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Thursday, December 20, 2007

A tale of 2 EComms....

As some of you may already be aware, I'm getting involved in Lee Dryburgh's new conference, EComm 2008 next March. It's looking to be a rapid-fire, whistle-stop tour of new forms of interpersonal communications. Brough and Martin are also involved, and have more on the back-story regarding the event's predecessor, eTel.

I largely concur with the notion that "The first wave of consumer VoIP has had only a minor impact" . It certainly seems to me that the current 'killer app' for VoIP is straightforward PSTN replacement (eg in France as part of triple-play offers). I see the same thing being the driver in the mobile domain - the long-term, slow, replacement of circuit-switched cellular with all-IP equivalents.

Sure, there's some high-profile movement around Skype, Vonage, Truphone and all the rest. But to be honest, that's still a very small sliver of the overall telecoms marketplace, with the possible exception of international call traffic.

I've been talking to a lot of people recently about 'non-telephony VoIP', aka voice mashups, or application-embedded VoIP. I'm expecting this to become a lot more important in a qualitative sense in 2008-9, albeit rather hard to measure quantitatively.

EComm should enable a bit more flesh to be put on the bones of this concept. If you're interested in going, let me know and I can sort you out with a discount code.

On a tangential note, I see there's another synonymously-named event later next year. It appears to owe much to the dubious efforts of London's tyrannical mayor, Ken Livingstone and assorted other misanthropic individuals, to enforce (and I'm laughing at the irony here) "mobility management" policies on his electorate.

Make sure you book tickets to the right one.....

So how did I do with my predictions?

'Tis the season to be producing 2008 market predictions. But let's wait a day or two fo that - I'm going to follow Russell at MobHappy's lead and first have a look and what's happened in 2007 vs. my predictions from last year.

1) Increased focus on manufacturers selling multiple "diverged" devices to users

Implicitly, yes this has definitely happened. I've heard a lot less "oh, you only need one device" nonsense. Although my friends over at Forum Oxford still like to imagine mobile phones taking over from laptops, GPS devices, iPods, toasters etc.

2) A lot of noise about VoIP over 3G.

Yes. But, er, mostly from me. While a lot of times I'll be critical of a technology concept, or at least say "Yes great idea, but it's not as easy as it looks", this is definitely one area where I think the market is vastly underestimating the importance and potential.

(btw - as an Xmas bonus, I'm offering a 10% discount for any blog readers who order the report before Dec 31st 2007. Email "information AT disruptive-analysis.com" for details)

3) Emergence of corporate-focused MVNOs

Yes, although they haven't quite set the world on fire yet. BT, iPass and newcomers like IIJ in Japan.

4) Continued uptake of various dual-mode services & handsets, but they won't change the world

Yes, indisputably.

5) Spectrum lobbying noise, regulation momentum and lawsuits ratchet up several notches.

Yes - WiMAX as 3G, 900MHz refarming, ITU World Radio Congress, US 700MHz, 2.5GHz.....

6) IMS confounds both its critics and its evangelists, but needs to improve integration ASAP

Yep. It's not slunk away into a corner & died, and certainly hasn't taken over the world either. But a new, rather humbler version of IMS is taking its role as part of the future landscape. IMS proxies and convergence boxes mean that it's integrating better, while we're slowly progressing on the IMS handset front.

7) Navigation becomes rather more important on mobiles. Mobile search doesn't.

Yes. There's a reason Nokia spent $8bn on Navteq & everyone on a BlackBerry loves Google Maps. But there's not been much movement in special mobile-optimised seach engines. Just give me proper Google.com search please.

8) The City WiFi bubble bursts

Yes. At best, it's wireless for bus shelters & traffic wardens. Yawn. At worst, it's a negligent waste of taxpayers' money by bored local government IT drones seduced by glossy marketing BS about 'digital inclusion'.

9) Flat-rate data becomes the norm, with browsing the killer app, driven by high-res screens

Yes. Although I missed that it was also driven by cheap USB modems for PCs. Laptops are the new smartphones.

10) No, No, No, No, No

Mobile IM won't replace SMS - true

Laptops with built-in HSDPA won't sell much (and even where they do, the cellular bit won't be activated by most owners). - true, it's all about USB dongles

WiMAX will get a few more major operator advocates, but still won't be seen as a threat to "normal cellular". - True

Mobile TV won't make much headway. - True.

