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Thursday, May 31, 2007

BT Fusion and Orange Unik

Some interesting facts & figures from this morning's UMA webcast done jointly by Kineto & Orange.

France Telecom has an installed base of 4.8m LiveBox gateways (mostly in France), and has >140k Unik subscriptions & has sold >200k phones (also mostly in France). Current run rate sounds like around 25k phones a month.

Have to say I'm surprised by the statistic that 15-20% of calls involve a handover - much higher than I'd have anticipated, although there's a possibility of self-selection here: I imagine the proposition is much more attractive to people who use their phones at home a lot. It could also be they've tuned the LiveBox WiFi to a smaller range & so there's some occasional accidental handovers to the macro network.

By contrast BT is reported to have (still) only around 40k Fusion users, although it's a bit opaque about whether that's acccounts or phones. It has an installed base of "more than 1m" Home Hubs (I think it also said the same thing at end-2006, so I'd guess the number is a fair bit more by now).

Interestingly, although BT is being castigated for its slow growth, it looks like the penetration of dual-mode into homes with operator-provided gateways is broadly similar -around 3-4% (ie 140k against 4m LiveBox in markets where Unik has launched).

I've been saying for a while that UMA-based dualmode is only really an option when sold in conjunction with an operator's home gateway, in order to minimise costs of support & complexity of configuration, as well as enabling better QoS. It will be interesting to see if T-Mobile's promised full launch in the US will work around this and run over anyone's box/connection - as well as whether it incurs the wrath of Net Neutrality issues for running it's mobile service "across someone else's broadband".

One other thing occurred to me - I think that the French aren't quite as voracious as the British in demanding the latest, most expensive, flashiest phones (ideally subsidised down to £zero). This could mean that Orange has had an easier time than BT in pushing the early unsexy, low-end UMA phones. Unik also has more attractive pricing, reflecting France's hugely competitive voice marketplace, and can offer free on-net calls to other Orange mobiles (incurring no net interconnect costs obviously), which BT cannot match in the UK.

Monday, May 28, 2007

xMax revisited - a Qualcomm employee is critical

A month ago I put up a brief post on a company called xG Technology, which generated rather more entertainment and vitriolic comments than I'd anticipated. It's funny how I can regularly criticise UMA technology or metro-WiFi & still have cordial relationships with Kineto and assorted WiFi mesh vendors and hotspot providers (and their investors), but a relatively off-the-cuff post (which wasn't even that negative by my standards) could generate a call for me to be "strung up".

Since then, I've had few interesting emails and conversations about xMax. Last night I also had a blog comment added to an old post of mine, referring to a rather searing critique of xMax and one of its underlying patents, from a guy called Phil Karn who works for Qualcomm and who seems to enjoy taking shots at things that seem "too good to be true" - from timeshare sales pitches, through to "free energy" machines. See www.ka9q.net/xmax.html and www.ka9q.net/tristate.html . I'd actually been told about these articles a week ago or so by a 3rd party from the investment community, but didn't have time to write up a full post or moderate the inevitable stream of comment spam I'm going to get.

Now Mr Karn's writing style is pretty abrasive about both xG and it's main technology guy Joe Bobier. I'm not a huge fan of attacking people rather than organisations, but nevertheless, it's an interesting read. I don't know enough about either the finer details of RF modulation or information theory to critique his critique, but nothing jumps out at me as being obviously wrong - as far as I can see there's no major public debate about things like Shannon-Hartley theorem, for example. On the other hand, he does work for Qualcomm and his ka9q site is also accessible directly via http://people.qualcomm.com/karn so there will understandably be people who'll shout "but he would say that, wouldn't he? Qualcomm's scared" so caveat lector.

Anyway, it's an interesting diversion while the world waits with baited breath to hear what Telefonica Mexico makes of xG's products in its ongoing trial. Some observers think this might happen soon, but I can't imagine any service provider making snap judgements, in just a couple of months, about a strategic technology shift without exhaustive & lengthy large-scale trials. On the other hand as it's billed as a "joint venture" rather than a conventional supplier relationship, it could be that Telefonica is just providing cell sites, masts or backhaul infrastructure as its part of the deal, perhaps letting xG bear more of the financial risks about the radio side and sales/marketing of devices and retail services. Given the early stage of the technology, I could envisage some sort of vendor-financing arrangement being more palatable to CFOs.

I've also spoken to the CTO of another operator who's skeptical but keeping an open mind and watching brief on xMax "If it's true, then I can't afford to ignore it", although he's wary of the way the technology is being marketed and is also working on WiMAX in any case. No additional news from pioneering xMax customer, Florida ISP Far Reach on their ongoing deployment, either.

