Saturday, May 31, 2008

Verizon Wireless Data Revenue Up 65% in 2007

Verizon Wireless data revenue is exploding, says Verizon Chief Financial Officer Doreen Toben said Thursday.

Verizon wireless data revenues grew 65 percent in 2007, representing almost one-quarter of service revenues for Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone.

On an annualized basis, first quarter data revenue would reach almost $10 billion, she said, putting Verizon “only at the beginning of explosive growth.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mobile Ad Revenue Bigger than Web Ad Revenue?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says mobile advertising would make more money than advertising on the traditional Web in a few years.

That could be a huge number, though some might question whether the numbers are achievable. Analysts at Piper Jafray, for example, peg U.S. Internet advertising at about $30 billion in 2008.

What isn't clear is whether mobile advertising represents another $30 billion or will augment the growth of PC-based Internet advertising.

Schmidt seems to be the former, not the latter.

Schmidt pointed to reports of staggering mobile internet usage by iPhone users as an indication of the platform's viability and noted that iPhone makes the mobile internet lucrative by equipping users with a good mobile Web browser.

Skyfire Labs in late May raised $13 million in series A venture capital to create a new mobile-optimized browser, which is some indication of thinking that mobile apps are promising. And since advertising is based on monetizing attention, the investment suggests some thinking that a sizable revenue model is available.

The Customer Service Hall of Shame

AOL has the worse ranking among companies with "poor customer service," according to MSN Money's second annual Customer Service Hall of Shame, a ranking of companies with the worst customer service, based on a nationwide survey commissioned by MSN Money and conducted by Zogby International.

Comcast was said to have poor customer service by 42 percent of respondents. Sprint, Qwest, Time Warner CAble and Cox Communications also are on the list of "10 worst" performers.
. .
About 47 percent of people who had an opinion of AOL's customer service said it was "poor." MSN Money writer Karen Aho notes that communications companies and banks that provide complex and at times highly technical products are on the list precisely because those products are so complex.

Still, one has to note that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are not on the list. Without excusing poor performance, consumer customer service is a tough job, hard to do well. As someone who once worked for a system integrator, I can attest that questions sometimes came in that I wasn't sure who was responsible for handling.

I don't think I'd claim we ever did a great job of it. It's tough, dogged work.

In fact, it can be unpleasant work. My wife occasionally gets calls from angry consumers who have a right to be angry, and all she can do is direct them to a department that probably was responsible for the unresponsive behavior in the first place. She knows the service "sucks." But large organizations that really don't care tend not to fix those sorts of problems.

In fairness, all big companies struggle with customer service, for good reasons. It's hard to do well, especially when the average size of any single account isn't large enough to devote as much support as one probably should provide.

Still, one notes that some names did not appear on the list. As tough as it is, customer service is better at some companies than at others. As a personal aside, I'm not sure I can agree with poll respondents who say Qwest customer service is poor. That hasn't been my personal experience at all.

In fairness, though, my contact with Qwest is as a business customer, and business customers get better service.

For the survey, conducted online in March, Zogby asked more than 7,000 people across the country to rate their customer experiences with 140 leading companies in 14 industries, including airlines, hotels, insurance companies and big-box stores such as Wal-Mart. Respondents could answer "excellent," "good," "fair," "poor," "not familiar" or "not sure."

The companies in the Hall of Shame were ranked by the percentage of people familiar with a company who answered "poor."

Economy Changes Shopping Behavior

Vertis Communications Vertis Communications says U.S. adult consumers might be changing their physical world and online shopping habits in response to economic conditions.

One might expect further adjustments as higher gas prices start to change behavior as well.

Some 64 percent of consumers say they are shopping closer to home. About 59 percent are combining trips while 51 percent say they are cutting back on luxury items.

About 40 percent say they are making fewer purchases of $100 or more.

About 36 percent buy larger quantities of staples when they shop.

About a quarter are doing more research before buying and 13 percent say they are buying more online, perhaps to save money, perhaps to save gas.

in the US in January and found that 13% of respondents actually planned to buy more goods online as a result of current economic conditions.

Social Media, Text, Email Advertising Up Next 3 Years

More than three-quarters of marketers surveyed by Eloqua say they will increase their social media spending during the next three years. A full 74 percent said they plan to increase their direct email spending while about two thirds will spend more on mobile texting and SMS.

Respondents were bullish on online ad spending overall, with nine out of 10 saying they would continue to increase their direct online ad budgets.

The spending increases are likely to come at the expense of print ads, since 55 percent of respondents say they will probably decrease print ad spending in the next three years.

Bresnan Wins Huge Contract: Proves Thesis

Many executives in the competitive local exchange carrier industry do not believe cable operators will achieve much success in the commercial markets, aside from the very-small business that requires as many as eight voice lines and not much more.

Those executives include some of the most-successful, best-respected CLEC operators in the business. But they still might be wrong.

The State of Montana Information Technology Services Division and the Montana University system has selected Bresnan Communications as a provider of statewide data transport services for Montana’s state agencies, local governments, universities and schools.

We are talking about a network with 568 locations, serving 23 different government agencies, 14 college campuses, 40 local government entities and courthouses.

I've maintained for some time that cable operators would prove in their commercial organization in the very-small business space before beginning to move up the value chain. Bresnan's win proves they can do it.

Tell Telecom Regulators How to Make the Internet Better

Sound off. Let government regulators know “How can the Internet make the world a better place?” Post your comments at

YouTube users can share their opinion with the leaders and opinion shapers attending the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development "future of the Internet" meeting in Seoul, Korea on 17-18 June 2008.

The best videos uploaded to will be shown to ministers and VIPs at the event. They will be invited to react as well and their answers will be uploaded on YouTube during the meeting.

In Seoul, all participants, including government ministers from more than 40 countries and hundreds of global leaders from international government organisations, business, the Internet's technical community and civil society, will be encouraged to submit their own answers at a dedicated YouTube booth on site.

Global Bandwidth Consumption Grows 63% in 2007

International bandwidth grew 63 percent in 2007, which just about matches the 50 percent annual growth in bandwidth use reported by SureWest Communications, an independent telco, as well as other broadband access providers.

For buyers of global bandwidth, it appears aggregate prices were "stable," as industry watchers note, meaning a decline of 10 percent or in some cases 20 percent on capacity prices. Global bandwidth, especially on well-supplied routes, tends to decline over time as buyers consume more optical products that offer lower price-per-megabit ratios.

However, prices are opaque, and pace of price changes varies dramatically—by route, by service provider, and by bandwidth product, TeleGeography notes. There can be quite a lot of price variation even on a single route, and for a single product, as these prices for London to Paris indicate.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mobile Social Networking Forecast

In-Stat forecasts over 229.5 million mobile subscribers globally could be using mobile social networking services by 2012. Blogging, photo and video sharing, location-based socialization services, games, SMS, and IM will eventually be combined to afford the mobile user the entire social networking experience from a handset application, In-Stat says.

Carriers will benefit from wider use of data plans, to be sure. But the more important insight probably is that the handset becomes the focus of attachment. The mobile handset will simply become an extension of the user in most aspects of life, In-Stat argues. If so, carrier brands will be less important than the handset brands.

"The critical issue most mobile social networking site and application developers struggle with is how to make money with their services," says Jill Meyers, In-Stat analyst. "There are three primary methods of revenue generation for mobile social networking applications- advertising, subscription services, and premium upgrades."

Little of that potential revenue is available directly to network service providers, though. And it remains unclear whether social networking actually is the foundation for a revenue stream or simply a really important feature.

Digital Savvy Dangers

Research from Scarborough Research shows that early adopters are different from other consumers. "Digital savvy" consumers use more technology and have more money, than the typical mass market consumer.

Cable operators never make the mistake of getting hung up worrying about early adopters. Everything they do is tuned for the average consumer, the sort of "other side of the chasm" customer technologists have to learn to deal with to achieve real mass market success.

It is important to note what sorts of experiences are getting traction, of course. It's just a different matter to tailor those experiences for the great mass of consumers who will not put up with much inconvenience when using new applications and services.

