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Entries in telecoms (10)


Question on iPhone

Spent evening putting hoist system in garage for canoe.  Real effort with 16-foot ceilings, but worth it.  Six-to-one pulley system truly ingenious.

Anyway . . .

Finally got iPhone.  Have Mac desktops at home and now three laptops, but have resisted on phone until Verizon carried it.  Now if the NFL will just move beyond that satellite provider and sell games directly over cable . . . 

Got Elago covers, which are very thin, but wondering now about protector for screens (we got three in all for all but our collegiate, who does not want to change).  Kevin is adamant about screen coverage to protect from scratches.

My questions are:


  1. Does one really need a screen protector?
  2. Which are the best?



Maybe the iPhone has it right: why bother making calls?

In case you didn't catch the Futuram iPhone episode . . .

FT front-pager that notes mobile operators predict app sales will outpace call revenues by 2013. Naturally, this raises a lot of those "net neutrality" issues (net neutrality is the principle that says deliverers of content shouldn't prioritize certain sites over others--for a price), because the telecoms want to start charging the Googles and YouTubes for all that flow.

Why?  Content is once again king, so operators are asking themselves, as one lawyer puts it, "Am I just a dumb pipe delivering that content, or can I secure a piece of that pie?"

Eventually, new pricing regimes must emerge and we all pay more for everything.


Waiting on the first civil suit: GPS-aided stalkers

Phone companies pretty much always know where you are--to within 100 feet.  Annually, about 25,000 people are stalked across these United States.

Eventually the two trends meet, to the detriment of the stalked.

Therapists who work with domestic-abuse victims say they are increasingly seeing clients who have been stalked via their phones. At the Next Door Solutions for Battered Women shelter in San Jose, Calif., director Kathleen Krenek says women frequently arrive with the same complaint: "He knows where I am all the time, and I can't figure out how he's tracking me."

In such cases, Ms. Krenek says, the abuser is usually tracking a victim's cellphone. That comes as a shock to many stalking victims, she says, who often believe that carrying a phone makes them safer because they can call 911 if they're attacked.

There are various technologies for tracking a person's phone, and with the fast growth in smartphones, new ones come along frequently. Earlier this year, researchers with iSec Partners, a cyber-security firm, described in a report how anyone could track a phone within a tight radius. All that is required is the target person's cellphone number, a computer and some knowledge of how cellular networks work, said the report, which aimed to spotlight a security vulnerability.

Inevitably, protections will be put in place, and those who are lax about respecting them will be sued by victims--in part because their pockets are deep and they should know better.

Now abuse shelters tell women to turn off their phones the minute they walk through the door, but this is a sad state of affairs.  Eventually, the phone companies will have to become part of the solution.

How that might work:

The organization put that policy in place after a close call. On Feb. 26, Jennie Barnes arrived at a shelter to escape her husband, Michael Barnes, according to a police affidavit filed in a domestic-violence case against Mr. Barnes in New Hampshire state court. Ms. Barnes told police she was afraid that Mr. Barnes, who has admitted in court to assaulting his wife, would assault her again.

Ms. Barnes told a police officer that "she was in fear for her life," according to court filings. The next day, a judge issued a restraining order requiring Mr. Barnes to stay away from his wife.

Later that day, court records indicate, Mr. Barnes called his wife's cellular carrier, AT&T, and activated a service that let him track his wife's location. Mr. Barnes, court records say, told his brother that he planned to find Ms. Barnes.

The cellular carrier sent Ms. Barnes a text message telling her the tracking service had been activated, and police intercepted her husband. Mr. Barnes, who pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife and to violating a restraining order by tracking her with the cellphone, was sentenced to 12 months in jail. 

The cat and mouse on this one will be fascinating to watch.  New rules galore.


Chart of the day: smartphone operating system world shares

FT story.

I was just attracted to the notion that fighting over smartphone operating systems shares is now as important in many people's minds as the same fight over OSs in personal computers.

Theme of piece: Mac has ruled here over Microsoft, with Android now replacing previously dominant RIM as the great alternative.

To me, just a fascinating evolution.

The big reason why I tried a Blackberry and then shifted to Android:  I wanted the experience of using them.  I love the Apple OSs in general (my family has four Macs and no PCs), and I love my iPod, but I didn't want to go all-Mac and lose that sense of the alternatives. 

Also why I still use MS Office.


The iPhone makes Apple a global player, but only if it can dominate outside the US

WSJ story that exemplifies the bottom-of-the-pyramid reality of the global marketplace once Asia's billions sign on.

Apple is rolling out the latest version of its iPhone more rapidly to 88 countries beyond its already saturated American market, reducing the lag time exhibited by previous versions.

Why?  Apple's growth in recent quarters is skyrocketing in Asia/Japan and it's even significantly bigger in Europe already than in America.  Comparison: March 2010Q sees growth rate of about 25% in the Americas, but almost 200% in developing Asia.

So no choice: go global or go stagnant.


There's gold in them thar mobiles!

ad found here

Another FT on Africa.

