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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 5th October 2009

Telco 2.0 Top Stories

Coming Up: Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms, Europe, 4th-5th November, and Americas, 9th-10th December

In other news: Aircom predicts $1.8bn per carrier for LTE deployment; Tony Blair fails to secure Wataniya Palestine’s spectrum; US operators drain the spectrum tub and holler for more; trust busters warn them against disorderly conduct; Telenor/Alfa row finally ends; France Telecom No.2 quits over suicides; Amazon settles over Orwell-zapping; Sony will publish anyone’s book; MapReduce available as EC2 instances; 50,000 new EC2 instances a day - cloud turns black, thundery, grows rapidly; Lotus Notes in the cloud; RIM, Apple, Google work together to mobilise Flash Player; Nortel GSM on the block; Sierra Leone gets mobile money; more war stories from OpenBTS’s David Burgess; 2 billion iPhone downloads; Spotify offers offline; Grauniad for your iPhone; beta release for Google Wave; another 20 million iPhones post-exclusivity; more BBC web traffic comes from mobiles than PCs in Nigeria; Comcast CEO “in top five overpaid execs”

Crash of the ├╝ber-merger; getting a deal that would satisfy both Bharti-Airtel and MTN’s sets of shareholders and the aspirations of their respective management teams was always going to be hard, and integrating the two companies even harder, but getting the politics right? Really hard. And that’s what’s happened - the South African government, which owns 21 per cent of MTN, has refused the deal on the grounds that they aren’t keen on foreign ownership of MTN.

Whilst we’re on the subject of really big operators, Telefonica has pressed the trigger on its first LTE deployments and the vendor frenzy is beginning to churn, especially as they’re scattering contracts for the test networks across the whole vendor community. Interestingly, Telefonica is asking that the six vendors involved form three teams, of which each team must include one Western and one Asian vendor; some sort of weird party game. So it’s a question of “perm any two” from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and NSN on one hand and NEC, Huawei, and ZTE on the other. The tests will take place in Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany, the UK, Argentina, and Brazil.

Just to keep the vendors keen, Telefonica is “not ruling out” letting Fujitsu or Motorola on board as well. And it works - although ALU and NEC have an alliance for their LTE businesses, it’s mate against mate on the Telefonica job.

No wonder; Aircom International estimates that a tier-one US operator would spend $1.78bn in the first year of LTE roll-out. So, for four of them, that makes a $7bn cheese for the vendors to get stuck in to for the first year alone - if the operators don’t just content themselves with upgrading their HSPA networks.

In the US, the Knight Commission report is in, and it says roughly what we said about broadband and fibre deployment - in the end, you’ve got to bite the bullet and build an open network. Our analysis is here. The Oxford Business School, meanwhile, published a study sponsored by Cisco that found that only Japan could consider its broadband infrastructure entirely satisfactory and the UK was teetering on the edge of failure - more interestingly, there’s a close similarity with the groups we identified in that report.

In some places, just getting GSM deployed was enough of a struggle. You may recall that Wataniya, holders of a licence to deploy in Palestine, had called in Tony Blair (for it is he!) to persuade the Israeli authorities to release spectrum they needed in order to start service. We were, if I remember rightly, somewhat sceptical of the efficacy of the former prime minister’s intervention. It looks like it didn’t work, as the Israelis are still hanging on to two tiny but crucial slivers of 900 and 1800MHz. It’s not just their fault, however; the local Orange division and the incumbent are also accused of reneging on a promise to make room in the frequency allocation table.

The US operators’ fanclub is hammering on the FCC’s door like a junkie outside the chemist’s, for its part, demanding another 50MHz for instant delivery. So it’s perhaps fortunate that the Department of Justice’s anti-trust division is promising to take a firm line on further mergers & acquisitions among US telcos.

And one of the industry’s oldest disputes, which has been going on since 2004, is over, as Telenor and Alfa Group/Altimo agree to bury the hatchet rather than split the baby. A new company, Vimpelcom Ltd., will own Vimpelcom and Telenor will hold just shy of 36% of it, while Alfa gets 44%. They could have done this much earlier, and saved the industry press literally hundreds of mind-paralysing he said she said stories…

The anger over a string of suicides at France Telecom has had a result; the head of its operations in France has resigned, and Stephane Richard joins from the Ministry of the Economy to replace him. (You can see a rather unhelpful rant from CEO Didier Lombard back in January here, in which he accused provincial employees with civil service status of going fishing for mussels rather than working.)

