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Telco 2.0 News Review: More AT&T Fall-Out; Sprint & Google Voice

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[Ed. Our Americas Brainstorm is next week in Palo Alto - book now via contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0)207 247 5003 - we hope to see you there. There’s also more detail here, and on the EMEA Brainstorm, 11-13 May 2011, here.]

The AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile USA was always going to be controversial, and sources close to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski have confirmed that it faces a “steep climb” to win regulatory approval. Among many other things, there is concern fropm the consumer side about what will happen to T-Mobile’s customer service, considered excellent, and also its privacy policy.

Of course, there’s also a huge question of market power, pricing, and access. Connected Planet points out that both operators have huge wholesale, enterprise, and carrier services operations. Will this create opportunities for synergy between DTAG and ATT WorldNet, or will it be yet another regulatory problem? They point out that the history of such ventures is not promising - BT Concert, anyone?

Meanwhile, quietly, the last state public utility commission has signed the form, and Qwest-CenturyLink is a go. As a major US operator, it’s one of the few with no mobile assets (it resells Verizon Wireless service as part of its triple play), so it’s going to have to concentrate on TV and fibre and perhaps also business services.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan is in question again, as a report shows that 40% of the US already can get 4Mbps service, the FCC’s target. This is being seen as evidence that the target is insufficiently ambitious - too close to just turning up ADSL2 in the major urban centres. It’s also worth remembering that RBOC lobbyists are notoriously good at gaming the regulatory metrics - when they were expected to “offer” service at given speeds in California, they simply started advertising in the notspots, thus “offering” the service although they couldn’t actually provide it to more than a handful of properties.

In North Carolina, the 41st state in the Union by average throughput, a major effort is on to make it harder for municipal operators to start up. This is important, among other things, because the NC State university system owns significant amounts of spectrum. The politicians have managed to redefine broadband down from the 4Mbps target to the old 768Kbps downlink/200 uplink at peak one, which of course means that pretty much any DSL satisfies the minimum service requirement. More detail is here and here.

There’s some improvement on the horizon - the FCC has given HTC the green light to update its devices’ software and turn on HSUPA, and LightSquared has announced a couple of customers. Leap Wireless has signed up for roaming, while Best Buy wants to resell the service under its own brand as connectivity for consumer electronics kit.

OFCOM’s latest spectrum-related doorstep has been issued, 250-odd pages in best telco tradition, and it looks like their plans for the next wave of UK spectrum auctions are very LTE-minded - although there is no formal technology requirement, essentially the whole lot is going to be paired FDD bands. WiMAX and other TDD technologies will have to wait and hope for a hand-back from Everything Everywhere.

There is also likely to be a service obligation of 90% coverage with 2Mbps indoors, thus supporting the UK’s “broadband plan”. (not really broadband, or a plan)

OFCOM has also upgraded its Sitefinder website to use Google Maps, taking a daring leap into the cutting-edge technology of 2004. That’s slightly longer ago than the last time T-Mobile UK provided any data it seems, back in 2005. Orange has also stopped updating. However, it’s probably a fair inference that where 3UK’s cellsites are, so are the other MBNL radios, and thanks to Everything Everywhere, so are Orange’s. There’s also an excluded set - all the sites that EE has that aren’t shared with 3UK. What a mess.

After the property boom came crashing down, it was always certain that there’d be plenty of dirt to dig up about Irish politics in the 90s and 2000s, and here’s some - according to an Irish tribunal of enquiry, a government minister was bribed to give the GSM licence to the joint venture between Denis O’Brien and Telenor. It appears that some ¬£50,000 was injected into Fine Gael’s campaign fund and then billed to the joint-venture opco to get it back.

