The past week has been a blur. Coming off the holiday weekend which because I'm in Australia and a day ahead meant a six day weekend and that really piled things up. Conference calls using a combination of Calliflower, Voxeet, UberConference, GoToMeeting, WebEx and Skype. Lots of social media. Calls at 4 AM on Google Hangouts to recap the TADS Summit for this week's VUC weekly session, plus reading, writing has meant one thing. I needed to stay connected. A MiFi with a GigSky SIM, a phone with Truphone, plus a back up local SIM from OPTUS. Google Voice ringing everything, honestly, other than the 19 hour time difference, I haven't felt that far away.
And that's the way we're able to work. As a global nomad staying connected has become a game for me. Will I have strong enough WiFi or a wired connection in my hotel. Is 4G going to cut it? Will they block my UC provider Simple Signal? Will Skype work? When it does...as it has from the moment I landed in Bangkok until now...so staying connected, no problem. Sleeping normal..well that's another story...Now..on to the news.
Long time pal Ian Rogers keeps turning out the hits. Ian, who knows music and technology better than anyone I know recently took the helm at Beats Music.Their new service will take on Pandora, Spotify and iTunes so watch them do more than the others, as Ian's inside the industry approach and past successes (we helped him launch MediaCode that was acquired quickly by Yahoo) will mean, he's surely got the beat bopping along.
The new Beats Music streaming music service will launch January 2014, according to CEO Ian Rogers. The service also launched a ' name claiming' site today that lets you snag a primo username early. The project has been in private alpha for a while under the code-name Project Daisy, and has been garnering some heated attention.
We all know teens are glued to their cellphones. New data from the Family Online Safety Institute shows which mobile activities are keeping them hooked. Text messaging is the most popular activity, which 87% of teens have done in the past 30 days.
Being at the TADS Summit and ITU Telecom World two weeks ago showed me how much telecom and mobile is expanding in the Far East, Middle East and Africa. And the Dark Continent is seeing explosive growth.
We tend to have certain paradigms about the "developed world" and the "developing world." Including, of course, media-fed images of Africa as a place of almost irredeemable poverty, deprivation, and pain. Many of our paradigms are, of course, illusions.
Former Skype partner in the UK, THREE has struck back on International Roaming, creating a program where going away is the same as staying home. And they added the USA. Now when my friends in the UK visit they can take their THREE phone and use it here just as if they were there. Sounds alot like the Truphone Zone to me.
In a thoroughly consumer-friendly move that challenges its rivals, the British mobile operator Three has effectively eliminated all its roaming premiums for customers traveling to the United States. Three has form in this arena.
Speaking of Truphone. The company's first foray into sports marketing brought their brand of innovation to the Caterham FI team. Truphone delivered a Converged Operator Service solution that brought together Truphone's brand of global mobile service with Caterham's own VoIP provider so their team could always stay connected.
F1 team Caterham is looking to squeeze every penny of value out of its IT services as it refocuses its effort on major rule changes coming into force next season. As one of Formula One's newest teams, Caterham was able to start with a clean slate when it was first accepted onto the grid in 2010, with no legacy IT to deal with.
GigaOm's Kevin Tofel, who can claim to be the second to last person I ever had a Philly Cheese Steak wid (Philly folks will get the local foodie humor) picked up on client Gigsky and their global roaming data SIM that lets you buy just what you need, where you need it just in time for the holiday travel season.
It's amazing that we can use a private company to put satellites into space, yet international roaming with a smartphone, tablet or laptop is still such a hassle. I thought about this recently as some friends are planning to travel abroad this holiday season and they asked me what their options are.
UK-based mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Lycamobile has reportedly identified eight further markets in which it hopes to launch by February 2014, including Canada and unspecified countries across Latin America and Asia. Lycamobile, which generated sales of more than EUR1 billion (USD1.35 billion) in FY2012/13, currently claims a global MVNO base of more than 30 million users.
Just like in the USA, where stolen phones are a problem, in the UK OFCOM and the operators are working together to create a database that stops stolen phones from being usable while also attacking roaming fees........
Four of the UK's largest mobile phone networks have agreed to change some of the rules around pricing and contracts in a bid to reduce the charges that arise when roaming abroad or if a device is lost or stolen.
