As new industry sorts itself out, a player sees end of conventional phone systems
BERLIN – Jeff Pulver, a pioneer and promoter of Internet telephony, paused halfway through a sun-dried tomato and basil pizza to consider one of his favorite catchphrases – disruptive technology – innovations that can turn markets upside down and business strategies inside out.
Ten years ago, when telephoning over the Internet was in its infancy, few thought that 7 percent of long-distance international calls from the United States would be made by 2006 using Skype, the world’s largest Internet phone operator.
One of the few was Pulver, a stocky, affable native of New York City, whose early support for Internet phoning led to a groundbreaking U.S. legal precedent and a global conference business that will turn more than $15 million in sales this year.
As with Internet telephony, Pulver said that most people today are underestimating the changes broadband Internet and third-generation mobile phone networks are going to bring to the video and film industries. But Pulver said that he got a glimpse this month while on a two- week trip to conferences in Europe and Israel.
“I was in Tel Aviv,” said Pulver, 44, wearing jeans, an open-collared shirt and shoes without socks a day before VON Berlin, one of Pulver’s conferences, which drew 1,000 people Nov. 6 to Nov. 8. “I wanted to use my Nokia N70 smart phone to make a video call using Orange’s 3G network to my kids in the States.”
Back at his home in Great Neck, New York, Pulver’s twin 12-year-old sons, Dylan and Jake, were sitting in front of a laptop connected to an ordinary DSL network. For most Americans, receiving a video call from a European 3G network is not possible. That is because there are no U.S. 3G networks that are compatible or fast enough to deliver the European stream.
But before Pulver had left home, he had installed on the laptop some software from RadVision. The program, Video Gateway, let his laptop “emulate” the digital DNA of Orange’s Israeli network, letting his sons receive a steady, streaming five-minute video call from their father.
“This basically means that with this software, you don’t need to have a 3G network in the United States to receive a video phone call,” said Pulver. That news certainly has the potential to disrupt the profits of European mobile operators, which have spent more than €100 billion, or $131 billion building 3G networks.
That kind of cutting-edge tinkering has made Pulver, a former computer consultant and lifelong entrepreneur, one of the biggest evangelists for Internet telephony.
“In terms of voice over Internet, he is one of the founders,” said Avi Schechter, chief executive of Fring, a Tel Aviv company whose software enables mobile phone users to make calls over the Internet. “He had a vision of where this industry was going to go and it did.”
Pulver’s fascination with Internet telephony began in the early 1990s. In September 1996, he borrowed $15,000 to organize his first conference on the technology in New York City, which drew about 300 people.
A decade later, PulverMedia has grown into a conference and publishing heavyweight, holding its trademark VON events twice a year in the United States, as well as others in cities like Stockholm, Rome, Mexico City and Berlin. The last VON conference in the United States, held in Boston in September, drew 10,000 people, and there are no less than seven events scheduled for 2007, including the two U.S. VON conferences.
Besides running conferences, Pulver publishes a monthly magazine called VON, and runs a Web site, www.pulver.com, and his own Internet telephony company, Free World Dialup.
Pulver’s legal petition on behalf of Free World led to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s landmark ruling on Feb. 12, 2004, which legalized and sustained the nascent voice-over- Internet phone business by exempting it from the taxation and universal service requirements of conventional phone companies.
Over lunch in a Berlin hotel before the start of his Berlin conference, Pulver, who travels with four mobile phones, four iPods – he says the batteries run down too fast – and a laptop, reflected on Internet telephony a decade later.
The ultimate winners in the industry are still to be identified, Pulver said, but there is no turning the clock back on the technology.
Conventional “phone systems are dead,” he said. “Within seven years, all voice calls will be carried over the Internet.”
While established phone carriers are using Internet telephony to cut their own operating costs and to fend off new competitors like Skype, GoogleTalk and YahooVoice, Pulver said it was too early to tell which companies would prevail.
“It’s still open which companies will best figure out how to make money from the technology,” Pulver said. “But one thing is certain: Internet telephony is here to stay.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune