Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why ITU's backing is bad for WiMax

My most recent column for CommsDay/BroadBand Communities.

At first I didn't really know what to make of the announcement that the ITU has recognised 802.16e, or WiMax, as an official 3G standard. A lot of media and industry groups like the WiMax Forum seem to consider it a game-changing decision. I've got a feeling it will actually change nothing. In fact, it could be detrimental to its progress.

With all the lobbying going on behind the scenes, it wasn't an altogether unexpected decision either. One person I asked about it was Ovum analyst Nathan Burley, who also was doubtful the ITU standardisation will have much effect at all. Even the GSM Association has come out all conciliatory over the announcement, saying they were "relaxed" about it. Well, given the relative market shares of 3G/HSPA versus WiMax, they probably can afford to be relaxed.

Ron Resnick, president of the WiMAX Forum, noted that "this is the first time that a new air interface has been added to the IMT-2000 set of standards since the original technologies were selected nearly a decade ago" and suggested that operators would be more willing to adopt it now that it comes with the ITU's stamp of approval.

As Resnick says, 3G has been around for almost a decade -- yet there are still many countries around the world that haven't gotten around to adopting 3G. So somehow I don't think the world's telecom regulators are suddenly going to swing into action and start bringing in WiMax now that the ITU says it's okay. And it certainly didn't stop the likes of Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan from bringing in WiMax licencing frameworks despite not having the ITU's okay.

I'd say the fact that the IEEE itself has been slow to finalise its own 802.16e standard and initiate interoperability has put off more governments than the fact that the ITU approval was missing.

Another outcome of the ITU decision is that it ends the debate once and for all on whether WiMax is a 3G, 3.5G or 4G technology. Settled: it's officially a 3G technology, although I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing for the WiMax camp either.

It means that WiMax is now legitimately a competitor to W-CDMA/HSPA and CDMA 2000 EV/DO, and in that regard it has a lot of catching up to do. A decade's worth, in fact. Given the huge momentum around HSPA in particular, the traditional 3G proponents must be relishing the coming market battle.

In another few weeks, the ITU's World Radiocommunications Conference will have discussed the various 4G proposals and likely we will have a clearer view of what the timetable for the LTE and UWB proposed 4G standards will be. As a result, any operators planning to move to a higher bandwidth wireless technology are likely going to want to look at a 4G technology rather than the decade's old IMT 2000 3G. And that's going to push WiMax even further on the outer.

So while at first glance the ITU news would seem good for WiMax, personally I think it can be viewed as another piece of bad news. --Geoff Long

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Search site for breaking news

I came across a great new search site by the makers of Fon -- they're the guys that are bringing the social networking concept to Wi-Fi, where users share their access points. It's called Unfolding News and as the name suggests it's for keeping track of breaking news stories. It's still in beta but from the few times I tried it seems stable and quite useful.

Interestingly, Fon founder Martin Vasavsky said he came on the idea for the service because the likes of Google and Technorati weren't good enough for his "vanity searches". Apparently he likes to keep track of stories that mention him. Well, if you happen to read this one Martin, perhaps you can add me to your blog roll ;-) And it will also mean your search service is working!

That's also him on the cover of CNBC magazine above.

Monday, October 22, 2007

RSS hijacking??? . . .

. . . Or trouble at Ovum??

I'm a huge fan of Google Reader (and before that other RSS readers, but Google the first for purely online reading). As a result, I rarely go to web sites or blogs directly, I just skim read the headlines in Google Reader and then delve further if something takes my fancy. I also have a huge list of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

I was adding Ovum to my RSS list today when a strange thing happened. When I added the address (, Google Reader responded by telling me I'd subscribed to a feed called ARmadgeddon. WTF, I thought, so I tried again. Same response. End result is if you subscribe to Ovum's RSS feed you will end up reading ARmadgeddon.

The really interesting thing is that it's not a bad result -- ending up at ARmadgeddon. According to its own blurb, it "has been set up by IT Analyst Relations professionals to relate tales of a symbiotic community: real stories, analyst gaffes and (un)predictions, analinguo, rumours, gossips and more."

