Tuesday, February 28, 2006

AOL Price Going Up....Grab Your Wallet

Leave it to AOL to screw up a good thing. Although I've always believed their dial-up service to be over hyped and over priced...things just got worse. AOL is now going to charge more for their dial-up service....so much more that it's almost as much as a decent broadband connection. The new price will be around $25.90/month. That's absolutely ridiculous for dial-up internet service.

Hmmmmmm.....see the real motive here?

AOL has like what....14 million dial-up subscribers? That number is dropping consistently too with the competition being cheaper and the increased migration toward high speed internet access.

The future of internet access is high speed and multi-media convergence. Both of which AOL is attempting to get a bigger piece of.

So....why not "encourage" your customer base to transition to that high speed internet "faster" (no pun intended).

Just charge them more for that junk you already give them....and then dangle a carrot (high speed) that costs close to the same. Ah ha.....that's the ticket.

But....this could backfire. You see AOL Doesn't have their own high speed internet product.

Read that 1 again.

AOL DOESN'T HAVE THEIR OWN HIGH SPEED INTERNET PRODUCT.

AOL broadband is actually nothing more than a reseller for providers like BellSouth, Verizon, and others.

Now....if those some 14 million AOL dial-up users were smart they wouldn't blindly follow AOL's "leading them to slaughter". Instead...they'd shop around. Go right to the source so to speak. After all....you wouldn't really be buying AOL anyway so why not see what choices you truly have.

Got ya covered there Sherlock. Here's a tool that'll search for DSL, cable, and satellite providers in your area....and compare their prices including any specials: ShopForDSL.com

Friday, February 24, 2006

ATT T1 Network = Reliability

So reliability is important to you in your search for a connection?

Duh...dumb question right. LOL

Anyway, you may want to consider an ATT T1. ATT T1 lines have one of the highest SLA of any major carrier and the service is backed by an organization that has been in telecommunications for 113 years. If you're looking for superior quality, reliability and customer service....consider buying a T1 line from ATT.

As I've mentioned in previous articles posted in this blog....reliability is critical when setting up lines that will be the lifeline of your business.

AT&T is among the world's premier voice, video and data communications companies, serving consumers, businesses and government. In 2000, AT&T had annual revenues of nearly $66 billion. Backed by the research and development capabilities of AT&T Labs, the company runs the world's largest, most sophisticated communications network, and is the largest cable operator in the U.S. The company is a leading supplier of data and Internet services for businesses and offers outsourcing, consulting and networking-integration to large businesses.

If you're convinced that ATT is a good solution for you.... but don't want to pay the price....I've found another alternative. ACC Business, a division of ATT will sell the same service over the same network for a lower price!

How is this possible?

It's much like buying a generic brand and getting the same quality as the name brand. ACC was a reseller of ATT products until they were acquired by ATT in 1996. Now ACC provides the same ATT products under their own brand at a lower cost! If you want the security of a large company and the personable service of a small company, take a look at ACC Business.

In fact...you can get a rate quote from ACC Business in just a few minutes using this website: ACC Business

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Vonnage Costs To Customers Just Went Up.....Huh Oh

My favorite VoIP provider (NOT) just shot themselves in the foot again. Seems they're getting pretty good at that. LOL I think folks ought to seriously look at switching to Packet8 while they can.

Vonnage costs more than most of the compatition AND the quality isn't any better even worse than some. Now this......

Is anybody listening??

According to some Vonage users on the independently owned Vonage Forum, they have been receiving emails from Vonage in recent days stating that Vonage plans to add additional "911 Fees and "Emergency Cost Recovery Fees."

These reports say the Emergency Cost Recovery fee will be 99 cents a month for each line of service, while the levy for regular 911 fees will vary by state.

The thread on which this report is cited is entitled "New Fee". Woo hoo.Woo, hoo hoo. - a not so subtle dig at the music used in Vonage's tv commercials. This matter obviously has grabbed the interest of Vonage users as it's garnered a ton of reply posts and the thread itself has been viewed more than 1,300 times in less than a day.

Here's the letter in question, which Vonage customers apparently started to receive last week:

====

911 Fees & Emergency 911 Cost Recovery

In order to comply with State and Federal regulations and ensure that our customers get access to emergency services, we will be adding two new fees to invoices for all residential and small business lines, fax lines and SoftPhone lines, beginning on or about February 19:

The Emergency 911 Cost Recovery fee is $0.99 for each line of service, regardless of where the customer is located. ALL customers will see this charge applied to their invoices for all residential and small business lines, fax lines and SoftPhone lines on or about February 19.

The 911 fees will vary by state, and will only apply to invoices for customers within 5 states — Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island — on or about February 19. These fees will roll-out to other states throughout 2006.

========

Not surprisingly, most thread posters are not happy about these charges. And I don't blame them. It seems that if Vonage were only to redirect a bit of the massive marketing $$$$$s they spend on tv and Internet ads to this critical infrastructure issue, they wouldn't have to think about recovering E-911 costs.

Now....haven't you heard me harp on Vonnage's extravagent marketing campaign and costs before. Are you NOW starting to get the picture???

