Sunday, November 30, 2008

Voice a Broadband Killer App?

There is much truth to the notion that "email was the killer app for dial-up." There may also be some truth to the notion that "voice is the killer app for broadband." At least that seems to be a developing theme for SureWest Communications. 

SureWest benefits by selling more bundled triple-play services with the offering, thereby enhancing overall subscriber margins. "We have converted nearly 2,900 customers from the telecom voice product to the new broadband Voice over IP service since its launch earlier this year," he says. "And of those converted customers, over 20 percent added SureWest Internet with their phone service, and over 10 percent added TV."

In other words, VoIP has driven buying of other key services as well, especially broadband Internet access and IPTV. SureWest broadband residential voice RGUs increased seven percent year-over-year and five percent sequentially. In the original Sacramento region, voice RGU growth was 18 percent year-over-year and 13 percent sequentially.

U.S. Mobile Data Prospects in 2009

The U.S. wireless data market grew 7.3 percent sequentially in the third quarter 2008 and 37.5 percent year over year to reach $8.8 billion in data services revenues. For first nine months, mobile data revenues of $24.5 billion were equal to the revenues generated for all of 2007. 

The big question is what happens in the fourth quarter and after, as it appears handset upgrades and sales, for example, already are slowing. Some observers think wireless data service revenes will hold up. Analyst Chetan Sharma, for example, notes that text messaging represents 40 percent of all data revenues, and that the texting habit is unlikely to change. 

In the third quarter, U.S. messaging volumes grew 38 percent while messaging revenues grew six percent. Use of wireless dongles and cards for mobile PC access has been a big driver of revenue of late, and Sharma thinks that could an area of softness though, for the simple reason that many former users will fall victim to layoffs, while managements might be less generous in providing such technology to their remaining employees.

Still, it is conceivable that mobile data growth in the U.S. market will flatten out in 2009, says Sharma. "If the job loss rate increases substantially, more than it has been in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we might, just might, start to see flattening of data revenues in the first quarter of 2009 and gradual decline over the course of the year," says Sharma. 

Mobile providers probably can counteract economic issues by emphasizing sales of sub-$200 smart phones bundled with data plans, Charma says. To the extent there is an economic effect, it is likely to be on average revenue per user, Sharma suggests. 

That likely will be the case for wired network providers as well, as price and bundle promotions increase.

Operators in Europe have already started to feel the pinch, Sharma says. Vodafone and Telefonica recently have seen a decline in overall revenues. Though overall service revenues declined 1.7 percent, data revenues grew 30 percent. That suggests the importance of data plan, handset and bundling programs. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

100 Mbps Inevitable; Only Question is Price

NTT long has been the "gold standard" for residential bandwidth. But Verizon has closed the gap, suggesting that 100 Mbps is destined to become a common access speed.

The issue is how long it might take before such speeds are affordable.

To be sure, most of that bandwidth is needed for one simple reason: entertainment video. In its own analysis, Verizon has estimated that current and future needs for virtually all other applications top out at about 15 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth.

Beyond that, it is network-hosted applications and new forms of video that require higher bandwidth. Since it delivers linear video using a separate wavelength, Verizon thinks it really only needs about 15 Mbps downstream to support on-demand video.

But there's little question what happens if three-dimensional TV is commercialized. Then 75 Mbps might be required to deliver one stream.

88% of Internet Users Will Be Watching Online Video by 2013

By 2013, more than 69 percent of online video ad revenue will be associated with long-form video. By that point, about 88 percent of all Internet users will be watching online video as well, eMarketer now projects.

As good as that will be for content owners, it is unclear whether the trend will be good, bad or neutral for Internet access providers. Much depends on how involved ISPs are in the revenue value chain.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have Landlines in Service Actually Decreased?

Just about everybody assumes that landlines in service have declined over the last seven or eight years. To be sure, if one looks at Federal Communications Commission data, there is a net loss of about 34 million access lines between the end of 2000 and the end of 2007, though there has been significant shift of market share from incumbents to cable TV and competitive local exchange carriers.

But there are some facts one wouldn't immediately see. Wired broadband connections increased by more than 65 million over the same time frame. And business lines in service likewise increased, despite technological substitution of broadband for narrowband lines.

So one has to differentiate between lines that shifted to new providers, lines that shifted from narrowband to broadband and lines that shifted to over-the-top providers (A customer buying an over-the-top VoIP service is still a wired voice customer, even if a "line" appears to be gone.

If one assumes that the roughly three million U.S. VoIP lines are active, revenue-generating wired voice lines, the market as a whole lost about 31 million lines, for all reasons, between 2000 and the beginning of 2008.

Broadband lines in service grew from perhaps five million in 2000 to about 65.4 million in 2007. Even if every broadband line represented the loss of a narrowband line, overall lines in service clearly have grown.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is TV Getting Cannibalized or Not?

A new IBM study reveals that online video is cannibalizing television consumption. Another study by Nielsen says U.S. TV watching actually has climbed. Maybe there are key differences between U.S. and global TV viewing that could account for the differences. But the Nielsen report also notes that “TV use is at an all-time high, yet people are also using the Internet more often; 31 percent of which is happening simultaneously,” Susan Whiting, Nielsen vice chairwoman says.

That's a potential way of harmonizing some of the difference. People could be watching online video while the TV is on in the background.

