The demise of ATM

January 31, 2007

It’s said that a few weeks is long time with the Internet, so it’s amazing to take a look at what has happened over 12 years in the network world that delivers the Internet to your door.

You will detect a particular flavour to this story and this is the subject of Quality of Service which has been a thread to many of my activities over the years.

We are all Lemmings in our own way following the latest trend and trying to be at the heart of whatever industry gestalt is seen to be the thing of the moment. So I thought I would kick this little mini-series off with a look back at the ATM ‘revolution’ of the ’90s for a global bandwagon that went belly up.

ATM stands for asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) which was standardised in 1988. ATM is a cell switching technology and along with synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) transport, was meant to form the basis of the public broadband ISDN (B-ISDN). B-ISDN, also know as the Information Superhighway (what an archaic term) was the holy grail of the telecommunications industry before the Internet. I wrote a short overview of ATM way back in 1992.

Although ATM came out of the telecommunications world as it was standardised by the ITU in Geneva, it was soon picked up in that pre-IP world as a standard that could be used to converge the totally different worlds of WAN and LAN technologies to create seamless WAN/LAN infrastructures. At the time, the public data services world was just getting used to frame relay, a cut down X.25 service and private LANs were all about IP and Ethernet. The new gestalt had begun!

Converged Networks based on ATM

The diagram above was a typical slide of an equipment vendor of the time. ATM was the future for WANs! ATM was the future for LANs ! By 97/98 every single one of the major WAN / LAN equipment vendors had huge ATM divisions and IP was just not on their strategic radar. Of course, there was one exception to this and we all know who that was – Cisco.

A 1995 graph predicting European WAN Adapter Shipments from DataQuest (now Gartner) can be seen above. This inaccurately predicted that ATM would steamroller all before it – this was the generally accepted view of the time. Domination would be achieved by 2006 funnily enough. The graph on the right from the Yankee Group shows 2006 reality which is slightly different.

One big lesson in all this is to always look beyond what analysts say as they are invariably incorrect and just reflect currently held current views. No one can really predict the future! This holds true for today just as much it was in 1997.

It was clear to all that the core of both private and public networks would be ATM. Boy was this wrong. I guess the Company vision held by Fore in 1998 does with hindsight smack of a company burying its head in sand to avoid reality.

Two of the biggest vendors, Fore and Newbridge stuck to their ATM guns until the very end with predictable consequences. Newbridge was sold to Alcatel and heaven knows why Marconi ( now Ericsson) bought Fore at a time when it was clear that ATM was dead.

ATM lived on for many years as an underlying transport for IP backbones and still survives today as the bearer in DSL. The latter is purely for legacy reasons as DSL dates back to the late 80s when ATM was being defined.

So why did ATM die? The answer is quite easy really. In the LAN world IP and Ethernet were taking hold as the de facto standards and equipment based on those standards were so much simpler, easier to understand (better the devil you know) and significantly cheaper. ATM equipment was expensive because it was primarily designed for the the service provider world. Also, it was easier to move Ethernet up to 100 Mbit/s, onto 1Gbit/s and 10Gbit/s today than jump ship to ATM. Software didn’t need to changed and there were no ‘driver’ issues. Whereas, ATM would require a complete restart of hardware and software in the LAN evironment and few IT departments were willing to bite that bullet for so few benefits. I wouldn’t like to add up the overall cost to equipment vendors of developing ATM and then closing down all those divisions, but I bet it was a few $10bns!


ATM’s classes of service

However, ATM had one real benefit that neither IP nor Ethernet had: defined classes of services. What this meant that using ATM it was possible to give priority to real-time services (isochronous services) such as video or Voice over IP (VoIP) services over store-and-forward services such as e-mail.

The lack of this capability in IP at that time had, in my opinion, a profound impact on just about everything that followed in the IP networking world. In fact you could say it was THE dominant issue that has influenced Ip architecture ever since.

Looking back, I really did enjoy those days at all those conferences with my ‘ATM is dead’ presentations – even if many disagreed at the time.

