\n"; echo $styleSheet; ?>include("http://www.corante.com/admin/header.html"); ?>
Let me take a stab at explaining Google's grand strategy.
Well, sort of. You may, instead of buying Microsoft Office, suscribe to Google's GMail and have a rudimentary office system with a gigabyte or two of storage.
But to say Google is going after Microsoft, the way we said Microsoft was going after IBM, is really to damn with faint praise.
Google isn't aiming at Microsoft, or at IBM. It's aiming at the entire computing-telecommunications complex, building out what I'll call the Google TeleComputing Environment.
The idea is to take advantage of not only the Internet's ability to disintermediate clients, but its ability to disintermediate the phone network at the same time, and to do this in an entirely open source way.
What do I mean? Here are the ingredients:
Google is flattening the world. More on what this means after the flip.
Americans are finally following the rest of the world toward the controlled interface of the cellular phone.
This has profound implications. Mobile carriers are not Internet Service Providers. They control where you go and what you do on their networks. They act as gatekeepers, and take a proprietary attitude toward every bit transmitted.
The difference between the Internet and a mobile network is like the difference between a downtown city center and a shopping mall. There is nothing inherently wrong with a shopping mall, but it is controlled by the mall owner, and everything which happens there must be aimed at making the mall owner (and his tenants) money, all assumptions of liberty to the contrary.
In other words, cellular turns the Internet into a shopping mall, neutering it, and making it solely a means toward a commercial end.
Thus, is has been difficult for mobile (Americans call it cellular) to gain the kind of reach and use that we find even in Africa. But that is changing:
The winds of change are blowing hurricane-force in Washington. Every politician in town knows it. So the natural inclination is to push the envelope as far as possible, knowing that it will be pulled back fairly quickly.
This is as true regarding the Internet as anywhere else. The Bell-cable duopoly hangs by a thread. Wireless ISPs have Moore's Law on their side. The incumbents need something very strong to counter.
This is precisely what they're going for with a bill in the House that would raise entry barriers to the sky and prevent independent ISPs from ever gaining a market toehold. (That's the chairman of the committee proposing the legislation, Joe Barton, up above.)
Naturally they call it "pro-competitive," but in the Orwellian Washington of today those with a Clue should never listen to what they say but look at what they do.
The bill is also filled with goodies for broadcasters and TV networks, such as:
Skype, like most VOIP companies, is a tax arbitrage play.
The idea is that you avoid the tax costs of telephony by running your voice calls over an Internet connection. As everyone gets broadband, telephone service dies a natural death.
But neither the Bells, nor the governments they feed, are willing to go away quietly. I've written often about how it's done here. But it's done everywhere.
The same day eBay announced it would buy Skype, China started cracking down harder on Skype, and its Internet-Phone version SkypeOut. Unlike the situation with, say, Falun Gong, this is an effort where telephone firms are, not reluctant, but eager co-conspirators.
The folks at Google write that they've appointed Vinton Cerf as their Chief Internet Evangelist, and brag on his nickname "Father of the Internet."
But what is he going to do? And what can he accomplish?
While Cerf was a fine engineer in his day, his record as an executive leaves a lot to be desired. Those with memories recall that he was with MCI all through the Worldcom disaster. He gave speeches, he took awards, and he had nothing to do with the fraud. He was out of the loop.
He was lipstick on that pig.
Will he be any closer to the loop at Google? Or does this mean Google is about to turn itself into another MCI?
The sad fact is that Google is rapidly becoming a bureaucratized mess. Current CEO Eric Schmidt ignored Blogger, he gave his corporate credibility a padding, he has loaded up on his personal fortune and generally made a hash of those things it was in his power to make a hash of.
Om Malik has a wise commentary today on how peer-to-peer services (p2p) is the killer app for broadband.
He offers a Cachelogic chart showing how p2p services (but more specifically eDonkey) are driving total Internet traffic. In fact, more than half the total Internet traffic monitored by Cachelogic, according to the chart, is eDonkey traffic. (The illustration was copied from Malik's blog, but credit should go to Cachelogic.)
Then Malik makes some really key points (boldfacing is mine):
If you have a mobile phone, and it claims you have Internet service on it, you may not.
Mobile service providers have become increasingly aggressive in stopping access to services and sites they don't like, writes DeWayne Hendrick.
This is especially true for Vodafone, which owns half of Verizon Wireless of the U.S. (Verizon, in turn, has been the most aggressive in pursuing the "Walled Garden" approach here.)
According to DeWayne, Vodafone has summarily blocked access to all Voice over IP services, and even the main page of Skype, a VOIP procider. In the UK Vodafone is blocking access to all content that isn't "Vodafone-approved." (Translation: anything that might lose money for Vodafone.)
One sad headline from this year is how Google has become so opaque and observers so suspicious that its moves are now studied the way Microsoft once was.
CEO Eric Schmidt did neither himself nor his company any favors when he cut-off News.Com reporters, after one of them questioned the privacy implications of the service by Googling him.
I contributed with a positive comment on Google Talk, helped by a Pakistani friend. Other observers noted how Google Mail is now open to cellphones.
But not all the commentary was positive, either to myself or to Google. In fact, ZDNet colleague (and longtime friend) Russell Shaw gave me a right padding:
NOTE: Many of the claims made in the item below have been questioned by Russell Shaw. See the full story here.
It's ironic, but my first invitation to use Google Talk came from Pakistan. From Karachi, actually.
Specifically it was from a long-time online friend named Tariq Mustafa (known as Tee Emm), who works in the high-tech sector there.
I am really excited on this Google IM thing (and so would be tens of millions of users very soon). I think I was ahead of you just because of the time-zone difference. Anyway, here is the summary I wanted to share with you of the excitement.
Why the excitement? IM has been around for ages.
The excitement is because this isn't really IM. Or it's not just IM. It's VOIP, integrated from the start with IM.
What this does is absolutely kill international long distance in a way Skype only dreamt of. I'm actually a naive user, but I was able to download, and load, a VOIP client (with IM) in less than a minute.
So can anyone else, anywhere else.
More from Tariq after the break.
His source on this is Bob Frankston, co-founder of Visicalc and one of those great online friends I've never met personally. (As you can see by this picture, he's also well on his way to being a Truly Handsome Man (that is to say bald)).
Here's the key bit, as Berlind saw it:
By Frankston's calculations, for example, Verizon is reserving 99 percent of its government-ordained right of way (in the form of bandwidth that should be available to us as well as its competitors) for itself so that it may compete in the IPTV market.
Frankston's got the whole story, in hiw own words, here.
More on the flip.
The idea is to give cellular carriers their own "triple play" -- combining paid WiFi (through controlled real estate), VOIP (long distance) and cellular service on one bill.
I understand why Verisign is on to this. What I don't understand is why the carriers are getting in bed with them.
The fastest way to save energy in this country is to build-out the Local Web. (The illustration is from the PRBlog, in a story about a local Web conflict.)
Every day I find limits in the local Web. Right now, for instance, I need a USB Bluetooth connector for my laptop. It's on the Staple's Web site, but delivery is three days away, and it's not at Staple's. It's on the Best Buy Web site, but it's not at the local Best Buy. I'm going to Fry's tomorrow (a 40-mile roundtrip) and if it's not there I'll have to wait for delivery.
All this driving would not be necessary if local inventories were rourtinely tied to Web sites (as they sometimes are at BestBuy.Com). That's one Local Web application.
There are many others.
Verizon has begun selling one of the dumbest machines I've ever seen, a "DSL modem," (their term), wireless router and cordless phone combination dubbed Verizon One.
Essentially this ties together the obsolete telephone network with the Internet Verizon is actually selling and tells customers it's the same thing. It pushes fancy PBX capabilities on residential customers who don't need them. (Just to make things a little better, it locks them into its cellular service, too.)
The FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) can be easily seen in the phrase "DSL modem." DSL is a digital service. It doesn't need modulation or demodulation to trick an analog line into taking a digital connection, which is what a modem does. It is an oxymoron.
What's ironic is I happen to know Verizon was talking to Netopia two years ago about a massive contract for DSL gateways that would have been far superior to this piece of nonsense. (Here's a 2001 press release, delivered in the early days of the relationship.) I have one of these gateways in my house now, a review unit. What would have made them powerful was a promised co-branded service providing full security to home users, saving them as much as $200/year on "security suites" from various software vendors. (There are currently no Netopia press releases, going back to 2002, referencing Verizon.)
More on what a truly clued-in person feels after the break.
Unfortunately the Bush Administration has, on the very day the report came out, moved to undercut its key recommendation.
Here's the key bit:
Before completing the transfer of its stewardship to ICANN (or any other organization), the Department of Commerce should seek ways to protect that organization from undue commercial or governmental pressures and to provide some form of oversight of performance.
The report, in other words, supports ICANN under the U.S. government because it sees this as keeping ICANN independent of government or commercial interests. Moving toward ICANN's independence is desireable, the report says, in order to minimize the perception that the U.S. government is controlling the Internet.
So far, so good.
A number of items have come across my desk today advertising cool mobile stuff, but failing to offer anything resembling a business model.
Here is one of them -- Navizon.
It's advertised as a "peer to peer location service" combining "WiFi, cellular and GPS." But what exactly are you supposed to do with it? Where are the applications that will get Navizon's money out, let alone a profit? No clue.
I was giving more thought to yesterday's rumors of Cisco buying Nokia (or part of it).
