Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Billions and Billions Served...

Sort of reminds you of the McDonald's signs: "X billions of burgers served." Looks like over the top Internet video is going that way as well, if forecasters at The Yankee Group are correct. Bandwidth demand is about to go bananas.

Surprise Success, Again

Voice SMS was launched in early 2005 under the name “Bubble Talk” by mobile operator Digi in Malaysia and within six months, more than 35 percent of Digi’s subscribers were using Bubble Talk and the other mobile operators in Malaysia were losing market share, says Brough Turner, NMS Communications SVP. If you're familiar with Pinger, voice SMS is a way to send a quick voice message to another mobile user.

The recipient gets an SMS message saying they've got a message and to go pick it up.
It's an intentionally nonsynchronous communications mode.

Multimedia Messaging Service can do the same thing, of course. But MMS hasn't gotten much traction, though this forecast by The Yankee Group certainly anticipates growth. Still, Voice SMS apparently has advantages. It works on any handset or network, requiring simple text and voice, which most handsets now have.

Users seem willing to use it even though it comes with price points 30 percent to 100 percent above those of text messages, says Turner. More than a dozen networks offer Voice SMS, mostly in Asia. Once again, we see surprise success, while the industry's standards-driven services (not that there's anything wrong with that) struggle.

At least so far, experience with voice SMS and MMS suggests that changing user behavior too much is a tough way to get people to do new things. Experimentation and surprise remains the order of the day. Listen more, talk less.

No More PBX: Bill Gates

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, in pointing out that software is becoming more advanced and capable every year for hosting multimedia content, notes that "every year we just move to more of a digital environment. We take away the older approaches." One of the changes Gates expects is the disappearance of the private branch exchange. "In voice telephony, you have a thing called a PBX. You won't have those anymore. You'll have a communications system that is using your Internet network and it's a far richer, more flexible software-drive system." That's not going to stop small businesses from buying them. But most haven't made firm choices so far, as this forecast from The Yankee Group might suggest.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hot Media, Cool Media

In the past, some media have been described as "hot," meaning there is more emotional content. Video is "hot." Newspapers are "cool." As people start to multitask, there is a new meaning. Hot media require more active attention. Cool media are easier to deal with in the background. In this new context, TV is "cool," while talking and texting or instant messaging are "hot," in the sense of requiring fuller and more active attention. Music might be "cool," and in the background, while gaming is "hot", and requires active attention. Voice mail, being non real time, is cool. Talking now, that's hot. Web surfing is pretty "hot," as you have to pay attention.

It isn't yet immediately clear how this affects advertising potential. But it might be a clue that formerly "hot" media can become "cool" in a new context, while formerly "cool" media such as words can become quite "hot" in a new environment. Videoconferencing remains "hot" and telepresence maybe theoretically the hottest of all.

More Wi-Fi, 3G, for Enterprise Next 3 Years

Today there might be 11 million enterprise users of wide area wireless services, says The Yankee Group. Over the next 3 years, enterprises will equip more PCs with 3G and Wi-Fi. Hand held devices will tend to get Wi-Fi. More mobile phones will be dual mode, capable of connecting over cellular and Wi-Fi networks. And there will be more smart phones.

One of the issues is whether, or how much, devices such as the iPhone can wrest market share away from RIM's BlackBerry and other smart phone implementations. As important as the answer is for Apple and at&t, as well as Apple's rival handset manufacturers and carriers such as Verizon, lots of carriers in global markets are going to contend with Apple as well.

For some of us, there are other issues, such as how well, and in what user segments, devices such as the iPhone will penetrate professional and business markets, even if Apple never targets enterprise customer segments outside of the education, marketing and advertising verticals.

Strategy Differences Emerge...

Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 U.S. cellphone carrier, passed on the chance to be the exclusive distributor of the iPhone almost two years ago, balking at Apple's rich financial terms and other demands, says USA Today. Among other things, Apple wanted a percentage of the monthly cellphone fees, say over how and where iPhones could be sold and control of the relationship with iPhone customers, says Jim Gerace, a Verizon Wireless vice president. "We said no. We have nothing bad to say about the Apple iPhone. We just couldn't reach a deal that was mutually beneficial."

We don't know what deal Cingular struck with Apple. But there's a difference of opinion here about how far one can go in partnering with strong partners bringing assets into a relationship with a service provider. The cable industry decided sometime ago it couldn't partner too closely with Microsoft for advanced set-top boxes because customer control was at stake. at&t is making different decisions. Verizon seems to have taken the cable approach, at&t perhaps has taken a similar approach to its Yahoo! and Microsoft partnerships.

Some will say Verizon and the cable companies acted to maintain customer control. Others will argue at&t is taking a more open and collaborative approach. It isn't clear yet which is the better path, or whether either path will ultimately prove to be better than the other. It simply is worth noting a difference in perspective here. One approach offers more control, at the risk of less innovation. The other offers more innovation at the risk of losing at least some customer control.

Perhaps it is enough to note that The Yankee Group expects more purchased infotainment content to be supplied by "off deck" providers compared to the walled garden "on deck" interfaces used by mobile providers, over time. The same sort of process should be at work in just about all phases of wireline service provider offerings as well. Over time, more value will be contributed by partners, even as walled garden offerings controlled directly by service providers are created.

Leaning towards open and collaborative efforts, even at some risk, seems like a good idea.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Things Change...

Google is planning to share advertising revenues on its YouTube video sharing site with the individuals who submit the films, if they prove popular enough. Which is more evidence that Web forms of video are developing in the direction of "media," if not the legacy forms that have developed before. Where you find media, you find advertising.

Not That You Needed Any More Proof....

that "voice" often means mobile in fast growing and mature markets. For all the concern about voice prices going to "zero" or "near zero," the equally important observation is that "access" is growing in value. We'll have some work to do on the "montetizing" front, but access, not minutes, remains strategic.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

APIs and Business Models

It is true that the mere existence of an app. program interface, by itself, dictate any one business model. But it strongly leans toward a model embracing third party app development. There's no reason an API has to dictate revenue models for partners that use and build APIs. But it leans towards the collaborative. So it appears telco executives are starting to lean in the direction of formal APIs for development of future services and revenues. Or so it would seem, as survey results begin to trickle in from a survey now being conducted by STL.

There seems pretty clear consensus that adding call and privacy features won't help much. Nor do other "real time" services get much support. That's odd, since video is a real time service, but the results probably don't focus on video as among the real time services respondents are thinking about.

This perception might also be wrong. There should be lots of ways to use APIs and third party development to create calling, privacy and other real time features that would not ordinarily be developed internally. If short message service or ring tones are any indication, telco executives aren't good at predicting what users want and will pay for in any case. So there isn't a terribly compelling reason to think they are right about the paltry returns from using APIs to speed up innovation in the classic calling business.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Trouble Ahead for Mobile Data ARPU?

