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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 25th February 2008

In Today’s Issue:: Flat-rate menaces US cellcos, mobile voice volume booms, COLT feels the pain, Voda/Orange mast-share, OFCOM after the fibre, mobile filth disappoints, DVD Jon turns on mobiles, Pakistan breaks the Internet, GSM crypto cracked, BlackBerry down again, Facebook loses traffic, microwave spectrum in demand, France resists Reding, pretty PDFs, and Sprint-Nextel goes all Telco 2.0…

It was the week of flat-rate: all US national mobile operators are now offering flat-rate calling plans, as well as flat-rate data plans. Some day this war’s gonna end. We knew T-Mobile USA’s UMTS rollout would boost competition; we just didn’t think it would happen quite that quickly. Broadband incentive problem, meet US MNOs; US MNOs, meet broadband incentive problem…as Telegeography points out, this is ugly news for the landline world as well.

Here we go; mobile voice minutes of use in Europe are expected to whizz past fixed any time now.

Enterprise-focused alt.telco COLT, meanwhile, reported a 6.7% revenue drop for the year to December 31st; voice was of course the problem, falling 19%, while data traffic compensated with growth of 9.8%. COLT’s large financial-service customers can be expected to be early movers to enterprise VoIP.

The telcos’ first line of defence against the great squeeze is cost-cutting; in the UK, Vodafone and Orange have announced a major infrastructure-sharing agreement. Rather than actually share a network, they’re going to install separate radio equipment on the same cell-sites, which they reckon will actually save them 3,000 sites in total, thus making a big cut in their rent bills. Despite The Register’s sarcasm, it could well be true that network quality will increase; optimising a WCDMA network often involves actually reducing the number of cells, as inter-cell interference is a major negative contributor to the link budget.

And more fundamentally, both networks’ radio planners can’t have been right all the time, or the cell-sites would all be in the same places anyway…

Another solution is to get the fibre out there already. OFCOM is beginning to press the UK telecoms industry about this, announcing a consultation on how to fund a national fibre access loop. Whatever they come up with, it probably won’t be cross-subsidised by “adult video chat”, even if “users regularly return to chat to the same hostess and develop a virtual relationship with her”. The mobile filth market is predicted to be worth $453m in Europe by 2012; peanuts compared to telcos’ CAPEX requirements.

Perhaps someone ought to have realised that highly portable mass-market devices with cameras and Internet connections are not obviously a technology enabler for selling dirty videos, especially now hacker legend DVD Jon’s mobile filesharing platform is out there.

In this light, it’s not surprising Pakistan wanted to censor YouTube. When we talk about censoring the Web, however, we usually mean censoring it for your downstream subscribers; not everyone else in the world, as Pakistan Telecom did last night when their fancydan Internal BGP trickery went wrong, leaking a spurious more-specific route for YouTube’s /24 to the Internet at large. Routing leaks have happened before; this one, however, combines two key factors that are certain to lend it political sex. Those being a) frivolous video sharing, and b) Muslims. So there’s now a reasonable chance that the various proposed means of preventing them will get deployed.

If you think the prospect of someone injecting “ 3356 6461 40898” (ok, ok, that’s a more-specific route for salesforce.com, giving their real AS PATH and the Russian Business Network’s AS number) is bad enough, the A5/1 algorithm that encrypts GSM phone calls has been cracked for a total hardware investment of $1,000; it’s time to improve your voice and messaging products, and privacy is a great place to start.

Similarly, BlackBerry has had yet another major outage; overcentralised, who me? And guess who’s making the money from Facebook? That’s right - their hosting provider! Although even they might not be doing so well; Facebook traffic is apparently falling.

Don’t imagine that falling backhaul costs will save you, either; there’s a reason why Arqiva and BT are buying newly released point-to-point microwave spectrum. Infrastructure; you can’t beat it. And Microsoft is out there, along with all the other consumer electronics and IT vendors, just waiting for a slip by Nokia.

The good news? France isn’t on board with Viviane Reding’s scheme for a monster EU-wide telecoms regulator. That’s something. Mobile content can look cracking, even if it’s created from PDF files! The consumer electronics/telecoms crossover is creative. And what, what if there was some kind of alternative business model?

Well, look what’s happening at Sprint’s WiMAX division (we still can’t bring ourselves to call it XOHM). Rather than offering “mobile Web” or some such, or just Hovisnet (the Internet with nowt taken out), they’re looking to create a platform that offers more than just connectivity - open APIs for location, identity and authentication, device management, and QOS control. Now that’s genuinely Telco 2.0.

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About the Ofcom bit: the FT article you link is confusing and you got confused. Ofcom is not pressing anybody. The Government has annouced a broadband review and Ofcom welcomes this. But Ofcom and the Government are two separate entities, afaik. Ofcom will publish a statement on the Future of Broadband consultation, opened in Sept 2007. No new consultation on fibre has been published since then.

Ofcom is a Government agency; it reports to the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport, its director is appointed by the Secretary of State for DCMS, its funding comes from DCMS, and its staff are civil servants. In terms of policy it has significantly less independence than the Bank of England.

[Update: it does look like the Govt is going over the director of Ofcom's head, to be fair.]

Ofcom is an independent regulator, in fact it is a statutory corporation; its action is overseen by two government departments: DCMS and BERR. Its funding comes from fees paid by the companies it regulates. Its staff are not civil servants. I don't know much about the Bank of England, in fact, I don't knkow anything about it. But I do think Ofcom is more independent than other EU regulators and I suppose ECTA thinks that too.

For those interested, the press release about BERR's review of next generation broadband can be found here.

Offcom employees are not civil servants. Many were civil servants before the 5 regulators were merged into Ofcom. Many who were previously civil servants are now also ex Ofcom employees because of the mismatch between what the old regulators did and what Ofcom wanted/was asked to do. Pensions are provided on the private sector model, not the public sector one.

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