My view remains that there's possibly "something" interesting in xMax, but not magically wonderful. There remain doubts as to its real-world efficacy, as Karn's comments illustrate - it's certainly not as cut-and-dried "proven to work" as its advocates suggest. However, I still maintain that trying to do a wVoIP service as the first application is a serious mistake, as the difficult things about wVoIP are not the wireless bits, but the VoIP bits (codecs, servers, interconnect, quality, testing....), as well as all the other messy parts of the end-to-end solution. A more general data access service (eg cards for laptops, or fixed wireless modems) would make much more sense.

Now, some housekeeping notes:

I'm expecting some hatemail on this, just for giving Karn's views an airing. I guess my old friend Mr Anonymous, who so graciously dispensed his wisdom on my last post, may return. I suspect he is one of the regular bullish posters on this board, who have also been shooting at Karn's analysis and who specialise in burning heretics, rather than engaging in debate. I think my erstwhile interlocutor is quite possibly the one with the handle "marcsanpedro", as the syntax & language & style of multiple consecutive posts is similar, plus he refers to me in one instance. If so, I can quite understand why he doesn't like Google as a research tool. And if he's who I think he is, he also randomly phoned me last year asking my opinion about xG.

Anyway, I've got a busy week ahead, so I'm going to be ruthless with deleting comments from the more rabid xG fans that are offensive rather than factual, as I don't have time to debate endlessly. It also looks like Blogger now has a "lock comment thread" facility for individual posts, although I hope I won't have to use it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

If you call a phone a "computer", do you regulate differently?

I was just reading through some document about VoIP regulation, and noticed that in some countries like Canada, the regulators make a distinction between ordinary telephony and "computer to computer" Internet telephony:

"The CRTC will not be regulating private computer -to-computer voice services over the Internet or peer-to-peer (P2P) as these do not connect to the public telephone network which is consistent with previous CRTC decisions not to regulate retail Internet services"

So, if we take Nokia's current N-series branding at face value and refer to an advanced mobile device as a "multimedia computer", this presumably has some interesting implications for regulation of mobile VoIP.....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Customer perceptions of value - domestic vs international calls

Most people believe it's cheaper to make international calls from a fixed-line or VoIP phone/PC than a mobile. Certainly, circuit-switched direct international minutes usually lie outside a user's bundled minutes, and are tariffed accordingly, often at premium rates.

So it's interesting to see a couple of operators in the UK go against this paradigm and start bundling international calls into their basic voice plans, obviously routing them via a VoIP gateway in their networks. (These calls are typically to fixed-line numbers, plus mobiles in a few countries like the US that don't distinguish between interconnect rates or numbers for fixed/mobile inbound calls).

T-Mobile has been advertising that business users can call abroad without extra charges. And yesterday I saw an advert in a 3 UK shop offering the bizarre combination of "500 UK minutes and 3000 international minutes for £30 a month".

This is sort-of reasonable at one level, as we in the industry understand the economics of VoIP for international transit, and interconnect fees for mobile. But at another level, it really highlights the ridiculously high costs of normal domestic mobile telephony to the average user. While we sort of knew it already, 3 is basically pointing out explicitly to people that's it's cheaper to call Granny in Australia, than your mate next door, from the same device, while you are mobile.

Now obviously calls to most international mobile numbers will cost a lot more - and it could be that 3 is banking on customers spending a bunch of extra money on this to make their business case work.

These approaches also compete with the emerging class of mobile-based VoIP gateway services like Jajah and Rebtel and a million others.

Mind you, it'll be interesting to see what happens if you make a call that's supposedly "international", but terminates on a US-located SkypeIn or similar number that calls back to the UK....

Differing perceptions of smartphones

I've probably posted on this before, but a discussion over at Forum Oxford made me think it out a bit more carefully. It's about the perennial question of smartphone stats, and how quickly smart OS's will penetrate into the massmarket of phones.

But it's not as simple as that, because of the differences in the ways that "smartness" gets used. The definition and perception of "what is a smartphone" varies greatly, and especially by region of the world:

In the US, a smartphone is a "PDA-style" device bought consciously by people who actually want to do data-type stuff with their preferred applications. Purchasers are usually either in businesses or are IT enthusiasts. Mostly, they use Palm or Windows Mobile, with many calling Blackberries "smartphones" even though they don't really have a fully-open OS. They usally buy a "data plan" from the carrier specifically to use the device. ie, In the US, smartness is for the benefit of the end user.

