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Showing posts from 2008

Business Fixed Lines Up, Not Down

Fixed voice lines used by consumers appear to have fallen since June 2000. Overall fixed voice lines have fallen as well since then. All that would lead a rational observer to conclude that fixed voice lines sold to small and medium-sized businesses have fallen as well. But that is not in fact correct. 
Fixed voice lines sold to business customers have increased from about 45.7 million to about 64.6 million in December 2007, according to the latest Federal Communications Commission data. 
What is not clear is the degree to which mobile voice lines have affected overall enterprise or SMB voice lines in service. Since 2001 wireless voice accounts in service have increased from 124 million to 249.3 million. A reasonable assumption is that business use of mobile voice has accelerated since 2001. 
Researchers at IDC reported in 2006 that surveyed IT managers think nearly 30 percent of their supported employees use their mobiles as their primary work phone. About 41 percent of wired voice line…

Surprising SMB Trends

Service provider prospects in the small and medium-sized business market appear to be relatively immune from economic disruption, though it would be an obvious prediction that some enterprise communications needs have decreased because of reduced headcount. 

Despite the highly-publicized wave of enterprise layoffs in November and December 2008, generally unreported is another  trend: smaller businesses are not generally participating in the waves of highly-reported downsizings. In fact, there is new evidence that hiring actually increased throughout 2008, while 75 percent of small business CEOS plan to increase hiring in 2009. That, in turn, is important for service providers as much communications service demand is created by headcount. 
A survey conducted by online payroll service SurePayroll has found that nearly four out of 10 small business owners have not seen their business negatively impacted by the down economy, and an additional four percent indicated that their businesses are…

Consumer and IT Spending in Recessions: The Record

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Recessions affect consumer spending unequally. During the 1990–1991 and 2001 to 2002 downturns, for example, U.S. consumers changed their priorities, instead of making across-the-board cuts.

Daily amenities such as eating out, purchases of personal-care products and apparel buying tended to suffer, according to analysts at McKinsey & Co.

But categories such as groceries and reading materials, which substituted for more expensive options, actually benefitted from higher spending, as did insurance and health care. Spending on education showed the biggest increase.

What one probably cannot glean from this particular set of data is that "communications" and "multi-channel video entertainment" spending does not change much.

During recessions, tech spending has historically fallen more than gross domestic product has, say McKinsey researchers. "Our research covering economic downturns in 50 countries over the past 13 years indicates that information technology spen…

Broadband: Where We're Going

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It's tough to maintain meaningful metrics in the communications business, in large part because the essential business inputs change over time.

Telephone company "access lines" and "basic cable subscriptions," once useful metric s, no longer adequately capture business performance. So we have the substitute "revenue generating unit."

Something along the same lines now will happen in the broadband access area, where counting "lines" once made sense, but increasingly will not capture business performance.

For starters, "average" speeds and "prices" will not be so useful as higher speeds become commonplace, rendering "average" price less meaningful than perhaps "average price per Mbps of service." Also, as wireless broadband becomes more prevalent, we routinely will begin to exceed 100-percent broadband penetration per household, in at least most households.

Broadband: Where We've Been

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In 2004, the average monthly Digital Subscriber Line price was $38, compared to $31.50 in 2008. The average cable modem monthly price was $41 in 2004, down to $37.50 a month in 2008. International Telecommunications Union data also show that the trend of higher speeds and lower prices has been underway since 2003 at the very least.

In 2003, each 100 kbps of capacity cost about $11.50. By 2006, 100 kbps of capacity cost less than $6. Over that same period, capacity rose from 1.5 Mbps in the downstream to more than 4 Mbps.

In 2009, Sell to the Federal Government, If You Can

U.S. federal government spending on telecom, applications, outsourcing, services, support, network hardware, computer hardware and IT personnel will grow about 5.6 percent in 2009, after growing about 5.3 percent in 2008, representing about $80.6 billion worth of spending, says  Compass Intelligence. The annual growth rate in 2007 was 6.5 percent.
By 2012, the federal government will spend $98.5 billion on IT goods and services, Compass Intelligence says. Initiatives to support a mobile workforce, E-government, a high-tech military, cybersecurity and green technology are among the federal spending priorities.  "Federal government IT spending is expected to remain rather steady, despite economic conditions," says Stephanie Atkinson, Compass managing partner.  Application spending is expected to be the fastest growing segment, experiencing annual growth between 8.6 and 9.8 percent. Telecom services spending will be driven by wireline data, including IP telephony and broadband se…

Birch Communications Flips Switch on IP Network

Birch Communications a competitive local exchange carrier that serves small and medium-sized businesses in the North Texas market, has launched an Internet Protocol network to replace the company’s current digital network.The objective of the launch, which utilizes MetaSwitch and Zhone Technologies equipment, is to provide customers with high-performing network services, Birch says.
Atlanta-based Birch serves clients in 31 states throughout the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest.

Clearwire Sued for Patent Infringement

A Dallas-based company has filed a lawsuit against Clearwire Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp., alleging patent infringement related to the use of six patents held by Adaptix Inc., which has filed the lawsuit.

Adaptix says its patents on multi-carrier communications with group-based subcarrier-cluster allocation, adaptive subcarrier-cluster configuration and selected loading, medium access control for orthogonal frequency division multiple access, multi-carrier communications with adaptive cluster configuration and switching and adaptive subcarrier cluster configuration and selective loading are being infringed.

