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Telco 2.0 News Review

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Apple reported this week that 1 million iPads have been sold, a better run-rate than the original iPhone - although getting to this conclusion appears to require some slightly questionable maths, well explained in the Wired story.

Debate on the iPad also raged somewhat at last week’s 9th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm, as did discussions on ideas of dealing with the mobile data boom by changing prices and reviewing the bundling process, complicated schemes with differential service classes, deep packet-inspection, and the like. In this vein Connected Planet reports that a wave of repricing has moved through the US market; T-Mobile USA has withdrawn its 5GB data cap, or rather altered it so that anyone who blows through it gets reduced bandwidth, rather than a bill. A line-up of others followed suite, with Leap Wireless offering tiered caps and AT&T setting its tariff for iPad traffic - $14.99 a month buys you 250MB, $29.99 unlimited. Users on the capped tariff will get SMS alerts/upsell messages at 80%, 90%, and 100% utilisation of the cap.

Rene Obermann, meanwhile, said that T-Mobile USA was making so much money there was no question of DTAG exiting it.

China Unicom Q1; profits are down 68%, although they’re still RMB1.4bn, as the costs of the 3G build hit home. MTN released KPIs for Q1 showing steady subscriber growth.

Comcast announced Q1 numbers, showing revenues up 3.8%, strong subscriber growth, and monthly ARPU for customers who take their cable TV service of $122.98. Significantly, they’re also the third-largest fixed voice provider in the US - it’s not just FTTX and high-speed data generally that’s menacing the PSTN.

In Denmark, meanwhile, the record industry is taking the side of TDC in a lawsuit over music rights. TDC offers a legit unlimited-download music service; the Danish equivalent of the MCRS-PRS is suing them after their agreement broke down. The record lobby is backing the operator against the songwriters; well worth remembering the next time they start going on about “creativity”.

Speaking of music, Apple has shut down its Lala streaming-music service, which means that everyone who paid for music there is out of pocket. Apple is offering them iTunes credit as a refund, so they can go and re-download their entire collections. It is rumoured that this is clearing the ground for a streaming option for iTunes, although it’s also a reminder of why digital music that is “in the cloud” or dependent on online DRM checks might not be such a great idea.

Spotify, meanwhile, has got in a pre-emptive strike by launching a new beta version of its service with a variety of interesting new features. Strategically, the interesting one is that they’re integrating with Facebook’s API, in order to let you control your Spotify playlists from within Facebook, share your music with others, and the like; this could clearly be a major source of new users. Technically, the most interesting detail is that Spotify can now index whatever DRM-free music you have on your hard drive; it’s not clear whether “add it to Spotify” means uploading it to their cloud servers, or whether it just means that you can manage it through Spotify’s user interface.

Given their relatively pally relationship with the record industry, you might be forgiven for being a little circumspect about taking this step; especially as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “doesn’t believe in privacy”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation dons the satin tights to fight for your digital rights; “evil interfaces” indeed. Their top lawyer is worried that the FCC will back down from reclassifying broadband as a telecoms service.

Details of Apple’s iAd platform have emerged. It looks like they’re aiming for the opposite of Google’s AdWords business model; whereas AdWords minimises the minimum buy-in, and therefore enlarges the addressable base of advertisers, iAd will require advertisers to commit to buying a minimum $1m worth of ads. The revenue share is set at 60% for the app where the ad is placed, 40% for Apple.

Steve Jobs threw a well-publicised row with Adobe, after the news that Flash will not be available for the iPad; Adobe hit back. Interestingly, Microsoft is in agreement with Google on a key issue here - using the HTML5 native video support and H.264 video encoding as a substitute for Flash on things like YouTube. Telco 2.0’s resident Linux user would like to point out that Flash is the most common cause of Web browser crashes on his machine.

For a creepy kind of fun, check out this article on the Apple internal security team, or the “Worldwide Loyalty Team” as they are officially called.

Hackers, inevitably, succeeded in jailbreaking the iPad and the latest iPhones.

