LTE and the separation of voice and data: how long can they force the concept of "voice" calls on people, to the sole benefits of carriers and their shareholders (against everyone else)?

Link: http://www.pcworld.com/article/211760/verizon_readies_lte_what_to_expect.html

This post discusses some thoughts regarding wireless business strategies and their relevance to our way of living in the context of emerging LTE technology; a relevant news article may be viewed at http://www.pcworld.com/article/211760/verizon_readies_lte_what_to_expect.html

The separation of church and state is believed to be (by a narrow majority) a good thing. The artificial separation of voice and data, on the other hand, unless you are a Verizon Wireless (or other mobile carrier) shareholder, would seem like a really bad thing.

Wireless companies, for the sake of maintaining their traditional business model, try to make everyone believe (including the FCC, who so far agreed to go along with this) that voice and data should be separately handled. At the age of 4G and 3MBS+ wireless data speeds, that is simply untrue; this is simply an artificial discrimination of digitally transmitted data that's only purpose is to help wireless carriers' profit.

Companies whose business is based on service delivery inherently are faced with the challenge of juggling the conflicting interests of shareholders and customers (which is BTW also the main issue that plagues the private health insurance system). Giving too good of a deal to customers could eat into profits (to shareholders' dismay), but on the other extreme, blatantly disregarding customers' interests to the point of defrauding could backfire, too. Where is the healthy balance? -will always be a tenuous, sensitive, and dynamically changing question...

With the innovative technology referred to as "LTE", it became clear early on that the separation of "voice" from "data" over mobile networks no longer will be a technological necessity. In the end, all will come down to just zeros and ones, no matter how you are going to make use of it.

Several analysts had predicted that voice calls, including international ones (especially international ones), will soon drop dramatically, and 4G/LTE customers will be able to pick a one-rate plan, where overall data traffic will be measured and paid for, irrespective of how the data is used.

What an idealist view! Turns out, at least until now, they were wrong. The reality, if you look around, is completely something else... Mobile carrier companies are digging in deep to fight this concept as hard as they can and they spare no time, money, and energy to sabotage any opposing movement or initiative. Clearly, to customers, such a simplified one-rate system would be a tremendous bonus and it indeed would very likely make voice calls (especially long distance and international ones) far cheaper. Why, then, should those companies do everything possible, throw everything they got, to harm their customers' interests?

Because this is a situation, where the classical conflict of interest service providers face, if resolved to their customers' obvious benefits, would directly translate into giving up some artificially maintained profits. and pretty big ones... Big enough for them to think that their entire business could fold if letting go on this one...

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Importantly, this whole thing comes down to supply-demand basics. Voice calls, if translated into bits, considering current demand, would become far under-priced compared to the same amounts of bits that are used for, say emails or internet browsing. In other words, due to our demand and dependence of voice calls, which are much harder to live without (than browsing, for the majority anyway), voice bits can be sold at a premium price on today's market. Why would anyone, who is on the sales end of this, discount that potentially higher price and announce a unified data rate plan that includes voice, when they have a market for the voice bits at a much higher sales rate? And that gives the practical basis for mobile providers to even be able to force something artificial as this on the public.

One alternative would be to set a unified data rate somewhere between the current voice-data equivalent and data rates. This would mean we would pay less for voice and more for what we now have in our data plans. Unfortunately, this would probably be DOA, from the perspective of both the customer and the carrier. First, nobody would ever consider paying more for data than they pay now. Second, such voice discounting would only push the system toward eventually all (voice or otherwise) data being discounted to the lowest overall rate.

Therefore, what naturally follows, is that mobile carriers are in for a (what they perceive as their last straw they can hold on to stay alive) long and desperate fight to maintain the artificial and arbitrary separation of voice and data, "discriminating" between different kinds of bits and bytes... The FCC, the friendly arbiter, for some reason, goes along with this clearly outrageous anti-customer and non-sense artifact that only maintains profits for a small privileged group. I think the main reason (besides the obvious and cynical assumption they were bribed) is that they are scared of the industry changing commotion potential their decision otherwise would carry.

In other words, by letting the voice-data separation business stand (for now), they sign off on letting this go along "business as usual", versus turning things completely upside down, where voice service would get devalued to dirt status and business who's primary income is from voice would simply become history.

But how long can this situation be maintained? Not sure. Looks like it won't be the FCC (or customer groups) that will bring this artificial situation (to keep traditional mobile careers on life support) to an end. The clearwire, cricket, and other high-speed local/mid-range city-neighborhood-WiFi etc initiatives may as well help accelerate the decay of this rotten system. Those WiFi phones right now still have to be tied to one of the big carrier networks in order to make them functional outside of your home city. But as cheap as high speed connections are and as ubiquitous they get, VoIP only phones will soon become more popular and old traditional mobile carriers could find themselves irrelevant (together with their voice-data separation obsession and artificial "voice" overpricing model) as fewer and fewer people will not need them.

