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Net neutrality, Fregulators, Indian spectrum, IBM cloud investments, Telco 2.0 News Review

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US net neutrality rolled back, but FCC gets Section 706 powers; French industry minister declares war on cheaper calls conspiracy

A US federal court ruled in Verizon’s favour this week, thus essentially overturning the FCC’s Open Internet Order, the relatively weak net neutrality measure imposed by Chairman Genachowski a few years back. This red-alerted the neutrality lobby into action, not surprisingly as it comes a week after AT&T announced its “Sponsored Data” product.

Teresa “The Voice of Broadband” Mastrangelo discusses Sponsored Data in some detail here. Although AT&T is at pains to deny that the sponsored data gets any preferential quality of service treatment on the wire, you can see how it would relaunch the whole row.

That said, Verizon’s win in the courts is far from an unequivocal triumph.

The court held that the Open Internet Order amounted to the sort of powers the FCC has under the famous Title II of the 1934 Telecoms Act, which regulates anything it considers to be a common carrier. Since the Martin FCC’s Comcast decision, of course, broadband has been carved out of the notion of “telecommunications services” in the meaning of the Act, and therefore not considered a common carrier and not covered by Title II.

This leaves the FCC with the option of biting the bullet and reclassifying broadband. As the FCC is simultaneously trying to get everyone on broadband, you can make a case that it will have to if it doesn’t want to become irrelevant.

The court also gave the FCC quite a bit more wiggle-room, holding that Section 706 of TA ‘96 does give the FCC quite broad regulatory powers over the Internet even without reclassifying. For example, it could require that any “non-neutral” arrangement be “non-discriminatory” and “reasonable”, and a lot of net neutrality advocates would argue that without the ability to discriminate in a manner that might be considered unreasonable, there’s no point.

In other regulatory news, the French government wants to attach new conditions to the 700MHz auction, notably regarding jobs, investment in small towns, and the reshoring of call centres.

Rather more worrying is the rest of the story. The minister responsible for industrial recovery, Arnaud Montebourg, who has suddenly taken an interest in his colleague at telecoms Fleur Pellerin’s brief, complains that “it’s out of question that prices can be allowed to fall because billionaires are fighting on the public square”. That’s right - he’s worried that a telecoms cartel might be scheming to cut prices. He’s also concerned about fibre deployment.

He is, of course, talking about Free. You know, the first ISP in France to roll out fixed fibre to the home. Would it be too cynical to theorise that Pellerin and ARCEP saw through the incumbent lobbyists, so they’ve now taken their case to Montebourg instead, knowing that he probably knows much less about telecoms and his brief means he’s especially sensitive to threats of job losses?

Indian spectrum action; two banks in for Sprin-T; no sale of EE

On the 3rd of February, India’s re-auction of the 900 and 1800MHz bands kicks off. Vodafone and Bharti, plus Idea, Reliance, and Telenor, are all present at the start line, and 4G greenfield Reliance Jio Infocomm may also take part.

Wind Mobile, the Vimpelcom-owned Canadian MNO, has pulled out of the 700MHz auction although it needs more LTE spectrum by its own admission. Apparently the Canadian government isn’t happy about Vimpelcom taking full control of the company, and Vimpelcom is pushing back.

Sprin-T speculation is peaking, as it’s rumoured that two banks are on standby to lend Sprint the money it would need, and Deutsche Telekom has moved its stake in T-Mobile USA into a Dutch holding company. The reference is presumably to the way Vodafone managed the sale of VZW for tax purposes. That said, it’s also been estimated that the deal would increase the Herfindahl index of the US cellular market, a measure of monopoly, by more than the AT&T&T-Mobile deal would have done.

Elsewhere, super-cheap US MVNO Netzero signed a new 3G wholesale deal with Sprint.

Carlos Slim’s European tour continues, as he acquires another 3.14% of Telekom Austria, taking the stake to 26.37%.

The owners of EE have decided not to float the carrier just yet, and to wait for 4G to prove itself further. Meanwhile, EE has had a disaster with the old T-Mobile prepaid OSS, accidentally wiping out subscribers’ credit balances.

One of those hybrid MVNOs/mini-carriers has decided to sell its infrastructure and just be an MVNO, in Chile.

BT is the partner for Neul’s ultra-low power whitespace network. Telefonica has a new enterprise mobility product based on its WiFi assets.

And here’s Africa’s first LTE-Advanced, in Angola.

Vodafone and BSkyB vs. BT; iPlayer and tablets; Charter bid for TWC

Vodafone and BSkyB have been discussing how they might cooperate in the UK fixed market. The report sounds as if they’re looking at wholesaling BSkyB content (Vodafone already bundles the Sky Sports app with some LTE plans) and also cooperating on the network. Vodafone, of course, owns the substantial Cable & Wireless metro-fibre and data centre assets, even if a joint FTTH build isn’t considered, and it could also provide wholesale 4G as part of a Sky quad-play.

