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April 29, 2009

Apple on Verizon: Reinventing Laptop Connectivity?

Building on our previous analysis of ‘Device 2.0’ strategy and in preparation for the Telco 2.0 Exec Brainstorm next week, below is some inportant news and analysis that could have far reaching consequences for business model innovation across the telecom-media-tech value chain:

Denny Strigl, President of Verizon, made a very interesting aside during their Q1 earnings call:

You know, we have said in the past we are always open to discussions with any suppliers. We have no announcements to make relative to Apple today. But let me say that we historically have not been dependent on any one device.

The commentariat moved immediately into speculative overdrive discussing the possibility of a change in strategy at Apple and whether the iPhone, or some variant thereof, is due to arrive on the Verizon Wireless network.

The Telco 2.0 view is that something far more interesting could happen and we present below a scenario on how Apple could completely disrupt the laptop connectivity market and in the process vastly improve the user experience:

Connectivity - A complicated landscape

Wi-Fi connectivity is now pretty much a mainstream activity. Nearly all laptops have Wi-Fi chips embedded in them and connecting to free hotspots, whether at home or in the office, is a very simple affair. For road warriors, paid for Wi-Fi connectivity is less than an ideal experience, with a multitude of choices with widely different tariffs depending upon location and expense account size.

The take-up of 3G mobile broadband from a cellular operator as an option for road warriors has been widely successful, trading simplicity and coverage for Wi-Fi’s speed. However, 3G mobile broadband still predominantly requires an external USB-based device, and requires users to manually switch between Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband.

We have long believed that the next great leap forward in laptop connectivity will come when both Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband are both embedded in laptops and more importantly switching between networks is done automatically according to both signal strength and cost of connectivity.
The mobile networks are making their first tentative steps in capturing this market with subsidised laptops and netbooks with an associated monthly tariff plan for connectivity. But the user experience is still lacking. The devices frequently either aren’t integrated with the PC, or else come with proprietary, operator-specific software clients that duplicate the PC’s own network manager, badly, and often don’t work across platforms.

For example, a common solution in the UK uses Huawei’s E220 device and a software client that is executed by Windows’ Autorun function when it’s connected to the computer. But why do we need another network manager? Arguably, autorun is a bad idea from a security point of view. And unfortunately, although the Linux kernel supports the E220 natively, the client causes Linux machines to detect it as a USB drive rather than a modem. You can defeat this, but it involves either yet another software client or else extensive work through the command line. Which is especially silly, when you think of the boom in Linux-powered netbooks - computers specifically optimised for mobile Internet use.

We believe there is an opportunity for a disruptive play from the device community.

The Apple side of the equation

Apple’s revival has been based upon delivering a wonderful user experience, whether by the aesthetics of its physical devices, the ease of use of its software, or by creating a superior purchasing experience, either physically in its retail stores or online in its application stores.
Of course, it has outsourced many functions, such as chipmaking and device assembly, and even allows some of its devices to be sold in third party stores. But crucially, Apple has remained in control of the user experience.

Apple lost a lot of control when launched the iPhone and in the process decided to partner with several mobile operators. It is our belief that even if the individual operator provides the best customer experience in the world through its activation, billing and care processes, Apple will think that can do even better itself. Ultimately, Apple will take back control.

In the mobile world, this is traditionally done via a MVNO type of deal and Apple with its current iPhone base would immediately become the worlds largest MVNO. However, converting into a MVNO for its iPhone customers would probably be too difficult, both commercially and operationally, in the short term. A much better strategy would be to experiment with a simpler product (e.g. mobile broadband connectivity) with a different operator (e.g. Verizon Wireless) as the first step into the MVNO world.

The Verizon side of the equation

Verizon Wireless has not traditionally been big on wholesaling its services. The vast majority (91%) of its 86.6m customer base are retail postpaid customers. Only 2.5m customers are connected via resellers and just 5.2m are prepaid. However, Verizon Wireless is big on the quality of its network and at every opportunity trumpets quality as its key differentiator. The Verizon Wireless Testman and his “can you hear me now?” message will probably go down in mobile history as the most effective network quality advertisement ever.

Nowadays, Verizon Wireless has a different view of the future, as more and more non-traditional devices get connected. Hence last year, it launched its Open Development Initiative which promised to connect any device from any company to its network if it passed certain Verizon Wireless tests. These companies would be then free to develop their own business models and methods of support.

Given the openness of this initiative, Verizon Wireless could hardly refuse Apple interconnection with its network under any business model of Apple’s choice. All that is uncertain is whether Apple can negotiate a wholesale tariff deal that wins for both parties.

The chipset side of the equation

To change the chipset in the iPhone to support both types of 3G technology, EV-DO & HSPA, used in the world would be a hugely complex engineering affair which would involve changing its baseband and rewriting a lot of software code. For the laptop it is a much simpler affair.

Qualcomm already manufacture a Gobi chipset which supports both 3G standards and GPS functionality, and is therefore compatible with most of the mobile networks in the world. Therefore, the complexity would be in the software, integrating with Wi-Fi and making the switching transparent. Future generations of 3G embedded chipsets will surely include Wi-Fi capability and simplify the task even further. We believe there is more to the Qualcomm patent settlement with Broadcom than is apparent in the press release.

Of course, this is unlikely to remain a barrier for very long; Verizon Wireless is planning to abandon CDMA and deploy a LTE network, and the next generation of iPhones will presumably be LTE devices anyway.

Business Model Innovation

Apple already sells subscription based services - for instance, their email service MobileMe is priced at $99/year, and they also sell extensions to warranty through Care Protection Plans. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to sell an annual bundle of connectivity, or even bundle a free trial of one month’s connectivity with each new laptop with top-ups available from the Application Store. The options are endless.

Where the business model gets interesting is the ability to arbitrage the cost of Wi-Fi hotspot access with 3G connectivity, using the usage profile of the customer base to negotiate better wholesale rates from Hot Spot providers, Verizon Wireless, or in fact any other mobile operator. If Apple signed up to Verizon’s ODI, theoretically it would not preclude them from signing up with AT&T as well.

Effectively, the promise of the internet would be fulfilled in the mobile world, with intelligence moving to the edge devices, which would determine the delivery method based upon bandwidth availability and cost. All controlled by a trusted access aggregator - in this case, Apple. The mobile operators would become the ultimate bit pipe, competing in real time for traffic based upon quality of service and cost.

Ed. - we will be debating these issues at the Devices 2.0 session next Wednesday at the Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm. If you can’t come, check out the new ‘distance participation’ packages which allow you to access all the brainstorming input and output without the travel at a time that suits you. Details here.

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April 28, 2009

Tackling the Bit Pipe Nightmare with a post-ARPU strategy

In October 2008 we took a trip to BSS specialists Martin Dawes Systems’ Customer Forum to learn about how telcos can get better at retail - and by extension, wholesale too. In the guest post below, the company’s Head of Solution Strategy Cato Rasmussen dreams of becoming a fly and wakes to find he’s become…a telco! Fortunately he got over it in time to participate in the Telco 2.0 braintorm next week.

It’s rather like a horror B-movie. You go to bed, fall asleep and have a frightening nightmare about turning into a fly. You wake up in a cold sweat relieved it’s all been a bad dream - only to look down at yourself and scream.

Of course the scenario is less colourful, but telco operators waking up one day and finding themselves a bit pipe is also a nightmare that won’t go away. It scares many CEOs senseless and could actually now become reality. What can telcos do? They need to accept a new reality - change the way they measure product value and accept that customers will be their ultimate judge.

The bit pipe nightmare has lurked in the industry’s sub-consciousness for many years now. The threat stemmed from how the Internet would merge with mobile communications, smashing down the traditional operator and subscriber relationships. So far this threat has been contained. Mobile operators adopted a walled garden approach where they aimed to hold on to an exclusive relationship with their customers and gauged their value by the money spent directly with them. And, despite the proliferation of viable mobile broadband, subscribers haven’t strayed very far from the walled garden. That is until now.

In July 2009 the Apple Apps Store will be a year old. Its effect on the operators’ relationships with their customers is profound. Already 500 million iPhone applications have been downloaded from the Apps Store. Other handset vendors like Nokia and RIM are re-modelling themselves as app and media service providers with varying success. As a result, these brands and businesses are developing a myriad of direct relationships with operators’ customers through these new app storefronts.

The attraction of apps comes from the clearly discernable value that they deliver. A good indicator of this is how my mobile communications experience has been transformed over the last year. I am a lucky owner of an iPhone on the O2 network in the UK. I work in the UK but live in another country with my family. Obviously I have lots of international private calls that should go through my operator. On my iPhone I have applications such as Skype, Truphone, iCall. Guess what? My wife has Skype and Truphone as well on her PC. My daughter has Skype on her iTouch, which connects to our WiFi at home.

Given this scenario, which is shared with many households other than mine, it is natural that the mobile operators are now keen to offer similar storefront offerings to their customers. But is this enough? And how can they re-capture the initiative?

Well, to make a start on their quest to discover where they provide value for their customers, operators do need to move beyond the old measure of success - average revenue per user. ARPU is becoming much less useful because carriers are no longer relied on by their users to gain exclusive access to the content that they value the most. The game has changed radically. Returning to my own personal experience, what telcos must accept about how customers value their service is:
  1. Convergence is not driven by operators on a network level, but by applications, and operators cannot do anything about this unless they join in.
  2. The expectation about my service is set by the device I have not by my pricing plan or my service provider’s brand value.
  3. Operators are still trying to tie me to a subscription for all my services when the new services that I like have nothing to do with the subscription I pay them.

