Archive for December, 2009

Google has gone mainstream

Is it me, or is Google now starting to advertise? And I mean REALLY advertise? I went to the dreaded Westfield shopping centre (dragged kicking and screaming by my girlfriend no less…) recently, and there are 3 very big and impressive digital billboards advertising Google Chrome to anyone and everyone that enters. Also, on the underground there are static billboards advertising Google Chrome. Then there was a full spread wrap around the Metro. Add to this a smattering of buses now displaying ad’s for Youtube moving into the TV space, and it seems that Google is really making a concerted effort to get into mainstream media.

It’s strange, as Google has never had the need to adopt mainstream advertising to promote any of it’s products, as they own the most valuable piece of ‘real estate’ on the Internet in their own home page. Add to this the much heralded ‘Google Labs’ led ability to drip feed new products to the public and market them via various online channels. Even when Google was just starting out, they never resorted to mainstream media, and instead relied much on word of mouth. So why now?

From my perspective, the timing is interesting. With Microsoft recently being forced to give browser options to every future Windows user and FireFox 3.5 finally being lauded as the worlds most popular browser, Google must sense an opportunity to really add credence to a market that is being thrown wide open again. In my view, there is little to currently diffrentiate Chrome from Firefox, apart from possibly it’s overall speed. However, one key diffrentiator that may trump FireFox in the future is the potential to sync a desktop Chrome browser with a android/smartphone Chrome browser. This is the space that Chrome (OS at least) is moving into, with it’s seemingly inevitable merger into the Android sphere becoming nearer and nearer. This has the ability to converge both your respective desktop/smartphone environments seamlessley. With this could come the potential to have a web-based browser, with multiple interfaces from handheld or desktop devices, that would remember open tabs, bookmarks, passwords etc This could have many applications for both business and consumer, and is very exciting.

However there could be many issues with putting all your eggs into the Google cloud. I’m already firmly entrenched in Google’s camp, having gmail, Google reader, Google Voice, Google Wave, Google Calendar, Google finance, YouTube, Adsense and Google docs accounts. The thought of Google having access (if they haven’t already) to my search history via a browser or even via their new Google DNS offering is actually quite scary. For if they were ever suppoeaned (like in the famous Google vs Viacom battle some years back), they would have to relinquish all information about me, and the rest of their users.

As you can see, I’m very much a fan of Google and their range of products. However until there is a compelling reason for me to use Chrome, FireFox more than meets my needs. Backed by a network of open source enthuiasts, the Firefox browser will only get better with time also.

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A look back on 2009

This is an article that I have written for print publication. Any feedback would be appreciated.

2009 has been a strange year for carriers providing last mile DSL access. Back in January in the midst of the recession there were worrying times being forecast for carriers as they struggled to get to grips with the financial downturn. With networks struggling to plug widening deficits, previously planned network expansion was put to one side, as capital was shunted to other areas seen as more important to stopping the rot.

At the turn of the year, there were 4 main wholesale DSL carriers: BT Wholesale, Cable and Wireless, the Carphone Warehouse Group and Tiscali. Due to the recession, BT Wholesale were stalling with the roll out of 21CN, Cable and Wireless were just re-entering the channel after a strategic exit only a few years back, Tiscali were involved in a very public tug-of-war between Sky, Vodafone and the Carphone Warehouse Group whilst the latter themselves had only just entered the wholesale market via their wholly owned subsidiary Opal Telecom. As the year progressed and we started to move towards a brighter financial climate, the industry took a marked turn for the better. Many people debate about the exact period when we started to look more optimistically at the future. However I believe that when Brown put the ball in the court of the Telco’s by stating that the infrastructure behind Digital Britain would spur growth in the economy, there was a paradigm shift, as the masses adopted what we had already realised; that telecommunications was a fundamental component to the kick-start of the British economy.

Throughout the course of the year, the broadband landscape has changed considerably. The main difference being the acquisition of Tiscali into the Carphone Warehouse group and their subsequent ambitious plans for 2010. Whether they will demonstrate the traditional pains of large scale acquisition traditionally felt by other large carriers such as Tiscali and C&W is yet to be seen. BT Wholesale has also started to gain traction with 21CN and in particular their WMBC offering. Cable and Wireless can also pat themselves on the back as having a fairly successful year, as they managed to win the Tesco contract, whilst deploying their much heralded MSP platform. However one of the big changes to the market has been the introduction of BE into the wholesale arena.

BE have always had a very compelling consumer offering; being the first to market with Annex M ADSL2+, whilst having one of the largest coverage areas of the tier 1 DSL networks. With a topology designed to underpin high bandwidth usage, they were setup from the onset to provide ADSL2+ to their subscribers. BE have entered in a very timely fashion. One of the key topics of the year has been the increased financial burden of bandwidth costs on service providers due to applications such as iPlayer and Pirate Bay. This has led to in depth debates including key industry and government personnel about how best to manage the use of bandwidth intensive applications. Solutions such as bandwidth caps, application charges and even application restrictions were mooted. Due to their mesh dark fibre-based VPLS core, BE can legitimately claim to provide solutions future-scaled to support the continued rise in bandwidth by end users. Also with a commercial model that alleviates central based usage charges, they’ve provided a low cost-of-entry into the ADSL2+ market for channel partners.