NBN Co has placed its final contract for optical gear, A$400 million to TE Connectivity, as they move forward with the build. Meanwhile, the complete rate-card for New Zealand’s Crown Fibre Holdings national broadband network has been leaked - ISPs will pay NZ$38.75 for an entry-level, 10/30Mbps triple play link, rising to NZ$58.75 for 100/100Mbps. The Commerce Commission has already set a rate-of-return restriction giving a maximum retail margin of 18%, so end user prices are not going to be much of a mystery. Operators have to commit to the deal for the next 10 years.

The world has 45 million IPTV subscribers, reports InformiTV. However, Informa (not the same people) forecasts that there will be more over-the-top video users as soon as 2013, and as many as 380 million by 2015. Slightly surprisingly, there are now 72 million fibre-to-the-home subscribers - more than there are IPTV ones.

The daddy of OTT video is surely YouTube, which is reported to be doing the rounds of Hollywood agencies looking to sign up the stars. The plan is apparently to acquire some of YouTube’s own unique content in order to boost the advertising CPMs. Google’s key sales argument is to offer them cash up front, as an advance on future ad revenues. It may be the thought that counts, but “say it with money” is always hard to beat.

Comcast is planning to sell thePlatform.com, a subsidiary that operates its video ingestion, management, and metrics services to upstream content providers. Supposedly, part of the problem is that the content providers are leery of relying on a huge TV network for such a critical business function.

Elsewhere in content news, a US judge throws out the RIAA’s claim for damages against Limewire. Not surprising, really - they claimed for more than total world GDP.

Out on the networks, the oldest filesharing network of them all, the alt.binaries groups in USENET, just got a new twist - the latest version of Newzbin, an indexer for the newsgroups, uses TOR by default in order to defeat DNS-blocking and protect its users’ identity. OK, so they’re now doing encrypted USENET over TOR. You do get the feeling they don’t do it for the content, but more for the pure satisfaction….even if the slowdown in P2P traffic seems to be confirmed.

RIM has let on to some extent what its future apps strategy is, and Horace from Asymco offers a handy phrasebook to help you decode RIM’s two CEOs’ intentions. It looks like the Playbook - now lined up for April 19th - is going to support Flash, Java, HTML5, plus Android aps running in a virtual machine. In some ways this isn’t so surprising - the very decision to use a hardcore real-time OS like QNX as the platform implies a thick layer of middleware between it and the apps developers. But you can see how there might be a certain amount of confusion. The detail is that you re-compile your source code with the correct flag and submit it to App World.

However, co-CEO Jim Basillie isn’t losing sight of the key enterprise market - he’s going to send every Fortune 500 C-level exec a free gadget.

Meanwhile, RIM users can now get some of the device-management features their enterprise servers offer as an app.

Apple’s iPad 2 went on sale and immediately went out of stock, nicely timed for the next Apple results announcement, as Fortune Tech points out. They also got a win in their patent lawsuit with Nokia.

Asymco points out that analysts seem to be expecting some sort of disaster at Apple next year. Is it just the consequence of “draw a trendline and then either add or subtract a bit to make it look reasonable”, or are they expecting a price crash that will wreck their margins, or are they being really pessimistic about the supply chain’s recovery from the Japanese earthquake?

There’s not much good news from Nokia - as well as the patent lawsuit, they’re still pumping cold water into the battered hulk of the Symbian platform. An “open letter” to developers released this week promised vaguely that Symbian and Qt would not be “abandoned”, but only that they would be used in “other areas of strategic investment”.

However, Nokia Mobile Money is getting a roll-out in India with Union Bank. At the same time, the Nokia C-7s going to T-Mobile USA are going to have integrated NFC. At the same time, Google, MasterCard, and Citigroup are partnering to do something with NFC, payments, and Android.

The GSMA Mobile Money Transfer blog has an interesting interview on the launch of Tigo Money in Latin America.

Microsoft has finally pushed out some Windows Phone 7 updates, but only to a couple of devices and then only to unlocked non-carrier devices. Everyone else is waiting. Meanwhile, they’re also planning to launch something in the line of a web-based OS, but not before 2013.

