WIND Mobile – Government Policy Meets Job Creation

98F7915E-5441-4B0A-851C-A62DC90DFEE7.jpgLooks like one of the winners of the fairly recent spectrum auctions in Canada is beginning to get their team together.

This is a great example of the positive impact changes in government policy can have on the creation of jobs in what was an otherwise stagnant, uncompetitive and fairly uninteresting Canadian telecom market.

The WIND Mobile website lists no fewer than 107 open positions – most of which look like very highly skilled and likely well paying positions that previously would not have existed.

The simple change to open up spectrum to new competitors is better for consumers, better for job creation, and better for driving continued innovation. This type of government intervention to the market is both necessary and welcome to help keep pushing us forward.

Good luck to WIND, and all those new WIND Mobile employees!

Geddes on The Future of the Telephony Business

old_phoneMartin Geddes posted a great video clip from eComm about the future of the telephony business.

There were two concepts I thought were really interesting and clearly described both the future potential, and main challenge of unified communications.

1. Future Potential

  • Martin talked about the idea that future telecom revenues will come from opening up new services that businesses can use to better integrate the telephony network into their existing business processes and applications. No doubt a significant driver behind BT’s acquisition of Ribbit – so as to allow a giant API to be put on top the BT network, giving access to application developers to tightly integrate telephony into their software.

2. Main Challenge

  • Near to the very end of the video Martin says that no one telecom company will be able to achieve this on their own. As an industry filled with companies built on the idea of tightly controlled access to network services, the idea of opening up to the likes of companies such as Skype, Google, Microsoft, etc will definitely be a significant hurdle to overcome.

For years fixed and mobile operators have been concerned about becoming a commodity bit pipe to end users. In an attempt to avoid this fate the operators exercised control, artificially limiting the services that application developers could leverage when building new products. In contrast to this, Martin’s comments made me consider whether the future will see operators competing based on how open their networks are and what core network services are made available for companies and developers to use and integrate into new applications.

It may be a long and painful road for some operators who are still stuck in the mindset that they can control when (or if) innovations occur on top of their network. But fundamentally the prize in all of this is about making the telephone network (both mobile and fixed) into a massive platform for innovation, experimentation and development.

If you’re interested in some insights to the potential of “Telco 2.0”, Martin’s video is definitely well worth watching.

Grand Central – Round 2

A24637DC-18B7-4B46-8D10-B129F91E8974.jpgApparently the rumors of its death were premature. Google dropped the Google Voice bomb today as the reincarnation of Grand Central.

Accounts are still only available to those who already had a Grand Central account but the promise is that it will be opened up in the coming weeks for new users.

It will be fascinating to see how this changes our voice communications behaviour. I don’t see anything obvious on there at the moment about integration with Google Talk Voice/Video but surely they must have pulled this into the offering (or at least are going to soon).

When the biggest news isn’t news at all – Nokia and 3GPP VCC

This year’s 3GSM/MWC passed by with few (if any) words said about one of the most interesting announcements from Nokia. In reality this was no announcement at all, it was merely a single line found deep within the spec sheet of the newly launched Nokia E75.
Picture 5.png

What was the big news?

The big news was that the new line of Nokia’s E-Series phones – the E75 model – appears to be shipping with the 3GPP VCC standard embedded within.

What does this mean?

3GPP VCC is a standard developed by some very clever individuals, many of whom I had the pleasure to work with for the past 2 years or so, which allows a phone call to seamlessly handoff between mobile (GSM/CDMA) networks and IP based networks (such as WIFI).

What is the impact?

If the phone is actually delivered with the VCC feature on board, it opens up the possibility of merging together the VoIP telephony worlds on WIFI (at the office or home) with your mobile phone (while on the road). Yes, VCC has been around for a (relatively) long time now, however prior to the Picture 4.pngappearance of this rather innocuous line in the E75 specification it has been largely unused as a result of no phones having the capability built in. Up to now the only way to leverage this standard was through 3rd party software that required significant aftermarket configuration and support. Most of the software on the market either produced a poor overall phone experience by changing the behaviour of the phone too much, or it simply could not keep up to date with the newest phones. Assuming the E75 comes to market with the functionality on board, this will be the first mainstream phone to offer it out of the box.  It will be very interesting to see whether this triggers increased business or consumer offerings.

