I want to take the opportunity to make some suggestions that would make Fon a really disruptive player.
Fon has some really nice residential WiFi routers. A basic version, the Fonera Simpl with an optional antenna, Fontenna, to reach more distance. Additionally there is the Fonera 2.0 N which allows a community of developers to extend the product with new functionality. Finally they can embed their software into operator’s existing WiFi routers.
Fon’s routers are based on OpenWrt, an open source Linux firmware distribution for embedded devices. Developers can create extra plugins / packages that can be deployed on the router.
How to make Fon more disruptive?
For many technical people having access to a global set of WiFi points all over the globe is a really good reason to buy a Fon WiFi. Unfortunately non-technical people might be lost in the technical details about how you can access somebody’s else Internet and might be scared of other people using their Internet. So for most people the Fon offering is like a vitamine and not really a painkiller.
By changing the value proposition of Fon towards becoming a painkiller for more people, Fon would be able to get more active demand for its products from consumers and also via telecom operators.
Fon painkiller example: Parental Control
Most parents would not care less which router is used to access the Internet. The only thing they know is that their offspring knows a hundred times more about Internet then they do. Additionally they know that Internet is full of dangers for kids and teenagers. Children always tell their parents they need Internet to do their home work. But reality is that most surfing is not done for homework 😉
So what if Fon would have an OpenFlow compatible WiFi router with FlowVisor combined with a Cloud solution. To spare the technical details, the summary is that parents would be able to partition their Internet access based on who is accessing. What would this bring?
Kids Internet – 3-8 year olds would only have access to a strict whitelist of Internet pages. Parents would not have to find this white page themselves. Instead people and companies could make white lists and parents could subscribe to them. Examples could be a Disney white list, a SuperNanny [the television show] whitelist. Parents would know that their young children could never go to pages that are unsuitable. Young children would have a start page with icons like the iPad in which they can click on the page and immediately go their favourite games or watch cartoons. Children could be limited in the time they can spend on Internet and special bonus points for good behaviour could buy them more time or bad behaviour could be punished with less time. Parents would need an “Apple” friendly interface to pick whitelists and set-up and manage Internet access times.
Pre-teens / Teens Internet – 9-17 years od – restrictions apply. Parents could define studying time slots in which only certain Internet content can be accessed, e.g. Wikipedia. Also here external entities could define whitelists. Time-based filters for open Internet access could also be set. Additionally special purpose filters are set-up, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Skype, eMule, Google+ etc. This would allow teens to access Facebook and other sites but to have their behaviour screened. Teens could be prohibited to upload pictures of persons, share email/telephone or physical addresses, use F* words, access adult content, etc. There would be a dynamic firewall for each service. Parents could have a high-level reporting interface to see what their kids are doing.
Parental control is just one example of how a generic router that is connected to a niche Cloud application could be a painkiller for parents. Operators could have other pain points, e.g. reduce botnets, spam, P2P content optimization, etc. Shop owners could have other pain points, e.g. social games for bars, etc.
A lot of possibilities are opening up if routers could be externally managed and very specific easy to use interfaces and solutions are build towards which communities and external companies can contribute and generate new revenue with.
The fact that every Fon router will give you access to a global free broadband network will be a nice add-on for most…
An introduction for telecom professionals on Cloud Computing and how to use the Cloud to generate new revenues…
Via visually dragging and dropping network configurations towards hardware devices, they can be reconfigured to offer special services.
What if this visual designer would be running in the cloud? What if it would be on a person by person basis?
Some really cool scenarios would be possible. Imagine that I could dynamically set-up VPNs between my hotel room and my home. Or between different family members. Or block content by person during certain hours of the day.
As a user I would be able to reach videos that I have stored at home and access them from a hotel room. Teens would be able to dynamically connect homes and play multi-role games without central servers. Parents would be able to blacklist their children from accessing certain content during certain hours. Children that say they need the Internet to “study” would be able to access Wikipedia but not World Of Warcraft from 17:00 to 19:00 during the week. There would be a million and one scenarios possible…
Let’s assume a new telecom competitor is entering the European market: RyanCom. Similarities to RyanAir are purely fictual 🙂
1) The Network
Instead of building expensive antenna networks RyanCom would make deals with Cable operators to put Femtocell equipment in cable modems and as such cheaply get coverage in major cities. Everybody that would switch to a Femtocell modem in their home or office would get 6 months of mobile usage for free.
