Ring! Ring! Hot News, 7th September 2009

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Telco 2.0 Top Stories:
  • APIs and Enablers: Nokia launches Ovi SDK
  • Digital Advertising: Big push for privacy legislation - will it kill or cure LBS and targeted ads?
  • Online Content: New Nokia Comes With Music phones target Spotify head on
  • Voice & Messaging 2.0: Orange: future of work is decentralised offices, not telecommuting
  • Strategy & Finance: Bidding war on for T-Mobile UK

In other news: Nokia still loves stalkerware; new blog about Nokia musicphones, entirely useless to 90% of our readers; Symbian for mass market, Maemo for high end; Nokia "has enough operating systems for now"; MoBot, the mobile scripting tool for power users; NSN chief leaves, Nokia services chief takes over; Sony Ericsson's PS3 streaming gadget; Verizon joins TV-streaming alliance; Gmail outage; Kai-Fu Lee quits Google.cn; sense from Telephony Online about VoIP and unicomms; new HTC gadgets; Facebook friends for sale; China Unicom and Telefonica swap shares; funny filesharing figures from the BPI; French teachers want mobiles back in the classroom; Cisco dishes out rewards for failure; Digicel brings GSM to Nauru.

It's here: at Nokia World this week, Nokia announced the launch of the first set of Ovi developer tools. There will be a software-development kit for Ovi applications in general, based on (inevitably) HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (it will be interesting to see if it conforms to the same standards as JIL), and there will also be APIs for Nokia Web services. To start with, they're offering access to their map server and to the server which generates turn-by-turn navigation instructions. At the moment, you have to pay for this last service through Nokia's Maps application, so one wonders what the business model is.

You also have to wonder how valuable location data will be in the future; given that GPS and GALILEO and probably GLONASS for all we know are free-to-air and the cost of the hardware is falling fast, it's yet another thing where telcos can't afford to hang about. Some Nokia Series 40 - i.e. cheap - devices are already "fitted for but not with" GPS, having both Nokia Maps and support for a Bluetooth GPS module. And there are GPS receiver SIM cards on the market.

Unsurprisingly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is gearing up for the coming fight over privacy, LBS, and targeted ads. As Rich Karpinski points out at Telephony Online, there is a major push on to legislate in the US this autumn, and the proposed texts would impose highly restrictive conditions on behavioural and location-based ads. Karpinski argues that the opportunity to monetise the CDR pile might close before it even opens; we're not so sure.

One of the main barriers to making creative use of customer data has been uncertainty about the legal position; another has been the justified fear of causing a privacy Chernobyl that would forever destroy user and advertiser confidence. It may well be rational to welcome legislative restrictions as a form of self-signalling - if we are constrained by law to respect users' data sovereignty, we can act with confidence so long as we observe the law.

Nokia, however, is still keen as mustard on pushing out location data as part of a status broadcasting application.

They also announced a new line of phones optimised for Comes With Music and priced to compete with Spotify. Note the trend - hardware that wants to be a Web service. There's a new blog at Forum Nokia all about the X-series devices, but it's in Chinese.

Jonas Guest, VP in charge of N-series devices, says that Nokia is planning to use Symbian for the mass market and Maemo Linux for "high end devices" such as the N900; but there's still no word as to whether the "high end" will include any phones, as opposed to nonselling pushmepullyous like the N800/810/900. He also says that:
Since Nokia has also developed netbooks utilizing Microsoft's Windows 7 platform, Nokia has enough platform diversity in its products and there is no need for Nokia to adopt any more operating systems,
Phew. Are there any they haven't already done? Perhaps FreeBSD or OpenSolaris 10? In other Nokia news, the results of their hacker competition are out. The stars are probably an application that turns your phone into a credit-card terminal, and MoBots, a graphical toolkit for non-technical users to develop their own micro-applications. The Register is reminded of Lego Mindstorms; we are thinking of HyperCard...

Across the corridor at NSN, meanwhile, Simon Beresford-Wylie takes his hat and coat, and makes way for Rajeev Suri, whose last job was running Nokia's services strategy. Oh...

Sony Ericsson announced a phone that streams media over WLAN from your PlayStation 3; what would really be interesting would be if it streamed over the cellular network, so you could use the PS3-phone pairing as a Slingbox-like system. Relatedly, Verizon has joined an alliance to develop a "remote user interface" standard based on the existing DLNA home automation specs.

