NDN Blog

Smartphone Wars II

DroidFollowing up on my post yesterday, two new bits:

The Droid dropped today.  It looks pretty slick.  It'll go on sale in a bit more than a week.  Until then, we wait.

Second, the elephant I passed over yesterday was, of course, the Blackberry, which still does dominate the smartphone market.  But I came across this chart (via Digital Daily) that shows the iPhone catching up at an amazing rate.RIM v. Apple

This illustrates a point I started to make at the end of yesterday's post. The iPhone has become the default for personal-use smartphones.  Its customer satisfaction is head and shoulders above competitors.  As far as I can tell, the only thing holding it back from completely dominating the market is its marriage to the AT&T network, which just doesn't have the coverage of Verizon's. 

So that's why I was wondering out loud what could possibly be holding Apple back from signing up with Verizon.  Presumably, it couldn't be anything other than the big check they get from AT&T for exclusivity... but at what price does one cede domination?

Smartphone Wars

The Times reported over the weekend on Android's growing success as the OS of choice for handset manufacturers. When it was first unveiled, the Google software was only running on a few devices, and only on T-Mobile's networks.  Now, it's stealing major market share from Windows Mobile.  Motorola is dropping the Microsoft OS entirely, and others are following suit.  Why? Well, Android is free, it's open-source, and it's cool.  And Windows Mobile is none of these things.  In fact, it's so uncool, even people who use it have never heard of it.

The signature Android device, expected this fall, is called Droid, and is the result of a team-up of Google, Motorola, and Verizon (and will be unveiled tomorrow morning...). But the Droid's big rival isn't anything running Windows Mobile.  Rather, Droid is reputed to be the first legit challenge to the iPhone. And this ad (that is exciting for some people and creepy for the rest of us) looks like a massive cannon pointed at Apple's head:

You'd think this would be an indication that talks to bring the iPhone onto the Verizon network had, to say the least, gone south.  But nay, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg assured everyone earlier this week that Verizon is still very much interested in the iPhone-- it's Apple's call, he says.  If Apple jumped ship from its exclusive deal with AT&T, it would certainly be bad news for that carrier, which has seen their profits powered largely by the iPhone's success. But it's hard to know exactly what's holding Apple back, aside from a feeling of offense at that ad.

In other Android news, defense contractor Raytheon has developed an Android-based application (the power of open source!) that allows soldiers to track fellow soldiers and unmanned drones-- yes, drones-- in real time.  Providing, that is, that the drones are on their buddy list.

What is Global Mobile?

What is this indeed?  Good question.  Thanks for asking.  So we're two months and 37 posts into Global Mobile.  The last time I did one of these mumbling-out-loud self-evaluations, I explained for you the background of this new project-- how NDN arrived in this space, and what we've done here in years past. Today, I'm going to try to draw a few vague boundaries, and try to describe what the oft-nebulous subject matter of this blog really is.

Clearly, we're not just talking about mobile technology here-- not just cell phones or smart phones or wireless broadband.  I've written a fair bit about fiber-optic internet access, too, and of course about the applications and services that run on all that hardware. It's about all these things, but more broadly, it's about the single, vast, global network that ties most of the world together. To use the technical shorthand, we're talking about ICTs (information and communication technologies).  All this notwithstanding, I'm keeping "global mobile" as my blog's title because, to be frank, I like it when things rhyme.

So, to put it in a slightly cumbersome tagline: this blog is about the ways the global information and communication network is changing societies and improving lives around the world.  Sound good?

And since we're here, I'll keep my promise of a video every Friday: This is Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talking earlier this summer at an event we hosted launching the Vodafone Foundation/UN Foundation report "mHealth for Development." Enjoy!

Social Media, Active Technology, and What Have You

Jared Cohen-- the State Department's wunderkind who sent the e-mail that stopped the Twitter from going down during the Iran uprising-- had a piece up on HuffPo earlier this week explaining how social media is spreading freedom and prosperity around the world.  Then he explains why he hates the term "social media." Basically:

The term "social media" as we know it today appeared in July 2004 as a reference to participatory media like blogging, wikis, social networks, and related technologies. This is all well and good if technology was still primarily about connecting people to information, which is really the essence of media. However, this term has become obsolete in a world where technology has become a critical tool for connecting people not only to information and ideas, but also to other individuals, entities (NGOs, companies, governments, etc.), and more recently actual resources be they financial, medical, or judicial.