As we move into 2010, the wholesale broadband market is much changed from that of 12months prior. Both Carphone Warehouse and 21CN have ambitious growth targets planned for 2010. The latter introducing wholesale Ethernet-in-the-first-mile and fibre-to-the-cabinet trials. Many people have stated that the window of opportunity for new wholesale partners is fast closing due to this. However in my position, the consolidation in the industry has reached a natural plateau, with all the main DSL carriers now proving to be more mature in systems interface, product portfolio and commercial model used. Even BE as the new player can be seen to have an edge in some aspects of their proposition. By using ISAMs (Intelligent Service Access Managers) at the exchange with the capability of terminating Ethernet and seamlessly training the DSL to work at its optimum performance (known as seamless rate adaption) they have made the step to solidify their position as a force in the market both now and for the future. By also providing unparalleled visibility and control of their ISAMs to all service providers, they have allowed tecchies to fault find, diagnose and alleviate traditional 3rd line issues, which in turn has led to a vast reduction in the number of support tickets raised with them.

Even though this has been in the market for roughly 6months, already the features are proving compelling, even as compliment to a 21CN novation plan. With products such as bonded DSL and symmetrical DSL soon to be available from the port, they’ve positioned themselves as a prominent player in the next generation access sphere. Add into the mix backhaul capacity capable of supporting their lofty ambitions and the capital of their more illustrious parents, it’s no wonder BE are proving to be more than just an interesting alternative in the wholesale broadband market.

Will we be propping up BT?

Ofcom recently launched a review into whether they should raise Openreach wholesale pricing to compensate for BT’s burgeoning pension defecit, that currently stands at c.£9.4billion. We use Openreach for the metallic path to underpin our DSL in our direct channel, and in line with current gu-estimates, may be hit with a price raise of up to 4%. In the market, we’re not a big Openreach customer, but for the likes of Carphone Warehouse, Easynet et al, that 4% could be millions. Even worse is the prospect that Ofcom could raise this in line with further fluctuations with BT’s pension defecit.

Admittedly when comparing this with other industry regulators actions, this is no different. Ofgem actively police British Gas and include their pension defecits in their charges. The same goes for the respective watchdogs for the postal and water industries. However as Openreach is meant to be a private entity, this presents an intersting argument for it’s competitors. The harsh stance to take would be that due to BT’s poor management policies in allowing this debt to grow to such an insurmountable proportion, this is now having a direct effect on the rest of the industry. From my perspective, BT has always made a lot of noise about how they have been proactive in rectifying their defecit gap. Indeed in May, BT stated that they would make annual payments of £525million into their pension scheme over the course of 3 years. If this has to come directly from the competitors of BT then I’m sure there will be a few wry smiles about this prospect from within the BT tower.

My ‘Hero’

I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of Apple. I owned an IPOD back in the day when they were different, and I never really liked it. Mainly because of hassle in transferring my already massive digital music collection onto it, and it’s inability to work with non-proprietory file types. For me, it was a clear sign that Apple just wanted to monopolise the market with. Anyway that’s a post for another day.

Since then, I have never ever purchase an Apple product out of principle, mainly because I’m stubbourn. 2 years ago, I purchased a HTC Touch Dual and loved it due to it’s versatility and dual interface. Then the I Phone came out and I was found wanting. However my principles stood firm, and in August this yr, when I could bear no more, I upgraded my HTC Touch Dual to an HTC Hero. I didn’t have high expectations, as the Android platform is still quite formalative. But in all comparisons with my friends and colleagues IPhone, it compares well. Potentially the number of app’s available could be much more than on ITunes (although I admit that currently this pales into insignificance…) whilst integration with the Google cloud is first rate. Currently I’m synched with about 6 of my social network platforms as well as my Google account.

The thing that really scares me however is that should I lose my Hero, or even worse, should someone steal it, they would have instant access to my identity. It’s a thought that has always worried me. They could obtain personal details by impersonating me on either Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. This potentially could do a massive amount of damage.

The entrepreneur in me always thought that this would be a great niche for an app. My thoughts were that there could be an app controlled by a web interface that when accessed, could shut down the phone in some way. It would be a great example of Cloud Computing. However whilst I’ve been scribbling some plans on the back of a coaster, someone has actually designed what I think is a great app, which does just this. Created by a company called Wave Secure, they’ve made an app which operates in the background of your phone from startup. If the phone is lost or stolen, you can use the web interface to ‘lock’ the phone down. This means that the thief would not be able to gain access to the phone unless they had your unique PIN.

It’s a great app, and one I think should be a necessity on every smartphone around. Only issue I see with it is that should the thief disable the WiFi/3G, then you wouldn’t have any access to the device…

Oh well, it can’t be perfect!


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