Even Vonage Forum "Member of the Week" NateHoy posts a rather sarcastic comment on the situation:

"I think this is a "cart before the horse" problem, the same one that the local telcos had years back. The telcos started charging 911 charges in some cases YEARS before they had a 911 system up and operational, but in many cases they used (or at least claimed to use) the money to set up their 911 capabilities.

911 is a wonderful service, but it ain't cheap. The Man sez they gots to have it on every line in the US, and Vonage was unfortunate enough to be classified as a phone line meeting that requirement under FCC regs. Someone's gotta pay for all those gewgaws and doodads and das blinkenlights, and you know it ain't gonna be the FCC, and Vonage has already sunk big buckeroonies into setting this up… "

And so the compliance fees begin…

Anyone want to take bets on when Vonnage starts charging a LNP (Local Number Portability) $1 fee?

I bet every local municipality is now looking at just how much they can tack on and rake in for various "community" or "school" levies.

And as Russell Shaw of ZDNet has said before.....you are still not getting true E911. Fees or not.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Best Articles On Today's Broadband Issues....Right Here

Below are links to some very informative articles on various broadband and bandwidth related issues you should find helpful and informative. I may be a bit biased [wink] but I think they're some of the better resources available on the topics they focus on.

Feel free to share these....that's what they're for:

* Wireless.....

Building a Wireless ISP Network....The Opportunity

How Do You Become a WiFi Hotspot?

WiMAX - Broadband Wireless Access Technology....The Nitty Gritty

* VoIP......

Comparing VoIP Providers For Small Business Solutions

How To Set Up A Business VoIP System

The Straight Scoop On Business VoIP

* Evaluating Bandwidth.....

Evaluating Bandwidth Choices - ADSL vs SDSL

Evaluating Bandwidth Choices - Frame Relay vs VPN

Evaluating Bandwidth Choices-Fractional T-1 vs T1

Evaluating Bandwidth Choices-Fractional DS3 vs DS3

Evaluating Bandwidth Choices-OC3 vs OC12 vs OC48

* Bandwidth Applications......

The Basics On T1 Line Solutions For Small Business

Applications For DS3 Bandwidth

What's The Difference Between DS3 And T3 Bandwidth?

OC3, OC12 & OC48 Bandwidth-Ideal Solution For High End Users

Gigabit Ethernet Applications-Is It A Fit For Your Organization?

* Video-Conferencing and Multi-Media.........

Getting The Right Bandwidth For Your Video Conferencing Applications

Plan Ahead - Determine Your Bandwidth Requirements For Video Conferencing Early

Smart Business: How To Manage Bandwidth Requirements For Multi-Media Applications

* Supply Chain Management.......

Meeting Your Bandwidth Requirements For Supply Chain Management Applications

More On Meeting Your Bandwidth Requirements For Supply Chain Management Applications

* Medical Imaging.......

Bandwidth Requirements For Medical Imaging Systems

* Broadband Test & Measurement Tools.......

Broadband Tools To Measure System Performance And More

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Packet8 Virtual Office Small Business VoIP Solution Receives Industry Award

Hah....take THAT Vonnage!!

==========

Recently 8X8, Inc's Packet8 Virtual Office solution for small businesses received Network Computing magazine's Editor's Choice award over competitive offerings from Covad Communications and Velocity Networks.

Prompted by a recent TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) forecast predicting a decline in Centrex, key telephone systems and conventional TDM-based PBX lines through 2008, the Network Computing survey evaluated hosted IP PBX solutions for small to medium sized businesses with a focus on features, price and quality of service. The Packet8 Virtual Office solution received the highest overall rating for its rich feature set, call management tools and low subscription price.

Virtual Office is a cost-effective, easy-to-use alternative to traditional PBX systems that allows users anywhere in the world to be part of a VoIP-hosted virtual phone system that includes auto attendants, conference bridges, extension-to-extension dialing, business class voicemail and ring groups, in addition to a rich variety of other business telephone features normally found on high-end, premise based PBX systems. Virtual Office reduces an organization's telecommunications total cost of ownership (TCO) with a minimal initial investment combined with unlimited local and long distance business calling throughout the United States and Canada and Packet8's low international rates.

About 8x8, Inc.

VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service provider 8x8, Inc. offers internet-based telephony solutions for individual residential and business users as well as small to medium sized business organizations. In addition to regular Packet8 VoIP service plans, priced as low as $19.99 per month for unlimited anytime calling to the U.S. and Canada, 8x8 offers the Packet8 VideoPhone, the industry's first stand alone broadband consumer videophone with worldwide video calling for $19.99 per month. Packet8 Virtual Office, 8x8's VoIP solution for small to medium sized businesses, is a hosted PBX service comprised of powerful business class features.

....T1, DS3, OC3, OC12, & OC48 Bandwidth Available....

For anyone frantically looking for bandwidth solutions for any reason.... a special IT project, an increase in your network requirements, adding a new business location, replacing old systems, needing more cost effective solutions than what you have.....relax.

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These guys will take care of it for you.....at no cost to you.

Simply enter your detailed requirements in their webportal below & you'll automatically receive real time rate quote info via email comparing multiple providers available in the specific area you specify....neat little tool. You can do that in just a couple minutes.

Bandwidth Requirements

They'll follow that up with more detailed research and get back to you. They even negotiate on your behalf, do the paper work, monitor the provisioning and installation process, and serve as your advocate throughout your contract with whatever provider you choose. End to end solution I'd say.

