30/06/2006

Voice pricing - when will it hit zero?

Both fixed line telcos and VoIP service providers are moving to flat rate bundles with all you can eat national dialing. This is all based on people not actually using their phone all the time, as in Europe termination charging still occurs on the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

BT's new broadband packages start at £9.95 (for the first 6 months) which includes free evening and weekend calls. Vonage's service costs £7.99 per month with free anytime packages (but you need a broadband package on top of that).

The broadband offerings may not quite be what they seem as they are bandwidth capped, so using the phone all the time may push the user over their limit (so extra charges may apply - BT may not count VoIP packets, it not clear).

Even with landline packages, Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk packages include all you can eat national dialing for £10 per month (and they throw in broadband).

When BT release their 21CN network, it's going to cost them more to bill (UK) calls than to charge for them - or at least flat rate them.

Skype offers sensible international rates, but even they are being forced into price drops as the competition hots up, signing up in the US now gives completely free calls to the US and other countries.

As everyone moves to zero or flat rate calls the telcos are going to struggle, they're used to billing minutes and have an industry out of it. They are going to suffer badly when their revenues decline. More consolidation, more firms going belly-up. That all sounds good initially, but then there's actually less competition and the market will end up with a few super Telco/ISPs.

It all comes down to Bell heads vs Net heads, and the Net heads are winning, though there's trouble in that area too as the US is fighting to make content providers pay more for people accessing their services, VoIP may fall into that category.

What's good for the consumer in the short run, may be disasterous for the industry and thus competition long term.

Top 10 Broadband providers

Point Topic have released figures about the number of broadband lines in the UK, BT lead the pack with almost 2.5m customers, followed by NTL (1.7m) and AOL (1.3m).

Company Q4 2005 Q1 2006
BT Retail 2229 2481
NTL 1625 1726
AOL 1150 1300
Telewest 1005 1096
Tiscali 934 1085
Wanadoo 906 986
Pipex 283 311
PlusNet 176 194
Virgin.net 167 193
Tesco 120 132
Others 1218 1227
Total 9813 10730

These figures don't take into account the NTL/Telewest merger which puts them squarely in the lead with a combined number of nearly 3m ahead of BT's 2.5m.

They also don't take into account Carphone Warehouse, who took on 340,000 broadband customers as part of their TalkTalk service in the first month or so.

Wandadoo (now Orange) will also likely jump significantly as they now offer free broadband with any Orange mobile package over £30/month.

It looks like they'll only be a few operators left in the near future with other providers being forced to sell-out to to the bigger players as margins erode and more bundle offerings come into play.

There will always be BT, but NTL/Telewest still have large numbers of customers and with the purchase of Virgin Mobile can offer a quad play (voice, tv, internet and mobile - so they have the potential to stay ahead of the game), but Carphone Warehouse shouldn't be forgotten and Orange are making a big push.

In 5 years times, don't bet on many other telecoms providers being left in the game.

UK plans for digital switchover win International backing

Ofcom petitioned the ITU's (International Telecommunications Union) Regional Radiocommunication Conference to allocate the frequencies for digital terrestrial TV (Freeview) so it can be received across the UK (reaching about 98.5% of the population, which is equivalent to existing analogue broadcasts).

There is also concensus to release the analogue channels (after switchover) in a technology neutral manner (with restrictions).

This has been hard work for Ofcom, but a rewarding outcome.

BT announces Home Hub

This is BT's major entry into the converged home network offering broadband, voice (over IP) and in the future TV.

There's a range of equipment that comes with it, and it's very iPod'esque. A wireless hub and a VoIP phone.

Currently pricing is £9.95 per month for 8Mb/s ADSL including free evening and weekend calls (max duration 60 minutes to 01/01 numbers) for the first 6 months, then it's £17.99 per month.

Also included is 250 minutes per month of BT Openzone WiFi access, which should appeal to home business users as they can just connect via a hotspot and get access to their normal services.

Later this year BT Vision will be included which brings in IPTV.

Other broadband companies will struggle to keep up, and before they know it, BT will launch their 21st Century Network and then the battle will really hot up.

Adobe releases Flash 9

The latest and greatest version of the Flash player is out. This seems to iron out the detection bugs that plagued the v8 player after Microsoft made some security updates to Internet Explorer.

It's available for Windows and MacOS X (10.1 or higher) and supports IE, Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape, Opera and Safari (and a few others).

Available from Adobe's site.

29/06/2006

Skype Hardware Jamboree

Skype today held a press day where they showed off the latest hardware that was compatible with the Skype software.

