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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The year of enterprise FMC? But what problems lie ahead?

I'm increasingly impressed by the breadth and depth of commitment to corporate fixed-mobile convergence I've been seeing over the past few weeks. Post-3GSM I've spoken to or met with Avaya, Divitas and Siemens, and clearly Cisco and others have also been busy with their propositions.

Yes, there are differences in approach - handsets supported, WiFi-to-cellular roaming/handover, depth of software integration on the device, standalone vs integrated with a specific PBX. In addition, some offer various enhancements like PBX extension onto cellular-only devices, support for single-mode WiFi phones and so on. And there are still some gaps like SMS capability. But overall the number of different solutions that work is a very positive sign, validating the general proposition of dual-mode phones for enterprise users.

So what could go wrong?

Most readers will be familiar with the notion that new technologies often turn into bandwagons, gathering momentum and speed.... until the wheels fall off, everything goes wrong, cynicism sets in.... and then slowly it recovers to become accepted. A famous rival analyst organisation calls this the hype cycle.

Disruptive Analysis' mission is to flatten this cycle. By trying to predict the first (and maybe second) generation of practical problems before they emerge, work on fixing them can start early. So, in the consumer dual-mode world, it was painfully obvious 2-3 years ago that there would be issues around handset UI design, customer support, and configuration/interoperability with users' existing WiFi routers. For UMA, it was obvious as far back as 2004 that the lack of 3G support would be a major issue.

So... what are the issues that will bedevil the corporate dual-mode world as the solutions mature? What will breed disillusionment in 2008, as people realise "it's not as easy as it looks"?

Here are some stumbling blocks that I think Divitas, Siemens, Avaya, Cisco & co will have to deal with:

1) SMS integration - I've talked about this enough before
2) Single/dual number - I'm unconvinced by the "just put your fixed line # on your business card & route all calls through the PBX" rhetoric. Most employees' mobile numbers are already known by clients, suppliers, colleagues & embedded in their own handsets' phonebooks. Plan on dual-number solutions, but make the work well. Multiplicity will win.
3) WiFi coverage. One of the biggest limiting factors for enterprise VoWLAN is that for many organisations, the total proportion of office/campus area with decent WiFi coverage is still low.
4) Channel to market. The number of integrators/distributors that understand all the bits - PBXs, cellular, WiFi, handsets, data networks, security... is small. It will take huge & lengthy efforts to acquire, train and support a properly-effective dual-mode capable channel organisation.
5) Handset software client maintenance. This will be a never-ending exercise. New cellular-only and dual-mode devices will continue to emerge, with a range of both OS choices and, especially, application suites. The FMC vendors' clients will continue to need to evolve in both depth and breadth if they can hope to "own" the employees cellphone experience in a consistent way. This will require huge & ongoing resource to develop, extend and test handset software - a task which is usually 10x more complex than most people expect. Expect to have to support Symbian S60 and UIQ, Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, a couple of Linux variants and maybe Apple too.
6) Least-cost-routing. Working out how to intelligently use inbound and outbound calls, the corporate fixed VPN, maybe doing callbacks if appropriate, dealing with changing or special tariffs, coping with roaming.... it's not easy. It will almost certainly need to combine intelligence both on the phone and in the enterprise network.
7) Security & provisioning. At NetEvents last week, I was chatting last week to a couple of WiFi security specialists. They were talking about things like policy management for devices attaching to the corporate wireless, identifying them by MAC address and ensuring that they had up-to-date security software and so on. Great for laptops, but they were a bit stumped when I chucked two dual-mode devices at them and challenged them to find the MAC. One was under the battery, the other needed a bizarre #-9-digits-# sequence to be keyed in. Now imagine you're a network manager with a stack of 1000 phones and having to get them provisioned on the WLAN without automation. I'm not a security specialist, but I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg.
8) "Guest" WiFi access for other dual-mode users visting the offices

There are others. But the point is this - listen up, enterprise FMC providers. You've done a great job getting this far, and have obviously been focused on getting the thing actually working. It's now time to look outwards, and second-guess the realworld problems (commercial, technical, usability etc) before they occur in reality. "Anticipatable" problems caused at least a year's delay in consumer dual-mode FMC rollout after the concept was validated. The same will occur in the corporate space, unless these and other problems are fully addressed at an early stage.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

O2 and Carphone Warehouse... pathetic SIM registration system

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently lost my phone. My own stupidity, can't blame anyone else.

What I can blame people for, however, is the length of time it's taking to get up and running again with a new SIM and alternative phone.

