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France Telecom, Part 2: Little Boxes, All The Same

So we mentioned Liveboxes. The box contains an ADSL modem, a four-port Ethernet/WLAN router, and some other stuff running on its kernel. Specifically, there’s a socket for a standard PSTN handset, so you can use FT’s carrier-VoIP service, and a Bluetooth radio so you can walk about with the same service. There’s also an IPTV client, so you can watch FT’s TV.

Now, I don’t know what’s actually driving the thing - but many of these boxes have a real operating system, usually a small Linux distro. (Note that if you want to DIY, there’s a Linux available for the Linksys WRT54G router.) A lot of them can be remotely managed by a system administrator over the Internet - something which has already had embarrassing consequences for at least one ISP, whose CPEs shipped with the default passwords set and were promptly hacked.

This has all been a little techie by Telco2.0 standards so far. But here is the vital upshot: this is what a platform for new services looks like. Once you have a little box in the customer’s living room with an IP address, a general-purpose OS, and remote admin access, you’re in a position to come up with new ideas and get them out to the market very quickly indeed.

For example, as well as TV, WLAN, and VoIP, you can do femtocells and/or UMA. You can include a chunk of local storage and give it media-centre functions - for example, you could distribute heavy content like video during the night when the network is under-utilised, “peak-shaving” as the electrical engineers call it. Or, alternatively, you could ship the boxes with a ton of video on board and just top them up remotely.

You could give it Slingbox-like functionality; making the data (and services) on the box available remotely over the Internet. If you do that, you could also include digital home and e-health functions on it. But here, though, is the scary bit; why doesn’t France Telecom sell the boxes to non-France Telecom customers? Boxes like these are a powerful tool for building a virtual integrated carrier on top of someone else’s network.

In fact, it’s a way of becoming your own telco. If you have something slightly smarter than a WRT54, and a large external hard drive, and a WLAN/cellular handet, you’re on your way. It could hold your collection of music and video, and perhaps run a P2P client application all the time. It could permit you to get at that stuff remotely. It could also run a SIP proxy, if you don’t want to use GrandCentral or some other hosted service.

Actually, you don’t need anything smarter than a WRT54 for that. I checked; there’s already both a pure SIP proxy and a version of Asterisk for it, as well as a filesystem.

How long before Sony or Nokia ships it?

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Comments

Not long, that's how long. Ar, at least, that's what I see as the major Achille's Heel of modern telcos, and skypephones, pandora boxes and other consumer goods that hop onto the connection are prime examples, even if their capability isn't global as that of the livebox.

As to why FT is not selling the boxes to non-FT customers, the reason is simple: it's the same reason they still fight unbundling despite the fact that it kickstarted a market that now earns them tons of customers and pots of money...

They don't think Telco 2.0, that's why!

;-)

i will take the other side and say that it is going to be a long time before we see Nokia or Sony ship that box. As the article mentions, the box itself is not the problem, the service is. Example, FT offers an IP camera to connect to the livebox for the user to see their home from any browser. FT though does not offer a home security service ! The camera is actually useless as a security device as is. FT is a phone company not a security company. FT offers the IP camera and VoIP yet they don't offer a video phone service. France has a large percentage of retired people that could benefit from health care over IP. FT has no such service. FT is a phone company, not a health service company. They have the correct box but they lack the business side to extract revenue from services running on that box. All other operators have the same issue. Sony and Nokia have the same issue. Both have products that have broadband connections already. The winner is going to be the operator that accepts that they are a phone company and makes business deals to give access to service companies over their home gateway OR the operator that manages to convert into a general services company.

it will be a long long time before either happens. Operators are always afraid to open up their network and have no clue about the services that could be offered since those services are outside the scope of their business.

just noticed on the Orange website that now Orange is offering an Alarm service over the LiveBox.

They have signed up an Alarm services company that will come in to the user's house and install the Alarm which I presume goes over IP over the LiveBox. Don't know about the success they are having. don't know either if they will release a Livebox with battery backup. It is very interesting to see how this evolves.

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