Monday, March 31, 2008

Offline Google Docs Coming


Google's word processing application will now work offline, Google says, with the new feature available over the nextfew weeks, apparently. Changes made to offline documents will synchronize automatically when users go back online.

The offline feature is enabled by the Google Gears browser plug-in, which uses JavaScript APIs to enable offline access for applications such as Google Reader.

The "work offline" feature obviously is an important feature for traveling workers.

Zoho and Transmedia, which also offer online productivity suites, have been offering offline access to their word processing applications, Zoho Writer and Glide 2.0, since last year.

Augusta to Build Own Metro Wi-Fi Network

The City of Augusta, Ga. plans to build a for-fee metro Wi-Fi network it plans to have in operation by the end of 2008. A Request for Proposal (RFP) within weeks. As the business model is everything, Augusta is using a grant from the state of Georgia worth about $500,000 to build and deploy the Wi-Fi network over a highly-populated area including the downtown business corridor, three colleges and the most-densely-populated parts of the community.

That basically takes care of the network's capital cost. The RFP is to choose an Internet Service Provider to operate, market and maintain the network

The chosen ISP will operate the network and share revenue with Augusta.

New Zealand Telecom Now is Operationally Separated

New Zealand telecom regulators last year approved Telecom New Zealand's split into separated retail, network and wholesale companies, on the BT model. On March 31, the separation has taken effect. Under the new structure, all contestants will be able to lease network access and transport services on the same terms and conditions Telecom itself pays to use network features.

If the plan works as expected, retail competitors will gain market share relatively quickly, while Telecom ultimately drops to less than half the market for mass market retail services.

You might wonder "what's in it" for Telecom, as it might appear the breakup makes it easier for competitors to compete using Telecom's network. That's true, to an extent. One reason U.S. tier one telecom incumbents don't want to share their optical access infrastructure is precisely because it is so expensive an undertaking that avoiding mandatory wholesale access to those optical access facilities makes highly unlikely few competitors will emerge (cable companies and a few overbuilders notwithstanding).

So why might BT or Telecom go that route? Different "facts on the ground," for one thing. Cable companies in the U.K. and New Zealand markets are not so well developed as to constitute an access challenge for wired communications providers. So opening an optical access network to "all comers" actually works to decrease the likelihood any serious national "fiber to the customer" network will be built by anybody else.

So while Telecom will lose some retail market share, it will keep nearly 100 percent of wired optical and DSL access share. Telecom also heads off what might have been more onerous regulation.




U.K. ISPs Will Have to Block Pirated Content

Voluntarily or by government regulation, U.K. Internet service providers are going to become watchdogs of pirated music and video content, and likely will be required to disconnect repeat offenders.

In fact, Virgin Media will become the first U.K. ISP to crack down on customers who download music illegally, says Juliette Garside of the Telegraph. And video is a strong possibility for follow-on rules.

Record labels are lobbying for a "three strikes" regime that would allow ISPs to disconnect offenders' access service, and the U.K. government is expected next month to start the process of putting such regulations into place.

This would be the first time a British internet company has publicly moved to share responsibility for curbing piracy, using a mechanism where offenders are identified by copyright holders and that information is forwarded to Virgin and other ISPs.

Six million broadband users are estimated to download files illegally each year, costing record labels billions of pounds in lost CD sales but ISPs have so far resisted calls to control the traffic that passes over their networks, raising issues around customer privacy and the difficulty of accurately pinpointing file sharers.

The U.K. government, though, intends to force the matter to a head. It has said it will implement legislation by April 2009 unless ISPs came to a voluntary agreement with the music and film industries.

The new developments illustrate the difficulty of cleanly separating piracy control from content freedom; network management from anti-competitive ISP actions; optimized delivery of audio, video and other real-time services from other best-effort traffic using priority-delivery mechanisms.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mac Sales Stronger, PCs Slipping














Despite evidence of slowing PC buying activity, planned purchases of Apple Macs remain relatively strong, according to a recent ChangeWave Alliance survey.

About eight percent of the 4,427 consumers surveyed by ChangeWave in late February say they'll be buying a laptop in the next 90 days, the lowest level of consumer laptop demand in the past 12 months. The same trend was seen in desktop PC purchases, with just six percent saying they'll be buying one, also a low for the year, says ChangeWave.

That trend also is reflected among enteprise and business buyers. In February, only 73 percent of 2,204 corporate respondents said their company plans on buying laptops in the next quarter, down 4-pts from a year ago. Plans to buy desktop machines were down five percentage points from the same month a year ago.

On the other hand, looking at the next three months, Apple remains the leader among consumers who plan to buy a laptop. Some 31 percent of those who say they will buy a machine indicate they will buy a Mac, down just two points from the all-time high recorded in ChangeWave's prior survey. Apple planned desktop purchases of 28 percent, down one percentage point, also are near record levels.

Importantly, Apple's numbers are up more than 50 percent from a year ago.Enterprise planned Mac purchases are also at or near record highs, ChangeWave says. It is possible the operating system is responsible for some or much of the difference in Mac interest, compared to the Vista operating system.

Among corporate respondents using the Leopard operating system, over half (53 percent) report they are "very satisfied". This compares to a 40 percent "very satisfied" rating for Windows XP Pro users, and just an eight percent "very satisfied" rating for Microsoft Vista Business (eight percent).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

iPhone, Smart Phone, Phone: Big Difference in Behavior

It's starting to become clear that putting smart phones in the hands of users will cause their behaviors to change in ways that are helpful if a service provider cares about new services.

It also is clear that new behaviors are encouraged when users have an easy way to navigate and don't have to worry about the charges.

That isn't necessarily to say most users require truly "unlimited" data plans. Plans that allow them to make use of Web applications and features without worrying about the cost are what is important.

iPhone Changes Mobile Landscape


Six months after the iPhone’s U.S. launch, has the device changed the mobile landscape? According to M:Metrics, the mobile media authority, the answer is yes. Today, the measurement firm reports that the iPhone is already the most popular device for accessing news and information on the mobile Web, with 85 percent of iPhone users accessing news and information in the month of January.

That's important because the iPhone probably has created a whole new segment within the wireless user and wireless device universe: that of the mobile Web device.

Until recently, surveys by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, for example, have shown relatively low usage of the mobile Web. The iPhone user pattern suggests latent demand exists and will surface if only user interface and charging expectations are addressed.

“Beyond a doubt, this device is compelling consumers to interact with the mobile Web, delivering off-the-charts usage from everything to text messaging to mobile video,” says Mark Donovan, M:Metrics senior analyst.

iPhone might also be showing there are new niches for mobile video as well.

M:Metrics found that a staggering 31 percent of iPhone owners watched mobile TV or video, versus a 4.6 market average, and more than double the rate for all smartphone users.

The iPhone arguably also has emerged as the most-successful mobile music platform. About 74.1 percent of iPhone owners listened to mobile music in January, compared to 6.7 percent of the total mobile audience. In part, that may be because iPhone users also are heavy iPod users. About 84 percent of iPhone owners who use an MP3 player use an iPod.

Demographically, iPhone users are similar to the demographics of other smart phone owners. They are more likely to be: male, aged 25-34, earn more that $100,000 and have a college degree, than the average mobile subscriber, M:Metrics reports.

Though it might be tough to quantify the precise impact of each contributing element, it seems clear enough that when users don't have to worry about the charges and have an easy way to navigate, they quickly will adopt new behaviors related to mobile Web usage.

Friday, March 28, 2008

SME Conferencing Up 50% Next 12 Months

More than 50 percent of European small and mid-sized businesses plan to increase use of conference-calling and video-conferencing technologies over the next 12 months, a survey conducted by Skype reveals.

That finding corroborates with other data suggesting that Web-based collaboration, for example, is growing much faster than air travel, and replacement of such travel costs is a generally accepted value conferencing services provide.

A third of companies surveyed already use conference calls while a further 40 percent see the potential. Two thirds of companies already using conference calling do so at least once a week and 60 percent predict that they are likely to increase use over the next 12 months.

