Saturday, January 15, 2011

Google: Your new phone carrier?


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- From robot cars to wind farms, Google's expansive ambitions have taken it into some surprising corners of the tech field. Here's another it could tackle: Becoming your telephone company.
Google has assembled all the pieces it needs to be a mobile provider like Verizon, AT&T (T, Fortune 500) or Sprint (S, Fortune 500).
The search company dabbles in selling phones, it licenses the ultra-popular Android smartphone operating system, and it is trying its hand at becoming an Internet service provider.
But its biggest weapon is Google Voice, the hit low-cost calling service that launched in May 2009. Just five months later, the service had 1.4 million users -- almost half of whom were using it every single day.
Google currently relies on the established carriers to sell and support its devices. But if Google has the ability to deal directly with its customers, why not cut out the middleman?
"Google's various efforts are clearly focused on being able to reach as many people on the planet as possible, but that is not something they can fully accomplish just by licensing out Android," says Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Networks, which supplies equipment for Sprint's WiMax network. "If Google could find an easy way to transition into the cell space and provide mobile coverage, there would be some very serious advantages to that."
Never afraid to push the envelope, Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) been moving in that direction for years.
Buying the infrastructure: In 2008, Google put in a bid to buy wireless spectrum to provide mobile Internet access -- spectrum that ultimately went to Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) for its new 4G network. Rumors that Google is buying up "dark fiber," broadband cables that have been laid but are not in use, have been widely circulated, though never confirmed.
Connecting customers: In February, the company announced that it will become an Internet provider of "ultra high-speed broadband" for up to 500,000 customers for a U.S. city. That project is still under development, but Google is about to start testing its service out at Stanford University.
Google already allows people to bypass their mobile carrier's service. Google Voice lets customers send free text messages, and the new version of Android ("Gingerbread") supports VoIP Internet calling, allowing users to make calls over over Wi-Fi networks.
Operating system: Google designs and licenses the fastest-selling smartphone operating system on the planet: Every day, about 300,000 new Android devices are activated. Android is free for device manufacturers to license, so it has caught on like wildfire. Google makes money by driving search traffic on Android phones.
Selling phones: Earlier this year, the search giant decided to experiment with selling the Nexus One Android phone directly to consumers online. Though it was hardly successful, Google laid the foundation for a future in retail.
"Google made some noise about trying to open up the carrier space, but it learned the hard way with Nexus One that this is much easier said than done," says Al Hilwa, analyst at IDC. "Though I have no doubt its ambition remains intact."
The next steps: So what does it all add up to? Would Google really be willing to give up its strong relationships with the carriers, most notably Verizon -- the largest network -- to go head-to-head with them in the wireless space?
We asked. Google declined to comment.
It's not likely in the immediate future. Google's Android is the hottest item in the mobile market, and the company relies on carriers to adopt its software and drive customers to its search site.
But it's a real possibility down the road. The Federal Communications Commission recently failed to enact strong Net neutrality rules for the wireless community. That leaves open the option for carriers to restrict their subscribers' access to some of Google's offerings.
Google warned of that risk in a recent SEC filing: "Some of these providers have stated that they may take measures that could degrade, disrupt, or increase the cost of user access to certain of our products by restricting or prohibiting the use of their infrastructure."
There have already been a few skirmishes. Verizon has made Microsoft's Bing the default search engine in some of its Android phones, depriving Google of that coveted spot, and it took more than a year of fighting to make Google Voice available for iPhone users.
Some experts believe that simply acquiring the pieces to the puzzle helps Google in its negotiations with the carriers.
"It's all part of their mentality to push the envelope and keep service providers on their toes," says Michael Grossi, director of consultancy Altman Vilandrie. "It's a way of keeping checks and balances."
As long as Google can get 300,000 new phones a day into customers' hands via the existing carriers, and as long as those devices allow consumers to download anything they want, there's no reason for them to compete, says Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond.
But as Hank Paulson famously said, if you have a bazooka in your pocket and people know it, you probably won't have to use it.
"While I think Google could become a mobile provider, I'd view it as a nuclear option," Hammond says.
Certainly, there would be some hurdles for Google to clear. Google would likely face extensive regulatory scrutiny if it were to become a wireless provider. It has very little customer service or retail experience. And becoming a data provider is an expensive new business that could weigh on its margins.
Still, Google has the funds and the resources to get it done. All that's left is the will to do it.
"It's a classic Google experiment," Grossi says. "Google loves to push the boundaries to see what's possible." source

Telecom investors: The 21st century's biggest chumps?

