Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

February 8, 2009

Is Our Vision Too Narrow?

Filed under: Industry commentary — Craig Settles @ 6:57 pm

The national broadband discussion, both in Congress and elsewhere, has to stop making it seem as if our only options for solution providers are Verizon and incumbent cable companies. As in, “open access will limit incumbents’ involvement,” or “requiring 50 Mbps will prevent the cable companies from participating.” Yeah, that’s true, but it’s only one side of the story. Let’s not present it as if they’re the only game in town. They’re not!

There are regional and local telcos such as MTCO in Metamora, IL that can step up to the plate (read about them in my report). Have we forgotten that it is the small and the swift that bring technology up to the next level? In the closing days of this stimulus battle, if Congress stands firm for tougher requirements, local or new players will step into the breach.

Some politicians live and die in the name of tax credits, but when you talk to some of the smaller players, doesn’t it seem as if easier access to bank credit will do much more for them to get network projects going than tax credits? This is the feedback I’m hearing. Besides these regional players, there are local government-managed options.

Though people don’t want to bring up the ghosts of municipal wireless projects failed, if you look at the broadband solutions developed in rural places such as Greene County and Bristol, VA, you see many viable solutions run by municipalities or public utilities. They’re providing services and operating in the black.

Let stimulus money flow to local governments, and pass national legislation that removes the handcuffs of telco-influenced restrictions on their ability to provide their own solutions. Pulaski, TN officials talk about how their public utility cannot provide the community that’s down the road with service that could save this town millions of dollars, thanks to telco-induced anti-competition legislation. At the same time, the telcos whine about how difficult it is to get fiber into remote areas because of the vast expanse of our national geography while side-lining those with proven ability to do just that.

If Congress looks at what’s working, and listens to the people in the trenches making it happen, we would hope they craft a final version of the broadband stimulus bill that opens the universe of options for local communities in a real and meaningful way. Otherwise, it’s just more dollars for the same old failures. 

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October 12, 2008

Google Android = Google Muni WiFi?

Filed under: Industry commentary — Craig Settles @ 1:40 pm

Joe Biden, in his VP debate, said “past is prologue.” The verbose one pretty succinctly summed up a lot of truth in the technology world.

I started wondering the other day about this Google Android thing. What are the chances this is going to end up like that other notable Google initiative I’m particularly familiar with – the free Google muni wireless network across America?

Remember that? End of 2005, Google makes worldwide noise saying they were going to build a free wireless network for San Francisco. Media across the continent collectively swooned and within a couple of weeks everyone was speculating on a national network. You see how that played out in S.F. and elsewhere.

Given this and questions being raised about Google’s Facebook-killer, Open Social, I pose some issues we should ponder. I offer these from a business, not consumer, market perspective.

Does Google have marketing or technology competencies to unseat those mobile operating systems with entrenched market share, name recognition, committed developers, etc? If each of us had $10 in a coffee can for every large company that unsuccessfully tried to market a product not within their scope of established expertise or market strength, we’d be less worried about the current market turmoil.

T-Mobile G1

T-Mobile G1

True, a lot depends on Google’s developers and marketing partners staying the course, but if you consider how their Open Social product has fared (click here for an example), could the same happen with Android developers. I’m a developer with finite resources. I have a choice between iPhone and Android. IPhone = Facebook. You decide.

Are we making too much of Android’s open source? Of course it’s an advantage for vendors and end users to have anyone be able to develop apps for your hardware without the hassles of proprietary technology. But with Symbian planning to become open source, and LiMo Foundation’s upcoming Linux OS for mobile devices, there goes that advantage.

Expect resistance from IT at the enterprise gate. The initial products won’t be targeted to businesses. But by the time you see Android devices for that arena, IT people are going to be so pressed to support devices from the Big Four (RIM, Win Mobile, iPhone and Symbian) that open or not, Android represents yet another operating system and more headaches.

The double-edge of the “converged devices” sword presents a boardroom challenge. The big argument for converged devices is that they pack enough features and capabilities so they’re good for personal or work use. Many consumers buy them with this in mind. But vendors such as Palm and Microsoft aren’t asleep at the wheel. They’ll just push out marketing campaigns for established business users that say, “You’ve used our devices for work, try these ‘new and improved’ devices for work and play.” Boardroom takes path of least resistance, Jane and Joe consumers working for these businesses have a compelling reason not to buy Android.

Yes, iPhones breeched the enterprise gates from the consumer side. But one, iPhones are tres chic in executive circles, to the point of weakening CrackBerry addiction. And two, RIM, Microsoft et al aren’t going to make the mistake of letting another consumer device of foreign OS parentage erode their business market share.

Is Google really serious about Android? Google reminds me of the person with lots of money, but little knowledge of the game, who sits at a blackjack table and throws money on ridiculous bets to see what happens. They mess up the game for others, raise blood pressures, cause a few players to go bust, then leave when they get bored.

Looking at the potential challenges to their plans (hopes?) to become a dominant player in mobile device operating system, you have to wonder what are the odds that Google picks up its chips and moves on in a year or so. How likely is that? Take the “Show Me the Money” test.

When some higher up at Google sat down and asked the question, show me the money in muni wireless (particularly after EarthLink folded its hand), the argument for potential ad revenue didn’t seal the deal. Don’t see a nationwide Google WiFi network, do you? So where’s the money for Google in Android? They don’t sell the operating system, they don’t sell the applications that run on Android phones and they don’t lock in phones to use Google service and that makes ad revenue somewhat speculative.

It’s hard to predict, but if you believe past is prologue…

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