DRIP passed through first phase

17 Jul
July 17, 2014

It seems that the new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill is going to get rushed through without any serious challenge.

I’ve held back comment on the bill so far, unlike a range of people far more learned than I am, like David Allen Green, Lillian Edwards and even an FT Editorial [requires registration, free] all of whom have almost unilaterally condemned the bill both in terms of its timescale, but also in terms of how the government has clearly lied about the fact that it doesn’t maintain the status quo but in fact significantly increases the scope of existing legislation.

I’m in an unusual situation having seen first hand how data like location information on cell phones and call analysis can help find a vulnerable missing person (see my personal blog for details of my life in Mountain Rescue) and so I broadly support the right of access to data of this kind. However, I’m also a staunch believer in due process and that is one thing that this Bill has not been subject to.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Benjamin Franklin

Regardless of my personal opinion on the content of the Bill itself, I am astounded that the Government has waited three months to pontificate on the ECJ decision before presenting this as emergency legislation with almost no time for debate. I applaud the 49 MPs who voted against the timetable and stood up for the democratic process (citation: Open Rights Group).



02 Mar
March 2, 2014

Firstly, normal service has been restored here – I had an issue with the virtual machine that this blog was hosted on and it’s taken a little time to get it back up to speed again.

In other news, we’ve made some changes in Siphon this year – at the start of the year, I handed over the operational reigns to a good friend of mine, Steve Ralfe, who will be taking the operations team forward from strength to strength. Passing the operational side over to Steve will allow me to focus on a different area – new products and innovation.

Siphon has from its first days focused on two types of products – market leaders with well-established and solid products like BroadSoft’s BroadWorks and the AcmePacket range of SBCs; and in the hope of encouraging new entrants in the market and bringing new and exciting products and technologies to our customers. As our customer base, product range and indeed the company itself has grown, we need to be able to dedicate more time to finding, evaluating and bringing these new products to the market and our customers. This year, we have opportunities to bring a number of new products to the market that are going to be disruptive and incredibly exciting and I’m going to be focusing on delivering these products.

This is an exciting time and I’ll be using this blog not only to provide the usual technical advice and industry analysis on our existing products but also on the new products we’re bringing to market.

Watch this space.

Is the field changing for Network Administrators?

27 May
May 27, 2013

Going through my news feed recently, I came across this interesting little gem: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/24/network_configuration_automation/

For those of you who can’t be bothered to read it, it’s an interesting piece on how the industry thinks the significant expense in running networks these days is in the administrators hired to configure and run it. Mike Banic, marketing VP for HP’s networking division thinks that the way forward is to automate the network configuration, as do senior execs from companies like Juniper and Comcast amongst others. Dave Larson, HP Networking’s chief technologist for security and routing was making some very interesting noises about developing software to control the network equipment in a way that scales to the level that “cloud” computing is demanding today. Banic went on to describe how HP is already working on such a system. “You define what you need for an application,” he said, “and it will automate the configuration of those resources – access switches, core switches, routers, firewalls, [intrusion detection systems]. And it will actually evaluate whether those services are there in place before you hit the ‘Go’ button to deploy them.”

Is this going to happen? I certainly think so – at least one of our customers is already there – they’ve developed in-house software that configures the network from a provisioning system, from switchports through to ordering circuits, telephone handsets and services and accounts on the relevant systems. Whilst it’s in a specific environment, it won’t take leaps of imagination for this now to extend to a more generic sense.

The question is, does this remove the need for the network administrators, the CCIEs and their colleagues that Juniper’s VP of enterprise marketing Steve Collen apologises to for putting their jobs at risk? Well, in their current form, yes. History is full of tales of the workforce being ousted by new processes – you just have to look at the industrial age to see this. Personally though, whilst we perhaps won’t see network administrators employed in the volume currently seen, they obviously do have a role. Whilst vendors continue to create integration headaches by “embracing and expanding” on well-known standards, it’s debatable whether any automated system could correctly and optimally configure a multi-vendor network.

The other place where I think we’ll see these engineers move to is in areas where they become highly specialised experts, working to resolve issues on the networks – because things will still break and will still go wrong.

This is a conversation I had with a friend recently – we’re hiring at the moment and we were discussing the kind of people we’re looking for. There aren’t many highly skilled voice engineers available on the market at the moment, so we’ve started looking at network engineers who are at that point in their career where they’re looking for a new challenge or to specialise.

It’s an interesting world out there at the moment and the Internet and cloud computing is changing the landscape in ways which we can’t predict.


21 Jan
January 21, 2013

Just around Christmas we announced the acquisition of VCOMM, previously a subsidiary of Coms PLC. With all of the integration work that’s going on at the moment work has been pretty busy, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about what this means for my team and I – I’m sure our MD, Steve Harris would have plenty to say on the commercial side,  but I’m going to focus on the technical and service delivery aspects.

