Illinois lawmakers are apparently pushing through a new bill to protect consumers who get “lemon” cell phones, modeled after similar automobile lemon laws. RCR Wireless News has all the details.
Under the bill, subscribers whose cellphones must be repaired or replaced as a result of mechanical or manufacturing defects three times or more can cancel their service contracts without having to pay an early termination fees. Such charges range between $150 and $200 per line.
“For many people, a cellphone is their only means of communication,” Mendoza said. “Keeping consumers with faulty equipment locked into a long-term contract is just another example of big businesses trying to take advantage of the little guy.”
The lawmaker’s bill also offers consumers the option of upgrading or downgrading their phone model by paying or being refunded only the difference in cost based on promotional prices—also without incurring penalty charges. An amendment to the bill was approved to strike language that would have required a mobile phone operator to pay a consumer $25 for each day the handset is unavailable to the consumer or each day the consumer does not have full access to all of the contracted services.
I can appreciate wanting to give the carriers stronger incentives to be responsive to customers, but I’ve never heard of anyone having to have their phone repaired three different times, and while I’m sure it happens it’s hard for me to believe that we really need a law for this. As many problems as there are with the cell carriers in the U.S., I’m under the impression that they’re actually pretty good at dealing with faulty equipment (and that the quality of handsets is generally solid).
In the good news, Vonage won a permanent injunction that allows it to sign up new subscribers. Vonage stock rose 29% on the news.
In the bad news, Vonage admitted a while back that they can’t work around Verizon’s patents. I admit that the inventiveness of the Verizon patents — one looks at first glance as if though it’s a simple database lookup — continues to escape me.
But then there’s the fishing in troubled waters, which worries me even more than the patent dispute. My service provider, ViaTalk, sent me email a couple of weeks back; they touted their own service as an alternative to people worried about Vonage’s problems.
Fishing in troubled waters rubs me the wrong way, and it’s scarcely a pro-survival strategy for the industry as a whole. Instead of rallying behind Vonage with a letter campaign to elected officials, ViaTalk chose to poach Vonage’s customers. It was the kind of email that makes you want to wash your hands after touching the keyboard. I’m highly tempted to dump ViaTalk entirely.
Ever wonder how broadcasters check picture transmission quality?
Traditionally, they pay people to sit for hours watching video and
rating its visual appearance subjectively. So I talked this week to
about a new automated system they have for testing video streaming on
The use of cell phones for audio and video downloads is becoming
surprisingly popular. Qualcomm’s recently developed
network got a lot of media attention, perhaps because it’s new outlet
for media. Verizon and Cingular both struck deals with MediaFLO early
And the demands of offer video to cell phones present challenges a lot
different from broadcast or cable television–particularly when the
cell phone user decides to watch the video at the same time as doing
something else with the phone–which they are prone to do, much to the
annoyance (I imagine) of the content providers as well as the network operators
The Worldwide Lexicon Project (www.worldwidelexicon.org) is an open source translation project I’ve worked on for many years. We’re pleased to announce that ETel is one of our first testers. WWL is an experiment in collaborative translation. If you speak other languages, you can help make ETel and other sites accessible in your language. Here’s how it works:
WWL watches participating sites for new articles, currently via RSS, other options coming soon
The site directs its own readers, some of whom are bilingual, to WWL to contribute translations
Readers go to WWL to view and edit translations (over 60 languages are currently supported).
The translations are re-published via HTML and RSS (so you can import a translated version of ETel directly into your site.
The demo, currently at demo.worldwidelexicon.org, is pretty basic. To view or contribute translations just scroll down to ETel, and then click on the two letter language code for the language you want to read or translate to. Then you’ll see a list of articles (if the title is blue, nobody has contributed a translation yet). At the bottom of the site’s headlines, you’ll see a RSS feed that contains the translations to that language.
We’re planning lots of additional features (read on to learn more)
SHORTCUT: if you’re going to be contributing translations to ETEL on a regular basis, you can use this shortcut (http://worldwidelexicon.elevatedrails.com/feeds/5/translations/es), just replace ES with the two or three letter language code for your language or dialect. URLs will change, so watch the WWL site for updates.
iLocus has released its 8th annual report on VoIP industry which contains several interesting statistical nuggets. Probably the most impressive is the estimate that 1,079 billion minutes of VoIP traffic were carried by service providers worldwide in 2006. That’s an awful lot of VoIP!