I called CPW at the time I discovered I'd lost it (about 1.30am on Monday morning). The IVR system advised me to call O2 directly as it was out-of-hours. This I did, calling & putting a block on the old SIM, but not the phone itself as I didn't have the IMEI number. I then called CPW back at 9am to put a bar on the phone's identity as well. At 11am I went into my local CPW store, bought a new SIM, got put through to the call centre to register its details, my address etc, and was told to wait for it to register with the network, which could take up to 24 hours.

Unfortunately, no joy. "SIM not registered", still, at 9am this morning. Call through to CPW at 8am today, and get promised a call back to tell me what the problems is. Yeah right. Still not working at 2pm, and no call from Carphone. Try customer services again, and speak to a very helpful lady (Hi Charlotte if you're reading) who goes away to check what the problem is & explains it to me.

Apparently, there's a "Network Error" at O2, which means there's a conflict somewhere in the system, which prevents Charlotte & co at CPW from making any further changes on my account, like unbarring my new SIM. My take is that the O2 network guys are too busy sitting on their thumbs to do anything about this promptly. It'll take another 24 hours, and then CPW can actually do something. Why? There's no excuse for a day's latency in a critical business process which directly impacts O2's user experience and hence customer loyalty. Come to think of it, there's no excuse for getting something so apparently simple wrong in the first place.

In this case, I think the fault lies squarely with O2, not its service provider CPW (apart from the lack of phone-back to inform me).

By contrast, Ariva, which runs the coach on which I left my phone, has a lost property office. They informed me yesterday that they'd make a note of the details, and call me back if they found it. If I didn't hear within 24 hours, that meant they hadn't picked it up and I could be certain I'd lost it. This morning, 23 hours and 50 minutes later, I got a call to tell me they'd found it, and would they like it to be sent to their London office. Helpful, efficient, and on time.

So, O2 - how'd you feel, knowing your business processes are less modern & efficient than those of a bus company?

(footnote: in an amusing piece of bad - or good - timing, I've just got a PR email saying that O2 is updating its customer management system with a new one from Martin Dawes Systems. I'd love to know whether this will fix the problem.... or if it's actually the transition that's exacerbated it)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Carphone Warehouse still thinks BT owns O2.....

Went out to get a new SIM card, to replace the one in the phone I lost last night. Amusingly, O2 is still on Carphone Warehouse retail stores' systems as "BT" despite being demerged more than 5 years ago & subsequently bought by Telefonica.

On a related issue - it looks like the replacement for my lost SonyEricsson K800i may end up being the first handset I purchase at full retail price, as I wasn't insured. Leaving aside my professional awareness of the "real" unsubsidised cost of phones, I have to say it's a quite significant jolt to my usual consumer buying behaviour to be thinking about stumping up £220-£270 for a new one.

Do I really need another $500 phone? Or should I get a slim, basic device and also a separate unconverged pocket-sized digital camera - imaging being the main selling point of the K800i? It's made me think of all the expensive bits of hardware & software that were in the phone that I resent paying for - infrared obviously, but also the MP3/FM/music stuff I've used a total of twice. And... heresy here.... 3G, which I switch off most of the time to improve battery life.

And it's got me thinking that as phones get more like PCs, they should come with the same user-defined options that you get if you spec a computer on Dell's or a similar company's website. I mean, a basic PC is about the same price as a top-end phone, but much more easily customised.

So, for my next handset, I'd add an extra 512MB of onboard memory (+£10); delete 3G (-£20); pre-load a decent browser (free); delete charger as I already have one (-£5)..... now obviously this has a whole bunch of supply chain issues for the normal operator/retailer channel, but it shouldn't be impossible for an Expansys-type distributor to work with the manufacturers to make phones more modular. I guess the limiting factor is the physical accessibility of the interfaces, and the fact that changing the radio elements would probably need the device to be re-certified.

IMPORTANT - LOST MY PHONE

Important message to clients, AR/PR people etc - I've managed to lose my phone (the number starting +44 7941 xxx). Hope to be up & running again tomorrow, but otherwise please email or use landline +44 20 7723 7993 or skype:disruptiveanalysis

Thanks

Dean

Thursday, February 22, 2007

OK, now this is a surprise... mobile advertising for enterprise users

Vodafone Netherlands has just announced an extremely unexpected variant on the theme of mobile advertising. Normally people envisage mobile ads as targeted at consumers, following a broadly TV/web-banner type model, selling the usual cars / cosmetics / food / travel and so on via a B2C marketing proposition.

