Friday, March 31, 2006

Cingular Wireless Offer.....FREE Motorola V220

Just ran across this great deal from Cingular for a Motorola V220 phone on a neat website I found surfing.....free phone with a new Cingular Wireless account. Kinda ordinary stuff huh?

Well......that's not all. Besides the FREE phone they'll also give you a FREE Canon Selphy CP400 Digital Color Photo Printer. You know....for all those pictures you'll take with your new camera phone. Now THAT'S cool.

I found this and lots of other neat wireless deals from all kinds of providers on this website: Cell Phone & Wireless Deals

Seems like everybody has something on there including Cingular, T-Mobile, Nextel, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. All kinds of cell phones, accessories, even Blackberry's. They even help you browse for cell phone deals by zip code....to see what is specificly available in your area.

Now, for you techno geeks that really need all the facts too....they also provide detailed specs etc. on each of the phones.

So...here's your info for the Motorola V220:

Motorola V220 (Camera Phone)

Exceeding style standards, the Motorola V220 has a sleek, compact look. Its ergonomic weightless feel and pocketable size allows you to take it with you anywhere.

Highlights

* Photo Caller ID
* Personal Organizer
* Quad Band GSM Allows Roaming In More Than 150 Countries
* Voice Recorder
* Downloadable MP3 and Full Audio Ring Tones and Supertones
* Customizable Wallpapers and Color Schemes

What's In The Box With The Phone

* Additional Items Included - Battery, Wall Charger, User Guide

Advanced Features

* Digital Camera - Yes

Messaging Features

* Mobile Web Browsing - Yes

Personalization and Fun Features

* Polyphonic Ringtones - Yes
* Games - Downloadable Titles

Core Features

* 2-Way Text Messaging - Yes
* 1 Touch Emergency - Yes
* Speed Dialing - Yes
* Timer Types - Individual, Cumulative, Re-Settable & Audible
* Color Main Display - Yes
* Speakerphone - Yes
* Alarm - Yes
* Vibrate - Yes
* Phonebook Capacity - 1,000 Entries

Battery Life

* Battery Type - LiIon 820 mAh
* Talk Time - Up To 240 Minutes
* Standby Time - Up To 230 Hours

Technical Specifications

* Network Compatibility - GSM 800, 1900
* Predictive Text Entry - Yes, T9
* Dimensions - 3.29 in x 1.73 in x 0.94 in
* Weight - 3.70 oz

Compatibility Features

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How Fast Is Your Broadband Connection???

Here's a comprehensive list of bandwidth types and their corresponding speed. Might help you decide if what you have is doing what it is supposed to....or you need it to. If not....pick something else off the list.

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OC-255 13.21 Gbps
OC-192 10 Gbps
OC-96 4.976 Gbps
OC-48, STS-48 2.488 Gbps
OC-36 1.866 Gbps
OC-24 1.244 Gbps
OC-18 933.12 Mbps
OC-12, STS-12 622.08 Mbps
OC-9 466.56 Mbps
OC-3, STS-3 155.52 Mbps
CDDI, FDDI, Fast Ethernet, Category 5 cable 100 Mbps
OC-1, STS-1 51.84 Mbps
T-3, DS-3 North America 44.736 Mbps
E-3 Europe 34.368 Mbps
Category 4 cable 20 Mbps
Token Ring LANs 16 Mbps
Thin Ethernet, category 3 cable, cable modem 10Mbps
E-2 Europe 8.448 Mbps
T-2, DS-2 North America 6.312 Mbps
Standard ADSL downstream 6.144 Mbps
S-1c 3.152 Mbps
E-1, DS-1 Europe 2.048 Mbps
ADSL, T-1, DS-1 North America 1.544 Mbps
ISDN 128 Kbps
DS-0, pulse code modulation 64 Kbps
U.S. Robotics x2 modems, 56 Kbps
56flex, x2 modem communications rate 33.6 Kbps
V.34, Rockwell V.Fast Class modems 28.8 Kbps
Level 1 cable, minimum cable data speed 20 Kbps
V.32bis modem, V.17 fax 14.4 Kbps
modem speed circa early 1990s 9600 bps
modem speed circa 1980s 2400 bps

How Do You Connect To A WiFi Hotspot??

Here's some simple advice....many might not be totally "up to speed" on. [pun intended LOL]

Q: How do I connect to a hotspot?

A: The first step is locating and connecting to the hotspot access point. In a wireless network, connecting to the access point is the same as plugging a cable into a hub or switch in a wired network. Wireless networks are identified by their SSID, which is the identifier for the network. Most wireless network clients will allow you to see a list of the networks available in an area. If you aren't able to see such a list, you might be able to tell your wireless card to connect to any available network.

In order to connect to a hotspot, you will need to get an IP address. In nearly every situation, your computer will do this for you automatically with DHCP. If you switch between different networks (wireless or otherwise), sometimes your computer may continue to use an IP lease from the previous network. In that case, you have to manually release and renew the lease. With Windows, you can use the ipconfig and winipcfg commands to interact with DHCP.

If you connect to a hotspot and get an IP address, but you are not able to reach other sites on the Internet, you may need to register with the provider. To log in, you need to open a new web browser window. Once you try to visit a website on the Internet, your HTTP request should be redirected to a page where you can log in. If you're not already a member of the specific hotspot provider you will have the opportunity to sign up.

Once you have signed up and logged in you are all set to utilize the hotspot!

Q: Are there any websites available to locate hotspots?

A: Here a link to a list of just some of the many sites out there: WiFi Locater

Monday, March 27, 2006

Who Has The Best Hotel WiFi??