The IBM poll of 2,800 people in six countries found that 76 percent have viewed video online and that 45 percent do so regularly. About 15 percent of those who watch online videos say they watch "slightly less" TV than they used to, while 36 percent say they watch "significantly less" TV as a result of their online video viewing. Indeed, "place-shifting alternatives may be changing consumer couch-potato behavior," the study claims. IBM polled 2,800 people in six countries for the study.

In the third quarter of 2008, the average American watched approximately 142 hours of TV per month, five hours more than they watched in a typical month during the same period a year ago, Nielsen says. During the 2007 to 2008 television season, the average U.S. household consumed eight hours and 18 minutes of TV per day, a record high since Nielsen started measuring television in the 1950s.

Americans who used the Internet were online 27 hours a month, and people who used a mobile phone spent three hours a month watching mobile video. Men were more likely than women to watch via mobile phone, while women were more likely then men to watch video online.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

HDTV Drives 2.3 Million Churn Events

HDTV purchases seem to be driving some amount of service provider churn: nine percent of HDTV owners say that they switched multi-channel video providers when they purchased their HDTV, according to Leichtman Research Group. About 22 percent of all households purchased a new TV set in the past 12 months, with 43 percent of this group spending over $1,000 on a new TV.

There are about 114.5 million U.S. TV households. That suggests 25.2 million TV homes bought HDTVs. If nine percent of those buyers switched providers, that suggests 2.3 million homes switched providers, or about two percent of TV households, over the last 12 months, because of an HDTV purchase.

50 Mbps? Try 8 Mbps

U.K. workplaces with downstream broadband speeds topping 10 Mbps have risen from 18 to 25 percent, Point Topic says.
About 13 percent of businesses had speeds of 50 Mbps or above. About 21 percent of businesses have a connection capable of less than 2 Mbps, 33 percent run at up to 8 Mbps, 12 percent have 10 Mbps connections, six percent have 100 Mbps service, five percent use 50 Mbps and two percent have connections running at 100 Mbps.
The most common downstream speed among businesses is 8 Mbps, with 33 percent of businesses buying connections at that rate.

One wonders whether a quarter of cable modem subscribers will be willing to spend about $150 a month to get service at about 50 Mbps downstream, given demand so far for business broadband at speeds above 10 Mbps.

50-Mbps Demand Test

Comcast has begun introducing 22 Mbps and 50 Mbps broadband access, and the company says it will make the new services available to 10 million premises in at least 10 markets over the next few months. Comcast’s Extreme 50 service, offering up to 50 Mbps downstream and up to 10 Mbps upstream, costs $139.95 per month, plus taxes, when bought with cable TV service. The Ultra service, running at up to 22 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream, costs $62.95 a month, plus taxes, when bought in conjunction with cable TV service.

In the Pacific Northwest, Comcast will primarily compete with DSL services from Qwest Communications International (which advertises download speeds up to 12 Mbps) and Verizon Communications (up to 7.1 Mbps).

A business-class package offering 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream, sells for $189.95, plus taxes, and bundles in firewall services, static IP addresses, 24/7 customer support, and a suite of software from Microsoft.

We now will get a demand-side test of how many customers presently want to pay for service at such speeds.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Smart Phone Behavioral Differences

So far, it appears that Apple iPhone users download applications more often than other smart phone users. Some 72 percent of iPhone users say they have downloaded more than five applications on their phones, compared to only 23 percent of other smart phone owners.

Where 34 percent of smart phone owners have not added an application to their phone, just seven percent of iPhone users report they never have downloaded an app, according to a recent survey by Compete.

The issue is what this behavioral difference makes. It may be partly that iPhone lead adopters are tech savvy, compared to other smart phone users. It also may be that apps are easy to find and add to the iPhone.

It is conceivable download rates for Google and Blackberry devices might ultimately rise to match what iPhone now sees, Compete analysts suggest.

Wireless Won't Suffer, Ovum Predicts

One of the questions service provider executives are trying to answer is whether communications and multi-channel video services will hold up as well as they have in past recessions. Through the third quarter there still had been no evidence of damage. Some will note that the impact of October's credit crisis will not be seen until the fourth quarter, and that is a correct observation.

But there might be reasoned hope for stability. As noted before, only in one year since about 1945 has wireline revenue growth even flattened. With that single exception, wired network revenue always has grown, recessions or not.

Cable TV revenues have had the same sort of pattern since the 1980s, for example, and at least so far, there has been no detectable evidence of mobile revenue slowing.

In fact, Ovum predicts the North American mobile market will escape catastrophe as a result of macroeconomic conditions in 2009 and will continue to grow, albeit not at the rates we have seen in 2008, predicts Steven Hartley, Ovum senior analyst.

Ovum argues that U.S. mobile connections will rise 6.3 percent while revenue also rises 6.3 percent in 2009. In Canada connections are expected to grow 7.5 percent while revenue grows 11.3 percent.

The United States added 3.9 million connections in the third quarter and year-on-year total connections growth was 10 percent, Ovum says. Only Sprint saw a decline in connections in the third quarter (losing a net 1.3 million subscribers.

Canada's national wireless operators also saw continued connections growth, with Rogers connections base growing eight percent year-on-year, Bell Canada growing seven percent and Telus 10 percent.

One might argue that the fourth quarter will not be so robust, or that the real damage to come will be in the margin area, not the revenue area. Still, growth at the level Ovum predicts would be fairly convincing proof that wireless now has attained "necessity" status.

Something One Doesn't Typically See

Commenting about the recent Comcast peer-to-peer blocking adjudication at the annual Phoenix Center conference, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin noted one truly unusual aspect of the case. 

