The mainstream tech publications are picking up the theme of “mobile voice is a commodity” and citing the new data plans such as Verizon’s plan for 5GB per month for $60 as proof. We think the conclusion on voice is correct (we’ve stated it ourselves, so that’s no surprise) but we believe the new data plans are independently targeting a market sector the mobile carriers believe to be a key one—the “hotspot user”. A business traveler might well stay four or five nights in hotels and also visit airport lounges three to four times in a month, according to research, and if the traveler used hotel and hotspot Internet access would likely pay around $70 per month in service costs. The new plans are attempting to pirate these travelers through slightly lower pricing.
Juniper held its analyst day on Thursday (March 6, 2008), and the company was more polished and articulate than on previous occasions. The message that the “online revolution” has created a demand for a new vision of network/computer coupling is strong and was supported strongly by a T-Systems speaker, but not seized as effectively by Juniper as we’d have liked. Juniper also failed to leverage clear references by T-Systems to IPsphere and TMF standards work, and in the former Juniper has credibility. However, the message was there, and it’s clear that Juniper gets it, but the company needs to articulate it more clearly. In the area of the new Ethernet EX products, Juniper articulated a strong channel program that has credibility as the go-to-market strategy for the EX, lifting our fear that it believed its software partners, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, were going to sell it. All in all, it was a positive step for Juniper.
Business Week has joined other publications and sources in noting that Google may be experiencing the signs of decay in its basic click-through ad model. Google’s stock sunk when its reported clicks dropped in January, and investors began to worry whether the Google model was recession-proof. We think that click ads have their place, but we’ve continually noted that the majority of ad spending today (which exceeds $700 billion worldwide) is directed at models that don’t translate well into clicks. This isn’t to say that online advertising could not, at some point, take over for virtually all ad fulfillment—it likely can. However, the click model isn’t going to be the way to get there by itself, and the industry needs to address the question of what kind of flexible online model will work in the long run.
Cablevision reported better numbers, best of the major cable TV providers, and a sharp reduction in capex. Capex as a percent of revenues has dropped from over 16% (about what the US RBOCs spend) through 13% to slightly more than 11%. All of this suggests that the firm is taking a price-war model stance in competition with FiOS versus a feature stance, which is what competitor Comcast is taking. Cablevision had little to say about advances like DOCSIS 3.0, which would let cable spans increase their broadband speed to FiOS levels. Note that cable broadband is more “shared” than DSL or FiOS and thus raw speed numbers are not necessarily indicative of relative observed performance. We think the capex ratio shift here is the important element; a “successful” cable competitor is one that lowers capex-to-sales below RBOC levels, which means that the RBOCs can outspend the cable companies in capital improvements. Thus, ironically, innovation in access networking must come from the “conservative” carriers.
Nortel, whose performance in the last quarter was significantly below expectations, is pinning a lot of its hopes on grabbing a major share of the Carrier Ethernet market. A major barrier to Nortel’s goals is a lack of company perception on just what that market is, arising out of the same kind of product-group parochialism that we have cited for Alcatel-Lucent. Metro infrastructure is a single strategy, not a combination of three or four technology- and customer-specific approaches, and without that understanding you cannot hope to succeed. With its advanced PBT position, Nortel is well positioned to address this “real” metro market, but as a company its strategies have fallen behind its technologies.
Comcast and its opponents faced off at an FCC hearing, but little of substance was brought into the open. The positions remain largely as filed in the various briefs; Comcast says that network management is essential for overall service quality and net neutralists say that any constraints will be the end of the Internet. Chairman Martin’s comment about the fact that such things should be done with open policies and transparency seem to us to be the signal that the FCC will mandate that these traffic management practices be spelled out in the user agreements. We do not expect any substantive policy announced favoring net neutrality despite the tone of some post-meeting commentary.
Juniper today announced a significant shift in the traditional architecture of routers, one that allows an external server (the JCS 1200) to provide control plane processing for forwarding-plane networks created on Juniper’s line of routers. Traditional router architecture has used either an integrated processor for both data forwarding and control processing, or a separate board within the router for the control plane handling. The new architecture allows an enormous increase in the processing resources available to handle “control plane” activity, which includes the processing of management requests, topology updates, and other IP control packets. Since Juniper has previously announced an “Open Junos” architecture where developers can add logic to the Junos control plane software, this would appear to open the door to embed significant service and feature intelligence in network devices. This in turn could empower service providers to differentiate their services through these embedded features, or to sell access to them as a new revenue source.
Google has launched a trial of its controversial banner-add-on-video strategy, and we believe the step shows the extent to which the online content ad process is detuned from market reality. The approach has continually been shown to be offensive to viewers of video, far more so than the ever-offensive banner ads on web pages. In addition, it shows that Google has no real notion of how to address online content sponsorship other than to try to replicate the banner-and-click approach, and that is not attuned to the current broadcast TV advertising paradigm. Google also plans to put video ads on search result pages, a step that is likely to further clutter the search results and create more user angst.
T-Mobile has announced it will be offering a limited trial of an unlimited VoIP calling service to broadband customers of any sort for $10 per month plus the cost of the equipment ($50). The new service may be a step toward integration of home voice services and wireless voice using dual-mode handsets, something T-Mobile has also pioneered. This is likely to create a price war in VoIP and may also hasten the FMC evolution of US providers, which will bring the femtocell/WiFi debate to a head.
Verizon has finally awakened to one of the major weak points in cable broadband services delivered and taken steps to exploit it. A FiOS ad talks about the fact that FiOS delivers not only fast downloads, it delivers uploads 25 times faster than cable, and upload speed was the big problem with cable from day one. Cable broadband is shared bandwidth in both directions, but the statistical sharing of the downlink still lets customers have decent experiences given that there’s as much as 8 or even 16 Mbps to share. But the uplink is only between 256 kbps and 512 kbps, and any significant uploading (such as P2P hosting) creates a major problem for the MSOs. That’s why Comcast is prepared to duke it out with the FCC on the issue of P2P traffic management, and that battle is likely what’s spurring Verizon to take the offensive in its ads.