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Summary of all the stories from Mobile World Congress 2013 (and more) - Special Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed. It is just three weeks to our next executive brainstorm in Silicon Valley, 19-20 March 2013 in San Francisco, and then on to our EMEA Brainstorm, 5-6 June 2013 in London. The agendas feature our analysis of the Digital Economy, Digital Commerce, Digital Entertainment, and the Internet of Things - we hope to see you there.]

The bell tolls for telcos, says Telegeography - fascinatingly, if you include VoIP volumes, total voice usage is still growing at historic rates, but the operators’ share is falling.

At MWC, the CEO of KT had some shocking news on voice. We’ll quote our own Twitter feed here:

Perhaps the Brutal Future was too optimistic, and the transition to the future of voice is upon us?

For example, Mozilla, AT&T, and Ericsson demonstrated WebRTC interoperability at the event. OTT player Viber’s CEO was keynoting with Rene Obermann and other industry luminaries, and took away a reseller deal with an Indonesian carrier for his pains.

On the other hand, Telefonica’s TU Go voice app has arrived in the UK with O2 and GigaOm thinks it “shows that finally, a telco has figured out the value of the app”. Here’s O2’s introduction to the service:

Twilio, who were much in evidence at MWC along with Voxeo and quite a few other cloud telephony/Voice 2.0 players, have announced their 2013 call for submissions - so if you’ve had an idea for a Voice 2.0 app, this might be your chance to snag some funding. Last year’s list is here.

Andy Abramson, though, wonders if Google has given up on Google Voice, pointing to the lack of progress since it stopped being GrandCentral.

And it’s certainly possible to make an impact as a network operator. Free Mobile’s early Q4s are out, and they’ve reached over 5 million subscribers in a year, 8% of the French market. Having slowed down a little, net-adds picked up again in Q4, hitting 805,000. But the really interesting detail is that growth in Free Mobile has started to drive growth in the fixed-line business, which managed to gain 515,000 net-adds or 9% in the year. As the fixed operation is profitable, and threw off €229m in free cash flow in the H1, subscriber growth there finances the mobile roll-out.

The UK’s 4G auction has finally happened. The major operators, plus BT, all secured spectrum, which sold for rather less than the British government had hoped (and recognised as revenue) - £2.3bn rather than £3.5bn. As for the detail, the question everyone’s asking is what BT plans to do. The fixed-line incumbent ended up taking exclusively 2.6GHz blocks and none of the 800MHz, which seems to rule out a Vodafone Germany or VZW-style swap of rural copper for fixed-wireless LTE. But BT has been testing rural small cells, though, and Bill Ray wonders if they are thinking of putting femtocells into their CPE. (You could call it a Free Mobile strategy, if it wasn’t for the fact that prices are much lower in the UK already.)

Or are they planning something with TV? BT has been investing heavily in content, set-top boxes, CDN, and production facilities. At MWC, the BBC were apparently discussing the possibility of broadcasting over LTE with Huawei. Mobile TV, that mid-2000s industry news staple, seems to be back on the agenda: Ericsson announced its own “LTE Broadcast” (that’s what today’s kids are calling 3GPP eMBMS, apparently) solution and two trial deployments, with Telstra and Verizon Wireless.

BT had better do something, as OFCOM wants to push down its prices for wholesale Ethernet.

TV operator Sky this week bought O2 UK’s fixed ISP network, which it acquired by buying Be Broadband way back when. Sky’s longstanding strategy has been to integrate satellite broadcast TV and Internet TV, while Telefonica O2 says that they’re concentrating on 4G. This may mean that now they’re sitting on 2x10MHz of national 800MHz spectrum, they don’t feel like maintaining DSL infrastructure any more and might go fixed-wireless. Certainly, as Telco 2.0’s Keith McMahon points out here, the ex-Be DSL infrastructure is bowing out.

Google’s crack at running a whitespace database starts this week, and British tech company TTP is planning to use the white space for rural broadband.

Meanwhile, can KPN push out fibre faster than the DSL revenues erode?

In Australia, mobile broadband prices are rising, as the carriers re-build their margins and try to manage traffic growth. Vodafone-Hutchison Australia is still getting a beating, though. Australia, of course, is building a huge national broadband network: now France is looking at a major (€27bn) project to bring FTTH to 50% of the country.

Telefonica had results, and the big story is that they became a majority-Latin American company in Q4. Net profits slid, down 27.3%, affected by the horrible economy in Spain, Italy, and Ireland.

Dan Rayburn argues that Latin America is about to become a huge online video market.

Meanwhile, Telefonica Digital, their own-brand OTT division, bought AcmePacket’s SIP servers and load-balancers to support the scale-out of TU Go.

DTAG posted a loss, because it had to write down the value of T-Mobile USA as a result of the MetroPCS acquisition. The core fixed business is stable to declining slightly, with the mobile side telling the usual story of a dire European economy and regulatory pressure on roaming and termination. However, Poland and the US were brighter spots. T-Mobile USA, in particular, managed to eke out some subscriber growth from M2M and MVNO partners.