So the news that Voda NL is instead looking at B2B mobile advertising strikes me as pretty left-field. Basically it's insurance firms pitching to insurance brokers' mobiles, and drug companies / health info providers pitching to pharmacists.

So potentially your local chemist might get a free phone & cheap calls if he's happy to be pitched about the latest & greatest cardiovascular pharmaceuticals, instead of playing Java games, while he's on the bus to work.....

Weird. Possibly a great idea, or possibly a micro-niche distraction. Top marks for lateral thinking, though.

IMS handsets and IMS proxies

At 3GSM last week, I caught up with a number of providers of phones, SIP/IMS-related handset software, and their counterparts on the network side. I wanted to see how far things had moved on since I wrote my SIP- and IMS-capable Handsets report*. In the middle of last year, it was very evident that mobile operators' possible deployments of IMS faced a fairly insurmountable problem (in addition to all the other problems with IMS...) in the lack of IMS-capable phones, and the lack of any agreed standards or consistent specifications to create them. (And how to to integrate IMS and non-IMS apps on the phone, and myriad other issues).

Although numerous vendors have pitched "IMS client frameworks" for handsets, they have used proprietary interfaces internally with few open APIs and limited developer support, meaning that any innovating operator or application vendor would face a nightmarish porting challenge, if they wanted to get a cool new IMS app across multiple phones. While a few, very large and prescriptive carriers could possibly "standardise" on one specific framework, insisting that all handset suppliers used it, this is unlikely for the majority of service providers.

The net result - a bottleneck in handset development for IMS services. A few things have been standardised - PoC (push to talk) for example. The GSMA was highlighting its video-sharing interop trials in Barcelona last week. Big deal. Neither of these are going to generate even a small % of the revenues needed to build a business case for a mobile operator deploying IMS infrastructure. What is needed is either proper cellular VoIP (which has other issues), or some way for the "next MySpace" to be developed for IMS and adopted virally across a broad range of operators, handsets and IMS client software variants.

My discussions in Barcelona last week suggested that not much had changed, unfortunately. There's still no "alliance of IMS client framework suppliers" to foster interoperability. There's still no broadly-agreed basis of operator requirements for IMS phones (I know that OMTP was working on something, although no details are apparent yet). There's still a lack of developer support for software vendors wanting to write IMS applications that actually give a decent user experience on a range of phones.

Meanwhile, adoption of handsets which include a "naked" SIP stack, addressable by non-IMS 3rd party applications, continues to increase rapidly.

The only movement around IMS handsets appeared to be a growing consensus (OK, OK, perhaps a forlorn hope....) that a new Java API, JSR281, could fix the problem. The idea is that developers (operator-internal or 3rd party) could just write normal Java applets that use IMS capabilities. In principle this seems reasonable... apart from the fact that much of the cool stuff on handsets is now migrating to the browser rather than the Java engine, or else is in completely separate "domains" like a music or TV section of the phone's software. I'm somewhat pessimistic that JSR281 is a complete answer to the problem.

One alternative approach I've started to see is the possibility of using "IMS proxies" - basically embedding some form of IMS user agent in a home gateway, femtocell, PBX or something else, converting applications or content so that it can be used on "normal" non-IMS handsets. Clearly, this isn't an ideal option either, but it might end up being seen as a more practical choice in the short-to-medium term.

(*my IMS handset report is still the most in-depth published analysis available covering these issues. Contact me via info at disruptive-analysis.com for details)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thought for the day – is reported mobile data use real?

I regularly see statistics around mobile data that seem to indicate decent levels of market growth. I read recently in a magazine, for example, that Orange UK is doing around 100,000 music downloads per month, or about 3k per day. I don’t want to pick on Orange specifically, but this is a good case study.

I’m wondering if all of these are actually “real punters” paying for music on their handsets. So, for example, can Orange’s statistical reporting discriminate between “proper” use, versus demos given in shops? Maybe there’s a separate APN for retailers’ SIMs, or maybe not. Or maybe there’s just internal billing reconciliation between the various divisions of the operator and its channel partners. Orange has 280 of its own shops in the UK, plus countless other retailers stock its wares, so it doesn't take an awful lot of demos-per-salesperson-per-day to rack up an appreciable fraction of 3000.

And what about testing? I’ve seen a number of presentations around the concept of “user experience monitoring”. Basically the idea is to stick probes in the network, or drive a bunch of phones around in a van, doing user-type stuff like sending MMS or downloading music. Now imagine a network with 10,000 cells, and you want to to do ongoing quality testing with various types of phones, in various network conditions. How many tests might you make per cell, per month? 1? 10? 100?

