US Telco's Following European Operators' Lead with Mobile Broadband TV

Seriously, I don't know what the huffing and puffing is all about when it comes to mobile broadband TV in the media. The European's have had tv over mobile broadband for years. What's more, the consolidated delivery of fixed line phone, broadband, tv and mobile with the same features has been happening across the EU is nothing new. 

This is all a reverse replay of landline cord-cutting and really is designed to keep the customer from leaving. In essence this is all a customer lock-in play. In that scenario the stats made us all think that the cord cutters were going mobile, so everyone thought mobile was the only winner, when really it was the VoIP providers who were sharing in the movement away from the landline telcos.

The cable guys learned that lesson back in the heyday of VoIP, and now, they are doing the same thing with video.  That's also why I'm not surprised. In the words of my 9th grade world history teacher, Royal Black, "history always repeats." He was right.

To me it's also no surprise what AT&T is doing what its doing with Direct TV. It needed DirectTV to get more networks, as it previously had some agreements with some networks dating back to their AT&T enhanced DSL service, U-Verse. For T-Mobile, the acquisition of Layer3 gave them a missing piece for triple play arsenal leaving Verizon stumbling around with their V90 product. But one could say that Verizon is intentionally punting video, while wholesaling their network to the leading cable providers like Comcast and Charter whose new services Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile (due out any day) provide mobile cable service. (Note I"m actually thinking of switching to Comcast from Verizon, if for not other reason than I'll save $40 a month)....

That's why having lived in Europe in 2015 and realized how pervasive the quad-play is over there, and likely in Asia too, seeing the noise around the mobile TV play is so hum hum to me. It's logical, and with 5G coming, the mobile operators need a revenue stream to go to Wall Street and the banks to finance that build out. That's one reason why Verizon is wholesaling their network, and why you're also seeing more, not less, MVNO's hitting the market. 

Here again, all you need to do is look at Europe where MVNO's proliferate. And with that proliferation, comes more money on the wholesale side, just like the Verizon deals with the cable companies. By wholesaling off network capacity, the mobile operators reduce their marketing and customer service expenses.

Let's face it, connectivity to the wireless network is a pretty mature concept. An iPhone or Android that connects to Verizon's network will still connect if it's being managed by Xfinity or Spectrum, with the only difference being who bills the customer. In exchange for a wholesale price, the cable company, which already has billing, back office and customer support in place takes on that role, and makes less money per customer but extends its share of wallet and share of eyeballs.

This type of thing has been going on, and on and on. Closer to home, the Canadian carriers Bell and Rogers have been doing this why all the attention, to what for many of us has been expected.....what will come next? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Decoupling-get your broadband from one provider, their mobile from another, your content from others. This is already happening with YouTubeTV, Sony's VUE, Hulu, etc.
  2. VOD Anywhere-your mobile device becomes your TV tuner-you're seeing this with ROKU and Amazon already, and more and more from Google and Apple.
  3. Independent Content Networks-Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, SNAP all start to compete for indy programming, the same way we are seeing indy music.
  4. The rise of niche channels. PROHBTD and COMPLEX are two examples of pop-culture OTT networks following the Vice model. They offer edgy, insightful and colorful content much like what MTV did. With Amazon, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook offering delivery opportunities, and likely Apple soon, cutting edge producers have more than the Big 5 (CW, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS) to shop programming to. As a matter of fact, with the open access all it takes is a social media built following. Call it democratization of distribution.
  5. More pay per view. Less advertising. More sponsorship.


Where Vonage Is Heading

Tsahi has a transcript of a really good interview with Vonage CEO Alan Masarek on his blog along with a video.

In reading the interview, it struck me that Vonage has clearly moved into the business communications market fully, following the successful integration of all of their acquisitions which included two Comunicano clients, Simple Signal and Telesphere along with the purchase of Nexmo two years ago.

Masarek's comments about microservices mimic what we hear from Dialpad's Craig Walker from his speech at IT Expo back in February. What also comes through is how consumer voice still is a significant portion of Vonage's recurring revenue base, but it seems to be being deemphasized compared to the business efforts.

Consumer VoIP was once the bastion of fierce competition with AT&T's CallVantage, Earthlink, AOL and Vonage fighting for the top spot, while other players now rolled up like Broadvoice and others wadded in like sparring partners, only to be KO'd by Vonage and big cable. Even 8x8, which carried the torch for so long with their Packet 8 monicker has pretty much moved out of consumer, leaving that to the likes of OOMA.

