Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sling Media: hefty $46m funding

Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox for place-shifting TV content to laptops, smartphones and PDAs, got $46.6m second round funding from Goldman Sachs, Liberty Media, EchoStar, Hearst and others.

That is a lot of money, and notably from a traditional media firm. It will probably mean: more products, more marketing, and possibly new deals.

Monday, January 30, 2006

FTTH: support from EC?

CommsDesign reports Viviane Reding's speech to the FTTH Council in Vienna contained a hint at EC support for FTTH. Thus the EC would abandon its technology neutrality stance.

The advantages would be straightforward: support broadband, the Internet and the economy, just the way LLU did on the wings of European support during 2005.

The report cites cities (as most recently Vienna) to be the best place to be, as a consequence of munifiber. Reding did not say how this bias could be ended. But on the other hand, resistance from member countries trying to protect the PTT would not be tolerated.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Will MSN have an edge over Yahoo! and Google?

Last week, Clickz revealed a research paper by Ostrovsky et al from October 2005, showing that advertisers overpay, using Google's auction method for AdWords (see this PDF for AdSense). Ostrovsky et al claim that Google wrongly states that it uses the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves mechanism (VCG). Instead, Google uses a generalized second price auction (GSP).

Interestingly, Ostrovsky et al point to "new entrants such as Ask Jeeves and Microsoft Network [who] have a comparative advantage over the established players in implementing VCG" (page 7).

If MSN indeed goes with true VCG, it could have an edge over Google. But that still leaves Google's high click-through rates to be beaten.

Dave.tv: head-to-head with Brightcove

Earlier this week Dave.tv launched a new product (Content Publishing Network), that makes it a direct competitor to Brightcove (read this interview).

Dave.tv launched its original software at the CES earlier this month (they also have a box: the Xport STB). What it roughly does is consolidate entertainment (video) from all sources (stored on a PC, or from cable, DSB, IPTV) and deliver it streaming to any device. In this respect, it is comparable to Orb Networks (software), Sling Media (box or software) and even Akimbo Systems (box).

The question for long term survival is: what is the smartest business mix?
  • Software or a box? I suppose few people want an extra box, and software can built into existing boxes.
  • Wholesale (supporting publishers, like Brightcove does) or retail (offer services directly to consumers? I suppose the latter will be scouped up sooner or later.

My money would be on either a software product, or a wholesale service. And hope to be taken out by a big guy one day.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Film 2006

The International Film Festival in Rotterdam just started. Come and meet me at the seminars on February 4.

Last minute previews for Verizon and AT&T

They are here for Verizon and here for AT&T, in Dutch.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wednesday Telecoms, Internet, Media Digests

The weekly news round-ups are here for Telecoms, Internet and Media.

Update on IPWireless' TDtv for TV-over-wireless

There are some disadvantages to the new TDtv solution for TV-over-wireless from IPWireless, as James Barford of Enders Analysis rightly points out:

The main advantages of the TDtv technology is that it can share some elements of
WCDMA 3G infrastructure to theoretically reduce equipment costs (and handset
size/costs), and it can use ‘spare’ unpaired 3G spectrum to operate. It
would however still cost money to roll out (it still needs separate RF
transmitters installed on each base station), and if volumes are low it would
not necessarily be cheaper than a common standard such as DVB-H.

There are also some major disadvantages:
Integrating the network into a 3G network means that each operator has to build
its own TDtv network rather than having a 3rd party build a network that all
operators can access. Our assessment of the economics imply that most
European operators would actually lose money on mobile TV if they had to build
their own networks.

Not all operators have spare unpaired 3G spectrum (e.g. Vodafone

Using spectrum at around 2GHz would require a much larger number of base stations than using terrestrial TV/radio spectrum or the L-band, which would probably nullify any network cost savings.

It appears to be much behind DVB-H and DAB-IP in development terms, particularly in terms of handset development, which would be key to any consumer
adoption. It is this last point that is the killer in the short term!

Comparing Orb to Akimbo

Jim Bennette moves from Orb Networks to Akimbo Systems. What does that mean?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cool New Products

Wireless broadband
WiFi could be squashed between UWB (for home-networking) and WiMAX (for MAN), but it could also very well win on both sides. UWB suffered a set-back and Milwaukee muniwifi could show the way in competing with WiMAX, as it seems to include a dense fiber backbone.

  • WiFi had a boost from the 802.11n task group at the IEEE. It approved a draft proposal for the new standard. Broadcom immediately introduced its Intensi-Fi chip.
  • UWB was less fortunate, though. The 802.15.3a standard was killed at the IEEE meeting in Hawaii. Two competing groups, the UWB Forum and the WiMedia Alliance, could not come to an agreement. It is not necessarily a set-back for the UWB-market, however. Companies involved will continue product development.
  • WiMAX saw its first batch of hardware certified (under the non-mobile 802.16-2004 standard) by the WiMAX Forum. HT in Croatia, a Deutsche Telekom company, was quick in launching build-out of a national network.

There was a major product launch from IPWireless, TDtv. It promises TV-o-W for UMTS operators in existing spectrum. No need for DVB-H, DAB, MediaFLO or any other new piece of infrastructure.

Tesco was a remarkable entrant into the VoIP space.
Broadcastbuyer.tv had a long article on IPTV and VoD.

This story on Linuxelectroncs is not meant for me - I'm not a software engineer. Maybe we will hear more from ClearNova and it's ThinkCAP.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More fiber

We've seen a lot of fiber lately: Amsterdam and Nuenen in the Netherlands; Paris and perhaps all of France, with or without France Telecom; Deutsche Telekom, possibly joined by United Internet and Freenet.de; TDC building a mix of copper, coax and fiber; Portland and Lafayette in the US (and many other cities); the FiOS build-out by Verizon.

Some are municipal, some commercial. Some are FTTH/FTP/FTTC, others are FTTN + VDSL.