Those people who read this blog who are our customers are already familiar with the incredible quality of service that we already offer. We’ve made it a point that any new product we bring on board isn’t sold until we understand the equipment, how to design networks with it, deploy it, configure it, break it, fix it and debug it. We make a point of knowing the products well enough that most of the questions we see are answered within the team and not escalated to the vendor. As a result, we close some 75% of tickets in-house. This has resulted in some interesting feedback including one customer who’s a major UK provider of hosted telephony remarking that he would groan when we said we’d have to escalate to a vendor as he knew it wouldn’t be resolved quickly.

Of course, this kind of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight, so products in the VCOMM range that we don’t know will take a little time to get to that standard, however there’s some crossover there that we can take advantage of immediately. Our ideals and goals that our technical team applies to the work we do will apply equally to the work we do with the VCOMM customers, something I think will benefit everyone in the long run.

Although this isn’t going to have a significant impact on our operations in Siphon immediately we’re working hard to make sure that whatever changes we make are for the better for both companies – and I can tell you that the team is excited by the acquisition and the opportunities it’s going to bring us and our customers!


18 Jan
January 18, 2013

It’s as much a certainty that this country descends into chaos when the white stuff hits the ground as it is that you’ll find hundreds of people ranting about how badly we cope with the snow. With our new HQ and Technical Centre of Excellent in Cwmbran, in South East Wales, there was significant potential for us to see widespread disruption to our business. Yet, even with my car 10″ deep in snow outside the house, our entire team worked as normal today. I answered emails, attended conference calls and our TAC fixed customer systems, made critical changes and continued to offer the incredible support we’re renowned for. Just another day – how did we manage it?

Siphon has since its inception been a significant supporter of the concepts behind “cloud” services, SaaS and AaaS systems and mobility – and so we should be given that we sell hosted telephony systems! But that’s extended not only to our voice communications, but to our other communications systems, customer information systems and even our support system. Right from the start we based our systems and equipment around one simple concept – work from anywhere.

Every single person in the company has a laptop and a mobile phone. Couple that ability to connect to the Internet certainly from most of the UK and, in reality, from most of the places we travel to in the world to our use of SaaS systems and you have a perfect recipe. In theory, upon the evacuation of our office for some unknown reason, we could decant our staff to the nearest McDonalds if we had to (yes, we even have a list of places locally that provide wifi should we need it in an emergency)!

Our voice communication makes all this trivial. We have our own platform that we use to demonstrate our services to customers which contains just about every product we sell. The key piece of this on the mobility site is Comdasys, our fixed-mobile convergence platform that really does allow me to treat my mobile like my desk phone either over wifi or the mobile network transparently and simply.

On top of everything else, we have some careful planning. Several staff members have or still do spend some of their spare time volunteering with a variety of Emergency Services and their experience in emergency planning and incident handling provides us with an incredibly strong team when dealing with problems.

So the next time your staff are stuck at home and you’re struggling to deliver your normal service, stop and think a little about how you can use not only technology but your people to make your business more flexible and resilient.

Updates from BroadSoft Connections 2012

23 Oct
October 23, 2012

It’s been a fascinating day here at Connections with some interesting announcements from BroadSoft. Two in particular have caught my eye.

The first is the announcement from BroadSoft of their launch of “UC One” – a service offering bringing together a number of features from their portfolio under a single brand. I think this is a reaction from BroadSoft to the perceived Lync threat – the entire industry is talking about Lync at the moment, although from a telephony perspective, industry analyst Matt Townend recently blogged that Lync appears to be making less of an impact than it would seem.

There’s been some interesting commentary from a number of attendees covering the whole spectrum of opinions, but for me the key point from this announcement is that not all of the services that form part of the portfolio are operating in Europe. However, whether you take advantage of the cloud offerings from BroadSoft or not, there’s plenty of new features to keep people happy including some UI enhancements to the client applications.

What’s of more interest to me personally is the announcement of BroadSoft’s Xtended Connect service. Partnering with Intellipeer this is a particularly powerful service that allows BroadSoft customers to connect to each other globally over IP, allowing HD voice and video calls to be passed between networks. HD voice (using the G.722 codec) is a huge step up from the PSTN and one of those features that sets VoIP apart from traditional phone systems. Creating a single, larger network of interconnected service providers can only be a good thing in my opinion. I’ll be spending some time tomorrow looking into the service and finding out how it works, both from a commercial and technical sense.

IPv6 rollout

23 Oct
October 23, 2012

The exciting thing about this post is that it’s completely mundane.

I turned on IPv6 on my OneAccess router at home this week. With the exception of a small typo, everything worked perfectly. Now I have native IPv6 on my WebTapestry DSL line. IPv6 deployment in our house is complete!

Staying connected

22 Oct
October 22, 2012

I’m attending BroadSoft Connections this week – a major conference in the world of VoIP. For those who aren’t familiar with the name BroadSoft is one of the world leading companies in the industry and produce a hosted VoIP telephony platform complete with a range of ancillary services and products to provide service providers with a complete ecosystem.

Just because I’m attending a conference doesn’t mean I’m not working this week – there are a whole bunch of things going on back in the office that I need to keep abreast of, not to mention the fact that we’re planning on moving house soon! It’s been a year since the last Connections conference – how have things changed?

