Archive for January, 2008

FCC reaches important milestone in 700MHz spectrum auction

scorecardsFor those of you playing along at home, the Federal Communication Commission’s 700 MHz spectrum bidding reached an important milestone today: The FCC received a bid of $4.71 billion, surpassing the $4.68 billion minimum and setting in motion events that could have profound changes on the U.S. wireless industry.

With the minimum now achieved, the winner must abide by the “open access” rules the FCC agreed to last summer, meaning that the winner will have to allow consumers to use any handset or software application on the spectrum purchased.

Funny, but no one is celebrating in the streets outside.

Anyway, who made the $4.71 billion bid remains a mystery. There’s plenty of speculation all over the Web (here, here, here), but Saul Hansell of The New York Times seems to have the best grasp of what’s going on. Suffice to say, early analysis has Verizon, the No. 2 U.S. carrier, and newcomer Google punching it out for the coveted C Block, with No.1 carrier AT&T in the mix somewhere.

Without full media access, the 700 MHz spectrum auction is a game of pure speculation because the participants — and for our purpose that’s Google, Verizon, and AT&T — cannot talk about their bids until the auction is over, whenever that will be.

Suffice to say, by reaching the open access milestone, a new market has just been launched. For those scoring at home, put a “W” next to consumers, handset manufacturers, and third-party software developers and a ? next to Google, Verizon, and AT&T.

Trouble at Motorola: No. 3 handset maker may spin off or sell Mobile Devices business

motorolaLooks like the rumors and back-room talk about Motorola are true: The company is looking to spin off (or “strategically realign”) its Mobile Devices business, or sell it outright.

Which begs the question: How the heck did Motorola — the company that delivered the first commercial portable cellular phone in 1983 — get to this point? Or, more recently, how did the company that made cell phones fashionable and highly desirable with the Razr and Krzr fall so low as to even think about selling off its Mobile Devices division?

As a friend who works at Motorola told me today, “Can you imagine Motorola not playing in that space anymore? That’s f***** up.”

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Amazon acquires Audible; placing more bets on digital future

Amazon acquires Audible; placing more bets on a digital futureE-retail giant Amazon, today announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire, the leading online supplier of “digital spoken word audio content” (think: audiobooks, magazines, newspapers and radio programs). The move clearly signals Amazon’s intent on placing ever greater bets on a digital future, whereby consumer demand for DVDs, CDs and “dead tree” books, will be replaced with movie downloads (UnBox), digital music (AmazonMP3), eBooks (Kindle), and now audiobook downloads too.

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Rumor: Is Google, Dell working on mobile phone? Why not?

dell-googleIt’s only a pair of rumors. One old. One new.

The old rumor that’s surfacing again is that computer maker Dell is working on a wireless handset. The new one is that this mobile phone is associated in some form or fashion with Google.

MarketingWeek reported today that “Google is plotting the launch of a mobile phone in partnership with computer giant Dell” at the 3GSM conference in Spain next month. This comes from “senior industry sources”, so it must be true.

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Bummer: Apple delays "Take Two" software upgrade

appletv coming soonBummer, dude.

Apple announced today that the expected AppleTV software upgrade, which allows users to rent movies from their televisions, is not ready for prime time (no pun intended). The update, due yesterday, will turn original AppleTVs into the AppleTV Take 2 announced earlier this month at Macworld.

Apple says it will make the free software download available to existing AppleTV owners in another week or two . . . or three.

The delay is not catastrophic, just disappointing, as original AppleTV owners have waited since the day they bought the set-top box to see what this device really can do. With all the major studios making content available on iTunes, it’s going to be a tantalizing wait for those of us who’ve waited long enough.

Q&A: We7 CEO Steve Purdham

Q&A: We7 CEO Steve PurdhamFollowing this week’s Qtrax fiasco, ad-supported music download services are very much in the spotlight. UK-based We7, backed by Peter Gabriel, is one such offering, enabling users to download free MP3s that have a short (and targeted) audio advert embedded at the start of each track. The ads then auto-expire after four weeks of listening, allowing users to re-download the same tracks ad-free.

Earlier today I caught up with We7 CEO Steve Purdham (over IM) to find out more about the company’s mission, and to discuss issues such as DRM, resistance by the major labels, new business models and more.

What is the problem that We7 is trying to solve? Tell us a bit about your model and why you started the company.

The problem is simple: if music is free who pays the artist? Our model tries to create a relationship between fan, band and advertiser. Fans gets free music, advertiser gets listened to, and bands (and We7) get paid.

[I] got involved when I met the original founders John Taysom and Gareth Reakes, initially just as an investor but the idea is irrationally seductive so I also decided to run and build the business as well as invest.

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Analyst estimates more than 1 million iPhones are "unlocked"; here's what it means

iphone unlockBernstein Research analyst Tony Sacconaghi estimates that more than a quarter of the iPhones sold in the U.S. have been “unlocked” to work on network providers other than officially sanctioned AT&T.

That’s about 27 percent of the iPhones sold in 2007.

It works out to about 1.45 million handsets.

What do these numbers mean?

Even if they are estimated, these numbers mean that an amazing number of people have taken the time, effort, and trouble to unlock the phones, no matter the complexity or risk. Some of these people are techies and hackers who are comfortable messing around with the innards of electronic equipment.

But to hit these numbers, it means that a whole lotta average folks are unlocking their iPhones or — more likely — paying a cottage industry to do it for them.

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Is free legal music service Qtrax too good to be true?

Is free legal music service Qtrax too good to be true?Watching the Qtrax PR fiasco unfold over the last few days (“we have all four majors on board, err, no we don’t”, “we’ve launched, err, no we haven’t”) provided a great lesson in what not to do when launching a new product i.e. lie to reporters. However, a ton of questions remain unanswered, not least of which being: is a free and legal music download service on the scale of Qtrax too good to be true?

But first, a recap of what Qtrax claims to be offering.

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U2's McGuinness calls for ISPs, telecos, device-makers to combat music piracy on Web

midemU2’s longtime manager Paul McGuinness, a man highly respected in the recording industry, got his speech today at Midem ass backwards.

He called for Internet service providers (ISPs), telecom companies, and hardware manufacturers to help in the fight against music piracy on the Web. That’s good.

But then he said, “I suggest we shift the focus of moral pressure away from the individual P2P file thief and on to the multibillion dollar industries that benefit from these countless tiny crimes.”

No matter what I think of Microsoft, Google, AOL, Yahoo, Comcast, Vodafone, Facebook, and Apple, it doesn’t seem to me that they are at fault for the recording industry’s woes. Yet McGuinness rubs their noses in it, saying “their snouts have been at our trough feeding for free for too long.” (Financial Times account.)

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Review: SyncTV offers more hope than promise

Review of SyncTVA new on-demand Internet TV service, SyncTV (see our previous coverage), aims to challenge the cable television industry by offering the a la carte model — only pay for the channels or shows you watch — that customers crave, but which the cable operators refuse to offer.

At least that’s what the San Jose-based startup says publicly.

However, after playing with the service today (currently in private Beta) and learning more about SyncTV’s technology, I suspect a target much closer to home: Apple’s iTunes, along with the many other Internet TV offerings that make it difficult, if not impossible, for consumer electronics manufactures (CEMs) to build devices — set-top boxes, Internet-connected televisions and portable media players — that can download and playback content from their service.

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