"There are no more killer apps," warns The Yankee Group analyst Charles Moon, of mobile operators in the Asia and Pacific region. Short-messaging service (SMS), ringtones and—to a lesser extent—graphics and gaming have made huge contributions to mobile data revenue, he says.

"Yet since their introduction many years ago, nothing else has made a similar impact, despite ten- to twenty-fold improvements in wireless download speeds," says Moon. "All things being equal, data revenue will fail to offset the decline in voice," says Moon. "Our current forecast, based on present business models and current operator strategies, shows overall mobile data revenue growing at a relatively tepid 7% per year from 2006 to 2010."

Moon says mobile operators must embrace all-IP platforms such as mobile WiMAX. Walled garden strategies should be disgarded in favor of more openness to third party developers. Speed isn't the issue. Variety is, he maintains. And operators need to learn how to segment customers better.

Biggest Community on the Planet

So think about it: at&t says all members of its community, wireline or wireless, can call each other "on network," for free. Wireless users apparently must also reside within the wireline service territory, and also have a wireline account with at&t, but the implications still are huge.

We will leave for the moment the issue of whether this actually will work. If it works, at&t creates the world's biggest "friends and family" network. If Verizon and Qwest somehow wind up peered with at&t, most "callers" within the United States will be part of a single, peered network with free calling on the entire network.

Which changes he competitive landscape prety dramatically, don't you think? Whatever version of Metcalfe's Law you subscribe to (the value of the network increases as the square of the number of nodes, the value of the network increases less than that, or more than that), this is a huge deal.

Consider that a global, tier one carrier calls its customer base a "community." Consider that the deal essentially eliminates the distinction between TDM and IP calling. Consider that the deal could put a huge damper on POTS line defections in territory, and somewhat complicates the "lower price" positioning of most VoIP offerings. at&t just has made the value of an in-region POTS line much more valuable.

A Significant Move, Architecturally Speaking

Comcast says it is testing switched digital video. Cablevision already added SDV capability and Time Warner has been saying it would likely be necessary. All of this is important because the historic argument made by the cable industry is that its hybrid fiber coax, hybrid analog and digital delivery network was the right way to approach access networks. The argument has been that telco fiber to the home networks were a needlessly expensive way to provide broadband services, and a particularly expensive way to deliver digital video. The latest move by Cablevision and the testing by Comcast and Time Warner suggest that the telcos might have been right all along.

That's a huge shift in thinking, and should cause at least some skeptics to rethink their positions. To wit, as cable moves to SDV over an HFC network, it becomes essentially the same network at&t says it is building. And there are two ways to look at matters. One can argue that at&t's approach is good enough to compete with cable. One can argue that telco-style SDV was the right approach all along, and cable has had to acknowledge that fact. Or one can argue that a full-bore FTTH network is a better choice, where it can be done, because it is a way to leapfrog the bandwidth limitations of any HFC network, either of the cable or at&t varieties.

Or, put it this way: is an optical Ethernet network, all the way to the customer premises, the best wireline platform for launching all sorts of new IP services, including, but not limited to video. And if that is the case, is there not strategic value for the network operator that builds such a network? And if that is the case, maybe some people should cut Verizon a bit of slack....

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cbeyond, Geek Squad

In many ways, Cbeyond sells VoIP like cable companies sell digital voice. The focus is on drop dead simplicity and maximum ease of use, with all the messy technological details hidden. There's a deliberate effort to avoid introducing new technology into a customer's world in a visible way. Think "it just works." There are other businesses out there with similar approaches. Among the most customer-friendly technology support efforts one sees out there in the consumer world is the Geek Squad. Like the office superstores of the world, it just is something small businesses will turn to for predictable, approachable service. So don't be surprised when Geek Squad starts selling Cbeyond services.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SunRocket Launches Asia Pacific Plan

SunRocket now offers a calling plan that drops rates to Asia Pacific locations including China, Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam to as little as one cent per minute. The annual $199 Asia Pacific Edition features per-minute calling rates well below traditional phone service offerings and as much as 90 percent less than other major VoIP providers, SunRocket says.

The Asia Pacific Edition reduces international rates to $.01 per minute on all calls (landline and cell) to China, Singapore and Hong Kong; and on landline calls to Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea. Landline rates fall to $.02 per minute for Japan; while SunRocket's rate on all calls to Vietnam is cut nearly in half to $.10 per minute.

Not All Calls are the Same

There are no market studies on how people use phones, says Manuel Wexler, CopperCom CTO. So one can argue that "not all calls are the same," he says. "You might want to be paid for taking a telemarketing call." In other cases, you just want to block some calls. Others are really important. "So maybe all phone calls aren't the same," Wexler says. "I haven't seen a study where people attach value to a minute of talking."

Skype calling arguably is used differently than mobile, inbound differently from outbound, IM differently from SMS, video differently from voice-only, voice-only differently from multimedia sessions. Users have different preferences for one mail box or multiple mailboxes, one device or several, soft client versus ATA-based calling.

Cable sells voice as part of a bundle. Vonage customers probably are different, he maintains. Vonage sells VoIP. Cable sells voice, but not VoIP. "Right now telcos sell two sizes of voice: consumer and enterprise," he says. There's "not much segmentation."

SIP Trunking Help for Independent ISPs?

We never cease to be amazed at the way lots of specialized providers are able to make a living in a telecom world dominated by giants. Consider ISPs, operating in a tough business by almost anybody's estimation. Broadband Internet access offers less margin than the dial-up business broadband is replacing. And while wireless access is an option for lots of rural ISPs, there's typically less opportunity in urbanized areas, simply because the telco and cable providers do a pretty good job of providing "commodity" access.

And then there's VoIP, which many ISPs really don't want to undertake. They often don't want to become voice providers in their own right. They typically don't want to become channels for sales and installation of premises phone systems. And they typically don't want to become LAN specialists. But they do know IP-based access services. And many serve at least some business customers, so they understand special access (T1) services.

So what might be interesting is for some provider of SIP trunking services, with a national footprint and the right back office systems, to create a service allowing ISPs to sell SIP trunks just like they sell T1 connections. That way, ISPs could insert themselves into the VoIP value and revenue chain, but without becoming voice providers in their own right, becoming interconnect companies or system integrators. Somebody will figure out a way to do this, and independent ISPs then will have a VoIP value chain play, and a much more lucrative way to play in broadband access, while making some money at it.

