18/03/2005

NTL and Telewest merger might be scuppered by Ofcom

The industry has long predicted the merge of the cable duopoly NTL and Telewest in the UK. The merger would make sense for a lot of reasons both economic and technical. Let's call the combined entity NTelewestL.

However it might all fall through as NTelewestL might be considered to have significant market power (SMP) - which of course it would have in the cable market. If Ofcom put NTelewestL in that position, they can be forced to open the network up and allow other companies access to network services - much like BT have a wholesale and retail devision.

So there would now have to be NTelewestL Wholesale and NTelewestL Retail. Retail would operate just as the current operations do now attracting customers and offering bundled services. However a wholesale division would require a complete new set of procedures, billing operations, network breakout etc. This is where problems will occur, it adds a hige ammount of complexity and cost to the deal which is already fragile as both companies are not in the healthiest of financial positions. In fact the costs are likely to be so significant that they could completely break the merge, which must put the regulator between a rock and hard place.

16/03/2005

Download Skype for Windows

Download Skype for Windows

There's a new version of Skype (v1.2.0.21 BETA), it wont show up if you check for an upgrade so you have to go to the download section manually.

They've added lots of features including (as guessed) centralised contacts. I've no idea if it works as the install just upgraded my old version and used the existing contacts. Hopefully it will just automagically save them.

Skype have now officially added voicemail (which anyone can buy, $16 [euros] pa). That's quite cool.

I'd like to have tried SkypeIn (so you get a real number for people to call you on), unfortunately they've run out of UK numbers. However for a business who wants a non-UK presence, maybe that's a benefit. Various other VoIP providers do offer that as a premium service.

Of course SkypeIn may turn out to be a regulatory nightmare as a law enforcement agency could attempt to have the calls (legally) tapped, but what jurisdiction does it fall under, where the call terminates (in IP land), or where it originates (in real telco land in a specific country). Intercepting calls in IP land is going to be virtually impossible, unless the software can be forced to split the call traffic so it can be monitored elsewhere (but a regulatory nightmare, one caller could be in UK under UK regs and the other end of the call in the US under US regs, under what regulations should the call be intercepted). Incepting at the SkypeIn/Out side where the call falls under standard telephony regulations is much easier and legally much clearer - maybe that's a Skype installed SkypeIn so they could comply with legal intercept?

As soon as I can get SkypeIn I'll post some results.

14/03/2005

Ones to watch

There are two companies that could make interesting moves in the months to come that look to emerge from the pack.

One.tel who were set-up by Centrica and once looked to be dumped by Centrica may now be an exciting bet. I'd guess that Centrica decided that the market wouldn't support a sensible sale, so their best move would to be invest more in the company and it looks like that One.tel have now got between £250M and £300M to go buy someone. Since consilidation is the game this may be actually be pretty perfect timing to buy a network or a competitor who are ailing and so gain by economies of scale.

Wanadoo are also investing heavily in their own infrastructure (to the detriment of Energis) and it seems France Telecom is funding Euros 1bn over 3 years for LLU roll-out. That's likely to make Wanadoo the largest LLU entrant in the UK and they have plans for unbundling around 1,000 exchanges. LLU is all about scale, but with this kind of cash to play with it will give them a very good fighting chance.

Access for all

The telco and ISP markets are suffering, there's massive competition and huge margin erosion that goes with that. Making a living in either industry is difficult and both are seeing lots of consilidation. Of course there are now very few ISPs not owned by telcos as the historic trend has been to consider access as a huge cash cow.

Unfortunately that's just not the case any more and access is becoming commodity (if not already). Soon everyone in the UK will have at least 8Mb/s ADSL and as BT and LLU entrants role out ADSL2+ speeds will reach 13 - 18Mb/s, but who cares? With those kinds of speeds (and some QoS guarantees) it's possible to offer genuine triple plays of content, Internet and voice.

Some people believe those speeds aren't high enough, and the UK are way behind Korea/Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Maybe that's true, but they aren't tainted with a legacy infrastructure. Fiber to the home just isn't practical in the UK without massive investment, and telcos just don't have the funds to even think about it. Digging fiber is expensive (somewhere between £200 a meter in rural areas, to about £2,000 per meter in an urban conurbations) someone has to pay for it. The cable companies or even BT could go somewhere towards that by installing DSLAMs in their street cabinets and then short range DSL between the street cab and the customer premises. Unfortunately that would still require huge investment (especially bt BT who'd still have to get fiber to the street cab). VDSL could then be used as the DSL technology for the short-haul, however it's not legal in the UK as it doesn't meet the ANFP (Access Network Frequency Plan) and Ofcom I believe picked ADSL2+ over VDSL as more telcos requested it. This is not suprising as VDSL only supports very short distances to get anywhere near it's maximum speeds of near 54Mb/s.

Of course fiber to the home could be a possibility in "green-field" sites i.e. where premises haven't been built yet and there's no infrastructure, but that would require a lot of preplanning by the building trade and a complete rethink such that telecomms infrastructure is considered just like gas/water/sewage/etc is.

Instead of relying on the local loop, wireless could be a serious contender however currently that's frought with regulatory problems and spectrum is a precious commodity which the government is likely to see as a lucrative revenue stream so again in order to utilise it, infrastructure players are going to need to think carefully about the resources required to roll-out effective solutions that can really be disruptive to the traditional copper network.