Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do Yoigo customers in Spain really care about net neutrality?

TeliaSonera was very upfront at the recent Mobile World Congress about its intentions to throttle over-the-top (OTT) VoIP services like Skype and Viber unless customers paid for an additional package.

In Spain, through its wholly owned subsidiary , Yoigo, TeliaSonera has already begun to implement the first part of this strategy. Yoigo offers a plan, Bono VoIP, which is included in some of what they call their “Mega Plans.” In, for example, Mega Plan 40, you get 600 minutes of talk time plus 600MB data allowance, and in addition to that you get a 100Mb for VoIP calls.

Does this mean that Yoigo is throttling “unpaid” VoIP traffic? It would be in line with statements from TeliaSonera. It would also be in line with what many other European operators are doing, according to a recent report from BEREC, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications.

But what will the reaction be? When Dutch operator KPN last year announced plans to charge subscribers extra for the use of OTT services, with a focus on WhatsApp, which is huge in the country, it sparked an uproar, which ended with Dutch legislators quickly introducing – and passing – a net neutrality law.

The situation in Spain seems to be very different. Apart from a few disgruntled voices, Spanish subscribers seem to accept Yoigo’s add-on offering.

Why is this? Is it because Yoigo is the fourth operator in what is essentially a three-operator market? Are OTT services and their availability not an important factor in Spain? Or is it because consumers – outside the Netherlands – aren’t paying attention yet?

Or are we seeing the start of a new attitude from consumers, a willingness to pay for OTT VoIP services if the rest of an operator’s offering is attractive?  

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Don't mix up LightSquared's wholesale business model with its spectrum troubles

The news for LightSquared these days is bad, all bad. Its proposal to create a combined satellite and terrestrial LTE network was rejected by regulators in the US, after months of technical and political battles about whether the company’s frequencies interfere with GPS devices.

Now comes the fallout:  the CEO resigned, investors are suing and the company has laid off almost half its workforce.  And while LightSquared vows to fight on, and has retained prominent attorneys, Sprint just cancelled its USD 9 billion network sharing deal.  Oh, and LightSquared has already spent USD 4 billion of its own money.

So it is easy to dismiss LightSquared’s business model. And many have, with major industry players calling the telecom wholesale business model “more hype than substance” and saying that the wholesale model “won’t play in mobile data for the next two years.”

Really? We looked at LightSquared last October, and the company seemed to have lined up an intriguing mix of customers, ranging from massive (Sprint) to retail (Best Buy) to wholesale (YourTel America) to innovative disruptors (FreedomPop and SmarterCar). It also appeared to have the potential to shake up the over the top (OTT) voice game, by potentially opening up direct network access to even mobile VoIP players.

Wholesale works. Think of the catering firms for airlines.  If you unwrap a soggy sandwich on British Airways or on United Airlines, it’s likely that it comes from the same supplier.  Same goes for plants in a nursery or the headphones sold by your favorite retailer.

Instead of dumping on the telecom version of this model, which would include not just data but also voice and SMS, before it’s even been tried, let’s applaud the innovation.  LightSquared has now created a scope for this wholesale model. It likely will not work for them, but perhaps it will succeed elsewhere, even outside the US.

And it will be interesting to see what both LightSquared executives and the competition do with the lessons – technical, political and business – from the whole process.  Dish Networks is the most logical successor in the satellite-based LTE game, while Clearwire is working hard to make wholesale work for them.

But before we get bogged down in spectrum talk, let’s take a look at LightSquared’s visionary aspirations for expanding LTE access.  It’s a good one, and hopefully we’ll see many more such innovative ideas in the near future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Can telco standards make high definition video conferencing the next big thing?

The operators, vendors and handset makers behind “joyn” – the new GSMA branding of RCS services like instant messaging and voice calling – weren’t the only ones getting together at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month.  At the same time, a wide array of mobile operators and telecom equipment vendors announced a broad initiative behind a new set of standards for high definition video conferencing.