Or from my short browsing session, it seems to be an insider's take on the telecom and IT analyst community, complete with gossip, movements, rumours, speculation and everything else that makes for a good read.

While I'm happy to keep it in my feed list, I'm still wondering how Ovum's RSS link manages to take you to ARmadgeddon. A disgruntled Ovum staffer perhaps? Try it out for yourself -- go to and near the top you'll see a link "Latest comments available via RSS". Put that in your reader and see where it takes you (just clicking on the link doesn't work, you have to put it in Google Reader or something similar). And do leave a comment if you get the same result or have any insights . . .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

WiMax on the ropes?

Here's a commentary piece I wrote for CommsDay Asean last week, shortly after Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee resigned. Over the past 12 months I've heard so many WiMax vendors suggest the fact that Sprint is rolling out a massive 802.16e network meant that the economies of scale for the technology were guaranteed. But what if Sprint changes its plans?
The usual reminder: You can sign up for a free trial subscription to Commsday at

When Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee abruptly resigned earlier this week, he probably expected the speculation on his future and the future of the company that he had helmed for the past four years. It's unknown, however, if he expected the questions regarding the very future of the WiMax technology he has helped hype for the past 12 months.

Yet that is the biggest story to arise since Forsee left the office on Monday afternoon: whether there is any future in WiMax without a tier one operator to champion it. Not that Sprint has necessarily dumped WiMax, but most commentators and analysts are now seriously questioning whether the wireless operator will proceed down the WiMax route.

At best, most expect Sprint to slowdown its WiMax activity, which could equally be detrimental to the future of the technology, as Bear Stearns equity research analyst Philip Cusick pointed out in a note to investors. "We believe that Sprint is likely to de-emphasise the WiMax business, which could result in a slower rollout for WiMax in the U.S., lower economies of scale for Clearwire and shrink the ecosystem necessary to attract consumer electronics companies to WiMax," Cusick wrote.

That's quite a damning summation, but it's not the only negative sentiment nor the worst. Patrick Comack, a senior equity analyst with Zachary Investment Research, was quoted by the Washington Post as suggesting the company was negligent in going with WiMax in the first place. "The fact that they bought a $5 billion network without testing it was a violation of fiduciary duty. It's like buying a $5 billion car without test-driving it first," he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed to CommsDay this week by Gartner VP of technology and service provider research Martin Gutberlet, who pointed out that the WiMax technology that Sprint is deploying, 802.16e, commonly known as mobile WiMax, had not even started compliance testing yet. And it is widely known that the network had many technical setbacks.

Aside from a few niche fixed WiMax deployments in emerging markets, Gutberlet all but wrote off WiMax's chances against 3G and 4G technologies such as HSPA and LTE. He said that a new version of WiMax, 802.16m, had more potential but only if it wasn't hobbled by being made backwards-compatible. As this was unlikely to occur, he suggested that WiMax will never make it as a mass market technology.

Even the fact that the likes of Intel was pouring money into WiMax and supposedly making it standard in every new notebook in 2008 did not convince him that WiMax would become mainstream. As Gutberlet noted, Intel has got it wrong before. And it could also be that Sprint has got it wrong, too.

Given that the WiMax camp has put so much emphasis on Sprint rolling out the technology, it's fair to say that if they do indeed scale back their WiMax plans, the technology's future doesn't look anywhere near as bright as it did in the Gary Forsee era. -- Geoff Long

Monday, October 15, 2007

Greenpeace disses the iPhone

Of all the hundreds of thousands of articles on the iPhone, here's one that managed to standout courtesy of Silicon Alley Insider. Apparently Greenpeace did some scientific tests that found the iphone has some hazardous substances that other phone makers have managed to eliminate. And this despite the claims by Steve Jobs that Apple would be ahead of its phone competitors on green issues. Here's what they said:

International — Scientific tests, arranged by Greenpeace, reveal that Apple's iPhone contains hazardous chemicals. The tests uncovered two types of hazardous substances, some of which have already been eliminated by other mobile phone makers.

In May, due to our successful Green my Apple campaign Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, claimed: "Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" on environmental issues.

We watched closely when the iPhone was launched in June for any mention of the green features of the phone from Apple. There was none.

