Wednesday Apr 19, 2006

Free Service

We live in an age of "free" IT and communications services once one has paid the local company for the basic communications pipe. The real free service will come when cities install wireless for all their citizens to use free of charge. Given all the taxes locals pay, this should not be an unreasonable thing to expect from the urban authorities. Regulations and interests of local phone companies, of course, can dampen this trend. More significantly, urban bureaucracies are not known for providing high-quality services. Dislodging local phone companies continues to seem easier said than done.

In today's "Business Life" column of Financial Times, Alison Maitland speaks with Skype's Niklas Zennström.

“We have more than 80m users and we’re getting 250,000 new users a day,” [Zennström] says. “We provide a service for free. If we had full customer service for everyone, we’d have so many people calling us that . . . it would be too costly.”

Unlike most companies, Skype makes no money from the majority of its customers, who use its free downloadable software to make calls from their computers. Its revenues – $60m last year, with a target of $200m this year – come from the small minority who pay to make and receive calls to and from landlines and mobiles (SkypeOut and Skype­In), and services such as voicemail and personal ring tones.

Monday Apr 17, 2006

The Story of "Wi" and WiBro

International Herald Tribune's Eric Sylvers tells the story of the 'Wi', including the recent developments in WiBro.

Wireless Broadband, or WiBro, is based on the same standard as WiMAX, 802.16, but WiBro continues to work in motion and is therefore sometimes referred to as mobile WiMAX.

WiBro is promoted as bringing mobile broadband access speeds to levels until now seen only on fixed-line networks.

WiBro-enabled cellphones allow always-on connections to the Internet, eliminating connection delays and permitting a service similar to that of a broadband fixed-line connection. Samsung developed WiBro in South Korea, where the commercial rollout is scheduled for the coming months, and the technology is now making inroads in the rest of the world.

Telecom Italia Mobile and Samsung tested Europe's first WiBro network in Turin during the Olympic Games in February. Telecom Italia Mobile has said it will begin selling WiBro phones at the beginning of next year, when it will make the WiBro service available.

Related links:
Samsung's Soon Young Yoon's introduction to WiBro at the ITU
Gizmodo on Super WiBro Phone
Samsung Press Release
IEEE's 802 Standards on Wikipedia
IEEE's 802 Standards on IEEE
WiFi Alliance

Friday Mar 03, 2006

SkypeWeb

SkypeWeb, a presence application from Skype, has been released with Skype 2.0, which is now available on Windows, and which I assume should be available on the other Skype platforms soon. Jaanus has written about SkypeWeb.

I've just installed it on this weblog but it only works and tells you about my availablility when I'm on a Windows platform. (In fact, I do not have an option to tell you whether I'm available or not until I install the Windows edition and update a privacy parameter that will allow my presence to be noted).

I do have a Windows laptop but also an iMac (OSX) desktop, a Windows desktop and access to an array of Solaris machines, not to mention the SunRays I conveniently use as I move from campus to campus at Sun's Bay Area offices. (I might even add my Sidekick II to this list, which adds yet another platform, on which Yahoo and AOL instant messaging clients are available.)

So, unlike other IM tools, this feature of Skype is going to be partial representation of my "presence," as it would be for any multi-platform sort of guy, until Skype releases Skype 2.0 for the other platforms. I'll let you know when this happens, but that doesn't mean SkypeWeb is not worth a try. Hence, its icon on this weblog!

Sunday Feb 19, 2006

3GSM, Personal IM, New Mobile Devices and Mobile Content

Reporting from the 2006 3GSM conference, Victoria Shannon of International Herald Tribune, wrote last week about several major Asian and European operators' announcement to create an interoperable "personal instant messaging" on their mobile networks.

Indian operators are taking huge strides with interoperable personal instant messaging on their mobile networks.

Several operators have also announced plans to have their personal instant messaging system to interoperate with "land line" instant messaging systems such as Yahoo, MSN and AOL.