Verizon is Right

It might be taking heat from investors for FiOS, but it is starting to look like access bandwidth could be a real strategic advantage. And the reason is what their cable competitors now are thinking. To wit, cable operators are drawing up plans to deal with what appears to be exploding user demand. They will look at the usual methods for doing so: subdividing fiber nodes, using switched digital video, channel bonding, using more complex modulation techniques, using non-traditional frequency plans and adding raw bandwidth. They even will look at building fiber-to-the-home networks and adopting PON architecture.

Which makes Verizon's FTTH plans look like the right strategic approach.

"We know there's a need for more bandwidth," says Bob McIntyre, CTO of Scientific Atlanta . "We just have to decide how to do it."

"Bandwidth consumption is definitely increasing, and the average consumption rate is definitely increasing," says Patrick Knorr, Sunflower Broadband CEO. "There's definitely a storm coming." The new bandwidth crunch is at least partly caused by a surge in high-definition TV viewing.

Watch What People Do, Not What They Say They Will Do

People often tell researchers they might do something, buy something, use something or switch something. Such responses tend to exaggerate actual changes in user behavior, as our recent experience of wireless number portability suggests. Canadian consumers, for example, suggest they are fairly likely to switch providers once number portability becomes law. History suggests they really won't change.

Wireless number portability, in fact, has not proven effective in creating more competition in the wireless market, says Analysys Research. There are few countries where more than 10 percent of mobile phone customers have taken advantage of number portability, but for the most part number portability hasn't been destabilizing.

Alastair Brydon, Analysys researcher, said that in Britain and Italy, just under 10 percent of mobile phone users had taken advantage of number portability, while in France and Germany the number of people keeping their numbers when switching carriers was negligible. In the United States, about 5 percent of cellphone users have taken their numbers to a new operator. One country that stands out is Finland, where about 55 percent of cellphone users have transferred their phone number in the four years since the service was introduced. The survey covered 25 countries.

"The concept of losing your mobile number in Finland is more painful to people because 35 percent of households do not have a fixed-line phone and 70 percent of all phone traffic is on mobiles," says Brydon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jon Arnold, Marc Robins Join Forces

Robins Consulting Group and J Arnold & Associates have formed a new partnership to provide an array of marketing, communications, strategy consulting and market research services to their growing roster of IP communications technology vendors and service providers. Jon says they will be jointly developing new information resources, including an electronic newsletter and related Web site, which will offer unique industry analysis, a healthy dose of opinion, provide a new platform for other industry thought leaders, and offer valuable coverage and information not readily available elsewhere about the rapidly evolving IP communications industry.

A Game Changer?

Release date pretty much dictates the financial contributions made by various movie venues, as this data from Adams Media Research suggests. There has been concern recently that DVD sales are slowing. If that continues, it will be easier to shift release dates to some sort of window where DVD release and pay per view or video on demand release dates are concurrent. That would dramatically improve the revenue earned by VOD, PPV or other forms of network delivery, at the expense of physical media. The issue here is fundamentally less cusotmer demand or technology platform, and more the prosaic issue of "when can I watch it?"

Does Vonage Compete with Cable VoIP?

Vonage's fourth quarter results won't be released until next month, when you can bet observers will be scrutinizing the company's marginal cost of acquiring new customers, compared to the marginal revenue Vonage is able to eke out. Which isn't to say Vonage has yet lost its lead in the subscriber race, according to TeleGeography. For a large part of the community, the issue is Vonage's ability to outrun its burn rate. Also, at some level there's a sense that an independent provider can't survive in a mass market dominated by the likes of Comcast, Verizon and at&t. There's truth in the observation: oing toe-to-toe with cable or dominant telcos isn't wise. But that's possibly not the point. The notoriously difficult telecom industry also is a place where specialists always have been able to carve out sustainable businesses. They might not be on the scale of a Comcast, Verizon or at&t. But it's hard to explain away the survival, and in some cases, thriving business models put together by quite indpendent specialists of all sorts.

Many observers, including this one, have been pointing out for some time that stand-alone long distance isn't a viable business model. And though the rule might correct as far as it goes, there are salient exceptions. Skype, for example. Some mobile resellers, IP-based dial-around, smaller integrators, telecom agencies, some interconnect firms and competitive local exchange carriers, some fiber-based access providers, some hosting companies and ISPs are able to make money in an environment that says they can't.

Sure, Vonage is trying to beat the odds. Providing it can carve out a niche, it will. The issue is whether it can do that. Of late, Vonage chief strategist Jeffrey Citron has been arguing that Vonage has unexpectedly left the "early adopter" and "early majority" markets and begun to target the core of the mass market. One would have to argue that cable companies are doing exactly the same thing. But it doesn't feel right. Surely the typical cable customer isn't the same customer that Vonage continues to attract, even though both would say they are selling into the core of the mass market.

To be sure, I can't put my finger on precisely why the Vonage "mass market" customer is psychographically different fromt he typical "cable voice" customer. Citron points out, and we have no reason to doubt him, that the incremental customers Vonage now is picking up have demographics of any core mass market customer. There's little doubt, though the cable companies provide no evidence for the thinking, that the typical cable customer also has pretty "normal" demographics.

It just doesn't feel right. The demographics might be similar. But there is something about a typical Vonage customer that is distinct from a typical cable customer. They are, in other words, distinct segments of the mass market. I'd bet that Vonage customers are more likely the "traveling" or "untethered" sort of worker, for example. Neither can I believe the typical Vonage customer is the same age as a typical cable customer. Vonage customers, even the mass market customers Vonage now is getting, have to skew younger, and have to be more comfortable with technology, compared to the typical cable customer.

Cable customers, in other words, likely are a "segment" of the mass market, as are Vonage's customers. If that is true, then Vonage's efforts to add other features, such as Wi-Fi support, more mobile calling features and so forth, shoudl pay off. Vonage's customers have to be more venturesome where it comes to replacing traditional calling services, even if Vonage is said to be a simple "minute stealer" service.

Is Vonage a competitor to cable voice? Most might say "yes." I don't think so. I think both are appealing to distinct customer segments within a broad "demographic" that only appears to be the same. Demographics, in other words, don't tell the story. There still is something about the psychographics of the customer bases that is distinct.

100 Gig Ethernet Coming

As WAN backbones begin to move to 10 gig Ethernet pipes, scientists already are at work on 100 gig versions of Ethernet. Demand for 100 gigabit per second Ethernet is being driven by Iternet exchanges, Carriers and high-performance computing organziations and applications. "You’re also seeing a need when you look at what’s happening with personalized content, which includes video delivery such as YouTube, IPTV and HDTV," says John D’Ambrosia, chairman of the IEEE 802.3 Higher Speed Study Group and a scientist at Force10 Networks Inc. "There’s also video on demand.

