Monday, December 26, 2005

A Phone or a Swiss Army Knife?

It's getting to that time when I should start looking for my new handset.

I choose the word carefully as today you are very lucky to find just a phone. Most handsets today are either a phone and media player, a phone and a camera (sometimes video), a phone and a PDA the list of combinations goes on and on.

Now this might be great in the marketing room "what can we do next?" but the point that is lost on many of the manufacturers is this; people want a phone first the rest is secondary.

Many of the hybrid handsets look good, can have great MP3 playback but suffer in size, ease of use of the main function (phone calls) or have poor battery life because of all the other gadgets hanging off of it.

It's very similar to the Swiss Army Knife, the knife is often too small to be used for much over opening your letters, the screwdriver is hard to use because the size of the body means you can't get to a lot of the screws on objects, the pliers have little leverage because the length is limited. What you're left with is a gadget that promises much but delivers little.

I have a camera that is much better than you'll ever get on to a phone handset, I have a small MP3 player which is ideal when I go running, I would like a phone that is a good size, long lasting battery and good voice quality. The way of things is similar to the IT Systems approach, one year ERP is the way to go; one system for all facets of your business, the next best of breed is the new direction; financials, billing, CRM all from different vendors connected with some sort of middle ware.

This is where the handset providers can be of assistance, the first one to produce a middleware for mobile devices will win a lot of fans. Bluetooth is everywhere these days after a slow and stuttering take up. If I had a bluetooth bridge that allowed me to use my phone with a wireless headset, send MMS with pictures pulled from my XD card on my camera, store and playback songs from my MP3 player through my headset I'd be a happy man.

In real terms I will end up getting a Nokia E series phone, primarily for one reason; I'm under pressure to have Blackberry or some other push mail service and I would like to have WiFi capability on my handset (UMA will be the next wave and more and more operators are trialling WiMax so why not). If I could get rid of the camera and all the other gubbins then that would be my basic requirement for a mobile device.

Incidently going back to Victorinox and their Swiss Army Knife, next year they release a new tool that has USB storage on it. I wonder when Nokia will go back to their roots and produce a phone with a knife large enough to fell a tree??

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Current thinking on Broadband access

Having been at the wrong end of access problems in Thailand, neither of the main players (TOT, True) can offer me a phone line let alone an ADSL service, I started doing some resarch about other options.

At first I thought about a WiMax solution with an installation in a friends office that is within range of my house and has broadband access. However there is going to be a license issue and that woudl involve the NTC, difficult at best.

Now as I walk around the area my eyes are drawn upwards to the bundles of power lines that are sttung around the city. So maybe there is a real application of BPL (Broadband over Power Lines) Access here in Bangkok 2005.

BPL is simple, the bradband signal is sent over the same wire as the electricity. It works because of the different frequencies assigned to electricity and ADSL. BPL Access, the delivery to the house, steps down to between 2 and 4 Mbps as the electricity is stepped down to a consumable ~240 volts.

This is within the range of ADSL services, but today not efficient enough for IPTV, and more than suitable for VoIP traffic.

Once at the house the signal can then be directed with BPL In-House. This allows the user to send the signal around the house using the ring main. A BPL modem has a plug type interface that plugs in to the normal electricity outlet, the other end has an ethernet cable that connects into the LAN port on the PC/Notebook.

This technology would be ideal for a city like Bangkok where power is everywhere but many people are left without a telephone line, and therefore ADSL. The advantages, in an already congested city, of not having to dig up the road to lay copper or fiber speak for themselves.

Now all I need are some numbers to assign to people so VoIP-over-Power can become a reality, back to the NTC then......

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Convergence needs a phone to be True

The telephony company now known as True, Thailand, has decided to buy a larger share in the Cable (read digital satellite) company UBC.

They make the move with the intention to consolidate some of their operation and move to be able to provide a triple+ play service with TV (UBC), IP Access (KSC Internet) and Telephony (True landline and Orange mobile).

However their is a flaw in their plan and that is in order to offer triple play they need to have a solid base of single play first. Here we are in 2005 and I still don't have a phone line, let alone ADSL in my home.

