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March 19, 2012

Telco 2.0 News Review

Telco 2.0 Top Stories

[Ed. Our Silicon Valley Brainstorm is next week (27-28th March) and two months to go till the London Brainstorm (12-13th June) - email or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 to secure a seat]

The UK may be looking at its first LTE network, as EverythingEverywhere seeks clearance to deploy 4G in the 1800MHz band. Stand by for a hell of a row, though, as if this goes ahead EE will have a year’s clear run with the new technology before the competition gets a crack. However, Vodafone and Telefonica get to keep their 900MHz GSM spectrum under this proposal, with the year’s head start for EE as a quid-pro-quo. Only 3UK is left out, not having any legacy spectrum at all. Expect them to make a serious fuss, unless OFCOM and the government cook up some way in which they can be compensated when the 800MHz band comes up. Vodafone’s not satisfied with this tacit deal, though - UK boss Guy Laurence accused OFCOM of being out of its mind, arguing that once EE launches it will tie up the main 800MHz auction in litigation.

As this post on the 3G & 4G Wireless Blog points out though with this week’s Chart of the Week, there are still some very tricky problems to solve before we can break out the 800s and party like it’s 2009, when the Digital Economy Act was being drafted and the spectrum was earmarked for a national minimum broadband service.

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You’ll note that nothing has more problems than cellular. The 3G & 4G Blog also has an interview with Andy Germano from the Small Cells Forum.

There’s some useful discussion of Chinese 4G plans here. And FLAG Telecom is going for an IPO in Singapore.

The US TIA expects US mobile ARPUs to start rising again, after data overtakes voice sometime next year. However, it’s possibly worth being sceptical, as the inflection point is exactly the point where the forecast takes over from the real data.

DTAG is planning a major new network architecture. Very interestingly, they want to make extensive use of software-defined networking and the emerging OpenFlow standards in order to be more flexible and more efficient.

And the European Commission is concerned about the E5 group of major European telcos, and specifically that it might be a source of anti-competitive collusion as well as cooperation.

Ovum has a data-rich blog post on Free Mobile - since they launched, the daily flow of requests for number porting has increased by a factor of four compared to the average for last year.

The Voice of Broadband reports that Cisco has acquired NDS, a major provider of pay-TV systems including DRM, set-top box software, electronic programming guides and the like. This is part of their broader “visual networking” strategy around video conferencing and IPTV, driving the IP video traffic that sells so many Cisco routers. NDS is especially strong in the emerging markets.

Elsewhere in video news, here’s a Q&A with Hulu’s CTO. It’s certainly interesting that “device fragmentation” is high on his list of concerns - and that he wouldn’t rule out white-labelling/wholesaling Hulu’s backend and content delivery technology.

Wal-Mart announced its pricing for UltraViolet this week. For SD content, you pay $2 on top of the price of a DVD, for HD you pay $5. Dan Rayburn points out that the studio pays around 4 US cents to stream the HD movie from a CDN, so this isn’t necessarily a great deal.

Is there an Amazon streamer app for the XBox Live?

Another video story this week is more about video as in video conferencing than as in movies. Avaya this week acquired Radvision, maker of video-conferencing and 3G video telephony solutions to the carriage trade, with the intention of integrating it into their unified comms platform.

Dan York points out that Radvision owns two very commonly used H.323 and SIP stacks, as well as stacks for MGCP and many other VoIP technologies, and wonders if they’ll still be both available and under active development

Ars Technica asks if Facebook may be planning to charge developers for access to its APIs. There’s a vibrant little industry in Facebook-based apps, many of which either use Facebook as a way of distributing themselves or rely on information from its Open Graph API, or both.

Two sides of e-commerce and voice: here’s Freespee’s new product, Freespee Performance, which sounds rather like Google AdSense but with voice calls - websites that carry their ads could get a percentage of the revenue from calls initiated on their pages. (We blogged on the importance of click-to-call for e-commerce here.)

On the other hand, YouMail, a visual voicemail app for Android, now has a spam filter so you can get rid of telemarketing noise easily.

And former Skype CFO Eric Salvatierra has died.

We briefly mentioned Amazon earlier on - moving to the cloud, we learn that if Akamai has 105,000 servers, Amazon Web Services has 450,000. You’re going to need a bigger boat. Interestingly, 70% of the IP addresses used seem to be concentrated in their US-EAST region.

Elsewhere, OpenStack is making progress - you can now test applications in a sandbox at trystack.org and find development tools at (predictably) devstack.org. A Google data centre in Atlanta uses waste water for its cooling, but even that may not be as cool as the fact they colour-coded all the pipes and cable runs in Google colours.

ReadWriteWeb reports that Google wants to incorporate more Semantic Web technology into its search results, so the search engine understands your queries better. This field has been a notorious money pit so far, but perhaps Google can make it work. Not coincidentally, this year’s Google Summer of Code is supporting DBPedia’s semantic version of Wikipedia.

Amazon reckons one second’s delay in page load times equals $1.6bn a year less money. And Microsoft’s Windows Azure Blog has a forensic discussion of the major outage that hit their cloud on the 29th of February. Yes, you guessed it - it was a leap year bug.

Apple has problem - what on earth will it do with $98 billion in raw cash? That’s the kind of problem we could all do with. The solution: make the shareholders very happy, with a $2.65/share divvy plus a substantial share buyback.

They may also use a few old fivers to settle with the Chinese authors who are suing them over pirate editions turning up in the App Store.

It turns out, meanwhile, that secret talks were held between Apple and Motorola late last year in an effort to end the patent wars. Forrester Research’s Sarah Rotman summarises the upgrades to the iPad 3, which cost about 30% more to make.

Meanwhile, JD Power polled thousands of US smartphone users and discovered, not surprisingly, that iPhone users were the most satisfied with their phones. Nokia and RIM were the least. However, the most significant axis in the survey was “battery life”, although Symbian and BlackBerry OS have always been good at that.

Ars Technica mocks “ladyphones”.

While Apple clearly paid attention to the way the phone looks, both in software and hardware, the device is not in any way specially “tailored to women” and there isn’t a separate “lady” version. Yet an iPhone owner is 18 percent more likely to be a woman than a man, according to one study, and women over the years have regularly expressed more interest in iPhones than men. Hence, it’s probably fair to say women have bought more iPhones than any of the shamelessly underpowered pink substitutes.

Although if you really want to dispel pinkness, you might stick with Android and grab AIDE, the app that gives you the full Android SDK right there on your phone so you can (if you’re really patient with small touchscreens) write code without using a PC. The Register’s Bill Ray points out that you could do that on Psion PDAs.

Get a full virtualised desktop in your Web browser. Oink doesn’t just let you export all your data, it lets you export anybody’s data! Kim Dotcom gets a win in court. Hackpad, like a wiki but better? Using Morse code with your iPhone. Leave your mark on landmarks without getting arrested, using augmented reality. Sounds a bit like being a dog, really, as so many check-in apps do.

From the GSMA MMU Blog, a two-part case study on operators, water rates, and mobile payments in Africa.

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March 12, 2012

New Apple iPad round-up; Nokia Money shuts; Android Market now ‘Google Play’ - Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed. Just 2 weeks now to the Silicon Valley Brainstorm (27-28 March) and two months to the London Brainstorm (12-13 June) - email contact@stlpartners.com or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 for more.]

It’s an Apple product launch week, and this story has all you need to know about the iPad 3 (in summary, it’s slightly more shiny than the iPad 2). There are some interesting details on the battery, here. Apple also pushed out an update to iOS 5 that fixes some 80 security exploits.

