Sep 042016
 

Project Ara, Google’s experimental modular phone, seems to be doomed reports Reuters.

Sadly this isn’t surprising as the indications of Ara’s demise have been around for a year.

In some ways this isn’t surprising as Google retreated from the smartphone market at the beginning of 2014 with its sale of the Motorola handset business, the company’s notorious attention deficit disorder wouldn’t have helped the project’s survival chances either.

Should Reuter’s report be true, then Google’s management will have shown again that the company isn’t prepared to stick with long term research projects and that journalists, not to mention researchers and developers, need to treat the company’s programs with some scepticism.

For the Ara team, they’ve no doubt learned a lot in developing this project and it will be interesting to see how that knowledge is applied to other products, few of which will belong to Google.

Jun 112016
 

With Google’s Project Ara seemingly stalled, it was interesting to see Lenovo announce the Moto Z modular phone this week.

The question remains though whether this concept is a solution looking for a problem however if Lenovo open the device up to third party accessory makers, we could see a surge of innovation similar to the ‘plug compatible’ IBM days which may drive consumer interest.

Lenovo is still struggling to find its feet in the mobile phone market, so finding a compelling product to drive sales and improve margins in a largely unprofitable industry is a priority.

It may be the other smartphone announced by Lenovo in San Francisco, the clumsily named Phab 2 Pro, could be where the manufacturer finds its niche with Google’s Project Tango 3D sensing technologies.

The Phab 2 Pro’s 3D capability may be the beginning of accessible virtual and augmented reality systems however hands on reviews of the device indicate it may be some way from being ready for public release.

Lenovo’s announcements show how the smartphone markets is currently in a state of transition as vendors try to find the next new profit and growth centres. To complicate matters, all the Android manufacturers are waiting to see what Apple’s next move will be.

 

Jun 022016
 

As usual Mary Meeker’s internet trends report lays out the current state of the online world.

Two things that stand out in the mass of statistics are how the smartphone market is now commoditised and that the advertising funded media model is redundant on mobile with adblockers proliferating in China, India and Indonesia – the world’s three biggest emerging markets.

While Mary Meeker flags those changes, she also continues to point out how broadcasting still gets a disproportionate spend of advertising revenue, something she’s been flagging for five years.

For advertisers sticking with the media they know is understandable but it does open some opportunities for a great disruptions.

The design of Meeker’s slides leave some people unimpressed though.

May 242016
 
Cell phones in use

“We’re in the flip phone era of 5G networks, people don’t realise today’s 4G mobile standards were written for the era of the flip phone,” says John Smee, the Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Research

John was speaking to me at chipset manufacturer Qualcomm’s San Diego head office to discuss the next generation of mobile phone services.

Putting together communications standards isn’t a simple thing, as John says “what we’re discussing now is what today’s five year olds will be using when they turn fifteen.”

John sees the new standard as giving the next generation of internet giants their market opening, pointing out companies such as Facebook and Uber benefitted from the rollout of 4G networks and some of today’s startups will get a similar boost from 5G services. “A few clicks and you’ve ordered a ride. That wouldn’t have been possible without 3G connectivity, high powered smartphones and networks that are scalable.”

“What are going to be some interesting new startups that become huge multibillion dollar industries from 2030,” he asks. “By definition we don’t understand the future.”

For telco executives being a ‘dumb pipe’ is one of their nightmares and John believes they can avoid that fate in a 5G world by concentrating on their advantages with licensed spectrum. “If they are looking a high reliability and low latency services then the quality of the connectivity they can offer becomes essential,” he says.

While the standards groups continue to work on the 5G standards, the technologies continue to evolve. John Smee’s message is that these new products are going to offer opportunities for new companies.

The trick is to figure out which of today’s startup companies will be the Uber or Facebook of 2025.

Feb 272016
 
mobile payments through smartphones and other devices are changing business

One of the greatest profitable accidents of the last twenty years was SMS messaging that delivered telecoms companies huge revenues for a service that cost them almost nothing.

