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Microsoft Surface; Cloud in LatAm; LTE spending spree; Apple’s secret retail sauce - Telco 2.0 News Review

(Ed. Join us next at Digital Arabia in Dubai, 6-7 November.)

Microsoft launched its Surface tablets last week, marking a shift from the leg of the company that stands on Windows to the more hardware-focused side that makes the XBox. Reviews focused on the device’s role as a signal to the PC manufacturers, demanding that they get their act together. One thing everybody picked up on was the case - like the iPads, it has a magnetic case, but this one incorporates a keyboard. Gizmodo points out that even if the iPad turned out to be a more creative proposition than people expected, it’s a very specific kind of creativity - one that excludes text or code. Surface is going right for that.

Much more detail is here - note the Microsoft designers talking about how much like a book it is. We linked a while ago to a Windows Phone designer discussing their fascination with print designers and typographers, the original designers of information goods.

Ars Technica has a discussion of Microsoft’s strategy with Surface, pointing out that the apparently “normal” era of Windows being marketed in parallel with OEM hardware is actually a historical anomaly. Before the Wintel era, hardware and software tended to be integrated, and these days it’s hard to describe anything Apple does as being an exception rather than the rule. Also, Google needed to make its own Nexus One ‘droid to give the OEMs something to aim for. Hardware is, after all, easier to experience than it is to describe.

Computing has a bit more.

From our special point of view, there are two big questions about Surface. One is “where’s the connectivity?” - it looks like telcos haven’t managed to ensure that it comes with data, or even with a WWAN radio - and the other is “what about Skype?” Dan York reads the spec sheet carefully and discovers that the devices have two cameras, one intended for close up, person-to-person conversations, and one for a broader, social view of things like meetings and teleconferences, as well as emphasising high quality audio. It also has two microphones. But Skype is a software experience, and the big question is how well it’s integrated with the admittedly impressive hardware. At least it sounds like the hardware designers were thinking about the problem.

Microsoft also pushed out the developer preview of Windows Phone 8, which seems to resolve the question of whether Windows Phone on tablets or Windows-on-ARM wins. WP8 gets rid of the Windows CE kernel and uses the core of Windows 8 instead. On the other hand, you wouldn’t really call it much of a feature release:

Microsoft has shed light on its next Windows Phone ‘Tango’ update, which will see the smartphone OS gain the ability to import and export contacts to and from the Sim card, and attach multiple files to a single message.

And it won’t run on the current lot of Nokia Lumias.

Horace, meanwhile, thinks MS is going for hardware strategically.

Benoit Felten has a fascinating post on how AT&T Bell Labs was seeing the future as late as 1993, but the giant telco didn’t get close to executing on any of it. The table is our Chart of the Week:


Having appreciated Telcos: A Warning from History, here’s some good news from the cloud. We noted that HP’s OpenStack-based cloud product has gone into public beta. Now, they’re partnering with carriers to sell it in Latin America. (We can probably guess which carrier that means, and that they may be a vector for telco cloud elsewhere.) SMBs are a key market.

In Brazil, Oi’s managed services/B2B line of business is predicting $100 million in revenues for this year, from a variety of products including value-added WAN connectivity, mobile device fleet management, and cloud services.

SFR, meanwhile, has signed a deal with Verizon to resell their B2B services.

OpenStack vs. CloudStack ego wars, at GigaOm’s cloud event - OpenStack calls CloudStack “closed”, CloudStack calls OpenStack the “Soviet Union of Cloud”.

Data Center Knowledge was there, and has an excellent roundup. Notably, Netflix’s Adrian Cockcroft said that although they are moving to their own CDN, they’re sticking with Amazon Web Services for processing power. He argues that they outgrew the CDN sector as a whole (is that an opportunity?) but AWS has all the capacity they need.

On the other hand, Zynga’s CIO Debra Chrapaty said moving their systems into their own private cloud amounted to a 3x cost saving over running in AWS. The OpenStackers were very keen to argue that it wasn’t enough to have API compatibility, and open source code was needed. The CEO of CapGemini was apparently convinced.

A really enormous cloud demands a lot of hardware, and Google’s CFO briefly let slip a little information about their server-building operation, including the fact that a Google manufacturing plant (Google Factory?) exists.

Infonetics Research reckons that 2012 will be a massive year of telecoms infrastructure spending as the LTE rollout begins and national broadband network projects expand. Operators are “spending like crazy”, they say. RCR Wireless reports on the safety problems that emerge as the eight biggest networks in the US all upgrade at once.