How mobiles fuel banking in infrastructure-hostile environments in Africa:  Better to pay over the phone than carry the cash or waste time going to branches that do not exist.  All sorts of everyday transactions are suddenly greased to the point of actual convenience!

That growth in e-banking, in turn, fuels the ambition of local banks to expand services locally and expand the reach of their operations geographically—an incredibly virtuous trend generated primarily by sheer connectivity.

The key dynamic is the spread of banking services to the previously “underbanked.” The extension of short-term credit to individuals makes capitalism work—as in, I will gladly pay you by mobile for a hamburger today.

Credit to ODA (official developmental aid) where it is due:

Vodafone, the British telecoms company, with a local partner and the backing of Britain’s Department for International Development, launched one of the most celebrated mobile banking initiatives: M-Pesa of Kenya.

This is basically telecoms moving into banking.



What hath teleGod wrought?

Pic here

More FT on Africa as part of the World Cup focus.

The explosion of mobiles across Africa is described as the most important economic development of the last half century, revolutionizing lives and transforming society in ways all that official developmental aid never did. 

No surprise, all that rising individual-level connectivity coincides with dramatic growth in GDP and sweeping new public attitudes toward business.

Ah, but what did Barnett’s “connectivity” ever do for poor people?!?

Plenty, it turns out.

But doesn’t it just piss them off when they realize they can’t be rich like the West?

Apparently, not as much as it jazzes them to exploit new opportunities.

And we’re talking an Africa that’s still only in the 40-50% mobile penetration rate.  The continent as a whole is predicted to pass the 50% mark this year, with at least 8 nations bragging about a 100% penetration level!

Turns out the poor are not to poor for mobiles to be significantly empowering—and profitable—for everybody involved.

The FT piece:

Such success has revealed the continent’s entrepreneurial flair—when the dead hand of the state is lifted—and revived other sectors, particularly banking and consumer industries.

You know that bit about the Indian farmer choosing a mobile over an indoor toilet?  Well, a lot of Africans will pick the mobile over that much additional food.

Why?  Connectivity breeds opportunity.  Along with the mobile penetration, we see foreign direct investment balloon for both oil & gas nations and non-O&G economies.  Both groups attracted about a billion in 1989.  Both now attract in the range of $4B annually now.


Downside analysis of telecoms in India

FT full-page analysis by Joe Leahy, who's always good.

The start:

In late 2007, an elated Arun Sarin, then chief executive officer of Vodafone, was enthusing in a swanky Barcelona hotel about his latest acquisition – Hutchison Essar, India’s third largest mobile operator.

The UK-based multinational had just paid nearly $11bn (€8.8bn; £7.6bn) for a 67 per cent stake in the group, gaining with one move a front row position in the fastest-growing large telecommunications market.

“We are going to learn as much from India as we are going to take to India,” Mr Sarin, who was born and raised in the country, told the Financial Times in an interview. “Prices there are two-and-a-half US cents a minute, and they make a 35 per cent margin. How do you do that?”

Mr Sarin could not have envisaged it but just two-and-a-half years later, Indian tariffs have collapsed to less than one US cent per minute. Rather than a positive learning experience, the country has provided a hard lesson for Vodafone.

Everybody is just squeaking by in this suddenly fiercely competitive environment, including giant Bharti Airtel. But nobody can ignore the potential: 20m new subscribers per month and a total market expected to reach--get this!--1.1BILLION! by 2015.

Key difference with China:  India welcomes foreign ownership.

The big problem:  paucity of bandwidth, so spotty coverage and service bedevils the industry.  "Incumbent operators claim the situation has been worsened by the government’s decision to sell spectrum cheaply to newcomers and not auction it to the highest bidder."

More scope:

For India, this mobile phone expansion has significance beyond the immediate telecoms industry. It has been touted as the biggest – some say only – spectacular infrastructure success yet, a beacon of what can be achieved in a country that needs to build $1,000bn worth of roads, power plants, ports and airports over the next five years if it is to realise its dream of being a leading global economic power.

The telecoms revolution has also become one of the country’s primary drivers of development. Millions of urban poor and farmers, from Calcutta rickshaw pullers to Himalayan yak herders, now carry mobile phones. The improved communications enables them to do more business and gives them better access to services, such as healthcare. Every 10 percentage point increase in mobile penetration produces 0.81 per cent economic growth, according to a 2009 World Bank study.

“It’s an infrastructure rollout of a magnitude that has not been seen in the global economy for a long time,” says one former senior industry executive. He says the biggest operators in India in the past 12 months have installed as much network as Germany did in the past 15 years. “It’s something that vastly exceeds the rolling out of electricity, or the rolling out of highways in the 1950s in the United States.”

The great obstacle, as usual, are the rules:

But the regulatory system that gave rise to this expansion now finds itself accused of trying to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Analysts accuse the government of implementing a series of policy switches in the past two-and-a-half years that have led to an influx of new entrants and a scarcity of spectrum – the precious airwaves on which mobile calls are transmitted. In the communications technology era, spectrum is the new black gold, in short supply all over the world but particularly in India, where the defence ministry still controls many frequencies.