The incumbent, TOT, cannot provide me with a phone line; despite living 2.5 KM from their headquarters. On asking True, the only other alternative for Bangkok, they don't have enough circuits and so I have to wait for a current subscriber to cancel service before I can get a number (and hence circuit).

The True dream is to have voice, IP and TV (plus other content) delivered to homes in Bangkok (and up country). Maybe instead of spending 18+ billion baht on that dream the should first ensure that their enough circuits in the city to meet the demand. Once the customer base is supplied then provide triple play services on top of that.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Start with a WiMax network

Moscow start-up Start Telecom has signed a contract with Siemens to build out a WiMax network for Telephony, Internet and VPN services using Siemens' SkyMAX solution.

The services will be offered at speeds of up to 75 Mbps and could well be a start of a trend for comparably lower cost and less intrusive communication services.

Many people have predicted that emerging nations will bypass the wired telephony stage and go straight to wireless. The thinking was that it would be GSM or CDMA mobile services. Now the likelihood is that they will adopt WiMax or WiFi solutions.

WiMax is ideal in rural areas as the Base Stations can deliver service in the 25-30 Km radius range. The 360 degree footprint with no issues with line of sight will always be cheaper than laying cables in a point to point model. The additional, and faster, service offered by Wireless IP will mean that GSM or CDMA solutions are less attractive; especially as the availability of VoIP handsets increases (although cost is a factor).

The recent announcement by MIT on their design for a laptop under $100 makes WiMax a real alternative for many nations taking their first steps into the wireless world.

Muni, Muni, Muni

2006 is going to see an explosion in the activity of Municipal, Muni, Networks.

This article from the BBC states that IP access is becoming a basic amenity, in the same way as water and electricity.

Philly is the next to be online; with a 135 square mile network being built out by Earthlink and turned on next year. Not far behind is San Francisco with, you've guessed it, Google as one of the prime bidders. They believe they can take their successful advertising revenue stream to provide free IP access to the proletariat.

On a brief aside the partnership of Google and NASA, can we expect to see Google in Space?

With the benefits of WiFi access to schools, hospitals and police forces around the US it won't take long for a few well publicized examples of how access helped them for the ball to start rolling.

I would agree with Paul that the secret to success is a partnership with the existing carriers. Otherwise the likes of SprintNextel could easily freeze the new comers out.

The recent disruptions in connectivity of old cable and fiber networks caused by Katrina showed the real benefits of WiFi networks, allowing emergency services to be connected.

At the forefront is Austin, Texas. They already have a well established Municipal Network and people are getting plugged into the Austin Wireless ideal. There are even free hotspots here in Bangkok of all places that you can find by accessing through the Austin Wireless website.

Once SF City gets its Muni Net laid down I think that some of the next cities will be Seattle, Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas. Simply because of the residents of the first two, high tech industry, and the explosive growth of the last will mean they are ideal candidates for wireless connectivity.

Hell if Oregon state can do it what's to stop the rest of us?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mobile Mail - more options

Mobile email has for a long time been limited to Blackberry service on their handsets, there are a few other PDA's that can be used. However Research In Motion (RIM) are actively working with Nokia, amongst others, to Blackberry enable more smartphones.

Some of the first handsets targeted include the new E series phones from Nokia; the E60, E61 and E70.

There have been postings on here and on Paul Jardine's Produktivity blog about the ideal IP device.

I think with this E series Nokia has come really close. The E60 is a convenient size and very feature rich with multiple connectivity options including WiFi.

What is a really promising feature is the ability, with supporting PBX hardware, to use the handset within your corporate telephone network (4 digit dial etc). This brings mobile handsets into a new position for a truly flexible device. Maybe you throw away your DECT phone now?

When you're out of the office you can make calls from GSM and WCDMA networks, if the mobile operator has a UNC you can even opt to use WiFi, Bluetooth or GPRS to make voice over IP calls.

With email support for Blackberry and other service providers you can stay in touch wherever you are.

I for one will be waiting with anticipation to see how this handset performs, of course it will be some time before most of the features can be used in Thailand (if ever) but I can use DTAC's Push Mail service.

I think DTAC have made the right choice with this as it does not force users to purchase a Blackberry or iPaq device. However once RIM finish the job the Blackberry service will be handset independent, at which time DTAC can also move to supply the service as well as Push Mail.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Voice puts the pinch on Content

Content providers in Thailand are struggling to stay afloat after a restructuring of the revenue sharing between the mobile operators and themselves.