Lots of entrepreneurs fail when they don't clearly understand the differences between the bleeding edge early adopters and the real mass market.

Email Still Tops for Adult Consumers

Two-thirds of adult respondents said they preferred e-mail for communicating with businesses, say researchers at Ipsos.

Just as many—and this might be the important part—say they expected to continue preferring email five years from now.

The issue is how other younger age cohorts will adapt to the email-centric culture prevalent in business. One suggests they'll adapt quickly, even as they push for use of additional tools.

TiVo to Rent Disney Movies

TiVo says its subscribers will soon be able to rent Disney movies through their DVRs, as part of a service offered in conjunction with CinemaNow, NewTeeVee reports.

Content will be offered in both standard and high definition and will be available for a 24-hour rental period.

"Large" Suite Does the Job

Not all of us enjoy messing around with technology; backing up files, restoring software, tweaking application settings, defragmenting our hard drives and so forth. In that regard, I ran a scan using Large Software's "PC Tune-Up" suite on my XP machine.

The Suite quickly found about 504 problems, most of them said to be "serious" or "moderately serious." The dashboard information was clear, intuitive and the scan seemed to run faster than I recall other similar suites operating. Again, this was not a controlled test, so I can't speak to how other programs might have performed.

I will say the application executed much faster than I was expecting, especially in the defragmentation phase of the tune-up.

As service providers look to avoid "dumb pipe" status, supplying enterprise, peformance optimization would seem a logical place to extend the range of services such as anti-virus, firewall and anti-spam functions many Internet service providers now supply as an integral part of the access service.

The other thing is that some services are more "logical" parts of service bundles. An enriched software experience that improves Web and Internet performance probably will be seen by users as a logical extension of basic access.

Also, as the actual user experience migrates beyond a service provider network interface (a router in a small business setting, IP phones in an enterprise or mid-sized business setting or the PC in a consumer application, service providers of necessity will be seen as the "entity to call" when something isn't functioning properly.

If you can't avoid the calls to your customer service center, you might as well extend service and support to the actual end user device. Most of us by now have discovered the "dueling applications" problem when loading any new software. A hosted approach should eliminate that problem.

That's not to say I experienced a single issue using the downloaded version of the software. Set-up was completely uneventful and the application executed better than I expected. The observation is simply that distribution as part of a bundled "access" service would make sense.

Lots of us just want to do things. We don't want to be system administrators. This should help.

Average Capacity Prices Dropped 10 to 20% in 2007

The average price of wholesale circuits in most major markets dipped 10 to 20 percent in 2007, according to TeleGeography. For many, that would be considered price stability.

As price declines have moderated, international bandwidth demand has remained strong, growing at a compounded annual rate of 52 percent over the past five years, TeleGeography adds.

But revenue growth remains elusive for many wholesale network operators, the company says. A key reason lies in bandwidth buyers' changing purchase patterns: they simply are substituting bigger pipes for smaller pipes, paying more money in aggregate but at lower prices per megabit per second of capacity.

Companies that may have purchased a few 155 Mbps STM-1/OC-3 circuits five years ago are now opting for 2.5 Gbps or 10 Gbps wavelengths. These large circuits are far cheaper in terms of the price per Mbps of capacity than the smaller circuits.

"The effective price per megabit per second of capacity sold is falling a lot faster than nominal circuit prices, themselves," says TeleGeography Research Director Robert Schult. "Carriers need to sell ever larger volumes just to maintain stable revenues."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Which Devices Will Drive Mobile Web?

Given a choice between believing what people say they will do and evidence of what they have done, I've always found it is more helpful to believe what they have done is a better predictor of what they will do in the future.

So consider a bit of survey data which seems to have the ring of authenticity and some purchase behavior that might bear on the development of mobile Web devices.

The clear winner in an In-Stat survey of U.S. consumers about preferred mobile Web devices is the smart phone, the research firm says. Nearly half of the respondents said they preferred the smart phone as a mobile Internet device.

Fewer than 10 percent indicated a preference for the capabilities of mobile Internet devices, such as an ultra-mobile PC or a mobile Internet device. In some ways that simply makes sense. The mobile device most people carry is a mobile phone. Given the ability to add Web access from that device, one would expect most people to say that is the preferred, "use every day and everywhere" device.

The issue is that consumers rarely if ever provide decent input on applications or devices they have not seen or used. Survey responses would seem to carry an awful lot of that sort of data.

About one quarter of users like the idea of the ultra-mobile PC as long as it does not involve sacrificing the capabilities of a full-function laptop. But few users have them, at least so far.

Those showing an interest in MIDs were unclear about how they would use these devices or where to buy them. Again, there is a lack of awareness and experience with such devices, which make the feedback less useful.

The main objection for non-users of mobile data technology in general, and smart phones in particular, is that users are skeptical of the benefits of mobile data and view it as a “luxury.”

On the other hand, there is data gathered from Finland mobile operators suggesting very strongly that it is in fact PCs that drive most of the mobile data traffic.

It might be that today's mobile Web users primarily are users with characteristics different from the ultimate base of mobile Web users. That might be the case for 3G data card users and iPhone users, for example.

The point simply is that we won't know what users actually will do until they have ample chance to see and use mobile devices capable of using the Web. There is ample evidence that iPhone users have mobile Web usage profiles astoundingly different from users of other Internet-capable mobile devices.

Enterprise VoIP Winners

Pike and Fischer analysts predict that AT&T, Verizon and Qwest will capture the biggest share of large enterprises as VoIP customers, but will face competition in the SMB space from a variety of new entrants.

The big issue is whether the former RBOCs also will have the same success in the consumer market, despite early dominance by cable operators.

This analyst thinks they will.

Microsoft Expects 50% Mobile Software Growth

Web 2.0: Features, Not Business Models?

Lots of valuable features do not provide a foundation for fleshed-out business model, many Web 2.0 entrpreneurs seem to be finding.

The shortage of revenue among social networks, blogs and other “social media” sites that put user-generated content and communications at their core has persisted despite more than four years of experimentation aimed at turning such sites into money-makers, the Financial Times reports.

“There is going to be a shake-out here in the next year or two” as many Web 2.0 companies disappear, says Roger Lee, a partner at Battery Ventures. That's just part of the innovation process, as you know if you were part of the Web 1.0 boom of the late-1990s.

But features often are an important and long-lasting effect, even when completely new business models are not built. Email arguably hasn't created a stand-alone business model, for the most part, yet it has radically changed user behavior and expectations.

Social networking appears to be one of the lasting fruits of the current Web 2.0 wave, no matter what happens with most of the companies attempting to make a business out of it.

U.K. Rural PC Penetration Tops Urban

It appears that U.K. PC use in rural areas, use of Internet access and broadband access rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas, U.K. regulator Ofcom reports.

Some will note that unbundling of access loops is at 100 percent in the U.K. market. What that effectively means is that every potential customer has access to broadband, eliminating uptake differentials limited by physical unavailability.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Get 'Em in the Gate, They'll Spend in the Park

Six Flags says spending by customers inside its theme parks increased 13 percent over prior quarters, in the fourth quarter of 2007, the first quarter of 2008 and the first two months of the second quarter.

With just about everybody now skittish about the impact of economic sluggishness on consumer spending, that's not only reassuring for Six Flags, but a metaphor for what service providers might consider as well.

"Getting people inside the park" in that case means creating and sustaining a relationship, with virtually any single service. Once that is done, there is an opportunity to sell other things. In Six Flags' case that is food, beverages and souvenirs.

For service providers, it is an array of other services, applications or usage upon which partner revenue streams can be created. An entirely new "targeted" advertising business might be created on the back of widespread "video on demand" or "content on demand" offerings, for example.

It isn't yet clear how current charging mechanisms might change, and there is lots of standardization work to be done so potential advertisers can buy what they want conveniently. Not to mention the "danger" that Google and other application providers get there first.

Still, the analogy, though imperfect, is instructive.

