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.