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Skype, India, US Fibre, Nokia, Apple: Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed: We’ve just published a new report on How AT&T overtook Verizon in strategic business services analysing the success factors behind, and lessons to be learned from, AT&T’s approach in the enterprise market.]

New Skype at the heart of Microsoft’s strategy; AT&T execs on voice; Twitter Q1s

Microsoft is up to some interesting stuff. A new test build of Office 2016 was just released. Windows 10 is coming in summer for x86 PCs, and then deploying to other platforms in a rolling, agile release schedule. Visual Studio is getting a variety of major enhancements in the current release-candidate, notably a tool to benchmark network requests across platforms. Project Astoria is meant to let Android and iOS apps run on Win10. Even Windows Update has been getting some investment.

But the really interesting bit is Skype for Business, which has gone through a major update.

This includes a completely new client application, and adds a lot of features. Conference calls can now be set up specifying a file - for example, slideware or video - that launches on login for everyone on the call. Collaborative editing on a document can be launched from inside a conference call. And your call can be broadcast to up to 10,000 users on the web, out of a CDN in Microsoft Azure, with some interesting features like sentiment tracking.

They’ve also released a new version of Skype for Business Server, for organisations that want to host Skype themselves, integrated the Skype Directory into Office 365’s contacts search, integrated the Skype Server with SQL Server, demonstrated interoperability with Tandberg and Cisco conferencing hardware, and launched a new web-based SDK for developers. Also, Skype for Business is going to take over from Lync within Office 365, although users can select whether they want the Lync or Skype UI.

That’s a lot of investment in a Voice 2.0 product, which suddenly looks like it’s becoming central to Microsoft’s enterprise strategy. It’s also one of the potential futures for voice, centred around rich collaboration features and high-definition media. And it’s about time we saw some of that, as Dean Bubley points out. Just because we’ve seen peak telephony doesn’t mean the end of voice.

HD conferencing app Wire has launched its web client. Up until now it’s been an iOS/OS X/Android proposition, but this of course means it can address the Windows ecosystem and indeed pretty much anything else that gets invented. Dan York notes that it has a top score on metrics of SSL implementation quality.

AT&T is giving its U-Verse carrier VoIP some much needed attention. Caller-ID has been integrated into the U-Verse STB, so the caller’s number pops up on the TV. Voicemail is now integrated with their wireless visual voicemail app, which has gained a transcription capability. There is some talk of WebRTC and HD voice, but nothing specific. A major reason to keep landline voice seems to be dialling into conference calls at work.

Android and Chromium’s strong support for WebRTC, meanwhile, is getting it into some interesting places, like an e-mail client and a service kiosk solution.

Twitter, meanwhile, missed its Q1 revenue targets and saw its net loss increase substantially. Everyone still loves it, which is part of the problem - MAUs, DAUs, and traffic keep rising, but without monetisation those are just more costs. Ironically, they tried to manage the bad news by waiting for the market to close before filing, but somebody blurted out the truth…on Twitter, and the shares fell 20 per cent.

Here’s a negative review of enterprise messaging app Jive. Why SIP sucks, and what to do about it.

Indian startups; the mobile/solar growth flywheel; cheap phones are over in China; Ericsson’s “frontrunners”

There’s been a surge of investment into Indian startups, driven by the explosive adoption of cheap smartphones. It’s mostly media or e-commerce, although the investors tend to be classic tech VC names. And it sounds bubbly as hell.

Another take on this is here, in a piece from Steven Sinofsky of Andreesen-Horowitz. He argues that an important synergy between mobile and solar power has emerged, driving very rapid growth in both technologies. Solar makes it possible to charge devices and to power infrastructure; mobile creates a demand for it, and also facilitates payments and credit. Once solar panels are in place, other electricals and electronics show up, demanding bandwidth that the mobile operators can provide.

In China, the era of the ultra-low cost phones is over and everyone wants to trade up to something with an Apple logo. As a result, vendors like Xiaomi have to either move upmarket, or else concentrate on export, where they will meet the growing Indian vendor industry and the low-end of Samsung’s portfolio.

This quarter’s scoreboard, meanwhile, is here.

Ericsson has discovered that a small subset of mobile operators are growing much faster than others. They are usually network-focused and are usually the third or fourth operator in their market. It sounds a lot like this Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing.

Did you know the touchscreen was invented in Malvern in 1965?

Three fibre deployments choo-choo to Chattanooga; US FTTH rollouts pick up speed

FTTH deployment in the US has flipped into an investment cycle, driven by the cableco upgrades. Chattanooga is now the focus of three deployments, as Comcast and AT&T have abandoned lobbying against its municipal fibre network in favour of competing with it. The muni-net provides 1Gbps for $70/mo, which will be hard to beat. Comcast is promising 2Gbps to 300,000 homes.

AT&T, meanwhile, is is rolling out to Atlanta and the Research Triangle. We covered Comcast’s 2Gbps build in Atlanta earlier. The Triangle is now the target for AT&T’s GigaPower, plus Frontier Communications, and also Google Fiber.

With the pressure well and truly on, there’s a rush to get property investors interested in putting in the in-building infrastructure and signing up for dark fibre. Here’s some detail on how that works for AT&T’s fibre-to-the-business program.

AT&T is also pulling fibre to Cupertino and Mountain View, but the premium pricing is only likely to last until Google Fiber covers its own home town.

Close, but no cigar: T-Mo still 4th; TWC-Mobile? Vodafone-Liberty superdeal?