Compared to MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), which hardly ever took off, personal instant messaging on mobile networks promises to be a much bigger trend.

Eric Sylvers, also of International Herald Tribune, writes about announcements by mobile device vendors to introduce new models with dual (WiFi and mobile) network connection technologies, dual function as phone and music player and high-speed downlink packet access, or HSDPA, just in time for the 2006 World Cup. (Not all of these technologies are available in all announced models. That would be too much to ask.)

Sylvers compiles from Barcelona another story about mobile phones as "the content consumption devices of the future". I found the phrase—used by a Vodafone executive—rather telling!

"Right now you pay for everything - you pay to browse, for voice, video, data, games, multimedia messages and music," [Patrick ]Parodi [chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum, an industry association] said. "At what point does this become a media not just funded by the end user? Every other media in the world has a certain level that is paid for by advertising. When is that going to happen here?"

With mobile phones, which have helped us bridge out of our mobile isolations in a human built world, not only do our distractions follow us everywhere, we might also end up paying ever more for having them around ;-)

Life in the present age seems to have mobile phones as one of the main components of its scaffolding.

Monday Dec 05, 2005

Phone, DSL and Wireless Router

The possibility of service bundling (at the customer end-point) can certainly help reduce churn at a time when some 5 million Americans have moved off to non-traditional phone services at their homes.

The Wall Street Journal reports major U.S. telecommunications companies plan to roll out devices that function, simultaneously, as phones, DSL and wireless routers.

Currently, I have 3 devices doing the same: a phone, a DSL box and a wireless router. I have installed all pieces separately. My long-distance provider, DSL provider and wireless service provider have all merged into a single company. With the new device, it is tempting to do away with all the extra wiring and placements.

Once we have one device performing a certain function, why should we own a second device doing the same? For device designers, deep differentiation will continue to be the name of the game.

Don't forget the PC is still available, and if the router in the bundled device is any good, it must support wireless services to home computers and other wireless devices such as some of the Skype phones.

The beauty of the Internet as a communications medium seems to center on its ability to get around and through any particular "end-point". In fact, one can argue that in the classical Internet, there is no particular, identifiable end-point. Its boundaries cannot be drawn at the users' devices, where it can still be extended.

Thursday Dec 01, 2005

For Skype Users

For some Skype users like me, cordless Skype phones can provide even greater relief if they supported Mac OS.

It would certainly encourage more frequent inernational calls to my grandmother!

(Personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg, gives the cordless Skype phones a rave review!)

Thursday Nov 10, 2005

Mobility, WiMax, WiFi and Dual Mode Phones

John Gapper of Financial Times has summarized it all in his editorial comment. In this short commentary, he illustrates all the major business issues, strategic threats, moves and counter-moves when it comes to cellular vs. WiFi/WiMax mobile telecommunications.

Sunday Oct 16, 2005

Dual SIM Cards

If you pay large roaming fees and travel mostly between two geographic locations or, there might just be a solution that fits well to your needs.

Many believe that GSM phones can only operate with a single SIM card or a single mobile number. Others think that full-blown IMS is necessary to reach a single physical end-point through multiple numbers. Well, both of these beliefs prove to be wrong. Let's tackle the first one.

International Herald Tribune has a business description of dual SIM cards. The report blames the operators for preventing the wide-spread use of this technology. Two reasons are given. Operators do not want to share their subscribers with others. Operators do not want to be responsible for phone-related customer support issues that might have arisen because a phone with dual SIM might have received corrupting bits while attached to another operator's network. Both of these are relatively reasonable explanations. The dual SIM phone needs to be turned off and on in order to enable one or the other SIM card—not very practical unless you want to use it while traveling. Of course, another choice (if you like to have separate phone numbers for work and family matters) might be to attach two numbers (subscribed from the same operator) to the same (single) SIM card. Most GSM operators offer this service. The advantage here is that the phone car work with both numbers for incoming calls without having to turn it off and on. On outgoing calls, there's a primary number that is used. To use the other one, an access code might have to be dialed. With a bit of programming, some phones can have an even easier interface for this.