So, how should telcos respond? Here’s my Three Point Plan for telcos to survive and thrive in a post-ARPU world:

  1. Make the mental switch and stop thinking of the network as mechanism for connections and embrace the concept of the network as a method of distribution for the new digital products (apps, music, games, video etc). Think more like HMV which is orientated to distribute content to customers using whatever mechanism they request - in store, over the phone, DHL, download - at the same price. Instead of thinking “we connect you to a game online”, think “we distribute a game to you”.
  2. The infrastructure that supports the traditional services (voice, data, SMS etc) remains valid but doesn’t build on it to deliver the new services. The right approach for the new services is to price these as items in isolation from the network codes and product catalogue. In other words price the item - a song, a game - in wholesale volumes rather than rate the code to arrive at a price. The reasoning behind this is quite clear: a network product code approach cannot deliver the volumes and frequency of new products expected. In fact, currently this approach constrains volume selling and means 2-3 new services come online a year. Item pricing means that telcos will have the volume to create the momentum for selling new services successfully.
  3. Having adopted the above steps, the operator then can price either on a contribution margin against overheads or pure profit margin and then measure and report on these criteria rather than ARPU. This is very different - a move from customer-focused revenue to one based on product lines
  4. Telcos that adopt these measures should re-capture the initiative on selling the new services and applications because their systems can retail new offerings in the volumes and frequencies expected. Whether they can beat Apple and other pretenders is another matter, but at least telcos will be competing in the same ball park.

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April 27, 2009

APIs: How to make money from them?

APIs is a big theme of our work currently. Plenty of technical activity going on, but not enough work on how to monetise them. On stage for the first time together next Thursday at Telco 2.0 will be leaders of the major API programmes - GSMA, TM Forum, MEF Smart Pipes, OMTP BONDI, Orange Partners - and some of their potential users (eg. BBC). We’ll be presenting some analysis of the options for monetising API’s to kick off the debate, and Alcatel-Lucent will be sharing new research on what enabling capabilities ‘over-the-top’ players are willing to pay for (and thus could profitably be exposed via APIs). Below is a short preview of the session:

[Ed. - if you want access to the output from the brainstorm, but are busy or can’t travel next week, do consider our new ‘distance participation’ package.]

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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 27th April 2009

In Today’s Issue: crisis club DTAG back in the relegation zone; AT&T hits results on the nose; prepay/postpay split explains it all; sack sue the board!; 6-hour nationwide GSM outage; T-Mobile USA shifts 1 mega-Android; wants to abolish SIM cards; Reliance turns on GSM and heads for 100 megasubs; Amazon beats the spread; Texas Instruments calls the bottom; Apple ships 1 billion App Store downloads, boosts margins; “Baby Shaker” app canned; Juniper calls the bottom; AT&T CAPEX steady; IMS “business” standardisers “jump on moving train”; Nokia squorges WidSets into Ovi, announces prizes for Flash Lite apps; only 23,000 Comes With Music users; roaming price caps are here; T-Mobile UK launches “comes with connectivity” BlackBerry; Angelina is amused by the Palm Pre; weird BT/Voda/IWF censorfest; Pirate Bay judge is conflicted; Google’s peering strategy and stealthy CDN; OQO = dodo

Deutsche Telekom is back in trouble; a surprise profits warning reduced its predicted EBITDA for 2009 from €19.1bn to €18.7bn. The trouble seems to be concentrated at T-Mobile USA and in the UK, where the company’s mobile operations are lagging badly. Some suggested that this means that telcos aren’t so defensive after all; but we disagree. AT&T, after all, hit off expectations nicely with its own results last week, and it’s notable that one big contributor was the differential between AT&T’s success in signing up contract customers and T-Mobile USA’s in signing up prepaid customers. That is to say, T-Mobile seems to have succeeded in attracting low-spending, high churn users…and this is never likely to be a great strategy unless you’re Lebara.

In other DTAG news, the firm is suing former chairman Klaus Zumwinkel over his role in the spectacular spy scandal that rocked the company last year. They may also go after former CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke as well. But this couldn’t save them last Tuesday, when the entire T-Mobile network in Germany experienced a six-hour total outage. Both the HLRs reportedly crashed, causing SIM verification for outbound calls and routing for inbound to fail.

On the brighter side, though, T-Mobile USA shifted 1 million Googlephones since October, and as Telephony Online points out, that’s a good performance given that they started with only 21 3G networks. T-Mobile USA does have a cunning plan, however; break GSM! Apparently they like the idea of an embedded (i.e. nonremovable) SIM card; that’ll fix those damn churners, and incidentally prevent them from using 999 service when T-Mobile’s crashy HLRs are down…

Telco 2.0 bulls could point to Reliance Industries this week; the Indian operator announced that it aims to sign up 100 million subscribers by the end of the year, and as usual, the secret is nothing more than good old GSM. As soon as the GSM net went live earlier this year, subscriber growth shot through the roof. And Amazon pushed up its profits for the first quarter 24 per cent.

After Intel, Texas Instruments is the latest company to feel its supply-chain tentacles stroking along the bottom of the business cycle. They reported this week that the overstock of mobile device silicon that had built up in the system had now cleared, which given the tightly-coupled supply chains typical of the industry implies that the production lines will be rolling again very soon.

Other signs of optimism were visible at Apple, which reported good numbers mostly based on strong iPhone and iPod shipments. A key driver, of course, is the App Store, which has just seen its billionth download. And their economies of scale are permitting them to increase their margins. There are, however, some problems; Apple just suppressed an application that asked the user to rock a baby to sleep, using the device accelerometer. It was pointed out that encouraging baby-shaking was unwise. Anyway, note this remark from Tim Cook, Apple’s COO:
“Verizon is on CDMA, and we chose from the beginning of the iPhone to focus on one phone for the whole world. When you do that, you go down the GSM route. CDMA doesn’t really have a life to it after a point in time.”
Ouch. Meanwhile, Juniper Networks reported that carriers’ CAPEX has begun to recover, as analysts noted that AT&T had roughly maintained its usual CAPEX profile. So what’s happening with the IMS people? Via Skype Journal, we learn that they’re working on some sort of BSS-OSS standardisation thingy. SJ’s comments are sensible, of course, but what jumped out at us was this quote:
“The train has left the station; now we’re jumping on the moving train” said the Forum’s Michael Khalilian.
Yes. Very wise. Jumping on a moving train..

Nokia’s platform activities, meanwhile. Well, there’s certainly been a lot of them. Now, however, they are trying to cat-herd all those initiatives into a coherent business, under the Ovi brand. The latest thing to be stuffed into the Ovi iSausage is WidSets, a Java-based widgetry community they’ve had for quite a while. It doesn’t bode well that everyone will apparently have to sign up for Ovi anew…one thing about service migrations is that some user loss is inevitable, but more hoops to hop through will drastically boost it. There’s also a prize going for the best Flash Lite application.

Another N-service, which confusingly isn’t integrated with Ovi, is Comes With Music, their unlimited but DRM-ridden bundled music service. So far, it’s got a spectacular 23,000 users; a rival points out that this is probably another example that people would rather buy their music than rent it, and a cite to Doctorow’s Law is probably in order here.

The good news, however, is that taking your CWM device with you is less likely to lead to monster phone bills; the EU roaming price caps are here.

Whatever happens with “comes with music”, “comes with connectivity” has been a success with the Amazon Kindle. And here’s a new example: T-Mobile UK is offering a new BlackBerry plus a year’s unlimited Internet service and hosted BlackBerry service for a single upfront payment of £180. Voice and SMS are subject to the usual PAYG terms, but of course if you churn away you lose your year’s worth of data. It’s a neat offer targeted straight at small businesses and tradesmen - a traditional mobile industry market since the 1980s.

Another traditional market, but one which has been much more risky, seems to be film stars and celebrities in general. We reported on the curse of Maria Sharapova, femme fatale of the handset market. Then there was the Paris Hilton/Sidekick hack. Now, Palm appears to have found a prototype Pre for Angelina Jolie. She is, reportedly, amused. We’d have advised them to have Naomi Campbell test it for general build quality and ruggedness, but there are some ethical concerns with such a plan.

Regarding ethical issues, what is going on between BT and the Internet Watch Foundation? The IWF is the industry-funded outfit that provides a list of child porn sites for UK ISPs to filter; not so long ago, it fatfingered Wikipedia. Now, users of BT Mobile Broadband have been reported that the Pirate Bay has been censored, with the squid proxy returning a page claiming that the IWF has requested the block. The IWF denies it, and after all, it has no right or duty to censor anything expect CAI (Child Abuse Images). But the thing about censorship is that once it’s in place it has a way of spreading. So did BT block it? The Mobile Broadband service is actually an MVNO riding on Vodafone’s network; did Vodafone do it? And what are they doing pretending to be the IWF?

Relatedly, the Pirate Bay founders’ appeal looks to have gained some speed; it turns out that the judge in the case sits on the board of a pro-copyright lobby group.

Brough Turner, meanwhile, has a great post on Google’s peering strategy and the emerging Google CDN; it looks like Google is providing racks of servers to the ISPs it peers with, thus creating a distributed cache or content-delivery network. The minimum peering commit is 5Mbits at any of 33 Internet exchanges; how many telcos would hook up a peering circuit for 5Mbits?