Web 2.0 stuff like social networking really won't be a big deal in mobile outside Japan, Korea & maybe the US, unless carriers work out a way to give decent Internet access & capable devices to prepay users. - OK, maybe I underestimated this a bit, but there's still not that many people checking FaceBook on their phones, or Twittering.

Oh, and maybe Apple's Phone won't play music at all, but will be "just a phone". - Cough. OK I'll hold my hands up.... that was a bit tongue in cheek anyway, but still wrong.

I'll leave the 2008 predictions for another day......

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Handset subsidy.... or loan?

A few years ago, I tried to estimate the total annual market value of handset subsidies by mobile operators. I seem to recall that I came out with a figure of perhaps $20-30bn a year.

Roughly speaking, that's perhaps 400m of the world's phones sold annually that are subsidised / bundled, at perhaps an average $60 each. The exact numbers are unimportant for this discussion.

Most of these are 'locked in' to contracts of typically 12-24 months. So in other words there's probably >$30bn of subsidised handsets in users' hands at any point in time.

This begs a couple of questions:

1) If you look at the relative price of similar subsidised / unsubsidised contracts+phone combinations (for example looking at markets like Italy or Finland for which subsidy is unusual or illegal), what's the implicit cost to the consumer of financing their handset purchase? What's the APR (annual percentage rate) on that loan? And if it's higher than normal retail financing (say in comparison with an electronics retailer) is there a market opportunity for 3rd-party "phone loans" at cheaper rates?

2) Should mobile operators be forced by regulators (telecom and/or banking) to either unbundle phone+finance+subscription, or at least quote an implicit APR on the financing?

3) Do mobile operators really want to be in the consumer credit business at the moment? And how do they quantify their exposure to credit risk?

3GSM in Barcelona...

Mobile World Congress. Who thought of that rebranding?

First of all, go to a mirror and watch your lips as you say "M..... W..... C....". Then do it again with "3... G... S.... M". Acronyms with W's in the middle are quite literally a mouthful.

Now, what does that tell you about the priority placed on "user experience" among the networks part of the mobile industry?

I must have already had 10 conversations which have gone "Yeah, I'll be at 3GS... er.... I mean Mobile Congress W..... er... World Mobile Co.... er....... in Barcelona"

Then there's the completely unaffiliated event I attended in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, called Mobility World Congress. Or have I got them the wrong way around?

I'll still be calling it 3GSM, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. It's memorable, its pronounceable and it's uniquely differentiated. If I really fancy winding people up, I might say 4GSM, which would have been a much better re-brand.

Unless anyone has any new clever ideasfor turning MWC into a nicely-enunciated word? "MoWK" perhaps? Or maybe said as if it was an air-kiss "Oh dahling, are you going to be at mwoc this year?"

A New Years resolution

I've realised that I can be a bit of a Luddite at times. I've been thinking about the amount of "new" communications technologies I use, and it's actually fairly poor. I (like a lot of people) have huge inertia in adopting cool new stuff.

Sure, I have this blog, but that's more because I like writing and it's of direct commercial benefit to my business. I don't have a personal blog, apart from my issue-specific (and very occasional) environmental one. And I'll use SkypeOut on a PC to make long international calls (but over WiFi, usually, so I get points for that....)

But I don't use Twitter, I use IM maybe twice a month, rarely update my FaceBook page apart from my status, I send MMS's once a month, eschew all forms of video communication and collaboration technology and so on. I've recently received some invitations to yet another social network (Spock) and winced.

Even my two main mobile phones are more than 18 months old. And although one is a smartphone, I never download applications to it.

So as a New Year's Resolution, I'm going to consciously become a bit geekier. I'll probably get a quarantined plain-vanilla Symbian or Windows phones that I can install software on, and wipe clean or reflash when I need to do. Time permitting, I'll try and play around with the latest gee-whiz social or business communication tool. I'll upgrade my normal phones and probably get one of 3's new prepay USB HSDPA modems as well. And I'll look out for interesting things like mobile voice mashups to play with.

