Counterpath’s new strategy

Counterpath has an enviable incumbency in the PC soft-phone market. Their eyeBeam soft phone is licensed by numerous service providers and PBX manufacturers. But the soft phone business is not enormous, so Counterpath is looking to use its leadership in the soft phone business as a beachhead into the fixed-mobile convergence space. Fixed-mobile convergence comes in two flavors: service provider and enterprise. So last year Counterpath made three acquisitions to fill in the spaces of a two by two matrix, with enterprise and service provider on one axis, and client software and mobility controller server software on the other.

Counterpath bought FirstHand for its Enterprise Mobility Gateway (EMG) and Bridgeport Networks for its service provider Network Convergence Gateway (NCG). It already had client software for service providers covered with its eyeBeam software. It bought NewHeights for its enterprise client software, a softphone with PBX features to complement the more consumer-oriented eyeBeam phone. These two soft phones have already been integrated by Counterpath into their new Bria softphone. It remains a challenge to get the soft phones and the two gateways working together seamlessly. It will also be a challenge to gain market share in the mobility gateway market.

Most mobility gateway vendors tend to focus on either service provider or enterprise customers, but Counterpath is not unique in having gateway devices for both. Tango Networks claims this as the differentiating feature of their solution; Tango’s two devices were designed from the outset to work together and complement each other. Counterpath must integrate two products with independent pedigrees. The NCG that came from Bridgeport is a pre-IMS solution. When a call comes in for a cell phone, the NCG can decide whether to ring the cell phone, a soft phone on a PC or both. The EMG that came from FirstHand is an enterprise mobility controller similar to RIM’s Ascendent product.

Neither of the two Gateways provides “true” FMC, namely the ability to run a call over Wi-Fi to a dual mode cell phone; this is presumably in the near future. The NCG fields calls to a cell phone number and directs them to a PC in the enterprise, while the EMG fields calls to the PBX and can route them to a 3G cellphone via a VoIP connection. What’s interesting about this particular solution is that it uses the 3G data connection for the VoIP call, rather than using the regular cellular voice connection. According to Counterpath the QoS (latency, jitter, packet loss) on the 3G data connection provides equivalent call quality to a cellular voice connection.

Self-configuring Femtocells

Rethink Wireless reports that picoChip has added cognitive capabilities to their femtocells. Related “sniffing” technology is used in White Spaces radios and in the UNII-2 band by Wi-Fi. The idea is to check to see how the spectrum is currently being used, and to arrange matters to interfere as little as possible. With White Spaces and Wi-Fi the sniffing is used to avoid spectrum occupied by a primary user. PicoChip uses it to create self configuring networks:

As well has handling configuration, synchronization and hand-off – and reporting metrics on the cell to help network planning – the sniff function will support entirely self-organizing networks of the type Vodafone has outlined in recent presentations. Currently, most of the interference management these require are handled in different ways by the femtocell OEMs, but each has its own proprietary algorithms, making mixed-vendor networks difficult. The picoChip designs also allow the femto silicon to run the manufacturer specific code.

Low cost international calls from your mobile phone

I wrote about the vast array of ways to bypass international tolls in my Internet Telephony column a while back. Now there is an interesting web site,, that gives a listing of the services available and technical explanations of how they work.

If you go to the “contact us” link on the website you can type in “user feedback” with mini-reviews of the services. I presume that over time the database of user comments will become an additional helpful resource on the site.

All these services work to make calls to international destinations cheaper, but if you actually travel abroad you still have to pay exorbitant roaming charges for using the cellular network. The benefit of dual-mode (Wi-Fi plus cellular) phones is that with some of them you can use the Wi-Fi connection to make VoIP calls and completely bypass the cellular network, avoiding international roaming charges. Not all the listed services support this feature, and not all dual mode phones do either.

FCC Approves White Spaces!

This is incredible news. The FCC has done a wonderful thing, standing up to the broadcast TV lobby to benefit the people of America. What’s even better, four of the five commissioners are enthusiastically behind the decision:

It has the potential to improve wireless broadband connectivity and inspire an ever-widening array of new Internet based products and services for consumers. Consumers across the country will have access to devices and services that they may have only dreamed about before.

Some have called this new technology “Wi-Fi on steroids” and I hope they are right. Certainly, this new technology, taking advantage of the enhanced propagation characteristics of TV spectrum, should be of enormous benefit in solving the broadband deficit in many rural areas.

Today the Commission takes a critically important step towards managing the public’s spectrum to promote efficiency, and to encourage the development and availability of innovative devices and services.

While new broadband technologies are the most likely uses of these channels, the most exciting part about our action today is that we are creating the opportunity for an explosion of entrepreneurial brilliance. Our de-regulatory order will allow the market place to produce new devices and new applications that we can’t even imagine today.

The fifth commissioner, Deborah Taylor Tate, is only partly on board – she thinks some of this spectrum should be licensed, and she is concerned that not enough provision has been made for remediation in the event that interfering radios are deployed.

The FCC decision is a bold one – a more conservative positive decision would have been to approve a rural broadband access-only (802.22-style) use for now, but the commissioners went ahead and approved personal/portable use as well, which is what Google, Microsoft and numerous other computer and Internet industry companies have advocated.

The ruling imposed a geolocation requirement which will vastly increase the market for GPS silicon, though the trend in embedded GPS is to include GPS on the same die as other radios (like Bluetooth or cellular baseband) so whoever makes the White Spaces radio chips will probably be putting GPS on the same die by the second product generation.

The digital TV transition will open up the White Spaces spectrum in February 2009, but I will be very surprised if any white spaces consumer products appear in the market before 2010.