And it looks like the OQO ultra-mobile PC is not long for this world. We remember taking part in a network trial in which one of the test endpoints was an OQO; one of the vendor in question’s engineers remarked that their main use for it was to keep their coffee hot as the device pushed out so much heat…

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April 23, 2009

Telco 2.0 Exec Brainstorm - Distance Participation

A lot of people are suffering travel bans, or just happen to be too busy at this moment to make it to the South of France on 6-7 May. We’ve therefore put together a ‘Distance Participation’ package for those who would like to keep at the cutting edge of business model innovation and access all the input and output from the brainstorm…but just can’t be there in person. The package covers:
* Access to all brainstorming output and post event report (60 odd pages)
* Access to the stimulus presentations
* Access to videos of the presentations
* A complimentary copy of a new Telco 2.0™ Research Report (value £1450)

It’s proving rather popular! Details here.

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Enabling Telco 2.0 Transactions ~ a pragmatic approach

As a follow up to Openet’s last guest post on integrated billing and policy management as a key enabler of ‘Telco 2.0’ business models, Joe Hogan, their CTO and Founder, provides below an elegant articulation of the need for operators to exert much more intelligent real-time control over networks, subscribers and services. (Joe will be will be discussing the practicalities of monetising partner-based transactions at the 6th Telco 2.0 exec brainstorm in two weeks’ time in Nice):

As a regular reader of Telco 2.0 research and analysis and participant at the ‘exec brainstorms’, I am always struck by the central premise of Telco 2.0 and how it contrasts with my own experience in the OSS/BSS trenches. The Telco 2.0 model is essentially built on two inter-related points, that an operator’s networks is intelligent (i.e. subscriber and service aware) and broadband will continue to be ubiquitous and cheap.

However, operators have struggled with subscriber and session awareness for their IP-based networks. For operators to add value to the traffic going over their networks, this capability is a prerequisite for third-party subsidization of access and usage for end-users.

The simplicity and attractive price point of flat-rated data plans has encouraged mass adoption of high speed internet connections. Maintaining low end-users prices has now become essential to the business models of content providers, device manufacturers, and aggregators, who rely on high speed data access for their products and services.

The maintenance of an attractive access price point will become increasingly dependent on each member of the ecosystem receiving a fair economic rent for their services. If the costs of distribution are to be shared, this will require more intelligence, scalability and flexibility than is currently available from existing billing systems, if network transactions are to be monetized.

Is the Network Subscriber and Session Aware?

The networks of operators have undergone, and continue to undergo, a huge transformation. While legacy networks still exist, IP-based networks are now the default. But where services are increasingly delivered over IP-networks, being able to identify, measure, manage and apply an appropriate price in real-time is not a given.

While this information is somewhere in the network, it is not necessarily available or useable, even for a communication service provider’s own services.

Typically this data is silo-ed across multiple systems, requiring operators to bridge network-focused operations support systems (OSS), IT-focused billing support systems (BSS) and CRM systems. To deliver a more intelligent network, one will need to combine subscriber-specific information from the BSS layer with network resource information from the OSS layer. Bridging these layers will enable policies to be controlled at an individual level (subscriber or third-party) to enable:

• Profiles to be seamlessly and securely shared across access networks, applications, devices and locations
• Orchestration of service delivery, to support revenue-sharing partnerships with third-party providers e.g. the prioritization of traffic to and from specific sites
• Application of personal policies based on privacy, identity, cost and payment preferences
• Subscriber configured controls on features, content, time-of-day, location and presence
• Service Level Agreements to be met. By ensuring the availability of appropriate network capacity and application of terms and conditions
• Automated customer friendly notifications and self-care mechanisms

If operators are to exert intelligent real-time control over networks, subscribers and services, for its own or third-party services, next generation policy management capabilities are needed. Policy management subscriber-aware information can be used to base decisions on: individual location, billing plan, usage history, contract terms and personalized usage and spending limits. Additionally, session-aware information can be used to base decisions on: time-of-day, current network capacity, traffic source internal or third-party application and traffic type, such as by protocol or service type.

Monetizing Partner-Based Transactions

Today from an internet access perspective, many of the basics appear to be in place for a Telco 2.0 model: high quality network, simple pricing model and an increasing availability of smarter, useable devices. However, we are at the dawn of high speed internet access, if these conditions are not to be throttled (pun intended) before the industry matures, the mechanisms for paying for new services must be addressed or at the very least the foundations established.

Operators generally agree that flat-rated data plans are essential to their marketing efforts. Assuming flat-rated data plans are here to stay, how - or should that be who - will pay for future network investment to meet the network capacity of new video services, new devices, and machine-to-machine communications. Research conducted by Openet with Yankee last year, points to supplementary business models such as: protected tiers, advertising, premium priority etc., to provide opportunities to earn more revenue.

Communication service providers have latent assets that can be deployed to the mutual benefit of upstream companies and subscribers. It makes sense for operators to package the so far latent assets and intelligence of their networks to find compelling value propositions to subscribers and saleable asset to upstream companies.

Some commentators have ridiculed operators’ attempts at innovation, the money and resources operators have invested in their walled gardens, data services, and promoting convergent devices. Nevertheless operators have learned a lot from these exercises, and these innovations have created the conditions for an environment that can support new business models and flexibly monetize their various transactions.

Operators already sell basic connectivity both directly and indirectly to end-users through third-parties. Deals have been struck with companies such as TomTom and a host of others to bundle access with their products, while Amazon’s Kindle is an example of access being sold indirectly via Amazon to the end-user. It won’t be long before different types of quality of service and other network add-ons will be sold indirectly.

For example, it is already possible to target cash rich, time poor subscribers with data plans that always promise best internet speeds, such that when they are uploading photos or downloading movies they have the best connection speeds available. It is only a small step to packaging this capability to third-parties. Such that HBO will pay operators to ensure their premium customers will receive preferential treatment when viewing content from its internet site, by designating it as premium class traffic during periods of congestion.

Most front and back office systems support simple post-paid subscription and pre-paid payment scenarios. In order to support partner-paid services, service providers must be able of integrating a more flexible set of billing models. If network-based capabilities are to be packaged and sold for third-party services providers and applications, the operator’s billing environment must be able to make a real-time decision based on the:

• Transaction type - what kind of request is this?
• Subscriber preference - is this a subsidized or subscriber paid for usage
• Service-specific balance - is this purchase part of a service plan, on-demand purchase, pre-paid balance, sponsored, a trial etc.
• Real-time management by balance types. Is the subscriber balance based on: time, number of accesses, monetary amount, unlimited
• Context, is there a SLA associated with this transaction e.g. does a high Quality of Service apply to this transaction
• Need for a notification or advice of charge required with the transaction
• Enforcement of usage terms and conditions
• Auditing and reporting to support multi-party billing and customer service


The network is a highly prized asset. Talk of network service prices being rapidly commoditized shouldn’t distract from the competitive advantages it confers. The increasing ubiquity of high speed internet access has made it essential to the business of a whole eco-system of content providers, device manufacturers, and aggregators.

Innovators such as Sprint, by necessity point the way to how it can be monetized. Rather than talk of displacement by content providers, distributors and other players, service providers should re-package their latent assets, to share in the monetization of the services that ride over the top of their networks. Policy decisions when combined with flexible billing options, gives operators a tool-box to dynamically control network activities based on subscriber- and service-specific information and decide who pays for the service.

[Ed. - Joe will be discussing the practicalities of enabling these concepts at the Telco 2.0 exec brainstorm, on 6-7 May in Nice]

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April 20, 2009

Ring! Ring! Hot News, 20th April 2009

In Today’s Issue: Nokia profits fall 90%; Intel: stockpile cleared, fabs fabbing again; Sony Ericsson in widely predicted dire straits; S60 for Intel Atom; EasyMeet, Nokia’s mobile collaboration app; IMS fans come over all Telco 2.0; no fibre, no fibre, no fibre for you!; Dunston flogging CPW telecoms interests; Tesco: target CPW!; Time Warner drops metered broadband; Verizon sues fibre-cutting hacksaw ghost, seeks acquisitions, publishes LTE gadget spec; AT&T pals with Telkom; Vodafone in court over Telkom; AT&T loves iPhones too much; Telenor pours billions into Indian buildout; tearful PCCW shareholders in court; Skype to IPO; EU: give us the mobile VoIP; ORG signs up Amazon and Wikipedia to anti-Phorm alliance; CPW censors trade union web site; better voicemail for Gphones; HOWTO convert from S60 Web Runtime to iPhone; meet the first Apple Mac botnet

Nokia results are out, and unsurprisingly given the economic crisis, they were awful. Net profits were down 90% with sales plummeting, and sales at Nokia Siemens Networks were pretty bad as well; it may be true that the Eurovendors have still got it, but it’s also true that the big contracts that have been announced recently have all gone to Alcatel-Lucent or Ericsson. However, the good news is that according to Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the market is “no longer falling in an uncontrolled manner”.

Now there’s confidence for you. He may have a point; last week, the CEO of Intel said that the excess stock in their supply chain had now cleared, and therefore that orders from the PC industry were rolling in again. Stockbuilding is a key indicator of the business cycle, and the tightly-coupled supply chains of companies like Dell are ideally suited to transmit fluctuations in demand; this may be good news.

