Archive by Ed Gubbins

HD voice gains momentum

The past few days have seen a spate of announcements of hosted high-definition (HD) voice services, illustrating the technology’s growing momentum.

Orange, the UK’s third-largest mobile operator, caused a stir when it announced plans late last month to offer HD voice as an alternative to the scratchy service consumers have come to expect from their mobile phones. But it’s not yet clear how much extra consumers would be willing to pay for higher mobile voice quality, nor is it clear what the added bandwidth requirements of such an offering would mean for already congested mobile networks.

By contrast, HD voice’s promise seems more immediately clear in the realm of IP-based and web-based calling for businesses, which are more likely to shell out the extra cash for clear telephony. Several companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Phone.com announced a hosted HD voice service today, following Junction Networks’ announcement late last week that its OnSIP hosted PBX service now supports HD voice. Meanwhile, Ooma recently added HD voice to its consumer-focused Telo. HD-quality voice may be a sought-after differentiator for IP communications providers. My question is: How long will it be until it’s too common to be a differentiator and turns into table stakes? What do YOU think? Leave a comment below.

Broadband price hikes to overshadow video, analyst says

Prices for video services are expected to rise this year as cable companies agree to pay broadcasters more for their content. But prices for broadband services among major providers are going up at least as much as video prices are, according to Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffet. And unlike video, broadband prices don’t have the same history of perpetual increases.

“Cable and telco operators almost across the board are implementing price increases for broadband as well as video,” Moffet wrote in a note today. “Taken together with video price increases, they may enable cable and telco fiber operators to more

Genband’s Nortel bid continues VoIP-as-app trend

Genband’s bid for Nortel’s carrier VoIP equipment business — if it succeeds — could give the vendor a more direct relationship with the world’s largest carriers than it currently enjoys through its major vendor partners. But the deal could also be seen as further solidification of the VOIP equipment space as the domain of specialist suppliers, according to Elisabeth Rainge, IDC’s director of NGN operations.

“Clearly, given Genband’s acquisitions of assets from NSN, Alcatel-Lucent and others in the past few years, it makes sense that those larger players wouldn’t have a strong interest in taking on the Nortel CVAS VoIP asset,” Rainge said in an email. “For better or for worse, what we’re seeing with this move — assuming it goes through — is that More...VoIP infrastructure is a market for experts. No longer is it the expertise or possibly even the bread and butter, of the traditional telecom network equipment vendors. This is partly an acknowledgement that voice is an application and partly an outcome of the state of voice infrastructure for the largest operators. In a nutshell, the IP transformation is not only underway but today’s reality. To build on IP networks means treating voice as an application.”

Acquiring assets from major vendors and using them to create products that major vendors want has been key to Genband’s success, though the novel strategy is not an easy one to pull off. Likewise, integrating Nortel’s products with its own will be no small task for Genband, Rainge said, especially since the latter’s existing portfolio is already packed with gear from previous acquisitions.

“Genband has a continuing, and now expanding challenge in product portfolio management. I don’t envy their sales team with so many acquired product lines in the fold, especially for long-lived investments such as we see in the TDM-VoIP space,” Rainge said. “There is no doubt that Genband already offers and supports many voice infrastructure solutions. In taking on the Nortel assets, Genband will need to work to position itself as a product company with its own mission rather than a caretaker of a variety of products.”

One bright side for Genband: The shedding of similar assets from major vendors means the company is unlikely to enter a bidding war for Nortel’s business with much larger rivals.

First broadband stimulus winners announced

Vice President Joe Biden announced the recipients of the first $182 million in broadband stimulus grants today (just 9% of the first round of funding and 2% of the overall total) in Dawsonville, Ga.

The 18 projects included in the winners being announced today will benefit 17 states and have already been matched by more than $46 million in private funding, the White House said.

UPDATE: The full list of recipients announced today is available here.

Though the administrators of the program promised to announce the first round of winners this month, the White House said today those announcements — pertaining to $2 billion in awards — will be spread out over the next 75 days. Of the $182 million in funds being announced today, $129 million will come from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and $54 million will come from the Rural Utilities Service.

bband-stimulus-pie.JPG

The awards announced today include: more

Small cableco claims fastest US wireless data: up to 15 Mb/s

BendBroadband, a family-owned cable and broadband provider serving Bend, Ore., is claiming to have launched the nation’s fastest wireless data service, with speeds averaging between 6 and 8 megabits per second and reaching 15 Mb/s “under optimal conditions.”

