine � do not adjust your set. It�s a blurry image because it�s 3D! Hah. When you put on the 3D glasses, the TV experience sure changes big time. Not just for watching TV but for gaming. Seems corny, but pretty cool.

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Adscalator � strange word, but that�s what they do. Yup. It�s a digital ad display panel at the entry/exit point of an escalator. Not only that � see where I�ve drawn a circle? That�s where Adscalator disinfects the moving handguard we all rest our hands on. How�s that for being virtuous and commercial at the same time?

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PlayGuard � my favorite. Ready for this? A round webcam that goes almost anywhere. It�s �smaller than a golf ball�, so you hardly even notice it. The exhibitor was a good sport and modelled one way to use it. For those of us who feel compelled to video everything we do, here�s the solution. It�s brilliant � what extreme sports enthusiast wouldn�t want this and try to become the next star of America�s Funniest Home Videos? Just strap it on your head � or your baby, or your pet, and away you go. I guess. How about a waterproof model for scuba diving? Or a car-mounted cam which becomes your black box in the event of an accident? Tons of possibilities � how could you not want one of these?

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Bo Shin � my gracious host. A big thanks to Bo and all the others at KOTRA who provided great hospitality, and more importantly, translation help during my meetings! Without them, my meetings would not have lasted very long. Remember the Seinfeld episode with Frank Costanza when the Koreans were trash talking him? Unlike Frank, I don�t know Korean, so I can only hope they were nice to me during our meetings. :-)

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A Good Day to be in the USA

Call it luck of the draw, but I got to be in the U.S. today. I'm not that politically inclined, but the election was pretty special, and everyone senses we're living important history right now. It's a good day to be an American, it's a good day for America, it's a good day in the eyes of most people outside America, and it's a good day to be in the USA. Smiles all around for me.

Obama is in the House now, and hopefully the honeymoon will be a long one. If you remember JFK and MLK, it's a good feeling to see so many dreams finally realized, and it's a great reminder of how special democracy can be.

I kind of thought I'd see or sense a noticeable mood of joy here, but I really haven't - strange. The airports - both Toronto and Dallas were unusually quiet, and there hasn't been any visible sign to say today is different from any other day. To be fair, I'm deep in the heart of Texas - GWB country - and their GOP stripes didn't change in 2008.

With today being such a special time, and being in Dallas, I just figured out what to do about this. This is a short trip for me, but the hotel is not far from Dealey Plaza. I've never been there, and I couldn't imagine a more appropriate time to make a quick pilgrimage to see it.

In many ways, Barack Obama's journey started there. The dreams of equality didn't die with JFK, and they didn't die with MLK. Clinton was a good JFK wannabe, but Barack may end up a better successor to his spirit of hope, change and youth. Like JFK, he is a true breakthrough in his own right. Time will tell if he's the real deal or if he'll just be learning on the job, but it's pretty clear that the world hasn't felt this good about the USA in a long time. Things are much easier to accomplish when people like you, and we have nowhere to go but up now that the Bush era is over.

I'll get off that soapbox now - photos coming tomorrow. Back to work. I'm in Dallas to attend the Korean Tech Showcase, and so far, it's been just great. I'm virtually certain I'm the only analyst here, so I'm getting to see stuff most of my peers won't likely see for some time yet if at all. Lucky me.

I've had meetings with companies with really interesting technologies, and am looking forward to more of the same tomorrow. It's too early to blog about the details, but as I get to know some of them better, I'll bring you up to date.

Nice tie-in at the airport. CNN's 24/7 election coverage, and a TV display stand by Samsung, Korea's most famous tech company.

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Sidebar... I had one of those only-in-America moments here at the airport. While waiting for my ride, I heard this announcement over the PA system: "the post-election noon day prayer will be held in the chapel in Terminal 1". Praise the Lord and God Bless America... who said Church and State were separate? :-)

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Couldn't resist. Remember pay phones? They sure are becoming an extinct species in the U.S., and I see this scene at almost every hotel/conference center I travel to. Ugly. Virtually everyone seems to have a cell phone here, and there is simply no rhyme or reason to use a pay phone these days.

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Next Stop - Dallas and the Korean Tech Showcase

Got a short trip coming up tomorrow - am flying to Dallas - a place I've only been to once before.

I've been invited by KOTRA - the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency - to attend a showcase of Korean companies looking for partnerships, advice, investment, etc. to help them become established in North America.

This should be a really interesting event, and a great opportunity to learn about some cool, up and coming companies. There will be over 50 companies to meet, and they cover the gamut, including PCs, wireless, telephony, video, RFID, IPTV, GPS and esoteric stuff like home automation, robotics and biometrics. Not a bad way to spend two days, and who knows, I just might get an early glimpse of the next Samsung or LG to come from this hotbed of innovation and gadgetry.

Wearing my Monty Python hat, I have to be a bit tongue-in-cheek here, and would be remiss if I didn't bring up Chindogu before signing off.

What is this, you may ask? Well, it really is something completely different. If you haven't heard of Kenji Kawakami, then check this out. He's the author of a number of books that have become a mini-franchise over the years about Chindogu, which loosely translated, means "useless inventions". His books are built around the theme of 101 unuseless Japanense inventions, and you just have to see these to believe them. Life doesn't get any funnier than this, and if you're a fan of MXC on Spike TV - Most Extreme Elimination Challenge - then you'll just love this.

I'd better stop now! I never expected this post would take so many twists, but it all sticks together if you follow my offbeat logic. Anyhow, I'm quite certain that the products I'll be seeing in Dallas will be very useful indeed, so stay tuned over the next day or so.



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