Compare the position at Sony Ericsson, where they aren’t just losing volume or margin, they’re also losing market share. As we predicted after MWC, the crunch is especially crunchy for the vendors who specialise in the mid-market; the smartphone business has held up better, and the fatter margins on them mean that Nokia has scope to cut prices, and the ultra-cheap end is supported by subscriber acquisition in Africa and Asia, so the brunt of the overall pressure on demand is concentrated on the middle.

Speaking of Intel, and for that matter Nokia, the Symbian Foundation (that’s Nokia in its dancing shoes these days) has persuaded Symbian S60 to run on the Intel Atom, the cheap as chips chip that drives the world’s netbooks. They claim they don’t aim to replicate Wintel, but aren’t saying too much and what they will do. But either an Atom-powered smartphone/webpuck, or else an S60 tiny laptop, would make sense. (So, a bit like a Psion then…what did happen to them?)

Meanwhile, the code monkeys at Nokia Beta Labs came up with an interesting application - Easy Meet is a collaboration suite for mobile devices which lets users view and scribble on each other’s powerpoint slides at a distance. You may remember this as being one of the favourite example applications for early IMS…speaking of which, even the remaining IMS fans think that the “telco of the future will be a software company”.

BT, notably, likes to boast about going from “telco to softco”; however, they still aren’t keen on fibre. Ian Livingston told the “Digital Britain Forum” that there was no demand for fibre-to-the-home; how there can be demand for something which isn’t supplied is a paradox he didn’t address. As Benoit Felten pointed out, if only there was real broadband in London, the video stream of his words might have worked.

Of course, one of the best arguments for open-access fibre is that we need it to save the ISP. In the UK, where the ISP business model is at its shakiest, it looks like, the land grab being over, Charles Dunstone wants to sell his ISP interests. However, it’s possible that the retail bit might not be such a great deal any more; Tesco is planning to expand its telecoms retail operation in a big way.

Relatedly, Time Warner Cable has pulled back from imposing a bandwidth cap; as Wired points out, however, their costs for bandwidth actually fell 10 per cent last year despite both subscribers and revenue growing.

Verizon, meanwhile, is responding to last week’s Bay Area mega-backhoe incident in the way it best knows how. They’re going to sue. They’re not sure who to sue yet; but they’re going to sue anyway. They’re also in the mood for an ill-advised monster foreign acquisition, it looks like. And they are publishing specs for LTE devices on their Open Development Initiative Web site.

Rivals AT&T are planning a push into Africa through a partnership with Telkom of South Africa, aiming to provide services to multinational companies operating there. Vodafone, of course, is trying to buy a chunk of Telkom, which is interesting when you note that Verizon has ruled out that the big deal could be buying Vodafone out of Verizon Wireless. (AT&T is also planning to extend its deal for the iPhone and concentrate on mobility in general.)

There is, however, some trouble on the way as a South African trade union takes legal action to stop the deal. Telenor, however, seems to do these things better; they’re about to raise their stake in Indian mobile operator Unitech Wireless and kick in another $2.4bn of CAPEX.

Dramatic hearings in a Hong Kong court over the deal under which Richard Li and China Netcom are taking PCCW private; shareholders allege they were “mistreated”.

Skype is going to pull an IPO; our thoughts on the company are here. Interestingly, the European Union is not happy about mobile operators blocking VoIP traffic.

The Open Rights Group has recently adopted a new strategy in protesting against Phorm; target high-traffic Web sites and demand that they exclude themselves from Phorm’s traffic profiling, so as to render the information Phorm collects less valuable. So far they’ve got Amazon signed up, and it’s hardly surprising that the Wikimedia Foundation signed as well. They’re waiting on replies from Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, Bebo, and Google.

On a similar theme, Carphone Warehouse has been using its internal IT system’s cybernanny to stop people there reading evil things. Pornography. Nazis. And their trade union’s web site.

Better voice & messaging; someone’s done a better voicemail application for the G1 Googlephone. There’s a HOWTO on converting S60 Web Runtime widgets to iPhone ones at Forum Nokia. And we have the first botnet made of Macs.

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April 16, 2009

Re-thinking Skype’s business model - again!

Over a year ago in February 2008 when there were rumours that eBay were looking to sell Skype we wrote an article on the opportunities to re-think Skype’s business model here. It’s still just as relevant today given the current news.

According to EBay, Skype is still growing traffic but revenues are “decelerating”. It made $126m in 2007-08, but that’s from about $600m in revenue; so it’s a gross margin of under 20%. Not that great. It also has the problem that the more users sign up, the fewer calls they need to actually pay for, because more of the people they call are likely to be on Skype - a sort of counter-Metcalfe’s law. The flip side of this is that Skype’s on-network activities are cost-free; an increase in user-to-user traffic as a proportion of the total reduces their requirement for DIDs and interconnection with the PSTN.

Mind you there’s some two-sidedness in this interview with CNN Money:
“As five-year-old companies go, this is in the upper echelons of success,” says Silverman, noting the company’s 51% revenue growth. “We give away something that costs us nothing. In exchange we get lots of customers for free and offer them a paid service.”
That would be Strategy Two as identified in this post. An interesting thought; one of Skype’s unique selling points was that it provided PSTN interworking out of the box, and in fact Skype as a business only exists to facilitate interworking between the Skype p2p network and the traditional telecoms world. It sells SkypeOut calls; it sells SkypeIn numbers and terminates calls to them. Everything else in the Skype world is user-provided, with the exception of the secure enrollment process and part of the mechanism by which an isolated Skype client discovers its local supernode.

What if Skype was to make this explicit, release the software to open source, and concentrate on being the best Skype-enhancer in town? It sounds wild, but it’s exactly what Sun did with Solaris, its flagship operating system - and Sun eventually decided that the open-source community version was better than the in-house one. And Skype doesn’t make any money from the rights to its software; at least, it doesn’t derive operating revenue from it. (The consequences for Niklas Zennström’s personal pocket of selling it to EBay are well known.)

Back last February, we thought the real opportunity for Skype would be in integrating with other new forms of voice and messaging and in helping to remove friction from other people’s business processes. We still think that; but we can’t help noticing that the action has moved on. Asterisk and CEBP platforms like Ribbit are now the glamour clubs. To its credit, Skype is adapting to this; it’s permitting SIP interconnect, and it’s also experimenting with Skype-Asterisk integration. However, if Skype and Asterisk get together, Skype’s role in this is just as a transport layer and as a provider of PSTN interconnection; the Asterisk side gets the value from the application. It’s an example of the old telecoms wisdom that, as we pointed out in the Voice & Messaging 2.0 report, signalling is what matters.

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April 15, 2009

Lessons from the UK TV Market: inflexion point reached

Following our Online Video Market Study, and in preparation for the brainstorm in May, we’re continuing to analyse the video and TV markets on a regular basis. This note, based on a rewiew of latest data from OFCOM, looks at the current state of play in the UK TV market to draw out the key challenges for new entrants to this specific market and also to draw more general conclusions for new entrants in any country. [Ed. - note, the full article is available to subcribers of the Telco 2.0 Exec Briefing Service].

The structure of TV markets and competition within them vary greatly by country. Essentially they are local, national markets. The structure is highly dependent upon the historical context - the strength of the state broadcaster, the degree of regulation with wildly different rules for local content creation and distribution, the penetration and financial strength of payTV (both cable and satellite) and the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial switch-over.

Unsurprisingly, this means the size of the opportunity for both telcos and “over-the-top” internet companies to find a profitable place in the value chain varies greatly by country. We are firm believers that the technological economies of scale that the global internet offers are more than counter-acted by the complexities of national regulation and content acquisition. TV will remain national market-driven in the internet era.

UK Distribution Market

According to Q4 2008 data released by OFCOM here, one of the major inflection points in the UK TV market is finally happening - it looks as if free-to-air digital TV adoption is grinding to a halt. There are still 2.9m homes watching analogue TV who have yet to adopt digital, but these are very much at the back-end of the adoption curve and will need economic incentives to swap. Cue lots of tax-payer-subsidised advertising raising awareness of the need to swap for the 11% of UK homes still residing in analogue land.

The inflection point will mean that the focus may once again return to the indefatigable trend of slow-but-sure transition from Free-to-Air TV towards Pay TV. With 13m homes still Free to Air (9.5m DTT, 0.6m Satellite and 2.9m Analogue) there is plenty of growth left for the payTV companies. There are currently 12.7m payTV homes (8.9m Satellite - Sky, 3.3m Cable - Virgin Media and 0.5m Others) and we expect, even in the credit crunch, that payTV homes will exceed Free for the first time ever sometime in 2009. We have discussed the problems the UK free-to-air advertising funded business before, here.

The UK TV distribution adoption ratio of 1: 0.7: 0.26 (free: cable: satellite) is almost certainly unique across the world.

The weirdest aspect of the OFCOM DTV report is that it exposes the failings of the one subscription-DTT provider, Top-Up-TV (down 9.4% to 0.4m), and the IPTV sector - Tiscali’s service is down 16.7% to 0.1m homes. The data on BT and its Vision service is not disclosed directly, because the BT numbers are included in the DTT section - BT have a DTT tuner in their Vision box. BT separately disclosed that they only had 336k subscribers in their December 2008 figures.

This apparent lack of success for IPTV in the UK is in sharp contrast to great success in France and the growing success in the USA.