As is the case with such high-profile cases, it is doubtful the issue will result in a shutdown of the Clearwire network, though that cannot be discounted as a possibility if the parties cannot agree on a settlement.

Mediterranean Cable Cut Disrupts Europe-Asia Traffic

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Internet and telephone communications between the Middle East and Europe were disrupted after three submarine cables between Italy and Egypt in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged, according to Bloomberg. France Telecom SA, which plans to send a maintenance boat to fix the problem, said the situation should be back to normal by Dec. 31.

Three cable systems carrying more than 75 percent of traffic between the Middle East, Europe and America have been damaged, according to the U.K.'s Interoute. The cables run from Alexandria in northern Egypt to Sicily in southern Italy. In January, an anchor severed the cables outside Alexandria after bad weather conditions forced ships to moor off the coast.

``The information we have is a bit sketchy, but chances are that it will have been an anchor again,'' Jonathan Wright, Interoute's director of wholesale products, said in a telephone interview. ``Close to 90 percent of all the data traffic between Europe and the Middle East is carried…

Downturn Changes "Build or Buy" Economics

SureWest Communications plans to pull back on the expansion of its fiber-to-the-home network next year in an effort to free up cash to buy other telecommunication companies, according to the Kansas City Business Journal. The possible change in growth strategy is a direct result of the decline in equity values that now makes it more affordable to buy assets rather than build new broadband access infrastructure. 
The economic downturn has lowered the stock values of many other telecommunications companies, while SureWest’s stock price has ticked upward. That happy prospect now makes possible acquisitions that some other firms might not be able to pull off. It’s at least temporarily become cheaper to buy telecom companies and networks than to build out a network, SureWest CEO Steve Oldham says. 
The company plans to cut its capital expenditures by about a third in 2009. In 2008, SureWest’s capital expenditures are expected to total about $86 million. Next year, SureWest plans to reduce its…

2009 Business Comms Spending Probably Flat

Overall spending by all U.S. businesses on wired and cellular calling is forecast to reach nearly $140 billion by the close of 2009, says a new market research report from Insight Research. Insight doesn't make a specific forecast for how that will stack up against 2008 spending, but the company's other forecasts suggest slight growth in 2009. 
Wholesale trade; financial, insurance, and real  estate services; professional business services and communications verticals accounted for 70 percent of total  business telecom expenditures by the end of 2008. Add durable manufacturing and healthcare and these six verticals would account for over 80 percent of total business telecom expenditures.
The study predicts that cellular calling will account for just over 41 percent of the U.S. corporate phone bill for telecommunication services in 2009, and is the fastest growing  expense area. 
Insight Research estimates that businesses spent $81.4 billion on wireline services in 2008. Over the …

Possible Increase in Wireless Substitution

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If survey respondents act the way they say they might, we could see an acceleration of wireline voice substitution during the recession.  
Sprint sponsored a survey that found 32 percent of respondents are likely to eliminate their landline service and rely solely on a mobile phone in order to save money. About 18 percent of respondents already do not have landline phone service at their home.

When asked why they would give up their landline phone, 76 percent said they would disconnect in order to save money.
The findings are significant as all service providers are watching for signs of churn behavior, service downgrades and other actions consumers could take if they really are interested in saving money during the recession. 
Some 36 percent of respondents say "a mobile phone is the only phone they will ever need." 
The recession will end, of course. People will not have the same motivation to cut their landline service for financial reasons.  But there is one question we are n…

Cbeyond Web Hosting Move Illustrates Trend

Cbeyond has announced a new "Enhanced Web Hosting" service for small businesses. The service package includes a design- it-yourself tool, marketing capabilities and an e-commerce solution.

The enhanced service is an example of an important trend: retailers of communication services to small and mid-sized businesses ultimately will be in the managed services businesses in a broader way than simply supplying voice and broadband access.

The math is simple enough: about 25 percent of SMB spend is for communications; about 75 percent for applications and hardware to support applications. To get more of the wallet, retailers of SMB services have to address applications, not just voice and broadband access.

Cbeyond's Enhanced Web Hosting package offers small businesses the essential tools to launch and manage their online Web presence. With this package, Cbeyond can host a company's website, configure their domain or transfer an existing domain to the company's Cbeyond ac…

International LD Gets More Mobile

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At least where it comes to international long distance, sometime in 2009 it is conceivable that more calls will terminate on mobiles than on fixed lines, according to researchers at TeleGeography.

That doesn't mean most international calls will originate on mobiles, though. One of the dominant patterns will be landline origination, mobile termination.

The reason users and service providers will care about such trends is that retail prices and intercarrier compensation rates are based at least in part on what sort of network terminates a call. So changes in termination patterns directly will affect revenues that accrue to various providers of terminating service.

If You Build Will They Come?

Though it now is apparent communications service providers will have to become managed service providers over the long term, the way the need for viable applications is discovered, thrid party applications can be developed and sold remains a thorny problem. 
And the problem is measurably harder on the mobile side of the business, if only because applications have be tweaked for every handset the apps are supposed to run on. For this reason, some developers may well find it is easier to work with fixed line providers, as crazy as that might sound. 
Nor is it going to be especially easy for independent developers to get business deals done. "For two guys in a garage to make five different code applications, it's very hard," says Mark Kvamme, Sequoia Capital principal. 
The dream is to have any application run on any device and over any network. Ideally that allows developers to concentrate on what engages end users, instead of how to develop and deliver the apps. Platforms wi…

How Should VARs Sell Carrier Services?

