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Telco 2.0 News Review

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We’ve said before that the leading actor in the deployment of fibre is increasingly the State. Brazil looks like it could be the latest, and one of the biggest, examples - as part of its national broadband plan, the Brazilian government is considering investing $10.7bn in publicly-owned infrastructure to reach remote and underserved areas. On a similar theme but much smaller scale, the proposals are now in from carriers and others wishing to join the New Zealand government’s Crown Fibre Holdings, which intends to deploy open-access dark fibre throughout the country.

They’re also looking at shared or public solutions to the mobile industry’s layer zero problems; the regulator says that they’re keen on the idea of only one shared LTE network, as deploying even one more system would involve doubling the national fleet of base stations. In other infrastructure news, 3UK switched on its 10,000th Node-B as part of a major capacity build that will eventually take their network to 13,000 towers - that’s almost six times as many as there are in New Zealand.

The UK’s independent spectrum broker - aka regular Telco 2.0 delegate Kip Meek - says there will be no progress on the UK 2.6GHz band before 2011.

AT&T, meanwhile, said it would “wait and see” about the network demands of the Apple iPad. If it’s anything like the iPhone, this could be a nontrivial issue; but then, it’s a 10” device with a huge touchscreen and no voice capability, so its standard use-case sounds much less mobile and more likely to use WLAN connectivity than the well-known shiny gadget. They expect about half the iPads they sell will be the WLAN-only variant, and are keen to funnel their connectivity through their network of WLAN hotspots. Quote of note:

One long-time vendor in the offload solutions business, Kineto Wireless, has just introduced a new product, called Smart Wi-Fi Offload, which turns Wi-Fi access points into extensions of a mobile operator’s network, so that customers can receive all their traditional mobile, messaging and data services, including voice, over theWi-Fi connection. The product will be commercially available next quarter.

You’ve heard of test-driven development; that’s Telco 2.0-driven development.

On the other hand, AT&T announced an additional $2bn in wireless CAPEX, which sounds like it will be mostly spent pulling backhaul fibre to more base stations.

They could blame it on Barack Obama, something which would at least endear them to a sizable segment of opinion. This week, rejection notices went out from NTIA to the unlucky losers in the first round of broadband stimulus proposals. And his State of the Union address accounted for a drastic spike in mobile video streaming, with the White House servers shipping out a terabyte of data in total.

There’s something ironic, in the light of all that, in the fact that the iPad is explicitly designed to keep it on AT&T. And despite all the noise about massive data usage, AT&T actually announced rather good fourth-quarter figures this week.

Amid all the iHype, Apple quietly climbed down on the iPhone voice-over-IP row. iCall, Fring, and Acrobits all discovered that their applications now work over UMTS data as well as over WLAN. You could also use Google Voice in a browser, released this week - although you’d still be paying call charges and you can’t use either cellular data or a free WLAN hotspot, so you might wonder what the point would be. It is, however, an interesting use of the capabilities of HTML5 - on that, Google and Apple are a model of harmony, as this rant of Steve Jobs’s against Adobe Flash suggests.

Meanwhile, it’s time to cut to the vidiprinter and the voice of James Alexander Gordon. Strategy Analytics’s market numbers are out for Q409, and they’re more than interesting. Smartphone shipments were up 30% year-on-year, while the overall market grew 12% - to put it another way, the smartphone segment is taking over the market. The beneficiaries are Apple, RIM, and Nokia - Nokia’s share of smartphones was 39.2%, up from 37%, RIM’s 20.2%, up from 18.6%, and Apple’s went from 10.8% to 16.4%. It’s worth noting that Apple doubled its volume while only gaining 5.6 percentage points of share - clearly, a very large proportion of iPhone sales are accounted for by growth in the smartphone sector, rather than competition within it.

So, we’re declaring final victory on our prediction from MWC 2009 that 2009 would be the year of the mid-market squeeze. All other vendors’ smartphone shipments actually fell, and the growth of the smartphone sector combined with the robust super-discount market to hammer Motorola, Sony-Ericsson and friends. Quite possibly, the phrase “feature phone” is now ripe for retirement.

There were numbers out from Nokia as well. Device shipments were up 12% overall, but sales (i.e. by value) were down 4% - which shows the flip side of the smartphone boom rather well. The smartphone market is expanding, but it’s doing so because the devices are getting cheaper. Not sure what to make of this feature, though.

