FireSpotter’s UberConferenceby Dave Michels in Telecom
Until I spoke to Craig Walker about FireSpotter Labs’ new UberConference service – I hadn’t really thought about how much audio conferencing has been frozen in time.
Yes, there has been some big innovations – particularly with enterprise class premises based solutions which often use conferencing as a chief component of the ROI story. But traditional audio conferencing is still very alive and well – and trapped in time. I’m in several calls a week that follow the basic model of a ridiculously long participant code, annoying chimes, and lots of distractions. Today in fact, I was on a conference call with a major UC vendor, and we had to end it short because someone (no one fessed-up) had some loud music in the background.
My current favorite conferencing service is ZipDX. I like it for several reasons, but primarily because its supports dial-in via a SIP URI (look Ma, no SIP trunk), and it supports wideband audio (HD). Like UberConference, it offers a web portal with active information and uses CallerID instead of participant codes. It’s a great service, but it never became widely known. The vast majority of calls that I dial into still use traditional (primitive) and annoying interfaces.
Conferencing is a tough nut to crack – it is dominated by some major firms and carriers – plenty have tried to build a better mousetrap, but could not cross the chasm of an otherwise mature industry. I think most just feel audio conferencing sucks, so why bother trying new services. Even Skype and other OTT services are able to charge a premium for basic conferencing. UberConference may have what it takes to truly disrupt the sector – it has Google. On the day of the launch, UberConference stories ran in Tech Crunch, All Things D, and multiple blogs – not an easy thing to do in audio conferencing. Out of the gate, UberConference looks pretty dull, other than its freemium model, it offers no breakthrough features (well maybe ‘earmuffs’ allowing you to isolate a participant so you can talk about them).
FireSpotter Labs is not Google – it is a separate company out of Google Ventures. But there’s clearly a connection – and it’s reasonable to think that UberConference and Google share a long term vision of what the future may look like – and that includes a lot less conversing over the PSTN – and a lot more conversing over web based technologies. Later this year, Google is expected to release WebRTC in the Chrome Browser. This means that the browser will be capable of voice and video calling without a plugin. WebRTC does not include specifications to deal with SIP, so it needs to connect directly to another WebRTC client or server. UberConference just might become a viable server option. UberConference just might be the vehicle for Craig to finish what he started. The UberConference homepage shows a nice clean desktop – PC, scissors, stapler, pen, plant, and coffee cup – no phone though – which at least for now is required.
What about Google Voice? As I’ve written before – Google Voice seems banished to being a consumer class simo ring service. Last heard, it was drafted into Google Plus (Hangouts) and that seems to be a one way road. In fact, when Craig left Google Voice, he seemed pretty adamant that his future would be telecom free – but that was before Google Plus. There is no indication that Google is serious about enterprise UC, so Craig likely reassessed the situation and saw some low hanging fruit in conferencing.
UberConference is intended to be a freemium service. It isn’t clear yet what is free and what costs extra. The most popular free conferencing service is freeconference.com, which Google Voice actually blocks. Google Voice, by the way, does have a built it conference bridge that a lot of people don’t seem to know about. It will be interesting to see how UberConference and Google Voice avoid overlapping – yet compatible – services.
Interview with Craig Walker (2010)