Monday Oct 03, 2005

On City Lamp Posts

This morning, at the coffee area, I met a friend who was wondering how Google was planning to roll out its proposed free wireless service in San Francisco, and the potential costs for such a roll out.

I suggested that Wi-Fi (W-LAN, Wireless Local Area Network) was primarily connected to the "real estate" business in the following sense.

City governments own property in the city environment and can deploy wireless hubs at these properties.

For example, cities are in the best position to accomplish such Wi-Fi roll outs simply becasue they own lamp posts.

In fact, that's the way most free services are supposed to be deployed:

Google's proposal highlights the potential savings of offering a wireless, citywide link. The company proposes establishing just 20 to 30 access points per square mile in San Francisco. Each is essentially a small inexpensive box, similar to the Wi-Fi gear many consumers have in their homes, which would be mounted on the top of a city lamp post. Installation of one box takes about six minutes, Google said.

The access points connect to each other wirelessly. The whole citywide network would need just a few wired connections to the Internet, Google said. All consumers would need would be Wi-Fi cards, such as those many currently use to access wireless networks, or computers with the capabilities already built in. Under city guidelines, the service would have to be accessible from outdoors in 95% of the city and from indoor locations in at least 90% of the city.

. . . [San Francisco mayor] Newsom has pushed for a free or low-cost wireless high-speed Internet offering in San Francisco partly as a way to extend access to low-income residents.

Jesse Drucker, Kevin J. Delaney and Peter Grant, "Google's Wireless Plan Underscores Threat to Telecom," The Wall Street Journal, Monday, Oct. 3, 2005. (Online subscription required.)

Same report contains interesting information regarding free Internet in Europe:

In Europe, KPN NV of the Netherlands recently said that the number of minutes the Dutch spend on free Internet chatting now exceeds the roughly 12 billion minutes the country's inhabitants annually spend on the traditional phone. The threat of the Internet is one of several factors forcing the European telecom sector there to consider consolidation.

(There are reports today in the FT that Telefonica SA of Spain may buy KPN.)

In general, in the U.S., operators have used regulatory pressures to resist city government contracts for city-wide deployment of W-LAN, reports the WSJ.

WSJ also compares Google's market valuation (about $80 billion) with that of Verizon (about $90 billion). A more appropriate evaluative comparison might have been that of Google w/ Skype ($2 - $4 billion based on its sale price to eBay). Skype, at the time of its sale, had about 50 million registered users. How many Google users are registered?

Monday Sep 19, 2005

How Skype Works

Here's a good document from Skype to consult regarding the working of the Skype P2P system. In this document, there is a discussion of Skype's propriety global index distributed directory, "through which users can find out about each other, place calls, send messages and communicate, all without using any central servers." The system is based on the use of client nodes as "super" P2P nodes. Supernode activity is entirely transparent to the users. However, clients behind firewalls and NATs are ineligble for adopting this role. In a sense, they get a free ride and don't have the honor to serve the network. Unfirewalled "supernodes" perform a key role in maintaining the index and routing calls among firewalled clients (or among clients behind NAT devices).

By the way, you might be interested in know that during the recent eBay acquision of Skype, Skype founders did not travel to the U.S. following legal advice given to them due to proceedings in courts, naming them in the Kazaa file-sharing cases. What does that tell you regarding climate of innovation here?

Wednesday Sep 14, 2005

Asterisk PBX

Linux Magazine has an interview with Mark Spencer of Digium, the founder of Asterisk PBX. Asterisk can be used on the Galaxy series.

