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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 10th August

Top stories:

Bharti-Airtel & MTN: new $1bn cash hike

Mobile in brief: US price war, Orange UK’s pirate special, Sprint’s WLAN plan

Facebook: 83 top advertisers on board, and Google falls out of love with Apple; all the theories

Infrastructure: Microsoft data centre move threat, AT&T and Level 3 big in CDNs

In other news: Spinvox, Symbian S60, BT FTTC/VDSL, Spotify, 35 varieties of Asterisk - free!

The Bharti-Airtel & MTN merger grinds on. Last week they were promising that the merger made so much sense they would have to keep running the two companies independently; this week they resorted to a more reliable form of persuasion - cash. Bharti is hiking the cash element of the deal by $1bn, reducing the volume of new shares that will be issued and also fudging the question of who controls the company. Not only do the South Africans see MTN as a strategic national asset, but there are more than 20 regulators to satisfy across the combined empire. It sounds almost as fun as that proposed FTel/TeliaSonera tie up…

In other operator news, the price war rages. Leap Wireless announced unlimited US-wide voice service for $40 a month prepaid and kicked in unlimited data traffic as well; MetroPCS had already done that; so you wonder why anyone would take this deal, which offers the same price on voice and SMS but only 20MB of data.

The core voice revenue stream is being challenged, and the same dynamic is at work on data. Orange UK is offering a range of cheap dongle tariffs, including 500MB download for £5 a month, or alternatively, between 1 and 10GB depending on tariff plus unlimited service between midnight and 9 am - you could call it the pirate special, frankly, as this sounds directly aimed at people who leave their BitTorrent clients running all night.

Perhaps the continuing problems at O2 UK have something to do with all this data, especially with all those iPhones? For the third time in two weeks, they had a major outage, although their Twitter users continued to receive up to 600 SMS a month free. (That’s a data rate of 93KB/month - surely someone can think of a useful application?)

Of course, one use of mobile data is to make your own WLAN hotspot. It looks like this will be the first use for Sprint’s WiMAX network, as two such devices land. We recently saw someone asking why anyone would convert cellular connectivity to WLAN rather than replacing cellular with WLAN and broadband whereever possible; the answer is simple, which is that the world is full of wireless hotspots that don’t work, require exorbitant payments, have a login/payment page that can’t handle the traffic, etc etc etc. Bringing your own makes perfect sense, not least because it lets you use a sensible authentication/billing mechanism - the SIM card.

Twitter, Facebook, and Google were all subject to significant DDOS activity this week, supposedly driven by Russian hackers targeting blogs in Georgia on the anniversary of last year’s war. As is increasingly common, much of the actual disruption was caused by duelling security measures. An unexpected consequence of the attack was this fascinating blog post on Twitter’s network architecture; did you know status.twitter.com shares a server with f*ckyeahboobies.com? You do now; count us unimpressed and longing for the reliability of SS7…

Meanwhile, Facebook claimed that 83 of the top 100 US advertisers were buying space on the site.

Google’s Eric Schmidt quit the Apple board of directors last week; theories vary as to why. Was it the row about Apple’s late decision to bar the Google Voice application from the iPhone? Something to do with the App Store and Android Market, where the two are directly competing? Or perhaps it was connected with iPhone distribution agreements with AT&T and friends? It seems that the US Federal Trade Commission was not happy about an agreement the two firms had to refrain from poaching each other’s employees; perhaps Schmidt had to leave in order to prevent the regulators wrecking their sickmaking Californian love-in still further?

And in fact, the FCC won’t let them be; they are demanding explanations from both parties about the Voice affair, presumably on the grounds that once you involve yourself with telephony, a whole lot of extra regulations kick in. Spare a thought for the developer of the unofficial GV application, who is currently barred from supporting it and is faced with a volley of demands for refunds.

Meanwhile, advertisers all know they want an iPhone app, but none of them know why. And Palm has taken its row with Apple to the USB standards body; it seems they think using the vendor ID field in the protocol to bar some devices breaks the standard, and therefore they’ve decided to forge it and pretend to be an iPod.

The Spinvox fiasco goes on; they’ve prepared a dossier (a word that has acquired a bad significance) and are talking about “smear campaigns”, while former employees have put together their own dossier. Oh dear; it does look a little desperate.

A new version of Symbian S60 is coming; and it’s going to be based on the open source GUI toolkit Qt, which Nokia bought with Trolltech a while back. This is probably good news for anyone who wants funky grafix, but will almost certainly involve completely rebuilding existing applications.

Microsoft desperately wants iPhone developers; they’ve published a guide on how to port your existing applications to work with Windows Mobile 6.5, but as far as we know, they still want to charge you to sign up. More interestingly, their giant Columbia River-powered data centre is in trouble, as the state of Washington has imposed a tax on data centres. MS is threatening to move its Azure project from there to another DC, although they will still be hosting other projects there. If that’s so, what’s the difference, and how would you tell?

Speaking of big infrastructure, AT&T and Level(3) are now the fourth and fifth biggest CDNs, chasing Akamai, Limelight, and EdgeCast. Not surprisingly, then, Alcatel-Lucent is interested in selling telcos the bits they need to build CDN capability. They just acquired Velocix, ex-CacheLogic, which gives them both in-house CDN expertise and products and also the ability to cache and serve up P2P content as well.

BT, meanwhile, finally started its FTTC/VDSL rollout, and promptly crashed head-on into the pushy middle class. Residents of leafy Muswell Hill are furious that the street cabinets are 1.8 metres tall and generally rather big. This one is going to run and run…as Martha Lane-Fox sensibly said, it’s going to be difficult to be a fully engaged citizen without Internet access, and that very much includes upstream as well as downstream.

In really unsurprising news, Spotify turns out to be backed by the record industry.

And our readers are strongly advised to check out this list of 35 free Asterisk applications; just look at all that creativity with voice and messaging, and weep.

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Nice informative post. Bhari and MTN Deals of this nature are complex and require finesse in terms of execution. Many factors lie outside of the purview of due diligence and in fact depend on X factors coming through to make a success of it. Having said that, and being acutely aware of complexities involved, let me state that the overall impression your original post left was that it was a cut and dry case of 'let's avoid additional trouble and go for the easy route - screw ambition'. Let us not grow our companies because we may need to get new people on board and that may screw up our culture. Let us not grow beyond our borders because the 'others' will not understand our way of working and step on our toes and our SVP's may not like it and may quit to join Voda - which incidentally owes a large part of its growth story to growing beyond its own borders. I do not want to sit here and think your post on why BA-MTN deal should not have gone through is based on the assumptions related to toes. And I genuinely do not want to think that you thought a deal of this magnitude was being done from short-medium term perspective (a fact that you seem to have admitted yourself in your response). Have feet (with toes), will run.

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