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Why is Europe no longer innovating?

A little test. Name a European dotcom that has changed people’s life in the last years? No clue? With only a minor change, substituting European for American and the list would be long: Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Zynga, etc.

Even when innovations make it over the ocean, Europe is limited to doing business development, sales and some limited support. Look at the job pages of the big dotcoms and you will see the VP of Engineering in California and the business development manager in Europe. So the future is defined in California and Europe is just a market to sell the innovations that have been tried and certified in the USA.

Most people would not care less if Zynga would come from the USA or Tongo [No harm meant to anybody from Tongo]. However Europe is missing out on some major innovations that can boost the productivity of any small or medium enterprise. Think about Square, Quickbooks, Dwolla, etc. as examples.

Europe some years ago was leading the mobile and telecom industry with Ericsson, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia being clear examples. Nowadays it is Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. that lead the mobile and telecom revolution. Many might not realize it but Google has not only disrupted the mobile operating system market. Google has the first global software-defined network in the world. Google is writing history and being a major driver behind Openflow. Also the USA is leading together with Britain in White Spaces and other future wireless innovations.

What needs to change in Europe?

The European Union and local governments have always had a preference to over-protect the communication industry. Many laws protect former state-monopolies from getting real competition. The European Union should really look at White Spaces as a way to bring much-needed innovation back into the industry. Instead of selling the licenses to White Spaces to the usual suspects, the European Union should declare White Spaces as a “free” WiFi on Steroids alternative to LTE. White Spaces can be the solution for rural areas that want to get 21st century broadband connectivity.

Also the laws that oblige telecom companies to give national service are outdated. We do not have gigabit fiber-to-the-home in big cities because competitors are obliged to give universal service. Why not let 10 competitors fight without obligation to connect everybody? The free markets will connect those people and companies that are economically viable. By obliging universal connectivity, everybody is connected to a slow network. Leading to European broadband mediocrity.

Telecom companies that have started to set-up venture capitalist offerings are going the right way. Unfortunately too little money is poured into new ventures. Telefonica’s Wayra is offering $30-70K during a 6 months incubation. That means €46K to €109K on an annual basis as seed capital. What can you buy for this kind of money? Virtually nothing. Only one or two people teams at most. Great people would earn more money in their day job so they are unlikely to jump on Wayra. More realistic numbers would be €150-200K, which would allow teams of 3-10 people plus potential for hardware and other types of innovation. The chances that a 2 people team on a small budget makes a world-changing impact are very slim because you need multiple skills to really innovate.

Crowdfunding  should also be high on the list of the European Union. Let people participate in ventures as very small minority stakeholders via collective seed investment. Give Europe some chance of building a European Kickstarter on steroids. Cross-European laws would need to be put in place for this.

We need European Entrepreneur Heroes as well. Europe needs a European version of Steve JobsJeff Bezos, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Benioff. People that can convert a vision into a multi-billion industry. People that will be role models for future generations.

If Europe wants to leave the current recession behind, it needs to think about moving away from farming subsidies into investing in innovation. We need modern digital laws and a general legal simplification to allow more entrepreneurs to start innovative companies. European corporations should set-up more venture capitalist funding and crowd funding should be high on everybody’s agenda.

Big Data Apps and Big Data PaaS

March 21, 2012 5 comments

Enterprises no longer have a lack of data. Data can be obtained from everywhere. The hard part is to convert data into valuable information that can trigger positive actions. The problem is that you need currently four experts to get this process up and running:

1) Data ETL expert – is able to extract, transform and load data into a central system.

2) Data Mining expert – is able to suggest great statistical algorithms and able to interpret the results.

3) Big Data programmer – is an expert in Hadoop, Map-Reduce, Pig,  Hive, HBase, etc.

4) A business expert – that is able to guide all the experts into extracting the right information and taking the right actions based on the results.

A Big Data PaaS should focus on making sure that the first three are needed as little as possible. Ideally they are not needed at all.