Many solution providers these days would at least consider adding carrier sales to their product mix, providing the business case makes sense. But the actual sales model any particular solution provider should—or can—take will depend on several factors, say executives at Level 3 Communications, including:
• The current size of a solution provider’s customer base • Rate of new customer growth • Typical customer requirement for support at one or multiple locations • Geographic scope of a solution provider’s operations • Alignment to current solution provider strategy and focus
In broad outline, the “go to market” strategy will have smaller local VARs profiting from a “referral” or “assisted sale” fee arrangement. Some solution providers will consider becoming sub-agents. Solution providers serving multi-location enterprises will become carrier sales agencies
The new sales operations to sell carrier services can take several forms, Level 3 says.  If the agency route is selected, smaller organiz…

Broadband Stimulus Coming?

The Telecommunications Industry Association and Communications Workers of America have sent U.S. congressional leaders the outlines of a broadband deployment incentives program which they suggest be made part of any economic stimulus package passed by Congress early in the new year.

The proposal emphasizes tax incentives and direct grant. Specifically, the groups suggest allowing wireless broadband deployments to expense 75 percent of investments. Alternatively, the groups suggest a 15 percent investment tax credit for networks capable of 1.5 Mbps downstream/384 kbps upstream.

They suggest and 100 percent expensing or a 20 percent investment tax credit for new infrastructure capable of 3 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream. the groups also recommend a 40 percent investment credit for a network providing 5 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream.

For fixed broadband infrastructure, the groups suggest 50 percent expensing or a 10 percent investment tax credit for networks capable of 3 Mbps downstr…

Consumer Recession Behavior Still Consistent

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In some ways, consumer behavior is similar to past behavior in recessions, a Parks Associates survey finds. What is similar is the greater--not lesser--reliance on multi-channel video services.

What is different is the bigger role for video on demand, especially of the "free" or "subscription" variety.

One suspects, though data is not yet available, that roughly the same sort of trend will be seen in the mobile and broadband access areas as well. People aren't going to disconnect. But they might shift buying a bit, delaying upgrades or purchases of advanced features and services.

Viral Works

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Social media marketing might be more effective than just putting ads on social networks, according to SheSpeaks. The reason? Though women are active social networkers, a substantial percentage ignore ads or are annoyed by them. About 26 percent of respondents to a recent SheSpeaks-sponsored survey actively ignored most online ads and 20 percent were annoyed by ads on social networking sites.

For that reason, SheSpeaks argues that social media marketing—not just ads on social networks—could be especially effective among women for spreading word-of-mouth information.

About 46 percent of all women surveyed by SheSpeaks now use social networks. And since most observers note that Internet use and social networking are more common among younger users than older users, it probably is noteworthy tht more than 40 percent of women in their 40s have a social networking profile, and women with children seem to be active social networkers.

More than 70 percent of women with children ages 13 to 17 had…

When Bad People Use Good Technology

Technology now plays a key role in enabling terrorists, says New York Times reporter Jeremy Kahn. The attackers studied satellite images of the city online, navigated using the global positioning system, used a satellite phone and VoIP. In fact, VoIP was used during the Mumbai hotel attacks during the occupation of at least one hotel to keep terrorists aprised of security force movements, Kahn notes.

Indian security forces surrounding the buildings were able to monitor the terrorists’ outgoing calls by intercepting their cellphone signals. But Indian police officials said those directing the attacks, believed to be in Pakistan, were using a VoIP phone service that has complicated efforts to determine their whereabouts and identities.
In mid-October, a draft United States Army intelligence report highlighted the growing interest of Islamic militants in using VoIP, noting recent news reports of Taliban insurgents using Skype to communicate. 
Some people reflexively complain about electroni…

Recession ARPU Impact: This is Why

Alan Weinkrantz over at 3Screens.com makes a point that illustrates the likely impact of the current recession on retailers of voice, data an video services to consumer customers: average revenue per unit is going to be under pressure. Weinkrantz points out that he reduced his triple play billing from $164 to $94 per month by threatening to churn to another provider. 
"You just have to call 800-288-2020 and ask for a discount by telling them you are thinking of switching to your local cable or satellite provider," he says, saying that his U-verse Voice service pricing went from $35 to $25; U-verse 400 went from $99 to $59 and  Broadband Elite went from $30 to $10. The discount is good for six months. 
"I told them to note it on my record that I was going to call back in May to ask for the same thing again," he says.

53% of American Adults are "Gamers"

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Some 53 percent of American adults age 18 and older play video games and about one in five adults (21 percent) play everyday or almost everyday. While the number of video gamers among adults is substantial, it is still well under the number of teens who play. Fully 97 percent of teens play video games.

Younger adults are considerably more likely than older adults to play games, and the likelihood that an adult is a video gamer decreases significantly with age.

Fully 81 percent of respondents18-29 years old play games, while only 23 percent of respondents 65 years old and older report playing games, according to to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project poll.

Overall, men (55 percent) are slightly more likely than women (50 percent), and urbanites (56 percent) are a bit more likely than rural-dwellers (47 percent) to play any kind of digital game. There is no significant difference in game playing across income groups or between suburbanites and adults from other locales.

A pers…

AT&T Will Hit 10% Video Penetration in December 2008

AT&T now says it will end the year with more than one million U-verse (multi-channel video) subscribers. The company expects to surpass that milestone in mid-December. That is important for people who track progress telcos are making in the video market, which is the mirror image of telcos losing voice customer share to cable companies.

