Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Lesson in Ignorance: Don't Even do Easy Research

It's a while since I poked fun at The Australian, but this story is just irresistible.,7204,15044655%5E15306%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html

Avoiding the crime of stealing a story wholesale for the blog, the essence is a very thin piece of information: the long-awaited (by some) Enum trial in Australia is starting at last.

With a very thin press release to go on, the Oz's journalists decided to pad. Padding is fun for a journalist: you get to load a story up with your own assumptions and soapboxes in the name of giving the story context.

Nearly every technical fact and market factoid used to pad The Australian's Enum story is wrong.

Running through them from the top. First, we're told that the purpose of Enum is "to accelerate the uptake voice over IP technology by consumers."

Wrong. The purpose of Enum is to translate ITU phone numbers to IP addresses and back, to produce a single, standard numbering system across VoIP and PSTN phones. Consumers ought never notice it.

The Oz says Enum was developed by the ITU. Wrong again. It is a quite-old IETF RFC.

We're told that Enum signals the start of the Internet phone boom, which is just silly.

"Electronic number mapping will mean the VoIP technology will become as reliable and easy to use as an existing home telephone," The Oz says. Again, nonsense. How the phones call the numbers is irrelevant to ease of use (an Internet phone can already have an identical keypad and dialling behaviour) or reliability (which depends on stuff like broadband infrastructure, gateways, power, and not at all on Enum).

Then we go to the inevitable Gartner analyst: "Mr Johnston said the current business model of internet voice services was priced at 1c to 3c a minute, whether the call was across the street or across the world."

This is wrong. VoIP-to-PSTN call prices are well above 3c per minute for most terminating destinations. Gartners numbers, I will repeat, are just dead wrong. My bet is that Gartner is reapplying a small US call rate data set to the rest of the world, without researching local prices and without the benefit of an exchange rate calculator. And the Oz? Lazy as hell. It's published plenty of stories about VoIP operators, and they mostly put their call rates in easy-to-reach places. But even with two journalists wrapping polystyrene around the press release, nobody could check a call rate to challenge the Gartner mythology.

Next, The Australian tells us that "VoIP ... technology has been used primarily by large businesses and government organisations."

Bulldust. Nonsense. Just an invented throwaway line. VoIP is bottom up; it was adopted by individuals first. Penetration in businesses is, in fact, remarkably low (although growing). Three years ago, to pick an arbitrary date, there was no business VoIP to speak of, just a lot of moderately geeky enthusiasts making Internet phone calls.

"Instead of going through a telephone exchange, calls are switched to and from an internet provider, who then sends them down the internet connection to the home."

The end statement of the story says it all. The Internet connection goes through some sort of exchange (that's where DSLAMs are), but the Oz doesn't know it. PSTN terminated VoIP calls go through exchanges, but the Oz doesn't realise it. The Oz instead prefers to give us the mythical Internet cloud which exists with no other infrastructure at all.

What a stupidly inadequate piece of work: no research, no knowledge, and no analysis of the one interviewee with whom the story was discussed.

No comments: