Success at the Prepaid Press Expo

August 25, 2008

Last week’s Prepaid Press Expo in Las Vegas was a huge success for NetworkIP, our customers, & the prepaid card industry as a whole. The Expo brought seasoned veterans along with a good number of new companies entering the prepaid market.

In an effort to design the best conference possible The Prepaid Press partnered with the Pelorus Group & as a result the show offered a great array of conference tracks to include a look at the Prepaid Long Distance market as a whole (day 1), Prepaid Wireless (day 2), & Prepaid Alternative Payments (day 3).

On day 1 our very own CEO, Pete Pattullo, presented on the topic of “Building a Better Mousetrap” which focused on the technology of prepaid. Pete’s presentation discussed how we at NetworkIP have approached building a solution to stand the test of time received outstanding feedback from the audience. As Pete suggested, it takes a lot more than a VoIP box to develop a truly remarkable platform. It requires a combination of passion to build reliability, requires managing quality connections (our own iQT solution), ensuring competitive pricing, having the right information to make decisions, the evolution of the platform (we’ve been at it for 10 years & recently released our 8th major software revision – ICS8), innovation & the never-ending pursuit of excellence, & having talented experienced people with the right skills. These are the components that have made our solution the best in class!

Following our very own Leadership Summit Wednesday morning I caught a number of good conference sessions on Prepaid Wireless later in the day. Randall Walrond, VP of Product Management at IVR Technologies, discussed how the prepaid market can leverage the new technology of today’s mobile smart phones. He & I agree on a number of points on what these new devices & faster networks open up to the industry.

I also heard a number of compelling arguments suggesting that the average prepaid consumer isn’t ready for the new smart phones, the applications that run on these smart phones, & new technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC). Oscar Munoz, President of Uni-Mas Corporation, provided compelling arguments that the average prepaid consumer can’t afford today’s smart phones & that technologies such as NFC are just to far out to invest in for today’s market. Munuz of course didn’t argue that smart phones & new technologies such as NFC would eventually reach the prepaid consumer. He simply suggested that it’s still a few years down the road & that we need to focus on the reality of today.

On day 3, Joel Stanton of Lightspeed Research presented on the value that exists in today’s alternative prepaid market. He discussed the pros & cons with of both the closed-loop & opened-loop gift card industry. Stanton’s presentation was then followed by a discussion on how to best distribute prepaid card solutions. Thomas Honey of Better ATM Services discussed the numerous problems with the distribution of gift cards & cited specific examples such as banks offering VISA & MasterCard gift cards.

Looking back on this year’s show & the topics that were discussed we noticed a significant shift in attention towards the mobile market. We too believe that the mobile market offers huge potential for prepaid. As network speeds increase & mobile phone operating systems, mobile devices, & the mobile networks continue to open up there is an abundance of opportunity for companies to leverage the services & applications that can be developed for this market.

Our hats off to the folks at the Prepaid Press who were able to put together such an exciting & informative event. It was definitely worth us attending, it was great for our customers, & we look forward to maturing the many new relationships that were made at this year’s event.


Proven Database Solutions Are Not So Common

August 11, 2008

I was traveling this past week (on vacation actually) & while waiting in the Dallas/Fort-Worth airport to catch a connecting flight I overheard a pretty sad telephone conversation between two engineers that really made me appreciate what our teams have designed & developed over the past 10-years. The conversation between the two software engineers went something like this…

“We are getting a number of customer complaints that the application keeps crashing their systems. Have you looked at the database queries that are running? You know the database is our Achilles’ heel man. We can’t support all that many simultaneous queries. Maybe we should trying queuing up the queries so they don’t overload the system? Yes, I know if we do that it will take longer for things to run, but better they run then crash all the time, right? You know table joins may be a problem too. The database just can’t handle queries that require table joins. Maybe the queries we are running are just too big… I don’t know man; we’ve got to do something soon to fix this. OK, try some stuff & get back with me. I’ve got to tell our customers something.”

I can’t tell you all how relieved I was that I wasn’t in this company’s position. My jaw about hit the floor when I heard the guy refer to their database as their Achilles’ heel. If there is one thing that our customers don’t need to worry about it is our database solution. Handling large volume database transactions is one of our core competencies to say the least. Our database solution handles millions of transactions daily without skipping a beat. These transactions aren’t from a single source either. We handle database requests coming from over 250 API methods, customer service web sites, reporting traffic, & obviously from systems applications handling call processing.

Transaction processing is just another one of the many solutions & services we offer & stand behind. We aren’t trying something new or untested either. We have a proven solution that continues to provide our customers with the reliability & scalability that enterprise solutions demand.

To conclude, I did consult with this gentleman about Jaduka’s Transaction Services API. He seemed overjoyed to hear that we had made our solutions available via simple Web APIs. His company obviously doesn’t have the time, money, or resources to develop a high volume database solution on their own & we’ve got a call later today to discuss this opportunity in more detail.

How Much Should Companies Invest in Launch Day?

July 15, 2008

In less than one month I’ve watched both Mozilla & Apple have record setting launch days while still experiencing all types of technical problems & causing end-users much frustration & hassle. It’s obvious from the amount & types of problems that were reported on each company’s launch day that neither company was prepared to handle the volume & capacity for that single day. I’m confident that both companies can handle a normal day’s volume just fine. However, both companies appear to have decided that it’s not worth the investment to ensure things work on high traffic volume days such as launch day.

In a previous post I commented on capacity planning & made reference to the failures that Mozilla experienced during “Download Day” for their Firefox 3 browser. As reported by GigaOm, Mozilla’s download site was down early that morning (June 17th) due to the high volume of traffic the website was experiencing. Despite Mozilla’s site being down, they actually did set the new Guinness World Record for the most downloaded software in a 24 hour period. In fact, 8,002,503 users downloaded Firefox 3 that day.

More recently Apple had a record setting launch day/weekend even though they too experienced significant outages & interruption of end-user services. This past Friday, July 11th, Apple released both its new 3G iPhone & its iPhone 2.0 software to existing iPhone owners. Throughout launch day customers across the world were unable to activate their new devices after the Apple servers could not cope with demand & did not allow users to download a new version of iTunes to support the phone activation. For those existing iPhone owners who were planning to update their iPhone software to the 2.0 version, they too experienced problems. NetworkIP’s very own PR guru Neil Vineberg was affected when he tried updating his iPhone software. He was so disappointed that he commented about it on his blog. Neil said, “My phone is dead. A brick. And you’d think that Apple would have had their act together after promoting this launch date for a month.” Despite all the frustrations, complications, & inconveniences that iPhone users experienced, Apple too had a record setting weekend. Apple sold one million 3G iPhones in just three days.

While some may agree with Mozilla & Apple’s approach of architecting for a normal day’s traffic volume it is something that as an organization that we do *not* allow for at NetworkIP. We plan & architect all of our solutions for the busiest days (our version of launch day) of the year; ours being Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, & New Year’s Day. We attribute much of our success to the fact that we *do* plan for the busiest days of the year — it’s one of the many things that separates us from our competition & has propelled us to the top spot in our industry.
As companies such as Mozilla & Apple are able to still have record setting launch days despite so many technical difficulties what’s to stop them & other companies from continuing to architect their platforms for only a normal day’s traffic volume? It’s obviously not fair to the consumer that these companies plan & architect in this fashion that they do, but if we continue to provide them record numbers why would they plan any other way?