To read the rest of the article, with more analysis and summary of the lessons for telcos and others, you will need to join the Telco 2.0 Exec Briefing service. Click here for more information…

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Case Study: Lessons from the Shipping industry

We’ve quite frequently referred to shipping containers and containerisation on this blog as a useful parallel to trends in the telco industry, especially the importance of big-scale IT, personalised and integrated logistics services, the relative weakness of systems based on deep packet inspection, and the vital importance of standards. If you’re a recent reader, you might not know why we care so much; so below is a case study originally published in our Future Broadband Business Models report.

In 1956, the first all-container ship, Ideal-X, sailed from Newark to Houston. In 1956, containers weren’t actually new technology; in fact they made a distinctly slow start. In the 1920s, the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway already had thousands of containers, as did SNCF, the New York Central, and several other major railways. There was even an international trade association, the Container Bureau, trying to promote their use. And the US Army was shipping soldiers’ personal effects and equipment around the world in small Conex boxes. But take-off had to wait for Sea-Land and the pioneering voyage of the Ideal-X

The reasons for slow take-up were:
  1. Liquidity/critical mass. Without enough container shippers, it was easy to have out-of-balance traffic. There was no money in moving empty containers and there was also a Metcalfe’s Law issue showing that increasing returns to scale themselves require scale.
  2. A failure to grasp the significance of containers. There were some benefits in handling a few containers, but the real change required a fundamentally different view of transport as a system and a business.
  3. Standardisation. There was a huge difference between containers that worked within one company and those that could be exchanged between any form of transport and any company.
  4. Containerisation is comparable with IP. Containers made transport horizontal by being exchangeable between all modes. They also packetised transport, making it largely irrelevant what route each box in a given shipment takes to a common destination.

The impact of the new business model was both huge and swift. Ocean freight rates and shipping line profit margins crashed. Transport was commoditised and the combination of low margins, large capital requirements and increasing network returns to scale meant the shipping industry rapidly consolidated. Network topology became less diverse, ships went where the traffic was and a new breed of super-ports was created. These were strategically located in terms of sea and railway traffic, but divorced from industry and dominated by scale, so-called load centres.

There was a major difference between ports and shipping lines. Ports were sticky and first-mover advantage was strong. London did not change quickly enough and the port’s work moved to Felixstowe and Rotterdam, never to come back. New York City tried to defend the existing business model and failed, although in Newark, on the other side of the harbour, they built the first container port of all. Rotterdam, Singapore and Dubai built massive all-container ports and became the kings of the business.

On the contrary, the world’s biggest shipping line, AP Möller-Maersk, did not own a single containership until 1973. Now it owns Sea-Land, the very first container line. The telecoms analogy can be seen in the large number of new entrants in backbone networking, leading to the dark fibre boom. Of course, there were also exits, but some unusual players stuck around and are now profiting. These include the Indian firms that bought into WASC-SAW3-SAFE and FLAG, Reliance and VSNL. Similarly, Soviet Far East Lines was the first container line to break the North Pacific cartel.

However, there are few new entrants in fixed-line access networking due to the huge capital requirements. Is the local loop the ‘port’? Or are internet exchanges the Singapore or Dubai of internetworking? Not destinations in themselves, but trans-shipment centres that attract ships, or peers, because that is where the traffic is. Indeed, we would argue that the key ‘ports’ in telecoms are the vast hosting centres of Google and Amazon (for consumers) and players like VMWare and Salesforce.com. Their peering and transit arrangements will largely dictate the economics of all downstream players. Customer industries, such as PC manufacturing in Singapore, were attracted to the load centres as shipping costs fell. Similarly, e-commerce sites, search engines, ASPs, CDNs, hosting, content producers and software firms move to be near LINX or Ashburn Equinix, creating clusters of telecoms and internet businesses near these highly connected nodes.

On the other hand, containerisation had the inverse effect on the transport industry’s customers. While it commoditised shipping lines, it individualised shipping and made it possible to ship single loads to individual customers at bulk cargo prices with one single payment and one waybill. The net effect was a reduction in the barriers to entry for international trade. In 1998, it was estimated that 60% of the containers transiting the Port of Los Angeles contained intermediate goods on their way to other businesses. If containerisation is an analogy to telecoms, the types of companies we can expect to see will have big bit pipes and processing centres, or will be logistics firms that provide individualised services.

The old ports did not do nothing. Recall the example of New York City. Mayor Wagner had huge new breakbulk terminals built for US Lines and Holland-Amerika in downtown Manhattan. They had all the latest equipment, and were obsolete before they were finished. This looks similar to the way many telcos are replacing circuit voice networks with IP equivalents, but without introducing a new business model.

Further, to take off, containerisation required a change in pricing. Previously, shipping lines charged different rates for different goods. They tried to maintain this with containers, but with freight sealed in a container it was impossible to discover the nature of the goods without opening and searching through the container. Telco companies call this deep packet inspection.

The shipping lines were organised in so-called conferences that fixed prices and terms on individual routes. These cartels tried to enforce container stripping and stuffing, but new entrants undercut them and their own members eventually cheated. On the docks, nobody has stripped and stuffed containers in the past 30 years. If there is a lesson to be learnt here it is that price discrimination among traffic types does not work.

You may also be interested in this presentation from the November 2007 Executive Brainstorm, this post on Amazon.com and transactions, this post on Google, and this one on platforms.

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Devices 2.0 - Orange, TI, T-Mobile in tune

Having updated readers on Nokia’s point of view re ‘openness’ a few week’s ago (“…must fully embrace open-source…”), we had the opportunity to brief and speak with the other stimulus presenters for the Devices 2.0 session at the Telco 2.0 Exec Brainstorm in a few week’s time.

Yves Maitre, Global SVP of Devices (fixed and mobile) for Orange Group, described the burning question that needs to be debated: “How to be ‘open’ and create ‘value’ [increase profits]?” The borderline between destroying telco value and creating it is very narrow - we need a clearer understanding of options for the industry, he says. He believes that the ability to manage customer privacy and identity is the key to future business models. Building on our recent analysis he will present a short stimulus piece on the role of the device in enabling this, and how the home environment relates to the mobile environment.

Alberto Ciarniello, VP of Service Innovation at Telecom Italia and leader of the OMTP’s BONDI initiative, couldn’t agree more. He’ll be describing, via some new use case scenarios, the potential of BONDI standards to enable cross-platform (Android, MS, Symbian, etc, fixed as well as mobile) opportunities to manage end-user information securely and open up new ‘two-sided’ business model opportunities.

Building on this, Rainer Deutchmann, EVP of Mobile Internet at T-Mobile International, recognises the need to define effective parameters for an ‘open ecosystem’ business model.

He points out that, in line with Orange and TI, Deutsche Telekom is moving rapidly towards converged (“integrated”) fixed and mobile services. The industry needs to get some basics right first - high quality network, useable and cheap devices, simple pricing model - then we are ready to play in a much more open ecosystem. Telcos will need to create far better retail capabilities and enable other (3rd party) service providers to sell through them (cf. Wal-Mart). Different players in the ecosystem have different capabilities and strengths, but how should we work together for maximum mutual benefit?

To be discussed here

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April 14, 2009

Telco 2.0 on TV…

There are lots of good videos from Telco 2.0 events and panels on our space on Telecom TV here and there’ll be more after May’s event (although only accessible now to delegates or those taking the new distance participation package). In the meantime, Telco 2.0 Initiative co-founder Simon Torrance was asked to do this short film on the ‘two-sided telecom business model opportunity’ for Ericsson for their client meetings at Mobile World Congress 2009:

If you’re interested in the ideas he mentions, you’re strongly advised to check out the Manifesto and introductory presentation to Two-Sided Markets, below:

For a full immersion, see the new Executive Briefing research service here.

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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 14th April 2009

In Today’s Issue: Monster outage in California; tunnel boring machine will get you; NHS IT Zombie strikes again at BT; MetaSwitch attendees declare optimism; MetroPCS’ better voice service; Google and Universal = Vevo; Yahoo! runs Google software; Intel hands over Moblin ot the Linux Foundation; 100% of teenagers choose Apple, that’s 0.001% more than Saddam got; iPhones are so hot right now…that the WLAN only works in a fridge; Nokia’s really useful product for India; weird biz model at Zain; user experience with three Mobile Money Transfer systems; Moldovan blogger accidentally torched parliament; Zennstrom to buy back Skype with proceeds from Skype sale;Symbian, the “app warehouse”; Brough on bursts and bandwidth; Isenberg D goes after TWC; 3GPP has spoken and it says “femtocell”

A large chunk of the Bay Area lost absolutely all telecommunications - no Internet, no dialtone, in some places no TV, and very little mobile (AT&T Mobility lost 65 BTSs on two different BSCs, along with the co-located UMTS Node-Bs).

