Mar 062015
 
southofengland_iphone_tracking

Today Australian incumbent telco announced a scheme to give customers access to their personal metadata being stored by the company.

In a post on the company’s Telstra Exchange blog the company’s Chief Risk Officer, Kate Hughes described how the service will work with a standard enquiry being free through the web portal with more complex queries attracting of fee of $25 or more.

The program is a response to the Australian Parliament’s controversial intention to introduce a mandatory data retention regime which will force telcos and ISPs to retain a record of customer’s connection information.

We believe that if the police can ask for information relating to you, you should be able to as well.

At present the scheme is quite labor intensive, a request for information involves a great deal of manual processing under the company’s current systems however Hughes is optimistic they will be able to deal with the workload.

“We haven’t yet built the system that will enable us to quickly get that data,” Hughes told this website in an interview after the announcement. “If you came to us today and asked for that dataset it wouldn’t be a simple request.”

The metadata opportunity

In some respects the metadata proposal is an opportunity for the company to comply with the requirement of the Australian Privacy Principles that were introduced last year where companies are obliged to disclose to their customers any personally identifiable information they hold.

For large organisations like Telstra this presents a problem as it’s difficult to know exactly what information every arm of the business has been collecting. Putting the data into a centralised web portal makes it easier to manage the requirements of various acts.

That Telstra is struggling with this task illustrates the problems the data retention proposals present to smaller companies with far fewer resources to gather, store and manage the information.

Unclear requirements

Another problem facing Hughes, Telstra and the entire Australian communications industry is no-one is quite clear exactly what data will be required under the act, the legislation proposed the minister can declare what information should be retained while the industry believes this should be hard coded into the act which will make it harder for governments to expand their powers.

What is clear is that regardless of what’s passed into law, technology is going to stay ahead of the legislators, “I do think though this will be very much a ‘point in time’ debate,” Hughes said. “Metadata will evolve more quickly than this legislation can probably keep pace with so I think we will find ourselves back here in two years.”

In many ways Australia’s metadata proposals illustrates the problems facing governments and businesses in managing data during an era where its growing exponentially, it may well turn out for telcos, consumers and government agencies that ultimately less is more.

Feb 182015
 
Telstra_consumer_insights_centre_insight_ring_empty

Yesterday Australian incumbent telco Telstra took the media on a tour of its showpiece  Customer Insights Centre in downtown Sydney.

The company is justifiably proud of the facility that includes  a 300 person auditorium, broadcast quality TV studio, a restaurant, workshop and collaboration spaces.

Welcoming visitors is the centre’s Insight Ring, a nine metre circle-shaped platform that surrounds guests with digital insights mined from Telstra’s information services. Leading off the reception area are a range of displays showcasing the company’s products and capabilities including wearable technologies, 3D printing and Ged The Robot.

Marking the centre as a modern facility the display spaces where Telstra and its partners can show off technologies to industry bodies and prospective clients.

Ged, the Telstra robot

Ged, the Telstra robot

The previous space two floors higher in the building was beginning to show its age after seven years and the fixed displays of technology in the older facility dated the centre, something that’s a disadvantage in an industry changing as quickly as telecommunications.

In the new centre, the demonstration facility is largely screen based so displays can quickly be adapted to show off the technologies aimed at whichever industry they are pitching.

The fast moving technology world

The software driven demonstration centre

 

Andy Bateman, Director of Segment Marketing at Telstra, who lead the tour was proud to show off the current display that had been set up to showcase the company’s banking products.

telstra_client_demonstration_consumer_insights_centre

Bateman described how the facility can be quickly altered to suit the needs of specific demonstrations, this was a degree of flexibility missing in the PayPal innovation center in San Jose, which is more comprehensive in its displays but requires a major fit out to change anything.

Venture capital investor Marc Andreessen stated that software will eat the world, Telstra’s Customer Insights Centre illustrates this starkly.

However software doesn’t always have the upper hand, just opposite the Telstra centre is the Sydney City Apple Store. In some ways, the two facilities opposite each other illustrate one of the big technological and market battles of this decade.

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

For most businesses, software will define the future way of working but for the smart hardware vendors will still be making good money.