The more I thought about it, the more I realized there is a very smart M&A move Cisco could make on today's technology board, something that would give it an infusion of both technology and backbone, plus get it into the mobile markets it seems so hot for.
But what's in it for Cisco? Plenty.
Intel holds the telecommunications balance of power in its hand.
Here's how The Register puts it, with its usual hyperbole:
Intel is throwing its financial, technical and lobbying weight behind the rising tide of municipally run broadband wireless networks, seeing these as a way to stimulate uptake of Wi-Fi and WiMAX and so sell more of its chips and increase its influence over the communications world.
And Intel is not going to back down. As ZDNet notes today, there's money to be made.
Coke and Pepsi do not represent competition. It's a shared monopoly, the Drinks Trust.
The same is true for Wal-Mart and Target, Home Depot and Lowe's, and, to cut to the chase, your phone and cable companies.
By endorsing duopoly calling "competition" what is in fact a Trust, new FCC chair Kevin Martin has shown us clearly where the Bushies stand. Those who believe in competitive markets that can compete in the world need to digest this.
And Martin's model for the Internet policy? China.
So, do you want to be an ISP?
There is only one way to do it now. You have to be a WISP. You have to connect WiFi to WiMax, and reach competitive fiber.
Otherwise you're officially dead.
The FCC ruled, over Friday and Saturday, that Bell companies no longer have to wholesale their lines to competitive ISPs. They don't even have to charge competitive prices for backhaul to the Internet. They essentially repealed the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
Those phonr lines that were built with government-controlled monopoly powers over decades? They're now the sole property of four corporate entities. And they can do with this monopoly power whatever they want.
The question of Wi-Fi and real estate is about to come to a head, at Boston's Logan Airport. (Picture from MIT.)
Declan McCullagh reports that the Airport is trying to close Continental Air's free WiFi service, based in its Frequent Flyer lounge, in favor of a paid service on which it gets a 20% cut of revenue.
Continental has appealed to the FCC under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Massport, which runs the airport, is making bogus arguments about security (its paid service uses the same spectrum as Continental so if one goes under its argument, both go).
If this thing goes to trial it will be a very important case. Here's why.
Two really stupid predications crossed my desk this morning. (The image is by Katie Guenther. From the University of Vermont.)
While a straight look at technology and the desires of consumers could lead you to these conclusions, they're dumber than dirt.
Let's start with the first one.
Even if people start leaving their laptops at home, laptop sales are not threatened by mobile phones, because laptops are replacing desktops. It's basic ergonomics. Where does your lap go when you stand up? If you're standing, or walking, you can't use a laptop, you have to use some sort of handheld device. As PDA functionality moves into phones, as the two markets merge, then, yes, phones become the handheld of choice. But that doesn't mean they replace laptops. It means they replace PDAs.
Now for the second prediction.
Rebecca McKimmon (left, from her blog) took a shot at Cisco's China policy recently, confirming through a spokesman that the company does indeed cooperate with the government.
This is not news. So does nearly every other U.S. tech company.
The U.S. policy is, and has been, full engagement with China. This has already hurt Cisco. Back in the 1990s one of the prices for getting into the market was to share technology. Cisco did so, and a few years later Huawei, a Chinese company, had routers and bridges very similar to Cisco's old stuff, along with most of the Asian market (thanks to lower prices).
McKimmon's point now is that
China Cisco is cooperating with the worst excesses of the China government, which is seeking to have both the world's best Internet technology and full control over what people do with it.
That is a good point, but I don't think you
don't go after Cisco to make it.
The Bells promised to serve us broadband if we let them run over Wireless ISPs. Done. No broadband.
So they promised us broadband if we would give them absolute control over their lines, ending any requirement for wholesaling. Done. No broadband.
Then they promised us broadband if we'd stop cities from buildig out wireless networks that might compete with them. Nearly done. Still no broadband.
Now, Qwest is pushing a plan in Congress to tax your broadband access and hand it the money, promising broadband in rural areas.
It's amazing anyone would believe such hollow promises, given the history. Color Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Gordon Smith (both represent areas covered by Qwest) as believers. The National Journal reports the two Senators are working together on just a Qwest-subsidy bill.
Here's a quote from the National Journal article:
Aides to Smith said the bill would make money in the Universal Service Fund available so telecommunications providers could build out broadband facilities. "It would be built into the same structure, and might end up as a stand-alone fund, within the current system next to the high-cost fund," an aide said.
Here's why this is not only theft, but stupid.
(The term Balkanize, or Balkanization, is often used in English to refer to this splitting up, which often (as in the 1990s) is accompanied by enormous violence. This picture of the Balkans as they are today is from Theodora.com.)
Think about it. How often do you use a Web site outside your own country? If you're an American, the answer is not very often. This is true for most people.
A lot more follows.
Americans pay more for less broadband service than citizens of any other industrial country, and our take-up rate for fast Internet service is approaching Third World levels.
The reason? Lack of competition. Phone and cable networks, created under government control, have been made the private monopolies of corporate interests whose lobbyists dominate all capitals against the public interest.
Does new FCC chairman Kevin Martin see any of this? No. Just the opposite, in fact.
The Supreme Court affirmed the FCC's decision to refrain from regulating cable companies' provision of broadband services. This was an important victory for broadband providers and consumers. Cable companies will continue to have incentives to invest in broadband networks without fear of having to provide their rivals access at unfair discounts. The decision also paves the way for the FCC to place telephone companies on equal footing with cable providers. We can now move forward and remove the legacy regulation that reduces telephone companies' incentives to provide broadband.
This is Orwell's FCC. Monopoly is called competition. Martin claims there is intense competition from Wireless ISPs and satellite providers, when in fact those companies are being driven out of the market. The vast majority of consumers and businesses today have just two choices for broadband -- their local phone monopoly and local cable monopoly, who together enjoy a duopoly and monopoly profits that lets them write-down their 30-year property in a world best served by three-year write-offs.
There's more spin after the break.
The Supreme Court has decided that cable networks, created under government franchises, under monopoly conditions, are entirely the property of their corporate owners who don't have to wholesale. (That's the BrandX rocket ship -- they lost the case. What follows is directed to them as much as anyone else.)
Some ISPs bemoaned this bitterly. In the near term it means most of us have two choices for broadband service, the local Bell and the local Cable Head-End, both known for poor service, high prices, and loaded with equipment it will take decades to write off.
Smart folks, however, should be celebrating.
The story is about how some coffee houses are turning off the WiFi because they don't like the fact that their shops become offices. People shut up around WiFi. They bring in their PCs, turn on, and tune out the world around them. They may buy a coffee (increasingly they don't) but that's all you're going to get out of them.
Coffee shops and restaurants have beren the leaders in the WiFi "hotspot" movement based on the assumption they will be good for business, that people who WiFi also eat and drink.
Turns out we don't. Not that much, anyway. And we don't leave the table, either.
All of which leaves these shops without a valid business model. Would those using free WiFi object too much if they grabbed a piece of your browser's real estate and forced ads on you while you worked? How about if they put in a WiFi tip jar? I'm open to suggestions here.
When evolution accelerates size becomes a disadvantage.
It's true in nature, and it's true in technology as well.
The Bells (and Comcast) are the big bottlenecks in our technology universe. With Moore's Law sweeping through the telecomm landscape they are competitive liabilities in our economic ecosystem.
There is no malice in saying this. The Bells can't help being pointy-headed bosses. They are bureaucrats. Their loyalty is to the inside of their system, not to the customer. In a stable environment the ability to retain such people is a boon. In an unstable one it's disaster.
More proof comes today from Techdirt. It's a so-called BellSouthWiMax trial. But it isn't WiMax. It isn't new technology. It's an excuse to keep charging $110/month for DSL ($60 for the phone line) when the phone component is (with VOIP) unnecessary.
The 1990s were all about the Internet. (The picture is from a great site called i-Learnt, for teachers interested in technology.)
This decade is all about gadgets.
Digital cameras, musical phones, PSPs, iPods -- these are the things that define our time. While they can be connected to networks their functions are mainly those of clients.
In some ways it's a "back to the future" time for technology. We haven't had such a client-driven decade since the 1970s, when it was all about the PC.
In some ways this was inevitable. The major network trend is wireless, so we need a new class of unwired clients.
But in some ways this was not inevitable. If we had more robust local connectivities than the present 1.5 Mbps downloads (that's the normal local speed limit) we would have many more opportunities to create networked applications.
For my ZDNet blog this morning I interviewed Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project asking how the Internet should be governed.
The real problem is that most users, especially most Americans, don't believe it should be governed at all.
But it is governed.
The Internet is governed by the U.S. government, through ICANN, so anything the U.S. wants goes, and everyone else can go scratch. If the U.S. wants to violate the privacy of foreigners it does so. If it wants servers shut down -- even in other countries -- they're shut down. And all the "taxes" earned from site registration goes to those favored by the U.S. security apparatus.
In the 1990s there was a bit of whispering about this. But now those whispers have become a roar, because this government's obsessions with its own security (at the expense of everyone else's) and "intellectual property" (a phrase that does not appear in its Constitution) are becoming too much to bear.
That's why the ITU and the UN are sniffing around the issues involved in taking control of the root DNS away from ICANN. The coup would occur by these groups simply rolling their own, turning them on, and having member states point to them, instead of those offered by ICANN.