In Europe, the predominant notion of a smartphone is "a high end Nokia with S60", which is generally bought because it's a Nokia, rather than because it's smart. Most owners of S60 devices, as well as some operator-branded Windows Mobile smartphones, neither know nor care about its capabilities. ie In Europe, smartness is for the benefit of the handset manufacturer, particularly Nokia. This is changing slowly, as in addition, there is a reasonable minority of European enthusiasts & hardcore users who do want to do extra stuff with their phones. European operators are also starting to use smartphones more deliberately as platforms for their own massmarket service portfolios (eg 3)

In Japan, the predominant view of a smartphone is one which has an underlying smart OS, which supports the operator's preferred application stack. DoCoMo uses Linux, Symbian and WM, while KDDI uses a variant of Qualcomm's BREW platform. Generally the OS is not exposed to the end-user in a way which encourages addition of aftermarket apps. In Japan, smartness is for the benefit of the operators

In most of the rest of the world, smartphones are used by a small number of enthusiasts for data applications, but they are also used by many people for purposes of prestige ("I've got an expensive phone"), or simply because commercially-unsuccessful phones get dumped at lower prices on markets that will take them, or perhaps get recycled & refurbed. I've seen all manner of early Symbian phones like 3650s on sale in weird places like market stalls in Mozambique. I suppose you could say that smartness is for the benefit of the retailers.

I'm not really sure about smartphones in China - would be interested to get someone's view on this.

Overall, this means that many smartphone market statistics are pretty meaningless, because people tend to assume that "their" use case of smartphones is universal. I find people in the US, in particular, tend to assume that a smartphone is an evolution of the PDA, and that it's a conscious decision to purchase a SMARTphone as a product to "do stuff". But everywhere else, the majority of consumers people just buy a phone, which "happens to be based on a smart OS". Maybe they subsequently "do stuff" with software that the carrier, or the handset manufacturer has pre-installed, but that's not usually the intention at the point of sale.

I suspect that although the notional number of "smartphones" sold in 2007 will be around 100-120m, the proportion which are bought specifically because they are smart & the user knows they want to do "productive or cool data stuff" will probably be about 25-30% - perhaps 30m or so.

There's also a grey area in smartphones with regard to "what is an OS" and whether to count it in the stats or not. I've already pointed out that "smartphones" in Japan aren't open to the user. Also it is important to realise is that many Linux phones just use Linux deep down in the phone (instead of an RTOS like Nucleus), where it's not really accessible by 3rd party software developers unless specifically invited by the manufacturer. Another problem area is BREW - in some phones it's quite a thin layer like Java, but in other phones (eg KDDI's) it's much deeper and more like a full-featured OS. RIM's OS is another could-be/maybe-not platform.

If you're a smartphone app developer - you really need to make sure you understand that your target addressable market is not homogeneous. You need to drill deeper to understand distribution, openness and usage cases

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

EU data roaming costs.... operators, be warned....

I was at the Mobile Broadband Congress in London today. The keynote speaker was a policy-maker for the European Commission, who discussed a whole raft of issues like 900/1800MHz GSM refarming (good!), spectrum neutrality (controversial!).... and also mentioned (inevitably!) the new roaming caps.

Apart from voice roaming, he brought up the issue of data roaming charges, which have apparently been raised in a couple of letters to the Commission. At the moment, it's not intended to regulate them..... but....that's not necessarily going to be a perpetual state of affairs. He pointedly remarked that the new regulations task national regulators with "monitoring" both voice and data roaming, and that everything would be reassessed in 18 months' time. His comment to the effect that he didn't "believe that operators would make the same mistake twice" was tantamount to a pre-emptive shot across the bows, in my view.

He also raised the question of whether mobile broadband services could fit into the same regulatory framework as normal broadband - an open question, although it seems more likely to be defined as a separate market.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Aruba joins the enterprise dual-mode fray

Interesting announcement just arrived from corporate WiFi specialist Aruba. It's not yet up on their website PR page as I write this, but among other things it's announced its intention to support SIP-based WiFi/cellular handover from inside their WLAN AP controller. This is quite interesting as it's another spin on the enterprise-controlled approach - others tend to put the mobility functionality in the PBX (eg Cisco, Avaya), or to have a standalone unit (eg Divitas).

As with the others, Aruba is working on a handset client, although as yet it's unclear what software platforms it will support. It will be interesting to see if it's an inhouse development, or if the company is working with someone like Firsthand or Cicero. Either way, Aruba's targetting a Q4 launch. I wonder if it'll manage to really manage to work out the vagaries of user experience, such as handset UIs by then....

Key challenges for Aruba will be the ability to contend with different operator-customised variants of phones, plus my usual question about SMS support, which most participants try to ignore on their first attempt as it's too difficult...

I'll see if I can chat to Aruba at this week's Wireless Event & Mobile Broadband Congress in London and get some more details....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Femtocells and enterprise?

I've just seen some marketing from another research company that suggests that enterprises will use femtocells quite widely, in the context of FMC.