Some companies there were unexpected - like Motorola who were showing their latest headphones which are Bluetooth and work with music players and Skype alike. They had a "box" of a media device (no actual device on show) which is Bluetooth bidirectional system which plugs into the HiFi (with real cables) but Bluetooth to PC/iPod/Headphones and does magic between everything. They also had some Oakley sunglasses with Motorola Bluetooth inside which were reasonably light.

Sennheiser has some nice headphones too.

Sandisk had an interesting system, a USB memory dongle that come pre-installed with various apps (including Skype). If you try and delete the apps it doesn't work as they reside in protected memory, though they can be upgraded. You plug the dongle into your PC and it copies various configurations in to itself, then when you plug it into a laptop, there they are - all the same configs. It even works with Outlook so your contacts/Emails/notes/etc go into the dongle, which will then configure Outlook on the laptop (if it's installed). However if Outlook isn't on the laptop it pretends to be Outlook and everything is still there for you, any new calendar entries or mail/etc are sync'ed back to Outlook when the dongle's plugged back into the PC.

Creative had some new web cams, D-Link a Skype ATA (analogue telephone adapater) which means you don't need a PC to run Skype and turns into into a Vonage like service where you just connect the box to the LAN and a normal phone into the box.

Once again (this seems to be a recurring theme at techie exhibitions, launches, anything that needs bandwidth) connectivity wasn't good, so most things had to be demonstrated locally - 1Mb/s ADSL just isn't sensible for that many people.

One things for certain, Skype will be everywhere and it's getting easier to use. Now they need to make some money.

Ofcom announces release of spectrum suitable for new broadband services

Ofcom Website | Ofcom announces release of spectrum suitable for new broadband services

Ofcom is proposing to offer spectrum in the 10GHz, 28GHz and 32GHz bands which can be used for broadband (or other) services.

Likely uses are: -

* Broadcast wireless/video links which could be used in the 2012 London Olympics.

* High bandwidth fixed links (backhaul)

* Broadband access in 10GHz and 28GHz

Ofcom is proposing 12 licenses, which will consist of the following: -

* 10 GHz – a single UK-wide licence of 2x100 MHz;

* 28 GHz – two UK-wide licences each of 2x112 MHz, plus three geographically limited licences each of 2x112 MHz which can only operate in certain areas

* 32 GHz – six UK-wide licences each of 2x126 MHz.

The consultation closes Sept 7, 2006 and the licenses will be offered in 2007.

26/06/2006

Google updates Picasa with Web Gallery

Google acquired an image organisation tool known as Picasa, then updated it as Picasa2 and made it all free.

Now Picasa2 has been updated again (in beta) and it links to a Google hosted web gallery. Currently invite only (or if you have a Google Mail account you can apply for one, they're given out on a first come first serve as available basis). You get 250MB of space, though for $25 per annum that goes up to 6GB (though as with other Google services the space will probably increase for no additional cost).

What's next in-line? Printing services and all that goes with it?

Follow the link for my test where you can get more info from Google.

Google adds ads to video

Google is trialing the addition of advertising to some of the premium videos available through Google Video. There'll be a banner ad as the video plays (in the video player system) and a streaming video ad at the end of the video.

Google haven't said how long the trial will last, though it will be trialed on about 2,000 videos and advertisers can specify the videos they want their ads with.

Sealand burns

There is a small old fort of the coast of England (about 7 miles out) built during the war which was occupied after it was disused by the military, to become Sealand. They declared independance, though they aren't really recognised by any international organisation as seperate country.

In the dot com boom someone decided Sealand would make a great off-shore hosting centre, not prone to UK laws etc. and Havenco was set-up. Any links to or from the old fort would have to pass in or out of another country - or maybe via satellite.

This weekend a fire broke out after an electrical fault with a generator. It seems it was a major blaze. The UK Coastguard attended the fire with a "fireboat" and dumped a lot of water on the building after an RF helicoptor winched the only crew member on site (a generator maintenace person) to safety and on to Ipswich hospital. The fireboat spent about 4 hours putting the fireout.

It's likely that ammount of water, on top of the fire damage, may well put Sealand out of action permanently.

As Sealand has declared itself independant, who should pay for all the efforts that went into the exercise? The RLNI (lifeboats) are completely paid for by donations, but the RAF helicopter which winched the maintenance guy to safety is paid for by the British Government (well all the tax payers), maybe a big bill to the self-proclaimed King of Sealand.