Saturday, October 31, 2009

Google Voice has 1.4 Million Users

Google Voice has 1.419 million users, some 570,000 of which use it seven days a week, Google says, in information Google apparently released accidentally in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission and discovered by Business Week before the information was discovered and removed.

The early version of the documents also suggested Google has plans to take Google Voice global. Google apparently said it already has signed contracts with a number of international service providers.

How Do You Measure the Value of Something That Has No Price?

Global end user spending on communications services (voice and data, not entertainment video) runs about $1.8 trillion a year or so, one can extrapolate from the most-recent International Telecommunicatons Union statistics.

Fixed line voice probably sits at about the $740 billion range in 2009.

Infonetics Research says VoIP services bring in $21 billion for service providers in the first half, so assume an annual total of $42 billion. Assume 16 percent of those revenues are for trunking services of one sort or another and voice revenues might hit $35 billion or so for the full year.

That suggests VoIP services represent about 4.7 percent of total global voice revenues in 2009.

The point is that VoIP remains a relatively small portion of global voice revenues. But the situation is more complicated than simply how VoIP stacks up as a revenue driver. The larger problem with voice revenues, as everyone agrees, is that it is trending towards becoming an "application," not a service. That means it will sometimes be provided "at no incremental cost," or at "very low incremental cost."

The value VoIP represents cannot be strictly measured using "revenue" metrics, anymore than the value of email or instant messaging or presence can be measured by revenue metrics. Probably all that anyone can say with some assurance is that the value VoIP represents is greater than five percent of the total value of voice communications, as many sessions occur on a "non-charged" basis.

Many years ago, consumers got access to email in one of two ways. They got email access from their employers, or they bought dial-up Internet access and got their email from their ISPs. In neither case has it, or is, possible to calculate the economic value of email, as the measurable "product" for a consumer was the value of the dial-up Internet connection.

Business value is even harder to calculate, as organizations can buy software and hardware to host their own email, and then buy access connections that support any number of applications, without any specific fee required to host email services.

The larger point is that, in future years, the service revenue attributable directly to voice services will be a number that might remain flat, might grow or might shrink. If voice revenues ultimately shrink, as they might in many markets, or if VoIP replaces TDM versions of voice, that will not necessarily mean that people are talking less, or that the value ascribed to voice is less.

It simply will mean that the value is only indirectly measurable. Only one thing can be said for sure. Markets whose products cannot be directly measured will not be measured. The first sign of this is the increasing use of metrics such as "revenue generating units" or "services per customer" or "average revenue per user."

At some point, though it might still be a measurable quantity, the value of voice services will be only partially represented by "service" revenue. It's tough to measure the value of something that has no specific "incremental cost."

So what will market researchers and agencies do? What they have done before: they will measure the value of some associated product that does have a market price. They will measure the value of purchased access connections, rather than particular applications, much as one could measure ISP access subscriptions, but not the value of email.

Will Moore's Law "Save" Bandwidth Providers, ISPs?

In the personal computer business there is an underlying assumption that whatever problems one faces, Moore's Law will provide the answer. Whatever challenges one faces, the assumption generally is that if one simply waits 18 months, twice the processing power or memory will be available at the same price.

For a business where processing power and memory actually will solve most problems, that is partly to largely correct.

For any business where the majority or almost all cost has nothing to do with the prices or capabilities of semiconductors, Moore's Law helps, but does solve the problem of continually-growing bandwidth demand and continually-decreasing revenue-per-bit that can be earned for supplying higher bandwidth.

That is among the fundamental problems network transport and access providers face. And Moore's Law  is not going to solve the problem of increasing bandwidth consumption, says Jim Theodoras, ADVA Optical director of technical marketing.

Simply put, most of the cost of increased network throughput is not caused by the prices of underlying silicon. In fact, network architectures, protocols and operating costs arguably are the key cost drivers these days, at least in the core of the network.

The answer to the problem of "more bandwidth" is partly "bigger pipes and routers." There is some truth that notion, but not complete truth. As bandwidth continues to grow, there is some point at which the "protocols can't keep up, even if you have unlimited numbers of routers," says Theodoras.

The cost drivers lie in bigger problems such as network architecture, routing, backhaul, routing protocols and personnel costs, he says. One example is that there often is excess and redundant gear in a core network that simply is not being used efficiently. In many cases, core routers only run at 10 percent of their capacity, for example. Improving throughput up to 80 percent or 100 percent offers potentially an order of magnitude better performance from the same equipment.

Likewise, automated provisioning tools can reduce provisioning time by 90 percent or more, he says. And since "time is money," operating cost for some automated operations also can be cut by an order of magnitude.

The point is that Moore's Law, by itself, will not provide the solutions networks require as they keep scaling bandwidth under conditions where revenue does not grow linearly with the new capacity.

How Many People Will Buy a 50 Mbps Access Service?

Virgin Media now says it has 20,000 subscribers buying its 50 Mbps service. Virgin Media has about 3.77 million broadband access customers. So that suggests about one half of one percent of its customers are buying that grade of service.

I'd be willing to bet U.S. service providers offering a 50 Mbps service are doing about that rate as well, with one possible exception. SureWest Communications has been offering tiers that fast longer than anybody else I can think of, and probably can claim a higher subscription rate.

Virgin Media's current promotion for the 50 Mbps product offers a price of £18 a month (about $29.74) for three months and £28 (about $46.26) a month after that, when bundled with aVirgin Media phone line.

Those sorts of prices will make U.S. consumers jealous, but it is hard to compare pricing across regions and nations. Voice and text message prices on mobiles are far higher than in the United States, though broadband and video entertainment prices seem to be lower, across the board.

SureWest's 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps products are different, though, as they offer symmetrical bandwidth, not asymmetrical as is typical of DOCSIS 3.0 services such as provided by Virgin Media.

When SureWest first introduced its 50 Mbps symmetrical product, it was available as part of a high-end quadruple play bundle including the 50 Mbps access service; a 250-channel digital TV service; unlimited local and long distance telephone and unlimited wireless.

The package was priced at $415.18 a month. If it were offered on a stand-alone basis, SureWest said the 50 Mbps service would be valued at $259.95 per month. Not many consumers are interested in paying that much.

Friday, October 30, 2009

FiOS Does Not Sell Itself

Even FiOS Doesn't Sell Itself

Verizon's third quarter FiOS revenues totaled more than $1.4 billion, up 56 percent year over year. And FiOS average revenue per user also hit more than $137 per month.

Verizon also added about 18 percent more FiOS TV and Internet customers than in the same quarter last year, including 191,000 FiOS TV and 198,000 FiOS Internet customers, increasing Verizon's penetration to 25 percent for TV and 29 percent for Internet.

Still, net adds were less than the record adds of the last two quarters, Verizon says. Gross sales were lower primarily due to a change in promotional activity, the company says.

"As it turns out, we had a couple of promotions that worked, didn't work as well," says Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon CEO. "What happened is we had a couple of better quarters and we toyed with how we could sustain that and found that it was difficult in light of maintaining a fiscal discipline against it."

In other words, Verizon probably did not spend as much as it could have on marketing FiOS services, and the results probably slowed because of that conservatism.

The point, perhaps, is that as powerful a marketing platform as FiOS represents, the value proposition appears to remain less obvious to consumers than we inside the business sometimes think.

Verizon remains committed to adding about one million new FiOS customers every year, on a base of homes passed that stands at about 45 percent of all Verizon residential passings, with video available to about 34 percent of total households passed.

That illustrates part of the problem. Whatever Verizon does, it potentially can sell video services to about a third of all residences, though it can sell FiOS broadband to about 45 percent of homes. It always is tough to market services when a third of homes can buy them, not all.

And as service providers have learned in the past, easing up on promotions, or banking on the wrong promotions, can have significant effect on results. Not even fiber-to-the-home service, in and of itself, seems to "sell itself" to most customers, as powerful as those sorts of connections always have seemed to people in the business.

Twitter Stats Still a Puzzle

Twitter continues to be a bit of a puzzle, for reasons beyond its search for a viable business model. It has enthusiastic users, but also high apparent levels of abandonment. And some studies might lead to the conclusion that Twitter growth is slowing sharply, while other social sites such as Facebook might be accelerating.

Data from hitwise, for examples, shows a peak in Twitter in July 2009, with declines since then. The caveat is that many Twitter users appear to use third party sites to access the service, so the actual visits do not fully capture actual Twitter use.

The hitwise data also might suggest that user engagement with Facebook, a larger and more-established social networking site, is growing much faster than Twitter seems to be growing.

One fact seems clear enough, though, and that is the increased amount of mobile use of the social tool. Although 60 percent of Twitter users say they only use their computers to access the service, about 40 percent say they do so using their mobiles, according to a study of Twitter use during August 2009, Crowd Science.

Crowd Science reports that in August 2009, although only 27 percent of Twitter users posted daily, 46 percent checked for updates every day.

Is Mobile Handset Market Heating Up?