Firms like Advanced Info Service (AIS) have been offering content on their 2.5G networks here for sometime. This has spawned a number of content partners to spring up.

The previous arrangement were of the order of 65% to 80%.

The new arrangement sets a 50:50 split of the revenue between proivder and operator.

The operators say that this is due to the operating costs of their networks and that up to now this has been a trial offering.

It smells more like a knee jerk reaction to falling revenues from voice.

When will the market wake up and realize that paying for voice is dead. The secret to the success of operators going forward will be in the successful channeling of content, where voice is but another type of content.

This is a worrying trend. If the pinch continues then I see that most of the content partners will not survive long. This does not bode well for the consumer of mobile services.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Merger of the Mighty Messengers

After repeated attempts to provide the much sought after inter-connectivity of popular IM's, YIM and MIM are AIMing at a pass through connection.

Yahoo and MSN messengers will use the SIMPLE, and this is simple compared to it's full name of SIP for Instant Messaging Presence leveraging Extensions, protocol to allow presence and connection options to be passed between to the two IM layers.

The plan is to consolidate market share and try and pull users away from AOL's Instant Messenger.

The new operation is planned to be available in Q2 2006 but will be restricted (at least early on) to messaging, there are no plans for voice enabling of the service. This is in part due to the perceived complexity of allowing voice connections between the two partners. In reality it should not be too difficult as both are already SIP based, rather then H.323.

A search on the web digs up a Java API to the SIMPLE protocol. This brings new options to vendors as with a simple integration they could see the benefits of presence awareness in the MSNYahoo space.

It will be interesting to see how AOL will react to this and what about Google, are there plans in the offing for them. Google Talk requires that you have a gmail account first. Today this means you have to know someone and receive a request.

Will they create an inter-operability model or stay standalone?

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Arthritic Worm can still turn

The newly merged SprintNextel is the old style Telco that still makes a significant portion of their revenue from voice, the Arthritic Worm has turned on Vonage and two other related VoIP companies by means of a court action.

They have a suit based on seven patents and are moving to block the VoIP provider(s) from using their network. They have also filed for an unspecified amount of damages.

This seems to be a very public attempt to salvage their voice revenues from the churn to VoIP calls. Something similar was aired in Europe about the then new kid on the block Skype. The decision there was that the olny way Skype was going to be stopped was to shutdown the Interent. The perception was that it was already too popular and the public backlash would be too great.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the case, filed in Kansas, it will be seen as a gauge on the risk from VoIP technologies to the dinosaur voice carriers.

Time will dictate that voice is not special. It is simply a form of data content that travels some sort of network. The carriers that can react and adjust to this reality will be the ones to survive, natural selection will remove those that insist on harking back to the old days of high profits from charging for voice calls.

It is probably a timely move on the Telco's part as domestic VoIP is still not that widely used, despite the press about the technology. The group that will lose the most from a verdict in favour of SprintNextel will the SME Business users. This group tend to be early adopters of such technology as mobile and low cost telephony solutions, as they have the most to gain from cutting costs.

Combine the likes of Vonage with Asterisk and you have a very low cost solution for your telephony needs to run a business. If the SprintNextel network is closed to them, there will always be someone willing to carry the data, it just means that SN won't get the revenue from it.

There is still a lot of room in the market for pure IP providers, however they still require the basic telecom backbone in order to supply network access.

A decision against Vonage could see a new round of network build out for IP access. This won't have to be a national network but will most likely consist of small interconnected networks. So who will win? Ultimately I would say hardware and interconnect setllement providers.

Of course as Google Net starts to take shape and form there are ideally placed once more to pick up the demand.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

UMA and WiMax.. a dream or reality

UMA, Unlicensed Mobile Access, will be the next big feature of handsets you will but from 2006 onwards.

What is it? Why will it be big?

UMA is a technology that allows the hand-over of a voice call from GSM to WiFi and back. This means that you will be talking on a GSM service and then be moved to a wireless LAN, in a hotel, office building or airport.