At first you wouldn't notice. But very shortly, as ITU and U.S. policies began to diverge there would be two Internets. Americans wouldn't be able to reach ITU pointers not recognized by ICANN roots, and vice versa for everyone else.
In a way it's already happening.
In order to succeed a blog must be spontaneous, fun, news-oriented and irreverent. If it sounds like a corporate communication it will be treated as such, and either be ignored or laughed-at.
There is a risk the blogger may reveal more than you want known, about corporate strategy or what you're really up to. And, let's face it, most corporations are sausage factories, on the order of Ricky Gervais' The Office or Scott Adams' Dilbert.
How can you avoid this? Some good advice follows:
You probably don't know this but Canada is in a world of hurt right now. And it's about to get worse.
The hurt is of self-inflicted. The governing Liberal Party is caught up in scandal , and the opposition is very regional - a Bush-like party based in the middle provinces, seperatists in Quebec and socialists in British Columbia.
But the big problem isn't political. It's regulatory.
One thing I got my first crack at over the weekend was the actual practice of Wi-Fi-in'. (The picture comes from a Free WiFi hotspot list site.)
While I have had WiFi in my home for years now I only recently got a laptop that can truly take advantage of it on the road. I brought it to Nashville with me.
Wi-Fi'-in means opening up the box, booting up, and hoping for an unsecured 802.11 connection you can log into. It's best done in a city, preferably close to a University campus. But don't expect to do this on the campus itself -- most college systems these days are secured, at least by passwords.
It was amazing to me how lost and alone I felt when I couldn't find a free spot around me. My hotel advertised the service, but during the day the radio waves couldn't reach my room. (This is a fact of life with radio -- the bands are all more crowded during the day.) As I noted the campus where I was hanging on Friday had their access password-protected, and I'm not into breaking-and-surfing (yet).
But all was not lost. I was about to learn a powerful lesson.
The secret's out.
Intel is re-interpreting Moore's Law. Not repealing it. Not rejecting it.
They're reinterpreting it. That's the significance of the change incoming CEO Paul Otellini (right) is making.
Before Moore's Law was like Samuel Gomper's famous quote about what labor wanted. More. More circuits, more speed, more cycles, more bits. More.
As of today Intel's new direction is better. Better doesn't always mean more. In the case of microprocessors it can mean putting more computers on each chip (multi-core) or running with lower power. In terms of communications it can mean a host of attributes, from security to coverage to throughput.
The strength of an economy, like that of a society, depends on social mobility. That means the poor can rise to wealth. It also means the wealthy can end up poor. (This old cartoon, from what folks like to call THE Ohio State University, pre-dates Wal-Mart by generations.)
A recent online conversation with Vijay Gill brought this home to me. The topic was actually our recent piece on The Myth of Scarcity. I liked it, posted it to Dave Farber's list, and Vijay responded quite thoughtfully, his point being that telecommunications is hard, some parts are scarce, and real technical knowledge is even scarcer. Maintaining total connectivity in the last mile without protecting the monopoly is harder than I make it sound.
This set me thinking in two directions at once.
The bidding war between Verizon and Qwest for MCI is based on a myth of scarcity. That is, both think they can make the deal pay by squeezing customers for the scarce resources represented by the MCI network.
Moores Law of Fiber rendered that inoperative many years ago. There is no shortage of fiber backbone capacity. And there are ample replacements for Plain Old Telephone Service -- not just cable but wireless.
The myth on which this deal is based is, simply, untrue.
Yet the myth persists, and not just in the telecommunications business.
I have not written much about Voice Over IP in this space because I'm not an expert in it. (Yes, I hear you say, this never stopped you before.)
Actually I didn't think I had anything original to add to the conversation. I still don't. But I want to point you to someone who does.
That someone is Tom Evslin (left). Evslin recently completed a wonderful series on the economics, politics, past and future of VOIP, on his blog, which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in this area.
Evslin calls this year a "flipping point" driven bythe mass distribution of VOIP software. It's not really free although, once you have your set-up, each call carries no incremental cost. The market battle between Skype and Vonage are driven by Metcalfe's Law, control of end points. Evslin offers the best explanation I've yet seen of Skype and its business model, which is rapidly evolving into an alternative phone network.
I have one suggestion.
The political battle over WiFi shapes up as a classic match between private interests and the commons.
But it is in fact a battle over real estate. (Thus, the balloon, which is the logo of a very innovative real estate brokerage.)
Verizon pulled a bait-and-switch on New York phone booths. It installed 802.11 equipment based on the promise of free WiFi service on adjoining streets, then pulled them all back into its paid network.
Politically this makes no sense. In real estate terms it makes perfect sense.
The challenge to this looks technological, but it's really political. You can see this challenge by simply turning on your WiFi equipped laptop.
Back in the 1990s a lot of Americans wasted a lot of bandwidth worrying about the Digital Divide.
Americans were wealthy. We could afford PCs and fast networks. Those poor black and brown people were being left behind by the future. There were even proposals that Americans tax themselves so that poor people could get broadband faster.
Now, a decade later, the digital divide is back.
And this time Americans are on the other side of it.
Our broadband networks now stand 13th in the world, behind those of our trade rivals. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are being offered speeds and prices we can only dream of. Asian cellular networks are years ahead of those here, and mobile broadband is common. In the most remote parts of Africa, cellphones are being turned into makeshift phone kiosks, or simply rented on a per-call basis, so folks can stay in touch with markets and the growing world economy.
Meanwhile, a decade of growing monopolism in this country means broadband take-up is now below the rates elsewhere. Cellular networks are two years behind those in Asia. You pay more to get less bandwidth than people in most of the world, and the situation is getting worse.
In The Lost Point, I wrote that Google risked being outmanuevered because it didn't pay proper attention to Blogger.
Today Duncan Riley of The Blog Herald goes further. He says the game is already over, that Microsoft won, that the field is consolidating into the three big portal players so Movable Type needs to sell out to Yahoo, quick.
Riley is right as far as he goes.
But if you click below, we'll go a bit further.
That's because, on most issues, there is no majority view. Most people don't care.
Learning an issue, and becoming committed to it, teaches you the source code of politics.
If your organization is tightly-knit, if your issues are driven by corporate interests, then your politics is closed source. On issues that mainly interest businesses this is determinative. Lobbyists and financial contributions fight and often come to settlements that aren't half bad. Traditionally most issues before regulators, from the EPA and FTC to the FDA and FCC, have been closed-source arguments.
If your organization is loosely knit, and if your issues are driven by personal feeling, then your politics is open source. Open source politics defines social issues, and the numbers involved in turn drive American politics as a whole. Politicians can win with only committed minorities on their side, if those minorities stand united.
What happens when closed source and open source politics collide? It depends on how much real interest those on the open source end can manage.
This collision is now apparent in telecommunications.
The success of Google has been based on the fact that technology drives its train. Technical success is the most-sought value.
This is becoming a problem.
In many of the new businesses Google has launched, technical values (while important) are not going to be the sole drivers of success. In blogging, in RSS, in Google News, in Google Desktop, in Google Local, and in other areas, other skills are required.
Business skills. Marketing schools. Journalism skills. Political skills. Artistic skills.
Leonardo DaVinci (celebrated above) could not get a job at Google today. In a well-rounded company, his genius would find a place.
The need for these various skills will only increase with time. Google must find a way to recruit these skills, and to reward these skills, without giving the people with these skills control of the company.
This will not be easy.
There was a gratifying reaction to my calling out Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg the other day.
But here's a question no one asks, and getting in tune with Seidenberg's arrogance actually keeps us from asking this.
What's he buying in MCI? For $6.7 billion it's not much.
Then again, maybe it's everything.
The hole is the whole U.S.
Intel plans on mass producing WiMax chips and going into rapid deployment, offering end-user speeds far in excess of what U.S. phone outfits provide with DSL.
The problem is that's the speed limit for most backhauls. Go to most WiFi hotspots, or most home networks, and DSL is the backhaul platform. We're talking 1.5 Mbps, max.
In a remarkable interview with Todd Wallack published this weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg (left) reveals the arrogance and contempt for competition inherent in the Bell System.
Municipal WiFi? "One of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard," he said. "It sounds like a good thing, but the trouble is someone will have to design it, someone will have to upgrade it, someone will have to maintain it and someone will have to run it."
Exactly. Someone else.
But is this just another Marty Rimm study?
Rimm, you may or may not remember, wrote a paper at Georgetown Law in 1995 claiming 85% of Web traffic was dirty pictures. This was later disproved, but the damage was done and Congress passed the ill-fated Communications Decency Act.
Mike Godwin, the former EFF counsel who fought the Rimm study and is now senior counsel at Public Knowledge, remains skeptical, noting that the Cachelogic study hasn't gone through peer review. He also notes that, since Cachelogic sells systems to control P2P traffic, it has a natural bias.
The Cachelogic claims may have logic behind them, however. Many ISPs do report that over half their traffic is on ports commonly used by P2P applications. Brett Glass of Lariat.Net, near the University of Wyoming, says the claim seems accurate, noting that unless ISPs cut-back capacity to those ports (a process called P2P Mitigation), the applications quickly discover the fat pipe and divert everyone's traffic to it, filling it at the cost of thousands per month.
And that is at the heart of the problem.
Evidence is increasing of a backlash against mobile phones and the behavior of those who over-use them. (The image comes from a page on celliquette from Indianchild.com.)