The study also looks at carriers and equipment vendors, and notes that 36.9 million Class 5 softswitch licenses, 34.8 million Class 4 softswitch licenses, and 48.2 million service provider media gateway ports were sold in the markets worldwide last year. Nortel leads the Class 5 softswitch market worldwide, followed by Siemens, and Huawei leads the Class 4 softswitch market. And if there was any doubt, the iLocus study confirms the growing predominance of IP-based PBX products today:
In the enterprise segment, the annual report reveals that in 2006 vendors shipped a total of about 18.3 million IP PBX end user licenses, and an estimated 8.5 million desktop IP phones. Desktop IP phone sales grew 38 percent over the previous year 2005, while the IPPBX market grew an impressive 52 percent year over year.
Help Translate ETel on the Worldwide Lexicon.
Spanish, French, Italian, German, Korean, and many more.
Obviously, people have been using Skype and other VoIP software with Second Life for years. In a certain sense, you could say that we haven’t changed anything. Sure, it’s integrated, or the voice quality is incrementally better, or there is a 3D spatial voice effect. But so what?
I want to describe something I’ve been thinking about for a while. What’s the difference between being on the phone with a group of people vs. being in a room with them?
Regular ETel readers know that we’re big on open source telephony around here. We regularly feature technical articles on open source telecom projects like Asterisk, FreeSWITCH, YATE, and OpenZoep, we like to discuss the issues around open source business models in our blogs, and O’Reilly Media has long been a champion and documenter for many of the most important open source projects. So I consider paying attention to open source telephony projects a major part of my “beat” as the editor of ETel, but even I was surprised at the depth represented in VoIP Now’s list of 74 Open Source VoIP Apps & Resources. Broken down by category, Jimmy Atkinson has collected what must be the most exhaustive list of open source telecom projects to date. I’m ashamed to admit there’s quite a few on this list I haven’t heard of. Thanks a lot for this Jimmy, now I’ve got my work cut out for me!
Tim has posted an interesting theory about Google’s recently announced 411 service over on the Radar blog. Is Google using the new service to build its own speech database?
But it also seems to me that there’s a hidden story here about the speech recognition itself. I was talking recently to Eckart Walther of Yahoo!, who used to be at Tellme, and he pointed out that speech recognition took a huge leap in capability when automated speech recognition started being used for directory assistance. All of a sudden, there were millions of voices, millions of accents to train speech recognition systems on, and much less need for the individual user to train the system.
This is reminiscent of a comment that Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, made to me last year about automated translation, and why it’s getting better. “We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.”
In short, I’m speculating that the 1-800-GOOG-411 service is designed to harvest voice data to build Google’s own speech database, rather than licensing from Nuance or another player.
I don’t have any inside knowledge, but I know just a little about how Google operates and this seem like a plausible theory to me.
With Tellme unveiling it’s free mobile application for local business search today at the Web 2.0 Expo, this space looks like it’s going to heat up in a hurry.
I was shocked to learn today that my alma mater, Virginia Tech, is now known as the site of the worst mass murder in US history. Tech is a great school, but will be forever marked because of this evil coward, whoever he is. I don’t know what else to say.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we identify ourselves in virtualspace quite a bit lately. Specifically, where things intersect in interesting ways. Where do those intersections cause conflicts and how can they be resolved using emerging telephony platforms?
Take, for instance, the humble telephone number. It is a tried and true method of identifying an individual or organization in multiple circumstances. It is also portable amongst different forms of communication…I can move my mobile phone number in the US to any other carrier (mobile or otherwise) by signing a form and waiting. The problem comes when I want to transfer my mobile number to a service like GrandCentral, but I still want to have SMS messages forwarded as well.
You simply can’t currently do that. If I move my mobile number to GrandCentral so that I am no longer dependent on any one phone or plan or anything (something I am doing in my new role covering Mobile issues for ETel), then I am completely up the tree when it comes to receiving SMS messages. I have to relay a new identification token to those that I wish to communicate with. Additionally, I have very little control over the phone number relayed out by my mobile phone, so I implicitly share the temporary phone number that I’m using at any given time.