Two reasons..One cable with their triple play offers has made voice a commodity, making it hard for subscribers to not want what amounts to as subsidized phone service. The second reason is cord cutting. 

But, just as we have OTT television rapidly chewing into the cable companies' pockets, voice won't be able to be so subsidized and companies like Vonage and others with a consumer play offer will be in the cat bird's seat to pick off the OTT loving users who simply see the cable providers broadband pipe, as this century's "dumb pipe." And with that, there will be huge opportunity. 

Do The Blockchain Shuffle

I had to laugh in a very twisted way as I read the Wired article today entitled "The Hustlers Fueling The Cryptocurrency's Marketing Machine."

No not because in some ways with some clients past and present I could be easily cast in that lot, but more because of the similarities of what my agency, Comunicano, and I personally have done along the way in the world of Public Relations and Influencer Communications. If you Google search Andy Abramson Nokia Blogger Relations well, it all sort of comes back like Deja Vu to me.

In VoIP, mobile and collaboration boom times, I was "that guy". I was the promoter, the hype-master, the growth hacker. Our client list was legendary, and started with a company, Comgates, even before I blogged. We then added Popular Telephony and quickly after that a major VoIP platform that got widely noticed. Then came Nokia and it all exploded. There was also iotum, PhoneGnome, TalkPlus, GrandCentral, SightSpeed, HiDef Conferencing, Covad, Truphone and the list went on and on as to our client list and successes.

But the Nokia Blogger Relations program was the one that set the stage, not only for the agency and I, but for the whole influencer relations world. It was also the platform that paved the way for so many exits, something that now stands at 46, and why today I call Comunicano, a Value Creation Communications Agency.

A few years ago, I was doing an agency search for a long standing client, Truphone in Australia. One of the agency owners replied to my RFI, asking if I was the same Andy Abramson who had created "The Nokia Blogger Program" to which I replied "yes." His comment back was "that's the seminal program of all influencer relations." He may have been right, for I did create the program from scratch during a chat session with Martin Geddes who was then consulting to Nokia and one morning asked me by Skype chat how would you approach blogger for Nokia. That led to a call with a Nokia exec, and a day later a contract. It was that simple.

But unlike so much of the so called influencer relations programs that are out there today, we did our's with total transparency, and the people who also blogged about our clients, knew who we were working for, and because of our transparency, we kept winning clients, and the respect of the bloggers and eventually also the mainstream media.

So to read all about this today, brought back both memories and sadness. The reason blogger relations, or as it became known as "Influencer Relations" succeeded was due to the both the opportunity and challenge that bloggers posed to the then in death spiral members of traditional media, especially with print. Back then, real journalists had turned to blogging like pal Om Malik, as an extension of their interests in the time of a declining print media. It delivered an audience. Many others followed, and even Walt Mossberg, perhaps the most influential of product reviewers who ever lived due to his column being in the Wall Street Journal, eventually turned to the blog approach with ReCode.   Today, the bigger challenge is not guessing which media is pay for play, as little was back then, but what is NOT Pay for Play....(read the book Hitmen...all about the music industry, and you'll see nothing has really but the playing field.)

The approach of influencer relations was nothing new. Heck, my Nokia Program was a modern day reviewers program, all dressed up like an iPhone given as a present. Blogger Oliver Starr once called it "Christmas like" in the way we delivered the Nokia phones and all that came with it. So the "what's in the box" approach, all coupled with a now defunct web site for Nokia and a steady stream of activities is what made this today, as I see what's going on, I think it's time to change the game again...and at the same time make what's old, somewhat new again.

In blockchain and crypto, the shams, hype and false heat that is viewed today as PR, marketing, growth hacking, etc. will continue, but the same regulations that apply to advertising, promotion and media will rule the day. When we first launched the Nokia Blogger Relations program the concept of transparency and FTC guidelines didn't exist. But we never  asked any blogger to write and not say we supplied them with the phones. Quite the opposite, they were proud to be part of an elite group of 100 or so who over 5 years ever received a phone. And to prevent them from thinking it was "their phone" we even supplied a return FedEx receipt, and even held a "no phone without a home" return program (I think I still have some of the phones in a storage locker.)

The bottom line is just as the SEC and other regulatory bodies will regulate blockchain based currency and trading one day soon, the marketing of those services and currencies will come under the laws of where the company issuing the currency or using the blockchain is based. The ethical, honest and trusted will quickly agree to those regulations, but the scammers, well they'll be the one who scream the loudest, using their own tools to try to sway public opinion.

