BlackBerry crisis; Apple triumph; AT&T sells towers and opens APIs - Telco 2.0 News Review

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BlackBerry: $1bn Q2 loss, Z30 launches, weird app crisis

The bomb explodes at BlackBerry: a $950m loss in Q2 and job cuts of 40%. The stockpile of Z10s has been written down by a billion dollars. About the only good news was that installations of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server were up.

The company has announced that it's concentrating on the enterprise, what with those BES servers. Reuters reports on several large corporate customers who are de-emphasising BlackBerry fleets and reducing their orders, although this is still a question of degree. The big problem here is whether Apple will have a crack at the enterprise, or perhaps a business like Lenovo - focused on enterprise and just testing the water in the smartphone market.

The question is increasingly whether the company will be sold as a unit, or broken up. There's at least one potential buyer. Mike Lazaridis, who used to be half BlackBerry's CEO, is looking at the possibility of a private-equity bid to buy the company.

If BlackBerry is to continue as an enterprise-focused vendor, it's got to sell hardware to enterprises integrated with its services. So does it really make sense to launch a software application, to consumers, so they can use the services without buying the hardware?

The Android app version of BlackBerry Messenger was meant to launch this week, but then, something went wrong - a fake version of it appeared on the app store, demanding that users must give it a five-star rating before it would work. The Guardian reporters asked the developer what they were up to:

"Our purpose isn't bad, we are tying to make some money. Yes, this is illegal, so Google will delete this app 4-6 hours later.

And they did. But not before over a million users were taken in. And this post on the official BB blog suggests that the dodgy app was based on a leak.

And, of course, the BlackBerry Z30 phablet was launched. It looks impressive, but the problem is surely that nobody is going to commit to a device and more importantly an operating system if they don't believe the manufacturer will be around in a year's time.

If BlackBerry's past management are looking at the possibility of buying the company, BlackBerry's current management, on the other hand, did more than look at the possibility of buying a new jet: in the middle of July, during their disastrous Q2, they took delivery of a spanking new $20m Bombardier Global Express. BlackBerry is now selling all its aircraft.

Elop returns to Microsoft, up $31m; the power behind the iPhone 5S; Sailfish for 'Droids coming?

With the Microsoft acquisition, Stephen Elop leaves Nokia and rejoins Microsoft, and a change of control clause pays him a $25 million bonus, of which 30 per cent is paid by Nokia. He already trousered $6 million as a golden handshake when he joined. Back at Microsoft, he becomes EVP of Devices and Services, which puts him in charge of...Nokia.

Apple's new iPhones were meant to be a disappointment. But more of them shipped on the first weekend than ever before, 9 million of them, enough to drain the stocks. 200 million devices, meanwhile, upgraded to iOS 7, supposedly the biggest and fastest software upgrade ever. And 11 million users tried the new iTunes Radio in iOS 7.

You get the impression Apple knows what it's doing. Apple's A7 chip, the one in the new iPhones, turns out to have some interesting features. Notably, it deploys the new ARM v8 instruction set, permitting it to operate at a lower headline clock speed than its rivals and therefore a lower voltage. As a result of v8, it's actually faster in practice even though the clock speed isn't as blinding, and the upshot is that it also lets the battery last longer. Further, Apple have stayed with a dual-core processor, probably reasoning that not many tasks on the iPhone are both compute-intensive and parallel, which lets them get rid of some overhead.

Here's a comparison of the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5.

An Android-iOS switcher speaks. From our point of view, it's interesting that she mentions Google Voice as an app that's becoming increasingly buggy.

The most popular alternative Android ROM, CyanogenMod, scores $7m in funding.

And Jolla's Sailfish OS, salvaged from the wreck of the Nokia N9, has been running on Android hardware. It's also now able to run Android apps, via Myriad Group's version of the Dalvik virtual machine.

Cracking iPhone biometrics, with the hacks of 2004; Google knows the password; Brits vs. Belgacom

One of the most talked-about features of the new iPhones was the fingerprint reader. Was it a major improvement in security, or a creepy intrusion into privacy? The Chaos Computer Club simply recalled that they'd demonstrated how you could fool fingerprint readers, as long ago as 2004, dug out the tools, and had a go at the iPhone. And it worked.