"Normally people fess up and promise never to do it again," Phoenix Center head Lawrence Spiwak  noted. Those of you who have had even casual acquaintance with the deference routinely shown to the FCC in Washington policy circles will agree.  

"In this case, Comcast first said they didn't do it, then said they did, but that the FCC had no authority over it," Martin said. That's unusual behavior. 

Network management is one thing; interfence with lawful applications another, Martin said. 
"It did not seem to be reasonable that Comcast denied that was what they were doing," Martin said. "It is a problem when you have a company that won't admit it is doing something" independent evidence shows it is. 

Not many who routinely deal with the FCC could say they have seen this sort of thing very often. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

U.S. Business Landline Purchases Up

Here's something you might not have suspected: U.S. businesses have added 700,000 wired network connections over the past five years, despite shedding large number of narrowband voice lines. 

Ethernet, business grade DSL and business grade cable modem connections have driven the growth. 

So despite narrowband line losses, service providers have seen overall growth of business lines of 15 percent over the past five years. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mobile Market Shifting

Market economies work because consumers vote with their wallets to buy the better products from the better suppliers. That is less true where markets are more managed, but the principle remains. But the logical end result of market economies is that, sooner or later, companies selling products with less demand will go out of business, while companies selling products with higher demand will grow. 

Sooner or later that tends to lead to market concentration, with the inevitable result, at least historically in the United States, for anti-trust actions to reset the playing field. But no amount of anti-trust regulation will stop the process from reoccurring. People are going to buy more of the products they think are best; allowing those companies to grow larger; while other companies disappear, leading to yet another cycle of anti-trust action.

Very few observers would probably think the U.S. communications market is so concentrated--again--that something drastic has to be done. Nor is it clear precisely how many effective competitors must exist in a single market to provide the benefits of competition. Some say three contestants is enough. Some argue for more; in some cases as few as two might provide meaningful competition, some economists argue.

We might be seeing some sort of a tipping point in the U.S. wireless market, though nearly all observers would argue that the U.S. wireless market remains highly competitive. An example: third quarter financial results.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility continue to perform well and pull further ahead of their competitors in the U.S. mobile business, says  Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, Strategy Analytics analyst.

Sprint Nextel continues to bleed subscribers, losing more than a million in the quarter. The company lost 1.3 million subscribers in the third quarter while AT&T Wireless gained two million and and Verizon Wireless gained 1.5 million.

Sprint's customer numbers have declined by a further 6.3 percent over the past 12 months while U.S. mobile subscriber numbers increased by seven percent over the same period.

One can argue the AT&T iPhone is responsible, that continuing customer service at Sprint or Nextel is responsible, that Verizon bundling capabilities are contributing, Sprint's failure to come up with a winning alternative to the iPhone, continued trouble at Nextel or some other combination of circumstances are responsible for Sprint's continuing slide. 

Nor is it clear whether Sprint can stabilize and then counterattack. On a value for money basis, it is hard to argue with Sprint's "Simply Everything" packaging, for example. But even that seems not to have halted the erosion. 

To be sure, the top of the U.S. mobile market has been relatively stable, in terms of market share, for some time. What appears to be happening now, though, is a destabilization of the market, with AT&T and Verizon gaining, while T-Mobile and Sprint are in flux. T-Mobile now is a relatively-distant fourth, but that could change over the next few years if Sprint cannot halt its slide. 

Voice Is Not a Commodity

One of the enduring pieces of conventional wisdom in the communications business is that "voice is a commodity." That perception typically is the result of even a casual analysis of "per minute" fees for long distance or even mobile usage over the last decade or two. 

Service providers in the wholesale space often sell their product based on per-minute fees as well, so it is easy to see why the working hypothesis is that voice actually is a commodity.

Despite all that, the way people use voice communications is anything but "commoditized," in the sense that one application is a fully functional substitute for another. 

People who use landlines also use mobile and IP-based communications as well. People who use IP communications also use mobile and fixed calling. Likewise, mobile users avail themselves of IP communications and fixed services as well. 

Beyond that, people tend to use each of the applications at different times, at different places, with different applications and different devices, to talk to different people, for different reasons. 

Not enough attention typically is paid to the ways all those use cases can be differentiated in marketing. Usage already is differentiated in fact.


Users Would Pay for Twitter

According to this poll taken by Guy Kawasaki, technology marketing consultant, people would pay to use Twitter.

As it true for other communication services, people do not seem to mind paying a fair price for services and applications they value. 

That also suggests a possible business model for Twitter, as well. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Broadband Now Demand Constrained

Most of the time, we seem to be more concerned with the supply side of broadband: what penetration rates are, what speeds are, what prices are.

But consumer broadband arguably is demand constrained, not supply constrained. In Kentucky, for example, 65 percent of adults have broadband access.

Household broadband penetration tops 44 percent and another 21 percent of Kentuckians have dial-up service (keep in mind that most U.S. households have more than one adult in them).

Logically, the 21 percent of dial-up users are the primary customer segment to be targeted for an upgrade to broadband. About 70 percent of Kentucky households have at least one PC.

But that leaves 30 percent or so of homes that do not report having a PC. That is a demand problem, not an access supply problem.

Monday, November 17, 2008

$69 billion in 2007 Unlicensed Music

The value of unlicensed or pirated music trafficked on P2P networks in 2007 was $69 billion, according to new MultiMedia Intelligence research.
 
