Free Mobile fracas, Google's search error?, and Telenor vs. Facebook - Telco 2.0 News Review

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Benoit Felten reviews the impact of Free Mobile's launch, pointing out that it implements two of their historic selling points (low prices and simple propositions) but not the third (innovative services), although there is an argument that the heavy use of WLAN offload and femtocells represents an innovative solution on the cost side.

Meanwhile, Les Echos reports that other French operators were "shocked and astonished" at the aggressiveness of their pricing, and quotes Rudolf van der Berg at the OECD pointing out that Free's service is more open to the Internet than the Dutch operators who are covered by a net-neutrality law. (How many other mobile operators provide a full USENET feed?)

The initial upshot has basically been all about price, though - Fitch Ratings warns that French operators are likely to see their margins drastically reduced, and indeed all three existing mobile operators and several of the MVNOs have already cut prices, although they are trying to hold the line on the top of the price range while matching Free's prices on their discount offers. That makes sense unless Free users are mostly early adopters (like, ah, St├ęphane Richard thinks).

Google this week started injecting results from Google + into Google Search, both from your own network if you have one and from "prominent Google + users and sponsors", which will be shown in the ad box rather than in the search results. Om Malik thinks "Google just upped the ante on being social", while Business Insider thinks "Google may just have made the worst mistake in its history" and Dave Winer finds increasing clutter in Google Search so annoying he'd use Bing if Microsoft promised credibly to keep that cruft-free. Get an invite to Google Schemer, another Google social network project, here.

Steven Levy argues that this step may cause more regulatory trouble for Google, as the impersonal purity of traditional Google interfaces expressed that search results were the product of an impartial machine rather than human judgment. Injecting emotion into it might encourage more people to take issue with the results. And anyway, who ever Googled their dog?

He may well be right - the US Federal Trade Commission has taken note of the move as part of its ongoing inquiry into Google search practices.

It was a controversial week, really. Consider the case of the "white lady from Google". Kenyan directory/local ads startup Mocality started to get calls from its customers saying they'd been the subject of phone calls from Google making a sales pitch and using various misleading statements about Mocality.

Investigating their server logs, they discovered that the same single IP address had been systematically downloading every page on their site, in working hours only. They made a code change to serve that address a different phone number, in order to eavesdrop on the calls, and then went public. The scraping stopped, but immediately resumed from an address in India registered to Google.

After an Internet outcry, Google has apologised. But the really shocking thing is that Google hired someone who thought they could scrape a competitor's web site from their office without anyone noticing. They're blaming it on a third-party contractor, which doesn't explain the second incident from their own network.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch used his new Twitter account to rant entertainingly about Google, after the White House intervened to have the SOPA bill watered down and specifically to get the DNS-blacklist provisions removed.

There was some better news from the patent front, though - the US International Trade Commission threw out one of the Apple lawsuits against Motorola Mobility, and the judge gave Oracle quite the telling off for hugely over-estimating damages in their lawsuit. The trial will be put off until they come back with something Judge Alsup finds reasonable.

A new Google web site opens to help developers improve the design of their apps. And here's an in-depth interview with Google's data-centre chief, the author of the seminal The Data Centre as a Computer.

On the other hand, Om Malik notes a distinct lack of Google TV hardware at CES.

Back in telcoville, Bloomberg interviews Telenor's CEO about their Telco 2.0 plans. It's a pretty good interview (note that SMS revenues peaked in 2009), but what's this?

Telenor ASA (TEL) has become one of the last major European phone operators to respond to the threat of a loss of revenue to Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Facebook Inc. with its own push in digital services.

Content Provider Access has been going for a long, long time by tech industry standards...on the subject of telco responses to the disruptors, of course, we've published an extensive Telco 2.0 Strategy Report on Google, Apple, and Facebook.

It looks like LightSquared is in deep trouble, after the US FCC's GPS experts failed to come up with any way it could operate its network without endangering GPS users. Julius Genachowski, meanwhile, banged the drum for ubiquitous broadband around CES - Forbes has a detailed interview, in which he argues that the Internet creates 2.6 jobs for each one it destroys. The Voice of Broadband reminds us that fixed remains absolutely essential.

