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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Your Identity as a Number but not the one you think!

Some of you may have heard the growing interest in IPv6 which is the 6TH version or release of the Internet Protocol which underpins how the Internet and our increasingly IP based communications work. I can already hear people switching off thinking, ok here we go another in depth technical article – well I promise you it is not, but in the words of a friend of mine I will endeavor to keep this as straight forward as possible. The main reason to introduce the new Internet Protocol is to ensure there are sufficient IP addresses available as more devices are connected – particularly with increased traffic between machines (e.g. your power meter at home and the power company’s monitoring system – yes it is happening). What is interesting to note is that IPv4 provided us with just under 4.3 BILLION IP addresses (IPv6 will provide us with a mechanism to have up to 340 undecillion IP addresses by the way – and yes that is a real number!), and apparently we will run out in 6 months, which would mean that unless we expand the number of IP addresses the Internet and the current number of IP based devices as we know it will stop growing. Every device that connects to the Internet needs some form of unique identifier which happens to be the IP address and once we run out we can no longer add further devices  – I don’t believe this by the way, I am aware of a number of Service Providers who still have extensive numbers of IP addresses unallocated, if we wanted to maximize the existing platform all you would have to do is limit Service providers to only having a 10-15% buffer above their active allocation and then manage the remaining IP address allocation through the Internet Registries … ok enough jargon, I promise!
The main reason I am interested in IPv6 is what it will mean to all of us as individuals. IPv6 introduces the concept of greater flexibility to the user in retaining your IP address allocation irrelevant of which provider you use or platforms you access. Consider for a moment the changes that were brought about by Number Portability, for the first time we were able to change mobile provider and still stay in touch with our friends and colleagues without having to inform everyone in our address books that we had changed numbers. With the introduction of IPv6 we are about to see a similar occurrence but this time for our IP based identity. When you change company you change IP address, or IM log-in and your desk phone, just because we move, change jobs or even move house why should we have to rest all of our communication and social media identities. What I mean is think about having a single identity for your desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile and that once you log in all of the communication, social network and other applications you use would be adapted to that device but still with one log in for all. At the moment we have different identifications such as email, phone numbers, social networking id’s, application id’s and so on, but if we each had a unique identifier that stayed with us no matter which supplier we chose to use for connectivity then we could choose how we communicate rather than the limitations of the application or tool we would use at any one point in time.
We talk about intelligent networks for prioritization of traffic and this concept of a single identity would finally be able to maximize this potential. Visualize for a moment that you decide how you want to communicate with someone, they send you an email but you decide to call them back, you don’t look up a phone number you simply select response type and call the person, because they have a single identity for ALL communications. The network then identifies that you are trying to call rather than email and because of the quality of connection required to make a voice call prioritized your connection. Alternatively the person is away from home or office and prefers to be contacted by IM or text, the platform could inform you that these are the only options to contact the person at this time unless you would like to leave them a voice message which would be converted to text or sent as a voice file to the end user. There are numerous scenarios that we can consider here, but mainly it allows us all as individuals to interact and engage with the environment around us in a nimble framework all using one identifying number. The next step in this process is that we will be oblivious to the actual number on a day to day basis, as this will be automatically assigned to any new application or tool we decide to use. Similar to Skype and other applications today we search each other on Name or Nick name rather than by a specific number. Our network of contacts would be based on who we want to communicate with not what numbers they do or do not have.
The final part of this puzzle is the resulting competition, with a growing number of countries seeking to provide National Broadband Networks under a separate operating entity to Service Providers and Operators, the choice of providers for these services would be limitless as we would be able to retain our IP address which would form the essence of our identity. With virtualization
Now some of you will read this and say, interesting concept but we are years away from realizing this at the moment, well I can tell you it is closer than you think. I have seen a number of applications that are already working to promote multiple device, multiple communication options with a single log in and profile … at the moment this is not as attractive and smooth as it could be, but I am confident that we will soon see an increasing trend to IP based communications and device agnostic platforms that will make our lives simpler and create a new market for cross functional services identifying you as the unique user and no longer each and every one of your separate identities.
Hence yes we will be identified with a number, but not your mobile number an IP address, and to think all of this will be due to the fact that we are about to run out of IP addresses, a classic case of a cloud with a silver lining! J

Monday, 7 March 2011

Honey They Shrunk the Broadband!

