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Telco 2.0 News Review: Broadband CAPEX up globally, Amazon vs. Netflix

Telco 2.0 Top Stories

[Ed: We’re covering a lot on the digital ecosystem agenda - broadband, Amazon, Apple, adjacent player strategies etc. at our upcoming Brainstorms in the Americas, 5-7 April, EMEA, 11-13 May, and APAC 22-23 June 2011.]

Connected Planet reports that spending on broadband equipment was up sharply in the last 12 months as major deployment projects pressed ahead. DSL, optical Ethernet, and cable technologies were all affected.

Basic connectivity is something of a theme this week. Huawei dared the US government to investigate it, and then went on selling enormous amounts of network equipment. Vodafone-Hutchison Australia announced that it was planning to replace its entire radio access network, after the CEO issued an apology to their customers for what sounds like truly dreadful service.

“The issues some customers have experienced included dropped calls, delayed SMS and voicemails, slow data speeds, inconsistent coverage and long waits when you called us”

Those Aussies - always direct.

Anyway, they’re planning to replace no fewer than 8,000 base stations, of which 5,000 will get Huawei’s SingleRAN product, a software-defined radio that provides 2G, 3G, and beyond in one box. VHA is also looking at becoming a fixed operator, using open access services over the new National Broadband Network.

In the UK, Huawei is supposedly going to give away or deeply discount the equipment needed to get mobile service into the London Underground as “a gift from one Olympic city to another”. We weren’t aware Shenzhen, where Huawei’s HQ, R&D centre, and most manufacturing sites are located, has ever hosted the Olympics…but anyway. Sanely, the proposed network is going to be shared by all UK operators, with O2 and Vodafone paying for the deployment and Thales UK being contracted to maintain it.

Meanwhile, Vodafone was down over large areas of the UK this morning after burglars invaded their Basingstoke data centre and either stole or vandalised equipment. Services affected were described as follows:

3G, 2G, SMS, Voice, Vodafone One Net - Voice, Paknet, Telephony, Vodafone.co.uk, BlackBerry Connect, Email, Network Mgt, Voicemail, Fixed Link (Voice), Remote Access Service, MMS

They didn’t include “Vodafone Kitchen Sink” in there, but it sounds close enough. An all-hands e-mail stated that the criminals had only “tried” to get into the building and had damaged something outside it - oddly enough, though, some customers reported that GPRS data service still worked but nothing SS-7. The rumours will no doubt collect here.

Benoit Felten has detailed deployment projections based on France Telecom’s recent additional investment in fibre deployment - it looks like they’re going faster, all right, but the deployment is still very much targeted on the urban core.

RevK is displeased by the Government’s views on the ISP business - nobody wants to check if your electricity supply is copyright-infringing, after all. With that in mind, here’s a detailed update from Ars Technica on the current status of the Level(3)/Comcast peering war. It looks like L(3) is trying to use the FCC’s Open Internet Order to press Comcast to negotiate, while Comcast is trying to get the telco lobby on its side. Meanwhile, Netflix has taken note of the issue in its accounts, which suggests that the content providers may yet get involved.

Speaking of content, Samsung has announced that users of its Galaxy S smartphone can now pay via their phone bills for content that is delivered to Samsung’s Media Hub appstore, and then shared with up to 5 other devices. There’s that iTunes rival on Android for you…

If all that Netflix streaming is torturing your peering ratios, watch out. Amazon Prime customers will soon be able to stream some of Lovefilm’s enormous catalogue free, in a move obviously designed to hit Netflix hard that will also inevitably generate an enormous amount of video traffic. And YouTube subscriptions will only crank it up further.

Whatever is happening out on the Internet, one line of business for the content providers is holding up very well. Just as live music is substituting for much of the lost revenue from recording, cinema box-office receipts are up strongly.

Is DirecTV’s strong performance evidence of cord-cutting or the opposite?

At the daddy of integrated device/software/media ecosystems, Apple, a major shareholder has tried to force the company to publish details of how it will eventually replace Steve Jobs, but other shareholders voted it down. It’s not Apple’s only succession issue, either - there was a rumour this week that master industrial designer Jonathan Ive, behind the look of the whole line of iProducts, was about to quit the company.

They’ve also made some changes to the iAds advertising platform. Very unlike Google’s AdSense/AdWords, the service has been targeted on a relatively small slate of big-name advertisers. To begin with, you had to commit to at least a $1m ad buy to get any adverts at all. Now, Apple has decided to halve that.

Google has issued a major revision to its search algorithms, which aims to reduce the salience of content farms, websites that host large quantities of low-grade articles usually scraped from other websites.

