Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cool new hardware

Here is a number of very interesting hardware technology developments worth checking out.

First, Jim Marggraff's LiveScribe 'paper-based computing', using a pen stuffed with technology. The New York Times has some pretty amazing details:

Instead of forcing users to write with a stylus on a computer’s slippery
display, Livescribe put the computer inside a plump ballpoint pen that is used
on paper imprinted with nearly invisible miniature dots. As a user writes, a
tiny camera near the pen’s tip watches those dots go by, recording what is being
written. (...)
The Livescribe pen is a more advanced version of the LeapFrog Fly Pentop
Computer, which itself has some impressive abilities, even if it is intended for
children. Fly users can draw a calculator on paper and make it work by tapping
the keys with the pen; a speaker in the pen plays back the results. Users can
also draw a piano keyboard on a piece of paper and play a tune on it. (...)
The pen, he said, will revolutionize the way millions of students take
notes. To demonstrate, Mr. Marggraff jots down some notes while talking with a
visitor. As he speaks, the digital recorder inside the pen captures his voice.
Once done, he taps the pen on a word he scribbled halfway down the page. The pen
immediately begins to replay the conversation, starting from the point in time
when Mr. Marggraff had written that word. He then skips back and forth in the
audio simply by tapping the pen on different places on the page. (...)
To generate excitement about the future potential of the Livescribe
technology, Mr. Marggraff performs a nifty stunt: he reaches into his pocket,
pulls out his business card and hands it to someone saying that if the person
jots down a note on the back of it with a Livescribe pen, the note could soon
land in Mr. Marggraff’s e-mail in-box.

From Microsoft, a great looking Surface computer. It reminds me of Jeff Han, showing his very cool display.

Sony has developed "a razor-thin display that bends like paper while showing full-color video", but "it has yet to decide on commercial products using the technology".

Also in the New York Times, HP's efforts to get more printing done. It will introduce a handheld printer.

Finally, the Times also wrote about advances in video conferencing.


Dirk 'Citynet' van der Woude informs me that the Geldrop project actually has yet to be built out. In other words, the 56% 'take' rate so far could end up at Nuenen levels of around 80%.

Further, Cisco's Francisco Feuntes spoke at a FTTH seminar in Singapore last week, giving a short overview of the current state of affairs. He aired a 'telco 2.0' theme:
According to Feuntes, open access is a common theme in nearly all of the European rollouts, something he says is critical to fostering innovation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

FTTH Update - growing in the Netherlands, Denmark (and Italy)

More exciting FTTH developments. My cyberbuddy in Italy, Stefano Quintarelli, is making waves with his 'Fibra che ride' ('Fiber that laughs') initiative through his blog. He is an industry insider pushing the economic importance of FTTH.

In the Netherlands, it's Reggefiber again that is making waves - on actual deployments. In the towns of Geldrop-Mierlo, where 16k homes were connected, 56% (9k homes) took up the 60 EUR/mo service. Not much less than what either KPN or UPC charges, which makes it all the more remarkable. Reggefiber states it needs a 50% take rate to be profitable. And they are expanding to nearby towns. The target is 50-80k subs in 2 years.

Finally, Cisco and HP are helping Danish utilities launch service.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Australia and Sweden may lead the way

Alternative operators and ISPs have a hard time fighting the incumbent. Why not get together?

Now, Australia and Sweden could pull the industry into a new phase:
  • The Australian G9 consortium has proposed to build a FTTN network with Telstra.
  • Telenor is trying to convince Telia, as well as Tele2, to cooperate on a VDSL2 network.

Somehow, market participants and regulators must come to balance the interests of each:

  • Incumbents may prefer to go it alone, in order to force altnets to 'follow or die'. Still, there may be budget restraints, especially when FTTN/VDSL networks are regarded intermediate stages toward FTTH.
  • Altnets lack scale on an individual basis. Also, in most cases they are backed by competitors. The Swedish example could be a way out: work together on a country-by-country basis.
  • As the G9 put it, only a single FTTN network is economically viable. As regulators and operators alike prefer facilities-based competition, the competitive element will have to move up and away from the physical (passive) layer.

