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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 21st September 2009

Telco 2.0 Top Stories

In other news: Phorm - the end is nigh; Robo.to tells you more about incoming callers than you can read before you pick up; new version of Android; I love my INQ Mini, rather too much; Palm loses money under GAAP, loses 10x less under own rules; no more Windows gadgets from Palm; Hesse sez FCC “fair” to probe exclusive handset deals; row over Walsten’s FCC seat; VZ ditches the copper world, would quite like to keep tax break; AT&T denies role in Gvoice/Appstore; CMT slashes Telefonica wholesale rates 25%; VoLGA standard is here; NSN first call on LTE; T-Mobile USA first HSPA; FON gets into GSM; David Burgess at Burning Man; Y! intros combined OpenID/OAuth; IBM, Cisco both want smart grid standards; dire desk phone GUI, mocked; Braille on your phone; dodgy iPhone update; dedicated Apple support; HD voice “driven by VoIP”; Skype, Joost suing

Vodafone announces Vodafone 360, the successor to Vodafone live! The interesting bit here is exactly what 360 offers - rather than the video-heavy content offering that characterised both Live! and most operators’ ideas about what to do with 3G back in the day, its main selling point is as a wrapper around multiple social networks and other communications services. Vittorio Colao recently told investors that the social networks were one of the biggest drivers of traffic on Vodafone, and this looks like they’re suiting the action to the word. 360 is also going to include an app store - at least it’s a better name than Vodafone Widget Manager…

Facebook, meanwhile, is claiming to have gone cash-flow positive, which suggests that not only is it succeeding in monetising its traffic, but it’s also beginning to make its way past the kink in the curve of scalability. To begin with, running a Web service is cheap; after a while, however, growth renders it increasingly expensive, especially once you have to manage a big fleet of servers distributed about the world. As we’ve seen so many times, if you can operate at really high volume, there are economics of scale that kick in and bring the marginal costs of operating a cloud right down. The problem is to get through the coffin corner between the two…

At the same time, however, they’ve settled a lawsuit over the controversial Beacon targeted-ads operation, which essentially planned to sell all your data to advertisers and to track you whether you were logged in or not. They’re forking out a charitable donation of $9.5m, and more to the point, the terms of the settlement mean that Beacon is to be immediately shut down.

In related news, Phorm’s financials are expected, and a number of directors have quit the troubled advertiser. On the upside, they’ve also shut down their “Stop Phoul Play” PR drive against “privacy pirates”.

It seems to be a week for social networks - there’s an iPhone and Android app called Robo.to coming that promises to show a wide variety of information about incoming callers - although exactly how you’re going to take in the content of their linkedin page, twitter feed, etc, in the interval between ringing and answering the call doesn’t seem clear. As the FT points out, Nokia acquired a small company that specialises in this stuff some time ago - so clearly Robo.to is going to have a clear run at it!

They also mention Motorola’s new gadget, the Cliq (in North America) or Dext (in Europe - do you think they change if you take them on a trans-Atlantic flight?), which Moto describes as “the first phone with social skills”. It’s an Android-powered big touchscreen device with a pretty (and iPhone-esque) GUI and a unified client for messaging and social networking - unlike a lot of big touchscreens, it also has a slide-out keyboard. A bit like the HTC TyTN from 2005 then…except for the fact it runs Android rather than Windows Mobile! Mind you, Motorola has managed to name the social network/messaging client “MotoBLUR”, which doesn’t sound too confidence inspiring. There’s a new version of Android, codenamed “Donut”; among other detail differences, it’s got support for special gestures on the touchscreen. People do seem to like social network gadgets.

The new gadget is going to be a very important product for Moto’s crisis-battered handsets division, a little like the Pre was for Palm. Palm’s numbers are out, and they’re not too pretty; a quarterly loss of $164.5m. “Adjusted” for the success of the Pre and Pixi, that comes to $13.6m - but what kind of “adjustment” improves your results by a factor of 10, except for one that basically consists of “leave out the bad stuff”? Anyway, they also announced that there will be no more Windows on Palm devices.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who has the exclusive Palm Pre contract, stepped into the FCC review of exclusive contracts by saying that they were important for the industry but that it was “fair” for the FCC to examine how long they were. Meanwhile, there’s a political row on over Scott Walsten’s appointment to the FCC; although he authored a World Bank paper on the importance of public ownership in early telephone deployment, he’s also been accused of being far too close to the telcos during his time at the American Enterprise Institute.