The last decade has been heaven for buyers of new communication gadgets and services—and hell for the telecom industry's investors.
Telecom, the old way
Telecom, the old way
Sure the new communications technologies of the 21st century are breathtaking—the iPhones, the Wi-Fi hotspots, the Xooms, the Skype video chats and so on—but that's only the half of the industry's magic. Since 2000, Americans have gained the power to communicate in ever more ways while somehow paying less to do it.  The nation's telecom tab is down 22%, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
And yet over the same decade, the expansion in consumers' communication power was unprecedented.  Two major telecom services that were largely used by the wealthy in the 20th century have spread to the masses. Cell phone use tripled between 2000 and 2010; now virtually every adult has one. And the number of high-speed residential Internet connections jumped from 2 million to 74 million. All this happened as the nation's total telecom bill shrank.
How was that possible?
Thank digital technology, fierce competition—and investors willing to build networks at an economic loss.  When Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research recently tried to add up the economic value produced between 2000 to 2010 by AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), Verizon (VZ), Echostar (SATS), and the like—the total he came to was horrifying. So far in the 21st century America's telecom networks have destroyed nearly $200 billion.  Every single type of network—cable, cellular, satellite, take your pick—has destroyed wealth for its investors.
Why the 21st century has shaped up so differently than the last? To answer that question I tried to find the pithiest explanations from 21st century telecom executives. Here are my nominees for the three best. Together they tell a story sure to delight consumers—and petrify investors.
No. 1: "Internet protocol networks are like Pac Man. Eventually they will eat everything." (Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's chief technology officer, 2003)
At the start of the 21st century, the long distance business had never been bigger, taking in a record $109 billion in 2000.  The number of local phone lines increased too, as it had every year since the Great Depression.  AT&T and the local Bells remained fiercely proud of their intelligent phone network. What threat did the Internet, limited as it was to blindly moving generic data packets from place to place, pose to telecom's titan?
By 2003, after three years of declines, Eslambolchi spit out the hard truth.  Ma Bell's top techie was saying that not only did Internet-style networks pose a threat to AT&T's old network, but that networks like the Internet were so superior that they would take over all types of communication.
Though blasphemy at the time, eight years later it's clear that Eslambolchi was dead on. Telecom in the 20th century had been dominated by expensive, custom-built communications networks meant for a single purpose—radio networks to carry radio shows, phone networks to carry phone calls, cable TV networks to carry TV channels and so on. As Eslambolchi predicted, those days are over.
In a digital world, all communications networks need to do only one thing—quickly move digital bits from one place to another. Whether the people using the network reassemble those bits back into phone calls, TV shows, web pages or some brand new app is not something the network needs to concern itself with. (Check out this free MIT lecture, starting at about minute 30, for a great technical explanation.)
Eslambolchi's insight: if the key to running a telecom network is simply moving bits cheaply, then cheap, generic networks like the Internet will always win. Networks designed to cleverly deliver a single digital app—a phone call, a cable TV channel—will eventually lose.
No. 2:  "If a customer likes it, then it doesn't matter what it does to your economics -- it's going to happen."    (Jack Cassidy, CEO of Cincinnati Bell, 2008)
Cheap, dumb networks spell danger for an entire industry built on charging for access to scarce communications resource, and that further built its pricing models based on charging for applications: one price for phone calls, a different price for text messages, and another price for emails and data.
Back in 2008, the big cell carriers all blocked their customers' phones from accessing Wi-Fi networks, which are almost always cheaper and faster than cellular networks.  They did so because Wi-Fi is also free, or if paid, generally not controlled by the carrier, which, from the carrier's standpoint, was a bad thing. The best solution the oligarchy of cell carriers could come up with just to ban the technology. Yet by contrast Jack Cassidy, the CEO of Cincinnati Bell, owned up to the power of Wi-Fi and decided against continuing to fight a long losing battle. He started Wi-Fi phone trials in 2007.  The rest of the industry soon caved and followed suit.
In fact, true to Cassidy's "It's going to happen" dictum, today all major smartphones not only speak Wi-Fi but access all sorts of outside "apps" that carriers once also banned, for fear of loosening their grips on consumers.
No. 3: "Anyone who relies on the fact that they own a scarce distribution resource is going to face ten years of turmoil." (Paul Sagan, chief executive of Akamai, 2007)
In so many ways, the beginning of the 21st century neatly marks the dawn of a new age in telecom. The businesses that defined 20th century telecommunications, local and long phone calls, peaked in 2000 and began a long decline.  The 20th century, even the late 20th century, was dominated by low capacity analog networks. (Most cell phones in 1999 were still analog.) Naturally, telecom networks in the 21st century are digital.
The 20th century's single-purpose networks have given way to networks able to handle thousands of apps. Networks tightly controlled by their corporate owners have been replaced by networks controlled by their users. And finally there's this: in the 20th century, owning a company that moved information was a great way to make a fortune; in the 21st century it's become a great way to lose one.
Consider the great fortunes of the 20th century: The Hearsts and Pulitzer made their riches on newsprint. John Kluge, who was briefly America's richest man, built his wealth with local TV stations. AT&T became a heavyweight by laying down a long distance network. In all of these cases, it was distribution that was scarce, and therefore valuable.
The point of Sagan's statement is this: All of that is no longer so. In the 21st the communications networks are digital, dirt-cheap and multi-purpose — modern miracles. But they're also ubiquitous and therefore just not very profitable to own, or get rich from. Bad for the billionaires, good for the rest of us.

