Category Archives: VOIP

Recording Skype calls (for podcasting, but also interviews for work)

Ah. A completely satisfactory geek experience. Now that I've rassled most of the basic podcasting stuff into shape, I wanted to move on to doing interviews and conference calls and recording them — Ralph pointed out that Skype was the way to go.

Doug Kaye (the maestro of IT Conversations) put together this definitive post on how to record Skype calls. There are other ways, but this is definitely the industrial-strength approach.

I'm going to start doing “conversation” podcasts, but before that I'm going to use this to record an interview for a consulting project I'm working on — tomorrow. I have a little rant n'record that's going up on Sex and Podcasting about how you could use podcasting as an organizing tool for work (the show will go up in a day or two).

Regulating by layer

Back from my speech this morning. I had a great conversation with Steve Kelley about the “layer cake” problem that VoIP regulation presents. After scribbling a few things on a pad of paper, it was time to give my talk but I thought it would be a Good Thing to get the scribbles into this blog. Read on for the details…

Suppose you decided to approach regulating VoIP (or any other telecommunications thingy) from the standpoint of regulating differently depending on what layer that thingy was. Here’s a picture of the layers;

The bottom layer is the physical link between you and your provider. It could be copper wire to the phone company, coax cable to the cable company, fiber optic cable, a microwave radio link, a laser link, etc. It’s the physicall stuff that makes the connection. Very expensive to put in, very unlikely that you’re going to have these connections to more than one place. Aka a natural monopoly.

The middle layers make the connection between your physical stuff and the physical stuff at the destination. Phone switching (SS7), TCP/IP, routers, switches, all fall into this layer. It’s where ISPs and CLECs sit, and it’s much easier to have competition at this layer — witness all the ISPs and CLECs that popped up in the mid-90’s.

The top layer is the application that you actually use to get things done. An email browser, a web browser, a database, or a VoIP software/hardware package all fall in this top layer and there are virtually no barriers to competition at this layer. There are lots and lots of web pages, VoIP phone companies, email providers and so forth and the problems of monopoly are virtually non-existant. So one view would be to say — “hey, there’s no need to regulate VoIP at all, it’s just an application.”

But wait, what if we added the notion of a “service” to the mix. We might say, let’s regulate similar things in similar ways. Here’s another picture;

Now, in addition to thinking about layers, we think about the “service” that is running across those layers. Perhaps we should regulate all TV the same, all phone-calls the same, etc. If you deliver TV pictures over cable or the Internet, what’s the difference? They’re TV pictures and it’s silly to have completely different regulation for each — they’re doing the same thing. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. In the case of VoIP, the argument would be — “either regulate VoIP like POTS, or remove the regulation from POTS” and put them on a level playing field.

But wait… What about the technology that’s being used? Doesn’t that enter into the discussion as well? Here’s a picture;

This is a tricky thing — especially in light of the current enthusiasm for protecting “The Internet” from regulation. If you make regulatory decisions based on technology, perhaps the baby goes out with the bathwater. Depending on where I wanted the outcome to wind up, I could pick my argument to use the technology dimension to trump all the other dimensions.

There are more dimensions, but I don’t know how to draw pictures with any more dimensions than 3, so I’ll stop here. I think the point of this ramble is that the regulatory picture around VoIP can be “segmented” a lot of different ways. If I were trying to push an argument, I would put this segmentation into my bag of tricks and use it to push things into a configuration that favored my outcome.

Regulatory Issues — Speech

I'm off to give a speech to the assembled regional telecommunications lawyers gang this morning — my topic is the regulatory issues in VoIP. Good thing there are folks like Jeff Pulver out there doing a great job of blogging this issue — there's an amazing amount of stuff going on in this arena with new twists every day. Read his stuff to stay up to date.

Here's the outline of my speech.

How should we classify VoIP?

– A voice service?
– A mobile service?
– A data service?

Which way should we be consistent as regulators?

– By technology?
– By service?
– By layer?

Which things do we want to break?

– Universal Service?
– Access charges?
– Long-distance rates?
– LATAs?
– The Internet?
– Numbering?
– Disability access?
– 911?

Whose ox do we want to gore?

– LECs and CLECs?
– LD Carriers?
– VoIP over Internet providers (eg. Vonage)?
– ISPs?

What is our goal?

– Promote new technology adoption and investment?
– Preserve existing investments/infrastructure?
– Assure quality and standardization?
– Level the playing field?
– Assure non-discrimination and access?
– Promote competition and lower prices?

Who does the regulating?

– International – ITU?
– National – FCC?
– State – PUC?
– City – Cable Commissions?
– Nobody?

Spoofing caller ID

Ooo, now this one’s interesting… Here’s a writup in The Register talking about how some clever folks have figured out how to fiddle with caller-ID strings in the VOIP world — in both directions (inbound and outbound). Here’s a link to the article.

Hardly a “harmless prank” this could have some pretty nasty implications for stalking and identity-theft reasons. Read on for a few thought-provoking quotes…


Callers with life-or-death anonymity concerns might consider spoofing just to get a little privacy. For now, Lucky says pranks among friends are the most common use that he’s seen of VoIP spoofing, but he believes that identity thieves and other swindlers could have a field day. “I’ve used it myself to activate my own credit cards, because I never give credit card companies my real number,” he says. “One simple spoof, and it’s like saying, if you have the guy’s phone number, that piece of information is more important than his mother’s maiden name and date of birth. If you have the phone number, you don’t need anything else.”

How ’bout them apples? This could cause the financial-services crowd a fair amount of heartburn. But what about the implications for people who are tangled up with a stalker? Here’s another quote:

Privacy advocates, who had reservations about Caller ID when it was introduced in the 90s, aren’t happy that it’s becoming easier to subvert. “A worse case scenario is if you have a blocked number, and you’re a victim of stalking, and you’re duped into calling a number the stalker set up that was routed through a VoIP line,” says Jordana Beebe of the San Diego-based Privacy Right’s Clearinghouse. “It could put their life in danger.”

I’m also really interested in the regulatory impacts of VOIP, and this promises to generate a lot of pain on that front as well. Once again, here’s what The Register has to say:

This arrangement relies on telephone equipment at both ends of the call being trusted: the phone switch providing you with dial tone promises not to lie about your number to other switches, and the switch on the receiving end promises not to reveal your number if you’ve asked that it be blocked. In the U.S. that trust is backed by FCC regulations that dictate precisely how telephone carriers handle CPNs, Caller ID and blocking. Most subscribers have come to take Caller ID for granted, and some financial institutions even use Caller ID to authenticate customers over the phone.

Stay tuned, this will be coming up again. Fersure…

VOIP — topic introduction

Ralph Jenson and I built us a pretty-darn-close-to-perfect copy of Vonage back a couple years ago and were within a whisker of kicking it off here in the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, Vonage came to town a year earlier than we thought they would and blew us out of the water. But I've been tracking VOIP stuff ever since.

These days the most interesting thing to me is the regulatory rasslin' that's going to be going on, so this will mostly be policy-wonk stuff. Heck, I've got to give a speech about VOIP regulatory impacts in a few weeks. That research alone should fill up several good blog entries.