I'm unconvinced that this is likely until at least 2010, if not 2012 or beyond.

Experience with picocells suggests that enterprises are wary of having operators' equipment installed on their office LAN, especially if it has to tunnel its traffic out through a firewall. Operators are equally unhappy to have their base stations beyond their control on someone else's network. There may be regulatory issues here too. In theory, they could be installed on a virtual LAN using the building's spare cabling - but this still has the problem of manageability and ownership for the operator, as certain components like patch panels and fibre risers will be shared-use.

Instead, picos are often installed on completely physically separate cabling & infrastructure. Which is not inexpensive. Given that femtos cover fewer users / less range than picos, it seems to make the problem worse, not better. Distributed antenna systems may be easier, especially as they can be used for multiple operators' networks, while picos/femtos can only be used for one carrier, and are therefore useless for visitors, or where enterprises do not want to be locked into longterm deals with a specific single operator.

Also a bunch of other issues emerge:

  • Channels - integrating femtos with PBX channels & system integrators will need years of recruitment, training & certification
  • Value chain - lots of new "moving parts" will need to be brought into the ecosystem, such as RF design houses capable of dealing with cellular inbuilding coverage
  • Software will be needed that can recognise a group of femtos as being part of the same "zone" - perhaps 30 on one site, 20 on another, and 2 in each of 100 branch office sites. Not that difficult, but to my knowledge nobody's done it yet
  • Integration with IP-PBXs, and ways of dealing with legacy systems and migration. Another huge task.

And then of course there's the small fact that even simple, single-femto consumer deployments have yet to be developed fully, let alone rolled out.

Of course, dual-mode enterprise WiFi/cellular isn't that easy either. But it is "here and now" (albeit belatedly), and by the time all the issues above get fixed, it should be pretty mature. So in other words femto-based solutions will have to work well with that, as well.

The ultimate solution is some sort of mega-hybrid, embracing cellular, dual-mode, WiFi-only, DECT, IP centrex, outsourcing where appropriate, mobile PBX extensions, fixed hard phones, PC softphones, indoor cellular coverage with picos/femtos and DAS.... and having customers that understand it, enterprise applications that integrate nicely with all the devices, and channels that can sell the right solution. Now I think about it, maybe 5 years is optimistic.....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Will mobile social networking drive churn rates up?

There's a huge amount of interest in mobilising the various social networking services - MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and so on. Operators are partnering left, right and centre.

But I wonder.... do people have more loyalty to their mobile operator, or to their preferred social networking brands? I think it's the latter, because of the impact of the rest of the user's social group. I can make a unilateral, personal, decision to switch from O2 to Vodafone. But I'm not going to be able to convince my entire social network to switch from Facebook to MySpace.

So, I'm more likely to switch operators to get my choice of Web 2.0 brand. Which sounds good on the face of it, but ignores an important factor:

Social networks' coolness varies over time. People switch allegiance from Bebo to MySpace or whatever is more "exclusive". People belong to multiple networks. It's a bit like real-life social scenes - the bars & restaurants that are ultrahot this month, are full of Z-list celebrities next month, and full of clueless tourists the month after that. The A-list has moved on. And from an online mobile/social networking point of view, these A-listers are the 'hubs', the most popular people. Their friends follow them.

So just because MySpace is popular right now, doesn't mean it will be next year when a mobile operator's contracts come up for renewal. People may desert their current operator in droves if their coolest friends are now using a service which partners with another carrier. In other words, the risk of mobile social networking is that it might induce "group churn".

(Caveat: this is a very metropolitan/London-centric view of socialising, where there is sufficient fluidity in networks of friends - or openings of cool new bars & restaurants - to make us fickle. In smaller towns people have more fixed friendships, and go to the same local pub all their life, so for these cases loyalty may be more easily achieved)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mobile Internet access is about PCs, not phones

I thought 2007 had finally killed the rosetinted-glasses-mobile-hippy view that PC-based Internet was going to wither away against an onslaught of mobile handset-based web access.

Yet it only takes one vaguely-worded press release with few definitions to reignite the hype again. Normally I'm a fan of the MobHappy guys, but on this occasion I think Russell's mixed up what he'd like to see happening in his version of utopia, versus what actually is.

Let's start with the press release:

"In fact, 5.7 million people in the UK use the mobile web, as opposed to 30 million who access the web by PC. This means that the mobile web is already nearly one fifth the size of the PC web"

Even if you take the numbers at face value, it's still a non-sequitur. How does the number of people accessing something determine its size?