Thursday Sep 08, 2005

VoIP and EBay

It looks like EBay is joining the VoIP acquisitions club. There are reports (emenating from The Wall Street Journal) that EBay is looking to acquire Skype. Adding services that make it easier for its customers to buy and sell goods online makes sense. Earlier, in 2002, EBay acquired PayPal which provides electronic-payment processing services. A service like Skype will reduce overal transaction costs on the EBay market.

In another significant telecom-related news today, Apple and Motorola are announcing Rokr, a phone that plays music from Apple's iTunes music store. The Journal also reports some analysts believe there is more to the Apple brand and expect a mobile service under the Apple brand or an iPod-looking mobile phone soon. "The Web address iphone.org is registered to Apple, and typing it into a browser takes users to the Apple Web site," Nick Wingfield writes for the Journal.

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Tuesday Sep 06, 2005

VoIP, SIP and Security

This edition of the IT Architect has a good piece with some compacted and concise commentary on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), security and VoIP — very good writing by Rohan Mahy, the co-chair of the IETF SIP and SIPPING Working Groups and chair of the SIP Forum Technical Working Group. You can also read it from the last paragraph up, and it still makes very good sense! For an expanded edition of Rohan's article see here.

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Wednesday Aug 31, 2005

VoIP and Open Mobility Standards

With Microsoft set to announce its acquisition of Teleo today, Google announcing Google Talk last week and Yahoo announcing its acquisition of Dialpad, all major Internet instant messaging and service providers have now brought themselves into the VoIP business.

Companies such as Skype have proven that telephony on the Internet can be a real business. They have also proven that certain aspects of service are key to success. Users of a VoIP system on the Internet need to be able to have simple additional services such as IM provided through good user interfaces they can install on various desktop operating systems. Even more important is interconnections to Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN). A VoIP system should be capable of reaching and establishing connection to a PSTN-based end point. A VoIP system should allow its users to subscribe to "own" a "virtual" phone number which PSTN-based end-points can dial to reach them. In short, the value of a network to its endpoints is proportional to the end points made available for connection.

I wonder to what extent these different flavors of VoIP will adopt technologies such as SIP and IMS. With such adoption and the possibilities offered by WLAN technologies, Internet telephony services will bring together mobility, roaming and interconnectivity capabilities that can become a real threat to traditional modes of mobility, roaming and interconnectivity offered by mobile telephony service providers. This is already known by the latter. Witness their acquisition of (and alliances with) WLAN service providers, first in the U.S. and now in Europe.

There are many segments in this market, all of which demand varying types of products and services.

This is a hot market, and I think the company I work for, i.e. Sun Microsystem, is in a great position to serve this market. It is a leader in Internet technologies and protocol implementations in servers. It is a leader in serving the service provider and telecommunications market. There is a great deal of industry-specific knowledge embedded in the company and its relationships with the telecommunications world. As a simple example of this, check out this white paper on a prepaid solution based on the 24-CPU Sun Fire 6900. Here is some more on this system, which I quote from the white paper:

The entire range of Sun Fire server systems offers—among others—the following RAS features:

Predictive self-healing — Permanent automated component monitoring and initiation of corrective actions (CPU, memory, network, I/O)

Dynamic reconfiguration — Install or replace (hot swap) core hardware components without downtime.

Dynamic resource management — Reconfigure the system dynamically to address changing workloads without downtime.

Now, if you're running a VoIP system and you plan to provide some of the valued services I noted above, you will need to have a charging system and often a prepaid system, and for that, you'll need a system like this.

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Monday Aug 29, 2005

Good, Introductory Resources on IMS

I don't usually stay up this late (or get up this early, depending on one's perspective) but a Sun friend from China who is also a grduate student there asks about good source material to become familiar with IP Multi-media Subsystem (IMS).

There are several very good resources. To begin with, I have already mentioned one book on my weblog by Camarillo. That's a good one to read for a researcher in the field. It points to all relevant IETF material.