I might even tart up this blog & the main Disruptive Analysis site, with some of the latest, trendiest blogging furniture & widgets. (But not that awful link-prevew window thing which I detest).

I'll give it 3 months initially... which coincidentally takes me up to Lee Dryburgh's ultracool eComm 2008 conference, more on which to follow in another post. Hopefully it'll mean that (a) I'll retain some vague credibility among people I meet at the event, and (b) I won't be wandering around like a total cynic saying 'are real people honestly going to use that when they could just use SMS?"

Now, I just have to find some new friends who actually care about any of this stuff to talk to....

Monday, December 17, 2007

Whatever happened to BT Fusion?

Doing some update work for a client on FMC services, I realised that everything had gone remarkably quiet on the BT Fusion front of late. I keep hearing about Orange's (comparative) success with Unik, so I had a quick look at the current status of BT's FMC proposition.

Not impressive, I'm afraid.....

Let's see - I'm one of BT's 2m or so Broadband customers, with a Home Hub gateway, so I'm privileged enough to be entitled to Fusion. If I decided to get a new phone today, I could get:

a) A humdrum Nokia 6136, ancient Motorola A910, or slightly-better Samsung P260 for £19 a month over 18 months, with 100 minutes calling (or 400 when at home in range of Fusion) from BT


b) A quite nice 3G SonyEricsson K800i, with 500 mix/match minutes or SMS, for £18 a month over 18 months, on 3 UK . Which also comes with free IM, Skype calling (!) and an extra 300 on-net 3-to-3 minutes.

Unless I had absolutely shocking indoor coverage.... why on earth would I pick (a)? And if wasn't a BT Broadband subscriber, I wouldn't even have the choice.

I'm not surprised that there hasn't been a recent update on subscriber numbers.

I wonder if BT is going to go the same way as Telecom Italia, and bin its UMA dual-mode service and wait around a bit longer for a SIP/IMS version as it gets 21CN up and running. Or maybe it will (finally) make some use of its low-power GSM spectrum licence and do something fun with femtocells (there are some 2G femtos about....)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cisco & IMS - it's about coherence, not seamlessness

Attending a great panel session at Cisco on service provider architecture, and the thorny issue of IMS cropped up.

I've long shuddered at the mere mention of the hideous word 'seamless'. My general rule is that any presentation at a conference loses several credibility points if it includes it, and in the case of companies embracing it as a major element in product names or branding (eg Motorola) it's much worse.

Responding to a question about blending mobile video services with IPTV, one of Cisco's execs came out with the fantastic line that they are "aiming for a coherent experience, not a seamless experience". In other words - the application needs to be similar, but bearer- and device-aware. He used the example of Outlook on a PC bs a BlackBerry. It's obviously the same underlying application, but presented in a coherent way to give an optimum, context-based user experience, rather than being truly seamless or identical.

I'm so stealing the word 'coherence' when talking about convergence & fixed/mobile applications....

Video... so just how important is it really?

I'm sitting at Cisco's analyst event in the US at the moment. The various execs presenting have been trying to hammer two themes into the heads of several hundred analysts sitting in the audience - video, and collaboration.

The collaboration theme fits into Cisco's acquisition of WebEx. It put up some fairly persuasive examples & demos of this yesterday - talking up the potential to improve productivity in large businesses. It also eats its own dogfood in realigning its own business processes around interactive, collaborative teams.

While I personally detest using the type of online presentation tools that's one of the more familiar faces of WebEx (just send me the Powerpoint by email, please, and talk it through on the phone), I can certainly appreciate the benefits for internal corporate collaboration for large businesses. There's also a lot of cool Web 2.0 stuff they're talking about like Wikis, blogs etc. Basically Intranet 2.0 stuff, which makes a lot of sense (eg submitting business opportunity suggestions & getting them rated / favourited).

The video message is a little less clear. Despite attempts to claim "no, it's not just about driving IP traffic up the curve & selling more routers" I'm really unconvinced. Obviously, IP video is important in IPTV (hence Cisco's Scientific Atlanta acquisition). And Cisco's high-def Telepresence corporate videoconferencing gear is very impressive. And lastly there is a lot of sense in networking up CCTV cameras via IP.

