Google Fiber – Is it attractive? – An analysis

Google yesterday announced its Google Fiber project for high speed internet connectivity making an entry into the post decade-old broadband era.  Google has been spreading up its wings from being a mere search company. It wants to enter every segment of business which directly impact the end customers. Some say Google is still a search company since majority of the revenues still come from ads in search business, some say it is more Android focused these days, few says that Google has emerged into a hardware company after the launch of its own hardware in Nexus Q and fighting hard to convince netizens that it would also emerge as a Social Media company with tight integration of Google Plus in every aspects of its business.

I am sure Google takes a tough look at the business scenarios before making an entry move to these segments and try hard to achieve a flag bearer in ever segment of business it operates.

The latest such move is the Google Fiber project it announced in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Google Fiber is supposed to provide 1Gbps of bandwidth as Google promised.

Here are some of the interesting points to note about:

1. Users have to pre-register in Google Fiber website for registering for a connection. The charge is 10$. This is an interesting stuff as Google wants to earn in every possible way.

2. If you are registered in Google Fiber website, it does not mean that you will get the fiber installed to your home. ¬†Google Fiber introduced a concept called “Fiberhood” where you convince your neighbors to register for Google Fiber. Google selects the area from where most number of registrations come from. ¬†Well, going by Google brand name, I am sure people will sign up for this (and does not really mind for the 10$ registration fee). Based on a recent study, it is determined that it costs around 650$ to lay a cable to your home. This puts a real hole in the OPEX of the ISP’s. With the Fiberhood, Google hopes ¬†to really cut down this cost to a larger extent.

3. Google has done with laying the fiber throughout the Kansas city. ¬†Google says that it has sought help from utilities dept to use the power poles for the fiiber and AT&T for laying the cable.¬†Brilliant¬†move, but strange. Why should AT&T help Google in this as the product being launched by Google is a tough competitor for AT&T. Leave me a comment if anyone knows what exactly is AT&T’s involvement in this project. Why it should help Google in the first place?

4. The pricing plans are not really competitive to encourage people to move to Google fiber. However you would get better speeds for the same rate that you are currently paying for lesser bandwidth.

5.  For folks who were thinking that Nexus Q is the only hardware device made directly from Google stable, just to let you know that Google also has a DVR device to its credit.

Leave me a comment if you have any thoughts / analysis / comments.

Have a great weekend !

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Network Operators at the mercy of MVNO’s?

MVNO’s (Mobile network virtual operator) are entities who do not own the backbone infrastructure of the network, but instead provide the network service by leasing bandwidth’s from bigger operators.¬†MVNO’s are entities who typically provide the service with less charge than the bigger network operators.I have always wondered as to why the network operators provide bandwidth for these so called Mobile Virtual Network Operators who eat up into the revenues and the customer base of the network operator.¬†Recently I have read an article regarding this and here is why Network Operators seek co-operation from MVNO’s:

1) ¬†ARPU (average revenue per user) is a critical element in judging the current financial strength of a network operator and to predict the future growth in terms of profits. In order to maintain a higher ARPU, the network operators are under pressure to maintain the high cost of the monthly plans. ¬†Here is where the MVNO’s help the network operator. MVNO’s lease the bandwidth from the network operator. The customers of MVNO’s does not become a customer of the network operator and hence this helps the bigger network operator to maintain a healthy ARPU and hence make to maintain the momentum of its share price.

2) Since the MVNO’s lease the bandwidth from the network operator, this help to boost the bottom line of the network operator. ¬†Apart from this , the network operators can save some more money on the overhead involved in the customer care operations for MVNO’s since MVNO’s manage their customers.

3) The network operators operating on a nation wide cannot cater to every segment of the society and hence cannot fine-tune the tariff plans for every segment of people. Here is where MVNO’s help the customer by devising plans best suited for the needs of the people. As and when the customer base increases, the MVNO’s would be willing to lease more bandwidth from the network operators and hence this will increase the revenues cum profits for the network operators from this segment of the business.

So, in short, the network operators and their MVNO’s work together for mutual benefits in terms of better revenues/profits as well as better care for the customers who cannot be served by the bigger network operators.

Future of WEB (Real-Time) Communications !

The web browsers which was once acting as a gateway for your PC to access the World Wide Web has been evolving over a period of time. Today with the evolution of cloud based solutions and real time communication, the browsers have become a powerful platform with tons of intelligence being built into it everyday.

WebRTC is an open source project incorporated to build standardized browser API’s for real time communication. The project is supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera. ¬†The project is being standardized by the IETF and W3C. ¬†WebRTC is an extension of the HTML5 standard. Developers who are writing web application can use these API’s for quickly bringing in additional¬†capabilities¬†in their web applications. Since these API’s are standardized, I think it would help reduce cross-platform portability issues for the application.

How is this WebRTC platform going to help in achieving what I cannot do today?