Handset shipments suffered another annual decline in the third quarter but are forecast to rebound in the key final quarter of the year, according to Strategy Analytics and IDC. Virtually all observers attribute the slowdown to slower handset replacement caused by consumer caution in the face of the recession.

Strategy Analytics estimates that global handset shipments reached 291 million units in the third quarter, down four percent from 304 million units year over year.

IDC estimates third quarter 2009 shipments totalled 287.1 million units worldwide, down six percent from a year earlier, but up 5.6 percent from the second quarter.

"The mobile phone market is showing the first signs of improvement since the onset of the economic crisis," says Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC. "During the third quarter, we saw a number of channels promoting older devices at significantly lower prices. For many, this was enough to spur demand and push volumes higher."

Strategy Analytics forecasts that 300 million handsets will be shipped in the key fourth quarter, an increase of three percent increase on the 294 million units shipped in the last quarter of 2008.

"We believe this will be the first time the industry has returned to positive growth since the third quarter of 2008, signalling an end to the handset recession after four quarters of decline," Strategy Analytics says.

Of course, industry-wide averages sometimes obscure market share changes. Nokia sales dipped eight percent, year over year, while Samsung grew 16 percent. LG grew 37 percent. Both Sony Ericsson and Motorola reported declines.

Pandemic Would Impair Residential Broadband, GAO Says

In a serious pandemic, residential Internet access demand is likely to exceed the capacity of Internet providers’ network infrastructure, says the Government Accountability Office. That means enterprise and government disaster recovery efforts that depend on residential broadband connections may not work as planned, GAO warns.

In a serious pandemic, U.S. businesses, government agencies and schools could experience absenteeism (or forced dispersal of workers as precautionary measure) that could reach 50 percent or higher ranges, thereby displacing Internet access demand from normal daytime sites to homes, says the Government Accountability Office.

But residential broadband networks are not designed to handle this unexpected load, and could interfere with teleworkers in the securities market and other sectors, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Oddly enough, robust network neutrality measures, such as forbidding any prioritization of bits, could render impotent one obvious way of handling the sudden explosion of traffic.

"Private Internet providers have limited ability to prioritize traffic or take other actions that could assist critical teleworkers," GAO says. "Some actions, such as reducing customers’ transmission speeds or blocking popular Web sites, could negatively impact e-commerce and require government authorization."

In other words, laws and rules that forbid "packet discrimination" would impair ability to prioritize more-important work-related uses of the residential Internet.

"Increased use of the Internet by students, teleworkers, and others during a severe pandemic is expected to create congestion in Internet access networks that serve metropolitan and other residential neighborhoods," GAO warns.

"Localities may choose to close schools and these students, confined at home, will likely look to the Internet for entertainment, including downloading or 'streaming' videos, playing online games, and engaging in potential activities that may consume large amounts of network capacity," GAO says.

"Additionally, people who are ill or are caring for sick family members will be at home and could add to Internet traffic by accessing online sites for health, news, and other information," GAO adds. "This increased and sustained recreational or other use by the general public during a pandemic outbreak will likely lead to a significant increase in traffic on residential networks."

"If theaters, sporting events, or other public gatherings are curtailed, use of the Internet for entertainment and information is likely to increase even more," GAO says. At-home workers will only compound the problem.

Oddly enough, the mechanisms ISPs could use to prioritize bandwidth so that a suddenly-scarce resource can be managed are precisely the tools strong "network neutrality" forbids.

"A provider could attempt to reduce congestion by reducing the amount of traffic that each user could send to and receive from his or her network," says GAO. "Such a reduction would require adjusting the configuration file within each customer’s modem to temporarily reduce the maximum transmission speed that that modem was capable of performing—for example, by reducing its incoming capability from 7 Mbps to 1 Mbps."

"However, according to providers we spoke with, such reductions could violate the agreed-upon levels of services for which customers have paid," GAO points out.

And that is even before any new regulations that specifically would outlaw packet shaping that could, for example, limit video streaming, gaming, and peer-to-peer and other bandwidth-intensive applications during daytime work hours, when teleworkers will have an arguably greater need to maintain functioning connections for voice and data operations essential to their work.

Overly-casual positioning of the need for "packet equality" rules can be dangerous, as the GAO points out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Google Blocks Calls to About 100 High-Cost Telephone Numbers

Google says that although it still blocks use of Google Voice to terminate calls to fewer than 100 U.S. telephone numbers with unusually high termination cost, it still does so. Earlier, Google Voice had been blocking calls to thousands of numbers in some exchanges.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Google says a June 2009 study it conducted found that the top 10 U.S. telephone prefixes Google Voice was terminating accounted for 1.1 percent of its monthly call volume, about 161 times the expected volume for a "typical" prefix. That 1.1 percent of calls also accounted for 26.2 percent of its monthly termination costs.

Google says terminating those calls costs as much as 39 cents a minute. Google therefore blocked Google Voice calls to less than 100 U.S. telephone numbers, based on that study.

The difference is that where Google had before only been able to block calls to prefixes, it now can block specific telephone numbers with highly asymmetric traffic typical of free conference call services, for example, which never place outbound calls, but simply receive them.

Will Telecom Markets Grow in 2010?

Worldwide telecom spending will decline four percent in 2009 with revenue of nearly $1.9 trillion. In 2010, telecom spending is forecast to grow 3.2 percent, say researchers at Gartner. The question lots of people logically will have is what pattern growth in U.S. enterprise and smaller business markets will take.

Qwest provided some anecdotal evidence during its third quarter earnings report. "As far as the activity in BMG and wholesale, I would say, yes. we are seeing some quicker decision making," says Teresa Taylor, Qwest COO. "Quicker decision making" is a sign of more buying intent and activity, as longer decision cycles represent less intent and activity.

Qwest's business markets group sells to enterprises, so the anecdote suggests enterprise demand, at least for Qwest, is growing. Business markets segment income of $409 million was flat, compared to the second quarter, but increased 11 percent year over year.

The caveat here is that Qwest believes it has been doing better than AT&T and Verizon over the last couple of quarters. All Taylor will say that trends are "positive."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Verizon to Debut Motorola Droid Nov. 6, 2009

Verizon Wireless will take the wraps off its new "Droid" device, built by Motorola, on Nov. 6, 2009. The new device will feature a 3.7-inch high-resolution screen featuring more than 400,000 pixels total, more than twice that of the "leading competitor," Verizon says.

The Android operating system supports running of multiple applications at once, and allows toggling between as many as six simultaneous applications. Google searches can be conducted using voice input and results are location dependent. Content on the phone, such as apps and contacts plus the Web can be searched using the search box.

"Push" Gmail is supported, as is "push" Microsoft Exchange email. "Google Maps Navigation" provides turn-by-turn voice guidance as a free feature of Google Maps.

Droid will be available in the United States exclusively at Verizon Wireless Communications Stores and online for $199.99 with a new two-year customer agreement after a $100 mail-in rebate.

Customers will receive the rebate in the form of a debit card; upon receipt, customers may use the card as cash anywhere debit cards are accepted.

Customers will need to subscribe to a nationwide voice plan and an email and Web for plan. Nationwide voice plans begin at $39.99 for monthly access for 450 minutes and an "Email and Web for Smartphone" plan costs $29.99 for monthly access.

Consumption-Based Billing Coming?

Sandvine has released Usage Management 2.5, a software solution that enables fixed-line network operators to implement consumption-based billing models, real-time subscriber communications and multiple service plan tiers. The move is significant as it suggests retail pricing might move in that direction in the future, representing a major shift in retail pricing models.

Historically, consumption-based billing has been problematic for Internet service providers. Time Warner Cable tested and then decided not to implement metered billing earlier in 2009 after widespread consumer resistance to tests in in Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C.

User behavior also is powerfully affected by billing methods. At one point in time America Online charged users by the minute for their dial-up Internet access usage. When it converted to flat fee billing, usage and subscribers exploded, and AOL became the largest U.S. ISP.

Similar results have been seen when other types of services, such as voice calls, also moved from per-minute to flat rate or "buckets" of usage. Generally, users spend more time talking or using the Internet when they are not metered for that usage.

Mobile voice services have a half-way approach that combines usage limits with much of the perceived freedom users feel when they are not charged strict per-minute charges. Such "buckets" of usage are a likely direction much retail Internet access pricing will move as bandwidth-intensive applications become more important and if new "network neutrality" rules forbid ISPs from shaping overall demand at times of peak congestion.

The alternative to traffic shaping then would shift to other measures such as increasing raw bandwidth or providing incentives for users to limit their consumption at peak hours. The former obviously requires more investment, which then would have to be reflected in higher prices, while the latter would allow for more gradual investments and therefore stable or more slowly increasing prices.

One problem today is that few consumers have any idea how much bandwidth they use. The new Sandvine tool would simultaneously allow users to monitor and understand their own behavior, as well as provide ISPs with better ways to create plans matched to end user behavior.

The Sandvine tool also would help ISPs create quality-sensitive service or personalized plans, assuming Federal Communications Commission or Congressional rules allow them to be offered.

