Friday, 30 May 2008

Qik vs Youtube is a great service. Rock solid throughout my trip to Paris and really added something special to the media mix on our event web site. You can see the results at

My original plan was to video throughout the day and upload them to Youtube later. Qik was far,far easier and more immediate because you could do it straight from the handset but it also had another advantage over Youtube it doesn't try and work out what else you might want to watch.

I uploaded a video to Youtube on the night before we were due to leave only to get a phone call to say there was a link to something inappropriate video appearing.

Seems that Youtube had linked this to a video of a children's party where the attendees were having a swearing competition, or something like that, not at all good for a school affiliate web site.

So link to Youtube video removed and Qik was a our broadcast medium of choice for the trip.

Not sure of the long-term business model for Qik,I'm imagining that it's a technology play with the hope that someone bigger buys them. That said I can see some features that I would probably be prepared to pay for but I'm probably in the minority.

SMS Engagement

I posted on the Esendex Blog about SMS Blogging to Paris. I'd built a web site ( for the event and thought it would be a great idea if the riders and support team could send SMS messages in to the web site in order to keep our supporters at home updated. It was a stellar success.

I only gave the virtual mobile number to the team members as I was a little concerned about there being no moderation controls on a web site for a school affiliated event. The genie however was already out of the bottle.

A couple of the riders gave the number to their families and the dam was breached. Messages of support came flooding in as the number spread quite literally around the world. We had people texting in from as far afield as Australia.

The riders were clamouring round my laptop every night to see if anyone they knew had posted a message and/or replied to their posts throughout the day. Two-way conversations were happening between riders and children at the school.

Whether we'd have had the same response if I had provided a form on the web site for people to post comments I don't know but I do believe that using SMS as the transport medium added certain features that made it more successful.

Firstly anyone could do it anywhere, fundamentally important for the riders but I postulate that this also helped the viral spread of texting in. Our friends and families back home would have been bumping into each other, share what they knew about the service and it could have been acted on straight away, rather than having to wait until they were back at a computer.

Secondly, I think the constraints inherent in texting from a mobile handset kept messages short and succinct meaning a lot more messages could be displayed on the web site. Rather than a long message dominating the home page, lots of messages gave a more dynamic feel to the site, encouraging more usage.

The results were astounding, it was a huge motivational boost for the riders but it also engaged our friends, families and supporters in an unforeseen fashion.

Nottingham to Paris on a Brompton

I made it.

Not doing it again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Will O2 penalise me for being an early-adopter?

The 3G iPhone is imminent, I'm about 7 months into my existing contract (11 months to go), will O2 let me upgrade?

I sincerely hope they do and I don't think I'm necessarily being unreasonable.

The handset was unsubsidised so that's not part of my monthly charge. If O2 offered me the an upgrade but required me to extend my contract by another 18 months I'd probably go for it. They keep me as a customer for an extra 7 months and I get the shiny new iPhone.

Love the existing version as I do, and I really do, the data speeds are something that I put up with.

If they don't I'm going to decidedly annoyed. Hopefully I'll find out in a few weeks time.

Great support from Garmin

I've got a GPS device for my bike so have the desktop software loaded on my PC. Recently it failed to start on bootup and gave me an error dialog with a request to email contents to their support email.

Would had preferred option for just a button click to push to web service but the key thing is someone actually got back to me.

Had a personalised email from what appeared to be a real person explaining what the problem was and how I can avoid it.

Very nicely done

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Service Level Agreements for SMS Services, pointless?

I attended a presentation about the need for SLAs in the SMS industry by Michael Kowalzik, CEO of Tyn-Tec, at Global Messaging 2008 last week.

I wasn't going to go as I had seen him speak on the same subject last year, but it was on a track I was interested in. Thankfully he spent less time this year trying to promote Tyn-Tec's services and more on what they were and why they were needed.

The 2 main areas for SMS services that differ from standard IT services are

  • Message Throughput
  • Time to first delivery attempt

Message throughput is fairly easy to measure and report on but time to first delivery attempt is trickier for many of us providers as it relies on the network operators passing the information back.

Tyn-Tec make a great play of running their own SMSC infrastructure, hosted on Manx Telecom's network in the Isle of Man. They have complete control and thus can get the interim delivery receipts required out of their own SMSC.

We don't run our own SMSC but connect into network operators around the world to perform the delivery on our behalf. One of my periodic bang my head against the desk tasks has been to try and get our suppliers to give us the information so we can measure their performance, report that to customers and offer SLAs on the whole delivery process not just until the message leaves our system.

That finally looks like it's bearing fruit, the operators are realising that businesses are using SMS to drive business processes and that SLAs are a minimum requirement.

Great you'd think. Possibly.