42 Mbps iPhone?

An unnamed Telstra executive tells Australia-based ChannelNews that the Telstra version of the Apple iPhone will run at download speeds as high as 42 Mbps.

"We know what is coming we have seen the new device and it will be available on our network as soon as it is launched in the USA," the executive is reported as promising. "By Christmas this phone will be capable of 42 Mbps which will make it faster than a lot of broadband offerings and the fastest iPhone on any network in the world."

Whether fully correct in all details or not is less important than the ultimate reality of the claim. Wireless providers indeed are readying networks that will run that fast, and faster in the future.

Mobile devices capable of communicating that fast might not be as disruptive as mobile voice threatens tethered voice in some markets.

The larger issue is that once mobile broadband connections run that fast, and ultimately faster, some percentage of single-household users might well find mobile broadband a suitable replacement for fixed connections.

My gut level expectation, though, would be that most mobile broadband connections will supplement rather than supplant fixed broadband. There simply are too many other interesting reasons to maintain a fixed broadband connection.

Mobile voice does not suffer from form factor issues that make it a convenient replacement for tethered voice, for example.

Mobile broadband might cannibalize fixed broadband in some cases, but logically as a substitute for PC connections.

An iPhone operating that fast will enable sessions that largely are supplemental to fixed broadband.

SureWest: Broadband Exceeds Telecom

Make no mistake: transforming a legacy "telco" into a "broadband" company is tough, expensive, often-slow work. But SureWest Communications, for the first time, now makes more money from broadband revenues than from traditional telecom segment revenues.

A couple of observations. SureWest lumps its out-of-region services in the "broadband" category, so the growth is not all in-region broadband access connections and video, though both are growing.

Still, the milestone is important. SureWest is in some ways a "classic" smaller, independent "telco." But it has invested heavily in fiber-to-home networks based on Ethernet standards and IPTV. It has no mobile assets and has "bet the farm" on broadband.

But the strategic implications are impotant. It has gone "out of region" in an important way. Most smaller entities, as well as tier one providers, now find that out-of-region growth is crucial.

Also, business customer revenues are important. Over time, as it faces heightened competition from cable companies in the consumer space, SureWest has found business customers a more important customer segment.

That will be true for most smaller providers that cannot rely on mobility or mobile broadband to fuel growth.

Will Millennials Use Email?

Email is not going away, isn’t dead, and won’t be dead for a long time, says Media Post's Loren McDonald. The statement might seem odd, except it occurs after a panel of college-age Internet users at the Email Insider Summit.

One of the difficulties, when trying to predict how enterprise communicatons might change as Millennials enter the workforce, is precisely the fact that most of them are not in the active, full-time workforce.

Just as a "lone eagle" professional does not need a full enterprise-grade, premises-based phone system, so a college student has no need for one either. So it is hard to extrapolate from one stage of life pursuits to another than requires collaboration with other people in an existing social ecosystem, with established rules for communicating.

Today, the commonplace and accurate observation is that instant messaging and text messaging are preferred over email. But pre-workforce users will change as their life circumstances change.

That doesn't mean "nothing important will change." At a minimum, Millennials will retain the IM and texting habit for purely "personal" communications, even if they get used to email for business-related communications.

Beyond that, the additional implications are hard to predict.

Viacom CEO: No Way to Tell What Will Work

”We come at Joost or other platforms from the point of view that we cannot predict, nor did we in that case or any other case, predict which ones are going to be hugely successful, moderately successful, which won’t work," Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman says, reported by according to co-founder Staci Kramer.

“This is an age of experimentation," Dauman says. "Some models that sound great don’t work that well."

A reasonable approximation of just about every new application, or major change in use of an existing application, don't you think?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SaaS: Aggressive Mid-Market Adoption

A recent Saugatuck Research worldwide survey of enterprise executives finds continued, strong growth in the adoption and deployment of software-as-a-service (SaaS).

According to the latest data, mid-sized firms are the most aggressive, and most satisfied, SaaS users.

Overall, the research indicates that nearly 40 percent of companies across all size categories will have adopted at least one SaaS application by year-end 2008.

Saugatuck believes that the number of firms that are likely to completely avoid SaaS is likely to drop to less than 5 percent within 3 years.

By 2012, 70 percent or more of businesses with greater than 100 employees (worldwide) will have deployed at least one SaaS application.

Interestingly, the largest of firms (with greater than 5,000 employees) appear to have gone through the most significant learning-curve – as they seek to understand how SaaS (as well as Open Source) will become fully interwoven into the fabric of enterprise architecture. In fact, only two years ago, our research indicated significant resistance to SaaS among large-company CIOs – but our most recent research indicates that only 4 percent of companies with greater than 5,000 employees are planning not to deploy SaaS.

This is a significant change – and shows how SaaS will reach into the largest of companies, as well as small-to-mid size enterprises.

Executives at mid-sized firms indicate greater familiarity with SaaS than executives at other sizes of firms. Firms with between 100 and 499 employees showed by far the greatest familiarity with SaaS (86 percent – "familiar", "very familiar", or "extremely familiar") – 5 percent to 20 percent higher than all other company sizes.

A greater percentage of mid-sized firms are using or planning to use SaaS. Forty five (45) percent of firms with between 100 and 499 employees are using or expanding their use of SaaS by year-end 2008.

The next-closest group, "Large" firms with between 1000 and 4999 employees, showed 43 percent either using, planning to use or expanding their SaaS usage by year end 2008. 

While satisfaction with SaaS solutions is very high across all sizes of customer firms, executives at mid-sized firms show higher satisfaction with their current SaaS solutions than do executives at other sized firms.

And that high satisfaction includes more areas of SaaS than with either Small or Large firms. Amazingly, 95 percent of executives at firms that we surveyed with 100 to 499 employees (representing almost 25 percent of our sample) indicated they were "satisfied" with their overall SaaS experience – with the average of all firms registering a whopping 84 percent satisfaction rate.

Saugatek defines "Small" companies as those with less than 100 employees.
Mid-sized firms are those with 100 to 999 employees.

Large firms are those with 1,000 or more employees.

New Zealand Tries to Earmark $252 Million for "Open Access" Broadband

The New Zealand government has proposed creating a Broadband Infrastructure Fund of NZD325 million (USD251.6 million), to be spent over five years. NZD250 million would be earmarked for fiber and other high speed open-access networks in urban areas, and the remaining NZD75 million would help fund broadband infrastructure in rural areas.

Applications would be taken August 2008, with the first decisions on projects made in June 2009.

The urban grants require a match from the applicant. The rural fund would have ‘less onerous’ application criteria.

It normally is perilous to compare countries too closely in the area of what works and why. Loop lengths, density, geographic size, household size, demographics, taxation policies, prices, terms and conditions, government policies and any number of other factors condition the success of particular applications and services.

In the U.K., for example, cable has not emerged as such a powerful competitor in triple play markets for the simple reason that satellite-delivered video is so dominant there. Also, robust wholesale unbundling of copper access loops encourage competitors to lease capacity from BT rather than wasting time and money building facilities.

Still, one wonders how successful the New Zealand plan might be. Open access networks in the sense of robust wholesale have not worked all that well in the U.S. market, though one can point to Western Europe as a place where access to the incumbent access facilities has worked.

And where it has been successful, open access appears to have worked best on incumbent, rather than competitive networks. Sheer payback issues might suggest why. An incumbent almost always has written down the value of the copper assets, so a business can be made on lower-priced wholesale loop rentals.

A brand-new network has to recover the full cost of new construction, again using the lower-priced wholesale revenue model. Huge volume makes a difference, but huge volume is tough to get.

Some executives speculate that wholesale networks sometimes attract competitors with little operational knowledge of voice, data, networking or video. Those contestants often are underfunded and ill-equipped for the long term tasks of providing a high-quality service to mass market customers, with the almost-inevitable result that high initial take rates are followed by high customer churn in a year or two when quality issues have surfaced.