However, “the newspaper said the talks illustrate the extent to which the once-staid telecoms operator has gained on its competitors by betting on fibre broadband and top flight football”. They can’t mean BT surely?

Meanwhile, Connected Vision reports that BBC iPlayer usage on tablets has passed that on PCs, while the overall TV audience over Christmas actually fell. (The Christmas Day EastEnders is now down to less than a quarter of its ratings in the peak year, 1986.)

The FCC has its 2012 broadband stats out.

Charter’s bid for Time Warner Cable went official this week at $132.50 a share, and TWC immediately said this was not enough. There is much speculation going on that although the FCC is likely to give the bid the go-ahead, especially if Charter splits TWC’s footprint with Comcast, it might take the opportunity to add a net-neutrality rider and a content wholesaling requirement - after all, they did so for the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011.

The European Commission is looking into whether territorial exclusivity for TV and movies is anti-competitive.

TiVO showed its network-based DVR product, Roamio, at CES. Virgin Media is apparently running small scale trials of it, and both Com Hem and ONO are interested.

Huawei and ZTE numbers; Chinese subscribers; Apple + China Mobile; vendors

Huawei announced sales up 8% year on year and operating profits up 20%.

The company claims to be the world’s third biggest smartphone vendor, targeting 80 million smartphone shipments for next year. That said, Huawei is still very much the big iron infrastructure shop. 75% of the Carrier division’s revenues came from the top 50 mobile operators.

Meanwhile, ZTE expects to be in profit for 2013, compared to a net loss last time out. The explanation is pretty simple - the industry’s price leader took on too many contracts it couldn’t make money on, so they reined in the sales hounds a tad.

Chinese mobile subscribers are up 0.5% at 1.23bn in December, with China Mobile delivering both the most net-adds and also the biggest gains in 3G adoption.

Not surprisingly, Tim Cook was keen to talk up the iPhone deal with China Mobile, taking part in a live teleconference with the chairman Xi Guohua.

While we’re on vendors, the top job at Nokia is up, and it’s between CFO Timo Ihamuotila and NSN CEO Rajeev Suri. Ericsson boss Hans Vestberg may be in the running for the Microsoft job. And Siemens sells its remaining telecoms R&D.

SMS revenues slide; IfByPhone gets funding; understand SDP with cows; web-voice for marketers; Spanish voicemail-to-text

Strategy Analytics reckons that worldwide SMS revenues fell for the first time in 2013 and will fall 20 per cent by 2017. The problem being all those instant message apps. Deloitte, meanwhile, estimates that the volume of IM passed that of SMS in 2012 and will reach double the volume of SMS next year.

One of our favourite Voice 2.0 startups, IfByPhone, has snagged another $9m in VC funding.

Now here’s something. One of the main arguments for WebRTC is that it lets all sorts of general-purpose web developers jump into telecoms. This is also one of the main problems - it’s not as if any of the complexities of telephony have gone away, after all. As a result, the details of the SDP payload can be a bit intimidating. Fortunately, help is at hand! Why not visualise it as a cow?


No. We got the graphic from WebRTCHacks, which has a nice tool to let you explore the SDP payload in detail and experiment with it interactively. Moooo!

Chris Kranky argues that the enduring complexity of telephony and video is a strong argument to get as much of your WebRTC in the cloud as possible, and explains why Web-voice integration is good for marketers. And here’s a good practical example, at the Twilio blog.

Sprint is looking at VoWLAN and has added Spanish to its voicemail-transcription service.

British banks’ mobile money platform; O2 Money shuts down; Zimbabwe fixes interop; ATMs’ WinXP support ends on 9th April

Five British banks have signed up to launch a joint mobile payments venture. This one is based on a software platform from Zapp, which the partners will integrate into their own apps, or perhaps just skin with their own branding. It involves NFC, or alternatively QR codes, but this is intended for in-branch use.

In parallel to this, O2 UK has closed its mobile wallet service, probably due to a lack of anyone who wanted to put money in it. (Is there a theme here?)

In Zimbabwe, where people really do use mobile money, Econet Wireless has opened up interoperability with the banks’ payments system, ZimSwitch. This had been an issue because the banks didn’t want the competitor to have access to things like the ATM network, and Econet didn’t want the banks to have access to its customers.

On the 9th of April, Microsoft will terminate its support for Windows XP, and the security patches will stop coming. This is a serious problem, because about 95% of the world’s 3 million ATMs run XP, and the phrase “unpatched XP box” still strikes fear into the hearts of security professionals everywhere. Some of them run the embedded version, for which security support continues into 2016. The owners of the rest, though, must choose whether to upgrade or to pay Microsoft for continued support.