After years of wrangling, the .xxx top level domain for pornography is here. In other, and far more significant, Internet regulatory news, Microsoft bought a chunk of Nortel out of bankruptcy, in order to get its hands on IPv4 addresses. The only problem being that you’re not meant to be able to buy or sell them under the terms of the ARIN service agreement - but Nortel was enough of an old-school tech company to have pre-ARIN, “legacy” address allocations from the days when you (basically) rang up Jon Postel and asked nicely. Does that mean they are free from ARIN’s rules, or what?

68% of Saudi girls have an alternative profile on Facebook; 60% of boys use their real names.

But how many are on MySpace? Trick question - nobody’s on MySpace any more. The site lost 10 million unique users in February alone - is this the biggest big-website fiasco ever? It’s losing money hand over fist, and it seems utterly insane that News Corp once valued it at $12bn on its books for 2007…whatever, don’t miss this fascinating thread at High Scalability on MySpace’s dysfunctional engineering and management.

New photo-sharing site Color is having a bit of a PR failure, it seems. And Yahoo! has updated its main search engine to be more like Google’s Instant, with a Wolfram Alpha-like twist. Alternatively, it’s still trying to revive the idea of a web portal.

A rare Martin Geddes blog post on the future of the web.

We were speaking of big websites and the technology behind them. Reddit recently had to explain why it was down for 6 hours, due to problems with its infrastructure running in Amazon’s EC2 cloud. Also, Netflix (which runs its web servers in EC2) had a major outage last week. It’s probably no surprise that cloud customers are demanding finer-grained control of the machines.

Data Center Knowledge has a great look back over five years of AWS cloud services. The AWS Blog this week announced that you can now get EC2 instances on physical machines dedicated to you, which brings the wheel full circle - if you’re renting a dedicated server for your application, isn’t that just traditional hosting? There’s also a nice HOWTO on setting up a high performance data-crunching cluster in their cloud.

In even more hardcore datacentre news - I/O Data Centers doesn’t just have data centres, or even modularised containers to go in them - it has a whole factory producing modular data centres.

Here’s something interesting: will we see a huge performance boost from using Flash storage in the data centre, making use of its innate parallelism? And meeting OpenFlow, a new standard for software-defined datacentre networking. Google, among other usual suspects, is backing it.

Sprint Nextel is integrating its voice service with Google Voice - for example, you’re now able to use the Google Voice number when making calls from your mobile, and also to announce your Google Voice number so that incoming calls to the Sprint number get routed to whatever other end points you’ve configured in Google Voice. Google’s Slide division has a new group messaging apps.

Skype founder Niklas Zennstr√∂m talks to students and the WSJ takes notes. He didn’t say anything about getting your old company to invest $10m into your new one, though. Meanwhile, Skype for Windows 5.2 introduces some detail tweaks, notably changes to the user interface apparently designed to encourage you to place SkypeOut calls.

Elsewhere, Skype licences its SILK hi-def voice codec to the Steam cloud gaming platform. Skype Journal has a wishlist, and answers some Quora questions. Here’s an interesting piece on using Voice 2.0 to do distributed pair-programming.

Get your Asterisk caller-id sent to a popup notification on your Linux desktop. If you want to do that. More seriously, Phono has a series of HOWTOs, part two here, on how to build a remote call centre with their API, Node.js, Asterisk, and CouchDB. Feel the clue surging through your veins!

Bruce Schneier has disturbing news about voice encryption. Microsoft has really disturbing news about a number of high value SSL certificates being compromised - including GMail and Skype. Ouch.

F-Secure Labs interviews the creator of the first ever virus, Brain, 25 years on. Know your exotic Linux distros, including both the Christian and Satanic versions of Ubuntu. Get your wristwatch smartphone that runs OpenWRT Linux - and check out just how ugly it is.

RIP Paul Baran, co-inventor of packet switching.

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