Secondly, there is the perennial issue of definition. Is the "mobile web" anything accessed via a WAP or web browser on a handset? Does it include email as well? Are laptops with 3G data cards (or WiFi for that matter) classed as mobile web devices? I can quite believe that there are now 3-5m people in the UK who connect via WiFi or 3G from a PC. And how do you define & measure "unique visitors" from mobile devices - it's much trickier than for PC-based access because of poor cookie support, differing IP addresses and so on.

Then there's the totally unreasonable assertion that:

"Accessing the web via the mobile, as any sane, thinking person must acknowledge is going to dwarf PC access. And indeed, I would argue that it’ll replace it altogether within the next 5 years"

This is wrong on so many levels it's amazing.

  • Developing countries show no signs of "skipping the PC" and going to mobile phones as an Internet platform. A combination of data-unfriendly prepaid tariffs, non-optimised handsets and operator focus on voice capacity when building their networks. Plus whenever I visit a country like Mozambique or Bolivia, the Internet cafes seem to be full of kids on MSN, the schools are getting PCs, and there's initiative like one-laptop-per-child. Not to mention that every government wants its children to be PC-literate so they can work in new businesses, learn to develop software & thus benefit the economy
  • BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) will skip PCs. Yeah of course. That'll be why China has getting on for 100m broadband lines then.
  • There isn't a fraction of the spectrum needed to get 2bn+ people using the Internet via mobile at a decent speed, especially if they want to compete with ADSL2+ or FTTH
  • Most of the current 3G services are being held afloat by PC users with 3G data cards. This Ericsson investor presentation last week highlights the fact that Mobile PC connections will generate more traffic than anything apart from voice. And even if you assume as Ericsson does that there will be more mobile broadband subscriptions than fixed, you need to take into account that usually one fixed-sub is >1 users, while the reverse is true for mobile as a growing % of people have multiple devices & subscriptions.
  • The notion that people will use a "personal digital device" (ie a phone) that somehow docks with keyboard & screen to become a pseudo-PC, with all data stored in the network doesn't fly. First off the price curve on memory & disk space >> bandwidth, so it makes more sense to store data at the edge of the network on the device. Secondly, nobody in their right mind will want a personal "hub" which is optimised-for/locked-to a single operator rather than being guaranteed to be fully open to the Internet at large. Plus there's the huge problems of federating data between the 2,3 or 4 separate devices that most people will have.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. I love using the web & email when I'm mobile (well, OK, given the apparently lousy state of T-Mobile's DNS servers, it could be a lot better). But there's no way I'd use anything other than a PC for "heavy lifting" work on the real web. Sure, mobile access to the Internet will improve, and there will be a few people who start to rely on it more or even completely. But it's a complete fallacy to suggest that people won't aspire to use a proper PC and operator-free raw Internet access.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Deep packet inspection, audit trails and billing

I've said before that I view DPI as useful for certain things - spotting denial-of-service attacks, throttling bandwidth consumption that seriously threatens network integrity etc. But I don't buy the idea that it can be used to identify individual applications & block/charge accordingly.

There's a bunch of reasons for this, including what happens when you put traffic into a VPN or encrypt it, or you use XML objects that could be used by 15 different applications.

Another good one is MySpace, which is a "meta-service" which can comprise 20+ different bits & pieces of software, application & service amalgamated on a single page. You try explaining to a customer why it costs them double to view Sarah's page than Eric's, just because hers has a short video clip delivered by a new streaming service that someone had tagged as "VoIP" or "P2P.

I think this is the ultimate problem for operators leaning towards the more "fundamentalist" end of the Net Neutrality spectrum. Let's say I get a bill which contains an extra £2 for using a prohibited streaming or VoIP "service". I call up the helpline and say "No I didn't use that". It cuts no legal ice as far as I can see, to say "our DPI box caught this stream of packets and it looks like it's Skype". Just because something "looks" like Skype, that's not a call detail record, or "proof of purchase" - it's a vague, automatically-generated photofit. It could be anything - some new non-VoIP application that someone's made to look like Skype. It could be a new thing that Skype's invented which isn't VoIP at all. It could be someone else initiating a Skype call to me. And so on.

I can't see too many regulators being happy about carriers billing customers based on things they suspect without a proper audit trail.

Bottom line.... I still can't be bothered to get worked up about Net Neutrality. It doesn't work, many supposed network policies are probably legally unenforceable, and all it takes is 1% of customers to query their bills & the whole thing falls apart in a world of customer service opex pain. DPI's fine for the big tasks like protecting the network - nobody's going to argue that one. But for fine-grain application and service discrimination and billing? No way.

Green mobiles

Definitely flavour of the month at the moment is introducing environmental responsibility to the mobile industry.

Ericsson has been loudly telling me about their base stations' lower power requirements over the last couple of days - more efficient electronics, heat-resistant kit that doesn't need air-conditioning, better network planning so operators need fewer sites.

