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 222016
How do mobile phone users reduce costs

That telecommunications companies are taking the back seat at the global Mobile World Congress as virtual reality hogs the limelight, it may be telcos are facing the fate their managers fear most – becoming a mere utility.

Following the hype around virtual reality at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last months, it’s not surprising this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has continued the theme.

As Samsung and Huawei dominated the first day of the Barcelona event; Google, Facebook and a range of startups are also fighting to dominate a market estimated being worth $150 billion by the end of the decade.

What’s notable though are how the telecommunications companies are missing in this field, having lost the battle for payments – its notable how little telco money is now being invested in fintech and blockchain companies while the banking industry pours money into the sectors.

For the telcos, the industry that should be dominating Mobile World Congress, there seems to be very little promise in these technologies to their maturing revenue streams from their networks.

While telcos are focusing on new handsets, data centres, intelligent infrastructure and media plays it seems they are increasingly missing key shifts in the marketplaces.

Maybe what this year’s Mobile World Congress really tells us is the telcos are on their way to being utilities. Their executives may need to swallow some pride.

Dec 312015
building sydney as a smart city

AT&T is expected to announce a new smartcity strategy at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Three years ago we interviewed Barcelona’s deputy mayor Antoni Vives about the possibilities of the smart city. What was notable about his views was the emphasis on the social and ecological benefits of these technologies.

“Barcelona has to become a city of culture, creativity, knowledge but mainly fairness and well being,” Vives said. “I would love to see my city as a place where people live near where they work, I would love to see the city self sufficient in energy and it should be zero emission city.”

Vives’ point is essential in the smart cities discussion. While the gadgets and data analytics aspects are important, it’s the benefits to government and the city’s inhabitants that are essential.

Which is a problem for telecommunication providers and tech vendors looking to find new, high margin, markets as most of the products they are touting are the classic ‘solution looking for a problem’ that has been a future of the computer industry for decades.

Telcos are in a more difficult position as many of the smart cities are deploying their own wireless networks which compete with their own often expensive solutions, particularly M2M services that rely on devices having costly SIM cards fitted.

It’s hard not to think AT&T’s move is one of a desperate late comer to a party that’s already not living up to expectations, it will be interesting to see if their CES announcement sparks some life back into the smartcity discussion.

Oct 022015
suspicious man watching for an interent scam

Another day, another corporate security breach (or six). This time telco T-Mobile has revealed up to 15 million customers’ data has been compromised.

Notable in this story is that T-Mobile are firmly putting the blame on credit monitoring company Experian.

For both companies this is extremely embarrassing with T-Mobile stating, “our vendors are contractually obligated to abide by stringent privacy and security practices, and we are extremely disappointed that hackers could access the Experian network.”

T-Mobile, like most telcos, sees a major opportunity in being a trusted provider of security services and this setback hurts them in a key market.

Experian on the other hand have shown their slack attitude to user data previously, having been caught selling consumer details to identity thieves.

That a company in such a privileged position as Experian can be constantly caught this way will almost certainly increase the push to see penalties for corporate data breaches start to get real teeth and the United States’ cavalier attitude to public privacy and online security will take another dent.

For T-Mobile and most other companies, the lesson is start and clear. Trust starts with your own contractors and business partners, it cannot be outsourced.

Oct 012015

“It’s a kid in a candy store opportunity,” says Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall on being asked what excites him about the telecommunications industry.

Nandlall was talking to Decoding the New Economy about the challenges facing telcos in an industry facing massive change as the once immensely profitable voice and text services are being displaced by less lucrative data products.

Previously we’ve spoken to Nandlall about the future of Australia’s incumbent telco in a competitive market and this interview was an opportunity to explore some of the broader opportunities in a radically changing market.

A data business

“While our business sounds complicated, we actually only do three things.” Nandlall observes about telecommunications companies, “we move data, we store data and we compete on data.”

“In the course of my lifetime in telecoms any two of those coming together meant a major shift. Today all three are converging.”

That convergence creates a range of challenges and opportunities, Nandlall believes. “When I look at what we see on the consumer side, I see the Internet of Things which really does promise a golden age of convenience.”

“Underpinning it all is going to be a massive transformation around data, the data insights suddenly become the thing that we’re going to need to differentiate our businesses from competitors in the industry.”

