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India, Verizon, Cloud Exchange, RIP Engelbart: Telco 2.0 News Review

Don’t forget your Digital Arabia tickets. Here’s what it looked like last year:

India looks at 100% foreign ownership

India may soon permit foreign investors to own 100% of telecoms operators. It’s too early to get excited - the Telecoms Commission has recommended it but the Department of Industrial Policy has to take a look and then a cabinet decision will be required - but it’s certainly a big change, and it will probably weigh heavily in Telenor and Maxis’s decisions about their investments there, not to mention Vodafone, Sistema, and DoCoMo.

Spain is where the predictions in some of our recent work have been borne out unexpectedly quickly. Their regulator says that total revenues in the sector fell 7% in 2012-2013 and the trend continues. It’s worse in mobile, where revenues fell 16% and the number of subscribers actually fell, for the first time ever.

In the UK, supermarket Sainsbury’s has launched an MVNO, using Vodafone’s network.

Australia’s NBN has reached its target for premises passed, or rather, the target as revised down. Papua New Guinea, meanwhile, is planning a national broadband network and has turned to Huawei to build it.

Alcatel-Lucent claims to have demonstrated gigabit speeds on DSL in a trial with Telekom Austria, over a whole 70 metres of distance. The French government, meanwhile, is wondering whether it might be possible to merge ex-Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel-Lucent into a “Telecoms Airbus”. This, of course, doesn’t really make sense from Nokia’s point of view, but you bet the HQ would be in Paris.

Ripping out the copper: harder than you think

Here’s a straw in the wind for the future of voice, and of DSL. Verizon no longer wants to maintain the copper network that serves 500 homes on Fire Island, NY, and still less to rebuild it after Hurricane Sandy wrecked it. So, the carrier is planning to shut it down and transfer the subscribers to fixed-wireless for broadband, and either mobile-only or a VoLTE-based fixed terminal for voice.

The upshot is a hell of a row. While the copper is there, VZ has to guarantee a universal service, accept collect-calls, serve things like credit-card terminals, ATMs, burglar alarms, and medical devices that use voice lines, and provide wholesale access for competing ISPs. Once it goes, it doesn’t. Also, the islanders are concerned that the new service might not be as robust during power failures.

Verizon has long had the habit of dismantling the copper infrastructure when their FiOS FTTH service rolls out, for precisely these reasons, and recently they’ve stepped this up. The US RBOCs would all like to swap rural copper for fixed-wireless, getting rid of the maintenance and shrugging off the regulatory requirements.

So it’s telling that the New York Attorney General has gone in very hard:

Verizon [must] divest those portions of its New York franchise where it is no longer willing to continue providing wireline service and replace Verizon with another carrier that will provide wireline service.”

There are 13 more pages of this stuff, but it’s clear that the matter is coming to a head. Elsewhere in the US, VZ might get around this by leasing spectrum to a rural operator, but in New York, they are the local operator so that’s not an option.

In the UK, meanwhile, the National Audit Office has reviewed the government’s effort to get broadband into underserved areas, and concludes that it’s a disaster. It aimed to get at least 2Mbps to 90% of the rural population by 2015 and it’s not going to get there. It also aimed to support competition, but all the contracts ended up with BT. And it’s hard to say if this is value for money because nobody seems to be counting.

The point is made that the government bizarrely decided that BT had to offer regulated access to its ducts and poles, so-called passive infrastructure access or PIA, but not if the customer wanted to reach business premises rather than homes. This amounted, among other things, to a ban on rural ISPs providing mobile backhaul. It’s as if the whole point was to look after the incumbent, Mr. Bialystock!

OFCOM, meanwhile, is trying to extract some stronger unbundling commitments for BT’s VDSL network. Specifically, they would like to cut the fee BT Openreach charges for every change of provider from £50 to more like £15. Good luck.

In Zambia, the regulator has opened criminal proceedings against all the mobile operators on the grounds that their service sucks (we paraphrase). There’s an example for you.

And Somalia, which didn’t have a government not so long ago, is setting up a regulator. Meanwhile, Etisalat is trying to get its SIMs registered with national identity cards, in order to “prevent identity theft”.

Is the smartphone market stagnating? Is HP getting back into smartphones?

As predicted, HTC’s results are horrible, with revenue down 22% for Q2 and profits down 83%, to the point where they’re basically just breaking even. What with the (not actually bad, but disappointing) numbers from Samsung last week, there’s a degree of bearishness blowing around.

“The whole high-end smartphone industry is slowing, which is not just an HTC problem,” Barclays analyst Dale Gai told the WSJ. “It’s a saturated market.”

ReadWriteWeb makes a case that Samsung is not as tough as it looks, but rather oddly doesn’t mention all the component manufacturing, although it talks a lot about silicon. If the value is either in the chips or in the UX, then surely manufacturing the chips (like Samsung) is a valid strategy. Anyway, AndroidBeat claims they’re about to announce the 20 millionth S IV.

Samsung has also acquired Boxee, the TV streaming and set-top box company with a dedicated fanbase. The fans are worried that it will get rolled into a “smart TV” product and that Samsung might ruin the user experience; after all, the S IV comes with an “easy mode”.

HP may be making a comeback in the smartphone market. In the light of the HTC and Samsung stories, this may seem eccentric to a degree we’ve come to expect from HP. But then, consider this chart from Ericsson, via the 3G & 4G Wireless Blog:


They’re certainly still reckoning with growth in smartphones, lots of it, and it’s expected to compete away the featurephone market. Meg Whitman is on record as saying that for much of the world, the smartphone will be the first computing device they have, so perhaps they’re thinking of a cheap option.

