Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2009 (though, if we're honest, I think we all know it's going to suck, barring some intervention from a benevolent advanced alien race)! EuroTelcoblog will be embarking on its 2008 North American Roadshow from 27th December, which in practice means an extended engagement in Memphis, Tennessee, with minimal to nil posting. I know of one amazing story which may break during my absence, so if I miss it, I miss it - but it's a good one. Anyway, back in service on 7th January. All the best until then. God bless us, every one! 

Friday, December 19, 2008

FTTP = Fiber to the People

I've been suffering blogger's block recently, partly just busy with other things, and partly desperately in search of some positive news to restore a sense of Christmas cheer. I just got a press release (not yet on the site) from my friends at City Telecom in Hong Kong, alerting me to the fact that the company is going to sponsor 25Mbps service for two years for 1,000 underprivileged families with school-age kids. Thinking about some of the appalling telco PR fumbles of the past, I'd just like to say well done folks, this is how it's done. Merry FTTX-mas!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday shock and awe, again

Well, it's a grey and dismal Friday afternoon in London, and the shelves are most definitely half empty. No shortage of surprising, shocking and ridiculous news, so why not dive straight in?

Too bad Nortel's not an American company, because then it might have a decent crack at some TARP funds. Perhaps an emergency merger of the US and Canada can be arranged over the weekend to allow this - hey, rules were meant to be bent. 

Alcalu says, "I ain't going out like that," and brandishes its Web 2.0 credentials, threatening to escalate to Web 3.0 if necessary. Oh, and they're going to fire, sorry, I guess that's "de-friend" in Web 2.0 parlance, 6,000 people just in case. I hope this Web x.0 escalation meme doesn't catch on, because if Cisco gets onboard, we could very soon find ourselves stuck right in the middle of Web 9.0 by next weekend, and Huawei will always promise 10x more Web x.0 for half the price. It's a slippery slope. 

(Meanwhile Ben Verwaayen has issued a friend request and superpoke to Gabrielle Gauthey of ARCEP. All joking aside, she was gracious enough to give me a private meeting at her office back in 2007, and I found her to be hugely impressive. To say she is well-regarded and connected is an epic understatement, and if Lucatel is in search of people of substance, they would struggle to do better.)

Different day, same old cable stress. Will we see the formation of CARP?

Nobody can lose $50bn like "The Ponz." 

I guess I could keep going, but it's Friday for God's sake, there's got to be some good news somewhere, and indeed I have precisely two items:
  • In a time of eroding corporate earnings, Netia in Poland has today increased guidance for the year, which means more cash.
  • My friend Thomas Anglero at WiHood gave me an exclusive demo of the alpha version of WiHood Mobile. I can't really say any more, but I was extremely impressed. No doubt all will be revealed in due course. 

Now, go home and have a good weekend. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virtual bedtime story - 10th December

Apologies for the dearth of posts, I have been otherwise engaged. Anyway, as you prepare for your slumber, here are a few of the interesting things which I have happened to notice through the fog:

Oh, to be in Switzerland, now that fiber has come...

The EC welcomes EC2...

The mother of all self-destruction. I continue to be in disbelief that anyone could have expected to get away with deception on this scale. Even more quizzical is the choice of name for the property venture. As far as I know, Kandahar is an inhospitable place where interlopers typically get blown to bits. Actually, maybe the name is appropriate.

How to serve advertising to people who are hellbent on avoiding it. 

Do you believe in reincarnation? I do

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Only 21 more shopping days left!

Recessionary Christmas
Originally uploaded by jimiinc
From the latest Equifax consumer survey:

"Following the Bank of England rate cut at the beginning of the month, 10% of those who responded to the Equifax survey said they planned to use the savings on their mortgage to pay off other debts and 11% planned to put the saving towards day to day living expenses. 4% said they planned to put the saving made on their mortgage back into their own savings. However, only 2 respondents planned to use the extra cash for Christmas gifts and celebrations."

Virtual afternoon tea - 3rd December


Apologies for the lack of structured posts, but I've got to focus on topping up the Christmas Club account... 

Here's another snapshot from the inner circle of hell - the iTraxx Europe Crossover moving above 1000. Without going into the tedious details, this is a proxy for the perceived creditworthiness of a basket of 50 sub-investment grade companies, which is reshuffled every six months. As we're talking here about spreads on credit default swaps, the higher the number, the uglier the picture - and 1,000 is a very high number. But the equity market is having a quiet rally...

A friend alerts me to a chilling montage of videos of Peter Schiff - it's quite edifying in hindsight to see the derision with which his predictions were received at the time, though it's all common knowledge today. I particularly like the commentator who touts Merrill Lynch at $76... 

Currently working on a report on how telco assets can be best utilized in advertising and marketing, I happened to stumble across this little snippet of AT&T thinking outside the call-box. It's not particularly relevant to what I'm working on, but I found it oddly refreshing.

Seeing Carlyle's Hawaiian black eye brings to mind a conversation I had recently with a friend in the more mainstream telecom consulting world, who intimated that he is seeing more interest from PE backers of telco/cable assets. My reading, and only my reading, was that the backers are now expecting to be running these companies for longer than they originally thought, which I think is a safe assumption.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Call for assistance

I know that occasionally, Googlers drop in to read, so I make the plea that, if you can put me in touch with someone at Feedburner, I'd be much obliged. I have an intractible dilemma which I need help with. 

