JetBlue to offer on-board Wi-Fi on BetaBlue Aircraft

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JetBlue will introduce in early 2008 limited in-flight e-mail and Instant Messaging access, in partnership with Yahoo and RIM (the maker of BlackBerry phones). Passengers on JetBlue’s Wi-Fi equipped BetaBlue aircraft will be able to use their Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, smartphones, and BlackBerries to access customized version of Yahoo!® Mail and Yahoo!® Messenger named Yahoo! Mail in the Sky and Yahoo! Messenger in the Sky. BlackBerry users will also be able to check BlackBerry Email and BlackBerry® Messenger services. All this for Free (um..at no additional charge)! However, iPhones™ cannot be used on BetaBlue.

Yahoo!’s in-flight versions of Mail and Messenger are slightly different – they do not allow attachments to be opened via Yahoo! Mail in the Sky. Even Personal and corporate BlackBerry email on BetaBlue do not support attachments. So, if you are a laptop user, you cannot use your existing Yahoo! mail and Yahoo! messenger, but have to install the customized lightweight Yahoo! Mail in the Sky and Yahoo! Messenger in the Sky version. Those without a Yahoo! account can register for one on the fly (literally!).

JetBlue’s BetaBlue aircraft is an Airbus A320 equipped for email and Instant Messaging services above 10,000 feet. Once the BetaBlue aircraft has reached 10,000 feet, customers can begin using the Wi-Fi service. JetBlue is in a unique position among airlines because it has licensed spectrum in the United States that allows it to transmit from planes to the ground. This also positions JetBlue to offer similar service to other carriers.

All this good stuff is coming in early 2008, with additional features and functionally coming later. These services are free to customers and provided exclusively by JetBlue and LiveTV™, Yahoo!®, and BlackBerry®.

I think this is a great step forward. I travel quite a bit, so I know that being on a plane is one of the most boring and harrowing experiences. Being able to connect with friends and family on mother earth will go a long way towards making the on-board experience more useful.

I didn’t know how many business travelers fly JetBlue, but the last time I flew JetBlue about 4 weeks back, I noticed multiple people with Blackberries, so the partnership with Research in Motion makes sense, although I don’t think there are many Wi-Fi capable BBs out there now. I don’t travel JetBlue that often, but this is one more thing that will tip the scale in favor of JetBlue for my future travel.

Fortune at the Bottom of the Indian Pyramid

bharti_airtel_vodafone_idea_cellular_logos.JPGIndia’s cellular market has more than 217 million customers and is adding eight million subscribers a month, making it the world’s fastest growing. With just 13% penetration of mobile subscribers, there’s still a lot more opportunity for wireless carriers and a lot of areas in India still don’t have cellular coverage. So far India’s mobile revolution is mainly confined to the cities, but the real opportunity lies in providing telephone service in the vast rural hinterland that have more than 770 million people, only 2 percent of who have telephone service. Even the teledensity, the percentage of people owning ANY phone, in India is just 21 percent (compared to the saturated markets in the west). However, building out a wireless network infrastructure is no mean feat – it is very very expensive – and a feat that only highly capitalized mobile operators can do.

In order to make a nationwide roll out cheaper and to grow faster, three leading Indian private mobile operators, namely Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, are launching a new company to share communications infrastructure to cut costs and help speed the roll out of a nationwide phone network. This new company will be an independently managed communications tower operator by the name Indus Towers. The companies will pool their existing communications towers so Indus Towers will start out with 70,000 tower sites. Bharti (India’s biggest private mobile phone operator) and Vodafone will hold 42 percent stakes each, and Idea Cellular, controlled by the Aditya Birla conglomerate, will hold 16 percent. The new company will also share infrastructure with other service providers like broadcasters and broadband service providers

This is the first such venture to be launched in India and it is a great strategy. Sharing network infrastructure will help reduce mobile phone service costs even more, despite India already having one of the world’s cheapest wireless services at less than two cents (U.S) a minute. No doubt that this is the best strategy to reach a new layer of untapped clientele, and one espoused in the book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits” by well-known strategist C.K. Prahalad.

Indian Telecom is Looking Bright and Prosperous

The Indian telecom sector has undergone a major transformation since key policy reforms were initiated in the late 1980s when telecom equipment manufacturing was opened to the private sector, followed by the National Telecom Policies in 1994 and 1999. Historically, the telecom network in India was owned and managed by the government. It was considered a strategic service, best under state control. However, when the telecom revolution in other countries in the 1990s resulted in a better quality of service along with lower tariffs, Indian policy makers opened up the telecom services sector. India is divided into 18 telecom circles and four metropolitan jurisdictions.

Today, India is the fourth largest telecom market in Asia, after China, Japan and South Korea. It is also the eighth largest telecom network in the world and the second largest among developing countries. In wireless telecom, India is one of the world’s fast – growing mobile markets, adding 6.4 million subscribers a month on average.

Although wireless penetration is just 13% among a population of 1.1 billion (compared to 40% in China and close to 100% in Western Europe), India is forecasted to have 525 million mobile subscribers by 2010, but wireless service providers may have to be consolidated to make services more affordable through higher economies of scale. For its part, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has developed a set of M&A norms that have limited the market share of a merged entity to 40% in the particular market, against the earlier 67%, based on the number of subscribers and revenues.

Given the continued growth opportunity, Foreign investors are lining up to enter the Indian Market. In Late 2006, AT&T became the first foreign telecom operator, in partnership with Mahindra Telecom, to obtain a telecom license under the foreign direct investment policy that allows up to 74% foreign ownership. Vodafone, the wireless operator based in the UK and the half-parent of Verizon Wireles, recently acquired a 52% stake in Hutchison Essar, which was renamed Vodafone Essar. Russian telecom major, Sistema, has acquired a 10 per cent stake in Shyam Telelink for fixed – line, cellular and internet services in the North Indian state of Rajasthan.