Telecom Billing Culture: Changing? Hidden charges and other tricks and the FCC

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/technology/04webphone.html?src=busln

When I moved to the US in 1995 and opened my first telephone account in NY I was excited that the service was fast and I had a dial tone in a day or so (compared to Szeged, Hungary where I was lucky that only after 3 years I got a phone, despite the fact that the previous owner of my apartment in Szeged already had it all wired, others before me sometimes waited 10 years).

My enthusiasm quickly evaporated when I began receiving bills. Month after month there were some (usually small) charges that I did not recognize or that did not make sense. The entire bill was extremely complicated to begin with (this was before the FCC ordered telecoms to clean up the outlay of their bills to make it simpler and comprehensible to people with below PhD education).

To me these billing errors were just as unusual as the fast service was, as in Hungary if there ever was an error on the bill it tended to be in my favor.

When I called they always agreed to remove the charges (after giving me a little bit of a run-around). The plus charges were said to be the result of some "error". These errors usually were related to international calls (when they played with the rates), but not always. Typically the extra charges were amounting to less than $5, but in one instance it was several hundred dollars (all of which was credited back after I called).

After a short while, I started to suspect that this relatively consistent phenomenon actually may not be completely due to some random error, as they implied, considering almost every bill had some "error" and 100% of the time it was an extra charge, to the benefit of the telephone company and never to the opposite direction. If this was random error, I thought, it must be going more or less 50%, on average, to each direction. However, it was 100% unidirectional.

The possibility that this was a deliberate scam by the telecom then made me rather angry. I assumed that if they just try this crap, with thousands and thousands of customers, perhaps millions of them, and they get away with it say 10% of the time (which might include people who are very busy and only look at the bottom line and if that is not very unusual or outrageous they just pay, without reading every line of the multi-page overly complicated bill, especially if $5 really doesn't matter to them, or incapacitated or disabled customers who may not have the ability to fully comprehend the complicated bill), they will handsomely improve their profits by collecting free money.

I thought, then, how is this possible in America? How come nobody complaints? How come regulators are not after these practices? I slowly realized that this relates to representation and eventually politics. Regulators are obviously pulled by opposing forces, including the outcry of duped customers and the silent workings of telecom deep pockets.

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With the revolution of technologies underlying the telecom industry of course the pricing structures and the entire business model had to be changed. This, to the most part, greatly limited to nearly eliminated the above practices. Not because of a step-up in regulation alertness or enforcement, but simply because nobody has a large land-line bill anymore that includes "long distance" or even less so international call charges, nowadays in the age of Skype and Google Voice, and of course increasing numbers of cell phones where flat-rate all-North America calling plans are more the norm than the rarity.

However, as seen in the linked article, telecoms, still not fearing from customer and regulatory ire, pursue those low practices even today. I find it particularly arrogant now, when they should be really making good with their customers in the middle of the telecom revolution.

Particularly arrogant is for Verizon to say they are refunding customers now (those who have been complaining and ignored for years), because they care so much. Bullshit. The only reason they refund anybody is because they are being forced to do so by the F.C.C. and had such pushing not existed, they would just continue ignoring these complaints ever as arrogantly and in an in-your-face manner as they have so far.

Then the question becomes whether the FCC should penalize Verizon Wireless, beyond just having them refund what they stole. The fact that this is even a question to anyone is frustrating. When you go rob a bank, pocket $1 million, and you get caught, do you walk away free as long as you return the money? Of course not. You will be thrown in jail even if you pay back more than what you stole. That's a great part of what keeps people from stealing. If you don't face such penalties, you will just keep trying again. Who knows, perhaps next time you will be luckier and will get away with it. And hey, the worst case scenario is that you just have to return the money and wait until your next try.

Not only should they be penalized, but I would urge the FCC to create a highly deterrent example. To the point where telecom companies introduce so efficient protections against "erroneous" overcharging that they rather err on the side of their customers than the other way around. Of course that would very likely eat into their profits and with that their lobbying and other influencing powers, which of course would close the loop.

As we are transitioning into a new, digital, internet based era of communications, which mostly relies on cell phones and computers, before telecoms can develop a new model of criminally overcharging their customers, it is particularly important to make a strong precedent and make it clear that consumers are strongly protected against crimes, because in the end they (consumers) are the ones who drive the economy and should be ultimately protected.

Android versus iOS: Pay Attention to the Context

Recently, I posted this comment on a friend's FB page where this popular question came up. I thought my blog readers may be interested in the pros and cons as well...

This is applicable to somebody who so far has not invested in either and is about to make a choice. Watching Hulu and using flash, as well as good and reliable high speed data coverage were among the factors that were relevant to this friend.

