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January 04, 2010

The Promise of HD Voice Track: ITEXPO East 2010 Speaker

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The smartphone industry is one that will continue to grab attention as the battle for dominance continues. Whether or not there will be a standout in this industry, David Frankel, CEO of ZipDX LLC is not sure. Frankel recently spoke with TMCnet’s Rich Tehrani – their full interview is below – and shared his insight on the industry and the outlook 2010. In examining high-definition voice, Frankel believes it offers significant benefit but has met with a number of challenges when it comes to adoption.

Challenges were also in abundance in 2009 as the recession made it difficult for businesses to function, but Frankel is beginning to see light emerging on the other side. When asked about his view of Obama and his first year in office, Frankel simply noted that like the impact of the installation of a new FCC (News - Alert) chairman, the wheels of change in government move very slowly. If he were to take on the role of president of the U.S., Frankel would move to a government that was more tech friendly by reducing regulation and meddling.

As for market growth in the next few years, Frankel believes remote work will really take off as collaboration in this global market requires flexibility and remote communications. At ITEXPO (News - Alert) East 2010, Frankel will share keen insight on HD Voice track and how it will make a lot of things better. His outrageous prediction for 2010? “No major communications provider (equipment or service) will go bankrupt in 2010. The rising tide will lift all boats.” One can always dream.
Their full exchange follows:
Rich Tehrani: Smartphones continue to rise, find their ways into offices and homes alike. Who will dominate that market and why?
I’ve perceived a set of “business-focused” functions and phones – dominated by RIM/Blackberry – and a separate set that’s “consumer-focused,” which is dominated by Apple (News - Alert)/iPhone. But these are converging, because of course most of us are BOTH consumers and business users, and few people want to carry multiple devices.
I don’t think I would have predicted that a multi-function device would be so popular, but customers are demanding a single device with capabilities that include phone, e-mail, browser, camera, navigator, music and movie player, PDA, etc.
The market segments are shifting, and I don’t know exactly how that will end up. There will be a couple of vendors that concentrate on the business/enterprise market and deliver “IT-friendly” solutions. Others will target consumers; both segments will “crossover” to cover the most of the application space.
I’m confident that Apple will continue to play a big role, and RIM will not go away. Nokia, Motorola, Palm, Google (News - Alert), HTC, Samsung – beats me! They’ve all got smart people toiling away.
RT: We hear more and more about high-definition voice features in IP communications products and services. What is going to drive wideband audio and HD VoIP into the mainstream market? How long will it take?
My conferencing business, ZipDX, has made wideband audio a big part of our platform for several years. Our suite of “next-generation” conferencing capabilities includes about a dozen different features, and I would say that while wideband always generates a lot of “wow” when people hear it, it has been the slowest to actually be adopted and deployed.
Part of that is because it requires new hardware – but many enterprises have actually already deployed wideband-capable phones, and they aren’t taking advantage of them. (It takes some effort by the IT organization, and for conference calls, it requires a service like ours.)
The other issue, I believe, is that most people aren’t conscious of the difference that wideband makes. If you try to read a newspaper without your glasses, you’ll probably get a headache; you figure that out after a few sessions and start wearing your glasses. If you spend 45 minutes on a narrowband conference call, you’ll be tired – but you won’t know why. It’s because your brain is working harder trying to recover the audio information that’s been chopped off by the narrowband connection. Some people are figuring that out and they’re demanding wideband.
I feel strongly that the industry needs to “make wideband happen” and we shouldn’t be waiting for the end-users to “demand it” of us. Most of the end-point (telephone) manufacturers have stepped up and done this; they all support wideband and many have made it a standard feature. We need to work together to overcome the interconnection issues and make it easy for organizations to deploy, so we get out of this mode of “wideband islands” where one group can’t interoperate in wideband with another.
If we worked at it, we could start getting businesses connected in wideband in this year, and have a sizable community in 2011. Consumer adoption is going to take longer, and will be driven by wireless. We’ll see broad adoption in the consumer space within a couple years of initial deployments by the mobile operators.
RT: What’s the most innovative product that’s going to hit the market in 2010, from a company other than your own?
I have no idea. It will probably be something in the consumer world, and I’m very bad at predicting what’s “innovative” in that domain.
RT: We entered 2009 in a recession and now we’re seeing signs of the economy picking up. How did the slow economy affect demand for your products and services and what are you anticipating in 2010?
