This is the chart I alluded to in my earlier post, created using p2p.net's weekly top ten video download chart derived from Big Champagne data. What I've done is to take the total downloads for the top ten titles (in blue), divide by seven days, then multiply by the days in the relevant month to get a monthly run-rate figure, shown in red. It's interesting to observe the step-change in activity since July-August of 2005, which spookily mirrors some other data I have observed from the Amsterdam Internet Exchange.
Friday, March 31, 2006
Over in the Netherlands, Vincent Dekker at Trouw remains ever-occupied, this time turning his sights to the Essent 100Mbps service I wrote about here. It seems they are pushing fiber about 250m on average from localized hubs to street cabinets serving only around 15 subs each, which brings fiber to within only about 50m of the home. While this is deeper fiber reach than in KPN's own FTTC deployment (which brings fiber to within 200 - 300m of the average home) to 28,000 street cabinets, Essent has 117k cabinets in all (apparently the cable companies collectively have 400k street cabinets). The company estimates that the fiber connection from hubs to street cabinets will cost EUR400 per home, which Vincent says equates to EUR2.4bn if all Dutch MSOs go down the same route. That's pretty steep, and the cost per home reportedly goes up by another EUR500 per home if they end up digging the last 50m to individual homes.
UPDATE: A Diamond Cluster mega-uber value reader points out that, as Essent is a 100% subsidiary of a utility company owned jointly by the Dutch provinces of Brabant, Limburg, Friesland and a number of their constituent cities, this particular FTTC project is effectively state-financed. This is an interesting precedent should legal challenges arise to municipal utility fiber projects elsewhere, particularly in Germany.
UPDATE 2: Another Platinum Club mega-uber value reader observes that NTL is in a good position to do the same, except over its own copper (readers outside the UK may not be aware that cable networks here were built with a copper pair bundled in with the coax, a so-called "Siamese" cable). Check out this interesting industry-facing presentation from NTL in which technology options are discussed (slides 30 - 37), and note the statistic that 95% of NTL's copper has a loop length of less than 1km, versus only 5% for BT.
Related to my previous post, here's another interesting tidbit from Hitwise, via their email newsletter, which they strangely don't seem to post on their site. Anyway, their research shows that YouTube has overtaken both Google and Yahoo! video search sites in the UK in the week ending 11 March, drawing four and two times as much traffic, respectively. Online communities generate 20% of traffic to YouTube in the UK, and MySpace alone accounts for 7%. YouTube session durations are longer than Google Video Search at 12-and-a-half minutes, but shorter than Yahoo!, which comes in at just over 14 minutes.
I'm currently working on a sort of "thought piece" for clients on bandwidth, partially inspired by some of the statements and factoids contained in Level3's analyst day presentation from Tuesday. I'm writing about some of the stats I've come across recently regarding video IM, file sharing, user-generated content, etc. As part of this exercise I just had a look at Flickr! to see if I could ascertain how many images are stored there. I went to the most recent photos page and pointed my cursor at the most recent of the most recent, which is identified as 120744079, which is a pretty staggering number in itself. Out of curiosity I went to my own page, and noticed that the last photo I uploaded (17 days ago) was 112361150, which means that it looks like Flickr! adds something like 500k images a day currently. Staggering.
I've also taken the pain of collating all of P2Pnet's global Top Ten video download lists into tabular form and making a chart showing how this has trended (I may post this as an image later). My first data point is the week of 21 December 2004, during which the top ten were downloaded 3.9m times globally. My most recent datapoint is 23rd March 2006, when the total was 11.1m times. If you do a monthly run rate calculation based on average daily downloads using that figure, you get 49.2m downloads per month. That's an increase of 182% over the period, or a monthly compound growth rate of nearly 7%. AND THIS IS ONLY THE TOP TEN TITLES, PEOPLE. Oh, my pipes!
Om (whom, along with Andy Abramson, I was lucky to finally meet in person in San Jose - they both have impeccable table manners, by the way) has a fascinating post about Hive7, which is worth a read and a look, particularly the screen shots. This, in turn, reminds me that I never posted a link to the fascinating study carried out by Alice Taylor, et al, at the BBC, into gamers in the UK. They reckon that, of the 22.7m people aged 11 - 65 who have played some form of electronic game in the past six months, 8% have played a MMORPG, which implies 1.8m people - in the UK alone! It's life, Jim, but not as we know it - though it will be a commonplace experience, and more importantly, a natural user interface expectation of the future generation of consumers, or so I believe. I made a comment in my presentation at VON that I don't think there's any reason that eBay necessarily has to look as dull as it does - it's your "father's internet". I guess if they had to do it all over again, they'd go with something that looks more like Second Life, Hive7, or Cyworld - maybe someone else will.
A Prix D'Or mega-haut value reader writes in to alert me that Nicolas Sarkozy, who among other things, heads the council in the departement of Hauts-de-Seine (reportedly the most affluent in France, comprising 1.5m inhabitants and covering the western side of greater Paris), is a big muni-fiber advocate. Last Friday the council of Hauts-de-Seine committed itself to an open FTTH network project, earmarking EUR25m for the first three-year buildout phase to offer speeds ranging from 100Mbps to multi-Gbps. The official statement is here, though at this writing the site seems to be down, so I reproduce the text in full below.
