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97% of 3UK traffic is data, the rise of HTML5, and Amazon’s new Cloud services - Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed. At last! It’s the EMEA Brainstorm in London this week (Tuesday 8th PM only, and Weds 9th and Thursday 10th all day), and the key themes are: strategies for defending and extending voice, Customer Experience 2.0, M-Commerce 2.0, Cloud 2.0, M2M 2.0, CDNs, Digital Entertainment 2.0, Payments 2.0 and the launch of our major new research report dealing with the disruptors - Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype, and Amazon. We hope you can make it - be spontaneous and register here or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 to make a last minute booking.]

3UK reports that 97% of the traffic on its network is now accounted for by data. This in itself isn’t that surprising, as the operator has a longstanding policy of both building capacity for mobile Internet service and also being the UK’s price leader. However, it makes us wonder about all those schemes for prioritising this or that traffic class - if 97% of the traffic is Internet service and a large majority of that is the Web, exactly what is left to enjoy a higher service class?

Verizon Wireless claims to have an answer - they’re planning an API for a “turbo boost”, delivering more bandwidth if an app requests it. That may require the use of a new micro-payments API to let VZW get a share of the money from the requesting app (rather than necessarily the customer’s bill), which sounds interestingly two-sided. And, fascinatingly, the use-case VZW executives mentioned was a Skype video call that’s beginning to go all chunky. So, it’s customer-controlled QoS for over-the-top video telephony. Future-y!

However, the most likely cause of poor service on a mobile network is the radio air interface, and it’s hard to see how on-demand QoS will fix that. You can’t prioritise nothing.

You can, however, make use of the cheaper equipment developed for femtocells in order to beef up the public mobile network - we’re not sure about the phrase “metro-femto” though, almost as bad as “het-net”. Alternatively, you could do as the Chinese do and deploy WLAN hotspots instead. Beijing is planning the world’s biggest municipal WLAN, with some 480,000 access points installed by the three mobile operators jointly. Naturally, anyone who wants to use them has to provide their mobile phone number to log in (will they have SIM-based login?) so they can be tracked down if necessary. (However, even the Chinese government has been unable so far to force all the hundreds of millions of phones in China to be tied to a valid address.)

We’ve been occasionally reporting on what seems to be a shift in Chinese policy towards their major Internet companies - Sina Weibo, Tencent, Alibaba.com, and friends. Earlier this year, they were subject to visits from top officials including, chez QQ, the chief of the secret police for the whole of China, after which their executives were invited to sing revolutionary songs at the Shanghai Party HQ. The decision is in - the top 39 companies have promised to do more to “curb rumours and prevent the spreading of harmful information”.

Elsewhere, Nokia is sponsoring a public WLAN deployment in London. This is only a start (26 locations), but it’s interesting when you think that the new phones run Windows Phone and Microsoft owns Skype, and Skype lets you pay for WLAN via Skype Access. It’s as if someone was trying to put together a parallel telecoms value chain.

Will HTML5 replace native apps? The Guardian’s developer blog has a good run-through of the arguments. Of course, the biggest advocate of this by far is Facebook, and TelecomAsia reports back on the details of their Facebook Platform, a sort of HTML5 app store for things that use Facebook APIs, released last month at their developer conference. It looks like Facebook is trying to replace some features - like authentication and payments - that telcos hold dear, while also breaking down the boundary between native applications and either local widgets or classical Web sites.

ReadWriteWeb reports on a rather impressive visualisation of the non-Facebook world - there is a very clear divide, and it’s basically between Russia, China, Japan, the Middle East - all of which don’t - and everyone else, all of whom definitely do. Among other things, it’s a clear example of the way in which the Great Firewall is an exercise in digital protectionism.

While we’re on the Web, this week saw a historic landmark. Microsoft Internet Explorer no longer has the majority of web users, which makes this image from Ars Technica the Telco 2.0 Chart of the Week.


Kids want to be on Facebook so much they get their parents to help them lie about their age, Bruce Schneier’s blog reports. The umbrella group for alternative search engines, which is suing Google, criticises Eric Schmidt.

And because this week’s event will launch our Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, and Amazon strategy report, here’s a useful fact from Benedict Evans’ twitter feed - the cheapest iPhone 3GS, without handset subsidy, is still much more expensive than a typical Android vendor’s ASP.

Last week, we learned that Samsung took the Q3 smartphone cake. This week, Canalys refines this a little - confirming that Samsung probably did shift the most units in Q3, but pointing out that HTC led the US market, while RIM saw its volumes plummeting in the US and booming everywhere else. Also, the original wave of Motorola Droid users are about to finish their 2-year contracts, in time for the iPhone 4S.

HTC also explained itself a little, saying that it was going to make emerging markets a much higher priority, although this doesn’t mean it intends to go down market. It also promised a new tablet with Android 4.0 soon but didn’t give details.