Wirefly’s Top 10 Most-Anticipated Cell Phones

In a major change, the top-two "most anticipated" new mobile devices are made by Motorola. That hasn't happened for quite some time, and will be a huge test of Motorola's decision to rely on Android as its ticket back into the top ranks of manufacturers of "hot" devices.

The launches are equally important for mobile service providers, who have found devices to be primary ways of differentiating their services. We'll have to see, but it is possible, perhaps likely, that a key new feature of the top-two Android devices will be their methods of integrating contact information and status updates across applications. That's an angle on "unified communications" we have not seen so much in the mobile arena.

Here's Wirefly's ranking and commentary.

1. Motorola Droid (Verizon Wireless) - The most anticipated cell phone launch of the season is just days away, but the hype for this the Motorola Droid smartphone has been building for quite some time.  Verizon Wireless has invested heavily in a national “teaser” marketing campaign, while keeping the details about this Android-based device close to the vest.  The Droid is the first commercial phone released with the new Android 2.0 platform, and has been dubbed the “iPhone killer” by many a technology-writer.  Verizon Wireless is stoking the fire with a campaign that touts all the things the Droid does that the iPhone doesn’t – from running multiple apps, to a full slide-out keyboard, to changeable batteries and memory to a 5.0 megapixel camera that takes photos in the dark.

2. Motorola CLIQ MB200 (T-Mobile) - The highly-anticipated Motorola CLIQ is the new king of the T-Mobile Android smartphone lineup, and the first since the original G-1 to have a full slide-out keyboard.    What really makes it buzz-worthy, though, is that it utilizes the new MotoBlur user interface that syncs your social media, contacts, and e-mail in real time, providing instant access to the latest happenings and messages from friends.  (The Cliq is currently available to existing T-Mobile customers, however, new customers will not be able to purchase the device until November 2nd, and therefore, it still garners a spot on our top picks.)

3. Samsung Moment (Sprint) - Sprint’s second Android device, the Samsung Moment, mark’s Samsung’s entry into the Android smartphone market with a full slide-out keyboard and a first-of-its-kind AMOLED touch screen, providing unprecedented brightness that’s also kind to your battery life.

4. LG Chocolate Touch (Verizon Wireless) – The LG Chocolate is an iconic Verizon Wireless phone, and this new touch version should be even sweeter than its predecessors.

5. Samsung Behold II (T-Mobile) – The Behold II is the sequel to the very successful Samsung Behold but with one MAJOR difference - the latest version runs on the Android smartphone operating system.  The Behold II also features a "cube menu" that provides quick access to six multimedia features at the flick of a finger: music, photos, videos, the Web, YouTube, and Amazon MP3.

6. HTC Desire 6200 (Verizon Wireless) – Verizon Wireless is making headlines with the Droid, but is expected to follow quickly with a second Android-powered smartphone dubbed the Desire.  The Desire will not have a keyboard, and will boast HTC’s touch screen “Sense” interface that has won rave reviews on the HTC Hero.  

7. Sprint Palm Pixi (Sprint) – The Sprint Palm Pixi is being touted as a tiny, sleek webOS-based handset that offers many of the same features and functionality as the Pre without the hefty price tag.

8 . BlackBerry Storm 2 (Verizon Wireless) – This next generation of the touch screen BlackBerry Storm looks similar to the original model on the outside, but boasts notable improvements on the inside such as a Wi-Fi radio, sleeker design, and an improved SurePress typing system.

9. BlackBerry Bold 9700 (AT&T & T-Mobile) –This smartphone is an updated version of the high-end Blackberry Bold that hit the market last year.  It is thinner and lighter with a faster Web browser than its predecessor and replaces the original Bold's track ball with an optical track pad.

10. LG Shine 2 (AT&T) – The successor to the immensely popular Shine; but as its name indicates, it promises to be twice as sleek and sexy.

Real-Time Internet Traffic Doubles

Real-time entertainment has almost doubled its share of total Internet traffic from 2008 to 2009, while gaming has increased its share by more than 50 percent, says Sandvine. Real-time entertainment traffic (streaming audio and video, peer-casting, place-shifting, Flash video) now accounts for 26.6 percent of total traffic in 2009, up from 12.6 percent in 2008, according to a new analysis by Sandvine.

As the percentage of real-time video and voice traffic continues to grow, latency issues will become more visible to end users, and will prompt new efforts by Internet access providers to provide better control of quality issues not related directly to bandwidth.

One reason is that video downloads, for example, are declining in favor of real-time streaming. Downloaded content is less susceptible to latency and jitter impairments.

Traffic to and from gaming consoles increased by more than 50 percent per subscriber as well, demonstrating not only the popularity of online gaming, but also the growing use of game consoles as sources of “traditional” entertainment such as movies and TV shows, says Sandvine.

Gaming, especially fast-paced action games, likewise are susceptible to experience impairment caused by latency and jitter.

.The growth of real-time entertainment consumption also is leading to a decline of peer-to-peer traffic. At a global level, P2P file-sharing declined by 25 percent as a share of total traffic, to account for just over 20 percent of total bytes, says Sandvine.

The changes have key implications for ISPs and end users. One way to protect real-time service performance for applications such as voice, video, videoconferencing and gaming is to take extra measures to protect latency performance for such real-time applications. And that is where clumsy new network neutrality rules might be a problem.

Whatever else might be said, user experience can be optimized at times of peak congestion by prioritizing delivery of real-time packets, compared to other types of traffic that are more robust in the face of packet delay. File downloads, email and Web surfing are examples of activities that are robust in the face of congestion.

So it matters greatly whether ISPs can condition end user traffic--especially with user consent--to maintain top priority for streaming video, voice or other real-time applications when networks are congested. Enterprises do this all the time. It would be a shame if consumers were denied the choice to benefit as well.

Broadband Stimulus Delays Continue

It should not come as any surprise--given earlier delays--that the first project awards under the the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's "broadband stimulus" program will be late. Some might not happen at all, unless they can adequately document that there is no existing provider able to provide service in project areas.

The program is supposed to allocate $7.2 billion to provide broadband services or training to rural and other underserved communities, through the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

The problem is that the work load required to evaluate and award funds so vastly exceeds the volume of work either agency has handled in the past. The NTIA must now disburse sums that are about 4.7 times greater than normal, while the RUS faces the task of disbursing amounts 192 times larger than normal.

Those would be challenges under the best of circumstances, so it is no surprise that the first awards may not be made until December, about a month later than anticipated. There are other risks, says the Government Accountability Office, including a lack of funding for oversight beyond fiscal year 2010 and a lack of updated performance measures to ensure accountability for NTIA and RUS.

Some awards might never happen. The program rules relating to new services in "unserved" areas forbid projects in areas already served by existing providers. Comcast and other cable providers believe some projects violate just those provisions. Comcast says it will file supporting data Oct. 28, 2009, supporting its contentions.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association claims funding has been sought in "hundreds" of areas where its members already provide broadband service.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For Lots of People, This Will Be Unified Communications

Impulse Purchases Key for Mobile Marketing Messages

A significant number of American consumers are interested in receiving opt-in marketing messages, according to a new survey by Harris Interactive. It also appears impulse purchases are prime candidates for mobile marketing messages.

The survey of 2,029 mobile phone users, ages 18 and older shows 42 percent of users between the ages of 18 and 34 and 33 percent of those between 35 to 44 are at least somewhat interested in receiving alerts about sales on their cell phones from their favorite establishments.

Men are more interested than women. About 51 percent of men ages 18 to 34, and 34 percent of women of the same age range are at least somewhat interested in receiving opt-in shopping alerts on their cell phones.

Only one percent of cell phone owners currently receive alerts about sales at their favorite establishments on their phones, yet 26 percent would be at least somewhat interested in receiving such alerts, assuming they were permission-based.

Of those interested in receiving alerts, 53 percent would be at least somewhat interested in being notified about restaurant specials around them.

About 43 percent say they would be interested in getting information about movie or event tickets. About 39 percent are interested in getting weather information, while 37 percent indicated interest in information about clearance sales.

Sizable percentages expressed interest in specific products such as pizza, clothes, fast food, electronics, music, happy hour specials or bar and night club offers.

Impulse purchases seem particularly germane. The survey found that about 90 percent of U.S. adults have made an impulse purchase when they were out shopping in a store, based on a sale or special offer going on around where they were.

Nearly a quarter of adults owning cell phones (22 percent) make this type of impulse purchase at least once per week or more often.

Might Verizon Still Get the iPhone?

Given the direct knocks on the Apple iPhone in Verizon's latest "Droid Does" marketing campaign, there has been speculation that Verizon has given up on any plans it might have had for offering the iPhone on the Verizon network.

But Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg surprised observers by saying Verizon has not given up hope of offering Apple's iPhone.

"This is a decision that is exclusively in Apple's court," Seidenberg said on Verizon's third quarter 2009 earnings call. "We obviously would be interested in any point in the future they thought it would make sense for them to have us as a partner."

"We have expanded our base of other devices," explained Seidenberg. "So our view is to broaden the base of choice for customers and hopefully along the way, Apple as well as others will decide to jump on the bandwagon."

