Thursday, 23 August 2007

What we've got here is... failure to communicate

Every so often, a story appears and just seems to fit something I've been thinking about. I've used the quote from Cool Hand Luke referred to in the title before, but never before has it been quite as relevant than in the last couple of weeks.

The full quote, just because I like it a lot:
"What we've got here is failure to communicate...
Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week...
...which is the way he wants it.
Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men."
What we had last week was Skype being out of service for 2 days, bringing the popular service to its knees. I'm pretty sure that's NOT the way they want it however. Yesterday, there were reports in the Register, under a very similar title to mine, which is why I've quoted it again in fact, about going down for a full day because their PSTN connection was out. Oops.

I used to install VoIP kit in the UK, and although the hardware is pretty robust, there is often complex and constantly updated code inside, due to the nature of the rapidly evolving telecoms market over there. There is very little experience or expertise in this area, and no-one knows whether this is traditional telecoms or IP work for the network guys. I can tell you that from experience, the network guys get it far more easily than the telecoms guys. I once flew down to Lyon in France to "fix" a PSTN to SIP conversion box which had the wrong wire plugged in - by a French telecoms guy. Well, the wire was the only wire available, he'd just configured it incorrectly. Still, weekend in Paris afterwards, not so bad.

Unless it's part of the same SIP network, any outside connection still needs to use the PSTN to get to any other network, SIP or otherwise, so there's a weak link. Until we have interconnecting ethernet (which I've just decided is what I will be calling my band when we start touring...) around the planet, this will always be the case. The bigger problem we are facing now is that our IP infrastructure has been built on our phone network, and now we are building a phone network into our IP infrastructure. The technical difficulties are more of a challenge than an obstacle, but to me this has never made economic sense. How can we provide a free phone service on an IP network which costs less than a phone network than it runs on? Who's swallowing all the costs here? The phone companies. Do the these companies who carry the IP networks who carry SIP really want to give their full support? I'd be interested to talk to anyone who knows the answer. I'm not implying that there is any sort of underhand business going on here by the telecoms companies, but maybe it serves them quite well to see the SIP boys suffering total failure once in a while. You could never run a critical business system on that, could you?

If you take the quote above in its original context, it's pretty evil. The Captain of Luke's chain gang has just pushed him down a hill for trying to stand up for himself, and the Captain is showing him and the rest of the prisoners that their relationship is essentially one of master and slave.

The question is, in this upside-down market, who is the master, and who is the slave?

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