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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 18th February 2008

In Today’s News: Sony brings the embedded voice; Amazon Web Services loses it; BlackBerry down; Vodafone claims it has the solution; AMPS finally shuts down; T-Mobile USA turns up 3G, eyes overseas expansion; GSM-CDMA phones; Airwave - still deploying, increasingly obsolete; why do they all want Yahoo!?; Google goes quiet; LiMo, Symbian, SE handsets blitz; Telecom Italia goes for separation; Nokia puts hard word on Google; price war rages in Bangladesh; dancing acronyms; Viviane Reding upstages Isabella Rosselini

Our Broadband Business Models survey suggested that the next ten years will see a surge in non-telco voice and messaging, embedded in other products like games consoles and indeed games. Sony have had an accidental disclosure that shows they’re working on just that. A new version of the PlayStation 3 will have an entry on one of its menus for “Friends and Messaging”. It’s coming, like it or not. (Need a new voice and messaging business model? We can help!).

It was a week of outages: Amazon Web Services’s S3 Simple Storage Service went down hard after they lost connectivity to one of three data centres. Reliability is a frequent criticism of Internet-based services, but the telcos have nothing to boast about either. This week saw a mammoth BlackBerry outage across North America, the second this year. Vodafone UK responded with a new service that promises BlackBerry service that will never go down. Never. Ever. Although we have a sneaky feeling you should read the small print.

Perhaps all the engineers were at Mobile World Congress? It certainly seemed that way. If you’re still a US analogue cellular user, though, you need more than engineers; the AMPS network is finally shutting down this week. The good news is that T-Mobile USA flipped on their UMTS net this week, meaning the US now has four mobile broadband networks out and competing. Despite that, they still look like a company with a huge and ill-advised acquisition in their future. Still, we can hope that someday there will be a network that is both fast and works everywhere.

Sprint announced its first GSM phone - in fact, a CDMA-GSM roamer. This permeability of technologies and businesses was a major theme at MWC, and you’ll hear more about it in future blog posts. Possibly the most important technical skill going forwards is the ability to blend multiple network and delivery technologies to solve the problem the customer actually has.

British taxmen and customs agents are the latest emergency services to get TETRA Airwave. It’s just a pity it’s taken so long to agree on this, that you can now get emergency service networks that are high-speed all-IP with QoS and location awareness. (Check out our MWC post for more.)

In the Microsoft-Yahoo case, meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch and Google have both indicated their interest. It looks like most of Yahoo!’s own services will vanish, with the brand remaining over the doors of Windows Live. We’d just like to know what’s so great about Yahoo! anyway? Its competitive advantage is in the least interesting form of online advertising. Its web apps are unexciting even compared to Microsoft’s, and the pipeline of new ones just shut down. And its search isn’t, well, Google.

Perhaps it’s their new mobile unified-comms application? Looks interesting, even though there are some pretty serious privacy issues involved. But neither MS or Yahoo! has the kind of dynamic ad capability that Google does; which makes you wonder how it’s meant to make money.

MWC saw a very low-key launch of Google’s Android; you had to look hard to spot any Googlers at the show. Symbian hit back, suggesting that the real problem will be whether Google actually supports the product — they aren’t well-known for it. The LiMo Foundation, however, had a whole swath of gadgets, 18 of them. Sony Ericsson, however, surprised everyone by launching a Windows Mobile gadget. There’s money in them enterprises…

Telecom Italia has been talking structural separation for a while; now it’s happening, and it’s going to be called Open Access. I wonder where they got that idea from? Ironically, the pioneers of separation at BT have just got the EU’s go-ahead to make Openreach a tad less…open.

Nokia, meanwhile, is targeting Google with a cocktail of shiny gadgets, plus (recent acquisition) Trolltech’s clued-up Linux offerings, and Nokia’s own Ovi web services platform. The un-demarcated frontier between the mobile telecoms business, the consumer electronics business, and the Web/Big IT world is getting more and more crowded. No wonder! GrameenPhone of Bangladesh is the latest operator to see the essential telco syndrome of surging revenues and slumping profits. If sales are surging and profits tanking, prices must be falling — 40% in this case.

We wouldn’t be surprised if even they are being disintermediated by ‘over the top’ voice and messaging applications. Back in 2005, when they flipped on EDGE on their network, 100,000 people signed up for the upgrade in the first week.

Meanwhile, it was all radio-network politics this past week. Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, and China Mobile have all signed up to LTE, the GSM world’s plan for 4G. GSMA officials were very keen to extend a welcoming hand to the CDMA community at the significantly-renamed Mobile World Congress (formerly 3GSM). The WiMAXers, though, seem to be doing a roaring trade, and there is a further threat to the LTE vision, namely its own predecessor, HSPA. Basically, the radio guys keep squeezing more out of the HSPA air interface. Telstra, already a leader in HSPA with the unique 850MHz HSPA Class 8 network Ericsson built them, is talking about pushing the peak downlink speed towards 40MBits/s in the next few years. It is no longer a deal-breaker for equipment manufacturers to offer a ‘Nethead’ network architecture (decentralised, all-IP, little QoS) rather than the traditional ‘Bellheaded’ (centralised, circuit-based, telephony-centric) one. For example, Nokia Siemens Networks, among others, is offering a version of HSPA which breaks out IP traffic as low down as the cell-site. What that means is all your IP media stream goes straight out to the Internet, rather than hauling it back to the switch. It’s roughly what the LTE Systems Architecture Evolution group wanted, but early, and cheaper.

And finally, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding still scares the hell out of industry suits. The week before, she demanded cheaper data roaming; last week, she took part in a GSMA press conference where the press unsurprisingly wanted to know about just that. The GSMA naturally didn’t want any such uncivil talk at its annual jamboree. So she walked out, taking the gaggle of journos with her, to give an impromptu press conference. Wow. Even the GSMA’s guest of honour, actress and model Isabella Rosselini, couldn’t match that.

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