"Content owners of TV episodes and full length movies are seeing a growing impact as well," says Rick Sizemore of MultiMedia Intelligence .
 
MultiMedia Intelligence's new research also found the number of unlicensed full length movies "shared" will grow almost four times from 2007 to 2012.

Not all P2P content is unlicensed, though. P2P Internet traffic, despite having grown at a torrid pace for years, will grow almost 400 petrcent over the next five years, growing from a level of 1.6 petabytes of Internet traffic per month in 2007 to almost 8 petabytes per month by 2012. 

Covad Launches Channel Offer

Covad Communications has launched a new integrated access service for its channel partners. The new service features a new online quote and order system that Covad says can cut days to weeks off provisioning time.
 
The service is aimed at firms with up to 35 employees per location. Covad delivers the service over a voice-optimized T1 line, and the service works with customers' existing phone systems.
 
Customers can start with as few as four phone lines, and new lines can be added one by one, rather than in the more typical "blocks".

Covad completely overhauled its ordering process for this service. The new online ordering system handles quotes, pre-qualification and contracts all in one place and all in real time. Partners can store and manage quotes and orders through the website, and can check potential deal-killers—such as number portability—at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end.
 
"This is the voice and data service we've been asking for. The new online ordering system is easy to use and lets us know right up front that we can make a deal work," said Dan Keane, Director of Partner Sales with Keane Telecom Consulting, LLC, in Atco, New Jersey.
 
Covad Integrated Access now also utilizes SIP trunking and supports a wide range of IP, digital and analog PBXs.
Pricing starts at $435 per month with no installation fees.

The service uses Covad's voice-optimized technology to dynamically allocate bandwidth between voice and data.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Consumer Electronics Dip Predates "Economy"s

As evidence mounts of business slowdowns, it will be tempting to point to "economic weakness" as the reason for consumer and business spending weakness.  There will, to be sure, be such effects.

But not all spending changes are the result of the near-term economy issues, as some trends predate the such pressures.

Consider consumer buying of digital cameras, camcorders, audio players and hand-held game platforms. Sales of all four categories of devices have been declining for three years.

That could suggest product saturation, with the corollary that upgrades need to move beyond incremental changes.  There will continue to be replacement buying, to be sure. But incremental upgrades to memory or megapixels of resolution, for example, might not provide as much sales lift as one might have seen in prior years.

Category saturation is a normal part of the consumer electronics business, which is why consumer electronics retailers always are on the look for the next big "gotta have it" product.

Monday, November 10, 2008

DT Results: Still Tough to Sort Out "Economy" Impact

As further evidence of just how complicated it now is to figure out what actually is happening operationally in the communications business, Deutsche Telekom's overall year-to-date revenue has fallen about 2.5 percent. 

But international revenue has grown 1.1 percent, despite an unfavorable currency impact from U.S.dollar and U.K. pounds sterling denominated revenues. 

Deutsche Telekom generated revenue of EUR 45.6 billion in the first nine months of 2008, a decrease of EUR 1.2 billion or 2.5 percent year-on-year. To put the currency effect in perspective, revenue was negatively affected by exchange rate effects totaling EUR 1.5 billion. 

DT's T-Mobile USA revenue grew by 13.7 percent, but partly because of the acquisition of SunCom.

T-Mobile reported a 1.2 percent drop in its U.K mobile customer count, year over year. Mobile subscriber counts grew 8.3 percent, year over year. 

But mobile revenue was up 1.1 percent, year over year, overall, though there was weakness in the German, U.K., Austrian and "other" markets. 

So far, it might be reasonable to conclude that competitive conditions explain much of the weaker performance, though economic conditions could be contributing. 

We don't have the data yet, but what will be instructive is whether the overall mobile revenue in each of the countries is available, as that will provide a better sense of whether there actually is some slowing of consumer spending. 

Right now, all we can tell is that DT operates in competitive markets, has a secular wired voice lines problem as do other telephone companies, and that broadband access remains fiercely competitive.  

Economy Not Responsible for All Revenue Shortfalls

The temptation these days is to blame the "economy" for every slowing or decline in sales of communication products. We have to resist that temptation. At least so far, more companies reported robust third quarter growth in broadband, mobile and video sales than slowing. And there always are market share shifts to account for, a trend that should be in play for at least a year.

The content delivery business, for example, has to be judged a disappointment for Internap Network Services Corp., which saw sales in its contend delivery network segment decline for the third straight quarter.

Internap reported third-quarter revenues up eight percent to $65.4 million. But CDN sales in the quarter dropped to $5 million, down from $5.4 million in the second quarter and $5.6 million in the third quarter 2007.

We may well see economic effects in the fourth quarter or in 2009. But not all the negative impact will be a direct result of economic factors. In many cases, simple shifts of market share will be the driver.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cbeyond: No Evidence of Slowing

If one wanted to point to a highly-successful provider of small business VoIP service, it would be hard to pick any single company doing better than Cbeyond. Third quarter revenue growth of $90.2 million represents 24.6 percent over the third quarter of 2007. 

Total adjusted earnings before interest, taxes and amortization of $16.9 million during the third quarter of 2008 was an increase of 25.5 percent from the third quarter of 2007. 

Cbeyond  had net customer additions of 1,993 in the quarter, to reach 40,569 in total.

The company also had average monthly revenue per customer location of $760 during the third quarter of 2008, compared to $754 in the second quarter of 2008 and $749 in the third quarter of 2007. 