You just might be surprised....Ahhhh then again maybe not.

HotelChatter.com has just released their report on the best hotel Wi-Fi the country has to offer....."Best WiFi Hotels 2006". Their coverage of the best and worst is a "must have" manual for traveling broadband junkies of both the business and pleasure varieties.

What has changed since last years investigative piece is this....most hotels have now jumped on the WiFi bandwagon, so most hotels have *some* sort of WiFi solution. The question is what is that solution, and is it any good?

At least hotels have finally realized that WiFi is a must-have, something that tops the wish list of many potential guests. But.... the rush to quickly set-up hotel WiFi networks, coupled with the fact that wireless fidelity is still a fairly new technology, means that consistent wireless internet access, pricing, and service, is not a given across hotel brands, small hotel groups or even from the lobby to your room.

What's more is that while charging hotel guests for WiFi certainly gives a hotel a bad rep, having "Free WiFi" plastered on your website and uttered by your reservation agents, no longer makes a hotel stand out from the pack.

So....this year, the HotelChatter.com WiFi report is all about how well a hotel's WiFi network works, how the hotels service and support that network, and how conducive these hotels are to what HC calls a "WiFi Friendly" environment. That's right, in 06 hotels have to have a certain wireless je ne sais quoi to make this list.

Kimpton Hotels tops the list along with Omni Hotels, though Holiday Inn Express & Marriott Residence Inn also scored well for those on a budget. To read the entire list and enlightening comments just dial in HERE.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Business Case for Enterprise VoIP

Intel recently completed a detailed study of a pilot program that integrated VoIP into its production enterprise environment in Parsippany, NJ (the old Dialogic headquarters building). The report can be used as a model for a VoIP deployment plan and includes a discussion of methodology, hard-cost savings, and productivity gains.

The Business Case for Enterprise VoIP

My friend Ken Hilving of Hilving Associates had these pointed comments on the report:

"A big chunk ($312K for a 650 person site) of the ROI is tied to projected productivity gains. The approach used supposes that a reduction in task time will result in either an increase in tasks accomplished or that new tasks will be completed. Unless the study includes a control group (same tasking, but not provided the new technology) the projected productivity value is suspect.

The value also relies on a per hour cost of employee time. This is valid for hourly employees. It is not valid for salaried employees.

The range of "new" features represents a failure to use existing features. I am referring to the chart on page 7. It is common with new systems to "discover" capabilities or to be trained on capabilities that were present but unused in the imbedded systems. To be fair, SIP has made the implementation of these features significantly easier.

The hard dollar costs are reasonable, but perhaps slanted to justify the conversion to VoIP. For example, data center footprint savings apply only if the space is redeployed or new space implementation is avoided. Outsource models may very well generate higher cost savings regardless of technology. MAC is one very real issue, and in the enterprise environment a 50% churn (MAC equal to half the employee count) or higher is common.

The case for moving to VoIP really is made on one fact, given on page 4 under Industry Landscape. End of life and end of support notifications are making the TDM a poor business choice. Either an internal VoIP or an external service provider agreement is the wiser choice today when needing to expand, replace, or make an initial telephony investment."

For a business considering deploying an enterprise VoIP system I recommend getting help from an unbiased technical advisor...particularly for those tough decisions on bandwidth requirements and IP PBX service provider. Here's one I endorse highly for businesses located in the USA...and their services are no cost:

Business VoIP Solution

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wide Area Network (WAN) and T1 Bandwidth....Or - Wide Area Systems & Services - What's Cooking With T1 Bandwidth?

This article explains the different types of T1 options that can be used in a wide area network (WAN). Chris does a very nice job of explaining all the nuances... and giving insights every business would benefit from in deploying a T1 based WAN.

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Wide Area Systems & Services - What's Cooking With T1 Bandwidth?
By Chris Lewis

T1 technology has become a staple in the diet of network managers deploying WAN technologies. But its ubiquitousness doesn't mean it's bland: T1 comes in several flavors to suit different diets. For example, you can order a T1 between two locations to deliver a single channel with 1.536-Mbps throughput; a channelized T1 to connect a central site to 24 remote locations, with each channel providing 56- or 64-Kbps throughput; a T1 to deliver an ISDN Primary Rate Interface (PRI); or a fractional T1 service to deliver bandwidth in 64-Kbps steps from 128 Kbps and up between two locations.

To further confuse the issue, ordering T1 isn't as simple as just asking for T1. For instance, sometimes a T1 line will be listed as having 1.544-Mbps bandwidth; other times, 1.536 Mbps. Also, the size of a T1 channel is 64 Kbps, but often it's delivered only as 56 Kbps. Finally, sometimes T1 is referred to DS-1.

The Magic Numbers

In the beginning, there was digital transmission of voice communications. Then data networking came along and piggybacked the existing technology in the voice network infrastructure. This is the origin of the 64-Kbps channel as the base building block for data WAN technology.

To transport a voice signal that is analog by nature over a digital medium, an analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion must be performed. Two variables need to be defined for an A/D conversion—the sampling rate and the number of bits used to represent signal amplitude. The highest frequency transmitted for voice communications is 4 KHz. However, a law in A/D conversion states that in order to recreate an analog wave from a digital stream of data, you need to sample the analog wave at twice the rate of the highest frequency you want to recreate. Twice 4 KHz is 8 KHz, which gives us a sampling rate of 8,000 times a second.

To accurately represent the amplitude of an analog wave, assign it a value that can be represented by 8 bits of data.

To represent 4 KHz in digital, we generate 8 bits 8,000 times per second—which equals the magic 64,000 bits per second for a voice channel.