The town of Hillegom in the Netherlands adds an interesting perspective. A private firm, Lijbrandt Telecom, is planning FTTH, branded 'Kadaka' ('kastje dat alles kan', box that does it all). Build-out starts any day.

A good deal on voice (free off-peak on national calls), 20/2 Mbps and a large bouquet of TV channels: just 45 EUR/mo (compare Nuenen: 60), plus all sorts of services (port your existing phone number, etc.).

Writes Dirk van der Woude (thanks again): "The catches: full vertical integration; up to euro 400 connection costs, when not subscribing at deployment time (which could mean keeping on paying, up to 11 months, for existing telco and/or MSO subs)."

Wednesday Telecoms Digest

* WLR: Pipex plans introduction March 2006
* LLU: Pipex plans expansion to 100 Cos in 2007 (was 60); Completel plans 110 Cos by end of 2006; penetration France at 2.23m lines (of which 592k fully unbundled)
* Broadband: penetration Slovenia at 160k (of which 100k DSL, 60k cable)
* FTTN: United Internet and Freenet propose to join Deutsche Telekom in investment plan
* FTTH: FT plans trial summer 2006
* Auctions: Telefonica, CANTV, ETB, EPM interested in Telecom Colombia
* Enitel (= America Movil; Nicaragua) plans expansion using Fitel (USF)
* Telecom Namibia offers cash rewards for reporting copper theft
* BPL: ARRL approves Motorola’s ‘Powerline LV’
* BiG: Nethercomm close to ending a trial

* License: Indonesia plans 3G licenses, auction Jan 16, winner Feb 8; Iraq plans 2-4 new licenses June 2006
* Launches: Azerphone (Siemens) and Catle plan Jan launch in Azerbeidzhan; Sky launches ‘Sky Mobile’ in the UK
* HSDPA: Dell rumoured to be planning a laptop with HSDPA
* MVNO: Spanish regulator CMT wants MVNOs; Cellcom (Israel) plans hosting MVNOs; Apple rumoured to plan MVNO (registers ‘Mobile Me’ trademark)
* TV: British trial (DAB-IP) by BT (wholesale, ‘BT Movio’) and Virgin (service provider) claims success, two-thirds willing to pay max 8 GBP/mo; SKT plans launch March/April 2006 (T-DMB); trial (‘Oxford Mobile TV’, DVB-H) of O2 and Arqiva claims success (83% satisfied); FLO Forum submits standard to TIA Engineering Committee

* ZigBee: STM and Ember cooperate on solutions

* Spectrum: FCC plans May 10 for air-to-ground in 800 MHz band for in-flight
* WiMAX: first batch of certified products expected next week; Nzwireless plans launch in New-Zealand this month; 48 apply for French licenses, more info needed, deadline Feb 1; India plans extra spectrum (not only 2.3-2.5 GHz band, but also 2.5-2.7 GHz and 3.3-3.8 GHz); Pipex plans trial; TDS Metrocom launches in Madison with Alvarion; Air Broadband orders Fujitsu’s WiMAX SoC for IP switch-router
* BWA: Mobile Satellite Ventures (Motient 48%, SkyTerra 20%, Bell Canada 20%) plans hybrid network (cellular + satellite) with Boeing; DirecTV plans plan within 2 months

* F/M: T-Mobile and Magyar Telekom launch F/M offerings; Vodafone and FastWeb rumoured to be talking
* VoIP: S&P cuts Verizon (and possibly AT&T, BellSouth, CenturyTel and Cingular) because of VoIP
* IPTV: Beijing Netcom: issues RfP

* BPL: Princeton (La Salle County) launches; Motorola ‘Powerline LV’ modem approved by Underwriters Labs (UL)
* WiMAX: Motorola completes national network in Macedonia using ‘MotoWi4 Canopy’ pre-WiMAX for ‘Macedonia Connects Project’
* FTTH: Portland (Or): Portland contemplates munifiber
* WiFi: Boston launches pilot (ad supported) ‘Boston Main Streets WiFi’ with Airpath

Wednesday Internet Digest

* Market shares US Nov: Google 39.8% (+5.2%pt), Yahoo! 29.5% (-2.5%pt), MSN/MS 14.2% (-1.8%pt), TWX 8.7% (-0.4%pt), Ask 6.5% (+1.0%pt) (comScore)
* SEM market N-Am: $5.75 bn in 2005, $11 bn in 2010 (SEMPo)
* Miva puts itself up for sale, rumours of InfoSpace planning bid for Mamma.com
* Technology: Vivisimo (clustering) wins InfoWorld Award
* Sponsored: MSN expands adCenter for ad delivery (now 25% of ads, 100% as of June 2006), expects better click-through rates by predicting age, gender, etc.; megaglobe.com (‘zero click fraud’) launches; AIT launches web site (igeryon.com) to combat click fraud (file complaints, exchange information)
* Vertical: IAC launches Pronto.com (comparison shopping, beta)
* Pay-per-call: PagesJaunes (FT) teams with eStara

WEB 2.0:
* Blogs: Gather.com (network) attracts $6m funding from Allen & Co and Jim Manzi
* Podcasts: Podtrac launches ad auctions

* BellSouth sticks to plan to charge web companies for priority/bandwidth

Wednesday Media Digest

* NTCC names Vyy Platinum Vendor (preferred)

* STB: Motorola acquires Kreatel (Linux-based IPTV STBs)
* HDTV: MTV launches ‘MHD’ on Cox

TV-over-wireless: this is the app we were waiting for

An exciting news release:

IPWireless launches TDtv: TV over wireless using existing 3G spectrum. Operators owning 5 MHz in the 1900 MHz or 2010 MHz band will be able to offer up to 50 channels (+ audio and data). Tailor-made for UMTS operators. No need for new spectrum or separate infrastructure (like DVB-H, DAB, DMB, Media-FLO, ISDB-T).