Although AT&T's exclusive deal to offer the iPhone in the US is thought to be nearing an end, Verizon Wireless, which uses the CDMA air interface, is viewed by some an unlikely candidate to offer the iPhone, which currently is designed to run on GSM networks.

AT&T's iPhone exclusive is seen as a key factor in differing net new subscriber performance in the third quarter. Verizon Wireless added 1.2 million new mobile customers during the quarter to reach 89 million in total, while AT&T had earlier reported growth of two million net new subscribers, to reach 81.6 million total subs.

AT&T said it activated 3.2 million iPhones in the third quarter of 2009, the company's largest quarterly total to date.

T-Mobile USA Launches Unlimited Prepaid Offer

Given the relative strength of prepaid wireless, and a renewed spate of competition in the segment, it might not be too surprising that T-Mobile USA has launched a new unlimited mobile plan available to customers who do not like contracts.

What might have been disruptive is an extension of such plans to all postpaid customers as well, a move that might have sparked yet another round of price cuts in the postpaid business. But it was a move T-Mobile USA chose not to take.

The new plan offers unlimited talk, text and Web surfing for $79.99 a month to customers who do not want to sign up for a long-term contract, which typically lasts two years.

It will also offer a $50 per month unlimited service for non-contract customers that only want access to voice calls, not text messaging or Web access.

By some measures, the new deal represents a 20 percent discount on T-Mobile's standard unlimited monthly fee for contract customers.

Nobody knows what might have happened had T-Mobile USA launched a $50 per month unlimited voice and data service plan for all customers, but an immediate price war is one likely outcome.

As matters stand, that is unlikely to happen. On its third quarter earnings call, Verizon said Verizon Wireless was unlikely to respond to T-Mobile USA's new offer with a similar one of its own.

That is unsurprising given Verizon's general stance on prepaid, which is that it remains a niche tough to square with Verizon's historic focus on higher-end postpaid customers.

Prepaid accounted for 80 percent of U.S. subscriber growth in the first quarter of 2009, though growth has moderated since then.

Sprint subsidiary Boost Mobile launched a $50 monthly plan in January 2009 and has been matched by the other leading prepaid providers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Demand TV "Not So Everywhere"

Comcast Cable subscribers will be able to watch popular cable television series such as HBO's "Entourage" and AMC's "Mad Men" on your computer by the end of the year without paying extra — as long as you're a Comcast Corp. subscriber watching at home.

The initiative is a starting point for Comcast, which hopes to eventually offer what some call "TV Everywhere" service: linear video programming on demand, over any broadband network.

Comcast, wanting to make sure the shows will remain off-limits to non-subscribers, apparently still is working on providing access over competing home broadband systems as well as on the go — at work, on laptops and, one day, over cell phones.

Comcast will be the first cable TV operator to unlock online access to a many cable shows and movies, aiming to replicate what's available on television through video on demand.

Comcast subscribers can initially watch shows and movies only on their home computers after being verified by the cable system. And for now, the online viewing will be restricted to those who also get Internet service through Comcast, and not on any broadband connection.

That might be helpful for Comcast consumers watching on-demand fare at home. It will not be so helpful if those customers would prefer to watch on their mobiles or any other broadband connection.

But it is a start.

Net Neutality: What Verizon and Google Can Agree On

Though there are many issues upon which Verizon and Google disagree, both companies say they agree on some elements of network neutrality.

"For starters we both think it's essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform. where people can access any content (so long as it's legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice," say Lowell McAdam, CEO Verizon Wireless and Eric Schmidt, CEO Google.

That should come as no surprise. Those rules already are part of the Federal Communications Commission "Internet Freedoms" principles.

Both executives say the current debate about network neutrality is about the best way to "protect and promote the openness of the Internet."

Both executives say "it's obvious that users should continue to have the final say about their web experience, from the networks and software they use, to the hardware they plug in to the Internet and the services they access online."

"Second, advanced and open networks are essential to the future development of the Web," McAdam and Schmidt say. "Policies that continue to provide incentives for investment and innovation are a vital part of the debate we are now beginning."

"The FCC's existing wireline broadband principles make clear that users are in charge of all aspects of their Internet experience--from access to apps and content, so we think it makes sense for the
Commission to establish that these existing principles are enforceable, and implement them on a case-by-case basis," McAdam and Schmidt say.

"We're in wild agreement that in this rapidly changing Internet ecosystem, flexibility in government policy is key," they emphasize. "Policymakers sometimes fall prey to the temptation to write overly detailed rules, attempting to predict every possible scenario and address every possible concern," and that
"can have unintended consequences."

Both executives say "broadband network providers should have the flexibility to manage their networks to deal with issues like traffic congestion, spam, "malware" and denial of service attacks, as well as other threats that may emerge in the future, so long as they do it reasonably, consistent with their customers' preferences, and don't unreasonably discriminate in ways that either harm users or are anti-competitive."

"They should also be free to offer managed network services, such as IP television," both men say.

"While Verizon supports openness across its networks, it believes that there is no evidence of a problem today -- especially for wireless -- and no basis for new rules and that regulation in the US could have a detrimental effect globally," they say. "While Google supports light touch regulation, it believes that safeguards are needed to combat the incentives for carriers to pick winners and losers online."

That isn't to say the two firms have identical interests or views. But as we have seen in prior discussions about net neutrality, there is more room for compromise than sometimes seems to be the case. That undoubtedly will be the case this time around, as well.

Mobile Social Networkers Do More of Everything

“Do we have to build a social network on our own or do we have to invest in an existing one?" asks France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard. "We haven’t decided yet.”

The question itself provides a clue to the growing importance social computing and networking holds for mobile service providers. To be sure, we are at the beginning of a convergence between mobile behavior and social application behavior.

On average, only about seven percent of 16- to 24-year-olds already access social networking sites from their mobile phones, says Forrester Research analyst Thomas Husson.

But that is going to change.  In the United Kingdom, up to 40 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are already using or are interested in accessing social networking sites from their mobile phones, says Husson.

In addition to accessing social network updates, social computing apps include media-sharing, such as viewing and sharing photos or videos taken from their mobile phones or use microblogging services.

Three percent of European mobile phone owners access blogs from their mobile phones, either to view them, comment on them, or publish them; the same percentage read or post customer reviews and ratings, Husson says.

Five percent of all European mobile phone owners upload photos to the Web straight from their mobile phones, while nine percent of 16- to 24-year-old mobile phone owners do so.

But mobile social networking is growing fast. About 65 million people are now actively using Facebook Mobile, for example, more than tripling its audience in eight months.

Handset manufacturers and mobile service providers also are becoming more active in the mobile social networking arena.

Handset manufacturers are actively partnering with social networking sites to integrate access with specific handsets, making social networking as easy as making a call or sending a text message.

Service operators also are forging their own partnerships for many of the same reasons. Consumers who access social networking sites using mobile phones are heavy users of communication services.

Where 34 percent of mobile users say they use text messaging "every day," about 76 percent of mobile social networkers say they do so. Where two percent of mobile users say they access email every day, about 23 percent of mobile social networkers do so.

Where two percent of mobile users say they use mobile instant messaging every day, abour 12 percent of mobile social networkers do so.

So mobile service operators are aggregating social networks, allowing users to get, and make, all their updates from a single operator portal, for example.

"Location" is one reason the mobile social Web is seen as increasingly important. When a user's device knows knows "where you are, where your friends are, and what they are doing," social networking becomes more valuable.

Location is by at the very heart of a mobile phone’s value, and Forrester believes that location as a service will become a core enabler of mobile activities in the future.

Location will progressively become a component of social communications as consumers share their location, geo-tagged photos, and comments, helping them explore places and events that their friends recommend.

New technologies also will facilitate the connection between physical and online worlds. For example, consumers will be able to point their camera phone at a product, read reviews from peers, glance at ratings, look up information, and even find the closest store that sells it.

The key insight is that the mobile phone is not simply an extension of the PC-based Internet. That is why a great percentage of mobile broadband access (to support handset applications) is supplemental to, and not a replacement for, fixed broadband access.

Forrester expects 39 percent of European mobile users to adopt the mobile Internet by 2014. And at least initially, mobile service providers will be among the biggest winners, based on sales of new mobile data plans, Husson argues.

Though service providers worry their text messaging revenues will be cannibalized by social network posts, Husson thinks that is unlikely.

Service providers also are likely to benefit in the form of reduced churn if they are able to create the most compelling user experiences.

Advertising, premium content and payment services also are other likely revenue streams. In the future, wiring money to one's social mobile contacts using a mobile phone could be very convenient, for example.

Aggregation and synchronization of social network and other key address books with location information in real time are likely to become important ways mobile service providers create value.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kindle Connections Now Go to AT&T

In a business with true scale and scope economies, ownership of a global network can be a key advantage. Consider network support for the Amazon Kindle book readers, which now are sold internationally.

