30 November 2007

EU Declines to Set Mobile TV Standard

This article in Forbes, which reports that the EU Telecommunications ministers, who are meeting in Brussels this week, declined to endorse the adoption of a standard for mobile television (I haven't yet found the original announcements). According to the article:
But EU telecommunications ministers said this time that it was important to let the market decide which type of mobile TV it prefers - and the European Commission should stick to "technology neutrality." They said DVB-H should be a "non-mandatory standard" among other options.
Not surprisingly, the EU Commissioner Viviane Reding was concerned with this laissez-faire attitude, warning that "Europe risks losing its competitive edge unless it moves fast".

This is a truly surprising announcement, coming from the region that mandated the GSM air interface. Many European cognescenti have expressed concerns about the US's refusal to set such a standard. This makes this development so much more remarkable!

Broadband in Australia

You might find this item of interest ... there will be a cabinet level Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. One of the goals of this Minister is to implement the AU$4.7 Billion fiber to the node plan that was one of the promises of the recent election in Australia. So, following up on the point I was arguing here, how would one account for this in the OECD's price of service report? In other words, is it right to compare Verizon's retail price for FiOS (which did not receive a subsidy that I know about) with future services from Telstra and other Australian ISPs (which benefitted from this subsidy)?

FCC FSJB recommends funding broadband from the USF

Speaking of broadband, there is some interesting news on this front. The Federal-State Joint Board released this report recently. This group advises the FCC, in this case, on universal service policy. Thus, this report outlines recommended decisions that the FCC may or may not adopt. Responding to criticisms of the USF, the joint board recommended several actions:

  • Change funding structure to reduce burden on consumers
  • Change high cost program in several ways, including the introduction of three "funds": Broadband, Mobility and Provider of Last Resort (POLR)
  • Explore the use of reverse auctions to distribute funds

In doing this, the board is arguing that access to basic mobile voice and access to "broadband" is part of the universal service definition that should be funded.
They recommend that the broadband fund be approximately US$300 Million per year. They stop short of defining what they mean by "broadband" (which is not a trivial omission, since it affects cost in a significant way).

29 November 2007

OECD broadband statistics

he OECD recently published some updated broadband statistics. This was picked up and visualized by the San Jose Mercury News (as reported here -- the figure is pretty cool, by the way).

In looking at these new data, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What is really relevant here? Are users in "lagging" countries (like the US) getting their needs met? If yes, what is the problem?
  • In considering the reported data, they are advertised bit rates and retail prices. Is this really a fair if the prices are subsidized, either by tax subsidies, universal service funds, etc.? There is no doubt that there are serious methodological problems in counting and attributing subsidies, and using retail prices simplifies that.

Verizon Picks LTE for 4G Wireless Broadband

I have blogged about 4G technologies before. Now, in this item, Om Malik reports that Verizon has made its choice. He ties it to Verizon's recent announcement that they are opening their network:

The LTE evolution negates the GSM vs. CDMA debate, and it also promises global connectivity. In a recent chat, AT&T Mobility President & CEO Ralph de la Vega said that his company was going to migrate to LTE as the 4G solution. In such a scenario, you and I can then switch between the two services without worrying too much about handsets.

What does this mean for WiMAX?

Update (2007-11-30): CNet has a bit more to say about this in this article.

Verizon Wireless is opening up its network!

This has got to be the news of the month, perhaps the news of the year! It has gotten the attention of the major news sources (see this in BusinessWeek, this in the NY Times, and this over at CNet). I believe that it is no accident that it comes on the heels of the Open Handset Alliance's Android project, which has been substantially supported by Google). Not surprisingly, the blogs have been buzzing about this as well (see this from Om Malik and this from BusinessWeek). As I mentioned earlier, this was the essential vision of Tim Wu in his "Wireless Carterfone" treatise.

I applaud Verizon's move because it will almost certainly increase choice and innovation. It is likely to transform the industry in profound ways as well. I am also delighted that this move was Verizon's choice, not a policy originating from a court or a government agency. They must have a business model in mind that will make their investment more profitable for their shareholders in the long run.

The success of this effort will clearly depend on prices ... what will unbundled access cost and what will technical certification at Verizon's facilities cost. By the way, I have read some commentators who have questioned Verizon's testing ... suggesting that this should be an independent lab (I can't find the specific references anymore, regrettably). I disagree. I think it is perfectly reasonable for Verizon to establish, define and support conformance testing for devices attaching to their network.

Update (2007-12-5): This item argues why this move makes economic sense for Verizon.

