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Telco 2.0 News Review

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Data repricing watch; O2 UK is the latest operator to (re)introduce tiered pricing, with monthly buckets ranging from 500MB on contracts between £25 and £35 to 1GB for £60. Another 500 costs a fiver. Oddly enough, existing unlimited contracts (and anyone who signs up before the 24th) get to keep their unlimited status, so the famous USB dongle torrent freaks and radio network controller-mangling iPhone fans aren’t affected yet.

As well as putting prices up, the operator has called in Nokia Siemens Networks to boost supply. The investment is targeted as a quick-hit project, concentrating on data service in central London and using Nokia Flexi multisector base stations to double the number of sectors available. (Also, Wind Telecom signed a major upgrade contract with Huawei for both HSPA+ and LTE.) There is much more on this issue in our Broadband Business Models report, extensively revised for 2010.

There’s a rather good piece by Mike Hibberd of Mobile Comms International on the iPhone signalling load problem. NSN’s latest products implement a paging channel, which is standardised by 3GPP but isn’t mandatory, that could be used to limit the number of signalling messages generated by “chatty” smartphone applications. We’ve mentioned before that the radio paging channel is a hidden telco asset.

The poster child for this problem is, unhappily, the industry’s flagship product. This week saw the launch of the latest Apple iPhone, of which Computer Weekly has a comprehensive review. A new feature is that it finally gets a user-facing camera for video calls - if your network engineers were surprised by the iPhone’s signalling demands, wait ‘til the circuit-switched video channel fills up. You might find the leftovers from your Millenium Eve party in there.

Actually, we’re going in too hard there. At the moment, it only works over WLAN. This is probably less of a restriction than it seems - it’s even harder to make a convincing case for video as something analogous to mobile voice, ubiquitous and instant, than it is to make one for video as something like fixed voice, where you have to be sitting down near a telephone at the moment you want to communicate. The great bulk of actual video telephony is of course on Skype, or on enterprise webcast or telepresence systems - all of these require that you’re sitting comfortably, having negotiated the video element in advance.

It may be more of an issue that you can only call other iPhone users.

Rumours are circulating that there may soon be an announcement from Google on voice, specifically, integrating it into the GMail chat function. This should be technically simple - Google Chat/Talk (the terminology depends on whether it’s integrated in GMail or in a standalone application) is an implementation of the much loved XMPP messaging protocol, whose VoIP extension (Jingle) Google created. So it’s a question of binding the Jingle signalling messages to HTTP requests (XMPP developers call this BOSH and do it quite a lot) and talking to the user’s speakers and microphone from inside the browser, which Flash has done for years.

(There’s a good piece on why people, Steve Jobs chief among them, don’t like Flash here.)

Oddly, though, there doesn’t seem to be much going on around integrating Google Voice, which is mostly a Web interface for traditional SS7 telephony, with the GTalk/GChat platform.

After 14 hours, meanwhile, Google turned off a brief experiment with putting a picture on their front page.

Apple also amended the iPhone developer agreement to ban in-application adverts from networks other than iAd (read: Google). In fact, it goes further. You can’t gather stats that might be useful to advertisers without getting their permission in writing. More here.

Someone who certainly did gather useful information on iPad users is now on the lam from the FBI, as last week it was discovered that hackers had acquired 114,000 e-mail addresses of iPad users, including numerous VIPs, by spoofing an AT&T Web site with the devices’ ICC-IDs, an information field from the SIM card. (How they acquired these isn’t clear - they could have been somehow extracted from the network, or they might have discovered a way to generate all the possible IDs and carry out a dictionary attack.)

It’s meanwhile being rumoured that Foxconn is planning to move production capacity out of China, relocating to India, Vietnam, or back home to Taiwan. However, we’re a little suspicious that the number of employees given is roughly double what everyone else thinks it is, and so high that Foxconn would be a similar size to the NHS in terms of full-time equivalent staff, or half the size of Indian Railways or the Chinese State Electricity Grid.