I can't help thinking that operators implementing SMS Home Routing (see  SMS Home Routing, should we as an industry be worried?) is going to invalidate the SLA in the eyes of the customer.

Giving an SLA on first attempt is all very well but the customer expects that attempt to be to the handset rather than an interim system on the destination network. The value of the SLA is immediately watered-down when you have to introduce backside covering caveats about the SLA not representing handset delivery to certain destinations.

I concluded in my previous post that SMS Home Routing was an inevitability that we has an industry had to adapt to. I wonder if its corruption of SLAs will end up representing an opportunity lost.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


I met a number of people at Global Messaging 2008 once we'd set the messaging world straight and we talked more socially the topic of my impending cycle to Paris ( often came up.

This morning in the post was a cheque from one of those people donating to our cause.

I hadn't asked anyone for sponsorship, he wasn't a potential supplier trying to ingratiate himself with me, he stands to gain nothing directly from doing this. His only motivation was offer his support to a cause he felt was worthy and make a positive contribution to someone else's life.

Thank you, the world truly can be a nice place.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Mobile working back from Cannes - another coverage on trains rant

Following on form my post Mobile working to Cannes, I'm not going to report on the whole trip but I have one observation from the return leg.

For a number of reasons I ended up flying back to Heathrow then getting a cab back to Nottingham. Complete carbon disaster compared to the outbound leg.

Sitting in the back of the cab I fired up the laptop, plugged in the Vodafone USB modem and was greated with very good coverage for a good proportion of the journey up the M1. Given that most cars contain only one person and thus cannot take advantage of this data coverage, this makes the lack of a decent mobile service on the nation's inter-city rail routes even more criminal.

Is the M1 is benefiting from intersecting more urban coverage? It seems wholly wrong that where it is safe to use mobile coverage you can't (the train) and where it isn't (when you're single handedly piloting a tonne of metal and plastic) you have more than you can shake a stick at.

One of the people I met last week, who worked for a UK operator was explaining to me that much of the issue rests with Network Rail and their desire to cream as much out of the network operators as possible for putting rail-cells on their property.

He was actually advocating nationalising the cell infrastructure and let the network operators provide services on top. Not sure of the merits of this given his complaint about a monoplistic player preventing the establishment of the infrastructure.

If this is the issue, I do think there is a case for the government to step in and require Network Rail to facilitate the establishment of a network of cells to give full and reliable coverage to at least the intercity routes. I'm sure the train operating companies would be prepared to get involved if it meant providing better facilities to their customers.

This would also serve to increase the attractiveness of the train as a viable transport option to businesses. Thanks to this nation's obsession with personal transport, trains have to try much harder to attract passengers. Providing customers with the facilities to support proper mobile working would tip the balance for many people.

And who knows, we might just get a few more cars off the roads in the process.

Voice SMS is so much better than texting a BT landline

There are times when you don't need to work to sell in the benefits of a new service, the incumbent service you're improving on does it all for you, as it was with Voice SMS the other day.

A customer calls up very irritated that SMS messages he sent to a group of BT landlines had taken over 16 hours to arrive. The mobile recipients had received their messages almost instantaneously as usual.

Our support team investigated and all seemed fine from our side, as far as we could deduce there was some kind of delay on the BT side/operator interconnect. Unfortunately that was all the information we could glean.

"Try Voice SMS to the landlines instead" we suggested, "let us know what you think".

Result: another happy customer. He can see what's happened all the way through the message delivery process and has the added benefit of an acknowledgement.

I love it when a plan comes together ;-)

Friday, 9 May 2008

SMS Home Routing, should we as an industry be worried?

SMS Home Routing was a key topic discussed at Global Messaging 2008 this week. It's introduction brings with it the potential to seriously disrupt how we in the mobile messaging business deliver our services, especially cross-border. I made it my mission this week to try and understand what it means from the operator and vendor perspective

Firstly, I should probably explain the problem. SMS Home Routing means that whenever a message is sent to me it always passes through my home network, irrespective of where I am in the world. Normally when roaming, my home network never sees the message as it sent directly from the originating network to the network I'm roaming on.

Great, my operator can give me all sorts of value add services, like O2's Blue Book,SPAM filtering, twinning, out of office replies, SMS forwarding, etc, etc. To do all of these, the operator need to be able to intercept the SMS and apply some rules on it before passing it on to my handset.

It's the implementation of this interception that is the cause for concern. I spoke to, and heard from, senior figures at vendors like Airwide, Telsis and Tekelec who presented opposing views on how they recommend that their customers, the operators, do this. Similarly when I spoke to the operators they were also divided.

In the blue corner we have the transactional advocates. They believe that the transactional nature of SMS should be preserved. When a request is made to send a message to a handset, their systems proxy the request in real time. It handles delivering the message onto the handset and returns the ACK (delivery indication) back if the handset accepts the message. The sending SMSC know's nothing other of what happens behind the proxy but when the home network router reports the messages as delivered, it is.