OFCOM has another crack at sorting out the UK spectrum position. T-Mobile UK says sorry for Chinese-firewalling VPN users. Teresa Cottam has a thoughtful piece on how operators fail on pricing. The agenda for next month's European FTTH Council looks chewy. Ericsson puts mobile base stations aboard Maersk's ships.

CES fallout centres on Intel's Atom chips making it into the smartphone world, thanks to Lenovo's new gadget. IntoMobile has a hands-on with the shiny. This is serious news - Intel has been trying to get back into mobile ever since they left, while the whole field of mobility, embedded, and media devices has been conquered by ARM-based chips, so much so that they're beginning to leak back into the PC-and-server market. In an ironic detail, Motorola Mobility has endorsed the concept of x86-based smartphones and Intel has ported Android to run on the platform (including apps using the NDK) - we can remember when Moto and Intel were competitors...

That was before Apple started using x86 chips in Macs, of course. Intel has apparently made some sort of overture to Apple about introducing their chips to the iOS range, but it seems unlikely given that Apple just bought an ARM-based chip design firm and started using its own designs.

Interestingly, this intersects with big decisions at Microsoft. While Intel has been striving to get x86 technology into mobile, Microsoft has been trying just as hard to get Windows ported to run on ARM systems, for much the same reasons. It looks like MS wants to make its Secure Boot initiative mandatory on ARM systems and not on x86. That includes Qualcomm's proposed Snapdragon (i.e. ARM)-based ultrabooks. No Linux for you!

Intel also announced its latest ultrabook reference design, and it includes a touchscreen as well as a keyboard after feedback from user testing. (We recently handled a netbook that accepts multi-touch gestures via the trackpad, so...)

And Huawei's top-end Android is here.

LTE.png

Obviously, seeing as there was a big gadget show there was a lot of rumour about Apple iProducts. Bloomberg expects iPad 3 to land in early May with LTE, Ars Technica reckons a quad-core iOS device is coming. However, as AnandTech points out in a must-read post, Apple would either need to bin their own A4/A5 series chips and run Qualcomm SoCs or else develop their own radio baseband, as Qualcomm's first 28nm baseband that supports data and voice for LTE won't be ready until the autumn. At the moment they use the MDM6600 45nm HSPA+ radio with the Apple A5 processor, and Qualcomm is offering the 9900 with a separate LTE radio in the SoC package. To meet their requirements, they'll need the 9615, which is expected in the middle of the year - but apparently, 28nm fabbing turns out to be problematic, so this may yet slide right.

Elsewhere, Horace suggests that if you consider the iPad to be a PC, Apple may overtake HP as the world's biggest computer vendor in the next quarter. However, are video professionals deserting the company?

There weren't many Google TV devices, but Vizio's new media-streamer is one and Dan Rayburn is impressed. Alternatively, here's Ars Technica's review of Ubuntu TV. Dan York hunts IPv6 devices. And Akamai fills the post of VP & GM for licensed CDN...with the head of their joint mobile CDN project with Ericsson.

Facebook has shared a huge dump of data with Politico so they can analyse what's happening in there during the Republican primaries. ReadWriteWeb works through the issues with the help of Telco 2.0 ally Kaliya Hamlin. Meanwhile, AllThingsD says Facebook may be planning to IPO in late May - which implies they must file papers with the SEC quite soon.

Rupert Murdoch's twitter feed continues revealing, as he comments on the MySpace experience as follows:

We screwed up in every way possible

Elsewhere, pseudonymous commenters contribute more, in quantity and in quality. And a detailed write-up of recovering a GMail account destroyed by hackers.

Chinese Central TV launches a mobile TV service in Kenya. Meet Angry Brides. A golden age of surveillance or a dark age of secrecy for criminals? Bruce Schneier discusses. Maps for financial inclusion. Tropo terminates IM and Twitter support. German policeman spies illegally on daughter, gets whole surveillance system hacked. Nokia buys another operating system.

3D printing in the cloud, from your phone camera. There is, as they say, an app for that.