Sounds grim, but this is actually about streaming TV and other media around your home from a single set-top box/DVR/PVR/media centre, without needing a smart endpoint like another STB in every room, so it's actually reasonably interesting. As are the other participants - note that satellite broadcaster DirecTV is in there.

Google, meanwhile, had a major outage this week, when Gmail became unavailable for an hour. Actually, the Web interface went down - the actual e-mail servers were operational throughout, which made it a slightly weird experience to monitor the massive mailing list threads the outage generated through one's Gmail account. Unrelatedly, Kai-Fu Lee, the head of Google in China, quit on Friday, giving rise to much speculation about tension between the Googlers and the Chinese government over censorship.

We've also been seeing a bit of a VoIP revival lately, what with the sale of Skype being rather less of a financial tragedy than expected. Telephony Online makes the excellent point that the current wave of applications are more about unified comms than they are about PSTN-clone cheap calls - as we keep saying, if the price of voice is steadily approaching zero, there's no room for anyone, so to have any chance of creating value you need to understand why people make phone calls and create better voice & messaging services.

Orange, for example, has been doing some crystal ball gazing and chicken entrails examining; they reckon that the future of work, whether it's orange or not, will be localised and decentralised, but the office as an institution will survive because people need face-to-face interaction and a division between work and everything else. Instead, companies will consist of large numbers of semi-autonomous teams, widely distributed.

So, what kind of telecomms services will they need? We suspect that traditional canned PBX systems and high-spec video telepresence suites probably serve the needs of typical telecoms companies circa 2003 more than anything else, and we've said before that the industry knows remarkably little about the reasons why people use its product. Perhaps eliminating negative-value calls and facilitating the transfer of social context is the answer. It's much to Orange's credit that they are at least asking the questions.

Now, back to shiny gadgets. HTC announced the new version of its Touch HD; the interesting element here is that it's going to run Google Android, not Microsoft WIndows Mobile like the original Touch and the great majority of HTC's products so far. The other interesting element is that the CPU is clocked at 628MHz; Samsung's Jet is 800MHz. Which is scary - because of the ACPI power management's battery restrictions, my laptop spends most of its time running its cores at 800 each...

Sprint is the launch carrier for another HTC device, the "Hero", which will be the second Android gadget to market. And Apple product launch speculation is here.

Meanwhile, Facebook opened up its Connect API to more developers; at the same time, however, something very bad happened to it. An Australian PR company is offering Facebook friendships for sale - you pay them and they sign 'em up. This is worrying for the value of Facebook in general; signalling theory suggests that a valid signal needs to be significantly more costly to produce for actors who are faking. Therefore, Facebook friends are valuable because they put in the time to show they care - if you don't, it's not fun, it's work.

But if this form of social signalling is now valuable enough that people are willing to pay for it, it's rapidly going to be completely meaningless - there is enough money in the world to buy any conceivable number of Facebook pals. This is probably great news in the short term for the site itself, but very bad news for its existing userbase. It's time to move on; especially if you work for PC World, whose employees' secret Facebook group devoted to mocking ignorant customers has been exposed. Key quote:
Despite criticising some customers for being "ignorant", many of the group's 3,000 members have posted comments under their real names.

In more serious UK news, the bidding war is on for T-Mobile UK, with both Vodafone and Telefonica breaking cover - the price is variously reported between £3bn and £4bn, and the regulatory impact is keenly awaited. It is very likely that OFCOM will insist on major concessions before it greenlights a merger; we're guessing that the 900MHz refarming issue is about to be resolved, one way or another. And what will happen with the MBNL and Vodorange infrastructure sharing deals?

Telefonica, by the way, has become the first Western carrier partly owned by Chinese interests, under a deal with China Unicom which sees the two companies each take a $1bn stake in each other.

The British music industry lobby gets caught peddling funny figures on the numbers of illegal filesharers in the UK; their study both arbitrarily increased the percentage of people self-reporting filesharing by a suspiciously round number, but also boosted the number of people online in the UK. Neat.

Also this week: French teachers asked whether they should stop confiscating mobile phones and instead turn them into teaching aids, and GSM landed on Nauru, courtesy of tireless island investors Digicel. Finally, Cisco Systems missed targets but paid execs huge bonuses - no real news there then.