In the red corner we have the store and forward advocates. Their systems will store the message and return the ACK back to the sending SMSC before it attempts to deliver the message to the destination handset. This unfortunately breaks the transactional nature of SMS and one of the key features that certainly most of our customers buy into, knowing whether the message has got to the handset.

I'll be honest, I arrived at the conference passionately backing the blue corner, a delivery receipt should tell me when the messages has actually arrived at the handset, but one of the vendors I spoke to certainly gave me some use cases that cause me to question this stance.

  • Security - send me an SMS and you can find out which country I'm in, what if I don't know you or want you to know where I am.
  • Status - a delivery receipt implies something about my status, I'm accepting messages therefore you can accept a response, what if I don't want you to know.
  • Twinning - where an SMS is sent to two or more of my handsets simultaneously when is it delivered, when it hits one, two, all?

I guess this comes down to a question of who owns the message, the sender or the recipient? Home routing allows the recipient to delegate the job of message handling to their operator instead of their handset thus allowing the recipient to take advantage of all sorts of value-add services.

The business case for these systems that came up time and time again was SPAM filtering. The network wants to protect their subscribers from nefarious senders of unsolicited messages which generally originate from off the network.

I starting to believe that this is perhaps a bigger threat. The move by the Spanish operators to outlaw the use of alphanumeric originators, except those that have been pre agreed and do not originate off-net appears to be conducted under the banner of SPAM prevention.

The evidence I hear around the industry of legitimate messages being quietly discarded when sent to certain networks because of 'quality' issues is not the fault of home routing but more likely overly simplistic SPAM filters.

The subject of alphanumeric originators, network interconnects and the operators general distrust of A2P (application to person) traffic is a topic I will be returning to as I believe this is a more fundamental issue affecting us that could very quickly get out of hand.

Coming back to SMS home routing, I believe ultimately we have to accept it as an inevitability. As one operator contact told me, "I don't like it, but because xxx have done it we're going to have to as well". And let's be honest there are some really cool things it allows my network to do for me.

Much as we'd like not to, we have to accept that we faced with an oligopoly whose interests are not necessarily aligned with ours. The concept of delivery receipts and the knowledge they give us about the status of a communication is changing and we going to have to swallow that pill and adapt our services accordingly.

The rules have changed, but innovation thrives in times of adversity

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Loving Windows Live Writer

Like Microsoft have created some blogging software, that's like free and like works with everything that's not Microsoft and is like really useful and like really works and like doesn't pollute your markup with loads of MS specific guff.

Who'd of thought?

I really recommend you check it out: Windows Live Writer

iPhone maps rescue me again

Not for the first time I've been very lazy and just turned up somewhere thinking I could find my way to where i was going using only my instincts.

After walking far too far along the beach in Cannes I used the iPhone maps to find my hotel. Only to find that I'd walked past it a far while ago.

While tools like the iPhone and GPS devices are accused of dumbing us down. They don't half make life easier.@

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Mobile working to Cannes

I decided to take the train to Global Messaging 2008 in Cannes,France. Last year I did it overnight which was sort of fun. This year I'm heading down during the day and seeing whether it's possible to do a days work while I spend the day travelling.

So armed with a my Sony Vaio, Vodafone USB Modem and BlackBerry I attempted to spend the day travelling but so that no one would notice.

3 trains required (if you ignore 2 stop on the RER in Paris):

  1. Nottingham to London St Pancras
  2. London St Pancras to Paris Gare de Lyon
  3. Paris Gare de Lyon to Cannes

Nottingham to London - East Midlands Trains

This first leg is well known to me. I was able to use the power point to keep my laptop battery topped up but no WiFi and mobile coverage is shocking as usual. I've pretty much got used to not being able to do anything connected while on the train to/from London. That said my BlackBerry does an excellent job of exchanging emails when coverage allows.

Same goes for voice calls. Pointless trying to have a conversation.

It's always perplexed me as to why the mobile network operators have not invested in coverage for train lines. Little sardine cans of punters desperate to be communicate or consume content because there's nothing else to do.

conclusion: 3/10 great to have power, connectivity shocking

London to Paris - Eurostar

Aarrgh no power. Luckily I've invested in another battery for my laptop as the spare battery that came with my now 2 year old Vaio couldn't make it to Paris (the original battery gave up long ago). I guess though that a lot people's laptops will survive the 2hr journey so this shouldn't be too much of a hindrance.

I remember when Eurostar first opened and the trains seemed so glamorous, now they just seem tired and sadly lacking in basic facilities. Power points being one.

If they are trying to provide a business service then power is a must and I think WiFi would be a key asset. GNER (now National Express) seem to have done a great job on the East Coast Line, why not a premium route like London - Paris.