How could a business expert be enabled in Big Data?

The answer is Big Data Apps and Big Data PaaS. What if a Big Data PaaS is available, ideally open source as well as hosted, that comes with a community marketplace for Big Data ETL connectors and Big Data Apps? You would have Big Data ETL connectors to all major databases, Excel, Access, Web server logs, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. For a fee different data sources could be accessed in order to enhance the quality of data. Companies should be able to easily buy access to data of others on a Pay-as-you-use basis.

The next steps are Big Data Apps. Business experts often have very simple questions: “Which age group is buying my product?”, “Which products are also bought by my customers?”, etc. Small re-useable Big Data Apps could be built by experts and reused by business experts.

A Big Data App example

A medium sized company is selling household appliances. This company has a database with all the customers. Another database with all the product sales. What if a Big Data App could find which products tend to be sold together and if there are any specific customer features (age, gender, customer since, hobbies, income, number of children, etc.) and other features (e.g. time of the year) that are significant? Customer data in the company’s database could be enhanced with publicly available information (from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.). Perhaps the Big Data App could find out that parents (number of children >0), whose children like football (Facebook), are 90% more likely to buy waffle makers, pancake makers, oil fryers, etc. three times a year. Local football clubs might organize events three times a year to gain extra funding. Sponsorship, direct mailing, special offers, etc. could all help to attract more parents, of football-loving-kids, to the shop.

The Big Data Apps would focus on solving a specific problem each: “Finding products that are sold together”, “Clustering customers based on social aspects”, etc. As long as a simple wizard can guide a non-technical expert in selecting the right data sources and understanding the results, it could be packaged up as a Big Data App. A marketplace could exist for the best Big Data Apps. External Big Data PaaS platforms could also allow data from different enterprises to be brought together and generate extra revenue as long as individual persons can not be identified.

Next Buzz: Social Enterprise Apps

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Social Enterprise Apps are the next buzz. Companies like Salesforce with Chatter, Yammer, Jive, Google with Google+, etc. all want to change the way employees work in 2012 by adopting Facebook and Twitter-like solutions.

At the moment it is too early to tell who will be the winner. Most products however are still just offering only basic features like status messages, connect to colleagues, share documents, etc.

The real interesting features are still to come. Employee driven process creation and management should make it possible for plain humans (not über-programmers) to define and manage company processes and to transfer a world of Excel, Access and other homegrown solutions to the Web and mobile world.

Operators should jump on the social enterprise apps bandwagon because calls and SMS can still be incorporated into this new portfolio of products. However not in the traditional manner. Since everybody has access to a phone, it could be used for quick approvals either by calling in, getting called or sending an SMS. Even faxes could be incorporated. Traditional companies might be more willing to move from paper faxes to online faxes instead of moving from zero to Facebook speed right away.

The key will be the ability to people to define and manage things themselves without needing support from IT or five level of approvals…

 

LTE will kill the telecom cash-cow. Is your cash-calf ready to take over?

Long Term Evolution, LTE or sometimes also referred to as 4G, is the next generation mobile network technology.  It promises to bring network speed to the mobile that can beat the current ADSL offerings. In the beginning LTE prices might be high but competition especially from new entrants – “the Ryanairs of telecom” / “4G Bitpipes” – are likely to bring affordable pricing plans soon. The US already has the first “4G Bitpipe players”: Clearwire and Lightsquared.

So what does it mean if tomorrow you can have ADSL-like speeds for an (almost) flat-rate. In practice, end-users would be crazy to still pay €0,15 for minute for a call or per SMS. Skype with its optimized codecs (e.g. SILK) will offer better voice quality and will throw in video for free. Instant messaging, Twitter and Facebook chat will completely substitute SMS. This will be the end of the telecom cash-cows: calls and SMS…

What will be the next cash-calf? For those operators that are still looking for the “Killer App” – that single technology that only telecom operators can offer and is extremely successful – I have some news. Postal services are still looking for their killer app after the stamp was substituted by email. So is the music industry. There is no economic law that says that a former monopolist has the right to pick its next monopoly.