WebRTC is a universal API platform where real time communication implementors can use them. Say for example, today if you want to use Google video chat from within GMail, you would need to first install the plug-in for the browser before starting to use the service. The installable plug-in implementation would be different for different browsers/OS. In simple terms, WebRTC is going to solve this as the browser API support would be inbuilt in the browser.

Does this mean that any browser that supports WebRTC can become a SIP endpoint?

Absolutely yes!

Google Chrome added WebRTC 1.0  support early January this year. In April, Mozilla firebox have also started providing the basic support to its browser. Microsoft has also started incorporated WebRTC components in Internet Explorer, although there were no official release of IE with inbuilt WebRTC yet.

Here is how the browser layers are being split up to differntiate browser specific implementation, ¬†WebRTC API layer(being used by the browser developers to develop API’s) and the Web layer (used by the Web developers developing app for the browser)

[Picture courtesy: WebRTC.org]

Communication app providers such as Vonage, Nimbus etc are already cheering up for the WebRTC support.

Care to look into the webRTC roadmap? Check out here !

Have more queries, checkout the WebRTC FAQ page

WebRTC 1.0 is now available in Chrome Canary. Hoping to get some hands-on over the weekend.

Questions / thoughts – Leave me a comment.

Software Defined Networking – The next big networking wave !

Earlier I have blogged on CDN / TIC where the online content is being moved from the servers in content providers network to the networking gears in the service providers network in an aim to achieve higher speeds for content access. In contrary to that, SDN (Software defined networking) specifies a mechanism where the content could still be present in the content provider network, but the users could still achieve higher speeds in terms of accessing the contents if the gears in the network is fine-tuned.

Earlier this week, Google announced about its super secret Networking project powering its inter-data center ¬†communication using SDN for most (all?) of Google’s services – Search, GMail etc. In addition to the brilliant algorithm that Google implements to retrieve the search results quickly, SDN also plays a major role for those magic speeds. Google calls this network as “G-Scale Network” which replaces the traditional routers from the networking giants with routers running Open source softwareOpenFlow. ¬†It take real guts to run the network backbone infrastructure using experimental protocol like OpenFlow. ¬†To take part in the growth of SDN, several OEM (original equipment manufacturers) started introducing the products which can run OpenFlow. The individual companies buying such products can opt for implementing the OpenFlow protocol.

How does OpenFlow work / operate?

Typically in a OpenFlow environment, the control plane will be running on independent servers and the data plane would be   running on the routers. The communication between the control plane and the data plane would be using the OpenFlow protocol.   The servers powering the control plane and equipped with better processors and the software to provide a better performance  when compared to the processors running on the network routers.  In addition to the performance improvement on the control  plane, it also provides better security for the control plane.   Ofcourse, this is at a very early stage and takes time to stabilize. 

Cisco which has been known for making proprietary software for routers have started facing the heat with the introduction of SDN  Рwhich is going to define the networking in the decade to come. HP, IBM, Nicira Netowks, Big Switch Networks have already intoduced products supporting OpenFlow for SDN. To make sure Cisco also participates in the race for the decade defining innovation and does not loss the market share in SDN, Cisco  is planning to introduce SDN hardware in the next 6 months to a year.

Here are some of the key points about the notification from Google during the OpenNetworking summit .

The¬†official¬†agenda for OpenNetworkingSummit has some interesting information.¬†I liked the first few slides from “Big Networks” ¬†from Open Networking Summit 2012.

In my opinion, CDN and SDN would not be competing to win the title for “War of Titans”, but instead they would/should work together for enabling a powerful networking environment.

Also I have a workshop on SDN in mid of May and will be updating the blog with more information as I learn.

Please leave a comment on the question/thoughts.

Mobile Payments – Reloaded !

The retail world has saw quite a lot of new product launches with respect to the mobile payment services in the past few months from Paypal, Google and other few companies.

Paypal recently launched “Paypal Here” where the merchants would be provided with a triangle shaped credit / debit card reader which will fit into the mobile phone headphone jacket. The merchants would need to install the Paypal app for performing transactions with the card reader. Paypal claims that the data between the card reader to the mobile phone’s app will be transmitted in encrypted format and hence there is no way for hackers to hack the data. ¬†What’s significant benefit does this provide to the merchants when compared to the current scenario? Well, perhaps the only thing which i think and what Paypal claims is that you can even take a photo of your credit / debit card to perform the transactions instead of using the card reader. How this is¬†revolutionizing¬†the payment service in the mobile world? ¬† The answer to that is you need not have an NFC enabled smartphone to make payments. But can that be considered as revolutionizing the mobile world? In my opinion – not ! This move by Paypal is a direct attack on SquareUp – which first introduced the mobile payment service using credit /debit card reader. Paypal takes less service charge than SquareUp thereby challenging SquareUp¬†directly on the profits.

Next inline is the Google Wallet from Google where users can do in-store as well as online payments. For in-store payments you need to have a NFC (Near Field Communication) ¬†enabled phone and obviously NFC enabled reader. To me, this looks to be a “cool” way of mobile payment than those used by Paypal (or) Square. ¬†Users do not need to carry their credit / debit cards all the time and hence this is really enriching the mobile experience in the payment space. The service would take sometime to have a stronger footprint since the number of NFC enabled phones are limited as of now.

