Skype goes Cellular with the 3 SkypePhone

skypephone_logo.JPGSkype and UK-based cellular service provider “3” have launched the 3 Skypephone, a mobile phone that allows users to make free Skype calls via the Internet. The 3 Skypephone could also send free Skype Instant Messages (IM). Right now, SkypeOut calls, SkypeIn calls, and voicemails are not available, but the phone makes conventional calls.

The phone is being launched in nine markets including the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Hong Kong, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the Republic of Ireland. In Britain, the phones will be available for sale in 3’s UK stores on Friday November 2, 2007. It costs 49.99 pounds ($102.6) with pay-as-you-go service, and free with a contract. The company hopes to sell “several hundred thousand” units worldwide in the fourth quarter of this year.

Skype acting CEO Michael van Swaaij expects the launch to boost the group’s 246 million-strong registered user base because “the service was now available to people without computers”. I doubt that the skyphone will make a dent in Skype’s customer base for the following reasons:

  1. 3 subscribers are likely to have access to a computer. In other words, many of the users of the 3 Skypephone will be current Skype users.
  2. “3” is a relatively new company and doesn’t have a large subscriber base.

The 3 Skypephone does not work in the U.S. spectrum bands, so Skype enthusiasts in the U.S. will have to wait!

I wrote an article recently on “4 Reasons you won’t have Skype on Cell phones anytime soon”. Interestingly, “3” is the first operator to open up its network to Skype. For “3” it makes sense as an upstart 3G/UMTS operator, but I highly doubt that the major cellular operators will open up their network (hey, they have to protect their primary revenues) anytime soon.

Qualcomm enables laptops with both EV-DO and HSPA

Qualcomm launched on a Wednesday a dual-3G chip with EV-DO and HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) for laptops. This will enable laptop makers to embed a WWAN chip that can handle any of the two most dominant cellular broadband technologies in the world.

Currently, laptops are available with embedded chips that work with either AT&T’s HSPA or Verizon Wireless’ or Sprint Nextel’s or Alltel’s EV-DO network, but no laptop can work with both HSPA or EV-DO networks. Different parts of the world have different broadband networks – the US, Asia (China, India, and Japan) and Australia have both EV-DO and HSPA, Europe is predominantly HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA), while Korea is EV-DO, making it difficult for laptop users that travel internationally to use the laptop with Wireless Broadband.

Here are the biggest benefits of the dual-3G chipset for laptops:

  1. Qualcomm’s new Gobi chip can connect to either type of network, so the well-traveled users will have a laptop that will work pretty much anywhere in the world. This would also be a good selling point for wireless service providers.
  2. Rather than make two separate laptops for EV-DO and HSPA, laptop manufacturers can manufacture a single laptop with both. Each chipset will cost more because it packs more punch, thus the dual-3G laptop will be more expensive, but costs can be lowered through volume manufacturing, and reduced marketing, distribution and inventory costs, and simpler sales process.
  3. Customers with multiple subscriptions have the ability to choose the best coverage in a given area without having to lug around multiple laptops or multiple USB or PCMCIA WWAN cards, as well as decide on the lowest cost (especially when roaming).

The Gobi chips are available immediately, and Qualcomm expects them to appear in laptops in the second quarter of next year.

Still, the Gobi chip is limited to EV-DO and HSPA, and does not support WiMAX. Wireless carriers are still rolling out WiMAX (the first rollout in the U.S. will be in 2008), and WiMAX will be an important consideration for laptops.

More than 8 million customers around the world tune into IPTV

More than 8.2 million customers subscribe to IPTV as of first half of 2007. This is a 179 percent increase in the 12 months ending June 30 2007, according to according to research from Point Topic (registration required).

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Europe leads the way with the highest total subscribers (4,984,000) and also leads with a whopping 231% customer growth – indicating that Europe is now pulling far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of IPTV subscriptions. All the major European incumbents now have IPTV service. Around half of the IPTV customers are in France, primarily due to France Telecom’s strong performance in response to the deployments of rivals Free and Neuf. Spain’s Telefonica added almost 200,000 IP TV customers, Belgacom signed up 120,000 in Belgium, Deutsche Telekom landed 35,000 and BT in the UK added 20,000 customers during the same period.

The Asia Pacific region also has 2.1 million customers (excludes Korea, where only video-on-demand services via IPTV is provided), with 800,000 IPTV subscribers at PCCW in Hong Kong and Chunghwa in Taiwan gaining 200,000 IPTV accounts in the same period. These numbers should start hit the roof when Chinese companies move from trials to commercial deployment.

The Americas lags both Europe and Asia-Pac with only 1.069 million subscribers signed up in the first half of the year. Here, IPTV is seen as a response to triple-play competition from cable MSOs.

Agito Networks seeks gold in fast WiFi/Cellular handoff

agito_networks_logo.jpgFixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and the quest to make quick, smooth hand-offs between cellular and WiFi got a shot in the arm when Agito Networks formally launched this week. Agito Networks is founded in 2006 by Pejman Roshan (VeeP of marketing) and Timothy Olson (CTO), both formerly of Cisco’s Wireless Networking Business Unit, and backed by $9 million in investments led by Battery Ventures.

