Telco 2.0 News Review

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[Ed. Telco 2.0's EMEA Brainstorm is in London this week from Weds 11th to Friday 13th May, covering growth strategy, cloud, mobile broadband economics, online video, connected TV, M2M, Mobile Apps, customer experience and personal data. There's also an evening AppCircus developer showcase event. If you can't make it in person, you can now participate virtually - watch the presentations live online and even take part in the voting remotely and in real-time, from the comfort of your own desktop. Contact us for details

Apple is the world's most valuable brand, as if you hadn't guessed by now. The story is based on a "brand index" compiled by advertising agency WPP - one may well be sceptical of this sort of thing, but it's hard to say that Apple's brand isn't enormously famous and surrounded by a gigantic user cult.

More seriously, Asymco has some notes about an under-reported feature of Apple - it's a tight ship operationally, not leaking very much money in any direction. And it earns about $23 for every dollar it spends on product development. Actually, its R&D spending is surprisingly low, about 9% of revenue - but its resources are, of course, concentrated on very few product lines. It's probable that an Apple product benefits from much more development spending than an equivalent SKU from the competition.

That has some downsides - notably that it enforces a premium price point, and requires a one-size-fits-all approach to each segment. But it seems to be going OK so far. At least until Steve Jobs leaves the building. Meanwhile, Chinese students survey working conditions at Foxconn. It's not pretty. Elsewhere in China, a riot broke out at the Beijing Apple store in the queue for iPads. And here's HOWTO use your iPad with Microsoft SharePoint.

IDC's Q1 scorecard for smartphones in western Europe is out. Nokia's sales are sliding 10% year-on-year in a market for all phones growing at 5%, while the smartphone sector grew 76% (how long before we stop using the word smartphone, you might well ask). Nokia's smartphone market share has gone from 57% to 19.6% in two years.

Europe's biggest handset maker is now Samsung and the fastest growing is HTC. The biggest platform is Android, with 35.7%, followed by Apple iOS on 20%, and then Symbian and BlackBerry OS.

It was the Nokia AGM this week, and Helsingin Sanomat reports CEO Stephen Elop as saying that Nokia tried to sign up a range of partners for MeeGo, including HTC, RIM, LG, Samsung, and Motorola, but that they were concerned that Nokia had too much influence over its development. 4 out of those 5 companies are heavily committed to Android, and two are also committed to Windows Phone, so you may wish to apply a credibility adjustment to this statement.

Also, this remark from Elop is not enormously encouraging:

"Data security and privacy are very important for us, and we need to take care of it in all of our business activities. We have comprehensive means for securing the privacy and data security of our consumers. Our phones have a completely different operating system than the Windows that is in a computer."

Elsewhere, Steve Ballmer announced that RIM is going to integrate Microsoft's Bing search and mapping product (isn't that actually Nokia Ovi Maps now?) on its devices (i.e. "bookmark the search page" or is this too cynical?). Others think they need new management.

Microsoft might not be the place to look, though, as iOS and OS X out-earn Windows. On the other hand, things have come a long way since Paul Allen's day, and here's a chance to hear about the beginnings of Microsoft from the horse's mouth. Including possibly the best quote about Steve Ballmer ever:

I had run into Steve a few times at Harvard, where he and Bill were close. The first time we met face-to-face, I thought, This guy looks like an operative for the N.K.V.D.

In the Android sphere, Sony Ericsson has announced the latest lot of Xperia phones. They're keeping the Xperia Mini brand from the hit X10, and the Mini Pro gets a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Both run Android 2.3/Gingerbread and get a new Facebook app.

On the other hand, the Xperia Play (aka the PlayStation phone) has had some trouble getting to the start line after it failed O2 UK's conformance tests at the last minute. After multiple firmware updates, the gadget should now be on its way.

The data fiasco at Sony's PlayStation Network shows no sign of ending - the date for turning the service back on was put back again on Friday, while 2,500 records from the database were leaked on to the Web. IT forensics consultants have been called in, and the time-to-restore is now given as the end of the month. The impact has so far knocked back Sony's shares by 6% and cost the company over a billion dollars.

In the other great data fiasco of the last few weeks, there's now a solution for Android users worried about the phone reporting their location to Google: an app that implements a user-configurable firewall, so you can only approve the call-out to Google's AGPS server when you specifically want GPS. The app also does full-disk encryption and you can get it here. Meanwhile, Apple has pushed out a software update to address the issue, and therefore avoided being raided by South Korean police.

Android Market is up to 295,000 apps, with 64% being free.

The app that spies on your driving for the insurance company. UK cell-site locations and the gentle art of burying useful information. Apparently, all UK local authorities receive lists of cell-sites on their patch, but most of them don't do anything with the list...