Microsoft is keen to finally give XP the stake in the heart, clove of garlic, and coffin filled with its native soil treatment, and to this end, the pricing of extended support goes up dramatically each year in order to push the ATM owners to upgrade. The problem is that a lot of the ATMs won’t run Windows 7 and will therefore need a literal forklift upgrade. And while all this is going on, the US is meant to deploy chip-and-PIN…

Massive POS terminal hack against US retailers; in which the NSA reads our traffic; how “TDoS” attacks work

It must be time for some security news! Just why the idea of unsupported Windows XP-based ATMs should be so dreadful is well shown by the so-called “Target data breach”. “Data breach” is a misnomer here, and arguably one that serves to play down the seriousness of the incident. It’s not as if Target lost a database of people’s loyalty card points, bad as that would be.

Instead, their entire fleet of credit card merchant terminals was compromised by hackers who also did it to several other retailers. Target spilled 70 million credit cards, plus an unknown but big number at Neiman-Marcus and a variety of other companies.

As Dave Birch points out, the information is enough to run transactions or to create cloned cards that could be used anywhere magstripe readers are still in use, or where a fall-back to magstripe can be forced, but it wouldn’t be enough to defeat the current implementations of the European EMV-4 standard, aka Chip and PIN. Bring on 2015.

Meanwhile, the latest Snowden bomb goes off with the revelation that the NSA and its mates collected about 1 per cent of global SMS traffic a day, concentrating on network notifications. Why? Because the “Welcome to Telco plc international roaming. Dial 112 in emergency. Calls cost…” SMSs let you know when the user crosses an international border, of course. They also scarfed up any vCards sent as SMS, which means they certainly did read our traffic!

The EFF, meanwhile, reports on a personalised spear-phishing attack the Vietnamese secret police tried on two of their staff.

The good news: your smart fridge probably hasn’t been hacked, yet.

Here’s a good piece on the growing threat from telephony denial of service (TDOS) attacks and social engineering enabled by caller-ID spoofing. Interestingly, 3G USB modems are often used as the platform for this sort of thing, and here’s a report on how the attack tools are getting consumerised.

Don’t have nightmares. After all, Geeksphone, the people who did the first FirefoxOS gadget, are working with Silent Circle and other security specialists to build a security-optimised smartphone. But you still need a security-optimised *carrier*…

IBM: another 15 data centres, thanks; PacNet opens new DC; extreme heat fells Aussie HPC; Vodafone IPX

IBM is putting $1.2bn of investment into SoftLayer, the major managed-hosting company it acquired last year. The cash will be used to add another 15 data centres to the portfolio it owns worldwide - 13 SoftLayer and 12 IBM ones - representing a big commitment to the cloud and an effort to push the cloud endpoints closer to the network edge.

Meanwhile, Pacnet opened a $90m, Tier III high availability data centre in Singapore. We could go all serious about the cloud and Asia-Pacific and cooling options, or we could use this photo:


Only a few days ago, we read that thanks to the “polar vortex”, a US university’s high-performance computing centre had sent round an e-mail asking scientists if they had any big computing jobs they felt like bringing forward so the sysadmins could keep warm. Here’s the opposite: the Victorian Life Science Computation Initiative, a biology HPC centre in Melbourne, has had to shut down some of its machines because the water supply is over 40 degrees C and therefore outside the cooling system’s design limits.

Meanwhile, Vodafone wants to eat the IPX hub industry and get everyone on their carrier services division’s platform.

Amazon was looking at delivering packages by drone before Christmas. Now it’s patented the idea of shipping stuff you might want, before you buy it. You could say this was the logical conclusion of all the “search queries before you even ask” stuff. You could also say that it was a canny way to push some of Amazon’s inventory costs onto the transport industry.

Samsung debate; Apple Q4, huge or enormous?; Google buys Nest; no Ubuntu phones this year

Is Samsung in trouble, or cheap as chips? The analyst with the best forecasting score for Samsung stock in 2013 reckons that smartphone margins are going to be ground down further, and that means another slide in the stock, unless the chip business can make up for it. Others argue the business is fundamentally strong and the shares are now cheap.

Horace reckons that Apple’s Q4 is going to be a monster, presumably driven by the start of China Mobile sales and a good Christmas. He also provides a nice chart comparing Windows and Apple platform shipments.


He argues that Apple is well placed to hold onto this, not being beholden to a few corporate IT buyers but rather to a diffuse base of consumers. Meanwhile, Nokia pushes a major update for the Lumias with some interesting features, but it doesn’t work.

There won’t be any Ubuntu phones before 2015. An interview with Cyanogenmod. An interview with Gabe Newell of Valve.

Google buys home IoT specialist Nest Labs for some $2bn.

And Ars Technica pleads with Lenovo not to kill the classic ThinkPad keyboard, the tool with which this review is weekly crafted for your pleasure. Hear, hear.

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