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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Off on holiday.....

I'm now away until early September, so unless I spot something particularly weird & wonderful while I'm travelling, it's going to be a litte quiet here....

As an aside, this is actually the first time I've gone on a proper long holiday & actually taken my mobile phone with me. Normally I leave it at home in a drawer, with a message telling people to contact me via email. Sometimes I've taken a cheap unlocked phone & bought a local SIM with a new number, in case I need to call hotels or people I'm meeting while travelling. My intention is to leave my phone switched off 95%+ of the time..... I'll see if I have the self-control to succeed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Femtocell business model.... free HSDPA hotspots?

I've just come back from a few days at the Edinburgh Festival. One of the things that I noticed was the sheer amount of free WiFi available, especially at the festival venues themselves, but also at a huge number of cafes, pubs & other places. Many such locations had 5+ laptop users at any time. There are far fewer major chains of cafes with commercial hotspots than there are in London.

It's just struck me that maybe a possible business model for femtocell operators could be to supply femtos to similar venue owners, to enable wider use of data connectivity for their visitors, especially if the operator is also providing the broadband connection. It ought to be possible to charge a somewhat higher price to businesses like cafes than is reasonable for average consumers at home.

That said, there would be a number of challenges - principally whether it would be possible to create an operator-neutral femto (perhaps one that didn't need SIM authentication, or one that could work with multiple operators' SIMs?).

Another way could be to have some sort of multi-femto rack or chassis, with different operator's femtos as 'blades' or modules. This type of architecture could also be used for the 80%+ of households that won't be single-operator families.

There would also need to be some sort of mechanism for policy control - perhaps in terms of volume caps, or bandwidth throttling, or maximum number of current users.

Hmmmm.... now I think through the details, it's kinda tricky. But if femtos are going to have a chance to compete vs. Wifi for casual users (especially with laptops), there will need to be some way of giving hassle-free & cost-free visitor access in specific locations.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rant: digital versions of magazines - absolutely awful

Is it just me, or is anyone else really ticked off with various of the more useful mobile & wireless publications moving to useless, hideous digital publishing platforms? Things like Olive, Zmag and who knows what else?** Nasty, naff page-turning animations that waste time even more effectively than a PR company's website splash screen? Pointless & counterintuitive navigation and UI elements that seem to be designed purely to be different, or maybe just to avoid Adobe's or Microsoft's patents.

What's the point? If you don't want to spend the money on printing & distributing dead trees, just send me a link to a PDF so I can download it, and then print it out myself if I want to read it on the Tube.

In fact, the only good thing is that where they do have the option to download PDFs or print, you can select only the pages you want, avoiding the adverts.

I'm sure there's all sorts of cleverness that appeals to the people who produce magazines... it's just unfortunate that they're the ones who benefit, not the users.

**with an unerring sense of timing, I've just got a piece of marketing spam from another culprit, Zinio. Apparently it's solicited because I once read an online magazine that was using its pointless software. "You are receiving this email at XXXXX ATdisruptive-analysis.com, because you have received an offer for a digital version of MIT's Technology Review in the past" It graciously offers me the opportunity to 'unsubscribe'. And risk more spam? Wonderful. Another great example of why the whole concept stinks.

VoIP and Java ME

About two years ago I first read about JSR-180, the mobile handset Java extension that supports SIP. Its emergence was one of the factors that I included in my report on SIP-capable mobile phones last year. To be honest, it's been a little bit slower in coming than I'd anticipated, although it's present in newer Symbian phones and SonyEricsson's latest handset Java platform.

This got me thinking..... I would have expected to have seen at least one Java ME (formerly J2ME) VoIP client for handsets by now. But I haven't come across a single one, and none of the VoIP software companies I talk to have mentioned it.

[Side note: I presume that Qualcomm is enhancing BREW to support VoIP for CDMA EV-DO Rev A deployments]

Now, to create a Java VoIP client, you don't just need access to SIP (or another proprietary protocol), but also to RTP, audio codec selection, realtime audio features and so forth. You'd also need ways to access & control either WiFi or 3G networks for the VoIP traffic. Lastly here's also a need for mult-tasking Java, so you could leave a VoIP client running 'in the background' for any incoming calls.

All told, I guess it's a pretty tall order. Unfortunately, I reckon that this is essential for any really widespread massmarket deployment of wireless VoIP, either by an operator or an independent provider, as I don't believe that the penetration of open OS smartphones (Symbian, Windows etc) will get much beyond perhaps 20-30% in most countries, Japan excepted.

Most average consumers don't like downloading applications onto mobile phones. Very few people put a smart OS in their top-5 criteria for handset choice. I'm no different - although I've got smartphones around for work and testing purposes, my main personal phone only has Java and that's not likely to change in the next couple of years. So I'm excluded from all the wVoIP activity when I'm outside of 'work' mode.

(For those that find this weird: when I'm off-duty I'm absolutely not an enthusiastic 'mobilist'. I want an ultra-fast UI, good voice, intuitive dialler & phonebook & SMS clients, an OK browser and a good camera. That's it. I'm really not bothered about an open OS or WiFi and I never, ever, download aftermarket applications. I'm quite curious about GPS though. In other words I behave like 99% of normal mobile users).

The bottom line is that Sun's Java Community & all the various Java enthusiasts really need to get on the case with this. Sure, the JSR-281 IMS API might help operators with SIP application, but I'm not clear that even that will sort all the audio-related issues needed for full VoIP. Aside from that, there's clearly a lot of potential for 3rd-party VoIP applications on Java devices - but there needs to be an explicit push to optimise for it. This needs to be sorted, as otherwise this is a huge gating factor on wireless VoIP.

Reverse subsidy model

I'm starting to see a polarisation among wireless devices:

- ordinary mobile handsets, which in many countries are subsidised heavily, especially for contract users. The monthly subscription essentially pays for the phone.
- alternative consumer devices (especially WiFi based), in which the consumer pays for the device, but this one-off payment includes a subsidised subscription, often for a year.

In the latter category are things like a year's T-Mobile US WiFi with a Sony Mylo, access at The Cloud's hotspots with a Nintendo DS, and this rather useless GPRS web terminal

The device-purchase-subsidises-the-service model is nothing new - the GPS-based Tracker in my car takes the same approach, for example. The interesting thing is that certain products consumers expect to pay for, while others (eg mobile phones, set-top boxes) they expect to get for free/little. From the service provider's perspective it's a double-edged sword - on one hand, they get the cash upfront, cheaper billing systems and don't have to worry about credit checks. On the other, they get no easy route to upsell extra services, nor any regular means of marketing or even contacting the customer. It also makes it complicated to offer so-called 'premium' services like roaming without a payment mechanism being available.

On the other hand.... customers often don't want to be marketed at continually, or be locked-in to a regular subscription with open-ended possible premium payments.

I reckon the reverse-subsidy model has a long way to go. I'm wondering how long it is before a mobile operator offers a completely pre-paid phone. A low-end handset plus 1000 locked 'lifetime' minutes, or 200 minutes per month for a year, could be sold for say £100 all-in. A laptop could come with an extra option of a year's WiFi for £100, or a year's on-net HSDPA for £200 (with fair-use restrictions, obviously).

Next thing to watch out for here? The pricing model for BT's upcoming Sony PSP....