Is the party over for mobile data

Article in this weeks New Scientist about the capacity crunch across mobile networks due to the incredible surge in demand for mobile data, in particular video. If network capacity remains as is and the projections are on track, some time in 2013 is the date when the wireless networks collapse under their own weight. year of the crunchThe author examines four different solutions that the wireless carriers could use to address this issue.

  1. Get rid of “unlimited data” plans. When something is perceived as free, it tends to get used a lot  (cf. the internet). This solution is already being deployed by AT&T for new iPhone 4 users.
  2. Increased bandwidth available to carriers. While this seems feasible, it is highly political and spectrum auctions are viewed by governments as very welcome ‘new’ sources of revenue (so very expensive). Plus doubling the bandwidth will delay the crunch for maybe two years.
  3. Deploy 4G technologies, such as LTE and WiMAX, unfortunately while these promise greater speeds, the uplift in capacity is only 50% over 3G, which just delays the inevitable one year. Given the ‘go slow’ mentality of most carriers when it comes to 4G, I seriously doubt if 4G will be deployed except in major cities until well after 2013.
  4. Deploy femtocells in the home to offload the network (they would hook into the customer’s broadband connection). This would reduce the energy needs of cell towers, improve reception and boost capacity by a factor tens or perhaps even hundreds (the major benefit comes from removing the signal attenuation through walls). There are some interference issues that need to be addressed but I think this is probably a non-starter. Why deploy a femtocell when I already have a wireless router?  Most smartphones like my G1 Android phone can switch between a Wi-Fi and 3G network and there is also the Line2 app for the iTouch which effectively turns an iTouch into an iPhone bypassing the carrier completely. The carriers run the risk of exposing their customers to a bypass technology if they aggressively deploy femtocell technology (unless it is perceived as ‘free’ and they seem loathe to do that.)

Of course, we may all get tired of watching videos, but I doubt it…

We’re on the map.

Hey, I can see my house from here!

In the space of seven days, Google Street View showed my house to the world, and the Ordinance Survey man came to visit me and asked if he could take GPS readings from my property so that the next publication of the OS would include my house as a little black dot.  A curious juxtaposition, I thought.  The wife is unimpressed with Google.  The man with the van, on the other hand, and the big GPS stick (why does he need such a big stick?  I have a GPS thingy in my blackberry!) is strangely welcome, an established component of the firmament.  I am under orders to write to Google, and demand that they remove our property from their heinous project forthwith.  The reason?  Discomfort. And, frankly, that’s enough.

Google Street View is an interesting project.  there’s significant investment going into it.  Ultra loyal investors are actually questioning the return on investment (though recent results silenced them).  It’s all a part of a future vision – Google doesn’t do things the normal way.  Business cases are actually not normal – because Google is creating assets, and an infrastructure, and a platform, for a world that doesn’t exist yet.  Google is managing for change, and therefore the rules that apply today simply will not apply tomorrow.  Therefore, how can you apply today’s rules (i.e. a business case)?  And it is not easy.  Indeed, Google may be approaching the end of its road in terms of genuine innovation, as a function of scale.

Google began life as an innovator.  A silicon valley startup, it was brash, unashamedly different, innovating (and therefore exciting!).  As an early public company, it was ridiculously profitable, as its search advertising business accelerated through growth targets like they were a joke.  That accelerated profit led to little scrutiny of its other businesses.  If you make $100m in a quarter, and invest $10m in hokey projects, that’s ok.   And that pretty much continued, even through the YouTube acquisition.  The pressure’s on now though to make YouTube profitable in a conventional sense – i.e. through reselling media and doing deals with media houses – and that’s where the vision starts to wear.

The YouTube project direction is interesting for two reasons – first, because it goes against Google’s basic model.  Google is free, and that’s important.  Free is being compromised by this and other proposed projects.   The second reason that it’s important is that there is a sense that Google is bowing to market pressure to support the media sector.  Google is no longer redefining segments, but supporting a consensus view of markets.  Google has reached a scale where it can make or break industries.  It has already done that with segments – like email, satnav – but now it is genuinely threatening an entire industry, media.  It could potentially do the same with telco, and the net neutrality debate is well underway.  Suddenly we are starting to see artificial brakes being applied to the innovation machine.

Making or breaking industries is expensive.  Therefore it is not really something that startups can do – or at least it’s really hard.  Segments can be changed or compromised by startups, but not entire industries.   So maybe Google is finally reaching a crescendo in innovation.  Maybe it’s reached the point where Google needs now to bed down its core business for a few years, and leave the innovation to others. Google’s time as a leader of innovation, essentially, is done.  Apple had two phases (Mac / iPod), but it needed to be near-crippled in order to earn the second.  Microsoft had one (Windows/Office).  IBM’s largely been a follower of innovation, notwithstanding the patent record.

