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Telco 2.0 News Review

Telco 2.0 Top Stories: Facebook, AT&T M2M

[Ed: Don’t forget Telco 2.0 Best Practice Live!, our global virtual event, is this week on Wednesday 2nd and Thursday 3rd of February. We’ll be tackling the key issues covered in this week’s News Review - check out the agenda here and sign up absolutely FREE here.]

What if social networks drove what you buy? What would that mean for our strategic focus on customer data? Wired carries a major feature on a wave of start-ups that promise to track the stuff you buy, and, er, social or something. Not to be too snarky, though - group-buying websites like Groupon are attracting enormous amounts of stock-market interest at the moment. Interestingly, it’s been pointed out that their terms of business sometimes essentially mean they’re supplying businesses that sell through them with trade finance. It’s one way to get banks to invest in small businesses…

The big player here, apart from Google, is of course Facebook. ZDNet has a fascinating piece on their latest advertising feature, which scrapes status updates, adds advertising that seems to fit, and then reinjects your status with the ad into the ad columns on your friends’ pages. It’s certainly one way to target ads, but does it constitute “turning users into spammers”, and are Coke, Levis, Budweiser, and Starbucks really brands that would benefit from it? Is there anyone on earth who drinks Coke on a word of mouth recommendation? Indeed, one of the major insights of our recent Facebook analysis was that it doesnt work so well as an advertising channel for the really big brands as it does for those with smaller, more ‘tribal’ fans.

We therefore think they’ll struggle to support the investors’ hugely inflated expectations on advertising alone. As a result, if this isn’t just another rumour, it wouldn’t be any surprise. A Read/Write Web user claims to have seen a “Call” button briefly appear in Facebook, as if a small percentage of users were being served a beta version of the page in best Google style. Interestingly there was no sign of Skype’s branding. As usual, Dan York has a sensible discussion, among other things of whether telephony really fits with Facebook’s user patterns. After all, Voxeo already integrated voice with Facebook as an entirely unofficial experiment.

Yet another Facebook phone rumour has been officially denied.

However, one star media/consumer electronics company did announce some interesting shiny gadgets this week. Computer Weekly has a hands-on with Sony’s brand new replacement for the PlayStation Portable, the Next Generation Portable. The device has a large touchscreen, but also a touch panel on the back, and two analogue controllers. Oh yes, it also has a quad-core ARM Cortex CPU which Sony claims is more powerful than the PlayStation 3. It may be worth remembering that PS3 units have been used to build a serious supercomputer, at least back when you were allowed to run Linux on them.

And it has a cellular radio. There’s also a gaming-focused smartphone, the Xperia Play. And there is no mention of the concept of “Sony Ericsson” anywhere on these devices. Something to watch - migration of SMS and other communication services to systems built into gaming environments, or delivered over-the-top. Especially as they’ve also got their own app store for Android games.

Who knew that Barack Obama spent his time drawing up innovative Telco 2.0 use cases? Connected Planet notes that the broadband section of his State of the Union address included several M2M or embedded mobile/comes with data applications. (See more on new approaches to M2M business models in our M2M and Embbeded research stream.)

Perhaps not surprisingly. AT&T reported that it added 2 million devices other than mobile phones in the fourth quarter - that includes about 500,000 tablets and laptops, but the rest are mostly true M2M devices like the SIM cards in “smart pill boxes”. As a result, 940 different device types account for 12% of AT&T’s wireless subscriber base.

In another Telco 2.0 strategic priority, is Microsoft about to launch something new in online video? While MS has been having a pretty lacklustre time of late, it’s had a quiet success with Mediaroom, its back-end solution for online video and IPTV service providers. Now, apparently, there are a couple of codenamed projects looking at integrating Silverlight (its browser-based applications environment) and Mediaroom, and perhaps also at adapting the Windows Media Centre product line to play nicely with both Silverlight and Mediaroom. Browser-based apps and a local media centre device basically adds up to what both Apple and Google are doing with their TV projects. Having their own back-end technology is probably a significant advantage.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s next lot of Blu-ray players will be Internet-connected and integrated with Lovefilm, the Amazon-owned movie distributor. Amazon is apparently planning to launch a movie streaming service, which is presumed to be Lovefilm, more widely across its global footprint.

Boxee users are going to start seeing British TV content from SeeSaw, the online streaming service owned by Arqiva. (That’s the company that owns a lot of the UK’s TV infrastructure and plays a major role in YouView.)

The Wall Street Journal believes that Hulu’s owners are thinking of turning it into a “virtual cable operator” - which seems to mean streaming cable programming. Wired points out that what is happening here is that it turned out to be a better deal to licence content to Netflix and to accept Google ad-revenue sharing from YouTube viewers than to compete with them.

For its part, Netflix this week showed data on which networks provided the best throughput for their customers. Not surprisingly, the DOCSIS 3 cable operators did best, although it’s worth noting that Verizon’s numbers are given as an average of its DSL and FiOS subscribers. Curiously, Canadians got better service than Americans whatever the technology they used, although this may be an artefact of Canada’s population being concentrated in the southern cities.

Data traffic growth figures are being bandied about again by people who make routers and other networking equipment. But this is interesting:

An unexpected driver in this overall growth of Internet traffic is the surge in ambient video. This is so-called “puppy cam” traffic — fixed video sources featuring pets, so-called “nanny cam” child care and health monitoring video streams, and especially security camera applications.

“This is a much bigger deal than anyone thought,” said Pepper. He added that the popular Shiba Inu Puppy Cam site was said to have more Internet viewing hours than all of ESPN online video. In fact, of the top online video sites in Europe last year, “three of the top 20 are ambient video, and these didn’t exist a year ago.”

