Post-CTS12

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Just wrapped up the 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit, really glad I was able to go. Being able to access the student pricing was great, so getting one of the Orion Network-sponsored scholarships from Mark Goldberg was much appreciated!

OpenText’s Tom Jenkins reminded me of Cornelia Woll’s book, when he made the argument that industry needed to work with government but to also to lead them in policy formation. So like Woll, but opposite. The other big picture presentation that was quite engaging, delivered by Malcolm Frank of Cognizant, discussed implications of the Future of Work. Of course, the Regulatory Blockbuster panel lived up to its reputation and while the Wireless Spectrum: Paying for Air panel wasn’t as strong, I found some of the comments by Dean Brenner, VP Government Affairs for Qualcomm, to be illuminating regarding some technical issues.

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Harold Innis and Canadian Telecom Policy

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The last semester my focus had been a bit split.

I came into the year working on a report for Public Safety Canada through Ryerson’s Privacy & Cybercrime Institute. We were tasked with putting together a comparative analysis of strategies and policies states were undertaking involving both pulic and private sectors. It was quite interesting and while not directly focused on my core research, it was definitely related to Canada’s digital policy and was a great opportunity to help contribute to the policy formation process.

More directly, I have had the opportunity to work on a research project around the 700 MHz spectrum auction. Up until now it had been rather short term but with the research leads SSHRC-funding being approved, the team is looking to formulate a longer term project around the auction process. My role is still to be determined, as my part-time graduate student status may have an impact on hours I can be offered. That said, I’m currently working with the post-doc to put together a paper for submission to an academic journal by the end of the summer.

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Business Lobbying and Canadian Telecom Governance

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Another recently completed selection of my winter reading was Cornelia Woll’s Firm Interests: How Governments Shape Business Lobbying on Global Trade. Woll explored the relationship between government economic policy and business lobbying interests, suggesting in complex and transitional periods where business may not have clearly articulated — or even internally known — positions, government can have quite a bit of influence to shape interests. Once business internalizes government goals, the businesses eventually generate objectives within that framework and execute on the strategies.

Woll uses liberalization of telecommunications service in the 1990s and open skies arrangements in the 2000s as case studies, primarily focusing on US and European actors. She argued they presented strong examples, as they consisted of companies that had been (or, in some cases, still were) monopolies/oligarchies that had traditionally operated in highly protected domestic markets. Woll charts the move from resistance to acceptance and then championing of liberalization by firms with a historical bias towards protectionism, demonstrating in these industries how government — especially US trade policy of the late 80s and 90s — started influencing companies thoughts on international competition. The triggering point, Woll suggests, was in part the changing nature domestic economic affairs.

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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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Fragmented markets, higher costs

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You would be hard pressed to find anyone unwilling to acknowledge telecoms importance in supporting economic, political and social development in both advanced and emerging countries. Shifts to knowledge-based economies and greater global integration of newly industrialized states — even agricultural economies — all benefit from increased broadband (both wired and wireless) penetration and available bandwidth, even if that benefit is currently uneven. The impacts of globalization allows for immense economies of scale that can help drive down infrastructure costs.

With LTE’s emergence as the de facto 4G infrastructure of choice over WiMax, benefits should be able to pass along to consumers but one of the remaining challenges for international travellers will be the variation of frequencies for technologies. Another, related, will be the amount of networks phones will need to support over the next little while. 2G, various 3G technologies and the new LTE-Lite (and eventually LTE-Advanced).

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Spectrum, how ‘scarce’ is it?

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With the ongoing AT&T-T-Mobile proposed merger continuing to attract a lot of attention, I’m using it as a good comparative analysis case study for spectrum politics in Canada. Especially when seen as a proxy for the assumed spectrum crunch coming due to an explosion in the usage of wireless broadband for smartphones and other devices.

The problem is, of course, while there’s definitely evidence of increased data consumption, the spectrum crunch is less clear and straightforward.

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Reflections on ‘Navigating Convergence II’

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Going through my feed reader, Mark Goldberg had pointed out that the CRTC has released a 2011 edition of the ‘Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications: Navigating Convergence II’ [PDF / HTML]. I’m making my way through the document and thought I’d note a couple quick observations.

According to Media Technology Monitor (MTM), 27 percent of Anglophones and 14 percent of Francophones in Canada own smartphones, up from 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, in 2007. (pg. 14-15)

What accounts for such a growing discrepency between Anglo- and Francophone adoption of smartphones? Even amongst feature phones there seems to be quite a divide in usage patterns. One table (Figure 7, Cellphone activities of Canadian cellphone owners 18+) indicates that approximately 65% of Anglophones texted in 2010 while only around 45% of Francophones did.

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One way to speed up advanced network deployments

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While I haven’t had much chance to start on another book, I’ve been increasing the amount of telecommunications feeds to my information stream. It’s stimulating questions and areas of inquiry for me to be thinking about as I look to start classes in the fall. I’ve requested CC8940 – The Political Economy of Communication and Culture and should be joined by at least one friendly face.

While reading, I came across this story from Engadget, noting Ericsson is testing an LTE-Advanced network achieving mobile 1Gbps downloads in trials.

Not only is Ericsson cranking up the speed, it’s also endeavoring to make the new network more efficient by offering 8×8 MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) functionality, which enables data to be retrieved and sent faster regardless of network congestion.

Of course, these test results are taking advantage of 60MHz available bandwidth, as opposed to the global max of 20MHz and the US standard of 10.

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Evolution of my “Considerations”

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So, it looks like I may have been a little unfair to Gruber in my last post. Or, at the least, a bit premature. I took advantage of the sun’s emergence this afternoon to sit outside and finish reading the final chapter in The Economics of Mobile Telecommunications. Though I had assumed that a final chapter before the Appendix would offer a conclusion and not a lot of further analysis, I found some very interesting observations and Gruber addressed many of the concerns I raised at the end of my last post.

The final chapter, ‘The evolution of market structure in mobile telecommunication markets’, also reinforced my acknowledgment that I’m not a natural economist. It took me about half an hour to really wrap my head around about 3 pages of material. To be fair to me, some of that was while in transit, which is not the easiest way to think about the implications of formulas like Π(n*, s, F) > 0 > Π(n* + 1, s, F) — the zero entry condition used to help determine the Cournot equilibrium number of firms in a homogeneous goods industry. [Note to self: need to read up more on industrial organization and oligopoly theory.]

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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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