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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 26th October 2009

Telco 2.0 Top Stories

China Mobile reports a return to growth in Q3, with income up 2.6% year on year after the first quarter of decline since 1999. The carrier signed up another 15 million subscribers in the quarter. Meanwhile, China Telecom saw a 48% plunge in its profits as subscribers rushed away from its core fixed-line voice business towards mobile, and its subscriber acquisition costs rocketed as it makes its own move into the mobile business. It reminds us of a crack of Boris Nemsic’s when he was running Mobilkom Austria; if all your national fixed-line and mobile calls are inclusive, what do you need fixed-mobile convergence for?

Ericsson announced Q3 profits down 74%, on a mixture of weak demand for network equipment and problems at its handset- and chip-making joint ventures, which are absorbing huge quantities of cash. It may well be true that the market for network kit is weak; but it’s also true that most of the big contracts that have recently gone to European vendors have gone to Alcatel or NSN.

On the other hand, they’ve announced an SMS-based, revenue-sharing mobile payments system; it will, however, cost the publishers who want to use it up to €1100 a month, which sounds like it might drown the fish.

Here’s an interesting thought; analysts for Execution Ltd., which sounds far too much like Murder, Inc., reckon the telcos are going to be forced to start rolling out fibre in earnest, if not by the government then by the start of DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades in the cable TV networks. As if to underline the point, German cableco Unitymedia announced 120Mbits service in Cologne and Aachen; pity about the uplink, though, which is 5Mbits or a ratio of 1:24. How will that work out on a cable network like Comcast that’s gone marginally net-outgoing?

Meanwhile, in regulatory news, the EU has issued a directive that requires member states to implement GSM spectrum refarming, and the FCC is about to announce draft Net Neutrality rules. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is now worrying about the FCC using this to exceed its authority; they’ve apparently not heard the phrase “rejoice - just rejoice!” Senator John McCain disagrees and wishes to legislate against it; he invented the BlackBerry, remember…

Apple is, predictably, feeling smug after the best quarter in the company’s history and a 7% boost to sales of iPhones. Nokia responded by suing Apple over an alleged patent infringement.

As a consequence of all those iPhones, 60% of the devices using AT&T’s WLAN hotspot business are now smartphones, the first time devices other than laptops were in the majority. Telephony Online points out that this means the WLANs are now really there to offload bulk data from the UMTS cellular network.

Which could be handy; Brough Turner has a tour de force post on the real problems facing AT&T’s mobile network and exactly why it’s suffering from congestion. It’s highly technical, but the problem is essentially that the buffers on their radio-network controllers are too big and therefore anything involving TCP/IP grinds to a halt because it’s unable to sense the congestion.

Of course, few operators are in a better position to backhaul their traffic, whether from femtocells, macrocells, or from WLAN boxes, than Free.fr, with its overbuild fibre network. It looks like parent company Iliad is now a cert for the fourth French mobile licence, after all the other competitors dropped out. France Telecom, by the way, is now the second-least popular large company in France.

Meanwhile, the drum is banged for Google Android as more gadgets await launch. Details of the Motorola Droid are leaked here. Palm, however, can take comfort in a good start in the UK; however, they’ve also succeeded in alienating Netscape legend Jamie Zawinski to the point of giving up and getting an iPhone.

Relatedly, here’s leading political blog TalkingPointsMemo, talking to readers about its mobile device policy.

Back in the UK, 3UK is apparently trying to include a maximum number of buzzwords in one product, by bundling a Spotify subscription with a Google Android device.

Symbian has open-sourced its kernel, and rather more worryingly, lost Psion-era founding father David Wood, who is apparently off to spend more time thinking about the singularity. They also announced the BeagleBoard, an open-source minimal computer platform based on a Texas Instruments OMAP system on a chip for $149. Someone’s already building a robot around it.

Despite the mobile OS wars, everything is a Web site. This is just as true in mobile as it is on the desktop; consider this data. Between 2007 and 2008, UK mobile subscribers deserted the carriers’ “on-deck” sites in droves in favour of going straight to the content they were after. This is especially telling given that it happened in the context of soaring user adoption; losing market share in a falling market is bad, losing it in a growing market is awful.

In more serious business, ABI Research predicts steady double digit growth in mobile data revenues from the enterprise sector. Interestingly, the biggest data hogs are Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Rival crystal ball squad Informa Telecoms & Media expect enterprise customers to reach 24% of the total by 2014, for a headline figure of $92.6bn in data service revenue.

But what about the voice? We’ve said before that there’s no future in cloning the PSTN and calling it a VoIP service; there goes another, as Sasktel gets out of the business. David Burgess’s OpenBTS project, meanwhile, went down predictably well at Astricon, with small rural carriers being especially keen on the possibility of going mobile for cheap; the lesson, however, of the failed carrier VoIP players is that better voice is only optional in the way survival is optional.

GrameenPhone, Bangladesh’s biggest GSM operator, has completed its IPO, the biggest in the history of the Bangladesh stock exchange, which was three times oversubscribed. And there were reasonably good figures at Tele2, on the back of a strong performance in Russia.

The ugly mess around those lost Sidekick profiles is being blamed on third party tech providers; meanwhile in the UK, The Guardian newspaper tends to talk a good game on things Internet, but this week hackers nicked 500,000 CVs from their jobs website.

Clearwire announced more WiMAX roll-outs. A rumour of a Google music service (surely that’s YouTube?) was denied. Twitter has picked Bing as its preferred search engine. Some Time Warner Cable modem/routers are accessible with administrator privileges if you just turn off JavaScript.

And Telco 2.0’s offices are apparently in “Silicon Roundabout”, which is apparently cool enough to be on Bruce Sterling’s blog. Don’t tell the landlord.

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