The solution combines IPWireless' UMTS TD-CDMA and Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Standard (MBMS). "TDtv leverages MBMS to allow an infinite number of customers to watch the same channel or use the same network bandwidth."

IPWireless expects to announce operator and handset partners shortly.

"NOTE: IPWireless will demonstrate TDtv in its booth #AV40 at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, February 13-16, 2006."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No more gentlemen's agreements

In the old days, operators would restrict themselves to their home turf. No more (which is nothing new right now), but it does make for interesting headlines:

Telefonica to provide DSL for Telecom Italia in Germany

Monday, January 16, 2006

VNU: is 28.50 the end or a beginning?

Private equity firms are trying to buy VNU for 28.00-28.50 EUR/share. Will that be enough? VNU closed Friday at 28.25 and had a peak of 29.41 intraday on December 14.

Now of course valuation is a tricky thing.

First, look at the premium. At current levels there is really no premium. Compared to recent history though, there is. Taking the average share price since August 1 (VNU made an offer for IMS on July 11, resistance from large shareholders arose in August and VNU dropped its bid November 17), the premium is around 7.5%. If you look at the three months preceding December 14 (when VNU acknowledged to be talking to investors), the premium is c. 7%. If you want a 15% premium over those three months, you are asking for 30.50 a share.

Second, comparing multiples is no short way to rocket science either. Ten B2B stocks have an average EV/EBITDA multiple of 11.1 (thanks to Reuters and Moody's), VNU has c. 11.4 at the proposed bid level. There is no apples to apples in this business, so there is really no premium if you look at it this way.

Third, let's check out some price targets. There is a bear at 26 (Exane) and a bull at 31.50 (Rabo). In my model, using consensus forecasts, I arrive at 29. But I am probably most bullish and look at a 32 target.

A 30.50 bid sounds pretty good to me. It would probably have investors cheering. If the bidding consortium allow VNU's current management to moan and groan over the proposed bid and raise its offer to 30.50, it makes VNU look good, having extracted an extra few euros for its shareholders.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Weekend Reading

Broadband adoption and Wifi v. 3G
Two good stories on demand shaping markets.
A history of Korean broadband (penetration 75%) on Ohmynews, the result of good ol' "build-it-and-they-shall-come". Thanks for this one to the ever well-informed Dirk van der Woude of Citynet in Amsterdam.
Blueprint on Arcchart predict user demand for 3G (not so fast but seamless coverage over a large area) will outstrip demand for WiFi (faster but patchy). Wholesale hotspot providers stand a better chance, as they are complementary to 3G.

Two worthwile reads on high-profile vendors.
Newsweek ran a good article on Huawei. Undercutting competitors by 70% makes you think.
BusinessWeek quotes Clayton 'The Innovator's Dilemma' Christensen on Apple. Twisting the argument the positive way, you could say the company must choose: either continue the proprietary way and keep launching great new products, or try to turn the proprietary product (ie iPod) into a standard.

Click fraud
An interesting and long Wired-article from Charles Mann on the undecided battle between Google and click fraud outfits. Google must hope that advertisers will accept the phenomenon as part of doing business on the net.

Once again, I recommend Cringely. Google could help networks insert extremely targeted ads, based on search behavior.

Long tail
The New York Times reported on The Orchard. Purchase music from indie and foreign labels and distribute it digitally. Hope to sell hundreds of copies of thousands of albums (instead of trying to sell millions of copies of hundreds of albums). A digital aggregator between these labels and digital music services.

Video distribution
A very long interview on the ITVT blog with Brightcove's Jeremy Allaire. I have been blogging on this company for quite some time, but it hasn't fully launched yet. They do have deals though, with AOL and Reuters. This is a service for publishers: distributing video/TV to IP devices that support Flash. Brightcove helps publishers distribute (editorial tools, facilities) and monetize (insert ads; charge users; syndicate to affiliates) their content.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had an article on a competitor: thePlatform.

Cool New Products

DECT Phones with VoIP
Take a look at this ABC article. Centers around Linksys, XACT, Auvi and Motorola. The Auvi Technologies' PHIP100 DECT seems especially cool, as it has a buil-in webcam and it can handle PSTN and VoIP calls simultaneously for conferencing.

Finally, convergence of competing standards alliances. This could lead to a revised draft in time for the IEEE meeting in Hawaii next week. The new 802.11n standard (with MIMO) quadruples speeds and could hit the market after 12-18 months.
It may turn WiFi into a viable home-networking technology, next to UWB, as well as wired standards based on existing telco, cable or power wires.

Movie release window collapse
There is much debate about the artificial release windows for movies. It could be better to collapse them into one. That would save a lot on marketing and it would appease movie lovers (and hence reduce illegal downloading and sharing). MediaPost's TV Watch reports Fox is considering simultaneous release of movies on VoD and DVD. Seems like a step in the inevitable right direction (even if it doesn't go quite as far as Mark Cuban does).

More coming from Google and Vodafone?

Google launches Google Talk for Blackberry in the spring - IM (as well as Gmail) on the go. Navigation will also be really easy, after downloading Google Local for mobile.

So far, it's text only, and there is no interoperability with AIM yet. But I suppose a Skype/E-Plus sort of deal will follow.

Telecompaper.nl reports, pointing to Radiocor, that FastWeb is talking to Vodafone (and 'other mobile operators') about launching converged services, in response to TI/TIM.

Vodafone works with BT in BT Fusion - will there be more alliances? In most countries (apart from Britain) Vodafone would be relegated to working with altnets, like FastWeb. That leaves plenty of room for speculation.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Defending munifiber

Defending munifiber (or munipower) goes something like the case for net neutrality:
  • Network operators: it's our network, we do as we please. We have to defend our own services.
  • Internet service providers: it's not us, it's the customer who is using the service. Moreover, he/she already pays for it (ie the broadband bill).
I am somewhere in the middle. Only if true competition would guarantee the option of subscribing to an ISP that respects net neutrality, would I support the network operators' point of view.

