Jan 072015

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 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.


Sep 112013

Today I was at a media lunch hosted by IP telephony company Nexon to promote their new cloud based unified communications service.

One aspect of the Nexon Absolute service is the company offers a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for customers, while I’m always suspicious of SLAs they are essential in making business clients comfortable with buying cloud services.

For Nexon, those SLAs are huge risk as they are reselling other company’s products. If Microsoft and Telstra fail to deliver, then it’s Nexon who carries the can with their customers.

While Nexon undoubtedly has their own SLAs with their suppliers, a major outage will see the company carrying the bulk of the refunds or rebates to their customers.

Essentially Microsoft and Telstra have outsourced much of their business, continuity and even reputational risk to Nexon and their other resellers.

For a reseller, even a substantial one like Nexon, that’s a risk they can’t control — what’s more, the finger pointing between suppliers in the event of a major outage could take years to resolve.

All of this suits major suppliers fine as it shifts risk and work from their businesses.

The IT and telco reseller game is not an easy one as margins fall and risks increase, one has to applaud the courage of the investors and entrepreneurs who want to play it.

Aug 142013

An innocuous, short 1917 message between Admiral Jackie Fisher and Windows Churchill, then British Minister of Munitions, tells us much about how language and communications evolve around the technology of the day.

The focus on the page linked is the World War I use of OMG – Oh My God – which became common with SMS text messaging, and it illustrates how our language evolves around the limitations of the era’s technologies.

Fisher’s message short, sharp and succinct message is good example of this – a legacy of spending a career communicating between ships by flag. By necessity, messages had to be brief, accurate and work within the limitations of the medium.

At the time Fisher wrote that note, ships’ officers were adapting from flags to the radio telegraph where morse code created a whole new argot to take advantage of the medium and its limitations.

Which brings us to today, where similar economies of communications have evolved around the SMS text message, Twitter post or social media update where OMG, LOL, BRB are part of the common dialect.

Jackie Fisher’s message to Winston Churchill is a good reminder of how we’re all creatures of our time.

Image of nautical flags courtesy of c_makow on sxc.hu

May 102013

One of the truisms of modern business is that no incumbent is safe, Microsoft, Nokia and Hauwei are good examples of just how businesses that five years ago dominated their industries are now struggling with changed marketplaces.

In the last two days there’s been a number of stories on how the smartphone and computer markets are changing.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s tech blog, PC manufacturers are hoping Microsoft’s changes to Windows 8 reinvigorates the computer market.

Those hopes are desperate and somewhat touching in the face of a structural shift in the marketplace. These big vendors can wait for the Big White Hope to arrive but really they have only themselves to blame for their constant mis-steps in the tablet and smartphone markets.

Now they are left behind as more nimble competitors like Apple, Samsung and the rising wave of Chinese manufacturers deliver the products consumers want.

All is not lost for Microsoft though as Chinese telecoms giant Hauwei launches a Windows Phone for the US markets which will be available through Walmart.

Hauwei’s launch in the United States is not good news though for another failing incumbent – Nokia.

Nokia’s relationship with Microsoft seems increasingly troubled and the Finnish company is struggling to retain leadership even in the emerging markets which until recently had been the only bright spot in the organisation’s global decline.

Yesterday in India, Nokia launched a $99 smartphone to shore up its failing market position on the subcontinent.

For the three months to March, Nokia had a 23 percent share of mobile phone sales in India, the world’s second-biggest cellular market by customers, Strategy Analytics estimates. Three years ago it controlled more than half the Indian market.

India isn’t the only market where Nokia is threatened – in February Hauwei launched their 4Afrika Windows Phone aimed at phone users in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Angola, Morocco and South Africa.

The smartphone market is instructive on how many industries are changing, almost overnight the iPhone changed the cell phone sector and three years later Apple repeated the trick with the iPad, in both cases incumbents like Motorola, Nokia and Microsoft found themselves flat footed.

As barriers are falling with cheaper manufacturing, faster prototyping and more accessible design tools, many other industries are facing the same disruption.

The question for every incumbent should be where the next disruption is coming from.

In fact, we all need to ask that question as those disruptions are changing our own jobs and communities.

Mar 272013
Apple has a new iOS6 for ipad and iPhone

One of the points that came out of Blackberry’s Z10 launch last week was CEO Thorsten Heins’ talking about the company’s ‘one screen’ strategy.

Blackberry sees the smartphone as being the centre of people’s computer usage with them replacing personal computers and tablets as the main computing tool.

This is at odds with the rest of the phone and computer industries who are struggling with managing the three or four devices that most people use.

Apple overcame this by having different operating systems – OS X and iOS – and even then the mobile iOS is subtly forked for the different ways people use tablets versus  smartphones.

With Windows 8, Microsoft chose to go the opposite way with an operating system which works on all devices. Sadly it doesn’t seem to have worked.

Blackberry’s strategy is to assume smartphones will be their main communications device. It’s a big bet which doesn’t align with what seems to be experience of most people.

Over the last few years Blackberry’s smartphone market share has collapsed from 40% to 4%, so it’s the time for brave bets although its hard to see that customers will use smartphones instead of PCs or tablets is the right call.

It’s an interesting question though – can you see your smartphone being your main computer?

Mar 062013
Cisco networking head office

“Last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly twelve times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.”

That little factoid from Cisco’s 2013 Virtual Networking Index illustrates how the business world is evolving as various wireless, fibre and satellite communications technologies are delivering faster access to businesses and households.

Mobile data growth isn’t slowing; Cisco estimate global mobile data traffic was estimated at 885 petabytes a month and Cisco estimate it will grow fourteen fold over the next five years.

Speaking at the Australian Cisco Live Conference, Dr. Robert Pepper, Cisco Vice President of Global Technology Policy and Kevin Bloch, Chief Techincal Officer of  Cisco Australia and New Zealand, walked the local media through some of the Asia-Pacific results of Virtual Networking Index.

Dealing with these sort of data loads is going to challenge Telcos who were hit badly by the introduction of the smartphone and the demands it put on their cellphone networks.

A way to deal with the data load are heterogeneous networks, or HetNets, where phones automatically switch from the telcos’ cellphone systems to local wireless networks without the caller noticing.

The challenge with that is what’s in it for the private property owners whose networks the telcos will need to access for the HetNets to work.

One of the solutions in Dr Pepper’s opinion is to give business owners access to the rich data the telcos will be gathering on the customers using the HetNets.

This Big Data idea ties into PayPal’s view of future commerce and shows just how powerful pulling together disparate strands of information is going to be for businesses in the near future.

But many landlords and wireless network owners are going to want more than just access to the some of the telco data — we can also be sure that the phone companies are going to be careful about what customer data they share with their partners.

It may well be that we’ll see telcos providing free high capacity fibre connections and wireless networks into shopping malls, football stadiums, hotels and other high traffic locations so they can capture high value smartphone users.

One thing is for sure and that’s fibre connections are necessary to carry the data load.

Anyone who thinks the future of broadband lies in wireless networks has to understand that the connections to the base stations doesn’t magically happen — high speed fibre is essential to carry the signals.

Getting both the fibre and the wireless base stations is going to be one of the challenges for telcos and their data hungry customers over the next decade.

Paul travelled to the Cisco Live event in Melbourne courtesy of Cisco Systems.