Two more things…

It was surprising how little effort Nokia put into letting people know about the feature’s existence. It was written on the spec sheet as the very palatable techno-jargon “3GPP VCC”, which no one short of a select few people in the industry will even know what that means, and near as I can tell no effort was made to demonstrate the technology despite its very significant “cool” factor. The end result is that throughout the web and ‘blogosphere’ the silence has been deafening. In contrast, you can imagine a few years from now when Apple releases a new iPhone with the same technology embedded you can be certain that Steve Jobs will be up on stage walking around in his black turtle neck demonstrating for all the world to see the amazing Apple innovation allowing you to use your mobile at home via WIFI and magically walk outside and continue talking on the mobile network.

As a final note, the phone also claims to offer up to 9 hours of talk-time on WLAN which just seems incredible, but well done Nokia if they even come remotely close to this figure.

Impact to Unified Communications

Voice over WIFI merged into the mobile network is a powerful example of the vastly overused and often misunderstood term “unified communications”. In this particular case it:

  • brings together two completely separate network SILO’s – your in-home or business WIFI network and external GSM network.
  • and ensures that no changes of user behaviour are required to achieve this integration.

Both of these I believe to be key elements of any unified communications service and both of which may be achieved should this device deliver on the promise of VCC.

Skype and Unified Communications

F4664CC3-7BE5-4F46-9359-9613BB700C6B.jpgWith some estimates suggesting that 30% of Skype users are using it for business purposes it is interesting to consider Skype’s place in the world of Unified Communications.

Skype’s history as a proprietary protocol and a closed network has so far limited the opportunity to unify the calls with an existing enterprise telephony system (such as a Cisco PBX or alternative). With Michael Robertson’s announcement about Open Sky(pe) some degree of integration is now possible. Specifically, it allows for calls to your business phone number to also terminate to Skype clients as well as allowing non-Skype (e.g. SIP devices) to call out to Skype users via the new gateway.

This does open up some new opportunities however, at the moment, without Skype’s direct involvement the solution is still limited as you are unable to make Skype originated calls that flow through your existing enterprise telephony network (e.g. so the calls can pickup your business number identity). In order to really offer a unified experience with other communications networks such as mobile, fixed line and IM networks Skype will need to open up further to allow things like this or otherwise risk remaining a single disconnected silo of communications.

There is a lot of power in the Skype platform without a doubt offering the best audio and video quality available in a public network dependent VoIP offering, however at the moment the extent of focus on the market needs of business users has seemingly been quite limited.

The TELUS Innovation Experience

Browsing around the TELUS website (as any normal person in the UK does on a Saturday morning) I came across the following:

Telus Innovation Experience - Share your thoughts

What struck me about this was the little button at the bottom: “Share your thoughts”. At first glance this seems like a fantastic idea – here is TELUS presenting their vision of the communications future and all the while asking those who choose to view this content for their thoughts on it. That was – of course – until I clicked on the link and was brought to the following:

TELUS Innovation Experience - Survey Page

As it turns out the link didn’t work anymore, and even if it did the objective of it was to have you fill out a survey. My excitement in seeing the “Share your thoughts” link had been driven by what I thought was going to be an open “comment” area where those who were interested in viewing TELUS’ perspective on the future could share their ideas, discuss and constructively criticize or praise the vision. Unfortunately this was not the case – but it does make me think what an interesting opportunity it would be for companies who do post content about their long-term vision on the web to open up the feedback mechanisms to allow for more free-form discussion about where they see a product, service or business going in the future.

Will Google change the mobile IM world?

There have been some 826AB56F-9C19-4848-8071-428EA77B64DC.jpg discussions going on in various places on the web about Google’s decision to remove native XMPP support from Android. The details of this are interesting in that it shows Google has fully thought through many of the implications about messaging on the Mobile network. Something which only RIM and possibly Apple have shown any degree of consideration for to date.

Why is this important?

SMS has swept through the mobile world, it has proven useful to mobile users and lucrative to service providers – but it still remains vastly inferior to its PC native big-brother: instant messaging. In virtually every way instant messaging is a better tool to accomplish the same task. For those of us using Blackberries, we already see SMS as being a historical artifact, only useful for communicating with those still using ‘legacy devices’. Make no mistake – like email was the killer app. for business users to start using mobile data, instant messaging is the killer app. for consumers. A strong statement, but I believe it is true with one caveat: other than, RIM no one has figured out how to do it reliably.