It has already started, as Geoff Long wrote in Telecom Asia, but at present is slow to pick up.

Here in Thailand it will probably be a way off, as the No 1 Yuppiephone operator is likely to suppress it until it has supporting technology in place. DTAC would more likely be early adopters as they see the benefits in partnering and packaging such services together.

One of the limitations, due to unknowns, is the current WiFi (802.11) standard. Nobody really knows how well this will scale an the limited range of the wireless access points further serves to limit the success of a UMA, WiFi solution.

However WiFi's big brother WiMax has far superior range and bandwidth. The newest 802.16 standard (e) includes Scalable orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access, or the nicer SOFDMA, which will help with scalability issues required for large voice usage.

There are planned WiMax trials in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima and Roi Et before the end of the year.

So you've got the basic technology in place but how do you get to it. If you are a PDA user then you could use the quad band, WiFi and UMA supported BenQ P50, or you can adopt one of the first dual mode phones.; the LG CL400. It's probably worth waiting for Nokia et al to catch up. There is already a desire in their domestic market to fill the need for dual mode phones as previously posted here following an item in TeleGeography.

But why are the phone producers so keen on the UMA operations of their handsets? they either see UMA and Voice over WiFi as a risk and they want to be able to still meet the consumer need or they are using it as a threat to the mobile operators, one vision of a possible future.

Either way it will be the status quo. Those who [potentially] have the most to lose, the mobile operators, already have the basic infrastructure to support 802.16 so they will most likely grab the market share.

In the WiFi world there are already lots of vendors in the access provision space and in real terms how many more can enter before the sector fragments too much to make Voice over WiFi unviable. One solution is WiFi roaming agreements the other is super operators. iPass already maintain a layer to hotspots in many countries, mostly airports and hotels. This is one solution unless the China Netcom model takes up well amongst the other players.

In that case aren't we just swapping one roaming animal with another?

Things will start to steady themselves around the early second half of next year. There will be issues to iron out around quality of service and access but early leaders in Singapore and elsewhere will drive these through if the desire is there.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The search for the ideal IP device continues...

As Paul Jardine wrote back in August on his search for an ideal IP device, he may be nearer to finding that foot for his glass slipper than he knows.

In a recent article on TeleGeography Nokia steps up to creating handsets that are WiFi and GSM/WCDMA enabled that will seamlessly hop between services. The implication is that to support the growing market of VoIP users in Finland, Finns are never far behind when it comes to technology, the new handsets scoped for next year will use WLAN as a preference and switch to GSM when no hotspot is available.

The question is can it carry the call with it? We'll have to wait and find out. It would be good if it could but that might be the next generation on. I still maintain, as posted earlier, that most mobile users aren't really that mobile. It is convenience rather than mobility that drives us to use mobile phones. We commute and we stay put and then go home. So why not use WiFi for VoIP calls when you are at work?

Now the trick would be to be on GSM for the commute, step into a hotspot and switch the call in it's entirety to WLAN service. A nice dream? We'll see.

What I find interesting is that this might kick start Nokia again. They seem to have been drifting for a few years with little direction in terms of technology and styling. In might be a case of been there; done that. I do think that if two cameras on one phone is the best idea they can come up with then the WLAN challenge is good for them.

It is good to see that they still hold true to the simple tastes as well. This article about simplicity is the key to the emerging markets, now that Europe is saturated (Iceland now has more mobiles than residents) this is where the high revenue is from. High tech phones have big prices but there is only so much someone is willing to pay for a handset. I suspect that the early 3G phones and WiFi enabled options will give much lower returns on R&D than the days of the good old banana phone.

Just recently Nokia sold their One Billionth phone. A simple 1100 to a customer in Nigeria. That's about as simple as it gets these days.

Interesting times ahead, where the lines between 802.11 and TDMA/CDMA will get very blurred indeed.

What is most interesting is the message it sends to the usual suspects of Vodafone et al. A manufacturer such as Nokia is clearly stating that the days of locking us into your network are gone, more so the days of locking us into GSM are over.

VoIP grows up and goes High Street

Once seen as the technology for geeks VoIP is going to take a step into the mainstream following the announcement by Dixons, and it's sister chains of high street shops, to begin selling the FreeTalk VoIP phone kit.

