Friday, April 28, 2006

MVNO --> FVNO

There is a lot of talk around MVNO's at present.

Plus: with the announcement in the UK of 11 (eleven) new GSM licencees in the low power model Dean Bubley of Disruptive Wireless has good dialogue on what this means for the market space around MVNO's. He follows up yesterday with his take on the right time for SME MVNO's, this has long been the case in the wireline market with companies like Energis but the space has already started to develop with players like Genesis.

Minus: Sprint Nextel have been very vocal this week in stating their desire to try and slow down the emergence of MVNO's by minmizing their part in the MVNE space. Sprint are one of the key providers of Minutes of Usage (MOU's) that allow some of the new MVNO's in the US to be able to offer the voice and data services that are bundled into their brand centric offering. They wish to observe how the current ones (ESPN, Disney, Helio etc) perform before adding anymore.

This in many ways makes sense as there is a theoretical maximum number of MOU's that they can provide and I guess they wish to ensure that the right volume gets to the successful MVNO's as a preference. It also would imply that they are worried about diluting their own brand as they get pushed further and further into the background. Time will tell and I will continue to watch with interest to see how this plays out.

The part of the message I would like to take away on the announcement of new licence holders in the UK is the use of low power cells and the recognition on usage patterns.

I have talked about the difference between truly mobile use and transitory use. Most people are the second category, they carry their phone from home to the office and back again as they appreciate the convenience of having the device close to hand. They occasionally make calls whilst moving (cars, trains, walking) but mostly we are static users of mobiles.

I can see a time when I actually become a partner of the Mobile Operator rather that just a simple subscriber. Take the evolution and direction of FON and how they are building a network of WiFi cells by getting people to plug in to the network and share their access point.

I know better than the operator where I want to use my mobile handset. With that in mind I could open my WiFi (or more likely WiMax or Picocell derivative) up to the network as one of my "home cells". When making calls from within the cell, integrated with UMA, I would get preferential rates (hopefully free). If other subscribers call within my cell I get credit back in minutes of usage or cash on account.

I benefit as I have signal where and when I need it most. The network operator benefits as they get free network expansion. The model is similar to individuals that run their own wind turbine. What they don't use they sell back to the electricity board.

It's part Mobile Virtual Network Operator and part FON. Let's call it FONlike Virtual Network Operator (FVNO)

Friday, April 21, 2006

When did we stop KISSing?

Throughout our lives we are surrounded by increasingly complex technology. This is true for Mobile Phones, Software and how services are offered.

What happen to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle?

Not so long ago technology evolution was driven by need. As an industry the software development sector has created an environment where platforms change faster than the consumer (the coder) can keep up with the changes. This has left companies in a situation whereby they can no longer estimate how long it takes to produce something as the code and technology underneath the demand is constantly changing and the developers always want to be at the bleeding edge.

For example there is a company that has created a front end onto it's billing platform such that a CSR can perform their job. The complexity is reasonably low and could be written in Java Script. But this company has been ruled by the developers so we have Struts, Java web tiers, EJB's and all manner of code parts inside the user interface. This has left the company with very few subject matter experts that can actually implement and support the product. Also in a couple of months it will be old technology in it's own right.

The same situation is replicated in other objects that influence our lives, phones that are cameras, cameras that are music players, fridges with internet access. What's the point. I am a firm believer in the more basic a thing is the less things there are to go wrong. I have a phone that I make calls on, I have a camera that I take pictures with. They are designed for and fit for a purpose..... KISS.

The final note is on how companies try and sell us services. Paul Jardine has previously written about "when is free not good value". This same approach is used by way too many Mobile Operators. Send x SMS and get y minutes free when combined with z MB of download and umpteen Video Calls on your new 3G phone.

Convinced?? probably not... this is why I like the approach T-Mobile have taken with Flext. Pay x per month and get y back as a cash discount on a first come first served basis. One month I make a lot of voice calls early in the month, so I get more discounted calls. The next month I end a lot of SMS's, so I get more SMS's free. Ultimately it doesn't matter how my usage patterns change I always get $y's worth of events free.

KISS at it's best, what do I want free stuff. What is the stuff? whatever I happen to use that month.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A tale of two uses...Fixed Wireless Access

Having experienced two extremes recently it got me thinking about Fixed Wireless Access.

Not so many months ago I finally got my PSTN service connected to my house in Bangkok. This was after almost one year of waiting for someone to either cancel their service or for one of the two main providers to install more hardware to expand capacity. As you can imagine both scenarios are extremely unlikely and if a circuit did become available it was not guaranteed to be close enough to have good performance on ADSL service piggy backing on the same line.

So that's scenario 1: massive population with little incentive by the operators to expand and invest in copper wire.

Scenario 2: just go back from a two week holiday in New Zealand, awesome place, and scattered townships of small populations separated by hundreds of kilometers of scenery. Very nice for the camera, not so good for the telco.

Having said that NZ Telecom have made substantial investments in both wired and wireless access. I can use my phone most of the way up the Tongariro Volcano and all of the way into the Mount Cook National Park. All very commendable but is it sustainable.

No I'm sure that in their planning NZ Telecom have planned for network expansion and so there will be spare capacity on the drop points; but....

There is a large transient community in NZ based in camper vans, mostly foreigners but also locals. This got me thinking about a use to Fixed Wireless Access. Let's say that each community (or for the larger towns each sub-community) had a cell for fixed wireless. This was tried in the UK in the mid 90's by Ionica but they got their demographic a bit wrong so they folded. Now I can connect new homes very quickly by expanding the cell's footprint without laying large amounts of cable. I could also, in theory, add transceivers to the camper vans so they can connect to the PSTN network whilst based in the community.

The first scenario lends itself to the model as ongoing investment would be reduced as capacity grows in the cell. I don't need to make the already bad roads worse with more tarmac patches as I lay more copper in the group or string yet more cables from the already overloaded street poles (any visitors to Bangkok will understand what I'm talking about).

I guess the question mark for Bangkok would be how sensitive the system is to rain fall. In a country that has a 6 to 8 month rainy season more often than not the UBC Digital Satellite service suffers from signal loss in the rain, not a great solution as you can imagine. While you're at throw some WiMax hardware on those cell towers and feed me IPTV :)