Telco 2.0 News Review

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Telco 2.0 Top Stories

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A clear top story this week: Eric Schmidt hands over after 10 years as Google's CEO. Schmidt's hopping upstairs to stay on as chairman of the board, in fact executive chairman, while Larry Page will take over as CEO. On the official blog, Page said that he now felt he no longer needed adult supervision. Not many other startups would have decided to give the top job to an outsider because they didn't feel mature enough to run the business - it's one of the reasons Google is such a special company. Meanwhile, Sergey Brin is moving to a new role heading Google's product development.

Although Facebook is now the world's most visited web site, Google was able to announce outstanding fourth-quarter results to go with the personnel changes. Net income in the quarter was $2.5bn, up 29% year-on-year on sales of $8.4bn, themselves up 26%. So not only did they gain volume, they also improved margins. An interesting detail from the results was that although Facebook accounted for 13.6% of US display ad revenue in 2010, just ahead of Google on 13.4%, this compares with 7.3% and 4.7% respectively in 2009 - so Google's catching up fast, even outside its search-ad core business.

There's a decent Schmidt retrospective here - note that Google has some $35bn in cash on hand. What would Richard Kramer say?

Google Voice briefly launched mobile number portability this week, offering its subscribers the chance to move their original number onto the new service. That sounds like a significant enhancement, but hardly had the link appeared on the GV web site than it vanished again - perhaps, as with Google Nexus One activation, they've discovered that being a telco is quite difficult. And Google Voice, technically, is just that - it's a CLEC.

There's an idea: Telcordia is up for sale and there's very little the company that was Bellcore doesn't know about OSS. A snip at $2bn!

Elsewhere in the Googleplex, Google says it mostly bought the iconic-for-engineers 111 8th Avenue carrier hotel for the office space, and it wants to move its East Coast engineering centre in there. Data Center Knowledge points out that the buy single-handedly represents a spike in Google's CAPEX for Q410. And having failed to buy local-ads company Groupon, the Google is going to make its own version.

Android intellectual property is going to get tiresome this year; here's an interesting summary of the various patent disputes. The latest one involves what Oracle claims is patented code (from Sun, originally) that was distributed with some Android devices, probably as part of vendor customisations. Details are here - some people argue that the code in question is a unit-test module that should never have been included in production builds anyway, and would most likely have been distributed by accident. Further analysis is here and suggests that it may be more serious and might involve Dalvik, Google's homemade Java virtual machine.

But do those patents apply....in space? The UK's fantastic satellite-building start-up, Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd., is planning to evaluate an Android-based smartphone's baseband as the controller for a tiny satellite. A team of their engineers are working on a nanosat as a spare-time project that would test how well the operating system and the hardware stand up to space - if it works, it would be a major step forward in terms of the cost of building a satellite and also in terms of developing and testing the software that goes into it. Smartphones have already been used in high-altitude balloon projects, but this goes a step further.

On the other hand, all you can say about this is "ouch!" Security researcher Ralf-Philipp Weinmann will demonstrate at the Black Hat 2011 hacker conference an exploit against Apple iPhones and some Android devices that allows an attacker to turn the phone into a bug, activating the microphone and relaying whatever it can hear to a phone number of their choice. Worse, the exploit is against a bug in the radio firmware rather than the operating system, and this one is present in both the Infineon chip used in most iPhones and in some Qualcomm Mobile Station Modem devices. The good news, if there was any good news, is that the attack vector does require you to set up an evil base station with OpenBTS and make sure the target comes close enough for their phone to connect with it.

The bad news is that any airport will be full of roaming devices looking for the strongest signal nearby....the EFF, meanwhile, reckons that mobile OS vendors are poor on pushing out bugfixes.

On related issues, here's the first part of a tutorial on how to use the popular Arduino microcontroller with a GSM modem. But why bother when people leave their voicemail PIN set to 1234?

Nokia, meanwhile, seems to have pulled its X7 smartphone. A Telco 2.0 trip around Oxford Street this weekend suggested that most of the UK retailers seem to be marketing Nokia devices as being the cheap option, which is probably not what they want to hear even if it reflects post-Christmas discounting. Carphone Warehouse, at least, said that it had an excellent Christmas, that 20% of its prepaid sales were smartphones, and that Android devices were the big hit.

Nokia has also announced the closure of Comes With Music, the unlimited music streaming service that comes with some but not all Nokia devices. This should come as no surprise if you've been reading Telco 2.0.

On the other hand, what looks like a new Nokia tablet has been leaked.

