Tag Archives: telecom

The future is not here yet (Google)

I love this line from William Gibson:

The future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed

To me, it is a reminder that the things we imagine the future to be are already taking shape in the labs and garages around the world.  It’s also a good reminder that we’re creating our future – that it is up to us – and that our work is what gives the future its trajectory and shape.

Then there is Google.  Their incredible position reflects their inspired work, but the next steps seem so obvious and painfully lacking.  Their  future feels so clear, but the present is terribly clunky.

I got a voice mail using Google Voice.  A transcript and link was sent to my e-mail.  I click on the link and listen to the message.  So far, great.  Now I want to save the message, but there are no links.  I click the “Google Voice” logo, but no dice – not even the logo is linked.  The message mentioned a meeting, so I want to add the meeting to my calendar.  No link for that either, of course.  The page doesn’t even have the standard Google header bar.  Failure to integrate.  Failure to provide basic navigation.  Great functionality hidden in a tangle of stand-alone services that make it hard for users.

The internet giant has everything going for it – the important things at least – but regularly delivers a disappointing user experience.  They have sufficient users, capital, and talent to enter and dominate just about any market they want, but many projects fail because of the easy stuff.  Economies of scale in every corner of the business should give Google a powerful advantage as they enter and grow into new markets, but most times Google trips.

Their typical process appears from the outside to follow a pattern like:

  1. Somebody likes a “20% time” project
  2. Project enters “Google Labs”
  3. APIs launch in Google Code and Google Apps
  4. Failure to integrate among related services
  5. New services must survive alone or they are abandoned

This last piece is important.  Just because you build it doesn’t mean people will come.  Integration with existing services is probably the best way to introduce new services to existing users and maximize value to consumers.

Integration and navigation among Google services is terrible.  I hope this will not be mirrored in Chrome OS and Google TV – these are 2 new business lines that will depend critically on good user experiences.

The idea of Google Labs is great on it’s surface: give new services a place to be refined while  gaining traction and validation.  But don’t sacrifice the vision of leadership.  Performance as individual lab experiments ignores the value these services gain when they are integrated.  Google Wave should have been integrated with Docs and Gmail as early as possible;  instead it was not integrated and cancelled.  Also, dropping the real estate layer from Maps instead of integrating with real estate ad sales … so disappointing.

I hope that lack of integration is not an intentional strategy to avoid becoming evil monopolists.  I know the culture of resentment for what Microsoft did in the operating system and browser markets has left Google feeling careful not to unfairly exploit their position of power.  Actually, I respect them a lot for that.  But integrating among services is not evil; instead, it is exactly what you hope for when you offer an API.  Every Google service should have an incentive to integrate other Google services.  They should also be encouraged to integrate non-Google services.  If Buzz played friendlier with Twitter, I think it’s adoption would have been a couple orders of magnitude better, and instead of Twitter growing essentially alone, there could have been a diversity of integrated messaging services.  Maybe next time…


There is another problem when Google fails to integrate across services:  incentives.  Because newer projects do not add value to existing services, they are perceived as expensive speculation.   Existing business lines only want to subsidize new business lines if they will add value.  Services in Google Labs that work in isolation or require opt-in for integration add little value to existing services.  I attribute many of the failed launches to this problem.

The future is clear.  Google can become a beautifully integrated suite of services that satisfy all the major demands of modern information-age consumers, including business customers and developers.  It can avoid being evil by opening as many APIs as possible to promote competition – enabling other companies to integrate all the services consumers are growing to expect.

But it’s not there yet.  Time to get back on track.


Net Neutrality: No Compromise

To begin talking about Net Neutrality, it helps to clarify what the internet is. It’s simply data sent via TCP/IP (the protocol for sending data through routers). Some people host web sites, others connect to their company e-mail, others do other things – it’s all the internet.

Understanding that the internet is just a connection using TCP/IP, then Net Neutrality is simple, too. Net Neutrality simply means that your ISP may not interfere with the internet. They may not censor your packets (the data that is sent via TCP/IP). This means they can’t censor your news, keep you off of Skype, restrict your sending and receiving, or otherwise interfere with your communications.

Any compromise on this is wrong for two reasons: 1) Your ISP should not have the right to interfere with your free speech, and 2) ISPs should not be able to tax the value creation of the media industry.

ISPs should not be able to interfere with consumer access to media companies, nor tax those companies for access to consumers. ISPs should not be able to interfere with our speech or block our access to the speech of others.

ISPs are in the business of providing internet access, but they don’t own the internet; any attempts to eliminate net neutrality would violate our consumer rights and hurt the economy.

Telecom Watchlist / Industrial Evolution

There are clear innovations and implementations of current technology that can be safely called inevitable. One of these is ubiquitous wireless. We will be surrounded by secure broadband available by subscription, and compatible with wireless devices. Wireless devices compatible with broadband will include laptops, PDAs, phones, and electronics built into vehicles, etc.

If this is true, then some industries will join the buggy-whip industry:

Phone companies: why pay for phone service if your wireless phone is a tiny part of a cheap broadband service. Internet traffic incurred by telephone quality duplex audio is a drop in the bucket.