I have had my phone number, email address and various other identifiers for well over 5 years (some over 10!). Do any of these hold up for my whole lifetime? As fellow ETel blogger Imran Ali mentioned to me, millions of people are approaching the 2-decade mark on some of their identifiers. Is changing the identification mechanism even possible at this point? If so, who owns it?
I find solutions like OpenIDand XRI promising in this area, but they are a ways out and have some user experience issues before they are adopted in any large way by carriers. Certain products are on the horizon that may fit the bill, Equals is meant to help solve that problem, but it too is difficult to use and requires a large “bootstrap” of people for it to be useful.
What do you, humble readers, think of my dilemma and what do you see that might help me, and others in my situation, to fix this issue? What do you need in this collision area between phone identifiers? Can business do this on its own, or do we need some external body to maintain these sorts of identifiers?
Probably not a huge surprise, but Vonage CEO Michael Snyder has stepped down today along with some other announced layoffs. A little more surprising is the news that Jeffrey Citron will step back in as interim CEO, but Citron’s past problems are likely the least of Vonage’s worries these days.
While most of the VoIP blogs are buzzing with the news of Snyder’s departure this morning and making bets about how much longer Vonage will be in business, Craig Walker of GrandCentral posted a nice message of thanks to the VoIP pioneer.
Thank you Vonage. Although they seem to be on the ropes these days, everybody in the Voice 2.0, VoIP, emerging communications, etc. space, owes a debt of gratitude to Vonage. Vonage, through sheer might and will, made emerging communications companies relevant again. When the bubble burst in 2001 nobody was interested in emerging communications companies or services. David Lazarus of the SF Chronicle wrote an article about Dialpad that ended with the line “Internet telephony? A good idea. While it lasted.” No new companies were emerging. The telcos had won.
Last week, Google Labs announced their new, experimental, free 411 service. To try the Google Voice Local Search Beta call 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411).
Currently, the service will bridge your call, provide results via SMS, or give you more details (such as location and phone number). You can listen to an Odeo recording that Brad Linder made to the service below:
powered by ODEO
Here’s a cool antique phone mod spotted by our friends over at Makezine. technick29 used an old broken computer headset to convert this antique phone toy into a working Skype phone. More pictures and detailed instructions can be found at Instructables.
The Devil Goes Down to Second Life
Back in the 1979, the Charlie Daniels Band came out with a song called “The Devil Goes Down to Georgia.” I remember it hit all the rock music stations (this was before the term “classic rock”), and probably all the country stations too (I don’t listen to country).
It was a classic good vs. evil theme. The devil plays the fiddle. Johnnie plays the fiddle. The devil bets he can play better than Johnnie. The stakes are a gold fiddle (presumably worth enough to make Johnnie very rich) vs. Johnnie’s soul. How does it turn out??
Well, it’s hard to imagine that today’s injunction that forbids Vonage from taking on any new customers isn’t the death blow for the pure-play VoIP pioneer. Vonage was looking for some leeway on the earlier ruling that placed a permanent injunction against them using any of the infringing technologies that Verizon holds patents for (which would effectively shut down the company), but the results of the appeal can’t be what Vonage was hoping for. Vonage lawyer Roger Warin makes a good analogy: “It’s the difference of cutting off oxygen as opposed to the bullet in the head.” In either case, it appears Vonage is going down for the count.
Update: Perhaps I spoke too soon, as Vonage was just given a reprieve in the form of a a temporary stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC., allowing them to continue to court new customers during their appeal process. I’d imagine Vonage’s legal problems have been in the news enough to make new customer acquisition a very challenging task for them right now, but at least the life-support system has been left on.
I always enjoy it when Alec Saunders writes one of his longer, deep and meaty posts, and he’s done it again with Aikido, Retreat or War. What’s your Microsoft strategy?. While many may tend to not take Microsoft seriously as a threat in the communications space, Alec has a unique and informed perspective on this issue as he previously worked for Microsoft, where he ran the Windows CE planning group in the late 1990’s, when the first Microsoft smart phones were being designed. If you’re in the telecom business and not thinking about Microsoft, I strongly suggest reading Alec’s latest piece.