At that level, AT&T will have surpassed 10 percent penetration within one year when we begin marketing operations. That itself is a milestone on the way to stable long-term penetration for wired network providers, which has in some other cases reached 30 percent or higher levels in a few markets where there is robust multi-channel video competition. Verizon has attained that level in some of its FiOS video markets, for example.

Most telcos probably think they will get to 20 percent in several years. Verizon already has hit about 24 percent penetration where it offers FiOS video. On average FiOS TV achieves 17 percent penetration in just 12 mont…

Covad Certifies PBXes

Covad Communications has certified IP PBXs from TalkSwitch, Grandstream, Vertical and Epygi for its new Covad Integrated Access service.

IP PBXs certified by Covad include:
* TalkSwitch IP PBX equipped for VoIP (models 244/248vs, 284/288vs,  484/488vs and 844/848vs)
* Grandstream GXE502X ALL-IN-ONE IPPBX 
* Vertical Xcelerator IP
* Epygi Quadro 2x and Quadro 4x IP PBX

Mass Media Will Miss the Bottom...Again....

Count on the mass media to miss the "bottom" of the present recession: they always do. You now are seeing headlines about layoffs at larger and mid-sized companies.
Economists now say we have been in recession since December 2007. The only good news there is that one year of the recession already has passed.

So whether you think this is a garden-variety recession or a longer one, the average recession lasts 18 months. By the end of the year we'll have been in recession a full 13 months. And layoffs always are a lagging indicator.

So as you note news reports about job losses, keep one thing in mind: when we reach the peak of the job losses, the recession will have hit bottom and the recovery will have begun.

Peak job losses in the 2001 recession were 325,000, which were reported in October, the last month of that recession. Peak losses during the 1990-91 recessions—306,000—were reported in February 1991, again one month before the recession ended.

During the 1981-82 recessi…

Small Business: Conventional Wisdom is Wrong

With all the bad news we are hearing, the conventional wisdom is that small businesses will be cutting back on hiring. As sometimes occurs, the conventional wisdom often is wrong. Keep in mind that economists now have concluded the U.S. economy has been in recession since December 2006.

So what might surprise you is that SurePayroll, a company that makes its living processing employee payroll checks, hiring in the small business segment climbed steadily through 2008.

What that means for providers of communications services to small businesses is that underlying demand in the small business segment grew all year in 2008.

After the carnage of October 2008, one might have expected, and news reports suggest, a wave of layoffs starting in November 2008. But SurePayroll says U.S. small businesses increased their staff levels by 0.26 percent in November. “It was the second lowest percentage increase this year, but it extended the run of monthly hiring increases to an impressive twenty-four mont…

Hosted IP Telephony: No Pain; No Gain

Retailers of hosted IP telephony (hosted PBX) services to small and medium-sized businesses have a problem, and it isn't the economy or other competitors.  The big problem is that most users are fairly satisfied with their current phone solutions. 
"Most users do not have problems with their current phone system," Andy Randall, MetaSwitch VP, notes. And that is a big barrier to adoption of hosted IP telephony. If there is no problem, there is no reason to buy an alternative solution.  

Essentially, the problem is that, in many cases, there is no current "problem" to fix. The "problem" essentially be created, though. If a potential customer finds out that they are "overpaying" by quite some amount for their voice and broadband access services, that becomes a problem. 
So one essential requirement here is to "create" a big enough problem that hosted IP telephony solves. Keep in mind that most smaller businesses essentially can compare a…

One More Reminder: WiMAX is Not a Business Model

Clearwire CEO Benjamin Wolff says the network will built to support both WiMAX and Long Term Evolution, the "rival" standard favored by the world's GSM providers and even CDMA-based networks such as Verizon Communications.

"Our vendors will be able to deliver network infrastructure equipment to us that will enable us to operate both mobile WiMAX and LTE technologies if we decide that it makes sense to do so several years from now when LTE becomes commercially available," says Wolff.

"If LTE truly becomes established as a global standard as WiMAX has, Clearwire will be well positioned to take advantage of that opportunity," says Wolff.

Though sometimes obscured by the hype, WiMAX is broadband radio access. It is not a business model. Clearwire's willingness to use both protocols is simply further proof. If there is a new business model to be built, it will come from packaging, pricing and other elements that would create something like an open broadba…

Vidtel Launches Video Calling Service

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Vidtel, a Sunnyvale, Calif. company lead by Scott Wharton, CEO and former BroadSoft VP, has launched its videoconferencing service, which today supports video calls between Vidtel users. In addition to video calling, users can also make and receive regular voice calls to anyone in the world with a telephone number.

In 2009, Vidtel will add the capability to call other video users around the world regardless of the service or type of device they use.

That means interoperability with Skype, iChat, Google and video-enabled mobile phones (3G and 4G mobile phones), Wharton says, arguing Vidtel will create the first interconnected video calling network, offering a standard by which all video callers can call each other, regardless of service they are using.

Vidtel uses the Grandstream GXV-3000 video phone, sold separately at a cost of $199.95 plus tax. Two service plans are offered. The "Standard" plan costs $14.95 per month or $99.95 a year. The standard plan offers unlimited video…

Mobile Penetration at 90% of 18-Year-Olds

Some three quarters of online youth in North America have a mobile phone today, including more than 90 percent of 18-year-olds, says Charles S. Golvin, Forrester Research analyst. These young people rely heavily on their cell phones for a wide variety of communications and content services, he says.