Beyond the hypefest, the iPhone is now the biggest selling smartphone in Japan, and the only non-Japanese device to come anywhere in a market dominated by the locals.

The Apple TV also got an update, although Dan Rayburn is distinctly unimpressed - the device comes without a subscription content service, sideloading, a Web browser, or an open SDK for developers.

CanSecWest was heavy on the Apple - as well as a talk on the problems of jailbreaking iOS 5, Colin Mulliner presented his work scanning mobile operator IP blocks. About 2,000 out of 500,000 iPhones he scanned were running an SSH server, an indicator of being jailbroken - although a genuinely competent user would probably turn off sshd after completing the break, for fear of a wide variety of security threats.

Mulliner also reported being surprised by the number of M2M devices he found - and that most of them didn’t even have passwords set.

While Tim Cook was basking in the adulation, it turns out that Steve Wozniak was taking part in an IBM-sponsored conference on data centres. Apple is building again at the huge iDatacenter in North Carolina, but nobody knows exactly what they are building - speculation ranges from renewable energy generation to - duh - another data centre.

Here’s something interesting. HTML5 is often seen as a way of escaping from “Apple’s walled garden”, and therefore something a Web-obsessed company like Google would be very keen on. But it turns out that HTML5 performance on iOS is dramatically better than Android. Since the iPhone 4S arrived, the time Safari Mobile takes to render 3D graphics in the Canvas tag has dropped sharply, suggesting both improvements in the software and perhaps also hardware acceleration.

Mind you, it’s impressive that someone built a Web page that implements tethering in HTML5 using Web Sockets, but why doesn’t the device just behave like a USB modem, like a mid-2000s Nokia?

How to make a scanner with an iPhone and a cardboard box. An original Apple Newton up for grabs.

Horace expects the US to go majority-smartphone on the 28th of June. Nokia, for its part, is planning to bring out cheaper Windows Phones later this year and also to bring forward Meltemi, its Linux-based replacement for Series 40, which will probably render the smartphone/featurephone distinction meaningless.

However, the 808 PureView gadget that astonished MWC is not going to North America. And Telstra is labelling its smartphone offerings based on tests of their RF performance, the 3G & 4G Wireless Blog reports.

Nokia announced this week that Nokia Money is shutting down. Tomi Ahonen is predictably apopleptic, and rather oddly compares this with Google Wallet - which would make sense if Google Wallet was a success.

Telco 2.0’s MWC M-payments post is here, spinning off the CEO of ISIS’s presentation. ISIS, at least, has more of a chance of success. It’s interesting that only 15% of the consumers they surveyed wanted an M-Wallet - although 70% wanted a safe way to manage their money and information.

Google, for its part, has started a crackdown on Android apps that use third-party in-app billing, trying to force them to use Wallet. This is because Google gets 30% of the transaction under Wallet (or indeed on the Android Market) and zilch otherwise. Arguing with the customers is not usually considered a great idea.

An example of alternative m-payments systems is Clover, which has sensibly enough focused on improving the user experience. To this end, they’ve pared down their protocol so that a transaction consists of one HTTP request and 2KB of data.

Beyond all this, the real m-payments hit, M-PESA, has grown so much in east Africa that it’s been accused of causing inflation by the African Development Bank. The Bank of Tanzania disagrees and argues it’s causing growth.

Back with Google, Android Market has been rebranded this week as “Google Play”, and Google has folded Google Music and Google Books into it. Tellingly, this results in the manager of Android Market being replaced - although it’s worth pointing out that Google is replacing two managers (one for developer relations and one for product management) with one. That leads us to this week’s Chart of the Week from Apple Insider, tracking Apple alumnus and Android founder Andy Rubin’s career through the mobile industry.

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Elsewhere, AllThingsD has a post from SXSWi on the Google redesign, and on Google +. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the API.

In the content world, Mark Mulligan argues that the music industry is facing a dramatic collapse in CD sales and it doesn’t have a strategy for the digital late adopters.

Dan Rayburn sounds a warning that cord-cutting is overhyped and the cable TV operators are actually doing rather well (The Voice of Broadband agrees). He also rings round and factchecks the rumour that at least one big MSO is planning to bundle Netflix.

And if that isn’t enough Rayburn for you, you can catch him presenting on CDN market trends here.

PaidContent argues that one of the biggest obstacles to smart TV is that the TVs typically don’t have a WiFi radio, and therefore you have to plug them into a router as well as a set-top box.

You may be pleased to know that fisking a newspaper article is not a copyright infringement.

Content meets the cloud in the CDN. Data Centre Knowledge reports that Akamai is now operating 105,000 servers, more than webhosting giants like Softlayer and OVH, but many fewer than Google, which broke through the 100,000 server barrier back in 2005 and is now thought to be over 900,000.

Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services announced cuts to its prices on EC2, RDS, and Elastic Cache. And how to make sure your S3 storage buckets are efficient - don’t, whatever you do, use a steadily incrementing counter as a key….

And here’s some news about Dell in the cloud.

In voice and messaging news, a fascinating story about Twitter. It looks like they could safely replace their 10-K form with a Failwhale without losing any information - the company is still losing money, its revenues are tiny, they keep over-promising and then under-delivering (by a factor of five in 2010), and then there are the tiresomely frequent outages. Fortunately for them, their VC backers are still in love with the company and are pouring in cash. For now.

On the other hand, look at QQ go! More active users, and more peak-concurrent users, than Skype. And they’re profitable.

Not that Skype is hanging around, either. Jim Courtney reports that Skype peak-concurrent users have suddenly begun growing rapidly again. And Dan York caught his Skype client sending 1280x720 HD video.

Orange’s Unified Comms Security Blog discovers that there are more H.323 devices out there than you might think.

Live translation in your Apple FaceTime.

The Voice of Broadband reports in detail on Verizon Wireless’ “cantenna” fixed-LTE offering.

China is holding back on issuing 4G licences until more 3G base stations are out there. Meanwhile, China Telecom is the latest in a long line (boom, tish!) of carriers to fall out with Cogent and get de-peered.

The Channel Tunnel is getting mobile coverage, but only in one direction. A rundown of small cell market forecasts.

And Level(3) is at war with the RBOCs, claiming that they are making special access conditional on buying their services. It’s off to the FCC we go.

South Korean telco staff are caught selling private information. Blocked on Weibo - what words are blocked on Weibo, and why. After YouPorn, smut centre Digital Playground loses its user database to hackers. NSA releases its spec for a high-security Android.

After MWC’s CBOSS shocker, SXSW uses the homeless as WiFi hotspots. Seriously. And we all need a browser plugin that checks facts.

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March 7, 2012

MWC 2012 - M-Commerce: better than a cash filled wallet?


To achieve mass market penetration of mobile payments, the industry needs to produce something that’s more useful than one of humankind’s most sophisticated and personalised tools: the cash, card and memento filled wallet.

This is the view of Michael Abbott, the CEO of ISIS, the US operators’ joint payments venture - and his view is that so far, the industry simply hasn’t done it well enough, although it now appears to be recognising the scale of the challenge and the value of success. He said that to be successful, M-Commerce would have to be available to pretty much everyone, have fair pricing, be totally secure and private, work simply, and work everywhere. Not much to ask then…

ISIS CEO Keynote ISIS image.png

Michael also shared research that showed that while only 15% of consumers ‘wanted an M-Wallet’, 70% wanted a safe way to manage their money and information. It seems from this that it is critical to focus on the benefits and not the product in the process of educating and recruiting customers to M-Commerce.