Another source of good introductory information on a large diversity of telecommunications technologies and more is Ericsson's Telecom Report. Whever I have time, I've enjoyed reviewing their online material (including the video reports) and was at one point a subscriber to the print edition of their journal. Most of its authors are associated with Ericsson, which is one of the oldest telecommunications firms in the world.

Lucent, Ericsson, Siemens and Nokia have all published very good white papers on IMS and related technologies. There may be some discrepancies on vocabulary due to product branding but all of these are good sources to start with.

Finally, you can access academic paper through corporate or academic subscriptions to IEEE and ACM journals through their digital libraries. Just do a search on SIP, IMS and IP Multmedia Subsystem on these electronic libraries (and I'm sure similar resources might exist on your university or corporate library) in order to get to the more recent academic publishings in this domain. These are good to read and glance at random (as food for thought) and select for further study and investigation depending on the course of your work and interest.

Other sources of slightly older academic papers are google scholar search and MIT's citeseer.

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Wednesday Aug 24, 2005

Shift from Sports to Music in Operator Sponsorship Campaigns

Laser-projected SMS messages.

Nic Fildes of the Dow Jones Newswire writes that mobile phone companies are shifting sponsorship campaign funds from sports events and teams to music events.

O2 PLC's sponsorship of the Arsenal soccer team comes to an end this year, a deal which costs GBP3 million a year. It also sponsors the English Rugby team. The company is instead moving into music sponsorship in a big way. It sponsors the Wireless Festival in London and has made an ambitious bid to turn the Dome in London into a live entertainment complex called 'The O2'.

Sponsorship gurus in mobile telecommunications companies say that the sports market is becoming too crowded and that they can get better bang for their bucks sponsoring musicians and musical events.

"While concert goers of yesteryear hid dictaphones in their jackets to record live music, fans today use their phones to store or send pixelated snippets of live music from the event," Fildes writes.

One idea is "message screens which display text messages to the crowd" at live concerts. (I believe this has already been tried. See the photo. I wonder where the first instance was.)

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Wednesday Aug 10, 2005

Reuters Telecom Industry Summit

Get it here.

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Monday Jun 06, 2005

Supercomm2005

It is amazing how hotel rooms get gobbled up when conferences hit a city. On an earlier visit to the Chicago offices of Goldman Sachs back in 2002, I was able to find a place 36 hours before my arrival. Not this time, for Supercomm.

Friday Jun 03, 2005

American Households With No Wires

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that only 6% of the American households have only wireless and no wireline phone connections. According to Forrester Research Inc., the consulting company which originally compiled the researcdh report, if people had carried through with what they had said in surveys a couple of years earlier, the rise in wireless-only households should have been 100% last year, instead of only 25%. One can only wonder what such surveys ever really mean or are good for.

Apparently, "even younger users who rely on their cellphone for all their calling are finding that an old fixed line can be useful" at least in the U.S.

Wednesday May 25, 2005

IMS Application Servers

IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) have emerged as enabling technologies for the next generation mobile communications applications.

I have already written short notes on both in the past and have made a reference to the excellent book by Camarillo and Garcia-Martin on IMS. (For more about the book, see this announcement of its release.)

One of the most interesting parts of that book is its section 5.7, pages 146 to 169, discussing the use and the role of IMS "application servers" in the service and control layers of the system.

Lucent also has a very good white paper on IMS, with some greater detail on the service types.

There is a lot of common ground between the two sources and reading both will provide different perspectives on the same important topic of IMS. The vocabulary of the white paper is slightly different from that of the book. For example, what the white paper calls "TAS" (Telephony Application Server), the book calls "B2BUA" (Back-to-Back User Agent).

Other good white papers on IMS exist. Siemens has produced a excellent white paper on IMS. It is worth a good read and focuses on the value proposition of IMS for mobile network operators and end users. In particular, Figures 1 and 2 of this white paper, do a good job in describing the positioning of IMS within mobile networks, from both architectural and business perspectives.

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