Firmware updates for legacy devices should be mandatory not mocked


So Stephen Elop has stated that Symbian mobiles will receive OTA firmware upgrades through to 2016, four years after the final smartphones using this OS are scheduled for release. Good for him.

It beggars belief that some idiots have chosen to knock Nokia, the most mockable of manufacturers, for choosing to provide ongoing support for legacy devices. Clearly these self-styled mobile gurus know nothing of which they speak.

If you truly believe that there is such a thing as a mobile ecosystem it is surely nonsensical to shun the bottom of the pyramid through overly short life-cycle obsolescence.

As I have written previously this issue has become something of a headache for Google and shows no signs of going away as that OS fragments into the legions of low-cost OEM/ODMs crapping out those 400,000 Android devices a day.

This week an all too believable rumour that the forthcoming iOS 5 release will not support the iPhone 3GS has been doing the rounds. The intent is all too clear: you will buy a new iOS device every two years. I’m as much an Apple fanboy as the next guy but forgive me if I don’t see such a policy as being good for consumers.

If Nokia does one thing extremely well it’s firing firmware upgrades that support hundreds of language packs into multiple dealer channels. If you have any sense you should be lauding the decision to prop up Symbian through to 2016.

Image Symbian World

None busier than Twitter


May 1st 2011 will go down as one of the biggest news days of the year. According to the San Francisco Chronicle this was Twitter’s CNN moment.

Just as the television news network live-casted the first Gulf War to every cabled-up living-room so, at the very second Keith Urbahn hit Tweet and let slip news of OBL’s death, the world’s favourite micro-blogging service became the de facto place to break stories.

Twitter is a powerful medium for broadcasting, curating and consuming news; a vanity mirror for all kinds of celebrity; a sounding-board for desperately earnest marketers and consultants; a search and discovery tool for stalkers; an obvious measure of influence; and arguably, a catalyst for social change (although not always the good kind). In brief: it’s important.

Some say Twitter has become a Utility. I say no it hasn’t, micro-blogging has become a Utility, Twitter is a popular and successful service example. Sina Weibo is another.

As May 1st wrapped around to May 2nd @twitterglobalpr was keen to tell us that usage had peaked at an all time high of 5,000+ tweets per second during Obama’s televised announcement of Bin Laden’s death. If that sounds like busy to you, think again. How busy does a mobile network Short Message Service Centre get on any New Year’s Eve? Or Diwali? Or Eid? I can guarantee you that the magnitudes of messaging are much greater and the service more robust.

I’ll gladly join Scoble and offer my congratulations to Twitter for keeping up, but I come from a telco world where services must be available to the five nines (99.999%) twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Staying up doesn’t impress me much – that’s a baseline.  You can say what you like about the Scobleizer but surely he’s a tool better used to trumpet your cool new whatever than he is a notifier of basic competence.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of micro-blogging and I use Twitter a lot, but it’s a free service and you know, it really does feel like one. An internet age ago Eqentia suggested that Twitter go Freemium to alleviate its growing pains. I agree, as is so often the case ‘free’ is being used as a get out of jail card for a shockingly poor standard of care.

In the absence of anything to sell Twitter has not bought my loyalty with its grace and favour, just my frustration. So like a User I’ll use it while it suits me, if I were a Customer we’d be in a far more valuable relationship.

Until that happy marriage comes to be my prospective partner is just another big fat replaceable pipe.

Image: Flandrum Hill

Edit: Thanks for the handful of emails, yes, the old title of this post (‘None more busy than Twitter’) was indeed grammatically incorrect. This was one of those obscure in-jokes that failed to pay off (a bit like this blog really). Amended accordingly.

Putting innovation in the too hard basket

Mobile Industry Review’s Ewan MacLeod posted a good early-morning thought today. Following a 4:00AM pick-up call from a taxi driver he wondered why it was not possible for his mobile network to provide him with contextual information about an incoming call rather than a caller’s number, or worse, the Withheld announcement:

“..surely there’s a way of easily plugging this stuff all together? The fact that I approved the call? The fact that the taxi firm HAVE my mobile details — couldn’t they be ‘approved’ to be able to display status and context to my phone, rather than the default number?