Hopefully, the New Zealand initiative will operate in some like manner to rural telecom subsidizes in the U.S. market, essentially helping defray high capital investment costs. Subsidizing insufficient demand, on the other hand, will doom the projects before they begin.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Half of Legacy Services Scheduled for Replacement

Legacy services (frame relay, leased line, and ATM) still are in use in over half of the U.S. organizations within four vertical segments (professional services, finance, insurance, healthcare, and government) surveyed recently by In-Stat researchers.

Over 50 percent of these current legacy services users are migrating, or plan to migrate, some or all of these services to other services, such as IP/MPLS and Ethernet, In-Stat says.

That's what one calls being "past the tipping point." Ethernet and IP are not the "protocols of tomorrow." Very soon, they will be the "legacy" or "mainstream" protocols.

Euro Telcos: Managed LAN Contracts Up

Looking at 177 major enterprise deals signed by European telcos in the second half of 2007, Forrester Research analyst Phil Sayer finds a dramatic increase was in managed local area network services, from seven percent in the first half of the year up to to 13 percent in the second half.

That doesn't necessarily mean desktops. There was a big drop in the number of deals including desktop services.

The the most unexpected trend, Sayer says, was the reduction in the number of deals including managed audio and video conferencing.

Managed audio and video services were present in only one percent of deals, compared with four percent in the first half of the year.

The percentage of converged deals, those with both telecom and an IT services component, was up from 22 percent to 27 percent.

The number of deals was up significantly from the 120 signed in the first half of the year.

The total contract value fell to €2.1 billion, down from €2.6 billion in the previous half-year, because the average deal size shrank, the number of small contracts increased, and there was a big drop in the number of "megadeals".

Large telcos have more than dabbled in the managed IT services arena for some years, with mixed success. Going forward, though, there is little doubt that they will have to do better in that regard. Volume-wise, more business in the consumer segment is going to be taken by cable companies and other mass market specialists.

In the SME space, small specialist firms will continue to compete effectively based on "local touch" and "local presence." But large tier one providers will continue to have the best position in global deals needed by large trans-national businesses.

As all communications and computing-based applications reach further towards the actual end user devices, more control and management is needed. So tier one providers have no choice but to reach past the traditional points of demarcation and support applications and software running on all sorts of end user devices.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Do You Need Linear TV?

"I think the Netflix Player proves all the essential concepts," says New York Times technology writer Saul Hansell. "If a TV, with a handful of extra chips, can provide an experience as satisfying as the Netflix Player can, why do we need any other form of video distribution?"

That indeed is an important question which ultimately will be decided by content owners and users, not distributors, with all due respect. If users decide they want to watch streaming media delivered over broadband and sent to the TV, and if a suitable revenue model can be devised, content providers are going to support the business model.

But don't discount traditional packaging partners. Program networks (packagers) historically have been effective at creating "appointment" TV or "big event" hype to drive audiences to content as a shared experience. They've proven effective brand creators as well.

It remains to be seen if they will continue to be as effective in a world when the while idea of "scheduled" viewing is in greater disfavor. But don't discount their ability to master whatever techniques are required to sustain linear viewing models.

There is a difference between turning on a television or other display to watch a specific piece of content, and turning on a TV just to "watch TV." Linear television isn't so helpful in the former case, but works pretty well in the latter case.

In the latter case, a packaged "channel" offers a fairly clear guide to what sort of content might be on at any given moment. For somebody who is not actively looking for a specfic program, but simply "something to watch," linear video and "brands" are fairly effective shortcuts.

Still, the Netflix Player seems to be simple enough to use, and reasonably enough priced, to get traction at this point in time. The Player is no immediate threat to traditional cable operators, satellite distributors, networks or telco video providers. Changes of this sort always take a while to get going.

So far, though, the simplicity, low cost, ease of porting to a TV display and access to free content arguably are better than any earlier approaches.

Nortel Adds Web 2.0 Software

Nortel's new Adaptive Application Engine software, built around Session Initiation Protocol, allows Nortel customers to create Web 2.0 applications like social networking, blogs, and wikis with IP voice and multimedia.

Operators can choose to run the software on hundreds of Red Hat Enterprise Linux compliant servers.

The Adaptive Application Engine software provides an open programmability environment and web service Application Program Interfaces which allow third-party software developers to easily develop new applications which use call routing, presence and federated IM.

The software is designed to support both smaller service providers as well as tier one providers as well.

The Adaptive Application Engine software can be deployed as a SIP Application Server, as an IMS application server or as advanced capabilities on the Communication Server 2000.

Nortel says the new software will allow service providers to create unified communications services, federated instant messaging and IP communications integrated with Web applications.

The software also supports features such as using TVs to control calls or send instant messages.

The software also will allow service providers to create fixed mobile convergence services such as making mobile phones into office extensions and allowing calls to be moved back and forth across tethered and mobile devices.

Nortel is first among the large traditional switch vendors to make such tools available as a "bolt on" to its existing architecture. Depending on how the software is received, it could be an important step for service providers on the Nortel platform.

Up to this point there has been some skepticism that smaller service providers, in particular, would be able to create these sorts of applications on their own. The software is half the solution. Now Nortel has to pull together a developer community and make those apps available to its customers.

Digital to Analog Conversion: Why Cable Does It

Since most of the world's electronic entertainment and communication is moving from analog to digital, you might wonder why anybody would want to go the other way: take digital content and change it back to analog.

Well, as typically is the case in the networks business, there is a simple business reason for wanting to undertake an operation that might not make so much immediate sense.

Cable executives can save some money on digital converter boxes if they can supply simple tiers of popular programming to analog TVs without the need for a box. That might apply to second and other sets, for example, or to some customers who want basic services.

The other angle is that some percentage of the customer base might prefer simple analog-only service. And if all the other providers require digital decoders, cable might have an advantage.

Thomson has introduced a simple box the company said will cost less than $40 and allow delivery of 20 to perhaps 40 channels of analog service.

At the same time, such decoders will allow cable operators to migrate their networks to all-digital operation, allowing analog tiers to be offered to customers who want them.

Comcast has announced that it will rely on such converters to convert 20 percent of its systems to all-digital operation in the fourth quarter.

Cisco Systems, Motorola and Pace Micro Technology also have versions of the decoder.

It's a good thing to let the business case drive the technology. And this is an example of that.

VoIP License Shipments Dip in First Quarter

In the first quarter 2008, vendors shipped a total of about 7.9 million VoIP subscriber feature server licenses for deployment in service provider networks, say analysts at iLocus.

The number of lines is down by 19 percent quarter over quarter, though the analysts note that the third and fourth quarters of 2007 were marked by unusually high growth, so the sequential comparisons would be more difficult than is typical.

In the first quarter, Nokia Siemens Networks led the VoIP subscriber lines equipment market on a worldwide basis with a market share of 19.8 percent. That lead is followed by Italtel at number two and Cisco at number three worldwide.

Business Centrex lines account for over 1.03 million of the licenses. The remaining 6.87 million were mainly deployed for residential voice over broadband apps or switch replacement.

Analysts at iLocus caution that they do not track IP upgrades to TDM ports. They do track VoIP hosted telephony implementations (such as hosted PBX and VoBB), new greenfield VoIP deployments, complete replacement of legacy switches with VoIP, and extension of existing legacy networks with VoIP equipment in new geographies.

Netflix Enters Streaming Business

Netflix now is in the streaming business. A new "content to the TV" box made by Roku will allow subscribers to stream an unlimited number of movies and television shows directly to televisions.

The device costs $99. The video content is free to anyone with a Netflix subscription of $8.99 a month or more. Most of the video content will consist of older material, rather than new releases, though.

Carrier Ethernet Scorecard

More than 80 service providers are delivering retail carrier Ethernet services to business customers in the United States, say analysts at Vertical Systems Group.

Services range from Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) to Ethernet Private Lines to VPLS (Virtual Private LAN Service).   

Incumbents, including market leaders AT&T and Verizon, deliver nearly half (46%) of all business customer Ethernet ports installed in the U.S. 

Another one third of the total (34%) is supplied by competitive providers, with Time Warner Telecom and Cogent topping this segment.