Now I see that Nokia is providing alerts to tell people to switch off their phones' power supplies - most people just leave them plugged into the wall & switched on, wasting huge amounts of electricity. Highly laudable, this - I only started thinking about this a few months' back, and realised that I had a whole bunch of transformers constantly warming my house. Can't see why they can't just switch off automatically, though.....

Both of these actions fit into my preferred way of combating global warming - don't try & make people feel guilty about their lifestyles. Use technology to fix the problem and let consumers and businesses get on with normal existence without trying to foist misanthropic principles of "sustainability" upon them. Congrats to the IPCC for backing nuclear energy & carbon sequestration last week too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Observations from Ericsson's Capital Markets Day

I'm in Stockholm at Ericsson's event, mostly intended for financial analysts, but which also has a handful of industry analysts around too.

This post is a "work in progress" - I'll add bits over the course of the next day, rather than put each thought in a separate article.

Thought #1 as I'm going through the presentation deck before the event formally commences. Ericsson sees total mobile traffic globally growing 10x by 2012, to a level of around 4500 petabytes. Seems quite a lot, until 3 slides later, where it forecasts total global fixed traffic... also growing 10x by 2012, from a much higher base, to 350000 petabytes. So let's forget about the hype about "everything's going to be mobile! wireless will the dominant way to get online!". Mobile's about 1.3% of traffic (but much more as a % of revenue obviously), and, roughly speaking staying that way. To quote the Ericsson CEO "the fixed traffic growth is an even more exciting story, to be honest".

#2 - Nice to hear a note of honesty about subsriber/subscription numbers not always being the same, and that multiple subs/person impacts the statistics. Not sure I believe the projection of 5.5bn mobile subscriptions by end-2012, though, unless the average subs/person gets to 1.4 or more.

#3 Fascinating presentation by Sol Trujillo, CEO of Australia's Telstra. They had Ericsson deploy an HSDPA network nationwide, with full backhaul etc, in just a year. Early stats show good usage, ARPU etc. Great stuff.... but.... this case study was for a market that had the availability of 850MHz band for HSPA, which means that the cell sites had range of up to 200km radius, and the signals work well indoors. So a special part of the network built for the Australian railways covered 10,000km of track with just 77 cell sites, and they have adverts showing someone getting good reception in an elevator and concrete car park. According to Trujillo, 850MHz "changed the economics of deployment". That being the case, what does that say for those operators still stuck with 2.1GHz: even where population density is higher, can they create the same sort of proposition? And do they really want 2.5GHz spectrum?

#4 The Multimedia group's presentation spoke to various opportunities around IMS, SDPs, prepay and IPTV among other areas. Worthy stuff, especially the integration of Tandberg in the TV space. What's less clear, however, is whether Ericsson has any exposure to the disruptors - I can't see Google, or Skype, or Joost as buying into the fairly "traditionalist" telco rhetoric.

#5 The new SonyEricsson P1 smartphone clearly fits into the category of "geek gadget". And the summary slide specifically mentioned its VoIP capabilities. So, operators, learn from your lessons with the N95 and don't break it.

#6 At the end of the day, the organisers offered a bribe to try & get attendees to fill in their feedback forms - a shiny new W880 Walkman device. How refreshing to hear the head of Corporate Comms refer to it as a "telephone", rather than "multimedia computer", "mobile office" or similar jargon...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Femtocells - 3Way acquired by Airvana

I missed this announcement at the end of last week. I'm buried in work & also travelling over the next couple of days but will try and comment on it when I get a chance.

Nokia S40 - no SIP support

Interesting to see that Nokia's new version of its Series-40 low-to-mid platform has adopted the new "standard" for handset Java implementation, JSR248. However, it has only adopted the "subset" of JSR248, rather than the full version.

From another Sun document: "The subset meets today’s base common handset functionality. The full specification is targeted at featurerich, leading-edge mobile devices."

Importantly, this means that 5th-edition S40 devices will not support a SIP API in Java as the subset excludes JSR180. This is in contrast to SonyEricsson's recent announcement of a different strategy for developers looking at its featurephones.

Nokia Series 60 does support SIP, both natively and from within Java. What this means, therefore, is that developers who wish to work on applications requiring Naked SIP are excluded from a large part of the loyal Nokia user base.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sensors in phones... not just motion

OK, I've been banging on a bit recently about my pet belief that motion sensors were the next "big thing" to be added to mobile devices.