These new standards were on display in a HD video conferencing demonstration between Telefónica's booth in Barcelona, an Orange site in France, a Telecom Italia site in Italy and a Deutsche Telekom site in Germany.

According to the press release, the new video standard is based on 3GPP IMS and uses GSMA IPX to interconnect. And behind this nice use of standardized technology is an ambitious but crucial goal: making video conferencing as easy as making a phone call.

The video below is a year old, but it gives you an idea of the possibilities:

This ease of use is crucial, as video conferencing is often seen as the next big thing, with the market just waiting for prices to come down and standards to be set. This is a field in which operators still hold some important strategic cards, like interoperability, the ability to set standards, and control over their networks.

There is a clear trend here, one of telco cooperation, after a decade of brutal competition (and the failure of MMS because of a lack of interoperability).

Let’s not forget that even Apple and Skype only reach a small percentage of the overall market.

These new standards could have their first big impact in enterprise, where the available proprietary solutions cost too much, and operators have the potential to offer companies high quality video services with good interoperability. 

And if operators can succeed in enterprise, evolving HD video conferencing into a mass market service would be a natural, and very lucrative, path.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is "joyn" the telco turning point in the competition with OTT text and voice?

So are you going to “joyn”?  We hope so.

On Monday, the GSMA gave both a long awaited kick off and consumer branding to Rich Communication Suite 5 (RCS), the latest version of an industry-supported suite of features such as instant messaging and video calling based on IMS.

The industry body said the new brand would be used by operators to give a global ‘face’ to RCS services. “Joyn will act as a mark of assurance to customers that they will have simple and direct access to enriched voice and messaging services wherever they are and whatever network they are using,”  said the GSMA’s Director General Anne Bouverot.

The idea is simple, and is supposed to help operators compete against OTT players like WhatsApp and Viber that are cutting into their texting and voice business, particularly in certain developed markets like the Netherlands and South Korea

With joyn, RCS services, such as messaging, chat, video calling and document and photo sharing, will be either be embedded as an icon on a smartphone or tablet, or will be accessed via a downloadable app for today’s devices. Either way, the service will show if a person’s contacts both have joyn and if they are “online” at the moment.

Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone will launch RCS services this summer, while operators in France, Germany, Italy and South Korea have also committed to commercial launches in 2012, the GSMA said. The key to reaching consumers, of course, is getting joyn on popular devices, and manufacturers like HTC, Huawei, LG, Nokia, RIM, Samsung, Sony and ZTE have all signed up.

RCS is one of the telco battlegrounds right now, and there are doubts about whether is the successful way forward.  But whatever concerns some may have and even if some may think operators should just become a date pipeline and be happy, joyn is a sign of progress and may very well be the turning point.

This is quite clear in a blog post from Spanish tech company Solaiemes, in which they write about huge interest in RCS at Mobile World Congress, and about how independent developers will get joyn onto iPhones, negating Apple’s refusal to officially get on board.

What’s most important here is the evolution of the telco mindset. It’s great to see the industry start putting consumers, plus experiences, at the forefront.  It’s all part of the slow but necessary journey up the user experience ladder we wrote about a few weeks ago.

And in the grand scheme of things, it’s helping operators make communications more natural, more like the easy, conversational modes of communication we as humans are hardwired for.

What do you think?  Is joyn going to be the playground for the largest community in the world, the six billion mobile subscribers?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TeliaSonera talks VoLTE and blocking free VoIP services

TeliaSonera has been a LTE pioneer, both with its network and now with its introduction of LTE smartphone handsets.  Here is a Light Reading interview with Tommy Ljunggren, TeliaSonera's vice president for system development.

In it he says that he thinks VoLTE will be hot "next year" and then talks about the company's new policy to block free VoIP services like Viber or Skype, unless consumers pay extra.

What do you think?  Is that going to work?