Monthly customer churn of 1.3 percent in the third quarter of 2008 was stable compared to 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2008. That is significant as Cbeyond experienced a temporary increase in churn several quarters back when it tightened credit polices. 

Windstream Results Point to Possible Shift

Windstream Communications third quarter results, like those at Charter Communications, do not yet support the theory that economic stress is changing basic consumer habits in the video entertainment and communications areas. 

Also, Windstream might finally be approaching a time when its voice lines stop shrinking. So there might be something to the argument that if executives think "lines will keep shrinking," they will.  Conversely, a belief that line losses are not inevitable might lead to efforts that in fact produce that result. 

Keep in mind that both Charter and Windstream operate in more-rural areas, so it may be that "big city" and "rural" patterns are diverging. 

Beyond that, neither company seems to be seeing any real slowdown in growth for broadband or video products, as some might expect in the face of the economic slowdown. 

Windstream added 28,000 new high-speed internet customers in the quarter, bringing its total broadband customer base to roughly 963,000, an increase of almost 16 percent year-over-year, and Windstream executives believe there still is room for additional growth. 

Windstream also added nearly 21,000 digital TV customers in the quarter. Long distance service revenue also increased five percent year-over-year.

To be sure, traditional voice lines declined by approximately 38,000, but that was an improvement in absolute lines lost of more than 8,000 units  year-over-year. In total, Windstream access lines declined by 4.8 percent year-over-year. But note: Windstream thinks it might finally have turned the corner on landline losses. 

Though competition has increased, Brent Whittington, EVP, thinks the company might have "turned the corner" in the third quarter, in terms of landline losses. That would be a significant development indeed.

Though some probably reflexively think telcos will keep losing voice lines forever, logic suggests the losses will stabilize at some point. Keep in mind the example of broadband access. Aggressive cable operator marketing of high-speed access went virtually unchallenged by telcos for some time. Then telcos decided they simply could not ignore getting into the business, despite some qualms about cannibalization of existing special access services.

As it turns out, the cannibalization fear was overblown. T1 lines in service increased even as cable modem and digital subscriber lines proliferated. Something along those same lines will happen once telcos decide it is time to market VoIP and IP telephony aggressively. As a byproduct, the shrinkage of voice lines will slow, then halt. 

Maybe Windstream is getting close to that point, even in advance of a major technology shift to IP-based voice.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Broadband Prices Drop 20%

Global broadband access prices have dropped about 20 percent, on average, in the first three quarters of 2008, say researchers at Point Topic. Digital subscriber line prices have dropped from $66.75 in the first quarter to $53.32 in the third quarter. Average subscription prices for cable are down just over 12 percent and fiber-to-customer prices declined by 6.5 percent.

Keep in mind that the Point Topic analysis is based on stand-alone tariffs. Customers might be paying less if they are buying their broadband access as part of a bundle.

DSL prices have declined the most in 2008, though Point Topic researchers say it still is the most-expensive broadband option, on a price-per-megabit basis.

In the Middle East and Africa, for example, consumers are paying over $46 per megabits per second basis, compared to $6.23 per Mbps in Western Europe.

Prices in the MEA region have dropped by seven percent on average in the year and speeds are up 13 percent. In part, the price declines for DSL reflect the greater degree of competition in that segment, compared to cable or fiber-to-customer alternatives.

In North America, cable modem price-per-megabit metrics are close to Western European levels. Western Europe prices of $4.80 per Mbps are close to North American prices of $4.89 per Mbps.

In Eastern Europe, cable modem prices declined about 25 percent.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Will Consumer Electronics Hold Up?

With the current economic slump, this holiday season is expected to be a tough one for most retail sectors, but will consumer electronics be one of them? 

Maybe not. A recent study by the Consumer Electronics Association found that although consumers may be spending less overall this season, they are planning to spend more on electronics. 

Some even argue that that the weak economy will make home entertainment products, like video games, even more popular this year, as some will see it as an affordable alternative to spending on concerts, movies and other events. 

So far, Compete.com data shows a normal pattern for the year. But people are right to be worried. 

According to the ICSC-Goldman Sachs index, retailers had their weakest October performance since the index's inception in 1969. 

Charter: Countervailing Evidence About Consumer Behavior

The problem with isolating economic from other drivers of consumer behavior and provider success is obvious enough when looking at Charter Communications third quarter 2008 results. You can't complain about the results.

For the third quarter of 2008, total revenue was $1 billion $636 million, an increase of eight percent over the third quarter of 2007. Phone and high speed internet, Charter's highest margin services, accounted for about 65 percent of Charter's revenue growth in the quarter. Telephone revenues totaled $144 million for the third quarter continuing as Charter's largest revenue growth driver with 55 percent year-over-year growth.

For the third quarter our commercial business revenues climbed 16 percent to $100 million driven by the expansion of commercial telephone product in the business bundle.

One of the broader assumptions about times of economic stringency is that consumers will be cautious about upgrading service to higher tiers. But that doesn't seem to be the case at Charter.

Demand for high definition continued in the third quarter with HD customers increasing nearly 50 percent year-over-year. Orders for on-demand content increased 57 percent and the number of users climbed nearly 30 percent over the year ago period. Orders for the DVR feature was up 33 percent.

Charter added 71,000 high speed customers during the quarter, more than 30 percent greater than net ads for the same quarter of 2007. And though you might expect customers to signing up for lower speed, less-expensive services, Charter says that wasn't the case. The majority of net gains came from higher speed products, company executives say.

Charter also added about 100,000 telephone customers in the quarter, consistent with year ago net ads, while voice customers increased nearly 60 percent year-over-year.