Now for munifiber:
  • Opponents (normally cablecos and telcos): cities have no expertise and should leave the market to commercial enterprises.
  • Proponents (usually cities themselves, but Minneapolis is an exception): competition is insufficient, especially in rural areas. Broadband is a civil right, like roads and water pipes. Besides, munibroadband will spur economic growth and will socially benefit the population. Also, government institutions can use the network.
Again, I am somewhere in the middle. As a matter of principle I would like to leave it to commercial enterprises, but the pragmatic point of those in favor of munifiber is simply too strong.
The matter is somewhat complicated by the 'stupid network' view: operators should acknowledge this inescapable view, cheer cities' initiatives to pay for the upgrade and restrict themselves to the role of service providers. But that would take a major turn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wednesday Telecoms Digest

* BPL: order from Hotel Combermere (India) to PLC Network Solutions (= Trimax); Telkonet launches in-building first deployment for US military; complaint from ARRL at FCC against Ambient (with ConEd) in Briarcliff (NY)
* NGN: China Telecom orders from ZTE

* License: Poland has 3 bidders for fourth license (GSM 1800): Telefonia Dialog, Telekom Kolejowa, Centertel
* MVNO: Amp’d Mobile mass-launch; Telco launches on E-Plus in Germany (9.9 c/min)
* IPO: Hutch 3G Italy prepares for Jan 19 (25%, EUR 2.5 bn)
* 3G: succesful trial for ChineseTD-SCDMA standard
* HSDPA: Lenovo builds laptop for Cingular
* SMS: KPN launches ‘SMS to Fixed’ as text or speech with ‘SpeechFrame’ from Comsys
* Music: Verizon Wireless plans intro of ‘V Cast Music’ for 3G and PC Jan 16; Vodafone launches ‘Vodafone Radio DJ’ with Sony for 3G and PC
* TV: Texas Instruments launches ‘Hollywood DTV’ chips (for DVB-H or ISDB-T), expects handsets late 2006; Modeo (formerly Crown Castle Mobile Media) plans DVB-H launch in 2006; Samsung plans DVB-H handset, LG plans Media-FLO handset
* Games: Amp’d Mobile deal with Electronic Arts
* LBS: Hop-On intros ‘Chitter Chatter’ (kids phone with GPS); gate5 launches ‘smart2go Mobile Navigator’ software

* BoS: KT Corp launches in Nigeria for Daewoo with Hugher Network Systems
* WiBro, (mobile) WiMAX: Samsung intros handset (M8000) and notebook; STM intros SoC for base station; SKT and Wavesat plan product development; Oxford Media intros VoD and PpV over WiMAX for hotels; Digicel plans expanding to Barbados and Jamaica in 2006; DirecTV plans announcement in 2 mo; Netia (Poland) orders from Alcatel

* ZigBee Alliance plans product certification; STM and Ember plan chip platform

* VoIP: Skype deal with WebDialogs (‘WebDialog Unyte’ beta for conferencing and sharing); IPness orders softswitch from Verso Technologies; StarHub plans intro on SIP
* Convergent handsets (wVoIP): Microsoft (Live Messenger) orders from Philips (‘VoIP433’ for PSTN and PC-to-PC) and Uniden; Skype orders from Philips (‘VoIP321’ cordless DECT for PSTN and PC-to-PC), Netgear (VoIP over WiFi) and RTX America (‘DUALphone’ cordless DECT for PSTN and PC-to-PC); 8x8 orders from Uniden
* IPTV: order from Oxford Networks (FTTH in Maine) to Siemens
* Multiple play: Scarlet has 100k subs in Netherlands + Belgium for ‘Scarlet One’ (ADSL + VoIP + mobile, 65 EUR/mo)

* FTTH: BellSouth wins appeal stopping Lafayette issuing bonds; Amsterdam city council approves first phase (40k homes); 20% of Keller homes sign up for FiOS TV; Paris plans RfP for citywide deployment
* WiFi: Chandler (Az) plans decision Jan 10

Wednesday Internet Digest

* Enterprise: MediaNews Group (50 dailies, 121 non-dailies) buys FAST for newspaper site search
* Sponsored: keyword price Dec 05 -2% mom and -16% yoy to average $1.43 (Fathom Online); worldwide market $10 bn in 2005, $14 bn (+41%) in 2006 (Piper Jaffray), 5 yr CAGR 37%
* Click fraud: Sofizar reports vulnerability to Google
* Video: AOL buys Truveo (‘Visual Crawling’, will be integrated)
* Vertical: Become.com (comparison shopping) plans entering Japan in 06H1

* Online spending US: 2005 non-travel $82.3 bn (+24%), travel $60.9 bn (+20%); holidays (Nov, Dec) non-travel $19.6 bn (+25%), travel $8.6 bn (+16%) (comScore)
* Online sales Barnesandnoble.com: 2005 $393m (+5.2%), holidays (Oct 29 – Dec 31) $106m (+1.0%)

WEB 2.0:
* Podcasts: BBN Technologies launchews PodZinger search engine out of beta
* About.com (NY Times) adds 3 ‘Guides’

* OS: Microsoft demos Vista (with Media Player, CableCard), for sale late 2006

Wednesday Media Digest

* MTV (Viacom) and Microsoft plan launch of ‘Urge Music Service’ (2m tracks)
* Verizon Wireless plans V Cast Music launch Jan 16, 1m tracks from the 4 majors + The Orchard, player & codec & DRM from Microsoft, download to phone (2 $/track for phone and PC version) or PC (1 $/track for PC version)
* Vodafone and Sony launch ‘Vodafone Radio DJ’ for 3G and PC
* Sony Ericsson launches new Walkman phone ‘W810’ with memory stick
* Nettwerk Music Group licenses Snocap (legal P2P platform) for music from EA games