I’d guess a van with 10 phones in it could visit 100 cells a day, doing a variety of quality-of-experience tests. A fleet of 10 such vans seems reasonable for a decent-sized operator in a medium-sized country. So, maybe the operator conducts 10,000 tests of any given service per day. Or 300,000 per month.

And, of course, both distribution & testing could be outsourced, and any costs effectively just billed back as part of the contract’s expenses terms, making it even more difficult to separate out from real-world commercial use.

And lastly... how much reported data usage isn't from real Joe-Bloggs-in-the-Street, but from people like us in the industry, trying stuff out to see if it works, using it during meetings with advertisers and content owners, checking up on competitors, showing it to the world at Barcelona or wherever....

I could well be overlooking something very obvious here… but equally, it could be that the split of customer vs internal-ops usage of services is misreported by some operators.

Flat, flatter, flattest?

One thing I was surprised not to hear more about at 3GSM was SAE - System Architecture Evolution, although perhaps that's unsurprising as it's such a bloody terrible name. For the unititiated, it's bacially about simplifying the bit of a mobile network "behind" the base stations (RNCs, SGSNs etc etc) that manages cell-to-cell handovers & a bunch of other functions. Should help reduce latency & offer a bunch of other good stuff. It's a work-in-progress item at 3GPP.

So yes, while I heard various people talk about "flatter architectures" at 3GSM, not many mentioned SAE specifically. Maybe that's the 2008 theme?

One thing, though.... all the femto vendors were also talking about flattened architectures for their products connection into the network. At the back of my mind I'm wondering whether operators will want to have two different sorts of flatness running concurrently, or whether they'd be keener to have some form of consistent view on what replaces today's RNCs at both macro and micro scales. It's possible that the requirements are so different that some form of heterogeneity is mandatory, but I haven't seen any evidence of any commonality at all thus far.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Completely fabricated 3GSM conspiracy story

7 Euros for 30 mins of WiFi???? 70 Euros for 300 minutes? What planet are these guys on? Blatant profiteering or just simple stupidity?

... or did the GSMA have a quiet word & tell Kubi Wireless to treble the normal prices, in case Viviane Reding dropped in. "See, cellular data charges aren't that high, after all! No need to regulate them at all, we're already competitively priced".

The funniest thing was that the venue's WiFi touts tried to persuade exhibitors to turn off their own WLANs, without realising that half of them were demoing stuff like VCC.....

Full marks to T-Mobile, Microsoft et al for sticking two fingers up to the Fira & giving free WiFi to people in their tents/suites. Let's see more of it next year.

WiMAX as perfomed by the Royal Shakespeare Company

Picture the scene: Arun Sarin from Vodafone is seated at his desk. Enter the Ericsson sales rep, stage right, looking confident and holding a big folder with LTE written on it & a calculator with room for lots of zeros on the display.

"So", says Arun "I met this bloke from Intel the other day. Told me about this WiMAX thingy. Sounds awfully clever".

Ericsson rep shifts nervously in his seat & loosens his tie.

"Said it was going to be ready this year, apparently".

Mr Ericsson starts to look a bit pale.

"So", continues Sarin "what was it you said about the price of these gadgets you wanted me to buy?". He leans forward & looks quizzical, theatrically cupping his hand around his ear. "I'm sorry, could you say that again? Did I hear you say that IPR royalty rates were going to be much lower than for UMTS? How very kind of you to offer. Oh, and on your way out, could you ask the gentleman from San Diego to come in?"

Post-3GSM... some thoughts

Phew, what a week. Lots of stimulating discussions, meetings with companies new & old, briefings, client catch-ups & the occasional alcoholic beverage in amongst the canapes. And LOTS of walking about around the Fira complex.

This is a bit of a stream-of-consciousness posting mostly intended to help me procrastinate & avoid tackling my email backlog.

There seems to be a brewing storm over the two next-gen 3GPP technologies HSPA+ and LTE. I heard some vendors say that HSPA+ "wasn't going to happen " and that operators would go straight from Rel6 to Rel8, while others saying that LTE was going to be really quick-to-market ....or take much longer than anticipated. I'm looking into all these 3G+ alternatives for an upcoming report I'll say more about at a later date, and I've come away more confused than when I arrived. Plotted on an axis of LTE vs HSPA+ enthusiasm, I reckon that Ericsson and Nortel are firmly on the LTE end of the scale, Motorola a bit more neutral, Nokia sitting on the fence and Qualcomm planted firmly in the HSPA+ zone.