The Googlification of Everything Part 73: Television

The fifteen foot factor explained (Anthony's feeble attempt at Google-cool by using animation).

Google launched Google TV last night.  Their video (see below)  is graphically cool.  I really like the way they communicate – they define cool so many times.  But TV isn’t just a channel like they think it is.  TV is an institution.  It’s furniture.  It’s immovable.  That’s ok though, Google have not moved it.  We’re still watching the TV, and the fifteen foot factor has not been eliminated.

What’s still the problem, however, is that Google are acting on the instinct that has bedeviled attempts to connect the Internet and TV.  This is what I call the moron paradigm.  The moron paradigm is a little like Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a metaphor for the dumbing down of society, as TV and mass communications began to drive lowest common denominator type social development across America.  We don’t so much shows, as watch TV.  We may have a cellophane wrapped trilogy of “The Godfather” sitting in a drawer in the lumber room, but if “two” is on TV (as Tony Soprano may have put it), we’ll get in the popcorn and finish dinner before it starts.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s part of the moron paradigm.

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The dilemma that is Facebook

Facebook started out with a wonderful premise, the automation of the college freshman book. Then it got caught in the feature trap that is the bugaboo of way too much software ~ just because I can do something, ought I to do it? Facebook has become unwieldy and bloated as it has sought to commercialize its initial premise – facilitating contacts.

facebook privacy small The New York Times published an article on the Facebook privacy settings, including a very unsettling infographic. As the NY Times points out, there are now 170 privacy options, and the policy statement  text has ballooned to 5830 words. What Flickr is able to say in less than 400 words requires 14 as many words for Facebook.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook and finding ‘lost’ friends and acquaintances, but the software is broken and Facebook may soon suffer a Yogi Berra-like fate;

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Further discussion on facebook’s privacy settings (and the fact that not many people seem to understand what they actually are) can be found at the following link.  CNN Tech Facebook Delete.

At 400 million strong, is Facebook imploding under its own weight? I wish there was a better alternative.

Game on … (Buzz vs. Facebook) Round One

In an interview on silicon.com, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind the # 1 blogging platform WordPress (used by brazethoughts no less), makes some insightful comments on the future of software and how it can learn from the gaming industry. He believes the biggest challenge for the software industry is to make sure users can take full advantage of the increasing complexity of applications.

“If you think about it, complexity is actually not a bad thing – I mean users are not dumb, they’re actually very smart. You just need to give them the best way to learn and discover all the power that you have, and the best example of this is computer games. Computer games are so, so good at this. Think how complex the average computer interface is. It varies from game to game almost 100 per cent – the way you play Mario is not going to be the way you play Modern Warfare. But it starts you out on a training level – you start out, you get your legs, you walk around and you advance from level to level. And this applied to traditional software I think is going to one of the most interesting trends.”

He then attributes much of the success of Facebook to its game-like nature.

“They’re really brilliant how they encourage certain behaviours and how they tailor their news feed and the way images work and everything like that. Essentially it’s a social game but the other players are your friends and the objects are updates and photos, videos and news stories. The game never gets old because it’s constantly fresh from the content your friends are feeding into it. It’s utterly brilliant.”

facebook vs buzz Google’s Buzz has now entered the social networking arena,  it has a nice feature set but it doesn’t appear to have anything like the game aspects of Facebook. This got me wondering if the smart minds at Google have not thought things through and missed an opportunity.

Beware the Android

Lots of press this week about the Nexus 1 (a.k.a. the Google phone) and whether it was as good as the iPhone. (see coverage roundup). It may be a moot point. An insightful article, falseiPhoneon the NT Times Gadgetwise blog, describes a counterfeit phone from China, that looks and behaves very much like an iPhone but is in reality an Android-based device.

Seems as if you can the best of both worlds (albeit illegally), an iPhone on a non-proprietary platform. Sort of begs the question, why would I buy an iPhone if I can get an Android phone that can act like one (or as a regular android phone)?

This really could put the cat amongst the pigeons as it divorces the iPhone (user interface) from the Apple iPhone operating system.

Taking one for the team

I recently posted an entry about the AT&T and Apple iPhone relationship. This week, in the NY Times there was even more fodder for the fire.

The article shows contrary to both the Verizon advertisements and  AT&T public statements that AT&T has the superior nationwide network and that its performance problems are inherent in the design of the iPhone itself.  The article ends with this quote …

AT&T and Apple could both gain by swapping talent.

Apple, send your marketing wizards to lend your partner a hand. It sorely needs help.

AT&T, send some engineers to redesign the iPhone to make better use of the country’s fastest wireless network.

I was intrigued by one of the sources cited by the article, Root Wireless, who provide local coverage maps (signal strength, data transfer speed, and network issues (dead zones etc.)).  Here is my local map for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. (double click on maps for larger version)

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