COMMUNIQUÉS DE PRESSE
Adoption d'une délégation de service public destinée à doter le département d'un réseau à Trés Haut Débit 27/03/2006
Le Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine adopte le principe d'une délégation de service public destinée à doter le département d'un réseau à Très Haut Débit
« Le déploiement d'un réseau de télécommunications à très haut débit irriguant notamment les collèges, les lycées, les établissements d'enseignement supérieur et les principales administrations du département (demeure) l'un des ingrédients majeurs de la compétitivité et de l'attractivité d'un territoire aux yeux des investisseurs » déclarait Nicolas Sarkozy, le Président du Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine, lors des Etats Généraux le 20 et 21 janvier 2005.
Dans le cadre du vote du Budget Primitif 2006, l'Assemblée Départementale a approuvé le principe d'une Délégation de Service Public (DSP) afin de doter les Hauts-de-Seine d'un réseau de télécommunications à Très Haut Débit (THD). Une procédure de consultation et de négociation va être engagée auprès de tous les opérateurs et acteurs du marché. Un projet de convention sera proposé à l'Assemblée Départementale d'ici le printemps 2007.
Le Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine souhaite ensuite voir déployer son réseau de fibre optique, sur 3 ans pour la première phase (25 millions d'euros maximum de subvention) et 6 ans pour les extensions couvrant l'intégralité de son territoire. Ce projet s'inscrit dans une démarche de service public local qui vise à anticiper les attentes des grandes entreprises, des PME / TPE, des établissements publics ainsi que des particuliers (habitats collectifs et pavillonnaires) afin de renforcer le développement économique et l'attractivité du territoire.
Les Hauts-de-Seine comptent plus de 100 000 entreprises, environ 6 250 sièges sociaux et près de 1 500 000 Alto-Séquanais. « Laisser l'initiative au marché reviendrait à ne couvrir que les zones très denses, or nous voulons que tous, particuliers, collèges, petites et grandes entreprises, aient accès au réseau », souligne Jean-Jacques Guillet, Président du groupe UMP au Conseil général, en charge du THD.
Ce réseau innovant se déploiera jusqu'aux immeubles de chacune des 36 communes, y compris l'habitat pavillonnaire. Il sera ouvert à l'interconnexion avec l'ensemble des réseaux en fibre optique existants qui n'assurent essentiellement que la « collecte départementale » ou la desserte ciblée de quelques immeubles ou quartiers. La cohérence avec les réseaux d'initiative publique (Sipperec/Irisé, réseaux câblés communaux?) sera notamment garantie par l'obligation faite au délégataire du réseau d'intervenir exclusivement dans la boucle locale. De plus, il ne concurrencera pas les opérateurs et fournisseurs de services sur leur cœur de métier puisqu'il n'interviendra qu'exclusivement sur une offre de gros, neutre et ouvert à tous, dans des conditions tarifaires non discriminatoires. Au final le client final bénéficiera d'une large offre innovante et compétitive.
Aussi, ce réseau en fibre optique permettra aux opérateurs et fournisseurs de services de commercialiser des offres aux performances inégalées, de 100 mégabits à plusieurs gigabits par seconde. En comparaison, les réseaux en cuivre, utilisés pour l'ADSL, proposent un débit très hétérogène d'un client à l'autre (distance d'éloignement du central, qualité de la ligne ?).
Le Conseil général veut faciliter la possibilité de raccordements pour tous, en tous points du territoire, faire bénéficier à tous d'un tarif de fibre optique égal et assurer la meilleure performance des services rendus à l'usager final.
L'enjeu pour les Hauts-de-Seine est de permettre la mutation vers la fibre optique dans les 5 à 10 prochaines années de l'ensemble de son territoire tout en recréant les conditions qui ont permis le succès de l'ADSL en France : une infrastructure neutre, mutualisée, accessible à tous les opérateurs dans les mêmes conditions techniques et tarifaires.
Ainsi, ce projet contribuera à maintenir la France parmi les leaders mondiaux de l'offre en matière de réseaux et services de télécommunications, condition essentielle pour le développement et la performance des acteurs économiques du territoire.
« Ce sera la nouvelle frontière technologique du département que nous nous emploierons à atteindre dans les années à venir avec nos principaux partenaires, les communes, la région et les différents opérateurs » ajoute Nicolas Sarkozy. Cette couverture numérique portera les Hauts-de-Seine au niveau des grandes métropoles internationales. Aussi, ce projet aura un effet entraînant sur l'ensemble de l'Ile de France.
A Platinum Club mega-uber value reader in the Netherlands writes in with the following odd story. He attempted to send a message from his Gmail account to a friend who subscribes to UPC's Chello broadband service, and got the following failure message:
"This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: XXXXXXXXX.XXX@chello.nl
Technical details of permanent failure:PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 9): 551 Mail from your IP is currently blocked based on RBL listing"
If anyone out there has experienced similar incidents, please let me know.