T-Mobile USA has had another monster net-adds quarter, but it’s still not quite beaten Sprint out of third place in the US. 1.8m net-adds in Q1 put them on 56.8m customers, compared to 57.1m for Sprint. Those included 991k postpaid phones and 134k dongles. Service revenue was up 9% year-on-year, although ARPU was down again, 5.5% year-on-year at $46.43, and even ABPU including gadget instalments was down, 1.4% at $60.8. The carrier made a small loss, not least because it’s still spending about a billion a quarter on CAPEX.

A major issue regarding T-Mobile is the huge pile of receivables from its customers that has built up thanks to its quick-upgrade plans. At the moment, the pile stands at $3.3bn. It’s no surprise, therefore, that their CFO is looking at selling on these debts in order to raise cash. The problem is that about half the customers who took one of those plans have less-than-prime credit. T-Mobile is trying to address this by extending the same pricing they offer prime creditors to everyone who pays their bill on time, hoping that this will give them a strong reason to pay up. (On a similar theme, VZW will give you more data if you sign up to automatically top up your prepaid account.)

More broadly, analyst Craig Moffatt points out that the price war has pushed down prices almost exactly enough to wipe out revenue growth from higher usage. He also argues that VZW and T-Mobile are the strongest carriers financially.

At least, until T-Mobile buys a cableco. Charter and TWC are apparently considering getting back together, now Comcast has been banned from bidding, but John Legere’s Q1 call gave the impression he might consider jumping in. As our Free-T-Mobile Executive Briefing pointed out, a deal with cable would open up a lot of possibilities for T-Mo, but you bet it would be expensive.

Verizon, meanwhile, is breaking up its FiOS TV bundles. Harold Feld has a very detailed post on the economics of cable and TV bundling and the likely regulatory consequences.

Elsewhere, there’s going to be an investigation into how DISH got a $3bn gimme during the last spectrum auction by claiming it was a small business. Verizon is beginning to deploy SDN technology in its fixed network, while Level(3) is planning to deploy the Constellation SDN platform it acquired with TW Telecom to the rest of its footprint.

Here’s some speculation for you: Vodafone could sell its African, Middle Eastern, and Asia-Pacific networks and use the money to buy Liberty Global. Or will they buy spectrum in Brazil, where they have a M2M-focused MVNO?

Ooredoo saw a massive drop in its profits in Iraq. As you might expect, this was partly down to “security issues”, but “increased competition” was also mentioned as a problem.

Xavier Niel-backed MyRepublic hasn’t been given a licence yet, but it is allowed to run a trial network. In a typically Niel-esque move, it’s handing out free SIM cards and inviting the public to try it out and put pressure on the authorities. NTT DoCoMo offered the public discounts, and they took them up, the cheeky devils.

BT is about to put its case for the EE acquisition to the regulators. And as an indirect result of the deal, the Weve payments joint venture is being broken up. O2 UK will run its part of the JV on independently.

Nokia: Q1s, ALU deal, 5G. New Cisco CEO. DAS is the future. And also dead.

Nokia Networks Q1s are out, and profits were down very sharply, off 61%, although revenues were up 15% year-on-year. The key mobile broadband division made a €3m loss. In general, it looks like Nokia and Ericsson had very similar quarters, with not enough capacity upgrades and software projects but too much coverage expansion work, and a slowdown in North American CAPEX as AT&T and VZW’s 4G build cycle finishes.

Rajeev Suri told investors that “history does not have to repeat itself”, meaning that the Nokia-Alcatel deal doesn’t necessarily have to be as difficult and fractious as, say, the Alcatel-Lucent one was. As with all mega-mergers, though, that’s the way to bet.

Here’s an interesting Nokia whitepaper on 5G. Note that they think LTE-A is good until 2020, but it will need at least one GHz of aggregated spectrum to get there.

Nokia’s country manager for Nigeria says cheaper devices are needed to make 4G deployment worthwhile there and takes the opportunity to have a swing at WiMAX.

After 20 years at the top of Cisco, John Chambers is stepping back, in favour of Chuck Robbins, also a Cisco lifer, who was in charge of global sales until recently.

SpiderCloud says distributed antenna systems are dead but Axell Wireless says they’re the future. Alan Tantillo, T-Mobile USA’s director of siting, says small cells cost between a quarter and a tenth what equivalent DAS does. He also says a lot of interesting stuff about the intersection of real estate and wireless infrastructure.

Level(3)’s SDN can be controlled from an API inside Microsoft Azure.

Optus Satellite is a customer for Laser Light Global, an optical satellite network.

And Joseph W. Lechleider, a Bellcore/Telcordia engineer who invented the asymmetry in ADSL, has died, aged 82.

Apple hiring BBC R1 producers; Google’s £107m for newspapers; Internet.org opens the platform; open-source containers

What is Apple planning in music? Whatever it is, they’re willing to spend top dollar. Apple keeps hiring BBC Radio 1’s best producers but no-one knows what they’re up to. The product, whatever it turns out to be, is going to launch on the 8th of June.

Google, meanwhile, is making nice with European newspapers, spending £107m supporting a group of them in their efforts to innovate. They’ve also added another 70 partners to Google Now.

On a similar theme, Amazon Echo now supports the popular IfThisThenThat graphical programming kit, so it can work with all sorts of other services. Pinterest has a new API.

Mozilla has shown off a reference UI design for TVs running FirefoxOS.

After heavy criticism over net neutrality, Facebook’s Internet.org has taken a new tack. Now, rather than wait for Facebook to take an interest, you can submit an ultra-cut-down version of your website to the platform for inclusion.

Rocket Internet lost money in Q1.

CoreOS has made the format for its containers open source.

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