Meanwhile, Android's "back up your settings" option means that Google knows the password to all the WLANs you've logged into. For all the Android devices that have this option set. As it is set on by default, that's nearly all of them. And if Google can read them, the US government can compel Google to share. And Google can read them, because it can remind you of the password if you lose your device.

The statutes involved admit of a very permissive reading indeed.

But then, meet Operation Socialist, GCHQ's project to hack the routers at Belgacom, specifically its BICS carrier services division. BICS is a major provider of roaming hub and interprovider settlement services, so this suggests they were intensely interested in mobile and specifically in roaming.

AT&T selling towers; T-Mobile USA wants 600MHz, bad; MVNO-plus assault on the US market

Ian Livingston, BT CEO, is leaving to become a government minister. He won't be paid for the new job, but that's all right, as BT is sending him on his way with 2.6 million shares. They're shares in BT, but then you can't have everything. Critical comment is here.

In the UK, amazingly, the mobile operators have managed to cooperate and save on their infrastructure footprint, via MBNL, EverythingEverywhere, and the Project Cornerstone joint venture between Vodafone and O2. Outside the UK, it seems to be easier to condense the mobile industry's footprint of towers if the carriers sell them first. India, for example, is a market where carriers predominantly share physical infrastructure owned by separate towercos, either joint ventures or financial investors. The US is going that way. AT&T, for example, is studying the idea of selling between 10,000 and 15,000 sites for about $5bn. Those would come with about $320 million a year in lease payments, plus however much more you could pull in from adding more tenants.

T-Mobile USA got rid of 7,200 towers to Crown Castle, after all, and they're in the frame this time as well. T-Mobile USA's CTO, Neville Ray, gave a keynote at the CCA's event last week in which he started a lobbying drive to influence the auction process for the 600MHz band.

Ray, and other smaller operators, would like to restrict how much more spectrum below 1GHz the dynamic duopolists, AT&T and Verizon, can control. Further, he wants to reserve at least 70MHz for FDD paired operations, i.e. western-type LTE. Like Verizon Wireless's LTE for Rural America program, T-Mobile is also willing to lend rural carriers spectrum in exchange for roaming agreements and commitments to build out infrastructure. Ray, who evidently believes that a good presentation should be dense with information, also said that he hopes to have migrated all the former MetroPCS CDMA subscribers onto HSPA by 2015 so as to make more 1900MHz spectrum available for data services.

Republic Wireless, the MVNO-plus that offers "unlimited everything for $19/mo", is adding more phones and plans. If you're willing to pay $299 for a Moto X, you can get the "unlimited everything" on 4G for $40 a month, but it's advisable to get in there as they're going to review the plans in November.

MVNO-plus business models seem to be emerging as a pattern for price disruption in the US. TextNow plunges in from Canada at the same price point Republic launched at. Like Republic, its app takes over the dialler and converts it into a VoIP app that uses WLAN whenever possible. Like Republic at the beginning, it's reliant on shipping some quite dated devices (Galaxy S IIs).

At the moment, they're all running the MVNO element of the deal on Sprint. On T-Mobile or AT&T, you'd be able to swap the SIM into a decent phone and download the app. The real shock will come when one of the carriers tries this at serious scale.

Elsewhere, no wonder it's tough selling VDSL2 in the States. Comcast has just announced speeds of 105Mbps up, 505 down on its super-premium tariff. This is only available in a few areas, and seems to be fibre to the home rather than cable - in other words, they're hooking these subscribers up to Comcast Business's substantial Ethernet network. We recently noted that the cable industry looks like it's about to take another step up in performance, with 600Mbps modems becoming available soon and gigabit ones sampling. Probably, Comcast is testing the market to see how soon it will be worth upgrading.

French cableco Numericable is planning to float between 20 and 40% of itself on the stock market.

Telecom Italia's shareholders turned down an offer of €800 million from Telefonica. This may lead to some pressure being applied, as the Italian government is apparently keen to have a European owner rather than AT&T, Naguib Sawaris, Hutchison, or others.