UPDATE four hours later: Who said Google doesn't do customer service? Within two hours of my post, a Googler has been in touch to ask what the problem is and to say that he will endeavor to connect me with the right people. I'm truly impressed. 

As to my problem, it's tedious, but if you're curious, my somewhat embarrassing problem is that when I set up my Feedburner account years ago, I stupidly used my Daiwa (old work) email account, and also managed over the years to forget my password. So even if I try to reset my password, the new one is sent to a non-existent email address. I'm really curious to see what sort of subscriber base I have, but at the moment the only option is to create a new feed and ask everyone to resubscribe, which seems a bit silly. 

And the reason behind my curiousity is that, it seems to me that during my 16 month hiatus, adoption of newsreaders, particularly Google Reader, increased dramatically, at least based on the source of traffic to the site (less from search, more from newsreaders, iGoogle, MyYahoo, Zuka, NetVibes, and the like) compared to the pattern before I went underground in April 2007. The net effect of this is that my daily traffic seems to be about 1/3 of what it was at the peak during the blog's previous incarnation, and I want to see if this is an actual decline, or a large migration to newsreaders.  

Virtual water cooler - 28 November

A few non-random links for a very wet and nasty Friday:

The Guardian thinks we may have to resort to local action to get fiber in the UK. Maybe that's partly intended as a joke, but it's not such an outlandish idea. If it ever stops raining, maybe we should consider it.

I didn't think it was possible to have data center envy, but I have now changed my mind.

If, like me, you didn't have time to watch the Akamai investor event last week, you should. It's fascinating. 

In case you're hungry, here's more tasty fudge, fresh from the oven.

A few interesting new articles over at the Telco 2.0 blog, plus a couple by me...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Drip feed

One down, 299 to go!

I've never much cared for fudge...

"The industry welcomed the Commission's fresh commitment to broadband but many regretted that today's crucial Telecoms Council (27 November) will not propose to review rules to facilitate building new networks in its overall reform of the telecoms sector.

Telecoms ministers are instead set to approve a text based on the original proposal from the Commission, which did not include references to new infrastructure: so-called Next Generation Networks (NGNs). Amendments by the Parliament, widely referring to NGN policies, will not be taken into consideration (EurActiv 17/11/08).

The Council will only discuss future networks in a separate debate regarding a different Commission proposalPdf external , which is still at the first stage of the legislative process. Many are concerned that, by not including NGNs in the telecoms package immediately, the topic will be postponed even further, delaying private investment and running contrary to the urgency highlighted by the Commission in its recovery plan.

The gap between the national and Commission positions in terms of broadband is not limited to NGNs. The Council does not share the bold objective of reaching a broadband-for-all target by 2010, as proposed again by the EU executive in its recovery plan (EurActiv 17/03/08).

Moreover, ministers do not agree with the radio spectrum "revolution" called for by the Commission to exploit the digital dividend. The Council will today reject Brussels' proposals and instead adopt a rather conservative line in support of the current primary holders of frequencies: broadcasters. The Commission pushed instead for reallocation in favour of internet providers as means of exploiting the digital dividend to tackle the digital divide."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And the video just keeps on flowing

Another surprise video, this time from Telco 2.0. Also check out the Werner Vogels presentation, which brought the house down, and Martin's masterful audience ambush.

Virtual nightcap, 25 November

It's been a busy day, but here are a few midnight musings:

ONO Q3 results - Decent EBITDA, but oh dear, the churn rate of 21.9% is a marked deterioration. I didn't get a chance to listen to the call, but will do so ASAP. It's tempting to assume that this is merely household destruction reversing the trend of household creation in Spain, but it's unclear to me now. Bonds were weaker on the results, and I assume the halls of Telefonica HQ echoed with nervous laughter today.

Dutchness - Regarding yesterday's post on the Netherlands and related themes, there have been a number of comments to the blog and also offline. One of the latter, from a mega-uber value reader who prefers anonymity, suggests that the core network traffic data analyzed by Andrew Odlyzko excludes, to an unquantifiable extent, the local and quasi-local traffic generated by edge applications, which is presumably a major incremental issue for last mile providers. 

I agree this is an issue, but unfortunately not easily monitored, as is also the case for bilateral peering of traffic between major incumbents. My crypto-mega commenter also cites raw throughput as something of a red herring in isolation - preferring to focus on performance measures such as latency. This is reasonable and also seems consistent with what I have heard previously from the OFCOM Consumer Panel on potential new definitions for performance metrics. Seems to me there is an opportunity for someone to come up with a sort of reverse DPI application for broadband users, to monitor and report local network conditions for analysis (I first heard this idea suggested by Jonathan Zittrain in late 2006 on a panel we shared, and I still think it's great.). 

Meanwhile, KPN issued a press release to calm people down, and friend Vincent Dekker produced an interesting map of fiber in the Netherlands (green dots = FTTH roll-out complete; orange dots = roll-out in progress; blue dots = actively attracting customers but no roll-out yet). 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Streaming surprise

I didn't realize at the time that it was going to be put up on the Interweb, but I just stumbled across a video of my panel from the Streaming Media Europe event several weeks ago. 