Long time friends and clients, Alon Cohen and Ari Rabban should be smiling. The duo behind rapidly growing Phone.com just scored their first patent, where they have brought some of their technology wizardy to SMS.
RIP IMS If you haven't read Chad's break up, then you should. It is touching. And true. And the comments on it are great. We've had a ball at the Expo event, but that last day got me pissed off - it was the service providers track, with many of its vendors suggesting their IMS systems should be hooked up to WebRTC in order to save it.
Gigabit-class broadband is capturing the imagination of Internet users throughout the country. With Google and other companies bringing fiber-based services that deliver a gigabit of data each second to the home, communities are accelerating their push to get the highest speeds.
On the Googlewatch front. Over in London they have created an open "campus" that is attracting all kinds of new business starting types, bringing them into the Google Ecosystem in what is known as the Hub.
Opened in April 2012, Campus London, Google's East London 'startup hub' was something of a new departure for Google. It was taking out a ten year lease of a building which would be populated by co-working spaces, hackers and startups that Google had nothing to do with and Google would not have a stake it in.
Video is still in the news..and people are using it. Taking part in a global Hangout today that was offering amazing quality, even on my iPad Air, only tells me it's not that far away from being mainstream...
With video conferencing unshackled from the confines of the expensive, high-end telepresence room, enterprises are exploring a wider swath of video options -- like desktop video calling and managed or cloud-based video services that could improve their businesses. The arrival of more accessible video endpoints is removing one of the final barriers to every conferencing vendor's dream: ubiquitous business video calling.
Last week was the third rendition of the WebRTC Conference & Expo, and it covered a range of topics from business implementations and applications to more technical aspects like signaling and the WebRTC data channel. There was also a lot of discussion about the current state of the IETF movement to decide on a video codec standard for WebRTC, mainly between H.264 and VP8.
Platitudes are a dangerous way to build a company. What passes today as start-up wisdom can be attractive, even seductive to new entrepreneurs. We have witnessed the creation of a sub-industry of how-to advice on creating the next tech blockbuster.
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Just about two weeks ago I was attending the ITU Telecom World where I joined Dean Bubley's panel and then moderating the TADS Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is an interesting place and my mobile experience, not only with a SIM but seeing how mobile centric that part of the world is, even more than what I experience in Europe or the USA exposed me to a lot of new ideas, as the TADS Summit served to reaffirm many forward looking ideas I've had about WebRTC and OTT.
The biggest concept I heard expressed was "Fast Fail" an approach that developer and early stage entrepreneurs have taken on. Being the optimist, I immediately spun that into the idea of succeed soon. And that's where WebRTC is. It has to succeed soon and the companies working to develop new method of communications have to learn that failing fast doesn't mean giving up. It means doing it better, and succeeding sooner.
OTT apps like WhatsApp and Line have succeeded soon and continue to grow. They are taking revenue away from the major telcos on one side (the SMS market) but at the same time shifting costs to other networks or the network side of the telco, while reducing the telcos labor and overhead cost.
Thus I would contend that OTT services like WebRTC don't really replace the carrier, they simply shift the burden of operating and delivering the service from the service provider to being the carrier while someone else operates the service. This is not much different from a concessionaire serving food inside a stadium while the landlord collects a piece of the action without having to buy the food or staff the stands.
The more a carrier opens up their network to OTT players and lets them take on the burden of building the audience, managing the relationship, and the less marketing the carrier or mobile operator has to do, the more profitable they can become because they can invest in technology that makes them better and more competitive versus their competitors, while providing the best field of play for the newcomers who use software and smarts vs. hardware and brawn to power their business.
The best and most profitable carriers will be the ones who embrace the new OTT players, find ways to incorporate WebRTC technology into their platforms or simply open up their pipe and network to let them in so they can carry more traffic.
Jajah is being shut down. Jajah was acquired about five years back for the inflated sum of a reported $207 million dollars by Telefonica. The purcahse was intented to give Telefonica a deeper involvment in VoIP and then enabled them to take over the operations of Yahoo Voice when Yahoo basically started to ween itself away from communications services, in the era where they were rudderless. UPDATE- I just recalled that in January of 2013 Yahoo and Jajah ended their voice service relationship. This tells me the plan was in the works for some time. First Yahoo, then more.