In fact, they report spending more time texting than on any activity other than face-to-face contact with their friends. Almost one quarter of these young mobile users access the Internet on their phones, as well.

Broadband is Demand--Not Supply--Constrained

Broadband access in the United States now is a demand-constrained "problem," not a supply-constrained issue, for the most part. That is not to deny there remain some homes too expensive to reach economically using wired networks. But it is hard to ignore existing satellite broadband, terrestrial wireless broadband and multiple mobile broadband networks in service, even when a wired connection is not available.

Indeed, a recent study by Connected Nation found that nearly one-half (44 percent) of those with no home broadband connection say "I don’t need broadband." That suggests availability is not the actual problem.Likewise, the top barrier to computer ownership is also a perceived lack of need. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of those who do not own a computer say "I don’t need a computer," Connected Nation finds.That isn't to say cost is not an issue at all. Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of those who do not own a computer cite the up-front cost as a …

FCC Free National Wireless Plan Set for Dec. 18 Discussion

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is pushing for action at its December 18 meeting on a plan to offer free, pornography-free wireless Internet service to all Americans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The plan would require the winner of to set aside a quarter of the airwaves for a free Internet service. 
The frequencies are the Advanced Wireless Service-3 block, which the FCC originally hoped would attract bidders to create a nationwide public safety network. The FCC reportedly wants the winner of the AWS-3 auction to devote 25 percent of the bandwidth to free wireless nationwide broadband with a downstream speed of 768 Kbps.
Predictably, carriers and service providers aren't happy about the idea, as readily-available free service would crimp demand for "for-fee" alternatives. But some policy advocates object to the "pornography free" provisions. 
Separately, a coalition of groups is calling for spending on a national broadband program as p…

Mobivox Decides to Work with Service Providers

Mobivox, which has operated as an over-the-top application, is changing its business model. Rather than compete with other over-the-top VoIP providers, Montreal-based Mobivox, which allows people to make free or cheap phone calls, is increasingly interested in partnering with service providers. 
In particular, Mobivox is white-labeling its platform of services, such as voice-enabling calls and an online hosted address book. Jajah, for example, uses Mobivox to provide voice-enabled dialing.  The Jajah Concierge service activates a phone call to anyone in a user's address book.   
Mobivox can provider a number of features for service provider partners in addition to voice-assisted calling. It also can be used to support group communications for social and business users, allowing users to say the name of a predefined group in the address book or use the voice assistant to add contacts to a live call. 
Mobivox also can enable voice-activated calls to Instant Messaging voice clients from …

Clearwire Might Use LTE

Clearwire CEO Benjamin Wolff says the company would consider using Long Term Evolution, the fourth-generation platform global mobile providers have settled on as their preferred 4G network. Wolff says that if LTE becomes a dominant wireless technology, Clearwire would consider using the technology in addition to WiMax.

The issue is not "if" LTE becomes a dominant technology, but probably only "when." That suggests LTE is in Clearwire's future, one way or the other. That isn't to say Clearwire would abandon WiMAX completely, or that other providers would. Such a move by Clearwire might well relegate WiMAX to "niche" status in the U.S. market, though.

Hawaiian Telcom Declares Bankruptcy

Carlyle Group's $1.65 billion bet on Hawaiian Telecom has gone bust. When the 2004 purchase from Verizon Communications was announced, Carlyle Group executive and former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Bill Kennard called it an "exciting opportunity" that was expected to add many new jobs, according to the Washington Post.

The bankruptcy filing by an incumbent local exchange carrier is extremely rare.

Hawaiian Telcom has about $1 billion in debt and missed $26 million in interest payments last month. It had been trying to work out a debt-restructuring plan with its creditors but apparently was unable to do so.

Of its current $1 billion in debt, about $574.6 million is in bank loans and $500 million is in bonds.

It isn't clear yet whether there will be other similar problems popping up. It might happen that a major proposed private equity buyout fails to occur, though.

Bell Canada Enterprises and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, which is leading a BCE buyout p…

Ease of Use Still a Problem

Technology ease of use remains a problem, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Nearly half (48 percent) of adults who use the Internet or have a cell phone say they usually need someone else to set up a new device up for them or show them how to use it. And many users of various devices and services also encounter breakdowns from time to time.

Some 44 percent of those with home Internet access say their connection failed to work properly for them at some time in the previous 12 months. About 39 percent of those with desktop or laptop computers have had their machines not work properly at some time in the previous 12 months as well, says John Horrigan, Pew Center associate director.

About 29 percent of cell phone users and 26 percent of smart phone usres say their device failed to work properly at some time in the previous year.

Some 15 percent of those experiencing problems with PCs, mobiles, Internet access or smart p…

Voice a Broadband Killer App?

There is much truth to the notion that "email was the killer app for dial-up." There may also be some truth to the notion that "voice is the killer app for broadband." At least that seems to be a developing theme for SureWest Communications. 
SureWest benefits by selling more bundled triple-play services with the offering, thereby enhancing overall subscriber margins. "We have converted nearly 2,900 customers from the telecom voice product to the new broadband Voice over IP service since its launch earlier this year," he says. "And of those converted customers, over 20 percent added SureWest Internet with their phone service, and over 10 percent added TV."
In other words, VoIP has driven buying of other key services as well, especially broadband Internet access and IPTV. SureWest broadband residential voice RGUs increased seven percent year-over-year and five percent sequentially. In the original Sacramento region, voice RGU growth was 18 percent …

U.S. Mobile Data Prospects in 2009

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The U.S. wireless data market grew 7.3 percent sequentially in the third quarter 2008 and 37.5 percent year over year to reach $8.8 billion in data services revenues. For first nine months, mobile data revenues of $24.5 billion were equal to the revenues generated for all of 2007. 