Indian telecom sector to grow to US$100 bn by 2015


The telecommunications sector and adjacent business opportunities such as digital devices and services for enterprises will represent a $100 billion market by 2015, according to management consultancy firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The traditional telecom market is currently worth about $32 billion according to BCG. But in its latest report, the consultancy takes a much broader view of market opportunity to include laptops, personal computers, software and applications, television sets, digital advertisements, as well as managed network and connectivity services offered to large enterprises or government. Source

TTL to invest Rs 500 cr for expansion of 3G roll out in Guj

Gandhinagar, Jan 13 (PTI) Tata Teleservices Limited(TTL)has signed an agreement with the Gujarat government to investRs 500 crore for expanding its 3G roll out in the state.

The MoU was inked between Additional Chief Secretary,Science and Technology Department Ravi Saxena and RegionalChief Operating Officer, Enterprise Business, TTL PradeepDwivedi, during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit-2011.

"Powered by superior technology and robust network, TataTeleservices will now further expand and develop the telecominfrastructure in Gujarat," Regional Chief Operating Officer,Enterprise Business, TTL Pradeep Dwivedi said.

"The investment will also help the company expand itsenterprise business wing in Gujarat," he said.

The MoU would facilitate creation of infrastructure foroffering better internet bandwidth connectivity to variousgovernment and private projects, a company statement said.

Tata DOCOMO, the GSM arm of TTL in mid-November last yearannounced the commercial roll out of 3G services in Gujarat.

The company is the first private telecom operator inIndia to have rolled out 3G services in all the nine circles,for which it had bagged the licenses from the government.Source

Barclays Mobile Banking Service Scoops Top Award

Barclays has trumped its rivals to scoop a much-coveted 2010 Financial Innovation Award for its mobile banking and text banking services.
(PRWEB) January 15, 2011
Barclays has trumped its rivals to scoop a much-coveted 2010 Financial Innovation Award for its mobile banking and text banking services.
The Barclays.mobi application, which allows customers to access their account on a smart phone, picked up the top award for 'transforming performance or customer service through technology – mobile and internet' at a ceremony in Covent Garden, London last month.
Judges of the awards said they were looking for an initiative that creates value, enhances customer service and improves business through technology.
Barclays.mobi was recognised as a leader in its field because, unlike other mobile banking applications, the service can be used on all smart phone platforms, such as iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Windows.
Dr Tony Gandy, one of the judges, said: 'In a hotly-contested category, Barclays mobile banking stood out as a modern application for a modern smart phone market.'
Phil Sowter, Head of Mobile, said: 'Barclays.mobi is unique in the UK financial services market place today.'
He added: 'Barclays.mobi is a new and important part of UK Retail Banking's multi-channel mix, extending choice and improving financial control for our customers.'
The Barclays mobile banking service was launched in May 2009 and receives around half a million visitors from mobile devices each month.
Customers can log in to their account to check balances, make transfers or payments and find the nearest ATM or branch whilst on the go. In addition, the innovative text banking service means customers can choose to receive text alerts that notify them of weekly balances, when a large debit/credit has been made and when they are approaching their account limit.
Barclays customers can register for both mobile banking and text banking by visiting http://www.barclays.co.uk.
Barclays also picked up a 2010 Financial Innovation Award for 'Improving the Customer Experience' through its Customer Discussion Document (CDD), which is a tool that allows customers to evaluate their finances.
About Barclays