UDPATE: A mega-forte uber-value reader writes in with the following insight:
"Some Gmail IP addresses have been intermittently going in and out of the spamcop DNSBL for many months. This is an effect of how spamcop works and something that people using spamcop to reject mail should know well. On the other hand, the world is full of morons, so some sites use spamcop to reject mail without understanding that it is designed to be an aggressive DNSBL. I have not checked recently, but some time ago even spamcop FAQ explained that people are supposed to use its DNSBL only for scoring. I see this as another case of stupid people getting what they deserve (and of Google being victim of the NIH culture and not being willing to implement proper countermeasures against the 419'ers)."
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Still trying to dig out from under a heap of "must do's," I have failed to comment on a couple of developments in the wireless arena. Firstly, the ever-excellent Vincent Dekker at Trouw covers the KPN/T-Mobile WiFi roaming story, which as he points out, will give Skype/VoIP users in Amsterdam alone a combined 100 locations where they can jabber away. Secondly, OFCOM yesterday released a tersely worded statement (which doesn't seem to be in the site), which read as follows:
"In 1992 a Wireless Telegraphy Act licence was awarded to provide Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services. Ofcom today agreed to remove certain unnecessary restrictions to allow Pipex - the current licensee - the freedom to choose what technology to use in delivering a FWA service."
I'm not sure what this means exactly, and if it has any implications for mobility. If anyone has any ideas or views, they would be most welcome.
EuroTelcoblog turns terrible two today. My Bloglines account tells me I have 303 subscribers to the feed on that platform (I have no idea about the others), and yesterday there were 450 people who actually clicked into the site. These numbers may sound small, but compared to the days when I used to get excited when visitors rose above one per hour, my mind is completely blown. Thanks to all those who helped make it whatever it is today, and tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I don't have time to go into an explanation of the Cockney rhyming slang which underlies this title - suffice to say it means "irritation". I really, really hate it when mainstream news organisations rip off content from bloggers without any attempt at attribution. Here's a classic, a really shameless, textbook example. Andy Abramson breaks the story about the Skype lawsuit (which I covered here), and now, amazingly, today ZDNet UK has a "breaking story" on the suit (it was the lead headline item in the breaking news alert emailed to me a few minutes ago). Any mention of Andy or where the story came from? Not on your life.
I don't know about Andy's audit trail, or anyone else's for that matter, but my trusty Sitemeter tag tells me that CNET Europe has been in my site a number of times in recent days - and more than once in the past 24 hours. At the very best, this is highly suspicious - there's at least one potential link between between Andy's post and the ZDNet article, and I'm reasonably sure it's not the only one (Bloglines shows that Andy's original post has been linked to 36 times, and his followup post 33 times).
I guess those of us who read blogs will know where the kudos for originating the story lie, but the honest truth is that a lot of investors out there who don't will think this ZDNet article is some sort of genuine piece of investigative reporting. Not only is this bad journalism, it's also bad business strategy from a company which claims to understand the internet. Having missed the story for two days while countless thousands were reading it on other sites (each of which naturally attributed the scoop to Andy), it's downright silly to come in as a latecomer with something like this, pretending that it isn't being discussed elsewhere. Surely it would have been better to play the story by writing about how the story itself came to light, or about the growing significance of bloggers - but I guess some people find that sort of thing a bit threatening.
UPDATE: Jeff Pulver chimes in with some additional background to the effect that the original article appeared in the US the day before. A comment on his post also points out that Internet News also failed to mention Andy. Looks like the mainstream media just figured out the ultimate outsourcing strategy.
Monday, March 27, 2006
A while back, at the tail end of a long-ish and boring-ish post on Skype's legacy financial statements, I raised doubts about the exact legal relationship between Skype the application and the underlying technology which enables it - because the fine print seemed to point to a vulnerability for eBay in this area. Damned if Andy hasn't come up with the goods on a lawsuit by Streamcast which seems to play on this very anxiety. This looks like pretty bad news, particularly coming on the back of some of the more dire conclusions of the EADS study. Ho-hum, eBay stock is up a quarter of a percent, however, and I see no evidence of coverage in the mainstream financial press - so I guess everything's just fine... It's incidents like this which further steel my conviction that the blogosphere is stealing mindshare from traditional broker research.
Friday, March 24, 2006
A Palladium Club mega-uber value reader named Fred with a valid claim to credibility on security issues writes in with some added perspective on my Skype post from a couple of days ago (which has generated a staggering amount of traffic). His observations:
"When they say 'TCP communications use the same RC4 stream twice', that's really important. That means Skype committed a cryptographic mortal sin. Voice content is protected by a different part of Skype and is still as safe as it ever was, but this means that the researchers can read Skype's signalling traffic, which means they can tell a firewall administrator how to block Skype.
When they talk about 'checksummers', 'debugger traps' and so on, what they mean is that Skype went to thorough and unusual lengths to keep people from figuring out exactly what Skype does. No need for conspiracy theories, though, Skype might simply want to prevent anyone from making a Skype clone.
A Skype clone is a lot closer now if the researchers are right when they say about their project 'It can assemble Skype packets and speak Skype'. Nobody's been able to interoperate with Skype before that I know of. You could build your own Skype network.
The other point is that it is theoretically technically possible for the operator of a Skype-like network to intercept the voice part of a call. If Skype is too honest to do that, would the operators of a cloned Skype-like network be equally honest?"