Meanwhile, some of us may recall that “exaflood” that was meant to cause “Internet brownouts” by 2010 unless the RBOCs got everything they wanted. David Isenberg, who rejected it at the time, points out that 2010 is only weeks away and that the world has inexplicably failed to come to an end. The author of that particular scare story, however, is still around, arguing that the non-apocalypse means no-one needs net neutrality. Perhaps it’s best just to remember that the Discovery Institute, which keeps publishing this stuff, is better known for creationism.

Leaving aside the dinosaur-dodging angle, there is a very good point in Isenberg’s post - for mobile operators, the really scary prospect isn’t so much a wave of video traffic as a trickle of alternative voice traffic, because the applications that make them money are the low bandwidth voice & messaging ones.

Before the courts, Amazon gets sued over the infamous affair when they zapped every copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four on every Amazon Kindle in the world. Orwell’s novel describes a totalitarian future where books are illegal and all forms of media are delivered through networked touch-sensitive screen devices, everyone is constantly monitored by CCTV, and the working class is distracted with cheap gin and pornography, while a huge sinister bureaucracy controls the official version of history through its vast archives; good job nothing like that could happen in real life, eh. They also zapped his Animal Farm, in which society is ruled by pigs…hold on…

Amazon is paying a student $150,000 for accidentally zapping his notes as well as the book, but the interesting bit is that they’ve also agreed to stop zapping - however, the case doesn’t set a precedent, so this is probably worth as much as a promise from Agent O’Brien. In less sinister e-book news, Sony has announced that anyone can now upload their work to their eReader platform and be paid royalties in the unlikely event anyone reads it - Amazon already offers something similar, but only in the US.

If you’re trying to control the future by editing the entire past to match the party line, you’re going to need better IT than Winston Smith’s colleagues at the Ministry of Truth had; Amazon can help you there too. Users of Amazon EC2 can now get instances of Hadoop, the open source version of Google’s MapReduce data crunching algorithm, and use an SQL-like database query language to find all documents referring to recently unpersoned doubleplusungood thoughtcriminals and render them into correct newspeak.

And don’t the kids just love it. They’re selling 50,000 EC2 server instances a day; amusingly, IBM reckons that as applications move into the cloud, the code bloats out just like it did on the desktop as more processor cycles became available. They should know - Lotus Notes is coming to the cloud as a Web application.

Enterprise crackberry heads can rejoice: Open Screen is bringing Flash content to the BlackBerry platform, so they can finally watch all that stuff nobody actually watches. RIM, Apple, and Google are cooperating to create a Flash Player plugin for mobile devices in an effort to decrease the broken website count.

And the sad and protracted death of Nortel goes on; the GSM business is up on the auction block, and so is the GSM-R operation. That’s GSM for Railways, in case you didn’t know - what could be more French than the combination of centralised switching and 300mph nuclear-powered trains?

Here’s something interesting; South Korea’s regulator wants to encourage a higher percentage of users on flat-rate mobile data tariffs. Clearly, they find the applications/content/services layer much more interesting than the operator economy.

At the other end of the bandwidth scale, the next mobile payments launch is here, in Sierra Leone, and the next instalment of David Burgess’s series on running an open-source GSM network at Burning Man is here as well. Amusingly, one of his biggest problems was getting the provisioning/OSS BSS side working - those grizzled old bellheads clearly didn’t ride up the Amazon on their bikes.

And Apple greets the 2 billionth download from the App Store. In other slightly overhyped news, Spotify is offering offline music for a premium - isn’t that just an MP3 download? - and The Guardian is an iPhone app, because what other device would its readers carry? Google Wave is out in beta, with 100,000 invited users. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley analysts reckon the end of iPhone exclusivity will sell another 20 million of the things.

There’s an interesting interview here with Tom Bowden of the BBC’s commercial arm. 40% of the BBC’s Web traffic in Africa comes from mobile devices, and it’s actually a majority in Nigeria.

And finally, Comcast’s CEO makes it to the top five overpaid executives in the USA.

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