And there may be an antittrust investigation over whether it is fair to make developers use Apple’s toolchain to work on the iProducts. It is, however, unlikely that many would choose to use anything else, given that using Apple developer tools is a major selling point…

And Apple buys a mobile search application company.

But whatever else happens, they are still selling a hell of a lot of iPhones, creeping up on RIM as the second biggest shipper. This is interesting, as the picture by shipments is exactly the reverse of the data from AdMob’s ad servers - the explanation is probably that AdMob sites are concentrated in North America, and that using ad-serving as a metric favours those devices that people actually use a lot. The latter point, we think, is actually a useful bias - whether people actually use all your features or not is important information. However, AdMob’s metric tends to underrate RIM’s market share, presumably because the typical BlackBerry is still a messaging-focused enterprise device which may not see much Web/apps activity.

What with all the Apple news, what’s RIM doing? Doing a refresh of BlackBerry OS; the sixth version has now been previewed with a view to launch in Q3. Multi-touch, better lifestream integration, and an improved WebKit browser are on the agenda.

What’s Nokia doing? First up is a major new N-series gadget, the Nokia N8, which introduces Symbian 3’s revised user interface, a big touchscreen, and includes a rather fancy 12 megapixel camera. There was some mockery of Anssi Vanjoki’s claim a couple of weeks back that cameraphones would rival dedicated cameras - the N8 makes it clear that he was almost certainly speaking of compact-type cameras, not the honking great DSLR types favoured by people trying to look like journalists for some odd reason. It can also both playback and capture HD video at 720p - listen! your radio network is begging for mercy! - which strongly suggests that Nokia sees photography as a strength.

Nokia has experimented with devices optimised for content creation, rather than consumption, before. The early N-series included the N93, whose form factor let it behave like a (rather clunky) clamshell phone, like a Nokia Communicator-style smartphone, and also like a camcorder with a folding viewfinder. Several generations of devices have shipped with software clients for multiple video and photo upload sites (not that the implementation is particularly great). It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this plays out. The gadget won’t be out until autumn, as after the N97 experience, Nokia is very keen to leave time for extensive user testing.

The acquisition of Trolltech, meanwhile, begins to pay off; Nokia launched its Qt SDK, which will provide a single developer environment for both Symbian and MeeGo Linux devices and significant commonality with the desktop world.

Vodafone adds another VF 360 phone; this one, oddly enough, is Android rather than LiMo. Speaking of Android, ZTE announced its first Android device, Google launched its Google TV project, which will use Android as an embedded OS for smart TVs. British Google Mail users can now have gmail.com addresses again after the copyright row was resolved. Samsung is straddling LiMo and Android as well. Vodafone picks up the Nexus One, as Verizon Wireless drops it.

HP buys Palm for a billion; meanwhile, Palm Pres are going for remarkably low prices with Verizon.

There’s a security exploit against BitTorrent out; and a major scandal blows up in India as unauthorised wiretapping of politicians is disclosed. Not that it’s unknown elsewhere. When satellites go wild.

What didn’t happen this week: widespread Internet instability. Doesn’t sound like news, but the SEA-ME-WE4 cable, a major Asia-Europe link, was cut, and a similar BGP routing incident to this one nearly occurred when a Polish IT company leaked a 255-network long AS path into the global Internet. This time, however, it looks like SEA-ME-WE4’s customers have more route diversity and working failover plans, and network operators around the world have either patched the Cisco XR routers that crashed in February 2009, filtered long AS paths, or both. It was once said that science advances, funeral by funeral; Internetworking advances, outage by outage, but that’s significantly faster.

In the UK, the coalition against the Digital Economy Act is getting bigger. It’s now lacking both the tax on PSTN lines to pay for broadband, and the sidecar regulation that would have mandated OFCOM to crack open the 800MHz band, so it’s very hard to say that the Act does anything useful whatsoever. If the predicted hung parliament turns up, the Liberal Democrats are likely to hold the balance of power, in which case extensive amendments or even a fresh start can be expected.

Finally, the best app ever: the augmented reality program that tells you which music festival toilets have been emptied recently.

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