Femtos, femtos, everywhere. Too much to talk about right now, I'll come back to it at another point. Interesting side-effect is that while femtos are all the rage for the future, it's having a beneficial "halo" effect on companies exploiting their already-mature bigger brothers, picocells. Everyone now knows what a small cellular BTS is, so companies pitching them for enterprise, remote-site, emergency services, maritime or military applications are finding it much easier to describe their offerings & get customer acceptance.

The biggest longterm competitor for cellular data? Flash memory. The price/performance curve for local storage far exceeds that of over-the-air data transmission. If you don't need absolute "immediacy", why on earth wouldn't you stick maps / music / videos / appplication etc on a chip?

Quite a lot of cool WiFi-capable phones, even one or two decent UMA-capable ones like HP's. E28's look good on the SIP-capable side, ditto some of I-Mate's offerings. I still think that RIM, Motorola, SonyEricsson and Samsung are behind the curve on this, though. Side-note: I can't see the "attach rate" of WiFi into handsets getting beyond 10% of phones before 2010, if ever.

For those who maintain that the network will always tell the phone what to do, rather than vice versa: both Qualcomm and Texas Instruments mentioned the magic number 1GHz in their handset chip roadmaps. Coupled with an OS and some decent apps, that's more than enough for the handset to outsmart the inflexible boxes in the core, and exploit the different connectivity options in a more intelligent fashion. "Bearer agnostic"? Yeah right, you wish....

Low-end phones and integrated featurephone application suites look much more mature these days. There seems to be a definite market niche for "not quite basic" phones for emerging markets, with a few aspirational features that take them beyond pure voice&text. Using a single-chip platform with an out-of-the-box, "good enough" suite with colour, camera, maybe FM radio or MP3 support, seems to be a valid market.

Increasing signs that PBX/cellular integration (rather than replacement/substitution) is a hot topic. Yes, there were a few of the usual suspects talking about Mobile IP centrex, but usually as an adjunct to a fixed PBX, not a forklift upgrade. Full marks to Broadsoft for bringing an operator partner along to the briefing (Cincinatti Bell, which has both fixed & mobile arms, as well as a solutions division with plenty of sales expertise & experience in dealing with PBXs). The award-winning Telepo pitch was also pretty cool at first sight.

Lost at sea: IMS and Mobile TV. Yes, there were some people pitching them, but you could sense their hearts weren't really in it.

Last point - Barcelona is so much better than Cannes, it's amazing. If 3GSM ever goes back again, I'm not going to follow it - I'll do CTIA instead.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

3GSM: Mobile content is officially dead. Long live the real Internet on mobiles.

Quick note while dashing between meetings: the only discernable megatrend emerging here in Barcelona is the confirmation that mobile-centric content and operator-specific portals are dead, or at least confined to a handful of small niches & individual national markets.

Everything else is about taking the real Internet onto mobile (there isn't, nor ever has been, nor ever will be, a "mobile Internet") . YouTube, Google, MySpace, Yahoo and so on - yes, optimised a little bit for mobile devices & networks, but only insofar as browser, screen and network technology can't quite cope with the full-on web today.

Vodafone's recent announcements of deals with almost all major Internet brands follows on from 3's X-Series, T-Mobile's Web'n'walk and assorted others. It's a recognition that the only place for viral adoption of cool new stuff is on the Internet, where choice of service provider is irrelevant when you tell your friends to "check this out!". Until there's another mechanism for innovators in a garage to reach 500 global operators' customers in a matter of months, without an army of lawyers drafting contracts, mobile-specific services and communities will be limited to a set of small-to-medium niches. (There's no real way for mobile to monetise "the long tail" without the Internet, either - but that's for another post).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Avaya + Ubiquisys rumour? Mistaken identity, surely

Guy Kewney has a slightly left-field post over at NewsWireless, rumouring an acquisition of one of the most visible femtocell vendors, Ubiquisys, by enterprise telephony vendor Avaya.

I have my doubts, to be honest.

Firstly, Avaya's just bought SIP application server vendor Ubiquity so this could just be a case of Chinese whispers gone wrong. (Or else they should also take out these guys for the full set of Ubiqui-things). Secondly, femtos - especially the ones that Ubiquisys is pitching - are consumer-grade, although I guess conceivably they could fit into very small offices or homeworkers. Picocells are more-appropriate for enterprise. Thirdly, they're 3G-only, so of limited use for buildings/employees with poor coverage & 2G phones. And lastly, they operate in licenced spectrum, and Avaya's sales force doesn't generally sell to mobile operators - and its current channel won't be able to do cellular RF site surveys etc.

