Monday, August 25, 2008

Free cell phones

Just in case you thought I was selling out to the US wireless industry with my previous post, check this out:

After looking over some phones on the Nokia website, I thought of all of those "free" phones carriers like to give away.

Here's one for comparison. The Nokia 6085 is offered in the US by AT&T wireless. Their website says it retails for $189.99. My gosh! Oh but don't you worry, as long as you sign up for two years of service (and do so online) we'll discount our $190 phone to $39.99 and then give you a $39.99 discount (you're buying online, remember). OMG! Free phone! See how that works?

Funny enough, Nokia offers the phone (just the phone) on their US website for $118. That means that right off the bat, AT&T wireless is jacking the price of the phone up $60 just for the pleasure of buying it from them.

Some of you might say "Hey, a $60 markup isn't that bad". Yeah right. AT&T wireless is NOT paying $118 for that phone. I wonder how many of them they sell and what kind of special pricing Nokia gives them. Probably not even close. Probably not even half that. I bet AT&T still makes money at the $39.99 price. I also wonder how many they sell at $189.99...

Here's the catch. They are going to give you the same contract and charge you the same price whether you get the "free" phone or bring your own. That's what sucks about the wireless industry in the US. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans can't be bothered to buy their own phone and bring it to the carrier for service. Maybe it's because we've got some different wireless standards and there could be confusion (iDEN, CDMA, GSM, etc). More than likely it's because the wireless carriers know they can make out like bandits otherwise.

The coupling of the phone to the service is inherently wrong and evil. Some carriers (Verizon Wireless) don't even activate phones who's ESNs they don't have in a database. All to "protect the network". Yeah right. If your network is going to go down because I want to use a CDMA cell phone I bought from Sprint a year ago you've got some serious network issues...

At least there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Soon enough cell phone carriers will have to pro-rate early termination fees. It's tough to lock someone into a contract with a $200 early termination fee to cover the cost of the $40 phone you "gave away" almost two years ago.

Nokia isn't ditching SIP

Someone sent me a link to a blog post about Nokia "turning it's back on VoIP". I know I can get pretty emotional from time to time, but at least I'm accurate when I do. At least I feel like I am, and that's all that matters, right?

Anyways, let's look at this post. The author points out that the new N78 and N96 no longer include the Symbian SIP client. This must mean Nokia is finally giving in to pressure from cell carriers in some huge scheme to enslave the mobile phone subscriber and direct all talk time over their network.

Follow up comments clarify the situation a bit. Nokia simply removed the interface to the SIP stack on the N series. It's still in the firmware and available to any third party developers, so the most "threatening" apps (Truphone, Gizmo, etc) will continue to work. People that just want to configure the phone to connect to their corporate/"personal" PBX will be out of luck. I love saying "personal" PBX. I have one. So do many of my friends. How geeky is that?

Why did the N series have a SIP interface in the first place? Anyone who has ever read my iPhone review knows that I believe teenagers and hipsters control a large chunk of the cellphone market which breaks down into three parts:

- Free (throw away) phones for moms, grandparents, and kids. Sign up for a two year contract and they're yours to keep! What a deal.
- Flashy phones for teenagers and hipsters (it's a better MP3 player/camera than phone)
- Serious business phones (Blackberry, Windows Mobile, most Symbian, etc)

The N series is (and always has been) a hipster phone. It's more likely to compete with the iPhone than the Blackberry or Nokia E-Series.

Speaking of the E-Series... The new Nokia E-71 still includes the SIP client. Nokia turning it's back on VoIP? I don't think so. Nokia learning a little more about their customers? Much more likely.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

OpenSER Update

I just got a very interesting Anonymous comment to my last post. One of my BIG questions was answered:

Kamailio or OpenSIPS?

For me that question was answered - OpenSIPS. Star2Star has purchased a block of consulting time from Voice System for OpenSER support. We used it once to flush out a bug in OpenSER 1.2. Other than that we have it for a little business security. It's nice to have an official avenue for support. Plus we like (financially) supporting Open Source software. It gives us so much, we should give a little back.