Thursday, March 23, 2006
It's getting challenging to keep up with the consolidation news and anticipate what it means and what's next. This morning Pipex does another deal to boost its subscriber base, adding in the process a retail distribution presence - a nice thing to have if you were, say, planning on using your 168MHz of WiMax spectrum to offer a "Mobile 2.0" service to the consumer market...
Across the Channel, a story is moving on Reuters newswire saying that Liberty Global has sold UPC France to Cinven and Altice for EUR1.25bn - don't know what's going on here, unless it's a tacit admission that DSL is simply too tough to compete with in the French market. UPC only took out Suez's 20% interest in Noos in July 2004, to gain 100% control, in a transaction which valued Noos at EUR615m. Where will the proceeds be redeployed? Liberty Global's last acquisition was Austrian DSL player Inode, so I guess anything is possible.
Lastly, in the wake of Telecom Italia's recent announcement that EUR1bn in disposals were on the cards for 2006, I have to wonder what's happening over in the Netherlands regarding bbned, TI's broadband property there. For one thing, it's a significant player in the DSL market, with 9% market share. For another, and more importantly, it's the network partner for the FTTH project in Amsterdam. KPN has been a consistent acquirer in the Dutch market, which helped take its national market share in broadband to 36% from 30% over the past year (retail DSL share I calculate at around 60%). I would therefore expect it to be in the running in any sale of bbned, though I wonder what the regulator makes of another 9% market share being concentrated with the incumbent. I also wonder about the politics involved in a change of control at bbned as it relates to Amsterdam's fiber plans - I assume all the contractual stuff is in place to protect the project, but how would all the parties reconcile what would obviously be a potentially very conflicted situation? And who gets involved if things go wrong - an existing market disruptor like Wanadoo, or a newcomer like Belgacom?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Anyone with a couple of hours to kill and a curiosity to see life on the other side of the fence from the normal telcos-trying-to-do-TV scenario, should tune into this briefing held yesterday in London by BSkyB. (Interestingly, the portrayal of the movie download service was strikingly different to the experience related here. I'm also curious to know what, if anything, changes in light of Kontiki's acquisition by, of all people, Verisign.)
For my money this presentation, in which a roomful of media analysts gets a crash course in ULL and fiber backbones, seems to underline once again how sector silo coverage of the market is going to be increasingly non-viable in future. Those who get an upper hand in grappling with this early on are going to be in an advantageous position - and I think it will be the small, nimble and unorthodox brokers who reap the rewards. Incidentally, recent personnel shifts at Daiwa suggest that my own coverage may be much more diversified in future than it is at present - both geographically and sectorally. Watch this space.
My man Thomas has been busy and has his YouTube goin' on. Check out this interesting post on robotic fiber deployment (an issue near and dear to my heart), including a great video clip. Also essential viewing for anyone interested in the history of VoIP development is Thomas' interview with CNNfn back in 2001 when he was CEO of Free World Dialup. Listen closely as he describes the potential revenue model and also note the hosts' savvy reference to Napster - two full years before Skype was born.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Henning Schulzrinne referred to this last week at the P2P SIP session at VON San Jose, but thanks to a mega-value uber value reader, here is the presentation on the results of a Skype reverse engineering project by EADS (whose involvement is interesting in itself). I find a lot of it technical way beyond my skills, so I would very much appreciate any feedback from mega-uber value readers everywhere. What I draw from my reading is that aspects of Skype remain remarkably and steadfastly inscrutable, though these very aspects seem to lower trust levels, and the authors seem to have significant anxieties about Skype's vulnerability to attack (as reflected in the use of the phrase "the biggest botnet ever" on slide 95).
Quite some time back (in the pre-weblog version of EuroTelcoblog, in fact), I wrote about Essent Kabelcom's work with Teleste on Ethernet-over-coax, and today brings the formal letter of intent for a 100Mbps service rollout (ignore the typo in the headline).
UPDATE: A Double Platinum mega-uber value reader writes in to say that apparently the service is to be launched on 17 April in the town of Boxmeer.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
This place (VON) is overwhelming.
Wandering around the floor, I stopped in for a nice chat with the folks at GIPS. In passing they remarked that their licensing agreement with GTalk was signed only about three weeks before the client was launched. Match that pace of innovation, telcos.
Then I had a private demo from a new company of something which blew my head right off - but they're not ready to go public with it yet - shame.
Now in a session with Blake Irving of Windows Live Messenger. Lots of nice stats here: 205m Messenger users, 26m concurrent users (whoa baby!), 800m voice minutes in January, but video minutes in January were 1.1bn minutes, though only 9% of Messenger users use video. We also got a demo of Live Contacts (7m users currently), in which Mr. Irving video-called a friend directly from Outlook to arrange a golf date in Washington DC. They viewed the course from an aerial photo (Microsoft has hired loads of planes to shoot aerial views of US cities), pulled up the contact details from a websearch and made a click-to-call to book a round. Unfortunately, the call didn't seem to complete, at least not that we could hear (he remarked that the termination was provided by Verizon, which made me laugh given the Net Neutrality issues...).