Cable providers: If I have access to streaming video straight from the media companies, why pay a cable company for anything? I might pay HBO for access to their channel, but there is no room for Comcast. The old line between broadcast and cable TV will be irrelevant.

Traditional and Satellite Radio: Internet radio is already catching on. When devices and wireless grow to maturity, there is no need for radio. Your music preferences will be targeted much more specifically than a set of 20 FM stations can satisfy, making the listening experience far better. The 2-way directionality of streaming radio (broadcasters know what IP addresses are listening, and when) make the value proposition for advertisers far better. Finally, the global nature of IP eliminates the problems of range and signal quality.

I don’t mean to sound gloomy, in fact, this is not a gloomy forecast. Leaving horse drawn buggies for cars was a major milestone in economic advancement. So too, leaving single-application wires for IP-based wireless broadband is going to be a great milestone. Communications technology is the lubricant of innovation and trade. I would expect global growth to accelerate into these advancements, and remain at a generally accelerated pace thereafter.

In this speculative possible state of the world, investors might benefit from:

underweight companies with revenues largely based on phone, cable, and radio

underweight traditional-radio advertising companies

overweight equities

overweight internet advertisers and IP-intelligence aggregators

overweight internet applications providers

What Does Ubiquitous Broadband Mean for the Telecoms and the Cable Industry?

Verizon prevented municipal WiFi networks in Pennsylvania based on ‘unfair competition.’ Verizon has a clear reason: municipal wireless broadband would obviate the phone lines. It would obviate cable companies, too.

Ubiquitous broadband – no matter who provides it – will mean that voice, video, and data services are available through the air. Traditional phone, radio, cable, and other media distribution is disintermediated. Storage servers and a pretty front-end indexed by search engines could handle all of recorded media. Interactive media on TCP/IP replaces and moves forward phones, video conferencing, etc.

What does it cost to serve wireless broadband? Because of the ease of offering secure access to wide geographic areas, competition will rapidly draw the price toward the cost. The total revenues of these firms are negligible compared to the cumulative revenues of phone companies, cable companies, cellular and DSL providers, and radio companies (including satellite).

The consolidation of industries and shrinking pie are bad enough, but the elimination of barriers to entry and the fall of the profit margin make the shift a major net detraction financially. The breadth of industries are waving investment warning flags. There may be winners as well as losers, but how long is it going to take you personally to migrate from your cable bill, phone bill, cellular bill, ISP bill, and satellite radio fee toward VoIP phone in your PDA and a media server in your PC at $50/month?

To make matters worse, the access fee might drop to free when the service bundles hosting and storage. If they get to track you, target advertising, and other applications, they could reasonably pay consumers to be in their network. In other words, the money is in the nodes not the lines between them.

Howard Rheingold: Smart Mobs

The big battle coming over the future of smart mobs concerns media cartels and government agencies are seeking to reimpose the regime of the broadcast era in which the customers of technology will be deprived of the power to create and left only with the power to consume. That power struggle is what the battles over file-sharing, copy protection, regulation of the radio spectrum are about. Are the populations of tomorrow going to be users, like the PC owners and website creators who turned technology to widespread innovation? Or will they be consumers, constrained from innovation and locked into the technology and business models of the most powerful entrenched interests?

Read HOWARD RHEINGOLD: SMART MOBS, a great article on EDGE.

GPS, as Political Issue

This article in Wired focuses on some interesting military strategic issues around Galileo, the new European satellite navigation system that is supposed to provide consumers around the world with navigation services that supplement and improve on the accuracy of the existing Global Positioning System (GPS) beginning in 2008. The goal for Galileo is to make Europe independent of non-European space infrastructure for strategic and commercial applications associated with space systems. This drive for autonomy is rooted in the idea that space is an essential part of a nation’s infrastructure in the 21st century, just as railways were in the 19th century and roads and power grids were in the 20th. The problem is that Galileo has been assigned two small frequency bands, E1 and E2, which the US military wants the ability to jam if necessary. But because these bands bracket the US GPS, jamming signals in them might risk obstructing a new US military GPS signal called M-code, which will be broadcast in two parts at the edges of the existing GPS band. Some are worried that putting encrypted signals onto the E1 and E2 bands, where it can hide in the M-code’s skirts, may make them unjammable, neutralizing a key tactical advantage for the US military.

Truly Anonymous Surfing?

This article in Wired talks about a new method for masking online identities to provide ultra-anonymous Internet access. It was developed by Hacktivismo, an offshoot of the hacker collective Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), and is called “Six/Four”, named after the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Six/Four combines peer-to-peer technologies with Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and “open proxy” connections, which allow one computer to establish direct, secure communications with another over the Internet. Traditional VPNs take the information along a single path from Point A to Point B. Six/Four’s route is more circuitous, sending its tunnel through a series of computers on its peer-to-peer network before heading to the public Internet. Data goes from Point A to Point K to Point Z to Point G, only eventually winding up at Point B. Each link in the chain only knows the link immediately before, not the final destination. Since every server along the way requires separate search warrant in order to view that computer’s logs (if they even still exist) to get your IP address, the approach adds layer after layer of anonymity between client and server. One developer says “It’s like a highway that’s redesigned for every Brinks truck that rides on it.”