I'm all for influencer relations, the blockchain and cryptocurrency. I just want to be the one who does it right and honestly.

The Traditional Phone Call is Dead

Like many, I've been a Skype user forever. I also use WhatsApp, Facebook's Messenger and a host of other "calling apps." Many of my calls are scheduled, so it's UberConference or Zoom and sometimes GoToMeeting or WebEx. For some "personal" calls its a combination of Apple's FaceTime and Google's Hangouts. And as far as the idea of "dialing" a number, that's rare air territory, as I click someone's name, a number listed in an email or on a website or something found in a Google Maps listing. So, when I say the traditional phone call is dead, it really is.

Back in the day we dialed, or punched digits. The smartphone, with its integrated contact directory meant we no longer needed to "remember" someone's phone number. Then with click to call, we didn't even need to dial. The web did it for us. With WebRTC calls are being made right inside the browser or mobile app, and we really don't know (or care) if the call goes over WiFi, LTE or dials out over the carriers network. Yes, the traditional phone call is dead, we just don't know that.

Where I see all this going is someplace very much just around the corner. Already we can make calls via the Amazon Echo, and using tons of applications on our smartphones and tablets. With voice activation, imagine compiling your order with say, Amazon owned Whole Foods, and then wanting to talk to the butcher at your local store to custom order some burgers made with a bit of lamb, some pork, but mostly sirloin. You put your order in, schedule it for pick up, ask to talk to the butcher and add the special order to your digital one, and then go pick it up, or have it delivered. 

Let's go one step farther. You're doctor prescribes a medication for your upset tummy. The local pharmacy can send it over via Postmates, but you have questions on drug interactions. Inside the pharmacy app is a voice connection, you navigate through the IVR to get some help, and either a live pharmacy assistant or an AI powered voice bot provides information and answers questions.

The key to both these scenarios is the "call" goes through the app, and all the data associated with the call does too. At the end of each call, the voice AI provides you a summary. In the case of the pharmacy call, the interactions and proper usage instructions are dropped inside your in app inbox. If you want, you can, by voice, send them to your doctor or to a family member or caregiver. For people who take care of their parents or have a nanny taking care of their kids, the information helps avoid mistakes, but more importantly, if everyone has the app installed, the caregiver can call back in, and pick the language they want to hear the instructions in further avoiding complications.

In all of these scenarios, it's the App that makes the call.  

Oh, and for those who still think calling their friends happens the same way as always..think again. How many times do you text and touch to call them. Once your friends have their own "calling" service, that call will be like the old days of Burger King. You'll have it your way. 

Microsoft Moves More into Conversational AI

Last week when 8x8 made an acquisition I remarked that there would be more. A day later Dialpad announced their purchase. Today, it's Microsoft's turn with the purchase of Semantic Machines.

It's easy to speculate why its become a BUY vs. BUILD game surrounding AI. The smart money on the BUY side recognizes that there have been teams working on AI in many different discreet niches, and in turn those teams have developed massive understanding of those specific spaces. That knowledge and specificity is known as domain experience, so while 8x8's move is surrounding contact centers, and Dialpad's is around better understanding of the voice conversation in real time, Microsoft move is about the entire range of conversations (voice, video, text, bots)  between man and machine across the board in including ML (Machine Learning), NLP (natural language processing) and likely NN (neural networks).

My view is that AI will only get more entrenched in business and technology, and the buying of what imaginative minds create won't be stopping any time soon. But it's not the buying or building that matters. It's the implementation and adoption that does, for selling in is one thing, but selling through is where it counts.

SNARKY NOTE: Perhaps Microsoft will outsource the thinking behind Skype to AI, as pal Om Malik's quip from last week entitled "Skype Interrupted" and the related Bloomberg article, leads one to realize that the humans behind Skype sure aren't thinking.



Dialpad Adds Voice AI via TalkIQ Acquisition

Today Dialpad announced the acquisition of  TalkIQ. Just like yesterday's 8x8 AI acquisition this underscores my belief that VoiceAI will be as ubiquitous as collaboration. That means if you're a telco and you're not moving down the AI path and you offer functions like IVR, Voice recording, contact center or conferencing, not to mention regular calling you will be nothing more than PSTN 1.0, not VoIP 3.0.