The big question is what happens in the fourth quarter and after, as it appears handset upgrades and sales, for example, already are slowing. Some observers think wireless data service revenes will hold up. Analyst Chetan Sharma, for example, notes that text messaging represents 40 percent of all data revenues, and that the texting habit is unlikely to change. 
In the third quarter, U.S. messaging volumes grew 38 percent while messaging revenues grew six percent. Use of wireless dongles and cards for mobile PC access has been a big driver of revenue of late, and Sharma thinks that could an area of softness though, for the simple reason that many former users will fall victim to layoffs, while managements migh…

100 Mbps Inevitable; Only Question is Price

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NTT long has been the "gold standard" for residential bandwidth. But Verizon has closed the gap, suggesting that 100 Mbps is destined to become a common access speed.

The issue is how long it might take before such speeds are affordable.

To be sure, most of that bandwidth is needed for one simple reason: entertainment video. In its own analysis, Verizon has estimated that current and future needs for virtually all other applications top out at about 15 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth.

Beyond that, it is network-hosted applications and new forms of video that require higher bandwidth. Since it delivers linear video using a separate wavelength, Verizon thinks it really only needs about 15 Mbps downstream to support on-demand video.

But there's little question what happens if three-dimensional TV is commercialized. Then 75 Mbps might be required to deliver one stream.

88% of Internet Users Will Be Watching Online Video by 2013

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By 2013, more than 69 percent of online video ad revenue will be associated with long-form video. By that point, about 88 percent of all Internet users will be watching online video as well, eMarketer now projects.

As good as that will be for content owners, it is unclear whether the trend will be good, bad or neutral for Internet access providers. Much depends on how involved ISPs are in the revenue value chain.

Have Landlines in Service Actually Decreased?

Just about everybody assumes that landlines in service have declined over the last seven or eight years. To be sure, if one looks at Federal Communications Commission data, there is a net loss of about 34 million access lines between the end of 2000 and the end of 2007, though there has been significant shift of market share from incumbents to cable TV and competitive local exchange carriers.

But there are some facts one wouldn't immediately see. Wired broadband connections increased by more than 65 million over the same time frame. And business lines in service likewise increased, despite technological substitution of broadband for narrowband lines.

So one has to differentiate between lines that shifted to new providers, lines that shifted from narrowband to broadband and lines that shifted to over-the-top providers (A customer buying an over-the-top VoIP service is still a wired voice customer, even if a "line" appears to be gone.

If one assumes that the roughly three mil…

Is TV Getting Cannibalized or Not?

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A new IBM study reveals that online video is cannibalizing television consumption. Another study by Nielsen says U.S. TV watching actually has climbed. Maybe there are key differences between U.S. and global TV viewing that could account for the differences. But the Nielsen report also notes that “TV use is at an all-time high, yet people are also using the Internet more often; 31 percent of which is happening simultaneously,” Susan Whiting, Nielsen vice chairwoman says.

That's a potential way of harmonizing some of the difference. People could be watching online video while the TV is on in the background.

The IBM poll of 2,800 people in six countries found that 76 percent have viewed video online and that 45 percent do so regularly. About 15 percent of those who watch online videos say they watch "slightly less" TV than they used to, while 36 percent say they watch "significantly less" TV as a result of their online video viewing. Indeed, "place-shifting a…

HDTV Drives 2.3 Million Churn Events

HDTV purchases seem to be driving some amount of service provider churn: nine percent of HDTV owners say that they switched multi-channel video providers when they purchased their HDTV, according to Leichtman Research Group. About 22 percent of all households purchased a new TV set in the past 12 months, with 43 percent of this group spending over $1,000 on a new TV.

There are about 114.5 million U.S. TV households. That suggests 25.2 million TV homes bought HDTVs. If nine percent of those buyers switched providers, that suggests 2.3 million homes switched providers, or about two percent of TV households, over the last 12 months, because of an HDTV purchase.

50 Mbps? Try 8 Mbps

U.K. workplaces with downstream broadband speeds topping 10 Mbps have risen from 18 to 25 percent, Point Topic says. About 13 percent of businesses had speeds of 50 Mbps or above. About 21 percent of businesses have a connection capable of less than 2 Mbps, 33 percent run at up to 8 Mbps, 12 percent have 10 Mbps connections, six percent have 100 Mbps service, five percent use 50 Mbps and two percent have connections running at 100 Mbps. The most common downstream speed among businesses is 8 Mbps, with 33 percent of businesses buying connections at that rate.

One wonders whether a quarter of cable modem subscribers will be willing to spend about $150 a month to get service at about 50 Mbps downstream, given demand so far for business broadband at speeds above 10 Mbps.

50-Mbps Demand Test

Comcast has begun introducing 22 Mbps and 50 Mbps broadband access, and the company says it will make the new services available to 10 million premises in at least 10 markets over the next few months. Comcast’s Extreme 50 service, offering up to 50 Mbps downstream and up to 10 Mbps upstream, costs $139.95 per month, plus taxes, when bought with cable TV service. The Ultra service, running at up to 22 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream, costs $62.95 a month, plus taxes, when bought in conjunction with cable TV service.