Differentiation through data

The differentiation of telecoms companies is going to lie in the software and data services being offered, Nandlall believes. “I don’t think telcos need to replicate Over The Top services,” he says in reference to services like Facebook or WhatsApp or Skype.

Nandlall sees the value for telcos in providing the next level of services in areas such as API management, content delivery and security. “We need to have new digital delivery systems,” he says, flagging software defined systems as being key to delivering to the new generation of telco services, “we can’t be restricted to fixed lines.”

Facing the skills shortage

The challenge facing telcos and all businesses is finding skilled workers, Nandlall observes. “Because change has been so rapid there has been a pipeline of students or workers being readily available.”

Nandlall sees initiatives like Cloud Foundry and Hadoop offering a means to address the skills shortage by standardising processes, reducing complexity and automating many of the tasks occupying today’s developers and technology workers.

This change also promises to speed up business as well and, combined with cloud services, changing the operating models of entire industries.

A new competitive advantage

For businesses without the scale of Telstra Nandlall has an important message, “I think we’ve hit a point in industry is where the competitive advantage is not just through some sustained differentiation,” he observes. “Today it’s about your ability to rapidly adopt new things.”

That rapid adoption is only going to accelerate, Nandlall believes, as the Internet of Things and wearable devices bring a whole new range of ways to collect and display information. For a kid fascinated with data, that’s a big candy store.

Apr 292015

Today Aussie incumbent telco Muru-D opening in Singapore.

Muru-D is loosely based on Telefonica’s Wayra incubators that the Spanish telco has set up across Europe and Latin America.

Wayra’s fortunes have been mixed recently with the incubators coming off badly in the company’s restructure last year and it’s interesting that Telstra are copying the model of opening in strategic neighbouring markets.

Complicating matters is Telstra’s Singapore based rival Singtel has its own chain of incubators Singtel Innov8. Singtel’s model is different in that they sponsor incubators, Sydney’s Fishburners for example, rather than set up their own Wayra or Muru-D style operations.

So Telstra’s moving into Singapore could be seen as another move by the Aussie incumbent to take on Singtel on it’s own home ground, something that will be assisted by the recent acquisition of PacNet.

Also notable is the Singaporean government’s support for Telstra’s with Kiren Kumar, Director of Infocomms & Media at the Singapore Economic Development Board, welcoming the launch as enhancing the city’s repuation as “the innovation capital of Asia”.

Telstra’s move is another showing how telcos are trying to move out of being utilities along with Telstra’s need to grow out of the domestic Australian market it now dominates.

For Telstra both moves are well outside the company’s historical expertise, it will be interesting to see how successful they are.

Apr 272015

“Communications are a life and death issue”, says Vish Nandlall the chief technology officer of Telstra. “You realise that when that pipe gets shut off people can die in the field.”

Nandlall’s experience in weapons technology led him to a life in the telecoms industry which bought him to Australia as he believes Telstra is one of the most innovative companies in the industry. How much this is due to Telstra dominating its domestic market is a discussion for another post.

Nandlall was speaking last week at a lunch for journalists and bloggers hosted by Telstra in Sydney. It was an opportunity for the company to introduce their CTO to the media following his joining the company last August and to publicise their push into health care services.

One of the areas Nandlall was particularly keen to push was how Telstra was looking at opening their platforms to third party developers as he sees the nine to ten million strong community as offering opportunities that even the best resourced telecoms company can’t access.

“How can I get telecom services into places where developers can access the information?” Nandlall asks.

His answer is to open the services through the Telstra Developer Site which at present is fairly Spartan although one expects it will become more impressive ahead of the I love APIs conference the company is sponsoring in Sydney this June.

Down the track Nandall sees the open systems assisting the company moving into the key growth areas for all telcos such as the Internet of Things, smart cities and the productivity growth applications in industry verticals.

The big opportunity the company sees is in health care where a fragmented industry struggles to corral disparate sources of information that touch almost every person. It though just one of the growth telcos are looking at in a dramatically changing marketplace.

For Nandlall the challenge is to grow Telstra beyond the domestic Australian telco market that it increasingly dominates as its competitors lose interest in the market and the nation’s ambitious but failed national broadband network slowly fades into irrelevance.

While Telstra is by no means facing any life or death issues, many of its customers could be. Nandlall and his fellow executives are hoping they can help them.