There is a similar pattern to video-conferencing use. Despite being a relatively new feature, more than 40 percent can see the potential of video-conferencing use in business. Skype’s internal data also suggest that 30 percent of all Skype calls now involve video.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that small businesses are embracing conference calling and video conferencing as a method of communicating both internally and with their customers and new prospects, Skype says.

In fact, many of the SMEs questioned who were not current users of video conferencing said they would be more likely to use it if it was better quality and not expensive.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mobile Ads Still Largely Text Based


Global mobile advertising will grow from $2.7 billion in 2007 to $19.1 billion in 2012, mainly on the strength of text-message campaigns, according to a new eMarketer report.

Mobile spending in the U.S. market will jump from $878 million in 2007 to $6.5 billion by 2012, but will be eclipsed by the more mobile-centric Asia-Pacific market by then.

U.S. mobile spending is projected to nearly double to $1.7 billion in 2008.

Because text-messaging will remain the dominant non-voice mobile service over the next several years--especially in big markets like China and India that lack 3G networks--that's where most ad dollars will flow, eMarketer argues.

Advertising linked to SMS and MMS text-messaging, mobile instant messaging, and mobile e-mail will collectively account for more than $14 billion of the $19 million total projected in 2012--up from $2.5 billion in 2007.

Display and search advertising will lag because those formats work best on higher-speed broadband networks. But $99 smart prices and unlimited use mobile plans are going to expand market potential in North America.

3G Data Card Sales to Quadruple

Sales of mobile data cards are forecast by Infonetics Research to nearly quadruple between 2007 and 2011, when they will reach $2.9 billion globally.

Of course, mobile data cards could threaten some portion of the Wi-Fi hotspot market, as a logical consequence.

“Currently, mobile data services are generally too expensive for mass market adoption, but that will change with the increasingly extensive roll out of high speed HSDPA, the launch of new data plans offering increased download limits, and better subsidies for mobile data cards," says Richard Webb, Infonetics directing analyst.

There is another possibility, though. Broadband-equipped smart phones that double as access devices will become more popular. And some significant part of the Wi-Fi and data card use case is being subsumed by mobile email devices and Web-capable smart phones.

Still, it is hard to envision any scenario where "personal broadband" does not ultimately become as ubiquitous as "personal voice" now is. It will take a while, but the same convenience values that have transformed "voice," which once was a shared service provided to "places," and now is provided to "people," will occur in the mobile Web area as well.

Why Mobile is a Better Business than Wireline or Internet

From a service provider's point of view, the Internet has proven to be an important driver of new service revenue in the form of broadband access and dial-up access, in its day. So far, though, mobile data has been a far-better business, despite moves toward openness that will render much wireless data a business uncomfortably similar to wired data (access dominated revenues, in other words).

The reason is that mobile services have been much more a walled garden that the Internet has been, so customers have gotten used to the idea that applications cost money in a mobile context where equivalents might not, in a broader Internet context.

”It’s not lost on mobile users that they still pay for almost everything on mobile,” says John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer senior analyst.

Analysts at Telephia, now a part of Nielsen Mobile, point out that a typical monthly charge for location-based services in $9.23. Music services might add $4.99 while weather services might cost $2.82.

That's likely to change as more users switch to smart phones with Web browsing capabilities, though. It's hard to see many people paying for general purpose weather, sports, news or map-related information when they can just pull that information from their mobile browsers.

Fuze: Mobile Video Collaboration

Fuze is CallWave's new mobile-centric collaboration service, browser-based and featuring what it calls "high-definition synchronized video collaboration". Fuze offers what CallWave calls "a sophisticated audio/video collaboration experience with remote access from any computer and from 3G or Wi-Fi enabled phones."

Fuze participants can use Skype as well as landline or mobile phones when participating in conferences.

The service also allows 3G or Wi-Fi connected users to view business documents like PowerPoint and videos as part of a conference call.

Additional services include high-definition audio conferencing, collaboration, voice-to-text transcription, local and long distance calling, Internet fax, visual voicemail, text and instant messaging. Many of the applications and services on an a la carte basis.

Get ready for lots of mobile-related news: CTIA is coming.

Growing Interest in Mobile Transactions

A new Harris Interactive study suggests 25 percent of users with mobile Internet access now use their devices to buy goods and services online with a credit card, and nearly one in five saying they would like to someday use cell phones as a "mobile wallet," where charges would be billed directly to their mobile accounts.

In addition, ten percent of the survey participants said they would consider wire transfers and stock trading via their mobile phones.

About 16 percent of mobile phone subscribers already use mobile banking services, with 60 percent of these people using the services at least once a week, Harris Interactive says.

About 35 percent of respondents say they are "open" to checking bank account balances and transferring funds using their mobile devices. A third of those surveyed also said they would like to receive text message alerts from their financial institutions.

The survey also found that smart phone users exhibit this behavior more than other mobile users, but that finding doesn't mean much. By definition, smart phones can access the Web, and smart phone users are more likely to buy data plans.

Still, the new survey simply indicates that mobile banking and other transaction services are slowly gaining awareness and usage.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cox Mobile Broadband?

In the recent U.S. 700 Mhz auctions, Cox Communications won 14 Block A and eight Block B licenses in areas where it also has cable TV systems. Cox hasn't said what it might do with those assets, but the most logical choice are local mobile broadband networks that allow Cox customers to unify fixed and wireless mobility access, at least within a metro area.

Long term, it remains to be seen how effective such combined access will prove to be, compared to services that additionally add national access.

There is at least some evidence most consumers do not value mobile broadband all that highly, when they already have fixed broadband. And lots of users who do value mobile broadband are business travelers who really need national access, and in some cases international access that Cox won't be able to provide.

NTT, AT&T Join Undersea Cable Group


The Trans-Pacific Express Consortium has signed two new members, AT&T and NTT Communications, says CommsDay reporter Tony Chan. The two new consortium members join Verizon Business, China Telecom, China Netcom, China Unicom, Chunghwa Telecom and Korea Telecom as members of the TPE consortium.

As a result of its joining the TPE consortium, at&t now has access to two out of three major trans-Pacific cables being built. The company also is part of the Asia-America Gateway system linking South Asia to the United States.

The current trans-Pacific capacity market is dominated by two operators, Tata Communications, who owns the TGN-Pacific, and Pacific Crossing.

As has been the case within the U.S. long-haul market, there is growing discussion of the wisdom of fiber swaps, capacity swaps and other mechanisms such as participation in multiple new undersea cable consortia as a way of enhancing network reliability.

Within the U.S. market, for example, carriers gain a measure of addtional security simply by swapping fibers, wavelengths and capacity on their backbones.

To a certain extent, that same sort of thinking is partly driving undersea consortium participation as well.

IPTV: Signs of Changing Behavior, Maybe

There's some important new evidence that U.K. customers who change to IPTV from conventional terrestrial TV do change their behavior in ways that boost average revenue per user, say researchers at Point Topic.

There's countervailing evidence that U.S. consumers are not so inclined.

The ability to time shift TV viewing often leads to customers using pay-per-view as well, Point Topic says.

For example, one top-ten operator has found that around a third of its IPTV subscribers buy three or four pay-per-view items per month. Since the implication is that this exceeds the buy rate for non-IPTV users, there is some potential lift in average revenue per user.

High definition TV is the other potential behavioral change. Subscribers may be willing to pay more for HDTV than for standard-definition programming, again with positive ARPU impact.

ABI Research, on other hand, does not find that U.S. consumers are changing their on-demand habits.

About 66 percent of respondents say they subscribe to some form of pay-TV service, and of those, 60 percent receive at least one additional service (telephone, Internet) from their provider.

However, only 54 percent of respondents declared themselves satisfied overall with their providers: pricing and customer service are the biggest sources of discontent.

About 41 percent of TV owners have a high-definition TV, but surprisingly, only 56 percent of this group subscribe to a HDTV service package.

A substantial 45 percent of viewers say they use pay-per-view, but not often: most do so just once a month or less.

