Telco 2.0 News Review

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It's heeere...Google integrates voice into GMail. At the moment, they're offering cheap international calls to US customers (which may imply that this shares common infrastructure with Google Voice), although some UK users (including this one) saw a phone icon briefly appear in the GMail window. Wired's Ryan Singel points out that although Skype is now the biggest phone company by minutes of use, it's making very thin margins - of course, this goes just as much for Google.

Telephony, in itself, is a software application. Google Voice and Google Talk, importantly, are purely client-server architectures (SS7 and XMPP JINGLE respectively), unlike Skype's mostly peer-to-peer network, which will have consequences for infrastructure costs and therefore the sort of margins they can tolerate. Not that Google is short of a data centre or two, though. It's not clear if the new product provides any of the better-telephony features of Voice or whether it's just another cheap calls play.

But if you really want something innovative from Google, what about Priority Inbox, which uses a Bayesian classifier to learn what you find important and sort your e-mail by relevance? We've been using essentially the same logic for years to filter out spam, and if anyone understands the process Google does. This is essentially the opposite of a spam filter. Cool, although you might be a little chary about giving Google operational rather than just advisory responsibilities in your life - that Arthur C. Clarke story about the telephone exchange that becomes sentient and starts quietly adjusting people's lives by misrouting their calls comes to mind.

(Technical note: If you want similar functionality, but don't trust Google to turn it off, you might be able to rig it using John Graham-Cumming's POPFile, a generic e-mail classifier utility. You could create three POPFile buckets for High, Medium, and Low priority, manually sort a few days' worth of traffic into them, and then let it take over the sorting. If you started to suspect, you could always uninstall it. John's now working on something similar for huge volumes of enterprise helpdesk Web traffic.)

Would Priority Inbox think spurious patent lawsuits were high or low priority? Good question. It's probably fair to say that if the nastygram comes from hyper-rich Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen it's better to take it seriously, even if it is a patent on "Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data". The first browser, NCSA Mosaic, was invented in 1992, before Allen's post-Microsoft project Interval Research....anyway, Google, Apple, Facebook, and some 8 other firms' lawyers will be chewing over this one this week.

BBC iPlayer users certainly are browsing information represented by audiovisual data, if anyone is. A Freedom of Information Act request reveals that about five times as many people are watching BBC content on Apple iProducts as on Androids, which isn't actually very surprising as only the very latest (version 2.2 "Froyo") 'droids are supported. Still, 230,016 weekly viewers on Apple iOS is a nontrivial user base. Apparently the BBC is worried about non-Flash streaming for "content protection" reasons, which is silly in the light of the free FFMpeg program which will happily record any Flash stream and re-rip it to the format of your choice.

More practically, the application is currently restricted to working over WLAN only. Something of a relief for the mobile packet-pushing department there. Fortunately, LTE is coming; it's still late and tempting but it's getting less elusive. Deutsche Telekom this week flipped the big switch on its first LTE site - in fact, Réne Obermann plugged in a pair of pink cables, although the interesting bit is that the spectrum licence requires DTAG to cover Germany's remaining notspots before they get to deploy it in the cities.

In the US, it looks like MetroPCS will be the first operator to deploy LTE, with the big switch getting thrown in Dallas and Las Vegas in September. Samsung promises that there will be a handset in time, too.

So what about that WiMAX stuff? Intel just bought Infineon's wireless baseband operation, which makes the current iPhone's cellular radio among others. It doesn't sound like they're full of confidence.

There's less relief for the packet pushers here; what about a Netflix app for the iPhone? (Their arch-rival, Blockbuster, is in deep trouble.)

We try, we try, but we always end up writing about iPhones. Here's a story about developing medical apps - for smartphones in general, not just iPhones, but the hook is the iPhone stethoscope app. It's just gone through the three million download mark. The big problem, though, is getting the thing approved by the medical world - its developer is keen to try a blood oxygen monitor (using the camera, we think) and a mobile ultrasound scanner.

So much for apps that heal. What about apps that KILL? Ones dedicated to war? A Hungarian software house has created an application based on the popular Layar augmented-reality system that implements something very like the US military's Blue Force Tracker, the system that lets you know where your friends are on the battlefield.

Creating mayhem is easy - it's order that's the difficult bit. Having conquered, you may wish to count your new subjects in order to impose your ideology on them more efficiently. Hence, a fascinating article on Brazil's census, an enormous administrative challenge which is being tackled with 150,000 LG 750GM smartphones and some custom software. The LG 750GM is a Windows Mobile 6.5 device, not perhaps what you might have expected in this context.

So perhaps it isn't quite as crazy as all that to spend $1bn on the launch of MS Windows Phone. That said, data logging could be achieved with a simple web form, so this may just mean someone had a lot of 750GMs going cheap.

Amazon Kindles, however, are selling like hot cakes, although the company is still being coy about the exact details.

In India, the government has given RIM more time to think about how it can make its service both secure against people the Indian government doesn't want to hack it and insecure against people the Indian government does want to hack it. The government has further demanded that Skype move its servers into India, which will be the easiest server move in industry history, as Skype is a peer-to-peer protocol.

RIM this week bought an app store to bulk up its App World operation and acquire various bits of back-office technology. Motorola, on the other hand, has bought a mobile apps development shop to add to its collection of Android devs.

Dell is investing in the cloud - specifically, they're keen on a multi-vendor approach rooted in the PC heritage, as opposed to Cisco's vision of deep integration between networking and processing hardware or HP's Matrix system, which consists of nothing but HP kit of every kind. And NEC wants to sell cloud services to China.

AT&T is hoping better self-care will encourage customers to upgrade their U-Verse fibre-to-the-node services. Actually, they're mostly interested in upgrading their TV bundles. In a tangentially related customer-care story, beware - data roaming may give you a heart attack.

Iliad's results are out, and they're good - profits have doubled over the last year from €72m to €171.4m, mostly driven by a successful turnaround of the Alice cable business they acquired in 2008. Operating margins were 38.6%, up from 31%, and the company says that 1,500 staff are working on its mobile network deployment, with Alcatel and NSN as the main contractors. Talks about the troubled national-roaming issue, however, are still not settled.

For its part, NSN is looking for a possible financial investor to buy a slice of vendor cake.

How do major operators fight municipal broadband projects? By having their lobbyists rewrite whole US state laws, that's how.

Bing for Android! Fraunhofer announces a new videoconferencing standard. The declining standards of spam. Moore's Law, reports of your death have been exaggerated again. HOWTO spot liars on conference calls. Don't do experiments on the Internet...please.