What is the meaning of all this?
Lenin named his small movement the Bolsheviks, a word meaning majority. He called his majority opponents Mensheviks, a word meaning minority.
The point is that if one side is large and undisciplined while the other side is smaller but tightly disciplined, the smaller group can win a political struggle.
That seems to be the case with municipal wifi. It's an undeniable good everyone wants. It's relatively cheap to install and maintain. It should be a no-brainer.
But it's losing to telephone monopolies because of lax discipline.
Glenn Fleischman and I disagree so seldom, we both get confused when it happens.
Long story short I thought it would help if I described what might be a better plan for citywide WiFi. Apologies to those of you who have read this before.
The short answer is WiMax. The long version follows the break.
I am a big supporter of free WiFi. But Philadelphia's project will go down in history as a failure.
Those are the obvious problems. But wait, there's more:
If your company runs all its Internet traffic through an internal server, and that server runs Microsoft Windows, then you're vulnerable to a new type of hack known as DNS Cache Poisoning. (The illustration here comes from a Brazilian blog, marketinghacker.br.)
The alert went out about a month ago. The idea has been around for a decade, but it's now being adopted by sophisticated criminal gangs.
Here's how it works.
Criminals break into a Windows server caching DNS requests for an Intranet, then insert instructions redirecting users to poisoned pages. The 12-digit IP address chosen by the criminal is thus linked to a chosen Internet address, and requests for Google.Com (for instance) could go to a site that downloads spyware or key-logging software in the background.
What can be done about it?
Over the years I've been critical of Vint Cerf, one of the original gearheads credited with TCP/IP.
(One look at the hairline, of course, and one must admit he's a Truly Handsome Man. The picture is from Computerhistory.org, a page describing his early work.)
When Cert looks into the future today, he gets it. He understands where we should be going, and perhaps more importantly where we should not be going, in regards to the Internet.
He shared some of that wisdom Wednesday at a dinner called Freedom to Connect.
Following are some of the high points:
Now that youve read my latest dismissive screed against the government, the question may have occurred to you.
What might a proper telecommunications policy consist of? (Very pretty flower, I know. Here's where I got it. The picture is called Simplicity.)
Its really quite simple.
Click below and I'll tell you.
That game is predicated on the assumption that there can only be a few big "winners" and everyone else is a loser.
Wall Street also believes that tleecommunications is fearfully expensive to provide, that it is a "capital-intensive" business.
In this analysis, Moore's Law is ignored. Forget how fiber becomes more efficient with each passing year. Forget how we use bandwidth more efficiently, or how the cost of processing goes down.
To Wall Street, telecommunications is capital intensive and there can only be a few winners. Period. The end.
Writing in his personal blog, Carmack said he was intrigued when his wife got him a new phone with a color screen.
His post about the project is an excellent primer not only on the inside of game design, but the creative process at work.
Thanks to Joystiq for pointing it out.
The real Hardball isn't the game show on MSNBC, where politicians lie and yap at one another.
It's something far more serious, played every day, by huge corporations that masquerade as guardians of the public interest, but are in fact as corrupt as the rest of us. (That's LA Times founder Harrison Gray Otis on the right. More about Harry Otis here, near the bottom of the page. I direct David Shaw's attention to the quote from Theodore Roosevelt.)
The prerogatives of these corporations and their hirelings, who call themselves journalists (then deny this status to you and me) is under threat on this medium as never before. They're scared, and they're playing Hardball.
Their right, earned by corporate might, to define what is and what isn't news, what is and what isn't fair comment, is under threat, right here, right now.
And they don't like it one bit.
The game is being played mainly on three search engines. On MSN note how these corporations are given, not dominance, but exclusivity. The same is true on Yahoo. Note the list of "resources" at the top-right of the Yahoo page. Note too the prominence given one outfit's stories, the newspaper co-op called AP.
In both cases what you see on your screen is the result of business negotiation. News value is determined by people, meeting in rooms, and (perhaps) money changes hands (we're not told).
Is this fair? It may well be. It's certainly business as usual. And -- here is the key point -- the process is completely opaque.
On the other hand, we have Google News. What you see here looks similar but it is, in fact, quite different. While the stories of the giants do get prominent play, so do other organizations, and other types of news coverage.
At 11:15 AM for instance I checked Google's "coverage" of Laura Bush's trip to Afghanistan, sorted by relevance. Position four was held by a right-wing group, the Conservative Voice. Position seven was held by a left-wing site, Counter Currents, posting a blog item from Counterpunch.
The results on all stories change moment-to-moment, and only a small part of what we call the blogosphere is represented, but the fact is that Google News is offering a far wider set of sources than its rivals. These include "official" outlets like Voice of America and Pravda. They include newspaper sites requiring registration. They also include many sites from outside the U.S.
In some cases, they even include blogs. Yes, even this one.
But that's not the full extent of Google's challenge to the news industry.
Perhaps I should be skeptical, given that this is a company-funded study with a result favorable to the company that funded it.
But the evidence is just too compelling. The cure for the Digital Divide is the mobile phone, and the results are so obvious no big subsidies or taxes are needed to make the change happen.
Here are some facts that really jumped out at me:
It is finally going to be possible to transfer MMS messages between U.S. carriers.
Yes, X.400 is finally here.
X.400, I should note, was an interoperability system for moving messages betwen X.25 networks, and for billing the costs through the carriers. It took years to negotiate, it was difficult to implement, and it was made obsolete by the Internet's basic agreement to move the bits first and settle later.
Today's mobile or cellular operators (take your pick on the name) are much like the old X.25 operators, such as GEIS and CompuServe. The networks they operate are walled gardens, very proprietary, so it takes both technology and diplomacy to get stuff over the walls.
This is not cool, once customers start taking pictures with their camera phones and (under operator urging) want to share them.
You may have caught the nasty 509 error which hit this site yesterday.
Here it was no big deal. It was a technical problem. It was fixed.
But it did occur to me that, finally, the market for core bandwidth is starting to turn around and Web hosts are finding themselves in the position of restauranteurs. (Thus, we're repeating our picture of Italian restauranteur Mario Batali.)
You may now think about Parmesan Reggiano, some nice Balsamico, the cool breezes of Tuscany, an artisanal bread and a fine bottle of red. I'll explain.
Thats what Republicans called it, when they were campaigning for power a few years ago.
The Gore Tax was their name for the E-Rate program. Its aim was to help poor schools cross the digital divide by subsidizing their access costs.
It has been a bipartisan disaster. In practice its nothing more than a subsidy for the Bells, who had the law written in such a way so that they got the money automatically unless they refused it for some reason.
This means, in practice, that the subsidized rate schools pay may in fact be higher than the alternative market rate. Bells are charging hundreds of dollars per month for T-1 customers who could easily be supplied by WISP DSL service at a fraction of the cost.
It gets worse. The E-Rate was also used for hardware, so schools stuck themselves with obsolete PC technology to boot. Youve got obsolete PCs held by captive customers who cant upgrade.
Now Declan McCullagh reports that Rep. Joe Barton wants to put the E-Rate out of its misery and Ive got to applaud it.
Technology moves in waves. What's passe in one place may be very cool in another. This is how you can cross the digital divide.
Here's an example. At the same time NTT DoCoMo is closing down its Personal Handyphone System, moving customers to more advanced forms of mobile telephony, it's growing like topsy in China, and Atheros is rolling out a new PHS chip.
How does this work?
The war against 802.11 hotspots, which I predicted last week, has already begun.
I don't expect free access to survive it.
The fact is that a hotspot without registration allows hackers to insert viruses undetected, allows criminals to hack into databases undetected, and allows spammers to spam undetected.
The New York Times had a feature this weekend , picked up by the Financial Express, alleging half the crooks caught in a recent sweep dubbed Operation Firewall were using public hotspots.
A recent piece from the Medill News Service (my j-school alma mater), picked up by PC Advisor, suggested that people should never conduct personal business through a hotspot, for fear it is actually an "evil twin" set up by a hacker to grab passwords from the unwary. An IBM spokesman also detailed this scam for Newsfactor.
Here are the facts:
As we reported over the weekend Agence France-Presse is suing Google for $17.5 million. We reported that Agence France-Presse doesn't know how to write a robots.txt file.
While AFP stories are not directly linked to Google News as of March 21, affiliates' publishing of those stories are.
This summer will be the peak of the Voice Over IP (VOIP) boom. (The illustration, by the way, is from Poland. No, he doesn't look Polish.)
It's an easy prediction because Philips announced at CTIA a reference design for "converged handsets," with 802.11 and GSM or GPRS cellular in the same package.
We've seen the success of Vonage and Skype. We've seen the growth of 802.11 "hot spots" in hotels, airports, and on campuses. We've now seen the cellular industry adopt to VOIP. It's happy days.
So why am I predicting it's all going to end?
Video clips, sold like ringtones. The mobile Web is TV, just as last year's mobile Web was radio. (The picture is from the story linked-to in this paragraph, at PocketPCMag.com.)
I think this is wrong-headed thinking.
That's not to say video won't have a place. It will, especially where desktop Internet penetration is low. Within a few years, I suspect, we'll see a "mobile BitTorrent", because the kind of video that will be in highest demand will be that which is most likely to be suppressed, and not shown on TV.
But video still isn't the Killer App for the next wave. Video is going to remain a niche.