Recently on a panel moderated by Dean Bubley during the ITU Telecom World in Bangkok, I commented how non-innovative Telefonica really was, as aquisitions are not innovation and referred to Jajah as "two servers in a broom closet connected to a few Tier One networks" at their time of acquisition. It looks like I wasn't that far off as shutting down a $200 million dollar purchase rivals the BT purchase of Ribbit for over $100 million dollars, which BT has basically wound down after buying the company for what was to be six services BT had on their roadmap, but never executed on either.
These two failures demonstrate the difference between Google, Microsoft and Apple who buy strategically, while old line telcos buy out of fear and uncertainty.
For the past few years the few people who have had a Yahoo Voice number were basically paying Jajah to maintain their phone numbers and use credit that was paid for to Jajah under the Yahoo name. What this does to Yahoo Voice is anyone's guess, but I'm betting they shut it down, until the company can figure out where it's really going, as a VoIP service tied to an antiquated Yahoo Messenger, that is not really as good as Skype is not the kind of effort the new leadership at Yahoo is getting behind.
Back in its day, in the Brad Garlinghouse, Craig Walker, Vincent Paquet and then Jeff Bonforte eras, VoIP inside Yahoo Messenger was to be a Skype killer. Yahoo spent lots of money buying and starting to build out a Skype threat, worked on rates to lower prices but in the end Bonforte was told to not make it a big deal and it basically was on life support since then.
The Jajah piece came to life about three or four years back where Yahoo basically outsourced the Voice piece to them and it simply billed customers.
Bangkok may be one of the last places you would think is where the future of telecommunications would be happening, as it's not exactly where one thinks of as a tech hot bed. But the 2013 ITU Telecom World is there, and that's where the newly minted TADS Summit will also be held.
While the ITU event is more about the establshed setting the future, the TADS Summit will be where the future gets statred. The two events, overlapping, and featuring many of the same participants will provide the framework for innovation. I'll be there, so keep an eye on this space for news.
As we wind down fall and head into winter I'll be heading to Asia for two very important conferences and congresses. The ITU has asked me to be a part of the Dean Bubley led disucssion on Telcos and OTT-so off I go to Bangkok and that esteemed event in November.
That's immediately followed by what may be the most defining event about application development and Telcos ever organized, the TADS Summit. Long time peer Alan Quayle asked me to be a chair of a tract, but he's done the heavy lifting pulling together a really stellar group of knowledge leaders--those who are really doing it, not just talking about it, when it comes to how APIs and Apps are changing telecom as we know it.
If you look at this holistically, the two events in Bangkok during the same week blend the old with the new. While the ITU will not have many of the upstarts and disruption minded, TADS will.
There has been some recent debate about Samsung and their approach to regionally locking handsets, starting with the Galaxy Note3. It's a very interesting situation, and one that will impact grey marketers and their customers more than those who sell and buy in market. But the real story is not the region locking. It's about the lack of transparency by Samsung and what they are attempting to do which is to protect their "customer" and their customer isn't the consumer.
The fact is this is about protecting the distributors and dealers who legitimately buy devices from Samsung, forking over hard cash, putting staff and promotion behind the sales of product in the legitimate market the device was sold into and to protect against what is called product diversion. It's also about protecting the carriers from having devices that can be bought elsewhere, without contract and put on their network, but without the long term predictability of how long the customer will stay with them which is why the carriers get behind any product. It's another creative way to help those carriers who buy hundreds of thousands of units so they can keep the customer "locked to them" without the customer being locked to the device if they want to change devices the way some people change shoes.
Spinning the story by using FUD was what Samsung did. Put fear into the public's mind via the media. Get the media to first amplify that fear via the approach of having to always tell what's new and shiny. Show your customers what you're doing to protect them, then when the bloggers figure out the truth they will send the message out that helps drive the sales in market while keeping those out of market (anti-diversion tactic) from buying the devices but tell enough that makes the in market end user comfortable.