There was a particular seminal start-up that started the next phase of developement of IP services. More on this in Part 2.

Part 2: The phenomenon of Ipsilon.

AlwaysOn Live webcast 29th-31st January now!

January 30, 2007

A bit late but…

AlwaysOn is pleased to be broadcasting its entire AlwaysOn Media NYC event from January 29 – 31st to an online audience all over the world at no cost to viewers. Today’s program is posted below.
AlwaysOn Media NYC -- January 29-31, 2007

The Webcast is live today from 8:30am – 6:00pm EST. Viewers can join in the discussion by asking questions and sharing comments and see them beamed up on the big screen at our event.

Click here to watch the
webcast and join us in NYC!

All the presentations will be archived on this site as well.

Mobile apps: Java just doesn’t cut the mustard?

January 30, 2007

When I attended Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 conference in December 2006, I bumped into an old colleague of mine Francis Charig. Francis is CEO of the Tao Group (pronounced ‘dow group’) based in Reading, UK. I think I first met Francis, back in the mid 1990s when they were moving to enter the mobile middleware market. The company was formed in 1992 with Francis as Chairman and Chris Hinsley as the Director of Technology. Their original product was a software development platform that enabled games programmers to develop games that were portable across a number of operating systems.
Over the years this has morphed into intent, a modular software development platform for the creation of rich multimedia services on mobile phones. intent enables applications developers to write binary, portable, native and Java services without the “behavioral inconsistencies that have plagued the rest of the industry.”

In my chat with Francis, we were talking about today’s complexities of developing applications that are able to run on a multiplicity of phones. I mentioned to him that with an application I was developing I was avoiding the use of phone based software (J2EE et al) like the plague because it was so challenging, if not impossible, to develop a portable application. Fortunately, my application is a very simple text based application and the best way to deliver this service is through the phone’s browser. Taking that path, portability is ensured with minimum support costs.

The conversation then moved the conversation on to Java and I exclaimed “I thought so”!

However, it might be best to directly quote from Francis’ paper:

“Many expected Java to be the solution [to multimedia application development on mobile phones]. But now the market has broadly woken up to Java’s true capabilities with the gaming community shouting, “I told you so.”

In its defense, Java wasn’t designed for the delivery of the typical consumer services we want to use today based around powerful multimedia. The only way to deliver rich media on Java, even to a fairly rudimentary level has been to tie each implementation so closely with the underlying hardware that the portability of the platform has been all but eliminated, and the variation in platform has been such that there are huge inconsistencies in running the same application across multiple devices. To illustrate the fragmentation around Java, in the mobile games world the requirement to run across so many handsets has meant that publishers have had to maintain literally hundreds of different SKUs of just of a single Java game, and with significant behavioural differences between handsets.

Java was not designed with 21st century market requirements in mind. It was planned with certain objectives and those objectives, by and large, were fulfilled and fulfilled to a high standard. What it was not designed to do was enable services such as the more advanced 3D mapping applications or competitive casual or console gaming. Java is abstracted too far away from the hardware that powers the device to provide an efficient platform and the ubiquity that the market craves.

Consequently, we have seen application developers move in 2006 to writing in high-level languages that output native codes such as C and C++. This is a return to non-portable platforms with rich media APIs tied to specific hardware/software combinations… Our industry has moved from a Java to post-Java market, where Java still exists as an important part of the platform but not the entire platform itself… ‘Write once, run once’. But native code is required to meet consumer expectations. It’s quite a dichotomy.”

This is really quite profound in its consequences and, as Francis says, presents quite a dilemma to advanced mobile service developers.

Maybe I’ll stick to browser-based WML, XHTML or even AJAX solutions for the moment or just give Francis a call!

Ryan Carson on UK start-up 101

January 29, 2007

I came across a really interesting set of posts the other day from Carson Ryan’s blog detailing his experiences and providing advice about getting a new business off the ground in the UK. Although I havn’t read them all as yet, what I did read made a lot of sense!