Feb 102015
 
nest-iot-aquired-by-google-protect-black-pathlight

Late last month Cisco Systems released its annual Visual Networking Index that tracks the company’s predictions for the growth of global network traffic over the upcoming five years.

It’s no surprise this year’s report predicts global data traffic will grow at over fifty percent compounded each year with Cisco expecting 24.3 exabytes to be pushed around the world’s networks each month by 2019.

Most of that network traffic will come from tablet and smartphones with Cisco predicting data use will grow by up to a factor of five on those devices with devices like wearables growing fourfold.

This growth creates a challenge for telcos as they invest in capacity to deal with the increased traffic and Cisco sees half of all smartphone connections will be handed off to WiFi networks by the decade’s end.

Summary of Per-Device Usage Growth, MB per Month

Device Type

2014

2019

Nonsmartphone

22 MB/month

105 MB/month

M2M Module

70 MB/month

366 MB/month

Wearable Device

141 MB/month

479 MB/month

Smartphone

819 MB/month

3,981 MB/month

4G Smartphone

2,000 MB/month

5,458 MB/month

Tablet

2,076 MB/month

10,767 MB/month

4G Tablet

2,913 MB/month

12,314 MB/month

Laptop

2,641 MB/month

5,589 MB/month

Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2015

Handing half the growth in mobile traffic over to Wi-Fi connections, most of which will be connected to fiber or ADSL services will provide challenges for fixed line operators as well who will see the demand for capacity also explode over the rest of the decade.

Much of this explains the moves by companies like Telstra to roll out public Wi-Fi services to start locking users into their services. It also gives them, and consumers, an opportunity to understand how networks that mix both cellular and Wi-Fi behave.

Cisco_M2M_connections_to_2019

Another aspect of the Cisco VNI survey is the Internet of Things which is going to see exponential growth as industrial and household devices start being connected either directly through the telco networks, across unlicensed radio spectrum or over private Wi-Fi systems.

While Cisco predicts the bulk of that traffic as being generated by smartphones, the company sees connected devices as growing by 45% per year over the next five years with 3.2 billion sensors connected to the internet by the end of the decade.

Cisco-2015-VNI-M2M-connections

Notable in the prediction that Low Powered Wide Area (LPWA) networks – non cellular systems mostly operating in the unlicensed spectrum used by Wi-Fi networks – will provide nearly a third of the connections by 2019. At the same time we can expect many M2M deployments to consolidate traffic locally with much of the data processing down locally before the residual information being passed up the network.

As usual the Cisco VNI report underscores, and possibly understates, the growth in mobile data usage we’re going to see over the rest of the decade. For businesses, it’s time to plan for managing both the flow and application that smart devices are going to generate in our daily operations.

Feb 072015
 
visa-mobile-payments

Microsoft founder Bill Gates suggests mobile banking can revolutionise developing nation’s economies says in a guest post for online magazine The Verge.

“People being able to participate on their phone, no matter where they live, even if they’re in a remote rural village in Tanzania or Kenya, they’ll be able to save small micro-payments,” Gates told The Verge during an interview in New York. “They can participate on the economy through their phone, but also in the fall when it’s time to pay the school fees, they’ve saved the money for the year. That’s transformative for their family.”

Gates’ piece appeared at the same time French telco Orange announced a partnership with Ecobank to provide mobile payments in several African countries.

Bringing banking to the masses through mobile phones is one example of how emerging markets can leapfrog the technological and institutional barriers that have given the western world a head start.

For poor and remote communities, a combination of cheap photovoltaic (PV) cells and cellular base stations mean it’s possible to connect into the global economy without the need of massive government or corporate investment.

As Gates points out, this has the potential to dramatically change the economies of many emerging markets.

Jan 072015
 
2015 Lincoln MKC at Louisville Assembly Plant

The CES extravaganza continues in Las Vegas with a wave of announcement, most of which I’m ignoring, however the motor industry continues to show off new developments with Mercedes displaying their vision of how a driverless car will look.

Other interesting links today include an analysis of the ill fated South China Mall’s flaws and how Amazon is reorganising its R&D efforts after the failure of the Amazon Fire.

Mercedes redesigns the car

A little while back I suggested that we could do better in redesigning the driverless carMercedes have gone ahead and done it.

