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Telco 2.0 News Review

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Potentially seismic news in the UK: BT changes its mind on duct-sharing. Both OFCOM and the Conservative Party are keen on the idea - OFCOM had a survey of some ducts carried out, and discovered that a surprisingly large percentage of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is full of raw sewage, and the Tories have threatened to legislate to force BT to provide ducts if they win the election. Mind you, they also threatened to abolish OFCOM - work that out. It’s a major turnaround for BT, which not so long ago wasn’t even willing to provide street cabinet access for the South Yorkshire Digital Region project.

As Richard Kramer pointed out at the last Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm, telcos have cash, and one thing you can do with cash is burn it through ill-advised mergers and acquisitions. Connected Planet runs down the rumours about the possible fate of T-Mobile USA; DTAG is apparently considering its options, including floating the network and cashing out, selling it to AT&T, or perhaps trying a three-way merger with the surviving regionals, MetroPCS and Leap Wireless. They make the excellent point that there is a potential fit between T-Mobile’s odd 1700MHz spectrum hoard and AT&T’s (also unusual) 850MHz 3G net - it’s apparently easier to find datacards, dongles, and embedded devices that work with T-Mobile’s network, so the 850s could be an overlay network for voice and messaging while much of the heavy data lifting gets offloaded to an urban-centric 1700 network.

Offloading heavy data is a bit of a theme at the moment. AT&T has just cleared the mobile version of Slingbox for launch; that’s going to be a bandwidth hog of significant proportions. At TelecomFinance the other week, O2 veep Mike Short was rather proud of all the extra WLAN hotspots they’d acquired in advance of getting the iPhone. Now, Brough Turner has a must-read post on exactly why WLAN managed offload makes more sense than femtocells. He points out that between 96 and 99 per cent of all mobile data usage is heading for the open Internet - so making it transit a mobile switching centre or even just an RNC is pure cost. (Stick a fork in IMS.) Further, WLAN equipment is better than ever and cheaper than femto. And enterprises aren’t keen on femtos their spiked-collar network admins don’t control.

What’s missing? Obviously, a wholesale business model to link the fixed and mobile operators, as well as a smarter telephony client to route voice traffic via the femtocell and the NGN GAN interface. It’s almost as if we’d already done it…it’s part of our Use Cases project, a key element of our new broadband business models strategy report, and will be a major theme at the next Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm.

Speaking of infrastructure and WLAN, there’s a great piece at Wired on building a radio network in Haiti with the art of long-range Wi-Fi. Relatedly, TelecomTV discusses SMS after the disaster, and who’s sticking to the donations.

Indian 3G watch: BSNL is now targeting 760 cities for roll-out by September, with 400 to be ready by the end of March. Meanwhile, their massive (93 megasubscriber) GSM network buy has been referred to the Indian prime minister’s technology advisor, holding it up yet again. Vietnam’s MobiFone reported revenues up 52%, as it approaches a planned privatisation. In the UK, OFCOM wants to hike the maximum power limit for 3G operations to 68dBm (it’s logarithmic - that’s a fourfold increase).

The FCC, on the other hand, doesn’t like “cell boosters” - devices that rebroadcast mobile network signals - as sources of radio interference. Come to think of it, they’re also potentially great solutions for man-in-the-middle attacks on the cellular network…

Apple seems to be warming up to do something with location-based services. They’ve filed a patent for an application that shares your location with people who call you (this is questionable - quite a few very similar applications already exist), and they’ve forbidden App Store users to offer anything containing location-based ads. There’s more here, including a very general patent that would seem to claim rights over any LBS at all. Apple, the patent troll? You wonder what Google (think Local Search, among other things) will make of that.

In fact, the big Google story this week was a new piece of G-infrastructure - 1e100.net, a domain that other Google applications and Web pages seem to like talking to. In fact, they fire off constant reverse-DNS queries to it; leading theories about it centre on it being part of Google’s global virtualised-datacentre infrastructure. It may be that the applications look it up to be informed which set of Google servers to connect to, as part of an Akamai Edge Computing-like applications CDN; or alternatively, it may be that it’s a way of monitoring demand for Google services across the Internet, and informing how work is distributed around the Google cloud.

Or perhaps it’s something to do with this - a partnership between Google and the NSA. So far it’s apparently about analysing the Chinese hacker incident, but you can see why everyone’s paranoid…meanwhile, the EFF is campaigning for a list of tech companies to own up to how much money they made selling spying gear to China.

Meanwhile, TCP inventor Vint Cerf says we need a new set of protocols to make sure that different clouds can interwork and to prevent customers’ data from being locked in to any particular vendor. (And he works for Google…) Where Google goes, it’s a fair bet Cisco won’t be far behind. Cisco is upgrading its Nexus 7000 routers to improve their capabilities in routing traffic within a cloud of virtualised datacentres - the technology, called OTV, encapsulates Layer 2 Ethernet packets in IP so that multiple data centres can be managed as a single LAN.

And Microsoft wants data, so much so that it’s letting the US National Science Foundation move a lot of data-intensive projects into its Azure cloud. Did you know some genetics work can produce one terabyte of data per minute?

Someone else who’s going to need a bigger data centre is Anssi Vanj√∂ki, who announced this week that downloads of Nokia’s Ovi Maps were running at an average of one a second since it went free. Very good, but it’s no excuse for spending $8bn on Navteq. (Oddly enough, Telco 2.0 spotted a Navteq car outside the office the other day - and they have cameras on the roof, like the Googlecar. We chased it down a sidestreet but it got away. What are they planning?)

In devices news, Nokia has launched an eerily Palm-like smartphone. Google’s Nexus One is selling…slowly. 80,000 of the things are now on the streets, as against a target of 150,000. And you can now get the locations of your family members as an iPhone app from AT&T. Or perhaps your enemies’ locations…

With the official “go” for iPhone applications involving VoIP over cellular data, Skype is the first out of the blocks, with a client promised “very soon”. We’re guessing that they’ll probably take advantage of their recent deployment of SIP peering with the Skype peer-to-peer network (can we call it a cloud?) and just do a SIP client that hooks up to sip.skype.com, rather than risk passing calls over the cellular air interface more than once.

In other voice & messaging news, interest in unified comms picks up, and Twitter traffic is free on 3UK. The Guardian’s blog wonders where Facebook is going, six years after launch - it’s still privately held (unlike Google at this stage), and unlike Google or Amazon, it’s not turning a profit yet.

France’s telecoms tax, intended to finance the publicly-owned TV sector, has been shot down by the European Union.

Qtel’s CEO says the carrier will give up on investing in Africa and concentrate on…Iraq.

Microsoft Internet Explorer users on Windows XP or earlier have been warned to switch off JavaScript and ActiveX support - and therefore, about half the Web - or face the risk that their browser will turn into a Web server and serve files on their machine to the Internet at large. The exploit, discovered by Argentine hacker Jorge Luis Alvarez Medina, is apparently impossible to patch. A better solution is probably to just install Firefox already. Relatedly, Microsoft is planning an unusually heavy Patch Tuesday this month including a fix for a 17 year old bug originating in Windows 3.1! They had to fix it now, before the bug got the vote…

And finally, it seems that someone at Vodafone had a really bad day.

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