One seemingly paradoxical thing that we hear time and time again from M-Commerce pros is ‘there’s really not much money in it’. This can seem all the more surprising when seen in context of how much money there is flowing through the world economy, as shown in the following chart from Don Callahan’s presentation (he’s the COO of Citigroup).

[Ed. We’ll be discussing more on M-Commerce 2.0 at both Silicon Valley (27-28 March) and London Brainstorms (12-13 June).]

Don Callahan Barcelona citi group money flow mar 2012.png

However, Don also said that ‘the information about money today is as important as money itself’, which is another theme we see repeated around the M-Commerce industry (see e.g. M-Commerce 2.0: Report and analysis from our last London Brainstorm).

Other interesting stats he shared were that while there are 5bn mobile phones in the world, there are only 1.8bn bank accounts, and that only 15% of transactions were electronic, with 85% being in cash. So, in theory at least, with the majority of customers and the majority of transactions being unbanked and in cash, there is a vast untapped opportunity - although the practicalities of achieving that opportunity are extremely challenging.

Don Callahan Barcelona citi group money market mar 2012.png

Finally, Don shared findings from the KPMG’s research that showed the relative standings of different industry players against different roles in M-Commerce. These showed that banks and credit cards came top, with telcos close behind in third place - which is at least some good news for telcos, though the tech and specialist companies are not far behind.

Don Callahan Barcelona citi group money roles mar 2012.png

Join us to share more on M-Commerce 2.0 at both Silicon Valley (27-28 March) and London Brainstorms (12-13 June).

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MWC 2012 - Facebook, Google and Apple: of Bêtes Noires and the Art of Evasion


While Google’s Eric Schmidt has graced the stage of the Mobile World Congress for each of the last three years, it was Facebook who provided the new headline star draw speaker in Bret Taylor, its CTO. The approaches of these adjacent players to addressing the Congress, and that of Apple, reveal an interesting pattern.

We’ve said previously that in these large public events, the most interesting messages are often hidden in how things are said, what is not said, and indeed who is not there, and we offer as evidence our analysis of the three different styles of interaction of these so-called ‘OTT’ bêtes noires with the Congress.

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There’s more than one sort of bête noire -Huawei’s magnificent promo piece from the Congress. (Photo: Telco 2.0)

(See Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon for more about these players’ business models and strategies, or join us at the Silicon Valley Brainstorm, 27-28 March).

Google: the ‘Transcendent Evasion Play’

Dr Eric Schmidt is always an impressive speaker. We wrote two years ago in How Google’s Chief Magician Stole the Show admiring his prowess on the stage, and ability to effortlessly glide through an hour long presentation and bedazzle a captivated audience.

He is now perhaps an even better speaker, articulate, knowledgeable and germane, warm and engaged, never flustered, easily handling questions from the floor on a range of topics including solar flares, advertising and the US laws relating to Iran.

Yet there is a difference between today’s Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google, and the former Eric Schmidt, CEO. There’s still an occasionally abrasive edge to the high-achieving Stanford professor, but now it’s tempered by a slightly saintly demeanour.

In this years’ sermon from Mountain View, Dr Schmidt first got his assistants to perform a technological sleight of hand with the new superfast Chrome browser, drawing predictable ‘woos’ from the tech hungry crowd, even though last year, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer CEO pulled the ‘look how fast we are’ stunt to some effect too (see Mobile World Congress: Microsoft CEO fails to land all punches, but…).

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Dr Eric Schmidt, Chairman, Google, on the right (Photo: GSMA)

Once this was over, the increasingly avuncular Schmidt turned to musing on how to connect the next 5 billion souls, lowering traffic accidents, and increasing the knowledge and wellbeing of the world’s populace.

It was a great visionary talk, and a beautifully managed Q&A session. At one point, demonstrating empathy with his questioner on when Google would be available in Iran, he said ‘hey, I’d like to help you, I’m on your side. But it’s against U.S. law, and there’s no bandwidth in prison’. Everyman, statesman, legal expert, geek and stand-up comedian in one line - as near to genius as you will get on any industry stage.

Yet after the beguiling magic, one was left with a feeling that’s a bit like awakening from an anaesthetic: feeling sure that something important had happened but unable to remember what it was. Indeed, it causes us to speculate that this is Schmidt’s real role these days - to keep the patients calm while the real operation is going on elsewhere.

We also wonder if Dr Schmidt is secretly relieved to be off on this away-team charm offensive while the kids back home mess around with driverless cars. (NB. We’re just working on further analysis on Google’s current strategy, so there will be more on this shortly.)

So to summarise, the ‘Trancendent Evasion Play’, as perfected by Dr Schmidt, is to draw the audience up, up and away from the pain and problems of the everyday world (such as the less comfortable realities of the reality of the complex relationship between Google and the telcos), and take their minds off to a warmer, nicer place where poor people learn and prosper and rich people have all they can dream of.

Facebook: the ‘Special Forces Evasion Play’

The ‘Special Forces Evasion Play’ is to get in without being rumbled, hit hard, and get out as fast as you can before they know what has happened.

This is roughly the approach used by Bret Taylor, Facebook’s CTO, who came, saw, threw a couple of technology flash-bomb use cases, gunned off a few lines of Silicon Valley speak, and then went without taking questions. It is only with the benefit of a week’s professional post-shock counselling, and many cups of tea and sympathy, that the intrepid Telco 2.0 analysts been able to piece together the following account of his talk.

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Bret Taylor, CTO, Facebook

Facebook, while seen by Taylor as essentially a mobile product, is having difficulties monetising its 435 million mobile users (see Facebook: what the pre-IPO S-1 filing revealed and M-Commerce: can Voice 2.0 make mobile ads work at last?). He said that this was because the same ecosystems do not exist around the mobile web as they do online. There are three specific problems: 1) app discovery is difficult; 2) there is technological fragmentation with different HTML5 standards on different phones, and; 3) payment is ‘broken’, with a clunky process requiring SMS verification, and different deals needing to be done in different regions / countries.

He said that Facebook’s ongoing solution to app discovery is ‘Open Graph’ (a way of allowing developers to associate recommended apps on the basis of a user’s social graph), and then announced that Facebook would be:

• prioritising core mobile web standards for HTML5, with W2C and Ringmark - a test suite that shows how well a mobile app matches these standards;
• and entering into partnerships around the world Telefonica, Vodafone and others, to deliver a single step to confirm purchases charged to the phone bill.

Apple: the ‘Not Being There Evasion Play’

Finally, Apple, the giant mobile device company with the highest valuation and biggest profit margins in the industry, manages its Mobile World Congress evasion strategy in the most cunning, outrageous and unanswerable way possible: it does not make an appearance (although Apple execs were allegedly there).

At Telco 2.0 however, we found it to be a genuinely useful and enjoyable show, and being just a little behind Apple in turns of market cap and revenues, we’ll see you there next year. We would also like to thank our partners at the GSMA for what turned out to be a busy and memorable Congress.

Last but not least, congratulations to Huawei, who produced the genuinely striking and beautiful promotional figure of the winged horse made of smartphones atop the fountains of the Fira featured at the top of this article, and farewell to CBOSS, who would do well to learn from Huawei’s example on how to do marketing that’s memorable for the right reasons.

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M-Commerce: can Voice 2.0 make mobile ads work at last?

One of the things that our Facebook pre-IPO analysis highlighted was that Facebook has 425 million mobile users and isn’t making a penny from them. It’s a top priority for them to change that, and the constraints of designing a good mobile user experience mean that it will take all their ingenuity to shoehorn adverts into the mobile client.

