Ring! Ring! Hot News, 3rd March 2008

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In Today's Issue: Mobile apps RIP? And are mobile RIAs the killer? Control your private plane with a Nokia N810; or develop for IMS. It's your choice. NEC pushes "It's not IMS". Sprint = Telco USSR? British ISPs; how not to do it. Comcast: much the same. iPhones; hacked again. Hackers deploy platform strategy. Salesforce.com menace rises. Big changes ahead at Telecom Italia. Nokia GPS-tags photos. Virgin Mobile in India. EU "worse than communism". And cancerogenic BTS doesn't exist after all.

Have downloadable mobile applications died the death, to be replaced by a Web-based future? Former Palm and Apple exec Michael Mace thinks so; Carlo Longino agrees. The argument is that the diversity of possible platforms, the difficulty telcos (especially) and vendors have relating to the developer world, and the restrictive terms of business they apply, have rendered it just too difficult for a real developer ecosystem to emerge. Meanwhile, the surge in things like Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe AIR, and JavaFX means that the richness of applications that run in a browser is beginning to challenge what you can achieve reasonably quickly in a native application. This is a significant change in the balance of power between the Web 2.0 players and telcos, since you don't need a special (telco-issued) digital certificate or pre-installation for web applications.

Nokia Forum blogger and developer Robin Jewsbury agrees; his firm has shortened its product cycle to 3 weeks by moving from a mobile app to a Web app for mobiles. On the other hand, it's going to be tough to implement this kind of machine-vision/location application in a browser, and probably a bad idea to try (do you really want to send live camera output and location info to website X?). Similarly, you just try firmware hacking in the browser. So it's a big shift, but shouldn't be exaggerated.

And as one of the major fields for application development is machine-to-machine and other things that involve mobile devices interacting with objects and macro-scale machinery, this is a problem. Whilst all this ruckus was going on in developerland, some people are still interested in IMS applications development.

However, NEC just launched what it calls "light IMS", also known as "not IMS at all"; it's a blade containing an IETF SIP media server, OSS-BSS database, and an SDP application server. NEC spokesmen said that it differs from IMS in that it uses IETF SIP rather than the special 3GPP kind, stashes data in a more distributed fashion rather than one big HSS, and puts more emphasis on the SDP; and they say that like it's a bad thing. Keen and agile minds will note that the product is actually a SIP IP-SDP in a box; who needs IMS at all with one of those?

Sprint-Nextel, meanwhile, announced a $29.5bn loss, mostly in writedowns related to buying Nextel. Apparently there's something called a "sub-prime credit customer" involved in there somewhere. But there was worse; revenues are down 6% and 1.3 million subscribers are leaving a quarter. The real question, of course, is who will play which role as Sprint becomes the Telco USSR: as the economy spins its wheels in a stagnant pond of bureaucracy, and rebel fanatics stockpile guns, the rocket scientists keep working away on their WiMAX space station. Embarq looks like one of the Baltic states, or maybe Slovenia; the ones who got out in time. SprintLink is looking at being Kazakhstan; not special, but bringing in a good income from its pipelines. The cellular division; well, the Nextel side looks like it might have a chance (perhaps it's Russia itself -- rich in customer loyalty resources). But Sprint's CDMA network? Looks more like Yugoslavia or somewhere in the Caucasus; a bloody mess, if you'll excuse our English.

The General Secretary, meanwhile, promised that the workers would soon see CDMA/WiMAX dual-mode devices in the shops. Anybody who asked why disappeared. Unsought advice from an exiled Sprint dissident is here.

In other Soviet things, or at least Orwellian things, Britain's top three ISPs have, it seems, struck a deal with a company owned by veteran spyware distributors to intercept all their users' URL requests and tweak the responses in the interests of advertisers. Nice -- how could anyone possibly object? Perhaps the most interesting news about this is that they're doing it for a less-than-huge £85m in ad revenue. As we keep saying, advertising; just not worth it without a bigger platform plan.

BT, CPW, and Virgin's move is just about as un-Telco 2.0 as you can get; until you see Comcast charging $1.99 for the privilege of not getting a paper bill. That's right, they are trying to make users pay for choosing an option that costs Comcast much less. Here's a Telco 2.0 teachable moment; selling user data is only acceptable, and is also most productive, when the users get something they want from it as well -- and "more targeted ads" is a benefit to the advertiser, not the user. Similarly, if you want the public to behave in a way that suits you -- like not leaving BitTorrent clients running at line rate in working hours -- you've got to share the benefits with them. Two-sided markets, yes. Two-faced ones, no thanks.

In related news, yet another version of a tool for getting around Apple's control of iPhones is released. No doubt the 400,000 Chinese users of black market iPhones are downloading it as we speak. And as for this: well, well, well. We know there must be something right with the platform strategy when the hackers start adopting it.

If you doubt that, read this: the CEO of Salesforce.com says he wants the firm to become a "platform as a service" company, before Google gets there. The comparison is made with the early days of Windows; they had to convince the applications vendors that Windows was stable, adaptable, and widely deployed enough to be worth developing for. This is just what telcos should be doing.

Rumours of big changes at Telecom Italia; an announcement is coming on Friday, and it looks like both separation and network sharing are on the agenda.

Nokia has been putting GPS into everything in sight lately. Unsurprisingly, now they're letting you tag your photos with GPS coordinates. We bet they start indexing them in a whacking great GIS database, too, probably to appear in a mapping application soon enough -- surely it must be something like that, something interesting for the Ovi service platform to dazzle us with? Because we had an HP gadget that GPS-tagged its photos two years ago.

Virgin Mobile is making a fairly cautious entry to India; Virgin phones are coming, but really they're just hiring out the brand to Tata. More detail is at Pluggd.in; they wisely note that offering to pay subscribers for inbound calls might be a canny way of attracting marketers.

Back in Europe, Telekom Austria boss Boris Nemsic accused the EU of being "worse than Belarus" and as bad as communism. We'll keep tactfully quiet...and finally, another outspoken Austrian, in this case a mobiles-give-you-cancer obsessive, is in some trouble after it turned out the base station they claimed was making people ill didn't exist. Rather like the perfect home coverage they promised you in the store just before you signed the 2-year contract...