Cable MSOs have the smallest base overall (20%), however this is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Business Ethernet services market based on ports.

Cox and Time Warner Cable currently lead in the Cable MSO segment.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Femtocells, Wi-Fi, or All of the Above?

Though Wi-Fi remains the clear home-based wireless networking technology, mobile providers also are experimenting with UMA and femtocell techniques. But Aruba Networks suggests the ultimate solution might bit of "all of the above," as often happens in the communications business.

Those discussions, likely to become more pronounced as service providers grapple with their fixed-mobile convergence strategies, will require some choices.

Wi-Fi has high production volumes, low prices and good consumer acceptance. Femtocell technologies currently must climb an experience curve to provide reasonable consumer device prices, and sort through some business model issues, Aruba argues.

Wi-Fi already has a significant network effect, so mobile operators must choose whether to leverage Wi-Fi or use femtocells.

Mobile operators have the advantages of macro-cell coverage and phone numbers, so Aruba suggests a hybrid approach using both Wi-Fi and femtocell technologies.

A simple device might combine a Wi-Fi access point and femtocell, or possibly a digital subscriber line connection as well.

Microsoft Sees Big Future for Hosted Enterprise Email

Microsoft Corp. sees tens of millions of corporate e-mail accounts moving to its data centers over the next five years, Reuters news service reports. Consider that a vote in favor of "cloud computing" and hosted services.

Chris Capossela, Microsoft SVP, says he expects Microsoft to allow enterprises to choose between the more-traditional licensing model and a subscription-based service.

Exchange Online, the service offering for its Exchange mail and messaging server software, will be the primary application adopted by corporate customers, Capossela believes.

"In five years, 50 percent of our Exchange mailboxes will be Exchange Online," he predicts. Small-business specialist Cbeyond probably would agree. In its Atlanta market, its oldest market, Cbeyond is seeing 40 percent penetration of the hosted Exchange service it offers to small business customers.

According to research firm Radicati, Exchange will run about 210 million corporate e-mail accounts in 2008, growing to 319 million mailboxes in 2012.

16.3 Million Consumer VoIP Lines in Service

By the first quarter of 2008, 16.3 million consumer VoIP lines were in service, representing 13.8 percent of all U.S. households, and 27 percent of broadband households, say researchers at TeleGeography.

Those customers--80 percent or so--largely but not exclusively have been gained by cable companies, at the expense of the incumbent local telephone companies.

Since the start of 2005, the RBOCs have lost 17.3 million residential telephone lines, while VoIP service providers have gained 14.4 million new customers.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

User-Surly Web Sites

Most Web sites are fairly user friendly these days. But every once in a while you encounter a site designed by people who seem to have no idea why people come to a site, and how they use them.

37 Signals notes a site where six different kinds of shoes were found in a “performance” category. When 40 uninvolved people were asked what “performance” meant to them, only 10 had even a vague idea.

Use "paths" when designing, 37 Signals says. "A path is a line that goes from a starting point A to an accomplishment B." That's what users want. That’s a path. "Where are your golf shoes?" is a path.

"Does my cell phone support international calling?" That’s a path as well.

"Collect all the paths you can think of in a pile, pull out the 8 paths that 80 percent of your visitors come looking for, and that’s your home page.

Blog Readership 67% of Internet Users by 2012

Blogs are a new form of media, but they are "media." The number of people creating blogs in the United States will reach over 35 million by 2012, roughly 16 percent of the Internet population, according to eMarketer. But as is the case for most forms of user-generated content, most people are content to watch, listen or read, rather than creating content themselves.

By 2012, more than 145 million people, 67 percent of the U.S. Internet population, will be reading blogs at least once a month. That is up from a readership of 94 million in 2007, or 50 percent of Internet users.

Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst, says "U.S. blog advertising will reach $746 million in 2012, up from $283 million in 2007."

Like podcasts, blogs tend to appeal to specific audiences. Accordingly, much of the demographic targeting that marketers work so hard to achieve in the mainstream media is already done for them.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

U.S. Wireless Data $24.5 Billion in 2007

U.S. wireless customers spent $24.5 billion on data services in 2007, with usage growing 55 percent, says consultant Chetan Sharma.

Growth increased steadily through the year, with fourth-quarter 2007 data services revenues hitting $6.9B. At current rates, the only question is how much above $28 billion will be spent in 2008.

Fourth quarter data revenue was up 7.8 percent sequentially. Average revenue per user .declined by $0.81 and reversed the trend of overall ARPU uptick of the last two quarters, though.

Average voice ARPU declined by almost $1.50 while average data ARPU inched up by $0.68, Sharma says.

Verizon and AT&T grew annual data revenue 64 percent. Overall, the top carriers earn about 19.34 percent of total revenue.

Non-messaging data revenues continue to be in the 50 to 60 percent range of toal data revenues.

MID Movement Good for 4G

Asustek Computer will launch its Atom-based 8.9-inch Eee PC 901 in June 2008. Hewlett-Packard recently launched a Windows XP version of its Mini-Note 2133. Dell is said to be readying its own version of a mini-notebook. Given the popularity of Linux-based Eee devices, and the addition of XP-powered machines, a class of devices--"mobile Internet devices"--is being seeded into the market that are precisely the sort of new mobile-centric machines fourth-generation networks are poised to serve.

Chatter: Best Buy Buying Netflix?

It's just one of those rumors that pop up, possibly because an investment bank thinks it can drum up some business by convincing a company executive a deal makes sense. But there's chatter, says Henry Blodget, that Best Buy is looking at buying Netflix. Some investors think there might be fire where there's smoke, and pushed share of Netflix up six percent on higher volume May 16, 2008.

Given that Blockbuster is being persued by Circuit City, what gives? The logic behind each transaction is that a tighter integration of software and hardware is good for both businesses. Sony, with a mixed track record, used precisely that logic to get into the studio business. And Apple uses a similar approach for iTunes.

The issue, perhaps, is whether there is enough ability to integrate on-demand video and DVD rentals and sales with the rest of the consumer electronics retail business. That might be hard to envision.

Still, each retailer, like Wal-Mart and Target, already is in the video content sales business. Software drives hardware purchases; and hardware purchases create the demand for software sales.

But mergers, in either combination, might not be the most-efficient way to create additional value. Either Blockbuster or Circuit City could sell subscriptions, provide kiosk support or otherwise heighten its software profile without actually buying a partner.

Still, the rumor does point out the increasing retail involvement in on-demand, time-shifted video. VCRs, DVDs, iTunes players and video-compatible mobile devices all are ways consumers "watch what they want, when they want it."

And since major mass market retailers are customer touchpoints for the hardware and software sides of those experiences, move movement, if not these particular deals, will occur.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Summer 2008 Voice Peering Forum Commercial

The next meeting is in San Francisco, June 23-24 at the Hotel Nikko. It will feature the most-extensive speaker line-up ever and will feature the biggest attendance ever

“From a bottom line business perspective, Voice Peering Forum Winter 2007 was hands down the most productive conference I attended last year." said Patrick Murphy, COO, The Thomas Howe Company, a leading professional services firm focusing on voice mashups and communications enabled business processes, and is widely recognized as one of the most influential firms in VoIP.

"The voice over IP market is booming, the Voice Peering Forums provide us with a great opportunity to discuss the different topics with a right set of players in a good size and focused environment." commented Carlos Da Silva, Director of Marketing Americas, Orange international wholesale solutions.

IPTV: Why Verizon is in No Hurry

For many telcos, IPTV makes sense as a delivery platform or transmission mechanism as much as anything else. Sure, IPTV offers more "hooks" to advanced services integrated with content. But the revenue battle now is over linear TV services that compete with cable and satellite-delivered fare, and that means the choice of "switched" IPTV, instead of a broadband digital delivery method (all linear channels delivered digitally) isn't perhaps as critical.

For Verizon, which has been its video using a method that is closer to cable TV than anything else, linear offerings seem to be fine for the moment. That's where the money is.