Barclays is a major global financial services provider engaged in retail banking (current accounts and savings accounts), credit cards, corporate banking, investment banking, wealth management and investment management services, with an extensive international presence in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. With over 300 years of history and expertise in banking, Barclays operates in over 50 countries and employs over 140,000 people. Barclays moves, invests and protects money and provides personal loans, ISAs, home insurance, life insurance, mobile banking and other services for over 49 million customers and clients worldwide.

Telemarketer registration starts from Jan 15

New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) In the first step towards ending the menace of pesky calls, the telecom watchdog Friday said it will start online registration of telemarketing companies from Jan 15.
'The new telemarketers will have to pay a registration fee of Rs.1,000 and customer education fee of Rs.9,000 while the existing telemarketers will have to pay the customer education fee of Rs.9,000,' Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said in a statement.

'The registration would be valid for a period of 3 years unless revoked earlier,' it added.

Last year, the telecom watchdog announced a set of new measures to curb unsolicited commercial calls and messages, which were to be implemented from Jan 1, including online registration of the telemarketing companies on Dec 15.

The registration process which required all the telemarketers to fill in online application forms for getting themselves registered was postponed citing security reasons.

The regulations, which is expected to curb the menace of pesky calls, includes a fine in the range of Rs.25,000 to Rs.250,000 for the defaulting companies and allocation of a number starting with '70' to telemarketers making it easy for customers to recognise their numbers.

Unlike the previous regulation that asked customers to register their numbers in 'do not call' list, users can now choose from different categories like 'fully blocked' or 'partially blocked,' under which a customer can receive communication for categories of his choice

Aircel Phones Take Dictation Of Facebook Status Updates

India’s mobile service provider Aircel has debuted the first ever voice-activated service for updating one’s status on Facebook.

Right now only Aircel customers can use Facebook Voice Updates, but the social network might forge similar partnerships with other cellular service providers, according to Wireless Federation.
Aircel subscribers can use the service by dialing 51555 and then speaking the status update into the handset. The system transcribes the recording into text that posts on the caller’s Facebook profile.
If you’ve ever tried using dictation software, you’ll appreciate my wondering how accurately Aircel’s service can render audio recordings into text. It’s no small feat, and even the best voice recognition systems make mistakes. It’s one thing to have typos or other mishaps show up on content you’re using privately, but posting glitches publicly might be humiliating.
Unfortunately we don’t reside in Aircel’s service area so we won’t get to test drive voice-activated status updates until a local carrier makes one available. But we’d love to hear from readers who’ve tried out the spoken-word mobile application for Facebook — please share your experiences with us in the comments section.
And even if you haven’t used a voice-activated mobile status update tool yet, perhaps you could offer an opinion about what it might be like, or whether you think your own cellular service provider will offer such a service soon.

The new dimension to 3G is emerging slowly

“VAS industry would be contributing 25 per cent of operators' revenues as against the present 10 per cent.”