The founders of FreeServe internet providers think the timing is right to launch a starter kit that plugs directly into your broadband channel. There is no need to be PC bound to get cheap national and international calls.

The Register report a statement by national carrier British Telecom that they are not overly concerned as they think that the public are not ready for the technology. Maybe it's just a bitter pill after the poor take up of BT Communicator. As usual market forces will determine the success of the technology or not. The price will pay a large part, obviously, and possibly the fact that it's not BT will help. There could well be skepticism that the BT offering was not as cheap as it could get; a bit unfair on one of the old style carriers that is trying it's best to shift and adapt to the threat that VoIP brings to their dominance.

For those of us who are happy with the PC based solutions, like Skype, but would like the convenience of movement while you talk there are other options already available today..

If your PC supports it you could by yourself a Bluetooth headset, sure that solves the problem. You have another option as well, and Siemens can combine your DECT phone with your VoIP solution with the use of Gigaset and a cordless phone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fabulous

A little bit off track here but bear with me I can see an idea forming...

Two items of interest jumped out at me today;

  1. Personal Fabrication or Fab Labs
  2. Micro Grids
Personal fabrication in the practice of everyday people solving everyday problems with low to high tech solutions. The idea of everyone on the planet being a creator and not merely a consumer is a great way of seeing the world. MIT are all over this at the moment and are sponsoring personal Fab Labs in many places. I love the idea of tracking your sheep via GPS :)

The second item, Micro Grids, also inspires me with future visions of small, self sufficient communities doing their thing and maybe even selling back to the national grid. This has been happening in a limited way for many years. A good example is Wood Green Animal Shelters, Godmanchester. They invested in a wind turbine and run their operation at a fraction of the cost, they have also been able to sell over supply back to Powergen.

The two concepts butt together very nicely, people maybe even fabricating their own Micro Grid components to power their ongoing fabrications.

So where does this tie in to the usual observations made here? Well community is the basis for both Micro Grid and Fab Lab. Fab Labs solve local problems locally sure, but do we think that they are the only people facing that issue. I'm sure that many remote sheep farmers have the same problems of lost sheep.

So take the idea inside a community that I am a member of, or can easily find. Syndication led me to the idea, why not lead someone who can get value from it.

The current trend of individualism that is running through society today is very exciting. Blogging was the leading edge, telling the world that you are there!! Now we evolve to using technology in clever ways, maybe not intended at design time (similar to the way people are using the Internet for commentary and photo sharing, not the original use)

Where will it lead us, certainly a lot more self autonomy, a far cry from the speaking houses of olde. But where is the ultimate destination? Micro Nations maybe.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bay me, Pay me, Say me

I've stayed quiet on the eBay purchase of Skype until the dust settles a little bit.

I have to say I still don't understand the logic behind the purchase. Skype was on the bleeding edge but had begun to lose focus, the more recent updates were fuzzy and didn't really bring any additional value to the product.

In hindsight you might say that the offering was already attractive to a buyer so why bother. The momentum will now shift to Yahoo, Google and Microsoft to finish what Skype started and leverage the presence aspect with tangible business benefit.

So why did eBay step up and pay out?

One statement suggests that it was a way to break in to untapped markets, South East Asia and China. An area where eBay has not really been successful.

It would appear that the plan was to piggy back off of Skype usage and expand the foot print of services offered, this would include PayPal. In the recent past I have tried to create a PayPal account here in Thailand. When I tired to do so Thailand as a country for account registration was not an option, US and Europe centric the choices were.

There is a more real stopper to the use of PayPal and eBay in the region and that is, with the exception of Singapore and Hong Kong, a distrust of any form of electronic money. Direct Debit is not widely accepted as a payment choice. Credit and Debit cards carry a standard 3.5% usage charge. Cash is King in the Land of Smiles, and elsewhere in the region.

Go to any bank at the end of the month and you will be faced with queues of people lining up to settle utilities and other bills (after queuing up to withdraw the cash from an ATM).

This is the problem that eBay needs to solve if it wishes to grow in this market space, buying a VoIP solution will not help massively, credibility of ePayment.

If the dream is to have one convenient platform where people can browse eBay, pay via PayPal and have a cheap phone call between seller and buyer, it might be some time before that dream is realised.

