Thursday, August 25, 2005

Callback - Portblocking - JAJAH - Callback again 

Finally I found time to read the August 2005 issue of the VON Magazine and as usual I started with the last page (not sports, but) featuring David S. Isenberg's Edge-Centric view on:

How Callback Paved the Way for Internet Telephony

It is basically the story of Martin Varsavsky and Viatel and goes like this:

Martin Varsavsky, a refugee from Argentina in 1977, bought the Boulder (Colorado) Holiday Inn in 1987. He noticed that the telephone system was the most robust source of profits in the hotel. He was impressed. Rather than try to bring the rest of the hotel’s profitability up, he focused on making the hotel’s strongest business even stronger.

In 1990 it cost over five dollars a minute to call the US from Argentina. In the US it was another story. Long distance competition was booming as a result of the Bell System breakup. Calls to Argentina from the US cost as little as a dollar a minute. Varsavsky seized the situation. He used his contacts in Argentina to recruit customers. He used the Boulder Holiday Inn’s PBX to do the callback. He charged three dollars a minute; he was making money and his Argentine customers were saving – the only loser was Telintar, the former incumbent in Argentina (dissolved in 1998) .... Varsavsky took his callback venture, Viatel, to Wall Street, where George Soros became the first investor.

Argentine monopoly Telintar was not happy with Viatel’s success. Telintar tried to put Viatel out of business by blocking calls to the particular US area code and exchange of Viatel’s platform. Viatel retaliated by moving its platform to the same exchange that served the Argentine Embassy in Washington, DC; thus, if Telintar exchange-blocked Viatel, it’d leave its own embassy unable to accept calls from the home country.

So this was IMHO the first try of "port" blocking and one way to deal with this - e.g. use a port that cannot be blocked ;-)

David concludes in his last paragraph - Callback's rise and fall - that ...

... Callback smoothed the way for Internet Telephony by introducing monopoly telcos to the idea of uninvited competitors who won’t go away. Varsavsky believes that callback did more; it showed that, “tools that can dismantle techno-censorship,” could undermine established giants....

... but that the hey-days of callback are over. I agree, because all these services are living on arbitrage, using the asymmetrical rates introduced by weird, over-complicated and wrong tariff-models and such things are normally very short lived.

OK, done.

One hour later I got news that JAJAH is offering call-back services to VoIP and PSTN from any mobile phone. Huh? What the heck is Jajah?

The description goes like this: after subscribing for the service, you browse to the webpage on your mobile phone, authenticate with your userid and password, enter the phone number of your mobile and then the number you want to call.

This is basically nothing new, there is a bunch of such arbitrage services already available, e.g. hop, oneroam, globalSIM, sim4travel, etc.

I was only getting curious by the following entry pointing to engadget:

Jajah Mobile promises VoIP from your cellphone

It’s not officially launched, but Speedblog (Italian) got their hands on a beta version of some new software called Jajah Mobile, which lets you do VoIP calls via a web browser on your cellphone. They tested it with a Nokia 6630 and the Opera browser and while it was buggy for reaching landlines in their home country of Italy, it seems like it could be a pretty reasonably-priced solution for placing international calls from your mobile. Calls to other Jajah users and SIP phone numbers are free, while calls to landlines and non-Jajah cellphones incur tariffs based on location. The first official version of the software should hit sometime this week.

Calls to SIP phone numbers? Hey? What is this?

So I had to do some beta-testing again ;-)
I downloaded the client and although it needs some work in user interface and the sound quality is normal (obviously no GIPS yet), it is a gem and has the potential to stay my prime client:

Of course you can call other users of the jajah community, BUT in ADDITION you can call:
  • any E.164 number,
  • any SIP URI !
  • any Skype name ! (ala pulver communicator)
  • it even supports IAX !
and if you add the voice-box, you get a number, such as 599112404 and then you can also be reached via They do not offer E.164 numbers yet.

As I said, there is still some work to do, e.g. showing your Skype Buddies automatically in the buddy list like the pulver communicator, adding a better sound engine and codecs, improving the user interface. There is also the problem that you cannot access Skype directly as long as the jajah client is running.

The rates are a bit higher than Skype, but comparable. Somewhat disappointing for me is that although they have rates for the Austrian VoIP Numbers +43720 and +43780 (normally it is the other way round - the mobile operators always claim that they first have to define the rates - for all packages - and this takes years, because it involves tons of product managers and I think they have lost themselves the control how many packages they allready have - but I get carried away here ;-).

... but the rates are very high (0,3539$/min), same like to Mobile 3G (Hutchinson), compared to 0,1934$/min to mobile A1, 0,0173$/min to Vienna and 0,0121$/min to the US - but this does not matter, you cannot call these numbers anyway.

So there are ups and downs, but much lee-way for improvements.

The only thing never worked for me was starting the call-back sequence on my mobile phone direct, because I am obviosly too stupid to enter my alphanumeric password on a mobile key-pad. But using the web-page from my laptop, it worked like a charm. And if you enter the wrong password, you have to enter your UserID (which is your e-mail address (alpha again) and the mobile number (in alpha mode!) again. Until they do not find another way to trigger the call-back from the mobile phone web-page, I am not able to use this feature, sorry.

Great great great ... this is actually what I needed. Difficult to find something negative about Jajah (the only negative point is that they are not using Gips codecs ... why ???). Anayway keep up the good work, make the sound better with GIPS and Jajah will concur the world.
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