There is yet another way of mobile payment service being pioneered by a startup called “Seconds” which uses the traditional way of using SMS for payment service. This would help the non-smartphone users to have payment services. I think there has been a talk about using SMS as a payment service for a long time, but do not ¬†know if there way anyone who cared to introduce e-commerce in SMS. The customers have to register their mobile¬†number¬†as well as a credit / debit card to “Seconds“. Customer uses SMS to place an order to a Seconds¬†number of the merchant. Each merchant will get a unique URL for hosting their service in the Seconds platform for performing the transaction. ¬†In my¬†opinion, Seconds¬†looks ¬†like a platform to provide services for “To-Go” restaurants and would be bulky for transactions for any other business – say a retail store and the likes given the amount of work involved in making the transaction. ¬†It’s probably a tough challenge for ¬†Seconds¬†to compete with other¬†biggies in the business.

Crowdfunding – Paving way for entrepreneurs !

Crowdfunding as the name stands is a mechanism to fund your project / product from the crowd. The crowd can be your friends , family or people who are interested in your project. Crowdfunding has gained momentum in the past few months and in each US President has signed the JOBS Act (Jumpstart our Business Startups) to officially consider Crowdfunding as a legal way of raising money for your start-ups.

Prior to the bill being passed in the senate. there were no legal means of raising money for your startup in the form of Crowdfunding. The founders always need to approach the angel investors for the funds to start the basic operations of their startups.   The first question from *most* of the angel investor is to demo a prototype of the product to be demonstrated. At this stage,  most of the startups would just have a business idea in mind and would not have a prototype available. This resulted in funding issues for the startups and most of the entrepreneurs with the business idea were not able to implement the idea.

To energize these entrepreneurs and to encourage the culture of entrepreneurship, Crowdfunding would be the best way to kick start your startup from just having a business idea to have a prototype model of your idea. Once the prototype is available. the entrepreneurs can approach the angel investors / venture capitalists for funding the implementation of the product.

The investors who provide the money for building the prototype / product can get their returns in the following ways

– Equity in the company

– Percentage of the revenue / profit for a fixed duration of time.

– For very small investors, a copy of the product to be available for free when they are available.

The amount of money an investor can invest through Crowdfunding is limited to 5% of their annual income if the income is less than 100k $ and 10% if the income level is greater than 100k$. This is to protect the money of the inexperienced shareholders. A total of 1M $ can be raised through Crowdfunding per year. These companies need not report their financial data if they have less than 1000 investors (which was earlier set to 500 investors)

There are a whole bunch of websites offering a platform for launching the crowdfunding for your product – a few familiar ones are Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com

The obvious disadvantages would be where the Crowdfunded money is not being utilized for the product prototype / model building, but being looted. There is a 90 day time available for the US government to identify the loopholes with the Crowdfunding and finding ways to fix them.

These Crowdfunding websites / Crowdfunded companies has to make sure that the progress of the project has to be provided to all the investors Рsmall or big.  In short, the modified JOBS acts certainly looks to be a way in boosting some of the struggling startups wanting to raise money.

Content Delivery Network, Transparent Internet Caching – Concerns ?

Earlier this week. I blogged on CDN, TIC (transparent internet caching) and how it works. Today I got a chance to attend a workshop on CDN and got to learn a little more details on CDN. ¬†From now on in the rest of the post, I will refer to companies like Akamai who cache the data from content providers as “TIC providers”.

Few points to be noted in addition to what I have already mentioned earlier (The below comment is based on my understanding about CDN  from quick workshop today. Please feel free to correct me by leaving a comment)

– The ¬†TIC Providers aka- companies like Akamai who manage data center throughout the world do not need to have an agreement with the content provider for caching the static content from the providers. Wow ! That’s a big plus for all these content providers like Youtube, Hulu which will be benefited by the caching being done by companies like Akamai without even being paid a penny.

– The content providers if needed can have an agreement to place their own servers in the data center of the TIC providers. The content providers ¬†can negotiate with the TIC and / or service providers to provide preference for the content from the content provider than with the rest of the traffic. They can specify the quality of service parameters as a part of their agreement. But wouldn’t this violate the whole concept of ¬†Net-neutrality where equal preference should be given to traffic for every content provider? This still seems to be an open ended question for the CDN implemention.

– Assume a case where the content provider does not have its own servers in the data center of the “TIC prvovider”. In this case, if a user tries to access a content , the content will be delivered by the cached content from the TIC data center. ¬†ie.. for example – if we try to access a content from say Google, we might end up with being the content delivered from a non-Google server. Should we start talking about security issues here (or) may be not since the data integrity is supposed to be taken care by the “TIC provider”.

– There is a new standard being developed called CDNi (CDN Interconnect) which is a standard whereby different content providers can interact through standard means for delivering the content.