Maybe I should have just left it at "sensors" and then I could have claimed credit for predicting this too.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

070 + 419 = double scam

These days almost everyone's pretty well-versed in the classic "419" scam: "I represent Mr ET and have come into US$12,000,000,000.00 (TWELVE BILLION DOLLARS) and need your help to repatriate the money from Mars"

And in the UK, the missed-call 070 scam is being addressed by Ofcom (where you get a "missed call" on your cellphone from what looks like a mobile number, but in fact costs you a packet to call)

So it's refreshing to see the spirit of innovation lives on in scamland - someone's now combining the two practices. I got this email today:

Hello

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to write you this mail
and even when it might come to you as a surprise, I hope you
find it of interest.

Let me first introduce myself.

My name is David Timms. I am an Executive Auditor with a Bank here in Europe, I would like to use this means to ask your assistance in moving some fund over to your country. [....]good percentage of the fund, it is important to let you know that fifty percent


[...] For effective communication, please
kindly include in your reply, your complete Names, Address,Occupation, Age and most especially your contact number


[...] David Timms
Tel:+44 704 011 [xxxx]
Reply to: [xxxx]
@crawler.com

So not only is someone trying to defraud me of money in a dodgy transaction, but he wants me to pay through the nose by using his 070 number during the negotiation.....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

3G terms of service comparison... treatment of VoIP?

Based on the discussion of my post yesterday about Vodafone's stance on explicitly banning IM, P2P and VoIP traffic from its new 15MB per day for £1 data tariff, I thought I'd look at some of the other operator policies in this area to compare.

First off, 3's X-series: (unlimited for £5 per month)

“Using the X-Services to exploit the unlimited offers We will also consider your use unfair if you use the X-Series services in any way designed to unfairly exploit the unlimited usage or cause us loss, for example, by using the services for commercial purposes, accessing services that are not included or using an unauthorised device. We may make reasonable changes this policy in accordance with the Terms for 3 Services and any new version will replace this version.”

This gives 3 the right to control “services that are not included”, if they “cause loss”, which in theory could be applied to VoIP if a huge chunk of voice traffic suddenly migrated. But, realistically, only a few users will likely be bothered to use VoIPo3G – and they’d have to be using it so much that the transport costs offset the extra £5 a month they’re paying for the X-series service anyway. Also, it is worth noting that sat the launch event, a senior 3 representative confirmed verbally to Disruptive Analysis that using VoIP was acceptable “Yes, you can even download a packet-based Skype client if you want”

Next, a senior excutive from ONE Austria, speaking at a wVoIP conference in March 2007 said, regarding VoIP that “you’re very welcome” to use it on his company’s HSDPA service. He also took thge view that hardly anyone would be bothered, so he didn't care, especially as this would probably help with fixed-mobile substitution even more. I can't find the detailed T's and C's on its website, but if any German speakers want to help out I'd be interested in seeing the legalese.

Now, T-Mobile UK’s Web’n’Walk Fair Use terms vary according to the tiers of service chosen. So, some of the more basic packages stipulate “We do not permit use of this service to provide modem access for a computer or for peer to peer file sharing, internet phone calls or instant messaging”. However, others just say “We do not permit use of this service for internet phone calls.”, and the highest tiers have no apparent usage restrictions at all beyond bandwidth caps. This looks like a pretty sensible compromise to me, although it is for use only on monthly contract rather than daily / prepay. And at the same conference as above, a T-Mobile Czech Republic representative was also talking about permitting the use of VoIP via PCs on 3G to help compete vs. DSL.

Although I don't have a direct link to the terms themselves, it was reported here last week that Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO terms of service (for laptops, it seems) included the conditions: … may ONLY be used with wireless devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). The Unlimited Data Plans and Features MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (ii) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine–to–machine connections or peer–to–peer (P2P) file sharing; or (iii) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to exclude VoIP explicitly, especially in the case of enterprises wanting to connect to voice servers & application on their intranets.

And then Telstra’s mobile data service terms & conditions include about 214 pages of details, which do not at first glance appear to prohibit VoIP use on its myriad different wireless offerings. However, its general terms stipulate what it terms a “fairplay policy” applicable to mobile data – “Unreasonable use: You must not use any of our FairPlay offers in a way that is unreasonable. We consider it unreasonable where you use a FairPlay offer fraudulently or in a manner that causes significant network congestion. Fraudulent use of a FairPlay offer covers resupplying our mobile service without our consent, so that someone else can take advantage of a FairPlay offer”. Whether VoIP is “unreasonable” is an interesting discussion…..

Interestingly neither Vodafone nor T-Mobile seem to specifically exclude SlingBox-type TV placeshifting services, which I would have thought were much more dangerous to the network than VoIP.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vodafone's new data plan - defensive measures leave plenty of loopholes & questions

Interesting to look through Voda's new UK data plan pricing - up to 15MB per day for a capped £1, then £2/MB after that. Both the pricing structure and terms & conditions are cleverly (cynically?) crafted to mitigate the risk of any substitution by 3rd party services.