Horace Dediu rounds up the smartphone scores for Q3, and points out that over the last 15 years, an average of one company has exited the mobile phone market every year.

RIM shares are currently worth less than the company’s assets, while an internal “SWAT team” has begun investigating BlackBerryFail and trying to decide what to do about it. The good news, though, is that Android devices are about four times as likely to break as BlackBerries.

We seem to have an answer to the question of how much Apple’s Siri voice-command interface depends on the network. (Or rather: “Siri, are you a local application or a network service?”) This week, Siri was down. More scientifically, Ars Technica reckons it uses about 63KB per query on average.

The latest twist on the Apple/Samsung patent war - the European Commission is getting involved. Specifically, it is starting a preliminary inquiry into whether the parties are acting as monopolists in their treatment of FRAND (Free, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory) patents. This is going to be long. Meanwhile, Samsung has demanded to question Jonathan Ive in court.

Nokia signs up ST-Ericsson as a potential silicon supplier for its Windows phones, although the OS doesn’t support dual-core chips yet. ZTE is keen on Windows Phone.

And Qualcomm reports a strong rise in profitability and sales, driven by all that smartphone activity.

The cloud is a major Telco 2.0 theme. Amazon Web Services had a pair of new products out this week - the first extends the existing Simple Notification Service to include SMS, and the second implements multi-factor authentication as a service. Another two Telco 2.0 opportunities get attacked.

(Mind you, Apple claims to be far from worried about the Amazon Kindle Fire and you can see why. Oh yes, and the major security breach.)

Notifications are a bit of a theme at the moment. Urban Airship just got a round of investment from Salesforce.com and, ah, Verizon, who as a telco might not be the first company you’d think would need an over-the-top notifications service.

Sometimes, the cloud isn’t the right choice. Mixpanel’s CTO explains why they decided to move their application out of the cloud and into their own dedicated servers. Fascinatingly, the problem with the cloud was exactly the same as many companies’ reason to move to the cloud - variability. People often move to the cloud because it’s easier to deal with scaling up and scaling down, and you don’t have to pay for capacity you don’t use. But Mixpanel found that the very variability of other people’s usage led to an intolerable degree of variability in their app’s performance. Much the same theme is noted in this High Scalability post on better apps with Google App Engine.

M-payments are a Telco 2.0 theme. This week saw another NFC trial, this time with iPhones and an external device, and the launch of a new, slightly odd service in the UK. Apparently you’ll be able to pay for a new phone at Carphone Warehouse with your phone…

The magic, though, of things like M-PESA was that they extended the capabilities of the existing billing and OSS infrastructure to do new things with the phones that were on hand, rather than requiring the deployment of masses of new stuff. This project is in the same tradition. Meanwhile, the MMU Blog looks at why some markets see the mobile money agents getting paid less than airtime resellers. The problem seems to be that the incentives of the agents and the carrier aren’t aligned - carriers are delighted by mobile money, as it’s also a less expensive way to buy airtime, but it’s a lower margin product for the agent.

T-Mobile USA tells the Open Mobile Summit that it’s “experimenting with services, trying out our new muscles”, at least as long as it’s not part of AT&T. However, just because you’re a telco doesn’t mean you’re secure. There’s been another compromise of an SSL certification authority, and this time it’s KPN.

Also at Open Mobile, VZW’s CTO said that they expect to run on their EV-DO network for many years after LTE deployment, filling it up with M2M devices and the like. Sanjiv Ahuja of LightSquared says they want to be the dumbest of dumb pipes. Demand for broadband was flat in North America in Q3, with 85% of net adds coming from cable. Interestingly, 85% of the rest - the telco sector - was FTTH. The AT&T-T-Mobile deal is sliding right.

US Cellular says no to the iPhone - it’s too expensive. Sprint raised $4bn in bonds, but said whatever it does it won’t go above a 50% stake in Clearwire. Vodacom sees growth slowing down. Best Buy buys out Carphone Warehouse, putting some sugar on a deal that turned out poorly. A mixed set of results from BT - magic spade or no magic spade. EverythingEverywhere promises the windfall from selling spectrum (that it got for free) will be reinvested.

Where the well-equipped tyrant goes for telecoms surveillance kit. An interview with the Internet Watch Foundation. HOWTO evade pirate-blocking on BT’s network - use HTTPS.

BlackBerry Music is a go - it looks like there is much more available than the limit of 50 songs mentioned in the past. In fact, the effective limit is who’s willing to share their stuff with you. This is the same model as BlackBerry Messenger in messaging - the exclusivity is a selling point in itself.

CBS says no to Apple, but Disney says yes to Google. A deep dive into Groupon. This is interesting: EMI’s developer API for their back catalogue, with revenue sharing. France Telecom and Publicis have a VC fund.

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