Monday, November 14, 2011

Crisis Connections

What the flood situation in Thailand has shown once again is the power of social networks to fill the void of communication.

In recent times the role of Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry messenger has been shown in good and bad light.  The same methods that released the Arab Spring have also been used to coordinate the London Riots.

Love them or loathe social networks are here to stay and what the floods show is how they keep people connected.  Some will say there should be no communication void if central government is on top of its game, but with a situation that can change so rapidly, and over such a large area the traditional press certainly struggle to keep the public up to date.

Twitter and Facebook have been saviours for those of us outside Thailand at this time.  With roving reporters and connected people like Patee Sarasin and Jetrin out doing and tweeting many more people are kept up to date.

Equally useful is the ability to time shift news updates through TV channel websites and YouTube.
All very good, but what would happen if this had happened in a country that had buried its infrastructure in the ground, like the UK?

With no power ant the access circuits under water many people would but unplugged! What brings this home is the pending roll out of fibre to the home/premise programmes.  This IP access platform is being touted as a replacement for internet, phone, and TV.  If this was swamped how would people keep current?

It certainly became an issue in Christchurch after the earthquake there.  Broad loss of power and severed phone circuits kept people in the dark.  Here the regional government and the crisis management agency still guided people towards agency websites! Sometimes you have to go old school, but maybe increasingly go aerial...

With government led initiatives knowing that some people will have to be served with fixed-wireless solutions maybe all access should this technology.  This would allow for more access options (mobile, net book, TV) without the need for in-premise equipment that a fibre option relies on.

All the more important when you consider the flood and fire events in Australia and the ever present earthquakebrisk in New Zealand.  What is the plan for these governments to meet the crisis connection need?

AaI and Net Neutrality

On a previous post on Access as Infrastructure there was a discussion on the government led initiatives for ultra fast broadband.

The proposition is that the build out of new access networks is such an expensive activity that the governments of Australia and New Zealand will make the investment, using a combination of public and private money.

So with ubiquitous access a near reality and with that access provided in the same way as electricity, water, gas, and roads getting to your house what does this mean for the net neutrality debate?

If the telco no longer owns the asset and are merely a party in the trade then surely this solves the net neutrality problem? The incumbent may get preferential treatment because of scale and buying power but this wouldn't be extended to priority routing.

Moving the competition from the physical platform to the offering, as long as the telcos, CSPs, and RSPs are not government owned, then we can have comfort that the pipe is there and everyone will have the ability to offer services over it, from VoIP and any other OTT providers that Telco 1.0 operators would today be incentivised to de-prioritise in fear of canibalising voice revenues.

Separation of government control is crucial if the noise from China seeking to cease VoIP services running on the Unicom network.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Access as infrastructure, what does this mean for Telco 2.0?

Having recently attended a seminar by Catherine Middleton from Ryerson on Australia's NBN initiative it got me thinking about "access as infrastructure".

The Australian Government is investing $B's of public and private capital in a national broadband network that is a fibre to the premise platform, although for distant and remote sites it will most likely be a fixed wireless solution.  The proposition from Dr. Middleton is that ubiquitous access will create a platform for services that separates competition from access, sounds like Telco 2.0.

The question I posed was if the idea is a common platform but close to 10% of that access will be at 12Mbps rather than 100Mbps (fixed wireless versus fibre) then surely the lowest common denominator will prevail and services will be designed for 12Mbps.  You would then question the rationale of FTTP or FTTH when you could go fixed wireless.  Over time LTE and similar technologies will see an increase in speed that will offer near fibre speeds anyway.

The underlying driver here is for the Government to build out access in the same way that it builds roads, electricity, gas and other normal infrastructure projects.  This moves competition up the stack from layer 1 and layer 2 platforms.  If you take the profitability dynamic out of the technology then firms will compete higher up the stack on presentation, content, and customer service.  This should ensure that all premises will get connected, not just the ones that are profitable to the CSP.

This is essentially what Telco 2.0 is really about, Telcos becoming enablers and providers for content and over the top providers.  The difference here is that government ownership will see ubiquitous access and not hit-and-miss geographic access paths.

This model is being repeated in New Zealand with the rollout of the ultra fast broadband (UFB) and rural broadband initiative (RBI).  This National Government led programme sees the old incumbent, and natural monopoly, being responsible for the layer 1 and layer 2 network components with regional service providers providing the subscriber level activity.  The regionalised model will not guarantee competition but knowing there is the expense of the pipe handled it should encourage more content and service providers to enter the market.

I still question the logic of FTTH/FTTP when South Korea has had 100Mbps for some time and they still haven't found the killer app or service that justifies the speed.  Moving to an all-IP world should provide opportunities for smartgrid ad virtualised public services (think virtual health by video conference and similar concepts) but this could also be done over fixed wireless.  After all mobile internet and untethered devices is the growth area so why not support it further?

This would look like a swing back to nationalisation models that saw the creation of the incumbents and the monopolies that emerged from the PSTN wave.

Could this model be extended to wireless? if instead of Fibre the technology platform was fixed wireless (WiMax or an equivalent) then the "network" would have to include mast sites.  This would be the equivalent of the mast sharing agreements that continue to be signed across the globe.  This would level the playing field and remove the prime site and capital needs for premier access to customers.

It would certainly see the telco have a role and the one thing it is really good at, running the network.  As has been said before leave the marketing and the customer management to organisations that understand it and care about it.  These isn't your average engineering mentality incumbent but your MVNOs, banks, media companies, and increasingly supermarket chains.  Isn't that what Telco 2.0 is really about it!