Welcome to the Playground

Breaking news from Norway. Congratulations to my friend Thomas Anglero, whose WiHood service is as of today on the Telenor Playground platform. Thomas and I spoke about WiHood here back in August, and he has on many occasions shared privately with me his hopes, challenges and frustrations in making the WiHood vision a reality. I'm thrilled that he has reached this milestone. This is virtualization at its most human and mass market level, folks, and I think it's particularly interesting in a Telenor context given its mobile footprint. I would expect operators with similar emerging market assets to be interested, if they are as far up the learning curve as Telenor seems to be. It's a great illustration of the telco API meeting with an innovative startup to achieve what neither can easily do alone - break out the Akvavit!

Fiber envy, fiber shame

It's really too late to begin a blog post. I'm mostly braindead, but very much enjoyed a dinner meeting ealier tonight with some interesting old friends (more on this as appropriate). I returned home to find a flurry of interest around the release of OPTA's NGA review, which has been interestingly analysed in hyperblog mode by Rudolf (now asleep), and also by EuroTelcofriend Yves Blondeel.   

Just working for now on a crude assumption (generally based on the DSL experience) that the wholesale pricing might equate to around 1/3 to 1/4 the end retail price, this suggests that symmetrical fiber services of various flavors might be available for EUR36 - 70 per month - a range which looks (at least to an outsider) highly competitive with cable and DSL. Afterall, it needs to be pitched to the consumer at a point on the price/benefit curve to ensure uptake/switching, so I assume this is the sort of pricing we will see. I need to digest all this a bit more before attempting any more informed comment, and it's late, so I'll content myself for now with just pointing to Rudolf and Yves' fine work.

One thing I do know for sure is that UK residents shouldn't hold their breath for similar developments, at least not if they are expecting significant public sector participation. We may be doing well just to keep the lights on. 

Lastly, just to complicate things, the ever-impressive Andrew Odlyzko has published an update on web traffic growth, which seeks to moderate somewhat the "exaflood" argument upon which the "fiber imperative" is based. I firmly believe fiber migration is a necessary and noble goal, but I also have a soft spot for contrarians and believe we should not ignore empirical data in preference to preconceptions. 

Now, goodnight.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My pipes runneth over

My brain is certainly running over after the fascinating conferences of the past three weeks, and I increasingly feel like I'm ten steps behind where I should be. This post is an attempt to partially catch up, and the plan is to also write something more structured on takeaways from the conferences on the Telco 2.0 blog. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts around vaguely connected themes. 

Telco 2.0 event - I believe there is going to be an official Telco 2.0 post on highlights from the conference a couple of weeks back, so I won't attempt to reinvent the flywheel here. However, as I stated in one of my presentations at the conference, from a purely personal perspective as the one who delivered the very first presentation at a Telco 2.0 event, it's encouraging to see just how far the industry has come in its thinking since the first event, but I was also struck by the recognition that we have an awful long way to go yet. 

There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that a number of telcos now have teams dedicated to exploring and developing Telco 2.0 themes suited to their individual situations, which is great. On the other hand, while it seems that the industry has grasped and internalized the theory, it is in the process of looking at the practicalities of making this stuff work in real life where reality becomes significantly more complicated. Much of the discussion at the conference revolved around identifying, analysing and exploiting the valuable metadata around telecom services - i.e., the metaphorical wood shavings from the process of delivering connectivity, voice and data, which heretofore have fallen to the workshop floor and been swept away. The central problem, it seems to me, is that telcos have never regarded this data as important beyond the purely operational level, and probably haven't given much thought, until now, to the possibility that someone else might find it highly instructive, let alone to how to make it a usable resource. Which is why the analytics and behavioral targeting industries are the domains of very different companies. Nevertheless, the giants have awoken, but now have to grapple with all the technological and cultural aspects of making this come together, which is not a trivial undertaking. One innovative company in the data management space which I spoke to recently said, when asked about key competitors, that their biggest hurdle is typically not "competitors" but telco IT departments, because they are either distracted, threatened, or both, by the prospect of something which cuts across data silos (and presumably knocks down the gate which they get paid to keep). However, that's precisely what's needed, and fast, as Werner Vogels' presentation seemed to underline, to the dismay of the audience. 

Monaco Media Forum - Overall, I thought the MMF conference was pretty amazing, though I'm told by those who attended last year that things seem to be moving in a more obviously corporate direction (high impact sponsorship, a few fairly blatant company pitches, etc.), though I guess this is the inevitable product of the success of an event such as this one. In any event, the hosts and sponsors did a great job and were very generous with their hospitality, and the content was of a very high caliber. One thing which impressed me about this event was the high ratio of presenters/panelists/moderators to audience. In other words, an awful lot of people in the audience appear onstage at some point, which is refreshing and seems to get people really engaged in networking during the breaks, as the gulf between audience and messenger is narrowed. My only criticism would be that it seemed like the pent-up energy from the sessions was stifled somewhat by having lunch on both days as a structured event with presentations the delegates were obliged to listen to, when what they obviously wanted to do was get to know one another better. Apart from that, I think the content was top-notch on the whole, and I gave a few examples here. I would encourage you to trawl the YouTube archive for the MMF videos, as most are very much worth the effort. 

