The Future of Telephony (or Lack Thereof)

13 Apr

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I have long been wondering about the part of Telephony services in the classic triple-play mixes. The cost of offering phone service is still significant, but the interest from end-users is dwindling. Dean Bubley has a very interesting post on this topic with data entitled Past the point of Peak Telephony.

What does this mean from the classic Triple or Quadruple play offerings? It means that the perceived value from end-users is increasingly on the broadband and TV, and even the latter may be dwindling soon as more and more online alternatives emerge.

Isn’t it time a little bit more of the marketing effort went on the access part of the mix ?

Photo Credit: Tim G. Photography

F.C.C. Net Neutrality Rules Clear Hurdle as Republicans Concede to Obama

25 Feb

The Republican resistance in Congress surrendered to President Obama’s call to protect an open Internet, with rules likely to be approved by regulators on Thursday.

Source: www.nytimes.com

I won’t celebrate until this is certain, but things are starting to look right for once. It’s interesting that Wheeler who was largely believed to be a Cable wolf in sheep’s clothes is in the process of pulling off what Genachowski, who was originally highly thought of never dreamed of doing. 

See on Scoop.itConnected World

Does the Great Firewall Protect me from the NSA?

24 Feb

Great Wall of China (CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel)

Great Wall of China (CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel)

 

Yesterday I tweeted in jest (and in French) that it felt weird to think that the Great Firewall of China might be protecting me from the NSA. Since then that thought has been percolating in my brain, and I’m not sure it’s a joke anymore.

I live in China, and the Great Firewall is a daily hassle. All of Google if off limits (think about that: all of Google means not just the search engine but gmail, shared documents, youtube, g+, blogger and a ton of things you never knew were Google), but also all of WordPress, most of Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, most of the world’s online newspapers, and so much more I can’t even begin to list it. In fact, the most disturbing thing about it is that you never know if something will be accessible or not.

It’s a daily hassle that’s only circumvented using VPN services, when the Chinese authorities aren’t actively trying to down their servers (Astrill has been patchy for the last few months, and I recently subscribed to Vyper as a backup, but it’s not much better.)

It used to be easy to see the Great Firewall as a great evil that was thankfully contrasted by the open nature of the Internet in the rest of the free world. Not so much anymore. I’ll say this for the way the Chinese approach it at least: it’s not sneaky. You know the rules: if it’s allowed, you’re being spied upon.

The latest NSA/GCHQ surveillance scandal is yet another element of proof that my worldview was just plain wrong. There’s a saying in French that means roughly the same thing as the English expression Catch 22: choosing between Plague and Cholera. As the extent of the Western secret services’ spying on their own citizens is revealed, I realize that as unpalatable as the above choice may seem, even that choice is denied to me.

In China, I am blocked from 4/5ths of the useful Internet and spied upon. Outside of China (or when I’m using a VPN service) I can access the whole Internet (more or less) and be spied upon. Either way, my communications are neither secure nor confidential.

There was an argument in the days following the first Snowden revelations that the US government would have to recant otherwise the whole US cloud and its giant Internet companies would suffer. Clearly, that has not been the case, and even if it was the US and UK government have made it clear through their actions that they care not one whit about privacy. It’s not that the moral argument has been lost, it’s simply that morals don’t even come into it.

Worse, the lack of reaction of other Western governments who (we can only assume) are not directly involved in these spying activities shows where they stand on this issue: they’d rather have the ability (albeit one step removed) to spy on their own citizens thanks for the NSA’s largesse than protect said citizens’ privacy.

The only sensible way of looking at this from a random Internet user’s perspective is to assume that everything you do online can be spied upon. It’s probably safer to assume that most commercial VPNs are compromised as well. That’s a scary prospect, one that would have seemed somewhat unbelievable in dystopic SciFi novels two decades ago.

And just to conclude, I’m not naïve, I know full well that the Great Firewall does not protect me from the NSA. What I have in effect is Plague AND Cholera. What a cheerful world we live in.

Photo Credits: CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel

Is access competition enough to ensure Net Neutrality?

4 Feb

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In an opinion piece published recently, The Economist argues that the Net Neutrality problem is really a competition problem. I have argued the same in the past. On paper, the argument makes sense.