  1. Small Biz 101: How to get started
  2. Small Biz 101: Cash flow
  3. Small Biz 101: No one starts with a masterpiece
  4. Small Biz 101: Tips for Increasing
  5. The cost of bootstrapping your app: The figures behind DropSend (part 1)
  6. The cost of bootstrapping your app: The figures behind DropSend (part 2)
  7. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK
  8. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Cash Flow
  9. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Hiring Freelancers
  10. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Promoting Yourself – 15 Do’s and Don’ts
  11. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Getting a Merchant Account

Take a read!

Crisp Thinking: a child protection technology

January 29, 2007

When I heard the short presentation from Adam Hildreth of Crisp Thinking at Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 event held at the iMax theatre before Christmas, there was something that really intrigued me about what they were up to.

They were hosted at the event by David Rowe who runs Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team and hosts their Startup Zone.

In fact there were three things that I found interesting (a) The service they offer seemed, to me at least, very innovative that focused on an industry pain not being addressed in a significant way by other companies (b) Their approach to solving the problem from a network and technology perspective seemed remarkably different, and (c) their CEO is only 21! You don’t come across this combination too often in my experience.

What do they do?

Crisp have developed a child protection gateway (CPG) that has been designed to sit in an ISP network to protect children and teenagers from the specific threat of online-grooming and cyber-bullying. The CPG acts as the gateway for the traffic from protected households. Because all of the child protection components actually sit in the network layer, not on the client, the Crisp solution could offer unrivalled levels of protection. It is extremely hard for even a “well tuned” teenager to circumvent their network level controls.

The core of the CPG is Crisp’s Anti-Grooming Engine (AGE™). AGE™ takes a completely different approach to the traditional market approach for Parental Controls. It focuses on protecting children from external threats, rather than on moderating what children can and cannot do on the net. The net result provides an experience which is positive for both Parents and Children.

How do they do it?

Clearly, CPG type functionality could be installed in a domestic environment attached to DSL router to intercept traffiic but Crisp’s business model calls for them to work with ISP’s and embed their CPGs in the ISP’s network.

Although working with carriers / ISPs is always a challenge, it strikes me that Crisp’s technology would be well received as it provided a service that could prove to be very popular with parents. Crisp describe it thus:

“Offering controls within a network that an ISP can ‘switch on’ drives one of the key aspects of an ISP’s revenue model; value added services. With child protection being one of the few mass-market value added services this becomes particularly important in the current broadband ‘price war’.

Network-level protection also gives an ISP huge brand differentiation within the market; a consumer’s perception is immediately changed if their ISP is actually pro-actively protecting their family.”

The people:

Crisp is a young company and is actually Adam’s second start-up, even though he is only 21. Although he might be mightily embarrassed by this, when he was 18 he came number 4 in the RichList 2020 drawn up by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Internet can be a horror sometimes!

Adam has put together a strong management team and has attracted Andrew Burke to be their Chairman. As Andrew was earlier BT’s CEO, BT Entertainment, I guess Adam has had many meetings with BT at Adastral Park!


This certainly seems to be a company that has come with some cute technology and is taking an innovate, but challenging, approach to market. They are certainly addressing a major industry pain and if they are successful with thier trials I would expect a significant take up by the ISP community both small and large.

And, if you want to beat a path the Adam’s door, book your train seat because as they are based in Leeds in Northern England.

Postnote: Coincidentally, I saw that MySpace could be offering child monitoring software.

In January 2006, xBOX was launched – a firewall-based solution.
In February 2006, I came across newly launched anti-grooming software from In Loco Parentis

Trevor Baylis and Virgin Galactic – huh?

January 25, 2007

I just received an email from Mike Southon famous for his book The Beermat Entrepreneur and his regular evening network meetings. Mike could sell, as well as talk, a hind leg off a donkey and he is always an inspirational speaker in his own right. In this month’s newsletter, he provided a link to an MP3 interview with Trevor Baylis.Of course, you will remember Trevor as the inventor of the clockwork radio from a few years back. In the free podcast you can hear about his early life, but if you want to get up to date you will have buy the full interview.