* Reuters plans launch of video affiliate program for bloggers, technology from Brightcove
* Dave.tv: launches Media Center software (consolidatesw sources, delivers to TV, PC, devices) and has a deal with Capitol Infrastructure (FTTH provider in southeast US)
* Sling Media: plans PAL version (for Europe) and Mac version (06Q2) of the Slingbox (access home TV anywhere) 06H1 (in beta since Nov 2005), plans to enter Canada, launches SlingPlayer Mobile (client for smartphone or PDA), plans Mac version client (now in alpha)
* Akimbo: deals with Movielink (library of 1k movies) and Thomson (new box, labeled ‘RCA-Akimbo Player’)
* AOL buys Truveo (video search).
* Yahoo! intr Yahoo! Go TV (video search, photos, Flickr, My Yahoo!, Movies, TV (tuner and PVR))
* Google intrs Videos Marketplace (content from CSB, others for buy or rent) and has deal with DivX (video codec) to put Google Video on devices.
* Thomson intros ‘Lyra X3000’ portable DVR (with MPEG-4) for DirecTV 2Go
* Proxure launches ‘MyTV ToGo 3.0’ Media Center software for portable devices (iPod, PSP, etc), $30
* 2Wire intros ‘HomePortal 4000 series iNID’ (outdoor, to save on truck roll cost)
* NDS demos ‘Home AV Center II’ (with Samsung and Broadcom; server, in-home, for up to 3 rooms; 5 tuners, 300 GB hard drive, VoIP) and ‘Xspace’ (with Akimbo, Fox, IGN; software for STB with broadband link)
* Comcast orders digital STB (with DVR, 250 GB storage, HD, MPEG-2 and H.264) from Panasonic
* MatrixStream plans launch of IPTV STB (with HD, delivery over broadband)
* Aeon plans IPTV STB (with 80 GB PVR, EPG, WiFi) with Protron USA, $350
* Microsoft new OS ‘Vista’ will include Media Center and CableCard
* Intel: deals for Viiv Technology platform (easy content sharing on any device by remote control) with Telecom Italia, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, CinemaNow, NBC Universal, MTV Networks (Viacom), ESPN (Disney), DirecTV (News), Grupo Televisa/Univision, Shanghai Media Group, Eros (India, ‘Bollywood’)
* Next-gen DVD: Twentieth Century Fox and Sony Pictures each plan 20 movies on Blu-ray DVD, spring 2006; Lionsgate plans 10 movies on Blu-ray; Paramount plans HD-DVD and Blu-ray releases; Philips plans Blu-ray player in 06H2; Toshiba plans HD-DVD player at $500 and $800 in March 2006

* Next-gen TV: Philips plans 3D HDTV 2008
* DTT: Freeview adds 694k in Dec 2005 to 6.393m
* TV watching US: fall viewing +2% (4 min) to 4:39 on average per viewer (Nielsen)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Weekend Reading

Two interviews with Microsoft TV execs: on Xchange Magazine with Ed Graczyk (marketing & communications) and on CommsDesign with Peter Barrett. Are they ready to scale? Why is their DRM better? Is their one-stop shop good for operators? Is it designed just for TV? How about in-home wiring?

Spectrum auction
DailyWireless.org explained the upcoming spectrum auctions in the US. Currently used by government agencies, the first half of 90 MHz is to be auctioned in the summer. It could be used for 3G, but for WiMAX (let's say 4G) as well.

Wi-Fi Planet wrote about the new 802.11v standard, dealing with load balancing. It will clear the way for (better) wVoIP. Unfortunately, approval isn't expected until 2008.

Click Fraud
Wired carried a lengthy article from Charles Mann.

Merger Mania in Internet and Media
The LA Times had "Media: the Year Ahead". Fun over possible (?) M&A: Microsoft + Yahoo!, Disney + Pixar, Yahoo! + Lionsgate, Comcast + MGM (!), Viacom + DreamWorks Animation, AT&T + EchoStar. Finance Fiction.

Kevin Maney on USA Today wrote about the end of the blockbuster. Hollywood should make more low-budget movies and very few big-budget, mass-market movies.

Open Access Publishing
Campus-Technology had a short overview.

Gadget Ideas
Finally, I copy/paste David Pogue's article in the New York Times, before it vanishes behind a for-pay option.

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year

ON New Year's Eve, don't be surprised to witness more heartfelt celebrating than usual; 2005 was not a year noted for its tidings of good cheer, and plenty of people will be happy to see it go. Still, there were inspiring and gratifying success stories if you knew where to look - and the high-tech industry was one of them. Google Earth redefined how we think of our planet, the Razr phone proved that people do care about beauty, and the iPod - well, you know all about the iPod. But some of the year's greatest joys weren't new products, but aspects of new products. Here and there, you could find tiny touches of brilliance: clever steps forward and new spins on old features that somehow made it through committee, past the bean counters and
under the radar of marketing departments.

Here they are, the 10 best gadget ideas of 2005:

THE FOLDING MEMORY CARD After taking a few digital photos, the next step, for most people, is getting them onto the computer. That usually involves a U.S.B. cable, which is one more thing to carry and avoid misplacing. SanDisk's better idea is to take the memory card out of the camera and stick it directly into your computer's U.S.B. port. That's possible with the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card. It looks just like any other SD memory card, except that it folds on tiny hinges. When you fold it back on itself, you reveal a set of metal contacts that slide directly into the U.S.B. jack of your Mac or PC. The computer sees the card as an external drive, and you can download the photos as you always do - except that you've eliminated the need to carry around a cable.

THE VOICE MAIL VCR Voice mail is a delightful invention. But trying to remember which keys to press - for replay, skip, delete and so on - is not so delightful, especially if you have more than one voice mail system to learn. Thanks to Palm, then, for adding VCR-style buttons on the touch screen of its coming Treo 700W cellphone. You just tap Skip, Play, Delete, or whatever. The phone remembers which touch tones to play so you don't have to.