He frames the essence of the technology as its power to "connect," and suggests "connection technologies-- or ConnecTech" as an alternative.  I think Jared's right that the phrase is a little outmoded, but I'm not sure he's quite hit on the solution-- ConnecTech sounds more like a late-90's hardware startup than a revolutionary force in our society...

It's an interesting conversation to have (especially for a word nerd like me), as it makes you think about the essence of what these new tools are. Commenter LoraineAntrim had the best idea I've seen-- "Active Technology."  I'm still thinking.  Ideas?

Technology Salon: Challenges of Sustainability in ICD4D

Took part an interesting discussion yesterday with a great group of people in ICT for development at the bimonthly Technology Salon, hosted by the UN Foundation/Vodfone Foundation partnership, and chaired by the inimitable Wayan Vota. A good writeup of the conversation is here; one of the most interesting parts of the conversation for me was this bit:

In development, we are often looking at projects with a three-year funding commitment, while in domestic private industry, three years is considered the initial start-up phase, with five years the usual time horizon for profitability. In the developing world, even successful organizations like Kick Start, consider 10 years a more reasonable break even benchmark.

So there is a gap between this pilot/start up phase, and a self-sustaining business model, that isn't bridged by current financing. Donors are reluctant to fund "on-going operating costs", yet venture capitol sees development investments as too risky, and development financing organizations rarely see above microfinance or below multi-million dollar financing.

There certainly is a gap here. Particularly in the mHealth space, the globe is spotted with trial projects, proofs of concept, and other two- to three-year efforts to test out new ideas. While many of these projects have proven successful, or at least shown promise, it has been difficult to get either sustained startup capital or commitments from governments/NGOs to see these projects through to sustainability.

Here Comes Net Neutrality

The FCC voted this morning to move ahead with a discussion of Chairman Julius Genachowski's new rules to protect net neutrality.  Generally, the corporate battle lines are drawn between the service providers (especially AT&T) who oppose the new rules, and online services (e.g. Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook), who support them. 

Net NeutralityThe principles of net neutrality are, in their essence, intended to keep the internet free and open, and prevent service providers from owning the network. Specifically, the rules will try to head off efforts by service providers to treat certain content or devices preferentially, whether by speeding up service for sites that pay a fee, or blocking services competitive with their own.  The service providers counter with the argument that it hardly makes sense to legislate against a problem that isn't a problem-- aside from some black hat activity by Comcast, there hasn't been much bad stuff going on that would seem to necessitate the new rules.

Chairman Genachowski has coupled this new initiative with a commitment to make the FCC a more open institution: He's published a draft of his proposed rules, and he's keeping the period for comments open longer than usual. I suspect that between now and January 14, when the comment period ends, we'll move toward a middle ground that is comfortable for most parties involved. Even though Verizon, as a service provider, is opposed to the rules, Verizon Wireless and Google found common ground, and their two CEOs released a joint statement in support of light-touch regulation.

Everyone seems to agree with the concept that the internet should be open, and nobody wants any "walled gardens." Still, it will be important not to stifle innovation with rules that restrict service providers from, well, providing good service. Here's to a vigorous debate!

Broadband for Hispanic Americans

Somehow I passed over this when it was released a month ago, but Mobile Future and the Hispanic Institute collaborated on a new report about broadband access and usage among Hispanics in the US.  The essay makes the macro point that Hispanics have higher rates of mobile broadband usage than most other demographic groups, ergo policymakers should account for and include mobile when making broadband policy-- and not focus exclusively on fiber networks.

Mobile or Fibre?The point is well taken, but the paper casts Hispanics as having a preference for mobile broadband, which I'm not sure is quite right. I would argue that Hispanics aren't big wireless users despite having lower rates of in-home broadband access; rather, they're big wireless users because they have less fiber access in their homes. As we know, high-speed internet is increasingly a necessity for everyday life and business, and if you can't afford to hook up your computer, you'll opt for a cheaper wireless connection.