However, Qualcomm cut its sales forecasts, blaming the “muted” recovery in developed markets.

Connected Planet wonders if Spotify will work in the US. Interestingly, they also proivide some numbers - apparently, it needs between 10-12% of the users to convert to the paid-for version in order to cover royalty payments. But only about 4% of users in the UK and Spain, currently its biggest markets, are paying. Oh dear. A possible comment on this is Nokia’s decision to offer an X6 without Comes With Music and with less storage.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, is offering a micro-SD card with 1,000 “snippets” of music, and some 4GB of spare storage. The idea is that you pay for the card, and then download stuff you like from their VCAST content store. Wouldn’t it be better to ship the cards loaded with music they’ve already paid for, and let them get anything additional from the store? It seems a strangely annoying product.

Meanwhile in content, it was the weekend of the Amazon-Macmillan e-book wars. Amazon.com pulled all Macmillan titles from the Kindle and its websites, complaining that Macmillan wanted too much money; there was a storm of protest; Macmillan refused to give in; and Amazon backed down. An author’s perspective is here: come to think of it, Macmillan could have distributed e-books over Cloudfront and used Amazon IT resources, and presumably the margin on traditional wholesaling is better…

This is an example of King Content pulling a goal back against King Kong Distribution, and it’s worth thinking about why our usual assumptions are wrong here. If distribution is the dominant factor, it’s usually because it’s difficult to replace - scarcity, in other words. But e-books are very unlike either paper ones, or some other forms of content like video or music - books are text, and text is light compared to its information payload and hence its value. A lot of Amazon’s value is in its logistics operation, but this is less important when the content to be distributed is text.

In other content news, for €0.79, iPhone users can get the speeches of Benito Mussolini as an app.

Firefox is now available on one mobile device at least - the Nokia N900. Details here suggest it has most of the PC version’s feature set, and notably the HTML5 Geolocation API.

Meet the world’s second most used Web server; the Google Web Server. It’s a Web server used by Google, and that’s roughly all that is widely known about it, except that Netcraft estimates that about 11 million sites are running on it. You wonder why Microsoft even bothers with its server division these days. You can now link your bathroom scales directly to one of those, via the Google Health API. Hacker project for 2010: get access to them and subtly alter the weight readings, causing all kinds of fascinating disturbance to a million ultra-shallow lifestyles.

More interestingly, Google announced an enhancement to Local Search that lets advertisers embed a click-to-call phone number in their ads, so mobile users can instantly place a call to them. Thought; Google Talk is XMPP, using the JINGLE voice extension. You can already embed an XMPP client in a Web page using strophe.js and XMPP’s specification for tunnelling XMPP connections as HTTP. How long before Google lets you embed free VoIP calls in your ad, and sends you a pack of context information as an instant message as well?

Avaya has some interesting news; the enterprise voice company, which recently bought up Nortel’s VoIP and PBX assets, is embarking on a partnership with Skype to integrate the global P2P voice network and its various enterprise voice hardware, software, and applications solutions. It is suggested that some Avaya products might be moving into a cloud, and it’s even possible that they might be moving into the Skype network. One to watch.

Meanwhile, more buzz about HD voice. And hackers succeed in turning handsets into bugs. If you can’t trust your hardware, you can’t trust the software, the network, or anything else.

An unusual DDOS attack is under way; the bots initiate encrypted SSL connections, and then drop them. The point being that the cryptographic validation is considerably more resource intensive than just handling an HTTP GET request. Apparently, targets included the CIA, PayPal, and Bank of America, whose site was downed on Friday night.

Telenor’s Indian operation, Unitech Wireless, announced a contract with Harris Stratex to supply all its microwave backhaul needs - likely to be “rather a lot”. However, there were reports this week that the 3G licencing process might be spun out even more.

Comcast announced it was looking for volunteer users to try out IPv6. The US cable operator is especially concerned by the looming exhaustion of the IPv4 address space, as its CPE devices typically have several routable IP addresses (for user IP traffic, VoIP, cable TV, remote management, etc).

Verizon announced that it’s integrating its US and global wholesale operations.

And finally: thinking of using a mobile phone while driving? Think again; thanks to hands-free kits, although people stopped using their phones without them, the rate of road accidents hasn’t changed. Talking on the phone worsens your driving as much as being drunk - voice is, after all, the original killer app.

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