THE FRONT-SIDE TV CONNECTOR The home-theater explosion is all well and good, but one less exciting aspect never appears in the photos: the rat's nest of cables. Depending on how permanently your TV has been built into your cabinetry, getting behind it to plug or unplug something is either a royal pain or a full-blown construction project. Hewlett-Packard's latest microdisplay (rear projection) TV sets solve the problem sweetly and simply: everything plugs into the front. A broad tunnel lets you hand each cable to yourself from the back, an illuminated connection panel makes it easy to see what you're doing at the front, and an attractive door hides the whole ingenious system.

THE BIGGER-THAN-TV MOVIE Most digital still cameras today can also capture video big enough to fill a standard TV screen (640 by 480 pixels) and smooth enough to simulate standard TV motion (30 frames a second). But Canon's PowerShot S80 model goes one step further: it can capture videos at even higher resolution (1024 x 768 pixels). Why on earth would you need a video picture of higher resolution than the TV itself? Three reasons. First, your videos will look better on high-definition sets. Second, the videos fill much more of your computer screen when played there. And finally, that's so much resolution, you can isolate a single frame and grab it as a still photograph.

TV à LA CARTE It's always seemed crazy that TV companies would spend $1 million an episode writing and producing a program that is shown only once. Yet the obvious solution - making past shows available for purchase on the Internet - gave TV executives nightmares of teenage download pirates run amok.It took Apple to persuade them to dip a little toe into the Internet waters. ABC took the first plunge,
offering iPod owners five shows' worth of archives for a perfectly pitched price of $2 each - and no commercials. NBC came next with a broader menu of shows. The
concept was a hit, the floodgates have opened, and the era of downloadable,
reasonably priced, lightly copy-protected TV episodes is finally upon us.

THE OUTER-BUTTON FLIP PHONE First came the cellphone with a hinge (the flip phone). Then came the flip phone with an external screen, so you could see who was
calling. Problem was, this arrangement deprived you of the option to dismiss the call or send it to voice mail. If you opened the flip phone to get to the Ignore button, you'd answer the call - unless you'd turned off the "opening phone answers the call" feature, in which case you lost one great convenience of having a flip phone to begin with.The solution? Add buttons on the outside of the phone. When a call comes in to the LG VX8100, for example, its external screen identifies the caller - and the small buttons just below it are labeled Ignore (let it ring until voice mail picks up) or Dismiss (send it directly and immediately to voice mail). You get the best of all cellular worlds, without ever having to open the phone.

THE FREE DOMAIN NAME A domain name is what comes before the ".com" in a Web address - like NYTimes.com, verizonwireless.com or MarryMeBritney.com. Getting your own personal dot-com name has its privileges - for example, your e-mail address can be You@YourNameHere.com - but it costs money and requires some expertise.It took Microsoft, of all companies, to make getting your own dot-com name free. Its new Office Live online software suite for small businesses, now in testing, will offer a domain name, Web site and e-mail accounts free. Yes, you'll see ads on the screen (unless you pay for the adless version) - but plenty of people won't mind viewing them in exchange for a free, professional-looking Web presence.

THE MODULAR DVD SCREEN If you tallied up the amount of money you've spent on L.C.D. screens, you'd probably go white-haired in horror. One on your laptop, one on your digital camera, plus screens on your Game Boy, camcorder, portable DVD
player, car dashboard and so on.Audiovox has taken a small step toward reducing that redundancy with its Shuttle DVD player. It's a portable, battery-powered DVD player (available in three screen sizes) that hangs from the driver's-side headrest, for the benefit of the young audience in the back seat of the car. But the beauty of the Shuttle is that you can also buy docking stations for it: a car-ceiling mount, for a more permanent and central position; an under-cabinet mount, complete with AM-FM radio, for the kitchen; a cable-ready tabletop stand, with stereo speakers, for the home; and so on. The player and screen move with you from place to place, so your
investment isn't sitting wasted every time you leave the minivan.

THE FAMILY-PORTRAIT BURST MODE If you've ever tried to take a family portrait, you know about Ansel's Law: the odds of somebody's eyes being closed increases geometrically with the number of people in the group. That's why Casio digital cameras, in self-timer mode, automatically shoot three consecutive snaps, a
fraction of a second apart. You've just tripled your odds of getting one decent shot.

THE HYBRID HIGH-DEFINITION TAPE JVC and Sony developed the first camcorders capable of recording in spectacular wide-screen high definition. This would have been a perfect opportunity for them to introduce yet another type of videocassette - some expensive, proprietary new format that wouldn't fit any other camcorder (and would generate millions in sales).But they didn't. Instead, these HDTV camcorders record on everyday $4 drugstore MiniDV tapes, the same kind used in regular camcorders. In fact, you can mix and match high-def and standard video on the same tape. It took a lot of engineering to cram so much more video data onto the same amount of tape, but for home-movie buffs, it was a surprising, generous, kind-hearted move.

FTTH: two up, one down

After Nuenen, now Amsterdam makes progress toward munifiber. Things are moving the wrong way in Lafayette however, where BellSouth won a court battle.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cool New Products

A small selection (taking the CES in Las Vegas into account).

Boxes etc.
MatrixStream's IPTV STB.
The RCA-Akimbo Player from Thomson and Akimbo Sytems. UPDATE: Akimbo has a deal with MovieLink (ie Hollywood) for movie distribution.
Thomson also the handheld Lyra X3000 DVR.
Sling Media presents a software version of its Slingbox. UPDATE: Sling also launches the PAL (ie European) version of the Slingbox and plans entering Canada.
Proxure launched MyTV ToGo 3.0 for uploads to mobile devices.
KPN offers the Archos AV400 portable DVD/music player/recorder at a discount (EUR 300).
Dave.tv launches its software product: consolidate video from all sources and deliver to any device. Also, DAVE.TV works with Capitol Infrastructure to provide new home owners in the southeast of the US with IPTV. Interesting stuff for service providers.
AT&T supplier 2Wire launches an outdoor home gateway, the HomePortal 4000 series iNID, to shrink the truck roll bill. Extension into the home through coax, ethernet or 802.11g.
NDS introduces the Home AV Center II (a server with 5 tuners, a 300 GB hard drive, HD and VoIP, so you can have DVR capabilities and all your movies, music and photos in up to 3 rooms) and Xspace software (to deliver internet content to the tv, apparently through a deal with Akimbo; with search capabilities, EPG and DRM).