In terms of overall themes, it struck me that there were a number of parallels with our beloved telecom industry. One moderator of a break-out session (this is another criticism - I think the breakout is dead. Most parts of the technology value chain touch on many/all others these days, so it is likely that many/most delegates will be interested in everything, so why make them choose, particularly if the other sessions are all covered by Chatham House Rules? Otherwise, please stop using the word "convergence".) related his experience at a media conference the preceding week, in which, during the breaks, the traditional media people stood in one corner, while the internet hipsters stood in another, with a vast DMZ in between. This is ironic, as the clear message from this conference (and generally from Telco 2.0) is that both camps need each other, and can each benefit from the other's complementary assets/skills. Afterall, despite the premature predictions of demise for a range of "traditional" media, all still hang on and occasionally surprise (please see Jeff Cole's fascinating talk). What most have in common is a shrinking revenue base, commonly described at this event as "swapping analogue/print dollars for digital pennies," but most survive, at least for now. The challenge is in aligning structure, culture and costs with the reality of the situation, and also in defining what their real strengths are and finding ways to harness the internet to remain relevant and interesting (James Murdoch's interview has some interesting examples, as does Avinash Kaushik's presentation - I 
particularly like his statements on the need to move from the offline/online schism to a concept of "nonline."). Surely this is a highly relevant message for telcos. 

OFCOM conference - I only attended day one, which unfortunately ended with an evacuation of the Bloomberg building (as happened on my last visit), but it was also a very impressive event from the standpoint of content and quality of presenters - though again the breakout bias in the afternoon worked against the audience, I felt. I was particularly impressed by Vittorio Colao (both of whose names were misspelled on the delegate list - what the hell, he's only the CEO of Vodafone...), whose message about the historical "misunderestimation" of mobile uptake rates and its implications for current conservative views of the potential of mobile data resonates strongly with someone who just got his hands on an HTC Touch HD handset. There was a lot of discussion throughout the event of the broadband incentive issue, with some (in my view) rather loose statements apparently endorsing the Olivennes graduated response approach - every time I hear this view spouted by executives from the content world, I think, "Be careful what you wish for." 

Other interesting discussions revolved around the increasingly localized nature of regulation, which leads me to speculate that incumbents in Europe may over time opt to divest certain local access businesses - potentially putting them in the hands of players who can deliver something very different from the status quo. Perhaps the most interesting part of the conference for me occurred during the NGA breakout, when a delegate from Singapore stood up to discuss the open network project there. He volunteered that monthly wholesale pricing at layer one is $9, and that retail pricing for 1Gbps symmetrical service should be in the neighborhood of $25 per month - needless to say, this is intensely inspiring, but also depressing, for the average European resident. I heard some rather optimistic views during a coffee break about how the proceeds from spectrum auctions in the UK might serve as a "digital dividend" to counter my pessimism over NGA funding prospects, but frankly, I'll believe it when I see it, given all the other pressures on national finances. 

Moving on from the conferences, a Platinum Club mega-uber value reader takes me to task a bit over my piece for OFCOM, suggesting that I could have been a bit more positive and discussed "safe harbor" funding structures such as the one employed by Amsterdam in its metro fiber project. I agree wholeheartedly, but I was trying to be controversial, and in any event, my sense is that the debate in the UK hasn't even reached this level yet, sadly. Even if it had, there are structural and timing issues which make this a very different kettle of pickled herring: the absence in the UK of entrepreneurial capital (with the possible exception of Redstone) focused on NGA (the Netherlands has been fortunate to have Dik Wessels - and let's remember that he has owned and understands construction/civil engineering businesses), and the state of the capital markets (appalling now, versus bouyant at the time of the Amsterdam project investment) make the prospects fairly depressing for the UK. The Singaporean delegate to the OFCOM conference referred to above made a haunting statement, to the effect that any incumbent which remains wedded to its copper network over the next five years faces a very nasty surprise. I strongly suspect this will be true, probably sooner than five years, but I have to admit that, having seen the UK response to infrastructure issues in transport, for example, I am not encouraged. 

Elsewhere, in the miscellany department:

Akamai layoffs - I guess telcos should be somewhat concerned about their nascent content distribution aspirations when a relatively lean and mean player in the space, with 70% global market share, starts to shed staff despite ostensibly being the key beneficiary of the content explosion. This seems to underline just how brutal the CDN space has become - tread carefully.

A friend pinged me on Friday to call my attention to Todd Underwood's final post for Renesys, and it's a fairly downbeat one, though I can't find any reason to disagree with his points.

Finally, on a positive note, I understand my friends over at VoiceSage are getting some pretty serious customer traction, well done guys!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

High and low fiber

The KPN/Reggefiber story seems to be generating a lot of interest, understandably so. Rudolf raises some interesting points and questions in his post, the first of which I think I can answer. 

"KPN announced this morning that they will also be doing a stock buy back worth EUR1 billion. Where are they getting the money?"

Going back to KPN's announcement of the Reggefiber deal in May, KPN will be acquiring 41% of Reggefiber, and this is below the threshold at which it would have to consolidate Reggefiber's results in its own reporting. I think this is a master stroke, because it allows KPN to continue with dividends and buybacks to satisfy shareholders, while effectively outsourcing fiber capex, presumably until such time as the rollout is mature enough, and investors are fiber-friendly enough, to allow an outright acquisition. 