"You do have 10G Ethernet already, and if you use link aggregation you can go higher," he says. "But bandwidth needs are quickly surpassing these bandwidth limits." That means we will see new optical transport, backplane and chip technologies.

So even if higher bandwidths are needed, why not just contatenate 10 gig waves? "Depending on who you to talk to, you’ll hear that two, four or eight links can be aggregated together before you have management and troubleshooting issues," says D'Ambrosia. "Also, those cables take up precious real estate, and you have power and cooling considerations." Aggregation also ties up ports that can't be used for anything else, such as bringing in additional revenue. Basically, scaling becomes an issue.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Differentiating Downloaded Music

It migh be argued that downloaded music is a commodity. A song is a song. But broadcast radio, though skewed to large national audiences, does have specific formats that appeal to specific demographics. Then there are "talk" formats, "language" formats, "subject" formats. Then there's XM and Sirius, that slice and dice the domographics into much more granular listening segments. That being the case, whys shouldn't every form of Internet-centered media also be capable of segmentation? Keep in mind that segmentation can occur on any number of levels. Type of content, method of delivery, geographic focus, device support, storage, navigation and other elements of a user experience can be targeted.

So it is that Ruckus Network, which distributes movies and music online to colleges nationwide, now is attempting to exploit a college niche by expanding its ad-supported music download service to any user with a valid university email account.

The Herndon, Va.-based company aims to boost the rolls of college students who use its service to woo more advertisers seeking to market to young audiences. The company adopted the ad-supported business model about a year ago.

Previously, Ruckus' service was only available to students at universities that had entered into agreements with the company.

Students outside Ruckus' network of affiliated universities will not be able to download movies, but will have access to Ruckus' more than 2.1 million tracks, which they can download to their computer for free. To transfer audio files to a portable music player, however, users must pay either $5 a month or $19.99 per semester.

Previously, students at universities without an agreement with Ruckus had to pay $5.99 a month to download music from the service and couldn't move the tracks from their computer.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Infinite Storage, Bandwidth, CPU Power

In a world with infinite storage, bandwidth, and CPU power, Google could offer instant end user access to "all applications," CEO Eric Schmidt has said. "Everything can be stored and accessed from anywhere, on any device." Everything can be stored in the cloud. "Every experience and application can be customized for each user." All of which might be reason enough for Google to build a huge, private Internet. It could be "100 times better" than anything else, offering a programmable, executable, reliable experience.

50% Margins on iPhone?

Apple phone is expected to cost $600. Cingular (at&t) won't be allowed to discount it. The cost to manufacture an 8 Gbyte iPhone is estimated to be about $280. As iTunes exists to sell iPods, so now mobile service exists to sell iPhones. True, as Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO points out, iPhone doesn't have a keypad, so text entry might be a bit of a chore. Still, this device is going to get lots of attention, and sales, from professionals, engineers and other people who just think it is the coolest phone on the market.

Why Security Always Tops Enterprise Objections...

to new IP-based services and platforms. Flaws in Web apps boosted bug counts for 2006 by more than a third over the previous year, according to data from four major databases tracking security and bugs: the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC), National Vulnerability Database, Open-Source Vulnerability Database and Symantec Vulnerability Database.

Counting both public sources and private submissions directly to the CERT Coordination Center, the group logged 8,064 vulnerabilities last year, an increase of 35 per cent over the number of flaws reported in 2005.

The three other major flaw databases, the National Vulnerability Database, the Open-Source Vulnerability Database, and the Symantec Vulnerability Database, recorded jumps anywhere from 20 to 35 per cent in 2006 compared to 2005. OSVDB estimates at least 20 per cent more vulnerabilities logged in 2006 compared to 2005.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Google's New Data Center

Google is opening a $600 million data center in Lenoir, N.C., matching the size of the similar facility Google is building in The Dalles, Ore. During the second and third quarters last year, Google's capital expenditures were more than $1.2 billion. Some experts believe dominance on the Internet could eventually be determined by the size and efficiency of huge data centers. Microsoft and Yahoo are both building facilities in Washington state, up the Columbia River from Google's. Microsoft also will build a $550 million data center in Austin, Tex.

Google also has leased enough wide area network dark fiber to rival that of many carriers. All of which will stand Google in good stead as video drives Internet traffic way beyond anything engineers have designed for, or that ISPs can afford to support, truth be told. Where a typical end user now generates between one and three gigabytes of traffic a month, video downloading could drive demand to one to three gigabytes a day. That 30 times increase, an order of magnitude and then some, is going to crush many ISPs, whose business models simply won't allow them to buy additional IP transit in that quantity.

So Google conceivably could emerge as quite a savior. Basically, peering with Google, on whatever terms Google might require, might be the key to survival. Interesting, indeed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Other Things to Do With Your Mobile

Buy stuff! The number of mobile payment users is expected to grow from just more than 100 million worldwide users in 2006 to more than 200 million in 2009 according to the Yankee Group. That translates into revenue growth from $800 million to $1.8 billion in revenue between 2006 and 2009. That growth could be increased dramatically if a revenue sharing agreement can be developed among mobile carriers, credit card associations, issuing banks and retailers/merchants. This is better than debit cards for small purchases, don't you think?

Unity Will Put Brakes on Wireline Defections

Wasting no time at all since it gained full control of Cingular, at&t is creating one of the largest communities the communications industry has ever seen, in the form of 100 million phone and wireless accounts. at&t Unity, a pricing package that allows its cellular customers to call any AT&T landline customer without incurring additional usage fees or using their wireless minutes, expands the wireless "friends and family" concept to friends, family, business partners and people you don't know."

This is the same company that has an exclusive right to sell the Apple iPhone as well. Unity is available on all wireless plans of at least $59.99 a month.

To subscribe to a at&t Unity plan, a customer would need to have at&t wireless service as well as an at&t landline plan that offered unlimited local and long-distance service. AT&T’s unlimited local and long-distance landline service starts at $40 a month if bought online.

Actions such as this are one reason why even astute cable companies and independent VoIP providers won't be able to keep ripping landline customers away from at&t at high rates forever. At some point, it was inevitable that at&t and other similarly-situated firms would bundle their wireline assets in ways that would compel customers to keep their POTS lines.

Video Pricing Sticky to the Upside

One reason service providers might like being providers of video service, among many reasons they might well not like it, is that video entertainment prices are remarkably sticky to the upside where it comes to retail prices. Virtually every other type of communications good has seen declining prices over the last 10 years. Not so with video.

U.S. Phone Penetration is Up

...after a dip after 2000. This survey by the FCC includes both wireless and wireline service, and corrects for buying of multiple wired or wireless accounts by any single household.