The U.S. version of the Kindle 2 has used the Sprint 3G network. But both international and U.S. versions will henceforth use the AT&T network globally. Existing U.S. Kindle owners will continue to use Sprint, but all new devices will be powered by the AT&T network.

Of course, there are other ebook readers. Barnes & Nobles sells the Nook, Sony sells the Daily Edition and Plastic Logic sells the Que. All of those readers use AT&T's network.

Verizon will provide service for the upcoming iRex e-reader.

The financial impact to Sprint might be a relatively minor issue. Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett estimates the Kindle will drive one million Kindle users a year to AT&T that Sprint would otherwise have gotten.

Moffett estimates that Sprint makes about $5 for each subscriber addition and $2 per every e-book downloaded onto Kindle over its networks, according to Business Week writer Olga Kharif.

The real issue is whether other upcoming devices and services have enough of a global angle, and enough sales volume, that providers such as Sprint are unable to compete in those new lines of business as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How Long Will 40 Gbps, 100 Gbps Networks Last?

The problem with networks is that they do not last as long as they used to, which means they need to be upgraded more frequently, which also means the ability to raise capital to upgrade the networks is a bigger issue than it once was.

Qwest CTO Pieter Poll, for example, notes that Qwest's bandwidth growth now is 45 percent growth compounded annually, or nearly doubling every two years or so. That in itself is not the big problem, though. The issue is that consumers driving most of that new consumption do not expect to pay more for that consumption increase.

"From my perspective, the industry really needs to focus on tracking down cost per bit at the same rate, otherwise you'll have an equation that's just not going to compute," says Poll. Whether on the capital investment or operating cost fronts, adjustments will have to be made, one concludes.

Still, raw bandwidth increases are not insignificant. "If you look at 2008 for us it was unprecedented in terms of the work we did in the backbone," says John Donovan, AT&T CTO. "The capacity we carried in 2008, five years out, will be a rounding error.

Donovan notes that AT&T's 2 Gbps backbone lasted 7 years, the10 Gbps backbone lasted five years, while the 40 gigabit will last three years.

By historical example, one wonders whether 100-Gbps networks might last as little as two years before requring upgrades.

Donovan suggests carriers will have to rethink how they design networks, how routing is done and how content bits get moved around. One suspects there might be more use of regional or local caches, to avoid having so many bits traverse the entire backbone network.

25% of Business Apps to be Created by Amateurs, Gartner Says

By 2014, citizen developers will build at least 25 percent of new business applications, according to Gartner analysts. If that is shocking, consider the amount of Web content now freely contributed to Wikipedia or many of your favorite blogs, microblogging sites and YouTube.

Gartner defines a citizen developer as a user operating outside of the scope of enterprise IT and its governance that creates new business applications for consumption by others either from scratch or by composition.

"Future citizen-developed applications will leverage IT investments below the surface, allowing IT to focus on deeper architectural concerns, while end users focus on wiring together services into business processes and workflows," says Eric Knipp, Gartner senior research analyst.

Better technology has also lowered the bar for becoming a developer, while at the same time, users have become less intimidated by technology, empowering citizen developers to do more than they ever could before, Knipp says. Y

"The bottom line lies in encouraging citizen developers to take on application development projects that free IT resources to work on more complex problems," Knipp says.

"Citizen development skills are suited for creating situational and departmental applications like the ones often created in Excel or Access today," he says.

Will Hulu be a For-Fee Service in 2010?

It looks like much Hulu content, especially network TV fare, will move to "for-fee" status sometime in 2010.  Hulu, owned by News Corp, NBC Universal and Walt Disney Company, is quite popular, attracting more than 300 million views in the month of February 2009, but ad revenues have been disappointing.

 “It’s time to start getting paid for broadcast content online,” says News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey.

“We’re exchanging analog dollars for digital dimes,” and that simply cannot continue, Carey says. “I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content."

"I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value,” Carey adds. “Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.”

Precisely what content will be "behind a pay wall" is not yet clear. Hulu is not likely to charge fees for all content on its site, but what it intends to do is not yet clear.

The planned move illustrates the continuing problem virtually all content providers and distrbutors are having with IP-delivered content: gross revenue in legacy channels is not being matched in digital channels.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Will Net Neutrality Curtail Broadband Investment?

Nobody knows what final shape of proposed new network neutrality rules might take. What already is clear is the debate over the impact of such rules on network investment. Predictably, proponents of strong new rules say carriers are bluffing about the stifling effect new rules might have.

Just as predictably, leading industry executives say that is precisely the danger.

“We’ve invested more than $80 billion over the last five years to build these platforms for growth, and that’s Verizon alone,” says Verizon Chairman Ivan Seidenberg.

Speaking about the transformative role communication and information technologies can, and should have, Seidenberg cautioned that “while this future is imminent, it is not inevitable, and the decisions we make today – as an industry and as a country – will determine whether the benefits of these transformational networks will be felt sooner or much, much later.”

“Our industry has shown that we can work with the government as well as our partners and competitors to achieve mutually desirable goals of more competition, consumer choice and broadband expansion," Seidenberg says. "But we can’t achieve these ends if we interrupt the flow of private capital and delay the cascading productivity impacts of a more networked world."

“Rather than impose rigid rules on a rapidly changing industry, the FCC should focus on creating the conditions for growth,” he says.

Frank Gallaher, Stifel Nicolaus analyst, warned of just that outcome. At least some policy advocates are too sanguine about the impact on investment if harsh new rules are inacted. Likewise, Matt Niehaus, Battery Ventures analyst, warned that telecom investment capital has been declining over the past 10 quarters. The capital flight is caused in large part because of a perception that there is too much competition in telecoms, and therefore further investment is less likely to provide an adequate return on capital investment.

 "It's a perception in Wall Street, there's too much competition, and therefore it's difficult for entities to obtain a great return, " he says.

  "One of the things that worries me, is you can execute very well, and the problem is you may do all those things right, yet it's not clear you will be rewarded on the back end for it," Niehaus says.

But S. Derek Turner, Free Press research director, says carrier investment decisions are driven by a variety of factors, but regulation plays only a minor role.

"In general, firms’ investment decisions are driven primarily by six factors: expectations about demand;
supply costs; competition; interest rates; corporate taxes; and general economic confidence -- making
the overall decision to invest a complex process that is highly dependent on the specific facts of a given
market," says Turner. "It is simply wrong to suggest that network neutrality, or any other regulation, will
automatically deter investment."

Turner argues that "at the end of 2006, AT&T, as a condition of its acquisition of BellSouth, was required by the FCC to operate a neutral network for two years. During this period, while operating under network neutrality rules, AT&T’s overall gross investment increased by $1.8 billion, more than any other ISPs in America."

"In its wireline segment (which was specifically subject to the FCC’s fifth principle of nondiscrimination
in addition to the other four open Internet principles in the agency’s Internet policy statement, AT&T’s
gross capital investment increased by $2.3 billion," says Turner.

As a percentage of wireline revenues, AT&T’s wireline investments grew from 13.5 percent in 2006 to 20.2 percent in 2008, he also argues.

"During the years following the imposition of pro-competitive regulations on incumbent phone
companies as stipulated in the 1996 Telecom Act, investment as a percentage of revenue by these
companies rose from nearly 20 percent before the enactment of the law to a high of 28 percent in
2001," Turner argues. "In the years following the dismantling of these rules, relative investment levels declined to below 17 percent in 2008."

In fairness, the issue is fairly complex. One might argue that AT&T was willing to invest, even under temporary "neutrality" rules, precisely because those rules were temporary. One might argue that some investment was driven by competitive concerns, not necessarily because of high return on invested capital.

Indeed, the fact that investment, as a percentage of revenue, has grown is precisely because returns are lower than before precisely because the returns from broadband services are lower than for voice services.

Also, investment might have declined in 2008 because of the recession, or because such investment is powerfully affected by the general level of competition. In other words, executives might have been investing more than they believed they "should," not to gain revenue or share but simply to hold it. That, in fact, is precisely what executives say privately.

The other imponderable is that current net neutrality rules are fairly benign, and simply allow end users access to all lawful applications. Proposed new rules might go much further, and prohibit development of new services, driving new revenue, at a much more serious level.

To argue that benign rules have had benign impact is one thing. It is quite another thing to extend rules in ways that might actually choke off needed new revenue opportunities, at a time when everybody agrees the current revenues are unsustainable. Forcing wireless companies to follow the same rules that might be applied to wired networks with vastly more bandwidth is one example.

Net Neutality: What Verizon and Google Can Agree On

Though there are many issues upon which Verizon and Google disagree, both companies say they agree on some elements of network neutrality.

"For starters we both think it's essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform. where people can access any content (so long as it's legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice," say Lowell McAdam, CEO Verizon Wireless and Eric Schmidt, CEO Google.

That should come as no surprise. Those rules already are part of the Federal Communications Commission "Internet Freedoms" principles.

Both executives say the current debate about network neutrality is about the best way to "protect and promote the openness of the Internet."

Both executives say "it's obvious that users should continue to have the final say about their web experience, from the networks and software they use, to the hardware they plug in to the Internet and the services they access online."