If you prefer, you can call them toll free instead and discuss your specific needs live:

1-866-436-7868 Ref ID# 1182

BTW, did I mention this is a no cost service? I love free stuff. ;)

So sit back and relax. Let somebody else do the heavy lifting. You just reap the rewards.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Building a Wireless ISP Network....The Opportunity

In the US, most of the people have one or more broadband access services to choose from - variations of DSL from multiple vendors and cable. That is if you're in a metropolitan area. For more rural locations your choices are limited....if you have any at all. Therein lies an opportunity for those willing to pursue it.

In the rural areas of the country, the selection is limited. Satellite is available to anyone (at high cost), but between dial up and T1 there are no options for many residents. Satellite suffers from latency, making it unsuitable for VoIP and some other real time Internet services. Some applications that should not be sensitive to latency (email, Web forms) will perform poorly or fail due to the increased packet time.

The traditional carriers (RBOC) and resellers face a cost issue in bringing broadband service to outlying areas. Without a concentration of users the per user cost at published rates causes either a poor or negative margin. The way cost accounting is done in larger corporations makes the business case worse for a large carrier. Cost allocations between departments for such things as floor space, personnel, and backend support end up as added costs rather than leverage opportunities. Traditional wired service will not reach outlying residents unless mandated by law, and the trend is against this happening in the near future.

So the opportunity is open for a business offering Internet broadband access service to outlying residents.

Therein lies a tremendous opportunity.

Now....just how do you go about taking advantage of this opportunity, filling a need, and building a wireless ISP network?

To assist you with working through the planning and execution of this effort here are some insights and resources you should consider:

* Business Continuity Planning - This isn't the technical side of the business, the backup systems, redundant pathing, fail-over and restore, or alternate location stuff. Here you're looking at subjects such as Legal Structure, Personnel Insurance, Asset Insurance, and Process and Procedure.

* Revenue and Profit - Covers where and how to create your income including installation, basic monthly service, custom access service, volume or corporate pricing, other services, business partnerships, usage based service, civic service, and tower leasing (or you could build and probvide your own).

* Security Issues - There's much to consider in this arena. Don't overlook it.

* Bandwidth issues - The access line to your tower(s) is likely the critical factor to success. First off, it probably represents your single largest operational cost. Next, it determines the maximum quality of service you can provide.

Quotes you receive for bandwidth will probably be very different in terms of cost and performance guarantees, and should cover Performance Standards, Service Availability, Mean Time to Respond, Mean Time to Repair, Latency, Packet Loss, and Jitter. To help you search for the best match provider for your bandwidth requirements....I recommend utilizing the services of an unbiased independent broker by submitting a RFQ request to DS3-Bandwidth.com.

Here are some additional resources that may be of benefit to those developing a WISP....or thinking of it.

StartAWisp.com

WISP Centric

There's also an excellent forum for discussion of ideas and issues between WISP owners and potential developers at DSLReports.com.

Final advice....think strategically taking care to consider the business areas hilighted above. Do make use of an independent unbiased broker for the bandwidth decsion. Also, apply the resources shared here as well as any others discovered from your own research.

How Much Bandwidth Is Too Much??

For your companies specific business applications....how do you decide on how much bandwidth will be necesary? Is it T1, DS3, or OC3 or greater? Do you factor in a reasonable overage to account for potential emergent situations? What modeling approach do you use to calculate your min and max load and thus your supportable need range? How do you decide how much is "enough"?

I suggest to address these issues that you apply an end to end approach. The parts are the workstation, communication link(s), server, database, and support systems (DNS for example).

Next, its important to remember that users do tasks. Any analysis must be based on the task concept. Also, the specific tasks in any application will likely differ by user type so its useful to look at the frequency of specific tasks by user group.

Each task can be looked at in terms of time. The total time is split among the parts. Before worrying about bandwidth, you should determine just where the time is being spent for each task. Don't consider the user action in the task analysis - their keyboard time is best handled with scripts to eliminate that variable, and output is done when the screen is populated or the printout complete.

The communications aspect is impacted by volume of data moved, amount of communications overhead, background load, packet size, protocol, latency, and bandwidth.

While there are many "favorite" tools to speed the analysis, it can all be accomplished with a spreadsheet, a packet capture tool, and a knowledge of scripting.

There are some generals you can follow for this evolution.

First, while applications vary, most have yet to find the application that improves performance on any task when bandwidth goes above about 750Kb. Most see no improvement once bandwidth reaches 200Kb. Additional bandwidth then becomes an issue of user count. Next, most applications do not suffer performance drops until total average utilization goes above 80%.

The best time to define bandwidth requirements is during application development. The reason is that most applications can be tuned to perform with significantly less traffic while still in development, and the traffic is often a good indication of other problems like poor database structure or less than optimal distribution of work. The second best time is before purchasing an application. Often two similar applications will have significantly different WAN performance characteristics and this can be a key decision criteria.

So how much bandwidth is too much? If you can lease less than you currently have and lower your costs, you have too much.