Fascinating presentation from Greg Meffert, CTO of the City of New Orleans, which went through what sounds like a very interesting and fortunate accident of history just ahead of Katrina. With a daily murder rate averaging 1.7 per day prior to the storm, the city deployed surveillance cameras meshed together using Tropos kit. Mr. Meffert said he had expected the City to be heralded across the country for its WiFi-enabled efforts in crime-fighting - and then the storm struck. Luckily, via having the solution in place for public safety, there was already a fall-back option using a technology which was already familiar and well-penetrated into the residential base, which worked and was totally independent of the telcos. Mr. Meffert said that the city population has now returned to about 250k from a low-point of 50k half a year ago, though 1/2 to 1/3 of the city still has no electric power - thus there is no incentive for the incumbent to restore service in affected areas any time soon (he later said 40% of people in the city have no phone service). Citizens returning to New Orleans get free WiFi "when they get water," according to Mr. Meffert. Telcos still typically do not [publicly] ackowledge that connectivity is a utility, but the people of N.O. are getting re-educated, albeit in extremely unfortunate circumstances. Who else will take the lesson, and why did it take the worst disaster in American history to prove the point?
UPDATE: In a later session in the afternoon, Mr. Meffert was asked how he would respond to industry lobbyists who would oppose muni-WiFi in principle. "Physically," he responded. He went on to say that the State of Louisiana emergency legislation opened up a loophole which allowed the City to circumvent the 128kbps limit in offering internet connectivity under the comically named "Telecommunications Fair Competition" law (the WiFi network now offers 512kbps and up). One bill currently before the state legislature seeks to close the loophole, and if passed, the City will break the law and fight the fight. "I can't just turn it off," Mr. Meffert said.
Now in a session on municipal networks, which seems extraordinarily poorly attended, despite the clear sense of concern here in the US over freedom of access. James Hettrick from Loma Linda has been running us through a fascinating presentation on how the city achieved FTTH in new build and existing properties as part of an open-access network project. With new build it put into place an ordinance requiring housing developers to run fiber to new homes according to city specifications, and then deed the infrastructure back to the city. In his words, it is no different from any other utility infrastructure from the perspective of the developer. He put up a network map showing a completed fiber ring, which cost the city $2m to build, but within which lies $8m in deeded assets put in place by the developers - so the city has already captured value in the investment even before whatever economic benefits may be realised (and presumably the resale value of the homes has also been enhanced). Loma Linda has also put Firetide mesh in public spaces. One other initiative I found interesting was the concept of local shared business centers for home-based and mobile workers who need a virtual office to meet or call clients free from the stresses and distractions of domestic life. This is a concept already available in urban business centers, but is only really possible in a suburban environment with fiber in the equation. On the question of why local government should be involved in broadband access provision, his answer was very succinct: Loma Linda's goal is to promote private enterprise, but genuinely local private enterprise, rather than the interests of a duopoly, the proceeds of which are largely taken out of the community. Amen.
When people talk about VON blur, they are not exaggerating. Returning to my room last night with coffee poisoning and relentless jetlag, and faced with a sense of duty to write about what I had seen in the past few hours, I just couldn't get it organized and gave up on it. Luckily, my uber-mega value freund Richard Stastny has done a typically good job of summarizing the high points and low points of day one of VON here in lovely San Jose. I would only add a few things to his commentary (also, Brough, whom Richard missed, was excellent).
It was an admirable act of bravery for Mr. Notebaert from Qwest to appear before such an unsympathetic audience, but the message was pretty much "Whitacre Lite." His keynote was a tense affair, and as Richard notes there were indeed repeated references to NDAs regarding negotiations on what I'm going to coin "MPC" (my pipes compensation) with people who were in the room (I can only assume that this must have been a reference to AOL). The tone turned defensive and agitated in the Q&A session. One journalist identified himself as being from Reuters, in response to which Mr. Notebaert stabbed the air with his forefinger and asked "Were you at the meeting last week?" The journalist seemed taken aback and said "no." I don't know what this meeting was, but it seemed to be a sore point. Mr. Notebaert apparently declined a request to appear on the video interview section of Jeff Pulver's VON blog, and left the building immediately. No matter, he might have had a hard time at the hands of a roomful of generally Net Neutrality positive industry people, but the day before he got support on Capitol Hill from a group of influential Wall Street people, many of whose livelihoods and corporate finance arms are coincidentally reliant upon the incumbents finding a viable defense strategy.
The P2P SIP session was very interesting, though probably technical enough to have put a lot of people off. Richard's summary is spot on. I would only add that, for my money, the presentation slide/awkward moment of the day came from Henry Sinnreich in setting the stage. He put up a slide of 20 or so pieces of network and systems management infrastructure which would become redundant in a P2P world (session border controllers, media servers, policy servers, etc, ad nauseum), then observed that the sum total of these equals IMS. There was laughter, but not all of it comfortable by any means, and my thoughts (and I presume those of many others in the audience) were that if his vision of the world indeed comes to pass, then many of the vendors sponsoring and exhibiting at this show disappear. The Q&A was very lively, with a number of attendees accusing the panel of chanting the mantra of Skype, or "the 'S' word". Henning Schulzrinne, always lucid and eloquent, remarked that there is a fallacy in assuming that, because Skype was a successful P2P application, it was a successful application because it was P2P. The real lesson from Skype, he and others stressed, was that it was successful because it ignored many of the technical issues with which SIP developers had been obsessed, and created something which was elegant and usable by anyone. This is a point I and others have made for a long time - the Skype developers came from a file-sharing background in which their application was under continual attack from network admins (how ahead of the curve were they in relation to the current state of the Net Neutrality debate?!). Thus they saw as normal things which people from a telecom background viewed as heresy, and thus never considered implementing. Only in hindsight is there now validation and emulation. What a change from two years ago, and the chorus of "Skype hype." My vote is that the next wave of innovation comes from gaming and social software developers.
