Trends in communications are exciting to watch, and the most significant trends today, according to Grant Kirkwood, chief technology officer with PacketExchange Ltd., include cloud-based services and infrastructure. Kirkwood recently took part in a TMCnet interview with CEO Rich Tehrani in anticipation of the upcoming ITEXPO West 2010 event.
As for the one product or service the market is in most need of, Kirkwood believes it is a replacement for the PSTN. When asked when Unified Communications will go mainstream, Kirkwood was quick to note this question must be defined before it can be answered. The anticipated winner in the smartphone and tablet wars is Google’s Android, according to Kirkwood.
He also believes that social media helps to spread the word about PacketExchange and that widespread HD voice will not happen in 2011. When asked about the viability of mobile video chat and conferencing, Kirkwood anticipates it will be very successful in the social sense. The wireless operating system is sure to be the Android and wireless is just too convenient to not eventually replace wired environments. The growth of cloud-based services has tremendously impacted PacketExchange business and Kirkwood believes that while net neutrality is a good thing in theory, it is an environment of regulation that drives innovation.
As for the most over-hyped technology, Kirkwood points to cloud computing. His session at ITEXPO West 2010 will cover the state of VoIP peering. Attendees are expected to take away an understanding of the critical elements for voice communications and VoIP peering. As for his bold technology prediction for 2011, Kirkwood takes it to a whole new level with a prediction that the Internet will collapse, mobile phone networks will cease to function and Microsoft, Google and Apple will go bankrupt – what a dismal future.
The entire conversation follows:
What is the most significant trend in communications today? Why?
Cloud-based services and infrastructure. Demand for data and communications services is growing at an ever-increasing rate, and revenue from that demand is not growing at a proportional rate. This means that in order to maintain profit margin, service providers must take advantage of the ability to realize better economies of scale. Cloud computing and cloud-based telecom services are the primary means to obtain a lower cost basis for offering these services. In addition, cloud-based telecom services are a driver towards unified communications. By operating services from a unified cloud-based environment, enabling connectivity between discreet services becomes easier. Users then have a single infrastructure to interact with, making the promise of unified communications a possibility.
This trend is one of the reasons that PacketExchange is focused on creating a higher quality of service in the global Ethernet transport space. Real-time communications are inherently more sensitive to network quality metrics such as packet loss, latency and jitter.
What is the one product or service the market is most in need of?
A replacement for the PSTN.
When will unified communications go mainstream?
There are a lot of ways to define unified communications and what mainstream really means. In many respects, this convergence is well underway in many places – visual voicemail, speech-to-text, offline forwarding and many of the technologies that we use independently are all forms of unified communications, albeit not in a unified place or platform. Each communications vendor has taken (or is taking) steps to integrate their particular flavor of unification within their particular application or platform. For example, Skype allows for integration of voice/video calls with email and SMS text messaging, as well as “presence” information. But Skype is a single-application silo, as are the many other numerous communications vehicles. For unified communications to really become mainstream, a single, common, unified set of protocols, standards and platform must exist and be supported by all vendors. Only very recently (May 2010) was the first organization formed (UCIF – Unified Communications Interop Forum) to help bridge the gaps between different vendors’ technologies.
Who will win the smartphone wars? Tablet wars?
Google Android. Perhaps this would’ve been a bolder prediction a year ago, but I been saying this for a while now: Palm is basically dead. Blackberry’s supposed iPhone killer “Torch” appears to have left most underwhelmed. That leaves Google Android and Apple iPhone. Between the two, while the iPhone may have a larger market share currently, and might be the more “chic” of the two platforms today, the rate of growth (users and developers) on Android far exceeds that of the iPhone/iOS. There are numerous reasons for this: wider distribution base, greater number of manufacturers, greater number of carriers, ease of app acceptance and the openness of the platform to developers. Apple has a long history of creating a game-changing technology (or rather, perfecting a game-changing technology that was spawned elsewhere), making it adoptable by the masses by making it “easy to use” (generally by keeping it a closed platform), then failing to adapt to competitors who make an “almost as good” alternative. This happened with Microsoft Windows and to date there is no evidence to indicate a different strategy with the iPhone. The very advantage that enables the iPhone to have such wide adoption (a tightly-controlled environment with a closed app acceptance policy, along with a framework that discourages pushing the limits of the platform) will be its downfall. Developers are already flocking to Android away from iPhone and will continue to do so.