Early indications so far for the fourth quarter suggest that the economy may be having a "modest impact."  New connects were down year-over-year.

In the first two quarters of 2008 Charter did see losses in the broadcast basic tier, but the trend did not continue in the third quarter.
Charter made rate adjustments that might have lead customers to disconnect or possibly upgrade service in the first two quarters.

Third quarter customer retention and bad debt were generally in line to favorable with year ago levels, the company says.

Charter also increased its marketing spend in the third quarter, spending something like 4.8 percent of revenue on marketing, where Charter typically spends about four percent.

So there's some countervailing evidence about the impact of a recession on consumer spending for video, voice and data. Whatever else executives at other companies might think will happen, so far, Charter Communications has not seen anything yet that supports the theory that consumers are downgrading or postponing buying of higher-priced Internet access or video services.

14% Telco IPTV Share by 2013

Telco IPTV will grow from three percent overall share of the multi-channel TV business to 14 perent share in 2013 at the expense of cable TV, which will decline from 76 percent penetration to 61 percent between 2008 and 2013, say researchers at Pyramid Research. 

If that seems unremarkable, consider that virtually all of that gain will come from just two telcos, AT&T and Verizon. There are, of course, many small and independent telcos offering IPTV services. But their subscriber gains will be a small percentage of overall U.S. IPTV subscriber counts. 

“Pyramid Research estimates that IPTV will drive a global total of nine million net subscriber additions in 2008, 40 percent of which will come from markets in the Asia-Pacific region," says  Özgür Aytar, Pyramid Research senior research manager.

18 Mbps for New U-verse Access Service

AT&T has launched a new U-verse offer, boosting downstream speeds up to 18 Mbps. The new service can be purchased as part of an AT&T U-verse TV bundle. The new service replaces AT&T's 10 Mbps offer, and costs $65 a month as part of a TV bundle. The new service includes free Wi-Fi hot spot access. 

Professional installation is included for new U-verse TV customers, and existing U-verse Internet customers can upgrade their package at any time without additional installation costs or appointments, AT&T says. 

Time Warner Cable Lowers Forecast

Cable is generally considered to be recession-proof, but Time Warner Cable President and CEO Glenn Britt says its "naïve" to think that way now, and Time Warner Cable is reducing its 2008 earnings outlook. Still, the pattern of loss suggests nothing out of the ordinary. For the most part, it is service upgrades that are slowing, with a single exception.

"As we moved into the fourth quarter, we saw a significant slowdown in subscriber growth compared to last year, particularly for our video and voice services," Britt notes. The operator signed on 124,000 new digital video subs, just under the 128,000 it added a year ago. 

Time Warner Cable also warned that it has seen orders for premium video services, including pay-per-view, video on demand, and digital video recorders slow down. The MSO added 150,000 DVR subs in the period, off from a year-ago gain of 211,000. One would expect to see that, in a downturn. 

On the voice front, the MSO signed on 207,000 subs, 25 percent less than a year ago and about 15 percent lower than analyst expectations. It isn't clear whether this reflects economic conditions or a natural slowing of voice segment growth for an operator with fairly high voice penetration already. 

The MSO lost 31,000 basic video subs, better than the 83,000 basics it lost in the year-ago quarter, ending the quarter with 13.3 million total. Most of the video losses, though, come from the "antenna basic" tier, not the mainstay of a cable operator's video revenue. About 70 percent of the video subscription losses came from the antenna basic package, which runs about $13 per month. 

So far, video behavior is as one would predict for a downturn: less demand for premium services, but stability for basic subscriptions. The sharp increase in antenna basic disconnects, though, is noteworthy. 

Cable voice services are new enough that there isn't a baseline for behavior. Still, slower net addtions would not be unexpected. Had Time Warner reported negative voice growth, that would have been more worrisome. 

Comcast Corp also has reported a sharp fall in basic video subscribers. Comcast's basic video subscribers fell by 147,000 to 24.4 million in the third quarter, a sharper decline than the year-ago period's 56,000 drop. 

CEO Brian Roberts says the issue is not churn or disconnects but a slowing rate of new additions, caused by the weak economy, competition with phone companies and hurricane impact, which reduced new home construction as well as usability of existing housing. 
The hurricane impact accounted for 15,000 of the basic video losses in the quarter.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.K. Broadband Growth Slips 20%

For those of you looking for signs of how a possibly-significant recession will affect sales of consumer broadband, the United Kingdom might offer a glimpse of what can happen.

The growth rate for U.K. broadband access subscriptions fell 20 percent in the third quarter, say analysts at Point Topic. To keep pace with net additions earlier in the year, the United Kingdom needed to add 390,000 broadband lines in the third quarter. Point Topic estimates that the actual number was only 313,000.

Local loop unbundling is the main driver of continuing growth in broadband, and represented gross 323,000 lines added in the quarter. Point Topic estimates that Virgin Media may have added another 60,000 cable modem customers while BT and smaller players actually lost about 70,000 net subscribers.

As a result, Point Topic is now forecasting that only 620,000 broadband lines will be added in the second half of 2008. The forecast for 2009 as a whole is 1.1 million, 200,000 down on the earlier forecast. By the end of 2009 there should be about 18.4 million broadband lines in Britain, 300,000 short of what was expected six months ago.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

T-Mobile Wants to Jump From HSPA Straight to LTE

Reflecting the sort of thinking that parallels discussions of whether to upgrade from 10-Gbps Ethernet to 40-Gbps, or simply go straight to 100-Gbps, T-Mobile International AG indicates it now wants to upgrade directly from high-speed packet access (HSPA) to the 4G Long-Term Evolution standard.