And what will happen to Skype now? which parts of the roadmap that others would like to see will evolve? or will the usual suspects surge and fill the gaps.

I anticipate the latter rather then the former.

Blog your way to a free media

I don't know how up to date people are with the proposed take over of Matichon and Post Publishing by GMM Grammy group here in Thailand.

There has been a lot of suspicion behind who is really hiding in the shadows and what the real motives are for the move. The general public feel that it is a step from the powers that be to curtail freedom of speech as both Matichon and The Bangkok Post (Thai and English language respectively) have been very vocal with criticisms of the Government.

The timing then could not have been better for the release from Reporters Without Borders (article from the BBC)

Thai's are becoming increasingly mobile, practically everyone has a mobile phone. In many cases the mobile is the only phone due to a lack of infrastructure from TOT and no real plan to upgrade the network as is.

Many mobiles are top end models that far exceed the content delivery services of the top 4 operators; as such there is room for mobile syndication. In recent days many papers have published access options for mobile readers, typically by SMS.

Now combine the trend towards mobile updates with blogging and anonymised reporting. It asks questions of how people who may not have the best interests of press freedom could stop such a technology from being effective in communicating with an increasingly wary population.

A very real analogy with Paul Jardine's recent posting on "free" speech the old way can be drawn with the perceived situation today in Thailand.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More Power in Your Pocket

Toshiba announced their latest DMFC (Direct Methanol Fuel Cell) evolution.

This pocket sized device is targeted at Flash Memory based media, such as MP3 players, but they also have a Hard Drive suitable version. The improvements in playing time are considerable.

This is off the back of their recent revelation on their Nano-Technology battery that reaches 80% of it's charge in one minute.

The days of true mobility are approaching...rapidly. One of the problems with Mobiles and laptops has been the poor performance of the power sources and with this the tie to a fixed point for charging. With the new options soon available will be able to more for longer periods away from the electricity socket. The DMFC MP3 player will be available this year. The Nano-tech Lithium Ion battery is slated to be available next year.

With these powers sources at hand we will be able to make the most of the internet access now available on flights and more mobile usage. It also raises interesting questions on a re-emergence of realistic options for battery powered cars, with fast charging times that will significantly extend the effective range. As a friend suggested, imagine pulling up to a red light and getting the battery on your car recharged to 80% while you wait for the lights to change to green. Now that is a vision that I hope will be realised.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Presence takes another step forward

Both Paul Jardine and myself have had several thoughts on presence and communities.

Just stumbled across Yahoo 360 that takes the idea of community and presence another step toward what Paul would begin to call Internet 2.0.

It allows you to combine several themes into one convenient space and connect to friends, peers and colleagues.

There is a space that links you back to any Yahoo Groups you are a member of and non-group contacts, which can be added by Messenger and/or Email address lists. Your contacts show who is online or not and you can include RSS feeds to keep you up to date on your cyber-self.

It's only one step away from having point and click speech integration, now that Yahoo Messenger is voice enabled.

Watch this space to see how successful the evolution of this is.

The Future of the Newspaper

Just finished reading this from the BBC and it got me thinking. There is a larger story unfolding here, but maybe in a smaller media choice. So we have seen the traditional UK broadsheets becoming less... well broad as the Telegraph and now the Guardian shrink down to a more convenient size for reading in trains.

Of particular interest was the future vision of a Minority Report syle news paper. Far fetched you might say but a recent revelation from Fujitsu may mean that such a vision is not as fantastical as some would believe. The creation of electronic paper brings new media delivery a reality within the next 10 years.

Trends in Japan would suggest that peoples attitude towards mobile readers is changing significantly. This posting on Wired, on a Novel Use of Mobiles, from back in March this year demonstrates a desire to have more than just a phone in our hand, and not a PDA either.

However all that said there are usability issue to be considered and solved if the ideas are to really fly. A very intersting background piece in TheFeature states the case for usability very clearly and is well worth a read.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Analogue to Digital Switch in the UK

Just minutes after I published my thoughts on slow adoption of digital TV in the UK this feed from the BBC came in.

So there is now a timetable for some of the technology stoppers, if my perception is true, to be solved before there are a lot of very disgruntled TV watchers in the UK.

