Archive for February, 2009

I-Feature: Nuanced speech and building a cross-industry app

Two new items have been posted on the Interactive Feature page, which this month focuses on the future of wireless. The first is a podcast with Nuance Communication’s chief scientist Vlad Sejnoha about the possibility of speech being used not just as a primary means of interfacing with the device but as a much more intuitive interface. The second is a news story from Mobile World Congress on Alcatel-Lucent’s new NG Connect program.

Though neither item would appear obviously related to the network of the future–at least not as obviously as our first piece detailing Ericsson CTO HÃ¥kan Eriksson’s reimagined wireless topology–I think both offer an interesting perspective on how we will develop and interact with applications in the future. NG Connect is an intiative of the present, but it’s one that clearly focuses on the problems of developing the next generation of applications. Today we face a crisis of integration: We have all of the building blocks in place necessary to wirelessly connect cars, to remotely link doctors to hospitals or create self-updating digital advertising networks, yet those sorts of applications don’t readily exist today. As Alcatel-Lucent vice president of emerging technology Derek Kuhn explains it, the wireless industry has always worked separately from the industries it intends to connect. The building blocks may have been in place, but only in a few case have the industries that own the individual pieces put them together in a substantive way. NG Connect is an initial attempt to rectify that problem by pairing telecom vendors up with their counterparts in other industries.

Speech recognition is one technology that has been integrated with wireless for some time, but according to Vlad Sejnoha we’re just seeing the beginning. As speech interface algorthms and the artificial intelligence behind them grow more powerful, so grows the need to develop alternative ways to interface with the device. Nuance isn’t just developing better speech recognition, though, it’s tackling the problem of context and intuition. Sejnoha believes that we won’t just be verbalizing commands that would normally be typed or clicked on a screen; rather we’ll merely be conversing with our phones. more

Why $5 phone service is a good idea

Verizon is considering a $5 phone line option for its broadband customers — that’s a very smart idea and here’s why.  The most important thing a telecom service provider can do right now is maintain its relationship to the broadest base of its customers. At one time, the home phone line was the primary tie between a telecom company and its consumers, but we all know this is no longer the case. Increasingly, the broadband connection is the primary tie, in addition to, for some consumers, a video offering sold either directly by a telco or through a partnership with the satellite company.

Telecom service providers who remain inflexible in their voice service pricing are practically inviting consumers to cut the cord — especially in hard times — and to explore cable options, which often include a cheaper VoIP-based voice option. Once that consumer has moved to a cable bundle, it is much more expensive to try to win them back.

By offering flexible and very reasonable pricing for a landline service, any telecom service provider gives consumers a solid option to maintain a landline, for safety and security reasons if nothing else. A landline phone will operate when commercial power goes out and is a secure way to contact 911 in an emergency and know for certain your location will be known to the operator.  Cable VoIP service has a battery backup and, as many Houstonians learned during Hurricane Ike last summer, batteries will run out during prolonged power outages. At $5 a month, the landline is an insurance policy.  And since many consumers use their wireless phones, with free long-distance, to place any call that isn’t local, a cheap voice service could truly be a cheap voice service.

Telecom service providers have shown their flexibility in the past, most recently by bundling wireless service and broadband, giving cord-cutters a reason to stay with their telco, and not jump completely to cable. As times get tough, it is important to remain open, and to creatively explore consumer-friendly options, and that is what Verizon is doing here.

One additional note, however. Depending on how that $5 phone service is offered, marketing it as a security blanket when commercial power fails won’t work if this lifeline service is based on a fiber-to-the-home network and consumers are well-prepared with battery backups. This remains an issue the telecom industry needs to address.

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Boost Mobile’s no BS policy

Although it officially launched its $50 Unlimited service plan with no hidden charges last month, Boost Mobile is kicking off a new marketing campaign and brand new image this week. Once known for its irreverent, out-there commercials targeting young, hip wireless users, Boost is now going after an increasingly large group of consumers who feel wronged by their wireless provider and are suspicious of offerings that seem too good to be true. With a lineup of commercials showing some awkwardly wrong situations (pigs eating ham, a coroner dropping a burrito in his subject, excessive armpit hair – you get the idea), Boost wants to show that wrong as it may seem, it’s not worse than wireless operators hiding cumbersome charges in their so-called unlimited plans. Boost’s new offering boasts no hidden charges – no telecom taxes, overage or roaming charges and no activation fees. more

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MWC: Write your own Windows Mobile punchline

The first quote I’ve seen to emerge from the Mobile World Congress this week as an unmistakable setup for a joke is this one from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

“The time has come for us to take the full Windows experience to mobile phones.”

Anyone want to take a crack at the punchline? Leave a comment below.

Who’s the ding-dong now, Verizon? My Circle stays.