Undersea cable for Africa (TEAMS)

In following up to this item, you might be interested in this article, which is relatively rich in cost information. By the way, this site has information on other cable projects as well. Some tidbits for the TEAMS project:

  • The project will involve the construction of a 4,887-km submarine telecoms cable linking the Kenyan coast with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The project will cost an estimated $110-million (or US$22,500/km). The cable has an expected lifetime of 25 years.

  • "Capacity will be allocated at cost with TEAMs investors paying $400,000 per STM1 per year. This translates to $2580.645 per megabit per year up to Fujairah and $ 215.00 megabit per month."
  • "TEAMs shareholders are expected to operate on an Internal Rate of Return of 32.71 per cent with a pay back of 2.4 years."
  • "Transit costs from Fujairah to Europe and US stands at between $55,000 to $100,000 per year"

The cost is considerably below the estimated US$70,000/km for the Guyana project ... why might this be the case?

20 November 2007

iPhone in Germany

You might find this item interesting. This is very similar to the situation in France, except it is ex post instead of ex ante, which is less favorable for Apple. The comments on the Gizmodo post are worth reading. Is this a precursor of what we will find throughout Europe?


In an earlier post, I pointed to the report of Comcast "managing" BitTorrent traffic. Well, things have gotten a bit more interesting since then. As this article in BusinessWeek reports, Comcast is now the object of complaints filed at the FCC as well as a lawsuit that is seeking class action status. You might also find this item useful to add a bit of dimension to your thinking.

Should the FCC set guidelines for acceptable "network management" practices, as Vuze is requesting in its petition?

Update (2007-11-29): There have been a few new developments and insights for your consideration:

  1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a report documenting the AP's findings in more detail. They also are offering tools for users to test their ISP, though the test method seems focussed on more technically astute people. To that end, the NNSquad has been discussing how one might build tools to test ISP behavior.
  2. For additional background on ISP motivations (yes, there are some that make sense), you might visit this site, which includes a pointer to a report from Sandvine.

Undersea Cable to Serve South America

Since the topic of undersea cables came up in class recently, you might find this item briefly describing a cable project between Guyana and Trinidad of interest. I think what is most useful are the cost and schedule details. Quoting the article:
Atlantic Tele-Network Inc., based in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Salem, Mass., expects to invest $35 million in the new cable, which will provide improved service to Guyana, Suriname and Brazil, the company said. It is expected to be completed in 2009. The region is currently served by an undersea cable between Florida and French Guiana, but many people in the region complain of slow Internet service and difficulty making international calls.

The distance covered by the cable is approximately 500km, so this project is estimated to cost US$70,000/km. How does this compare to other published cable costs?

EarthLink and municipal WiFi

As you know if you have read this blog before, Earthlink began reevaluating its commitment to municipal WiFi this summer. According to this and this, the results of this evaluation indicate that Earthlink will be exiting this business. you might enjoy this analysis as well.

Do you think this dooms the concept of municipal WiFi? Or, does this simply open the door for WiMAX based systems? What about the possibility that Earthlink was pursuing this as a strategy to exit the declining dialup business?

19 November 2007

700 MHz auctions, Google and more

There has been a bit of talk over the past months on Google's wireless ambitions. Certainly, Android is a part of it, but the speculation has also centered on Google's ambitions to be a wireless operator. To that end, this item over at GigaOm was the most insightful analysis that I have yet read. Om Malik concludes that it is unlikely that Google will become a wireless operator, and is instead using the upcoming 700 MHz auction to beat current carriers up over their network policies.

To that end, the NY Times is anticipating higher auction returns in this article because of the WRC agreement that was just concluded. I really doubt it, because there is no tangible value that the WRC reallocation added for US carriers.

Finally, I found this item, also from GigaOm intriguing. If Google is indeed making its own 10 Gbps switches, it seems as though we may be witnessing the re-incarnation of the vertically integrated Bell System (albeit without the market power). Interesting how times change ... I think there is little doubt that the Bell System benefitted from having a captive R&D and manufacturing capability. Is Google discovering that as well?

Update (2007-11-20): You might find this item interesting. Do you think Google should pay attention to analysts?

16 November 2007


The subject of payphone use came up in a recent class. To my surprise, two of the students in the class had never used a payphone. (OK, I know I am old -- I use email after all.) But the discussion did get me thinking about how payphone use has evolved in light of the penetration of mobile phones. I have not been able to find reliable, transnational data (at least for free).

I did find some tidbits that are relevant. Check out the results of an informal survey (too bad they didn't include the option "never"):
When's The Last Time You Used A Payphone

This item (from the World Dialogue on Regulation) reports on payphone use in Africa.

The ACMA (Australia) issued an annual report that contained some data. Unfortunately, I was spending too much time trying to copy some graphics from that report into this blog post.