In digital voice networking, this basic 64-Kbps channel is termed a DS-0. The next step up is a DS-1, which is a collection of 24 DS-0 channels. A DS-1 delivered on a copper wire is termed a T1. This nomenclature has become so popular that people now refer to any 1.536-Mbps link as a T1. Although not strictly correct, the term T1 is accepted for any kind of link with this amount of bandwidth.

The next highest bandwidth commonly delivered to users is a DS-3, often referred to as a T3. Again, T3 is specific to transmission over copper wires. A DS-3 connection is a collection of 672 DS-0 circuits, which gives a total throughput of 43,008 Kbps. The actual circuit speed is somewhat faster, but some effective bandwidth is lost to synchronization traffic.

What happened to a DS-2? A DS-2 consists of 28 DS-1 channels; seven DS-2 channels make a DS-3. However, DS-2 service is not commonly available.

Why is the throughput for a T1 line often listed at 1.544 Mbps? A T1 always has a bandwidth of 1.544 Mbps, but 8 Kbps of that bandwidth is never available. It is lost to housekeeping tasks, such as tracking which packets belong to which channel. Therefore, the effective usable bandwidth of a T1 circuit is 1.536 Mbps.

Digital Communications

Let's look at using a regular point-to-point T1 connection, possibly as part of a backbone WAN or as a high-speed LAN-to-LAN connection on a campus. Typically, the telephone company will deliver the T1 on an RJ connector, to which you attach a CSU/DSU and a router.

This is the simplest way to deploy a T1. You configure the appropriate settings in the CSU/DSU and then connect it to the router via a V.35 DTE cable. In this configuration, the router takes its clock signal from the CSU/DSU and sees one link with an effective bandwidth of 1.536 Mbps.

There are two key setup parameters for the CSU/DSU in this configuration. The first is to define the line code as Alternate Mark Inversion (AMI) or Bipolar 8 Zero Substitution (B8ZS). The former is a standard related to Dataphone Digital Service, the oldest data service still available that uses the 64-Kbps channel for data. This service gives you only 56 Kbps of available throughput. The additional 8 Kbps is not available for data transfer and is used to ensure synchronization between the two ends of the DDS circuit by the AMI line-encoding mechanism.

If you buy a T1 with 24 channels, each of them loses 8 Kbps—a 192-Kbps problem. You need a way to regain that lost bandwidth. The solution is to use a smarter encoding technique that can maintain synchronization without the loss of 8 Kbps on each channel. In many locations, 64-Kbps lines are available through the use of B8ZS encoding, which replaces AMI. This 64-Kbps service is known as Clear Channel Capability or Clear 64.

On a practical level, all you need to make sure of in your CSU configuration is that it has AMI encoding for 56-Kbps channel services and B8ZS for 64-Kbps channel service when selecting the line-encoding options.

The second configuration you must define is the T1 frame format, which is usually Extended Super Frame (ESF). Occasionally the telephone company may define the frame type as D4 framing—older implementations used the Super Frame format. Whatever it is, your telephone company will let you know.

Checking the Channels

AMI and B8ZS cover synchronization within the channel. But if that T1 circuit uses time-division multiplexing (TDM) to put 24 channels on one four-wire circuit, how is the beginning of the T1 rotation marked? And how do we identify which channel is which? This is where ESF comes in. It identifies the first channel in the 24-channel rotation.

Using a channelized T1 to connect a central site to multiple remote locations is a little different than the point-to-point case. Previously, the implementation of multiple WAN connections at a central site meant each line had its own dedicated CSU/DSU device and physical router port. Now, with more sophisticated devices, such as Cisco Systems CT1 card, a channelized T1 (which is plugged into the CT1 card) can be used to supply 24 individual channels, each of which can be terminated in an individual circuit in a different geographic location. The benefit of this arrangement is that there are no CSU/DSU devices or associated cabling at the central site.

Given that the T1 connects directly to the router in this case, some additional configuration is necessary for the router. The T1 controller in the router must be configured for ESF framing and B8ZS line code. Once this is done, there should be 24 64-Kbps channels that the telephone company can "groom" out to up to 24 locations, typically using a piece of equipment called a Digital Access Cross Connect (DACC). At the central site router, the 24 channels appear as virtual interfaces on the one physical line; each virtual interface can receive its own configuration as if it were a separate physical connection.

If we go with this arrangement and one of the locations we want to connect to the central site is serviced only by 56-Kbps lines using AMI, what do we do? Well, the good news is that you have configured the central site to cope with a 64-Kbps connection, and as long as you configure the channel connected to the 56 Kbps appropriately, all will be well. The telco will use AMI encoding for the remote end of the channel and B8ZS for the central site end of the channel; all you have to do is enter the correct command for your brand of router to tell it that the channel will only receive or send data at 56 Kbps. This does not affect the operation of other channels that are connected at 64 Kbps through to the remote site.

In fact, the Cisco default is for a channel to be set up for 56 Kbps throughput, the "speed 64" command must be entered manually for a channel (represented as a subinterface in the Cisco configuration) to get it to work at 64-Kbps throughput.

A channelized T1 can also be used as an efficient way to deliver analog phone services, but to do this, an additional piece of equipment, a channel bank, is needed to convert the digital T1 signals to 24 analog telephone lines. This can be useful if you need to configure many centrally located dial-up ports, for roving users with analog modems.

The Cisco AS-5200 router has a built-in channel bank and modems so that just by connecting a single T1 connector to it, you can have up to 24 modem calls answered simultaneously. The AS-5200 also has a built-in T1 multiplexer, giving it hybrid functionality with regard to call answering. If you connect a T1 configured as a PRI to an AS-5200, the AS-5200 will autodetect if the incoming call is from an ISDN or analog caller, and answer the call with the appropriate equipment.