Mercedes’ redesign of the driverless car indicates just what can be done when we rethink what passengers will need in the vehicles of the future.

Ford recalls a vehicle for a UI upgrade

Ford has recalled its Lincoln MKC SUV models for a software upgrade after discovering drivers were shutting down the cars by accident.

What’s notable with this story is how software changes are now one of the main reasons for recalling vehicles and how design flaws in an automobile’s computer programs are relatively quickly discovered and resolved.

We will probably find in the near future car manufacturers will carry out the upgrades remotely rather than ask owners to bring their vehicles into dealerships.

A long running security flaw is exposed

In August 2013 a security researcher warned UK online greeting card vendor Moonpig that its system exposed up to six million users’ account and financial details. Until Monday the company had ignored him. This is a tale of classic management disregard for customer security and one area where business culture needs to dramatically change.

Rumours of an AOL – Verizon merger

It’s a speculative story but if a merger between US telco Verizon and former internet giant AOL goes ahead it may mark another wave of telcos moving into content services, although it’s hard not to think that Verizon could spend its money more wisely.

After a flop, Amazon restructures its R&D

The Amazon Fire was by all measures a miserable flop as a smartphone however it seems the company learned some important lessons from the device’s market failures. Instead of abandoning its research efforts, the online behemoth is increasing it’s R&D budget and reorganising its development division.

Design fails of the South China Mall

South China Mall just south of Guangzhou has been the poster child of Chinese malinvestment during the nation’s current boom. In a blog post from 2011, a shopping mall expert visits the development and points out the major design faults in the complex which may well have doomed the project from the beginning.

Dec 122014
 
Blackberry-passport-handset-and-box

“We’re coming for our competitors” is the warning BlackBerry’s President of Global Enterprise Services, John Sims has for the marketplace in an interview last month.

Sims laid out how BlackBerry’s future lies in managing big data, providing collaboration tools and securing the internet of things. In the short term however, the company needs emerging markets to keep its mobile handset market going.

In an interview last month on Australia’s Gold Coast at the Gartner Symposium, Sims laid out some of BlackBerry’s vision of the company’s future.

Securing the endpoints

The key product is the BlackBerry Enterprise Services which Sims sees as providing the endpoint security for corporate mobile devices and for the internet of things, something that ties into the company’s QNX investment.

For the moment though its handsets are a key part of the company’s immediate future and Sims sees the latent demand from lapsed BlackBerry as essential to success, “there are tens of millions of BlackBerry users who are still sitting on their old handsets.”

“The classic, when it comes along is targeted at that market. We know people are waiting.”

“When we went from the Gold to the Q10, too much changed. You had to go from the BBOS to the BlackBerry 10 and that’s a big change, we changed the keyboard, we took away shortcuts and we changed too much at the same time. With the Classic we’re almost doing a retrofit.”

With the recently released Passport smartphone, Sims says the company is struggling to keep up with demand,  “The Passport has done well,” he said. “The problem with it is us, not demand. It’s a supply issue not a demand issue.”

A week after that interview, BlackBerry announced the company would give Canadian buyers of the Passport subsidies of $600. How that ties into the narrative of a popular device isn’t quite clear.

Sims hopes the release of the Classic won’t suffer from supply problems, “we think is going to be more popular so we can be sure when it comes out we’ll be able to get that into the market in sufficient quantities to meet demand.

Discovering emerging markets

The other hope for BlackBerry’s handset business lies in developing markets, “Latin America is very important,” Sims says. “India’s very important and then there are number of important South East Asian markets.”

Part of that emerging market strategy is tied into selling mid priced smartphones into the market, Sims says. “People will say ‘the Z3 is a low end device’, if you go visit Indonesia the Z3 is not a low end device. It’s a middle market device.”

“Xiaomi is doing the low end devices at less than a hundred bucks and we’re doing a device at around $170. So we’re focused on the middle market, people who are professionals or aspiring professionals.”

“With those people in those markets we want to establish the BlackBerry brand as something they are comfortable with,” says Sims in outlining how he sees getting the handsets into business people as being the driver for the company’s other services and products.

Struggling with China

China remains an enigma for BlackBerry however, “in the last couple of years we haven’t focused on China, it’s a huge market and it’s hard for external parties to be successful on their own. Local partnerships are important.”