However this was when the Vodafone modem came to the fore, especially on the French side. I got 3G coverage almost all the way from Calais to Paris. I actually managed to use some web applications. Properly review some emails, respond completely. It was like being at my desk at home.

Voice calls no problem.

conclusion: 7/10 connectivity pretty good though WiFi would be beter, could really do with power

Paris to Cannes

This was going to be the real test. The first 2 legs are less than or about the 2 hour mark. If all else failed you could probably catch up with things at a coffee shop at one of the stations. 5 hours of whizzing through the French countryside was really going to put this experiment to the test, and it did.

I had high hopes for this train trip. The French being well known for their super fast train service, tearing round the country brimming with socialist pride. I imagined it would be well setup for the travelling business person.

I booked way ahead so travelled first class and was greeted by a nice big seat on the top deck (thought that might be better for mobile coverage) with my own power point.

No WiFi again, but as we left Paris I was hopeful as 3G coverage remained but this soon gave way to 2G, which in turn gave way to very patchy indeed. For large chunks of the journey it was unworkable. Especially as it seemed to stop connecting automatically, maybe that's a roaming setting.

Voice calls were also tricky, especially given they seem to be frowned upon in the carriage. Nothing like a mobile phone etiquette faux-pas in a foreign country to endear yourself with your fellow passengers.

conclusion: 6/10 power and seat great, data coverage varied

So is it workable? Certainly Eurostar, though more on the French side than the British. Given they've shortened that bit recently, I guess it's less of a problem ;-). The key at the moment is to know your route and know how to work round it's foibles.

Having used the WiFi on the East Coast (London to Edinburgh) line it's difficult to understand why other rail operators aren't putting it in across their fleet. You look in any rail carriage these days and the number of laptops as just mushroomed. Couple that with WiFi capable phones and PDAs and there's an army of people that would be quite prepared to pay an additional charge for WiFi while they travel.

I might be getting a little carried away, but I wonder if the government has any view on the national productivity hit of having people stuck on trains, unable to access their work. Could a government subsidy drive adoption as well as our GDP?

Searching for my twitter identity

Ewan of SMS Text News came to see us at Esendex yesterday. One of the subjects we chewed on, over Coke and tomato juice (boy it was a wild afternoon ;-)) was twitter.

I've followed twitter for a while and been intrigued, if not wowed, by the service it provides. "What are you doing?" is a question potentially of interest to a some people I know but in the most part, they're probably not interested in everything.

I decided to try and start using it last week and was soon tweeting about a trip to Legoland with the family, the triathlon I competed in, an 'interesting' thought on mobile I'd had. I've setup twitterfeed so whenever I post a blog entry that appears as well. I dropped the widget on my blog and sat back, proud that I was embracing the latest in social networking, communication, thingies. But then I looked again and realised it was just noise.

It was a stream of consciousness with no theme and questionable relevance to it's audience.

People I know in the industry and with whom I discuss trends, happenings, etc are likely to be interested in my thoughts on my trip to Global Messaging 2008 as I am with their's. If we're to shape an industry this kind of collective knowledge sharing is fantastic. Unfortunately most of those guys don't care about me building part of record breaking Lego tower. In fact, having that on my stream is a positive hinderance when we're all following multiple people and trying to discern what everyone's doing relative to the mobile industry.

Likewise my mates with whom I cycle and race with will want to know of my racing exploits. My Mum want's to know about Legoland and her grandchildren. That is assuming that these groups actually use twitter, given most of them aren't geeks that is unlikely, but that should probably be the subject of another post.

So it comes down to a question of identity. What should my twitter persona be? Do I need multiple twitter personas? What if I want to overlap those personas?

The ideal scenario for me would be to be able to categorise my tweets, set up sub-micro feeds. Your own categories could be presented as a optional set of check boxes on the update page. The main feed would still work, but these categories would be presented as sub feeds.

SMS input could still be preserved by twitter providing multiple text in numbers that can be mapped to your mobile number and category. Meaning, multiple people could use the same numbers with different categories. They'd only need as many numbers as the maximum number of sub-feeds people would need/be allowed. I can't imagine it costing them any more money.

However, for me this would only solve part of the problem. A big question is. "Is the world tweeting about something of relevance to me?". It's all very well if the people you follow know about something but the world is a big place. The new iPhone goes on sale and they're all broken, my customers are complaining about my services, a band I desperately want to see have just released tickets for some surprise gigs, there's an impromptu demonstration about human rights abuses happening NOW. All of things would really require a common syntax, semantic tagging, to be accurate. Something I'm chewing on and will post on later.

So, for the moment is going to become an extension of this blog, alongside BlogIt and the good old fashioned web browser. Another means of registering and diseminating my thoughts and views on Esendex and the industry as a whole. Let me know.