Sweden and Australia may lead the way. The next step could be to separate the cooperatively built network. This way, a (natural) monopoly would arise and competition would be focused on delivering superior services.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Buying Joost would fit Comcast's strategy

Comcast is looking at all possible means to enhance its high-speed data offering, but so far P2P technology apparently hasn't come into play. Hence, Joost (as well as Bablegum) could be a takeover target.

Let's first step back a little bit. Cablecos and telcos are trying to leapfrog each other in the broadband game. Telcos have xDSL technology to upgrade copper, cablecos have DOCSIS. Almost as old is the DOCSIS 3.0 conundrum; Comcast gave a demo and Giga Om justly reminds us of the barriers yet to be taken: certification, commercial availability, freeing up bandwidth. Meanwhile, let's not forget that FTTH is still the ultimate solution - i.e. Verizon's FiOS. As Comcast is reluctant to go the FTTH way, it has not only DOCSIS 3.0, but other technologies at its disposal: further plan upgrades (toward 1 GHz), node splitting, switched digital video, Vyyo.

Now how does Joost fit in here?

The Wall Street Journal recently devoted a fine article to Comcast, highlighting its efforts toward gearing up its broadband offering. Video is increasingly brought to us over the internet, so making a viable player is a good (defensive) strategy, complementary to the regular TV/VoD offering. The most recent related deals include:
  • Acquisition of thePlatform: video delivery technology
  • Acquisition of movie info (and tickets)
  • Acquisition of a stake in Revver: video sharing
  • Launch of user-generated content
  • Planned launch of TV/movie portal
  • Deal with Yahoo! (replacing Google): display and video ads
  • Deal the News Corp/NBC Universal company: distribution to and

Acquiring Joost would round out the efforts (as long as FTTH is deemed unnecessary) and gives Comcast another tool in building a more or less robust delivery platform, based on the open internet (v. Comcast's still superior and proprietary cable network).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How Terry and Meg are marrying off Yahoo! and eBay

It is interesting to see what happened at Yahoo!, six months after Brad Garlinghouse’s ‘Peanut Butter Manifesto’ was leaked to the Wall Street Journal. In general, he called for focus and job cuts.

It looks to me like Yahoo! is quietly implementing Brad’s underlying recommendations. Focus is in fact increasing (but as a content aggregator Yahoo!’s coverage remains naturally wide). Job cuts could be on the cards next. Still, Yahoo! seems pretty phlegmatic in executing its grand plan. Take for instance Facebook. As Mr. Zuckerberg is looking for more and more money, a deal with Yahoo! is getting less and less likely.

As Yahoo! is focusing and eBay is expanding its branch of e-commerce operations (see below), speculation over increased cooperation or even a merger may continue.

So what action have we seen at Yahoo? First of all, a restructuring into three groups was launched: Advertiser & Publisher, Audience and Technology. Some high-profile vacancies were created in the process. As Susan Decker seems to be heading for the CEO job when Terry Semel retires later this year, the company is trying to hire a CFO and an Audience CEO.

Second, Yahoo! got focused on improving its search engine and monetisation efforts under the ‘Panama’ banner.

Third, it is defending the display market that Google is entering. Yahoo! is building ‘brand universes’ for large advertisers and it acquired Right Media. Also, it entered into a large newspaper cooperation.

Fourth, Yahoo! continued the ‘relaunch’ of its verticals, lastly Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Travel. At the same time, the company has started discontinuing other sites, such as the North American Auctions business and Yahoo! Photos (which will migrate to Flickr). Yahoo! Bookmarks and could be merged, but the former is simply too successful to discontinue. New verticals include Yahoo! Food.

Fifth, Yahoo! continually expands its community features. It bought blogging services MyBlogLog and Wretch (Taiwan), as well as (runs contests). The vastly popular Yahoo! Answers teamed with A deal with Reuters will see uploaded photos and videos appear both on Yahoo! and The new Yahoo! Pipes allows for the creation of mash-ups.

A different way of seeing increased focus is by looking at what does NOT offer: no satellite images such as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth; no Office look-alikes such as Google’s Docs & Spreadsheets and its soon-to-launch presentations tool; offline efforts are largely limited to wireless and print (no radio, TV, outdoor and in-game, as we have seen at Google); e-commerce activities are limited to certain countries.

The latter easily leads to some eBay speculation.