I could possibly believe Cisco might be a buyer (bolting femtos onto its Linksys division's products), or one of the large "normal" cellular infrastructure suppliers like Nokia-Siemens or Alcatel-Lucent. But Avaya? Seems both unlikely - and, if it happens - a big mistake in my view.

I've got a meeting with Ubiquisys at 3GSM anyway, so I'll see what I can dig up if nothing's announced.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Assorted interesting announcements

Hmm, quite a few press releases catching my eye this morning - obviously lots of people trying to beat the 3GSM rush:

- Telepo / Ericsson deal for an enterprise FMC solution. About time too - I would have thought that Ericsson's history in both PBXs and cellular would have made it a prime mover in the corporate dual-mode/FMC space, but it's been comprehensively beaten by Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Siemens et al. Also, the press release makes it sound a bit too operator-centric, rather than having the mobility management more clearly in control of the enterprise. I have a meeting with Telepo next week, so it will be interesting to see how it stacks up against the likes of Divitas' solution
- Vodafone / eBay - much the same comments as yesterday re:MySpace. What will be interesting to see is whether there's any way Voda can use IMS in the sort of "inside-out" way I've talked about before. Basically, the idea is that the operator uses IMS as a smart pipe to enhance and interoperate with 3rd party Internet applications (better QoS, security, whatever) rather compete with them. KPN espouses this approach as "making the Internet even better for our customers".
- Nokia launching free downloadable maps for S60, and - get this - Windows Mobile devices, with S40 in future. Supports download, sideload via WiFi etc, supports memory cards as well as over-the-air. Looks a clever move at first sight. It'll drive a highly-desirable coach & horses through some of the more stupid operator mapping business models (look, we know maps are free on the Internet. Obviously we're not going to pay extra beyond access charges on the handset and a seeing bit of advertising, we're not stupid!). I have to say, Nokia seems to have taken a much more Internet/software/IP-centric view of late, rather than pretending that "everything will be a billable service" from operators. This is in stark contrast to Ericsson's philosophy, I'd say, which seems to involve a corporate disbelief that end users actually like to buy & own stuff outright.

A different approach to homezone pricing

Had an interesting meeting with Seeker Wireless this morning. Don’t have time to go into too many details, but they’ve basically come up with a clever way of helping operators do homezone-style pricing – without the complexities of UMA/SIP WiFi or femtocells, or the often-poor granularity of Cell-ID based systems.

Long story short, Seeker uses some clever software on the handset SIM which watches different base stations’ signal strengths, plus a location server, to work out where a given phone is compared to a pre-registered home address, then feeds it back to the billing system.

Obviously, this doesn’t give the improved indoor coverage/capacity or user-paid backhaul benefits of the WiFi or femto approaches, but it sounds a lot easier, and should work with any 2G or 3G handset without modification, as the software's on the SIM and not sitting on top of the OS.

(apparently it's not behind the KPN service announced the other day, though, which seems to be regular cell-ID after all)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nice one, Vodafone

Full marks to Big Red for collaborating with MySpace, rather than attempting to create its own social-networking service. Clearly, MySpace works because it's international and access-independent; saying "no, sorry, you can't be my friend as you're on T-Mobile" is a non-starter.

Also, it seems to fit well with Voda's increasing focus on linking together mobile- and PC-based services. Something like MySpace will not work in a mobile-only context - some things like page-layout are obviously best done with the aid of a mouse & big screen, but at the same time it seems likely that a large % of photos uploaded will have originated on mobile handsets.

Interestingly, it looks like the service won't allow users to view "full" MySpace pages on their handsets. This is unsurprising, as the pages can have huge numbers of separate subcomponents & be large in size, especially with streaming or animated elements which would severely tax the capabilities of network, browser, and handset memory/processor. Also, it would be near-impossible to guarantee QoS, as the component page elements come from all over the web.

(An interesting aside - apparently a single MySpace page can contain 200+ separate IP locations for the various elements, which could completely fry the DNS lookup capabilities of an operator's network).

Some questions remain:

1) How much will it cost?
2) Obviously, it has to be available to prepay subscribers - how will that work exactly?
3) What features aren't available, and which others involve paying extra?
4) Will it be part of a flatrate data plan?
5) What exactly are the terms of exclusivity? Just Europe, presumably? Or is the Helio/MySpace relationship threatened?
6) Does the exclusivity just refer to operators bundling the MySpace client? Can non-Voda users download it to their handset independently?