If there is no underlying cost reason to selectively throttle internet traffic (and there isn’t) then economic theory suggests that in a competitive environment, at least one of the players will go for the option that’s best for consumers (because he will benefit from it in customer acquisition and loyalty). Theory suggests again that others will follow until no one discriminates.

That’s the theory.

In practice, I’m no longer convinced that’s true. At the very least I think you need something in addition to competition to make it work. Before I discuss that though, here’s the the reason why economic theory (or at least the above application thereof) may be wrong in this case.

Everybody understands now (and the Economist piece is thankfully not rehashing the old cliché of “traffic costs going through the roof”) that service providers who want net discrimination want it because it puts them in a position of arbitration and they believe that that arbitration can be monetized. In other words, it’s an artificial way to generate extra revenues from access at a time when market growth is no longer the main driver as most people buy access products already.

Except it’s not. Any rational way you look at it, the revenue opportunity is at best minute, and most likely offset by complex systems, awkward customer relations and bad reputation. If you don’t believe this, go and purchase Dean Bubley’s recently updated Non-Neutral Mobile Data Monetisation Report.

The worse is that I suspect telcos know this. You cannot push that hard – and invest that much money into lobbying – without having done the math. I am somewhat at a loss as to understand why they’re still pushing for this, but it leads me to believe that there is nothing rational about this. And as a consequence, competition or no competition, they will keep pushing because they’re blinding themselves.

In addition, the restructured European telco market that the incumbents are (also) lobbying for would have a very small number of players present in most markets in varying positions. If there were ever ideal conditions for cartels to emerge, this would be it. I’m convinced therefore that competition would be nowhere near enough.

Now there is an argument to be made for a combination of competition and abundance. If markets are competitive and users have more than enough bandwidth to satisfy their needs, then the (misguided) rationale disappears. There is no arbitration position when bandwidth is abundant because there is no need for arbitration. That may not have been the end goal anyway, but if the rationale goes away, it becomes virtually impossible to argue the need for the arbitration role.

Considering abundance is (slowly but surely) emerging, do I conclude, as The Economist does, that regulation / legislation is a bad idea? Yes and no.

In the US, I think The Economist is flat out wrong. Title II is necessary and it should have been in place from day one. It’s not even regulation in the active sense, it’s just the only regime that applies under US law to ensure the ongoing survival of a service as vital as the Internet has become.

In Europe, I think we could do without a law or regulation. The UK example of the Net Neutrality Pledge shows that there are non binding ways to make the problem if not disappear, at the very least become minor. At the European level though, I fear it’s too late for that. The lobbying of incumbent operators, and the extreme positions they have pushed have been so fierce that the pushback is here, and will most likely be more extreme than anything the incumbent operators (and sadly probably the other operators too) will be comfortable with.

I (and others) have been saying for years that this whole debate has been a waste of breath on the incumbent telco’s part: they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. They pushed for laws that would put them in a position to arbitrate (because they knew they’d never be in that position in a free market), they might end-up with laws that block them from doing even common sense network management on services they offer.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but one entirely of their own doing. I for one won’t be weeping for them.

Photo: Race to the Checkout (cc) David Blackwell

Analyzing Broadband Usage in France and Portugal

2 Feb

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Last year Diffraction Analysis worked in collaboration with the FTTH Council Europe on a study analyzing the behavior and attitudes of Swedish Broadband Users. In particular, we examined their satisfaction, their intentions to upgrade or migrate and their broadband usage. We recently published a thorough analysis of these results under the title Fiber broadband drives higher satisfaction and advanced usage.

The second wave of that study will be presented in Warsaw at the FTTH Council Europe’s Annual Conference. I will be presenting the findings for our France and Portugal studies on February 12th AM. This is a unique study that yielded fascinating and quite unique results. The full-fledged studies for France and Portugal will be published later this year, but for advanced insight into the behavior of FTTH and FTTB users in particular, I hope to see you in Warsaw!

The Digital Single Market is Already Happening

29 Jan

Remember the key item on the incumbent telecom lobbyists’ agenda: a lower regulatory burden and unified rules across Europe so that large players can “consolidate”. Read “buy smaller players”. Behind the rhetoric is a very simple expectation from these large multinational players: less competition.