In the Pacific Northwest, Comcast will primarily compete with DSL services from Qwest Communications International (which advertises download speeds up to 12 Mbps) and Verizon Communications (up to 7.1 Mbps).

A business-class package offering 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream, sells for $189.95, plus taxes, and bundles in firewall services, static IP addresses, 24/7 customer support, and a suite of software from Microsoft.

We now will get a demand-side test of how …

Smart Phone Behavioral Differences

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So far, it appears that Apple iPhone users download applications more often than other smart phone users. Some 72 percent of iPhone users say they have downloaded more than five applications on their phones, compared to only 23 percent of other smart phone owners.

Where 34 percent of smart phone owners have not added an application to their phone, just seven percent of iPhone users report they never have downloaded an app, according to a recent survey by Compete.

The issue is what this behavioral difference makes. It may be partly that iPhone lead adopters are tech savvy, compared to other smart phone users. It also may be that apps are easy to find and add to the iPhone.

It is conceivable download rates for Google and Blackberry devices might ultimately rise to match what iPhone now sees, Compete analysts suggest.

Wireless Won't Suffer, Ovum Predicts

One of the questions service provider executives are trying to answer is whether communications and multi-channel video services will hold up as well as they have in past recessions. Through the third quarter there still had been no evidence of damage. Some will note that the impact of October's credit crisis will not be seen until the fourth quarter, and that is a correct observation.

But there might be reasoned hope for stability. As noted before, only in one year since about 1945 has wireline revenue growth even flattened. With that single exception, wired network revenue always has grown, recessions or not.

Cable TV revenues have had the same sort of pattern since the 1980s, for example, and at least so far, there has been no detectable evidence of mobile revenue slowing.

In fact, Ovum predicts the North American mobile market will escape catastrophe as a result of macroeconomic conditions in 2009 and will continue to grow, albeit not at the rates we have seen in 2008, predicts S…

Something One Doesn't Typically See

Commenting about the recent Comcast peer-to-peer blocking adjudication at the annual Phoenix Center conference, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin noted one truly unusual aspect of the case. 
"Normally people fess up and promise never to do it again," Phoenix Center head Lawrence Spiwak  noted. Those of you who have had even casual acquaintance with the deference routinely shown to the FCC in Washington policy circles will agree.  
"In this case, Comcast first said they didn't do it, then said they did, but that the FCC had no authority over it," Martin said. That's unusual behavior. 
Network management is one thing; interfence with lawful applications another, Martin said. 
"It did not seem to be reasonable that Comcast denied that was what they were doing," Martin said. "It is a problem when you have a company that won't admit it is doing something" independent evidence shows it is. 
Not many who routinely deal with…

U.S. Business Landline Purchases Up

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Here's something you might not have suspected: U.S. businesses have added 700,000 wired network connections over the past five years, despite shedding large number of narrowband voice lines. 
Ethernet, business grade DSL and business grade cable modem connections have driven the growth. 
So despite narrowband line losses, service providers have seen overall growth of business lines of 15 percent over the past five years.

Mobile Market Shifting

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Market economies work because consumers vote with their wallets to buy the better products from the better suppliers. That is less true where markets are more managed, but the principle remains. But the logical end result of market economies is that, sooner or later, companies selling products with less demand will go out of business, while companies selling products with higher demand will grow. 

Sooner or later that tends to lead to market concentration, with the inevitable result, at least historically in the United States, for anti-trust actions to reset the playing field. But no amount of anti-trust regulation will stop the process from reoccurring. People are going to buy more of the products they think are best; allowing those companies to grow larger; while other companies disappear, leading to yet another cycle of anti-trust action.
Very few observers would probably think the U.S. communications market is so concentrated--again--that something drastic has to be done. Nor is it …

Voice Is Not a Commodity

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One of the enduring pieces of conventional wisdom in the communications business is that "voice is a commodity." That perception typically is the result of even a casual analysis of "per minute" fees for long distance or even mobile usage over the last decade or two. 
Service providers in the wholesale space often sell their product based on per-minute fees as well, so it is easy to see why the working hypothesis is that voice actually is a commodity.
Despite all that, the way people use voice communications is anything but "commoditized," in the sense that one application is a fully functional substitute for another. 
People who use landlines also use mobile and IP-based communications as well. People who use IP communications also use mobile and fixed calling. Likewise, mobile users avail themselves of IP communications and fixed services as well. 
Beyond that, people tend to use each of the applications at different times, at different places, with differe…

Users Would Pay for Twitter

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According to this poll taken by Guy Kawasaki, technology marketing consultant, people would pay to use Twitter.
As it true for other communication services, people do not seem to mind paying a fair price for services and applications they value. 
That also suggests a possible business model for Twitter, as well.

Broadband Now Demand Constrained

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Most of the time, we seem to be more concerned with the supply side of broadband: what penetration rates are, what speeds are, what prices are.

But consumer broadband arguably is demand constrained, not supply constrained. In Kentucky, for example, 65 percent of adults have broadband access.

Household broadband penetration tops 44 percent and another 21 percent of Kentuckians have dial-up service (keep in mind that most U.S. households have more than one adult in them).

Logically, the 21 percent of dial-up users are the primary customer segment to be targeted for an upgrade to broadband. About 70 percent of Kentucky households have at least one PC.

But that leaves 30 percent or so of homes that do not report having a PC. That is a demand problem, not an access supply problem.

$69 billion in 2007 Unlicensed Music

The value of unlicensed or pirated music trafficked on P2P networks in 2007 was $69 billion, according to new MultiMedia Intelligence research.