AI brings lots of new features to telcos, and as I also implied yesterday, Cloud+AI+Fast Network means smarter, faster and cheaper interaction. But all that said, there is the requisite need for human intelligence and that's where neural networks will come into play. Adding a neural brings the ability to learn from a human, and then act like them. For contact centers, as the AI learns what to do right in each situation, the ability to get things done flattens.

The announcement by Dialpad, in which I hold shares, is the first stroke in the direction of where AI helps the entire calling process. More will likely come from this over time, as the service enters beta today, with scheduled launch for later this year.

8x8 Makes an AI Acquisition

Today long time VoIP pioneer 8x8 (the company formerly known as Packet8) made another in their ongoing acquisitions to bolster feature set, capabilities and likely to acquire more talent. They purchased MarianaIQ (MIQ) a company which has been around since 2013 in the AI space.

AI is the next battleground in telecom, and just like collaboration was to conferencing, AI will be the next rung on the ladder when contact centers, conference calls and even real-time one on one calls are being enhanced. With AI you get all types of use of the conversation that goes well beyond machine learning and natural language processing (NLP). AI in the call path will also supplant and surpass the concept of rules based responses. This replacement and advancement will occur when AI based smart IVR's come into play, and where they learn, can be corrected or confirmed by humans, and then based on what is the right answer or action, replicate that over and over again. And that's where the money is, or in reality the savings and that will involve big data, NLP, ML and Neural networks all combined to deliver a richer, smarter and more precise outcome.

AI,  Cloud and gigabit networks also go together, as the speed in which the computations can be done in the cloud and delivered to any device are essential soulmates in the delivery of the data back to the person on the other end. This is where necessary human oversight, by experienced staff comes into play at the very start.

I personally expect to see many other acquisitions and partnerships with AI companies formed by telcos and communications service providers, especially in the UCaaS and Collaboration space as the needed integration can't just be part of the interop like in the old days of VoIP but needs to be woven into the fabric of the business.

8x8, like the other telcos who will follow on quickly with this type of acquisition, will benefit by weaving the AI technology into the core of their platforms. It will be those who innovate swiftly and deliver a superior grade of service, not just features, but actual benefits to their customers and their customers' customers in turn, who win the race.