Further, even within the online version of Facebook, customers are in ‘social’ rather than ‘shopping’ mode, and many mobile users are on third-party apps that talk to the Facebook API, so Facebook doesn’t control the user interface “chrome” that surrounds the content.

JCPenney's Facebook store, now closed JCPenney’s Facebook store - now closed. source

Facebook’s big idea is to inject “sponsored stories” into the content itself. But will anyone accept that? And might the integration of Voice 2.0 communications into mobile advertising help turn it into a lead generating business? There’s starting to be some signs that it could.

[Ed. We’re looking at local advertising and commerce strategies at the Silicon Valley Brainstorm (27-28 March), and at Voice 2.0 strategies both there and at the London Brainstorm (12-13 June).]

Mobile is a medium of immense opportunity which the advertising, tech and telecoms industries have not yet cracked at scale. There’s an interesting discussion of this in this Quora thread. 64% of the British and 67% of Americans find receiving advertising on their mobile annoying, and 77% of them find banner ads in mobile apps annoying. 27% of Brits say they would stop using an application if it started to push adverts. And one of the drivers of mobile Facebook usage is that the mobile client is cleaner, less “noisy” with additional features and, of course, ads.

Bloomberg recently reported that several big retailers have shut down their Facebook “storefronts”, basically because the return on investment was poor. The problem is summarised by Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru:

Facebook, which this month filed for an initial public offering, has sought to be a top shopping destination for its 845 million members. The stores’ quick failure shows that the Menlo Park, California-based social network doesn’t drive commerce and casts doubt on its value for retailers.

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop,” Mulpuru said in a telephone interview. “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Both retailers and advertising agencies Bloomberg spoke to said the same sort of thing. Selling on Facebook duplicated their existing Web sites (and probably worse, as their design has to conform to the platform’s limitations). Meanwhile, advertising on Facebook might generate brand awareness, but it didn’t generate leads.

“We just didn’t get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly,” Sheetz (a US convenience store and gas station chain) said in a telephone interview. “For us, it’s been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell.”

This is hugely important, as online advertising’s big advantage - well, let’s be clear, Google’s big advantage - is that it delivers hot sales leads, and you can see them, count them, and analyse them to improve your site design. The energy-efficiency expert Amory Lovins famously said that nobody wants energy, instead they want cold beer. That is to say, “energy” isn’t valuable in the abstract, but only because of the work that can be done with it. People value the cold beer, not the electricity used to make it cold. In the same way, businesses don’t want “advertising”. Advertising is a means to an end - sales.

And the great thing about online advertising from the advertising vendor’s point of view is that because it delivers leads and they are tracked and counted, the buyer’s budget for online is defensible in a way that display ad budgets never are.

Now consider this case study (PDF) from the Google Mobile Ads official blog. The client, Starwood Hotels, decided to make use of Google’s search-based advertising to get at customers who were looking for a hotel, and therefore potential leads.

The really interesting element, though, is the call-to-action. Starwood, and their agency (Razorfish) decided to emphasise click-to-call. This turned out to work very well indeed - rather than getting worse click-through rates on mobile, they got better click-to-call rates than they got click-through rates on the desktop. And click-to-call customers were more likely to go through and spend money.

No wonder call-tracking analytics firm, Freespee blogged it.

The other half of this is the power of Voice 2.0. If you’re looking at the mobile Web site, clearly your phone has a web browser (and the ones with no web capability are vanishing).

If we use a web-based voice API with a call-back architecture (like Fonolo, Tropo, Twilio, Jajah et al), we can send along a rich variety of data with the call request. That in turn lets us identify the customer, intelligently route the call in the call centre, and pre-populate the customer service agent’s screen with information, hints, and offers.

Further, we can make sure the callback originates from a local phone number, so if the customer rings up again they go to the right place, and we can also make the Web site serve the right phone number by location. We can send reminders and authenticate the customer via SMS. And we can analyse our customer interactions with statistics in order to refine the process.

This is another reason why you need Voice 2.0. Obviously, you could implement this using one of the various API providers, but perhaps there’s an opening for a specifically ad-focused click-to-call product, with a Google Ads-like two-sided business model? Advertisers could buy x number of calls, or pay per-conversion. We can certainly see potential for operators here, especially those who’ve recently created a “digital” division. And it offers the chance to price this as advertising rather than just as minutes.

For their part, Facebook have a chat product, and a deal with Skype. These days you can run Skype into a PBX, so it ought to be possible to make something of it that way. Or, of course, they could make use of one of the voice APIs themselves. Either way, though, this depends on the fundamental advertising model of Facebook on mobile actually working. If people don’t go on Facebook looking to buy things, replacing web links with click-to-call won’t necessarily make them - but it might.

So, if this is potentially such a good deal in terms of lead generation, why, then, are there only two entries regarding click-to-call on Google’s mobile ads blog?

Carriers tend to think of mobile advertising as a product in itself, which makes sense because they are sellers of it. Similarly, the ad agencies who dominate mobile marketing discussions consider the product to be ads themselves. But advertisers don’t want ads, they want leads. No wonder it’s only the Web-voice insurgents who’ve cottoned on so far.

But Google’s business is built on this insight. The question is surely “Could Google’s core ad business do with some more investment?”

We’ll be discussing this in a forthcoming Google analyst’s note. Meanwhile, check out this classic Telco 2.0 blog post from 2009.

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March 6, 2012

MWC 2012 - Top CEO Strategies: increasingly Telco 2.0, despite tones of ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘sex or smartphone?’


At the opening session of the Mobile World Congress 2012, the CEOs of the world’s largest telcos highlighted the pressures on the ‘Telco 1.0’ business model, and showed some encouraging glimpses of Telco 2.0 thinking.

There was also at times a slightly comical tone with the US and European operator CEOs inadvertently putting one in mind of a Hollywood depiction of a group of underworld bosses at the annual clan meeting, complaining of the city police’s crackdown on the racket (Mobile Termination Rates - MTRs), wanting more development land (spectrum) from the government, wanting more ‘protection’ (from regulators), and complaining about the new gangs in town (the OTTs).

Bernabe de la Vega Colao MWC 2012.png

Bernabe, de la Vega, Colao: OTTs - funny how? (Image: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

President Li Yue of China Mobile delivered his presentation entirely in Chinese. While what he talked about - China Mobile’s platform ‘Mobile Market’ - was extremely interesting (see China Mobile: mindbogglingly big and interesting), the use of Chinese to deliver the presentation to the almost entirely non-Chinese speaking audience carried perhaps the major unspoken message of the session: now you must come to us.

The theme of his presentation also underlined the different dynamics of the relationships between these telcos and their governments. China Mobile is effectively executing government policy, whereas the others are pursuing shareholder value while increasingly being reined in by governments and regulators in pursuit of economic and sometimes political goals. (See also Telecoms: too important to leave to telcos? and The Roadmap to Telco 2.0 Business Models.)

Serving half the world’s mobile customers

As well as President Li, the grandstand opening session featured Vittorio Colao, CEO Vodafone, Ralph de la Vega, CEO AT&T Mobility, and Franco Bernabe, CEO Telecom Italia and Chairman of the GSMA. Between them, these companies have half of the world’s mobile phone customers. The session was opened and chaired by Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA, who framed the debate by saying that the key challenge facing telecoms operators was how to adapt their business models given the challenges they face.

We will be analysing this theme further, including the need for new dynamics in the relationship between telcos and their regulators (see more below), at our Silicon Valley Executive Brainstorm (27-28 March), and the London Brainstorm (12-13 June).

The beginning of the end of Telco 1.0?