As for the structure of the joint fiber build discussed in Trouw, I assume that KPN and Reggefiber will form a new entity under some sort of tax-efficient limited partnership structure (which I believe is called a B.V. in Dutch), and use that entity to raise project finance. Who would invest in such a vehicle? I think Rudolf's right to assume that pension funds, infrastructure funds, and others interested in long-term investment horizons would be interested. I also believe that a substantial number of the institutions who already hold KPN's debt might be interested, as this new vehicle would represent the cornerstone of KPN's reassertion of hegemony at layer one. 

Meanwhile, back in the UK, tomorrow brings the OFCOM conference, and I am honored to have been asked by the organizers to write a little piece on issues around NGA in the UK. I didn't realize it was going to be placed on the web, but here it is, typos, gloom and all. Everyday I love my cable modem more and more...

Breaking news!

A Palladium Club mega-uber value reader tells me that the world should awake tomorrow to a story by EuroTelcofriend Vincent Dekker in Trouw that KPN and Reggefiber are planning a 5 - 7 year, EUR6 - 7bn roll-out of FTTH across the Netherlands. I guess we can read from this that the regulatory approval of KPN's acquisition of a 41% stake in Reggefiber, still pending, is forthcoming. 

Interesting that this news comes just ahead of the OFCOM conference on Thursday and Friday. As I've stated many times to anyone who would listen, I think the movement toward fiber in the Dutch market has benefitted from some unique market characteristics: having a forward-looking and pragmatic incumbent, historically strong (but fading?) cable companies, and the presence of committed entreneurial capital in the form of Dik Wessels. The comparison with the UK, and indeed most of the rest of Europe, where many, if not all, of these ingredients are lacking, is not flattering. 

As my source suggests, if fiber proponents are looking to position widescale FTTH projects as one flavor of a WPA-like economic stimulus package, then I guess the Dutch are about to fire the shot heard around the fiber world, though, as he points out, with no public money involved. 

UPDATE: the story can be found here (alas, in Dutch - please use the barbaric translation tool of your choice), and Vincent's related blogpost is here.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cloudier and cloudier

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of watching Amazon's CTO, Werner Vogels, address 250 or so senior strategy people from the telecom world at the Telco 2.0 event in London. Sitting at the back of the room, at times I had the sense that the audience's hair was flying back, as if from some powerful blast, or the engines of a UFO landing. In other words, they seemed to be both amazed and shocked by his description of Amazon's approach to building a platform business, the process by which it decided to do so, and the sheer speed with which it has gained traction. I was somewhat surprised to see, well, that they were surprised. After all this has been a well-covered story for 30 months or so. Nevertheless, that's what happens when you find yourself in a world characterized by innovation cycles of six months or less. And today brings more good and bad news - good for Amazon, bad for lots of other people, especially anyone thinking about possibly scheduling a meeting to talk about maybe thinking about developing a CDN strategy - maybe. 

Keep digging!

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

The Joke's on You(rope)

Not content with issuing another set of kick-ass results yesterday (the ass in question being cable), City Telecom in Hong Kong has unveiled another round of entertaining commercials in support of the extension of its network to all 18 districts of Hong Kong. 

Meanwhile, altnets in Spain know that FTTH is no laughing matter; in fact, I am hearing that the European Commission has effectively validated GPON by declining to subject the CMT to a Phase II review of its stance towards fiber as defined under Market 4 (unbundling) and urging the CMT to monitor technology developments which might improve the feasibility of unbundling. As a point-to-point fundamentalist, I think you can imagine my view. So now I guess it's a test for Telefonica to answer the question: "How much fiber can you lay during the 'wait and see' period?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday miscellany

Back in the saddle following two weeks of fascinating conferences - Telco 2.0 and MMF. Lots of messages to absorb and new people to follow up with. Still more to come, however, with OFCOM this week, TEN's NGA event next Tuesday (I'm the chairman for the day, including an interview with Francesco Caio), and Intellect's "Capitalising on Convergence" event (I'm on a panel with Cisco and Nortel) next Thursday [Update - the Intellect event has been cancelled due to market turbulence]. 

True to the "Winter of Our Discontent" zeitgeist, my inbox is full of complaints this Monday:

  • An Irish Palladium Club founder member alerts me to the "Paddy Tax" controversy brewing around Vodafone Ireland. I don't have the time, but it would be interesting to see if this is a pattern in Vodafone's other "peripheral" markets in Europe, to pad margin and subsidize aggression in the core businesses.
  • In Germany, my friends at fiber startup UnserNetz have grasped the key to assured funding - by declaring themselves a bank or auto company! It's a bittersweet piece of irony, because the sad truth is that the crisis is so dire, societies around the world will almost certainly forego forward-looking infrastructure investment in preference for bailing out failure, inefficiency and excess - just in the name of stability... again... Sad, because we know fiber can be profitable as well as a fulcrum to economic development.
Eirik Solheim from NRK, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the MMF, has posted some very nice photos of the event, as well as a couple of highlights on video. Elsewhere, I see that YouTube is already well-populated with videos from the event also. 