His critics may have a point: Verizon’s CEO argued this week that it was “liberating” to stop worrying about the rate of loss of traditional PSTN access lines and concentrate on rolling out FiOS instead. However, VZ also holds that FiOS isn’t a utility like traditional telephony, and therefore isn’t subject to strict regulation; which doesn’t go down well in New Jersey, which gave them a large tax break to upgrade the utility service to 45Mbits 10 years ago…

Whilst we’re on the subject of regulation, Google has published the whole text of its response to the FCC in the Google Voice/Android row. The main point of interest is that AT&T denies any involvement.

In Europe, the Spanish regulator has some bad news for Telefonica - an enforced 25% cut in their wholesale ADSL rates and slightly more in the rate they charge for loop access. But it’s nothing like what Australian regulators have in store for Telstra.

Quite simply, Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy has offered them a choice of structural separation voluntarily or structural separation on the government’s terms. If they don’t choose they don’t get any spectrum. It seems likely that a structural separated Telstra would provide its existing ducts, poles, and trenches to the planned National Broadband Network company, thus greatly facilitating the rollout.

In infrastructure news, the VoLGA Forum announced that the problem of how to connect steamvoice calls on an LTE network has been settled. Appropriately enough, NSN immediately followed up with a claim of the first completed call with commercial LTE equipment. And T-Mobile USA announced its first HSPA+ deployment.

Overhyped WLAN sharing club FON has signed a deal with Ubiquisys to supply femtocells integrated into its routers; the next step is to find an operator that can provide the spectrum and terminate calls from the PSTN/PLMN. The good folk at Mapesbury/UK01 sound like a plausible candidate. On the subject of alternative mobile networks, David Burgess of OpenBTS took his homemade GSM net to Burning Man, and he’s blogging the technical problems he faced.

Yahoo! is using a new protocol that integrates OpenID for authentication and OAuth for selective authorisation, so as to pass rich user profile information between Web services with a single sign-on and without endangering privacy. Keep a close eye on this; just as the XMPP community is the most interesting in messaging, and the Asterisk one the most interesting in VoIP, the OpenID/OAuth one is where a lot of interesting things are happening about social information federation, privacy, etc.

The smart grid is one of the key elements in our forthcoming Use Cases report; fortunately, IBM and Cisco think it needs standardisation. Unfortunately they have both started standardisation efforts.

John Gardner-Cumming mocks the awful user interface of those Cisco desk phones; Nokia Labs, however, is trying to make Braille work on mobile devices, by translating it into pulses on the device’s vibrating alert. Now that’s what we call an iPod Touch.

In the content world, here’s this week’s weird business model; SongBeat 360, where the music is free to download but you have to pay for the search engine, as well as a variety of other features, like gig notifications from last.fm. It’s true that the Pirate Bay had much the same business model - make money from navigating free content - so it might work.

There’s been a dodgy iPhone update; so it’s perhaps appropriate that Apple is offering key App Store vendors dedicated personal support. Brough Turner reckons VoIP will be the driver for hi-def voice. And it’s all going horribly wrong between the Skype founders and Joost.

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In response to the Robo.to article:

The simple address book tied to a mobile phone is now becoming outdated, especially with so many cross-platform methods of communication now available and being widely used. The concept of the "social address book" has been evolving for a couple of years, and the rapid growth with the push for the aggregation of social networks has been a major catalyst. Colibria has established its own company philosophy with the view that the address book should be an integration point for a user's communities, effectively organising a person's life-stream around their contact information. It's just another form of convergence designed to deliver a better user experience.

The problem is that everyone in the value chain, from operators to handset manufacturers and beyond, are looking for ways to deliver this. This will result in a number of unconnected platforms coming to market, and consumers being forced to choose which one they will use, which doesn't foster interoperability and penetration. Standardisation to interoperate address books will not be in place for a few years, and no doubt we'll see a number of companies delivering their solutions before then.

To deliver something that will work for everyone, the industry will need to work to architect a solution that works across platform, operator, country and other variables. It also has to be an intelligent solution to proactively find updates from the various places that a contact may make changes, and update them to the user's address book.

Robo.to may be on the right track, but it will be interesting to see what other concepts come to the fore in the next year, and more importantly, who takes the lead.

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