"The £1 per day charge and monthly data subscription cannot be used for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype or Peer-to-Peer services (such as instant messenger services, text messaging clients or file sharing). These services will not count towards the £1 per day charge or monthly bundle, and are charged separately at £2 per MB, with a 5p minimum charge for each data session"

In principle it sounds eminently reasonable, and I've got to admire Vodafone's intention to protect its legacy revenue base while trying to compete & provide decent mobile Internet access. Unfortunately, as always, the devil's in the detail, and I suspect that the complexity & diversity of open IP applications is going to cause trouble, as per usual.

I'd love to know how the precise definitions & packet inspection mechanisms are going to work though, and what Voda intends to do about the possible "false negatives" and "false positives".

"VoIP services such as Skype" - so what does "such as" mean? Does it include web-based callback initiated via a data connection but the voice is still circuit-based(Rebtel etc)? Is a game with "embedded VoIP" included in this? Does downloading a spoken poem count as VoIP? Can I steganographically encode voice into a JPEG image? Is a VoIP softphone connecting to an IP-PBX actually a "VoIP service" or just a "VoIP application"?

....and does Vodafone want to set a precedent and start to charge for inbound VoIP calls, thus breaking the "calling party pays" paradigm? (Ironic, given Keith's Voda/Truphone analysis last week)

Peer-to-peer.... does that include peer-to-server-to-peer? Does it include things based on JavaScript & Widgets or just a SIP- or other IM client? Does accessing a web forum count as "text messaging", especially if I send a private message to someone else? Or leaving a message on someone's social networking page? Is accessing webmail permitted or prohibited?

And what happens if a given software client - Yahoo Messenger, perhaps, or a game - is used for a mix of permitted and non-permitted usage? How do they separate it all out?

And what's a "session" - is that a technical term, eg as long as your phone is registered online with the SGSN, and does it change if the radio network puts your device into idle mode, or if you go out of coverage temporarily? Or does it refer to an application-level session like having a text messaging window open? Or is a single IM message or data flow a "session"?

How does anyone prove any of this? Especially if it's done inside a VPN tunnel? Or if it's all done in XML, with componentised data/software that could relate to 1001 different applications.

My expectation - this type of data contract has a lifespan of 12 months, maximum. Any of the questions above would probably cost Vodafone's customer services about £20 to answer properly, let alone managing the possible billing queries.

Of course the whole thing could just be FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). If they can dissuade 80% of people from even trying to do anything too edgy with a 3rd party app, then they may just shrug about the other 20%.

But given that plenty of operators don't care what you do with their data plans - 3, for example, or ONE in Austria, maybe the 80% will just churn instead.

When is an IMS not an IMS?

...when it's an "R4 IMS".

For those of you not deeply involved in 3GPP's acronymic world, IMS is part of Release 5 of its huge standards programme. Releases 6 and 7 provide enhancements to it.

One of the original ideas behind IMS was to stop operators wasting money on "reinventing the wheel", deploying new "silos" of equipment dedicated to each new application, when various of the components were essentially duplicated. Why should email, voicemail, IM and SMS all have separate boxes, with separate customer databases, and separate authentication, for example? Why have multiple instances of audio processing engines through the operator for different applications, when they could all be concentrated in one place - and maybe even outsourced to a 3rd party?

Obviously there's a lot more to IMS in terms of improved opex of an IP underlying network as well (a sort of bottom-up business case), but certainly the "top down" efficient application-layer argument is still used regularly.

But as Brough Turner from NMS eloquently describes in the exampled linked to above, there's a big gap between the theory (elegant though it may be) and the practical reality of creating applications. He uses ringback tones as an example, and constructs a compelling argument about why it still makes sense to have dedicated audio processing and subscriber engines within the individual application, rather than having them all centralised. Cost allocation, ringfencing vendor responsibility, optimising latency and so forth all point towards not sharing everything.

And this is all for an application that doesn't need a specific client on the phone. Extend this argument further and you have the issue I've discussed before - the complexity of mixing "full IMS" and "non-IMS" on the end devices.

The other interesting angle that Brough mentions is that around the R4 issue. Softswitches - building blocks of IMS, are also used in other "related" communications architectures (3GPP R4, MSF, TISPAN, Packetcable etc). They've been around for some time, and these separate architectures are (broadly) converging over the next few years, notably in R7. But not yet.

R4 isn't IMS, except in a marketing sense. Sure, it brings in some of the benefits of IP, but so do lots of other things. I'll make sure I grill any vendors or operators that claim "IMS deployments" on exactly what they mean.