This year I’m travelling with four Internet-enabled devices – two smartphones (one work, one personal), a tablet PC and my laptop and – more than ever before – I’m realising that my life is so integrated with the Internet that when I go somewhere where my usage is curtailed, I really struggle. My ticket was booked online; I had an e-boarding pass. My entry into the US was contingent on completing the electronic travel authorisation (ESTA). The hotel booking was completed online and we registered for the conference online. I didn’t check any maps before I left – why bother when I have Google Maps on my phone (I wanted to make sure I arrived at the right place, so Apple Maps was out). All of this was tracked through Tripit – a great application that I use to organise my travel and help keep me up to date with unscheduled changes.

Those are my needs – what’s the reality? As soon as I arrived, both of my phones alerted me to the fact that data whilst roaming was expensive. I hadn’t made any preparations nor was I going to bother buying a local SIM as I have a range of services on my phones that depend on this mobile number – Vodafone are charging £15 for 5Mb of data as a flat rate. Orange texted me and told me they charged £8 per Mb – woah! But they also offered a package where I can turn on a service that, if I use any data, costs £6 per day for up to 30Mb – then we’re back to £8 per Mb after that. However they also provide an app that helps you track your usage and provide warnings. Once connected, the speeds I’m getting here in Phoenix, AZ are pretty impressive – the networks obviously have plenty of capacity.

Wherever possible, I’m using wifi – it was free in the airport and its also complimentary in our hotel, the Hilton-family Hampton Inn and Suites. Here in the venue hotel, the Westin Kierland, the wifi is free for guests but not for conference attendees, and it struggles with some 1,000 people attending this conference.

Either way, I’m pretty impressed – I’m managing to keep myself connected fairly effectively and managing to keep up to date with what’s going on at home, even if that does mean getting woken up at 4am this morning by an urgent phone call! Last year, I struggled a lot more with finding decent data – the conference venue wifi problems appear to be a common theme however, something that hotels like this really should have a better handle on. Maybe next year I’ll check out local SIMs as an option – or maybe by next year I won’t need to…?

Driving mediocrity

04 Sep
September 4, 2012

I was in a meeting recently discussing a new business opportunity. As part of the discussion, we were talking about processes by which companies select contracts and the concept of an ebay-style auction which I’d not come across before. When it was explained to me, I was aghast.

If you’re not familiar with the process, it starts quite simply with a Company announcing that they have a project or a purchase to make and requesting people tender. This is pretty normal and a number of companies will respond with details of how they would meet the Company’s requirements and what else they can bring to the table. A team of people will evaluate each of these responses – some will be discarded outright as they don’t meet the requirements. Others will be visited, probed, researched and will answer questions, provide demonstrations and generally invest a large amount of time and money in the process. Eventually a list will be drawn up of those companies that the team believes could technically fulfil the requirements.

Then those short-listed suppliers will get a link to a website. There, they will see the contract they’re bidding for. During a set period, they will bid against each other to win – with the obvious difference from ebay that the lowest bidder wins.

That sounds eminently sensible and fiscally responsible. And, to me, it sounds completely and utterly insane. It’s pushing everyone towards the lowest common denominator; to provide the minimum necessary to clear that bar; telling people not to bother – it’s driving mediocrity.

What am I on about?

When I joined SIPhon I had a purpose – I wanted to make sure that when someone spoke about us, they said “Those guys are awesome”. I wanted people to remember us because we were excellent. Because we did incredible work. Because we helped them to make their service and their company better. I was tired of people saying that VoIP was a poor cousin to traditional communications. That it was a budget technology. I wanted to show that we could make a difference.

So we built a company that did that and did it well. We’re good at what we do. We’re flexible. We’re able to all that because we’ve got good people. And this – all of this – this is what makes us better than the next guy.

But what does any of that matter in this system? So long as we can meet the minimum, why pay more, right?

Have you ever had a business relationship that ended up the same as it started? Relationships grow. Companies grow. Nothing stays the same and you often have no idea where the future will take you. Our best partners are those that learn and grown and help us grow with them. Our best customers are those that learn and grown and let us help them grow. But all that requires flexibility. It requires excellence.

There’s no space in that bidding system for excellence – it just keeps driving mediocrity.

I’m not a specialist on purchasing or business so I might be missing something here – if you know what that is, drop me a line below or email me directly. I’m always happy to learn.

"BT Wholesale seeks live TV over broadband trialists"

15 Aug
August 15, 2012

A news article was published recently on Comms Business – I say news article, but they’re almost entirely regurgitated press releases. The article was about BT Wholesale’s new trial of live TV over broadband and had the following quote:

Establishing broadband as a TV platform is an exciting development in our industry and BT Wholesale looks forward to hearing from CPs wishing to be in the vanguard of this development.

“BT Wholesale seeks live TV over broadband trialists”

Now, whilst BT is occasionally at the forefront of new technology, I’d hardly call what BT doing as being “…in the vanguard…” of anything in relation to IPTV over broadband. Tiscali have done this for some time and at my previous company, Inuk Networks, this was precisely what we did back in 2007 – Inuk has since changed hands and brands a few times but the service now operates under the CableCom name. So BT, you’re welcome to join the party and try and catch up with where the rest of the industry is going, just don’t pretend that you’re leading the pack here.