In Somalia, we may be seeing phone companies leading the way in cashless transactions as the economy moves towards mobile payments on the back of service intended by one of the nation’s leading cellphone providers for a completely different purpose.

The Hormuud Telecommunication Company set up EVCPlus to deal with account payments but in an unstable and risky economy the service has proved an efficient way to deal with daily transactions

“It’s not safe to carry cash money here,” said Dhublawe Ibrahim Aden, 25, a hawker who sells shoes and clothes. “If someone has to buy my shoes and bungles [necklaces] then he has to pay me through my cellphone. I don’t accept cash money from clients.”

Like Kenya’s M-PESA, EVCPlus is showing how slower and more basic connections aren’t a barrier to African economies leading the world in some online services. Sometimes having access to basic services isn’t an impediment.

Feb 162016
 
Cell phones in use

One of the Twentieth Century’s great rivers of gold was the telecommunications industry. As the world became connected, first by telegraph, then telephone and finally mobile networks, owning a telco licence became a path to riches.

Late in the century, the mobile phone was a spectacularly profitable device for telcos in the 1990s as consumers flocked to buy them and pay dearly for services, particularly SMS which was practically free to provide.

Just as the century was coming to a close things changed dramatically as the Internet became accessible to the general public and while data was still profitable, telco revenues started to fall dramatically. Then, early in the new century, the arrival of the smartphone disrupted the entire industry.

Becoming a dumb pipe

Twenty years later and the arrival of smartphones using data services has changed the economics of cellular networks, leaving the incumbents worried they are going to merely become ‘dumb pipes’ offering just a low margin utility.

Around the world incumbent telcos and mobile network operators have responded by moving up the value chain into managed services and cloud computing and one particularly interesting company in this respect is India’s Reliance Telecom.

Reliance has responded to the changes in its market, something made more problematic by India’s arcane and complex cellular licensing system, by strategically selling off various parts of its infrastructure and focusing on where it sees opportunity.

At a lunch in Sydney yesterday CEO Bill Barney of Reliance’s global network division was showcasing their cloud services for Australian customers and showed how the quest for profits is moving telcos into areas like data centres and managed services.

Emerging markets corridor

Barney argues that Reliance’s network, which spans South Asia, the Middle East and into Eastern Europe, gives the company a strong position in the “emerging markets corridor”. He also boasts the product the company offers allows easier development of smart services.

In this respect, the Reliance Global Cloud Exchange differs from similar plays like Telstra’s PacNet network across East Asia – which Barney previously headed – in that it offers services higher ‘up the stack’ making it easier for companies to deploy smart applications, something Barney sees as being particularly attractive to the media and financial industries.

While Reliance’s claims are yet to be tested in the market, the company’s shift to higher level services illustrates a struggle facing all telecommunications operators. To do this, Reliance and Telstra look to global networks and data services, Singapore’s Singtel tries its hand at media content in a similar way to Britain’s BT and Vodafone makes a strong Internet of Things play.

For each of these companies, diversifying into other fields makes sense however each strategy brings its own risks – in Reliance and Telstra’s cases this means competing with cloud services vendors like Amazon and Microsoft – that telcos haven’t been exposed to in their core markets.

Those core markets though are being disrupted and will never be as profitable as they were twenty years ago. For the world’s telecommunications companies it’s a matter of diversify or shrink.

Dec 202015
 

Something strange is happening at Apple, the once secretive company is now becoming far more open in its plans and relations with the media.

The latest example is the company inviting Sixty Minutes and Charlie Rose into its inner circles to interview CEO Tim Cook and go on tour of a future concept store with retail chief Angela Ahrendts.

Apple’s media friendliness marks a big change for the company that’s reflected in its markets as engaging with other partners becomes critical for future success. Successfully achieving this will mean another fundamental shift in the organisation’s management.