Tag Archives: mobile operators

Wireless Sensor Networks

The improvement in chip manufacturing and new low-power wireless standards is enabling what are called Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN). These networks consist of tiny nodes, equipped with a microprocessor and sensors, wirelessly connected in a mesh network to exchange information and trigger actions.  

WSNs can enable a wide range of applications related with supervision, control and tracking in areas such as military, medical, industrial, security, traffic or home and office automation.  

The nodes are specified to have very small dimensions, low power consumption, limited processing and memory, low data-rate wireless transmission and able to support extreme environmental conditions. This autonomy provides the flexibility to deploy the nodes virtually anywhere without need for any wiring, as nodes can be battery or solar powered. Being connected in a wireless mesh network also guarantees extra resilience if a sensor node fails.

ZigBee is one of the most successful open standards developed around the IEEE 802.15.4 spec, and designed to meet the requirements of:

  • low cost
  • ultra-low power consumption
  • use of unlicensed radio bands with low data-rates
  • cheap and easy installation
  • flexible and extendable networks
  • integrated intelligence for network set-up and message routing

A ZigBee tutorial can be found here. There are different software and hardware platforms to implement WSN nodes.

  • TinyOS is an open embedded OS for WSN, written in nesC, a dialect of C
  • Sun SPOT is a device with a 180MHz ARM core and 512KB RAM, and supporting different sensors (light, temperature, accelerometer and analog inputs). Sun SPOT is built on the Squawk Virtual Machine

WSNs is still an emerging topic but it surely represents an important opportunity for entrepreneurs to create innovative applications. Mobile Operators will also show a lot of interest as many WSNs will be back-hauled by a gateway connected to the mobile network, multiplying the machine-to-machine traffic as more an more Wireless Sensor Networks invade our homes, offices and cars.

IMS Vs. Skype

IP Multimedia Subsystem or IMS is an architecture standardized by 3GPP, 3GPP2 and TISPAN, that is the choice of telcos to implement not only VoIP, but also other multimedia services, such as videcalls, presence, instant messaging, push-to-x, videosharing, on-line address book, etc.

As an user, you can envision IMS as a service similar to what Skype offers today but standard-based, with assured quality of service and fully inter-operable among different telcos.

IMS software clients will run on different devices including handsets, PC/laptops and IPTV Set-top-boxes.

AT&T U-verse Voice is already based in this kind of technology.

But, if Skype is already free, why do we need IMS?

1) To avoid ending in a monoploy situation with Skype. As telcos adopt IMS, users will be able to choose their favorite service provider, and that will not impact what buddies you can talk to. E.g., you can not access Yahoo IM or GTalk users from Skype. Once Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have all IMS, you will choose your preferred operator, say AT&T, and still reach your buddies at Verizon and Sprint.

2) Quality of Service. IMS provides for guaranteed bandwidth. This will enable Hi-Def (1080) video calls, that best-effort Internet can not sustain.

3) Carrier grade service, including Emergency Services, not available from Skype.

4) Access from multiple devices and network access. Coupled with IPTV and Femto cells, as an example, you will be able to receive SMS, IM or calls on your TV screen or on your PC, even if you have been called on you cellular. With Femto cells, your presence info could be automatically updated when you reach home. Other services bundled with IPTV would include video conference from the TV, or having a voice, video or chat session open with friends on TV while watching the Super Bowl.

5) Open architecture, including a SDE (Service Development Environment) for developers to add Applications blended with your IMS Service. Applications such as those available in Facebook, could be made available on the IMS Service, bringing to power of Social Networks and Web 2.0 together with IMS.

Skype is a great service, but the potential is bigger with IMS, mainly because of the competition it would generate among telcos, that would drive more innovative applications and a better service at the end of the day.

Mobile advertisement or mobile spam?

Advertisement can be an important source of revenue to Mobile telcos. And 2008 can be the year where it takes off at last. Still some of the mobile ads practices risk to be perceived as spam, specially SMS ads, where the telco should protect users with spamming filters.

While Mobile TV video ads insertion will seem justified by the user as a way to “pay” for content – following the free-to-air TV model -, I do not know anyone happy about the annoying SMS with a promotion to have a 10% discount on the purchase of a washing machine.

Starhub, one of the three mobile operators in Singapore, just launched a location-based ads service. Will location-based promotions be more successful than general promotion SMS spams by some merchants? Does the location info adds enough value to make the SMS welcome by the user? I have my doubts, but we will closely monitor the uptake of this service.

On the Mobile web advertisement, success is not yet there. While CPM, CPC and CPA show a higher value in mobile environment than in Web, the arrival of the iPhone and its Safari browser able to render regular websites, makes me wonder if mobile web ads will be any different from the web ads today. It is true that mobile operators theoretically have a lot of knowledge about their customers that could potentially make the ads more relevant, but I do not think that the current agreements of Yahoo and Google with mobile telcos are involving any customer info being offered by the operator.

GigaOM also wonders Are Personalize Mobile Ads Evil? Isn’t the screen too small to put ads?

Mobile Web: emerging or dying?

WAP was one of the big disappointments of the mobile industry in the late 90s. Mobile Internet would be enabled by WAP, that would allow Internet access adapted to the small screens and lower processing power of the handsets of the time.