The level of international criticism of India’s telecoms policy regime is worrying for a government that prides itself on its ability to court foreign investors at high-profile gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos. One investment research company referred New Delhi’s recent policy actions as “regulatory basketcasery”. In a note on Vodafone, Bernstein Research said: “If you were looking for emerging market exposure to mobile growth, India was probably not a great choice.” The country, it added, “is a competitive mess, and its regulation grows more capricious and nonsensical by the day”.

Such charges are vehemently denied by regulators . . .

Yet no one can dispute that the sector is overcrowded. Some argue that its problems date back to January 2008, when the government sold eight new mobile service licences bundled with spectrum at 2001 prices on a first-come, first-served basis rather than through a bidding process. This sale is now being investigated for allegations of “serious irregularities” ...

The awarding of so many licences ushered in an era of competition even more intense than that witnessed by Mr Sarin. Many of the newcomers sold large stakes to cash-rich foreign operators . . .

As the new entrants and their international partners began operating, a vicious price war set in. Call prices declined rapidly. Telenor’s local unit, Uninor, recently announced a plan that offers calls for as little as Rs0.20 per minute.

Consumers have welcomed the price war but it has had a catastrophic effect on revenue in the industry. Among large operators, average monthly revenue per user as of March 31 fell up to 37.9 per cent compared with a year earlier, according to Macquarie Securities.

Even as the price war bit into profits, the government launched its long-delayed auction of spectrum for third generation mobile services, which allow subscribers access to the internet on their phones. The auction process was lauded as fair and open but some operators complained that the fact that there were only three pan-India allocations on offer to 15 operators drove up prices artificially. The cost of an allocation soared to more than $3.6bn – about 75 per cent more than the highest analyst estimates before the sale ...

Leading operators such as Vodafone and Bharti balked at paying the full cost of a pan-India allocation, and instead ended up with a patchwork of networks in the more important regions. Even in the areas they did win, the allocation was not enough to offer a meaningful increase in the advanced data services typical of 3G, such as internet television and video-conferencing.

“Operators have paid a huge amount of money ostensibly for 3G purposes but in reality this will be used to fill the gaps on 2G networks,” said Rahul Matthan of Trilegal, an Indian law firm.

For India, this could be a blow. The country’s internet penetration, which the most optimistic estimates put at about 70m users, is one of the lowest among the world’s fast-growing emerging markets.

Given the difficulty of building ground-based infrastructure because of high population density, efficient implementation of 3G might have offered India the chance to leapfrog into the internet age. For the government, short-term gains from the sale of resources such as spectrum have to be balanced against the need to create incentives for investment in communications. World Bank calculations show that increasing broadband penetration generates economic growth to an even greater extent than mobile penetration.

Many experts argue that consolidation is the only long-term solution. Existing rules seriously curb mergers and acquisitions. 

Tumultuous boom-and-bust days of network/biz empire-building.  Fascinating to watch and impossible for all these companies not to engage.

Remember the pot of gold that lies at the end of this rainbow: the ability to process all the biz intell that flows through these mobiles.

Excellent piece.  Serious education.  I can't ever see a future where I'm not subscribing to FT.


China to India telecom market: pretty please, let us in!

Huawei is China's biggest telecom equip manufacturers.  It's working hard to get into India's booming market space, and recently India took a hard line on its imports, blocking orders on the rationalization that the gear might come with spy devices.

Now, Chinese expats are adopting local names (a famous Chinese trick) and dress and going heavy on the charm.

India is worth $1.4B of Huawei's revenue now, or 11%.

I like to see this tussle.  It's part of China's learning process:  the more it penetrates other markets, the more those markets will push back on its lack of democracy and everything that deficiency suggests about its business practices.


When civil strife actually improves ground-floor connectivity

Per my recent feature for WPR on telecoms, warlords are pretty good for cellphone connectivity--as in, they want it and everybody whom they either put on the run or force into fending for themselves want it.

Somalia appears to be the classic example here:

Banks barely existed in this war-torn African nation a decade ago.  Now, Somali residents can bank over their mobile phones.

The rapid evolution of technology in Somalia--and people's access to it--comes as several telecommunications companies here jockey for customers amid the absence of any government-regulated phone or Internet-access.  The competition to supply phone service has stoked the nascent revival of Somalia's shattered economy, and it shows that some complex business can thrive even in one of Africa's least developed markets.

Technology players moving in come from China, Korea and Europe, or basically New Core Asia in sub-Saharan Africa and established Euro players in the north.

My bit with the Core-Gap map has always been:  this is globalization's frontier and where it's moving is where you'll find churn and violence and frontier-integration, meaning both the good and the bad concentrated.  It is its own socio-economic revolution on top of whatever else is going on--both good and bad.

Naturally, Al Shabaab, the local radical Islamic group, fights this trend, saying such connectivity violates sharia. Oh, but they'll allow it if you pay them "taxes" and let them dictate its spread.

Classic stuff.