Verizon sued the FCC last week over its Open Internet order, claiming that the order constituted a change to the conditions of each one of its licences separately.

Interestingly (especially when you think of Google's troubles activating Nexus Ones...), VZ is also investing in enterprise identity-management technology from Novell and other vendors. If you want to know why, well, it's been a Telco 2.0 priority for some time. Also, the US Federal government is keen on federated online ID - check out this excellent piece from Ars Technica.

Another Telco 2.0 priority is the smart grid. A partnership between the US Department of Energy and Chattanooga's local power company is going to build a joint smart grid/broadband fibre network that will collect 80 billion measurements a year from the electricity system and deliver 1Gbps symmetric fibre connections to business subscribers.

Comcast is pushing out broadband connections for $9.95 a month for families who fall within 165% of the US poverty line as part of the FCC Broadband Plan.

Troubled WiMAX operator Clearwire is being sued by Sony Ericsson over the alleged similarity of its logo to theirs (one is a swirly green thing, the other is a green swirly thing). But that is probably the last of their worries, what with the cash crisis and the boardroom row and the discovery they'll probably need LTE radios as well. After industry pioneer Craig McCaw quit the board, his old sidekick from McCaw Cellular, John Stanton, who later founded Western Wireless and sold Voicestream to T-Mobile, is in as the new chairman.

T-Mobile USA is happy with its HSPA+ network until 2015, and estimates the cost of upgrading to LTE as $2bn, although it would need more spectrum. In the meantime, it is planning to drench its subscribers in Androids as a way of dealing with the 10% or so of its churners who are off looking for iPhones.

Connected Planet asks T-Mobile USA if it's true about the femtocells, and learns that it's not - the operator is sticking to WLAN for its fixed-mobile convergence, shipping the software built into the routers it supplies to subscribers. They may have a point, if you read Brough Turner's netBlazr manifesto - they're relying entirely on the latest WLAN silicon operating at 5GHz for point-to-point high-capacity links in their mesh network and looking forward to the first beam-steering chips.

3UK has lost a major wholesale customer, Gamma Telecom, to Vodafone. Under the Gamma-Vodafone deal, Gamma becomes something like a MVNO to Vodafone, incorporating Vodafone mobile services into their products.

In news from the intersection of open source, developer communities, and Worse Voice & Messaging 2.0, Skype drops the ball. For years, Skype has had an extension for Mozilla Firefox that permits some integration between your Skype node and the Web - for example, phone numbers or links using the callto:// prefix get highlighted with a Skype button and despatched to the Skype node's API when you click them. Some kinds of contact details can be added to the Skype contacts roster, and your own Skype me! status button gets updated.

More recently, Skype hooked up with a Web advertising firm, Marchex, to monetise this. Now, advertisers could pay for SkypeOut calls placed from the Skype button, which would display "Free Call!" instead. Unfortunately, something went wrong and the current version of the extension has been kicked off the Firefox Add-Ons site - the original app store, really - as one of the biggest causes of browser crashes (the scoreboard is here), being capable of slowing down Document-Object Model manipulations by 300%. If you insist, you can still install it by clicking through a warning page. Bug 615799 refers.

Tropo.com continues to be one of the most technically interesting Voice 2.0 players - you can now pass asychronous events into a running Tropo script from another program or from the Web API, as if it was a fully-fledged Asterisk server with the Asterisk Manager Interface operating. There's also a new platform for hosting Node.js applications that will let you integrate with the Tropo Web API. It keeps getting easier to build remarkably complex voice applications, and the degree to which you need to control the hardware as opposed to using services in the cloud is steadily falling.

Facebook has, for once, done the sensible thing and decided not to release mobile numbers and home addresses to random apps. O2 subscribers, though, may be invited for a sandwich and a smoothie if they stray too close to a Marks & Spencers under their O2 More advertising programme.

On the other hand, significant numbers of AOL users are apparently still paying for their dialup service although they have cable or DSL. Business Insider has instructions on how to cancel the service.

According to HADOPI, half the population of France is a dangerous Internet pirate. As if to confirm this, someone hacked Nicolas Sarkozy's Facebook page.

Amazon has bought out its UK partner, Lovefilm and is thinking of rolling out the brand to other markets.

Datacentre specialists Rackspace are expanding their cloud offering, which is now available in Europe for the first time. The EFF has a guide to what information social networks give out to the police. Sony to security researchers: shut up. Why does the New York Times iPad app cost more than reading it in the iPad browser? YouView, delayed. The BBC shuts down websites. Cuba peers with Venezuela, thanks to the cable ships of French imperialism.