More Web-Activated VoIP

Looked at from one perspective, voice is not inherently a commodity. It simply has been sold that way. Jajah, for example, has been a pioneer in web-activated calling that doesn't require a client, broadband access, a terminal adapter or much else beyond Web access and a phone service of some sort that can make a phone call.

So now voip.com now is beta testing its own web-activated calling service. To use the Make a Call service, members create a free account and then add credits, using any U.S.-issued credit card. Then, members simply go to the web-based interface and enter the number they're calling from and the number they'd like to call.

It might be a niche, but that's the point. Web-activated calling is a type of voice application quite distinct from POTS replacement. It appeals to the episodic or casual call to an international location, or to some of the same needs a prepaid calling card answers, namely an ability to budget for and control global calling expense.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Voice, Data Trump Content, Advertising

In the rush to retool themselves as providers of content services, and to add ad revenue to subscriptions, carriers might want to remember that most of the money to be earned in the business comes from communication services (voice and data) rather than entertainment, as important as these new sources of revenue are. If you click the image, you'll get an expanded view of the numbers, but suffice it to note that all global ad-related revenues for mobile providers will amount to less than $3 billion by about 2011. Basic text messaging blows those numbers away.

Alltel Wireless Ports Desktop Metaphor to Mobiles

Alltel Wireless has launched Celltop, a handset navigation system that offers customers an easier way to access, manage and organize information already available on their Alltel Wireless phones. Celltop is said to be similar to the desktop on a personal computer.

Now available on select Alltel Wireless handsets, and on all new phones by late-2007, Celltop is free-of-charge and features 10 "cells" that come pre-installed or are downloadable. Each cell is a category-specific half screen comprised of graphics and text that provides shortcuts for wireless users to navigate through information and applications including: call log, weather, news, baseball, basketball, football, rodeo, stocks, text messaging inbox and ringtones.

Customization options include the ability to modify the appearance, presentation and organization of information within each cell. Similar to "widgets" on a personal computer, Celltop is open to the developer community, providing unlimited user expandability of new and unique cells.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Walking on Both Legs

One clear trend service providers in the consumer space might want to keep in mind is that advertising and end user subscriptions are important when building video-related business models. In fact, subscription revenue now exceeds advertising revenue.

Mobile Workforce Up About 10% Last 4 Years

And about 61 percent of enterprises surveyed by The Yankee Group are in the process of setting up or piloting wireless LANs as well.

Cable Begins SME Voice Assault

If 2007 is the "Year of" anything, it will be the year the cable industry began its assault on SME voice revenues. But it might not be until 2008 that cable giant Comcast makes its own move. Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Videotron Telecom have added voice offerings to their commercial services packages. Cox Communications has been doing so for some time.

Cablevision Systems is pitching a new multi-line VOIP product targeted to firms with fewer than 25 employees. A four-line package costs $29.95 a month for each line in the first year of service. Notably, the commercial service initially costs no more per line than the company's popular VOIP product, Optimum Voice, for consumers.

“We’re trying to break that traditional [price] line between business and consumer” service, says Joseph Varello, Cablevision VP. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bresnan Communications all say they will start selling voice optimized for SMEs. In the New York area alone, Cablevision estimates that businesses spend nearly $5.9 billion a year on phone services, with SMBs accounting for $3.5 billion of that total.

Comcast estimates that businesses spend about $20 billion a year on phone services in its territories. The company aims to start offering commercial VOIP next year.

Cable experts argue that it also makes sense to expand into business telephony because it's a way to hurt the phone companies in one of their prime markets and undercut their ability to subsidize low residential phone rates.

"The telco subsidy swamp can be drained to the extent that SMB spending is diverted to cable, and even more so once telcos respond to competitive pressure by reducing their rates to SMBs and investing more in SMB customer support," writes Peter Shapiro, a principal at PDS Consulting. "Thus cable will benefit twice from the growth of its commercial business: first, by increasing top-line revenue; second, by limiting resources otherwise used by telcos to compete for cable's core residential customers."

Speaking at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (SCTE's) Business Services Symposium in Chicago last week, cable strategists said they're targeting smaller companies because these firms are usually located either within the reach of existing cable plant or not very far away. In contrast, big companies are usually located farther away from cable's residentially-oriented plant.

David Pistacchio, executive VP and general manager of Cablevision Optimum Lightpath EVP, has urged cable executives to "price disruptively."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's Only a Matter of Time

If asked to name the largest U.S. providers of POTS or POTS substitutes, most people in the industry could come up with the top three or four. Not many would get the top six to 10. So today's list looks something like at&t, Verizon, Qwest, Embarq (formerly Sprint), Windstream (formerly Alltel), CenturyTel and Citizens Communications.

But there's lots of activity at around the two million subs mark. Vonage and Cox Communications already have crested two million, and is pushing Citizens and Century for a spot in the rankings. Comcast will break through the two million level shortly, and the only question is how fast it will close on Qwest. Time Warner and Cablevision also have broken the million-and-half customer level. Put another way, the U.S. cable industry already is positioned right behind Embarq among larger providers of classic voice services in the U.S. market.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Global Calling: Decline Rate Stabilizing

There's good and bad news in the international calling business, according to TeleGeography. Volume continues to grow, unabated. That's the good news. But rate declines persist. That's the bad news. But there are times when "bad" news is pretty good news. And the good news for global voice providers is that the rate of decline appears to have stabilized. Providers can plan for volume incrases and declining per-unit prices, as long as the declines are predictable and moderate.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Global Voice Still Growing...

...at rates in excess of 15 percent a year, which is in line with trends over the last two decades. Data supplied by TeleGeography.

People Like to Talk: Increasingly Without Wires

The picture tells the story. In blue are mobile accounts. In red are active wirelines. Note that both are growing, on a global basis. It's just that mobile is growing faster. Data provided by TeleGeography.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Verizon Leads in LIfetime Customer Value

The average subscriber lifetime revenue per subscriber was $2,589 in the third quarter of 2006, which was approximately flat to the same period in 2005. Over the past nine quarters, the general trend for lifetime revenue per subscriber is slightly positive.

But Verizon blows away its major competitors in this category, with a lifetime revenue of $4,081 in the third quarter of 2006, 48 percent higher than Cingular, for example.

Cingular's lifetime customer value was $2,704 in the third quarter. Sprint Nextel experienced a significant drop in its subscriber lifetime revenue declining by
approximately $1,000 to $2,145. T-Mobile trails all operators in this metric and experienced slightly negative trends over the period, with subscriber
lifetime revenue of $1,733 for the third quarter of 2006, approximately 33 percent below the industry average.

Average revenue per unit, churn rates and other operating efficiencies account for the differences.