France Telecom turned up their first LTE network, in Marseilles, promising 150Mbps speeds.

Telefonica turned up its first Czech LTE network this week, and further set the 3rd July as launch day for their urban LTE networks in Germany.

Telefonica also tapped Alcatel-Lucent for its European and Latin American femtocells.

Alcatel-Lucent, for its part, walked away from the bidding for BSNL’s national network upgrade, after ZTE bid $842m on a contract estimated at between $1-1.2bn. ALU shares soared on the news. But the most interesting point here is that the usual narrative about Chinese low-cost manufacturers undercutting everyone else isn’t true - ZTE’s bid also caused Huawei to drop out.

NSN claims it has a new feature that saves capacity and battery life on HSPA+. MCI polls operator CTOs, though, who disbelieve that there’s much between the vendors.

An interesting presentation on network sharing, from the 3G and 4G Wireless Blog.

BT can’t bill its pensions shortfall to the competition, says the Competition Commission. Beyond that, you’ll note the absence of any LTE launches from the UK.

45% of Americans can get over 10Mbps. Interestingly, 84% of subscribers can have DSL but 97% can get cable. Universal service, how are ya?

Data-only, and perhaps comes-with-data, plans are coming within about two years - and that’s from Randall Stephenson of AT&T.

KT is the latest carrier to feel the impact of voice disruption. From the S&P wire message:

The company’s public switched telephone network (PSTN) services continue to shrink in line with global consumer sentiment as more customers migrate to mobile and VoIP services. KT’s PSTN subscribers dropped to about 15.7 million in 2011 from 21.2 million in 2006. Although an increase in VoIP revenue can somewhat offset the fall in KT’s PSTN revenue, it will not completely cover the decline, because average revenue per user (ARPU) from VoIP is substantially lower than PSTN voice ARPU

Well. Their rival SK Telecom is planning to launch commercial VoLTE in September, targeting OTT disruptor KakaoTalk on quality. TeleGeography reckons they will brand it as HD Voice.

Meanwhile, how will WebRTC voice streams interact with other network traffic? The IETF’s Internet Architecture Board will be holding an invite-only seminar at IETF 84 to discuss it.

Samsung revised up its quarter targets and said it expected the Galaxy S III to be its fastest-selling phone ever. That’s the one that “knows when you’re watching it, and likes it” - a review is here. Interestingly, Samsung is selling NFC stickers with it, so you can set up your own proximity-based triggers for apps or tasks.

For the moment, the big problem is getting enough of the gadgets to the US to fulfil demand. Some background on the logistics is here. Unsurprisingly, times are good at ARM.

Get out of my courtroom: the Apple vs. Motorola case is thrown out with prejudice, and the judge gives both parties a serious telling-off. In tiresome news, Apple sues HTC.

Google says it’s not trying to integrate Motorola.

What’s the secret of Apple’s retail presence? Is it the branding? The location? The design? The special iPhone app for positioning shiny gadgets at exactly the right angle? Horace examines the numbers and concludes that it’s simple: it’s the staff. Specifically, Apple employs more of them per store, and has progressively increased the density of employees. Not just that, Apple stripped the stores of clutter in order to fill them with staff. In a rare move, here’s this week’s Second Chart of the Week:


(Who imagined that in 2012, the tech industry’s undisputed leader would be an integrated hardware/software vendor that owns all the machine tools used to make its products and makes a point of having more retail staff than its competitors? Apart from Steve Jobs and Tim Cook…)

Rumour: RIM might split into a handset business and a network business.

Intel and Google buy patents. Google Maps API pricing update. The exponential growth of web pages.

Apple bought a patent on spoofing online advertising trackers from Novell.

Facebook starts serving ads on Zynga. Cue the usual discussion of how Facebook has “a good picture of the people on the Web”, with little discussion of whether that’s actually useful. However, ReadWriteWeb does provide a screenshot of the form you fill in to specify Facebook adverts, and that’s actually quite interesting. Meanwhile, they settle a privacy case.

Winamp, another startup that died in AOL.

Struggling on with Brazilian m-payments. Better RAN analytics. GSMA presses Asian operators to lay off the data roaming.

And the virus that makes your printer churn out gibberish, as opposed to the gibberish it’s usually churning out. An original reinvention of the old “loop fax” gag, at least.

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