The FCC provides some data for the US, though it does not include usage data:

So how about you? Did you ever use a payphone? When was the last time you used one (please feel free to update the "Swivel" chart)?

Update(2007-12-3): This item (via Forbes) reports that AT&T will "... exit its declining public pay phone business by the end of 2008 to focus on faster growing areas."

15 November 2007

Power line communications

I want to draw your attention to this item over at Ars Technica. While the story is mostly about a new chipset that ups the bit rate of this technology, the latter part begins exploring the market penetration of this technology (and the reasons for the current state of the market). Do you think that this is the elusive "third pipe" that many industry observers are looking for? Why or why not?

13 November 2007

World Radio Conference

The ITU-R's World Radio Conference is nearing its end. There has been little reported (that I am aware of) beyond this item. You might find this site useful if you want some more details that you won't find on the official site (at least without paying for it). If you do a search on "WRC-07", you'll find an array of position papers and a few reports beyond this one. I guess it isn't that interesting to the population at large, even though the stakes are enormous.

AT&T Technology timeline ... from the telephone to today

You might find

this website interesting. I do wonder about how topics for inclusion were selected ... but it is interesting nonetheless.

EU announces new (proposed) telecom regulation framework

In case you missed it, you might find this of interest. If you follow the links, you can get to the (draft) legislative documents. Note that these documents do not represent final policy, though it seems likely that the final policy will be close to what is published today.

  • As expected, functional separation is one of the options available to regulators. Do you think that this will be widely used?
  • The framework proposes a "European Telecom Market Authority". How do you think this will play out, especially with regard to NRAs?
  • What about the spectrum reform proposals? Will they help?

Anyway ... enjoy your reading!

Update (2007-11-14): Here is Forbes' take on this announcement and here is CNET's. Interestingly, few of the major news outlets reported on this.

Update (2007-11-15): This item reports that French and German regulators question the need for the Telecom Market Authority. Will this reform proposal face a long road to adoption?

Can services successful in one country gain traction in another?

I found this article interesting. It reminds me also of the Mobile Television services that have been successful in Korea and iMode, which was successful in Japan. Text messaging is another example of a technology that was successful in Europe but was slow to take off in the US (it has done so now -- ask any teen or young adult in the US).

These are the latest examples of technologies that have been successul in one country that may or may not translate to successful services in other countries. It is clear that cultural values are a piece of this, but so are living arrangements, communting arrangements, etc.

More on Sprint/Clearwire and WiMAX

As I have mentioned earlier, Sprint and Clearwire have ended their partnership plans. Several articles (see this and this, for example) are wondering what the future of mobile WiMAX is, especially in light of the recent LTE test. BusinessWeek has speculated about investment by Intel, in light of the strategic importance of this technology (see this), or a significant engagement with Google (see this as well).

Do you think that this is another case of analysts falling over themselves to get attention (i.e. a lot of hot air)? Or, is this truly a deep blow to mobile WiMAX prospects?

HD-DVD vs BluRay (again)

So I can't keep my fingers out of this one, OK? There were two articles, both from Gizmodo, that I found interesting and relevant. The first is this one, which reports that the Toshiba HD-DVD player that has been selling for US$ 99 costs approximately US$674 to build. This is a classic "technology sponsorship" move, even if it is driven by retailers at this point. How long is this sustainable?

What is reported in this item is more subtle and is predictable when you have broad cartels consortia. Will Blu-Ray end up "losing" because of what amounts to unfinished standards?

Internet Governance discussions

The current discussions by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Brazil have been reported in a couple of places (see this and this, for example). The IGF was an outcome of the WSIS meeting in Tunisia in 2005 (see this and this, in case you've forgotten about it). The Internet Governance Project (IGP) which is distinct from the UN, is a forum for academics to debate Internet governance, is also deeply involved in the Brazil meeting.

Although the IGF is not a decisionmaking group, the discussions could lead to calls for decisions by UN groups that do have decisionmaking authority. According to this article, Co-Chairman Hadil da Rocha Vianna said:

"Let's progress slowly but that's not to say go backwards or just spin our wheels. So in Rio, the concrete results would be to advance in these debates, deepening themes debated in Athens."

So, what will the impact of IGF be? Is it another "consultative" organization, or will it result in a significant change to Internet governance?

Update (2007-11-16):
The NY Times has this article that was filed after the conference ended. Quoting the article:

With no concrete recommendations for action, the only certainty going forward is that any resentment about the American influence will only grow as more users from the developing world come online, changing the face of the global network.

''I think that there are many Third World countries and developing countries and people from Asia and so on who are pressuring for changes,'' said Augusto Gadelha Viera, coordinator of the Brazilian Internet steering committee and chairman of a closing session on emerging issues at the four-day Internet Governance Forum.

