I am on the advisory board
of and an investor in TelEvolution which has just announced a device called the PhoneGnome
. PhoneGnome is the brainchild of David Beckemeyer. He was co-founder of EarthLink, where he was Vice President Engineering and Chief Technology Officer. I first met David on #joiito
and got to know him when he built the Hecklebot
Later, he approached me with his PhoneGnome idea and I was immediately fascinated. The PhoneGnome is box that you connect to your phone line and your Internet connection and attach a phone to. The magic happens when PhoneGnome figures out your phone number and auto-configures everything so that in the future, all calls to other PhoneGnome users go over the Internet instead of the phone line. "Auto-configure" is a non-trivial thing and is the difficulty standing between normal users and SIP/Asterisk goodness and freedom. Under the hood, PhoneGnome is open standards based and is extendable in various ways, but David has kept it EXTREMELY simple so that anyone can use it and doesn't require you to have your computer turned on. You just pick up your phone and call like you normally would.
As you can see from my endeavors with trying to configure Asterisk and pushing the limits of Skype, I'm extremely excited by voice over IP. So far, nothing I had seen had passed the following test:
1 - Easy to use
2 - Open standard
3 - NOT a service model (no monthly fee)
I think that voice should be easy to use. It should be a piece of hardware or an application, not something you have to pay extra for. It should be open standards and allow innovation and interconnection.
Skype passes 1 and maybe 3, but not 2. It is extremely easy to use (yay!) but they are not open standards based.
Asterisk passes 2 and 3, but not 1. Asterisk and other SIP servers are EXTREMELY hard to set up (at least today) and SIP phones generally suck and/or are extremely hard to configure.
Vonage passes 1 and maybe 2, but not 3. Vonage and other so-called VoIP phone companies are still charging you a monthly fee and seem to me to be wannabe phone companies that are trying to lower costs by using VoIP. Now they're having trouble with having to act like a phone company and provide 911 etc.
I think that we can keep the plain old phone system in place as an emergency backup system when other things fail. Let them have 911. All other nifty voice things should go over the Internet and should be open standards based and free. Don't use voice to make "internets" like we have with instant messenger. Don't cheat customers and charge for a service that costs nothing. Let's use VoIP as the killer app to drive further broadband and network service adoption in the same way that email and the web did and not let it become yet another victim of walled gardens and telco FUD.
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