So we bought a new iPhone in June and sent it our Research Laboratories in the UK. Analysis revealed that the iPhone contains toxic brominated compounds (indicating the prescence of brominated flame retardants (BFRs)) and hazardous PVC. The findings are detailed in the report, "Missed call: the iPhone's hazardous chemicals"

There have been thousands of media articles about the iPhone. Few of them have discussed the phone's environmental credentials.

Social Networking: Resistance is futile

For the past few months or so I’ve been getting an increasing numbers of requests to join this or that social network. Up until a week ago I’d resisted all of them, whether it’s simple email contact organisers such as Plaxo, the lesser known Hi5, the business-minded LinkedIn or the social star of the moment, Facebook.

I don’t know what it is, but something makes me baulk at the idea of adding more communications channels to my already overloaded mix. I can’t keep up with email, and as friends attest I have a strange habit of either leaving the mobile at home or not answering it anyway, so what chance have I got if I throw in one or three social networks?

Other objections: I’m already a world-class procrastinator and I just know the likes of Facebook would be more excuses not to hit the keyboard productively. Then there’s the concept of sharing all of your contacts with whoever you happen to befriend in the social non-world. Is that always desirable?

For example, I and a mate in the financial services industry were both contacted by the same person to join their social network. It was probably fair enough, as both of us knew him and were reasonably close. Still, my finance friend guy called up to get the lowdown on the network. “So you’re telling me that once I join, all his friends can see who my business contacts are? Toss that!” Well, actually, he didn’t say “toss” that, but needless to say he didn’t think it was a great idea. And I’m not so sure myself.

Of course some networks let you hide your contacts, others not. When it comes to privacy, I’m even a tad concerned at the way Gmail makes my presence known to just about anyone who I’ve ever exchanged email with and also happens to use Gmail. If you’re a Gmailer you’ll know exactly what I mean – the Quick Contacts list on the left either has a green, amber or red light showing your status at that time. If it’s orange, you know the person hasn’t checked in with Gmail for a while, however if it’s green or red, you know they’re around somewhere.

The problem with this is that you might not want someone that you happened to reply to once know that you’re online, whether you say you’re available (green) or not (red). For my liking, it gives too much information away (like the time of day or night you like to be at the computer), but I haven’t come across a way of customising the presence information so that some of my contacts can see it while others can’t. It would be a killer feature if you could, however, one that I’d be willing to shift email providers for.

In the meantime, I took the bold (for me) step of joining LinkedIn the other day. Yes, I know I’m late to the game, but I thought I’d still try to play. It’s obviously well thought out, but for my line of work I found the job categories a bit limiting. Basically, I wanted a catch-all “media” category, but instead I had to make a selection from the likes of information services, broadcast media, writing and editing, and media production.

Problem is, in today’s media world you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. For example, at the last CommunicAsia I mainly did broadcast video interviews, and more lately I’ve been doing a fair bit of online media and production, although essentially I consider myself a writer/journalist. I’d imagine a lot of other industries are hit by this type of convergence, so hopefully the LinkedIn folks have catered for it.

As for the usefulness, it’s too early for me to say, so I decided to do a straw poll among those who I’d linked to and see how much value they’d gotten out of it. It was roughly a 60/40 split, with 60 percent suggesting it wasn’t really of any benefit. However, of those that did find it useful, one of the most common reasons was for catching up with former university or work colleagues. Only about 20 percent found it useful professionally. (And no, there was absolutely no scientific method to my poll whatsover.)

Of those that did find it useful, they tended to be in the contracting/consulting business, and some had found it a good tool (or knew others that had found it useful) when it came to job hunting. At the other end of the scale, some advised me outright not to bother with LinkedIn as I’d get more value from Facebook, while another suggested that he’d found the most value in the Plaxo contact manager.

I’m still willing to experiment, so if you’d like to connect, send me an invite to geoff at That said, one of the features that would be really useful is the ability to delete your entire presence if you decide it’s not for you. That’s one feature I don’t think LinkedIn offers, at least in the free version, but which would certainly help pursuade those of us still not convinced about the privacy safeguards of this whole social networking thing to at least try it. – Geoff Long

Friday, October 12, 2007

Google turns 10! (Trust me, it's true)

You might have read about Google's latest push for the enterprise space - beefed up email security and added compliance services for users of its Google Apps Premier Edition thanks to technology from the Postini acquisition. It also follows last month's news that consultancy firm Capgemini would start offering Google's online software to its business customers. Yet another sign that Google is serious about the enterprise sector, and some might argue a sign that the company is maturing.