Tablet wars? I don’t think there even IS a war in this space yet. Competition yes, but until a ubiquitous “killer app” exists for the platform that makes it a necessity, there’s not going to be a “war” for the space like there is in the smartphone arena.
Has social media changed how you communicate with customers?
Customer communication continues to be largely direct. Social media helps to spread the word about PacketExchange to new prospects and industry observers.
Nearly every phone manufacturer is now incorporating support for wideband codecs. Will we finally see widespread HD voice deployments in 2011?
“Widespread” would imply consumer and other end-user adoption – in which case I think the answer is no. There’s no driver behind this, and all the data indicates that the trend is AWAY from traditional voice telephone calls all together. People are becoming more and more reliant upon things like instant messaging and email. According to Nielson, the number of phone calls people make has been dropping every year since 2007 (which was incidentally the peak). The same data shows that the average length of our phone calls has been cut in half. A phone call is “cognitively expensive” – that is, it requires full attention, at the moment the call is received. Text/chat/email/etc. are less expensive, in that they can be responded to at the recipient’s convenience. At the same time, freely-available technologies like Skype are eliminating the need for deployment of handset-based HD voice protocols anyway.
What are your thoughts on the viability of mobile video chat or conferencing?
I think it’s a novelty that has the potential to be very successful, if only for the social aspect. As I said above the trend is away from real-time voice communications to less-invasive, less “cognitively expensive” forms of communication, but yet the personal face-to-face “human connection” that video chat brings is desirable.
Which wireless operating system (Android, iOS4, Microsoft, etc) will see the greatest success over the next three years? Why?
A brief history lesson…
Apple creates an amazing new product that revolutionizes the industry. Users and software developers love it. Apple controls every bit of the product in order to maintain ease of use or quality instead of opening up the platform. Users begin to get frustrated and look for ways around the limitations. A poor imitation appears, but one that is open to developers and manufacturers. Users and developers love it. The platform grows much bigger due to its open nature, despite being arguably inferior. The imitator takes over the market and gradually improves the product to the point where they are equal or perhaps even superior. Imitator wins. Sound familiar?
Some have suggested wireless networking will soon replace wired networks in the enterprise. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Wires are inconvenient. Wireless may not replace inter-office or campus backbone links in the foreseeable future but certainly from an end-user support perspective, wireless is just too convenient to NOT replace a lot of wired network infrastructure.
What impact has the growth of cloud-based services had on your business?
Our core product eXpress consists of a wide-area layer 2 VPLS instance. We’ve been operating this as a peering exchange for nearly 10 years. As cloud services have become more ubiquitous, we’ve begun to see an evolution of this platform into an enabler of interconnections between cloud service providers. We are uniquely positioned in the marketplace, with the only global platform ideally suited for this purpose. As such we’ve seen tremendous growth in what was originally designed as a wide area peering platform.
What do you think of the net neutrality debate?
Net neutrality regulation is well-intentioned and designed to prevent the creation of varying levels of Internet “experience” for users. In principal this is a good thing. However as history tells us, an environment of regulation drives innovation away to more open pastures. Over the long-term, regulation of the Internet in the U.S. will mean that the innovators will look to other countries to provide an environment more suited to the development of emerging technologies and applications. The alternative is an Internet dominated by large content providers that can afford to pay service providers for preferential treatment, suffocating smaller content providers out of the market.
What is the most overhyped technology in your opinion?
Cloud computing. Although hugely important and the biggest current trend in the industry, it’s nothing new. It’s the current buzzword for the very thing the Internet was first developed to support and provide. The importance of this trend can’t be overstated, but I’m amused by the notion that using the network to combine computing resources is a new concept.
You are speaking at ITEXPO West 2010. What is your session about?
The state of VoIP peering.
What will attendees take away from your session?
Quality in wide area interconnections is critical for voice communications and VoIP peering. PacketExchange operates the only global layer 2 VPLS platform to enable service providers around the world to connect directly together over a private network, avoiding the problems of the public Internet.
Please make a bold technology prediction for 2011.
The Internet will collapse, mobile phone networks will cease to function, Microsoft, Google and Apple will all go bankrupt.
Aside from those obvious things…
Economics will no longer be the primary driver in service provider selection. Users of network services will begin to see the results of selecting providers on a purely economic basis as it affects the quality of services they provide to their own customers. We’ll see a shift back to service providers that focus on quality over cost.
To find out more about PacketExchange, visit the company at ITEXPO West 2010. To be held Oct. 4 to 6 in Los Angeles, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Kirkwood is speaking during “The State of VoIP Peering.” Don’t wait. Register now.