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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 15th September 2009

Telco 2.0 Top Stories:

In other news: The end of TV ads? Raise you the end of fixed voice; China Mobile moves into Symbian’s giant app shed; spectrum upshot of T-Orange merger; Spotify hits the brakes; Rhapsody for iPhone; Vodafone outage; Vodafone launches better voice for SMEs; SingTel buys Eircom; Singapore NBN taps ALU for OSS BSS, in orgy of TLAs; US telcos - actually, we would like the money; Google’s latest SSN sails and dives deep; Indian 3G auction is go in December; AT&T adds more HSPA; NEC/Hitachi/Casio merger; weird Sony Ericsson gadget is weird; list of Ovi Maps apps; Nokia acquires startup; next INQ to run Android; DT-Sprint horrors rise from the deep; how M-PESA agents’ businesses work; Zimbabwe telco cuts everyone’s bill by half in desperate bid for cash

The ups and downs of advertising. Here’s probably the world’s number 1 in targeted ads and data mining, Tesco spinoff Dunnhumby, creators of the Tesco Clubcard. Their profits were up 71%. Great, no? We could really do with some of that in telecoms…so you’re probably already thinking of all those hard disks in the billing department. [Ed. - Martin Hayward, Dunnhumby’s Director of Strategy & Futures will be joining the panel on ‘Customer Data 2.0’ at the EMEA Telco 2.0 event on 4-5 Nov in London.]

And Bruce Sterling points to figures showing that US TV advertising doesn’t sell. Every major buyer except Verizon and every sector except for “Legal Services” shrank their ad spending; Sterling thinks the era of big TV is drawing to a close, with seismic consequences for American culture. (He’s wrong; nothing can have changed if they’re still suing each other.) Surely the decline of broadcast TV ads must open up some huge opportunities?

Unfortunately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation would like you to know that scientists are increasingly able to look at big piles of data usually considered not to be “personally identifying”, and identify the people in it, which immediately converts it into the legally protected personally identifying sort. It’s tantalising; this research proves, more than anything else, how valuable the data resources are, but at the same time it makes it even more clear how difficult it will be to utilise them. And if the only major advertiser growing its spending is a telco, it’s hard to see how the sector could actually benefit.

Something else on the way out is fixed-line voice; Sri Lanka Telecom says its revenues just fell 18% in 1H09, and an average middle-class family of customers have three mobile phones. As Boris Nemsic once said when he was heading Mobilkom Austria, “fixed mobile convergence? we’re offering unlimited national minutes…”

On the other hand, the recession hasn’t stopped anyone surfing the ‘net; Telegeography reports that international traffic growth actually accelerated in 2009, with 9.4 terabits/s of new capacity coming on line and, of course, some parts of the world getting their first submarine cables.

In similarly optimistic news, China Mobile is opening its own Symbian app store, using Symbian’s “giant app shed close to a motorway junction”, Horizon, as the back end. It’s a big hit for Nokia, and strongly suggests that the final form of JIL might have a lot in common with both Horizon and the Web Runtime flavour of JavaScript-based widgetry.

Back in the UK, the spectrum implications of T-Mobile and Orange merging are many and complicated, but they are likely to remain entirely on hold until the general election. However, no amount of merging will help if the entire network falls over.

It probably won’t have been the iPhones running Spotify whodunnit. However, Spotify itself has been forced to slow down handing out subscriptions to keep from frying its infrastructure, just after its iPhone and Google Android clients hit the market. (Rhapsody’s iPhone client is out, too.) The problems of distributing heavy content…[Ed. - Spotify will be the panel on ‘Consumer Services 2.0’ at the EMEA Telco 2.0 event on 4-5 Nov in London.]

The BBC knows a thing or two about ‘em, which is why they are inviting other broadcasters and content providers to join them in making use of the iPlayer infrastructure. They were understandably keen to avoid any suggestion that others’ content might appear under BBC branding, but the idea of sharing ingestion, storage, and CDNing is considerably less controversial and would help a lot in integrating with broadcast media, IP multicast, and P2P distribution systems. You might even describe it as a “platform”.

Vodafone, meanwhile, were having a spot of bother with their femtocells this week, although Telco 2.0’s Keith McMahon says his is working perfectly. But then, the error was apparently that users could hear inbound callers but not talk back to them, so perhaps he’s just been unusually quiet. More importantly, VF announced a hosted, better voice & messaging service for small businesses, based on a big wholesale deal with BT to provide the hosted carrier-VoIP service.

Singaporean operator ST Telemedia, meanwhile, bought Eircom, and there was more progress on the city-state’s hugely ambitious open access fibre infrastructure plans. Alcatel-Lucent will be providing the wholesale element (NetCo)’s OSS-BSS gear.

In other broadband news, it looks like US carriers’ decision to stay out of bidding for stimulus funds was all talk, after all. But then, who ever saw telcos turn down a government subsidy?

Telephony Online, meanwhile, links up Google Voice and the recent announcement that Google Checkout might get finer-grained billing and subscription capabilities, and arrives at a worrying answer. Google’s submarines are everywhere….

Indian 3G auction news is in. The social event of the season will be held in December. Vendor vultures are advised to pack their full collection of plug adapters and book their tickets for the forthcoming slugfest now. (Although you know Ericsson or ALU will probably get the gig anyway.) Vendor vultures are also advised that AT&T is putting in more HSPA networks.

In Japan, NEC, Hitachi, and Casio have merged their handset making operations, which together add up to 15% market share there and not much anywhere else, perhaps because they have phones like this over there.

But then, Moldova is about to get the world’s first hi-def voice service, through Orange’s local operation. The technology involved is the AMR-WB codec, and so far there’s exactly one handset available. You will not be the least bit surprised to know that it’s a Nokia, where they have a phone for every conceivable combination of technologies except “both useful and fashionable” - specifically the 6720z.

We jest; Forum Nokia has a list of Web applications that have chosen their Ovi Maps API, and they’ve acquired social location start-up Plum, which will be folded into the Services unit, that stygian void from where start-ups return only as soul-emptied, twisted parodies of their natural form. (Ask Bruce Sterling, who we quoted before.) It’s like that when you learn Things That Man May Not Know; which probably includes the AMR-WB codec.

INQ, chooses to go with the dystopian future of Android rather than the Lovecraftesque deep past of Symbian. At least you can hack the robots and shoot the zombies (in the head, mind).

But it’s clear that the forces of the Weird are at work this week. Deutsche Telekom was rumoured to be considering a merger with Sprint-Nextel, presumably using the T-Mobile UK money. Again. “Sources” were “unclear about how the technology mismatch would be solved”; you bet they were. It’s the sequel to Converge This!, our 2008 screwball comedy about two OSS-BSS engineers, Sven and Sven, who have to integrate the back office systems of two telcos who use literally every network protocol in existence.

Finally, a tale of two cities. On the one hand, the CGAP blog reports on some fascinating field research on M-PESA’s lifeblood, agents. Doing M-PESA transactions is 3.2 times more profitable than selling airtime; but it does require relatively large amounts of capital tied up in the float. Safaricom is trying to reduce this by recruiting more wholesale aggregators, but it’s still a problem. An agent needs to do 30 transactions a day to break even, they reckon; the average agent is doing 86.

On the other, Zimbabwe’s state telco is going to cut everyone’s phone bill by 50% in an effort to persuade people to pay up.

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