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.