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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 24th August 2009

Top stories:

FCC prepares for mobile competition hearings, and wades into Google/Apple/AT&T

China Mobile app store launch

N97 disappoints - Nokia links up with Microsoft

Telco data “can tell better than you who your friends are”

African Internet traffic surges as East African cables light up

In other news: Verified online dating; “dynamic green routing” to save power in the cloud; Google seeks smart grid interoperability; cable cuts cause Chinese chaos, but not as much as in 2006; routing diversity scores on the doors from Renesys; BGP fatfinger strikes again; SingTel profits up on big Bharti contribution; giant credit-card hack; AT&T, T-Mobile robbed by ex-employees; Australian police too clever for their own good; Hacking at Random builds its own GSM network; Patricia Russo’s six weeks at SpinVox; 4th French 3G licence coming; O2 Germany OK with mobile VoIP; BT outsources everything, closes grad recruitment; Yorkshire lifeboat crew builds their own FTTH; slow progress on fibre in Spain; Budde, Conroy speak on open fibre networks; USDA report out on rural broadband; teledensity passes 100% in Venezuela; Orange, Vodafone looking for a social network; INQ-Spotify hookup; RIM “fastest growing company”; cops desert Airwave for RIM; John Todd speaks about Asterisk, communities, etc

The FCC is considering whether it should launch a full-dress inquiry into competition in the US mobile business. As the new FCC staff have begun to bed in, the agency has been increasingly activist, and this hearing is intended to look at the complex topic of intercarrier pricing, the US equivalent of termination in Europe. Could this be the beginning of a Viviane Reding-like telco-bashing rampage?

There’s a heavy agenda at the FCC right now; they’re taking submissions on the question of how to define “broadband”, or to put it another way, what the minimum standards for the US’s telecoms infrastructure should be, and they’re wading into the Google Voice/Apple/AT&T row as well. It all suggests that more regulatory pressure can be expected on the Telco 1.0 business’s margins going forward, to say nothing of more competition.

Here’s your latest app store story: China Mobile launched its Mobile Market with some 4,000 apps available on day one. Nobody could quibble with their scale, after all. Strangely, no mention of the Joint Innovation Lab, which could let the same apps work for Vodafone and Softbank users as well.

In more immediately lucrative news from China, ZTE saw its profits rise 41% while elsewhere, Nortel’s losses doubled and most of the board quit.

Nokia’s smartphone shipments haven’t been great - so far, they’ve shipped about half as many N97s as Apple did iPhone 3GS gadgets on day one. Not surprisingly, this has led to a volley of announcements from the Espoo Vatican; and you can tell they’re serious as hell, because they don’t include a new services strategy…

Most importantly, there’s a deal with Microsoft to develop handsets and software for the enterprise, running on the Symbian OS. Both parties agree to set up dedicated development teams, and MS will integrate the mobile software with various Office products, SharePoint, and MS Live Messenger, as well as reading and editing MS Office documents on mobile devices.

Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo further promised to defeat the Apple menace, and said that a Linux-based phone would be coming soon. He also claimed that Nokia would succeed with its services strategy. Oh well.

Nokia R&D, however, is doing some interesting stuff; Nathan Eagle has just published five years’ worth of research on mining GSM data in order to analyse social networks. Sinisterly, the CDR pile was better at predicting who was friends with who than the actual people. The paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is here.

Meanwhile, CheckedProfile offers to verify that your online dating picture is really you, for a price. Is anyone else faintly reminded of the Arthur C. Clarke story about a telephone exchange that becomes self-aware and starts quietly manipulating the human beings around it by interfering with their calls?

The New York Times has a good article on the landing of the SEACOM and TEAMS cables in East Africa; perhaps more to the point, contributors to NANOG from Kenya have described a dramatic surge in Internet traffic since the first cable was lit up on the 23rd of July. It’s due to a combination of the default TCP window scaling behaviour, which detects that more capacity is available and attempts to maximise its throughput, and user behaviour.

Given that it may be possible to save 40% of a cloud computing installation’s power usage by dynamically routing computing tasks to wherever the power is cheaper, or perhaps even where the data centre is cooler, who knows what we might see? Giant server farms by the Kariba Dam?

Google, meanwhile, is working on interoperability standards for smart grid kit.