In a message to employees, Verizon Wireless eased the mind of Alltel subscribers, announcing it will let them keep their My Circle calling plans and will even extend the social-networking inspired plans to its subscriber base. (And they won’t get rid of the fun-loving Chad yet either, although I imagine the red-shirted Verizon dweeb might have to go.) more

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Introducing the Telephony Interactive Feature

Today we’re introducing a new concept on TelephonyOnline.com: The interactive feature. We are going to be asking you, our readers, to participate in the research we are conducting for major upcoming Web and print stories. We want to get your input, and in many cases, to make that input a central element our feature coverage.

We’re very proud of our feature coverage — Telephony is one of the few publications in an increasingly online world that can devote the space in print to explore topics in depth. But we also want to use our online resources to publish information in a timely fashion, and find out what you want or need to read. Today’s print cover features are both the beginning and the culmination of our coverage on a topic—many weeks of interviews, research and exploration summed up in a 2000-to-5000 word piece. And then it’s onto the next feature. more

The delay on the DTV delay

In case you were wondering why Barack Obama has been so slow to sign into law the DTV transition delay bill, which he’s been so avidly in favor of, you can find the answer on the White House blog. President Obama has instituted a new policy in which the White House posts non-emergency legislation online for public review before he signs it.

According to the blog, Obama wants to give each bill five days of sunlight before he puts pen to paper. In the case of the DTV Delay Act of 2009, the Senate passed the final bill at the end of the day on Feb. 4. Assuming he gives a full five days, the President should be set to sign either tonight or tomorrow.

Telepresence draws investor $$$$ also

How hot is telepresence? Well, in a tight capital market, Teliris was able to get $11 million in new equty capital from its earlier investors, Fidelity Ventures and Columbia Capital, and a new investor.

Teliris is competing with Cisco and its service provider partners including AT&T and BT in the red-hot telepresence space as well as Polycom, Tandberg, LifeSize and others. The big play for Teliris, which is billing itself as the market leader, is its ability to interoperate with other telepresence equipment.

Teliris is also the kind of company that incumbent service providers have to fear in the managed services world - a tightly focused player in a solid niche with a strong base of enterprise customers.

Man bites dog:AT&T customer service leaves me smiling

It’s sure easy to pick on customer service reps. Sometimes they make it impossible not to — listen to this audio of Verizon reps repeatedly misunderstanding a customer — and we’ve all had our moments when we wanted to reach through the phone and strangle someone.

So I think it’s note-worthy to mention that the last two times I called AT&T, I got what I considered exceptional service. For one thing, each pereson I talked to was based in the U.S., which makes sense given what AT&T is saying about bringing jobs home in a tough economy. But more importantly, each CSR immediately understood my problem and addressed it.

The first time around, I was trying to see if I trim my phone bill, on the advice of Alan Weinkrantz, who’d discovered AT&T would lower his U-verse bill significantly just because he asked them to. In my case, I was trying to cut the cost of voice service. The CSR offered me a new bundle with voice service that was $20 a month cheaper,  but with a faster Internet offering for $5 more. The tradeoff seemed worth it, she set it up and I was done.

After two weeks at the faster service, my husband noticed, however, that we weren’t actually getting anything like the 6 Megabits per second for which we were paying. I called again, got another bright CSR who apologized and offered me two options: work with a tech to see if we could get the 6 Meg service or change my bill. I opted for the lower bill.

At this point, I have to admit two small frustrations: First, I only took the faster Internet service because the first CSR told me I had to, in order to get cheaper phone service.  Second, changing my Internet service required me to be transferred to another CSR who handles Internet service connections.

But that Internet services CSR made up for my frustration by offering me a $10 bill credit, so I was a happy camper.

I realize this is not an earth-shaking story or event, but I think it is probably reflective of what many consumers experience when they call customer support.  Those consumers don’t log on to broadbandreports.com to complain or post YouTube videos or audios, or set up entire Web sites to denigrate their service providers.

T-Mobile: Caught in the middle

Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett is predicting that T-Mobile may soon suffer the same fate as Sprint: seeing its subscriber growth siphoned off by mega-carriers Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility. T-Mobile’s Q4 subscriber numbers last week weren’t  encouraging, and Moffett isn’t exactly expecting a big turnaround any time soon. According to Moffett, T-Mobile, like Sprint, is now suffering from the problems of middle:

“Recent reports from the major wireless providers in the U.S. make clear two trends: First, industry-wide subscriber growth is slowing sharply, a consequence of secular pressures from approaching saturation, and cyclical stresses from a weakening economy. Second, the market is bifurcating, with what growth remains increasingly concentrated at the high end and the low end. The middle is being hollowed out. Sprint and now, increasingly, T-Mobile USA as well–the two players who collectively define the middle market–look particularly disadvantaged. Weak Fourth Quarter results already reported by T-Mobile USA suggest that trends there are already deteriorating. We believe T-Mobile could soon join Sprint as a “share donor” to the both the high and low ends of the market.” more

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