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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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