Even operators that have chosen an IPTV solution for its bandwidth efficiency still are making their money on the linear video service, not the new features.

Clearwire "Time to Cash Flow" Issues

Some observers continue to worry about Clearwire's prospects from a financial, rather than operational standpoint. At the very least, there remains an underfunded business plan. Clearwire says it is $2 billion or so. Assume Clearwire is correct. That money still remains to be raised.

On the operational front, early 60 percent of domestic markets are EBITDA positive. Of course, any veteran of the competitive communications business will understand what that means and doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean Clearwire is making a profit in those markets. New national networks, even of the more-affordable wireless sort, are hugely expensive. Cash flow is important, though, and a reasonable measure of progress.

The issue is that nobody builds a new broadband network these days expecting to survive offering a single service, no matter how compelling. Multi-service bundles are the necessary requirement when penetration levels are expected to be modest, so VoIP is getting more attention these days over at Clearwire.

The issue will be whether Clearwire can garner enough revenue operating essentially as a "3G with voice" operation or "broadband with VoIP" business until the next wave of applications and devices start to get traction.

Some of that Clearwire can influence, but not all. If I had to guess, I'd bet that robust wholesale services ultimately will make the difference.

LTE for Alltel

Scott T. Ford, Alltel CEO, says the company, which currently runs a wireless network based on CDMA, will migrate to Long Term Evolution when it builds a fourth-generation network. Not that it is in any rush to do so. But
Alltel seems to be in step with its mobile service provider compatriots globally.

LTE seems to be shaping up as the first global wireless standard, a development that should help considerably in terms of scale, and what that means for the cost of devices.

WiMAX is growing as well, but does not currently seem to be poised for the scale that LTE is poised to garner.

Plaxo Questions After Comcast Buy?

Some 349 users have voted on ReadWriteWeb about whether they will keep using Plaxo, now that Comcast has acquired the company. About 32 percent seem to think this is a bad idea, and say they will delete their accounts "right now."

Some 21 percent say they don't see an issue, and will keep using Plaxo. Another 21 percent indicate they will wait and see. About a quarter don't use Plaxo, and have no plans to do so.

Apparently there is some feeling that the service will not be the same as Comcast starts to harness Plaxo's address book and content recommendation services for internal use. That's a possibility, to be sure.

Comcast has definite ideas about social elements and recommendation engines as primary tools to allow people to find new things to watch, and Comcast is heavily invested in getting its customers to watch on-demand content.

On the other hand, Comcast has a long history of investing in media properties that succeed only by appealing to buyers outside the Comcast orbit. To the extent that the independent Plaxo service has value, Comcast will not want to destroy that value.

The bigger question might be whether, given those intentions, Comcast can succeed in harnessing Plaxo's address book and social mechanisms without at the same time harming Plaxo's value for independent users.

Google "Most Visited" For First Time

Google now has overtaken Yahoo as the most-visited website property, according to comScore. In April Google Sites attained the number one spot in the Top 50 U.S. Properties ranking for the first time in history with a total audience of more than 141 million visitors.

Yahoo Sites ranked second with 140.6 million visitors, followed by Microsoft Sites with 121.2 million visitors. Network and CareerBuilder both jumped eight spots in the ranking to positions 18 and 30, respectively.

According to comScore, Google’s unique U.S. audience in April was up 18 percent from the same month in 2007, while Yahoo’s audience grew 7 percent.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sprint Says WiMAX Ready

Sprint and Samsung Electronics Corporation now say WiMAX has met Sprint's commercial acceptance criteria and is ready for service, with initial launches in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas later this year. As the song lyrics go: "A little less talk, a lot more action."

Revenge of the Dinosaurs

BT revenues for the period ended 31 March 2008 grew two percent year-over-year to GBP5.4 billion (USD10.5 billion), slightly better than expected, thanks to an increase in revenues from what BT refers to as "new wave" services.

New wave revenues, built on broadband and corporate IT services, were up nine percent at GBP2.3 billion and now account for over 40 percent of total revenues.

Not so many years ago the key story was access line attrition. These days, the story is about how fast new services are being created to replace dwindling revenue streams.

And while derided as "dinosaurs," tier one providers for the most part are showing that they can adapt to an environment many simply concluded would kill them.

Mobile Social Networking Highest in U.K., U.S.

Mobile social networking is highest in the United States and United Kingdom, The Nielsen Company says.

In the United Kingdom, approximately 810,000 mobile subscribers, or 1.7 percent of all mobile subscribers in the country, visited social networking websites on their mobile phones in the first quarter of 2008. That reach percentage was twice as high as it was in other major European markets, though similar to the United States, where 1.6 percent of all mobile subscribers (4.1 million in all) accessed social networks via their phones in December 2007. For more details on mobile social networking access by country, see the chart below.

In the U.S. market, is the most popular mobile Internet social networking site. The site logged 2.8 million unique mobile users in December 2007.

Also in December, Facebook, which has the second largest audience among social networking sites, had 1.8 million unique mobile users. In contrast, Facebook led mobile social networking sites in the U.K. with 557,000 unique mobile users per month in Q1 2008, while MySpace followed with 211,000 unique mobile users.

While Facebook and were also among the top social networking sites in other European countries during the first quarter of 2008, MSN’s Windows Live Spaces led in Italy (154,000 unique mobile users per month) and France (106,000), and ranked second in Germany (45,000) behind MySpace, which boasted 52,000 unique mobile users per month.

4G: Lead App Might Not be the Business Model

Some statements are astounding first by their seeming ordinariness; others by their seeming incongruousness. For anybody who has watched telecommunications, one of the safest observations, irrespective of year, is that billions of people have never once made a phone call.

So when Ericsson President and Chief Executive Officer Carl-Henric Svanberg says the company vision is "now that basically anyone who wants a mobile phone will soon be able to have one," it is a stunning reminder of just how much has changed in the global communications.

"We envision an all-communicating world where the majority of people everywhere will have access to information and the ability to share it instantly, whenever and wherever they want," Svanberg says. You might find that an unremarkable statement as applied to residents of North America, Europe or Japan. You might be surprised to know that Svanberg really means a majority of people everywhere.

"We aim to do the same for broadband what we have already done for telephony: make it mobile, available and affordable for the majority of the world’s population," he says..

Ericsson also anticipates that by 2013, there will be some 6.5 billion mobile subscriptions and over two and a half billon broadband subscriptions of which more than two-thirds will be mobile. That flip--many more mobile than fixed users--will not surprise anybody who follows the industry. The magnitude of wireless broadband accounts just might.

One might argue that mobile these days is the way people prefer to "talk." Svenberg says mobile also will be the way they prefer to use the Internet and, by implication, large amount of media and entertainment consumption as well.

When Svenberg notes that "users expect to be connected wherever they are," that's pretty much a statement of conventional wisdom these days. When he says "we will also be more personalized," it's doubtful Svenberg could get a dissenting view.

There's perhaps more chance of disagreement--mostly over magnitude--when he says "we will all be content providers and creators." Keep in mind that depending on how far one wishes to take the matter, Twitter and other "where are you know, and what are you doing?" posts are content. So are blog posts.

In another example of developing consensus, Svenberg says "we will be a world of connected devices." That's the machine-to-machine frontier mobile executives now talk about when saying mobile penetration could grow to 500 percent or six hundred percent.

"So far the prime target has been the household and the business," he says. "With mobile telephony we were targeting people." But mobile broadband is about connecting devices as well.

"Our ambition is to do for mobile broadband what we already have done for telephony," he says.

Of course, there are more-practical observations as well. To some extent, new networks are financially justified by the size of new revenue streams that can be created by the networks. Though digital networks were said to improve voice quality over analog first generation networks, more than add new services, by the time we get to 2.5G networks, new messaging services clearly are on the agenda.

Broadband 3G networks more centrally were said to be platforms for new services, though progress to date has been less robust than its backers had anticipated. Coming 4G networks likewise are said to enable many new services 3G networks cannot provide.