Next-gen DVD
Hardware and software companies, vendors, studios: some have taken sides, others bet on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD to be the new high-storage standard. Here is an overview.
This week's developements center around two things: movie releases and players.
Movies: Paramount will release 10 on HD DVD and 10 on Blu-ray. Warner too will release on both. Lionsgate plans 10 on Blu-ray. Sony and 20th Century Fox each plan 20 on Blu-ray. MGM also will release on Blu-ray.
Interestingly, Sony will use MPEG-2 for compression. "The new codecs are interesting but unproven". UPDATE: "Satellite providers continue MPEG-4 transitions."
Players: Toshiba will launch the first HD DVD in the US in March of this year. Pricing starts at $500. Philips will launch a Blu-ray player in the second half.

Hop-on announces the Chitter Chatter: a kids handset with GPS. You locate your kids via SMS or the internet.

SMS to fixed
KPN introduces SMS to Fixed services, using SpeechFrame from Comsys for text-to-speech conversion (in case the phone doesn't have a display for text messages). The result is "fluent, naturally sounding spoken text".

KT Corp supplies Daewoo with BoS connectivity for a Nigerian plant, using Hughes Network Systems.

Power to the people: video-on-demand

The Nuenen FTTH project had a stunning 80% uptake from trial households. Still, I would not quite agree with James Enck ("So much for consumer inertia"). The small miracle was that so many people participated (it was a free trial, which explains much for those who understand the Dutch psyche). Extending the service and accepting payments (some 60 EUR/mo) is really a sign of inertia.

Which brings me to user habits. There is little point in trying to change them, even though some innovations have very quick market acceptance (internet, broadband, mobile, etc). Convenience, easy of use and the ability to save time are all-important.

Give the people what they want: on-demand.
  • In movies and video: you better collapse the traditional window. Save on marketing, let people figure out what they prefer (theater or DVD) and raise your prices. That will be good for VoD revenues at cable companies and studios will get a larger slice, as this WSJ article argues.
  • In movies: the end of the blockbuster as studios (must) focus more on niche movies, as Kevin Maney argues on USA Today. Before him, Patrick Goldstein made the same point, and how this affects movie theaters, in the LA Times.
  • This ties into the a la carte programming discussion that Kevin Martin unleashed.
  • Finally, MarketWatch ran a story on disaggregation: you don't want to pay for news that you're not interested in in the newspaper; or boring tracks on a CD; or unbearable channels in your cable bundle; or even bad programming on a broadcast network.

How predictions and speculation morph into market rumours

Robert Cringely's much-quoted "I,Cringely" of November 17 (speculation on the 'Google Box') and November 24 (on the 'Google Cube') and the LA Times' "Media: The Year Ahead" of January 1 (predictions of a number of possible mergers) show how rumours sometimes develop.

Cringely was elaborated by Bear Stearns on December 19 (!). They even hosted a conference call with him. I myself linked to his columns on November 25 and November 30. Then, in January the story all of a sudden became hot. Google, by the way, denied any plans in this direction.

The LA Times article led to some heat around Yahoo! last Tuesday.

Verizon and Comcast taking measures

Verizon and Comcast, locked in a bloody battle sending their share prices toward 52-week lows, may be pressured enough to take measures to bring forward their inflection points.

Lehman Brothers suggest that Verizon may scale back its FTTP plan toward FTTN. That would explain yesterday's 3% gain. Still, the stock is solidly in a downtrend since late 2004. Interestingly, Verizon's FTTP plans date from November 2003 (if I'm not mistaken). In other words, it took the market about a year to decide that FTTP is too expensive for its quarterly focus (and another year for Moody's, which downgraded Verizon last December on the same grounds).

At the same time, the cable guys (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Advance/Newhouse) and Sprint Nextel announce that their quadruple-play joint-venture will start operations mid 2006.
(The announcement is refreshingly straight-forward: they want to offer the quadruple-play, serve the third screen, develop co-branded devices and use their combined retail power. Compare that to Motorola's Gateway announcement, Thomas Anglero's post that James Enck pointed to, as well as the two comments that Anglero incited. Frankly, I would assume that Anglero is right, but it is not new at all.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wednesday Telecoms Digest

* Dial-up: court blocks Telecom Italia’s cut-rate flat-fee offering
* LLU: Telekom Slovenija launches
* DSL: 1&1 launches ADSL2+ (’16 Mbps’) in Germany (on Telefonica network?); Siemens acquires Harbour Networks router assets (China), $110m cash
* Voice: NTT’s MPEG-4 ALS (audio losless coding) approved

* MVNO: Tesco Mobile (UK) and Telfort (Netherlands) reach 1m subs; FastWeb interested
* 3G: Thailand postpones auction to 2007; Partner plans luanch 06H1
* HSDPA: Vodafone plans handset launch, demo at CES (Samsung, Qualcomm); Nortel and Option achieve 3.6 Mbps datacards; Samsung launches 3.6 Mbps phone
* License: Serbia revokes Mobtel license for giving control to Kosovo company, is put under control of Telekom Serbija
* Spectrum: US will reallocate 90 MHz of government spectrum (cost: $936m), auction 45 MHz (between 1710 and 1755 MHz) summer 2006 (no date for 45 MHz between 2110 and 2155 MHz yet) for commercial use (data, possibly WiMAX); India plans allowing spectrum trading
* Budget operator, SIM-only: Aldi Talk (on E-Plus, 300k subs) plans relaunch Jan 06 with lower rates
* IPO: North-West Telecom (Russia) plans
* TV: Samsung launches T-DMB handset (‘SPH-B2300 Swing DMB Phone’)
* Radio: Motorola unveils ‘Rokr E2’ for ‘iRadio’ (upload from PC; 7-10 $/mo)
* LBS: Skyhook (WiFi positioning) teams up with Tele Atlas to improve coverage in urban canyons and indoors