EverythingEverywhere will be working on its cellsites pretty soon - they've hired Huawei to do a forklift upgrade of their 2G network, moving the whole thing to an all-IP transport, and putting in place the infrastructure for a Huawei 4G network.

TomTom in trouble about selling its data to the police in the Netherlands and Australia. Hacking Rapidshare. And find out what Google's chief privacy engineer has to say.

AT&T had the idea of marketing "Enhanced Backhaul" service. Now there's something only a telco could come up with. Unfortunately, and just as telco-ishly, there aren't many cell sites that actually have the enhanced backhaul yet and therefore they're unwilling to say which ones they are.

Sprint, meanwhile, is planning to appeal to every one of the 51 US states' Public Utilities Commissions in an effort to stop the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile USA. T-Mob, for its part, is seeing strong (20%) growth in data ARPU but struggling to cope with churn. Its low-cost rivals, Leap and MetroPCS, are doing better now they have greater access to smartphones.

Clearwire is looking a little less pale after a good quarter that saw 1.8 million new subscribers and a $16.1m settlement from Sprint over the wholesale pricing issue. As a result, the plan to sell off a chunk of spectrum has been dropped.

The FCC has been asked to investigate into whether AT&T, among others, counts its own services in the usage cap it's imposed on its broadband subscribers and whether, if so, this is anti-competitive. KPN, for its part, is threatening to start per-application charging, which will raise the question of whether a YouTube video in a Facebook page is a chargeable video or a non-chargable web page or something else. They seem to be especially hacked off about massive bandwidth hogs like, eh, instant messaging.

Arthur D Little and BNP Paribas reckons that the broadband element of the stimulus plan is a waste, although it's worth remembering that they're probably using the infamous definition of broadband as 200Kbps downlink.

Something more effective: an effort to impose a dig-once requirement on US highways.

Telenor has solid results out, with its Asian operations contributing and an unexpected windfall from the much-litigated share in Vimpelcom. TIM Brasil saw its profits up fourfold year-on-year in Q1.

And is upstream charging like hoping oil companies will subsidise cars?

The US telcos' joint payments venture, ISIS, is being scaled down from a transactions processing network to a pure-play mobile wallet, apparently due to a failure to work out the relationship with Visa and MasterCard or rather, from their merchant customers. More is here.

The European Payments Council has issued a proposed standard for mobile payments security. We'll be reading it. Of course.

Google, for its part, is talking to merchant terminal maker Ingenico, but it seems more likely that they want to do something NFC-inflected with money-off coupons rather than payments as such.

But then, no amount of security will stop people spending £35 million a year on "virtual flirting".

In other content news, Vevo has a cunning plan - partner with Google and indeed anyone else who'll sign up rather than locking the doors. You could call it a...two-sided business model.

For the first time ever, the percentage of US households who have a TV has fallen. Hearst and Conde Nast have signed publishing deals with Apple.

Tech disruption: Intel has demonstrated chips using a three-dimensional transistor design, building upwards off the surface of the silicon wafer. This should keep Moore's law going a while longer and also have some benefits in terms of power consumption and cooling.

Tech disruption, the second: the World Wide Web Consortium has started a working group on a standard for a serverless Web, in which data could reside on users' local machines and be distributed through a peer-to-peer network. Fascinatingly, the WG co-chairs are from Google and Ericsson. Some hints about the ideas involved are here and here. The WG web page is here.

Here is a flexible mobile phone. Now that's a tech disruption, although the user interface is...interesting. However, that was part of the point - the device was intended to let the users define their own gesture controls so they could be studied.

Will Carlos Slim's Telmex get trust-busted? It may help that his arch rivals in TV have just acquired a small cellular operator. Meanwhile, Netflix is planning to expand into Latin America.

Thinking of building a US data centre? Get in before the 31st of December to win a mammoth tax break.

Rumours are swirling that either Google or Facebook is interested in buying Skype. Everyone is furiously denying everything so far. Phil Wolff thinks it's a dodgy proposition. A former CTO of Canonical reckons they should leave telephony to telcos.

As occasionally happens, Skype has lost its partner for inbound PSTN interconnect in Brazil.

But far more seriously, there's a major vulnerability in Skype for Mac, which could be exploited by any Skype node anywhere on the Internet. Does anyone smell technical debt? A fix has been developed, but for some reason neither announced nor pushed out through the automatic update process. Skype for Mac users are strongly advised to go to skype.com and install the new version.

Skype on your TV. A glimpse of their database architecture. Is Skype investing in Voice 2.0 clue and better voicemail?

Elite founder David Braben and the $15 education computer. Pricing mobile service like insurance. Groupon: is two-sided.