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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 23rd June 2008

In Today’s Issue: 60 years of computing - our Mancunian future; 25 years of DNS, 10 years of a post-Jon Postel world; securing the root DNS; Yahoo! loses clue to the wider environment; Apple’s outrageous iPhone margins; iPhone-RAZR culture shock; 1st VZ ODI gadgets; Moto tries to slim itself fat; Huawei handsets up for grabs; Telefonica leads misguided acquisition rush into China; Chinese bank buys Poland; first WiMAX.eu; Sprint XOHM goes live in September; Sprint offers enterprise e-mail; Nokia builds mapping capabilities; “IMS light”, again; communicating non-neutrality; Isenberg makes stabby over FISA

It’s been sixty years since the very first computer that accepted a stored program, Manchester University’s “Baby”, successfully determined the prime factors of a given number. The beginning of computing is one of those events it’s hard to date - in the UK alone, you’d have to consider the rival claims of the Cambridge Maths Lab, NPL, and Manchester, to say nothing of the code-breaking COLOSSI (although they weren’t capable of re-programming in memory), the US’s ENIAC, or Konrad Zuse’s work in Germany. But Baby’s special claim is because it was both a digital computer, and one which could read a stored program; you can date the beginning of the primacy of software to this point, and hence essentially everything that defines the IT industry and its distinctive culture.

Whilst we’re on the topic of history, it’s been 25 years this week since the first DNS server went on line, just one of the many contributions of the late Jon Postel as co-author of RFC882, which specifies the DNS, administrator of the .us TLD, president of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and editor of the RFCs. This is a fine excuse to link to RFC2468, the tribute to Postel written into the Internet’s standardisation process (Postel’s own invention) by none other than Vint Cerf. And yes, that is as in “2,4,6,8, who do we appreciate?” More practically, the Renesys blog has some thoughts about the problems of securing the root servers, with a handy list of where they should be.

At Yahoo!, the problem is increasingly that executives who should be inside the building are not. Since the collapse of the Microsoft bid, people have been leaving in numbers, starting with the founders of the numerous whizzy start-ups they bought over the last five years - the founders of Flickr and Del.icio.us being the most senior to walk so far. (Can anyone imagine what the walk-out rate would have been like if Microsoft had bought the company?)

Yahoo! might, however, find some relief in the fact that the majority of mobile search requests come from iPhones (German link); perhaps they might cuddle up to Apple. That’s if Apple actually wants them - the latest forecast for the iPhone bill of materials puts its cost at about $100, which implies an outrageous profit margin.

It turns out that a quarter of all iPhone users switched from a Motorola RAZR, by far the biggest single group among them. It seems exactly the same gadget hipster twits who bought iPhones were the ones who flocked to RAZRs three years ago. No wonder they love the things - the RAZR V3 had some of the worst figures in industry history for customer satisfaction, and a reputation for poor quality control to boot. The comparison with Apple’s optical glass, burnished aluminium, and Unix can only be telling.

Verizon, meanwhile, has homologated the first ODI device.

Motorola, meanwhile, reached for the classic response to hard times - sack half the R&D lab. This is now the second major cut in product development and research at Motorola since the crisis began; it’s not the most obvious strategy for a company whose problems stem from a lack of good products. Perhaps they assume that whoever buys the handsets operation will already have their own lab? (hint - Nokia?)

If you want a spare handset factory, though, Huawei is selling a large chunk of its devices operation. The leading Chinese vendor is far better known for its network infrastructure products, and it looks like they are planning to specialise in them, like so many other NEPs. But however low the margins on Huawei gadgets are, you can bet their problems aren’t as bad as Moto’s.

We mentioned that the reorganisation of the Chinese telecoms industry is likely to trigger a rush by essentially all the NEPs to sell them CDMA2K and UMTS gear, and all the major telcos to try to buy into the new big three converged operators. Telefonica kicked it off this week, angling to come out of the China Netcom/China Unicom merger with a 10 per cent stake. There’s something slightly worrying about this business of very expensive minority stakes far from home - it sounds a lot like being a Western oil investor in Russia, and you have to remember the sad tale of BT’s Japanese investments.

Interestingly, this works both ways: here’s a Chinese bank funding a greenfield mobile operator in Poland. In fact, it’s more of a monster vendor financing deal than anything else, as all the equipment is coming from Huawei.

Europe’s first mobile WiMAX net launches in Amsterdam; Sprint confirms that its first commercial WiMAX network will be live in September in Baltimore. More usefully, perhaps, they also started offering MS Exchange and Lotus Notes e-mail for nonfancy devices.

Nokia, meanwhile, opened yet another web storefront; more interestingly, they also bought a rather impressive social mapping application, Plazes.

NEC launched something called “IMS light” (again) at NXTComm - about all that’s interesting here is that the applications they are pitching for it are mostly unified comms. A couple of years ago, the first thing any IMS person wanted to show you was an “interactive video-sharing” service, which were uniformly dire. I remember vividly the one the GSMA showed off with Nokia at 3GSM 2006, which was reduced to semi-functionality by latency - especially amusing due to the number of people involved busy explaining how only they could guarantee acceptable quality-of-service for video streaming.

Relatedly, Telephony Online asks how carriers who want to offer multiple levels of service by application will communicate this to their customers, given the number of people who complain of “slow” broadband within the first month of getting it.

And finally, the US carriers were officially shriven of responsibility for their part in illegal surveillance operations. David Isenberg is furious.

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