I strongly suggest that you NOT enter directly into discussions with a bandwidth provider while deciding your bandwidth requirements. They're more likely to be focused on "making a sale" than in helping you with your infrastructure decisions. Instead, seek the advice of an independent unbiased broker. They can walk you through the process to finding a solution which best makes business sense to you and your organization. My recommendation for such a broker is DS3-Bandwidth.com.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Business VoIP Solutions....Specials For Major US Metro Cities

If you're a business in a major US metro city area....and you're looking for a business VoIP solution to cover your voice communication requirements....you're timing couldn't be better.

Areas like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami are on a list able to take advantage of specials on business VoIP solutions offered from a variety of providers.

To see what may be available for your business go to Business-VoIP-Solution.com and put in your requirements and contact information. They'll research what plans there are and who has them....then share that information with you and help you select the best one for your requirements.

By the way....if your location isn't on the above list don't worry. Go ahead and request information too. You just might get lucky.

Vonage Churn....Investor Heartburn

This one is from one of my favorite people....Om Malik of GigaOm. As usual, Om has some insightful observations on the recent doings with Vonnage (yeah...THAT Vonnage. The folks I love to rag on. LOL). Read on and you'll see what I mean.....

=====

Vonage Churn Investor Heartburn

Vonage, the New Jersey-based VoIP services provider filed documents with the Securities & Exchange Commission yesterday, hoping to raise a whopping $250 million in a widely anticipated initial public offering. The marquee group of investment bankers are hoping that investors would over look the obvious structural problems in Vonage’s financial model, and buy the stock in the company. Business Week has a rather in-depth look at the chances of the public offering. The Stalwart does a stellar job as well.

I spent the evening reading through the entire document, which frankly has more red-flags than the great Boston dig. And the biggest one is churn. Why is churn important? As someone who has sold internet services to consumers explains, “Churn reduces the lifetime value of a customer which affects the amount you can pay to acquire them. You can see how these problems compound and exacerbate each other.” Something akin is playing out with Vonage.

“During the nine months ended September 30, 2005, we experienced average monthly customer churn of 2.11%. Our churn rate among those U.S. direct and retail customers with us for more than six months was lower,” the company says, in its filing. That seems to be a rather innocuous number. To be fair, the company’s churn rate of 2.11% is pretty darn good - if you compare it to other Internet related services business such as web hosting and DSL High Speed Internet that see about 1%-to-3%. Vonage is actually doing much better than it had reported earlier." [Talk about being wrong in my estimates previously. The numbers reported in the S-1 were exactly half of what I had estimated with the help of others. My original estimate was 4% churn and $400-per-customer acquisition cost.]

Vonage in its S-1 filing that it lost 115,000 customers to churn. Given that it costs Vonage about $213.77 in marketing expense to win a new customer, the cost of replacing those 115,000 customers is about $24.5 million. That churn cost the company about $27.6 million in revenues (@ $26.63 a month per customer) for the nine months ending September 30, 2005. The churn cost the company about $52 million (in the first nine months of 2005.) The problem is that the churn is not going away and is in fact rising — from 1.7% in first quarter 2005, to 2.08% in second quarter to 2.26% in the third quarter of 2005. The irony of this is that if the current trends continue, it would become a mud-pit without a bottom.

"We will always be required to incur some marketing expense in order to replace customers who terminate our service, or “churn.” Further, marketing expense is not the only factor that may contribute to our net losses. For example, interest expense on our senior unsecured convertible notes of at least $12.5 million annually will contribute to our net losses. As a result, even if we significantly reduce our marketing expense, we may continue to incur net losses."

Buried in the S-1 is the fact that Vonage had about 1.4 million subscribers. At the average churn of 2.11% (assuming it stays constant), one could estimate that the monthly loss of customers is in the 29,450 range and the estimated monthly cost to replace them will be $6.3 million, while the lost revenues (per month) would be around $784,000. In the September 2005, the S-1 says the company had a churn of 2.26% which comes out to about 23,997 and lost revenues of $639,000. (If you use the 2.11% average, then the number of customers lost to churn are about 22,403 and lost revenues were around $600,000 a month.)

"A higher rate of customer terminations would negatively impact our business by reducing our revenue or requiring us to spend more money to grow our customer base …. Because of churn, we have to acquire new customers on an ongoing basis just to maintain our existing level of customers and revenues. As a result, marketing expense is an ongoing requirement of our business. If our churn rate increases, we will have to acquire even more new customers in order to maintain our existing revenues. We incur significant costs to acquire new customers, and those costs are an important factor in determining our net losses and achieving future profitability. Therefore, if we are unsuccessful in retaining customers or are required to spend significant amounts to acquire new customers beyond those budgeted, our revenue could decrease and our net losses could increase."

Churn is a nagging worry, and yet if the company can reign in other costs, it could one day hope to be a profitable company. “If they can maintain a true churn of 2.11% and maintain a $213 (in acquisition costs), they should have a profitable business on paper,” says Chris Lyman, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Fonality, a start-up that sells open-source Asterisk based PBX systems. “The only problem is it takes them 1.25-to-1.5 years to break even on a customer. This means they are going to suck cash as they grow.” The price wars are already in place, and the competition from cable companies, the time required to get profitable is going to stretch out.

There is one aspect of churn which made me queasy but I clearly am not understanding the implications. In the ISP business there is something called bi-modal churn. This is people who decide to cancel the service within first 30 days of signing up. This number is pretty high in the 3% range. (Any telecom analysts who have thoughts and explanation about this, please leave a comment or email me.)