"Second, advanced and open networks are essential to the future development of the Web," McAdam and Schmidt say. "Policies that continue to provide incentives for investment and innovation are a vital part of the debate we are now beginning."

"The FCC's existing wireline broadband principles make clear that users are in charge of all aspects of their Internet experience--from access to apps and content, so we think it makes sense for the
Commission to establish that these existing principles are enforceable, and implement them on a case-by-case basis," McAdam and Schmidt say.

"We're in wild agreement that in this rapidly changing Internet ecosystem, flexibility in government policy is key," they emphasize. "Policymakers sometimes fall prey to the temptation to write overly detailed rules, attempting to predict every possible scenario and address every possible concern," and that
"can have unintended consequences."

Both executives say "broadband network providers should have the flexibility to manage their networks to deal with issues like traffic congestion, spam, "malware" and denial of service attacks, as well as other threats that may emerge in the future, so long as they do it reasonably, consistent with their customers' preferences, and don't unreasonably discriminate in ways that either harm users or are anti-competitive."

"They should also be free to offer managed network services, such as IP television," both men say.

"While Verizon supports openness across its networks, it believes that there is no evidence of a problem today -- especially for wireless -- and no basis for new rules and that regulation in the US could have a detrimental effect globally," they say. "While Google supports light touch regulation, it believes that safeguards are needed to combat the incentives for carriers to pick winners and losers online."

That isn't to say the two firms have identical interests or views. But as we have seen in prior discussions about net neutrality, there is more room for compromise than sometimes seems to be the case. That undoubtedly will be the case this time around, as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

9% of SMBs Use Twitter for Marketing

About nine percent of small and medium-sized businesses currently use Twitter to market their businesses, say researchers at BIA/Kelsey.  In addition, 32 percent of SMBs indicated they plan to include social media in their marketing mix in the next 12 months by using a page on a social site such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.

Furthermore, 39 percent of SMBs plan to include customer ratings or reviews on their own Web sites, and 31 percent plan to include links or ads placed on social sites or blogs.

"Social media is clearly gaining traction among SMB advertisers," says Steve Marshall, director of research and consulting, BIA/Kelsey.

You might not be surprised if any study suggests Twitter is used disproportionately by younger people. What the BIA/Kelsey study suggests it also is used by "younger businesses."

About 16 percent of SMBs in business three years or less say they use Twitter for marketing or promotion. About 11 percent of SMBs in business four to six years say they use Twitter for such purposes.

Some six percent of SMBs in business seven to 10 years say they use Twitter for some form of marketing while just two percent of firms in business for 11 or more years say they do so.

Social Media, Networking Now 17% of Total Internet Use

Social networking and blogging sites accounted for 17 percent (about one in every six minutes) of all time spent on the Internet in August 2009, nearly three times as much as in 2008, according to the Nielsen Company.

“This growth suggests a wholesale change in the way the Internet is used,” says Jon Gibs, Nielsen VP. “While video and text content remain central to the Web experience, the desire of online consumers to connect, communicate and share is increasingly driving the medium’s growth.”

The popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2009 as well. In September 2009, Facebook had 90 million U.S. users and 300 million users worldwide. Also, those users increased the amount of time spent on social sites 83 percent from 2008 to 2009, Nielsen says.

As always is the case, marketing and advertising efforts "follow people."  U.S. advertisers spent an estimated $1.4 billion to place ads on social networking sites in 2008 and advertising expenditures are predicted to rise to $2.6 billion by 2012.

More specificially, advertisers in some verticals made huge new commitments to social media as an advertising medium. The entertainment vertical, for example, increased its spending 812 percent year over year. The travel industry increased its spending 364 percent, year over year.

To be sure, aggregate social site advertising remains a small percentage of overall ad spending. But rapid growth is the story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Verizon Introduces Quad Play Bundles

Verizon customers in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic markets now can buy quadruple-play packages of wireless, TV, Internet access and home phone service in configurations costing as little as $135 a month with a one-year contract, for FiOS locations. Customers served by digital subscriber line service can get packages as low as $125 a month.

The basic Verizon quad-play FiOS bundle consists of the national Verizon Wireless calling plan of 450 minutes, "Freedom Essentials" voice service, FiOS Internet service with 15 Mbps downstream, 5 Mbps upstream connection speeds and FiOS TV "Essentials" service.

For customers served by Verizon's copper network, the lead quad-play bundle consists of the national Verizon Wireless calling plan of 450 minutes, a "Freedom Essentials" calling plan, broadband access with downstream connection of up to 3 Mbps and the DirectTV Plus DVR package.  A one-year Verizon commitment and a two-year DirectTV commitment with hardware lease are required with these bundles.

With four services all on one bill, qualifying quad-play customers will save from $59 to $179 a  year, depending upon which bundle they order.

New customers who sign up by Jan. 16, 2010 for FiOS quad-play or triple-play bundles that include broadband and TV also will receive a $150 Visa prepaid card. New customers who subscribe to quad-play or triple-play bundles that include Verizon Freedom Essentials, Verizon broadband access with an up-to-3 Mbps or 7 Mbps speed, and DIRECTV service will receive three months of free broadband access service.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Droid Does?

I'm not so sure the really important thing about the upcoming Motorola "Droid," which will be available on the Verizon network, is whether it is an "Apple iPhone killer."

Certainly Motorola and Verizon hope the device does attract users who otherwise might be attracted to an iPhone. There are clear commercial reasons for both of those firms to hope the device is a wild success.

But I'm not convinced what the world needs is a better iPhone. What it might need is more devices that do different things than the iPhone, that appeal to new user segments and lead applications.

It makes a better headline to focus on the "iPhone versus Droid" angle, but I don't think that's the main thing. Give users something different. Just as important, give users more reasons to do things with a smartphone that really aren't as easy, or preferable, on an iPhone.

Quick Messaging Phones Gain Favor Fast

While smartphones like Apple’s iPhone, the BlackBerry Storm, and T-Mobile’s Android-based MyTouch get all the attention, another category of mobile phones has quietly been accelerating its market share, says Forrester Research.

The quick messaging device offers a keyboard and, or touchscreen, providing much of the functionality of a smartphone but lacking the high-level operating system. Where a smartphone user likely is interested in email or mobile Web, a quick messaging user is text message centric.

At the start of 2008, seven percent of U.S. adult mobile subscribers owned a smartphone, while just one in 20 subscribers used a quick messaging device. A year later, more than one in 10 adult subscribers was using a smartphone, an impressive growth rate of 57 percent, but quick messaging devices grew nearly twice as fast and almost doubled their market share to nine percent.

In other words, quick messaging devices have nearly reached the level of smartphone penetration.

With all major operators expanding their quick messaging lineup and prices declining, these numbers are likely to continue in 2009, Forrester Research predicts.

For example, AT&T today offers more than 10 phones in this category, beginning at just $9.99
for the Motorola Karma when purchased online with a two-year contract. Verizon Wireless goes even further with the Samsung Intensity. Iit’s free with a two-year commitment, says Charles S. Golvin, Forrester Research analyst.

As you might guess, mobile subscribers ages 18 to 24 are nearly 50 percent more likely to own a quick messaging device than a smartphone.

Smartphones are most prevalent among subscribers ages 25 to 34, yet quick messaging devices are nearly as popular in this segment, and more than doubled their share in this group last year, says Golvin.

Quick messaging devices also appeal to a more mainstream audience. In terms of demographics and psychographics, quick messaging device users more closely resemble other mainstream mobile subscribers than do smartphone users.

While smartphone owners are overwhelmingly the male, well educated technology optimists that personify the early adopter, quick messaging device owners earn slightly less than the average subscriber and are more likely to be female.

More importantly for mobile operators, the quick messaging device owners spend a much higher percentage of their monthly income on mobile services than does the average subscriber.

Ttext messaging (SMS) is the driver. Some 70 percent of quick messaging device owners say they use SMS daily.

From a mobile operator's point of view, quick messaging customers are important because they are "mobile centric." Their traffic is much more likely to remain on the mobile network than to terminate on a landline and their communication is more likely to end up on another phone than on a PC.

More than 60 percent of quick messaging device owners use multimedia messaging (MMS), which most often exploits the phone’s camera and terminates on another mobile phone. For large operators like Verizon Wireless and AT&T in particular, this traffic is more likely to be “on-net,” which reduces their fees from interconnections with other operators.

Users with a quick messaging device are more likely to be primarily motivated by entertainment than the average mobile subscriber. Therefore, it’s no surprise that these subscribers are among the most avid purchasers of content for their mobile phone, says Golvin.

Nearly half of quick messaging device owners say they bought at least one form of content in the past six months, versus only one quarter of all subscribers.

"Heavy Texters" are a fast-growing mobile end user segment.

Email Remains Enterprise Collaboration Killer App

Email remains the enterprise collaboration "killer app," according to a new Forrester Research survey of some 2,000 enterprises (click image for larger view).

And despite the hype, most "Web 2.0" applications are not widely adopted, the survey finds. In fact, email, word processing, Web browsers and spreadsheets are the top four applications used by information workers, the survey finds.