The AT&T trouble ticket is one for the ages:
OTDR readings were taken by AT&T West and a cut was located 1600 ft from the San Jose, CA central office. AT&T West technicians are onsite working to isolate the exact location of the cut. There are 4 cables impacted. AT&T Mobility has 61 GSM and 45 co-located UMTS sites out of service off of Santa Clara Base Station Controllers 15 & 23, and Santa Clara Radio Network Controller 4. E911 has 52 Location Measuring Units down. The AT&T West Santa Cruz 11 central office (41,803 ATNs) is experiencing an SS7 isolation and the San Martin central office (11,904 ATNs) lost it’s umbilical and is isolated at this time. The Bailey remote site (4,973 ATNs) is also isolated. Scott’s Valley has 3 out of 4 SS7 links down. The Santa Cruz 01, Aptos, Scott’s Valley, Felton, Boulder Creek, Ben Lomand, San Jose 11, San Jose 13, San Jose 21 central offices have trunks impacted such that all lines are busy and incoming calls are receiving trouble messages. The Santa Cruz County SO (178,040 ATNs), Scott’s Valley PD (12,007 ATNs) and the UC Santa Cruz PD (14,909 ATNs) are all without ALI at this time. The Gilroy PD PSAP and the Morgan Hill PD and CDF have been rerouted with ALI/ANI. The Felton CDF has not been rerouted. There are 17 DSLAMS and 4 ATMS out of service impacting DSL service. There are 3 SMDI Links down impacting voicemail service. Verizon’s Morgan Hill and Gilroy central offices are currently isolated. There have been 224,865 blocked calls.
Strewth. The reason? Somebody cut through bundles of AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint cable at two separate and very well-chosen locations, and it looks like they were telling porkies about route diversity. Informed speculation pointed to the recent breakdown of negotiations between AT&T and the Communication Workers of America over health insurance as a possible motive.

Sometimes, of course, even if rather than burying the cables you bored a tunnel 34 feet below ground, it’s just not your day, as this photograph shows. A tunnel-boring machine working on the London Olympics site has driven straight through a tunnel containing crucial BT infrastructure; route around that, internets.

Meanwhile, BT announced another round of job cuts as chatter builds up about another, bigger write-down on Global Services contracts. In particular, it’s been reported this weekend that the NHS is only holding back on the idea of cancelling BT’s troubled London Region contract because they don’t want another contractor to leave/be fired for political reasons. This is clearly silly, so stand by for another mauling from the NHS IT Zombie. Brrrains! Brrains!

Things may not be so bad. Telephony Online reports from MetaSwitch Forum that there are some signs of telcos cautiously beginning to invest again, and specifically that some TDM-IP migration projects that had been stuck in the pipe are now back on. After all, even a CDMA-based US regional carrier is doing rather well…and how are they doing it? With better voice and messaging, that’s how. MetroPCS is offering a service that provides a single “home” number that conferences-in all your family (or whatever group you may specify), multi-ringing between mobile and landline numbers, and they are keeping up with the Big Four in net subscriber adds.

In the content world, the Google/PRS row is getting complicated. Although the PRS has come to terms with Spotify over royalties, it’s still having a good row with YouTube and therefore Google. And Google is dipping a toe into the content pool as well; here comes Vevo, a YouTube-like site for licensed music. Universal is the launch customer, and the plan is to serve higher-value ads with the content. Interestingly, Google is keeping well clear of the rights problems; Universal, and perhaps any other labels who get aboard, are going to own the site and Google will provide the technology and infrastructure, no doubt for a princely consideration. Perhaps the real story is Google becoming an enterprise Big IT provider?

Yahoo! seems to agree. Recap; Google invented a special algorithm, MapReduce, for analysing really big databases and implemented it in software. The wily hacker read their whitepaper and reverse engineered it, and Hadoop was born; the open source MapReduce. Since then, Google has itself begun using Hadoop for some purposes. Now Yahoo! is running it too, on a huge new cluster they’ve just installed for “research”. (Where’s my white cat?) More Google tech is here.

There are many mobile Linuxes, but only one comes from Intel, Moblin. One has to observe that having a version of Linux that is substantially dominated by any one vendor is a bad idea; it rather defeats the point. And, indeed, back in the 1980s there was an adaptive radiation of single vendor flavours of Unix that ended up by collapsing into the environment we know now, as customers were annoyed by vendor lock-in and vendors were increasingly asked to support other people’s products. Intel has therefore decided to hand Moblin to the Linux Foundation itself, although they protest that they are still committed. It’s probably true that we could do with one fewer distro, though.

We very likely will have one fewer mobile music device soon enough, as a survey shows that 100% of teenagers asked wanted an iPod or iPhone rather than a Microsoft Zune. Fun, as ever, is a problem for MS - after all, who sticks their Zune in a fridge? Nobody. But Apple products are so HOT you’ve got to stick them in the freezer compartment to get the WLAN radio working again. Firmware update FAIL.

Far from all this mobile-media gadget frippery, Nokia has been doing something useful. Life Tools, its thrillingly-named project to develop applications for farmers in the developing world, has successfully completed its trials. The Series 40 app connects with Reuters’ Market Light service to provide information about prices for produce and inputs at different locations, haulage rates, the weather, and also school revision tests.

Zap, Zain’s big mobile-money transfer deployment across Africa, has an interesting business model with regard to its network of agents. Specifically, the company isn’t stipulating how much they can take in commission on cash being moved into or out of the system; they’re hoping that the right price will be discovered through a market process. We’re not entirely sure; isn’t one of the main selling points of MMT that it gets rid of the uncertainties of informal money transfers and, indeed, emerging-market banking? There’s clearly a risk here, especially in the early phase when there will be comparatively few Zap agents and therefore little competition between them.

There’s an interesting discussion of the user interface and technology here; it seems that Zap might be aiming further up market, and therefore won’t be as cash-focused. It’s also interesting to note the importance of interesting old technology; M-PESA uses good old USSD, which every GSM device supports by definition and which therefore doesn’t need any complex deployment strategies. Zap is implemented as a program on the SIM, which requires new SIMs.

Mobile social networking, meanwhile, got its baptism of fire; Moldovan activists called for a flashmob outside parliament via Twitter and SMS delivery, got a mob instead, which went on to storm the building. Sorry mum!

Before there were social network sites, there was Skype. Handelsblatt reports that the Skype founders want to buy back the company now EBay’s got tired of it. Hilariously, unless Zennstrom’s spent it all on spice, he could do it with EBay’s own money and still have plenty left over - it’s on the block for $1.7bn, EBay bought it from him for $3bn, you do the sum.

Forget app stores, meet the Symbian Foundation’s planned app warehouse. Apparently they want to maintain a huge repository of apps, which other app stores could market, perhaps using their infrastructure. And the signing process is staying, “licensed to third parties”. That doesn’t sound good at all.

Brough Turner is interesting as always on the relationship between bandwidth and latency; would you prefer a continuous 10Mbit/s link or a 1Mbit/s minimum commit with the right to burst up to 100Mbit/s? Think carefully…

David Isenberg has some interesting thoughts about pricing in a similar vein. Do we want to discourage people from using high-bandwidth applications at all, or do we just want to discourage the tail-end of the distribution from spoiling everyone else’s fun?

And the 3GPP femtocell standard is out.

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April 9, 2009

Google’s Complex Execution of simple Two-Sided Business Model Strategies

While researching a forthcoming Executive Briefing on Google’s business model, we realised that there are certain strategies that come up again and again when you deal with two-sided business models. In fact, these are so regular we numbered them - Strategy One, Two, and Three.

Strategy One: Transactions

If your business is all about facilitating transactions, as two-sided businesses frequently are, then an obvious way to make money is to work on commission - to charge a percentage of each deal for your services. This is of course the traditional way of remunerating people whose jobs consist of buying and selling - salesmen , stockbrokers, investment bankers. It sets up incentives to maximise the number of deals and secondly to maximise their value.

Amazon’s merchant pricing is simple enough - when a sale is made, it takes a percentage. But the interesting element in this is that it maximises the number of sales by giving away all its services up to the point of sale. It costs nothing to list your products on Amazon.com - it also costs nothing to carry Amazon products on your own e-commerce site. It costs nothing to use their superb analytics tools to understand your customers. It costs nothing to use their payments system. It costs nothing to ship through Amazon’s forward and reverse logistics…until you actually make a sale, collect the cash, and ship out the goods. There is also no upfront cost for the use of their superlative IT infrastructure - S3, SQS, and EC2 users pay for the capacity they use.

Similarly, the global credit-card network VISA works on commission. It receives revenue from two sources - fees paid by merchants for service, and a percentage transaction charge. The interesting element is that much of the money taken in transaction fees is redistributed through VISA’s internal economy to the banks involved in that transaction, essentially subsidising both the issue and acceptance of credit cards and therefore maximising the volume of transactions. Rather than paying a fee for a credit card, you pay for it in transaction fees, a cost you share with the merchants, who are therefore sharing the incremental revenue from credit card customers with VISA.

Strategy One can be summed up as free entry and transaction charging.

Strategy Two: Bar Takings

Lloyds of London started out as a cafe; everyone knows that. It became an insurance market because a lot of marine insurance brokers went there for their coffee, and stayed for the rumours. Eventually some bright spark realised that if you wanted to buy the rumour and sell the fact, it helped to be close enough to the source of the rumours (and, good heavens, perhaps even the facts) to trade immediately.

But Lloyds Coffee House was still a coffee house. It didn’t make its money by participating in the insurance market; it didn’t levy a percentage commission. It made its money by selling coffee. The more brokers turned up, and the more they spent their time working from the coffee house, the more coffee they sold, and presumably the higher the volatility index rose, what with all the caffeine. Which created opportunities for cooler heads, and any proto-Michael Spencer who planned to run a matched book and make money on volume, running their own little Strategy One business.