What is the Next Big Thing? Glad you asked.
Look, there he is on the cover of People. ROKR-Roker, get it? Since much of Roker the host has in fact disappeared recently, thanks to surgery that made his stomach the size of a chicken egg, the irony is even richer. There are laughs a-plenty. Tears are literally rolling down some journalists' faces. (Not.)
Anyway, the real story here is much more important and much, much nastier.
There is a move afoot among the world's mobile (or cellular) carriers to keep absolute control over all the money to be made with cellular (or mobile) broadband. It's not just the users they seek to control, and not just the phones.
If you download a bit, even megabits, the mobile (cellular) carriers figure they should look at what you're accessing, decide whether you should get it at all, and take a cut of the revenue as well. (A pre-operation Roker-sized cut.)
This is not Internet service they're offering. These are private networks.
African leaders are pushing a "Tech Tax" that would go into a UN-sponsored fund and build the technology infrastructure of developing countries.
NOTE: Please visit the page where I got this illustration, by Los Cybrids. The words here express my overall view of the matter better than this blog item can.
On the surface, a "tech tax" sounds like a very good thing. It has a laudable goal. I'm very much in favor of telecommunications development everywhere. It brings markets together. It raises people up, brings them education, gets them into the mainstream. It's great.
But in practice, this proposal sucks. It sucks big time. Here's why.
Where's the money going?
When John W. Berresford speaks, the Bush Administration listens.
Berresford is the FCC's senior antitrust lawyer and a professor at the right's favorite school, George Mason. He has power and the connections to turn his statements into policy.
So when he came out with a paper today about spectrum policy, it was bound to be read avidly.
In his paper Berresford favorably compares the law of land property to that of spectrum. He notes how property rights and spectrum rights are limited under the law, often in the same ways, and states that "efficiency" should be the watchword in spectrum policy.
We should know what we're in for when, in his first paragraph, he mischaracterizes the debate:
Debate rages about whether the allocation and management of the radio frequency spectrum should be mostly a political process, treating it as The Peoples Airwaves, or mostly market-driven, treating it as private property.
That's not the debate. The debate boils down to science and markets. What treatment of spectrum best serves the market, that of a government-owned monopoly or a carefully-managed resource?
We haven't just "discovered" how to use vast new areas of spectrum in the last 20 years. We've learned a lot about how such spectrum can be re-used, again-and-again.
Thus the argument of property vs. commons isn't a left-right argument (as Berresford supposes in his introduction). It's an argument over science and efficiency.
And the plain fact is that the spectrum which is most efficiently used in this country, which makes the most money per hertz, by far, is the unlicensed spectrum.
Berresford ignores both the science and market forces behind this fact.
I don't always agree with Nicolas Negroponte (right), but he made a point in Korea recently that really makes sense.
This is true for hardware, for software, and for services. Future hardware designs must make it easy to connect, hands-free. Software must have intuitive user interfaces, as simple as speech. Services need to be spur-of-the-moment.
A lot of the mobile services I see today violate these principles big-time. They're based on Web interfaces, and thus have a limited time horizon. The key is to get inside the phone, so you're bought as soon as the customer thinks of buying.
Should WiFi cover every inch of ground or should it be concentrated where people congregate.
Today we have two designs in the news, one meeting each need.
"There are many, many service providers that have very profitably deployed such a hybrid infrastructure - use Wi-Fi where it makes sense - where it can be highly localized and you can take advantage of higher power, more sensitive receiver, and directional antennas on an outdoor Access Point."
But there's another way, too.
Taiwan has the greatest OEMs in the world. They can take your design and turn it around faster than anyone.
But Taiwan is not known for its equipment designs. Taiwan doesn't dominate the brand market.
That may be about to change with the Universal.
High Tech Computer of Taiwan has sold versions of it to most major European cellular outfits. The Windows Mobile device features a QWERTY keyboard which can fold into the device, making it a touchscreen PDA. It also has two cameras (one still, one video), Bluetooth and WiFi standard.
Rivals and investment bankers say it's stupid. BellSouth must either eat or be eaten, they claim, and once SBC has finished eating AT&T it wll chow down on BellSouth.
Maybe yes, maybe no. It must be admitted that rivals who've merged, and bankers who are selling deals, both have reasons to diss the company refusing to dance.
But there's another way for things to go. Because while there will soon be fewer players in the telecomm space, there will also be fewer real assets.
Former Corante blogger (and FOD) Steve Stroh has the goods this month on Aloha Networks, which is aiming to provide wireless broadband service in the 700 MHz spectrum area. (That's the high 50s on your UHF dial.)
Apparently, they've gotten FCC approval to test their services in Tucson. The real test is whether this lives-and-plays with existing users, and Tucson currently has TV at Channel 58.
What exactly does this mean? (FOD means Friend Of Dana, of course.)
Let Steve explain:
The 3GSM Conference in Cannes featured a lot of flash, a lot of optimism, even some good writing.
But Cannes is a place of fantasy, a willing suspension of disbelief. It even has Las Vegas beat in this regard. Hey, the French thought the Maginot Line would hold. Some of them no doubt think smoking is good for you. When a diet of red wine and goose fat leaves you without heart disease you'll believe anything.
What drives the optimism is what is happening in the developing world. Beyond the desktops of the Internet, mobile phones represent everything positive about the future. They're telephony and computing in one hand-held package. They have driven technological change in Africa as nothing before has, and they're just getting warmed up.
Still, if mobility wants to succeed in the developed world -- and the 3G explosion is all about Western markets -- it does have to compete. And most carriers are not yet willing to.
Obstinacy, over-expansion, and hubris killed the National Hockey League, killed it deader than Maurice Richard. They can kill 3G too.
The Cato Institute claims to be an advocate of free enterprise, by which we are meant to think free and open competition. (That's the logo from one of their standard online products.)
They are, in fact, huge supporters of untrammeled business power, of oligopoly. Hey, where do you think their funding comes from, rabbits?
Here's a great example. It's a blog they call Tech Liberation. It takes a few clicks to learn this is a Cato shop, but they're not really hiding it.
The piece is by Adam Thierer (left), who works full-time at Cato as "director of telecommunication studies.". Its theme is the latest round of telecom mergers. Its message is don't worry, be happy.
"We can safely conclude that the communications / broadband networking business can be very competitive with 2 or 3 or even 4 major backbone providers in each region providing some mix of voice, video and data services."
Evidence for this? A Wall Street Journal piece noting that SBC wants to get into cable television. Other than that, a lot of chirping crickets. And some very nasty lies.
Want a taste?
A new InStat report on WiMax is drawing attention for the wrong reasons.
It's drawing attention based on the idea that it calls 802.16 competitive. Other analysts have said it will die stillborn unless questions about the standard, and real products implementing it, get here soon.
But it's the reason for InStat's conclusion that is the real news here. WiMax will succeed, the firm believes, because WiMax can leapfrog western broadband, delivering fast data to the developing world.
Microsoft may have as little as a year to take command of the mobile phone platform, or the opportunity will be lost. (Image from Petrified Truth.)
At the 3GSM conference in Cannes, France, they gave it their best shot.
The mobile broadband business is at what Gandalf called "the pause before the plunge." Enough equipment has been deployed so broadband can be advertised. The time has come to define the experience and see if any money can be made from it.
What's the Clue from SBC's purchase of AT&T and Verizon's coming purchase of MCI? (That's a 1949 Southern Bell logo, from the Knox County, Tennessee historical collection. Beautiful, isn't it?)
The Bells know they are irrelevant to the future. They hope to become too big to fail.
Regulators in most of the world understand that phone monopolies need to be broken up, not just for the sake of competition but for the sake of technology. The EU is spurring the development of VOIP and regularly slapping the hands of "incumbent carriers." The developing world, meanwhile, is able to create multiple wireless competitors, by fiat, and watch competition drive innovation to a degree we can only dream of.
Why are the U.S. Bells the only phone companies in the world that could truly become "too big to fail?"
They lost the Super Bowl, but Philly remains as feisty as ever (and God love 'em for that).
In a well-written article on News.Com today, Philly CIO Dianah Neff defends her city against a Verizon attack that caused state legislators to try and stop her city from installing a Wi-Fi network.
"For all the money they've spent lobbying against municipal participation, they could have built the network themselves," she writes. "The truth, of course, is that the incumbent local exchange carriers want unregulated monopolies over all telecommunications."
Neff then quotes Dr. Mark N. Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America, which to a Bell is a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
More after the break.
I'm fascinated with how Western technology filters into the developing world and changes lives.
For instance. Back in the mid-1990s we had the idea of the "Internet Cafe." It would be flash, it would have broadband, it would have great food. We were crazy.
In the developing world, however, the Internet Cafe idea lives on (and on and on and on). There, though, it's a little shop with some PCs and basic connectivity. It's a lifeline to families, to markets. After the tsunami one was set-up quickly in the disaster area. It was a lifesaver.
Now we have cellular, or mobile service. (Whichever you prefer.) In the West, it means everyone has a phone, and they're on it all the time. Young girls drive like little old ladies. Guys look crazy seemingly talking to themselves, but then you see the little bud in their ear -- oh.
Then it filters down. Read how it filters down in Cameroon, from the Cameroon Tribune in Yaounde. (Then get the scene at the top of this item as desktop wallpaper, free, from Dane Jacob Crawfurd.)
Mobile carriers are trying to make an impossible transition.