Basically, T-Mobile says it will do what it can to wring all the efficiency it can out of HSPA and then move directly to LTE, rather than migrate in two stages to LTE, as some other mobile carriers propose to do.

The decision basically means T-Mobile will attempt to move directly from peak downlink speeds of 14.4 Mbps to LTE supporting 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps.

New Federalized EC Telecom Rules?

The European Union might on Nov. 5, 2008 get a new proposal from European Commission Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding for creation of a pan-European telecom regulatory body that would have some measure of control over telecom rules in the EU's 27 member states, each of which is currently regulated by its own national organizations.

Those plans would create a single European regulator, along the lines of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The new body would not have the right to dictate regulation, but could block plans proposed by any member nation. In essence, the proposal aims to further the aim of creating a unified telecoms market thoroughout the EU, much as U.S. competitors have in the past preferred a single federal set of rules to 50 possibly-different sets of rules set by States.

Clearwire-Sprint, Verizon-Alltel Deals Approved

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the merger of Sprint-Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp. WiMAX assets.  The Commission also approved the Verizon Wireless merger with Alltel, on the same day it approved the unlicensed use of TV "white spaces" for broadband access and services. 

The decisions collectively mean even more competition in the broadband access space, especially in rural areas, as "white spaces"--spectrum typically used to support terrestrial broadcast television--are ideal for long-distance transmission and penetration of solid objects such as walls.  

Some work still needs to be done on the network design front, as lower-power broadband devices used by consumers and businesses will not be able to transmit as far as a TV transmitter can. That suggests network designs typically used by "cellular" operators will be needed. 

So use of the spectrum will be "free." The networks will not be.  

What Broadband Shortage? FCC Approves White Spaces

The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously voted to approve use of vacant TV broadcast spectrum on an unlicensed basis, clearing the way for development of broadband data devices and services that could be used by businesses and consumers.

The rules permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces on both a fixed and portable basis. Such devices generally must include a geo-location capability, the ability to access a data base of the licensed users and services and spectrum-sensing technology, all to avoid interference with licensed users and services.

Those users include full-power and low-power TV stations and cable system headends.

Wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways. The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the data base and will be protected in the same way as other services.
The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

All white space devices are subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory. The Laboratory will request samples of the devices for testing to ensure that they meet all the pertinent requirements.

The Commission also will permit certification of devices that do not include the geo-location and data base access capabilities, and instead rely solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process.

Generally speaking, initial devices are expected to operate at lower power. But device manufacturers may continue to provide additional information to the Commission to support the use of higher-power devices in adjacent channels. In addition, the Commission will explore in a separate inquiry whether higher-powered unlicensed operations might be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.

The proposal, approved on a five-to-zero vote, is expected to offer new opportunities for broadband data services in both urban and rural areas.

Though some conventional wisdom continues to assert that the United States has a "broadband access" problem, the FCC's decision suggests, along with other data, that broadband access is not a terribly big problem. A recent survey of about 146 rural telcos shows 100-percent availability of broadband. Fully 93 percent of those providers report there is broadband competition already, in their markets.

And now we will have "white spaces" to contend with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More Mobile VoIP: Truphone for BlackBerry

Truphone has launched a beta version of its mobile internet telephony service, Truphone Anywhere, for BlackBerry smart phones. Truphone Anywhere works in 33 countries worldwide and provides international call costs for as little as six cents a minute.

The Truphone Anywhere application provides a prompt screen whenever a user dials an international number. If the user accepts, Truphone connects the call.by connecting to a local Truphone server, which then connects the long-distance part of the call over the Internet.

Truphone for BlackBerry smartphones is available to download for free from www.truphone.com/blackberry.

What is Capex Trend?

In addition to worries about what conceivably could happen to consumer demand for various communications services over the next year or so, suppliers to the telecommunications industry undoubtedly are worried about what happens to carrier demand for hardware and software.

Some, such as ABI Research, anticipate a mild dip of perhaps 1.3 percent in capital spending in 2009, compared to 2008. Others, such as Ovum, think the most-likely scenario is a reduced rate of growth through 2009.

There are other possibilities, though, with a return to 2007 levels of spending in 2009 or a severe dip of as much as 28 percent.

To be sure, carrier capital spending fluctuates over time, and many analysts believe U.S. service provider capital spending, which has been on an upswing over the past four to five years, will start to decline soon, as part of a natural part of the completion of some major upgrades by Verizon and AT&T, for example.

Looking at the average capex as a percentage of revenue, the five largest telecom providers in North America spent 18 percent of revenue in 2005, 17 percent in 2006 and 12 percent in 2007.

Capex at firms such as AT&T and Verizon in recent years has been running at 14 to 18 percent of revenue, a higher level than typically is the case, historically, and which at least some observers think will back down to more-normal levels after next-generation access network investments largely are made.

Those sorts of underlying drivers are not driven by short-term economic fluctuations, so one has to be careful extrapolating too much if a dip in capex should occur over the next several years, as that might be explained by a natural reversion to more-normal rates, not financial or economic conditions, necessarily.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

iBasis Says Voice is Not a Commodity

iBasis has introduced its expanded portfolio of international voice products designed to address the needs of all telecommunications market segments from cost-driven wholesale carriers to retail mobile operators worldwide.

