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O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Just when offering converged voice and data services started to seem ideal for margin-starved telecom carriers, one industry insider says the whole idea is flawed.

"Data and voice simply don't mix," said Michael O'Dell, president of Compass Rose Labs, a telecom consultancy. "You simply can't do both."

While there are networks that can handle data and voice traffic, a company that sells and supports data and voice services equally well is "a myth," according to O'Dell, the former UUNet chief scientist that spoke at Opticon 2002 on Tuesday.

O'Dell's beef is that the services are so different that they need to be offered by different companies. Having a traditional phone company try to set pricing and deliver such a product as IP data just causes problems.

The structure of a company is reflected in the structure of its network, he says. In the incumbent networks, a large number of people are required to keep it running. Internet and data networks, however, were designed to avoid human intervention, he says. "Having to physically touch something in a data network is looked at as a bug, not a feature."

Another difference: Data networks have a distributed control system with each router telling the next one what to do. Phone networks, on the other hand, are centrally switched and controlled and the connections are point-to-point.

"The Internet represents the death of centralized planning," he says. It evolves biologically, meaning that most experiments in new features won't work, but they need to be tried in mass and in parallel, he says. This differs from the lock-step way that phone networks roll out new services via a centralized "Department of New Ideas," O'Dell says.

"Nature works by doing millions of experiments in parallel and most of them die," he says. "That's not how centralized planning works."

The way to develop new services for communications networks is to find a way to let millions of people experiment to see what works, according to O'Dell. In the computing world, this happened when the industry went from having dozens of people maintain a centralized mainframe computer to having millions of people try things with their own personal computers.

Contributing to the industry's downfall, O'Dell says, is the fact that the companies so hell-bent on the success of converged voice and data are trying to solve an economic problem (how to cut the costs of operating a network and providing services) with technology (faster and cheaper hardware).

In voice networks, hardware costs are a fraction of the total network's cost, he says, yet too many companies have tried to make phone networks more profitable by offering faster, cheaper hardware. What should be happening is an attack on operating costs, he says.

Converged companies selling services on converged networks also have a problem, in that the economics of offering voice services and data services are completely different. "For an IP product, the cost of goods is a huge percent of the price," O'Dell says. "For voice products, all you really need to do is cover the cost of the ad campaign."

Of course, O'Dell's analysis of the way phone companies work -- and his comparisons of phone companies to Communist Russia -- are not entirely surprising (see Can Customers Take Back the Network?). His previous company, UUNet, was a data-only company that eventually became part of WorldCom Inc. (OTC: WCOEQ), a traditional long-distance phone company.

So how do we recover from all of this alleged wrongheadedness? Don't ask O'Dell. Like any good speaker, he left the audience here with more questions than answers.

"If you're looking for the silver bullet to turn this industry around, you won't find it here," he says. "If I was that smart, I wouldn't tell you."

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com
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skeptic 12/4/2012 | 9:54:21 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix The Internet represents the death of centralized planning," he says. It evolves biologically, meaning that most experiments in new features won't work, but they need to be tried in mass and in parallel, he says.
----------------

So I guess we should accept the dot-com bubble,
the CLECs and the collapse of worldcom as just
a few "experiments".

I guess this is one of the first attempts to
reconcile the "new economy/internet" philosophy
of the bubble with the realities of the crash.
Nothing really bad happened. Everything is
easily explained as some weird darwin-isque
metaphore.

Mass investment and mass bankrupcies of whole
industries are just "evolution" in action.
Except....that the central planners are the
survivors and the highly evolved internet
creatures are either selling cars or (in O'dell's
case) selling themselves as consultants.
A service provider's view 12/4/2012 | 9:54:19 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix "For voice products, all you really need to do is cover the cost of the ad campaign."

What planet is this guy from??? COGS on long haul voice products are in the 60% range (if you're lucky).

I don't want to bash the guy but somebody better tell bubble boy to get out and see what's happening in the real world.
raypeso 12/4/2012 | 9:54:19 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix i don't think I follow this guy 100%. I work for a CLEC and although buisness is bad for us, integrated services are becoming a larger part of our buisness model. I think O'Dell is underestimating the engineers in this industry. I've already seen some potential from Intergral access. Their product still has a way to go before thier voice quaility is acceptable but they found a way to intergrate voice and data at a better price than some of thier competitors, like the Lucent SLC 2000. I guess only time will tell...
cessna 12/4/2012 | 9:54:19 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix Worked for this guy for 5 years at UUNET - each decision that he made was more idiotic than the previous one - but later we found out that his decisions were driven by which Advisory Board he sat on (and there were many - surprised Light Reading didn't catch this)

His self serving interest here is to get UUNET spun off from Worldcom so that he can get his old job back.



bestscientist 12/4/2012 | 9:54:17 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix I am using data/voice integrated service network everday. Although occasionally there are issues with voice quality, the benifits of integrated services are so apparently. We stay on.

People use integrated service network understand the differences and benefits. What he is talking about. I even can setup Video over IP calls to Hong Kong. Spain without any trouble.

Shut up incompetent WorldCom formal executives. You did enough damage already.
lob 12/4/2012 | 9:54:16 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix I'll second the cessna's opinion, I had the same kind of experience at UUNET (though for less than 5 years :)

Remember that "simple result from graph theory" nonsense?
notoriousdjw 12/4/2012 | 9:54:16 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix This is a brilliant snapshot of the industry taken in hindsight. I surfed over to www.ccr.org (that's Center for Chaotic Repeatability, not the Fogarty brothers) after searching for Compass Rose Labs, and found this scintillating test regarding the apparant reversal of Entropy:

CCR.ORG
The Centre for Chaotic Repeatability

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Centre specialises in the study of phenomena which are recurring in some structured, repetative manner, but for which the underlying inter-event timing appears to be chaotic. This seems contradictory at first examination - a chaotically repeatable event, but upon further examination, it is less contradictory and more intriguing.
One example is the mutually-syncrhonizing behavior of multiple TCP streams traversing a network. The general traffic structure is chaotic, but the "regular" pulsations of mutual self-synchrony are readily apparant when the traffic is examined in detail. Order naturally arises out of chaos, in a seeming local reversal of entropy.
-----------------------------------------------
Wow, deep thoughts! Before you call MIT to pick up your honary PhD, I might suggest reading "Chaos" by James Gleik or "Fire in the Mind" by George Johnson or even "Gigabit Networking" by Craig Partridge.
older&wiser 12/4/2012 | 9:54:06 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix O'Dell didn't do much (at least much of value) in the last few years at UUNET/Worldcom. Has he done anything since?

This interview sounds like someone who has lost touch, pontificating that his way was the best way, even though his way didn't evolve and eventually lost huge amounts of money.

It is the same as the traditional equipment suppliers saying that the dot com bust proves innovation and entrepreneurialism are bad.

Finding parallels between O'Dell and the traditional telecom suppliers! That is a switch from 7 years ago...
eyesright 12/4/2012 | 9:54:06 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix His "expertise" is driven by whose advisory board he is on.

The other joke in this vein is Jim McManus.

I won't even comment on the Williams crowd...
stochastic 12/4/2012 | 9:54:05 PM
re: O'Dell: Voice and Data Don't Mix Remember that "simple result from graph theory" nonsense?

Could you clarify what exactly was the nonsense in that argument?

thanks

-s
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