Generally, interest in “next generation” TV services is low (although greater in younger viewers), with the one exception being the ability to move content sourced from the Internet from the PC to the TV.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Google White Spaces Proposal


Google now is proposing a new way of avoiding over-the-air interference for devices it and othe companies propose be run on vacated TV frequencies.

Google has told the the Federal Communications Commission it can produce an enhanced system to prevent interference between unlicensed devices operating in slices of local spectrum not used by over-the-air TV broadcasters, and licensed broadcasters actually operational in a local market.

According to dailywireless.org, that could mean 22 to 44 6-MHz slices of spectrum in markets as large as Los Angeles or as small as Juneau, Ak.

The FCC currently is testing equipment to see if, in fact, white space spectrum can be used by low-power data devices without causing interference to television broadcasts on adjacent or non-adjacent frequencies.

Supporters of the "white space" initiative include Dell, Intel Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Philips Electronics and Google.

The idea, as you might guess, is opposed by U.S. broadcasters and makers of wireless microphones, who fear the devices would cause interference.

If means can be found to identify and avoid interference, many megahertz of new spectrum with high ability to penetrate walls and buildings will be available for end user devices and signal trunking, presumably. If it can be shown that equipment can operate without interference, then application and device manufacturers will have a brand new play field upon which to operate.

Some fairly sophisticated technology will have to be developed, though, as the available white space will vary from geographic place to place. So the radios will have to be power sensing, power limiting and frequency agile.

After getting "open network" provisions adopted for C block 700-MHz networks, and then as a corollary getting Verizon and at&t more committed to similar "open networks," now Google is pushing the federal policy community to open up other significant chunks of unused spectrum for unlicensed use by any devices or services able to operate in interference-free fashion.

About which we must simply note that between them, on some levels, Apple and Google are having more impact on wireless innovation than just about everybody else put together.


Bandwidth Demand: Increasing Faster than Moore's Law


The thing about technological change is that lots can change underfoot without people really noticing it. And then some point is reached where the accumulated weight of those changes causes a tipping point. And we might be watching for such a tipping point in business broadband.

You'd be hard pressed to find much widespread evidence of the trend if you look at what small businesses are buying, but if one looks at enterprises, "T1 and DS0 already starting to go away," says Pieter Poll, Qwest chief technology officer. "More and more people are preferring metro Ethernet at the high end, so low-speed private line revenue and demand is decreasing."

At some point that will start to be a bigger, or more noticeable trend within the smaller and mid-sized business market as well, simply because the bandwidth intensity of modern business and consumer applications is increasing.

Average 2007 IP traffic was over 9,000 terrabytes a day in the consumer segment, for public Internet. The average in 2012 will be over 21,000 terrabytes a day, Poll says.

Qwest itself "sees our data networks doubling traffic every 16 months," Poll noes. "That's a faster rate of increase than Moore's Law," says Poll.

"There are just more customers, more are wireless and content also is shifting to richer media," he says.

"Our residential broadband base grows traffic 39 percent annually, no matter what size pipe they buy," Poll notes.

All of which has got Qwest's planners looking for ways to grow bandwidth faster. "We are doomed over time if bandwidth demand grows faster than Moore's Law," says Poll.

So how does Qwest do that? IP directly over optical waves, where the router and the optical transmitter are all one device. Meshing the edge devices also helps, as it reduces backbone network hops, and hence bandwidth usage.

Poll also thinks major backbone providers will start swapping fiber to gain greater topological diversity and improve protection from fiber cuts.

As for his views on where the next increment of backbone bandwidth will come, Poll notes there are some carriers wanting 40 Gbps equipment, though he personally thinks running 10 Gig E waves is more affordable. Still, "that could change soon," says Poll.

The bigger issue for him is that 40 Gbps will be stranded investment when 100 Gbps equipment is available.

"My personal feeling is that 100 Gbps is the step we want," says Poll.

Safari for PCs

As part of a recent update of my Apple iTunes software for my Windows-driven PC, I discovered that the Safari browser also was available. I suppose I didn't realize Apple was working on PC versions of Safari. I haven't had time to play with it yet.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Google's New Terrain

With the bulk of the U.S. auction for new 700-MHz spectrum now over, some observers note that Google was a big winner, though it didn't win any spectrum. Well, that's true, but so are nearly all potential or existing application or device providers.

In fact, it might be worth noting that Google's apparent strategy--to extract regulatory concessions without winning actual spectrum--illustrates the nature of the business environment Google now is entering.

Simply, to the extent that Google's financial interests now require involvement in regulated industries, it has to play the regulatory game, as do all major media and communications industries and contestants.

In the communications and "electronic media" industries, government decisions literally can create the potential for an industry to exist at all, and then dramatically affect its profit potential.

Obviously, scarce spectrum has to be allocated, either terrestrially or in space. But "smaller" decisions also can create fertile or hostile conditions for business activity. At once point early in its history, the cable industry was barred from the practice of importing broadcast TV signals from distant metropolitan areas to cablecast them in outlying areas.

Without access to those signals, there was no foundation for even rudimentary cable services. Without orbital slots, satellite providers could not create the "cable programming" industry. Without franchises, no cable operator can offer service in a city. In the early 1980s, those franchises were monopolies, and only later became non-exclusive.

Likewise, until the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it was not legal for companies to compete with the local phone companies to offer "dial tone" and other services to consumers. AT&T once was a single national monopoly provider, until the threat of a forced breakup lead to the creation of the "long distance" company AT&T and the separate local communications companies US West, Ameritech, Southwestern Bell, BellSouth, Nynex, Pacific Telesis and Bell Atlantic.

Likewise, though people might think movie studios do not have such concerns. They do. The reason movie studios may not own theater chains is because they are barred by law from doing so. The thinking originally was to prevent excessive industry concentration and monopoly.

As Google and other application providers discover their futures lie, in great part, in mobile services, they necessarily will have to participate in efforts to sway the regulatory and legislative process.

In that sense, Google, clearly a winner in the 700-MHz auctions, is starting to pay attention to the ways in which governmental regulations and statutes create, deny, enhance or limit business prospects.

The U.S. VoIP community made just such a rude discovery over the past several years as regulators and lawmakers began to take a look at VoIP, and figure out how to regulate it. Many had hoped that, as a "data" application, VoIP would be exempt from all or most regulations that apply to standard voice services.

That remains largely true for instant messaging-based, or Web site-based forms of voice. But other forms of VoIP, such as services that ultimately will replace today's "phone" services, increasingly are subject to the same sorts of regulations that govern "phone services."

Google has been spectacularly effective in its new rule as a stakeholder in the regulatory process surrounding communications. But its actions are hardly unprecedented.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Palm Centro: Major Shift to Smart Phones, Data

Smart phones do indeed drive consumer purchases of data plans, new data from Palm suggests. Palm reports that 95 percent of new Centro buyers signed up for a data plan.

More than 70 percent of Centro buyers also appear to be upgrading to a smart phone for the first time, Palm says.

Keep that up for a long enough period of time and mobile providers will discover that most users have data plans and smart phones.

Which is just what they plan.

Apple Sales Explode: It's a Cloud Computing Effect

Among the conclusions one might draw from the explosion of Apple market share in the U.S. PC market--in February 2008 Macs got 14 percent unit share and 25 percent dollar share--is that the "Web" really is becoming a computing utility. The results are drawn from a survey of buyers by NPD Group.

As more things can be done "in the cloud," the operating system of the access device matters less. To use an analogy, we aren't yet to the point of simple mobile phones, where most features except for subscriber identity are properties of the network.

We more nearly are in a position analogous to smart phones, however, where some important functionality resides locally, and much is in the network.

If you like, think about PC use pre-Web or pre-local area networks. Initially, with the exception of connection to a printer, a wide area network connection was not necessary to derive value from a PC. Later, as more PCs appeared in the workplace, it became necessary to connect PCs locally.

Operating system mattered greatly, in those applications. Once people started to interconnect over the wide area network, though, things began to change. Obviously one needed the "right" physical interface to support a dial-up modem service. But beyond that the PC operating system begins to matter less.