Is a call even necessary? Couldn’t the phone just turn green? Or flash red? Especially if the device knows I’m awake and operational, I certainly don’t need an interruption beyond ‘your taxi is here’. Like a growl update.

And if you do need to interrupt, do it with some kind of contextual information rather than a phone number.

Alas, I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like this from the mobile operator — despite the operator playing the role as the ultimate trusted party in the value chain.”

This is a great thought though not a new one. Ewan is not the first person to highlight the lack of mobile operator support for useful calling features, one wonders why such value-adds have not been delivered in IMS-RCS deployments, context aware caller info seems to be a perfect use case for the Rich Communication Suite.

I suspect this has a lot to do with being ‘too hard’ from a legal perspective. First comment on Ewan’s post (from someone in the banking industry) immediately flags up compliance issues and I can imagine that this mindset has a very loud and influential voice in the offices of many mobile operators. Shame.

Of course it’s also hard to build such a feature into off-net calls where a third party is used for terminations – not an insurmountable problem, but certainly a crunchy one.

However, an all IP comms network with some sensible opt-in rules might find that adding contextual information to calls becomes a useful and popular feature, maybe this is something that Skype should have implemented an age ago.

If this feature is not part of your Unified Communications strategy, think again.

Image: GreenSmith Consulting

Death of the Phone Call is a First World problem


In first world telecoms Voice is being commoditised to feature status. If further proof were needed this week the folks behind Bluebox released their latest offering, the 2600hz Project, a cloud-based telephony service that promises easy access to: “Anything you can do with VoIP, for now – with SMS and video coming shortly.”

Describing the practical applications of the 2600hz platform, GigaOm explained:

The software is designed to handle up to a billion calls per month on about six virtualized (or not) servers and can connect seamlessly to run on or with Rackspace clouds, Amazon’s clouds or on a private cluster of machines. Instead of paying a penny or so per minute to a VoIP company, businesses that want to add voice calling over the web to their social network, their app or their role-playing game just deploy this software and take care of it themselves.

Though a number of companies offer similar ‘cloud telephony’ 2600hz is unique in providing voice support entirely free of charge, their revenue model will be to add chargeable services as they grow. I think this is an excellent piece and I’m sure that 2600hz will do well; yet another way in which the nature of voice communication at distance is rapidly evolving in proportion to the availability and affordability of increasingly powerful technology.

For a comprehensive account of the changing nature of the humble phone call I urge you to go and read the great essay Dean Bubley has written on The Future of Voice for Vision Mobile, it really cannot be bettered. Here’s a taste:

We already have in-game voice chat between players, remote baby monitors, always-on voice telepresence, audio surveillance and all sorts of other voice applications which really are not calls, as such. Numerous other voice communication modes are evolving, especially those linked to social and messaging applications.

In a nutshell, we no longer need to shoehorn all of our “distant voice” communications needs into the unnatural format of a “phone call”. We are able to visualise, contextualise, obfuscate, interrupt, lie, drop in and out, waffle, multi-task, spy, listen, store, mumble, overhear, translate, declaim, announce and recall speech over a network in many, many different ways.

All rather spot on by my own reckoning, little to add to that except to reinforce the point that this is a first world phenomenon. For as long as they can get away with it governments and operators in developing countries will be ring-fencing that minute-metered phone call as it represents a significant source of revenue, especially foreign exchange.

This is not just the North South divide coming into play on roaming arbitrage but all international terminations, it’s quite possible that within a year or two we’ll be able to measure some kind of Human Development Index for voice and messaging.

Wonder whether any start-up can deal with that problem?

Image: Josh Dilworth

Erratum: In this post I gave the impression that the founders of 2600.hz were one and the same as the folks behind Bluebox and FreePBX. This is not the case. Apologies to all concerned for the error.