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Telco 2.0 News Review

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Kicking off the New Year, it looks like Clearwire may not be with us much longer. Although they flipped the switch on their network in San Francisco on the 28th, and with that completed the year’s planned deployments, they’re running out of cash. The company is trying to borrow $1.1bn urgently, and is passing the hat round the various launch partners (Intel, Sprint, Google, and several cablecos). However, it looks like Sprint has decided to pass on the opportunity to pour more cash into Clearwire, as a key deadline was the 2nd of January and they’ve not taken steps.

In an ominous development, founder and industry pioneer Craig McCaw quit Clearwire ahead of the announcement, with the result that former CEO Ben Snow is going to be CEO again.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, sealed the end of its MediaFLO mobile-TV play by flogging the spectrum, 12MHz of prime 700MHz to AT&T for some $2bn, which will surely cheer them up as they only paid the government $683m in the first place. AT&T plans to use it for additional LTE data capacity.

Facebook is claiming to be worth $50bn, although not in the sense of being publicly traded. A syndicate led by Goldman Sachs has put in some $500m of (essentially) venture capital in exchange for stock. Dealbook makes the excellent point that Facebook’s decision to stay semi-permanently as a VC-funded, privately-held company has benefits in that it doesn’t have to undergo the scrutiny that is applied to companies with a public listing. As long as the ‘book has fewer than 500 shareholders, it doesn’t even have to publish audited financial results. (See also our analysis on Facebook’s business model and potential move into telco space.)

On the other hand, there’s MySpace, rapidly turning into Friends Reunited 2.0 under News Corporation’s stewardship. Employees were given an extra week off to save money, which sounds desperate, and now apparently half of them can expect to be laid off during 2011.

Viviane Reding had a meeting over the break with US Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Washington Post has a brief Q&A with her. It’s fair to say, going on that, that Facebook would do well to steer clear of coming under Reding’s purview. Meanwhile, Data Center Knowledge’s Rich Millar notes that Facebook is building a ton of infrastructure and suggests that the Sachs money is going to be spent on big sheds, fibre, and racks.

It’s a basic truth that “the cloud” isn’t very cloudy in reality. In fact it’s all about massive electrical wiring projects and really big sheds. And, it seems, Ubuntu Linux. ZDNet’s Steven Vaughan-Nichols crunches the numbers and concludes that the desktop-friendly Linux distro is the most popular choice for Amazon EC2 users, that it accounts for as many EC2 instances as the whole RedHat/RPM family, and that it’s doing 4 times as many instances as Windows and MS Azure put together.

Jack of All Clouds has data on growth rates at EC2. And Data Center Knowledge has a visit to the Wall Street high-frequency traders’ data centres.

There’s nothing more cloudy than Google. Jeff Atwood believes there’s a serious problem with Google’s core product, search - specifically, Google Search’s quality control is slipping. The Web is a plagiarist’s paradise, but Google has always been good at filtering out sites that just copy other sites’ content. You could find them, but PageRank systematically preferred the originals. Until now. Atwood notes that someone devised a browser extension that redirects you back to his StackOverflow.com programming questions forum if you’ve by chance wandered off to one of the leeches. Has Google lost its edge?

(NB Please see our new research stream for more on Cloud Services business models.)

Piling on, Connected Planet criticises Google’s voice and mobile strategy and pours scorn on suggestions it might buy Clearwire. And British MP and former minister Tom Watson recalls the day officials told him that “the problem with Google is that it doesn’t find the pages we want people to read” and suggested starting the government’s own search engine….

None of this has held up Android’s progress, though. The Android Market app count has charged through 200,000, with 2.5bn downloads in two years and downloads running at a clip of 103 per second. And AT&T and T-Mobile USA are offering carrier billing for the market.

On the other hand, an unusually vicious trojan is attacking ‘droids in China, and a humiliatingly awful bug has been discovered in Android 2.2. Specifically, your SMS and MMS messages may be sent to the wrong people. Whoops. Double whoops: the problem has been known since June and is currently marked “priority: medium” in the bug tracker.

Did RIM believe that the iPhone couldn’t exist? Apparently so. They once believed that “smartphones would be outgrowths of its pagers and that there would never be enough battery life or wireless technology for more functions. It started growing beyond this view before the iPhone shipped, but the OS foundation until recently was based on this early assumption”.

