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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 10th March 2008

In Today’s Issue: BT starts Verwaayen succession plan, ideal candidate said to be “probably male”; Brough Turner takes the separation gospel to ETech; iPlayer hits mobile; Alltel goes flatrate, hoists white flag; Yahoo! lines up to whack telcos; Sun outwits Apple over iPhone; Sony lines up to whack telcos; hackers assail Chinese mobile-IM users in first mobile ransomware; Symbian Platform Security considered harmful?; more on the Death Of Mobile Apps; HSPA+MobileTV=coffee+grit?; heads roll at Motorola

BT looking to the post-Verwaayen era. Telecoms’ best-known International Relations grad may be looking to name a successor; if he gets this right, after being right about structural separation, he will go down in BT’s history as close to the perfect CEO. Ian Livingstone of BT Retail is being mentioned as a possible candidate. It’s very unlikely, however, that Verwaayen’s successor would be a woman: Brough Turner wants to know why.

Our best guess is that it’s something to do with telcos having alienated three generations or so of young techies; in the 1980s everyone wanted to work for Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Lotus and friends. In the 1990s they wanted to work for Yahoo!, Netscape, Cisco, or Electronic Arts. And today, it’s Amazon, Apple, Google, your favourite open-source project, or else some random Web 2.0 lashup.

Brough also likes branded ringback tones. Hmmm, the next step is to make a really unpleasant noise so the subscribers pay for personalised ringback to get rid of it….right? Sounds like a plan.

In our continuing Brough-fest, he also has an interesting post advocating structural separation and a de-commercialised, either regulated, shared, or publicly owned, dark-fibre operator. Call it the Super-Openreach option. You’ll need it, too; Alltel is the latest US operator to go flat-rate, and the BBC iPlayer is coming to the mobile networks. Watch out!

The pressure, in general, is well and truly on the telco business model; Yahoo! has announced a content-manager application that works across PCs and mobile devices, organising all your stuff. Most of the stuff will be locally cached as you use it, so there’ll be no data charging bonanza for the telcos either. Chuck in their unified-messaging/stalkerware app, OneConnect, and search, and they have an impressive emerging portfolio of over-the-top mobile applications. Maybe that’s what Microsoft actually wants.

Speaking of Microsoft, the launch of the iPhone SDK this week faced a double spork attempt on both flanks; Microsoft’s Silverlight in-browser development languagecame to Nokia devices, whilst Sun Microsystems declared that it was working on a Java Virtual Machine implementation for iPhones, which would neatly run around Apple’s planned Apple-branded development ecosystem. And it’s going to be available through the Apple Appstore, priced free. Curse you, Red Baron.

Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson patents a phone based on the PSP, suggesting a highly advanced user interface (no keys, haptic feedback under the touch screen, accelerometers…); the question is, however, will Sony cut a side-deal for connectivity like that on the Amazon Kindle (or Truphone vs The Cloud), or perhaps stuff them with pre-loaded content? Remember that the next versions of the PS3’s software includes some voice and messaging functionality. Consumer electronics is pushing into the undemarcated zone of new voice and messaging; are you ready?

New gadgets, and new forms of voice and messaging, mean new security threats; Chinese hit mobile IM platform QQ gets hit by hackers, who released a Trojan called Kiazha-A. It appears to be the first case of mobile ransomware; the victims receive threatening SMS messages demanding that they send a ransom in QQ’s internal currency in exchange for the Trojan’s deactivation. At the same time, it copies all their messaging traffic to (presumably) the attacker, who is believed to want it in order to phish for passwords. If you don’t have a QQ account, the ‘bot will set one up; considerate! Nokia S60 devices are affected by the virus, which is spread using old favourite Commwarrior’s MMS and Bluetooth functionality.

Only good software gets cracked, as Gabor Torok says at Forum Nokia, demonstrating another workaround of Symbian’s security platform. It’s an interesting question whether Symbian codesigning is actually more useful than not; clearly, people are getting hacked anyway, and the codesigning process is a significant barrier to innovators as well as a general bloody nuisance. In fact, come to think of it, even installing Python for S60 is needlessly annoying, before you get to the stage of doing any development.

The risk for Nokia is that, especially with the release of their Web Runtime and MS Silverlight, developers will migrate to working in the browser, which cuts them out of the value chain (Nokia’s own efforts to create a business model for widgetry could backfire on them here). The risk for the rest of us is more mobile malware, but then, not only is this the cost of freedom, but if everyone turns to working in AJAX, Flash, JavaFX, or Silverlight, we’ll get rigged mobile web pages instead of dubious apps, which is a considerably more efficient distribution vector and one against which Symbian codesigning doesn’t provide any protection.

Well, at least QQ can be pleased that they have built something useful; if the enemy are using your product there can’t be that much wrong with it. We shall see if that’s the case with Huawei’s new HSPA+mobile TV dongle. Sounds more use than a tri-band CDMA-only gadget.

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