Vonage’s S-1 says this.

"Terminations, as used in the calculation of churn statistics, do not include customers terminated during the period if termination occurred within the first 30 days after activation….Other companies may calculate churn differently, and their churn data may not be directly comparable to ours."

How many customers do you think they lose in the first 30 days? Still that is big pop for retailers like Best Buy who might actually become the only folks to profit from Vonage!

Motorola RAZR V3 Camera Phone....FREE

Just found a great deal for anyone looking for a Motorola RAZR V3 camera phone. It comes with a free Bluetooth headset too.

Here's the link to see for yourself:

Motorola RAZR V3 Camera Phone

==

Here's the particulars on this beauty:

Motorola RAZR V3 (Camera Phone)

Motorola’s super-hot RAZR v3 is as beautiful as it is advanced! Designed to be the thinnest flip phone ever, the RAZR v3 has a solid anodized aluminum shell packed full of the latest technology; quad-band GSM for use in 100 countries, long-range Bluetooth, MPEG4 video, 4x optical zoom digital camera and a large, beautiful 2.2” color display inside. An amazing phone to look at, and equally as amazing to use. This is one of the most desirable phones ever produced.

Highlights

* Beautiful Brushed Silver Anodized Aluminum Shell
* Ultra Thin With Feather-Touch Precision Crafted Keypad
* Long-Range Bluetooth Capability
* Vibrant, Beautiful Dual Color Screens
* Built-in Speakerphone
* 4x Digital Zoom Camera
* Java 2.0 Supports 3D Graphics
* PC Synchronization To Co-ordinate Calendar and Contact Information

What's In The Box With The Phone

Additional Items Included - Battery, Wall Charger, User Guide

Advanced Features

* Digital Camera - VGA Resolution, Self Timer, 4X Digital Zoom
* Streaming Multimedia Support - Streaming Multimedia Viewing Capable, MPEG 4
* Bluetooth Wireless Technology - Yes
* Voice-driven Menus - Yes
* Data Capable / Use This Phone As A Modem - Yes
* PC Synchronization - Yes

Messaging Features

* Mobile Web Browsing - WAP Mobile Web Enabled
* Multimedia Messaging - Enhanced Picture Messaging
* Text Messaging (SMS) - Yes, 2-way
* Email Client - POP3, SMTP, IMAP4 Email Access
* Instant Messenger Built-in - Yes

Personalization and Fun Features

* Polyphonic Ringtones - Yes
* Pre-loaded Ringtones - Preloaded Ringtones, Downloadable Ringtone Options plus
* Custom Ringtone Options
* MP3 Ringtones - Yes
* Picture Caller ID - Yes
* Multiple Languages - Yes
* Games - Skipping Stones, Golf, Billiards, Plus Downloadable Titles
* Customizable Graphics - Yes
* Customizable Themes - Yes

Core Features

* Color Main Display - 176x220 262K Brilliant Color TFT LCD Display
* External Display - 96x80 4K Color CSTN LCD External Display
* Speakerphone - Yes
* Hands-Free Dialing - Yes
* Voice Memo - Yes
* Alarm - Yes
* Calculator - Yes
* Calendar - Yes
* Vibrate - Yes
* Phonebook Capacity - 1000 Entries Plus Additional SIM Card Capacity
* Multiple Numbers Per Name - Yes

Battery Life

* Battery Type - LiIon 680 mAh
* Talk Time - Up to 210 Minutes
* Standby Time - Up To 250 Hours

Technical Specifications

* Application Platform - Java Application Support
* High-Speed Data - GPRS Hi-Speed Data Capable
* Network Compatibility - GSM 800, 900, 1800, 1900
* Ringtone Types Supported - MP3 Ringtone Compatibility
* Built-In Memory - 5.5MB Shared Application Memory
* Dimensions - 3.9 in x 2.1 in x .5 in
* Weight - 3.4 oz

Compatibility Features

* Device Supports Voice Plans - Yes
* Device Supports Cingular MEdia Services - Yes
* Available for purchase without service plan - Yes

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More On....Meeting Your Bandwidth Requirements For Supply Chain Management Applications

As I pointed out in a previous article, Supply Chain Management (SCM) is a complex animal. The key to a successful SCM implementation is a clear understanding of the business objectives and business requirements of the company the SCM primarily supports. This often includes a number of legacy systems which need to be integrated into the solution. From this will come the technical objectives to be met and the technical requirements that frame the solution. Only then will the commmunication requirements for bandwidth capacity, reliability, resiliancy, latency, security, and expandability be meaningful.

Here's just 2 such technical aspects.....

Frame Relay

Frame relay initially had several advantages over the alternative solutions for SCM and other multi site and multi company communications networks.

The first advantage was with circuit costs. For a multi site network, the traditional approach was a large number of point to point circuits. Each circuit required a router port, a CSU, and often a circuit monitoring module. With milage based pricing, each circuit represented a significant recurring cost on top of the initial hardware costs. Router sizing was often a factor of ports supported rather than performance capability.

Frame relay exchanged the point to point circuit costs with an access circuit, typically at less than 1/10th of the cost. With port speeds from DS0 to DS3, multiple sites could be connected with a single port at each site. A partial or full mesh, even with full redundancy, could be accomplished with very few router ports and CSU at each site. This represented significant capital savings.