I guess we could all install many aerials and have a one device, one aerial mode of operation but that seems a bit heavy handed.

I''m certainly going to keep an eye on how this develops.

FTTH... the race is on

Following on a theme around Fiber-to-the-Home projects here in Thailand Geoff Long provided an update on the unfolding story in the Bangkok Post. He classifies it in his closing as the race to be the first such project in the South East Asia.

It would certainly be an exciting time and a good thing for Thailand to be up on the bleeding edge rather than being way behind like in the Telecoms arena (for those who are current on the NTC here in Thailand).

The benefits of a fiber based TV solution, given the ongoing disruption of service caused by rain to the current digital satellite UBC solution, are very appealing.

To my mind there should also be a solution to the persistent problem around digital service today, that of parallel feeds.

The apathy in adoption of digital TV in the UK, over the persistence of the choice of analogue, comes from two stoppers. Firstly that of unfamiliar technology. The digital, freeview, service is still an infant and as a result people don't trust it.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, is the limitation of the current digital topbox hardware. People in the UK are used to being able to watch a soap opera on one channel whilst recording a competing offering on another channel. This is not possible with the digital services available today, the topbox provides a single feed as the decoder can only handle the single channel.

Sky+ in the UK have solved the problem such that subscribers can watch one channel and record or Picture-in-Picture a second channel.

For these services to be successful they need to be able to provide a differentiator. I believe that parallel feeds as well as triple play would be a very appealing service for the average subscriber.

It would certainly pull me away from UBC, but then I'm not that "sticky" anyway.

"Broad"casting to get narrower

Many people have been talking for many months on the impact that IPTV will have on the television space.

Most of the discussion revolves around the various levels of nple play (Tri and Quadru) and what this will bring to the consumer in terms of bundling and choice around other forms of content.

There was an interesting article on the BBC a while back and further details can be found at Broadcasting & Cable that shows another dimensional benefit.

For some time Sky in the UK have been able to provide on-demand movies. Fiber-to-the-Home technology in the US and Japan have allowed for some aspect of on-demand TV programmes as well. The statement from the BBC, I saw something else yesterday buy cannot find a suitable link to share with you, was that it was their intention to be able to provide more than 80% of their programmes as downloads by the end of 2007. There would be a finite period of availability post broadcast, sorry Paul no Long Tail [yet], and the service would be payable.

This is a service I would pay for, being an Expat I do sometimes miss BBC programmes, and use.

It leads me to think about the future of "Broad"casting though. If many people begin to adapt to delayed viewing and proscribe their viewing schedule will this force many broadcasters to follow the download route.

Why not go one step further and become a majority "Narrow"casting operation, let most of the people choose their programme and schedule most of the time.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Light at the end of the Modem

Fiber-to-the-Home due to go on a limited trial in Thailand.

An article in the Bangkok Post, and repeated here in TeleGeography, this week clearly set the expectation that cable broadband was on the way. A limited trial, by number and province, is to start as a collaboration between Fiber-to-the-Home Co. Ltd (FTTH) and Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA). PEA will be providing the use of the fiber optic network for data transmission.

The FTTH project, a spin off of FreeInternet Co. Ltd., will be providing a triple play service pack offering broadband internet, VoIP and Interactive TV as a simultaneous feed.

What does this mean for those of us in Thailand:

1. Faster Internet for ever growing virtual life
2. An escape from the stranglehold of the Domestic and Internationl voice service providers ona good quality connection
3. The start of the end for the monopoly, controlled by that politicians family, that is UBC.

The use of fiber will be a great relief to many as the current digital satelite UBC TV service is disrupted by heavy rain; resulting in loss of signal. Not a great prospect for a country that has a 6 month long rainy season.

The broadband internet solution provides a good solution for those of us who need more bandwidth but don't wish to get tied in with the ipStar satellite option, again controlled by that politicians family.

The more challenge we see to monopolies of media and connectivity the better as it will finally create an onus for the curent providers to understand the need for quality of service and good customer relations, once we can vote with our feet our wallets will surely follow.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Portable Firefox ... Portable You

As a friend commented on the changing world of the web and how we as people are pushing our presence into cyber space we begin to rely on our desktop explorer to link back to our virtual selves and our virtual community of friends.

