Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Daiwa EuroTelcoblog No. 32, Friday 19th March, 2004: The evolving fusion of social networking, blogging, moblogging and messaging/French cable consolidation/Pew research release (original email blast 9:36 AM Friday, 19th March, 2004)

Small Planet: The evolving fusion of social networking, blogging, moblogging and messaging

Harking back to issues covered in our blockbuster EuroTelcorama issue No. 5, we are keenly monitoring the fusion of social networking, blogging, moblogging and messaging into new hybrid communications systems. Recently we have seen the launch of ICQ Universe, a social networking approach to instant messaging, and somewhat amusingly, the first-ever music video shot on a camera phone, posted to TextAmerica (http://ghettron.textamerica.com/?r=455355). Yesterday we were alerted to the existence of Small Planet (http://www.smallplanet.net/) by the ever-excellent Get Real blog. As the review (http://www.corante.com/getreal/archives/002531.html) describes it, Small Planet is pretty close to what we had in mind - combining blogging and moblogging, social networking (personal and professional levels), and social activism/pooled purchasing power elements. Curiously, the messaging platform is email (unlike the advanced IM capability of Gush, which we covered here previously), though we think this is likely to change, either in Small Planet itself, or in a similar platform. Can voice IM be far behind?

French cable consolidation thick and fast

It's been a big week for French cable. Monday saw the announcement of the acquisition of Noos by UGC Europe (owned by Liberty Media), and today France Telecom and Canal+ have announced an MoU to combine their cable businesses (France Telecom Cable and NC Numericable) with a view to selling the combined business to a third party, and retaining a minority stake. One of the issues which has underlined our negative stance on FT is the potential for the underpenetrated broadband cable market in France to be reinvigorated by consolidation and de-regulation, and it looks like this change is gathering momentum. Cable plant passes roughly 47% of French homes, slightly less than the UK, and household penetration rates are similar to the UK at around 13%. However, cable claims only about 11% of the total broadband subscriber base in France, versus 43% in the UK, 38% in Belgium and 54% in the Netherlands. In terms of the likely financial benefits to FT of such a deal, we think FT's assets would be valued at c.EUR450m (and the entire newco at c.EUR850m), if we apply the EUR500 per customer valuation we estimate UGC paid for Noos. However, consolidation of the industry by someone willing to sweat the assets brings the prospect of more pressure on FT in the broadband market, and also the spectre of an intensified VoIP assault, this time focusing on cable subs. As an aside, we have had a final ruling this morning from ART on the terms for renewal of FT's GSM license in April 2006. Press speculation had pointed to a levy on revenues of as much as 5%, which would have added about EUR430m in annual costs to Orange France. The formula announced today is for an annual fee of EUR25m and 1% of revenues (c.EUR105m in total per annum), and as such comes as a relief.

Pew research release: Nomadic internet use and the impact of spam

The amazingly prolific Pew Internet & American Life project yesterday published two short memos which caught our eye. The first is on the issue of internet use in places other than work or home (http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/pdfs/PIP_Other_Places.pdf), and the main relevance it has for us is in the potential for browser-based softphones (such as the glophone, RingTime, and others such as MyTel http://mytel.ecs.net/) to see use in places other than the home. This might be particularly relevant in the case of the 18 - 24 segment, which comprises more than half of the estimated 30m people accessing the internet from a third location, and also in lower income groups, who may only have access in a third location. There's a business model in there somewhere. Interestingly, most of the analysis was based on surveys conducted in 2002, i.e., before the mass market pushes of 2.5G and Wi-Fi, and we wonder what the revised figures will look like. The second study relates to the growing level of frustration expressed by email users at the proliferation of spam (http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/pdfs/PIP_Data_Memo_on_Spam.pdf). The survey found that 29% of respondents are using email less because of spam, up from 25% in June 2003. Half of the sample said they had noticed no change in the volume of spam since CAN-SPAM was enacted, and 23% said they are receiving more spam (19% for work email accounts - and I can vouch for that!). This is relevant to us because of our interest in the growing spectrum of closed messaging systems, ranging from relatively simple concepts like zoemail to the highly encrypted darknets we have covered recently. It would indeed appear that a significant number of users may be frustrated enough to look for alternatives which involve communication solely within the user's defined group of contacts.

Shameless self-promotion corner

I have been invited to speak at the VON Europe (VON stands for Voice On the Net) event, which is being held 7-10 June, Olympia Conference Centre, London. Other speakers include:

Niklas Zennstrom, CEO, Skype
Lou Holder, SVP, Vonage
Geoff Haigh, CTO BT Mobility
Neil Ransom, CTO, Alcatel
Xavier Casajoana, CEO, VozTelecom
Mika Uutisitala, Director of Technology, Nokia
David Gurle, EVP, Reuters
Rod Hall, Director, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein
Jeff Pulver, CEO, pulver.com
Scott Marcus (FCC advisor on secondment to European Commission)

The working agenda can be found here: www.voneurope.com/agenda. Apparently 75% of the exhibition space has been sold already, so it looks like it's going to be a popular event. I attended the event in Boston last autumn, and I found it to be a great place to interact with people and companies who are doing really interesting things.

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