Using fractional T1 and T3 on the access circuits, frame relay made expanding capacity between sites relatively painless. Port changes within the frame relay provider's network was often a configuration change. Expanding the actual circuits was typically a configuration change on the CSU and DACS.

Adding new sites was often accomplished with physical changes at the new site only. The new PVC across the frame relay network and at the existing site(s) was a configuration change. Depending on the routers used and the routing protocol implemented, this might be accomplished without a maintenance window.

The PVC approach allowed for additional security. A given location could be directed to a specific port within the DMZ, limiting the exposure of one's own network to other vendors within the SCM network. Firewalls at each end allowed each company to control its own security. The frame relay network was vulnerable to external monitoring at very few points, and the relationship of PVC traffic to specific customer required specific network design information.

Frame relay offered the ability to have a disaster recovery site support multiple locations. PVC between the disaster location and other locations could be defined in the configuration, allowing dynamic implementation of the disaster recovery network.

As a circuit protocol, frame relay functions independent of other protocols. This segmentation allowed IPX, IP, SNA, and other system communications protocols to be implemented over the same paths. If desired, each of these could have its own PVC and bandwidth, or they could all operate over a common path. Finally, the bandwidth and performance could be established specifically to site pairs on a PVC basis.

For a vendor that participated in multiple SCM networks, frame relay represented real cost savings. Instead of a new circuit for each network, a PVC could be established. Instead of 6 week circuit installation delays, service could be established in hours.

----

So why the past tense? The advantages of frame relay are now achieved via the Internet. The timeframes for implementation have been reduced from hours to minutes. Encryption has advanced beyond the security offered by isolated paths. Advances in application based routing can achieve availablity assurances. Legacy protocols have been largely replaced by IP.

There are still times when frame relay is the best choice based on business requirements or technical constraints. But a robust bandwidth network (e.g. OC3 or OC12 bandwidth....perhaps with GigE connectivity) applying IP protocols will enable a seemless flow of information without risking security concerns.

Emerging Technologies

The most notable is Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID. RFID tags are essentially barcodes on steroids. Whereas barcodes only identify the product, RFID tags can tell what the product is, where it has been, when it expires, whatever information someone wishes to program it with. RFID technology is going to generate mountains of data about the location of pallets, cases, cartons, totes and individual products in the supply chain. It's going to produce oceans of information about when and where merchandise is manufactured, picked, packed and shipped. It's going to create rivers of numbers telling retailers about the expiration dates of their perishable items—numbers that will have to be stored, transmitted in real-time and shared with warehouse management, inventory management, financial and other enterprise systems. In other words, it is going to have a really big impact.

Another benefit of RFIDs is that, unlike barcodes, RFID tags can be read automatically by electronic readers. Imagine a truck carrying a container full of widgets entering a shipping terminal in China. If the container is equipped with an RFID tag, and the terminal has an RFID sensor network, that container’s whereabouts can be automatically sent to Widget Co. without the truck ever slowing down. It has the potential to add a substantial amount of visibility into the extended supply chain.

Right now the two biggest hurdles to widespread RFID adoption are the cost of building the infrastructure and the lack of agreed-upon industry standards. But regardless...RFID implementation will be bandwidth intensive to retrieve and disseminate the mountain of information such a tool will provide.

Summary

The answer to how to meet bandwidth requirements for SCM applications is as complex as ever. The addition of emerging technologies like RFID into the mix of legacy point-to-point approaches, the frame relay darling, and the simplification afforded by OCx backed IP protocols....means your IT staff will be pegging their stress meter trying to make a decision. To navigate the aspect involving researching and acquiring the right bandwidth solution....do yourself a favor. Use the services of an independent unbiased consultant such as FreedomFire Communications to navigate the minefield for you. Your IT staff will love you for it.

Broadband Over Power Lines....Real Or A Fantasy?

Broadband Over Powerlins (BPL) technology enables businesses and homes to receive Internet services through their existing electrical lines. This means that customers can download movies, music, news in any room in their homes or offices through electrical outlets, at fast speeds, and often at lower prices than they are currently paying for Cable TV and Internet access. Speeds can range up to 200 Mbps full-duplex, a much faster and a more robust bandwidth in comparison with what is attainable with current DSL or cable modem broadband access technologies.

I was under the impression this technology would not work well in the US, due to the massive number of transformers the US uses, as opposed to the UK. This technology is in place in numerous UK areas, mainly because of the sparsity of the transformers used there.

Digging further I learned that factoring the possibility of interference via transformers is primarily based on the type of BPL service connection used, Low voltage or Medium voltage. So far tests have shown that the signal to noise ratio using low voltage connectivity infinitesimal. Since the range of a low voltage is typically 5 miles the amount of transformers deployed to service customers in that range would be low. So creating subnets with radii of 5 miles would be a significant improvement.

If anyone has any thoughts or insights...by all means leave a comment and share them. BPL looks interesting. But is it real or a fantasy?

WiFi vs WiMax.....What's In The Future?

The Telecommunications landscape is ever evolving....due to both regulatory pressures, business competition, consumer interest, and technology advancement.