As the conference drew to a close, Russian representative Konstantin Novoderejhkin called on the United Nations secretary-general to create a working group to develop ''practical steps'' for moving Internet governance ''under the control of the international community.''

Network Neutrality (again)

You can probably figure out that I am skeptical about the appropriateness and efficacy of ex ante internet regulation. At the same time, I believe that the Internet should not subject users to undue restrictions. So, I think the approach that the NNSquad is terrific. This group has no regulatory powers, but can discover and report incidents, like the recent Comcast/BitTorrent incident (see this for an analysis/discussion). This kind of "regulation by information" may just be the most effective approach, especially as we reason through what "reasonable" user expectations are (or should be) and what "reasonable" provider behavior is (or should be) as the market evolves and as application requirements evolve. (By the way, here is another opinion on this group.)

Do you think that regulation by information is strong enough? Do you think that ex ante regulation (or even functional separation) is necessary anyway?

08 November 2007

Thoughts on the G-Phone

Google's much anticipated wireless strategy was finally publicly revealed this week, after much speculation and anticipation. Google's approach was inspired by Tim Wu's "Wireless Carterfone" proposal (which I have blogged about earlier). Unlike Apple's iPhone, Google is proposing an open software platform (Android) that is open and will run on a variety of hardware. The platform, which is based on the Linux kernel, will be developed and maintained by the Open Handset Alliance. According to OHA:
Android does not differentiate between the phone's core applications and third-party applications. They can all be built to have equal access to a phone's capabilities providing users with a broad spectrum of applications and services. With devices built on the Android Platform, users will be able to fully tailor the phone to their interests. They can swap out the phone's homescreen, the style of the dialer, or any of the applications. They can even instruct their phones to use their favorite photo viewing application to handle the viewing of all photos.
It is interesting to note that the carriers Sprint and T-mobile were quick to endorse this initiative. They are, after all, the smallest of the "big four" in the US. Is this an attempt to ride on Google's coat-tails (following the boost that AT&T's earnings had after their exclusive deal with the iPhone)?

The responses of industry analysts have been mixed:

  • Om Malik wrote "This is one massive PR move, with nothing to show for it right now, and it seems like there are other unknown reasons (Facebook ad platform launch perhaps) for the motivation here. No phones till second half of 2008 — in our ADD culture that is a lifetime."
  • Kent German wonders if T-Mobile and Sprint will hue to the spirit of openness once the phone ships.
  • Scott Anthony concluded that this is not a disruptive innovation. He writes that "[c]arriers have already placed big bets in the anticipation of earning service revenues from advertising and other future applications, which appears to be Google's plan as well."

  • According to this item, ""I have yet to be convinced that Google's mobile strategy will create a big dent in the industry," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Jordan Rohan, who added that Yahoo appears right to focus on distribution deals of its services instead."

It seems that Android is a platform that will compete in substantial ways with Microsoft Windows Mobile, Symbian, PalmOS, and the Blackberry operating platforms. So why would developers and phone manufacturers be interested? According to this article:

  • "Unlike with other mobile-platform providers, developers working with Android pay no licensing or other fees. They also will be able to sell their applications through a Google-created online marketplace without sharing revenues with the search giant. Google will make money on the ads served through the phone's browser, according to Google."
  • "By not having to pay licensing fees to Symbian or Microsoft, cell-phone companies will save about 10% of their costs, according to Google."
What about carriers?
  • How will it help carriers be more profitable in a business that is rapidly commoditizing?
  • Large carriers like Vodafone have already made it clear that they want to reduce the number of operating platforms that they support so that they can roll out applications and services more quickly. Does Android help them? Will this affect the other platforms?

Update (2007-11-13): This item contains some videos that show prototypes of a phone running Android.

07 November 2007

Nanotube Radio

Carlos Caicedo sent me this pointer to an article about a nanotube radio that has been developed in a lab. The article discusses signal detection, which is mechanical instead of electrical, but not demodulation, which would be a necessary feature of a fully functional radio. On the other hand, I don't see why AM demodulation should be challenging, using the same principles as a crystal radio.

02 November 2007

Sprint and WiMAX news

This article reports that Sprint is considering a merger with Clearwire. The two companies had collaborated on the construction of a nation wide wireless network.

Are you surprised that we are seeing consolidation already? Do you think that a merger like this would act as a significant deterrent for potential new entrants into WiMAX?

Update (2007-11-09): According to this article in the Wall Street Journal (via Forbes), Sprint and Clearwire are not combining their networks after all. Do you think that this is a good strategic move for them? What about for consumers?