ISDN Anyone?

With ISDN, each channel is usually 64 Kbps. However, we have the same concerns regarding 56-Kbps channels in areas where Clear 64 is not supported. Some additional setups on a router need to be completed in order for it to use a PRI service. On a T1 delivering a PRI service, 23 channels are delivered as "B" channels for data, and one of the 24 channels is reserved for Q.931 signaling, the "D" channel.

To configure PRI services, you have to set the router to use the correct ISDN switch type and service provider identification (SPID) number, both of which will be supplied by the telephone company.

Using a T1 service to deliver some level of bandwidth between a DS-0 and a DS-1 has become popular with the availability of the fractional T1 services. If you order a 128-Kbps or 256-Kbps line, a T1 circuit with only the appropriate number of DS-0 channels is installed. Typically this fractional T1 service is terminated in a CSU/DSU that presents the appropriate clock rate to the router DTE interface. However, just as a full T1 can be connected directly to a router, so can a fractional T1. In this case, the only additional piece of router configuration you need is to identify the channels that will be active in the router configuration.

One final note on T1 technology. The T1 configuration is peculiar to the United States and Japan. If your network starts to grow internationally, you should be aware that in Europe and most other countries, multiple DS-0 services are delivered on an E1, which comprises 32 DS-0 channels, giving 2,048-Kbps throughput. The only real difference this makes to router and CSU/DSU configurations is that the E1 uses High Density Bipolar 3 (HDB3) line coding instead of B8ZS. AMI is not used internationally.

Chris Lewis is vice president of international operations at ILX Systems. He can be reached at chrisl@ilx.com.

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Now that you have all the inside info on how to best apply T1 bandwidth to your WAN requirements....you're probably wondering where to find the T1 bandwidth you need. The easiest way is to request a free rate quote from here: T1 Line Rate Quote

Monday, March 20, 2006

No Surprise....Annual VoIP Survey Reveals Mass Migration

This honestly really doesn't surprise me.

According to a recent global survey conducted by Integrated Research, 78 per cent of large companies are deploying IP telephony, and the mass conversion isn't always due to PABX systems coming to their end-of-life. The main drivers of this trend are IP applications and enhanced communication capabilities such as IP-based video conferencing.

The results of the 2004 survey showed the key factors driving IP telephony adoption was the reduction of operating costs and the perception that IP telephony had come of age due to enhanced features such as video conferencing. The 2005 survey results showed these continue to be the key factors.

IP-based video conferencing was of immediate interest for 70 per cent of those surveyed and shows a clear willingness to exploit the enhanced capabilities that IP telephony provides over traditional telephony.

A total of 1,232 executives participated in the online study in late 2005 -- a year on from Integrated Research's similar study on this topic that provided a clear comparison with which to measure trends. The U.S. accounted for 34 per cent of overall respondents, while Europe, Australia/Oceania and Asia, Africa, and the Middle East accounted for the remaining 66 per cent.

Seventy-eight per cent of those surveyed were at various stages of voice over IP (VoIP) deployment or adoption. Only 6 per cent were unsure of their plans to adopt the technology.

One per cent of overall deployments were considered to have failed. Of these, over half failed during testing or pilot phase, with the remainder failing shortly after going 'live.'

This figure adds weight to the importance of pre-deployment assessment and the use of specific management tools. The survey results show respondents now also understand that system performance monitoring of applications and networks is the key criteria for successful IP telephony deployment. This is despite the still popular but misleading notion that existing data management tools are adequate for the purpose.

Cisco's dominance of the market increased from 43 per cent in 2004 to 62 per cent in 2005. This reconfirms Cisco's position as the leading provider of VoIP infrastructure technology.

The survey also shows more organizations now choosing to self deploy by up-skilling staff in the new technology rather than rely on systems integrators.

According to Integrated Research, "The maturation of the IP telephony enterprise market is speeding up exponentially -- this can be attributed to the fact that the hardware, application, and management tools are now so advanced that it is easier for organizations to slipstream in their wake."

To download the full results of the survey....go to "2005 IP Telephony Market Survey"

Friday, March 17, 2006

Packet8 and Uniden Launch New VoIP Phone Exclusively at The Home Depot

Well now....this is pretty cool. Seems Packet8 is taking a page out of the Vonage marketing cookbook. Good for them....

On March16 Packet8 and Uniden American Corporation (a leading manufacturer of wireless consumer electronics), announced the availability of the UIP160P co-branded Packet8/Uniden cordless VoIP phone at The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer.

The 5.8GHz digital cordless UIP160P is equipped with Packet8's patented VoIP technology as well as full router functionality, giving consumers easy access to feature-rich Packet8 Internet calling plans. The UIP160P carries a suggested retail price of $99 and offers a mail-in rebate of $100 upon activation of a Packet8 service plan, essentially making the device FREE to Home Depot shoppers.

Expandable to up to 10 handsets, the Uniden UIP60P system is capable of deploying VoIP telephony throughout the home. The phone system includes a base station and caller ID handset with speakerphone and features such as 20 distinctive ringer options, caller ID, call waiting, handset paging and a new message waiting indicator with an alert tone option.

"8x8 is very pleased to partner with Uniden to offer this amazing value through Home Depot stores," said Huw Rees, vice president of sales & marketing at 8x8. "Home Depot is the premier destination for all aspects of home improvement and this certainly would include home communications. The availability of Packet8 Internet phone service through Home Depot shows the movement of VoIP from the early adopter phase towards mainstream consumer acceptance. The fact that we are able to do this at zero cost to the consumer will only further accelerate this adoption. Home Depot is the first retailer carrying telephones bundled with Packet8 (VoIP) services that is outside of the traditional computer and electronics genre."