Elsewhere in the cloud, Verizon is apparently working hard on improving its datacentre and cloud computing products. They’ve been certified by Cisco Systems as a “Data Center Unified Computing Authorized Technology Provider”, which helps, apparently.

Amazon Web Services, meanwhile, has opened up an internal application called CloudFormation, which is used to automate the start-up, management, and shutdown of large numbers of virtual machines running in its cloud. It covers all AWS’s cloud products, and allows you to define a “template” for each of your applications which is then used whenever you need more machines.

There’s a really excellent piece on WAN optimisation for cloud systems at Data Center Knowledge - it’s an excellent example of how dependent the entire sector is on premium grade connectivity. Here’s an example of the sort of products the cloud/datacentre operators are now offering - a “virtual private data center”, no less.

Run your servers hotter and save money. Apparently, one data centre in a desert found it was worth just letting them overheat and wear out rather than spending the extra money on more air conditioning. Could be right, but you wouldn’t want to work there…

Yet more containerised data centres. What’s holding up Apple’s giant data centre - are they planning a major digital locker product, or is it just that the vice president of datacentre operations died? Egypt: did the spooks just hit the fireman’s switch at the 23 Ramses Street Internet exchange?

Google Cloud Connect integrates your Microsoft Office apps into Google Docs, and Computerworld thinks Microsoft should be “afraid…very afraid”, as they say.

It’s results week. Deutsche Telekom saw a somewhat larger net loss in Q4, although the results are so riddled with “special factors”, the de-consolidation of T-Mobile UK into Everything Everywhere, adjustments to valuations, a special tax imposed on their Hungarian operation, and God knows what else it’s hard to say what’s going on. In Germany, fixed-line revenues were off by about 1.1% year on year, while mobile was up 4.4%. But the rest of Europe seems to have been much worse, with sales down 14%.

EE itself had disappointing results, with a worryingly high count of numbers with funny definitions in the statement. Turnover is down significantly, and they’re losing contract customers, although ARPU is up. And the percentage of voice in the total is actually rising.

Connected Planet has a good discussion of T-Mobile USA’s KPIs. Although their HSPA+ deployment and associated ad blitz are successfully adding more customers and increasing smartphone penetration, they seem to be struggling to retain customers, specifically the non-smartphone ones who are on contracts. The low-cost US operator Leap, meanwhile, is rapidly adding more smartphones.

Telefonica announced profits up 30% year on year, although the ex-incumbent division is suffering in Spain’s dreadful economy. Elsewhere, it saw subscriber growth running around 7-8% in Latin America and 6% in Europe. Telefonica is one of the most Telco 2.0 of operators, but these results suggest they’re not losing sight of the basics of running a GSM network either. To zoom in a little, here’s the Brazilian operation Vivo’s Q4, which shows contract customers up 29% and margins of 34%, up 3 percentage points year on year.

Telecom Italia also had decent numbers, with erosion of the ex-incumbent business being compensated by gains in Brazil and in wholesale.

Over in the stripy-sweatered world of mobile apps and developers, here’s a rant against RIM’s developer toolkit, on the grounds that it involves more than one download (there’s more, but come on, it’s nowhere near as bad as Symbian…). RIM’s official blog responds and gets a positive reaction from the comments thread peanut-gallery. Elsewhere, a leaked list of new features in BlackBerry Internet Service is doing the rounds.

It’s not been a good start for WiNokia - Microsoft released a software update for WP7 that bricked a variety of Samsung devices all over the world. Sometimes you really need bureaucracy. Extensive detail, and a sense of astonished horror, is here. We note that the fatal update is an update for Windows Update.

There are some concept designs for Nokia Windows phones here.

Some Android apps can’t be trusted to SSL-encrypt your data even if they claim to be doing it. Notable offender: the official Facebook app.

You know mobile ID is taking off when the enemy takes an interest - someone’s created a mobile trojan to attack a Polish bank’s two-factor authentication.

Google’s Nexus S gadget, running Android Honeycomb, gets reviewed by Charles Arthur, who thinks it’s better than the iPhone 4. Android hits 24% of the smartphone market, while Motorola wonders if it’s a blessing or a curse.

Cisco exits hosting e-mail, and pushes video conferencing as collaboration, which Skype Journal disagrees with. Will Skype do something new with e-mail? Skype’s new offices - no wonder they’re spending a lot of money.

Inbox Love looks like a potentially interesting event for Voice & Messaging 2.0 people. Freespee has an open calendar for digital media events in Europe. HOWTO export your FreePBX configuration. Avaya and BT on call centres.

The EFF continues its commentary on the Open Internet Order. The UK government is trying to define an open-source software stack. An Australian medical app tries to get Australian men to see a doctor. Brough Turner’s column has moved.

And the iPhone’s personal problems are out of control

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