Next comes the real sneaky angle. Some blogger will come up with the idea that the grey marketers will find "agents" in the local market to "activate" the phone in market with a local SIM meaning a pre-paid SIM should work. The phone will be "activated" in the "region" it's designed to be "activated" in, then repacked, and shipped to be sold out of market so in the end Samsung's regions end up exactly where they were before, but the speed at which the devices end up out of market will be slowed down, giving each country or region a bit more time to sell the Galaxy Note3 faster.
For Samsung this allows them to say to their in country distributors that they are doing something about it, when in reality it's all window dressing because the smartphones are being be manufactured to save costs as "worldphones" with frequency bands that work everywhere (though not always with the fastest speeds possible for all yet) so the reality is, with a bit of patience you can figure out how to get the phone you need for where you'll be if your a savvy consumer.
So let's now attack the story and coverage for merits or lack there of using the 4 P's of Marketing:
1. Place-The story is not about region locking per se, but about protecting distribution which is place.
2. Price-The story is not about region locking per se, but about protecting margins and keeping price points where they should be in market because the grey marketers love to play the currency game as much as they do selling the products.
3. Promotion-The story not about region locking per se, but about drawing attention to the products in market, and to force the customer into thinking they need to buy locally. That's promotion via the media which costs less than buying ads, and which helps reinforce in store promotion which Samsung has to pay for via what is called price and positioning, and which usually includes things like payment terms and dating (when the retailer has to pay, how much they have to pay, quantity discounts, etc.) as well as price protection terms so as the prices fall the retailer can lower prices and not take a loss.
4. Product-The story is not about region locking per se, but about drawing attention to the product being available for sale.
The reality is there are statutory laws designed to prevent this from happening in the USA and elsewhere know as parallel import laws which like patents and trademarks are designed to prevent infringement of the distribution kind. But, unless the customs agents inspecting the cargo coming into the country know that the distributor isn't the offical importer, the products get in the country.
Of course the way around that is to take possession of the goods in the country you purchase them in, because they are for personal use, sell them first in the "region" they were intended to be sold in to the customer who wants them, and when they reach the other country to where they are being imported, they are now personal property.
The stone cold reality is that the Internet has made the world a very small place, and standards have in many ways weakened protectionist efforts so to take steps to curb the enthusiasm around something good, brands turn to spin, hype, FUD and obfuscation to try to keep the status quo. And that's the difference between a good brand and an great brand.
Compare Samsung to Apple. Apple sells unlocked devices directly to consumers through the Apple stores ONLY. If you want one, you buy it direct from Apple, and so does or did HTC. But Samsung doesn't really sell direct, they rely on the channels to drive their sales, and that's what this is all about.
Distribution and protecting the channel.
Don't be fooled by the hype, FUD or obfuscation. Buy the phone you want, but be prepared to have to do some extra work if you want the phone that you can't buy direct from the manufacturer to be the phone you want.
Oh, and to the issue of pricing. Apple already figured that out too long ago. Just look at the prices in various contries and you'll see that their pricing holds steady and costs more outside of the USA than it does here. They already did the math, and last time I checked keep selling more, and growing more everywhere, and they don't seem to have a grey market problem.
Just as Phone.com focuses on the SOHO and Small Business market with a very complete and full featured set of services to separate them from the Grasshoppers of the world, a new player out of Los Angeles, Telzio is looking to take the same approach and go after the market that Jive is tackling, with larger businesses who are working both nationally and internationally with what is best described as a spin it up and deliver service approach very similar to past client Aretta that was acquired by cBeyond a few years back.
The core value of Telzio lies in their rapid deployment set up and automation engine that gets a business up and running in very short order. Compared to larger servcies, where provisioning is the pain point, this core part of their value proposition makes them an interesting and new player in a space of sameness.
Pal Martin Geddes, one of the better, brighter and more forward thinking people in telecom today, authored a missive to his newsletter followers entitled "Rise of the Sensible Network" last week. It's an updated and padoxical viewpoint on the famed report by David Isenberg entitled “The Rise of the Stupid Network” that is often considered as the seminal treatise on the way the telcos went when it came to sealing their own fate.