But I simply do not buy the argument that video-based communications will become pervasive, and will be used in a large percentage of total person-to-person interactions. This is actually a bit reminiscent of Ericsson's attempts to shoehorn video into mobile handsets, either in the past through the useless H324 videotelephony approach, and again now now with the over-complex IMS Multimedia Telephony standard.

My belief is that each individual's (or company's) communications will become fragmented. Sure, certain business-to-business sales calls, or internal product planning meetings, among technology-savvy (and technology-happy) people will benefit from telepresence. But other instances will not - if I'm in a cab late for a meeting, I'll use SMS. I can see almost no business reason for me to use video - for me personally, it adds little beyond voice, and I much prefer face-to-face meetings with my clients for a host of reasons. Mobile video for business is an even more unlikely proposition, unless I'm sitting in an airport watching YouTube or maybe a business webcast on my PC.

The irony is that increasing mobility of employees works precisely against the use of video in the enterprise. It is inceasingly likely that one party in a given call will be driving, walking, out of coverage, roaming, using an incompatible phone, in a different timezone and so on.

Of course, Cisco doesn't have a major presence in mobile devices & cellular networks, so in an ideal world perhaps Cisco would actually like people to get back to their desks and offices, and be connected with a big fat LAN. Given their comments about the travel savings associated with telepresence, it wouldn't surprise me to see a green argument expounded in the future, about the "evils" of corporate mobility.

In fact, I see this as emblematic of a much wider long-term battle between the world's too most important communications technologies - 3GPP GSM/UMTS cellular vs. Ethernet. I think that's another theme for 2008, although I don't expect too many people to admit it openly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Depersonalising mobile

This is a speculative, 'what if?' post rather than one based on current observable trends.....

I regularly hear that one of the unique aspects of mobile communications is 'personalisation'. You are identifiable by a number, you have a private, non-shared, customised device with your favourite ringtone & colour scheme, and you are 'owned' and identified by your service provider.

In general, I agree - but will this always be the case?

I'm just wondering out loud, but perhaps there might be scenarios which 'depersonalise' the mobile. It's certainly not common now, but it's dependent on social dynamics & fashion, so it might change. Some possible scenarios that could muddy the waters:

- Phones shared ad-hoc among friends (eg teenagers 'swapping identities' as apparently sometimes already happens with IM or MySpace)
- Mobile numbers being allocated to shared (non-phone) devices like PCs, web tablets, consumer electronics
- Secondhand mobile phones
- Swapped prepay SIM cards
- Maybe it becomes cool to have a new phone / number every week so they get passed around
- Use of non-operator SMS-replacement clients could mean that you could 'sign in' from any phone
.... and so on.

Maybe there are specific 'depersonalisation' opportunities.... if you could automate number portability via a web interface, and couple it to ways to move your personal phonebook & profile, you could switch seamlessly between operators or phones.

You could rent an appropriately stylish phone to match your outfit for the day, then give it back & revert to your normal one. You could temporarily switch to another operator for the duration of the Olympics, if they had exclusive Mobile TV rights. You could try out all the operators in your country to find which one has the best overall coverage during the course of your day.

And maybe sharing phones could reduce the environmental impact of producing a billion handsets a year?

To be honest, this is all totally speculative on my part. I'm just musing. But it occurs to me that there would be quite a lot of business models exposed if we ever saw mass depersonalisation of mobile phones / numbers for some reason.

And look at other markets. In theory, cars (and registrations) are very personal. Yet people regularly rent cars, use taxis, lend cars to friends/family - and, recently, you have innovations like the shared City Car clubs.

I'll keep a close eye out during 2008... remember where you first heard 'mobile de-personalisation"...


I'm at Cisco's analyst event today so I don't have time to delve into this right now, but at first glance this looks absolutely like what I've been talking about with motion sensors in phones.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

So what has been the 'device of the year' in 2007?