So if there is no “Killer App” does it mean that all telecom operators are doomed to become bit-pipes tomorrow? Over time several will but not necessarily all. Although dotcoms have the sexiest solutions, large corporations are unlikely to massively shift their communication services to a heavily indebted 25 people company close to a surf-paradise beach. So due to inertia the abyss is still some years away. However should you just give up and let  consumer ARPU drop year by year?

I believe there is still a window of opportunity for telecom operators to bring new appealing services. However they must be willing to abandon some important historical laws of telecom.

1) Standards slow innovation

Collectively negotiate a standard that is more a political compromise then the simplest, most effective way of doing things is not helping innovation. In the Web 2.0 era, dotcoms launch new ideas all the time. Most of the time it is a “winner takes it all or at least most” market. So the winner sets the standard. How many Twitter competitors do you use?

By designing an architecture around obscure standards, few operators have employees that can explain their company’s architecture. Google and others have invested heavily in their architecture. They constantly update it. But on a blackboard a Google architect can draw you exactly why they choose Bigtable, GFS, etc.

2) Don’t talk about subscribers, call them users

A subscriber is an entity that signs a monthly contract with a telecom operator. By doing so a subscriber seems to subscribe to a list of applications that the marketing department of the telecom operator has preselected as the most adequate for him or her. The operators seems to know what is best for their subscribers. WRONG!!!!!!!!

Call them users and give them the tools to select/create/design/customize/configure the services they want. Let the community vote about which feature is needed. Ask users why they stop using a new service after a week. Let users define the price they are willing to pay by offering multiple alternative solutions in different price ranges with different feature sets.

3) Go from a catalog of few to an infinite catalog

If Telecom can no longer survive based on a few hit services, then they could go to the other extreme: the long tail telco. A long tail telco offers an almost infinite catalog of solutions that combine communication assets with other solutions in order to solve user’s problems, to make them more productive or to entertain them.

Users should be able to combine products to resolve their needs. A good example is what is offered by Invox. Via wizards, templates or a Yahoo Pipes drag-and-drop configuration, small to large enterprises can configure their own telecom services like call centers, PBX, etc. They can easily integrate the best of the Internet (Salesforce, Google, Yahoo, etc.) with IP-based communication. You use what you need. You configured it the way you want it.

What is missing is a market in which those users that don’t want to do it themselves or who need specific support (e.g. custom integrations), can go and find the right help.

Telecom operators should no longer focus on end-user services but on enabling the end-user and an eco-system of independent third-parties to be able to create and sell solutions and services to one another. As long as it is easier, faster and cheaper for a third-party to use an operator’s tools and assets they will see no need to design an alternative solution. This brings us to the next point…

4) Monopolists die because of greediness

Revenue shares of 40-95% are often not in line with the value and risk the operator takes in the value chain. Those operators that think that “squeezing partners until the last drop” is a good long-term strategy, will be the first to die. Innovation needs out-of-the-box thinking. People don’t take risks if they don’t see rewards.

You will need to do more than to just blindly follow these four rules. But by applying them and listening to users, you are on your way to create new cash-calfs…

What is your next move? Moving free to telecom or paid to the mobile Internet?

December 12, 2010 2 comments

At the moment teenagers are accustomed to paying for SMS (bulk tariffs) and voice calls (if they use them at all). However since mom and dad pay, they are just worried about staying below their parents ‘ anger limit.

Everything else in the digital world is free to them. Either legally free from the likes of Facebook or Twitter or illegally free from the likes of eMule.

We are at the doorstep of most teenagers switching from SMS enabled phones to smartphones and tablets. This means that there are two possibilities: telecom becomes free or mobile Internet becomes paid.