WiFi & WiMax are fast steaming to the forefront in the BroadBand world.

What are the strengths & weaknesses of each?

What "market" (consumer & geographic location) are each best suited for?

What challenges must each overcome to acquire more mainstream acceptance?

What....if anything....may emerge as their biggest competitor & why?

Ok folks........give us your 2-cents worth of opinion.

Hint....that means leave a comment. ;)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Packet8 Broadband Phone Just Got Even Better!! New Features Added.

Packet8 just got even better with the new features they made available this morning....

[Combined with their current Special of free the 1st month and 50% off the next 3 months....NOW is the time to get yourself a Packet8 Broadband Phone!]

Explanation of the new features is provided below..........

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To all Packet8 Subscribers:

Great news! Packet8 is proud to announce an automatic upgrade of the service has been completed and new features are now available to all Packet8 residential & videophone subscribers (not Virtual Office) at no additional cost. The new features are:

VOICEMAIL TO EMAIL NOTIFICATION

Packet8 now allows you to receive an email notification with the actual message attached as an audio file every time you receive a voicemail message.

You will be able to forward voicemails to others as an email attachment or even save them to your PC's hard drive for future reference.

FOLLOW ME, FIND ME

Packet8's Follow Me, Find Me feature is a combined hunting and multi- ringing function that allows you to enter up to five sets of phone numbers to ring in sequence. For example: you can set your mobile phone number as well as youroffice phone number to ring when your Packet8 home number is not answered.

When a call comes in and you are not at home, after ringing the assigned number of times, the call will cease to ring on the Packet8 home number and then move on to ringing the mobile phone. Then if there's no answer on the mobile, the call moves on to ringing your office number. If there's still no answer, the call can then be guided to your voicemail box.

Note: For our existing Packet8 subscribers who want to Call Forward to one number only, just go to the Follow Me, Find Me settings and enter the phone number you want to call forward. Also, this feature will not function unless your Packet8 device is plugged in.

SIMULTANEOUS RINGING ON MULTIPLE PHONE NUMBERS

The Simultaneous Ring feature will allow multiple phone lines to ring at the same time, including standard PSTN numbers. With this feature, you will never miss a call.

To enjoy this feature, log into your Packet8 Account Details page and adjust your settings. Also, this feature will not function unless your Packet8 device is plugged in.

7-DIGIT LOCAL DIALING

Now, dialing locally is as easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. You no longer need to dial 1 plus your area code when calling any number within the same area code as your primary Packet8 number. To enjoy this feature, log into your Packet8 Account Details page, select this new option and adjust the settings to make it your default.

After you make 7-digit local dialing your default, you will be able to check your voicemail by dialing your Packet8 phone number or **012- 0555.

Here is the procedure to check your Packet8 voicemail:

- From your Packet8 phone: Dial your Packet8 phone number or **012-0555 and when prompted enter your password. (The default password is 0000.)

- From any phone in or outside of the U.S., dial your Packet8 phone number and when your own voice message plays, press the "#" key then follow the prompt to enter your password. (The default password is 0000.)

Note: When making international calls with 7-digit or 10-digit local dialing as your default setting, you MUST dial 0-1-1 before the country code.

NETWORK UNAVAILABLE FORWARDING

If, for some reason your Internet connection goes down, you will lose Packet8 phone service until it is restored. However, you won't lose callers as they can be automatically forwarded to any other number (like a cell phone) that you have pre-programmed.

To enjoy this feature, log into your Packet8 Account Details page and adjust your settings.

CALL WAITING DISABLE *70 per call or all calls

You can now disable call waiting in two easy ways:

1) On a per call basis - By dialing *70 before making your call, you can disable the call waiting feature for that specific call. Doing this will send all incoming callers to voicemail or present a busy tone if voicemail is disabled while you are on the call.

2) For all calls - By logging into your Account Details page, you can enable/disable your Call Waiting feature for all calls made. Thank you for being a Packet8 subscriber. We appreciate your business and will work hard to make you a very satisfied subscriber.

Sincerely,

The Packet8 Support Team

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

When You Need Bandwidth For Your WISP, WiFi, Or WiMax Venture...Where Do You Go?

Not a simple answer...or so you may think.

Frustrating, time consuming, confusing, stressful, expensive...could be.

But doesn't have to be.

The *VIABLE* business model being utilized by hundreds of companies that do the same thing as you're involved with is the following scenario - I will say "Your Company" in this example but that would apply to any of these companies:

1. "Your Company" finds the opportunity and sells it [e.g rural WISP, Muni-WiFi, Muni-WiMAX].
2. "Your Company" works with FreedomFire Communications (us) to get the best possible deal on bandwidth.
3. The ***CUSTOMER*** signs the bandwidth contract ("Your Company's" customer).
4. "Your Company", using the customer's bandwidth, deploys the remainder of the overall solution.
5. "Your Company" is responsible for all aspects of what they did, the carrier is responsible for the bandwidth. If there are problems, "Your Company" will work with the carrier to resolve the problems, which are typically limited to extremely simple things like a blocked port that needs to be opened.

With this we could "bring the bandwidth" at the best possible available cost. Profits etc. of the project are yours 100%. Our benefit is limited to sale of the bandwidth. Risk is shared appropriately by "Your Company", your customer, and the bandwidth provider.

