Economic Considerations of Mobile Telecom Markets

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Part of my self-directed efforts to get ready for ComCult this fall includes trying to increase my foundational knowledge of telecoms policy. One thing that’s become apparent is although I still consume a lot of information through various feeds (and share some of the telecom relevant stuff on one of my Twitter accounts), it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of dense, academic reading. As such — and along with my other commitments — it’s taken longer than I expected to get through The Economics of Mobile Telecommunications by Harald Gruber.

One of the things I enjoyed was gaining some sense of the development of mobile telecommunication networks from a policy viewpoint. As my undergrad focused on political science, Gruber’s economic handling of the material also added to some of my struggles. I only took a couple macro economics courses at post-secondary and a political science stats class. When discussing strengths and weaknesses of policy choices by various states, I could follow along fairly well. When he started getting into formulas in the chapters on ‘Determinants of diffusion of services’ and ‘Market conduct and pricing issues’, not quite so smoothly.

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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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Progressive Canadian Telecom Policy Views

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Finally finished reading ‘For Sale to the Highest Bidder: Telecom Policy in Canada’, put out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I had come across it last fall while starting to do some investigation into spectrum issues in Canada.

My main interest was the chapter ‘Spectrum Matters: Clearing and Reclaiming the Spectrum Commons’ by Graham Langford. Sadly, this chapter was very topical when written in 2007/early 2008 but not so much after the 2008 spectrum auction in Canada.

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