Franco Bernabe, CEO Telecom Italia and this year’s GSMA president, picked up the baton and started promisingly, talking up the growth in developing markets, and the promise of new technologies like NFC, RCS-e, and mobile cloud.

However, despite the many wonders of innovation that are coming from the industry, significant investment is needed ($800Bn in the next four years) but revenues are not growing. He then moved on to one of the main messages of the session that was aimed at governments and regulators - that the industry needs a mixture of protection and benevolent ‘hands-off’ regulation to thrive. He said that ‘OTT players’, despite an admirable focus on customers, had unfair advantages - they don’t have to serve everyone, and are enviably free from regulation.

This was a theme picked up later by Vittorio Colao, CEO Vodafone, and Ralph de la Vega, CEO AT&T, both of whom also called for greater and faster releases of spectrum, again a message aimed at governments, policy makers and regulators. Colao in particular criticised what he called ‘auto-pilot’ regulation in relation to decisions on mobile termination rates (MTRs).

Neelie Kroes, the redoubtable EU Commissioner, felt strongly enough to issue a statement in response to Colao after the session:

“Message to Vittorio and Vodafone: I call your bluff, and indeed do not respond well to threats. I take the side of the Vodafone customer.”

Neelie-Kroes-Foto-Olivier-Hoslet Feb 2012.jpg

Mr Colao, consider your bluff called (Image: Olivier Hoslet)

Colao’s cries appear to have fallen on further unsympathetic ears as the ministers at the European Parliament’s Industry, Telecommunications, Research, and Energy Committee (ITRE) passed a bill capping European MTRs later in the week.

(See also: The Register Mobile net kingpins v the world: ‘Why should we pay the 4G tab?’)

While we understand the struggle that telcos face fighting pressures on their business models from all directions (see below), it is hard not to view the combat over MTRs and data roaming rates as ugly and regrettable skirmishes in the gradual retreat of Telco 1.0.

Pressures on the Telco Business Model
pressures on the telecoms industry summary roadmap dec 2010.png

And despite the slightly satirical tone of this note, we also understand that the telco CEOs have obligations to their shareholders to defend their sources of value, and that investments in lobbyists and top regulatory lawyers have long held some of the best returns for telcos. But it’s becoming increasingly clear at the highest level that telcos need to find new sources of value, and this means embracing the difficult and risky process of business model innovation.

A corollary of this is that the dynamics of the relationship between operators and regulators needs to change too. Particularly in western developed economies facing a period of austerity, and with telecoms operators needing to evolve new business models, a new dialogue needs to begin, moving on from the 20 year ‘cold war’ of ever tighter regulatory clamp-downs and fostering a new understanding and sustainable regulatory climate for innovation and investment.

While it is certainly encouraging that the supertanker of telco strategy appears to be starting to turn, it is also slightly chastening that Hamid Akhavan, the then CEO of Deutsche Telekom, said back in 2007 that it was the ‘year of the business model’. So another 5 years have passed and relatively slow progress has been made in many areas, whereas other business models are have evolved rapidly through innovation (see our report Google, Apple, Facebook - Dealing with the Disruptors).

At least some telcos, now including Singtel, are starting to respond by setting up ‘Digital’ units, seeing so-called ‘OTT’ business models as an opportunity as well as a threat.

Some encouraging signs of Telco 2.0

In this vein, and moving on from the regulatory slugfest, Vodafone’s Colao talked about ‘open infrastructure and co-investment in networks’, although he said discussions in Europe had not so far not succeeded. He also said that collaboration was needed to create standards for new services, and mentioned the RCS-e brand ‘Joyn’ (of which more in further analysis), M-commerce SIM based NFC services, and payments as important areas.

De la Vega also talked about how to keep the innovation cycle going. He said that the keys were to:

• make new services effortless, citing a video call as an example of something that is very difficult to do today;
• enable ecosystem innovation, embracing developers and treating them like customers (also a theme for China Mobile).

In this context, AT&T is targeting developers by building developer foundries in Israel, Texas and Palo Alto, and taking APIs and other tools to them, such as how apps use power and bandwidth.

CEO ‘wisdom bites’

Two interesting lists emerged from the CEO presentations that gave the distinct impression of being the latest top-level insights from their consumer research teams.

First, Vodafone’s Colao said that customers expect telcos to deliver four things that can only be delivered together by operators (although others can deliver parts):

• 100% ubiquity of data;
• Excellence in service;
• Security and privacy;
• Convenience and trust.

Second, AT&T’s de la Vega described themes of emerging consumer behaviour, relating to the adoption of new technologies today across generations compared to two years ago:

• ‘Digital Intimacy’ - sharing moments and being continually connected;
• ‘Digital Kinship’ - creating new rituals and fostering shared interests;
• ‘Digital Guardianship’ - keeping track of family, and never being out of touch;
• ‘Digital Heroism’ - helping other people use their devices to do things and access information when they need it most.

Sex or Smartphones?

Finally, among a blizzard of investment and penetration figures, perhaps the stat of the day came from Colao, who said that Vodafone’s research had revealed that 70% of smartphone customers would rather spend a week without alcohol rather than without their smartphone.

If this is correct, our observations of MWC life in Barcelona imply that many of the attendees may have left their smartphones at home.

We did not research the validity of his other statistic that, to keep their smartphones, 33% would give up sex for a week.

[Ed. Don’t forget: for more on Telco 2.0 strategies, join us at the Silicon Valley and London Brainstorms.]

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March 5, 2012

Telco 2.0 News Review: MWC Special

Last week was the week that was MWC 2012, and this week we’re running a series of posts analysing what we saw on Network Technologies, Devices and Apps, and China Mobile (already published), and three more to come on Google/Facebook, what the Top Telco CEOs said, and M-Commerce. All of which, of course, will feature in the Silicon Valley and London Brainstorms in March and June respectively (email contact@stlpartners.com or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003).

In the meantime, here’s a top-line fly-by of the annual explosion of annoucements, demonstrations and news from MWC and beyond.

In our post on MWC Apps and Devices, we note that the mobile Web was a key theme, what with the arrival of Mozilla’s all-web demonstrator phone and their partnership with Telefonica (keeping out in the lead as a pioneer operator). Beyond that, as Rethink Wireless points out, there’s some scope for a meeting of the minds with the carriers’ WAC project, which is also all about HTML5 and web-based APIs to both device and network capabilities (note that long-time Telco 2.0 ally Aepona got a deal to provide another carrier API at the show). There’s even an app store, the Mozilla Marketplace. And Frog Design even had an event on the theme Mobile Apps Must die. China Mobile’s developer program is certainly interested, as well as interesting.

In many ways, the original app store was the Mozilla Firefox extensions page, still a vibrant developer community after all these years. Ars Technica has an interesting piece on the problems Mozilla admins face in moderating the community and policing malware - at least the experience will help with the Marketplace project.

Facebook, Sony, Electronic Arts and some more big names are joining Mozilla in an effort to get mobile browsers to be a bit less “nonstandard standard”.

That’s all very well - but it’s not as if this hasn’t been tried. HP announced another 275 layoffs from the team that built WebOS while everyone else was in Barcelona. Facebook, meanwhile faces a serious lack of interest from its users in having ads shoehorned into the mobile client (something we picked up in the recent Facebook note). Don’t believe us - believe Starhub CEO and mobile industry veteran Neil Montefiore…and it’s possible that the whole idea of advertising on Facebook is flawed.

Meanwhile, Zynga is investing in its own cloud infrastructure, declaring independence from Amazon - but what do they want it for? This may be part of the answer - like Amazon before them, Google estimates that faster loading Web pages directly equal better business.

