Tuesday, May 16, 2006

VON burn

Jeff Pulver, who was wearing some very kick-ass purple clogs today, has long spoken of “VON blur,” but today feels more like VON burn to me. There was some really interesting stuff taking place within the Stockholm International Fairs complex, but while we were all comfortably ensconced in it, life in the real world carried on. I’ll try to recap the highlights of both in this post.

We awoke to news of a tie-up between Nokia and GTalk in the introduction of the internet tablet device, which played nicely into a slide in my presentation, entitled "Whose side are you on anyway?" about the growing tension between device suppliers and their carrier customers.

XConnect announced that it had signed a binding agreement to acquire e164.info, which has the largest private ENUM registry going.

We also saw AOL announce AIM Phoneline, which gives AIM users a free PSTN number and free voicemail. This is particularly pointed as it comes one day after Skype launched free SkypeOut in North America, with all the concomitant damage that this and other Skype initiatives apparently inflict. For more on this, check out a recorded phone call/podcast with my friend Thomas Anglero here.

IDT sold its fledgling content unit to Liberty Media in a deal which gets Liberty out of IDT’s core business, jettisons some debt and brings in $186m in cash.

One thing that I noticed upon my arrival in Sweden was the sheer amount of outdoor and television advertising surrounding Telenor’s takeover of Vodafone Sweden (a campaign based on the concept of red changing to blue), and while I was about to go onstage and talk about the incumbent IP triple play as a club to beat one another with, TeliaSonera was announcing the latest step in this Nordic tit-for-tat, the acquisition of leading alternative Norwegian DSL player Nextgentel. This made me happy because: 1) Nextgentel was high on my list of takeover targets in Europe, and; 2) I downgraded Telenor a couple of weeks back.

Back in the VON world, I participated in a panel moderated by Howard Thaw of Iotum on the topic of the investment climate, which also included the ever-thoughtful and eloquent Martin Geddes and VC Christian Leybold from BV Capital. This was a real journey, as three people with largely common approaches and viewpoints, but totally different audiences and goals, tried to work through some of the issues facing the industry. I enjoyed it. One of the issues which the panel discussed in our preparatory meeting, but sadly didn't have time to address in the presentation, was the fact that the compression of the innovation cycle means that the potentially most disruptive developers/companies are acquired before they even become investible. This turned out to be the theme of an interesting conversation I had with someone else later, the conclusion of which was "M&A is the new HR." Translation: Skype/eBay buy Camino Networks while it is still in stealth mode, Google employs promising individuals like Sean Egan and the Carr Brothers.

Lastly, the most important aspect of the VON experience is that I get to meet up with old friends and hear new gossip, meet new people (some connected to people I already know, some not), and see and hear about new and interesting developments. One of these was something really cool from a company called Fonav, though I am bound by NDA as to the specifics. Another was a development which will truly rock some worlds if it comes to pass – but enough of that. Bring on tomorrow.

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