“John Chen (BlackBerry’s CEO) was recently in China and met with some of the local partners to talk about the possibilities of the future. It’s very preliminary and there’s nothing of any substance there yet but it is on our horizon that we’ve got to have something in the China Market.”

We’re coming for you

Despite the struggles BlackBerry has with its handset business, Sims is defiant about the company’s position in the endpoint security market.

“Ultimately it becomes a question of scale, we’ve got scale because we have a global network. None of the other EMM vendors – Good, Mobile Iron or Airwatch – none of them have the Big Data requirements that we have.”

“A year ago BlackBerry was defensive. We’re not defensive any more. People like Airwatch, Mobile Iron or Good should thank us that we were asleep at the wheel a few years ago and that allowed them to build their companies. That party’s over.”

“We’re coming after them. We have targets painted on each of those companies and as we execute our enterprise strategy we’re coming after them. If I was them I’d be feeling the breathing on the back of the neck.”

For BlackBerry the future lies in security services and the internet of things, though for the short term the company’s cash flow and market position depends upon sales of its handsets.

As the interview with John Sims shows, the company’s success depends upon a few key assumptions coming true; that’s a high risk market.

Paul travelled to the 2014 Australian Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast as a guest of BlackBerry.

Dec 112014
 
Cell phones in use

What will the next generation of smartphones look like? Earlier this week the GSM Association released their roadmap for the future 5G network standard, the next generation of mobile communications that will start appearing towards the end of this decade.

The GSMA is the peak global telco industry body which includes amongst its membership most of the world’s telephone companies and the vendors who manufacture the network equipment, so the organisation’s view is a good representation of the industry’s long term vision.

Much of the future standard is actually an amalgam of existing technology and concepts such as heterogeneous networks where phones and mobile internet of things devices can switch from the phone network to private WiFi systems without users noticing the handover.

The GSMA sees eight main areas for the 5G standards;

  • data rates of 1Gbps down
  • latency of less than one millisecond
  • network densification in determining base station locations
  • improving coverage
  • making networks more availabile
  • reducing operating costs
  • increasing the field life of devices.

That latter point is particularly pertinent as battery life remains a major concern for smartphone users and getting power to internet of things devices is one of the greatest barriers to adoption.

With the 5G standard not expected before the end of the decade, it’s hard to imagine how much technology may have changed in that time, something the GSMA acknowledges; “Because 5G is at an early stage there may be many use cases that will emerge over the coming years that we cannot anticipate today.”

The report though does try to anticipate some of the applications we may see the 5G standard driving such as autonomous vehicles, cloud based offices and augmented reality technologies. All of these though are advancing rapidly under the existing fixed line, 3G and 4G telco networks.

For the moment rolling out the 4G standard remains the industry’s main game with the existing technology only making up five percent of the world’s mobile connections at present. This is the area the GSMA sees as being the big opportunity over the rest of the decade.

In another report the GSMA claims the 4G rollout in Europe, currently at less than 10% of connections but expected to be over half by 2020, will drive economic growth on the continent.

The mobile industry is playing a central role in supporting economic activity and recovery in the region, contributing 3.1 per cent to Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, equivalent to EUR433 billion4, including EUR105 billion generated directly by mobile operators. By 2020, it is estimated that the industry will generate a total economic value of EUR492 billion.

There’s no doubt telecommunications networks are to the 21st Century what the highways were to the Twentieth and the railways to the nineteenth. As with the construction of previous century’s networks one of the big challenges will be raising the capital to build the systems and making wise investment choices.

For the developing world raising the capital required for those networks might be the hardest task of all, however for those countries and regions not making the investments may leave them further behind the western nations than they are today.

Ultimately what eventually is included in the 5G standard will reflect many of the political and economic realities of the next five years; no international standard is free from political or commercial influences during its drafting. The job for the standards bodies is not to get left too far behind market or technological advances.

In describing a vision for the sector’s future the GSMA 5G report lays out many of the opportunities and challenges facing the telecommunications industry over the rest of the decade. With these technologies becoming the centre of our working and home lives, what happens won’t just determine what smartphone we own in 2020 but the shape of our societies.