Now that's OK when we live at our desktop but what happens when we're on holiday or away from our normal portal to our new world.

John Haller has the first step towards the solutions, Portable FireFox. Our security blanket of favorties can now be taken with us on a USB device, thumb drive and some mobile phones, so we can stay connected from the real world to the virtual representation of our world.

If you would like to try it, it's in Beta form right now, use John's site or Major Geeks as an alternative.

HDTV the center of your smart home?

The UK is a late adopter of HDTV, we're barely using digital TV so what do you expect.

The US and Asia are very keen on HDTV, the Germans on hot on the trail in readiness for really good quality close ups of successful dives for a penalty in next years World Cup Finals.

At IFA, Berlin, Panasonic's Fumio Ohtsubo shared his vision of HDTV as the center of all things media in your home. I find this interesting as for a long time people have been bantering the phrase "Quadruple Play" about.

Yet another example of non-traditional providers allowing voice.

To my mind it reinforces the vision of the future, voice is simply another form of content and the experienced content delivery channels will energe as the major telcos.

PCCW are already set to deliver Quadruple Play services.

A WiMax revolution?

Just read a very interesting article by Matthew Fordahl.

For some time I've been looking for a realistic alternative to the GSM monopoly of mobile communication. There needs to a be challenger to try and drive down costs to the end-customer, WiMax may go along way to providing this.

IP access is generally cheaper than GSM access, lay over this the cost incurred when roaming. Most operators charge a premium for th service, here in Thailand one such operator adds 25% on top of the real call charges. The roaming usage is paid separately to the incumbant that owns the internationl gateway.

A WiMax network and a suitable handset combined with mobile centric VoIP solutions would give me freedom from the abuse of charges levied by todays MNO's. The ranges and speed available via WiMax solve some of the problems in a traditional 802.11 network today, regarding mobile "telephony". The extended range partially solves the single largest inhibitor, the hand off of the call.

OK so it's not truly mobile, but how many of us use a mobile phone as was intended. We typically commute to work and then remain within one or two GSM cells for the best part of the day. This usage pattern would be ideal for a WiMax network.

Want a bit more information on WiMax? check out the WiMax Forum. We will need an extra onus on suitable VoIP solution for mobile devices (Phones, PDA's) and we finally might find a use for those cameras we all have on our phones, mobile video conferencing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Presence of Mined

A good friend of mine has been talking about presence for some time and the blurring of the lines between telecoms and communities.

We all use a location aware device, your mobile phone, but these are pretty dumb. They know you're there but they don't really know who you are.

As the pressure on voice carriers increases from the VoIP providers of the world how can they make their money? what can they offer that Skype can't. In order to survive they will have to become a lot better at providing content and other value added services. One thing that they do offer is an ingrained history of their customer base. This is their strength and they could use it with communities to "own" the subscriber and help control what is delivered to them, through their network.

The ultimate direction should combine the dumb location awareness of mobiles with communities and be able to target upsell opportunities to select groups based on that community's preferences.

This takes our digital ID and presence to a new level, the success [or not] of the traditional operators will be based on their ability to effectively mine the presence within their networks and provide tailored and appealing content to the community members.

Who will be the early adapters? Google today are best positioned. A parallel use of Google Talk and Google Groups broadens the collaboration options for these users. If only we could get away from fixed networks and make use of Internet technologies from a familiar interface! maybe Nokia have the answer with their N91

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Direction or Merely a U-Turn

Not so many months ago a Thailand Telecom Giant categorically denied that they had any intention of entering the domestic fixed line telephony service space.

Today they announce the creation of three new subsiaries;

*** Wireless Communication Network Company Limited
*** Wire Network Company Limited
*** International Network Company Limited

A bit of a mixed message. The move is made in light of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), aka the Magnificent Seven, are now in a position to start providing operating licenses for Thai operators.

This is the same NTC that passed a new in-inventory number tax that will cost the incumbent 5 Billion baht in tax payments and thereby defer their IPO plans by [another] 6 months.

At a time when most country operators are realising the day of the VOIP and wireless freedom is looming the NTC is still attempting to tidy up last centuries technologies.