I also see that Avinash Kaushik from Google has done an extensive post covering the content of his presentation at MMF, as well as much more. "Experiment or die" - a message not intended for telcos, but probably no less relevant. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Creeping sanity

Great news here for friends of EuroTelcoblog, Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach. I've had the pleasure of meeting Kevin twice, once in New York and once in London. They don't come much smarter, folks, and he's a really nice guy. Susan has been a stalwart supporter of this blog since its early days, and though I have unfortunately never had the chance to meet her, I have always been a huge fan of her writing, thinking and actions (I'm thinking One Web Day here). Heartfelt congratulations to both of them - I may yet be convinced that all is not lost!

Out of stealth

Just sitting though the first public demo of g-speak by Oblong. Very cool and beautiful. 


MySpace party
Originally uploaded by jimiinc
What a day. I don't know where to start, and it's too late to start in any event. Lots of interesting presentations and panels today. The highlights, for my money, were Jeff Cole of USC (one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking presentations I have seen in some time - plus no slideware!), Mark Thompson and Ben Silverman being poked and prodded by an admirably grumpy and confrontational Michael Wolff, and James Murdoch's characteristically impressive solo interview showcase. Also impressive was Larry Lessig's acceptance speech for the MMF Award he received at dinner. The basic message was (I paraphrase), "I'm a bit surprised to be given an award by this group, and I hope this signals a truce, because I worry about the long term implications for society of criminalizing behavior which young people regard as social interaction." I also met a lot of nice people from interesting companies, including videojug, Blyk, Dopplr, Tumri, Peer39, Nettwerk Music Group, and the lovely team from MySpace in London, who threw the psychedelic after party featured in my photo. I will put together some more coherent view on the event when I get a chance. 

UPDATE 16/11/08: Rodrigo (whom I didn't get a chance to meet but would have liked to) has posted a clip of most of the speech itself, and I am hoping to link to the presentation on the following day, which was truly wonderful, once it is posted to YouTube. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Through the looking glass

I always knew this Monaco event was going to be a trip, and this evening was no disappointment. During the cocktail reception, I was standing with some friends having a chat, when a handful of muscular men with coiled wires dangling from their ears entered the area, followed by a camera crew, and suddenly we were in the midst of a photo op. This is a really poor photo of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco (center), being introduced by Spencer Reiss of Wired Magazine (left), just before one of his people dashed over to tell me that photos were not allowed. Fortunately, he's not recognizable, so I'm guessing there won't be any repercussions from publishing this.

Tonight was just a chance for everyone to mingle, and it was nice to catch up with my friend Charlie Horrell from PacketVision, Matteo Berlucchi from LiveStation, (which, as a lowly Freeview user with an uncapped broadband account, I watch frequently and love), Niklas Zennstrom and Michael Jackson, and to meet a lot of very interesting new people who are doing very innovative things - with whom I will look forward to following up in coming days. 

I think the Chatham House Rules of the event may be fairly draconian, and I will honor them once I find out what they are, but what a fascinating collision between old, entrenched media and hungry freaks this is. As well as the random-bordering-on-surreal. As an indication, we hadn't been in the cocktail reception more than five minutes when a woman walked up and introduced herself very matter-of-factly as Tina Brown. She was very charming and totally unaffected. Later, as the Prince was milling about, a woman drifted by with the surname Cousteau on her nametag, which identified her as the president of the Cousteau Foundation. I shook her hand and said, "Your father was a great childhood hero of mine," and she said, "You're very kind - he was my husband." I was speechless. It was Francine Cousteau. Turns out she is now married to Michael Garin, CEO of Central European Media, one of the delegates at the event. 

I'm just a simple boy from Memphis, unaccustomed to this stuff. And it all seems even more surreal and fin-de-siecle given what's going on in the real world. Meanwhile, in the town just above the hotel (albeit via a very steep uphill walk), the Casino (a French supermarket chain) was very quiet earlier this evening, and the few shoppers on hand seemed to be making very careful choices. Plus ca change. 

Tumblin' dice

Abandon hope, all who enter
Originally uploaded by jimiinc
Dear Secretary Paulson,

I'm in Monaco for the MMF shindig. It seems like the TARP is in a spot of bother. If you wire me what's left, we can go double-or-nothing at the craps table. Whaddaya reckon, is it worth a shot?


Monday, November 10, 2008

Virtual coffee break - 10th November

Still racing to catch up from a very busy week last. Just a few quick links for an appallingly wet Monday morning in the UK:

Stresswatch - Nortel Q3 results - 21% sequential decline in carrier networks revenues, 1,300 job cuts, salary freezes, preferred dividend suspended. The company still has $2.3bn in cash, but cash out so far this year has been $1.2bn, nearly $800m in this quarter alone. Telco equipment is the new U.S. auto industry...

Stresswatch - Dish posted a net loss of subscribers for the second quarter running, suggesting that pay-TV at the value end of the market is something people can live without if they have to, or perhaps this reflects the mounting wave of home reposessions in the US. 

Industry shake-out watch - The great next-gen CDN God giveth, and he also taketh away

Research of the day - An interesting piece from NSN underlining the message from Telco 2.0 last week that telco metadata on customer behavior is a hugely underutilized asset. 

Another take on the power of the network.