Change in Cost Structure Looms for Cable, Satellite Video

And you can credit telcos for creating the climate making further change inevitable. CBS Corp., for example, appears to be in negotiations with 20 U.S. cable TV companies about direct compensation for CBS programming distributed over those cable networks. That would be a big change. Verizon already pays CBS. CBS executives say the additional revenue could amount to "hundreds of millions" of dollars by 2009.

Historically, over-the-air broadcasters have been compensated in non-cash ways. Lower advetising rates or carriage of broadcaster-affiliated cable networks being cases in point. Highly-popular "cable only" fare such as ESPN always have been paid for on a "cents or dollars per sub" basis. That hasn't been the case for rebroadcast networks.

But as we've been noting, value chain disagreements are going to sharpen as IP business models are built.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mobile TV Jitters

One of the issues mobile TV faces is uncertainty on the part of service providers about aggregate demand, as well as what it is that viewers actually will want. So far, about 66 to 70 percent of consumers say they want other types of custom content. Most of the likely buyers seem to be in the 18 to 35 age group.

There remains some concern about screen size, but some proponents say the concern is misplaced. "It's not a matter of screen size," says Rutton Ruttonsha, NXP SVP. "It's a matter of resolution.

"If you ask 10 people if they’d watch TV on a small screen, they’d say no," says Ruttonsha. But handed an actual high-resolution screen running content, 70 percent then say they would get one. That's not an unusual finding. Users never can judge their appetite for truly new innovations until they actually can use it.

"If you look at the research, when people complain about the issues with mobile television, 76 percent of their complaints involve quality of the video and frame data rates," says Scott Wills, HiWire COO."Only six percent of people complain about screen size."

"The quality of audio is also important," says Ruttonsha. "If the audio is perfect, you can tolerate some misses on the screen." If the audio is great, consumers think the picture is a lot better.

Business models are another area of concern, certainly. Most likely there will be several models, all following existing media practice. Some services will rely on subscription fees plus advertising. Others will take a commercial-free, paid approach.

Of course, one way to look at mobile video is the impact if a single wireless carrier were able to get 10 percent penetration of 200 million handsets. That creates a Comcast-sized video provider.

"One of the reasons it’s taken so long to get going in the United States is that everyone wants an unfair share of the $6.6 billion market they see coming," says Ruttonsha. As we have argued before, disputes among value chain participants are a sure way to delay or crush an incipient market.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Value Chain Conflict is Inevitable, Also Resolvable

Eric Lagier, Skype director of business development, hardware and mobile, says the mobile phone industry isn't ready for Skype, in particular because the industry doesn't offer high-speed mobile access cheap enough. Users could make cheap phone calls cheap if broadband data plans were cheap, Lagier says.

That might be a bit like Steve Jobs complaining that the music rights holders take too big a cut of the sale of a song.

"We don't want to be in a situation where we say 'Skype is free' and then at the end of the month the user gets this huge broadband bill," Lagier says. Lagier pointed to wireless operator 3 as an example of what
Skype would like to see. 3 offers 3G bandwidth for about $9.69 per month, supporting unlimited Skype calling.

So what would Skype like? Low-cost, flat-fee wireless broadband packages that allow users to make unlimited long distance calls. "We don't want to be in a situation where we say 'Skype is free' and then at the end of the month the user gets this huge broadband bill," Lagier says.

Lagier's comments nicely illustrate the sorts of value chain disagreements that inevitably are going to occur as new IP-based business models are created throughout the communications and entertainment industries. Tussles are inevitable because every participant in the value chain wants to maximize its position and maintain high profit margins, even at the expense of other participants. That shouldn't surprise anybody.This goes on in every industry with a complex value chain.

To be sure, European mobile executives made very bad decisions when they bought their 3G licenses. Telco executives have operated in cozy businesses with little competition and little innovation. Everybody would like lower prices for mobile broadband. But it's a bit shocking to hear an argument that essentially is a
whine. "We could offer free or really low cost calling services if other participants would simply sacrifice both their calling and next-generation network revenues." Don't get me wrong. I use Skype. I like it. I use 3G and I like that too. Mobile calling prices are too high, especially in Europe, Middle East and African markets. I
don't believe in packet blocking, including blocking of Skype packets. I don't agree with regulations that outlaw use of Skype and similar applications.

But a value chain participant won't get very far in a business that requires a great deal of "playing nice" by essentially complaining that it can't make any money because another essential partner won't agree to commit business suicide voluntarily. To be sure, wireless carriers are going to have to lower prices as markets become more competitive. And reasonable prices for broadband can provide a foundation for lots of other services that will generate profits for carriers. Wireline telcos, for example, have concluded that unless they can hang on to the consumer broadband access account they will have a tough time hanging onto voice or video accounts.

We'd agree with Lagier that the mobile industry isn't very Skype friendly. We think it should be more friendly to all sorts of innovations third parties could bring it. It just isn't helpful when one part of the value chain asks another to destroy itself so another part can prosper. Everybody has to prosper.

Web-Activated Voice for Apple iPhone

Wasting no time, Jajah says it will support the Apple iPhone, and make available mobile, web-activated calling on the device as soon as it is available to buy. "You already know we have an Mac Address Book Plugin and Jajah user Greg Smithies has recently pulled together a Mac OS X Jajah Widget, the company says.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HDTV Set Penetration at 17 Percent

Leichtman Research Group says 17 percent of U.S. households now have at least one high definition-capable TV (HDTV), an increase from about one out of every fourteen households just two years ago. Some 26 percent of homes have more than one HDTV. Some two thirds of consumers aren't aware of the digital TV transition scheduled for February 17, 2009, which will turn off the current broadcast system and convert to HDTV only.

HDTV Ownership

Annual HH Income Have an HDTV

Under $30,000 6%
$30,000 - $50,000 8%
$50,000 - $75,000 17%
$75,000 - $100,000 25%
Over $100,000 38%

Source: LRGResearch, December 2006

Hosted PBX $2 Billion by 2010

Hosted PBX and hosted Centrex style services are resonating most with smaller businesses in the 20-to-50 seat range, says In-Stat. But there's still a very long ways to go, according to separate research by Savatar. As shown in this graphic, blue shows small business managers who aren't sure which IP phone approach to adopt. Yellow shows those in favor of hosted PBX services while red shows preference for a premises switch.