Zen Internet re-opens unlimited broadband in the UK, for those customers it can serve over FTTC.

Orange Business will be offering Ericsson's M2M platform.

SpiderCloud, a manufacturer of in-building and campus radio access networks, signs up Vodafone Netherlands as a customer for its small cell technology.

In Australia, after the election, NBN Co's entire board of directors resigned. The government is considering splitting the organisation into two, one responsible for construction, one for operations. The notion of giving up and going back to copper, or handing out 3G dongles, has gone quiet for the time being. A "strategic review" will report within 60 days.

In New Zealand, Benoit Felten blogs on the regulatory changes that make unbundled copper suddenly cheap, part way through the fibre rollout.

AT&T opens more APIs; 2600Hz, the MVNO for Voice 2.0; better call centres with WebRTC; hacking FaceTime

AT&T wants to open up a lot more network APIs, mostly for its enterprise customers. AT&T is faced with a major challenge in the next couple of years, trying to keep its huge base of business customers as they transition off traditional telco products and onto new ones, its so-called "strategic business services". They've already become the biggest partner deployment of Tropo for their Call Management API, and now here's some more Telco 2.0 activity. We're covering this in detail in the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index.

Also in the US, the open-source telephony framework, 2600Hz, has become an MVNO running on Sprint, letting it provide the following Sprint resources through its own API:

Provisioning Systems, Voice Billing Feeds, Data Billing Feeds, Voice Services, SMS Services, Data Services, Porting Systems, Tier 2 Support Services, Core Switching Network, Cellular Tower and Network Status Information

Here's an example of Voice 2.0 in the call centre, from Twilio. LiveOps' 500-seat call centre for restaurants now has a purely browser-based agent dashboard that works with WebRTC and doesn't need hard desk phones, although it does need Firefox or Chrome.

Mozilla, meanwhile, has just added WebRTC support to Firefox for Android. The number of potential voice channels on your device just increased. Again.

PleasePress1, the Web site that helps you fight British call centres, has published its Rage Index of the worst. The pits is HM Revenue & Customs, followed by PC World, and then BT, which is worrying given that BT operates a lot of call centres for clients.

And here's something interesting - Apple FaceTime internals. FaceTime turns out to be SIP on the wire, or rather, the wireless, but it's not SIP as we know it - Apple's version of the protocol packs all the interaction into one network port, like WebRTC, in order to work around network address translation and specifically, so-called "carrier grade NAT". It also does a lot of work to minimise protocol overhead. You might almost wonder if they're thinking about a browser version in the long run. Of course, it also rules out interoperating with anything else, which Apple considers a good thing, and creates the possibility of deploying more video or voice features whenever it suits them.

Taxing the cloud; DE-CIX to NYC; Kenyan data centres; don't install that VMWare update!

Is France considering how to tax businesses that operate from outside the country? In the UK, of course, our version of this is the trick of shipping e-commerce orders from the Channel Islands to dodge VAT, or doing all your online service sales right up to the very last moment of closing in the UK but taking the money in Dublin to dodge both VAT and corporation tax. LooseBolts points out that this is very, very important for cloud computing providers.

A couple of weeks ago, we noted that the LINX is setting up a new member-owned Internet exchange in the US. It's getting to be a trend. DE-CIX, its rival from Frankfurt, is also planning to start a major exchange in New York City. BT, meanwhile, adds more private interconnection to its US operations.

Kenya just gained a serious data centre, as Liquid Telecom, a subsidiary of Econet Wireless, opened a carrier-neutral, high-security hosting facility in Nairobi. At 500 square metres, it's no behemoth, but it's a milestone for East Africa.

VMWare warns its customers to stop installing their software, as a critical bug is discovered in vSphere 5.5, the latest version. Horror of horrors, the bug affects the program that is responsible for replicating data into backups.

Amazon deploys new software every 16 seconds, although that might count software deployed by their clients. Amazon Web Services claims to have 24 times the capacity of its key competitors.

And finally, a look back at a very early conference on the Web.