Puppies: the future of online video. As a sidelight, a British court administered a spank to the practice of sending out speculative legal threats to filesharers and then trying to get the copyright holders to pay you.

In devices news, Connected Planet reports that Motorola is seeing a drop off in sales of its Droids after the announcement that Verizon Wireless would carry the iPhone. On the other hand, AT&T will be selling their Atrix 4G, and is apparently keen to round up more HSPA+ phones as a hedge against getting too dependent on Apple. Nokia saw an ugly drop in profits (23%), although smartphone shipments and overall market share were both rising. We told you they’re becoming the cheap option. Apparently, they’re going to have a top-management meeting in London on the 12th of February, presumably before heading off to Mobile World Congress, in order to define a new strategy.

Of all the things you might think Nokia needs, “more meetings” probably wouldn’t be one of them. On the other hand, NSN had a strong quarter and landed the LightSquared deal. Qualcomm is looking forward to a killer year with the new iPhone, and LG saw a horrible year after it was stuck without a decent smartphone.

Toshiba, meanwhile, revised its profit and sales forecasts upwards on strong demand for touchscreens and NAND memory chips.

Google announced a preview of Android 3.0, while it seems that there was a major row between Google and Apple over collecting customer data from Google Maps users with iPhones. There’s also a really fascinating group profile of top Googlers in Bloomberg Businessweek - note that the key Google execs are in charge of search, YouTube, Android, and a secret project competing with Facebook. Also, YouTube’s content licensing is now focusing on “high quality amateur material” rather than big deals with rightsholders.

Google has responded to complaints about the quality of its search results by altering its algorithm to screen out “content farms” more effectively.

Will Dell change the smartphone business?

Despite all the iHype and marching Androids, though, it looks like RIM won Christmas 2010 in the UK.

There’s been another critical Android security exploit. Facebook, meanwhile, asked users to do its internationalisation for it and got burned when they translated the messages into different ones to those intended. Naughty monkeys.

Speaking of naughty hacker monkeys, here’s a periodic table of Google’s API and developer products. Bada and Android devs will soon be able to get paid through carrier billing on O2 Germany. Prepare for Forum Nokia workshops. Amazon S3 went from 102 billion data objects at the end of 2009 to 262 million objects at the end of 2010.

FluidDB lets you trivially create read-write APIs for your data.

O2 UK is two-sided - they announced a free WLAN offering this week that’s going to be monetised by local advertising. The idea is that, having registered, when you use the service in one of the participating venues, you get a sponsored text message or two. Tangentially, O2 has also hired NSN to beef up its southern UK network with their Flexi Multiradio base stations.

Femtocell specialists Ubiquisys have an interesting prototype product - it’s a small femto designed to do exactly what most operators don’t want you to do with them, which is take them with you on holiday and avoid roaming charges. The usual barrier to this is that you don’t have a spectrum licence for your hols and therefore it’s illegal. This device, however, tries to cut down the power and get in below the licence floor - which could still be enough to cover your hotel room. Although you could just use Skype.

Skype launched version 5.0 for Mac this week, having made significant changes from the beta. Interestingly, there’s no sign of the Facebook integration, although there are wholesale changes to the user interface and group video chat, which is now a premium feature. It costs $9 a month, which is significantly cheaper than any of its competitors, as Phil Wolff points out. They’re also holding a contest for the best skin for the chat function on the Mac.

It looks like Skype is going to put off the planned IPO, which both Wolff and Andy Abramson (and Telco 2.0) consider is wise as the company deals with regulatory issues, internal “creative tension”, technical debt, and strategic questions around its efforts to push into the SMB and enterprise markets.

Meanwhile, Google has acquired SayNow, a Voice 2.0 startup focusing on voice-social network integration. But ZDNet’s Jason O’Grady argues that Google Voice on the iPhone is a poor user experience. HOWTO send SMS from the command line with Tropo. Protecting your Asterisk 1.8 server from spam with Fail2Ban. Did you know there’s a whole blog for Trixbox users migrating to other Voice 2.0 solutions?

Thomas Howe predicts a wave of trivial Voice 2.0 startups, and argues that BT management has ruined Ribbit but that Voxeo, Twilio, and IfByPhone will endure.

Consultant John Seddon says that as much as 60% of inbound traffic to some of his customers’ call centres consists of “failure demand”, analogous to “muda” (empty work) in the Toyota Production System. Those are the calls that are generated by failure elsewhere in your system. An exercise for the reader - how can your business help your customers reduce this, rather than just selling more but ever-cheaper minutes of use? (empty calories?)

RevK is completing his migration to IPv6, despite Nokia products that either force you to set the password “password”, or else force it to be anything else. He also suggests we stop talking about IPv6 and just say “Internet” instead, and make IPv4 the weird alternative case.

Not sure of your IPv6 clue? IPv6 carrier Hurricane Electric can help you with its online certification test.

What do you do after the dictator runs off into exile? Wired interviews the head of Tunisia’s Internet agency, who’s busy changing course from blocking websites and hacking everyone’s Facebook account to managing the TLD root servers and such. He’s already made it legal to run your own mail server.

It looks like 3GPP might do something horrible to USSD in the next lot of LTE specs. Verizon buys data-centre developer Terremark, owner of the NAP of the Americas.

Video fix: the GSMA Mobile Money blog has two sets of videos on Safaricom and Equity Bank’s M-KESHO product. The second is here.

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3GPP might not exactly do something horrible to USSD - just that they need to choose the implementation options with care. If they choose XCAP, then it will certainly be horrible !

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