They want to move from a data world where every bit is precious, and where every file is controlled, into a broadband world where phones have PC functions. And they want to do it without changing their business models.
It can't happen. The industry's dirty little secret prevents it.
That secret is that most cellular minutes today are wasted. Perhaps as many as 80% of the minutes customers are allocated in their contracts each month aren't used. And this has been the source of immense profits. (The illustration, in time for Valentine's Day weekend, is a Korean product for women that also enables the creation of twin secrets.)
Modern cellular marketing is all built around contracts, with a fixed monthly charge for a fixed number of minutes over a fixed term. To get contracts incentives are offered, including free phones.
But look at what happens. Marketing convinces people to pay high prices for plans with high limits. Cingular's "rollover" plan costs a mininum of $40/month, which comes out to about $45 with taxes and other fees. Advertising convinces people they need high limits to deal with "ugly over-age charges." But it's difficult to measure your usage in the middle of the month, and the vast majority of customers don't come close to their limits.
When the contract term expires, usually in a year, customers can theoretically leave that carrier for another one, taking their phone number with them, and even get a new set of incentives, like a new, more advanced phone. But most are as ignorant of their contract expirations as they are of the status of their minute bucket. (Quick: what's your contract expiration date?)
Carrier profitability thus depends on ignorance, customers with old phones who don't take out new contracts and don't use their gear. And in that environment, who needs broadband? Where is the market for PC functionality?
Exactly. It doesn't exist.
Middleware was a very big buzzword a few years ago. (Image from the Southern Regional Development Center.)
By middleware, vendors meant software that let people below take advantage of resources above. Queries that delivered reports to managers on how stores were doing, or that placed real corporate data into neat little graphs.
But every organization of any size is based on human middleware. School principals are human middleware. Store managers are human middleware. Party committeemen are human middleware.
These people sit between the decision-makers at the top and those who carry out orders on the bottom. When we like them we call them "sir" or "ma'am." When we want to disparage them we call them bureaucrats.
America has the greatest bureaucracies in the world. We have done more for our human middleware than people in other societies. (Try getting your driver's license renewed in Mumbai if you don't believe me.)
But we can do much, much better.
Software can be part of that solution, but it's only a part.
Some big news went unnoticed last week .
This is fascinating because Sprint, alone among U.S. telcos, has a unique business model, at least in cellular.
Lots of companies, from Virgin to Earthlink to Disney, have gotten into the cellular game by re-selling Sprint's capacity. They all have their reasons. They all have their own branding, their own marketing, and their own niches.
The point is Sprint is profiting from wholesaling capacity to these companies. Profiting big time.
Why hasn't this been pointed out?
We have read for the last year about the death of the PDA, and it's true the stand-alone version (one without a phone) is fast disappearing.
As Tom's Hardware notes, PDA sales have fallen to a five-year low. I have one, but it was free.
As David Linsalata, the IDC analyst who delivered the report noted, ""Consumers don't see the need to invest $600 in a handheld device if a smart phone can do the same basic tasks."
But isn't this "death of the PDA" business simply a matter of semantics? Isn't this merely the creation of analysts who put technology in boxes, when everyone knows the first thing people do when they get technology is take it out of the box?
Maybe. Here's the headline on a recent story published in Ireland on the subject. "Smartphone and PDA sales go skyward."
Erin go wha?
Perhaps no technology today splits analysts to the degree that WiMax does.
Which is it?
Maybe both. Maybe neither.
This is because WiMax is still vapor. The delivery of a final standard has been delayed until summer, which means products won't come out until late this year.
There's also Intel's move to make WiMax mobile to consider. Making the 802.16 standard mobile will take more time, mobile operators are building 3G networks as fast as possible, and purchases of the coming standard may be delayed by people waiting for the better one.
Unlike the situation with 802.11 we have no guarantee that 802.16 implementations will be fully backward-compatible. The gear out there now isn't even guaranteed to be compatible with itself.
So what will WiMax become?
If the last several months proves anything, it is that there are many ways to grow in the cellular business. (Birthdaycraftsandsupplies.com offers a fine selection of Pinatas. Ask them to bring back the dollar sign one to the right. Don't you agree it looks cool?)
Assuming SBC does swallow AT&T (no doubt for less than BellSouth was offering earlier) would provide important lessons. (The image is from FreeBSD developer Greg Lehey, and was originally produced in 2002.)
First and foremost, it would be the murder of a great company by the government. It was government that broke up AT&T in the 1980s, and it was government that made AT&T non-competitive in our time.
Second, of course, it means that business tributes to the U.S. government are even more important than previously imagined. If the government can murder the nation's largest company (albeit over time and in chunks) it means no company is safe from a rapacious government, regardless of party. (Is is coincidence that AT&T was forced to divest during the Reagan Administration, and killed under Bush II? Check the campaign contribution files for the answer to that one.)
But wait, there are more lessons.
Word that mobile phone makers (and some networks) want to embed WiFi and VOIP into phones brings up a crucial point about the VOIP market, and about how technology works in general.
There are two major threads of VOIP software out there. Most, like Vonage, work along a standard. Then there's one who doesn't.
But that one is Skype.
Guess which of these two "standards" leads?
Skype. By a bunch. This puts another twist into the whole discussion of VOIP, and VOIP-cellular in general. Because there are multiple models to choose from:
The Elliott Wave people ask, "Is the Greater Fool Era Ending?"
Here is proof. Strategy Analytics has recently published another of those truly loony market studies, this one claiming that mobile phone operators will lose $12 billion from broadband wireless over the next several years.
It's nonsense because its premise is false, namely that those profits are out there to lose.
Yes, it's possible that if WiFi and WiMax didn't exist that all broadband revenues would go to cellular. It's also true that if freeways didn't exist all inter-city traffic would be by railroad. But that does not mean I impute a loss of billions to the railroads.
In the U.S., the only excuse for regulating TV content is based on spectrum scarcity. Spectrum is scarce, it's licensed, and because of that there is a public interest test, which the agency sometimes uses to crack down on content.
Absent the excuse of spectrum scarcity, the only grounds for regulating TV content are based on the First Amendment. (The Hayes Office, which kept movies chaste for decades, was private regulation, not public.) This is not an absolute. Any conservative will tell you "obscenity is not protected," citing chapter and verse, calling in Ashcroft's Dogs of War.
The point is this is not the case outside the U.S. In England, for instance, TV content is regulated because, well, it's powerful. Thus dangerous. And so Oftel, the U.K's new "super-regulator," is sniffing around regulating the Internet.
Fortunately some there have a Clue.
It seems that Barlow was recently jolted by a random Skype phone call from Vietnam. He got to know the caller well because she shared a wireless broadband connection with some neighbors. Thus he was able to talk with her, see her work, see her photos, to learn all about her, without leaving his desk in New York. Then he got a similar call from China, and later one from Australia.
Here's the bottom line:
One doesn't get random phone calls from Viet Nam or China, or at least one never could before.Skype changes all that. Now anybody can talk to anybody, anywhere. At zero cost. This changes everything. When we can talk, really talk, to one another, we can connect at the heart.
And there's more after the break.
The significance of WiFi-cellular roaming doesn't lie in cutting voice costs. (The picture, by the way, comes from Novinky, a Czech online magazine, a story about DSL.)
The significance of WiFi-cellular roaming lies in Always On applications.
Think about it. Cellular channels are relatively low in bandwidth, WiFi channels are high in bandwidth.
Now, you're wearing an application, like a heart monitor. When you're at home, or in your office, this thing can be generating, and immediately disgorging, tons and tons of data, detailed stuff that may be fun for your doctor to analyze later.
I have talked about this before, but now everyone else is talking, too. So we will, again. (The picture, by the way, is of a single-chip radio from two years ago, a "mote" from Cal Berkeley. The link is very worthwhile.)
What does it mean for TI to make, and Nokia to sell, a complete cellular phone on a single chip? For one thing, it means phones can be one-chip cheap.
Right, cheap as chips.
Does your cell phone help you pick up attractive women? (Or men?)
Well, it might if you subscribed to Dodgeball, a social service for mobiles whose founders, Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert, talked to our own Russell Shaw (right) recently.
The idea is that you and your friends subscribe to Dodgeball, then text your location to one another at night, so you can get together. (And if they have friends with them, and those friends are attractive, voila!)
Absolut Vodka sponsored a "nightlife channel" on the service last year, like a traditional media buy, so Dodgeball members could associate the brand as a "friend." (Beats having an AA sponsor, I guess.) Now they're looking to make more money from things like Premium SMS and applications.
Declan's point is that it's available. Critics point out that it's slow, expensive, and more people have it in other countries than here.
The question they're all asking is, how can the situation be improved.
The correct answer is one word.
A few years ago Jackson, Mississippi was the center of the telecom universe.
That's because it was the home of Canadian-born Bernard Ebbers . He married a Mississippi girl, Linda Pigott. On such chances does history turn.
Ebbers launched a long distance outfit called LDDS in the early 1980s and turned it into a classic "roll-up," buying other companies (usually for stock) and managing to the numbers.
Eventually he named his monstrosity Worldcom.
The result was the MCI scandal.
Roll-ups usually end this way.
For the last year I've been harping here on the subject of Always On.
The idea is that you have a wireless network based on a scalable, robust operating system that can power real, extensible applications for home automation, security, medical monitoring, home inventory, and more.
