Jonathan Rosenberg chats with Mio
We recently talked to Jonathan Rosenberg, the father of the Session Initial Protocol (SIP). SIP is the communications protocol that enables everything from video conferencing to instant messaging. In October, Jonathan stepped down from his position as VP and CTO of Collaboration at Cisco, where he set the direction for Cisco’s collaboration strategy. Jonathan’s work in the telecommunications field over the past three decades has revolutionized the way we communicate. He is well known for his ability to forecast technological market transitions years in advance. Jonathan has authored more than 70 internet standards. These include RFC3261, which provided the roadmap for SIP and propelled telecommunications into the 21st century.
In this first part of a two-part series, we interviewed Jonathan Rosenberg about the future of enterprise messaging and what he believes is the most exciting technological advance on the horizon.
Mio: You’ve been a leader in the enterprise messaging interoperability space for almost two decades. How important is interoperability in the collaboration world? What do you imagine the future will look like?
Rosenberg: In the beginning, you couldn’t have products without interoperability. The way the ecosystem worked was one vendor made the phone, another made the software, and a third vendor would buy those two things and sell the service behind them. For that ecosystem to work, you needed standards for every feature and function.
Over time, we started to see some of that diminish. Without standards you can have greater innovation, because you don’t need to go to a standards body to agree on a new feature. The ecosystem shifted and now the client and the server were defined by the same people. In cloud tech, that happens all the time.
Mio: Can you give us an example of how this works now?
Rosenberg: Look at Slack. Slack makes the server and the client. Any app that you put on your iPhone, the same vendor makes the client app that writes the server code that it talks to. That’s like the only way it works. Take an inventory on your phone. How many apps are there on your phone where the app is written by one manufacturer, but the server it talks to is written by another manufacturer? You’ll only find three. The phone app, the email app, and the calendar app. Those are the only ones that use standards, right? Nothing else uses standards-based protocols.
It’s the same with Slack, and the same with Webex Teams or Microsoft Teams. So, the standards are no longer necessary on the client to server link. Whether they are needed for server to server depends on the vendor landscape. In markets when you’ve had lots of smaller vendors, interoperability becomes essential for the products and technologies to be successful.
In an environment where it’s a single large vendor dominating, and it’s a winner takes all model, there it no longer becomes necessary. This game has not yet fully played out in the messaging space.
Ultimately, interoperability is an enabler of ecosystems and how important it is depends on the market landscape. If you look at telecommunications as a whole, it’s been foundational. We wouldn’t have the phone network or the Internet if it wasn’t for interoperability.
Mio: Do you think the interoperability landscape will be determined in the next five years?
Rosenberg: No. For messaging I think it’ll play itself out in even less time than that. I think over the next couple of years we’ll see how it works out. Right now we are seeing companies and enterprises deploy lots of these programs. There’s lots of Slack, there’s lots of Webex Teams and there’s lots of Microsoft Teams while the market shapes itself out. In that phase, for sure, interoperability is actually an essential tool. It’s the only way that you can have multiples of these vendors inside an enterprise without employees running all three of them at the same time. In that sense, interoperability is an essential ingredient of allowing the marketplace to choose. I’m a big believer in allowing choice in the marketplace. Interoperability tools like Mio are enablers of customer choice.
In that sense, interoperability is already an essential ingredient of even allowing the market place to choose.
“I’m a big believer in allowing choice in the marketplace. These interoperability tools like Mio are enablers of customer choice.”
Mio: What’s the next big technological breakthrough you’re most excited about?
Rosenberg: Without a doubt, it’s the arrival of SaaS or a cloud-based software. Telecommunication technology has gone through multiple generations. Generation one was analog technology, followed by digital hardware in the 1990’s, to software more recently. Software was the true innovation of SIP. SIP allows you to take the telephone network, convert it from this clunky old hardware to software that just ran on a general personal computer. This is what completely smashed the market apart and allowed for new players to come in, like Cisco. Cisco never made circuit switch or hardware based products. Cisco’s first product was a software phone system for businesses, and it blew everyone else out of the water. SIP really enabled that to scale.
Mio: Right now, how sophisticated is cloud development?
Rosenberg: We are still in the early phases. Like the early hey-day of SIP, when people were still skeptical and wondered if it was secure enough or reliable enough. We are seeing the SaaS-ification of telecommunications, and I think that will be huge. It’s why I left Cisco in 2009. I was 100 percent convinced it was the future. It has taken way longer than I it thought it would. I thought we would be done by now, but we’re not even close.
Mio: What do you envision when you see SaaS really coming into its own?
Rosenberg: I envision SaaS dramatically improving user experience. To me, that’s what it’s always been about – improving the user experience.
That was the vision for SIP, and actually that didn’t quite pan out. SIP was a replacement technology. Its big innovation was dramatically cheapening the cost of phone calls. It didn’t dramatically transform the user experience. SaaS and cloud can do that, and that’s why I’m excited. That’s why I still work in this field. It can dramatically improve things.
This is where it relates to what Mio is doing.
“Mio is working on messaging and interoperability because this new type of software, these team collaboration tools, are changing the user experience for people and how they experience communications.”
That was only possible through SaaS and client technologies, and that’s why I remain excited about them.
What’s next for Jonathan Rosenberg?
Mio: What’s next for you professionally?
Rosenberg: I’m excited to work for a SaaS company, a cloud company, because I think that’s the future. Telecoms is going to the cloud, enabled by SaaS. There are lots of exciting things to do there to dramatically change users’ experience.
Jump to part two of our interview with Jonathan Rosenberg, where he discusses the creation of SIP as it grew from an underdog into the transformational technology that changed the global telecom market.