I think if you add everything up (including coverage, flexibility, options, freedom, costs, future) the only reason you would want the iOS at this time is if you are already "hooked" on the iPhone "universe", i.e. its feel and unique integration of hardware, OS, and software.

If you are not addicted to iPhone already, it may be a more rational choice to go with Verizon (superior/dependable coverage) and android (you may want to wait for the Droid Pro, in a couple of months, which will have BOTH a CDMA and GSM radio). But it mostly depends on your needs and personality, which are of course individual so there is no universal good choice or bad choice.

First, data speed. Regarding speed, AT&T has the edge over Verizon. On the other hand, Verizon has the edge in coverage and reliability, both for voice and data (to me voice actually is a big issue, for why I went to Verizon in the first place).

Many believe WiMAX (Spring 4G) is a dead end. The larger carriers will soon roll out LTE as their version of 4G and that will have overwhelming advantages overWiMax. LTE will come in 2011 to most big cities, most carriers, including Verizon. Only consider WiMAX/EVO if you really can't wait any more and want Hulu and the maximum available data speed now.

Cost, another aspect (that people often do not mention). I needed a new protective hard-case last week, for my Motorola Droid. On eBay I got one for $3.20, including shipping. Try that with a case for iPhone. You will be looking 4 times that, at least. Same goes for cords, other accessories, etc. Overall, in the apps arena you will be paying more in the iPhone apps store, for equivalent functionality, but this could change in the future.

Finally, this is a choice that has a lot to do with your personality. Growing up under communist regime, I am allergic to the "bad landlord" like tyrannic and controlling approach, where the big and all knowing Steve Jobs comes and says: "We will tell you what you want and we will bring it to you". As long as you like it, you will be happy. If you want anything differently, too bad.

E.g. I like to play around, tweak around my gadget. Bad idea with iPhone. Another example, I need to switch SD cards (to use the phone as a storage device I carry), switch batteries (in case I don't get to charge). Well, if you want to do things like that w/ iPhone, you are out of luck. Batteries can be defective or simply age so you may want to replace them. With iPhone you will have to ship the entire phone to Apple for a battery replacement...

In the end, I can certainly understand those who are so emotionally attached to the iPhone and "biased". I am not emotionally attached to my Droid, I will replace it in a second as long as something that better fits my needs comes along. But I think overall, for me anyway, Droid (in combination with Verizon) is a better choice.

HP desperately tries to give another spin to the lame sex scandal story...

Link: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/wsj-hurd-tried-to-outflank-hp-board-2010-08-16

Even with that oversensitivity in mind, this Hurd sex story certainly did not seem to amount to the level it seemed to escalate to, i.e. to question the ability to lead (of somebody that on paper has been so effective so far)...

Of course that skepticism was fueled by rumors that it actually was the issue of the BOOKS (where serious discrepancies were found on profits reporting etc) where Hurd was primarily vulnerable. Now THAT sounded far more credible as far as his ousting goes...

Clearly, such story (as opposed to some sex scandal) can be potentially far more damaging to HP stocks... That is why, I think, they are now desperately trying to give another spin to the sex story, to make it sound like a bit more credible: the bad Hurd tried to "outflank" the board for why they got so pissed.

Well, I am not buying it. Expect more to come, like "Hurd used expletives with several board members during a heated argument over his sex case" or "Hurd completely ignored HP board and HP bylaws in an egregious case of corporate misconduct". Let's throw in ANYTHING, but talk about those books, right? We'll see how the shares respond to those smear campaign attempts :)

Verizon Wireless tests how their Droid users tolerate insult on intelligence

Link: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/08/verizon-droid-android-update/

OK, so Froyo (Android OS 2.2) is supposedly coming to my Droid this week. Great news, no? Yes, that's what everyone thought at first.

But now, Verizon announced that the news is generally true, but there is a "but". It is Froyo, but MINUS tethering and mobile hotspot features.

OK, I guess the story was just "too good to be true" and I kind of understand that these features they would like to make extra cash on. That doesn't necessarily upset me. In the end it is business, right? You pay for services.

What threw me off is their commenting this, i.e. saying the reason these features (otherwise available in Froyo) aren't offered to Droid users as part of this upgrade, b/o Droid's hardware limitations.

That kind of BS makes me mad. Why is that necessary? Why insult the intelligence of the Droid community? That was absolutely unnecessary. Everyone knows the rooted Droid can well do both, so it can't be the hardware.

I just wonder (and chip in with your ideas) what the "genius" strategist at Verizon had in mind when he/she came up with this maddening bullshit. Was he/she thinking that consumers are just really THAT stupid to suck that just right in? Or is it their arrogance that was deciding? Probably both. This is shameful. I don't feel like a Verizon Wireless fan right now.