These last few months, we have seen such consolidation happening all over Europe. In France, Numéricable (leading cable operator) purchased SFR (#2 in mobile and #3 in fixed). In Portugal, Altice who owns Cabovisão (#2 cable player) is buying PT, the incumbent. In the UK, BT (fixed incumbent) is buying EE (#1 mobile player) and Three (#4 mobile player) is buying O2 (#2 mobile player).

It won’t stop there. Which raises an interesting question: why would we need to change the rules if the consolidation is happening anyway?

At the heart of it is a quasi-philosophical consideration around competition. Policy makers remain convinced that competition is not needed for competition’s sake, but because it keeps a market dynamic and healthy. The interview that the new president of ARCEP gave yesterday in Les Echos says nothing else.

The problem is that policy makers have so far refused to look at exactly what it is that needs to compete to make the market healthy. Incumbents want less competition because duplicated investments in infrastructure (what little there is) weigh them down. But do we need competing networks? At the physical layer, it’s pretty evident that we don’t.

Why not reconsider the paradigm for once? The Digital Single Market is happening whether the rules change or not. If we could avoid killing competition on the way, I’m pretty sure that would be a worthy policy goal…

Report: FTTP Dynamics in a mature market – a quantitative analysis of Swedish broadband user behaviour

14 Jan

FTTP Dynamics Thumbnail (Small)Our latest report is out with the new year, entitled FTTP Dynamics in a mature market – a quantitative analysis of Swedish broadband user behaviour. It’s the first ever (as far as we’re aware) comparative survey of FTTP and DSL broadband users looking into usage, attitudes and perception of broadband solutions.

This survey focuses on Sweden and was undertaken in collaboration with the FTTH Council Europe. It focuses on the most mature market in Europe, Sweden, but is part of a broader piece of work with annual surveys covering various European countries where FTTP is in deployment. Two more surveys have just been finalized in France and Portugal, initial results of which will be presented at the FTTH Council Europe Annual Conference in Warsaw on February 12th.

There are a number of key findings in this report (both for fiber broadband operators and for policy makers) that highlight how a market’s fiber maturity affects usage and perception. This is (in our opinion) a must read for any operator active in markets where FTTP is being deployed and commercialized. You can purchase the report via Paypal using the following buttons or contact us for other payment methods. We reproduce the executive summary in full below.

To purchase this report, select a licence type and press “Buy Now”. 


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Executive Summary

Quantitative examination of the Swedish broadband market yields insight that will likely apply to less mature markets as they progress towards more fiber broadband. Comparing Fiber to the Premise (FTTP) and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) user attitudes and behavior shows the clear appeal of the fiber platform across the market and the high quality image associated with FTTP.

This image of quality does not however translate as much as might be expected into migration intentions from DSL to FTTP, mostly because many frustrated DSL customers have no fiber platform to migrate to where they live. FTTP users on the other hand still envisage upgrades to faster broadband, and while over a third of Swedish FTTP users are on speeds of over 100Mbps, the appetite for upgrades remains strong.

FTTP subscribers are clearly more inclined to use their Internet at home with time actively spent online being 30% higher for FTTP users compared to DSL users. Additionally, FTTP users tend to use niche or cutting edge services more frequently, and express more interest in ‘future’ service concepts such as medical monitoring at home, live tuition at home or TV-centric video-conferencing. Amongst FTTP users, those who are ‘very satisfied’ with their broadband solution are even more inclined to be express interest.

Exhibit 1

Since these concepts represent the potential for cross-selling into new types of subscription based services, ISPs have a clear opportunity – if they nurture quality of experience for FTTP users – to develop new revenue streams. In summary, as shown in Exhibit 1 above, there are three virtuous circles at play amongst Swedish broadband users:
• FTTP users are still eager to upgrade their broadband: this is an upsell opportunity that may lead to increased ARPUs on fiber over time,
• a large proportion of DSL users are frustrated by their inability to migrate to fiber because the platform isn’t available where they live: this is makes the business model of expanding fiber networks easier as demand will be stronger from day one,
• FTTP users are more willing to experiment with new service concepts: this is a cross-sell opportunity for service providers if they play their cards well and keep user satisfaction high.