Essentially, you’re creating a big pool of customers to sell things to; it doesn’t matter what they actually come to do, and in fact the reality of this may get quite a long way from the original intent. Lloyd didn’t go into business to start a marine insurance market, after all. Perhaps the canonical example of this is London itself; the City originally came there because of the ships, but by the time the port moved downriver and containerisation led to the triumph of Rotterdam, there were plenty of people doing business there for entirely different reasons.

This is also the case of those container ports - businesses spring up in their duty free zones, providing crewing, provisioning, freight forwarding, ship repair and many other services to the passing ships.

Another example of this phenomenon is the way in which the owner of major British airports, BAA plc, has progressively become a company dominated by retailers; its Strategy One landing fees are state-regulated because of its natural monopoly at Heathrow, so it put more and more effort into selling things to passengers waiting for their flights. But this is a slightly different strategy…

Strategy Three: Access

If you’ve accumulated a pool of customers by subsidising one side of the business, you’re in a position to sell them something. Therefore you’re also in a position to sell the opportunity to do business with them to others. Alternatively you can charge the customers for the opportunity to take part; £20 to get in, shut up and dance. Which one you choose depends on the crucial question - where is the scarcity?

To begin with, credit cards were scarce, and therefore merchants were uninterested. VISA arranged things so that the banks benefited from cutting the price of credit cards, and merchants were suddenly under pressure to join in. Lloyds’ 18th-century marine insurers would no doubt have found somewhere to meet up, but without the coffee house they would have had to do so uncaffeinated.

Selling Web ads as if they were billboards has important restrictions - the chance of a sale from any given display ad is low, so advertisers need to buy a large volume. The price of an individual ad is also high because of limitations on display ad inventory. The costs (monetary and non-monetary) of building a reasonable Web site continue to restrict the available inventory and keep prices up. So, all in all, web advertising remains an expensive business for most companies.

Google reverses the logic of display ads (that advertising opportunities are scarce, expensive, and risky) by forcing down the marginal cost of an advert on one side, and by subsidising the creation of ad space on the other. Blogger blogs, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Search are free and so very popular and all create both ad opportunities to sell, and more information to refine the ad-matching process. Contextual advertising, and mass production IT, expand the volume of possible buyers. Google also subsidises the creation of content to advertise against with actual cash payments through its affiliate program and through wholesale deals with major content sources.

The power of combinations

Like all the best ideas, the basic strategies offer much scope for innovation by combining them. Google is trying to build up businesses that generate subscription-like revenues, mostly through Google Apps for Business, and it may respond to the economic crisis by flipping its model and devoting more effort to the buy-side. At the moment, Google’s revenue-earning services are all marketed to upstream customers - the sell side. What could they achieve on the buy side, in terms of Vendor Relationship Management?

The great container ports combine charging for transactions (port fees), charging upstreams for access (businesses in their free zones pay rent), and selling to the crowd (providing services for passing ships).

Two-sided success for telcos will require a similar integrated strategy. Success will not come from a simplistic strategy which involves subsidies on one side and revenues on the other: a successful Telco platform will have a web, or ecosystem, of commercial relationships underpinned by complex business models and pricing strategies. A chart from our strategy report, The Two-Sided Telecoms Market Opportunity, illustrates this point:


Note: We look at two-sided business model strategies and execution in a forthcoming briefing report on Google which is available as an individual purchase or as part of the Telco 2.0 Subscription Service.

Also, you can apply to join the industry’s leading business model thinkers at the 6th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm on 6-7 May in Nice here.

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IfByPhone: Two-Sided Business Model, Comms-Enabled Business Processes, and Open Source Telephony

We recently had the chance to speak to Irv Shapiro, CEO of IfByPhone, a start-up company we featured in the Voice & Messaging 2.0 report that operates a hosted platform for voice-enabled CRM applications and which lets you integrate your Web, e-mail, and phone sales activities while maintaining common metrics across the whole company (Read more here, and note that Thomas Howe is a fan.) Irv Shapiro describes it as being “like Salesforce Force.com with phones”. A couple of interesting things….

First up, there’s clearly still loads of value in the CEBP/Voice 2.0 space. IfByPhone is growing at a rate of 17%, a fair clip in these times. But the really interesting business news about them is their latest move; they want to recruit telcos as partners, specifically the United States’ over 1,000 small ILEC/CLEC operators, many of which are struggling with competition from the national-scale operators, the secular decline of voice revenues, and either the broadband incentive problem or else the lack of investment to deploy broadband in the first place.

They’re able to do this because of a basic affordance that the underlying SIP protocol they use provides; if it’s plain, IETF-standard SIP, any other SIP provider can interconnect with them trivially, and so can any SIP-speaking application. Further, SIP operators, like good Internet people, are into peering in a big way; this means that IfByPhone is able to offer obscure hillbilly RLECs access to their systems at minimal incremental cost. “Because everything is SIP we can deliver to anyone we can peer with; and there are more than 1,000 operators in the US,” as Shapiro put it.

This is hugely Telco 2.0; the next question will be the terms on which IfByPhone derives revenue from the arrangement. They have a choice; they can either deal with the peering operator’s end user directly, and pass some of the revenue back to the operator under a revenue-sharing agreement, or else the operator can use the service as part of their offering to their customers, and pay IfByPhone for it under a wholesale agreement. It depends on who has the greatest customer intimacy; but this just goes to show the inherent flexibility of two-sided business models.

The second thing we noticed is how well they are making use of open-source technology. “We didn’t go out and buy a Sonus switch!” says Irv Shapiro. We’ve pointed out before that if you scratch a Voice 2.0 company, you find an Asterisk server; it’s increasingly clear that Asterisk is to Voice 2.0 as Apache is to the Web. Irv Shapiro describes the platform as “a horizontal softswitch”, running as many as 80 Asterisk instances in a rack, which talk to the application servers. IfByPhone’s core intellectual property is to be found there, about 1 MLOC of proprietary code which implements the API and the user interface. Beyond the Asterixen, the free SIP router developed by Thomas Magedanz’s team at Fraunhofer FOKUS, OpenSER, is used to handle the SIP trunking and route calls into the Asterisk bank.

This gives them a lot of flexibility; one of the few proprietary applications in the platform is the voice recognition system. So in order to save on the licensing costs, the Asterisk servers are set up to classify calls between the ones that need recognition and the ones that don’t, but not to route the call to the recognition system until the voice recognition is about to begin - it’s essentially a kind of multiplexing.

Ed; we’ll be discussing these issues in the Enterprise Services strand of the next Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm, in Nice on the 6th-7th of May.

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Fibre Down Under: It’s All Part of the Master Plan…

Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore’s ambitious plans for publicly owned FTTH show that if you want Real Broadband (speeds heading for at least 100Mbit/s, a high degree of symmetry, and OPEX low enough to support a healthy ISP market), only Pakistan-style anarchy or state-run technocracy will cut it. That’s also the conclusion we reached in our Online Video market study; and data from Akamai bears it out.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the Internet, in a deep sense; 40 years to the day the first RFC (Request For Comments) document was issued, essentially founding the ‘Net’s very specific culture and institutions. RFC1 was written in a shared toilet in a college dorm at dead of night, by a student who was mostly concerned with avoiding tripping over anyone’s toes; but the approach it began would be replicated in the entirety of Internet engineering and culture. And the word was this:
The early R.F.C.’s ranged from grand visions to mundane details, although the latter quickly became the most common. Less important than the content of those first documents was that they were available free of charge and anyone could write one. Instead of authority-based decision-making, we relied on a process we called “rough consensus and running code.”

Rough consensus and running code. Right. We would like to think that’s how we’ve been suggesting that fibre-to-the-X should develop - rather than either the IMS-infused visions of the telcos, or the technocratic vision of giant publicly-owned networks, we were putting our money on messy progress - common standards, open interconnection, and a happy mix of incremental muni-fibre, telco-muni cooperation (like KPN, Reggefiber, and Glasvezelnet Amsterdam), layer zero openness, and perhaps more.

So, this is very interesting news.

Australia’s central government has decided that none of the tenders for its planned National Broadband Network are any good, after Telstra effectively refused to take part, and that instead the government will build a publicly-owned fibre-to-the-home network, providing dark fibre to anyone who wants it. Five years after deployment, the company will be reviewed with an eye to deciding whether it should be privatised, part-privatised, or left in peace.

New Zealand, meanwhile, is putting NZ$1.5bn of government funds into a national dark fibre build that will be owned by “local fibre companies”, dark-fibre deployers owned jointly by local government, commercial partners, and perhaps by telcos, but with the restriction that no operator using the network can own a majority of any LFC.

In Singapore, meanwhile. where the government wants to build 1Gbit/s service to every address, contracts have been issued for both the “NetCo” (which will actually lay the dark fibre and also provide regulated wholesale access to the duct network) and the “OpCo”, a telcolike entity that will provide wholesale service over it to competing telcos and ISPs.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what works, in this case, is actually a big technocratic plan. You might think that Australia will always be a special case - only five per cent of Telstra local exchanges were unbundled, after all, so for most of them the only option is either Telstra or the state - but in fact it’s not so.


For example, as part of the Online Video market study we looked at the quality and price of broadband in OECD economies. We found they fell into well-characterised groups; one group had low speeds and high prices, another had low speeds and low prices, a further group had slightly better speeds and slightly higher prices, and a fourth group had high speeds and low prices. The first group was essentially the poor; the second and third both consisted of markets where there was extensive unbundling or bitstream-based competition, and really they should be taken together for these purposes; and the fourth was an odd and heterogenous one, which only had in common that they had a strong tradition of public-sector planning and infrastructure investment.