First, as Yahoo! is focusing, eBay is in fact expanding without creating more overlap. The e-commerce activities comprise not only the core auctions business, but a growing list of related services and sites: Buy It Now, eBay Express,,, Craigslist,, Kijiji. Recently eBay added StubHub (ticket sales) and possibly StumbleUpon (recommendations).
As a side note, it is quite easy to list a few takeover candidates for eBay to grow further within the e-commerce sector: single-item retailers ( in the US, in Europe), travel (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity), securities trading (E*Trade,, swapping (La La Media) or even

Second, Yahoo! and eBay are already partnering on a number of services (search, ads, payments, communication).

Third, strong positions in the Far East make a nice fit as well, as overlap is limited.

Fourth, eBay is aiming for increased community activity (see StumbleUpon) - a core strength at Yahoo!.

Would Terry Semel and Meg Whitman feel any urge to do a large deal before retiring or moving into politics?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Reed Elsevier and Thomson Corp could carve up Reuters

Reuters has received a takeover approach. The Reuters (!) news service mentions Thomson Corp and News Corp as possible suitors.

I am surprised Reed Elsevier isn't mentioned. They are selling Harcourt (the education unit), reducing the company to a 3-trick pony. Thomson could be interested in the news business (avoiding FCC/FTC scrutiny, which would almost certainly result from combining Reuters and Thomson Financial), even if this is a minor part. Thomson recently stated they want to create their own news service, built upon the AFX buy, to be launched this month. In short, Reed and Thomson could carve up Reuters.

News Corp being mentioned, after their Dow Jones approach, seems a bit silly, but I do think it points to a trend. Piracy, P2P file-sharing and user-generated content undermine the value of B2C content. Hence, B2C companies seem to take interest in more valuable B2B assets. Not public data (that Google's Gapminder helps disclose), research funded by government bodies (under attack from the open access movement led by people like Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber), or even stock prices that used to fuel Reuters' profits. But 'must-have' content that the B2B conglomerats are focusing on.

That could spark another round of bid and break-up speculation.

Google helps value shift to B2B media

The Voelspriet site (and Dutch language alert service) pointed me to a wonderful presentation by Hans Rosling, co-founder of Swedish Gapminder (from the 'Mind the Gap' phrase). It is titled 'Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen' and is definitely worth the 20 minute view.

The content is compelling as it is, but the reason for being linked to on this site is the second half of the above title. Google bought Gapminder in March (this VentureBeat story also links to the Rosling performance) and the presentation highlights its Trendalyzer capabilities of visualising movements in time (e.g.) of (public) data.

I can see an intriguing, if somewhat vague, implication for Google. Once more this company undermines the value that B2B publishers extract from public data by making them more accessible. It builds upon the open access movement advocated by people like Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber. Imagine combining the technology with things like Google Book Search, Google Scholar, Google Health.

Last minute addition: Reuters has received a takeover approach. Reuters (!) mentions Thomson Corp and News Corp as possible suitors. So much for the undermining of the value of B2B content!
I am surprised Reed Elsevier isn't mentioned. They are selling Harcourt, reducing the company to a 3-trick pony. Thomson could be interested in the news business (avoiding FCC/FTC scrutiny, which would almost certainly result from combining Reuters and Thomson Financial). Thomson recently stated they want to expand their own news service. In short, Reed and Thomson could carve up Reuters.
News Corp being mentioned, after their Dow Jones approach, seems a bit silly, but I do think it points to a trend. Piracy, sharing and UGC undermine the value of B2C content. Hence, B2C companies seem to take interest in more valuable B2B content (apart from public data, or research funded by government bodies, or even stock prices that used to fuel Reuters' profit).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Enhancing cablemodem broadband

Broadband over cable benefits from the upcoming DOCSIS 3.0 standard. It enhances the user experience by expanding the downstream bandwidth to 160 Mbps. Approaching the bandwidth issue from the other side, namely the ISP's (i.e. dealing with efficiency), there are several options: fiber node splits, switched digital video technology, digital simulcasts, plant upgrades to 1 GHz spectrum, MPEG-4.

Also, two interesting companies are providing technology to MSOs.

First, Vyyo frees up bandwidth and had a number of equipment orders, as well as funding from Goldman Sachs and a board member appointment from another Wall Street firm. All this basically leading to a doubling of its share price.

Second, I stumbled upon this press release from PeerApp, which allows MSOs and ISPs to add P2P caching.