I reckon the three most influential mobile products this year have been:

  • For FMC and VoIP: I'd nominate the Nokia N95 for its relevance in driving assorted top-end features like WLAN and good-quality Naked SIP support into the mass marketplace - especially from the point of view of Mobile VoIP. And of course the 5MP camera and GPS, and more recently its 8GB version have also been major catalysts driving the initial sale of the device to customers. The E65 has also escaped from its original intended market of the enterprise, and become an important part of the SIP-based FMC landscape, and the 3 Skypephone (made by Amoi) is cool as well.
  • For user experience & changing perceptions: The Apple iPhone has lived up to its hype. I have to confess I was a skeptic initially, but having played with a few and listened to lots of owners, I'm pretty impressed. It's certainly forced the rest of the handset industry to sit up and pay attention. And its forced the operators to ask themselves hard questions about whether they can really do cool UIs themselves - and given them another concrete reality check that consumer like hardware rather than services. And above all, it has that ineffable "Oooh I want one of those" quality.
  • For driving data services and defining mobile broadband: It's got to be the Huawei family of USB-connected 3G modems. They've facilitated the adoption of mobile data by consumers as well as business users, and illustrated perfectly why 3G-embedded PCs are niche products. Why would you want to have an operator-customised (and possibly locked-down) laptop, when you can get a proper unmolested one and just add a separate plug-and-play connectivity device? Laptops last longer than mobile contracts, so the user wants the ability to switch providers (or rent a local modem when travelling to avoid roaming charges). Lastly, they're better for operators too - they really don't want to put 500 different types of PC through their testing labs, when they can just test 3 external modems instead. And they're (finally) driving 3G data revenues - laptops are the best devices for getting 'the real Internet' when you're mobile. According to a presentation I saw last week, the Huawei devices are the current top-selling 'phones' in Sweden.

Friday, December 07, 2007

So what do you want in your phone for Xmas?

I saw "disruptive" adverts from two companies yesterday - both advocating bypassing the cellular network through choosing handsets with advanced features

- Truphone is advocating getting smartphones (ideally with WiFi, but at least "Internet ready")
- SanDisk is exhorting customers to "discover their slots'

The issue I see is that the SanDisk argument (sideloading of micro-SD cards) is indisputably usable without incurring extra operator charges, while the "Internet-ready" approach typically means paying out for a data plan (albeit with the potential to save money via using VoIP as well) unless you just use local WiFi.

In an ideal world, your Internet-ready phone would also have a 'no cost' win by enabling efficient sideloading as well - it would be 'PC ready' for connection via USB cable, or better still WiFi. But many people still balk at the clunkiness of PC-phone connectivity, and instead turn to memory cards. This ties in with my recent comment about the lack of cool "local" apps for WiFi phones.

SanDisk's marketing is also a manifestation of another long-term trend - the much steeper price/performance curve of storage, compared with other computing metrics like processing power, network capacity or battery power density. Brough Turner has had a couple of fascinating blog posts recently on this. The long and short of it is that, if your application doesn't need to be realtime, memory wins out over wireless networks.

The world's highest-capacity form of data transport between two cities is a truck full of flash memory. Lousy latency, but awesome bandwidth. Luckily for Truphone & peers, latency is rather more of an issue for VoIP than it is for content....

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Multiple device ownership - crunching some numbers

A regular theme that I have to deal with is multiple mobile device or SIM ownership. Statistics are very fuzzy on this - you get the usual estimates of 120%+ penetration, but very little analysis of what that means in reality.

Vodafone occasionally tries to estimate the level of multiple SIM ownership in its markets, and I commented on a survey on the UK market recently which seemed to suggest 1.6 SIMs per person, but definitions seemed questionable, eg with penetration of phones among children.

I thought I'd try and come up with some slightly harder numbers.

The UK has 70m SIM registrations at the moment, and 60.8m people, with a demographic breakdown given here. Last year, Carphone Warehouse did some analysis of mobile penetration among children up to age 12, while Ofcom has some great research (figs 15 & 16) on the proportion of adults who personally use mobile phones.

This yields the data that 86% of people >15 years old are active users. This is heavily skewed by older people - only 52% of over-75s use mobile in the UK. Among children, from the CPW study there is near-zero penetration among 8-year olds & below, 20% @ 9, 50% @ 10, 70% at 11 and 90% at 12. Given the other data it seems reasonable for me to assume that about 93% of 13 & 14 year-olds are users. The youth data is a year old, so might have shifted slightly, but it's a good starting point.