Broadband on our Mobile phone – like WOW! I still remember accessing the Internet through a 64kbs line, now we have mobile operators offering internet at speeds of up to 20Mbps (and in some cases more!) - well at least they were!
Mobile Broadband has become the latest craze for all parties:
  • Operators have latched onto Broadband as the source of new wave growth to offset the slowing growth of their SMS and MMS platforms.
  • Mobile manufacturers can’t churn out mobile devices fast enough to meet the take-up for the latest gadget, tool, and function that end users are screaming out for.
  • Content providers are also realizing the opportunity to drive new wave revenues, across what is very much an open platform with few controls.
  • The working man/woman now is able to have a virtual office with all of their business tools and applications coming to them rather than having to find a Internet Access point.
  • Generation Z – who have finally found a way to surf the web, chat and socialize without their Parents looking over the shoulder.
Interestingly enough it is the Mobile Operator who is increasingly becoming the frustration of all the other groups. With demand for Broadband access accelerating faster than what many Operators, Analysts and even regulators had expected!
The dynamics have changed though, the business cases that many operators used to justify investments were developed using a similar traffic growth pattern as had been seen by the SMS traffic forecasts. This approach would seem sound particularly given the fact that SMS was initially not predicted to grow at the initial rates that it did. However Mobile Broadband has now become second nature to many businesses as well as Generation Z subscribers. The outcome being that Mobile broadband traffic has grown at more than 10 times the forecasted figures. This development is placing operators in a complex predicament; budgets which were originally allocated for use through a 5 year return on investment expectation are being utilized within the first 6-12 months of launch, with the result impacting operator cash flows, market credibility and customer satisfaction.
Of course it is easy to look at the Mobile operator and claim they should have simply anticipated for this, but you need only to look at the demands of Internet based service providers and they are clearly contributing to the challenge. The view of some Internet providers is that Mobile operators should provide open networks with no control on content OR utilization by any user, offers significant risks to viable commercial models. This is basically impossible, capacity is not infinite, and with this approach the costs for subscribers would go through the roof, because despite all the promise of advertising, content adaption the subscriber will ALWAYS pay.
Therefore it is necessary to completely reassess the model for internet usage for Mobile networks. Internet based providers need to understand that their relationship with Mobile operators is Symbiotic and the Operators as well as the internet based providers that are most likely to succeed will be those that embrace this relationship and seek to leverage off of each others strengths while trying to highlight their risks and challenges.
Operators should consider a positive re-enforcement model similar to that being used in some European countries in driving environmental policy. Consider an approach of penalty and reward to the environmental policy, if you drive a car which is generating pollution above a certain level then you will pay higher road tax, if however you  are driving a hybrid car which produces less than the average pollution per car then you will pay less tax. Similarly for utilities in the home, if you use less than the average for your household or make use of alternative energy sources such as Wind and Solar then you will receive credits back from the government through your utility bill.
A comparable model could be used for Mobile Broadband, if you are using the broadband connection on your mobile during peak hours (say from 8am to 9am and from 5pm to 7pm then you will pay a premium for excessive usage above a determined average, however if you use your mobile outside of these hours then you will receive credits to your mobile bill. Traffic across a mobile network is similar to any network in the world today, there are times of peak usage which stretches the capacity of the network and likewise times of utilization where there is minimal usage, the challenge that operators face today is how to encourage that balance without impacting the user experience. Business users for example would see the value in knowing they can access corporate applications, email and voice calls during peak hours and would most likely be willing to pay for it IF there was an SLA determining a certain performance (I know I would!). Likewise for the non-business users, if you knew you would pay less for using your mobile broadband outside of these peak hours and that the user experience would be better, hence it is likely you would be more willing to actually
New market competitors want “Free of Charge” open networks, whilst Operators want to charge for content and services which they feel they would traditionally have offered themselves. The needs of each group are unique BUT interdependent, Internet based providers can get greater access to the end user if they accept that there must be some revenue sharing on content and services provided through the operator. Likewise Operators need to recognize that through virtualization and increasingly through globalization, the physical distance between the provider of services and the consumer is less relevant and that in order to succeed an ecosystem of partners will be crucial to their future success.
Clearly there is no singular solution in balancing the demands of the various stakeholders in Mobile broadband. The first step however must be to communicate and engage with the ecosystem around you to ensure that the old formula of 1+1 really does equal more than 2, otherwise I fear that internet based Providers and Mobile Operators could be headed for a new Internet Bubble the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. If a balance cannot be found the result WILL be out of control network costs, Content increasingly inaccessible, and a disillusioned customer base, resulting in an increasing likelihood of some operators and internet based providers over stretching and facing acquisition or bankruptcy as investors realize their investments are increasingly at risk.
So Honey, yes they are Shrinking the Broadband, HOWEVER through partnership and acceptance of the need for positive reinforcement we can actually achieve an improved user experience and more importantly greater acceptance of Mobile broadband from the wider mobile demographic which MUST be the one goal which both Operators and Internet Providers can agree on … right?