And a major shareholder in Facebook is looking to unwind its holdings before the float.

It’s not only the operators and the Web heads who love HTML5 - Intel’s AppUp developer program is pretty keen as well (and the ultrabooks are quite sweet). Their x86 Androids were very much present, with a range of vendors and carriers queuing up, notably ZTE, Orange, and Lenovo.

There’s a complete list of MWC shiny here, and pics here. As well as Intel, NVIDIA’s chips were much in evidence, with the Tegra quad-core processor powering HTC’s new flagship phone as well as the tiny Asus Android 4.0 laptops so many Googlers were carrying.

The biggest shiny news, though, was surely the strong showing from Nokia. Did anyone expect a Symbian comeback though? Surely not, but the PureView 808 super-cameraphone impressed everyone (Ars Technica’s camera geeks have at it here), and the Series 40-based Ashas are getting very close to being like last year’s Androids, but with better battery life and an E71-style form factor. The Lumia Winphones are quite cool, too, although the jury is out on the Metro UI.

From a software point of view, Espoo offers Nokia Transport, which gives you directions on public transport in 500 cities. They were also very keen to demonstrate high-quality audio, although good luck getting the headphones they used in the box with the phone…meanwhile, note that HTC now offers a developer API for the Beats Audio kit.

There are rumours of another bad quarter at RIM, which pushed out the PlayBook OS 2.0 update just before the show and concentrated on attracting the developers. Alec Saunders’ slides are here, and we note that it’s yet another company that’s fallen back in love with the mobile Web.

Google’s Eric Schmidt said he hoped for a $70 Android soon during a keynote enlivened by questions about virtual currencies and solar flares (it needed enlivening, too) and by a demo of their new Chrome for Android browser. (We told you there was a lot of Web stuff…) Sunil Mittal, Bharti CEO, raised the bar by calling for a $50 tablet.

Schmidt was literally still speaking when Apple PRs announced some sort of product launch in San Francisco for this coming Wednesday. Frenzy ensued - not surprisingly in the light of this post from Horace. Feel the sheer beauty of the waterfall chart in our Chart of the Week.

Screen-Shot-2012-02-26-at-2-26-7.50.41-PM1.png

There’s no direct way to make one of those in Excel, so you create a data series that provides the offset from the horizontal axis by keeping a running total, make a chart including that, and then hide the additional data series. Somehow deeply satisfying.

Finally, our favourite product was Canonical’s Ubuntu for Android. Got a fancy Android phone? With this app, you can plug it into a monitor and instantly have a full Ubuntu Linux desktop, with access to all your Android apps and data including the dialler. Unplug it, and the Ubuntu session is suspended, leaving you with a perfectly functional ‘droid. You could even sync the Ubuntu with their cloud storage and have all your files from home available. Now that’s shiny.

After the shiny, the deep technology and the grey boxes. Here’s our networks and infrastructure review. Intel’s Atom chips were in evidence again - as well as getting into smartphones at last, they’re also getting into small cells, and everyone at MWC was going on about small cells, except the ones going on about WiFi. We’ve got much more to say about this at the link.

Informa’s crystal ball team expects small cells to make up 88% of the total by 2016, and if they all come with 40GB of solid state disk, there’s going to be quite a bit of deep CDN deployment going on. There are a lot of possibilities - Virgin Media has been playing with LTE small cells in its cabinets, for example, as well as WiFi.

But the problems of LTE are still real, and we can only hope the panjandrums meeting up on the hill at MWC agreed on something. Hence, we’ve a special bonus Chart of the Week 2 from the 3G & 4G Wireless Blog. Now that’s what we call fragmentation.

LTE_Connections by Frequency, 2016

Far from MWC, a ship quietly began to drag her anchor last week and by the time anyone noticed, three major submarine cables had been severed, causing massive disruption to telecommunications in East Africa. The Renesys blog has the details, and the scoreboard - Kenya Data Networks did best (not a drop spilt), MTN Uganda and Kenyan Post & Telecoms juggled but held on to the ball, everyone else went down hard. Orange Uganda lost its links to France Telecom and the other Oranges, but did have a local interconnect with the Kenyan PTT and stayed afloat.

Benoit Felten reports back from the FTTH Europe conference, thus showing that there are other things to do with a week in February. Portugal Telecom cranks up its fibre offering to 400Mbps (if you’re lucky).

It’s surely a first that Microsoft would launch a Windows version at MWC. The Verge covered it in detail - it sounds like quite the show, but we were deep in Hall 5 listening to Van Jacobson.

A big question was of course how far Microsoft would go in rolling Skype into the Windows platform. We asked the Microsoftians, but all they would say was that there was a beta client in the app store and there might be another announcement. Verge got a little more out of them here - it looks like there is a limitation in Windows Phone 7.5 that won’t let Skype run in the background, or at least, won’t let it fire user notifications if it did. To put it another way, if you’re not actually staring at the screen right now with Skype running and in the active UI context, you can’t receive calls - or at least, you won’t know anyone is calling, which is possibly even worse as the caller will think you’re being extremely rude rather than just unreachable.

We also very much wanted to see Skype in action on the new lineup of Sony Xperia phones, where it had been promised and indeed where a front-facing camera had been provided just for that. It took a while to get past the people wanting to play Reality Fighters on the new Vita gamesphone. Then it turned out the integration hasn’t happened and the whole issue is up in the air due to the Microsoft deal.

Phono, the JavaScript-based voice client from Voxeo, has now got support for WebRTC, the Google-funded real-time comms standard for Web pages. We also saw Twilio’s new SDK for building alternative diallers on iOS, and there’s a hint of something big in the XMPP/Jingle side of Voice 2.0 coming up (but we can’t say what or who).

Here’s an app that queues for you. And click-to-call/call tracking specialist Freespee points to a Google case study suggesting that click-to-call is more valuable on mobile than click-through ads. (So where’s Google’s click-to-call then?)

Another big story was the latest round of the OTT wars. This time it focuses on messaging and to a lesser extent voice, fuelled by the success of Whatsapp and Viber. This time, at least, the operators had something positive to offer. RCSe is at last go for launch, with a brand (“Joyn”) and a demo that even impressed Telco 2.0’s Keith McMahon. Solaiemes, who you might have seen at recent Telco 2.0 events, have a good blog post on it.

More broadly, there was quite a bit of controversy around and some of it even seems to have got in here. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao picked a fight with the regulators, while also showing the sweeter side of his nature to the OTTers. Neelie Kroes did the now-traditional surprise announcement from the EU, although on this occasion it was a Twitter spat rather than a walkout and a let’s-put-the-show-on-right-here! press conference on the avenue. Kroes essentially made more spectrum conditional on more concessions regarding roaming prices. No pressure there, eh.

After all, one delegate managed to hit £102 by 5pm on Monday.

Chetam Sharma argues that Joyn is an example of operators trying to think like startups. He might have a point, but we were a little worried about some of the operator types who were promising to “always be ahead” of WhatsApp and friends. Really?

Meanwhile, TeliaSonera starts charging for VoIP calls, although who on earth reckons telephony by the megabyte? And a top China Mobile executive is in the kind of deep trouble that only The Party can offer.

Speaking of the party, this year saw CBOSS handing out flyers carrying a somewhat unconventional special offer for prospective buyers of their billing software.

CBOSS Shining Stars, the mysterious and beautiful queens of the podium will be happy to listen to and record your precious thoughts on the telecommunications business trends at a romantic dinner…Personal preferences of both interviewer and interviewee will be accommodated

We didn’t go.