Multiplying this all through by the population stats gives me:

Total UK Mobile Users = 46.4m individuals - ie 76% of the total population.
Total UK non-users = 14.5m (mostly young kids & seniors)
I'd estimate 1-1.5m SIMs are used in non-personal M2M applications (EPOS terminals, vending machines, wireless routers etc, but excluding laptops & PDAs which are personal devices).

So.... 69m personal mobile subscriptions among 46m active mobile users =

1.46 Mobile Subs / Active User in the UK.

This excludes UK citizens who have international SIMs as well (although probably some of the UK SIMs go abroad too).

What remains slightly unclear is the mix of people with 1SIM+Multiple Devices vs. Multiple SIMs+single device. ie the ratio between active subs/person and active phones/person. Travellers often put local SIMs into a single phone when abroad, but users who like phones for fashion reasons may swap a single SIM among multiple devices.

What this all categorically tells me is that the "one mobile device" philosophy is completely inapplicable in the UK. My rough estimates are

Zero Subs = 24% of all UK individuals
1 sub = 49%
2 subs = 17%
3 subs = 7%
4+ subs = 3%

Bottom line = a majority (51%) of the total UK population either has zero mobile subscriptions, or multiple. People with just a single active SIM are actually in the minority (49%).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A misconception - 1 SIM = 1 Identified User

There seems to be a common belief that because all GSM/3G phones have SIMs, and that everyone has a phone, this means that the SIM is an ideal platform for determining identity. I've heard people suggesting integrating SIMs with healthcare records, payment cards, ID cards and other similar alternatives.

I'd urge caution on this. The world is not as simple as you think.

Some of the problems:

  • People have multiple SIMs, and multiple devices. While this doesn't apply to everyone, a growing fraction of individual users will fall into this category. I'd expect far more people to have 2 SIMs than 2 nationalities/passports.
  • A few people have no phone/SIM and no inclination to change. Some form of 'digital inclusion' policy would be needed for the cellular refuseniks.
  • *EDIT* - also see my more recent post where I try to quantify the two factors above
  • Many countries still have anonymous prepaid SIMs. While some countries like Italy & Thailand force SIM purchasers to register their ID, that's a far from uniform situation. I've bought loads of SIMs over the years with total anonymity. And I'll bet that black markets exist even in countries where registration is mandatory.
  • Just because a SIM is registered to an individual, that doesn't mean they're the user. A speaker from India yesterday said that SIMs are usually registered to a head-of-household, rather than the actual user.
  • No idea what happens with legal responsibility & identity with children with SIM cards, but I'll bet it's complex and variable per-country
  • Plenty of SIMs are used by machines, not people. How do you know if it's actually a vending machine that's sending a message, or someone hooked up via a PC?
  • Some phones or other devices are shared between multiple people (eg in 'pooled' devices in businesses, cellular fixed phones, or phones for a whole village in emerging markets)
  • There is some evidence that young people swap phones (& SIMs) amongst each other in social groups. This could be because of the dynamics of who has prepay credit among friends, for example, or in situations where an operator doesn't offer x-network minutes and it makes sense to use someone else's phone to save money.

The last point is perhaps the most crucial. The whole idea of one SIM = one person it hugely exposed to the risk of social dynamics and fashions. It only needs one group of teenagers to come up with a 'killer app' for phone-sharing or swapping (maybe it becomes cool to have a new number every week), you get viral adoption around the world in a couple of months, and the whole identity/SIM linkage falls apart.

Ironically, the use of Internet access on mobile devices exacerbates this risk, as potentially users can sign into Yahoo/Google/Skype/Truphone/Fring from any device rather than their 'official' phone & SIM.

E-Mobile - cellular VoIP and subsidised DSL

I'm in Hong Kong at the Mobility World Congress, speaking about Mobile VoIP and also mobile user interfaces.

One of yesterday's speakers was from E-Mobile, Japan's new 4th operator, of which I have to confess I'd been fairly unaware until recently. It's affiliated to E-Access, an established fixed broadband operator with about 2m DSL subscribers.

E-Mobile's main offering is flatrate HSDPA - at around $45 a month. Interestingly, it comes with the offer of a 'free' DSL line for customers to use at home (and which would offload some traffic from the cellular network). Although some companies like Carphone Warehouse have given away 'free broadband' before, this is the first time I've heard it being done more for the reason of macrocellular offload economics, rather than simple bundling.

