Sunday, July 10, 2005

Back, in black

One full week completely offline (other than the occasional unfulfilling dalliance with GPRS) has left me clear-headed and energetic - let's see how long that lasts. Here are a few random observations and early updates on things I missed while down in Cornwall.

Firstly, being offline and largely ignoring TV, the first we heard of the carnage in London last Thursday was via a friend in Paris, who rang my wife to ask if we were alright. This was at around 10:30 AM (i.e., c.90 minutes after the attacks), and I called my office 30 minutes later, successfully getting voicemails and the main reception on first attempts. My colleagues' responses (SMS and calls), however, didn't reach me until 12:30 PM, 90 minutes after my attempts to call them. My boss, a Vodafone subscriber, noted that he had been able to call BT lines and other mobile networks, but that my Orange number was hopeless. I had no trouble making outgoing calls at any time. It was all very strange, and once again points up the serious choke points endemic to the PSTN/GSM world - and some people complain that Skype is a temperamental application...

The only other telecom-related thing of note from my holiday was that fact that there is a sh^tload of AOL broadband advertising everywhere in the UK (based on my travels), including some remote corners of rural Cornwall. This reinforces my previously stated view that, at least in the UK, and probably elsewhere in Europe, this is a company with very serious aspirations.

The last client meeting I had before leaving town featured one fund manager asking me what catalysts I could envisage for a period of outperformance from EuroTelcoland. I apologized in advance for sounding cynical, but I felt obliged to point out that the last period of sustained and significant outperformance from European telecom was in the three months following 9/11 (by default, as the airline, travel and insurance sectors went into the toilet), and that I envisaged that a similar event might be required to jolt the sector into life again. I am haunted by those words now, and though the circumstances are different in 2005, I am curious to see if we have a repeat in the wake of last Thursday (and whatever else may happen). I will do some work on this topic over the next couple of days.

Some of the last posts I did before going away related to the distinct possibility that the MCI VoIP product may in fact be a white-labelled Net2Phone product. In my absence over the past week, the following has happened, all of it interesting:

  • Apparently, the NTOP/MCI log-in anomaly I referred to has been rectified;
  • The NTOP board has rejected IDT's offer for the outstanding minorities, presumably because it believes there is more happening under the hood at NTOP than the offer captures;
  • One new mega-value reader writes in to speculate that NTOP is also powering the AOL product (unsubstantiated at this point);
  • Another Platinum Circle reader alerts me to this job posting for a CFO at IDT Spectrum, a newly-formed division I wrote about previously. IPO experience is preferred, which begs questions about whether NTOP's VoIP expertise, once bought in, is to be re-packaged into a wireless connectivity play as a spin-out. I have no particular idea or opinion, but would welcome any views on the issue.

UPDATE: A Diamond Cluster charter reader writes in to question: why would AOL need NTOP when they have Level(3)? Good question. Any alternative answers?

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