I still reckon the best MySpace mobile experience would be on a larger, web-tablet type device with a 480x800 or larger screen. I often use the example of a MySpace gadget as a stereotype killer-app for WiMAX.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So, hot topics at 3GSM this year?

I'm now on a score of about 47 booked-in meetings, receptions & other events next week in Barcelona. It's not quite a statistically-significant sample, but I'll take a punt on what the hot topics are going to be:

a) Femtocells. Not exactly new, but then nobody seemed to know what I was talking about last year whever I mentioned them. (Incidentally, I've been wading through the NGMN's white paper on future cellular technologies, and picos/indoor solutions got an honourable mention, so expect to see them designed-in to future mobile architectures upfront, rather than added on as an afterthought).

b) Social networking from your mobile. This seems to be the great hope of anyone trying to grow revenues from their mobile software client business - uploading pics & videos from your phone to your blog. Everyone's at it: OS companies, UI companies, on-device portal companies, remote-backup companies, photo application providers and so on. I bet there will be dozens of handset software firms that have added a "social networking module" to whatever they've been trying to sell for the last few years. So if you're thinking of joining the party - stop, you're too late, it's saturated already.

c) HSUPA - yep, high-speed uplink radio technology, just when you want to upload all your pics to Flickr and MySpace. Should make for better VoIP over cellular, too.

d) VCC - also around last year in "pre" versions, but a bit more real this time around. Expect to see a few cool-looking dual-mode WiFi/cellular SIP-based phones as well. I quite liked E28's devices when I met them the other week.

e) A million and one pointless messaging solutions. Look guys, we're just not interested. The world is either SMS (mobile operators) or IM (Internet players). All the rest is a distraction, with maybe a few interesting niches that a few % of people might play with. Both SMS and IM have such huge & loyal user bases that I expect to see neither mobile companies succeed in IM, nor IM companies succeed in dislodging SMS. In the longterm we'll see some tectonic-speed shifts, but for now the main outcomes are (a) price cannibalisation on SMS, and (b) IM players forced to interoperate & sometimes collaborate with operators. (And yes, I know that US SMS prices have risen recently. Strangling a golden goose is always one way to force a transition, I suppose).

f) A million and two pointless mobile search solutions. Especially the anti-Google operator consortium one. Yawn.

Monday, February 05, 2007

KPN's HomeZone service... more granular than German offerings?

I see that KPN has launched a mobile homezone-type service offering cheap mobile-based calls while a customer is at or near their home. In principle this is nothing new (O2 Genion in Germany has been running since 1999, and Vodafone has rolled out its At Home service in 7 countries). However, this line "The size of the vicinity covered ranges from about 100 metres in an inner city to several kilometres in the countryside" is a bit of an eye-opener, as Genion & peers generally provide a 2km radius for the cheap-rate calls.

100m brings the KPN service much closer to the type of location-specific granularity achieved by UMA or SIP dual-mode WiFi-based services, or that promised by femtocells in the future. It could be argued, however, that both of those target separate market niches - either people with lousy indoor 2G coverage (which neither the KPN nor Genion-type service improves), or those concerned with applications other than voice, for which high-speed local connectivity is a selling point.

Unfortunately, KPN's offer seems to be based on the increasingly fallacious notion that "the mobile phone offers the convenience of one device, one number and one address book". As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a great believer in "multiplicity" - the need for operators to support interoperability between users' multiple device, numbers, identities and so forth. The success of the various German homezone services is partly due to the fact that consumers can have two numbers - mobile and fixed - associated with their cellular handsets. A lot of phone calls to the home are of long duration - and it's unreasonable to expect relatives or friends to pay for an hour or fixed-to-mobile interconnect.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mobile spam'n'scam - fight back!

Couple of things have annoyed me recently about unsolicited calls & SMS to my mobile. But there are ways to get your own back....

The first was more serious. Two of my numbers have had examples of the "missed call" scam - someone rings you, but hangs up before you can answer. The caller-ID shows something like 0709xxxxxx. The 07 prefix tries to con you into believing it's a normal mobile number. But it's actually some other premium-rate thing & you get to pay some anonymous scammer a shedload of cash for the privilege. Luckily I smelled a rat before I returned the call, and Googled the number to discover (a) various people had had the same problem, (b) Ofcom had launched an investigation in to the company owning the number, and (c) the number was registered to company at the same address as its parent firm (with full contact details on the web). So I forwarded an additional complaint to the investigator at Ofcom, and also tried to contact the marketing director at the company concerned. Haven't heard back, but neither have a had any more such missed calls.