What part of "winning hearts and minds" don't you understand

A mail list I am on recently produced a link to this exceptionally cool map of fiber infrastructure in New Zealand. Would love to see something like this for Europe, but I know of one project in Europe which can't get even the most basic information from the local incumbent... 

Non-random link of the day - From the ashes of disaster, grow the roses... (Bonus points to anyone who can spot the relevance.) 

Shameless self-promotion corner - A friend has helped me wangle an invitation to the Monaco Media Forum Wednesday to Friday this week. Stay tuned for updates, including the occasional tweet.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The calm after the storm

Whew, what a week. Monday I had a lengthy planning and preparation session with the team (of which I am one, but curiously absent from the site) from Telco 2.0 ahead of the event on Tuesday, followed by a very interesting dinner with, among others, Martin, ChrisLee Dryburgh, J.P. Rangaswami, Doc Searls, and Trudy Norris-Grey from BT. Tuesday and Wednesday was the full-throttle event, and today was a small "meet the analyst" session in the morning, followed by a group debrief and roadmap session. All very interesting, but entirely unbloggable - all will be revealed in due course. 

I thought the event itself was great, and I enjoyed being there, meeting people, and doing a couple of presentations (one on a data use case, and one on preparing for life after the credit implosion). Thanks to those who came forward to offer ideas and support. My perspective in the team is somewhat unique - I helped them plan the original event two years ago, and did the opening presentation (the now infamous 10 Things, to which I will refrain from linking yet again), and I have attended some of two subsequent events, but have been mostly out of the loop until now. 

Coming back to the fold for event number five, I am impressed with the extent to which the guys have been able to get buy-in and support from the industry around the two-sided business model concept. Following the meeting this morning with a handful of vendors, systems people, and carriers, there is no doubt in my mind that at the senior strategy level, the ideas are really gaining traction, and that the industry feels passionately that it has to address the longer term issues facing it, which will not recede, despite the sector's current popularity with investors. So congratulations guys!

As a result of being so focused on the event and the lessons from it, I have pretty much ignored email and the market. However, October's hedge fund performance data is out, and it's not pretty - if you don't want to know the score, look away now.

The other bit of information to come my way is that friend Keith McMahon has a talented doppelganger in Sweden. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Before I drop...

Just back from a very interesting first day of the Telco 2.0 event in London. I would love to blog everything in detail, but frankly, it's late and I'm tired. Therefore, just a quick blurb on highlights so far. Generally speaking, it's interesting to me, having done the opening presentation at the inaugural event two years ago, to see the extent to which the original concepts have been grasped and expanded by the audience and the Telco 2.0 team, with the focus now seeming to turn from theory to the practicalities of specifically what needs to be done, how fast, and to what end. 

Top presentation today, in my view, was:

Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, on the AWS platform strategy, which has many lessons for telcos, not least that there is growing interest from telcos in having sevices hosted in the AWS cloud. Also some interesting discussion of the challenges in conveying the AWS vision to the capital markets in the early days, when they were at first hostile, but now seem to "get it". This presentation really seemed to both challenge and inspire the audience, based on my straw poll afterward.

Top marks also to the always interesting Thomas Howe, who touched on many of the same themes I am hoping to address tomorrow, the unwaveringly challenging and thought-provoking Martin Geddes, Andrew Bud of mBlox, and Will Page's heartfelt refutation of the Long Tail - a fairly disconcerting prospect for telcos who think they can differentiate based on content portfolio.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Two tricks and a treat

Happy Halloween! This year the children of the trick-or-treating cultures of the world are going to have a hard time outdoing the real scaaaaary stuff, but there's no harm in trying. As I prepare to don my own Elvis wig, here are a few tidbits of note, classified in keeping with the day.

Trick - for companies with aging workforces and retired employees living longer.

Trick - for companies thinking that driving customers towards online transactions was a foolproof way to cut contact center costs. A 60-minute response time for webforms is pretty challenging, at least based on some of the experiences I've had. 

Treat - for proponents of OpenID. The OpenID Foundation Japan yesterday revealed for the first time its member companies, a very diverse group comprising the following: Asahi Net, Automation Research Associates, Cerego Japan, CyberTrust, Excite, Infoteria Co., Japan Airlines International, Japan IBM, Japan Verisign, JCB, K Opticom, KDDI, Lin Network, Livedoor, Mitsui Sumitomo Marine, mixi Inc., NEC, NEC Biglobe, Nifty, Nomura Research Insititute, Oki, Rakuten, SBI Holdings, Senshukai, Seven Bank, SixApart, Softbank BB, Sonpo Japan Systems Solutions, Taihei Computer, Technorati Japan, Yahoo! Japan, and Zakura. 

That's several ISPs, portals/web 2.0/social networking/e-commerce companies, a bank, the leading credit card issuer, a number of IT consultancies, a telco, a couple of electronics manufacturers, a couple of insurance companies, and an airline. Not bad for a start. The group also announced a number of initiatives to promote standards/harmonization, awareness and use cases for OpenID. More coverage is here (apologies, it's again in Japanese). 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Virtual coffee break - 29th October

A brief break from my tasks, to contemplate the irony of hedge funds being run over by, of all things, a Porsche... Word has it that Disney is working on a long-awaited sequel: "Herbie, the Killing Spree."