Hosted PBX and hosted Centrex services will exceed $2 billion in annual revenue by 2010, the company says. In-Stat projects U.S. hosted PBX seats in service will continue to grow steadily to top three million in 2010, up from 373,000 in 2006. Cost savings remains the primary attraction to hosted business phone solutions, but the value associated with business-grade solutions is resonating more strongly among businesses that are willing to pay for them. Multi-location businesses and those with mobile or distributed employees are most attracted to hosted VoIP solutions, In-Stat says.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Amp'd Up

Amp'd Mobile ended 2006 with more than 100,000 subscribers, 89 percent of which are on postpaid contracts. Most significantly for the mobile virtual network operator, the company surpassed its own expectations for data revenues and mobile content usage.

Average content and data revenue per user exceeded $30 a month (compared to an industry average of $6.80) and total ARPU exceeded over $100 a month.

Notably, content accounts for nearly 60 percent of the $30 of data ARPU, in contrast to approximately 25% among other carriers. The results are important as a test of MVNO viability, as well as the content-centric strategy for an MVNO, in view of the shuttering of ESPN's MVNO effort.

MediaZone Goes Beta: Bandwidth Issues to Follow?

MediaZone announced a beta version of its social TV platform, allowing the creation of "linear" TV channels. MediaZone has delivered more than 2000 sports, entertainment and cultural events each year, including the Wimbledon Championships, the ING New York City Marathon and the FIBA Basketball World Championships. The company has also developed long-term exclusive content partnerships with major media brands including NBC Sports, AOL and the Shanghai Media Group.

MediaZone's latest platform introduces new features surrounding video programming, including chat with others watching the same show, ratings and comments, blog publishing, and other tools to deliver a far more comprehensive interactive platform than current video sites offer. Viewers can share their thoughts and passions while watching Social TV's numerous hard-to-find programming channels.

The platform accommodates TV producers, networks, cable outlets, media libraries and other content partners seeking to build full-time linear internet video channels, the company says.

Aside from the obvious competitive impact on existing media channels, there is a serious issue about how much bandwidth, both in the backbone and in the access network, might be chewed up if streaming video really starts to take off. If a broadband access service limits total usage to 2 Gigabytes a month, then the limit is reached in just 20 hours of standard TV viewing.

Monday, January 8, 2007

One Way of Looking at Bundling

DirecTV executives point out that a move into new services such as voice and high definition TV hasn't hurt the satellite provider's ability to keep growing, as this DirecTV graphic indicates. But there's another way to look at matters. What cable's ability to create Triple Play services has done is break the trend line of DirecTV's growth. DirecTV might have grown much more rapidly had cable not begun to flex its muscles with voice, broadband access and other services.

Vonage to Go Dual or Triple Play

Vonage Holdings Corp. is creating a subsidiary to resell EarthLink Municipal Wi-Fi access. EarthLink Wi-Fi is live in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Anaheim and Milpitas, California. EarthLink's San Francisco network isn't operational yet, but has been approved. That will make Vonage a "dual play or quasi-triple-play" provider, moving Vonage beyond the "over the top VoIP" or "minute stealer" position it has had in the market.

Vonage now will be a provider of broadband access, VoIP and wireless VoIP, since its Wi-Fi phone will work throughout areas of the municipal Wi-Fi footprint where the signal can be received. One might question the ultimate viability of either independent mass market broadband access, VoIP or muni Wi-Fi businesses, but the move gives Vonage a chance to move in a new direction, gaining many of the benefits of "bundled" services approaches.

IPTV: China, France, United States Lead in 2011

China will have the most subscribers, France the highest penetration, the United States the greatest service provider revenue, in 2011, according to Informa Telecoms & Media.

Top 5 IPTV Markets in 2011
Ranked by Subscribers (000)
China 11,182
USA 3,429
France 3,390
Japan 3,075
Germany 2,626

Ranked by Penetration
Hong Kong 37.6%
France 14.8%
Singapore 11.9%
Norway 9.2%
Israel 9.2%

Ranked by Revenue $ Millions
U.S. 2,198
Japan 1,847
France 1,586
Italy 1,085
U.K. 810
Source: Informa Telecoms & Media

New GrandCentral Spam Filter

GrandCentral Communications announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show a new community-wide PhoneSpam Filter. The first of its kind, this free service combines a GrandCentral database of abusive callers together with a user-generated list of telemarketers to filter out unwelcome or insidious calls with a check of a box. As visitors and users report telemarketers and other unwanted callers to GrandCentral at www.grandcentral.com/stopphonespam, the numbers are confirmed and added to the PhoneSpam Filter.

Whenever one of the numbers on the list calls a GrandCentral user who has enabled the filter, those calls will be caught by GrandCentral and sent directly to the users’ Spam Voicemail folder. As more telemarketers and abusive callers are reported, the community-wide system increases in its effectiveness and provides even greater protection to GrandCentral members.

GrandCentral's addition of community or social networking features is one way new providers are adding value to voice communications by extending features in ways that go way beyond historic PSTN features. Basically, that means services become richer and more valuable as the end users create value and add knowledge. That's a big shift from the past, when a service provider essentially defined all the features.

My GrandCentral number is 303.997.1275, by the way.

TalkPlus Goes Mass Market

TalkPlus has unveiled its "multiple number, one device" service for Spint, Cingular, T-Mobile and Verizon mobile handsets. The company says mobile-centric professinals and "socially active" users are the early lead adopter targets. The service probably will appeal to people who really live by their mobiles and want to clearly separate their work and private lives, while gaining additional privacy by using virtual public numbers.

Some 15 to 17 percent of mobile phone users in North America usemore than one mobile phone, typically one phone for personal use and one for work. But some use a standard cell phone for most voice calls and have a second device, usually a BlackBerry, as their second phone.

A TalkPlus Number can be quickly created, used for temporary situations and then discarded. If a TalkPlus subscriber is selling a car online, they can get a disposable number just for the sales process, the company suggests. Using Mirror Numbers, mobile subscribers can instantly alter their caller ID to any approved phone number. TalkPlus can be activated on any of today's mobile phones in seconds and adding a new TalkPlus Number doesn't require any new hardware or changes to a subscriber's existing carrier plan, even for prepaid customers, the company says. TalkPlus doesn't require access to a computer to make calls, asking others to download software, or conducting complicated call set-up processes.

The TalkPlus Basic Plan includes:
* TalkPlus Number
* Call Screening
* Voicemail
* Web-based control center

Basic plans start at less than $9 per month. TalkPlus Pro adds:

* Multiple TalkPlus Numbers (up to 10) All numbers will have their own voicemail and call history.
* Mirror Numbers -Subscribers can clone a home or office number onto their mobile phone. This feature allows users to present an alternative caller ID when making calls. Up to 10 Mirror Numbers can be added to one mobile phone.
* Conference Calling - Subscribers can make up to 10-way conference calls.