But even among those apps, the level of involvement or expertise varies widely. While 60 percent of employees use word processing daily, only 42 percent actually
create documents.

Most other applications are used by only a minority of information workers.

One clear area of demand, though, is smartphones. The survey suggests that only about 11 percent of information workers actually use smartphones now, but 33 percent of respndents say they use a personal mobile phone for work purposes.

About 21 percent of respondents would like to get email outside of work, and 15 percent would like email on a smartphone.

· Collaboration tools are "stalled out", says Ted Schadler, Forrester Research analyst. Collaboration tools are important for people on a team, particularly if that team is distributed across many locations, he says. But the tools are not widely adopted.

Only 25 percent of enterprise information workers uses Web conferencing and
one in five uses team sites.

That leaves email with 87 percent adoption as the default collaboration tool for most people.

Forrester surveyed 2,001 U.S. information workers as part of the study, focusing on
employees of organizations with 100 or more employees. About 44 percent of respondents indicated they work at organizations of 5,000 or more employees.

Still, it’s really location flexibility that matters most to employee productivity, and laptop users at
companies with wireless access and secure network access benefit from that.

Telework is on the rise, poised to grow to 63 million U.S. information workers by 2016, says Schadler.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mobile Social Networking Doubles

About 10 percent of social network interactions now occur on mobile devices, compared to five percent 12 months ago, Forrester Research notes.

Interestingly, that is just about the same percentage of U.S. consumers who use mobile devices to interact with their email. According to a study by Epsilon, about nine percent of North American users do so.

Both of those trends have implications, bearing directly on how much people can substitute mobile access for fixed PC access to applications.

That in turn has implications for the design of Web services and applications that can be optimized for mobile use.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

End User Danger from Overly-Broad Net Neutrality?

Keep in mind that there is nothing the government can do about the Internet, the quality of our services, the amount of innovation or investment in innovation that can fail to benefit or harm somebody's interests.

That doesn't mean any particular policy is wrong or right, simply that there is nothing "good" anybody can do in Washington, D.C. that does not at the same time have huge financial implications. The way I have always understood this principle is that "for every public purpose there is a corresponding private interest."

Perhaps nothing would have greater potential impact than any move to apply regulations--of any new sort--to IP networks generally, not just the "public Internet."

The reason would be troubling is that all sorts of networks now use IP technology, not just the "Internet." Private corporate networks, satellite TV, cable TV, telco TV, satellite and terrestrial networks of many sorts use the same technology as the public Internet, but are not part of the public Internet.

From a policy perspective, that implies great danger. The reason is that radio, TV, print and communications all are regulated in very different ways. But as all services now can be delivered using IP technology or the public Internet, definitiions that are too broad will ensnare any "net neutrality" rulemaking in a broader regulatory discussion that simply cannot be entertained at the FCC's level.

Raise the number of affected interests, as such a broad move to regulate all IP traffic would, and nothing will happen. Some might find this the best outcome, but to the extent that anything rational gets accomplished, the discussion must be contained in some real ways.

The nature of broadband access lines is that they can carry any sort of traffic, and some of that traffic is regulated in very different ways, some of which the government has little right to regulate. Phone services are the most-heavily regulated, content of the sort we once associated with newspapers is least regulated.

Radio and TV broadcast content is more regulated than print, less regulated than voice. Cable TV is slightly more regulated than "broadcast," in some ways, slightly less regulated in other ways. Private data networks used by businesses tend not to be regulated at all.

The danger is that too-broad an approach accidentally will be taken, ensnaring the entire discussion in broader areas that arguably do need review, but frankly are so complicated now that nothing could be accomplished.

The specific goal of proposed new non-discrimination rules is precisely that: protecting application providers from access provider discrimination. The problem is that "packet discrimination" is at the heart of many other services of extreme value to end users.

Voice, video entertainment and core enterprise business processes are prime examples. Whole ecosystems of end user value are based on the ability to maintain quality of experience at a high level.

On any communications network with congestion, and that is virtually all networks, some applications have higher end user value than others. Packet prioritization of some sort might, under such conditions, be valuable to end users.

So long as business discrimination is not the result of such prioritization, there are lots of good reasons for continuing to allow IP-based businesses to do so, especially when they have the right to do so, based on their differing regulatory regimes.

The danger here for end users and providers of applications is an overly-broad treatment of "net neutrality," and the issue of whether we are talking about private IP networks or the "public" Internet is such an example, especially as Web browsers might be used as the client side access to private services.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Do Prices, Speeds Benefit From Robust Broadband Wholesale Policies?

“Open access” policies—unbundling, bitstream access, collocation requirements, wholesaling, and/or functional separation—have played a core role in the first generation transition to broadband in most countries with high access rates and lower prices, a new study by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society suggests.

The authors suggest the same principles will be important in the next phase of development, where higher speeds must be provided, as well.

The highest prices for the lowest speeds are overwhelmingly offered by firms in the United
States and Canada, all of which inhabit markets structured around “inter-modal” competition—that is, competition between one incumbent owning a telephone system, and one incumbent owning a cable system, the report argues.

The lowest prices and highest speeds are almost all offered by firms in markets where, in
addition to an incumbent telephone company and a cable company, there are also competitors who entered the market, and built their presence, through use of open access facilities, the report says.

The argument, in essence, is that robust wholesale policies contribute meaningfully to providing consumers with faster speeds and lower prices.

There is a logic to the argument which is hard to disagree or agree with in the abstract, since another huge issue is the setting of policy frameworks that encourage robust investment in new broadband networks by private entities.

No policy will be effective, in any particular country, if private capital cannot be raised to build the networks. Conversely, any policy can work so long as adequate capital can be raised.

And though the temptation is to argue about the implications for strong "network neutrality" policies, that is a different issue. The issue here is the same argument national policymakers had when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was weighed, namely, "what is role for wholesale policies" in setting pro-growth and pro-competititive policies?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

T-Mobile USA Sidekick Data Nearly Fully Recovered

T-Mobile USA and Microsoft now say they have “recovered most, if not all, customer data for those  Sidekick customers whose data was affected by the recent outage,” says Roz Ho, Microsoft corporate VP.

"We plan to begin restoring users’ personal data as soon as possible, starting with personal contacts, after we have validated the data and our restoration plan," Ho says. "We will then continue to work around the clock to restore data to all affected users, including calendar, notes, tasks, photographs and high scores, as quickly as possible."

"We now believe that data loss affected a minority of Sidekick users," Ho added. Despite that good news, two class action lawsuits have been filed against T-Mobile USA, alleging that the company misled consumers into believing that their data was more secure than was the case.

Wal-Mart Straight Talk a Tipping Point?

In March of 2009, the Opinion Research Center estimated that 8.7b million Americans already had discontinued their mobile service because of the recession, and suggested that as many as 60 million mobile users would seek ways to reduce spending.

One way many consumers seem to have done so is to substitute prepaid service for contract plans. That would account for robust subscriber growth for virtually all providers of prepaid service since then.

But Wal-Mart's new “Straight Talk” prepaid service, offered at the $30 and $45 levels, could end up being the “tipping point for millions of consumers who are already considering moving away from expensive contract-based cell phone service,” says Allen Hepner, New Millennium Research executive director.

Hepner believes that the $30 plan (with 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts per month, mobile Web access and no-extra cost 411 calls, with no contract and no penalties) and the $45 plan (unlimited calling, texting, mobile Web and 411) that Wal-Mart now offers under the “Straight Talk” brand are going to get serious attention.

With average monthly contract plans reported to be about $81, the more than 140 million U.S. contract-based wireless customers who use less than 550 minutes a month may now have even more reason to consider switching to a less expensive cell phone option, particularly in a changing environment in which plans for 1,000 minutes are available through Wal-Mart for $30 per month, Hepner argues.

In March 2009, ORC estimated that there were 29 million prepaid accounts in service, representing about 16 percent of the total base of mobile users.

“We see that 8,740,000 Americans, that is 19 percent of consumers without a cell phone, report that they already have ‘discontinued cell phone service in the last six months because of actual job loss, fear of job loss, the recession, or any other related financial concerns," said Graham Hueber, Opinion Research Center senior researcher.

At the same time, ORC suggested that 39 percent of postpaid mobile customers--60.3 million consumers--were likely to cut back on their cell phones to save money, the Opinion Research Corporation estimated.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wal-Mart Gets into the Mobile Phone Business

Competition in the voice business is about to get more heated, as Wal-Mart now says it will be a  retailer of mobile phone service, partnering with American Movil to sell low-cost service pre-paid service under the "Straight Talk" brand. The company is offering unlimited voice and text minutes for $45 a month, or 1,000 minutes and 1,000 text messages for $30 a month.

AT&T just introduced a new $60 a month pre-paid service under its "GoPhone" brand with unlimited U.S. voice calls and unlimited text messaging to the U.S., Mexico, Canada and more than 100 other countries.

The plan includes unlimited IM picture and video messages. The service does not require a contract, and offers a range of full keyboard devices.