"Announcing the availability of the Uniden/8x8 UIP160P at Home Depot is a yet another milestone for the growing Uniden and 8x8 partnership," said Rich Tosi, president of Uniden America Corp. "We are pleased to deliver the UIP160P to Home Depot consumers and offer this product as a cost-effective solution to encourage further adoption of VoIP telephony."

Packet8 Internet Phone Service offers unlimited residential calling in the U.S. and Canada for $19.99 per month along with calling features such as unlimited worldwide in-network calling, voicemail, E911, voicemail to email notification, Find Me, Follow Me, simultaneous ring, 7 digit dialing, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, 3-way conferencing, area code selection, directory assistance, Local Number Porting, online account management & billing, phone-based management and Virtual Phone Numbers. Additionally, 8x8 offers a thirty (30) day trial period to new subscribers for their first Packet8 account.

All of this sounds really good for consumers....and is surely going to threaten the Vonage dominance in the "retail store" marketing arena. Getting a presence in Home Depot is HUGE for Packet8. They're going to reach a massive audience with this strategy and "free" phone promotion.

To give yourself a little head start and jump on the check out line....trek over to their website first and sign-up for a calling plan [ Packet8 ]. Then head to your Local Home depot and pick up your Uniden phone. Don't forget to send in your rebate card as soon as you get home. ;)

EchoStar (DishNetwork) To Merge With DirecTV?

All signs seem to be pointing to something possibly in the works between EchoStar (parent of DishNetwork) and DirecTV. I'm not sure you could call it a full fledged merger yet (which wouldn't be a bad idea IMHO)....but at least a teaming up on broadband service to fight the consumer eating dragon we all know as the cable companies. Whatever happens, hopefully it will take a bite out of cable companies gauging of consumers for their bundled broadband.... and offer a few more choices while initiating some sanity in the pricing CableCos offer now. If for no other reason than that the threat of stronger satellite backed competition might scare them a bit.

This tidbit was recently reported in the Rocky Mountain News stating that EchoStar Communications' Chief Executive Charlie Ergen has given the strongest indication yet that the satellite-television provider would team with larger rival DirecTV to establish a broadband service. DirecTV, whose controlling shareholder is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., is working on technology that could allow it to offer services including phone and wireless high-speed Internet to homes and mobile devices. That would give satellite-TV providers a way to counter cable companies' bundle of video, high-speed Internet and phone service.

If you're interested in seeing what EchoStar offers for satellite services now.... you can peruse DishNetwork. If you're just interested in finding a satellite internet access provider for your area....you can use this search website to find and compare what may be available to you: Satellite Internet Access

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Blackberry’s Stellar VoIP Moves...Look What's Coming

Om Malik of GigaOm ....one of my favorite technology writers....makes an interesting observation on Research In Motion's (RIM) efforts with Blackberry now that the patent case is behind them. Read on...I think you'll REALLY like it.

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"With the NTP-Patent Legislation overhang gone, Research In Motion, aka RIM is finally beginning to flex its muscles and play to its enterprise strengths. It just announced Google Talk for Blackberry in partnership with Google. (It apparently drops Google Talk chats right into the Blackberry Inbox.)

But that announcement is quite marginal compared to RIM’s acquisition of Ascendent Systems, a company that makes IP-based systems for large corporations, and can integrate tightly with existing PBX and IP-PBX telephony systems to “push” voice calls and extend desk phone functionality to mobile users on their wireless handsets, or any wireline phone. No terms were announced, but Alec Saunders thinks that it will be more than $20 million Ascendent raised from VCs.

From a Voice 2.0 perspective, this is a big deal. “Essentially, Ascendent transforms the Blackberry into a mobile desk phone, with the capability to forward, transfer, conference etc calls,” Alec says. In other words, the big boys are still talking convergence - Blackberry is doing it."

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If you haven't picked up your own Blackberry wireless device yet you're in luck. You can compare provider plans from 1 website as well as treat yourself to a free Blackberry with some of them.....all from this website: Blackberry Wireless Device. Shoot...with all the good stuff coming and the chance to get a Blackberry free....even if you do have one you could get another for a rainy day. Or a friend. Or a significant other. Or.... LOL

Monday, March 13, 2006

Learn 1st Hand About Vonnage, Packet8, And Skype...The Real 411

Whether you're a current user of Vonnage, Packet8, or Skype VoIP phone services....or are just curious about them....a good place to learn whatever you want to know is their online discussion Forums. Keep in mind that each of these is company sponsored or influenced....so you'll have to filter through some obvious biases and emotional attachments to get at what you relly want.

If your looking for advice or information on set-up, trouble shooting, special promotions, company news, plan pricing, etc.....from actual users and company types...these are good resources. If you don't mind wading through the frequent sappy gushings of infatuated fans...you can get some very useful pearls. Occassionally you'll even hit on some eye opening honest assessments and advice too. Just look hard until you find something that fits your need. It's there.

Vonnage Forum

It's no secret that I'm not fond of Vonnage. I feel they're way over priced, have built there reputation on a massive marketing machine vice a quality service, and their customer service sucks. But this is a pretty loyal and active Forum with a few very helpful regular posters. Better to get the scoop here than listen to that annoying "Whoohoo" jingle again.

Packet8 Forum

It's also no secret that Packet8 is my favorite broadband phone service. Particularly for aby business applications. Their frequent industry awards for business packages...such as the recent top nod for their Virtual Office IP PBX offering....sold me a long time ago. Their Forum takes an extra step to get into for registration but is worth it. The Forum contents are probably more informative overall about services, applications, and the parent company [8X8 Inc.] than the other 2 forums are.