* WiFi: draft proposal expected for 802.11v (includes devices; improved load balancing will enable wVoIP; ratification expected 2008); The Cloud launches clouds in 7 UK cities for BT Openzone, O2, SkypeZones and Nintendo WiFi subs
* UWB: Belkin (‘CableFree USB Hub’) and Freescale/Gefen (‘Wireless USB Extender’) plan products spring 2006

* LMDS: Spanish Competition Tribunal opposes Telefonica’s buy of stake in Iberbanda
* WiMAX: Orbitel plans launch in Colombia 06Q2; GlobeTel orders network in Russia from Internafta, $600m (30 cities in 27 months); MetroMAX launches in Russia (with Airspan)

* Double play: DBD (WiMAX) and O2 offer WiMAX/cellular bundle ‘SmartDuo’ in Germany from 27 EUR/mo
* VoIP:
- Yak launches (2 c/min in N-America); TelCove plans enterprise launch with technology from ECG
- CableLabs receives 30 responses to peering FfI (October 2005)
- Skype and Kodak launch ‘Kodak Photo Voice’ (slide show with audio)
- convergent handset deals from Skype: Ascalade Comms, D-Link (USB Phone Adapter for existing corded and cordless phones), Panasonic (cordless phone for traditional and Skype calls), Creative (standalone phone without PC connection), Netgear (device), Vtech (USB Phone), Ipevo (USB phone cordless handset)
- convergent handset deals from Vonage with Panasonic (standalone cordless phone), D-Link (adaptor), Uniden (corded or cordless phone without PC connection)
- Motorola launches C51 (cordless phone, with WiFi and cellular), SBV5400 (cable modem with VoIP and WiFi) and Residential Seamless Mobility Gateway (RSG) family (router with WiFi and VoIP)
- Symantec acquires IMlogic (enterprise IM)
* wVoIP: Motorola unveils C51 (cordless, cellular, VoIP with adapter)
* Unified messaging: Softbank BB, Japan Telecom and Microsoft cooperate in business market alliance (Enhanced VoIP Services: VoIP, email, internet access, groupware, presence, IM, desktop services, network infrastructure)
- Jazztel launches ‘Jazztelia TV’ in Ardoz (local VoIP 15 EUR/mo; 20 Mbps; basic TV 3 EUR/mo (promo 1 EUR/mo through May 2006), expanded package 8.5 EUR/mo)
- KT Corp plans launch 06Q2
- Telefonica’s Imagenio reaches 200k subs
- BellSouth plans satellite distribution with SES Americom

* FTTH: North Kansas City (Miss) plans launch July 2006, Time Warner Cable loses court case against it; Nuenen (Netherlands) has 80% of 7500 trial subs move to official for-pay service
* BPL: Current Comms plans VoIP for Cinergy (Cincinnati) 06Q1

Wednesday Internet Digest

* Holidays US:
- $30.1 bn (+30% yoy) from Nov 1 – Dec 25, online 27% of total retail sales (NetRatings)
- $18.11 bn (+25% yoy) (comScore)
- peak week as of Dec 11 ($3.069 bn); $3.036 bn in week as of Dec 18

* Web 2.0: Amazon launches ‘Amazon Connect’ (author blogs)

* Online US: rich media ads 10.81 $/CPM, banners 2.85 $/CPM in November (NetRatings); total market 2006E $16.6 bn (+32%) (CSFB)

Wednesday Media Digest

* US market: national market from $177.1 bn in 2005 (+6.0%) to $189.2 bn 2006 (+6.8%), total market to $292.0 bn in 2006 (+5.8%) (Universal McCann)

* Motorola plans cellphone radio service iRadio (with Clear Channel; ), 7-10 $/mo

* Movie downloads: Starz Entertainment starts ‘Vongo’ service for download to PC and portabel devices on Portable Media Center, 10 $/mo for unlimited use from limited catalogue (at pay-tv window, ie 5-6 months after DVD release), 4 $/movie for earlier downloads
* Internet to tv: Akimbo offers exclusive content from Expedition 360
* Internet and tv to handsets: Proxure introduces MyTV ToGo 3.0 at $30 for TiVo and Windows MCE content to portable devices (Sony PSP, Apple iPod, smartphones, PocketPCs, laptops)
* TV/PC content to devices anywhere: Sling Media plans launch of software client for cell phones and handheld computers and PAL-version of the Slingbox for Europe; DirecTV plans ‘DirecTV 2Go’ service
* STB: Motorola launches QIP family (QAM and IPTV) with home entertainment (based on MoCA, using in-home coax); VBox Comms (= Optibase) launches PIVOT family of tuners for DSB, DVB-T, CATV with home-networking based on Media Center to any device
* Disney adds ESPN and ABC content to iTunes for video iPod
* Digital cinema: order from Century Theaters (90-120 screens) to Technicolor (= Thomson)

Telco-death part 14,159,265: VoIP, BPL and muniBB

VoIP: software (with Kodak) and hardware added by Skype (from Panasonic, D-Link and others), hardware added by Vonage (from Panasonic, D-Link and Uniden) and new hardware from Motorola.

VoIP-over-munibroadband/BPL: Current Communications will release VoIP for its (muni) BPL service with Cinergy in Cincinnati, this quarter.

Munifiber: out of 7500 free trial households for munifiber in the town of Nuenen (Netherlands), 80% elected to keep the triple-play service, now that it is no longer free.