"Content owners of TV episodes and full length movies are seeing a growing impact as well," says Rick Sizemore of MultiMedia Intelligence .

MultiMedia Intelligence's new research also found the number of unlicensed full length movies "shared" will grow almost four times from 2007 to 2012.

Not all P2P content is unlicensed, though. P2P Internet traffic, despite having grown at a torrid pace for years, will grow almost 400 petrcent over the next five years, growing from a level of 1.6 petabytes of Internet traffic per month in 2007 to almost 8 petabytes per month by 2012.

Covad Launches Channel Offer

Covad Communications has launched a new integrated access service for its channel partners. The new service features a new online quote and order system that Covad says can cut days to weeks off provisioning time.

The service is aimed at firms with up to 35 employees per location. Covad delivers the service over a voice-optimized T1 line, and the service works with customers' existing phone systems.

Customers can start with as few as four phone lines, and new lines can be added one by one, rather than in the more typical "blocks".

Covad completely overhauled its ordering process for this service. The new online ordering system handles quotes, pre-qualification and contracts all in one place and all in real time. Partners can store and manage quotes and orders through the website, and can check potential deal-killers—such as number portability—at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end.

"This is the voice and data service we've been asking for. T…

Consumer Electronics Dip Predates "Economy"s

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As evidence mounts of business slowdowns, it will be tempting to point to "economic weakness" as the reason for consumer and business spending weakness.  There will, to be sure, be such effects.
But not all spending changes are the result of the near-term economy issues, as some trends predate the such pressures.
Consider consumer buying of digital cameras, camcorders, audio players and hand-held game platforms. Sales of all four categories of devices have been declining for three years.
That could suggest product saturation, with the corollary that upgrades need to move beyond incremental changes.  There will continue to be replacement buying, to be sure. But incremental upgrades to memory or megapixels of resolution, for example, might not provide as much sales lift as one might have seen in prior years.
Category saturation is a normal part of the consumer electronics business, which is why consumer electronics retailers always are on the look for the next big "gotta have…

DT Results: Still Tough to Sort Out "Economy" Impact

As further evidence of just how complicated it now is to figure out what actually is happening operationally in the communications business, Deutsche Telekom's overall year-to-date revenue has fallen about 2.5 percent. 
But international revenue has grown 1.1 percent, despite an unfavorable currency impact from U.S.dollar and U.K. pounds sterling denominated revenues. 
Deutsche Telekom generated revenue of EUR 45.6 billion in the first nine months of 2008, a decrease of EUR 1.2 billion or 2.5 percent year-on-year. To put the currency effect in perspective, revenue was negatively affected by exchange rate effects totaling EUR 1.5 billion. 
DT's T-Mobile USA revenue grew by 13.7 percent, but partly because of the acquisition of SunCom.
T-Mobile reported a 1.2 percent drop in its U.K mobile customer count, year over year. Mobile subscriber counts grew 8.3 percent, year over year. 
But mobile revenue was up 1.1 percent, year over year, overall, though there was weakness in the German, …

Economy Not Responsible for All Revenue Shortfalls

The temptation these days is to blame the "economy" for every slowing or decline in sales of communication products. We have to resist that temptation. At least so far, more companies reported robust third quarter growth in broadband, mobile and video sales than slowing. And there always are market share shifts to account for, a trend that should be in play for at least a year.

The content delivery business, for example, has to be judged a disappointment for Internap Network Services Corp., which saw sales in its contend delivery network segment decline for the third straight quarter.

Internap reported third-quarter revenues up eight percent to $65.4 million. But CDN sales in the quarter dropped to $5 million, down from $5.4 million in the second quarter and $5.6 million in the third quarter 2007.

We may well see economic effects in the fourth quarter or in 2009. But not all the negative impact will be a direct result of economic factors. In many cases, simple shifts of market…

Cbeyond: No Evidence of Slowing

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If one wanted to point to a highly-successful provider of small business VoIP service, it would be hard to pick any single company doing better than Cbeyond. Third quarter revenue growth of $90.2 million represents 24.6 percent over the third quarter of 2007. 
Total adjusted earnings before interest, taxes and amortization of $16.9 million during the third quarter of 2008 was an increase of 25.5 percent from the third quarter of 2007. 
Cbeyond  had net customer additions of 1,993 in the quarter, to reach 40,569 in total.
The company also had average monthly revenue per customer location of $760 during the third quarter of 2008, compared to $754 in the second quarter of 2008 and $749 in the third quarter of 2007. 
Monthly customer churn of 1.3 percent in the third quarter of 2008 was stable compared to 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2008. That is significant as Cbeyond experienced a temporary increase in churn several quarters back when it tightened credit polices.

Windstream Results Point to Possible Shift

Windstream Communications third quarter results, like those at Charter Communications, do not yet support the theory that economic stress is changing basic consumer habits in the video entertainment and communications areas. 
Also, Windstream might finally be approaching a time when its voice lines stop shrinking. So there might be something to the argument that if executives think "lines will keep shrinking," they will.  Conversely, a belief that line losses are not inevitable might lead to efforts that in fact produce that result. 
Keep in mind that both Charter and Windstream operate in more-rural areas, so it may be that "big city" and "rural" patterns are diverging. 
Beyond that, neither company seems to be seeing any real slowdown in growth for broadband or video products, as some might expect in the face of the economic slowdown. 
Windstream added 28,000 new high-speed internet customers in the quarter, bringing its total broadband customer base to rou…