The iBasis portfolio now includes four basic products, each addressing a different market segment. Worth noting: if voice really were a "commodity," this sort of differentiation would not be possible. The implications are equally clear: voice actually is not a commodity or a single product. Rather, voice is a range of products, and they are not functionally identical substitutes for each other.

So if your voice strategy is based on it being a commodity, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Direct Voice provides wholesale carriers access to iBasis’ lowest-cost routes and direct pricing for highest possible savings, though capacity and coverage are managed to minimize costs. The product is aimed at providers whose primary concern is absolute lowest cost. "Direct Voice gives access to our direct routes at lowest cost," says Chris Lengyel, iBasis product manager.

"We engineer the product so one in three calls might be rejected for rerouting to another vendor or one of our products," Lengyel says. This might the case for some calling card providers or users of Web-based voice features.

Value Voice provides increased coverage and greater consistrency of key voice metrics. Value Voice features prioritized vendors to provide more stability of calling experience as well as a broader footprint.

Certified Voice provides full calling coverage, high route stability, call completion and capacity. Certified Voice is sold to consumer VoIP providers such as Skype and cable operators. It is ideal for retail VoIP traffic and "more of a tradtional wholesale product," says Lengyel.

Premium Voice offers mobile and retail operators guaranteed features and exceptional voice quality using direct connections with incumbent carriers and qualified providers. Includes advanced features such as guaranteed calling line information, fax and roaming. "Premium Voice" is sold to service providers whose primary concern is stability and quality.

Premium Voice often is bought by mobile operators because "it cannot fail," Lengyel says.

The new products recognize that some customers want price while others want coverage. Some want stability while others want roaming, fax or guaranteed CLI.

"What you see here is that there are varying levels of quality required for different applications," says Lengyel. "Skype doesn't care about fax or CLI, for example, but voice really isn't a full commodity," he says. "A minute isn't just a minute; there are lots of nuances."

"The mobile space needs quality," he says. "People will pay for quality, for some applications."

3G iPhone Cannibalizing Fixed Broadband?

At least some of us believe that mobile broadband someday will be as prevalent as mobile voice now is. Where broadband once was a service delivered to "places," it will be delivered to "people."

The immediate issue, though, might be whether at least some users will decide to substitute mobile broadband for fixed broadband. 

That, at least, is a possibility as the number of lower-income 3G Apple iPhone users increases. 

Ownership of the 3G iPhone rose 48 percent from June 1 to the end of August among households earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, compared to 21 percent overall.

Since iPhone ownership disproportionately has been concentrated among higher-income households, the shift might suggest that users are making rational decisions about value and price.  If a 3G iPhone provides mobile music, voice, email and Internet access, then the cost of using it is balanced by cost savings from avoided landline voice and broadband spending.

Ultimately, personal broadband might mean some amount of cannibalization of fixed broadband. And we might be seeing just that at work, among 3G iPhone users.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Up to 33% of Mobile Broadband Buyers Have Gripes

More than 10 percent of mobile broadband users feel that they were mis-sold, according to a survey sponsored by U.K. mobile provider O2. Nearly a third complaining that the ongoing cost was higher than expected while 20 percent found they were unable to use mobile broadband where they wanted it despite being told by providers that there would be coverage.

Another 13 per cent were frustrated that there was no returns guarantee if the service wasn’t right for them and around half wanted inclusive Wi-Fi as a standard option.

In response, O2 is changing practices to address the complaints, including a price reduction on core mobile broadband tariffs, the launch of a new coverage checker and a 50-day "happiness guarantee."

International roaming has been a key element in "sticker shock," so that feature will not be automatically enabled for all new O2 Mobile Broadband customers. New customers will need to contact O2 Customer Service to have roaming activated so that O2 can explain the likely costs.

For heavy users, O2 is also introducing a new 10 GByte package for £30 per month on a two year tariff and is also the only provider to offer all its customers unlimited Wi-Fi through any of the 6,100 hotspots through an exclusive partnership with The Cloud.

In addition, O2 is reducing the price of its core Mobile Broadband tariffs, with 3GB packages costing just £15 per month. Customers purchasing an 18-month or 24-month contract will also receive a free USB modem (or £99.99 on a rolling monthly contract).

An improved coverage checker will provide what O2 calls "an honest assessment" of the likely coverage customers will receive at their home locations.

The 50-day guarantee allows users to terminate service without penalties and return adapters for a refund.

Internet Gains 23% as News Source

Many more Americans are turning to the Internet for campaign news this year as the web becomes a key source of election news, say researchers at the  Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Television remains the dominant source, but the percent who say they get most of their campaign news from the Internet has tripled since October 2004, up from 10 percent then to 33 percent now.

While use of the Web has seen considerable growth, the percentage of Americans relying on TV and newspapers for campaign news has remained relatively flat since 2004. In March, 26 percent of survey respondents cited the internet as a main source for election news, while the percentages citing television and newspapers remain largely unchanged. 

Not surprisingly, the Internet is a considerably more popular source for campaign news among younger Americans than older ones. Nearly three times as many people ages 18 to 29 mention the internet than mention newspapers as a main source of election news (49 percent for younger respondents, 17 percent for older respondents). 

Nearly the opposite is true among those over age 50: some 22 percent rely on the Internet for election news while 39 percent look to newspapers. Compared with 2004, use of the Internet for election news has increased across all age groups. Among the youngest cohort (age 18 to 29), TV has lost significant ground to the Internet. 

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