And AT&T recently reevaluated its position on use of Skype from its Apple iPhones, using the mobile network, not just Wi-Fi.

All the moves show the intensified competition in the prepaid wireless segment, one of the few areas of untapped growth for mobile providers.

Still, the new activity around voice pricing only accentuates the on-going trend, which is that voice, though the historic driver of revenue for mobile and fixed providers, will not be the driver in the future.

As JP Morgan analyst Mike McCormack notes, voice accounts for $50-$60 of the $95 in monthly revenue generated by the typical iPhone user. If the average user were to drop AT&T’s unlimited voice plan ($99.99 a month) in favor of its cheapest ($39.99 a month), the carrier could lose upward of 20 percent to 33 percent of its voice revenue, at least from iPhone users.

In the past, industry executives accurately could say they were in the telephone or voice business. That won't work in the future, when they primarily will be in the communications business, with significant operations in the content and application businesses as well.

Peer-to-peer Wi-Fi: Bluetooth Killer?

A new peer-to-peer Wi-Fi specification sponsored by the Wi-Fi Alliance will enable Wi-Fi devices to connect to one another directly without joining a traditional home, office, or hotspot network. 

The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to begin certification for this new specification in mid-2010 and products which achieve the certification will be designated "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Wi-Fi Direct."

The specification can be implemented in any Wi-Fi device, from mobile phones, cameras, printers, and notebook computers, to human interface devices such as keyboards and headphones. 

Significantly, devices that have been certified to the new specification will also be able to create connections with hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED legacy devices already in use. 
Devices will be able to make a one-to-one connection, or a group of several devices can connect simultaneously.

The specification targets both consumer electronics and enterprise applications, provides management features for enterprise environments, and includes WPA2 security. Devices that support the specification will be able to discover one another and advertise available services.  

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Wi-Fi Direct devices will support typical Wi-Fi ranges and the same data rates as can be achieved with an infrastructure connection, so devices can connect from across a home or office and conduct bandwidth-hungry tasks with ease.   

Though some might fear the specification will damage sales of Wi-Fi access points, the new P2P networking technique seems more a threat to near-field standards such as Bluetooth. For some applications, such as file sharing, the extended Wi-Fi range will make it a better option than Bluetooth for public near-field communications, for example. 

Such proximity marketing techniques sometimes are used to allow users to interact with electronic billboards, for example. P2P Wi-Fi ought to be easier to use, and also will have greater range. 

Consumers Don't "Want" UC, But they Use It

Unified Communications is one of those buzzword terms people in the communications use, but doesn't necessarily resonate with consumer users. That doesn't mean consumers do not like and use UC, they just don't think about it as "UC."

More often than not, "UC" masquerades as "cool apps" that allow users to manage their communications, voice mail, video services email and other messages. These days, that value is available in the form of mobile apps downloadable from a mobile app store.

That's why users are spending more time checking out apps that actually are forms of UC, even when those apps aren't pitched as being "UC" apps.

Comcast’s mobile application for the iPhone and iPod Touch is an example. The Comcast app  provides one-stop access to key features of Comcast Digital Voice, Digital Cable and high-speed Internet services.

It allows to read and compose emails from, listen to home voice mail from one mailbox, manage landline voicemail through a visual interface, forward home calls to the iPhone, check TV listings, watch on-demand movie trailers, synch all universal address book contacts to the iPhone and add pictures to their favorite contacts.

YouMail, CallWave, PhoneFusion and Google Voice provide other examples. Those apps  allow people to instantly read transcripts of voicemails, screen calls and manage greetings by caller, for example.

Apple’s "MobileMe" service that pushes new email, contacts, web bookmarks, and calendar events over the air to iPhone, Mac, and PC so that data is synchronized.

All of those are examples of how UC looks in the consumer market. People do not seem to care what we call it. They like the higher functionality and use it. But don't ask them whether they "want unified communications." The question won't make sense.

IP Telephony Makes Huge Gains in Business

IP telephony seems to have made huge inroads into global business organizations, especially in China, a new study by Frost & Sullivan suggests. In fact, IP telephony is more the norm than the exception, illustrating the fact that IP telephony is the new normal.

"About 80 percent of respondents who have not yet deployed IP telephony say they will," says Jim Tyrrell, Verizon Business VP. Verizon Business and Cisco Systems sponsored the study.

Chinese organizations are especially active, with 89 percent using some form of IP telephony as their primary phone service.

And though early on many organizations were concerned about adoption, that no longer seems to be a key concern. About 92 percent of IT managers surveyed indicated VoIP quality is at least as good, if not better than traditional wireline phone systems.

The Frost & Sullivan survey included 3,662 information technology or line-of-business decision makers in organizations in 10 countries in Asia-Pacific, Europe and the United States, in enterprise and small or medium-sized organizations, across a range of verticals including financial services, government, health care, high technology, professional services, manufacturing and retail industries.

More than half of respondents say collaboration tools allow for greater balance between work and personal life and help them gain more control over their busy lives.

About 58 percent say there are times they don’t want to be reached while 52 percent of respondents say the new communications devices allow workers to gain more control in their lives. Also almost half (47 percent) said they could not do without the ability to conference remotely.

Confidence in virtual meeting technologies is growing. Some 61 percent see collaboration technologies as reducing the need to travel for business. More than half think using conferencing tools – such as an audio conferencing, web conferencing or video conferencing – is a good alternative to visiting business contacts face-to-face.

Regionally, European respondents like to work in the office (as opposed to working from home) and prefer in-person meetings and business travel over using conference calls. However, respondents in Asia Pac and in the United States see conferencing as a good alternative to face-to-face meetings.

Telecommuting is gaining traction. Almost half (47 percent) of respondents report having a formal telecommuting policy in place. However, less than a third (27 percent) telecommute at least once a week, and 22 percent telecommute on a daily basis. At the same time, 61 percent of respondents say they like to work from anywhere.

The results show India is the most telecommuting friendly country, with 59 percent of its organizations having a formal telecommuting policy, and 48 percent of its workers telecommuting daily followed by Hong Kong, with 54 percent of its businesses having a formal policy, and 26 percent of its workers using it on a daily basis.

The United States and China are tied for third with 47 percent of U.S. organizations and 64 percent of Chinese firms having formal telecommuting policy and 25 percent of U.S. workers and 21 percent of Chinese workers using it daily.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

T-Mobile USA Has No Urge to Merge

Deutsche Telekom AG Chief Financial Officer Timotheus Hoettges says there’s no need for further consolidation of the U.S. mobile market, apparently squashing the notion that T-Mobile USA might try to buy Sprint Nextel.

“There are four national players in the U.S. market for 300 million households, while in Europe, where we have 350 million households, there are 50-70 operators,” Hoettges says, according to Bloomberg. “We believe in our chances of being the challenger.”

Getting its third generation network strategy into higher gear remaining a key challenge.

“There is no question that we lost customers because many of our customers couldn’t get 3G.,” Hoettges says. “We now have to make sure that we can capitalize on the network in the top-10 cities where we have invested.”

Deutsche Telekom gets 24 percent of its revenue from T- Mobile USA, which saw its revenue drop 2.3 percent in the most-recent quarter.

On top of that is what T-Mobile USA can do about fourth-generation network capacity, which will require additional spectrum or wholesale sourcing.

So far, T-Mobile USA hasn't ruled out wholesale sourcing or additional spectrum acquisition. Clearwire's 4G network is rumored to be a contender, if T-Mobile decides to source spectrum rather than acquire more spectrum.

Android: What's in it for Google

Why is Google so aggressive about giving away millions of copies of its royalty-free mobile operating system? It is expected to lead directly to mobile search revenue. Jeffries &Co. thinks Google mobile search revenue will cross the $500 million mark in 2011, up from roughly $180 million in 2009, for example.

Android devices will be available on all four leading U.S. mobile carriers in 2010, so the issue is how much penetration the Android operating system will be able to get.

Beyond what Android means for Google, the issue is what it means for the service providers selling devices powered by Android.

There is speculation that Verizon, for example, plans a major initiative centered around Android to battle the Apple iPhone. Verizon apparently has been mulling the value of getting the Apple iPhone, but might have decided to push Android devices and applications instead.

T-Mobile executives have to be wondering what they will do now that Verizon has positioned itself as a major proponent of Android, as T-Mobile had been touting Android early on as a differentiator.

But if all the top-four providers are selling Android devices, using the software to differentiate user experience might become key. Apple prefers to maintain a uniform interface. Android actually enables differentiated user interfaces. So the issue is whether Android supporters will be able to create end user experiences pitched to particular end user segments that are compelling enough to create viable device segments.

Twitter, social networking, Web browsing, email, voice and texting are examples of lead end user applications that have, or can be, the center of "application specific" device sales and usage modes.

Google expects to win by growing its ad business, no matter how many distinct new niches can be created.

Sales Friction Creates Barriers to Buying Behavior

Sales friction occurs when a sales process is: too long (the line at the grocery store) too complicated (working with real estate agents) a...