It's funny you should mention that because a little-known milestone passed on September 15 that strangely got very little coverage - Google's 10th Birthday. Actually it probably passed without notice because Google wasn't celebrating it. In fact, they prefer to say they're only nine years old, as they highlighted via their search page logo a few weeks ago.

But by my reckoning they're 10. That's because September 15, 1997 was the day Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two 24-year-old Stanford University students, registered the "" domain name. A year later they incorporated the company, but given that it's an Internet company I reckon it's appropriate to mark the anniversary on the day the domain name was registered.

Perhaps they were not keen to celebrate because in the technology industry, 10 years is a long time. Many users still think of Google as the fresh newcomer that reminded the old-timers, most notably Microsoft, that every company reaches its peak and that it's downhill from there. Let's face it, nobody likes the sudden realisation that they're approaching middle age (trust me), yet that's precisely where Microsoft and its peers (the likes of Oracle and SAP) are today.

Now that it's 10, Google also needs to deal with its new maturity. Perhaps one of the reasons why it's sometimes compared with some of the more prominent startups, such as Facebook, is that nothing seems to ever get out of "beta". Take Gmail - I've been relying on it for a couple of years now yet it's still a beta project. So is the Google Calendar and others in the growing list of hosted applications that I (and I suspect many others) have now incorporated into business life.

Keeping something like Gmail in perpetual beta is a mistake. Why? Because these days Google is seriously courting the enterprise space, as demonstrated by the announcements referred to earlier, and many enterprises are not going to adopt a beta product. They want something that's been tested, then tested some more and that comes with a water-tight guarantee that it works. A system that proudly advertises that it's still in beta is not what the newly-appointed compliance manager wants to see.

It also explains why not everyone is convinced of Google's enterprise credentials. According to Burton Group analyst Guy Creese, while Google is making a major contribution to the adoption of SaaS solutions within the IT sector, he said its application suite has weaknesses that large enterprises cannot ignore, such as the product's lack of user roles, no departmental categories, and minimal records management as examples.

"Burton Group believes many enterprises will begin investigating SaaS offerings for collaboration and content due to Google's industry influence, but recommends organisations wait for market maturity, or look to more sophisticated offerings," he said.

And there's that word again: maturity. So let's not pretend Google is a fresh-faced startup. It's a 10-year-old company and it should not be keeping its products in perpetual beta, particularly if it wants to be taken seriously in the enterprise space. In the meantime, congratulations Google on a remarkable first decade! -- Geoff Long

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Telecom and the Burma crackdown

There’s been a lot of talk and reports of how Internet and technology have managed to focus world attention on the protests and subsequent crackdown in Burma (Myanmar). Whether it’s via cell phone, blog, picture sharing sites or old-fashioned email, the consensus is that more news got out, and got out a lot quicker, than during the last big uprising and crackdown in 1988.

Since then the military junta has cut off the Internet connection, but still there were some reports still getting through via mobile phone cameras, although it seems they have even tried to shut down the cell network as well. That leaves some satellite connections at private companies and embassies, and perhaps some roving satellite phone subscribers. Let’s hope they don’t succeed in closing the last remaining view into the country completely.

As it turns out, I happened to be tracking a story on the junta’s plans for its very own cyber city just before the protests began. There had been quite a few reports of a 10,000-acre (4,050 hectare) “Yadanabon cyber city” project about 70 kms east of Mandalay, the country’s second largest city. According to Xinhua news agency, not only was it going ahead, but the first stage would be officially opening in January 2008 and with some big-name tenants from China, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Irrawaddy, probably the best news source about Burma, did a story back in June that panned the grand ICT plans of the junta. In particularly it quoted Reporters without Borders, which labelled Burma an Internet black hole and suggested that no foreign company in their right mind would risk going there.