Major telecom operators in India include Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam, and Vodafone Essar.

Cablevision to bid in 700MHz Spectrum Auction

US cable operator Cablevision Systems has submitted paperwork to bid in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auction in the 700MHz band in January 2008. Cablevision is the second Cable provider, after Cox communications, to get in on the wireless spectrum bandwagon.

Cox will bid on its own, and Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications will not participate. AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, two the main National wireless carriers in the U.S. plan to participate, while the Satellite provider EchoStar Communications is also rumoured to be in the running. Other confirmed bidders include Leap Wireless, MetroPCS and Google.

The auction of the 700 MHz is billed as one of the most important in this century – primarily because this swath of spectrum can be used for very high speed wireless services and part of the spectrum has to be ulitized with ‘open acess’, where a customer can bring any device and use any software on any mobile device. This essentially makes the wireless services a bit-pipe, much like how DSL and Cable Internet services work today.

Top 10 wireless providers in the US

The US Wireless market is reaching maturity fast and market penetration or saturation levels of mobile devices are above 70%, a pretty high level. Of course, some European countries have market penetration rates of more than 100%, but that’s because some people have more than 1 mobile phone and these countries generally have smaller populations, are smaller countries, or have limited wireline penetration. It is expected that when penetration levels reach 80%, the U.S. market will generally be saturated.

At this level, one could expect the service provider landscape to consolidate, as service providers look to maintain profit levels through cost cutting and by leveraging the economies of scale. Consolidation, or if you prefer to call it Mergers & Acquisitions, is a great way to increase economies of scale, especially in industries with high fixed costs.

In fact, we already see consolidations of sorts happening – recently AT&T Mobility acquired Dobson Communications for about $2.8 billion, T-Mobile has reached a deal to buy SunCom Wireless Holdings for $2.4 billion, and Verizon Wireless is acquring Rural Cellular Corp that has 700,000-plus customers.

In the meantime, here are the top 10 wireless providers in the US. The list does not include Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), who don’t own a wireless networks

Top Ten U.S. Wireless Service Providers by subscribers
Operator Subscriber Base Net Subscriber additions Average Revenue Per User Revenues Subscriber Growth (Q3 ’07)
AT&T Mobility 65,700,000 2,000,000 $50.82 $10.9 billion 3.14%
Verizon Wireless 63,700,000 1,600,000 $52.17 $11.3 billion 2.58%
Sprint Nextel Corp. 54,000,000 -60,000 $59.00* $8.7 billion -0.11%
T-Mobile USA Inc. 27,700,000 857,000 $53.00 $4.89 billion 3.19%
Alltel Corp. 12,000,000 213,000 $55.96 $2.3 billion 1.81%
U.S. Cellular 6,067,000 52,000 $52.71 $1 billion 0.86%
MetroPCS Communications Corp. 3,660,000 114,300 $42.77 $557 million 3.22%
Leap Wireless International Inc.(estimates)** 2,700,000 36,500 $45.13 $393 million 1.37%
Dobson
Communications Corp.
1,500,000 49,100 $52.54 $392 million 3.38%
SunCom Holdings 1,140,000 2,200 $57.38 $240 million 0.19%
*postpaid only
**Second quarter results; Leap has not yet reported full 3Q results
Source: RCR News

Worldwide DSL Broadband speeds keep increasing

In the 3rd Quarter (Q3) of 2007, average residential downstream DSL speeds increased across the world, except in two regions, according to research by Point-Topic. Asia Pacific, Latin America, South East Asia, Western Europe and Eastern Europe all saw increased downstream DSL speeds. In North America & Canada and the Middle East & Africa, however, the speeds didn’t change.

The  figure below shows the downstream speed of DSL in bps, across different regions of the world.

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South & East Asia lead the pack, where downstream DLS speed increased by over 130%, primarily due to two operators – China Tietong and China Telecom. China Tietong has launched Broadband services (A1 – A7 Unlimited) with downstream speeds ranging from 512 Kbps to 4 Mbps, and introduced the J1 Shared 100M VDSL service with a 100 Mbps downstream speed. China Telecom expanded its existing Home ASDL Unlimited range of services with downstream speeds ranging from 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps.

Solicall reduces Background Noise in VoIP calls

solicall_logo.pngHave you ever been on a conference call where someone’s talking while on the go and its hard to hear the conversation because there’s a lot of background noise? If you have, and are annoyed by it, there’s a solution for it.

SoliCall, Israeli-based privately-held company, announced the release of its PBXMate – a technology that reduces background noise and improves voice clarity in VoIP networks that use SIP. PBXMate runs on Linux & Windows and can work with any VoIP Network that supports SIP. Of course, this is VoIP only, circuit switched phone users need not apply. The device filters calls entering a conference room to enhance the audio quality in conference calls, and reduces background noise coming from external cellular phones or from other external systems.

PBXMate appears to work alongside the conferencing server, rather than be client based. Given that PBXMate has to process the real-time speech to filter out the background noice, it should add some delay to the conversation. The big question is whether PBXMate can do this quickly enough without introducing noticeable delay into the voice path.

Another question I have is “How big is the problem”. I can only imagine that only a handful of conference calls will actually have voice technology delays. In my experience, background noise is a problem in only a small percentage of conference calls (VoIP and TDM-based), so I question how big a problem this is for those who conference call a lot. I haven’t tried this out, but you can download and evaluate the software from http://www.solicall.com/