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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 31st March 2008

In Today’s Issue: Motorola gossip: the demerger cometh; cablecos’ Comcast-Clearwire concert party; HOWTO deploy fibre in NZ?; here’s an answer from San Francisco; Symbian OS platform security is hacked; free WLAN in BA lounges; 3UK is profitable, pigs fly; another MVNO casualty; Virgin Mobile India “not an MVNO”; Miss Bimbo; $20 a month on ringtones; Cuba Movil!; Chinese 3G; really fast stuff; 3G iPhones; another startup-without-money.

Inside gossip at Motorola; someone claims to have been the Richard Kinder figure of their crisis and accuses Ed Zander of working their past CMO to death, and also playing too much golf. Which of these sins is more serious is left as an exercise for the reader. It was also this week that saw Moto finally take our repeated advice. They got rid of the handsets operation, thus leaving it “floating downwards to find its own level”, in the immortal words of Sir Norman Fowler describing the collapse of Sterling.

Telephony Online (ever tried offline telephony? me neither) reports that a squad of US cablecos are testing the water for a possible bid for the WiMAX operation, with a view to rolling Clearwire up in it as well. (More here.)

In New Zealand, however, they’re going the other way. It only remains to work out some details, like who pays and what form a national fibre rollout would take. So nothing to worry about there. Communications Breakdown has the background; it looks like the biggest problem is how to structure an investment vehicle to build open-access fibre. We’re thinking a big lorry with a spool of cable on the back… chasing another lorry throwing out public money in front.

The good people from the Internet Archive are fibre-ing up San Francisco’s public housing with 100Mbits/s Ethernet; what lifts this out of the “whoo! those crazy Californians” bracket is that it’s a classic example of the joy of incremental muni-fibre. San Francisco, or rather the city government, has already laid point-to-point fibre for its own use, linking up its buildings. For whatever reason — probably a mixture of future-proofing and the advantages of using its own right-of-way — this often passes beneath public housing projects. So the problem is reduced to some Cat5E cables along the corridors, a switch on every floor, a router in every building and a VLAN for the public access traffic. Cracking.

Cracking is just what they’ve done to the Symbian OS Platform Security functions; we reported on the great row going on among the mobile developers about whether it was any use, or just a layer of bureaucratic hassle. One Telco 2.0 employee went so far as to experience it himself. Now somebody’s hacked it, and although the hack is far from stable, it does at least send a signal regarding this sort of thing. Stop trying to control what users do with devices they own.

Heathrow Airport’s new terminal and its dodgy baggage-handling system were in the news this week. (Anyone who wonders how this might have happened should check out the Project Failure Blog and especially that terrifying architecture diagram. It makes IMS look elegant.) Fortunately, British Airways chose the same week to put free Wi-Fi in its lounges. So you could whinge at up to 54Mbits/s while you waited. Could this be the start of a larger trend of bundling telco products into travel products — anyone for a cheap roaming SIM card with their next business class ticket?

In other surprises, 3UK this week staggered into positive EBITDA after years of essentially buying customers with Li Ka-shing’s money. They’d followed a curious string of strategies, ranging from high-end, super-walled garden telco-as-media, through bargain basement minutes giveaway, to putting Skype on 3G handsets and pushing HSDPA modems hard. Maybe just a good offer, well presented, and competently executed is the secret sauce.

Far less surprisingly, there’s another entry for the dead MVNO file; student-focused Dot Mobile has gone bust after apparently convincing itself that students had money.

Virgin Mobile’s operation in India, it turns out, is officially not an MVNO. But what is it — an Unidentified Financial Object? In fact, according to the Indian Department of Trade, it’s not any kind of operator or even a reseller, but just a brand licensing deal with Tata’s mobile outfit.

Here’s another youth-oriented play: Miss Bimbo, where you can buy virtual breast implants for your avatar. Not really mobile, except for the fact they’re using premium SMS to handle payments. Here’s a Telco 2.0 teachable moment: this is an example of a telco facilitating large numbers of small transactions, by trading with both parties to them. Unfortunately, it’s also an example of somebody’s slightly dubious business wandering into the highly regulated telecoms world — there is clearly going to be trouble.

AT&T, meanwhile, is offering the chance to make your own ringtones with music from their portfolio. Unfortunately it’ll cost you a bargain $20 a month, sigh.

Cuban leader Raul Castro has announced that the ban on ordinary citizens owning mobile phones is over. That’s good news for the Italian company, Italcom, that operates Cuba’s only GSM network. China, meanwhile, announced that trials had begun of its TDSCDMA network; which is curious, as trial networks have been deployed since at least late 2005. The news is actually that the public are being invited to take part; a difference from China Mobile, which was forced to take part…

It’s Monday, so there must be an absurdly optimistic theoretical maximum speed story. This time it’s NEC, LTE, and 250Mbits/s; but you could swap the company, acronym, and large number with any other such story without doing much harm. And how, precisely, do they plan to backhaul that, let alone hold the handset?

Perhaps with a giant chain of iPhones? Or something. But anyway, Apple is apparently contracting for 10 million 3G iPhones.

Here’s yet another voice & messaging 2.0 startup: Mind Caller, which offers a free voice-broadcast service. As Vinny at VoipGuides points, looks like any another VoIP 2.0 startup with no practical business model.

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Welcome stuff, especially the Cuba story. But what I'm hearing from New Zealand seems more like DSL than fiber. As far as I can tell, it's mostly 1 meg up, 10-20 meg down, typical ADSL2+ performance. Four years ago, AT&T started calling that "fiber to the node," but it's really DSL with a press release. Typical fiber speeds are 50-100 meg, and going higher. DOCSIS 3.0 cable is heading there as well. So I wouldn't use the term "fiber" for anything less than a 10 meg up, 50 meg down "fiber to the kerb" deployment.

The confusion is one reason the U.K. may be stuck with a slow Internet for many years.


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