Makes sense...saves you time, effort, and money...and gets the required bandwidth for the project from reliable Tier 1 providers at the best cost.

Problem solved.

RIM BlackBerry 7100g Is A Must Have....And You Can Get It Free

For Blackberry afficianados...you know how lucky you are. For those considering getting a Blackberry...you don't know how lucky you COULD be. How about geting your Blackberry FREE.

Rush over to this link and get yours: Blackberry

This is what you'll get..........

- RIM BlackBerry 7100g

The 7100g from Blackberry is the perfect on-the-go device for mobile professionals. With fully integrated, corporate-friendly email that’s automatically received to your 7100g, and the amazing SureType® QWERTY keyboard technology for effortless text composition – the 7100t is a messaging heavyweight. Plus, with a full HTML browser, high speed data, viewer software for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Bluetooth and quad-band GSM capability, this phone will maximize your on-the-go potential.

Highlights

* Bluetooth Wireless Connectivity
* Fully Integrated Email With Push Capability
* High-Speed Data
* HTML Browsing For Full Internet Experience
* Large, Beautiful Color Display
* Powerful on-the-go email solution when used with T-Mobile BlackBerry Plans or Plan * Add-on Features
* Quad Band GSM For Operation in Over 100 Countries
* Viewer Software With Word, Excel, PowerPoint

Advanced Features

* Attachment Viewing (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) - Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, Adobe PDF Attachment Viewer
* Bluetooth Wireless Technology - Yes
* QWERTY Keyboard - Yes
* Data Capable / Use This Phone As A Modem - Yes
* PC Synchronization - Yes

Messaging Features

* Mobile Web Browsing - WAP Mobile Web Enabled
* Multimedia Messaging - Yes
* Text Messaging (SMS) - Yes, 2-way
* Email Client - POP, IMAP Email Access
* Instant Messenger Built-in - AOL Instant Messenger Enabled

Personalization and Fun Features

* Polyphonic Ringtones - Yes
* Pre-loaded Ringtones - Preloaded Ringtones, Downloadable Ringtone Options plus
* Custom Ringtone Options
* MP3 Ringtones - Yes
* Ringer Profiles - Yes
* Multiple Languages - Yes
* Games - Yes, Plus Downloadable Titles
* Customizable Graphics - Yes

Core Features

* Color Main Display - 240x260 65K True Color Backlit Display
* Speakerphone - Yes
* To-Do List - Yes
* Alarm - Yes
* Calculator - Yes
* Calendar - Yes
* Vibrate - Yes
* Phonebook Capacity - Shared Memory Entries
* Multiple Numbers Per Name - Yes

Battery Life

* Battery Type - LiIon 950 mAH
* Talk Time - Up to 240 Minutes
* Standby Time - Up to 192 Hours

Technical Specifications

* Application Platform - Java Application Support
* High-Speed Data - GPRS Hi-Speed Data Capable
* Network Compatibility - GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
* Ringtone Types Supported - ADPCM, MIDI Ringtone Compatibility
* Built-In Memory - 32MB Shared Application Memory
* Dimensions - 4.7 in x 2.3 in x .8 in
* Weight - 4.2 oz

Compatibility Features

* Device Supports Voice Plans - Yes
* Device Supports Blackberry Services - Yes
* Available for purchase without service plan - Yes

Warning..... Be Careful When Looking For a Hosted PBX Business VoIP Solution

As popular as Hosted PBX seems to be today for a business VoIP solution..... you need to tread lightly during the decision process or risk making a costly mistake. If you don't pay attention to the details you'll likely be very unhappy with the results.

If you're in the market for a new office phone system, and are considering business VoIP, do your homework. There are lots of providers offering what seems like similar services so make sure you test drive the quality and support before you put your money down. Or at a minimum do meaningful due diligence ahead of time. Also, get the help of a professional to walk you through the mine field of hype and hyperbole so as to avoid making a big (and costly) mistake.

Any consumer making family phone decisions based on Google searches and anonymous message board recommendations can make a mistake, but the unintended consequences aren't more severe than a couple of bucks for a couple of weeks.

A commercial business making similar decisions with no prior experience on putting VOIP systems together is put at much more at risk, including (at the extreme) the livelihood of their employees. A mistake by a business can and likely will cost a LOT more.

There are plenty of business providers in the VOIP space, and many are very competent at what they do, yet any particular otherwise excellent provider might be exactly the wrong carrier for any specific business. A simple example would be "carrier X" which gets 5 star ratings, has a very low cost structure, month to month contracts, and very customer friendly terms. However, if your phone numbers disappear from directory services (411 databases) and/or outbound caller ID name, that carrier could be worthless to you despite its reputation.

If you don't know what questions to ask, then Google searches for business telecom services can lead to big trouble. Especially if one's primary concept of evaluation and comparison is price.

To stay out of trouble I suggest first educating yourself as much as possible by doing meaningful research ahead of time. The best starting point is at the industry information site VoIPMechanic.com, which will give you information and help with your VoIP phone connection, tutorials and news about VOIP, help with installation, trouble shoot and solve common use problems, and share a number of practical tutorials. Next I recommend using the free assistance available from Business VoIP Solution to walk you through the decision process and make sure the outcome makes business sense for you and your organization.

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