As I wrote I often came back to Motorola and its CEO, Ed Zander. They would be the perfect outfit to do this, I wrote.
Little did I know (until now) but they did. A year ago.
It's called the MS1000.
The product was introduced at last year's CES, and re-introduced at various vertical market shows during the year. It's based on Linux, responds to OSGi standards, and creates an 802.11g network on which applications can then be built.
At this year's CES show, Motorola is pushing a home security solution based on the device, with 10 new peripherals like cameras and motion sensors that can be easily set-up with the network in place, along with a service offering called ShellGenie.
Previously the company bought Premise, which has been involved in IP-based home control since 1999, and pushed a version of the same thing called the Media Station for moving entertainment around the home.
What should Motorola do now? Well, the platform is pretty dependent on having a home PC. The MS1000 could use space for slots so needed programs could be added as program modules. They need to look at medical and home inventory markets, not just entertainment and security.
But they've made an excellent start. And from here on out everyone else is playing catch-up.
Oh, and one more thing...
The most dangerous word in telecommunications today is bundling. (This is the kind of bundling we're talking about by the way, the kind represented by this shrinkwrap machine, from the good people at Pierce Packaging Equipment.)
All the carriers are doing it, more and more. The cable company wants to bundle Internet service for you. The phone company wants to bundle mobile service, Internet, and maybe a dish (so you won't need the cable company).
The deals go by names like "triple play," and it's getting worse, as Time Warner aims to become a Sprint re-seller simply so it can offer a "quadruple play" of phone, Internet, cable and mobile. BellSouth already offers something like this, and SBC wants to add TiVo-like services to its bundle.
What can be wrong with this, especially when they're offering a bargain price on the bundle? (Some are, while others are just stressing the "convenience" of having one bill.)
At CES mobile phones (cellular to you and me) are no longer certain what they want to be.
Are they cameras? Are they PDAs? Are they going to be expandable? Will they be for games, for instant messaging, for fashion, what?
Normally, after a show like CES, the market would make those decisions. Some products would sell well, others would sell poorly, and next year we'd see copycats of the former, then scratch our heads trying to remember the latter.
Not in this case.
When UTStarcom announced it had a "WiFi Phone" (right) no one noticed.
Now that Vonage says it's putting its name on the thing, the carrier world is up in arms.
As usual the press is being plain silly. This is not a threat to mobile carriers because WiFi, as yet, offers no real mobility. And that's just not likely to happen because most WiFi connections are not networked.
Leslie Cauley of USA Today has a cogent story today on something I've written about for ages, the Bells' continuing efforts to keep you from getting broadband. (The image is called Cracked Glass Bell. It's a 1998 digital print by artist Stephen Linhart.)
For a decade now the Bells have been using the promise of fiber to keep other competitors from serving an underserved market. As Cauley notes Americans pay more for less bandwidth than people in other industrial countries.
Cauley's story covers the entire struggle very quickly, making it a good primer for those who haven't heard my lecture. And Cauley helps readers understand the key to breaking the Bell bottleneck -- competition.
Let's look briefly at all the competitors the Bells have stopped (without delivering anything worthwhile) over the last several years:
The enormous popularity of the iPod, and its dominant share of the market (some say as high as 95%) has created a new family fun game for reporters this Winter, which I call "Get Steven."
The idea is to find someone, somewhere, who can threaten the iPod's market dominance, then spin a story around it.
Most reporters do the easy story, interviewing all known competitors and repeating their claims.
Others, like Hiawatha Bray (right, from Dan Bricklin), know what their editors really want -- a local guy who claims he can take down the giant.
And that's what Bray delivered, in today's Boston Globe. (This is why he gets a fat paycheck and I'm just a blogger.)
Bray found a little outfit in suburban Andover, Massachusetts called Chaoticom. Chaoticom is OEM'ing technology for putting music functionality into new mobile phones, the kind with hard drives in them.
Good story. And since in the Chaoticom universe the music delivery is under the control of the carrier, there's some momentum.
Here's why it won't work.
Now here's the perfect gift for the gadget freak on your list, assuming they have the right phone and Windows XP.
It's software for burning DVDs onto your mobile. Just $25, from Makayama Software, a Japanese outfit with European representatives.
Before you start thinking what's that for, imagine yourself in an Airport facing a nasty business flight. Imagine if you could turn on your phone and watch that DVD you got from someone else for Christmas.
I'm dating myself here, but back in the 1970s, at Wiess College on the Rice campus, there was a four-square court. Four players, you bounce a dodge ball into one square or another, and the person who can't get it into another square on the bounce is replaced, with everyone rotating around.
Sometimes the ball would fly into the crowd of waiting players and passers-by. We'd shout "IBD," which stands for Innocent Bystander Drilled.
If the Sprint-Nextel deal goes down, Motorola is IBD. (You might want to get Motorola CEO Ed Zander one of these nifty t-shirts.)
I've been looking up-and-down this proposed $35 billion acquisition of Nextel by Sprint.
It's the worst deal I've seen since Time Warner bought AOL. And it's going to hurt the whole industry.
Glenn Fleishman drew a lot of admiring attention over the weekend for his experiment in frugality, trying to see just how little he could pay for the telecom service he needs. (The picture is the thumbnail from Glenn's blog.)
Basically he moved calls to his mobile phone and DSL line, using Vonage and SkypeOut. He also spent $3/month for a Cingular service called FastForward that moves all calls to his DSL when he hits the limits on his calling plan.
Glenn figures he's saving $130/month. (Your mileage may vary.) I wish I could do as well.
Microsoft has launched an experiment in tightly-controlled liberty called MSN Spaces whose attitude is very oriental, nearly Chinese.
Spaces is a blogging tool (Microsoft loves to own the language, thus blogs become spaces as bookmarks became favorites) with a difference, namely central control and censorship.
However it's defended, and whatever it's called, control is the essence of the Microsoft experience. You will only use Microsoft tools, and Microsoft formats, under Microsoft rules, and write what Microsoft allows.
What could be more Chinese? (The link preceding is to the location of the art at the right.)
The bandwagon on behalf of "Mobile TV" is coming down your street, just in time for the holidays.
If you're a kid it's pretty exciting. But I've seen this parade before, many times. I can enjoy your pleasure, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to join "Santa" later at our favorite bar for a few pops and expect he'll make me pick up the tab.
The big truth is that it's now pretty trivial to put a TV tuner into a mobile phone. Yes, the days of Dick Tracy's wristwatch TV are really here. (Image from USA Today.)
Of course you remember what Tracy used the technology for? To see his boss while he was talking to him. I did the same thing at the 1964 World's Fair, where AT&T had a videophone demonstration. It was no big deal then, and it's no big deal now.
Entrepreneurs like Blake Krikorian of Sling Media, who is profiled in the Business Week story above, think you'll use the capability to watch their streams. Most people watch brief snippets of TV anyway, not whole shows, he says. No time. So offer them such streams for the moments where they're standing in line at the Airport, or waiting for a meeting to start, and they will pay through the nose for them.
Maybe. But maybe not.
The physics folks at UT-Dallas have won nearly $1 million to study the idea of making every radio part of a giant "mesh network." (That's the UT-Dallas seal over there, with its motto of discipline, civilization, and absolute rule by a self-appointed elite.)
The idea is that mobile phones and laptops could act as relay points for other users' transmissions, creating what the physicists call "cooperative wireless networks" but which might best be termed a "giant mesh."
There have been several claims on the title of "first mobile virus" during the year. Our first contestant turned out to be a copy protection feature. The second, it turned out, was harmless.
Now we have a "winner," a Russian trojan aimed at phones called Delf-HA. This claim, too, may be open to dispute. The payload itself goes to PCs, which then call Russian mobile numbers and send those phones SMS spam.
But it is becoming clear that firms like Symantec, which are readying versions of their anti-viral tools for mobiles, are no longer just playing on false fears. Whether their stuff works or not will, of course, remain open to testing.
Intel is trying to buy a wireless Clue.
That's the story it's telling by investing in Craig McCaw's Clearwire.
The deal, announced at the CTIA's San Francisco conference, is that Clearwire will use Intel WiMax gear and, in exchange, Intel will invest in Clearwire. Essentially Clearwire gets the gear for stock.
Of course there's more to it than that.
Here's a tipping point for you.
U.S. spending on wireless services, per-household, now exceeds that on wired telephone services.
TNS Telecoms says that in the second quarter of 2004 30% of the telecomm dollar went to wireless, 29% to wired telephony. The average monthly budget for telecomm services stands at $158.88.
Where did the rest of the money go? Video and Internet services -- you know, the cable guy and your ISP.
At a recent Mobile conference in the United Kingdom David Wood (pictured), executive vice president for research at Symbian (a small kernel OS maker for mobiles) brought two slides that really show you what Moore's Law means.
NOTE: The above paragraph originally said the conference was in England, but Chris Potts corrected me. Also, the folks at Semacode deserve credit for extracting the slides and pointing them out to us.
First was a chart tracking the cost of making a smartphone over time, going back two years and forward six. (These are PDF files.) Despite the fact they're getting a lot better, they're also getting cheaper -- the bill of materials cost could be cut in half in four years.
How is this possible?
That's right, kiddies. Ireland has gotten into its second major cyber-scrape, one big enough to use the word "war" in describing. (You will also notice that the ancestral home of my mom's people, the O'Donnells, is not shown on this Irish map from the Goingonvacation site.)