On the other side of the smartphone business, HTC’s Evo, a WiMAX/EVDO Android device launched on Sprint this week, setting the highest first day sales in the operator’s history. Unfortunately, the previous record holder is the Palm Pre, so you have to make allowances. The gadget is getting good reviews, focusing on its monster, 4.3-inch touchscreen. However, it’s going to make your network beg for mercy - an unusual feature is an HDMI socket, so you can hook a hi-def TV set to it, presumably to watch high definition video streaming. It also comes with the Qik personal video creation app pre-installed - Qik said that the launch weekend saw 20 times the average level of traffic through their servers.

However, Sprint later had to revise down the sales numbers, and a lot of people appear to be disappointed by battery life - although that would be no different to any other ‘droid in our experience. On the network side, Clearwire put its head on the block and promised to stick with unlimited data plans, presumably betting on not having the signalling issues AT&T has experienced. (In the light of last week’s Phone Scoop drive test, though, they may be mistaken.)

The Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin writes in Business Week that the mobile market is separating into Apple, and the rest, who all run on Linux, and that open-source products have a duty to be “fabulous”.

Apple Insider runs a piece on the emergence of Microsoft Windows Mobile malware, specifically diallers, and demonstrates that their name is indeed accurate. If you’re distributing applications through the Android Market (so, the great majority of cases), users have to review which capabilities they will use before installing; hardly “security free”.

Nokia’s strategy to leverage its huge emerging market user base took a step forward, as the C3, a low-cost smartphone based on Symbian Series 40, had a big launch week in Indonesia. It may have helped that Telkomsel was giving away data for the first month.

The release-candidate version of Nokia’s Qt SDK is out.

How do you know you’re a telco? When you buy an Amdocs billing system. Time was when Vonage was a scary new VoIP player. It’s like moving to the suburbs and buying an estate car. What they’re actually getting is the BSS Pack product, which is the cut-down, quick install version that provides the core billing/CRM/OSS features.

Iliad closed on a $1.7bn line of credit from a syndicate of eight European banks to finance the first steps of its mobile network. After the Indian 3G auction, the Wireless Broadband auction closed, with Infotel getting a nationwide licence for a fairly chunky $2.74bn.

The Apple video-calling announcement gave this week’s news a heady flavour of the year 2000. As if on cue, messaging vendor Syniverse Technologies reported that it’s seeing year-on-year growth of 235% in MMS traffic, of all things. The interesting bit is the reason why - rather than sending photos to each other at 50p a shot, or subscribing to “content” delivered in MMS messages, it’s quietly become a significant route for uploading photos, video, text, and sound into social networking applications. Rather than a peer-to-peer, unicast, retail, standalone application, MMS has eventually turned out to be a one-to-many, multicast, wholesale, enabling technology. So all we got wrong was the use case, the business model, the customer, and the pricing.

More retro: a row between BT and OFCOM about premium rate numbers. BT reckons it can set termination fees as a percentage of whatever the originating operator charged the caller; OFCOM says no.

The European Court of Justice upheld the roaming caps, thus ending a three-year lawsuit with several operators. And the EU’s Article 29 working party has told Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft that they’re still breaking the law on data protection - they need to anonymise harder.

Meanwhile, the Guardian fact-checks the UK Government’s revised broadband plans. Key detail - the Tories are opposed to paying out public money for reachability, but the great majority of the people who can’t get broadband are in the broad acres of safe Tory constituencies. Work that out. Perhaps they’re worried about keeping them down on the farm once they’ve seen Paris?

Vimpelcom wants to help you keep your robots in line - it’s announced what it claims is the first M2M platform in Russia, as a partnership with Jasper Wireless. Thinking of Telenor Objects, perhaps operators in places with lots of space, relatively few people, and oil pipelines have a strategic advantage here?

Security guru Ross Anderson liveblogged an international conference on economics and information security.

How a search company decided that mining Facebook data wasn’t worth it.

Installing HTML5 applications. A world without PowerPoint. Engineering for kids. HP pays $460 million damages over project failure. 30 essential Android applications. And disgraced Qwest CEO petitions court to be taken back to jail.

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