That interview reminded me of the IT Futures conference for CIOs that I attended in November. It wasn’t so much the formal technical presentations that stuck in my brain, but the two special presenters they brought in.

The first was Stephen Attenborough who had the fabulous job title of VP, Astronaut Relations! The company? Virgin Galactic of course! If you go to their web site choose the flash version (Now that is definitely a first for me).

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first spaceline.  Giving you the groundbreaking opportunity to become one of the first ever non-professional astronauts.  Virgin Galactic will own and operate its privately built spaceships, modelled on the remarkable, history-making SpaceShipOne.

Virgin’s vast experience in aviation, adventure, luxury travel and cutting-edge design combined with the unique technology developed by Burt Rutan will ensure an unforgettable experience unlike any other available to mankind.

Stephen’s presentation was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen for years. It had nothing to do with IT, but I guarantee everyone in that audience of CIOs will remember the IT Futures conference for years.

You can see the movie about the $1,000,000 X-prize and even book your $100,000 seat for your personal trip into space! SpaceShipOne made three flights into space with altitudes greater than 100km during 2004, culminating with X Prize winning flight on 4th October 2006. Quite mind blowing and such positive PR for Richard Branson as the sponsor and for entrepreneurial UK.

The second guest speaker in the lunch break was Trevor Baylis and I had the luck (or initiative?) to sit next to him for lunch. Trevor now focuses on helping inventors, entrepreneurs and designers to evaluate ands protect their ideas. His business is called Trevor Baylis Brands.

If you ever have a chance to meet Trevor you will certainly have an experience to remember. He is brilliantly outspoken, non-PC, opinionated, full of anecdotes and totally passionate about what he does. He said “why shouldn’t I be?”… “I’m beholden to no one, in my 70s and I want to prevent other inventors from being screwed.”

He’s had other ideas than the clockwork radio but the mobile phone charger built into the heel of a shoe “wasn’t received too well” several years back!

That conference was organised by Richard Tribe of Revolution Events and if you need a memorable conference you couldn’t do better than to give him a call.

Now what was it that Sun was talking about after the Virgin Galactic presentation? SOA something? No, I’m only joking. As Sun was one of the sponsors of this excellent conference I was all ears…

The Future of Web Ads is in Britain

January 24, 2007

There is a very interesting article in the New York Times entitled The Future of Web Ads is in Britain. Unfortunately, you will have to look at an ad for quite a few seconds before you will be able to read it! It’s in your face somewhat!

To quote:

Online advertising is racing ahead in Britain, growing at a roughly 40 percent annual rate, and is expected to account for as much as 14 percent of overall ad spending this year, according to media buying agencies. That is the highest level in the world, and more than double the percentage in the United States.

We are all so familiar with negative articles about the UK, so it’s really good to see an area where we are definitely playing the role of the early adopter and leading the world.

It also confirms that we are a country of addicts.

On average, Britons spend 23 hours a week on the Internet, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. The Internet accounts for about a quarter of Britons’ time spent with all media, according to Citigroup, nearly double the percentage in the United States.

The UK really is in the leader pack when it comes to Internet services and the time has never been better for dusting off that Internet idea and get it out there!


An update on the art of pitching…

January 23, 2007

An excellent overview on the art of pitching to potential investors can be found on Guy Kawasaki’s blog written by Bill Reichert of Garage Technology Venture.

“Endless articles, books, and blogs have been written on the topic of business plan presentations and pitching to investors. In spite of this wealth of advice, almost every entrepreneur gets it wrong. Why? Because most guides to pitching your company miss the central point: The purpose of your pitch is to sell, not to teach. Your job is to excite, not to educate. “

Take a read; it contains a lot of sense.