Skype Forum

I've never been an advocate of Sofphone services but it does have it's place. Skype is the hands down king here...but is far from perfect. Their "free" isn't really free for example....unless those you're calling also have Skype. Plus their business applications leave much to be desired. But their following are rabid supporters. Plus they have probably the largest share of the VoIP market worldwide.....especially in Europe and Asia....for now. Their Forum can be more Rah Rah than informational at times but is well worth looking over.

Now if you prefer a more open and unbiased community dialogue and Forum experience....I suggest you trek over to the VoIP Forum at DSLReports.com. It can be somewhat of a free-for-all at times. But there's a ton of useful information shared on all kinds of VoIP providers beyond just the 3 mentioned above....as well as some links to useful tools to enhance your VoIP experience.

DSLReports.com

There ya go. Between these open discussion resources you should be able to find whatever you need about VoIP phones ... and the specific providers cited. Just keep in mind that it's all other people's opinions. The bottom line is that it's YOUR opinion that counts most.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is There A Google vs AT&T Dog Fight Brewing?? Woof...Woof!

It's the worst kept secret in the telecommunications world that AT&T intends to buy BellSouth. Furthmore....the AT&T "Grand Plan" includes hopes to charge high-bandwidth content providers like Vonage and Google for carriage over their pipes.

Ahhhhh......not so fast Ms Bell. There's an important little tidbit you seem to be overlooking. It's something called dark fiber, of which Google has lots. If Google plays it right, those fiber strands could strand the broadband access monopolists like AT&T on the preverbial desert island.

My hero Russell Shaw of ZDNET shared a few thoughts on this potential dogfight himself recently....including some interesting factoids and projections.

For example....did you know that there's a "Project Manager-Network Acquisition" ad up on Google Jobs that reads like more than just a search for someone to handle internal Google communications needs?

here it is:

"Google has an immediate opening for a seasoned technical project manager to plan, facilitate, and manage the acquisition and deployment of new network services acquired from third party suppliers and vendors globally. This individual will work closely with the technical negotiation team to understand the terms of new contracts and engagements including delivery targets and technical requirements; with internal project management teams to communicate target completion dates and ensure that all internal requirements are being met in a timely manner; with external vendors to gather and enforce schedules for installation of services; and with internal technical teams to ensure that all services meet with their technical and service requirements."

One of the "Responsibilities" bullet-points is especially interesting:

"This includes delivery of end-to-end solutions for network connectivity including facilitation of the installation of new network nodes, the delivery of new metropolitan network services, the delivery of long haul transport capacity, and augments to existing transit and peering relationships."

"New metropolitan network services…"

Hmm, what might that mean? [WINK]

Now since it is widely known that Google has all this dark fiber, let's imagine what these "strategic negotiators" might wind up negotiating about.

They might wind up talking to infrastruture backbone companies such as Level 3 about peering services for what could be a new, de facto Internet.

THEN, as last-mile end points to businesses and residences, they could, well, "strategically negotiate" with other points of entry providers, such as electrical utilities that run wires into the home, and maybe even private cable companies that specialize in services to large apartment buildings and institutional settings.

AND Google could also hold hands with one or more major Wi-Fi access providers to add a wireless access component for this new Internet.

AND Google could be one partner in stitching together WiMax networks that could run to a home where WiMax-enabled PCs and other devices could receive and send signals.

AND then Google has both the proprietary pipes and the proprietary over-the-air technologies to offer carriage to affiliated partners or eventual subsidiaries that might not be willing to pay a surcharge for equal carriage rights on the telecom and cable-run Internet pipes of today.

See where this could be headed???

Google could pull together a plethora of partners or potential acquisitions in business lines and companies that would have the most to gain from facing the broadband monopolists down..... and have the knowledge and motivation to do so.

Companies such as EarthLink, who has never backed down from a fight with the broadband monopolists and is strategically minded enough to ally with the right partners;

Companies such as Vonage and/or Packet8, which are the largest VoIP "pure plays" not owned by a broadband access monopolist.

I could see Vonage and EarthLink partnering with Google and maybe a Level3 on a new Internet. EarthLink and Vonage could be wise acqusition targets for Google as well.

Then Google offers their own subscription plans. Because EarthLink already has substantial back-end billing functions, EarthLink could do this for a Google Internet- either as a partner or acquired company working as a broadband services subsidiary.

If broadband monopolists would have the cajones to tell sites to stay off Google's Internet- Google has some chips of their own to play. And I don't think even this current pro-broadband Administration would let this fly.

This Google Internet could challenge- and maybe render into irrelevance- AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre's November, 2005 volley about big-bytes broadband services:

"How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO ) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"

Really? Well.....what if Google or Vonage aren't using your pipes?

Like I described....they could easily have their own.

Then what do YOU do Ms Bell?????

What if they use their own pipes?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

DSL Service....A Few Insights

DSL Service offers residential customers high speed internet access for a very reasonable rate. Many people don't realize that DSL speeds of 1.5Mbps are the same as T1 speeds which top out at 1.5Mbps. What's the difference? To start with...the price. DSL costs $35 per month on average where a full T1 usually costs $400 or $500 if you're in a metro location and up to $1,000 per month if you're in a rural location. Why the high cost for T1 service without the extra speed? A T1 gives reliable service and is not shared with other subscribers or oversubscribed the way DSL is. Because it is not a shared service it carries a high cost.