Geddes longform article is a very strong read, and provides the basis of so much that will be discussed in a series of upcoming foundation events he'll be speaking at that set the stage for where telecom and the Internet are going, especially on the subject of OTT based communications. OTT is something that Martin, and his regular Future of Vocie speakermate, Dean Bubley and even I espouse and cover in our blogs and speaking engagements, with prime examples coming from the likes of HookFlash's Erik Lagerway and uberConference's Craig Walker, both of whom have all been very actively involved with for many years in delivering, or from services like Skype, Truphone (client), the now departed Gizmo, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Line, etc.
Martin will be speaking at some upcoming events, and this topic is far from over.
The news sites are a flutter with the realization that Microsoft if buying Nokia for less money they paid for Skype, hyping the idea that ex Microsoftee Steven Elop is the potential heir apparent to Steve Ballmer.
I personally think this is simply a thinning of the herd, and as new stars rise, older ones with assets -the Nokia patent pool, massive distribution teams, a very skilled hardware design and manufacturing team was attractive to Microsoft, especially with all the cash they have offshore. They pick up a team to build things and with their own sales force and mobile operator deals actually sell them, and what's more they reduce by a factor of 4 their royalty payments.
Unlike Dell, which use sub-manufacturers to make computers, now MSFT has it's own plants and people, and unlike Dell Microsoft has now has a team that knows how to design and build very good hardware--you never heard bad things about Nokia smartphones-more often you just didn't find them when they were really hot, or when you did, they sold very well and impact the top line for the Finnish company. This is exactly why Dell needs to buy BlackBerry. They get smartphones and own an OS. The world is moving from powerful desktops and laptops to smarter, faster and more powerful tablets and phones, and while BB's issues are largely sales, Dell's folks know how to do that.
But back to Microsoft. They have a leadership problem. Elop while a possible answer, he will likely be looked at as a returnee, so not the right choice as picking someone from the existing executive suite, even a slighlty reconsitituted one means the rest on the team feel passed over, and the rivalry it causes during the run up to the annointing is also very bad for business, as the direct reports all line up like gladiators. That leaves looking outside--way outside. And I mean way outside. Hardware is not what the future is about. Software is. And consumer marketing models are where the thinking is. Look at Netflix. Look at Nike. Look elsewhere...
Enter Yahoo-and a whole new management team. What they are doing is all about aqui-hires and building a new team from the inside out. In essence the Yahoo leadership is buying up pieces and parts -- that are all human capital, taking some of the newly acquired IP and incorporating it into what will be a very efficient mobile and cloud services focused team. This is exactly where Microsoft (and Dell) are both super light.
In my view Yahoo becomes an attractive aqui-buy for either Dell or Microsoft. It gives either a new leadership team, cash, cloud and mobile. It also brings new, next generation services, which Dell lacks in a consumerization of the enterprise model world.
Personally, I am not surprised by the Nokia buy by Microsoft, as the writing has been on the wall since 2012's CES where I saw nothing new with the Surface line of tablet PCs. The lack of 3G modules then was a huge OOPS for Microsoft, and something that Nokia's engineers never would have missed.
One more thing--Nokia has a massive developer program, and rich API's. Don't be surprised if Microsoft looks at Twilio, plugs that into Skype/Lync and then delivers it all to the new handsets. In an LTE era, voice is no longer about minutes, and the data pipe of wireless is the new wire. We're far from done seeing buying going on..it's a great time to be in M&A.
The City of Los Angeles is considering building out a citywide Wi-Fi network. It's a good idea, but rumor has it that they are considering an anchor tenant model, similar to what Earthlink tried to be in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Anaheim and a few other cities. The model, which some former execs I know from Earthlink were not in favor of from the start, is fraught with the challenge of one backer who wants to be both the builder and then the manager which operates and maintains the network.
I'm much more in favor of the multi-tenant model that exists in France where the operations costs are shared by mobile and fixed line operators, who in turn provide access to their customers. In Los Angeles this type of model would be thus open to the likes of Time Warner and Comcast to market to their customers as well, much like what they are doing elsewhere.
Given the size of Los Angeles, one also has to wonder if the whole City needs to be lit up, or if it would make more sense to build out the city and county in stages, where they gauge adoption, behavior and usage.