11/03/2005

Random telecoms musings

The UK telecoms industry isn't in a good state, There's intense competition and severe margin erosion. This means the telecoms companies are having to make cut-backs, which generally means getting rid of staff.

It also means consolidation and what seemed healthy players are going to be consumed by various bigger (or healthier) players.

So here's some predictions: -

i) Energis - they must be suffering. Wanadoo are moving all their infrastructure and services away from them, that must hurt. Energis have already been through administration and losing a huge chunk of revenue potentially puts them in a very week position with the banks. Only time will tell.

ii) 3 - the 1st 3G entrant in the UK, now winning customers on cheap price plans. How many are buying premium content/services? I doubt many. Once the GSM operators really start launching their 3G networks in ernest the GSM networks will be used to offer cheap & dirty services i.e. there'll be price cuts galore and all those price sensitive 3 customers will migrate wawy in droves. How long will Hutchison support a sinking ship?

iii) THUS - People will probably think this is biased, but it's not based on ANY factual information, it's just guesswork. They're ripe for a take-over. Market value is probably less than assets or turnover. Who will it be? Well either a foreign network wanting to get a ready built advanced UK network, or maybe C&W. I suspect C&W as they'll use the Demon brand to bolster the Bulldog service (who's heard of Bulldog). Bulldog have somewhere in the region of 4,000 DSL customers, Demon have 100,000+. Also I'd suspect THUS is chipping away at the high-end business of C&W too and what's say £300M to get a thorn out of their side and get a brand?

NOTE: these are personal opinions only and have no bearing to any knowledge gained in any employment or anything related to the real world.

10/03/2005

Skype - Free Internet telephony that just works

Skype - Free Internet telephony that just works

Don't get me wrong but I LIKE Skype, however is the software really ready for prime time?

As a peer to peer Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony system it works, and call quality can be as good as a normal phone on a good ADSL link.

Unfortunately they haven't got it quite right.

Quirk number one is stored contacts, well to be exact they're not stored centrally but stored on the local machine. If you install Skype on another PC, you've got no contacts and that means re-authorising them all too. Rumours are that version 1.2 of the software will fix this and that the contacts will be stored centrally along with your sign-in/authentication information.

Quirk number two. Do NOT import your Outlook contacts into Skype. Well maybe you can, but if you have lots, don't bother. I tried this with an Outlook address book that contains over 5,000 contacts. Skype imported them reasonably quickly (I think it only uses contacts with an Email address). So now Skype has 2,100+ contacts and off it goes searching the Skype contacts database and tries to match your contacts to Skype users. It doesn't do a very good job, it also takes a LONG time. I started the process about 10 in the morning went out and came back 8 hours later, it had got through about 72% of them. 12 hours later it had finished and there were about 2,200 Skype contacts.

All well and good, but then you're asked if you want to add them. You'd think that was fine, but if you don't cancel you have to go through EVERY contact to add it to you contact list. A window pops-up (as per a normal search) and you can add or cancel. That's where it all goes pear-shaped. Cancelling just cancels that contact and pops-up the next. After about 10 it got very boring indeed.

Easy answer, quit Skype. Big no no, the software then pops-up and closes 2,200 windows one after the other, assuming you want to add the contacts, each one sending an authorisation request to the contact in question.

Next time you open Skype, you've got 2,200 extra contacts in your contact list. Maybe you don't care, but the whole thing crawls. It takes several minutes (if not longer) to load them all and it eats memory.

Well de-install and then re-install and you can have a clean start, then go re-adding all those real contacts you wanted in the first place (again) and re-send all the authorisation requests (again).

Skype have got some clever technology, but there's definately some things to fix before it's ready to be called a serious piece of software.

Welcome to the website for the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group - APIG

Welcome to the website for the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group - APIG

On Tuesday 8th of March, APIG and Hansard Society held a meeting at Portcullis House (next to the Palace of Westminster) to discuss "Will the Internet reconnect Britain?".

THere was a welcome speech from Milica Howell from the Hansard Society e-Democracy Programme, and it was chaired by Derek Wyatt MP (from APIG).

There were then two talks "Can we close the Digital Divide" by Catherine Bronley, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research which shows that younger people are more likely to use the Internet, as are people who have gone through formal education (university) such that the social characteristics of people who use the Internet or want to use the Internet is very slim. So things need radical change to get non-users to have no interest to use the Internet to use it.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University gave a talk on "New Technology, New Politics", which concluded that access to the Internet does not appear to engender more trust in government of make it more likely that people will get involved politically, but it does mean people feel more able to get involved. Even here, however, it seems unlikely that the impact of the new technology will be sufficient to herald a new politics.

There was then a talk by Donna Young General Manager of BT Wholesale, "A view from the commercial sector". Unfortunately this was just BT pushing their 21st Century Network (21CN) and how it was going to be great for everyone. Enough said here for the moment.

The final session was from Brian White MP (Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on e-Demoncracy) which talked about how developments in media issues as they affect political process and work of Parilament and Government informing current Parliamentary debate through meetings and reports.

For a mostly goverment run event, it was actually quite interesting.

09/03/2005

ITSPA - Internet Telephony Services Providers Association

ITSPA - Internet Telephony Services Providers Association

Last night (Monday March 8th), ITSPA or the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association has their Parliamentary lauch in Portcullis House.

ITSPA was formed to support "new wave" telephony providers as the didn't feel the (multitude) of existing organisations that were geared towards traditional telcos represented them.

The launch was to officially aanounce their new code of practice, which as yet has not appeared on the ITSPA site.

Though there are quite a few Internet telephony providers (Gossiptel, Babbel, The Internet Phone Co, Sipgate, Vonage, to name a few) there are only around 10-15,000 VoIP users in the UK - these are people who've taken up VoB (Voice over Broadband etc) rather than corporate users who utilise VoIP across their own infrastructure. I'd also guess these figures are exagerated as people sign-up for a service and then don't use it. Quite a few of the telephony players attended the event, including AOL who are expected to launch a service reasonably soon, as well as the traditional telcos such as THUS, Energis and Colt.

Interestingly Skype, who have by far the greatest of VoIP users wasn't there (more on Skype in another article).

Only time will tell if VoIP does take off, it will, but in what time-scales. Currently BT Wholesale have almost 5 million ADSL connections, local loop unbundlers account for 31,000 (as of the end of Jan 2005) and cable about 2 million. Unfortunately most of those ADSL customers are on consumer "broadband" which is contended at 50 to 1, with no QoS guarantees. 50:1 with an upstream connection of 256Kb/s means 5Kb/s. Of course most of the time most of the users wont be using their bandwidth, but they will some of the time and that's where problems will occur.

Unfortnately it'll only get worse, as BT have introduced capacity based charging and the larger BT Wholesalers are moving or have moved to this. CBC is where the ISP pays a fixed prices for the end user connection (at whatever speed they're connected at) and pays a big wallop for the backhaul of the data (i.e. size of pipe). The more users you put on the pipe, the better the ISP economics, so they want to overcontend as much as possible.

LLU players do have the option of offering QoS all the way back to the DLSAM (and into the premises), but as yet they only represent a tiny proportion of users.

What this means is that as people pick VoB services (and more people use it) the contention issues will increase. Consumers may put up with it, as they're getting calls "for free" but as a business it's unlikely they will - they wont want the call to fail just as they're clinching that important deal.

So until real QoS can be achieved (and BT have said they are going to trial it sometime this year), VoB is likely to get mass appeal and then a huge backlash as people give up their primary telephony access for a sub performing service. With things like CPS (carrier pre select) already offering flat rate UK calls etc on standard phone lines, why move to VoIP?