Ryancom would have an agreement with the smallest operator in every country to sublease capacity if a Femtocell is not available.
2) Target User
iPad, Tablet owners, Websurfers, Roamers, etc. Ryancom would allow one data plan for the whole of Europe. Since the bulk of the traffic would go via Femtocell, better access costs could be provided. €5-10-15/month to have €5-10-15 Gigabyte/month.
3) Backoffice systems
All backoffice operating and business systems would be running in a cloud and open source is heavily used. Since there are only a limit number of data plans, there is no need for a billing system. SaaS like Zuora are enough. Google Apps and Salesforce would also be heavily used.
4) Social aspects
Social aspects would be very important. There would be competitions going on for which subscriber can convince more friends to join RyanCom. There is no helpdesk in the traditional manner. There is community support just like GiffGaff.
The End Result
RyanCom would be able to gain young data-intensive and roaming subscribers. They will see RyanCom initially as a second provider for their tablets. Little by little RyanCom could become their first provider when Skype and other applications become common use to make mobile calls.
RyanCom might be a fictional company but operators should be warned that fiction and reality might be just a matter of time…
I stumbled upon GraphLab. GraphLab allows for scaling machine learning. It is sort of the Hadoop for Machine Learning. It recently changed to the very business friendly open source Apache license. GraphLab is written in C++ but has Java and Python APIs. Things like PageRank, Collaborative Filtering, Clustering, etc. are what GraphLab can be used for.
So what is so important about GraphLab for telcos?
Having a scalable and business friendly open source solution for machine learning will allow operators to use algorithms like PageRank for calls (Who is the most important person among a set of subscribers), Collaborative Filtering (make recommendations on which services or apps a subscriber should buy based on what others have bought that are similar), Clustering (grouping subscribers that have common features automatically and target them with promotions), etc.
Not so many years ago, Europe was the leader in telecom. Nokia was the dominant phone maker. Symbian the dominant operating system. GSM/GPRS/3G driven from within Europe. Ericsson the dominant network solution provider.
Fast forward 2011/2012
Only Ericsson is still leading the network solution market. Their mobile arm is being absorbed by Sony however. Symbian is dead. Nokia is in coma, let’s hope its doctor from the Microsoft hospital is able to revive them. LTE is being deployed widely, except for Europe.
The new rulers are Apple, Google and Huawei. Countries like South-Korea and Japan have gigabit fiber to the home. Something no European country can match.
What should Europe do?
First of all there is a legal problem in Europe that blocks a lot of innovations from reaching Europeans. Europe does not exist in telecom world. Instead there is a collection of small and medium countries that each have their own incumbant operator and legal framework.
The first thing should be to move the telecom legal framework to European level and stimulate the creation of one open market. It can not be that in Germany or France it is not possible to get a virtual phone number [DID] without having an address of residence. Services like Twilio have a hard time to deploy in Europe because of this.
The European Union should drastically reduce its help to farmers, especially industrial farming, and instead use the funds to build gigabit fiber-to-the-home. The UK model whereby the fixed infrastructure is separated from the go-to-market entities should be a good model to follow. If we want to have more Internet companies in Europe, we should start by having fast Internet in all mid to large cities. As well as LTE access for all Europeans in 2013.
European Silicon Valleys
The next step is to create European Silicon Valleys in which startups and universities get easy access to venture capital. Without European innovation, it is hard to see how the European telecom industry will blossom again. Large telecom operators have shown few success-stories when it comes to telecom innovation. They are better at buying successful startups, then starting new innovations themselves. But before you can buy, you must have them first.
What is the alternative of not doing anything?
European employment will suffer. Telecom hardware and software development will be moved permanently to China and India. With only some small design shops in Europe at best.
Operators will become bitpipes which means that only a fraction of the current employees are needed.
American dotcoms and large corporations will attract all investments.
If there ever was a time to feel European, now is the time…