Until now, Nokia has been top of the heap in the category of VoIP-friendliness. When I spoke with Richard Watson, CTO of DiVitas, last year in the course of my test drive of the DiVitas system, he pointed out that dual-mode phones are not normally VoIP-friendly. At that time the only phone he recommended was the Nokia E71. There are several reasons for this, primarily the treatment of the voice path and the ease of integration of the VoIP software with the built-in phone software user interfaces. Since then, DiVitas has been working closely with Samsung, and now Richard says several Samsung phones are well suited to Voice over Wi-Fi. Let’s hope this shakes the other phone OEMs loose and gets them working on improving Voice over Wi-Fi performance.
I wrote earlier about AT&T’s responses to FCC’s questions concerning the iPhone App Store and Google Voice.
Now Apple has posted its responses to the same questions, which are basically the same as AT&T’s. Among the differences are that Apple’s responses contain some hard numbers on its controversial App Store approval process:
- 80% of applications are approved as originally submitted.
- 95% of applications are approved within 14 days of submission.
- 65,000 applications have been approved.
- 200,000 submissions and re-submissions have been made.
- 8,500 submissions are coming in each week.
- Each submission is reviewed by two reviewers.
- There are 40 reviewers.
These numbers don’t really add up. So what Apple probably means is that 95% of the applications that have been approved were approved within 14 days of their final submission. Even so, each reviewer must look at an average of 425 submissions per week (8,500*2/40), which is 10 per hour per reviewer – an average of 12 minutes of reviewer time per submission, which doesn’t seem to justify the terms “comprehensive” and “rigorous” used in Apple’s description of the process:
Apple developed a comprehensive review process that looks at every iPhone application that is submitted to Apple. Applications and marketing text are submitted through a web interface. Submitted applications undergo a rigorous review process that tests for vulnerabilities such as software bugs, instability on the iPhone platform, and the use of unauthorized protocols. Applications are also reviewed to try to prevent privacy issues, safeguard children from exposure to inappropriate content, and avoid applications that degrade the core experience of the iPhone. There are more than 40 full-time trained reviewers, and at least two different reviewers study each application so that the review process is applied uniformly. Apple also established an App Store executive review board that determines procedures and sets policy for the review process, as well as reviews applications that are escalated to the board because they raise new or complex issues. The review board meets weekly and is comprised of senior management with responsibilities for the App Store. 95% of applications are approved within 14 days of being submitted.
Of course much of this might be automated, which would explain both the superhuman productivity of the reviewers and the alleged mindlessness of the decision-making.
The Rethink Wireless newsletter is always worth reading. An article in today’s edition says that according to ABI dual mode handset shipments are on track to double from 2008 to 2010, and more than double from 2009-2011 (144 million units to 300 million units).
Rethink’s Matt Lewis cites improved performance and usability as driving forces, plus a change in the attitudes of carriers towards hot-spots. Wireless network operators now often have captive Wi-Fi networks and can use them to offload their cellular networks.
The upshot is a prediction of 300 million dual mode handsets to ship in 2011: 100% of the smartphone market plus high end feature phones.
The attach rate of Wi-Fi will continue to grow. By 2011 the effects of Bluetooth 3.0 will be kicking in, pushing Wi-Fi attachment towards 100% in camera phones and music phones in ensuing years.
The phone OEMs are customer-driven, and I mean that in a bad way. They view service providers rather than consumers as their customers, and therefore have historically tended to be relatively uninterested in ease of use or performance, concentrating on packing in long checklists of features, many of which went unused by baffled consumers. Nokia seemed to have factions that were more user-oriented, but it took the chutzpah of Steve Jobs to really change the game.
A recent FCC inquiry has provoked a fascinating letter from AT&T on the background of the iPhone and AT&T’s relationship with Apple, including Voice over IP on the iPhone. On the topic of VoIP, the letter says that AT&T bound Apple to not create a VoIP capability for the iPhone, but Apple did not commit to prevent third parties from doing so. AT&T says that it never had any objection to iPhone VoIP applications that run over Wi-Fi, and that it is currently reconsidering its opposition to VoIP applications that run over the 3G data connection. Since the argument that AT&T presents in the letter in favor of restrictions on VoIP is weak, such a reconsideration seems in order.
The argument goes as follows: the explosion of the mobile Internet led by the iPhone was catalyzed by cheap iPhones. iPhones are cheap because of massive subsidies. The subsidies are paid for by the voice services. Therefore, AT&T is justified in protecting its voice service revenues because the subsidies they allow had such a great result: the flourishing of the mobile Internet. The reason this argument is weak is that voice service revenues are not the only way to recoup subsidies. AT&T has discovered that it can charge for the mobile Internet directly, and recoup its subsidies that way. It will not sell a subsidized iPhone without an unlimited data plan, and it increased the price of that mandatory plan by 50% last year. Even with this price increase iPhone sales continued to burgeon. In other words, AT&T may be able to recoup lost voice revenues by charging more for its data services.
This is exactly what the “dumb pipes” crowd has been advocating for over a decade now: connectivity providers should charge a realistic price for connectivity, and not try to subsidize it with unrealistic charges for other services.
As part of the preparation for the fall HD Communications Summit, Jeff Pulver has put up a video clip promoting HD Voice for phone calls. It goes over the familiar arguments:
- Sound quality on phone calls hasn’t improved since 1937. Since most calls are now made on cell phones, it has actually deteriorated considerably.
- The move to VoIP has made it technically feasible to make phone calls with CD quality sound or better, yet instead VoIP calls are usually engineered to sound worse than circuit-switched calls (except in the case of Skype.)
- Improved sound quality on phone calls yields undisputed productivity benefits, particularly when the calls involve multiple accents.
- Voice has become a commodity service, with minimal margins for service providers, yet HD Voice offers an opportunity for differentiation and potentially improved margins.
The HD Communications Summit is part of the HD Connect Project. The HD Connect Project aims to provide a coordination point for the various companies that have an interest in propagating HD Voice. These companies include equipment and component manufacturers, software developers and service providers.
Among the initiatives of the HD Connect Project is a logo program, like the Wi-Fi Alliance logo program. The logo requirements are currently technically lax, providing an indicator of good intentions rather than certain interoperability. Here’s a draft of the new logo:
Another ingredient of the HD Connect project is the HDConnectNow.org website, billed as “the news and information place for The HD Connect Project.”
It is great that Jeff is stepping up to push HD Voice like this. With the major exception of Skype almost no phone calls are made with wideband codecs (HD Voice). Over the past few years the foundation has been laid for this to change. Several good wideband codecs are now available royalty free, and all the major business phone manufacturers sell mostly (or solely) wideband-capable phones. Residential phones aren’t there yet, but this will change rapidly: the latest DECT standards are wideband, Gigasets are already wideband-capable, and Uniden is enthusiastic about wideband, too. As the installed base of wideband-capable phones grows, wideband calling can begin to happen.
Since most dialing is still done with old-style (E.164) phone numbers, wideband calls will become common within companies before there is much uptake between companies. That will come as VoIP trunking displaces circuit-switched, and as ENUM databases are deployed and used.