The wide area network is designed to work transparently to edge devices, so long as the wide area network transmission protocols and interfaces are supported.

That's what is starting to happen with computing applications and services--and video and audio plus multimedia content now are computing applications. The details of edge devices will matter less once "networked" applications take firmer hold.

To use another analogy, consider televisions. The internal details are unimportant so long as the communications interfaces are standard. A TV must tune to standard NTSC signals now, and then HDTV formats in 2009. The display technology must render those pictures properly. Other than that, the details of device operation don't matter.

That perhaps is one reason buyers now are more free to buy Macs, and abandon the Microsoft operating system: OS choices aren't so important now as more value is drawn from the network.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves says the latest NPD results represent 60 percent Apple unit growth and 67 percent revenue growth over the same period one year ago.

At the same time, overall U.S. PC retail shipments grew just nine percent on a five percent increase in revenues.

Apple saw particular strength in notebook systems, which rose 64 percent in units and 67 percent in revenues, suggesting strong sell-through of the company's new MacBook Air, a device specifically designed to rely on the Web and Internet more extensively than a typical machine.

Apple also saw robust demand for its desktop systems, which grew 55 percent on a 68 percent increase in revenues, compared to the overall retail segment which saw unit sales decline of five percent on a two percent drop in revenues.

Of course, Apple design smarts and the spillover glow from the iPod and iPhone probably are enticing buyers who might not have considered a Mac before.

But users wouldn't be doing so unless they were convinced their computing experience won't not be disrupted unnecessarily. One reasons for that greater level of confidence is simply that much of that experience now hinges on access to the Web and Internet.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

700 MHz: No Big Surprise

As most observers probably would have bet, Verizon won the C block while at&t won hundreds of local licenses to augment the 700 MHz spectrum it already owns. Those two developments arguably were the most-likely outcomes all along.

EchoStar, though, won enough E block spectrum to create a nearly-national footprint as well. What it plans to do with that spectrum isn't so clear at this point. There isn't enough spectrum in that block to run WiMAX or probably even Long Term Evolution protocols with any kind of loading.

Many argue that slice of spectrum is best suited to mobile video delivery.

31% Smart Phone Sales by 2013

The market for smartphones will grow from around 10 percent of the total handset market in 2007 to 31 percent of the market in 2013, say researchers at ABI Research.

Fueling he growth: carrier interest in boosting data revenues and the migration of advanced “smart” operating systems down into middle tier devices.

Mobile Walled Garden? No Way

Mobile phone owners already are partially outside mobile operator content walled gardens, a new survey by ABI Research suggests. And there is no reason to believe this trend is not a permanent feature of the mobile content and applications business.

The 14 percent of respondents who said they use their phone to watch video was split nearly evenly between those who watch video from websites such as YouTube (35 percent), from their own carrier’s video offering (31 percent), and from video they sideload onto their mobile devices (28 percent).

The leading source of music files on a mobile phone was ripped CDs and sideloading onto the phone (48 percent of mobile-music listening respondents), while over one third of music-listening respondents (35 percent) purchased music through their carriers.

As an example, today’s mobile consumer is more likely to watch a video from YouTube on his or her phone than a video from the carrier’s own service, but is more than twice as likely to get ringtones from the carrier than from any other source.

“Perhaps more with the mobile phone than any other consumer electronics device, content is obtained from a variety of sources,” says research director Michael Wolf. “This shows that despite the strong control most carriers retain over the network, their control over the mobile content ecosystem remains limited. The consumer will see more and more options for obtaining rich media in the future.”

In the mobile business, as in the video, music, voice and Internet businesses, closed and walled garden business models are learning to live side by side with the open models of the Web. It isn't clear whether, in the future, all content will flow "over the top."

At some point, if it is possible for consumers to grab the content they want, when they want it--and business relationships with content owners are just as important as physical bandwidth in that regard--then we will see a serious test of the dominance of "packaged" distribution such as cable TV, broadcast TV or telco voice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Email Overload?

Are business users drowning in unwanted email or not? Some observers argue they are, and also say the overload is harming productivity. A typical analysis might be that a half hour a day is wasted when people have to deal with unwanted email. Over an eight-hour working day, that's 1/16 of total time at work. For a person earning $100,000, that's an annual loss of $6,250.

The countervailing view is that managing email is no more a "time waster" than socializing around the office, and might have positive value to the extent that all business is social, and that relationship building and maintenance of those relationships.

Granted, email can be chore if a user feels compelled to respond to every message. But there's no reason to respond to most messages, some would argue. Instead, email is part of a flow of communications and information that streams past a person, providing context on what other people one works with think is important.

Recognizing the pattern is the key thing, not "responding" to all messages in the flow. It's a little like "Twitter" streams, Real Simple Syndication feeds or Facebook updates. One doesn't have to respond to the updates. But the updates can have value.

The issue is whether "information overload" is a problem or an opportunity. Providers of unified communications capabilities obviously see the management of message streams as an opportunity; a chance to solve the inefficiency of missed, delayed or repeated communication attempts.

Where a company's cost structure or revenue streams are involved, "inefficient" communications are a problem. In other cases, maybe not. When information is a stream of messages about the state of one's environment, maybe not. The "problem" exists to a large extent only in compulsive response, or inordinate attention to, the flow of data.

The same might be said of other "interruptions" of one's work. To a point, pings from co-workers do "interrupt" the specific tasks any particular person has. On the other hand, to the extent that organizations are social, "interruptions" are part of the collaboration process. To the extent that business value grows from collaboration, "interruptions" simply are part of the collaborative process. So is collaboration wasted time? Hardly.

Online Content Use Up, Across All Age Groups


Online content is getting more attention from users in every age category, says Burst Media.

Overall, 59.6 percent of respondents to a recent survey report they are visiting more Web sites in a typical week than they were one year ago, say researchers at Burst Media. And the trend holds in all age segments.

In fact, 62.8 percent of respondents 55 years and older say they are visiting more sites today in a typical week of web surfing than they were one year ago.

Local and national news is the most popular content consumed online with half of respondents regularly seeking it out. Still, there are differences in the types of content consumed by age segments.

Among respondents 18 to 34 years of age, entertainment information (44.7 percent) is the most regularly sought online content, followed by: local or national news (40.1percent), online games (38.1 percent), shopping or product information (36.1 percent) information for work (35.0 percent), and online communities such as social networks, forums and blogs (31.4 percent).

Local or national news (54.2 percent) is the most popular online content for respondents 35 to 54 years of age. Other types of online content sought by respondents 35 to 54 years of age include shopping or product information (44.8%), information for work (42.7 percent), health information (37.1 percent), entertainment information (37 percent), and travel information (33.7 percent).

Local or national news is by far the most popular online content for respondents 55 years and older. About 56 percent of respondents in this segment saying they regularly seek such information online.

Shopping and product information (44 percent) is the second most popular type of content sought and is closely followed by health information (42.5 percent).

Other types of content sought include: international news (38.9 percent), travel information (38.2 percent), and food information/recipes (34.1 percent).

Two-thirds (67.7 percent) of respondents say their daily routine would be disrupted if their Internet access was taken away and not available for one week.

About 43 percent say such a loss would be "significantly" disruptive.

And Web access is disruptive for every age group. In fact, among respondents 55 years and older, 44 percent say their daily life would be significantly disrupted if they were unable to access the Internet.

Internet access now has become an essential service, it appears, like voice, text and video entertainment.

Opera Mini for Helio Ocean


Opera's Opera Mini mobile browser now is available for the first time in the U.S.market as a mobile service provider on-deck option. Helio users can surf the Web with Opera Mini on their Ocean devices using Opera Mini that has been specially-tailored for the Ocean handset.

Available as a downloadable application from Helio's Web portal, Opera Mini is touted as providing a desktop-like experience with fast response.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Apple Seeks "Free Access to iTunes"

Apple is in discussions with leading music companies about giving customers free access to its entire iTunes music library in exchange for premium pricing of its iPod and iPhone devices, reports Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson of the Financial Times.