Elsewhere, student protestors gathered around the entrance, causing a massive police deployment and a succession of progressively more panicky bulk SMS messages from the organisers. Nothing much happened except for a sign reading “Millions for Mobile Congress, Where’s My Education”.

And the Vodafone pavilion was evacuated during the Joyn demo after the structure buckled.

The experiences of a MWC rookie. Not as much fun as it sounds. Robbed in Barcelona, the web site.

Of course there was some non-MWC news. Akamai’s licensed and managed-service CDN products are coming next month and Dan Rayburn has detail. Cable still doing great in North America, for broadband and TV. Doc Searles on licensed content. EBay’s efficiency record-breaking data centre. Netflix’s official engineering blog on fault-tolerance and high availability.50,000 UltraViolet accounts in six weeks. Limelight Networks says 95% of all video views happen in the first 90 days of the video’s life.

Google and Apple face another FTC probe over data leaks. John Graham-Cumming digs into the YouPorn data-leak and discovers that thousands of phone numbers were leaked to the site by mobile operators, and then leaked out of it when hackers got into the database. This inspired him to run an experiment into silly HTTP headers.

Some people will have left MWC and gone straight on to CeBIT. There, Deutsche Telekom announced its SMB cloud computing product. Orange Money and Visa get together. SingTel buys Amobee and sets up a Telefonica Digital-style division. Helping the poor with mobile, the infographic.

QR codes considered harmful in theory, and in practice. Google Maps starts charging for the API, Foursquare goes open source. Running Indian Railways’ booking website. Two of the biggest five construction projects in the US are data centres.

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MWC 2012 - China Mobile: a mindbogglingly big platform


President Li, CEO China Mobile, used the Mobile World Congress 2012 stage to talk about China Mobile’s ‘Mobile Market’ initiative, a countrywide platform for mobile internet service development which he described as China’s largest job creation platform.

He said that Mobile Market, while still some way short of Apple’s stats in China, had 3.7 million registered developers (though only 115k apps so far), 169 million registered users and 670 million downloads.

china mobile market 1 feb 2012.png

Paraphrasing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, China Mobile is a vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big company. It has 655 million customers - or about 2x the population of the US and nearly 10% of the world’s population. So, despite President Li’s modesty on Mobile Market’s numbers to date, 169 million registered users is a quarter of China Mobile’s customer base - and only just less than the population of Pakistan, the 6th most populous nation on the planet.

In ‘Mobile Market’ China Mobile’s approach to innovation is a fascinating blend of state lead, industrial scale centralised investment, and a classic two-sided business model to create value for China Mobile, and jobs and skills for the Chinese Economy.

china mobile market 0 feb 2012.png

Finally, it’s intriguing to note that there are 12 functions and 159 APIs available to developers via Mobile Market (see chart below), and we will be taking a further look at China Mobile’s strategy and approach in subsequent Telco 2.0 analysis.

china mobile market 2 feb 2012.png

And we’ve not even touched on their plan to deploy 1 million WLAN hotspots, with roaming between them and networks in South Korea and Japan. Even if that does sound a little like an effort to get over the government’s imposition of TD-SCDMA technology on China Mobile and the massive re-org of the industry that followed, it’s still very impressive.

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MWC 2012 - Apps & Devices: Telco 2.0’s tech highlights

This entry in our mini-series on this year’s Mobile World Congress covers smart devices and the apps that love them. The key organising concept, for us, was a comeback for the mobile Web, and we’ll be looking in depth at future device strategies at our Silicon Valley Executive Brainstorm at the end of March. The article covers:


  • Mozilla and Telefonica;

  • Google Gadget Watch;

  • Nokia Resurgence;

  • Deep Web Development;

  • and Telco 2.0’s Tech ‘Shiny of the Show’ award.



(Source: Mozilla)

Mozilla & Telefonica

I know what we need - another mobile OS! Came the cry. But Mozilla’s Open Web Device (impressively, they are working with Telefonica on this - another score for one of the world’s most innovative telcos) is actually quite cool.

It is an effort to create a purely web-based mobile device, which strips out any software that attracts a royalty in order to squeeze down costs. A minimal Linux kernel loads a headless version of the Gecko web rendering engine at the core of Mozilla Firefox, which then loads a suite of Web widgets that comprise the phone’s user interface. (Mozilla has a very clear explanation of the system architecture in their Wiki.) On the demonstration devices, you can hit the “view source” option on everything.

Having tried it out, it was remarkably snappy for a 600MHz CPU, pretty ho-hum in these days of quad-core gadgetry. Telefonica’s interest probably has something to do with getting low-cost smartphones out into its Latin American markets, while Mozilla is both historically committed to a Web fundamentalist world view, concerned about the direction of mobile platforms, and excited about providing a unified user experience across different machines.

One of Mozilla’s biggest funders is of course Google, which is therefore now supporting no fewer than four operating systems, in this case at one remove. That would be ChromeOS, Android, Boot to Gecko, and the specialised Linux server distribution they use internally - or as many as IBM supported in its pomp. Is Google spreading itself too thinly? We’ll be discussing this in a forthcoming Google analyst note.

Google Gadget Watch

Much of the hottest gadgetry running Android is powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra chips. We couldn’t help noticing that Asus’s new Tegra-driven tablet-with-a-keyboard (don’t call it a netbook), running Android 4.0, is both very shiny and used by many, many Googlers. Almost as if they had been issued by Google’s IT shop. Are they trying to tell us something about Asus?

Nokia Resurgence?

The mood in the Nokia stand was better than last year - it could hardly have been worse without getting into lashings of cyanide-laced KoolAid - even if the jury is still out on the Lumias. Like everyone and their dog, we went to play with the shinies and were suitably impressed. However, the Metro UI takes some getting used to and we wonder if it might work better in Shoreditch than in consensus reality.

But perhaps this was a distraction from the increasingly powerful and impressive Asha phones - not only do they look very much like the classic E71, they’re rather further on functionality (Moore’s Law is collapsing the distinction between featurephones and smartphones into one between the very latest smartphone and one from 18 months ago) and have a less hostile UI. Expect the investment going into HTML5 in mobile to save a new generation of developers from enjoying the Symbian experience or the joy of J2ME.

Speaking of Symbian, it was a surprise to see it used as the base for Nokia’s Pureview 41-megapixel super-cameraphone. To be honest, it’s more of a camera that happens to make phone calls and surf the Web than a smartphone with a really good camera, which may be why they did it that way. Did anyone expect that the GSMA’s best-in-show award would go to a Symbian device, though? Looking at the phone is missing the point, in a sense - you can see some photos taken with it here

nokia-pure-view-808-.jpg


In general, photography is a Nokia strength and one they’ve never really capitalised on - Anssi Vanjöki was always keen to push it, but it got caught in the confusion as everyone ran for the lifeboats off the burning platform. Beyond that, they seem to be preparing a push on media of various kinds, especially music. (Compare RIM’s BBM Music, which their stand didn’t even demonstrate beyond having a sign saying BBM MUSIC.)

Deep Web Development

There was a time when JavaScript was considered a toy language that real programmers didn’t bother with. Khronos Software’s session on Monday morning should have finally killed that one. Technology is being driven by the demands of gaming and of augmented reality here, and silicon, software, and standardisation are responding. WebGL lets you program 3D graphics with hardware acceleration inside a Web page. OpenCL, which now gets bindings to JavaScript and hence to the Web, lets you work with all the computing resources on the device, so you can make use of the graphical processor’s parallelism from inside a Web page.