My Time Has Come: I'm Being Inducted Into The AAHA Hockey Hall of Fame

Tomorrow something very special is happening to. I'm being inducted into the AAHA's Hall of Fame. I'm already the youngest ever Director Emeritus since 1988 and now will become the youngest ever Hall of Fame inductee....but given how early I started, well, this should be no surprise.
Thirty years ago I "retired" from the Philadelphia Flyers after almost 13 years of running what was first known as Hockey Central for the Philadelphia Flyers, and what later became the Flyers Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs. As I look back so much was done in the 12 1/2 years of my time in the AAHA and with the Flyers that it seems like what many hope to accomplish in their lifetime.
Some background
Hockey Central was the brainchild of Aaron Siegel, Ken Gesner and Jim Shute, and I was hired in 1976 along with my very first mentor, Sy "The Wiley Old Veteran" Roseman, someone Larry Lloyd had the great fortune to see in action...he was the best. What I learned from Sy, Aaron, Ken and the late John Gardner during my days in Philadelphia set the BAR high in every walk of life. While Sy may go down as the best mentor, Ed Tepper hired me at age 14 so he gets the credit, while Aaron was the person who molded me, while Ken gets the credit for schooling me all those years. John is who transformed to all THANK YOU for tomorrow's honor never would have come without any of you shaping me and guiding me.
Given I started in my senior year of HIGH SCHOOL as I look back I am a bit in awe of my own accomplishments before I even graduated college.
Here are just a few of my accomplishments from that era:
Tied for first -Employee of Hockey Central as Communications Officer (1976) age 17
Hockey Central was the model, the archetype of a professional sports team getting involved with their "community." We started as a media dissemination organization, but quickly evolved into the hub of all things amateur hockey in the Delaware Valley as I expanded the focus into community events, youth hockey clinics, promotional programs, public affairs, broadcasting and eventually large scale spectator events.
Placing the First Hockey Player ever to be named Athlete of the Week in Philadelphia Inquirer (1977)-Gump Whiteside (age 17)
Co-Publisher of the College Hockey Guide (1977) age 18
Helped launch expanded Coaching Achievement Program (1977) age 18 with 400 person coaching clinic with Flyers Coaches Fred Shero, Barry Ashbee and Mike Nykoluk
Named as the second ever Executive Director of Hockey Central (1978) age 18
Color Commentator of Suburban High School Hockey on WBUX (1978-1980) age 19-21)
Starting The Pepsi Shootout TV Series (1979) age 19/20
Named Commissioner Mid Atlantic Womens' Hockey League (1977)
Named Commissioner Delaware Valley Hockey League (1978) age 19
Creating the Philadelphia Inquirer Hockey Top Ten Poll with High School Sports Editor, Don McKee (winter of 1978/79) age 19
Published Delaware Valley Ice Rink, Youth Hockey and Officiating Guides (1979) age 20
Established first Flyers Sponsored On Ice Official Clinic (1979) age 20 with Vin Godleski, John Shetzline, Mike Condon, Brad Murphy
Placing Scott Chamness in Sports Illustrated's Faces in The Crowd-first Philadelphia area hockey player ever to receive national recognition. (1979) age 20
Named USA Hockey Registrar (1980) age 20
Launched The Flyers Cup High School Hockey Championship (1980) age 20
Placed Scott Chamness to be Named HighSchool Athlete of the Year by Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Magazine (1980) age 20
Named Chief Counselor USA Hockey Midget Development Camp 1981 (age 21) taking Mike Richter went on to play in the Olympics and with New York Rangers (NHL) repeated in 1982
Launched High School and Youth Hockey at the Spectrum (1981) age 22
Co-founder Pennsylvania Cup High School Hockey Championship (1981)
Led effort along with Frank Black to put hockey into the Keystone State Games (1982) age 23
Launched Mites on Ice at Flyers Game (1982) age 23
Restructured and expanded Flyers Youth Hockey Clinic Program (1983) age 24 with help from many players
Named Office Manager, Philadelphia Flyers, 1984 (age 25)
Produced Bobby Clarke's retirement night (November 15 1984) Age 25
Created Flyers Learned to Skate Program at City of Philadelphia Ice Rinks with Jay Snider. First sponsorship was Medford Meats at Cobbs Creek Ice Rink (1984) Age 25
Named President, Hockey Central, (1985) by Jay Snider Age 26
Staged sold out Celebrity All Star Hockey Challenge vs. Flyers Alumni including return of Bobby Clarke February 1988) age 28 raising over $200,000 for youth hockey programs.
General Manager Celebrity All Star Hockey Team 1989-1998 raising 6 million dollars for charity across North America with the leadership and support of many great people starting with Tony Loiacono, Jerry Houser. John Perry and more.
Thank you all who served, played, managed or officiated as you all made this happen....including Jim Doyle, Pat D'Puzzo, Vin Godleski, Joan Schofield, Paul Saylor, Max Putter, Don Anderson, Jim Plunkett, Bruce Craig, Joe Moderski, Andy Richards, Jim Cunningham, Ken Reddy, Iris Jewel, Bob Gastwirth, Albert Natelli, Mike Fore, Tommy Capaccio, The Murph, Barbara Cornwell, Linda Sorens, Elenor Seeds, Delores McDermott, Donn Patton, Rob Grossman, Carl Hirch, Ed Golden, Tom Gorence, Joe and Jim Watson and my idol Bobby Clarke...

It All Relevant

A few days ago I wrote about the changes with Google search algorithm. The folks at Revvim have now come forward with a new video series called Workshop Wednesday, designed to help digital marketers uncover and better understand the challenges their facing.

In this week's video Matt LeBaron goes into detail about the importance of relevance and how to set up  web pages so they maintain their authority and page ranking, and not get lost in the listings.

Give it a watch....and learn.

No Surprise Mitel Gets Acquired

A private equity firm, Searchlight, is buying Mitel for 2 Billion dollars reports TechCrunch. This is no surprise but clearly the buy of Shoretel helped as the cloud focus of Shortel is the direction where things are heading, while Mitel has a large list of legacy telco customers.

It's an interesting buyout by a PE firm that has already taken out Rackspace and has a melange of holdings in tech and telecom.

When a PE firm buys a company they look to see profits be maintained and grow. That means a few things to me. Programs get cut to make sure margins are always maintained. Sooner or later people transition out, are laid off, offered incentives to leave so new, less expensive talent can be brought in. Lastly, projects to advance technology either happen or get killed off. As long as the numbers hit their projections everyone is fine. But miss the mark, and it's curtains for many, and those projects just languish.

Beyond that, paying a 25% premium for a company largely built on the past, with customers who are old school more than new school leaves a lot of room to keep making their numbers, so in that way it's a safe bet, but it's not a service provider for a post iPhone era startup or business to be looking towards for their phone service.