The “all you can eat” model, a replica of Nokia’s “comes with music” deal with Universal Music last December. Nokia reportedly will offer $80 or so to music industry partners, in exchange for the use of music assets.

Apple is said to have offered $20 per device, and also is said to be examining a subscription plan for iPhone users, as that device obviously comes with a billing arrangement.

The subscription model might allow users to keep up to 40 or 50 tracks a year, even if they later cancelled a subscription or changed devices.

As the old adage goes: "With all this ---- lying around, there has to be a horse here somewhere." In other words, there are new business models to be discovered that provide direct benefits to content owners, device manufacturers and access providers.

Over the long term, the only way viable business models will be constructed that support the building of fiber-to-home and mobile broadband networks, is when all the key value chain members also participate in the revenue chain. An uneasy relationship it will remain. But the relationships and models have to be created.

Otherwise, we won't get ubiquitous and capacious broadband upon which services and applications can be run.

U.S. 700 MHz Auction Now is Ended

No further details at the moment.

Consumer Electronics Spending Decelerates

The ChangeWave Alliance's latest survey shows a" sudden huge" pullback in consumer retail purchasing on electronics by U.S. consumers, the largest one since ChangeWave began measuring spending trends back in 2002.

The February 18-25 survey of 4,427 consumers looked at a range of popular gadgets in the consumer electronics industry, including digital cameras, iPods and video game consoles.

Only 19 percent of survey respondents say they'll spend more on electronics over the next 90 days compared to 33 percent who will spend less, an unprecedented sign of weakness in the consumer electronics space.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Broadband Users Generally Satisfied


U.S. consumers generally seem to be aware of the importance of bandwidth as a determinant of their Internet experiences, says Mike Paxton, In-Stat analyst. For the most part, they also seem satisfied with their current access speeds.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many consumers are aware there is a difference between theoretical bandwidth and the actual bandwidth they get when lots of other users are on the network at the same time.

For that reason, consumers increasingly are receptive to higher-bandwidth offers, In-Stat argues. Most consumers probably are not aware that, at peak load, the average bandwidth they may be able to use is as much as an order of magnitude less than the theoretical bandwidth.

That said, more than 83 percent of respondents to a recent In-Stat consumer survey, which included a speed measurement, said they either were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their current connection.

In large part, that finding is testament to generally enhanced access speed offerings by virtually all suppliers.

The survey of 700 users found an average downstream speed of 3.8 Mbps, while the average upstream speed is 980 kbps.

The average downstream fiber-to-home speed was 8.8 Mbps, while cable modem connections averaged 4.9 Mbps and DSL averaged 2.1 Mbps, In-Stat says. Those findings are generally congruent with research published by the Communications Workers of America in 2007.

The average monthly price for broadband service is a bit over $38.

High Latent Mobile Web Demand?

If iPhone users, and a recent study of smart phone users, are any indication, there is clear and vast potential for mobile Web applications, devices and services.

And that is despite the relatively low usage of mobile Web services at the moment. "It is amazing how unaware consumers are of what is, and what is not available" in mobile, Web and other forms of communications, says Elaine Warner, Compete.com analyst.

On the other hand, there is clear potential. “We asked smart phone users what was important to them and 68 percent said Web access was really important,” says Warner. Considering that just seven percent of respondents to the Pew study say they do so on a typical day, Compete’s findings suggest there is vast untapped potential.

One of the biggest struggles the mobile industry has is getting the user experience right, though Warner says the iPhone was a breakthrough.

“We did a study about iPhone and found the two things people want is surfing the Web and checking their personal email,” says Warner. “They still feel they can't do that easily.”

Along the way, application and service providers will have to adapt the context of mobile Web use. “You don't search for the same things you do on a PC as you do from a mobile handset,” says Warner.

“You don't want a Wikipedia page to be the top listing when you enter a search term, she says. “That’s not likely to be what you want.

More typically a user will want to find a place to get to, or something to buy.

Though “voice in your pocket or purse” was the initial “killer app,” sizable demand now exists in the “email in your pocket or purse, “music in your pocket or purse” and to a lesser extent “Web in your pocket or purse” user segments.

That few people have used the mobile Web up to this point is understandable. It has been a difficult experience, for the most part. And it may turn out that early iPhone users are particularly avid users of the Web.

But if Compete’s survey findings are any indication, there is pent-up demand for mobile Web access.

How Many Lines or VoIP Accounts?

Suppliers shipped an estimated 9.8 million VoIP subscriber feature server licenses for deployment in service provider networks, according to analysts at iLocus. Those licenses generated $177.4 million in revenue, and grew
34 percent, quarter over quarter.

The growth is due to high voice over broadband activity in Europe and among cable operators in North America. In Asia-Pacific VoBB growth is still confined to Japan mostly.

Of the 9.8 million VoIP subscriber licenses sold during 4Q07, licenses for hosted business phone system (hosted PBX or hosted Centrex or key system) lines account for about 1.2 million.

The remaining 8.6 million were mainly deployed for residential VoIP or switch replacement, iLocus says.

That suggests, at least for the short term, a belief that 12 percent of overall VoIP sales by service providers are of the hosted phone system sort.

Keep in mind that such data is not so granular as we might hope. In fact, even the reported penetration of landlines is less granular than one might think. If one looks at reported landline phone penetration, for example, there is a period between 2005 and 2007 where the installed base appears to oscillate wildly.

It appears that changes in the survey instrument are partly the reason. Government researchers now ask whether "any" phone service is available, specifying that mobiles count, where they used to ask whether a phone line was available. The government now makes a distinction between phones "in the living unit" and "available in the building" as well.

So it is likely we simply have reporting error in recent data. Over time that should correct. But the point is that even the official Federal Communications Commission data now have to be interpreted.

It's just another reminder that all our survey data should be considered indicative of trends rather than firm descriptions of physical reality.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Google IS Online Advertising

Though total U.S. ad revenue at 17 public companies increased nine percent in 2007, online revenues grew 28 percent, says Henry Blodget, Silicon Alley Insider author. Total ad revenue for the 17 firms was $58 billion, while online revenues were $18 billion.

Offline revenue grew about $1 billion while online grew $4 billion. Google got $2.7 billion of that total, while online ad revenue at Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL grew $1.3 billion. In other words, says Blodget, Google captured twice as much revenue as its closest three competitors combined.

Google.com's U.S. revenue growth was more than twice as much the growth of ad revenue in all of the 13 offline media companies Blodget tracked.

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Online Video, More Managed P2P

Online video sites have delivered promising stats recently, says Compete.com analyst Aniya Zaozerskaya. Netflix’s WatchNow, which allows subscribers to any Netflix plan to watch full-length movies and TV episodes online from their collection, had 69 percent more people using the service this quarter as compared to last quarter.

Veoh.com, which allows users to view and share short YouTube-like videos as well as stream full-length TV show episodes, has grown from just under 1.5 million unique visitors one year ago to over six million in February 2008.

Hulu.com, a newer site offering both full-length movies and TV shows, including the most recent in-season episodes, also is gaining traction, she says.

Assuming peer-to-peer applications are deemed lawful, and therefore not to be blocked--and that seems a certainty--managed P2P services would seem to be poised for growth.

One reason P2P chews up so much bandwidth on service provider backbones is the unmanaged way P2P traditionally operates. Bits of content might be fetched from long distances when the same material actually resides on a user hard drive someplace local.

So far, it appears, managing P2P streams can reduce overall backbone network traffic by 60 percent or more, executives at Pando Networks and Verizon Communications say.

Network-aware versions of P2P that can fetch data from local sources rather than reaching far across the network, can help,in that regard.


103 Million HDTV Households

Analysts at Pike & Fischer predict that up to 103 million U.S. households will be paying their multichannel video provider for some form of HD service or rental equipment by the end of 2012. And while most analyst forecasts wind up being overly-aggressive, this projection is about as grounded as a forecast could be. Since more than 90 percent of U.S. households subscribe to cable, telco or satellite-delivered television service, and since the U.S. broadcasting system is moving to an all-HDTV format in 2009, it only makes sense that most people are going to be watching at least some HDTV from the moment of transition.