Other events of note yesterday: I had lunch with a number of interesting people, among them Stuart Henshall and David Isenberg. Towards the end I met up with Espen Fjogstad from Telio, who told me about imminent plans to launch a GSM MVNO in Norway. This is interesting, because in all the hysteria about VoIP over mobile, no one seems to have entertained the idea that the first phase may be something less hi-tech, but potentially no less damaging to incumbents in the long-run. In this case, Telio will market the GSM service as an additional feature in Telio's VoIP calling plans - I like it.
Monday, March 13, 2006
A mega-handful of uber-value readers has written in to point me to comments from KPN, putting another log on the smouldering EuroNetNeutrality fire. My Dutch is not very good, but I think "my pipes" is something like "belachelijk," and ISOC seems to agree with me. Then again, if the end game really is to re-monopolize access in its next generation incarnation, then who has the last laugh?
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Just a couple of tidbits this Sunday evening, from messages I have received over the weekend. Firstly, Prodigem, about which I have written many times (and have used to post presentations like this one to this site), has been acquired. The acquirer's identity remains a mystery... However, if we ever needed validation of edge-based content creation and distribution as a commercial proposition, this would seem to be it.
Separately, a Palladium Club mega-uber value reader, apparently close to the action, writes in to say that German DSL alternative player QSC (about whose disruptive potential I have written here and here) is in talks about some sort of tie-up with E-Plus. It's unclear whether this consists of a KPN-backed acquisition by E-Plus or something less drastic, but, if true, it would certainly seem to place more pressure on DT's two-headed FMC strategy, as well as adding credence to speculation that Vodafone is heading for a dramatic change of heart on FMC starting with Germany (and possibly leading toward Fastweb or Tiscali in Italy, Jazztel in Spain and Pipex or Tiscali in the UK).
Friday, March 10, 2006
Today I took a ride on the Southern Trains London-Brighton service, in a train equipped with T-Mobile's on-train HotSpot - and I have to say I was very impressed. T-Mobile has spent the last several months fine-tuning the network, which currently consists of Redline directional antennas (operating at 5.4GHz) deployed by partner Nomad Digital in stations along the route, with 3G coverage filling in the gaps. The trains are fitted with discreet antennae on the carriage roofs, and the Nomad access points are entirely invisible to the passengers, concealed in cabinets at the end of the carriages.
As with my post the other day on Telabria, I find this interesting because it employs a technology which has so far failed to see significant consumer uptake (3G) as an enabler of a technology which has in fact been a tremendous success (WiFi), without requiring the user to buy a new device. This isn't what the carriers had in mind originally, but it is a way to get network utilization rates up, and for someone like DT, with feet planted in both 3G and WiFi camps, why not roll with it? Besides, as we know, most of the really interesting developments in telecom have been unanticipated.
It is my understanding that T-Mobile is currently increasing 3G coverage along the route, and doing some selective HSDPA upgrades as well, which makes sense to me - why not concentrate effort where there is some decent chance of people actually using the network, whether they know it or not? Though what the user sees is basically a mobile WiFi service, behind the scenes there are a lot of potential applications which benefit the train operator, relating to monitoring of various technical functions of the train (electrical network, temperature, the dreaded toilet failure) as well as passenger security. Some of these have been available previously via GSM but now can be richer and in real time. No doubt we will see extensions of these in future with the advent of RFID.
I shot a four minute video, but I am dissatisfied with it and will refrain from posting it. First, due to a re-jig of some of the rolling stock by the train operator, we were unable to make the entire journey to Brighton. Instead we had to go to East Croydon and then return to Victoria on an inbound WiFi train. Unfortunately this only gave me about 20 minutes on the move. Secondly, the video is pretty poor quality and fairly dull from a visual perspective. Again, the short trip duration and the very crowded conditions on the train didn't allow me to produce the Fellini-esque cinematographical effects I had hoped for.
My companion on the journey was measuring latency throughout and we could see that our connection was moving quite frequently from WiMAX to 3G, but from the end-user perspective there was no perceptible change - and definitely no interruption of the signal at any time. I understand that, depending on the backhaul available, T-Mobile is getting throughput of 1 - 2Mbps at times, though a 6Mbps upgrade is in the works. I was running Skype in the background as well as a BitTorrent client, but I only realized later that I was not pushing the network nearly hard enough. The top speed I observed was 400kbps, but I later realized that the Torrent file I was downloading only had one peer who was not particularly stable. I made a Skype video call after we pulled into the station (with BT still running in the background) - both audio and video quality were excellent. Next time I will endeavor to make the entire London-Brighton journey and really see what this network can do - and shoot a watchable piece of video to document it.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
I was looking at some referral data on my Sitemeter today and stumbled onto these three blogs, apparently by three Telecom Italia employees (I'm guessing R&D people) who are engaging in the MobiLife Project, driven by the Context Watcher application. Just for the record, I'm going to get a haircut in a moment, and I expect to be moving at a maximum speed of 3mph. I will take no pictures at the barber shop. When I return my hair will be shorter (15%).
