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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 7th April 2008

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In Today’s Issue: 60 WAP sites - meh; Tellabs - beware big telcos; Google not buying Skype; Carphone Warehouse joins forces of Righteousness; cars! with periscopes!; Visto on the skids; Yahoo! Other people who searched for Yahoo! also searched for Yes!; unofficial iPhone SDK; cheap iPhones; new Nokia E90 firmware; WiMAX optimism; LTE promises; iClones; dumb terminals for your smartphone; 35 years of mobility

NBC Universal offers a thrilling new content play: “direct access to more than 60 WAP sites on your handset”, no less. We thought you already had “direct access” to considerably more than that. Of course, what they mean is that they’ll yuck up all the menus with ones they want you to visit so they can show you ads. So very 1999-dotcom-boom. Just don’t tell us there’s another bust coming…

Tellabs, meanwhile, can warn you of the pitfalls of dealing with the RBOCs. Recap: they got a big contract to supply GPON fibre-to-the-home kit to Verizon. Verizon is contracting again, but Tellabs doesn’t want them as a customer. There’s a serious problem for medium-sized vendors in that the big telcos’ market power is easily sufficient to crush their margins. At the other end of the scale, more and more commodity gear is being used. Verizon and AT&T are doing GPON, but everywhere else, fibre deployments are more likely to be Ethernet…and that’s a much less attractive business to be in, unless you’re doing something interesting like L2 VLAN switching or backbone Carrier Ethernet transport. Is “telco equipment manufacturer” an oxymoron in a world of big Cisco routers?

Rumour of the week: Google to buy Skype as a “foundation for scalable Web services”. How can we put this? Skype isn’t a Web service; it’s a standalone application that uses its own custom protocols over straight TCP or UDP. You wouldn’t think there’d be slow days on the stock market that need rumours like this in the current financial climate, but apparently…

Better one sinner who repenteth. Carphone Warehouse’s TalkTalk ISP operation started off as an enthusiast for the controversial Phorm adware system, then it said users would only be affected if they opted in. Now, the unlikely warriors for your digital rights are refusing to play ball with a scheme to cut off Internet access for people who download music illegally.

It’s CTIA Wireless week, so there must be at least one cool idea with no business model whatsoever floating around. Blue Dasher is taking detailed photos of Californian streets with the help of a fleet of cars with periscope-mounted cameras; what for has been left as an exercise for the public. They reckon real estate interests might be buyers — this sounds more than a little 2006, but perhaps they’ll use it to check which of their foreclosed properties has burned down.

In other crashed business model news, push e-mail company Visto is laying off staff. Being serious about this, there was never really enough that was new about push e-mail to warrant whole companies devoted to it. RIM got there first and is now frantically working to parlay this into a strong handset brand; once Microsoft pushed the support out as a software update to Exchange Server, the gig was up.

We’ve been snarky enough about the Microsoft-Yahoo merger; but Yahoo! has been producing some interesting ideas lately. After the OneConnect presence/sociability/location/general stalkerware client, now they’re looking at a voice-activated search engine with Semantic Web functions. The idea of using mobile devices’ voice functions for non-telephony applications is a good one; no more tapping at tiny keys and scrolling across a postage stamp screen. However, there might be a reason why nobody’s done a good one yet.

Perhaps it’s just too developer-hostile still. Speaking of which… Hostile developers have created a whole SDK for your hacked iPhone, as a rival to the official Apple one. Who’s betting it’ll end up “doing an OpenSolaris” and taking over from the “official”, proprietary evolution path? If you’re German, meanwhile, you can now score one for €99; sounds like someone’s getting rid of old stock. Relatedly, the big news in the Nokia developer world is that the E90 just got updated to support the Nokia Web Runtime and Adobe Flash Lite. Middleware (like databases, apps servers and message brokers) tends to be unglamorous, but very lucrative. Maybe OS-specific mobile apps really are doomed, and the rich web apps are about to conquer all.

Despite all the pain at Sprint, and the great Airspan vs Aussies row, sagely source Brough Turner is still a WiMAX optimist. With good reason: Ericsson showed off its LTE implementation, but there won’t be anything more than samples for three years at least. Even though Verizon wants it. What’s the equivalent of vaporware for a wireless network?

Motorola, unsurprisingly, is still bullish on WiMAX too — but they would be. Perhaps they have good reasons — the last time we checked, there were hardly any subscribers to Korea’s 802.16e networks, but Computerworld reports that things are very different now. And let’s not forget that the new Nokia N810 ships with WiMAX chips. (We’ve got one, and we like it. Although expect to be told off by your spouse for surfing news over breakfast.)

Qualcomm, however, has other ideas. Their Gobi chips will integrate GSM-to-HSPA in laptops; gone are the days of pushing EV-DO Rev.C (UMB as it is now) for the world, but you still don’t want to underestimate them.

In the future, everything will look vaguely like an iPhone: that is the only conclusion we can draw from this story. Alternatively, it’ll look like a desktop computer lashed to a mobile. Where will we find the pockets to put all this stuff?

And finally, 35 years ago on Thursday, it all began with the first ever cellular phone call.

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