This has some significant implications for future femtocell business models - the current working assumption is that the user should be "happy" to pay for their own indoor-wireless backhaul when their phone is on the femtocell. That assumption may be a bit too optimistic:

- If the broadband is supplied by a separate company to the mobile operator, they may well view cellular femto traffic as being as undesirable as P2P when running on 'their pipes' . They may try to extract some form of rent from 'over the top femto operators' in the name of QoS - especially as those femto operators are likely to be mandated to provide emergency services access. It's easy to imagine femto traffic being 'traffic shaped', especially if it's being used for high-speed data. (I've heard some fairly fanciful notions of femto-HSPA being positioned as a replacement for WiFi in-home, but I'll address that in another post)

- If the broadband is provided by the same company that runs the femtos (triple/quadplay), then they are at risk from competitive pitches like E-Mobile's. "We've sold you a personal mobile broadband service, but we'll reward you for using DSL at home by giving it to you for free, as it saves us money"

E-Mobile is also expected to launch a full mobile voice service early in 2008. Although details are not available yet, I suspect that it might turn out to be a full mobile VoIP service using HSDPA+HSUPA. As it's a completely new IP-focused operator, I can imagine that it would probably like to avoid buying a cellular circuit core if it can avoid it. (It has a roaming deal with DoCoMo outside its own HSPA coverage area).

VoIPo3G would probably be made easier in Japan than many other countries, because of the lack of need for SMS or prepaid billing support. There is also ample scope for tariff arbitrage - apparently mobile voice charges in Japan are amongst the highest in the world - the presenter suggested 40c per minute is typical, which goes some way to explain why data services like email are so widely used instead.

It is already offering a partner-based VoIPo3G service in conjunction with Jajah, on its mobile data PDAs.

It's also apparently launching a mobile voice service early in 2008. Although details are not available yet, I suspect that it might turn out to be a full mobile VoIP service using HSDPA+HSUPA. It has a roaming deal with DoCoMo outside its own coverage area,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Femtocell - who coined the term and when?

A fairly tangential question cropped up in a client meeting recently.... how long has the term 'femtocell' been in use? I first encountered 'picocell' as a term in 2001, along with ip.access' use of its brand 'nano BTS'. But femtos are more recent developments, and have also been called 'home base stations and various other synonyms.

PicoChip can claim a Feb 2006 use of the term.

I first had a mention in my blog from Nov 2005. I'm pretty sure I didn't invent the term, though - but I'm struggling to remember who I first heard it from. It might have been a presenter from O2 at a wVoIP conference in Brussels in late 2005.

Anyone got any prior claims?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Is there such a thing as a 'vanilla' IMS handset?

There's been quite a lot of renewed talk about IMS-capable handsets recently. It's still early days, and most industry participants still only expect to see large-scale mobile IMS service launches in 2009 and onwards, but there's definitely a sense of movement. Some of the problems I identified last year appear to have been fixed.

A thought occurred to me, however. There is also now a definite move towards the sale of open, 'vanilla' handsets, both through established non-operator channels like Expansys and Nokia's own stores, but also catalysed by shifts like Verizon's new openness policy.

How will these vanilla devices be configured to access a given operator's IMS? What needs to be provisioned, downloaded, set up? Can this be automated? Can there be a 'native IMS client' which will automatically register work with anyone's IMS infrastructure, or is this too much of an interoperability headache? Presumably, this would only work with the core set of IMS applications (IM, presence, videoshare, PoC etc) as it presumably wouldn't be possible to download an arbitrary 'cool, differentiated, operator IMS app' to an arbitrary IMS handset framework.

I guess a similar situation will occur when roaming with an operator-provided IMS phone onto a foreign (non-affiliated) operator's network.

Sorry, I don't have any answers for this one at present, but it's something I'll see if I can check up on soon.

Handset privacy - any rules or standards?

I was just playing with the Adobe Flash player on my PC, and stumbled on this page about privacy settings.