Telcos invested a lot of money to deploy the first WAP infrastructure and first Mobile portals, only to find that the service was completely unusable: too many clicks, too slow. On top of that operators tried to peel the onion with a too high price for mobile data, as they benchmarked WAP data rate with the price per byte of SMS (outrageously high, in terms of Euro/Byte). The failure was such that WAP was renamed Wait And Pay by the users, and mobile operators did not recover their investment.

Since those days, a lot of effort was put by operators to create better Walled Gardens, with downloads (games, ringtones, music tracks, etc), video-streaming and other WAP applications. WAP still requires a significant amount of Interoperability Tests (IOT)  and WAP pages adaptation to guarantee applications will work. Usability and usage have increased, but still the penetration of the service is rather low (13%). Applications developed for Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile, such as Google Maps, Gmail client or MobileTV Rich Media Clients have improved user experience, but still required important adaptation to keep up with the evolution of handset models

Only with the arrival of the iPhone and its Safari browser, Mobile Internet is beginning to show signs of success. As commented in previous post, 85% of iPhone users access the web from the handset, compared with a 13% of the overall market. One of the keys for this success is the performance of Safari rendering regular web sites. Such is the success of iPhone/Safari, that many mobile applications developers are seriously considering to drop any more native Mobile Application, and just focus on websites designed with mobile in mind.

As web based applications improve – and they have improved a lot; see Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube or AdobeTV -, and as handset browsers get more powerful, supporting JavaScript and Flash , there will be a bigger trend to write apps for these mobile browsers. Applications will work  similarly in the desktop and in handsets such as iPhone or Android. Furthermore the browser gives enough abstraction to avoid handset adaptations and porting applications to different mobile OS’s.

Is this the end of native mobile applications? Will mobile handsets connect to the Cloud sooner that PCs?

Japan: Mobile Phones and Fashion

Softbank spring collection

Each season Mobile Operators in Japan present their new handsets, often developed in exclusive by Japanese vendors as Hitachi, Sanyo, Panasonic or Kyocera.

See these articles with details on the latest models announced by KDDI and Softbank: KDDI spring’08 phones and Softbank 2008 Spring Collection.

It is interesting how Japanese operators manage the release of handsets with a seasonal renewal, like in the fashion industry. Not only that, but the handset as a fashion  item is becoming a reality: e.g. Softbank has reached an agreement with Tiffany’s for exclusive designs.

If this trend goes on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see soon mobile phones being presented in a runway as a fashion show.

Is this an specific behavior in Japan? or just an anticipation in Japan of what is coming for the rest of the world?

Mobile World Congress 2008 Barcelona

Next week in Barcelona we have the yearly Mobile World Congress, the biggest event of the Mobile industry. The theme for this year is “Ubiquitous Mobile Services”, but could have been well re-named as “Ubiquitous transformation”, as the industry is more than ever in a continuous change.

What are the main axes on which the industry is transforming, on which there will be a focus in Barcelona?

Universal Broadband:Wimax, Long Term Evolution (LTE) and 4G. Femto cells as part of the Digital Home
IP Transformation: “all-IP” networks are a reality for the transport and the Core Network. Evolution to IMS to enable Multimedia Services blended with Internet and Web 2.0
Mobile Entertainment: Broadcast Mobile TV, Interactive TV and Advertisement. Monetizing the knowledge of your customers. Enabling UGC
New business models: MVNO, wholesale, RAN sharing
New handsets: convergent smartphones (mp3, phone, camera, PDA, video, wifi, email…) with iPhone as a reference, as well as future Android. Also new terminals for specific use bundled with applications: health-care, metering, surveillance, automobile, or Amazon Kindle

Mobile Operators are threatened by smarter phones, and by Internet players, to become dumb pipes or pure Mobile Connectivity Service Providers (MCSP). Many MSPs will show in Barcelona how they are transforming, or planning to, to avoid becoming MCSPs. We will report it from Barcelona next week.

Operators vs. Media companies

In GigaOM’s guest column, Mr Chetan Sharma writes an interesting article on the battle between operators and media companies to deliver mobile entertainment to the end-user.

Although Media companies are in better position to bring their content over agnostics IP networks – like the ones of mobile operators are becoming-, operators have still powerful arguments to leverage:

1) Billing relationship. Operators have a trusted billing relationship with operators, that puts them in good position to charge for premium content delivered over their networks

2) Customer ownership. Operators have access to plenty of information about their customers behavior. With proper Service Orchestrator software solutions, marketing campaigns can easily be tailored to match each user profile

3) Bundling services. A subscription fee for a mobile TV channel that also give access to a premium website, are easy options to add to the phone bill and give operator more room for promotions and cross-selling.

4) QoS : Quality of Service. With IMS deployed, only the mobile operators can control QoS. A guaranteed QoS enables carrier-grade VoIP and other real-time conversational services, like high definition video calls and video sharing, that Internet players can not deliver with best-effort Internet QoS.Once the operator controls the real-time services, then it is in a strong position to bundle presence, location, user profile and IM with conversational services. Without this bundling, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are even in better position than operators to provide applications based on presence, location or user profile (including advertisement).

On the content delivery side, similarly the battle is not lost for operators if they show the determination and courage to play their cards. See KDDI example of a music service that competes head to head with iTunes in Japan.

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