FMC is one solution to spotty cellular RF coverage within buildings (another answer is Femtocells, which Sprint Nextel launched recently). Furthermore, FMC helps leverage the increasing number of WiFi networks in offices and hotspots to make low-cost VoIP calls.

So why jump into a pit with hundreds of FMC players such as Tecore, T-Mobile HotSpot@Home, Kineto Wireless, LongBoard, and Motorola? Turns out that no-one has adequately solved the problem of transitioning from cellular to WiFi quickly and smoothly.

Agito Networks claims to achieve sub-second handover between WiFi and cellular RF networks through a patent-pending location-aware technology that utilizes RF to tell when an individual is approaching “predefined points at an enterprises WiFi coverage edge” after which a mobile-based client cooperates with a RoamAnywhere router (which integrates with the company’s IP PBXs) in order to hand the call over.

Agito Networks’ is targeting its products at medium-to-large businesses looking to save on cell phone bills – Agito claims a 60% reduction in phone charges by routing in-building calls over dedicated IP infrastructure and connecting outgoing calls originating indoors over VoIP.

Agito plans to introduce models ranging from $9,995 to $24,995 in the US later this year. The RoamAnywhere 2000 series Router is designed for small to medium deployments and scales to 100 simultaneous users per appliance, while the 4000 series, designed for medium to large deployments, can handle up to 1000 simultaneous users..

Agito also provides “Zero touch” client deployment which helps administrators to pre-provision groups. In addition, the location-aware policy engine enables users and administrators to create and enforce corporate-wide mobile policies. The Network/IT Admin can even set up RoutePoints and instruct calls to be directed to voicemail when users are off duty.

Seems like an interesting approach – but the FMC space is still at the early stages and feasibility cannot be assessed until products/trials are available.

Internet Traffic continues to explode Internationally

International Internet traffic is Alive and Well! International Internet traffic grew 57 percent from mid-2006 and mid-2007, according to Telegeography’s Global Internet Geography. While it is less than the stellar 74 percent growth in the previous year, it’s still a huge improvement by most standards.

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Note: percentage growth numbers are relative to the first half of the previous year. For example, Average International Internet traffic grew 57% from the first half of 2006 to the first half of 2007.

Interestingly, Internet Bandwidth grew significantly in 2007. This means that Internet Service Providers and Internet Backbone Providers have invested in significant increases in available bandwidth during this time. They will not be disappointed – I expect International Internet usage to grow handily for the next several years.

There’s no doubt that high-bandwidth applications such as video are expanding the average traffic on the Internet. At the same time, Internet traffic is also growing because the Internet is reaching more and more places, particularly as wireline and wireless broadband access becomes more prevalent. That should be good news for the world!

Web Collaboration becomes Hot

All of a sudden, Web Collaboration has become hot – very hot. What is Web Collaboration? it is web technology that allows users to work on projects simultaneously with colleagues and partners and share information regardless of their location or device.

First, Cisco shook-up the landscape with the acquisition of WebEx for $2.9 billion in March 2007. WebEx was the leading web conferencing platform with more than 2 million registered users and more than 27,000 business customers. Next, Google snapped up Web conferencing technology owned by Marratech in April 2007.

Soon afterwards in August 2007, IBM purchased WebDialogs, an on-demand (hosted) Web and audio conferencing software maker and communications services provider with more than 500,000 users worldwide. WebDialogs adds a missing software-as-a-service element to the Lotus Sametime family and gives IBM a web conferencing offering for small and mid-sized businesses and for departments within larger organizations. IBM will integrate the WebDialogs Unyte service with its collaboration portfolio, including Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime.

Then on October 1, AT&T, the largest telephone company in the U.S., announced plans to acquire privately held Web-conferencing provider Interwise for about $121 million.

With this deal, AT&T gets IP-based conferencing systems to its range of enterprise solutions, and can speed up development of collaboration products. Interwise offers VOIP (voice over IP), Web and videoconferencing services for on-premises, hosted, and for hybrid on-site and hosted services deployment. The deal strengthens AT&T’s enterprise business, which has strong hosted audio conferencing but lacks on-premises services.

This is a crowded market – Cisco’s WebEx leads the market, followed by Microsoft with LiveMeeting. Citrix Online ranks third. Then there’s IBM, Google, and AT&T. Beyond the big names, there are dozens of smaller, independent players such as Centra and Adobe.

The real reason for this acquisition spree in conferencing is that companies are looking to:

  1. Fill the gaps in their Unified Communications portfolio. Unified Communications links business processes with presence information, e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and conferencing to facilitate efficient communications.
  2. Unified Communications vendors are clearly recognizing the need to offer software as a service delivery mechanism.

Unified Communications is the ‘big thing’ for this year and next. Look for more and more news in this space, particularly as Microsoft enters the on-premise voice environment (i.e. IP-PBX)