And while analog tiers of service will be offered for several years after the broadcast transition, most viewers are going to switch, fairly quickly. Cable operators, of course, now are saying they will voluntarily continue to simulcast analog local station feeds until 2012.


Keep in mind that the total number of television households in the U.S. market, including Alaska and Hawaii, is 111.4 million, according to Nielsen Media Research. So in predicting that 103 million U.S. homes will be paying for some form of HDTV, three years after the transition date, Pike & Fischer is making a simple observation that 93 percent of households will be on an HDTV-capable tier of some sort by the time U.S. cable operators will have switched off their off-air analog feeds in favor of the HDTV feeds provided by local broadcasters.

So there may still be some hold-outs in 2012. But, by and large, Pike & Fischer simply makes the point that most people will continue to buy a multichannel video service, and that by 2012, virtually all those providers will be selling HDTV programming widely available on the basic service tier.

Again, most analyst projections err on the side of excessive optimism. This isn't one of those cases.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

FTTH is inevitable


No matter what posturing now occurs, cable operators and at&t someday will switch access platforms and adopt fiber-to-home as the standard wired access approach. For the sake of pleasing investors, who seem to hate investments in FTTH that are the only long-term hope for any wired access provider, lots of companies insist they do not presently need to do so, and they arguably are correct.

Other small independent providers in very-rural areas likewise will insist they cannot afford FTTH. That ultimately will be resolved either by new forms of rural or high-cost area subsidies, or by some new hybrid delivery platform using fixed wireless as the tail circuit.

None of that is relevant. Demand continues to increase, and at some point, the only sane choice for a fixed network that has to deliver a minimum of 100 Mbps worth of data bandwidth, not to mention video, is FTTH.

We might be four to eight years away from that point. The precise timing, though, isn't so important. No matter what executives may now believe, they ultimately will have to scrap hybrid fiber coax and fiber to the node, for competitive reasons. When wireless broadband starts to offer anything close to that sort of bandwidth, no wired network is going to be able to avoid upgrading.

That doesn't mean it is sound business practice to deploy platforms of such bandwidth today, in the mass market. The ramp up frankly is best handled on a gradual basis, as local competitive conditions dictate, to conserve capital for a time when the move is unavoidable, under conditions where there is little incremental revenue to be gotten.

But that won't always be the case. One way or another, service providers are going to discover and then create funding mechanisms that make FTTH a rational choice. Just because we can't predict in precise detail what those mechanisms will be is not the issue. Neither could cable industry executives have rationally explained in detail what all the new demand for video choices would be if capacity were upgraded.

Nor could wireless executives, 10 years ago, have presented a clear and compelling line of argument about why text messaging, email or ringtones or music would be generating significant or growing amounts of revenue.

Though there now is an investor revulsion to financing "build it and they will come schemes," in fact that precisely is the history of innovation in the communications and entertainment business. When given choices, developers have responded and consumers have bought.

That doesn't mean every new application, or even most, are going to succeed in the mass market. The point is that we never are very good at figuring out what developers will dream up, and what consumers will flock to.

It is clear that supply creates its own demand, ultimately.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nearly-Ubiquitous Broadband

Nearly 33 million US households will have broadband services with speeds of 10 Mbps or higher by 2012, up from 5.7 million at the end of 2007, according to Parks Associates. That's not the most important prediction, though.

Parks Associates also forecasts that 32.5 million U.S. consumers will have at least 10 Mbps broadband access service by 2012. Even that is not the most important prediction Parks makes.

No, the most significant prediction is that 75 percent of U.S. households will subscribe to broadband services by 2012. And that is significant because it will make broadband a fundamental service purchased by U.S. households, on the order of cable TV or the place once held by wired voice services.

It is worth noting that very few services ever have reached that level of penetration. Cable TV, mobile phones and wired phones alone could have claimed such distinction. By 2012, if Parks Associates is correct, only for the fourth time in history will any service have achieved such near-ubiquitous penetration.

Some day, and probably not by 2012, we might be able to make a similar claim about wireless broadband as well. For the moment, though, it is noteworthy that broadband seems destined to reach such broad penetration. Lots of services exist, or have existed, without ever getting nearly universal acceptance.

Compared to that level of acceptance, the subsidiary question--how fast is fast enough--while not trivial, is not fundamental. Access speeds have been increasing on a fairly steady basis, much as storage capacity on PCs, mobile devices and other devices has been increasing, and much as cable TV or satellite networks steadily have increased capacity and channels over time.

The average download speed of a US broadband connection is currently 3.8 Mbps, while the average upload speed is 980 Kbps, according to In-Stat researchers. But there was a time when a typical cable TV network delivered just three channels. Then capacity went to 12 channels; then to 25; 40; 60; then 66; then more than 80; then 115; then, with digital, hundreds of channels. Ad-free formats, then pay-per-view, then on-demand programming developed. Music services also were introduced in the 1980s, though not to notable success.

Over time, mobile services have added text, Web access, email, audio and video services. And there have been continual improvements on the value side as well, as costs for calling have dropped dramatically. Even legacy wired voice services have been upgraded in important ways.

Party lines were replaced by private lines, and enhanced services expanded particularly when digital switches were substituted for analog switches. Now, using VoIP, all sorts of enhancements beyond what are known as CLASS features are possible.

The point is that penetration matters. Given high penetration, continual evolution of features and value almost are inevitable.

Growing Business Social Networking

A fair number of enterprise and business users already are making use of online-based collaboration tools, says Compass Intelligence. This table shows the percentage of respondents in a recent 351-respondent survey that say they now are using one or more online collaboration tools for business in February 2008.

Respondents were most likely to say that they were not currently using these capabilities, as one possibly would suspect. But most say they are interested in using them for business purposes, if their company offered it to them.

For the time being it seems professionals are using online collaboration tools without the explicit blessing of their IT staffs.

In other words, millions of professionals and other knowledge workers that want to connect, interact and transact using business-based social Web tools.

IDT: A Company in Transition

"IDT is a company in transition," says IDT Corp. CEO Jim Courter. No kidding. Basically, IDT is harvesting the cash flow from its declining U.S. calling card business and consumer phone services division and investing in a somewhat bewildering collection of other businesses.

In fact, IDT Corporation now describes itself multinational holding company. IDT Telecom, the original company business, represents most of IDT's revenue. IDT Telecom sells prepaid and rechargeable calling cards, offers consumer local and long distance service, prepaid wireless phone services and wholesale carrier services.

IDT Energy, which operates an energy services company in New York State. IDT Carmel is a receivables portfolio management and collection businesses.

American Shale Oil Corporation is in the U.S. oil shale business.

IDT Local Media includes CTM Brochure Display, a brochure distribution company and the WMET-AM radio station in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

IDT Internet Mobile Group is a new media content distribution company. It includes Zedge, a Web site and platform to produce and distribute mobile content. IDW is a comics, graphic novel, and children's book publisher.

IDT Spectrum holds a significant number of Federal Communications Commission licenses for commercial fixed wireless spectrum in the United States. IDT Global Israel is a call center operation.

"IDT is in a metamorphic stage de-emphasizing some of our historical operations and investing in new businesses that if successful can greatly enhance long-term shareholder value," adds CFO Steve Brown.

At the moment, IDT is harvesting cash from its declining communications business by slashing costs at a faster rate than revenue is dropping. Compared to a year ago, costs are coming down faster than revenue is dropping.

"Gross costs per minute were down 13.7 percent in the second quarter compared with the year ago, while revenue per minute fell only 8.5 percent, a spread of over five percent, says Brown.

In its most-recent quarter, IDT Corp. revenues were $476.7 million, down seven percent year-over-year. The quarterly loss of $62.5 million was significantly higher than the net loss of $27 million one year ago.