Here are some of the points that I believe to be important:

  • What is the industry pain you are solving? This is often not articulated early enough or never at all leaving question marks in the recipients head as to what problem you are solving. The natural follow on to this is to show how your company provides an answer! The bigger the pain and the more unaddressed it is the better of course!
  • Are you just another clone? The world is already full of successful and wanabe companies in many sectors – VoIP, web conferencing and social networks to name but three. Why are you different and why will you succeed? IMHO, if you are, you have a significant challenge ahead. Uniqueness can be a problem as well, but rather that than being #75 in a particular segment.
  • Be clear right up front WHAT YOU DO. You’d be surprised in how many presentations the audience is still confused about thi9s half an hour into the flow.
  • Pick up on what the listener wants to hear. Are they looking for that YouTube world beater and nothing else is of interest to them? Are they cynical about your channel to market or the difficulty you might have selling to carriers?
  • Demonstrate that you know about the competitive landscape. Talk about competitors knowledgably and about the challenges you face in getting your product sold. Show your experience and that you are not naïve.
  • Make sure the presenter shows PASSION and ENTHUSIASM. Start-ups are principally about people and if the presentation is dull, boring and goes on and on it will not go down well.
  • Don’t spend 1/2 hour on the first slide. So easy to do, especially if questions are asked. Make sure you keep to your time slot and avoid using it all up on the first few slides. This happens time and time again. Of course if they want to spend hours and hours with that’s great!
  • Don’t use unexplained acronyms. In fact don’t use them at all if you can avoid it. You are not presenting to industry experts and they will probably not know what they mean. This is so often the case in telecoms presentations. If you do use them, always provide an explanation. I’ve seen slides stuffed with not-obvious acronyms.
  • Look for audience body language Look at your audience to gauge feedback and provide guidance for what to say. I was at a presentation last year where one of the audience left the room and the presenter didn’t even notice!
  • Never say “I’ll answer that question in a minute”. Answer it there and then but succinctly as nine times out of ten you never get round to it.
  • Get the balance right between technology and business. If you spend too much on early slides, business and finance stuff often gets forgotten.
  • Practice. It really does help.
  • Don’t rely on them having a live Internet connection for a demo. Getting this set up will be a distraction at a crucial time. Have it as a demo on a PC as getting the projector to work will be difficult enough!
  • Have a backup. For both notebook and the principle presenter.

And I thought it was all so easy. Come to think of it, maybe the above are all mistakes I’ve made over the years!

Howzat! – wotsthat?

January 22, 2007

Just after Christmas I met up with Hugo Burge who is Vice-Chairman & Head of International at Cheapflights. He was telling me about the amazing success story of their Internet business.

Even though full of a cold, he was full of enthusiasm for what they had achieved in the five years since they started. I came away from the meeting enthused for the rest of the week! No, it was not all downhill and they had to overcome the many obstacles through hard work and luck.

I’ll quote their press release to relate that story:

“In 2000, Hugo Burge and David Soskin co-ordinated a group of private investors in a Cheapflights management buy-in. Profitable since launch, Cheapflights was an early media internet company and a pioneer in its sector. It revolutionised the way consumers research and purchase flights and other travel products. Since 2000, Hugo and David have built the company from a three person operation into a leading business in its sector; expanded successfully into the USA; increased sales twenty five times; and organically grown traffic from 350,000 to over 5.25 million global unique users a month. “

Anyway, what prompts this writeup is that today the CheapFlights team has launched a new Internet investment fund Howzat Media and have made their first investment in WAYN. I bet they are keen cricket fans!

Launched with an initial US$10 million, the new fund has a clearly defined focus: to identify and invest in start-up and early-stage internet media companies that are re-inventing the way in which consumers access and use online information.

It will seek out global opportunities in internet media, including, but not exclusively, in the travel sector. This investment profile reflects Cheapflights’ own successful business model.

WAYN was co-founded by Jerome Touze, Peter Ward and Mike Lines, and has grown from 45,000 members in March 2005 to nearly 7 million members from all over the world. WAYN is the largest travel and lifestyle membership community in the world and is the only social network that allows its members to keep track of its members from around the world and make new friends based on where they have been, where they are now and where they are going. WAYN’s revenues have grown tenfold in the last year and is one of the only web 2.0 ventures that generates a profit.