Meanwhile, one of the MetroPCS shareholders is becoming difficult.

QTel reported profits up 14%, and took the opportunity to rebrand itself as “Ooredoo”.

The GSMA shook up its OneAPI initiative, so now the developers will talk to a proxy managed by Apigee that then works with the carriers’ systems. To put it another way, after all this time, the carriers still haven’t implemented the API consistently, which defeats the point of having it. Apigee’s box of tricks is meant to resolve this.

Perhaps we could try another industry initiative? Firefox OS, which we saw as a prototype at the last MWC, launched at this one with the backing of a lineup of 16 major carriers, notably Telefonica, which is planning to ship the phones in Brazil, Spain, Colombia, and Venezuela later this year. Mozilla and its new friends hope the phones will cost around $100.

Of course, the big question is whether the devices are any good. Telefonica and Mozilla showed off some phones built by ZTE, which resembled nothing so much as very basic Android devices and suffered by comparison with Nokia’s Asha 311. As Charles Arthur points out, the value of the radical openness of the Web has to be very great to make up for dodgy hardware. Telefonica makes their case here.

There’s certainly a market for cheap smartphones, but the question is whether cheap ‘droids and the Ashas will eat it. Safaricom has said it’s going to stop shipping featurephones in Kenya.

This was the first MWC where you could quite literally make your case, by walking over to the Nokia stand and using their 3D printer to run off a custom case for the Lumia 920s. Nokia, in general, seemed a bit perkier than they have been lately. They won an award for one of the Ashas, which set the Nokia staffers off dancing a Finnish conga (think a conga, but rather too well-organised) around the booth. And the Here.com location and mapping product is genuinely impressive.

Everyone wants to be a mobile OS, it seems. As well as Firefox OS, Intel hasn’t given up, and the various mobile Linux projects pre-Android have now been rolled up into Tizen, which is promising gadgets this year with the support of Samsung, NTT DoCoMo, and Orange. Marc Dillon’s Sailfish project, which aims to deliver the great lost Nokia MeeGo OS, is out there - the OS looks classy and snappy, but it speaks volumes that they are still demonstrating it on N950s.

And Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, showed off the mobile flavour of their product. CEO Mark Shuttleworth wants Ubuntu to be a unified solution for the PC, the tablet, the phone, and the TV, and the phone UX is clean, beautiful, and search-centred in a way everyone expected Android would be. Shuttleworth’s vision is very much about design, and that probably has more chance of success than appealing to wholemeal HTML or Symbian nostalgia, but the problem will be the same as it is for all the alternative OSs - getting enough carrier and vendor support to achieve critical mass.

After all, as Horace says, each device class goes with a distribution model, and in mobile it’s the carrier. LG has just bought WebOS in order to use it on their TV products, or rather, it’s hired the HP WebOS engineers. So what is the distribution model for future TVs?

For sheer shiny, though, you needed the Sony booth and the Xperia Z.

Apple doesn’t bother with MWC. They were far away, watching their courtroom triumph over Samsung get rolled back on appeal, and producing video adapters that contain software.

The lawyers may get another workout soon enough, as Samsung announced its new “Wallet” app, which may further arouse litigious spirits in Cupertino.

Motorola’s stand at MWC was remarkable both for its size, growing to fit the new Fira, and the scarcity of products on it. Google says they’re running off the existing stock, and they’ve also just hired Guy Kawasaki, notorious Apple fan. Perhaps more interestingly, the Japanese government has advised Android users to only download apps from their carriers’ app stores, not Google Play, after a spate of fraudware.

Even more MWC gadgets.

A grim warning in the cloud: “If Amazon wins, we all lose!”, says the CEO of VMWare. He’s especially concerned about the public cloud winning customers from the private cloud. ReadWriteWeb is sceptical.

At MWC, Juniper and Tele2 were arguing that operators need to learn to add value to generic cloud services, or end up with the “dumb cloud” - very much the message of our Cloud 2.0 report.

We’re sceptical about PaaS vs IaaS, but here’s a case study of scaling up to 1 million users with Google AppEngine.

There’s $2 trillion in hardware, software, and IT services spending out there.

Meet Trusted Advisor, an app in Amazon Web Services that scans your install and works out what you’re doing wrong.

And here are two case studies on how to deliver liveblogging at very high traffic, by using basic
flat files.

Sometimes, the cloud fails.

Groupon is losing money again, and the CEO has been fired, departing with a snarky all-hands letter. Meanwhile, Yahoo! is shutting down a substantial list of products, the week after Marissa Mayer ordered all its telecommuters to appear at the office, perhaps in order to be counted.

We’ve had the Facebook IPO in a blitz of hype, the sickening slide, the comeback, and now it’s back to the slide, as it emerges that many of the biggest investors (like Peter Thiel) took the opportunity to get out during the rally.

Evernote gets hacked.

What music is on people’s mobiles in the Sahara? Find out here.

Horace sizes Apple iBooks and then puts it all together to understand the iTunes media ecosystem, with fine charts. You’ve got to love this one:


The golden line is the “historic” digital music biz.

And here’s Alan Quayle’s MWC roundup.

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