20 March 2007

Disruptive technologies in wireless

In this article in Forbes, Clayton Christiansen (of "The Innovator's Dilemma" fame) makes the case that WiFi-based hot spots could be disruptors for today's 3G networks.

Do you agree with his analysis? How do municipal networks figure into this? Do you think his advice to carriers is sound? If so, how would that be sold to shareholders?

14 March 2007

Mobile rates in Europe

Mobile rates in Europe are much higher in the US.

While comparisons are always challenging, a simple comparison is to look at individual plans allowing around 450 minutes. Vodafone Germany charges 69.95 Euro (approx US$ 90) for a package offering 480 minutes in the home region. A 450 minute plan from Cingular in the US is $39.95. A 400 minute plan from O2 in the UK costs 30 pounds (about $60 US).

International roaming rates are notoriously high. So last summer, the EU signalled that they were going to take action and cap rates. This press release provides some details, and an interesting chart in the back that compares the various proposals that are being considered.

A couple of questions come to mind that you might wish to engage in:

  • Why are mobile rates so much higher in the EU than the US?
  • Is capping prices on roaming charges the right way to go?
  • If not, what are the alternatives?
  • What does the table in the press release reveal about the loyalties of the Commission, Parlaiment and Presidency, respectively based on their rate preferences?

13 March 2007

Transitiion to Digital TV

With the conversion to digital television slated for 17 February 2009, more serious attention is being paid to the problem of stranded consumers (who wish to keep their analog sets for whatever reason and wish to continue relying on over the air broadcasting). The US Department of Commerce announced this policy yesterday to address those people:
Starting Jan. 1, 2008, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two $40 coupons to be used toward the purchase of up to two, digital-to-analog converter boxes, while the initial $990 million allocated for the program is available.

If the initial funds are used up, the Act permits funding to increase by $510 million, upon certification to Congress that the initial allocated amount is insufficient to fulfill coupon requests. If the additional funds are needed, eligibility for those coupons will be limited exclusively to over-the-air-only television households. Consumers requesting coupons from these contingent funds must self-certify to NTIA that they do not subscribe to cable, satellite or other pay television services. This program is structured to monitor demand to help ensure that over-the-air reliant households will not lose total access to television broadcasts after the Feb. 17, 2009, transition date.

How does this compare to Berlin's experience from a few years back?

09 March 2007

Broadband regulation in Europe

There are a couple of items which are related to each other:

  • This EU's legal action against Germany (and, by proxy Telekom, the German incumbent. The EU takes exception to a German law exempting Telekom's new fiber investment from sharing rules.
  • A 43% drop in most recent quarterly earnings.
  • An article in the German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche from 9 Feb 2007 (in German). This article reports on an internal study by the consultancy Detecon warning that Telekom's business foundations could fall apart. Their solution, reports the article, is to focus on premium quality. But, as Detecon notes that Telekom's competitors can offer nearly equivalent services at similar quality without owning infrastructure

Is this a case of a bloated, inefficient monopolist? Is it the case of inefficient regulation? It is hard for me to imagine that these events, in the large, are unrelated.

Recent international meetings of interest

You might enjoy the papers located at this OECD site. OECD's interest is preparation for a ministerial level meeting on this subject that is scheduled for 2008.

In a similar fashion, the ITU recently held a workshop on spectrum management. This workshop addressed the use of market mechanisms as well as spectrum trading. They also held another workshop on "The Future of Voice", which addressed (among other things) voice communications in NGNs.

Ofcom report on wireless in the last mile

I'm back in business after getting the "powder flu" (see this for causes of this disease ... it looks like I may get a relapse!).

One of the discussion points in the literature is whether wireless (eg. municipal wireless systems) can serve as an effective "third pipe" to help reduce the concerns about implicit collusion between service providers. This report from the UK regulator Ofcom sheds light on this question. The report's author notes:
One obvious question then arises - can wireless address the needs of Broadband 2.0? It would have to do so at a competitive cost, which means preferring self install indoor systems and minimising base station numbers, perhaps by working at the lower frequencies of the UHF band. But before evaluating specific wireless technology approaches, benchmarking against access technologies in other countries was performed, with the following results

  1. It was quickly apparent that countries leading on bandwidth to the home are all using some form of fibre system. Whilst Japan/Korea are doing this with government sponsorship, Verizon and AT&T in the US have recently begun fibre roll-outs on a purely commercial basis. This is a watershed development for fibre in the local loop.
  2. Interest in fibre is high in the EU too, but some operators have halted their roll-out plans due to the absence of an FCC-style forbearance on fibre unbundling within the EU.
  3. Benchmarking against upcoming wireless standards showed these were biased towards
    small screen mobile content delivery, i.e. they are not attempting to address the challenge of the Broadband 2.0 requirements for delivery of HD services to the home.