I wish Hugo and the rest of the team success with their fund.

And don’t forget…

If you want some money and arrive at their office to pitch, start off with a good cricket anecdote and you won’t go wrong!

2nd March 2006 update: Howzat! just invested in The website is a terrific way to share and read up on reviews for unusual bars, cafes, restaurants and places to hang out. It has been run by the two founders Walid and Sokratis, who have an amazing passion for their website. They have made terrific progress already and have plenty more exciting plans. The focus at the moment and the place with most reviews is London.

What makes Cheapflights tick – David Soskin talks about what has made them successful?

To view their press release: Read the rest of this entry »

Sharedband: not enough bandwidth?

January 22, 2007

I noticed a discussion about Sharedband on Vecosys and I couldn’t resist finding out a little more about what they were up to, so I spoke with Keith Collins, who is their Sales and Marketing Director (you can find Keith on LinkedIn). Sharedband have recently started beta trials of their software with a couple of UK ISPs and plan for launch in the March timeframe.

What do they do?

The concept of inverse multiplexing goes back donkey’s years and was applied to traditional E1/T1 lines and to ATM. The term means that individual links are paralleled (or bonded) to multiply the available bandwidth according to the number of links paralleled. Sharedband have extended this concept in a “quite novel” way to the IP layer which enables ISPs to offer a DSL bonding service.

Sharedband is essentially a software company and they provide the tools necessary to manage the service. They license their software which is installed on the ISP’s routers and the ISP provides a firmware update for their customer’s routers.

Because the concept is IP based, it’s claimed to be low cost and an ISP can get the Sharedband service up in a day or so. It’s also simple to install at the customer end as well.

The company believes that there will always be a need to gain some additional bandwidth if it is obtainable at a reasonable price. They are probably right. There will always be individuals who want to increase whatever bandwidth they currently have, turning 1Mbit/s into 2 or more likely 8Mbit/s into 16Mbit/s. According to Keith they “want to look for companies that want to use something now rather than having to wait”.

They are initially focusing on the small business market (SME) and home workers with some money to spend as this seems to be an obvious market.

What is really interesting, is that because the software is network provider agnostic, it could be possible to obtain real provider resilience and even “bond cable and DSL combinations”. For example, the two bonded DSL lines could use different ISP providers although care would be needed to ensure that both are not using BT to provide the DSL connection or the phone line use the same BT street box. This is such an interesting application area!

As Sharedband works at the IP layer, bonding does not have to be limited to being installed on ISP DSLAMs. It could be installed on servers at a datacentre which, I imagine, could lead to network-based services such as offering some interesting services that could improve performance and resilience directly to their customers.

Finishing off:

Their business model is that the ISP charges for the multiple DSL lines and then adds an additional bonding charge which is split between the ISP and Sharedband.

Sharedband are currently talking to 20 /30 ISPs and hopes to sign up this number within 12 months. One might also imagine, with their BT genesis, that we will see an announcement in this space as well?

They are currently in beta with two providers KeConnect and TeleComplete though I couldn’t find the doubler service on TeleComplete’s web site. You can see details of the service and pricing on the KeConnect site.

Some other vendors offering hardare based solutions:

There are other companies that provide a solution to bonding multiple DSL lines, the Australian ePipe is one example. The ML-IP access concentrator, is a hardware solution an enterprise can bond three DSL links into a multi-link tunnel without the involvement of the ISP.


FatPipe is another. “MPVPN enables bi-directional data transmission over multiple VPN paths, providing customers with the confidence that MPVPN will keep their VPNs “up” at all times regardless of router, ISP, line or backbone failures on one or two carriers. MPVPN allows companies to maximize the reliability, redundancy and speed of their VPN infrastructures while only requiring one VPN unit profile life.” Here is a short presentation on MPVPN.