That will be true, of course. It also is true that as older generations of networks are decommissioned, the older traffic types are similarly rolled up onto the newer networks. Which leads one to note that no matter what executives say about the matter, the stated unique value of each new network is financially buttressed by revenues from older services that are rolled up onto the new networks.

When fixed broadband was yet a young business, people incessantly looked for the killer app for that service. As it turns out, broadband is itself the killer app. Still, for some providers, an argument could have been made that voice was the killer app.

More currently, some might argue entertainment video is the killer app. The point is that older revenue streams wind up buttressing the business cases for newer networks, irrespective of what executives might claim is the unique value--and business model behind--those networks.

What might be fair is to note that each new generation of networks is touted as featuring, and ultimately does feature, some new class of applications that the older networks cannot support. That's not the same thing as saying any of the new networks will achieve a successful business case based strictly on the lead application. In fact, all the new networks are multi-service networks, with revenue from any number of applications.

There might be signature apps. Texting probably has been the signature 2G app. Mobile Web probably will develop as the signature 3G app. These days 4G networks are said to be about machine-to-machine apps. There will be signature apps. Ultimately, though, the financial underpinning will be all the legacy apps that contribute to the business case.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Comcast Acquires Plaxo

Comcast is acquiring Plaxo, presumably to further integrate social media, based on address books and the social application Pulse, into Comcast applications.

Plaxo will remain an independent operation in Silicon Valley, reporting into Comcast Interactive Media, which is a division of Comcast that develops and operates Internet businesses focused on entertainment, information and communication.

Plaxo says it already has on its road map projects to socially enable the Comcast media experience on the portal, Fancast and Fandango as well as content on TV screens.

Plaxo already provides the universal address book for Comcast’s SmartZone communications center, and now also hosts all of the address book accounts for Comcast Web mail users.

Plaxo suggests it will help Comcast make “social media” a natural part of the lives of regular people, not just early adopters. Plaxo suggests applications will include the ability to securely post family photos online in Pulse and have them viewable by any of your family members, whether they are online, at work, on their mobile device, or in their living room watching TV.

Comcast also will use Plaxo to create recommendation engines that allow viewers to find new content.

Consider this an example of how social media is a feature, not a business model in its own right.

Ad Skipping: Tall Tales

Some some say they use their DVRs to skip all ads, a recent survey that suggests 100 percent of males in the 55 to 64 age bracket skip all ads is an improbable story.

Approximately 30 percent of online Americans, ages 12 to 64, own or subscribe to a TiVo or a DVR service from their cable or satellite company. And some amount of ad skipping does occur in a fair number of those homes, one has to assume.

But perhaps we should not take literally what some people say they do.

When asked whether they skip ads 100 percent of the time, 52 percent of men ages 55 to 64 said they do, according to research conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates. By comparison, only 21 percent of males ages 12 to 17 report skipping ads all of the time.

There are, to be sure, other studies that suggest ads are more likely to be skipped when time-delayed content is watched. You might ask yourself whether human beings you know tend to do so. You might also ask whether you have seen users--watching content in real time--behave so aggressively that all ads are skipped.

That some people might skip all ads is possible. It probably does happen in some cases. Anecdotally, I'd have to say I've never actually seen a human being behave that way. But then, most human beings I know watch only some time-delayed content. Most of the viewing still occurs in real time, and other studies suggest the amount of ad skipping is far mroe prevalent for time-delayed material.

"Happiness" Doesn't Predict Loyalty

Customer satisfaction, while important, is not the most-important measure of customer loyalty. In fact, even customers who say they are satisfied are not necessarily "loyal." The converse also now appears to be true. Even "dissatisfied" customers are not "disloyal."

Verizon, for example, gets higher satisfaction ratings than AT&T. But when asked whether they plan to switch providers, Verzon has just a one point lead over AT&T in the loyalty area. Changewave analysts think the Apple iPhone is the reason.

Verizon, the perennial leader in customer satisfaction among cellular service providers, earned a 42 percent "very satisfied" rating in ChangeWave's latest cell phone survey.

Tied for second were AT&T and T-Mobile, each with a 28 percent "very satisfied" rating. As a result, you might conclude, Verizon customers should less likely to defect to another provider. And, to be sure, only 10 percent of its current customers reported they plan to switch to another cellular provider.

But although saying they are less satisfied, AT&T customers who say they plan to switch carrier is just 11 percent. More surprising is the finding that 28 percent of users plan to switch to AT&T over the next 90 days, compared to the 22 percent who plan to switch to Verizon.

Presumably a new customer cannot yet have formed an opinion about the quality of a service. BSo the "switch to" data probably does not provide much indication of user expectations about the quality of service.

The switch indications would fit nicely, though, with an argument that a specific device is pulling new users into wanting a relationship with a carrier.

The Apple iPhone, which looks set to capture more than a third of smart phone sales during the next 90 days, is the answer. Customers are fanatically loyal to the device.

All of which ought to suggest a couple of really important implications. Measuring and creating "customer happiness" does not provide protection against churn. Even happy customers in the wireless and other areas show a marked willingness to churn.

The other thing is the clearly-growing importance of devices as the "thing" determining loyalty and churn resistance. People don't care about their "service providers." They care lots more about their devices.

Vapps: HD Rather than High Speed

Vapps has adopted High-Definition Conferencing as its new brand, replacing High-Speed Conferencing. The change makes sense. HD is a huge consumer value proposition, and one that they understand. "High speed" is a provider attribute, and enough people now use "high speed" services to recognize that quality varies.
“We want to let everyone know Vapps is raising the bar on sound quality in audioconferencing because we’re the only conferencing company able to give users a "high definition" audio experience through Skype, while still admitting participants on any kind of phone,” says Vapps CEO Ben Lilienthal.
“When we speak, our voices produce sound in the 20 Kilohertz (KHz) range and our ears hear 20 KHz, but the copper wiring of traditional telephone networks supports only 3.5 KHz. Our High-Definition Conferencing operates in the 16 KHz range for Skype audioconferencing, a quality difference you can easily hear. At the same time, we conference in traditional telecom users, so that no one is excluded.

Declining Teen Discretionary Spending

Economic sluggishness now is hitting teenager discretionary spending. Total teen spending on fashion declined nearly 20 percent on a year-to-year basis, indicating a "discretionary recession," says Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Jeff Klinefelter.

The survey results, from mall research and classroom visits across the United States, as well as 4,500 online survey responses, shows that total spending trends were weakest for young men with a 15 percent year-over-year decline versus an 11 percent year-over-year decline for young women.

While the fashion category represents 41 percent of the total teen budget in the survey, the retail research team notes this allocation is low compared with the past several years.

Klinefelter says "the current economic challenges are impacting consumers at all income levels and ages, indicated by the low level of average planned spending in the fashion category this spring."

$99.99 Plans Not Cannibalizing Revenue

Based on the most recent first quarter results from Verizon and AT&T, one would have to conclude that the $99.99 monthly unlimited calling plans introduced in February have not cannibalized revenue.

Verizon reports that 13 percent of its new customers opted for the plan while AT&T had four percent of customers choosing the plan.

Since the number of total users paying $100 or more has been in low single digits, at least as reported by Verizon, it seems clear enough that most customers are trading up the $99.99 plans rather than downgrading from more-expensive plans.

Analysts feared a new price war, but carrier executives seemed to have done their homework on this, and predicted the reaction. Heck, they've probably exceeded their expectations. The bottom line was protecting their base of heavy users.

It now appears the $99.99 plans are adding to the base of higher-average-revenue-per-user customers.

One has to careful making cross-country comparisons, but it appears that Japan's NTT user base is talking less than they used to in 2000, though mobile talking appears still to be growing.

One possible outcome of the $99.99 plans is that more people are going to be tempted to "cut the cord" and abandon their landlines, as one of the obvious problems with wireless substitution is that the added call volume can require a shift to a calling plan containing more minutes.

The $99.99 plans take care of that problem.

Widgets Emerge as Ad Venue

So far, social network ad spending is about as concentrated as search advertising is. MySpace alone gets 53 percent. Add in Facebook and two companies control 72 percent of all social network advertising.