I confess to being one of those who hasn’t spent much time thinking about Microsoft in this space, but the recent rash of communications-related news coming out of Redmond and Alec’s sobering essay are changing that.
Three years ago, upon first seeing Live Communications Server and the RTC platform, I called back to friends in Ottawa and told them that I thought Mitel and Nortel’s PBX business would be in trouble. They scoffed. Microsoft would never get voice right, they said. My friends failed to internalize the fact, articulated in the Voice 2.0 Manifesto, that voice is just a big application. Intellectually they understood this fact, but software isn’t in their genes – not the way it is at Microsoft.
The Internet has been the venue for many experiments that asked what would happen if some source of friction was reduced or eliminated. For example, eBay allows many millions of buyers to get stuff they want, and many millions of sellers to unload stuff they don’t want. And Google has made high-quality information available to anyone. There are many more examples of technologies that have completely changed how we do things.
On the other hand, there are examples where nothing fundamental changed as a result of the new technology. Voice over IP comes to mind. Sure, VoIP squeezed the cost out of phone calls, but have people dramatically increased the amount of phone calls they make?
Now that we’ve put 3D spatial voice technology into Second Life, I am thinking about what this will let people do, or do more easily. One idea that came to mind was standup comedy. Think about it.
Last week, I wrote about how residents of Second Life are starting to use high-definition 3D spatial voice for live music (guitar). Yesterday, I was talking to a group of people when one of them said that she was a singer.
Peer pressure is an amazing thing. In 30 seconds, she agreed to sing for the group.
There’s been quite a buzz around Sonopia recently, including some interesting observations from ETel conference chair Surj Patel and ETel blogger Imran Ali. Sonopia’s attempting to fundamentally shift the value proposition in the mobile phone market from the carriers to an affinity model where all parties involved share revenue, and have built a platform that allows for user generated content and community building amongst these affinity groups. Aaron Huslage recently spoke to Sonopia founder and CEO Juha Christensen to find out more about this interesting new service. Check out Aaron’s latest ETel article, Sonopia Reinvents the MVNO for an introduction to Sonopia, and stay tuned to ETel for an upcoming in-depth review of the service.
In the latest moves concerning the Verizon patent challenges to Vonage, the country’s best known consumer voip provider has cut a deal with VoIP, Inc. to carry it’s traffic in order to get around 2 of the 3 charges from Verizon concerning connecting voip calls to switched public networks. VoIP, Inc. owns its own nation-wide IP network and claims to own the intellectual property around its network and services.
It’s hard to know if this will help Vonage survive this latest challenge, but many analysts think the Verizon suit will be the final straw in breaking the back of the voip carrier. Andy Abramson notes today that Vonage has also delayed their annual report filing to the SEC, and this “can’t be a good sign.”
My mind’s reeling with ideas after reading Surj’s impressions of Sonopia, a company that’s planning to help users create MVNOs for their niche communities. Imagine…
- Launching a counter-carrier - mobile plans targeted at the employees of existing carriers. Tie them into expensive 24-month contracts then provide crummy service…could you get Verizon to eat itself?
- A massively distributed call centre, where Mechanical Turk finds you an agent and you split the call revenue!
- Spoof.mobi - a carrier that promises to treat you like crap, lock down your handsets and assign you a random number every nine days.
- Customer service populated by fictional TV characters - Jack Bauer: ‘Tell me where my daughter is and I’ll upgrade your phone!’
Seriously, Sonopia represents a potential step-change in mobile telephony, rather than seeing services bundled with telephony, we may start to see connected products and services bundled with branded-telephony, like the Nintendo DS’ bundled wifi plans. I’m really looking forward to Aaron’s more detailed analysis of Sonopia’s plans tomorrow.
Come to think of it, customer service agents playing fictional characters is actually a really fun idea…it might actually encourage people to call in and see who they get!
I love a good prank, especially at a time and place when it’s not expected, and especially if they draw in people who you’d think had better radar. I don’t have a good one this year, but here’s a pointer to a hoax I was involved in a few years ago. We staged a fake right wing, pro-war rally in Berkeley’s People’s Park. One observer remarked that he hadn’t seen that kind of chaos since Michael Moore sent cheerleaders to an execution (I took that as a compliment). Watching the protestors slowly realize they were being pranked was priceless.