The second one concerns SMS spam. I hate it with a vengeance, and make 100% sure I never give my mobile number out to anyone I think might be disreputable. (One of the benefits of having a landline is the ability to enter it into any web forms you suspect may be harvested by SMS-happy marketing droids). I got two SMSs yesterday evening from some fly-by-night mobile content firm (nameless for now, I don't want to give it publicity) inviting me to download some dodgy Java app & pay £3 a week for some stupid "content", via an SMS shortcode. Oh, and it also graciously gave me the chance to "Opt out" by texting "OUT" to the same shortcode. What was ambiguous was whether this was opting out of the service itself, or just opting out of their spam database. It also didn't tell me if that itself would cost me money, or whether (like email spam) my confirming my existence would just perpetuate yet more spam as they sold on my number as "live".

Luckily, in this case, the no-hoper firm, when Googled, yielded a contact name at their London PR agency - whose other clients I speak to fairly regularly. A terse phone call & email has sent the PR guy (who I'm probably putting in a tricky position - sorry mate) trying to get an explanation from the marketing genius who thought that SMS spam was a great method to promote his service. Given he's obviously a budget holder (ie he must have employed & paid the PR agency), I've also informed him of the substantial fee I'll levy for deleting any more of his messages, and that sending any more to me automatically confirms acceptance of my terms. Dunno if that holds any legal water, but it should at least prove the point that unsolicited SMS spam is simply unacceptable. And it feels really good to give a spammer a proper two-fingered salute.

Thanks, Google, for helping me unveil & respond to the spam/scam lowlife.

Edit: Here's a thought - are there any SMS spam-filter software clients for smartphones?

First thoughts - 3 X-series

I finally got my hands on a Nokia N73 demonstrator from 3's new X-Series service the other day.

Verdict so far? 6 out of 10, I'd say. Good ideas, so-so execution, and still a tendency for 3's walled garden heritage to show its roots.

The good stuff:
- The concept, the box it comes in & the instruction manuals
- Skype works pretty well, although it seems to periodically need me to re-key my login ID. Also, there's no IM chat function - annoying as I often find myself IM'ng someone to double-check their presence status ("You there?"), as well as using Skype as my #1 or #2 IM client more generally.


The bad stuff
- Yahoo Go! is terrible. A pain to set up, then it ran OK downloading my Y! mail for about 24 hours, and now it's just stopped syncing. Last email was one I received 2 days ago and there seems to be no way to "refresh" the page. I've also got a Nokia E60 I use with T-Mobile Web'n'Walk, and the user experience of getting Y! mail (and the other Y! services) through the proper full-page HTTP web browser is much, much better.
- There's no "X-series" hotkey to get to either all the apps on the phone, or a dedicated starting page on the web.
- Where's Google? At the launch, quite a lot was made of the big G's involvement. No sign of it so far. The search defaults to Yahoo - and it starts with the UK search rather than global, which annoys me considerably, and then forces you to pick between Images, Products (trying to bloody sell me stuff again!!!!) and only then finally "Web".
- It's a right pain to get on the "real web". Various attempts have seen me diverted to WAP sites rather than the web, 3's own gateway keeps randomly asking me to sign up for an extra data subscription (!), and it needed quite a bit of configuration to stop me being diverted via 3's Planet 3 portal and have various ads for things I don't want to buy stealing my screen space.
- the N73's not the fastest device on the planet, especially for scrolling down a web page. E60 is far better.
- The process for "adapting pages for mobile browsing" is incredibly slow. Dunno if this is the browser trying to be clever, or a proxy server, and I don't care. Latency to load up this blog page? 10 seconds. There's no immediately-apparent way to configure it to stop adapting pages, either, if I decide I want the full unexpurgated web rather than its sanctimoniously-sanitised version.

So for example I fire up the browser (I think the phone has both Opera & the S60 one for some bizarre reason) and get a screen which reads "You will need the Wireless Web Add-on to access the Internet. Use the Red Key (eh?) and select Planet 3 add-ons". Or doing it another way, going via Y! search, I get a screen with "entering a chargeable content browsing area, check your tariff to see if data is included". I'm sorry, but 3's billing system should damn well check my tariff itself.

(Edit - I reckon it's Opera which is the problem. When I finally managed to force it to the S60 browser, I got a much better experience.)

Overall - not a bad start, I suppose, but a lot of work still to do. I haven't got a SlingBox, but I might try out Orb when I get a chance.