You can’t do dynamic green routing, or indeed anything much, if someone cuts the cables. Last week also saw significant disruption to telecoms services in Asia after a submarine landslide damaged major cable networks. However, as CommsDay reports, even though there is still a long queue for cable ships, the Internet and the cable world coped much better with the outage than last time, after the Taiwan Straits earthquake. Renesys has a interesting piece on measuring the diversity of Internet access; Amazon (unsurprisingly) comes out as being very close to perfection (there’s an AWS prefix in Hong Kong that isn’t quite right), Vietnam Posts & Telecoms is one of very few carrier-sized networks to score a perfect 100, and the US Social Security Administration is entirely reliant on one path. No pressure, then.

It can’t have helped that, while the cables were all in twirls, another of those deadly BGP announcements escaped from a small Japanese ISP and began spreading across the Internet, rebooting routers as it went.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the panic, SingTel announced profits up 7.7%, mostly driven by its investments in Telkomsel and Bharti-Airtel, although being able to route both ways around the world must have helped. Question: how does this affect the MTN-Bharti saga?

This week also saw the discovery of a giant hacker attack on a US credit card processing company, which resulted in the theft of 130 million credit cards using an SQL injection exploit. It turned out that the same people were responsible for ripping off $750,000 from cashpoints earlier this year, exploiting a similar bug. And that one of them had been a police informer all along - whoops! all round, really. If you aspire to handling huge amounts of sensitive subscriber data - especially in the light of the Nokia paper above - you better make sure this doesn’t happen. It turns out, however, that the telcos are far from immune - a group of ex-resellers were able to get access to databases at AT&T and T-Mobile USA and steal $22m worth of phones and airtime.

You can’t trust the police, either; Australian policemen attempted to catch a group of hackers by setting up a honeypot Web site…but forgot to set a password to restrict access to the database underlying it. Fun and games ensued.

But you can roll your own GSM network. The Hacking At Random camp in Holland, like last year’s Burning Man, had its very own homemade cellular network based on the OpenBTS and OpenBSC software projects and whatever hardware they could find, lashed to trees with gaffer tape.

And it seems that SpinVox appointed Patricia Russo as a director on the 2nd of June, and she quit on the 10th of August. Perhaps that weird and sinister stand at MWC should have told us more than it did at the time? It was completely covered in little plastic men…

ARCEP has announced that the fourth French 3G licence will be sold for €240m, about a third of the price the original three operators paid. It’s less spectrum (10MHz), but then, the original three are also being asked to share some of their cherished 900MHz GSM holdings with a new entrant. No surprise that Orange is suing, which ought to hold up the prospect of Iliad Mobile a while longer.

O2 Germany, meanwhile, has thrown open the doors to mobile VoIP users, while T-Mobile at first refused to accept iPhone voice apps and then reversed course and demanded a special supplement.

In the UK, BT announced the outsourcing of maintenance on the local loop to a consortium between Carillion (a construction firm) and Telent (the rump of Marconi, which continues to supply BT with legacy parts). They also closed their graduate trainee scheme.

So, if you’re British and you need fibre, you might have to dig yourself; which is what a lifeboat station in Yorkshire actually did. Hull-based community broadband activists Fibrestream are behind it, but the lifeboatsmen pulled the last mile of fibre optic cable to hook up their 100/100Mbits Ethernet themselves. Carlos Bock, meanwhile, reports on the status of FTTH in Spain and finds that it’s making slow progress, but there are two open public-sector networks.

There’s an interesting interview with Paul Budde about open networks here; as if on cue, Australian minister for broadband Stephen Conroy gives a speech on the importance of trans-sector integration for the deployment of fibre, specifically in the health sector. And the US Department of Agriculture has a report out on the benefits of broadband for the rural economy.

It must benefit someone, even if a recent report described 80% of Twitter traffic as “pointless”; Venezuela has just become the latest member of the 100% penetration club. Speaking of Twitter, Orange and Vodafone are both threatening to launch a social network product. The original and best in these things is 3’s INQ, which took the sensible decision of facilitating usage of the existing ones rather than trying to build Telco Facebook, and it emerged this week that the heavily hyped music service Spotify may soon join the line up of applications on the INQ.

Corroborating evidence includes the fact 3 (and therefore INQ) owner Li Ka-Shing turns out to be an investor in Spotify.

The other triumph in mobile social networking is, of course, BlackBerry e-mail for suits. And despite the downturn and the existence of so many other mobile e-mail solutions and the continent-wide outages, RIM is supposedly one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Which may not be surprising; just a couple of years after the British emergency services got a spanking new dedicated TETRA radio network (Airwave), some of them are investing in a RIM-based solution for recording arrests and consulting the police national database on the streets.

And there’s an interview with John Todd of Asterisk fame here.

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