Anyways, this last post makes it pretty clear: OpenSIPS is Voice System's product. That's all I needed to hear. Thanks Anonymous commenter/blog reader!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More OpenSER Drama

My last rant on this blog covered the OpenSER name change to Kamailio. It's pretty obvious how I felt about it and it's even more obvious how upset (for lack of a better word) I was with the selection of the new name.

These new developments make a name change pale in comparison. This time I have something much more serious to fret over:

There has been a fork of OpenSER.

First some history. OpenSER started life as SER. Some time ago OpenSER was forked from SER for good reason (and a common one) - the company "sponsoring" the development of SER didn't understand Open Source. Community input was ignored. Patches took forever to be applied. IPTel just didn't get it. The developers (just about all of them) set out on their own to form OpenSER and create an Open Source friendly company to serve the needs of the OpenSER community - paid support, development, consulting, etc.

Almost everyone I know has (by now) abondoned SER and moved to OpenSER. Which is good because this fork (like any other) created a certain amount of fragmentation in the community:

- documentation
- support (mailing lists, etc)
- thirdy party support
- name recognition

Even with the SER and OpenSER projects generally moving in the same direction it was clear they couldn't be treated the same. Various changes were introduced in the configuration for each piece of software. They were (and are) mostly trivial, but you can't simply move an OpenSER configuration to a SER system (or vice-versa). You also can't ask an OpenSER question on a SER list (obviously). Granted most people are subscribed to both and can provide expertise on either product but it still creates a headache for the user - fragmentation of expertise, documentation, support, etc.

As I've said this doesn't seem to be that much of a problem anymore. OpenSER (Kamailio) is clearly where it's at. It's hard for me to describe how much respect I have for this software and it's developers. It is one of the most impressive products I have ever come across. It does what it is designed to do better than just about anything else I've ever seen.

As I have come to use OpenSER more and understand it better the activist in me begins to emerge. I feel pain anytime I see someone use a product where OpenSER could clearly do the job better. OpenSER doesn't get as much credit or use as it should. I can only theorize why this is but I do know one thing:

Forking doesn't help.

Any traction (that's for you, JJ) OpenSER has made over the last few years is being seriously threatened by these political shenanigans. In the last month or so I've reviewed the first OpenSER book and solicted OpenSER contributions for the upcoming O'Reilly Asterisk Cookbook. I was starting to feel like OpenSER was finally headed towards getting the exposure it deserves.

Most developers probably don't care about these things (exposure). They should, and if they don't the project admins should. And if they don't the biz guys at the company sponsoring the development should. Here's why.

- Attracts more users
-- More users for testing, bug reports, etc
-- More users to write documentation
-- More users to create revenue for the sponsoring company (consulting, etc)
- Attracts more developers. Open Source development is largely ego driven and the larger and more visible the project, the more developers (both good and bad) you attract.
- Attracts more third party interest in the project. Open Source software has a lot of holes for real business use. There is a huge potential for third party projects for OpenSER. Billing systems, desktop call managers, GUIs, etc.

Neither the SER community, OpenSER community, or OpenSIPS community are large enough to sustain this fragmentation. Sure they very well might survive but they won't be what they should.

Now what? There is an OpenSER book, but no OpenSER. There is Kamailio. I hope %100 of the users figure that out. I hope the publisher of the existing OpenSER book figures out how to deal with that. What happens if everyone (well, almost everyone) bails on OpenSER/Kamailio and moves to OpenSIPS? Now anyone providing support for these other OSPs (Open Source Proxies) has to decide which they will support. SER? Kamailio? OpenSIPS? All of them? None of them? That's what worries me.

I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I still use and recommend OpenSER 1.2 so none of this affects me - yet. Of course I'll be watching this closely. I will tell you one thing... I like the name OpenSIPS more than Kamailio...