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Telco 2.0 News Review

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No prizes for guessing the lead this week; the deal-that-wasn’t between Google and Verizon, and the follow-up “seven principles”. The EFF’s opinion is here; Robert Cringely’s take on the original proposal is here. It seems reasonable to think that the original deal was something along the lines of a mammoth CDN contract, taking advantage of the operator’s physical footprint to deploy Google servers close to users.

We’ll be discussing this never-more-important issue at the 10th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm in Los Angeles on the 27th and 28th of October, and at the 11th in London on the 8th-10th of November. Key points will include:

  • What are the new business models enabled by prioritisation, traffic shaping and policy management?
  • How important are these business models to the development of Telco 2.0 businesses?
  • What are acceptable use cases for techniques such as DPI and policy management?
  • Are there alternative technology solutions that comply with regulations but offer telcos flexibility?
  • Which models do these support?

The “seven principles” document, however, may be more interesting than the original deal. TelecomTV discusses it here. The most difficult elements for many people to accept will be the notion of services that are “distinguishable in scope and purpose” from yer ordinary Internet access and that are exempt from its regulatory requirements. It’s also telling that the principles exclude mobile (although it is hard to see how, technically, you can prioritise packets over the air interface, which is usually the gating factor).

TTV has further discussion here, making the excellent point that for a document which supposedly encompasses months of negotiation, it’s a tad thin, and also very unlikely to be accepted by the FCC. They argue that the seven principles paper was rushed out in order to spin the original New York Times story and perhaps to set an initial negotiating position with the regulator.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Ericsson estimates that mobile data traffic almost tripled over the last 12 months. Interestingly, new data shows that Verizon Wireless smartphone users (i.e. mostly Android) are significantly heavier consumers of data than AT&T (i.e. mostly iPhone). The difference is concentrated among the very heaviest users - VZW has twice as many users over 500MB/month and four times as many over 2GB.

This may be connected with the latest US market share figures. Nielsen’s data for the first half of 2010 is out, and is interesting indeed. New iPhone customers have peaked, in the last quarter of 2010, and are now falling at a remarkably similar rate to both Microsoft Windows Mobile and RIM. The inflection point for iPhone market share is very close indeed to that for Android, which took off dramatically in Q4 2010 and is now in second place. It seems certain that it will overtake RIM early in the third quarter. Everyone else is essentially flat-lining.

Vodafone, meanwhile, pushed out a software update to its HTC Desire fleet, whose users were eagerly awaiting Android 2.2. But it wasn’t Android 2.2 - it was an update to the Vodafone 360 app, which came with a variety of unremovable Vodafone-branded graphics, apps, and bookmarks. User rage followed, and an embarrassing climbdown. Other Vodafone opcos have since delayed the update in order to sort it out.

In related news, the 360-specific LiMo handsets have been cancelled in favour of a pure software experience. At least in part as a result, it seems that LiMo’s responsibilities will be merged into the Linux Foundation, with the higher level issues taken care of within WAC. Speaking of WAC, details and names are here, as well as a promise to have the first beta release of the SDK out in November and a production release by February.

There’s an interesting comparison of Apple vs. Android vs. RIM, and the Apple vs. Microsoft wars here. They conclude that the recent Android surge has a lot to do with telcos - specifically, their vendor relationships, supply chains, and retail footprints. Android’s licensing model has got its devices into the right channels. Unfortunately, it’s also being sued by Oracle over some Java patents.

Meanwhile, Mark Papermaster, the man responsible for the iPhone 4, has taken his coat. After all, it was also the week they hacked the iPhone. To recap; someone discovered a way to “jailbreak” the device from a Web page. It had never been easier to get root access to your iPhone! Then everyone realised just what a bad idea this was - if any Web page could get access to a stock iPhone, with its root password set to “alpine” by default, hackers could do literally anything they liked with them. Only a bug in iOS’s handling of MMS messages prevented the attack spreading over-the-air, as F-Secure Labs pointed out here. F-Secure also has some details of the exploit, which used a deliberately broken font in a PDF file to crash Safari and execute attack code.