The conclusions here are very much right: As the FCC reviews our broadband policy, it will be important for them to take into account the the needs of poorer Americans, and their dependence on wireless broadband access. 

I would just add a bigger point: Wireless broadband is great for economic development, but in-home, fibre-optic broadband connections are even better.  Our policymakers need to look especially hard at how we can include every American in the global ICT network.

Taxing Telecom

Last week, Finland made broadband access a universal right.  Now, Mexico has announced their intention to levy a tax on all telecom services, including internet.  If that seems regressive to you, that's because it is.

Broadly speaking, it makes good policy sense to tax items with negative externalities (like tobacco, alcohol, or, say, carbon emissions) and to leave untaxed things that help create a better society (like food, or, ahem, internet connectivity).  I can sympathize with the Mexican government's desire to raise revenue from a quickly growing sector of their economy, but there's got to be a better way than actively discouraging broadband uptake.

Fortunately, for Mexico's technological elites, Twitter has given them a forum to make a fuss.  The hashtag #InternetNecesario (which means, basically, internet is a necessity) has been the convening point for people wishing to speak out against the policy.  The hashtag briefly made the top ten "trending topics" list this morning, right up there with Rihanna and the Baloon Boy.

With the stellar Alliance of Youth Movements summit taking place in Mexico City last week, featuring an awful lot of interesting discussion about broadband, Twitter, and all these other technologies, I have to think somebody's paying attention in the government. Let's hope this bad idea goes away.

A Piece of the Brazilian Action

We had the Brazilian Ambassador Antonio Patriota here at NDN yesterday, and he offered a wonderfully cogent picture of where Brazil is today-- economically, politically, and in its relations with the rest of the world. Rumors and hearsay suggest that the Ambassador could soon be recalled to Brasilia to serve as Deputy Foreign Minister, but for now, he's here in Washington, and serving as a valuable bridge between his country and ours.

A video of his talk is below, which you should watch, but really that was just a glorified lead-in to a rather scanty blog post...

GVT LogoThe Economist has an article in their latest issue about GVT, a relatively small Brazilian mobile operator. Despite its meager market share, a bidding war is on to take the company over-- Spain's Telefonica has the highest bid right now, over France's Vivendi, and rumors abound that TelMex might be interested too. The take-away here is that Brazil is one of most stable of the fast-growing markets in the world, and everybody wants a piece of the action:

Since Brazil’s telecoms monopoly was broken up and privatised in 1998, the number of landlines has more than doubled from 17m to 41m. The growth of mobile phones has been even faster. Brazil already boasts more 165m of them, just 25m short of one for every person in the land. Internet coverage is less good, but the government plans to lay 31,000km of optical fibre with the aim of bringing broadband access within reach of 162m people. The race is therefore on to create telecoms giants that can offer a range of services to Brazilians in the farthest corners of this vast country.

Like I was saying, everybody wants in.  And the Ambassador agrees:

Broadband Internet Is Your Right! If You're Finnish.

Interesting news out of Finland, where new legislation will make 1mbps broadband internet a legal right. Most of the country is wired, but the new law will force broadband providers to extend their networks to rural areas. Says the legislative counsellor of the Ministry of Transport and Communications:

We think it's something you cannot live without in modern society. Like banking services or water or electricity, you need Internet connection.

Rural FinlandOther countries, including France, have mandated internet access, but Finland is the first to set a threshhold for speed. (And they've set ambitious goals for growth, too: 100mbps by 2015) Ban Ki-Moon has made global ICT access a priority, and spoke last week in support of extending networks to schools around the world.

The question of whether high-speed internet access should be treated as a right is one that I think we'll be wrestling with a lot in coming years. Certainly, access to and understanding of the global ICT network is a prerequisite for the success of any child growing up in the 21st century. And increasingly, as more and more services are delivered over mobiles and the web, governments will need to ensure universal access.

We still have a long way to go in the United States, though. We are, in fact, the only industrialized nation without a national plan to promote the spread of broadband. Finland, two steps ahead of us, might be taken as an inspiration...

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