Strange press release of the morning: I note with some bemusement the use of the phrase "Web 2.0" in this release from Atos Origin. I always associated Web 2.0 with openness, sharing, and mutability - three qualities you don't want in a secure banking communications service. If anyone has a clue as to what they are talking about, please let me know.

Contrast with "Fridge Door 2.0" from Tesco - characteristically brilliant and unsettling at once.

If you scroll down the page of this bloglet, you will note a ticking clock showing the countdown to IPv4 address space exhaustion, a matter of interest to me, and arguably everyone, though I'm amazed at how little discussion seems to take place outside the cells of brilliant people working to resolve this looming crisis. If you're interested in the governance aspects of the "4-to-6" mass non-migration (as it is today), you should read this article by crusader Geoff Huston (hat-tip to a Platinum club mega-uber value reader). 

Interested to see who's farther up the IPv6 curve? Type the URL you want to check into the address bar of your browser, then add "" (without the quotation marks). The handful of names I tried showed some interesting East-West gaps. For example, Nokia doesn't appear to have an active v6 address, while Huawei does. BT doesn't, but IIJ does. Spot a pattern here? Please send in any other interesting finds you come across.

Speaking of technology gaps, a friend and Palladium club mega-uber value reader submits the following whimsical graphic - inspired!

Finally, it has come to my attention that Martin Dodge's fascinating body of cybergeography work, which I pointed to here ages ago, has now been updated. Dive in!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alter-ego 2.0

In case you've been wondering why I've been posting less in recent days, it's partly because I've been trying to focus on a research project, and partly because I was preparing this post, both in aid of the Telco 2.0 initiative, and the upcoming event in London next week. I think it promises to be the best yet. 

Juxtaposition of the day

Amazing take on then and now from a new and interesting blog. Make sure you watch the two videos in chronological order. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Unhappy photo of the day

Be careful what you name your business.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Five Web 3.0 start-ups for the Great Implosion Era

Moderator's note: This article is classified as satire, sub-category gallows humor.

Following another deeply unpleasant week in the financial markets, it might seem somewhat counterintutive to be thinking ahead to "the next big thing." Surely the current big thing is more than enough to keep us busy for years to come, and if we can't be bothered with current reality, there's always Perez Hilton (I refuse to link), or even Presidential politics to keep us occupied. However, let's remember that, while the previous downturn resulted in the effective extermination of a lot of household internet names (though occasionally I actually get hits on this blog from an AltaVista search query - who are these people?), it is a fact that Google really came into its own during the previous nuclear winter in the internet industry. So ignore those irritating naybobs who fixate on trivial things like the death of capitalism - as if... People get ready, there's a train a-comin', so join me as I tour the Web 3.0 newbreed, tapping into the Implosion Era zeitgeist.


Ever feel like you're struggling to cut through the crowd of people trying to negotiate opportunistic micro-finance transactions? Differentiate your pavement pitch with Panhandlr, a social Bluetooth applet (for Windows Mobile 5.0 and above, and Symbian) which allows you to discreetly (and silently) ask those within range for a bit of spare change. 


Think Dodgeball meets Tom Joad. Are you an untethered urban nomad? Looking to hook up with friends tonight, but unsure of which park or itinerant labor camp they'll be partying in? Then move on into huvervil, the hot new social GPS/802.11/LTE-compliant widget which puts you on the fast track to the people who used to matter! 


Optimized for Emerging Market 2.0, Hypa-N-Flashun is a Java flake for iPhone which removes the friction from everyday transactions. Let's say you're at a Web 2.0 conference in Zimbabwe. I don't know about you, but I find that dealing with a 1,000,000,000% annual inflation rate is a royal pain in the butt. Say you've bought a beer at the hotel bar and are waiting for change. Every second you wait costs you an extra $3, and the bartender has to keep going back to the till as the total changes - every second. This kind of situation could land you with a serious bar tab - what an outrage. Hypa-N-Flashun's clever software algorithms tap into the HLR of the mobile network you're on, link into APIs at the IMF datacenter, and through its intuitive context-aware UI, provides you with a prudent estimate of your real-time currency risk, so you can "pay it forward." Party on!  


Couchster is a next-gen viral social auction site dedicated to the booming "migratory casual accomodation" market. Need a couch to crash on? Just update your status page and set your price threshold (and let us know if you are travelling with a dog). Looking to monetize spare capacity on your couch during periods of low utilization? Set your price and watch your traffic skyrocket! Wired says "Couchster is sitting on a goldmine in the explosive SaaS (sofa as a service) market."


GloBungl is a persistent virtual world complete with in-world currency and economy. Members who register early in the community's life form elite guilds, which receive preferential rights to create, in an unregulated and unfettered manner, opaque virtual financial structures, which they can then sell on to later arrivals. Those who register shortly after the early guild members are designated "drones," and those who arrive late in the game are affectionately referred to as "TGUs". Those who arrive last are disparagingly referred to as "Reg-U-l8rs" (or, alternatively, as "Betta-l8-dan-nevvas"). GloBungl's unique algorithms steadily increase the level of tension and excitement for late arrivals, while allowing original guild members to discreetly "retire" with nice packages and start other virtual worlds of their own.