You only need to install an IM client on a Windows Mobile device, Palm, or Nokia phone to see the problem. It will only take one missed message, or the inability to send a message while in no-coverage, to give up on the service and realize the challenge of the task. We walk in and out of coverage all day long, we want to be able to send messages when there is no coverage, and we want to make sure that our messages are delivered in a timely and reliable fashion. This requires intelligence in the device, intelligence in the network and a protocol built to handle these challenges from the ground up.

From what I have read there are positive signs that Google is building out Android, and the appropriate server side components, to handle these exact problems. Ensuring that they have the fundamental building blocks to support broad adoption of their mobile instant messaging services. I believe Google is moving in the right direction here, and it makes me wonder about the other device manufacturers. Do they realize their limitations? Do they not see the opportunity for the service? And how will they adapt going forward?

In addition, I still find it remarkable that thus far neither RIM nor Apple have substantially marketed instant messaging as a selling point on their devices – I spoke about this previously, here. It appears that IM is more often treated as just another application, but for the prosumer and soon consumer market for these devices, I believe this technology will quickly become a core requirement of any new mobile phone coming onto the market.

£3.00 less?

Sometimes I feel like I am living in the bizarro world when I am dealingDC1FCC13-B898-412F-A4B5-BB8D0B9D8720.jpg with the mobile operators in the UK.

My first foray into this bizarro world was around two months ago when my wife’s mobile contract was up and she wanted a new phone. Off we went to the Vodafone store and somehow walked out with a new Blackberry 8110 and an £85.00 credit on our bill, all in exchange for merely renewing her 18 month contract. Coming from Canada, the world of over-priced cell phones and 3 year contracts, we would have been happy with just the free Blackberry, so to add onto that an additional £85.00 credit was flat out bizarre.

This surprising outcome was not an isolated incident – Yesterday, I contacted Vodafone to find out what it would cost to get a higher monthly data allowance on my Blackberry. From my experiences in Canada, my expectations were set that for one reason or another there would be nothing they could do for me – whether it was because I had the wrong phone, or it cost too much, or I needed to sign my life away to a 16 year contract or whatever else, something would make this relatively simple request turn into an impossibility. Imagine my surprise when the Vodafone rep. offered a package including 150 additional voice minutes, a near 100x increase in the amount of data (up to 500MB/mth), and all for the outrageous price of £3.00/mth less – yes LESS – than I was already paying. No new contract to sign, no new device to buy, just a change of service that takes place at midnight.

As a point of reference, this same request to the three Canadian operators would be met with the following options:

  • TELUS Mobility: $60.00/mth additional offers a change from 8MB/mth to 1GB/mth.
  • Rogers: $75.00/mth additional offers a change from 4MB/mth to 200MB/mth. (The limited-time 6GB plan is only available to non-Blackberry Enterprise users).
  • Bell: $60.00/mth additional offers a change from 8MB/mth to 1GB/mth.

No doubt the locals here in the UK have their fair share of complaints about the mobile operators, but it is all relative – and relative to the Canadian marketplace it is a breath of fresh air. My natural state, when it came to dealing with mobile phone companies, had always been one of skepticism and a general feeling that in one way or another they were out to either screw me around or present service plans that were simply not viable to anyone but the top 1% of users. These experiences will definitely ensure that when we do head back to Canada, our expectations of what we should get in return for what we pay, or the contracts we sign, will be much different than when we arrived here.

Puppet Wisdom!

Sometimes puppets know best..

Rogers: Counting their Way to Success with the iPhone

Rogers came out with their iPhone price plans last week and as you can see they are not starting off on the right foot. I don’t know who is coming up with their price plans for data usage but they clearly don’t get what this phone is all about.573450_65986609v2.jpg

The fact that they still need to explain the data capabilities in terms of “200,000 text e-mails, 3,100 web pages, or 1,360 photo attachments” shows just how much they missed the mark on this one. This type of metric has been floating around for awhile at mobile operators, somehow nearly becoming the standard method for describing data usage. Unfortunately this metric doesn’t really mean anything, in fact it means less than anything – I’d be more inclined to call it false advertising. Aside from the obvious differences in sizes of photos and web pages, this metric has its usefulness anchored in the idea that people are either counting this stuff or that they can correlate this info into a meaningful measure. Since clearly no one walks around counting websites they have visited this seems like more of an excuse to write down some big numbers.