DSL service offers a slightly less reliable service for a fraction of the cost. If you already have DSL Service you may have noticed that it's fast at some times and slower at other times. This is because it's oversubscribed. Oversubscription means that many people are pulling from the same resource. During the afternoon when people are at work there may be plenty of bandwidth to have, but in the evening when everyone is looking up the news, going through e-mail, or shopping online, access tends to be strained. Many people pulling from the same limited resource will find that there's only so much to go around. What does this mean to you? Slow speeds occasionally in peak traffic hours.

Most residential users' biggest concern is price and that's why DSL Service is so popular among them. A few slow periods are a small price to pay for a 90% discount if you're using the service at home.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Get Online Wirelessly.....No Coffee Shop Required

One of the hottest technology trends around today is the ability to get online anywhere, anytime. Without a WISP (Wireless ISP) service in your area, or wifi at Starbucks, your favorite coffee shop, or even some McDonalds and Burger Kings, you don't have a choice, you cannot get online. Or at least that was true in the past.

The major cellular vendors are beefing up their networks for what is believed to be one of the "next big things". You see, these vendors like Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS/Nextel, Cingular, and T-Mobile have all invested millions of dollars in providing cellular towers across the country so that you can get a cell signal in almost any decently populated areas. Competition is fierce, and each carrier is looking for some kind of value-added service or function to entice customers to switch to their service.

One of the biggest things they have done recently is to allow you to get online from your laptop computer using one of their "air cards", sometimes known as an "EVDO card". These cards plug into the PCMCIA slot on your laptop (almost all laptops have a PCMCIA slot), and as long as you can pick up a decent signal from that carrier's cell tower, you can get online with your laptop and this manufacturer-specific air card!

Verizon and Cingular appear to be leading the pack with this technology, with new high-speed hotspots appearing regularly across the country. Sprint is also investing heavily into creating more Sprint-specific hotspot areas for their service. T-Mobile also has this service available. With these carriers, you can get the "data-only" plan without being required to have one of that carrier's voice/cell service plans.

From a performance perspective, T-Mobile trails the pack significantly. Although their plan is the cheapest (about $30 per month for unlimited access), performance is barely as good as a dial-up connection. But if dial-up speed is sufficient for you, this can be a very mobile and cost-effective option.

As of the end of February 2006, in areas where Verizon had their high-speed option available, average download speed was measured at 563k, which is a speed that many home DSL or cable users don't get as high as. Verizon currently has this service available in about 70 markets. About 38% of responders reported seeing speeds greater than 600k.

In areas where the high-speed version of the Sprint equivalent is available, average download speed is reported as 641k, and is available in about 108 markets nationwide. About 47% reported seeing speeds higher than 600k regularly.

The Cingular equivalent reported an average download speed of 581k in areas where the service is available.

Be SURE to set your expectations correctly. A strong cell signal is required from the carrier providing the service to get the best possible speed, in the same sense that a voice cell connection may be scratchy if the cell signal in a given location is marginal. In areas that can deliver this data service but have not yet been upgraded to provide the high-speed option, typical connection speed (again with a strong cell signal) is reported as significantly less, around 152k as an average, or about 3 times the speed of a decent dial-up connection.

The plans can be a bit pricey, but you're paying for truly mobile connectivity without being tied to an Ethernet cable and modem, or a particular coffee shop hotspot offering wireless like Starbucks. The plans run about $80 per month for unlimited access, although Verizon recently announced a plan offering their unlimited access plan for $60 if you also get a 2 year voice cellular plan with it (at additional cost of course). The carriers also have cheaper plans with a monthly data transfer limit, but be very aware that if you start using this regularly, the overage charges will end up costing much more than just opting for the "unlimited" plan in the first place.

The good news is that you can shop and compare ALL of these plans and the "air cards" from a single website.

Simply go to Wireless Internet Access , select your area code, then click on the "More Phones" link. Near the bottom of the resulting page, you will see the "air card" for that particular carrier.

The additional good news is that a LOT of people are not aware that this capability exists, and it exists at a price that is much less than it was only a year or two ago! So take advantage of this simple search and compare tool....expand your wireless experience....and REALLY GET MOBILE!

Friday, March 03, 2006

An Analysis of Earthlink DSL Offerings

The first non-AOL internet provider I ever had was Earthlink. Their stock rose with the rest of the brand new ISPs of the late 1900's. The sky was truly the limit.

However, as the internet bubble burst in 2000, many companies who provided internet access with equipment purchased with investor dollars were left holding the back with huge networks and no one to fill them. Earthlink DSL was different - they saw the need to diversify into high-speed internet access and other customer-friendly value-adds, like Spam Blocker and Adult Controls.

Fast-forward to 2004, where we see Earthlink becoming the leader in DSL - and - Satellite internet access. The demand for high-speed access has never been greater - and by virtue of their careful planning and listening the collective voice of their customers, Earthlink has vaulted itself into the lead in the race for number one residential high-speed access provider.

In particular, EarthLink made significant inroads in the broadband arena by signing an expanded Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) agreement with Verizon, launching DSL service in Qwest's territories, and teaming up with Progress Energy to conduct a limited Broadband over Power Line (BPL) trial in North Carolina. EarthLink was also encouraged by the March 31, 2004 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit not to revisit its earlier ruling that cable modem service contains a telecommunications service. If upheld, this decision will help open cable broadband networks to competition, thus enabling EarthLink to offer high speed service over additional cable networks.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

VoIP PBX Solutions For Business....What To Look For

Business communications has always been a challenging arena for management....subject to cost, function, reliability, and other pressures and concerns. The emergence of VoIP technology....and specificly application to PBX systems via IP based protocols....has provided an enormous opportunity for companies to reap many benefits.