At the beginning of the year, most organizations seemed frozen. They had layoffs to deal with, or they were fearful of them, and that was all-consuming, leaving no time for strategic business decisions. It was very difficult for us to even engage with many groups.
Now, everybody realizes that the world is not ending, and we’re getting back to business as usual. But the headline in every discussion is cost-savings. Yes, everybody wants new features and capabilities, but they know they can’t go to their CFO with a proposal that’s going to increase overall costs.
At ZipDX, we’re fortunate that we’re operating on a next-generation platform that is extremely cost-effective. For example, we’ve got equal capability in BOTH the VoIP and circuit-switched domains. So we can offer all sorts of additional functionality AND deliver it at a lower price. For example, when we connect with customers using VoIP, we pass along that cost-savings and everybody benefits. That’s served us well so far.
Every established business is already spending money on conferencing – typically $10 to 20 per month per professional employee. We’re not asking them to spend more; we’re asking them to spend with us – probably 20 percent to 40 percent less than what they’re spending now – and get a lot more for those dollars.
RT: President Barack Obama has been in office for nearly a year. What has surprised you, whether a pleasant surprise or disappointment, about his presidency, policies and administration?
It really shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it’s clear that there is a lot of inertia in the government apparatus, and just because you put a new leader in place, and even some new lieutenants, things don’t change dramatically.
I’ve been engaged in dialogue with the FCC for a couple of years, and I thought the installation of a new Chairman would have a significant impact. But I realize now that in government, the wheels of change turn very slowly.
RT: If you were president of the United States, what tech-friendly policies would you enact?
I’m tempted to spew out a list of ideas, but fundamentally, I’m opposed to government getting too involved. If something is truly broken, then we MAY benefit from intervention to ATTEMPT to fix it. (Usually, it doesn’t work as intended.) Otherwise, the best thing that government can do is get out of the way, and let the incumbents and the entrepreneurs duke it out in the marketplace.
So if I were going to advocate any change to make the US more “tech friendly” it would be to have less regulation and less meddling.
RT: What are some of the areas of market growth in the next few years?
For decades, I’ve been an advocate of remote work. It’s been growing, but far more slowly than I expected. I think this could be the decade where it finally takes off. Clearly, we have the technology, and I think we’re starting to see significant social pressures (“work/family balance” and “going green”) fueling this concept. And, it’s proven itself in a number of scaled efforts, so everybody is now more accepting.
In the last century, it made sense for thousands of people to converge on a factory to operate machinery that moved materials through an assembly line to produce finished goods.
Now we’re in a “service economy” and most of us deal with “information.” That physical factory model doesn’t apply any more. So we’ll see growth in all the areas that serve remote workers and the distributed enterprise.
Of course, collaboration is my business, so of course I’m going to be optimistic about it!
RT: I understand you are speaking during ITEXPO East 2010 in Miami, to be held Jan. 20 to 22. Talk to us about your session or sessions. Who should attend and why?
I’m speaking in the HD Voice track on Thursday. Anybody – end-user, reseller, service provider – that isn’t familiar with HD Voice should come, because HD is happening and you WILL want to be on board. (It’s too late to be first, but if you are comfortable being a “follower” you don’t need to panic; there’s still time.)
If you already know and love HD Voice, then you DEFINITELY should be there, because it’s time for all of us that are involved to link arms and start working together. And that’s true, again, regardless of category. We’re expanding the HD eco-system and there’s a place for everybody.
One of the specific points I’ll be making is that HD is not a product in and of itself; it’s an attribute that makes a lot of things better. My friend Jeff Rodman at Polycom (News - Alert) has been espousing this for some time. I’m particularly excited about it right now, because I’ve got what I think is a great example. This month, we’re announcing that we’ve integrated real-time transcription into our conferencing service. That’s a great “stand-alone” feature, but with HD Voice, it can work even better. The transcription, whether machine-generated or created by a person, is going to be more accurate if we can provide higher-quality audio from which to work.
RT: Please give me one outrageous prediction pertaining to our markets for 2010.
No major communications provider (equipment or service) will go bankrupt in 2010. The rising tide will lift all boats.

To find out more about David Frankel and ZipDX LLC, visit the company at ITEXPO East 2010. To be held Jan. 20 to 22 in Miami, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Frankel is speaking during the “HD in Action” session. Don’t wait. Register now.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison

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