My guess: telecom becomes free. SMS will be substituted by Twitter and Instant Messaging. A 100-300MB of data traffic can easily pay for thousands of instant messages and social network updates. Likely free mobile apps that optimize data exchanges will be very popular with teens. The net effect will be that teens will no longer see the relationship between sending a message and paying for it. This will prompt them to move massively to the free mobile Internet.

However is there a way to move paid to the mobile Internet?

Not at the current prices. History would repeat itself like in the music industry. A digital technology comes but Hollywood tries to maintain an artificial high price even if distribution prices fall close to zero. CDs cost cents. Digital distribution even less. However you still find CDs that cost more than €15-€25. The result is that teenagers find ways not to pay.

How to do it differently? Move from micropayments (5-15 cents/SMS) to nanopayments (0.01 or 1 cents/event), micro-subscriptions (5-15 cents/month) or freemium. If mobile app designers could have access to a simple interface to charge nanopayments on your phone bill in a uniform matter, then they would not give you an article for free but they would want you to pay 0.05 eurocents for it. You wouldn’t mind such a small fee but lots of nano-cents convert to real money for a successful site. Also micro-subscriptions would allow teenagers to subscribe to a premium service without having any parents worried about phone bills. The last business model (freemium) has been described in another article.

Failure to teach today’s teenagers to pay for the Mobile Internet will mean that free will be tomorrow’s only Digital business model. This is not necessarily bad for site owners that can find ways around it via advertisement or selling customer’s data. However telecom operators will see their only income come from monthly subscription fees that will only go downwards…

The intelligent network is death, welcome the dumb network!

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

SS7 networks or “intelligent networks” have been the core reason why network-based services can not be rolled-out quickly. Specialized skills are needed to launch a new SS7 service.

Currently operators are investing in service delivery platforms or SDPs to move the network intelligence out of SS7. These SDPs will be holding modern copies of the SS7 services.

However do we need intelligent networks? Why can’t we have dumb networks?

The Internet is a dumb TCP/IP network. Intelligence is not in the network but in the applications that run on top of it. Why are telecom networks different? Why do routers have to know if the application is voice, SMS or data? Why does the network have to know about conferencing, numbering plans, etc.?

One example: MSISDN

Why do you want to hard-code an end-user identifier throughout your network & billing systems? Why can’t we have a mechanism like a unique IP address and several DNS names for it. I don’t want to learn a long list of digits to identify a friend. I would like to control my own numbering plan. My direct family starts with 1xx. My friends 2xx. Alternatively I can use their email. I should be able to call a company with its DNS. Ideally I can use the Facebook or Twitter id as well. This would all be possible provided that an internal identifier would be mapped to an end-user identifier instead of using one unique identifier.

Example two: CDRs

Why should every network element know that for every call you need to generate a CDR. However for data, charging is not based on seconds or minutes but data volume? Cannot the metering be done outside the network? Why are we generating millions of CDRs when end-users have a flat-rate or are calling a free number? With software-as-a-service metering can be different per application (pay per GB of storage, per MB of network traffic, per user per month, per company per year, etc.).

The proposal: Define the metering mechanism for each call, SMS or application ad-hoc and use specialized meters outside of the network to meter the service. Time-based meters allow any type of data to pass through to the network but will bill by nano-second, millisecond, second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, etc. You just configure that this voice application needs second-based billing, that adult entertainment application needs minute-based billing and that compute server needs hourly-based billing. Flat-fee calls would not have to be metered and as such don’t need a meter. Meters could be gateways that scan if data goes through. However they could also be event-based and delegate complex metering into an application to warn them when an event has to be billed, e.g. application download, new user registration, etc.

Simplifying the network by taking out complexity to manage/launch/meter/monitor services would substantially reduce the cost of network equipment. Perhaps to such extend that it becomes too small to meter services and as such also metering can be eliminated. Pure bit-pipe operators could probably do with an Excel or Access database as their billing system.

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