About $386 million was generated from IDT's wholesale, prepaid and retail calling businesses.

Verizon Expands 7 Mbps DSL Service

Verizon now has activated 7 Mbps DSL service in 12 Eastern states and the District of Columbia.

The new service more than doubles the speed of Verizon's current fastest offer and costs as little as $39.99 a month when ordered with an annual service plan.

Customers in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia can get the higher speeds now.

Verizon expects the 7 Mbps service to be available to more than two million homes and small businesses in 22 states and the District of Columbia by the end of 2008.

In a bit to provide more value as well, Verizon offers an optional security suite; 4 gigabytes of online email storage; and premium tech support for routers, network cards, video cards, sound cards, CD/DVD reader-writer, hard drives, flash memory systems, printers, scanners, gaming consoles and firewalls.

Verizon also offers entertainment services from Disney Connection, as well as a 24-hour news and information channel, ABC News Now; ESPN360 and NFL Network Game Extra.

The move positions Verizon in the "sweet spot" for consumer bandwidth consumption, at least if forecasts by analysts at Ovum are correct.

Mobile Data Networks Face New Strain


Jonathan Christensen eBay Skype division general manager, says “the phone is dead," arguing that VoIP over mobiles will accelerate the trend. Agree or disagree, mobile network operators,will face issues other than loss of lucrative long distance calling revenues and bandwidth consumption, as the "VoIP over mobile" trend gathers speed.

As it turns out, says Mike Schabel, Alcatel-Lucent general manager, bandwidth consumption isn't the only problem mobile networks face, and in some ways may not be the key problem posed by IP applications.

Consider Session Initiation Protocol. As SIP applications start to represent more of any mobile user’s total usage, the problems become evident. Ignoring for a moment the revenue implications, SIP-based applications present previously-unacknowledged issues. The reason is that although SIP-based voice and communications are not a terribly big consumer of bandwidth, they are a huge consumer of radio network signaling resources. And it is radio network contention that is the gating problem, in some ways, not bandwidth consumption.

Where a typical user might place most of the bandwidth load on the radio network by using Web browsing, P2P and WAP applications (and where SIP bandwidth is negligible), the signaling load is highly disproportionate.

Where HTTP use might represent 44 percent of total bandwidth use, and consume 1.3 hours of airtime, while imposing 240 signaling events, a SIP application might chew up 3.9 hours of airtime and 2,240 signaling events despite using just 0.02 percent of total bandwidth.

Likewise, a VPN connection might represent just 2.4 percent of bandwidth consumed, but represent 20.75 hours of airtime, while imposing 5,970 signaling events.

So the problem for a mobile network provider is not simply a cannibalization of current revenue, but dramatically-more-intense pressure on the radio access network. And the issue isn't bandwidth: it is signaling overhead that chews up radio network element capacity, even when bandwidth is hardly used.

Necessity Drives Strategy at Qwest, Other Firms


Service provider strategy sometimes is dictated by necessity, and to the extent that service providers large and small now face different "necessities," there is an increasing divergence in strategy. Over time, in other words, service providers will "look" different from each other where in the past they all had resembled each other to a striking degree.

Consider Qwest, one of the three former "Baby Bells." Qwest always had a customer geography significantly more rural than the other original seven Bell Operating Companies. But when SBC gobbled up Telesis, Ameritech, AT&T and BellSouth to form at&t; while Verizon was formed from the former Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, GTE and MCI, the differences grew.

Both at&t and Verizon have the leading mobile assets and much-larger scale than any other contestants in the marketplace. Qwest is far smaller, does not own a national wireless network and faces much-larger challenges in the fiber-to-customer area because of lower density serving areas.

So where a triple play offered over owned facilities strategy makes sense for Verizon and at&t, for Qwest it does not. Qwest simply doesn't have the customer volume, density or access to capital that strategy would require. Unlike the other former Baby Bells, Qwest's fiber-to-customer strategy is not anchored by video services, but strictly by broadband data services.

Lacking a mobile network, Qwest originally tried offering services under its own brand, as a mobile virtual network operator. But it now has decided that approach has drawbacks, including some handset limitations, financial returns limited by low volume and, arguably, the lack of a popular "brand name" in wireless.

Qwest also has to maintain a balance between capital investment and shareholder return issues, such as reducing debt load, buying back shares and supporting the payment of dividends.

So Qwest's strategy will embrace partnerships in areas such as video and wireless, in ways that Verizon and at&t will not. In the process of revising its mobile strategy, Qwest also says it will rely on DirecTV for the video services component of its offerings. And where video services will be a key part of the payback for FiOS and LightSpeed, Qwest expects to get its payback strictly from new broadband services.

That's going to necessitate high penetration and new services as well. By 2011 Qwest plans to increase its broadband penetration from 23 percent to 40 percent.

Qwest will "look different" in its strategy because it has to. It doesn't have the scale or resources to become a smaller version of at&t or Verizon. Consider that at&t books about $39 billion annually while Verizon books $24 billion annually.

Qwest books about $13.8 billion a year in annual revenue. Neither does Qwest closely resemble the middle tier of independent telcos, either. Embarq, for example, books about $6.4 billion in annual revenue. Windstream books about $3.3 billion annually. But most independent telcos are far smaller than that, booking millions to hundreds of millions worth of revenue each year.

What makes Qwest different from the mid-tier of telcos such as Windstream and Embarq is that Qwest operates global backbone networks that can feed a more-robust enterprise business. The other providers might more logically be called regional "local" providers. Some competitive local exchange carriers also have a "national local" character, the difference being that such firms generally only serve the business customer segments.

In many ways, the interesting strategic paths will be among the smaller telcos rather than the tier one providers. Very-small independents typically are very interested in offering IPTV services. The middle tier of companies generally are not. The middle tier of companies may have brighter prospects in business customer segments. Very-small providers typically will not. Very-small telcos may not find out-of-region operations too compelling. The middle tier, at some point, virtually has to look at footprint expansion.

Since strategy is the result of multiple background, financial and management factors, we can expect that some of the more-differentiated approaches will be taken by those providers who are particularly challenged in some way. Inability to create the triple play or quadruple play strategy; geographic or demographic limitations or sheer borrowing power will force some managements to strike out on atypical paths from that generally seen as the tier one global provider approach.

Monday, March 10, 2008

at&t to Raise Text Messaging Rates

It appears at&t Wireless will be raising the prices it charges for casual sending and receiving of tex messages, though "bucket" prices remain unchanged. Effective at the end of March, the charge for text messages not part of a messaging bucket will be 20 cents.

For most of us, that means the buckets make even more sense. For light users, the move just shows how data services are becoming the revenue model for mobile services, with voice gradually declining in importance.

WiMAX Segmentation

One of the unresolved questions about WiMAX networks in the U.S. market is whether a sizable new business can be created around devices other than cell phones and smart phones.

And there is at least some reason to believe an opportunity exists, though pricing might be an issue.

Analysts at Compete Inc. recently asked consumers shopping online for consumer electronics devices about their interest in connecting devices to the Internet.

More than 50 percent of laptop and GPS shoppers were very interested in devices that enable enhanced connectivity using an open access network.

A follow-up question revealed that consumers are also willing to pay for this connectivity, with about 25 percent willing to pay over $50 at the time of purchase to include this feature, Compete suggests.

Recurring costs are the bigger issue, though. It isn't clear how many users will be happy to pay recurring connection fees if the option to use their in-home Wi-Fi networks is available for no incremental cost. Up to this point, no matter what they might say as part of a poll, few camera users have proven willing to spend money for network services.

Sprint Mogul to Use Rev A Broadband


Sprint is releasing a software update for the Mogul phone, made by HTC Corp. of Taiwan, that will enable the phone to connect at Rev. A speeds.

Downloads speeds should be 600 kilobits per second to 1,400 kbps, up from a range of 400 kbps to 700 kbps with Rev. 0.

It will be capable of uploads of 350 to 500 kbps, up from 50 kbps to 70 kbps.