Tapping into these opportunities remains challenging: while the better quality of experience is clearly perceived by FTTP users (even down to specific technical features like low latency or high upload speeds), DSL users still need some convincing and tend not to attach as much importance to their broadband solution as FTTP users. Furthermore, cross-sell opportunities require entering new markets (healthcare, home security, etc.) and taking risks. Still the opportunity exists, and ISPs can play a role in these if they don’t hesitate too long.

How these trends will replicate in less mature markets is a key question. Initial results from two upcoming identical surveys ran in France and Portugal by Diffraction Analysis in collaboration with the FTTH Council Europe suggest that perception of FTTP quality is strong from day one, even in less mature markets, but the appeal of FTTP for DSL users is lower as the market as a whole does not perceive the platform to be superior.

To purchase this report, select a licence type and press “Buy Now”. 


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A mile wide, an inch deep — Medium

6 Jan

I was recently quoted as saying, “I don’t give a shit” if Instagram has more users than Twitter…

Source: medium.com

As I ponder my "insight into 2015 and beyond" post for the new year, I’m looking into things regarding the Internet rather than broadband, and this article resonates because as a data buff I know that single-metric analysis never tells you the truth or even close to the truth. I also feel that the "numbers" competition between social networks is ridiculous as a user of twitter, G+ and Facebook: I have different activities on all three, and different expectations of all three. Sure, they overlap somewhat, but by and large considering social interaction tools as interchangeable is missing the point.

 

Anyway, this is well worth a read and it highlights a number of massively important points: metrics are much too often US centric, the confrontational nature of the numbers competition misses the point on how users are engaged, and a profitable business online does not necessarily need as many users as possible (in the same way that a micro-business on Facebook might not benefit from more sock-puppet followers). 

 

Time for a more mature way of looking at online engagement. 

See on Scoop.itConnected World

The Disruptive Power of Wholesale Approaches

8 Dec

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Steve Kamman’s blog Strong Views Lightly Held has come back to life. This is excellent news. Steve is both a top telecom market expert and a great disruptive thinker, a winning combination if you want to look at things a little differently. His latest blog post got my mind churning, connecting (as he often does) a number of previously unconnected dots in my mind.

The post is entitled US Wireless About to Get Interesting (and Ugly). I strongly encourage you to read it, but in a nutshell, Steve argues that DISH’s massive spectrum assets will be put to use to disrupt the US market in the very near future. Most interestingly though, Steve outlines one possible use of that spectrum that resonates a lot with me: building a wholesale wireless network centered around IoT rather than human communications.

Steve isn’t arguing that it should be solely able to deal with IoT (I think) but rather that it could be designed with IoT in mind from the get go, both from a technology standpoint and from a business model standpoint. One of the issues I raised in a number of speeches I made recently is that Cities are currently paying through the nose for sensor-based smart city applications because the network layer is sub-contracted to carriers who have no genuine interest in this market and are not adapting their pricing to its needs. While that might push Cities to consider alternatives (like deploying their own backbone fiber + wireless or even their own fiber to the home as a basis for smart city applications), the alternative Steve outlines could be a really interesting way of complementing that “self-reliance” scenario.

In fact, in combination with the recently announced Veniam products, a little Sigfox for low-level continuous data and deep fiber aggregation + wifi for upstream, you could totally see how cities could, with minimal investment, completely circumvent the traditional telecom ecosystem. Not to mention that, in the case of DISH, it could open up opportunities for traditional mobile telephony/data disruptors like Ting to expand their footprint and (possibly) make higher margins than with the current MVNO deals they’re getting. And there’s probably a way that open SIMs fit into this as well. If DISH was the first to fully embrace that in the US (T-Mobile is kinda there but not quite, as I understand it) the Verizons and AT&Ts could be in for a lot of trouble.

So, Steve, how do we make that pitch to Ergen ?

 

Photo: (cc) by Camilo Rueda López

Veniam Wants to Build a Smart City One WiFi Bus at a Time

3 Dec

Startup Veniam lands $4.9 million Series A round to build its WiFi for moving vehicles network to enable municipal WiFi for smart cities

Source: www.xconomy.com

This is something I’m going to have to dig into big time. I can see the potential, I find it interesting, and yet at the same time I fear that this will be seen as "sufficient" infrastructure by short sighted city executives. "Do we need to think about network infrastructure needs?" – "Of course not, we’ve got the bus thingy…" 

See on Scoop.itConnected World