Looking through the last few days of coverage in Trouw, I see the ever-prolific Vincent Dekker has written an interesting article on growth in traffic at the Amsterdam Internet Exchange. AIX claims its traffic is growing by 10% per month and crossed the one petabyte per day mark for the first time last month. To put this into perspective, the exchange is now handling as much traffic in one day as it did in ten days just a little over two years ago...
A Diamond-encrusted Palladium Club mega-uber value reader helpfully points out that once again, Trouw in the Netherlands has some provocative coverage of EuroTelcoland. This article brings home the uncomfortable conclusion of KPN's FTTC plans (see slide 88 of this presentation): the ULL players are today unbundling something which is going to be sold from under them (the exchange buildings that is) and shut down (the network) in five years, and will then be forced to provide their own backhaul to 28,000 nodes and fight for hosting space in the street cabinets. [This is an arms race, though each day more seem to be awakening to the need for a de-militarization in access.] I'd love to know how this issue is addressed in unbundling contracts, as well as any views out there on regulatory implications. Opinions and views more than welcome, as usual.
UPDATE ON 26 MAY: Dutch regulator OPTA has issued a consultation paper on issues surrounding competitors' access to the all-IP network.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Boy, there sure is a helluva lot of advertising for Yell on the London Underground - both stations and trains. The message is, predictably, about local search, mapping, area information, etc. I might have said before that while Google might have some kick-butt stuff going on in local search and mapping, the directories businesses have local knowledge, relationships, and some of them are already doing click-to-call of a sort. So it may not be all plain sailing for Google in some markets. Particularly impressive is Yellow Pages Canada (I like the "view menu" option). And while Yell isn't doing click to call yet, some of their features are pretty cool. No contextual advertising, but instead some genuinely useful features turn up. Let's say you wanted to stalk me, or perhaps you were coming to a surprise second birthday party for EuroTelcoblog - where would you find me, and more importantly, where would you park and how much would it cost? The answer is here. More than one telco boardroom must be echoing with the question, "Remind me why we sold this business?"
At the risk of repeating myself, I've written a number of times over the past three years that I saw an impending conflict between the commercial agendas of telcos and the social and economic development policies of governments - which would turn broadband into a political issue. Most recently this was in a note to clients, in which I referred to Bruce Kushnick's explosive book. My take on it was that, if the issue could somehow be elevated above the noise of US media trivia, there was a chance it could become a sensitive political issue. I'm not convinced that this will be at all easy, but I note that there is reference to the book in this article from USA Today, which is about as mainstream as I can imagine media being. Don't expect to see him on Jay Leno anytime soon, but this is not a bad result.
Here's a full page AT&T ad from today's Financial Times (London edition). The text reads:
"World's most admired telecommunications company. And now, we're stronger than ever. Months ago, we joined forces with SBC - the leading provider of DSL broadband in America. Today, we are one. The only one recognized by FORTUNE magazine as the most admired telecommunications company in the world. We look forward to continuing to lead the way. And ushering in a whole new era in communications - in America, and around the world."
[BTW, I assumed that "only" was implicit in the use of the phrase "most admired", but what do I know? Early last November I wrote a piece on net neutrality for our monthly, in which I included a block quote from Ed Whitacre's now famous Businessweek interview. I handed it over to one of our translators, a Japanese woman who is fairly meticulous in her use of English, and an hour or so later she burst out laughing: "He's the CEO of a major global corporation, and he used the word 'ain't' in a press interview?"]
Anyway, this looks to be aimed straight at the enterprise space, and in the wake of the T/BLS deal in the States, I guess we can expect T and VZ/MCI to be competing even more brutally in this particular market segment, including in Europe. I seem to recall comments some months back to the effect that SBC/T and VZ/MCI integration processes would somehow be a distraction which others in the space could benefit from. If that was ever true, I doubt it will remain so for long.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
A Diamond Cluster emeritus mega-uber value reader alerts me to reports of an upcoming announcement from Freenet in Germany to cross-sell its 700k DSL customers dual mode GSM/WiFi handsets from UTStarcom and Nokia, and possibly partner with either The Cloud or Fon. While 700k subs may be a drop in the ocean in terms of the German wireless market, this highlights just how much the incumbent mobile players have yet to do in this regard - so far it's all been GSM home-zone products (though Vodafone unit Arcor is moving), but that's only part of the story. Anyway, Freenet's parent, Mobilcom, has just under 5m cellular customers, and there's something over 2m Freenet internet subs still on narrowband presumably waiting for a key incentive to take the broadband plunge. Lastly, at 2.5 times the size of Freenet's DSL base, I wouldn't expect that United Internet is going to stand by silently.