Apple has since released an emergency patch. iUsers are strongly advised to get it as soon as possible (the link points to both the official and jailbreak versions). They might also follow these instructions to set a strong root password as a goalkeeper against any attack that gets around Apple’s precautions.

Voyces has an interesting piece on the differences between iOS’s claimed multitasking and RIM’s.

While all this was going on, the Indian government has succeeded in demanding that RIM let it decrypt e-mail and BlackBerry Messenger traffic. Apparently, they now want to go after Google Mail and Skype. RIM could tell the UAE where to get off, but India was a much bigger proposition. The Indian Department of Telecommunications has also announced that operators must support number portability if they want to launch anything new.

Virus warning for Android users. If someone sends you a text message inviting you to install a Russian media player, don’t…

In other security news, the year of GSM hacking goes on, with the demonstration of a new low-cost evil base station attack.

Speaking of Skype, the SEC filing for their float is out, with lots of lovely data. They reckon that 28% of the total Internet user base has a Skype account and the run-rate is $812m a year.

The UK population is to be guaranteed 768Kbps mobile data, or rather 90% of them will be. It’s something, but it’s not the 2Mbps the Digital Economy Bill originally targeted. The good news is that the government looks like pressing on with Kip Meek’s proposals to sort out the 800MHz band, GSM refarming, and the other spectrum issues. Even the issue of those special-events wireless mikes has been tackled (they’re going to be replaced).

Much more significantly, the government has decided not to review business rates on fibre. BT gets to pay business rates (a property tax) on network assets after they go into commercial service; everyone else has to pay them as soon as they’re lit, even if they’re leased from BT. Also, the rates are higher on local-loop than on long distance. Both coalition partners promised to review the so-called “fibre tax” in their manifestos.

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA have agreed to start a joint venture to launch a mobile-based payments service using NFC, in partnership with the Discover credit card network. Wired has a sceptical take here, pointing to the powerful network effects Visa and Mastercard enjoy from their base of merchants, and also their existing infrastructure. (Recently, Telco 2.0 was in a restaurant in the Italian Alps where the credit card terminal was GPRS-only. According to Katrina the waitress, it “never worked when it’s raining”, so they may well have a point there.)

In the UK, NatWest Bank has pulled out of its joint venture with O2, O2 Money.

KPN has been rummaging in the industry’s dusty toolbox, and has found something that might come in handy - CDMA450! Specifically, they want to use it for M2M applications, which makes sense in that they don’t tend to be heavy on the media, but they do need good building penetration, and this way KPN can save on infrastructure and keep its UMTS spectrum for the smartphones.

Remember Google Wave? You’d better, because they’re shutting it down. It’s not clear if they are going to release the codebase as promised, although they have promised to provide means of “liberating” your content from the system before the plug is pulled. The key problem appears to be that, rather as we thought back in the autumn of 2009, nobody had a clear use case for it.

Nokia, however, has something new and useful out - it’s an improved browser for Series 40 devices that (rather like Opera Mini) runs your data through a compression proxy somewhere within Nokia Ovi in order to speed things up and save on data transfer over-the-air. There’s also a nice account of HOWTO publish apps on Ovi as an individual developer, although it still doesn’t sound great fun.

Telefonica eventually got the deal for Vivo; Free.fr and France Telecom have settled their long-standing disputes. Carphone Warehouse has good Q1 numbers.

A platform for querying the web of Linked Data with SPARQL. Is it a myth that big IT projects fail? Controlling a satellite with your Android phone. The app that wins arguments about climate change. The power of Big Data: the correlates of a good dating profile picture, based on objective criteria. An interview with Martin Geddes. Why you shouldn’t deny you’re a technology company.

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