Further projects are trying to provide a united and standardised view of all the device’s sensors - at the moment, developers need to build alternative versions of their applications depending on what sensors a given device offers, a royal pain as more and more Android devices of all sorts roll out. The term of art for this is apparently “magical awareness”, or alternatively the disturbingly military “sensor fusion”.

Telco 2.0 Tech ‘Shiny of the Show’ Award

Our award for shiny-ness goes to Canonical and ‘Ubuntu for Android’. Install the app, plug your Android phone into a monitor, and it launches Ubuntu Linux, giving you instant access to a full desktop environment, with your Android apps. Unplug it, the Linux session is suspended and you can walk away with your ‘droid. If you use Ubuntu One, their cloud storage, you could even sync it with another machine.

ubuntu.jpg

(Source: Laptop)

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MWC 2012 Network Tech: Edge Power, Super WiFi, Van Jacobson

It’s been Mobile World Congress again. To tide you over until we’ve finished the traditional period of fasting, sleeping, and using no technology invented more recently than the sundial, we’ve put together a mini-series of blog posts about major trends we noticed. This one covers what’s happening in networks and infrastructure: Edge Power; Super WiFi; and Telco 2.0’s Top Network Tech moment - a Living Legend on QoS vs. QoE.

(NB For further Telco 2.0 research on future broadband strategies see ‘The value of “Smart Pipes” to mobile network operators’, and our broadband research stream.)

Edge Power

Last year’s network buzzword was “het-net”, and there was plenty of that about, but this year’s was “small cells”. The original femtocell concept foresaw a device with a similar form factor and deployment pattern to a SOHO wireless access point, but this ran into quite a few problems, notably that not many people actually saw a need to have one in their home, that the relationship with other network operators was never really worked out, and that the smartphones are always more than happy to move over to the wireless LAN. WLAN equipment being cheaper by an order of magnitude and more common in the home and office by several orders of magnitude, it got used. Also, deploying significant numbers of devices that wouldn’t be radio-planned was a problem.

Small cells are a difference of emphasis rather than kind - typically, they are used to provide public rather than homezone coverage, they are available in more sizes (anything less than a full scale macro-cell, really), and they usually pack more features.

But it’s worth looking through the radio issues. Ubiquisys’ new range of small cells, for example, have moved over to Intel x86 hardware in the interests of cost and also of general-purpose programmability. Using PC-like hardware means that it should be much easier to develop applications to run on them. They also typically include a large solid-state disk, like the ones in Apple MacBook Airs, which provides mass storage with very fast input-output.

6788651284_f1d184b3e7_z.jpg (Source: Ubiquisys on Flickr)

The obvious use for this is to integrate content-delivery networking as deep into the radio network as it’s possible to get - in fact, you could just make out command-line output in Keith Day’s slides logging cache-hits and misses for YouTube videos. The former Femto Forum, now the Small Cells Forum, is working on a standard API for these devices in order to facilitate building services like operator CDNing.

In the same field, but more radical, is Quortus, a British startup that implements mobile core network functions in software in order to port them to devices other than the giant switches they usually run on. That could mean bog standard IT gear, which in any case some networks already run on, or it could mean femtocell or PC-scale devices pushed out to the network edge.

This has a huge range of potential applications. For example, it makes it possible to build a network with a distributed architecture, spreading the core functions and data around and therefore avoiding the need for expensive specialised gear, reducing single points of failure, and eliminating sources of network latency. One reference application is a rural deployment, using big high power radios for coverage, but getting rid of the high capacity RNCs that go with them and instead using a Quortus node to control the radios. Being an MSC in its own right, speaking SIP and MAP to the rest of the network, it can keep providing local calls if the backhaul goes down.

Alternatively, such a device could be used as part of an enterprise network, providing in-building coverage and also acting as a fully mobile PBX for advanced voice features. We note that PABX capability is on the Small Cells Forum roadmap, as well. When you look at what Vodafone has achieved with One Net, it should be clear that there are big possibilities here.

Super WiFi

Another element of this is, of course, WLAN. Our Managed Offload use case sounded radical when we published, but as one of the GSMA panellists said, “operators have discovered that WiFi is something they can trust” and now they can’t get enough of it - a quick-deploying source of high speed data connectivity with zero spectrum costs and no core-thrashing signalling load. Operator WLAN is surging up onto the productivity plateau, and as a result, vendors like Ruckus Wireless and (inevitably) Cisco will be taking more of the telcos’ capex dollar in future.

Many of the same points about edge power apply to WLAN equipment as well. A lot of small cell products have a WLAN radio as an option, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) at least talks a good game about additional services and applications via the Hotspot 2.0 initiative.

However, the biggest barrier to moving more data traffic off the cellular network is the same one that has always dogged WLAN. If the authentication is secure, it’s not usable, and if it’s usable it’s not secure - and to be honest, most landing pages aren’t very usable. As a result, the WBA is trying hard to get more SIM-based automatic authentication (EAP) deployed, and some big names are expected to announce progress quite soon. Although EAP only helps devices with a SIM, this may not be as big a problem as all that - after all, smartphones and tablets are the main drivers of traffic growth.

Tellingly, even the conference WiFi worked this time.

A Living Legend On QoS vs. QoE

Van_Jacobsen.jpeg

Telco 2.0’s Top Network Tech moment came rather discreetly in an anonymous, little advertised seminar room deep in Hall 5 on Wednesday afternoon, while the world’s attention was focused on Microsoft’s lavish Windows 8 preview and trying to get invited to the Google party.

As a graduate student back in the late 1980s, Van Jacobson solved the congestion collapse that crippled the nascent Internet, by inventing TCP/IP’s congestion management features. If it hadn’t been for that, the US academic and military research communities might have given up on IP and used something else (a lot of networking technology was tried and abandoned in the 80s and 90s), and the world would be very different. (Actually it might be even more different had he left a toilet out of a classic 1999 paper.)

the fateful toilet

Later, he helped to start Cisco Systems, invented traceroute and the Multicast Backbone, before returning to research at Xerox PARC.

Someone to listen to, then. But we didn’t know that he studied FedEx’s network of trucks moving around the world looking for insights into networking in general.

“I asked FedEx how they managed to make money when they were stuck in the same traffic jams I was. The answer was that there are traffic jams, but a lot of the time, there aren’t, and FedEx operates 24 hours a day and never loses an opportunity to move a packet.”

Van also thinks a lot of our problems are down to the way we’ve ended up using the Internet. It’s a medium that is designed around one-to-one interaction, via the famous end to end principle, and it’s often running on top of access networks designed for one-to-one phone calls…but it’s mostly used for either one-to-many broadcasting (like the top 10 on YouTube) or many-to-one aggregation (like thousands of coders throwing commits into Github, or hundreds of thousands of photographers pouring images into Flickr).

His proposed solution is to embed content and applications into the Internet, bringing it much closer to the user. Rather than a cloud solution, though, he argues that this should be much more distributed, with applications and caches in every network domain. (The potential significance of those SSDs and Intel Atom processors in small cells ought to be clear at this point.)

And, fascinatingly, he thinks that there is a lot to learn from logistics companies like FedEx in general. Faced with widely diverse, shared, and unreliable transport links of different speeds, they manage to provide reliable delivery and differentiated service, without moaning about “over-the-top transport providers (i.e. cars) hogging our roadwidth”.

Van also pointed out that there’s not much money in owning a road. Perhaps there’s a vision here - of a shared or public macro-infrastructure, with differentiated providers of digital logistics operating on it, and a wide range of different access technologies at the edge.

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