It is interesting that widgets have emerged as the only identifiable category among the "other" sites that get some advertising support.

Social Networking Doesn't Drive That Much Advertising

Social networks aren't yet driving a huge amount of online advertising, and might not, say analysts at eMarketer.

An Advantage for Cloud Computing

Come to think of it, computing in the cloud, as a service, might have some important implications for software distribution and use. Piracy, for example, might be far less a problem.

Although piracy of software on personal computers declined in many countries in 2007, fast growing PC markets in some of the world’s highest piracy nations caused overall numbers to worsen—a trend that is expected to continue. Moreover, dollar losses from piracy rose by $8 billion to nearly $48 billion, according to the Business Software Alliance.

Of the 108 countries included in the report, the use of pirated software dropped in 67, and rose in only eight. However, because the worldwide PC market grew fastest in high-piracy countries, the worldwide PC software piracy rate increased by three percentage points to 38 percent in 2007.

“By the end of 2007, there were more than 1 billion PCs installed around the world, and close to half had pirated, unlicensed software on them,” says John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.

Among the nations studied, Russia led the way with a one-year drop of seven points to 73 percent, and a five-year drop of 14 points. Russia’s piracy rate is still high, but it is decreasing at a fast pace as a result of legalization programs, government engagement and enforcement, user education, and an improved economy.

The three lowest-piracy countries were the United States (20 percent), Luxembourg (21 percent), and New Zealand (22 percent). The three highest-piracy countries were Armenia (93 percent), Bangladesh (92 percent), and Azerbaijan (92 percent).

For some observers, that might suggest a generally non-touted advantage for Web-based and cloud computing. Users cannot steal software that isn't there.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

EarthLink Shuts Philadelphia Metro Wi-Fi Net

EarthLink is terminating its Philadelphia Wi-Fi service, after failing to reach agreement with the City of Philadelphia and a non-profit organization to transfer to either the City or to the non-profit the entire $17 million Wi-Fi network, for free, as well as pay cash and donate new Wi-Fi equipment.

EarthLink will continue to provide Wi-Fi service to its customers in Philadelphia during a transition period that will end on June 12, 2008. EarthLink will begin decommissioning the network shortly after the transition period.

That's the story these days: Municipal Wi-Fi is so unattractive a business proposition that assets cannot even be given away.

New Android Apps

Silicon Alley blogger Vasanth Sridharan picks five Google Android applications deemed especially cool or useful.

Android Scan scans barcodes on any book or CD when a user is in a store and will pulls up Amazon reviews. The application also will check local library listings to see if the book is available to check out.

CookingCapsules allows users to look up recipes, find a store nearby to get groceries, and provides step-by-step cooking directions.

Eco2Go calculates the carbon footprint a user leaves every time he or she takes a trip, and buys carbon credits to offset the impact.

Locale is a user preferences tool that automatically adjusts ringing or call forwarding rules when a user is in certain locations. At the office, the phone automatically goes on silent. At home, it automatically re-routes calls to a land line.

TuneWiki is a karaoke application and music player for the Android phone.

Online Ad Prices Falling

PubMatic's Web site ad price index indicates that the economic slowdown in the United States is beginning to affect the online advertising industry, with overall monetization dropping by 23 percent. The PubMatic AdPrice Index is based on data from over 3,000 publishers and billions of ad impressions.

The PubMatic AdPrice Index revealed surprising weakness in monetization for the vast majority of Web sites.
Large Web sites fared the worst while small Web sites managed to maintain their monetization rates. eCPMs for large Web sites (more than 100 million page views per month) dropped dramatically by 52 percent from 38 cents in March to 18 cents April. Medium Web sites (1 million to 100 million page views per month) were nearly flat, with monetization dropping from 34 cents in March to 33 cents in April. Small Web sites managed to improve their monetization, increasing from $1.18 in March to $1.29 in April.

82% Internet Pentration and Rising

Roughly one fifth of all U.S. heads-of-household have never used email, according to Parks Associates. That's not even close to being the most significant implication, though. If the Parks survey data can be extrapolated to the whole population, and Parks Associates believes it can, then Internet subscriptions now reach 82 percent of U.S. consumers.

The most recent annual phone survey of U.S. households found 20 million households are without Internet access, approximately 18 percent of all U.S. households.

“Nearly one out of three household heads has never used a computer to create a document,” says John Barrett, director, research, Parks Associates.

The Parks Associates poll found seven percent of the 20 million “disconnected” homes plan to subscribe to an Internet service within the next 12 months. And "Internet resisters" continue to dwindle.

At year-end 2006, 29 percent of all U.S. households (31 million homes) did not have Internet access. So 11 million more homes have gone online over the past year, if the Parks data can be extrapolated.

One half of those who have never used email are older than 65, and 56 percent had no schooling beyond high school.

User Generated Video Growing Faster than Expected

Because of significant growth in the Chinese market, In-Stat researchers have revised upwards their forecasts for user-generated video use and revenue.

Total worldwide UGV revenue is expected to eclipse U.S. $1.19 billion by 2012. In-Stat projects 160 billion UGV videos will be viewed in 2012.

Individuals who use mobile phones to participate in online video sites are most likely to contribute to the market, both financially and in terms of content, In-Stat argues.

HBO for iTunes?

There are lots of rumors about a possible earlier release of the 3G iPhone as shortages build and we approach the June 2008 date when a 3G-capable iPhone will be released. Something else that actually is more important might also be happening at a faster pace, though.

Since most video viewing is substituted for some other mode (you might watch a movie at a theater, or on a DVD, or as video on demand, or on a premium channel or on broadcast TV), changes in the "release windows" that dictate when each delivery mode can get the content also have the effect of shifting revenue shares within the ecosystem.

According to a report published by Conde Naste Portfolio, Apple is on the verge of offering HBO original programs on iTunes. The programming, which would include hits like the Sopranos and Deadwood, offered at a premium to the standard $1.99 an episode fee.

If true, the deal will be a break in tradition as much for HBO as for Apple, and provide further evidence of a quickening pace of "release window" modifications that have more content going to some form of digital delivery.

As release windows change, so do the financial and contractual agreements that govern when content can be made available. That, more than anything else, will determine how successful downloads, streaming and video on demand can become.

Up to this point HBO has been a nearly-complete hold out in the digital and streaming venue. It now is testing streaming for its current subscribers, but has completely avoided any availability for non-subscribers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Media Consumption: TV Leads, Internet Grows

Adult consumers in the United States still spend more time in front of televisions than they do online, according to a survey sponsored by the Television Bureau of Advertising industry association and conducted by Nielsen Media Research.

Survey respondents ages 18 to 34 spent over an hour per day more watching TV than they spent more time watching TV than they did in online pursuits, the study found. The gap between time spent online and time spent watching TV is closing, however.

In January 2008, TVB found that 18 to 34 year-olds spent 60.6 minutes more watching TV per day (206.0 minutes) than they did online (145.4 minutes). That is down from June 2006, when the gap was 137.4 minutes: 246.7 minutes for TV and 109.3 minutes online. Moreover, TV time decreased while Internet time increased.

A separate study by JupiterResearch and Ipsos Insight reported results in more discrete age groups and found that TV use actually trailed Internet use among the youngest consumers. As of August 2007, US consumers in the 18 to 24 year-old range went online an average of two more hours per week than they spent watching TV.

Neither study specifically addressed multitasking, which can be significant, especially among younger consumers.

"Young people rarely use just one medium at a time," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst at eMarketer. "Often, when they are online, they’ll have TV or music on in the background."

One might be skeptical about a couple elements of both surveys. The TVB study suggests that adults between 18 and 34 spend 115.6 minutes a day listening to the radio.

The Jupiter and Ipsos survey suggests adults 18 to 24 spend three hours a week listening to the radio.

My totally unscientific experience is that none of my 18 to 24 year olds spend any time at all listening to the radio. For similar reasons, I am somewhat skeptical about "time spent in front of the TV."

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