Cars - there’s an app for that. In fact, there’s a whole developer platform and an app store for that. Ford is showing off a navigation app for iPhones that links the smartphone with your car’s satnav and other electronics - a different take on “connected car” to the network-centric view you tend to get from operators. Interestingly, part of the point is to have the car control the smartphone. On the other hand, Honda has had to own up to leaking 2.7 million owners’ data.

Connected Planet reports that 2% of all the world’s mobile lines are now M2M applications. That would be 81 million ‘bots. More to the point, this number is growing at a 46% annual clip, and Berg Insight estimates that it’s going to keep up a 32% CAGR to 2015, for a total of 294 million devices in that year.

Rudolf van der Berg has a long and detailed post about 2 and 3 digit Mobile Network Codes and the E.212 numbering standard. It’s critical to delivering all those M2M devices, so go and read. Seriously.

You might need them: smartphone growth is slowing down in the UK, although the problem is surely that in the future all the phones will be smart anyway.

BT, you may recall, asked communities to compete to get fibre. The five participants with the most signups would get their local exchange blessed with FTTC. Unfortunately, six participants appear to have induced every last subscriber - or even more votes than subs - to sign up and a seventh got 78%. Apparently, if you cleared your cookies and knew other subscribers’ names (from the phone book, of course…) you could vote as many times as you wanted. Vote early, vote often….

Meanwhile, there’s some hyperventilation going on about BT Content Connect - this FT article is an example. It’s depressing to watch the Open Rights Group degenerate into rentaquote.

And RevK’s homebrew modems are confirmed as working with BT FTTC.

In other broadband news, the Wall Street Journal covers a wave of investment going into metro-area fibre deployments. CANARIE’s Bill St. Arnaud has an interesting post on extending the universities’ EduRoam WLAN partnership. And there’s trouble between Free.fr and French landlords.

A fascinating series of blog posts (warning: technical) begins here. Is it actually the temptation to include oversized buffers in home routers that broke TCP congestion control? Would less buffering fix the Internet? Whilst we’re on that, Technology Review covers efforts to deploy Tor anonymisers built into home routers.

It was also the Christmas of no Skype. Dan York discusses the network crash and the role of the famous supernodes. Phil Wolff has data at Skype Journal. Did you know a Skype supernode can be asked to handle 350 concurrent TCP connections? York is interviewed (over Skype) here. Wolff points out that Skype’s crisis management could be better.

In better news, the iPhone Skype app is here and it does video calls, including the new group-video calls. The Guardian reckons that one minute of mobile Skype video equals about “600kbps”, which is obviously wrong - it could be one minute at a rate of 600kbps, perhaps.

If you’re in China, though, no Skype for you. Some applications get blocked because they’re subversive, but Skype (despite being end-to-end encrypted) gets blocked because…it provides free phone calls.

Phil Wolff, meanwhile, presents over a hundred predictions for 2011. Fortunately he also reviews 67 predictions for 2010 and concludes that he did slightly worse than tossing a coin (30 misses, 24 hits, the rest don’t knows). At least you know.

Want to link a Tropo voice application to Skype users? Here’s how, plus details of their new API, and how to recognise speech.

Voyces reviews a gaggle of Voice 2.0 startups. We note that IfByPhone has snagged another round of funding. Local ads/e-commerce player Groupon has managed to raise some $500 million.

Details of the Open Source Telephony track at FOSDEM are here and it looks like a cracker.

How will your network be in 2011? The short answer would appear to be “hacked”. This year’s Chaos Comms Congress has been more than interesting from a telecoms point of view. Crypto-meister Karsten Nohl’s project is the standout, demonstrating how to eavesdrop on GSM calls using cheap gadgets in a follow-up to last year’s demonstration of an attack on the A5/1 encryption. But there’s more. Here’s a catalogue of serious bugs in common featurephones and how you can crash them with crafted SMS messages. Here’s analysis of how web sites profile users and how telcos and ISPs do the same. Here’s HOWTO interfere with RTP voice streams. And here’s HOWTO print your own NFC money. PlayStation 3 gets jailbroken. And even hackers do it sometimes: Mozilla leaked 44,000 users’ passwords.

Don’t have nightmares!

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