Traffic Shaping Enhances User Welfare


To protect all users of shared access resources from service degradation, it makes sense to charge a congestion premium or use traffic management techniques, say researchers at the Phoenix Center. When congestion-causing applications degrade the experience of other users, the most efficient traffic management actions would be targeted at applications that cause congestion externalities and not upon all applications generally, say George S. Ford, PhD, Thomas M. Koutsky, Esq.and Lawrence J. Spiwak, Esq., Phoenix Center analysts.

Ironically, service providers tend to do too little to reduce the harmful effects of negative externalities caused by network congestion, they say. So those who argue that the Federal Communications Commission needs to impose prohibitions against network management practices because broadband providers will always be “too aggressive” in clamping down on uses of their network have it precisely backward, the researchers argue.

"It is socially desirable to charge a congestion premium when congestion-causing applications are used on a broadband network," Ford, Koutsky and Spiwak say. That is especially true when the congestion charge targets a particular congestion-causing
application, not blanket "price-per-bit" rules, they argue.

Indeed, if such charges are not targeted, then the price premiums may not achieve their desired purpose, Phoenix Center argues.

The objective of such charges is to attenuate congestion by requiring users of bandwidth-greedy applications to consider more fully the
congestion costs imposed on others.

"The fact that a broadband service provider operator may engage in application-specific traffic management techniques should not necessarily be viewed by a policymaker as evidence of illicit anticompetitive intent, the researchers say.

In fact, congestion is more likely to occur in shared media networks, such as wireless broadband networks, where all users share the common pool of spectrum capacity.

The complexity of this issue indicates that specific, prescriptive rules that ban entire categories of traffic management techniques across all network architectures and topologies can result in sub-optimal outcomes, they say.

"Our focus is upon the presence of congestion externalities: that is, the use of applications by some users that reduce the value of broadband service to other users on the broadband network, without compensation, by causing delays or other service quality problems," the researchers say.

"In the presence of a congestion externality, network management—including, but not limited to, the differential treatment of particular applications—is welfare enhancing," Ford, Koutsky and Spiwak say.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Apple Won't Block VoIP Apps Using Wi-Fi


Mobile Content Habit Grows

Mobile phones for lots more than just talking, especially by Millenials, according to a recent study by the Deloitte Development-Harrison Group.

Nearly 90 percent of 13-to-24-year-old Internet users surveyed said they sent text messages frequently or occasionally.

Slightly more respondents overall said they used their handsets as cameras than said they used them for texting.

The intensity of usage of just about any data-oriented application drops in older demographics, as you might expect.

Ubiquitous Wireless Broadband: New Possibilities

As new WiMAX and 700-MHz broadband networks are built, two different sorts of new user behaviors will emerge. The abiliy users have to access Web-based data and applications anywhere, at any time, over wired and wireless networks, is going to allow business users to rely on network-based applications in a way unthinkable at present.

“Cloud computing” or "network computing" will move applications and data storage away from the desktop or laptop to remote servers accessed using high-speed networks. That's going to change enterprise data center strategies in profound ways.

It will make possible lighter, more portable access devices on the PC side, and might also drive the emergence of even-more-powerful portable devices on the handheld side, as business users start to rely on network-based resources where they now rely on their own hard disc drives.

The other potential development is that the range of consumer behaviors related to wireless broadband data might emerge.

"Our recent research shows that 62 percent of American adults have either accessed the Internet wirelessly or used non-voice data applications, such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, or recording video, with a handheld," says John B. Horrigan, Pew Internet & American Life Project associate director.

On the average day, 42 percent of those with cell phones or other wireless-enabled handhelds use the devices for at least one non-voice data application.

Users in this emerging environment will fall ino at least two different use profiles, Horrigan argues. Mobile business use might start to resemble desktop use. But consumer users might embrace digital content to play games. Today, some think mobile blogging or social networking might emerge as widespread new behaviors.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Apple, RM Battle Shapes Up



Apple took 28 percent share of the fast growing U.S. converged device (smart phone) market in the fourth quarter of 2007, behind Research in Motion’s 41percent, but a long way ahead of third placed Palm at nine percent, say Canalys researchers.

Apple also finished ahead of all Windows Mobile device vendors combined, whose share was 21 percent in the quarter.

Globally, converged device shipments rose 60 percent to hit 115 million in 2007. U.S. sales doubled.

Nokia remained the global market leader, shipping 60.5 million smart phones, while RIM shipments grew 112 percent to 12.2 million.
Globally, Symbian operating system devices had 67 percent share, followed by Microsoft on 13 percent and RIM with 10 percent.

Apple claims that nearly 70 percent of all mobile Internet traffic is generated by iPhone users. Executives at Google, meanwhile, have confirmed the basis thesis: iPhone users surf the Web way beyond anything seen up to this point.

On the other hand, RIM points out that nearly two thirds of its 12 million BlackBerry subscribers in December 2007 were government or corporate customers.

The observation is that as the smart phone market continues to grow rapidly, the dynamics of the U.S. market--as distinct from the global markets--are shaping up, in part, as Apple going "up market" to enterprises and RIM going "down market" to consumers. That's not to dismiss Microsoft-powered or Nokia devices, but simply to illustrate a dynamic.

We have a market likely to take new shape as devices and users expand beyond the original base of "mobile email" addicts. The iPhone has shown there is a new class of user who uses mobile email but also surfs the Web and uses the mobile Internet in ways we haven't seen before. That's going to get designers moving in different directions as the various segments start to emerge. For some users the current iPhone or BlackBerry interfaces still will work. For others, something else might emerge.

Personally, I like the ability to swap SIMs between devices, which iPhone doesn't want me to do. I like to be able to change my own batteries, which iPhone doesn't want me to do. Small things, of course, but real barriers to me getting rid of my BlackBerry. Other choices will have to be made by music or video afficianados.

Friday, March 7, 2008

DirecTV Awaits Satellite Launch

Satellite launches always are dangerous things. But, should the DirecTV 11 broadcast satellite be launched successfully on March 12, DirecTV will be able to provide 150 national high-definition channels and will be capable of supporting spot beams carrying 1,500 local high-definition channels, typically useful for beaming retransmitted local broadcast station signals back into the local markets.

In February 2007 a Zenit-3SL rocket on the Sea Launch platform, the same one DirecTV is using, exploded on the platform. It happens from time to time.

The odds of a Sea Launch satellite launch will fail are about one in 8.5. Of roughly 25 attempts to date, the company has experienced a failure rate of 12 percent. That's no particular slam on Sea Launch. Launch failures have been part of the industry's reality since the beginning.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Enterprise Users Get their iPhone


Starting in June, Apple iPhones will be able to receive push email, calendar and contact information from Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange server. Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft and is building it right into the iPhone, so that iPhone will connect out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007 for secure over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists.

The iPhone 2.0 software provides a configuration utility that allows IT administrators to easily and quickly set up many iPhones, including password policies, VPN setting, installing certificates, email server settings and more.

Once the configuration is defined it can be easily and securely delivered via web link or email to the user. To install, all the user has to do is authenticate with a user ID or password, download the configuration and tap install. Once installed, the user will have access to all their corporate IT services.

Built-in Exchange ActiveSync support also enables security features such as remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery.

The iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption, as well as the ability to authenticate using digital certificates or password-based, multi-factor authentication.

The addition of WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication enables enterprise customers to deploy iPhone and iPod touch with the latest standards for protection of Wi-Fi networks.

Those are features most enterprise information technology managers require before a device is approved for widespread use, and represent a huge potential opportunity for Apple to penetrate enterprise accounts.

Some even think the iPhone is about to become an envied thing: a "platform."

“Think about it," says venture capitalist John Doerr, who has launched a $100 million fund to back iPhone-related application companies. "In your pocket, you have something that's broadband and connected all the time. It's personal. It knows who you are and where you are. That's a big deal. A really big deal. It's bigger than the personal computer."

FCC Says it Will Auction C-Band Spectrum Itself

It looks like C-band spectrum will be auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission, not a group of satellite firms that want to auct...