Email amongst Friends leads to Musings about Telecoms

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A graphic designer/illustrator friend of mine emailed to ask of my thoughts were regarding the new branding for Sportsnet due to my interest in the Canadian telecom sector. Thought I’d make some additions and edits, and turn my reply into a post.

James brought up it’s positioning vis-à-vis TSN, Canada’s leader in sports broadcasting, and some potential latent Americanization with the red, white[-ish] and blue colour scheme. I wasn’t actually aware of the re-brand being busy with school and not having TV. And as I primarily play attention to the distribution side of things instead of content, my regular news feeds didn’t have anything on it. Googling brought up a Globe & Mail article that stated it was a Hollywood firm that did the new logo but they also did SportsCentre on TSN.

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Not so shocking – states and companies cripple mobile devices for their own interests

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ReadWriteWeb steered me towards this article on Ogle Earth, “Beware: Chinese iPhone 4 comes with a crippled Maps app”. Apparently Apple’s latest version of the iPhone uses China’s censored dataset for location information. Problems arise in two areas, political and practical.

In the political realm, disputed borders are shown to confirm to official Chinese claims. The article notes how previous versions of the iPhone would display areas like the region of Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by both India and China, administered by India) as Chinese lands using normal Internet-access within China but as internationally disputed when using VPN technology.

A commenter notes the crippled Maps dataset results in challenges when traveling abroad, with local streets in Toronto only listed in Chinese. That’s going to make it challenging to get directions for international travelers — though maybe not as much of an issue for Chinese consumers not really looking to travel.

While some might use this as an example of the detraction of closed operating systems like iOS, I must admit that I’m not really all that impressed by the “open-source” fanboys of Android. There seem to be an increasing number of reports that once the carriers get a hold of the operating system, they cripple it and add carrier-specific bloatware that can be challenging, if not impossible, to remove. That’s not exactly any better then Apple’s curated experience.

Security concerns with Chinese telecom companies

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This post by Andy Greenberg over at Forbes got me thinking about the intersection of legitimate security concerns and trade protectionism in the globalized nature of ICT equipment and networks. Greenberg is commenting on a Washington Post story of US Senator’s investigating a proposed sale of telecommunications networking gear sale by Shenzhen, China-based Huawei to Sprint Nextel.

Concerns about Huawei include a range of topics, “everything from close ties to Iran to IP theft, but focus on the relationship between Huawei and China’s People’s Liberation Army. Huawei chief executive Ren Zhengfei is a former Chinese military officer, and his company is often said to receive preferential treatment from the Communist Party- run government.”

Yet the movement from government/military is very common within Western countries. Mike McConnell, a retired US Navy vice admiral served as Director of the NSA in the 90s before retiring from service the first time. After a decade as Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, he returned to government service as Director of National Intelligence in the George W. Bush Administration before returning to Booz Allen.

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Cyber Security and Protectionism

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I was catching up on a bunch of article’s at the end of last week and I noticed a trend coming through on the Infowar Monitor feed. From links about Chinese-based attacks on India’s Russian embassy website to articles discussing the impact of hacking on Australian businesses, these stories illustrate the growing cyber-antagonism coming from China following claims of widespread attacks against western technology companies earlier this year.

While some critics note that this type of behaviour is not exactly new — and that some of the biggest cyberalarmists also have the most to gain in consulting contracts — one of the emerging issues will be how this state-permitted (if not state-sanctioned or state-directed) activity will impact the ICT infrastructure industry.

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Comparative analysis can provide interesting insights of relationships between governments, regulators, consumers and industry.

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Wired.com’s article on the punk rock scene developing in China has me thinking of Irene Wu’s book, ‘From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: The Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China‘.

One of the things that really struck me during my reading was her observation of small players that launched telecommunication services illegally to meet consumer demand. For instance, Internet cafes started offering cheap VOIP for people looking to make long distance calls using their Internet connection. Local officials would look the other way, as prices were falling and customers were able to access services with virtually no waiting period. Eventually the regulator would legalize the technology but generally penalize the company, forcing the incumbent to roll-out the alternative technology.

Something about the whole thing just felt so punk rock when compared to more mature telecom markets, like Canada’s. Although reading this article from IT World Canada on a Mobile Monday Toronto event seemed to say others in Canada may also possess a little bit of punk spirit.

Asking questions after a talk by Globalive chairman Anthony Lacavera, “One person in the audience went so far as to ask Lacavera why, with spectrum licences in hand and a network partly up, he didn’t just defy the CRTC and start selling phones.”