While Microsoft isn’t exactly hurting, the company has had very mixed success entering new markets for some time. In fact, without the OS and Office cash cows, it’s failures would have torpedoed most companies. One thing Ballmer and company do seem to have is tenacity. That tenacity can be seen in action with Windows Phone.
Windows Phone is a well executed smart handset platform that came to market a little to late. It’s also lacks any real advantage over the established Apple and Android platforms. Add to that the obstacle a its licensing fee and there’s not much to make Windows Phone compelling to potential manufacturing partners. That gives Android a price advantage while Apple holds the overpriced designer label space. Microsoft has tried to remove that disadvantage by patent trolling Android manufacturers, with mixed success. There are also rumors that the company could acquire the ailing Nokia, likely giving Windows Phone a stable hardware partner. None of this will open any shelf space for MS as long as devices are joined at the hip to service plans that are sold exclusively by carriers.
That brings us to Skype. The VoIP company that Ebay notoriously overpaid for, was acquired for far less by Microsoft last year.The company is currently testing an app that will add the mostly free to talk service to Windows Phone 8. Tight integration of Skype into the Windows Phone OS has the potential to accelerate the end of by the minute mobile voice plans forever. That is assuming the carriers cooperate. While the mobile hardware space continues to become more crowded, the carrier space is not with incumbents scrambling to consolidate. Despite what we keep being told, mobile data is enormously profitable. That profitability is eclipsed by the margins on voice by the minute and messaging. Without major changes in the wireless connection business, Skype will do nothing to improve Windows Phone’s fortunes. (more…)
The wireless business as we know it should have ended with the smartphone. It did not because of tight handset control by a small cartel of service providers. This cartel succeeded in locking up the supply of devices largely by denying access to their networks with third party devices. By leveraging a tight knit relationship with regulators and lawmakers, these companies have also successfully locked up the lions share of wireless spectrum for their exclusive use. This same cartel is now clamoring to lock up more of the most useful airwaves even as they hold currently hold spectrum that is not being utilized. Lawmakers who have an unending need to spend more welcome the idea of a new windfall from yet another auction to exclusively assign public airwaves to the cartel.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, wireless carriers are aggressively offloading increased data traffic to narrow, increasingly overcrowded unlicensed WiFi networks. The reason isn’t hard to figure out. If more traffic can be pushed onto someone else’s network they can still charge large without building adequate infrastructure. Why not allow more unlicensed frequencies? Congress wants more money, and the carriers do not want an abundance of open spectrum available. That would encourage a whole new wave of competition that will demand new investment while pushing down prices. Make no mistake about it: The growing abundance of cheap WiFi only tablets and entertainment devices that do more than the carriers’ locked handsets could spell doom if the availability of WiFi grows.
I’m not the lone wolf howling on this open spectrum soapbox. Yochai Benkler at Technology Review seems to agree with me on most major points and has several good ones to add. Open spectrum is not being discussed by lawmakers because it does not benefit them. The next wave of wireless could lift all ships, including those of pols and a cartel. They need to get out of the way to make it happen, and they need to hear from all of us to make it so.
There’s plenty of tech media coverage of Republic Wireless’ new hybrid mobile plan that was launched today. It’s great to see some new entrepreneurial blood in the stagnant US wireless market. The only real innovation in Republic’s offering is in its partial de-crippling an Andriod smart phone and setting up a deal to use Sprint’s network as a fall back for it’s potentially disruptive service. The low cost is possible because Republic’s service is only truly unlimited on WiFi connections, with a limit on 3G network usage.There’s also a pretty big investment for the consumer in the unproven service that entails buying a $199 locked handset up front.
If Republic’s service performs reasonably well, it could indeed be disruptive to the industry. What troubles me most is that this sort of utility exists in every smart phone with the addition of an app like Republic’s. If the FCC was truly representing the masses, all smart phones would be unlocked and there would be exponentially more businesses competing to offer wireless and mobile VoIP service via WiFi and other non traditional networks. While requiring the acceptance of unlocked handsets on all networks could create chaos in the marketplace, it would also foster innovation and grow the market for everyone – including the FCC’s wireless cartel.
In a presentation from IT Conversations – Moray Rumney makes the case that while promising 4G is yet to and may never deliver a true mobile broadband experience (at least at 2011 wired standards).
With the will to build enough backhaul and install enough points of presence, it is possible for the wireless carriers to deliver high services levels from a few narrow channels. That sort of deployment is in direct conflict with the old cell tower model that the industry is married to. While there are other less transparent benefits to allocating more spectrum the carriers, this is one reason why we keep hearing the call for more spectrum.
I have another solution that could solve the problem almost immediately. It involves a shift from walled gardens to a commons. Any new spectrum would go to that commons and old allocated bands should join the commons as services like CDMA and GSM are discontinued. After establishing the commons, all carriers would be free to use it on a low power, spread spectrum basis just like WiFi. Yes, there would be a very ugly transition, and the POP density would need to grow dramaticly. Offering anyone who would base a POP on their property a free broadband connection could easily solve that problem.
The first nation to adopt the commons model will soon lead the world in wireless. Without the overhead of leasing spectrum and tower sites, carriers could offer lower prices while enjoying higher margins. The FCC wouldn’t need the income from spectrum auctions to support a bloated bureaucracy – it could be dissolved. Everyone wins., but convincing the powers that be to look at a new model is a very difficult task.
Hopefully our readers have not been sleeping. While much of the world has been watching WiMax deploys stall. (Bad economy, bad decisions, bad deploys.) Another tech has creped up next to WiMax — Super WiFi.
Background. sWiFi is WiFi with longer range and newer frequencies. The FCC granted approval to use the `white spaces` between the old analog TV channels now that the TV industry has transitioned to digital on different frequencies.
On the equipment front the first moves by most of the WiFi providers has been a boost in wattage in the current 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. Thats the same frequencies that the a/b/g/n ranges use today. The extra power has been able to boost range from a practical limit of a few miles to 25 miles in some cases. Longer term, the equipment providers will come to the front with devices that will utilize the longer distance TV frequencies. With multi antenna polar installs ranges of 50+ miles could be entertained.
This still on the drawing board stuff? Nope. Rice university has already trialed a deploy here in Texas. More here. Fact this could be something any average ham or electronic hobbyist should be able to do. An existing WiFi AP fed to a 1-5w power RF amp on existing frequencies could be utilized. The trick is to select an appropriate amp for the frequencies.
Upsides. Everything you know about WiFi is the same. The usual tools, tricks, and security schemes apply. That is a large savings in educational ramp up.
Downsides. All the problems associated with security on WiFi still apply too. Be cognizant of that fact. The other of course, with the longer ranges it is quite possible for ad hoc set ups to step all over each other.
Futures. For rural, low density locations this may well be the solution for them. Permitting is not an issue. With WiMax stalled, sWiFi may take over. When it is possible for a community of people to erect their own community AP’s and buy high gain receivers off the shelf it will take off.
What triggered the creation of this Blog may well be at hand in the next couple of years.