Mr Ashok Reddy, a Government employee, was a disappointed man because his 3G experience is no better than his 2G connection. “But for the faster access to Internet, there is not much I'm enjoying out of this new generation sim,” he says.
This, in fact, is a general opinion of the early adopters to the third generation mobiles. With only three-four service providers launching 3G services, callers are yet to feel the additional dimension it offers.
An ecosystem is slowly building up with content providers, VAS (value added service) players, basic telecom service providers and phone manufacturers getting ready with 3G-ready infrastructure and products. As they engage in talks for content, telecom firms are also discussing with handset manufacturers to launch upgrade options to their subscribers.
VAS firms are getting ready with solutions that let operators to offer and manage probable services such as pay-per-downloads, films and TV on demand and easy to use interfaces to access video portals and TV channels.
Subscriber base
According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the 3G subscriber base is expected to hit 90 million by 2013, accounting for 12 per cent of the overall wireless user base.
IMImobile, which began working with Aircel, and has provided 3G platform for their 3G experience zone in Chennai.
“Our DaVinci Evolved Service platform reduces the investments and time-to-market any 3G-based service. Rich multimedia content syndicated from multiple content providers forms an integral part of the offering eliminating content licensing complexities for Operators,” Mr A Vishwanath, Chief Executive Officer of IMImobile, said.
“Different services cater to a wide range of consumer segments – from novice users accessing 3G services for the first time to sophisticated enterprise users,” he said.
Video-on demand solution included an integrated Handset Repository that gives detailed information on not only the supported software but also the maximum quality of audio and video content supported on a given device,” Mr Vishwanath said.
Mr Debasis Chatterji, Chief Executive Officer of Netxcell, said it developed Streaming Video Server that allowed operators to offer streaming of live or recorded content over their networks. “It can deliver streaming video advertisement while the actual video is buffered enabling an uninterrupted user experience,” he said.
Quoting industry experts, Mr Chatterji felt that VAS industry would be contributing 25 per cent of operators' revenues as against the present 10 per cent.
Airtel, which bid for 3G spectrum in 13 telecom circles across the country, is in the process of deploying high-speed networks provided by Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Network and Huawei. It would roll-out the services in these circles in phases, including in the key markets of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad that account for 21 per cent of all data traffic in the country.
“3G will enable not only to bridge the digital divide but also help connect entire India to the world. 3G throws open several possibilities for customers,” Mr Sharlin Thayil, Chief Executive Officer of Airtel (AP), said.

80,000 subscribers opt for MNP service in Haryana

Haryana has seen a significant jump in the number of subscribers requesting mobile number portability (MNP) since the launch of the service in the state on November 24.
There have been porting requests of about 140,000, of which 50,000 were rejected. The actual churn was 80,000, according to initial estimates made by the service providers. Haryana has a total subscriber base of 19 million.
MNP allows subscribers to change their service providers while retaining their numbers. The facility will be introduced in the rest of the country from January 20.

“MNP has become a hit in this initial phase. It is expected to gain momentum. Service providers are offering new schemes to retain clients, but the users are trying the new facility. The actual impact will be known after the all-India launch on January 20,” an executive with one of the operators, which offer services in Haryana said, on condition of anonymity. The view was echoed by other service providers.
MNP is expected to increase competition between providers to improve their service. According to an earlier industry estimate, about 25 per cent of mobile users would like to shift to a new service provider. MNP has been implemented in countries such as the US, Australia and Pakistan.
Subscribers have to pay Rs 19 to avail the service. To port a number, subscribers have to request the new operator for acceptance of his connection and the process would have to be completed in four days. Syniverse and MNP Interconnection Telecom Solutions (MITS) have been given a licence by the department of telecommunications (DoT) to implement MNP across the country.
MNP was initially scheduled to be implemented from December 31 in the metros and category-A circles, while the rest of the country was slated to have this platform by April 1. It was then pushed to October 31, but finally the service was launched only in Haryana.

Ok to Video Calling

There is a good news for consumers as they would be able to make video calls under 3G services now.

Under this service when ever you make a call you can see the receiver talking live. A large section of consumers were waiting for this service to start.
In the beginning third generation 3 G services had to pass through rough phases. The Intelligence Bureau had raised objection that led to cancellation of service awarded to Tata Tele by telecom department.

While most of the service providers have girded up to implement 3 G services, IB had said that it was not able to do what is known as “real time monitoring test’ of 3 G vedio calls.

Today’s decision has brought relief not only to consumers but also to service proveders. Better brace up for vedio calling

Reliance expands 3G in PB

JALANDHAR: Reliance Communications on Thursday launched 3G services in five major cities of Punjab- Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Patiala and Bathinda. The company has said that it will cover other two dozen cities of the state in the next few weeks.

The expansion on the occasion of Lohri festival comes within a month of launching of 3G services in Chandigarh, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. "By end of current financial year 3G services will be launched in all the 13 circles," said R Com Wireless business circle head Sabyasachi Chakraborty while addressing a press conference on the occasion. He added that these services had been rolled out in record time of 100 days of receiving 3 G spectrum.