Another fun one I was involved in was organizing a St Patricks Day parade two weeks early in Chinatown. Nobody knew what to do with that.
Happy April Fool’s Day. If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to check out the St Stupid’s Day Parade.
The stock rundown this past week for every major cell provider has finally been explained. First thought to be caused by weakening nerves of stock buyers based on the high debt incurred by AT&T gobbling half the cell accounts in the country at high debt value and customer acquisition cost, cell execs discovered the truth today: Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
Widely quoted in the supermarket tabloids the past two weeks, Paris and Lindsay started another of their famous feuds designed to increase sales rates of tabloids and promote full employment for E! TV reporters. This time, however, the battle focused on which “star” hated her cell phone the most.
Paris Hilton, through her spokesdog riding in her handbag, declared, “talking on a cell and texting is, like, so over.” Not to be outdone, Lindsay sent a message through her current celebrity overdose d’jour rehabilitation center saying, “If you want to tell me something, say it writing with a fountain pen on nice paper.” Teenage girls by the millions followed their advice, putting down their cells and picking up fountain pens.
Norman Haase, owner of HisNibs fountain pen e-commerce Web site, said, “I can’t keep pens in stock, especially the ones with glitter and rhinestones. I also had to order 200 drums of purple ink.”
Cell execs, desperate to revive their traffic, are gathering Oscar-quality gift baskets for Paris and Lindsay. Celebrity “expert consultants” promise both young “women” fall into the Low Talent, No Shame, Open Checkbook school of modern celebrity. Market watchers expect cell and texting traffic to rebound during the next celebrity “news” crises.
Last week’s arrest in Hungary of a staffer for Senator Hillary Clinton has exposed severe privacy violations by VoIP provider Skype as well as the US National Security Agency. This according to accusations by the Hungarian police and the European Union.
The suspect, who recently left the US National Security Agency to join Clinton’s Presidential campaign, was arrested on an unrelated charge. An examination of the suspect’s briefcase revealed transcripts of a conversation between Laszlo Bene, the head of the Hungarian police, and Stefan Feller, head of the police in Brussels. According to Hungarian police, the suspect confessed that he had eavesdropped on the conversation — not by using a “bug,” but by turning on a microphone on the desk of Bene’s computer. Hungarian police refused to answer questions about the suspect’s identify or the staffer’s position within the Clinton Presidential campaign. Police in Brussels, sensitive to a series of recent police scandals, issued only a brief statement that they were investigating a possible privacy violation.
Sources in the Hungarian police department revealed that the background traffic associated with running Skype on a personal computer provides an ideal method to hide the transfer of data from an individual’s computer without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Skype can “turn on a computer’s microphone on command,” said a highly-placed source, “and no one will be the wiser.” The data are routed to servers that use speech recognition to look for suspicious phrases. Furthermore, algorithms can use the sound of keyclicks to guess at which keys are being struck, which allows anyone listening to determine now only what is being said but what is being typed.
The European Commission has opened an investigation. “The suspect worked at the US National Security Agency, where he learned of an agreement between Skype and Echelon to enable a ’spy’ mode on all Skype products,” said Alain Brun, head of data protection at the European Commission. “He used that capability to commit a serious crime. Skype is a European company, not an American one, and we intend to investigate their potential culpability in this matter very thoroughly.”
Financial analysts believe that a Skype-NSA could explain Skype’s business model. “Outside payments by government agencies would explain how Skype can hope to make a profit,” said an anonymous source at Dean Witter. “Otherwise the purchase of Skype by eBay still doesn’t make sense.”
Skype could not be reached for comment. The Clinton campaign announced that Senator Clinton would make a statement at a press conference later today.
…Today, my erstwhile colleagues at Orange UK are planning to add to their range of ‘animal tariffs‘ with a new range of ‘all-you-can-eat’ plans…
Following in the footsteps of Dolphin, Canary, Racoon and Panther, are the new appropriate omnivorous/all-you-can-eat Shark, T-Rex, Hog and Nibbler.
Find out more here…