Firefox OS gadgets are landing in Spain this week, with Telefonica. DTAG will be shipping them in Poland soon after. The first device, ZTE’s OneTouch, is priced at €39 plus €30 worth of prepaid airtime - so they’re aiming at the low-end with a vengeance. Meanwhile, Ubuntu Phone gets another member of the carrier advisory group, China Unicom.

Horace asks what a BlackBerry user is worth and whether a fall in enterprise value per-user at Apple is predictive, as it seems to have been at BlackBerry. The obvious problem here is that the stock market also does stuff for its own reasons. More interestingly, though, he argues that the implied valuation of the BlackBerry user base is zero - surely this is what BBM is for, and iTunes is the reason it’s not the case for Apple?

A technical discussion of the new Mac Pro is here, noting that it’s remarkably like a little mainframe. Is Microsoft, meanwhile, turning into a search company?

Japanese railways sell passengers’ data

So you’re a Japanese railway. Your equivalent of the Oyster card system must capture enormous amounts of data about how many passengers get on and off at which stations, when. So why not sell it? They did, and the response was customer rage, especially after that thing with the Tokyo Metro clerk who used their ticketing system to stalk women.

AT&T wants to do something similar (sell data, that is) and TechCrunch tells you where to opt out.

Facebook argues that its ads don’t generate lots of clickthroughs but that’s all right because they’re like TV advertising, generating brand awareness and general influence rather than specific sales. The main point of online advertising is of course that it generates specific, measureable, hot leads rather than general brand awareness, so this isn’t good news. Interestingly, a lot of their data mining is apparently intended to square the circle, trying to demonstrate and quantify the influence the adverts have and therefore justify spending on them.

On the other hand, pay-per-click has its problems, too. Twitter’s version of online advertising is “Promoted Tweets”, where advertisers pay to have some of their content squirted into the feed provided to people who don’t follow the advertiser. As this user discovered, the advertisers are charged whenever there is a clickthrough, a reply, a favourite, or a re-tweet - so it’s possible for a protest mob to generate a huge bill just by bombarding the advertiser with abuse.

How much traffic does Google News really send to newspapers? A German paper finds that it’s less than Wikipedia.

Is this the worst app ever - a very complicated way to download a dozen MP3s that also requires essentially every permission on your Android and a Twitter/Facebook login?

Is this the worst advertising idea ever? Sky Deutschland’s advertising partner wants to build bone-conduction speakers into the windows on trains, so people who rest their head on the window pane will hear advertising coming from a voice in their head that only they can hear.

The Daily Snowden

At the moment, it sometimes feels like there’s a niche for a blog that publishes nothing but revelations connected with Edward Snowden. And ProPublica.org has given us just that.

This week saw the whole affair shoot out tendrils in all directions. In 2003, it turns out, when Global Crossing was sold to Singapore, the NSA insisted that the company maintained a special team of security cleared US citizens to handle requests for surveillance. The officials in the US government responsible for this are unimprovably known as “Team Telecom”.

In this weekend’s Snowdendump, it emerged that the agency had agreements with US and other operators to collect traffic abroad, and that the German government’s intelligence service took traffic in Germany and shared it with the NSA.

As the Germans have been so voluble about the whole affair, this is deeply sensitive politically. Similarly, the French president demanded that the Americans knock it off…and then it turned out France was doing just the same.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which is responsible for authorising all this stuff, turns out to have secretly redefined the word “relevant” as used in US law. And while the telcos are required to hand all this data over to the NSA, they are also required by the FCC to keep it private!

Amazingly, in the light of all this, major US Internet firms are lobbying Singapore to drop a law that requires government registration of anything that “reports on Singapore”. It can’t help that they’ve been at least as nosey themselves.

So, if you wanted your own PRISM, how much would it cost? Another effort is at High Scalability.

Buy cloud. Sell cloud.

The German stock exchange is launching a market in cloud resources.

The specialised cloud. Here’s a company that specialises in processing huge data sets for the oil & gas industry’s geologists, and that immerses its servers in liquid coolant.

Here’s a good technical blog post on Spanner, Google’s NewSQL distributed data store.

Should those M2M devices really be on the Internet?

An Internet-mapping experiment teaches us a hard lesson about security.

“A lot of devices and services we have seen during our research should never be connected to the public Internet at all. As a rule of thumb, if you believe that ‘nobody would connect that to the Internet, really nobody’, there are at least 1000 people who did,” says the report. “Whenever you think ‘that shouldn’t be on the Internet but will probably be found a few times’ it’s there a few hundred thousand times. Like half a million printers, or a Million Webcams, or devices that have root as a root password.”

A good point about Apple’s security products:

While Apple hasn’t said so explicitly, it’s clear that one key principle guides them when it comes to security: The more you impede a user’s ability to do something, the more likely that user is to circumvent security measures.

John Graham-Cumming suggests a way of getting people to encrypt e-mail.

A well-known encrypted IM system turns out to be drastically insecure.

MIT students built a tool to demonstrate what the enemy might do with your e-mail, but ironically it appears to have been hacked and the error message it showed us said the file “client_secrets.json” was not found.

And here’s how to Bebo, the kid-oriented social network, has been sold back to the original founders for $1m, five years after the founders exited with a $850 million sale to AOL. The new-old owner says he’s bought it because it might be fun.

Carlos Slim invests $40m in Shazam, the original mobile app startup and one whose “name that tune” app seems to be immortal.

What does Google Glass say about our society?

Syrian rebels distribute early warning of Scud missile launches by SMS.

What was it like to be Maurice Wilkes’ son in the Cambridge Computer Lab’s heyday?

And RIP, Doug Engelbart, visionary pioneer of personal computing. Yes, he invented the mouse, but as the link explains, that was the very least of his achievements. You can watch the legendary original demo from 1968 here.

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