Perhaps the most interesting detail was what we didn’t find; there was no fifth group worth mentioning where FTTH was available, but only at a steep price. Below the sort of pricing you expect for leased lines, the market wasn’t providing real broadband to those who could afford it. This could be explained by two different scenarios; either a large chunk of the return on investment in fibre access networks is an externality, perceived by society rather than operators, or else a large chunk of it doesn’t exist.

However, we know from real-world examples that there is, indeed, a fibre dividend; the classic example, indeed almost the only example of an entirely privately-funded fibre overbuild, is Iliad/Free.fr, which claims to save €26 a month in OPEX and wholesale charges per line it replaces with fibre, as well as significantly increasing ARPU through selling value-added services (like multichannel TV). As a result, they are able to cover the cost of fibre deployment everywhere they have at least 30% market share. We haven’t heard of an FTTH build anywhere that actually deployed and then failed.

Further, realising the positive externalities of fibre to their fullest extent involves many other actors; the Australian NBN plan provides that the network company will provide service to the health and education sectors, and perhaps they may be asked to chip in. The trans-sector concept is crucial - for example, the energy sector has both needs for connectivity for things like demand response, and also extensive duct, pole, and right-of-way networks. The question may be whether this degree of coordination is achievable without some layer of government being involved.


Since then, we’ve also seen the success of low-road fibre; the current Akamai State of the Internet report says that Romanian users are the fourth-most likely to have more than 5Mbit/s service, which is almost entirely down to semi-official cable deployment. It looks like Stewart Brand was right; you’ve got to choose between High Road, Low Road, and No Road.

It is almost painfully evident that the only model that has yet to deliver much fibre is the one with a regulated private incumbent and competing DSL operators; anarchy and technocracy both deliver, market-led regulationism doesn’t. And it is a real issue whether the many fancy options that have been discussed are anything more than outbursts of frustration at this fact. Not only that, but the New Zealand and Singaporean deployments are all intended to be point-to-point, active Ethernet jobs, which provides for a maximum of symmetrical connectivity and openness for competition, and the Australian one is rumoured to be so as well. Perhaps PON is just another inelegant effort to hack a fundamentally flawed model into some sort of functionality.

There is much discussion of the “killer app” for FTTH - is it just more TV? Really good computer gaming? Telemedicine? Self-hosted servers? Although we don’t believe in killer apps in general, we think it could be something quite different; the survival of multiple competing Internet service providers. It would be a great pity to lose the diversity and liberty that the end of telco monopolies gave us; how long before we got it back? As the UK experience shows, access to the incumbent’s wires can be a poisoned chalice. Certainly, the example of Iliad would tend to bear out that one of the most important applications for fibre is to save the ISP business model.

So the report that the FCC may demand that telcos share any fibre built with government money should fill us with inspiration, not fear. As Brough Turner points out, openness in fibre access networks is an excellent business proposition and one shareholders ought to demand. Here’s Benoit Felten of Yankee Group making just that point.

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April 7, 2009

It’s Meffys time again…

Telco 2.0 is delighted to be deepening its partnership with the Mobile Entertainment Forum. Its Chairman, the superbly provocative Andrew Bud, will be a stimulus speaker at our event in May, and we will be helping with this year’s Meffy awards, the “Oscars of the mobile world”.

If you feel you have achieved something groundbreaking in the last year, there’s still time left to submit an entry: the deadline is 17 April 2009. [Ed. - NOW EXTENDED TO THE 24 APRIL!]

Last year’s winners are here, if you’re unsure if you measure up. Go on, even the geeky voice developers are in with a chance - last year’s best application was the excellent Fring.

The Meffy’s aim to celebrate innovation and creativity in the following areas:

  1. Games
  2. Music Service
  3. TV & Video Service
  4. Technology Innovation
  5. Content
  6. Social Networking
  7. Search & Discovery
  8. Ad Campaign
  9. Application
  10. Quality of Experience
  11. Direct-to-Consumer Service
  12. ‘Mobile First’ Innovation
  13. Business Intelligence
  14. Innovative Business Model
  15. Handsets

So if you read this blog (and work in mobile) and haven’t applied yet, there’s got to be something you’re proud of out of those categories. Especially the ones about video, new business models, business intelligence, ads, and applications.

Of course, what everyone really goes to awards ceremonies for is the dinner; this year’s is being held at Floridita in Soho in London on the 23rd of June. Last year’s was in Cannes; more than 300 key industry players and nominees came along. And as anyone who has attended other MEF events would probably agree, Andrew Bud and his team usually throw a good party.

Companies interested in entering the awards should visit the MEF website for full details. Entry costs have been frozen from last year and are as follows: £100 per entry for MEF members and £300 for non-members. To buy Meffys tickets: send e-mail to itmevents@informa.com. For branded tables contact Renee Harris. For sponsorship opportunities (packages tailored to suit different budgets) contact the MEF.

Here’s what one of last year’s winners said:

“Winning a Meffy was a real turning point for Flirtomatic…..we had previously been told we were the best kept secret in mobile, but the Meffy got us a heap more visibility. And given the strength of the competition, we still feel lucky to have won it.”
(Mark Curtis, CEO, Flirtomatic - 2008 Meffys winner)

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April 6, 2009

Ring! Ring! Hot News, 6th April 2009

In Today’s Issue: AT&T Apps - seems to be a Web site; VZW joins JIL, launches app store; links voice and maps; Palm WebOS SDK out; Apple lawyers pursue illegal app stores through undergrowth; IMS widgets (we kid you not); VZW plans LTE build; big Euro WiMAX build nixed says source; Cisco’s routers drive the backhaul; the Universal Backhoe strikes in London; snoopery D-day; Swedes squash piracy; Spotify API coming; monsters of tech batting for Skype; Qwest may swap long distance for RLECs; Freedom2Connect summaries; cable guys open-source STB code; Sky’s new EPG; PCCW buyout back on; NTT buys marketers; Eurovendors still got it, part 3, Pakistan; G-servers on show; mobile phone orchestra

AT&T launches AT&T Apps; it’s described as “a place for power users and content providers to engage in dialog about applications and services”, and all the apps are free, so we think that means it’s a Web site. There’s a lot of app store action this week - Verizon Wireless has just joined the Joint Innovation Lab, alongside Vodafone, China Mobile and Softbank. The future, it seems, is made of JavaScript. How did that happen? Apparently, Vodafone wants to eventually converge the technical aspects of JIL with the OMTP’s BONDI standardisation project, which is all good.

On the commercial level, VZW just put up a sign and opened its own app store. They’re also doing interesting things integrating voice command and maps.

Palm, meanwhile, announced that the WebOS SDK will be available to a lucky few developers forthwith; but where, where are the gadgets? Apple, it seems, has lost patience after we went from unauthorised iPhone applications to whole unauthorised iPhone app stores; the Cupertino Copyright Commandos are fanning out, writs in hand. And someone is selling IMS widgets, we kid you not.

Verizon’s decision to go for LTE was the official end of the standards wars. Now they’re planning for a future in the post-war era; stand by for those boring old Eurovendors to get another round of business. A Telco 2.0 source said this weekend a major European telco had cancelled its activities in WiMAX with a major Asian vendor, and would instead be basing its wireless broadband plans on LTE.

VZW will need a lot of backhaul for that…which is probably why they’re buying a lot of Cisco ASR9000 Carrier Ethernet boxes to go with their new CRS-1 core routers. The Internet may route around damage, meanwhile, but when you lose an entire BT exchange in the City of London that’s harder than you think. It’s the Universal Backhoe and it’s the one to blame…

UK communications data retention comes into force today; perhaps the Government can achieve a triumph like that in Sweden, where traffic through the Netnod IX fell sharply after anti-piracy legislation went in force. Hey, they’ve already managed to achieve a sharp cut in industrial production and economic growth! There’s a nightmarishly awful House of Lords debate on the issue here. Legal music streamer Spotify, meanwhile, announced that it plans to launch an API to its content.

In the row between Skype and assorted mobile operators, notably Deutsche Telekom and AT&T, Skype called in air support from Big Tech; Google, Microsoft, and Intel among others are partners in something called the “Voice on the Net Coalition”, whose lobbyists rolled into action in line with Skype.

Qwest, owner of many rural ILECs? It’s being suggested that the telco might sell its long-distance assets (those famous railroad RoWs) in exchange for clearance to consolidate a lot of the US’s small telcos. Presumably a bid for broadband funding from the NTIA would follow. Speaking of rural fibre in the US, there are summaries of proceedings at F2C on David Isenberg’s blog.

The cablecos’ geek farm, CableLabs, has published the source code that implements its standard for interactive TV set top boxes. In other TV news, Sky has upgraded its Electronic Program Guide for HD.

Richard Li’s effort to take PCCW private is back on, it seems; NTT DoCoMo, meanwhile, has short-circuited the question of how telcos can get better at advertising and just bought a direct marketing firm. China Mobile’s Pakistani operation, Zong, has picked Alcatel-Lucent for a network build.

Google shows off its homebrew servers in a rare glimpse at their hardware. And finally, the Stanford University Mobile Phone Orchestra, via Masood Mortazavi’s blog:

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Telco 2.0 Strategy Report Out Now: Telco Strategy in the Cloud

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