Yet according to Xinhua last month, the list of companies signed up to be anchor tenants in the cyber city included the likes of ZTE and Alcatel Shanghai Bell (ASB) from China, Thailand’s Shin Satellite, IP Tel from Malaysia and Russian software outfit CBOSS. It also claimed that an airport had been built “in” the cyber city and that “various systems including ADSL, CATV, Triple Play and WiMax are being installed, experts said, adding that the present stage before the soft opening deals with fiber cable installation.”

That’s quite a detailed list of development. As it turned out, I was at a satellite conference in Bangkok the same week and had a chance to ask a number of people at Shin Satellite directly, including the company president. Not one person had even heard of the Yadanabon cyber city, never mind being an anchor tenant. I then contacted Alcatel about the Alcatel Shanghai Bell (ASB) involvement and got the same response – there were no plans to invest in the cyber city project.

Obviously the military dictatorship had simply made up stories to give their ICT project some credibility. They’ve got the patch of cleared jungle for the site, but now they are desperate to get foreign investors to part with their money so they pretend that companies are already moving in. I’m also guessing that the likes of Shin Satellite and ASB were named because they do have activities within Burma. Shin has an agreement with the Myanmar Posts and Telecommunication to provide satellite services throughout the country, including VoIP and Internet access via satellite, while ASB has in the past been involved in mobile and fixed network projects there.

One group that picked up on ASB’s involvement thanks to the Xinhua report was Corporate Social Responsibility Asia (CSR Asia). It noted in a posting on its web site that Alcatel Shanghai Bell was Alcatel-Lucent’s flagship company in China, and that Alcatel Lucent had a portion of its web site devoted to the topic of CSR, including its commitment to the UN Global Compact. The GC requests companies to avoid complicity in human rights abuses, yet as CSR Asia noted, with an investment in Burma there is sure to be some questioning of how they intend to ensure that.
That’s quite a contentious issue, and as no other media had followed up on it, I decided to question CSR Asia and at the same time let them know that the original news source on the main companies’ involvement in Yadanabon cyber city was probably incorrect. However, there was still their involvement in general telecom projects within the country to consider.

Stephen Frost, a founder and director of CSR Asia, started off by suggesting there may well be a role for the likes of Alcatel and Shin Satellite to invest in Burma from a CSR perspective. “Sanctions are clearly failing and the junta looks no more likely to relinquish power today than when the sanctions were applied. Moreover, engagement hasn’t worked either,” he told me. Frost also suggested that it might be time for a serious discussion on whether investment with “CSR strings attached” could play a role. “I’m not suggesting companies should invest; just saying it really needs to be discussed outside of the confines of the ‘Burma sanctions lobby’,” he noted.

On the subject of Alcatel specifically, however, he said the issue isn’t so much that Alcatel invests, but rather the disconnect between its CSR position (as stated on the web site) and its actual practice. “The statements on the parent company’s web site re the Global Compact point to laziness at best,” he noted, adding: “I think the company is mis-managing its brand by failing to engage with the Burma issue fully and transparently.”

Frost also pointed out that around the same time as the cyber city news stories were surfacing, Alcatel-Lucent had announced that it had been accepted onto the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. Yet other companies were in the past “essentially thrown off that index” over their Burma investments, he pointed out.

There are no easy solutions here, but as the world lauds the fact that the Internet was able to play a small role in getting information out on the junta’s brutal crackdown, it also needs to be aware that the technology also aids and abets that same junta. And if it eventually does go ahead with its cyber city, companies need to be very certain that the investments they make really are going to be beneficial – both to them and the people of Burma – in the long term. – Geoff Long

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

We need Asia's voice!!

Update: poll is now done. Thanks if you responded.

Check out the poll on the right. It's from a fellow blogger and consultant based in Europe, Benoit Felten. The poll is being hosted on a few blogs and web sites, but basically they need more input from Asia. So if you have an opinion, please help out by making your choice and casting your vote.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Geelong wins it after 44 years

Quiet start to the blogging week -- I'm still recovering from Geelong's record win in the Aussie Rules Grand Final. Hey, having grown up in Geelong, supporting Geelong, and with the name G(eoff) Long, these things have to be done. A first in my NotShort lifetime.
Go Cats 2008