It got me thinking about the software on my mobile handsets - what applications have the automatic right to access the microphone and/or cameras? Obviously the main phone dialler, any obvious speech-based functions, and the videotelephony app, and any VoIP clients... but what else? And how do I control it?

Now I know there have been a few stories about the potential for security services to covertly switch on phones' microphones, but that's a little separate. I'm thinking about other applications - either mainstream multimedia apps, or perhaps malware. Maybe I'm just being paranoid.

As far as I know, there aren't any standards about this which span different handset smartphone OS's, or even more locked-down featurephones. As a user, I have no direct knowledge of when the mike or camera is "live". Maybe there should be the equivalent of a TV camera's red 'recording' light? I guess that organisations like the OMTP might be the best-suited to standardise something like this.

I suspect that any really intrusive always-on audio/video spyware would have a noticeable impact on battery life, but imagine a piece of software that just recorded what you said for the 30 seconds after the end of a phone call.

"Great! another customer paying full price! What a sucker"
"OMG, he just asked my on a date!"
"It's OK, my wife thinks I'm in a meeting"
"Yeah, that geezer's got a garage full of moody kettles"
"Jeez that was a tough briefing. Bloody know-it-all analysts"

I'm currently sitting in a hotel room, so I can't check & see if a Windows or Symbian device has a privacy menu which enables you to force applications "to always ask for permission" to use the mike or camera, but I can't remember seeing one, and I suspect that 99% of normal users would never find it anyway.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mobile payments for car parking - awful user experience

I've just had my first encounter with Westminster Council's new mobile parking payment system.

It sucks. Totally. Wearing my "mobile user" hat rather than my "analyst" hat, this was my first and hopefully last real-world encounter with mobile payments.

Basically, London's Westminster Council is fed up with people vandalising or stealing coins from parking meters, so it wants to reduce its amount of on-street payment equipment. Laudable & understandable on the face of it, but that's the only positive.

The system they've chose is for users to either phone or text the reference number of the parking bay and the length of time they want to stay. But the payment mechanism is via debit or credit card - and the first time you park, you have to call into an IVR system to set this up (or do it on the web if you're organised enough to sort it out before driving), and your car registration.

The first problem is the number - an 0870 premium-rate one, which isn't included in most mobile call packages, and which therefore costs an unknown extra amount to call. The second problem is being certain that some phisher hasn't swapped the signs over - how do I know that it's the correct IVR system, and not one that someone's set up to capture credit card details? The third thing is that I don't know who else is involved in running the system, and I really don't want to have my credit card # on file with the council - let's face it, local government authorities aren't always the most trustworthy institutions.

Once you're set up on the system, the next time you just have to SMS the location code, length of time and credit-card validation number. Which assumes you remember which card you've registered with, of course.

All of this must be a triple nightmare if you're a tourist using roaming, or if you use hire/share car systems with a different registration every time.

Then I thought "why on earth aren't they using premium SMS or some other mechanism that doesn't need a credit card to be set up?".

My first thought was that the council (quite reasonably) didn't want to involve mobile operators taking a cut of their revenues. As the end user, I certainly don't want to pay any more for subsidising my own inconvenience - it's much easier & quicker to put coins in a meter than faff around with texting. And I really don't want parking fees appearing on my mobile bill anyway.

Then another thought struck me - credit risk and complexity of integration with prepay billing. I seem to remember reading that the average prepay user only has £5-10 credit on average at any point in time - yet parking is £3 an hour up to a maximum of 4 hours. Given the high proportion of prepay users in the UK, this would mean many users having to first top up their account, before paying for parking - clearly nonsensical.
It also raises the issue of whether the whole amount is debited upfront, or drip-fed over the period of parking.

NFC approaches wouldn't work either - it would still need some equipment on the street to scan & print a ticket. And then you might just as well have a debit-card reader in it too, for people without NFC phones.

All in all, I reckon the most convenient form of mobile payment for parking remains the coin. It works, it's quick and there's no need to pay anyone else trying to shoehorn themselves in the value chain.

I'm not the only person who reckons the system's rubbish either. The UK's next-but-one Prime Minister has also experienced the same problem

On the bright side, all this confusion will probably lead to more parking fines & cars being towed. Given I'm also a Westminster resident, the extra cash should help lower my taxes.....