Pro plans start at less than $17 per month.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

PC to TV Will Be Big at CES

Porting Web video to TVs will be a big theme at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, it appears. Sling Media is epxected to introduce SlingCatcher, which uses the in-home Wi-Fi network. The SlingCatcher also will also be able to transmit programming on a Slingbox-connected TV to another TV set, either to one in the same house via a home network or to one in a remote location via the Internet. SlingCatcher will be available in mid-2007 for less than $200, according to Sling Media Chief Executive Blake Krikorian.

Together with other similar initiatives from Apple Computer and Microsoft, among others,this sort of capability will need to be put into place before we can gauge the actual extent of consumer receptivity to all sorts of "direct to consumer" video. So far, not that many people claim to have used or paid for legal fare. But most observers think technical impediments (not being able to easily view on a TV, in particular) keep most people from experimenting with the new formatpaid video content. All that is going to change, though, and innovations such as SlingCatcher are the necessary forerunners of such developments.

Of course, demand is half the equation. Equally important is the supply side. Television executives, for example, now are asking if future TV programming will be delivered over the Internet, bypassing today's traditional cable and satellite providers, and seem increasingly open to the idea. Chief among the obstacles is the lack of Internet connections to TV sets, bandwidth-limited video quality, lack of business models, and the challenge of navigating through thousands of video programs, otherwise known as "search and discovery."

About all we can surmise at this point is that once these obstacles are removed, there will be a potential alignment of demand and supply. The bad news for cable TV operators, broadcasters and telcos is that "over the top" delivery disintermediates today's channel partners. This is probably a five year preparation phase. After that, watch for a slugfest between over the top video and cable, telco, satellite and broadcast delivery methods.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

When Dark Fiber Makes Sense

If an enterprise has requirements for four or more optical wavelengths, it makes more financial sense to lease dark fiber and light its own network, at least in Western Europe, say analysts at The Yankee Group. The savings for the dark fiber approach are 40 percent over leasing four wavelengths, Yankee Group says. The economics work for cross-border and national networks. Since such deals involved distance-sensitive pricing, however, route length and the type and number of wavelengths can affect the analysis. For four or more wavelengths, savings between 13 percent and 70 percent are potentially achievable by leasing fiber. Bigger savings occur when bandwidth has to be bumped up. The incremental cost of additional new wavelengths on a dark fiber infrastructure is only 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of adding a new wavelength.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Difference Between Bellheads and Netheads

The IEEE has given the effort to develop 100 Gbps Ethernet its official support. Some network equipment vendors had argued for 40Gbps, 80Gbps and 120Gbps speeds, in line with synchronous digital hierarchy. But Ethernet always has been designed around factors of 10, or an order of magnitude improvement, all the way from its first incarnation at 10 Mbps in the 1970s.

So here's the suggestive comparison. Netheads design around orders of magnitude of change, every time there's an upgrade. Bellheads tend to want increases to match the legacy base. There's nothing wrong with that. There simply are different assumptions about what "next version" of bandwidth growth should entail.

There are other parallels in life. Established businesses would be happy with incremental growth in the tens of percent. Venture capitalists won't bother with any innovation that promises anything less than an order of magnitude performance improvement over the existing state of the art.

Again, some endeavors in life are geared around incremental improvements while others are organized around at least an order of magnitude change. Not surprisingly, VC-backed efforts frequently are disruptive, specifically because that's what they aim to do. Established organizations frequently grow at 10s of percent rates, precisely because that's what they aim to do.

If Netheads and Bellheads tend to produce different results, it is at least in part because they aim to do different things. Bellheads aim for incremental change. Netheads, riding Moore's Law, aim for orders of magnitude change on a sustained basis. Which is why the global tension in the communications business isn't going away. There will be no possibility of easy stability. Not when some value chain participants live in a world of incremental change while others live in a world where an order of magnitude is the normal rate of change.

That isn't to say end users immediately see all those improvements. There are some physical constraints in the infrastructure world that make Moore's Law improvements in the access plant tough, if easier in the wide area network and relatively simple in the device arena.

CES Will See More Download Video Rollouts

The International Consumer Electronics Show is the first major U.S. trade show of the year that has direct implications for the communications and Internet apps industries. It is a logical place to launch a new "download-to-own" service or expanded Web video initiatives. We would expect some of that to happen. Sonic Solutions this week launched Qflix, a licensing and certification program approved by the studios, which will allow online retailers to sell movie downloads that can be burned onto DVDs.

CinemaNow currently sells a limited number of download-to-burn movies (using a different technology) and iTunes sells movies for viewing on iPods and PCs/laptops. Such services essentially use different distribution channels and are direct challenges to cable, satellite and upcoming telco video distributors of on-demand or pay-per-view fare, as well as to Netflix and Blockbuster Video. The key strategic change is the willingness of content owners to embrace the new channel. That's the single most important factor driving the new market.

It isn't clear yet how business models will shake out, but ad support already looks to be an important factor. In most media industries, advertising plays a significant role. Potential customers also indicate they prefer "free" ad-supported video as well, even though this preference coexists with a demonstrated to buy movie content in many forms (theatrical release, PPV, DVD, DVD rental).

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Declining ARPU Drives Thinking

Even in the robust mobility segment, growth is slowing. The decline in per minute pricing of voice calls is leading in turn to lower average revenue per unit, in North American and Europe, according to The Yankee Group. All of which makes the search for new services and revenues of all sorts mandatory, rather than optional, of course.

Nine Million VoIP Households

In-Stat says more than nine million households have at least one active VoIP user.
The top five facilities-based services used by households in the United States are Vonage (1.7 million households), Time Warner Digital Phone (1.6 million households), Comcast Digital Voice (1.3 million households), Cablevision/Optimum Voice (1.1 million households) and Cox Digital Phone (420,000 households.

The top five client-based VOIP service providers used by U.S. households are Skype (2.1 million households), MSN (1.1 million households), Yahoo Messenger with Voice (1 million households), Google Talk (658,000 households) and AOL Phoneline (266,000 households).

Price still remains the driver in the consumer market, though some marketwatchers are calling 2007 the "year of VoIP apps," at least in the enterprise space. That prediction probably will prove to be off the mark in the sense that all such "year of the..." proclamations are. In 2006 the International Consumer Electronics Show proclaimed last year "the year of the digital connected home". Guess what. So is this year.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

WAN Ethernet Market to Hit $5 Billion in 2007

The global wide area Ethernet market will be something on the order of $5 billion in revenue in 2007, say Yankee Group researchers. The U.S. market for Ethernet revenue should grow at a blistering 50.3 percent cumulative annual growth rate between now and 2010, Yankee Group analysts predict.

Public Policy is Devilishly Hard Stuff

Public policy success always is harder than you might think, if only because the causal relationships between a policy and an intended out...