Ireland's first cyber-war came in the late 1990s, when an Irish entrepreneur, Connect-Ireland, won the contract to manage East Timor's registration service. East Timor at that time was trying to break away from Indonesia. So Indonesian hackers engaged in a cyber-war to try and take the Irish site down.
Its latest effort is more offensive-minded.
The law against phone solicitations is based on Caller ID, an old phone company technology that passes your phone number along with your call.
Well forget that.
An outfit called Star38.com is selling a "service" that will let any phone bank spoof Caller ID numbers for $20/month and 7 cents a minute.
The price would seem to protect against phone mills abusing this service. But expecting that price to hold indefinitely is naive in the extreme.
The Times' article on all this continued:
Despite a regulatory regime that is impossible to obey (isolating data traffic that's to be turned into voice on a network with trillions of transactions going through it each second) hardware makers are going ahead with the production of Voice Over IP (VOIP) hardware.
Linksys and Netgear are the latest to say that voice support will become part of their residential gateways Real Soon Now. (For more on VOIP, buy O'Reilly's VOIP book, right.)
In this case, however, the Feds will be glad to know there's actually less here than meets the eye.
Most tax hikes come with a return address. (Image from CNN.)
That is, there's a public process involved, and thus public pressure can be brought to bear. You can question where the money is going and at least shout "hey" when it's being extracted from your pocket.
That's not true with phone taxes. The causes to which they're put are private and so is the process through which they're assessed.
So if any politician tells you this year that they are against raising all taxes put their feet to the fire and refer them to this. It's a plan, privately negotiated, that is now before the FCC, a plan which will raise the cost of every phone line to $10/month, and start imposing similar taxes on your cable of telephone broadband service as well.
All for the convenience of SBC.
The power of Windows lies in your ability to create and market profitable applications using it.
Yes, there's a limit. Once Microsoft decides it wants your market, your cost of defending the market will likely exceed any incremental sales from that effort.
But Linux lacks Windows' ability to make software profitable. And that is why Windows, not Linux, will lead the next evolution in cellular equipment.
The media, the digirati, even some government figures are laughing today at the East Buchanan Telephone Co-op of Winthrop, Iowa.
They laugh because the co-op has threatened to cut-off cellular calls from Qwest on Monday, claiming it's not being paid for their termination.
The town bought a device that can distinguish between cellular calls and landline calls coming in over Qwest's long distance service. Qwest has won an injunction halting the shut-off for two weeks.
Most reaction has been that the town is crazy, that it doesn't stand a chance.
But they don't know the rest of the story.
The New York Times has reviewed the new Danger cell phone, under the name of T-Mobile, the cellular operator that will offer it this fall. (The illustration comes from the Times' story.)
The new device carries the name Sidekick II, and the Times likes it.
I don't. Here's why.
A very important political story snuck by us last week. I blame John Kerry for it.
The story is the new push by Intel for 802.16 WiMax spectrum.
While there are lots of high frequency bands in which WiMax could live, the inescapable fact is that the lower your frequency the farther your waves can travel. That's why AM stations can be heard across the country (when conditions are right) while FM stations have trouble being heard across town.
Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney (above, from the Intel site) is lobbying China, the UK and the U.S. to open up space in the 700 MHz band, frequencies UHF TV stations will be abandoning as they move to digital broadcasting, for unlicensed use as WiMax transmission bands.
Over at The Feature Mike Masnick has a little piece asking whether mobile phones are a black hole for the chip industry. (This drawing passes for Mike's picture over at The Feature.)
On the surface the charge is silly. Chip makers make chips, phones use chips. Phones are quickly replaced, which means the industry sells more chips. If by "black hole" you mean something that sucks up all the industry's capacity, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
But there is danger here, and it's based on the nature of the phones now being produced.
You ever leave a pot of coffee on the counter too long? I have. After several days it starts tasting really funky, and these nasty white organisms start partying on the top of it. (BREW logo from Vayusphere.)
Well, that's what seems to be happening to Qualcomm's BREW development environment, in which Verizon is demanding all applications on its cellular network be written. There's no circulation in a proprietary environment . If the creator doesn't apply regular heat (and risk that nasty, metallic taste) things are going to get funky fast.
Andy Oram has a long story at O'Reilly today detailing the problems with universal service and public policy.
It's a great historical overview.
But it's missing one key ingredient. And it's a surprising ingredient for Andy to miss.
That ingredient is Moore's Law.
NOTE: The following is from the current issue of my free e-mail newsletter, a-clue.com.
I've gone back and forth on Michael Powell (right, from CLEC.Com)
Sometimes he talked a good game. Other times he caved in to pressure, either from industry or pro-censorship forces. But his signature moment, in retrospect, may have been his failure to bring the commission along on his plans for broadband. Regardless of the merits, or how it was treated by the courts, Powell didn't lead. He didn't politick, and he didn't build a winning or governing coalition at the FCC. That's Job One for a chairman.
There is now speculation over whether Powell would return for a second Bush Administration. I doubt it, and I'm no longer sorry about it. Michael Powell is not a big fat idiot. He's worse. He's an arrogant, self-absorbed theoretician in a job that demands a calm, consensus-building politician.
The winners in the race to bankruptcy court are the ones scarfing up all the assets.
Here's a good example. First Avenue Networks, known as Advanced Radio Telecom Corp. before its April 2001 bankruptcy filing, is buying Teligent, which filed a month later, for stock it says is now worth $105 million.
I deliberately waited before writing about the atrocious, god-awful "Councilman" decision, in which a U.S. Appeals Court panel ruled, 2-1, that your e-mail isn't private when it's in transit, on someone else's server.
To arrive at this decision, executive director Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote, the court basically had to twist the 1986 Wiretap Act into a pretzel. It's one more example of how important judges are in the American judicial system. (That's Rotenberg, left, as he appeared on the PBS NewsHour in 2000.)
Tim O'Reilly could have been a lot of things on the Internet. (The image is from the HollandSentinel.Com.)
He could have dominated it. A decade ago his Global Network Navigator was THE place to start every Internet session. Launched in 1993 it was the Web's first real home.
Of course, the Web outgrew it very quickly, and Tim had to decide where he wanted to fit into what would quickly become a whole new World. So he sold GNN to AOL, in 1995, and remained true to himself, as publisher of esoteric technology books with woodcuts of animals on their covers.
Since then, of course, O'Reilly & Associates has become an important brand for technical types who need a deep, honest understanding of a language, a protocol, or an Internet technology.
And O'Reilly himself has continued to speak out on things that interest him.
There has long been an assumption that, with cable and the Bells being given a monopoly on broadband access, they will use that monopoly to coerce people.
Thus, we have Daniel Klein saying "Vonage Is Just A Fad."
His argument is simple. The Bells and cable giants are going to go into Voice Over IP, too. Then they simply "de-prioritize" Vonage traffic, more specifically offer "quality of service" guarantees on their own offerings. They will also make voice part of a "bundled" service, including TV, Internet access and local calls. Et tu voila, Vonage is dead.
Anything wrong with that?
But Internet activists fear both campaigns are just bringing up the drawbridges on resources.
First, the spam fight. (The image here is also the solution to your e-mail problems, Whitehat Interactive.)
So news that the Administration is going to, in essence, repeal the 1996 Telecommunications Act, give the Bells back their monopoly, and tell all their competitors to go suck eggs just seems par for the course.
The long distance companies victimized by this decision have promised to make this a partisan issue in the coming campaign. It will be interesting to see if they follow through or whether (given the level of third-party spending I expect to see in the fall) whether anyone notices.
Declan McCullough is the Oliver Hardy of technology. He complains about the messes everyone else makes, but his proposed solutions are usually guaranteed to just make things worse.
Take his latest brainstorm: abolish the FCC.
Now he has a point. The FCC has become the national censor, while at the same time abandoning the requirement that broadcasters serve the real public interest. I happen to find Michael Savage far more obscene than, say, Howard Stern, but political obscenity is considered fine by the regulators, while sexual suggestion is absolutely verboten.
Instead of dumping the FCC, let's change its nature.
But in the end it will do them no good.
SBC is taking this strike to reduce its labor costs. It thinks that will save it.
But the problem at SBC isn't labor costs. It's that the value of its installed plant, its capital, is depreciating in line with Moore's Law, while much of it was bought on 30-year assumptions.
The impact of Moore's Law accelerates with time. It doesn't decelerate.
Labor costs can only decline arithmetically, in other words, while the impact of what's happening is growing geometrically -- downward.
Facing a revolt by Republican commissioners who refused to do their job, FCC chairman Michael Powell pushed through rules allowing the states to do the job of regulating competitive access to carrier networks instead. (The dodgeball image courtesy A Perfect World.)
An Appeals Court has now thrown those rules out. The states don't have the power, the court ruled. Only the FCC has it.
While I disagree with the decision on policy grounds, the legal reasoning was correct. Network access rules are a national issue. They should be decided on a national basis.
Sometimes Andrew Orlowski is remarkably clued-in. And he writes well. (The picture is from Guy Kewney's Newswirelessnet.)
Then there are times when he sticks his foot somewhere the Sun don't shine.
Today was one of those times. He wrote a nastygram against the Intel Developer Forum, claiming the chip company is "against free TV."
Nothing could be further from the truth. But if Intel were against "free TV," it might not be a bad thing.