Many companies today have multiple office locations around the country or around the world. Currently, each office uses its own PBX system and inter-office phone calls are routed through the PSTN and charged long distance and international rates by carriers. Most companies also employ workers on a part time basis who work from their homes. Those workers get reimbursed for telecommunication expenses they incur while performing their duties. It just makes business sense for companies to explore alternatives to consolidate their telecommunication systems and reduce costs.

The answer.....purchase a Voice-over-IP enabled PBX system and deploy it in a Virtual Office setup.

Voice-over-IP (VoIP) is a fairly new technology for transporting voice calls over the Internet which allows users to realize substantial cost savings on long distance and international calls. Besides cost effectiveness, VoIP enabled PBX systems (or IP PBX) offer easy integration with existing telecommunications systems and are characterized with low operating costs as their upgrade is done through software updates rather than more expensive hardware replacement. Additionally, the technology simplifies the communication infrastructure (no need for separate voice and data cables) while offering high scalability.

Virtual Office models are used by companies that want to consolidate their communications, reduce costs and achieve more cohesive corporate images. To implement the model, a company has to install a single IP PBX system in its headquarters and distribute to employees IP phones or regular phones with VoIP adapters. Employees can make intra-office and inter-office phone calls through dialing PBX extensions. Such calls are routed through the Internet and are practically free. Company customers, on the other side, can dial a single inbound number plus extensions in order to reach the company's employees. The latter receive the calls on their IP/Regular Phones at any location in the world with Internet connectivity.

So what kind of a VoIP PBX solution does your business need? - a turnkey Virtual Office solution that could be customized to meet your company specific needs.

My recommendation for this solution is the highly acclaimed package from Packet8. Recently 8X8, Inc's Packet8 Virtual Office solution for small and medium sized businesses received Network Computing magazine's Editor's Choice award over competitive offerings from Covad Communications and Velocity Networks. That's some pretty stiff competition....and says a lot about Packet8's performance. The Packet8 Virtual Office solution received the highest overall rating for its rich feature set, call management tools and low subscription price.

The Packet8 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. Their 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.

Now.....here's an overview of what to look for when making the business case for investment in VoIP technology for a VoIP PBX solution:

* Ways to save money for corporations.....

- Eliminate or reduce intra-office toll charges

- Avoiding service and support contracts on existing PBX hardware

- Eliminate the need for on-going Centrex services -- and charges

- Reduce expansion costs via lower costs for adds, moves and changes; lower user hardware costs

- Reduce the on-going costs for separate voice messaging systems

- Provide productivity benefits for remote and traveling workers who can be empowered with the same integrated capabilities as office workers

- Reduce user training and learning on phone and messaging systems

- Cost-effectively implement unified messaging

- Improve security

- Reduce systems downtime and improve performance

Additional benefits for call centers.....

- Virtualize call centers, allowing more flexibility in the center's configuration....either helping consolidation efforts, or providing enterprise capabilities to telecommuting call center workers

- Improve customer support services and reduce abandoned calls and call times

- Improve customer satisfaction and reduce customer turnover via improved call center services

Cost considerations....

- VoIP telecommunication hardware and software

- IP phone sets or soft phones

- Network upgrades for possible quality of service and performance upgrades

- Implementation labor and professional services

- On-going support and administration labor

- Support and maintenance contracts

- Increased support calls and potential user downtime losses on initial deployment

- IT Training

- User Training

- Write-off, write-down and disposal costs for existing telecommunication assets

Potential project risks......

- Quality of service/performance

- User training and adoption

- Administration and support skill levels and resources

- Proprietary vs. open systems interoperability

How Does The Solution Work?

Inter/Intra office calls.......

Caller A, who is located in the corporate headquarters, wants to make a call to Caller B, who is located in the corporate headquarters or in any of the company's offices worldwide.

Caller A picks up his VoIP device (IP phone, phone with adapter or softphone) and dials Caller B's extension.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing information about Caller B The VoIP PBX server routes the call to Caller B's VoIP device.

If the destination number is unreachable, the system forwards the call to Caller B's voicemail.

As soon as Caller B picks up his VoIP device the conversation starts.

During conversation Caller A's VoIP device convert voice to digital packets and send them to Caller B's VoIP device and vice versa.

Both A and B can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc. Calls are free

Outbound calls.......

Caller A, who is located in the corporate headquarters, wants to make a call
to Caller B, who is a company customer.

Caller A picks up his VoIP device (IP phone, phone with adapter or softphone) and dials the customer's number.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing
information about the VoIP carrier, who should terminate calls to Caller B's area code.

The call is routed to the VoIP carrier.

The VoIP carrier terminates the call to Caller's B number over the PSTN.

During conversation, Caller A can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc.

Calls are charged on time basis at pre-negotiated rates with the VoIP carrier

Inbound calls.....

Caller A, who is a company customer, wants to make a call to Caller B, who is a company employee.

Caller A picks up his phone and dials the company's central access number.

The VoIP PBX server prompts the caller to enter an extension.

Caller A dials Caller B's extension.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing information about Caller B.

The VoIP PBX server routes the call to Caller B's VoIP device.

During conversation, Caller B can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc.

Calls are either free if the company uses a local access number or charged on a time basis if the company uses a toll free one.

Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies carry great promise to reduce telecommunication and networking total cost of ownership while empowering businesses with new capabilities and agility. When making your decision on deploying a Virtual Office VoIP PBX solution consider the strategic and tangible benefits as well as the costs and risks outlined above. If it all seems too overwhelming seek out the assistance of an unbiased independent advisor such as Business-VoIP-Solution