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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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