UPDATE: A Palladium Club mega-uber value reader writes in response, to say he wouldn't be surprised to see something interesting being announced by MVNO enabler vistream, particularly in the wake of the announcement last month at Cannes of an agreement with UMA advocate Motorola.
UPDATE 2: How good was my mega-uber value reader's timing here? This came out of vistream the following day...
Yesterday I got a press release stating that Telabria would be deploying these little gems, released last year, on coaches operated by National Express. At last a 3G story you can sink your teeth into - 3G as pure backhaul, with WiFi providing the link to the end user, an entirely sensible solution given that nearly all notebooks now ship with WiFi support. I'm going to be having my own broadband wireless public transport experience on Friday, and conditions permitting, hope to have a video podcast or something fancy like that to document my experience.
UPDATE: A Double Platinum club mega-uber value reader writes in to alert me to a new WiFi service available on the Thames Clipper boats. Monthly pricing looks reasonable at GBP9.95, and it's interesting that the press release explicitly states that Skype use is within the T&Cs. I also like the reference to network expansion beyond the confines of the river.
As I wrote to clients at the end of last year (and countless times here), broadband is fast becoming a social and economic development issue, which makes it political, and therefore potentially explosive. Whoever might be "running their sliderules" (a favorite phrase of the UK financial press which must confuse anyone under the age of 40) over BT, I hope they're prepared to deal with the possible financial implications of big broadband delivered by people with a dramatically different agenda. A Palladium Club mega-uber value reader points me to the news of a fiber pilot just up the road in Shoreditch. As a community development initiative funded by Central Government, this seems to be a pretty clear repudiation of the free market solution to the UK's "broadband crisis," at least in areas of social deprivation. If it puts down roots and spreads elsewhere, a lot of people in Chelsea are going to be wondering why they're stuck with 2Mbps DSL connections...
The past couple of weeks I've harbored a sneaking suspicion that, rightly or wrongly (I think you know which), sentiment might turn. The capitulation of some big name analyst teams, as well as the frequency with which I now hear the phrase "disruptive technologies" coming out of analyst mouths, led me to suspect that the sentiment gauge might have gone too far. I have a theory that a good proportion of fund managers actually employ analyst calls in aggregate primarily as a contrarion indicator, looking for reliable buy or sell signals when analyst sentiment is either overwhelmingly positive or negative. (Last year I made a chart which I thought demonstrated this pretty nicely - sadly I haven't had a chance to update it.)
Yesterday was a bad day to be a telecom bear. Building on Vodafone's mooted exit from Japan announced late on Friday, The Business put names to the shadowy PE investors allegedly circling BT. KPN CEO Ad Scheepbouwer was reported by Reuters to have said in an interview with Dutch retail shareholders' association VEB that the fundamental value of his company is above EUR9 per share, "because there is much hidden value," and takeover premiums of between 25 and 60% were customary. Well, I guess that's muy claro, no? - I guess we're talking about the EUR11.25 to EUR14.40 range then... The AT&T news simply provided a bit more nitrous oxide to propel us into the dizzy heights of M&A euphoria. Or was it just short covering?
Friday, March 03, 2006
The focus shifts to BT. We've been there before, but maybe what's different this time is that the company has de-leveraged hugely, the company is structurally more suited to a breakup, and the Chairman and CEO are sitting on a successful turnaround story. I could certainly see a case for exiting on a high note. My Dutch sources suggest that Mr. Verwaayen has political aspirations back in his home country, where he seems to have been gaining a profile. Elsewhere, there's an intriguing report out of Italy, which I haven't seen reported in English anywhere yet, where the CEO of Mediaset seems to be playing down the idea that his company and Telecom Italia might make a good fit. I particularly find this interesting following comments two days back by Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries that his company might be interested in Fastweb. Very intriguing to ponder, not least because of the personalities involved.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
A Titanium Class mega-uber value reader draws my attention to the decision by Dutch regulator OPTA to force cablecos to offer open access to third parties. (Sorry this is in Dutch - my access to Babelfish has been blocked by some genius who apparently thinks it's some sort of anonymizer.) This had been pretty well flagged as a possibility by OPTA, so I don't know how surprising it is, but what I find interesting is that apparently the cable players will have to invoice customers with a bill which is itemized into network cost and service cost elements (as some of the smaller players already do). I can only surmise that some of the hostile press coverage of cable pricing in the Netherlands has really had some impact.
UPDATE: Esme has the gist and some additional insights.
Too much going on today to possibly post very much - I feel like I have fallen into some Tron-like virtual world, except it unfortunately looks like an Excel spreadsheet, and I am being pursued by gigantic net debt figures. Anyway, rather than burden you with my own suffering, here are a few relevant tidbits. Telefonica has doubled its IP TV user base in Q4, and it now looks like 7.6% penetration of the DSL base, which ain't bad. Elsewhere, ECTA is on the offensive again, pointing to an interesting new study by the SPC Network into the effects of market concentration on broadband penetration across the EU member states, which has fairly predictable conclusions. Interesting that the analysis highlights Sweden as the benchmark for market de-concentration which could yield real results - I think we know what that's about. And for anyone feeling starved for information, there's always OFCOM's detailed update on the UK communications scene. Will surface for air later.