The company is delivering those speeds with an HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Plus) wireless broadband network that is upgradable to Long Term Evolution (LTE).

The company is supplying users with WiFi-enabled modems for home networks along with a USB device to access its network “virtually anywhere in Central Oregon.” It plans to launch a “feature-rich” residential telephony service next year. more

UBS: Qwest could be bought by smaller RLEC

Qwest Communications (NYSE: Q) “could become a target of rural wireline consolidation,” according to UBS analyst John Hodulik. “Despite its much larger size, we believe Qwest could become a takeover candidate” for CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL) or even Windstream (NASDAQ:WIN), he said in a research note this week. Piper Jaffray analyst Chris Larsen made a similar observation earlier this month.

A deal like that is easier to imagine after CenturyTel’s purchase of much-larger Embarq this year. And it would probably have to wait until CenturyLink or Windstream had integrated their newly acquired assets – perhaps the middle of next year, Hodulik said. Both CenturyLink and Windstream have indicated they’re not done yet with M&A.

But Hodulik’s prediction is 180 degrees from those made by other analysts this spring, when Qwest was reportedly exploring selling off its long-haul network. Funds from such a sale could have allowed the carrier to roll up other rural carriers, analysts said at the time. But a sale never took place.

Allied Wireless hiring at new Little Rock HQ

Allied Wireless, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Atlantic Tele-Network (NASDAQ:ATNI), is building a new headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., the company announced today along with plans to hire 200 to 250 workers at the new location.

Allied was created to operate wireless assets acquired by Atlantic that had been divested as part of Verizon Wireless’s acquisition of Alltel. Atlantic had previously hinted that it might choose Little Rock to set up its new base of operations, in part because hundreds of layoffs following Verizon’s acquisition have left a ready pool of available talent there.

In September, 13-year Alltel veteran Frank O’Mara was named to lead the acquired business, which includes 800,000 subscribers in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio and Idaho.

AT&T, Verizon both gained from 3G ad war

AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) appear to have both benefitted from the recent internecine ad campaign in which the two bickered over whose 3G wireless coverage was superior — though Verizon may have gained more than its rival.

According to a survey released today by YouGov Brand Index, Verizon Wireless’ brand awareness among adults 18 to 34 shot from 37.1% in early November to 62.2% in early December. AT&T’s awareness in the same group rose from 41.2% to 54.5% in that time. Toward the end of November, as the holiday shopping season kicked into full swing, Verizon Wireless had surpassed AT&T in terms of awareness.

That mutual benefit is fortunate for the two companies, since the war brought attention to weaknesses in both of their offerings and underscored the limits of today’s 3G networks. But it also may encourage the two to try to repeat the phenomenon. We haven’t seen the last of Luke Wilson.

Cox, Comcast launch Mozy online backup storage

Cable providers Cox and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are starting to offer online storage services this month with plans to expand them next year. Both are powered by Mozy, the online backup service offered by Decho, a unit of EMC (NYSE: EMC).

Cox Business is launching free online backup this month in two markets — Roanoke and Hampton Roads, Va. — with plans to expand it to all markets next year. Cox, which also launched wireless service in Roanoke and two other markets this week, is offering its small and medium business Internet customers between 2 gigabytes and 10 GB of storage for free, with the storage capacity determined by the customer’s Internet speed. Users can also buy up to 100 GB of storage at prices ranging from $10 to $70 per month, Cox said. more

Sprint CEO Hesse on 4G pricing plans

Dan Hesse On the same day (and at the same investor conference) that AT&T’s Mobility and Consumer Markets CEO Ralph de la Vega talked about how his company is preparing consumers for usage-based billing models, Sprint (NYSE:S) CEO Dan Hesse shared his own thoughts on the subject.

“When you think about post-paid — and I don’t know what’s going to happen — it’s not just going to be your phone,” Hesse said. “It’s going to be your camera, your iTouch, your gaming device – they’re all going to become wireless, so what’s going to be the right plan for those? As we move into 4G, it’ll be much less about minutes and more about gigabytes (GB) as the main driver of what customers are buying per month, because it’s going to be VoIP-oriented. Minutes will be largely irrelevant. It’s going to be data-oriented. Customers may buy 100 GB of data rather than by month, they may buy monthly contracts or 1- or 2-year [contracts]. We want to have the flexibility — in wholesale and retail, prepaid and post-paid, with multiple brands — to move and morph, because business models are going to change…The biggest growth will come from non-traditional wireless devices.”

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