Thursday, July 31, 2008

Europe - data roaming charges

EU telco chief to propose data roaming cap

The European Union's top telecoms regulator will propose a cap on the cost of downloading data using a mobile phone or laptop while travelling which could cut charges sharply, an EU official said on Wednesday.

Last year the EU executive European Commission introduced a three-year cap on the cost of roamed voice calls, one of Brussels' most popular policies ever.

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said on July 15 she will propose capping the cost of sending text messages while outside a home state in the 27-nation bloc.

Since then Reding has decided the draft law should also extend to capping the prices of roamed data downloading.

"She is favouring this on data roaming though the final decision will be with the Commission as a whole," the EU Commission official said on condition of anonymity.

Reding expects Commission backing for adopting a draft law on capping roamed text prices but it is unclear if she will also get backing for including a cap on roamed data.

The European Parliament and EU states will have final say on Reding's draft law on roamed telecom services.

The average cost of roamed data for consumers is about 3.5 euros per megabyte, excluding sales tax. The Commission's impact assessment will test a cap of around 1 euro, the official said.

The effect on operators may not be heavy, however.

"We see this cap as a safety net to cut out exorbitant tariffs as by the time this regulation comes into effect around next July, many data roaming tariffs will have come down to these levels anyway," the official added.

National telecoms regulators in the EU states back Reding's plans on capping roamed texts and a three-year extension on roamed voice call caps but they are split over whether data roaming tariffs should also be capped.

Operators say the data roaming market is young and regulation would kill innovative, cheaper packages.

Reding has been spurred on by a Danish study which says a pan-EU cap of 1.18 euros per megabyte, including sales tax, would still give operators a fair profit.

Reding visits Copenhagen in September to study the Danish report before finalising her proposal for the Commission which will take a decision late September or early October.

Nigeria - Nitel fraud

Nigeria: Pentascope Was a Fraud - Senate

The Senate Committee on Communications yesterday declared as "fraud" the deal that led to the sale of Nigeria Telecommunication Limited (NITEL) to Pentascope, just as it vowed to take drastic measures against anybody who was involved in the sale.

The committee also alleged that barely six months after NITEL was acquired by Pentascope, it took a loan of N40 billion from the banking sector, about N13 billion in treasury bills and Pentascope could not make the N59 billion it was supposed to have made during that period.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu, told Senate reporters that those that committed the fraud at NITEL through Pentascope, are now re-grouping to take over the giant communication outfit again.

According to him, "Since then we've been getting information, we've been gathering information, on what happened. NITEL under Pentascope and the process by which BPE sold NITEL to Pentascope was terrible.

"Why I am talking to you now is that a lot of people who were part of this are now also putting themselves together trying to go through the back door to take over NITEL, especially financial institutions. Let me give you an example, NITEL under Pentascope in less than six months borrowed N40 billion from the banking sector.

"They have more than N13 billion in treasury bills. I'm not even talking about even the N59 billion we have supposed to have made within that period. These things we want to probe.

"When BPE sold to Pentascope, which was registered on a public holiday by only two men as a company, by two young consultants and then when they saw that they couldn't run it wrote to the President that the company could not do it after they have squandered all the money. That was the time when the question of bringing in TRANSCORP came up."

He continued, "So much happened in NITEL and Nigerians were totally short- changed. And we think it is the responsibility of the legislature to ensure that those who killed NITEL do not go scot-free. Nigeria made too much investment in NITEL to let it go like that. It is not a witch-hunt.

"We must begin to ask questions because that's the only way we can move forward. It will be continuous because if they do such things and get away with it without anybody asking questions, it will be business as usual and tomorrow he becomes a warlord having short- changed the country. It's a terrible thing.

"All we are trying to do is quietly; we have been doing some investigations and getting a lot of information about what has happened in NITEL from 1999 if possible. But the worst era is the period of Pentascope getting involved in NITEL. It was a total, complete fraud."

The committee also alleged that there was a lot of illegality in the billing system of NITEL, stressing, "Let me tell you, even NITEL workers, the worst that is going on now is illegal connection on the interconnectivity.

Because NITEL has no billing system, the guy who is in charge of finance in NITEL office sits down and writes a bill and gets himself or herself sorted out.

"What is supposed to come into NITEL is not coming to NITEL. The workers are not being paid. They are being owed for a series of months while a few individuals are making away with the nation's wealth. It's serious. We have discovered so many facts, including those people you cannot believe-all these big, big guns, oil companies, banks … they are all using NITEL facilities but they are not paying a dime.

"We are going to deal with all that because we got the information (about people who use fronts) about these people. Some of them go to the third party who are even outside this country and get these services from these third parties and every day what I hear is that NITEL owes me, NITEL owes me. How does NITEL owe you?

"NITEL has less than 100,000 lines working. How much can NITEL owe you on interconnectivity? And the troublesome part of this issue is, do you know the volume of traffic that goes out of this country every day on international calls and those coming in? Have you wondered how these calls are being settled?

"Because we don't have a billing system we don't even have a way of knowing how much to bill because of the inefficiency of NITEL staff and we keep passing the buck and even government officers aiding and abetting this fraud.

"What I will advise those who want to come through the back to buy NITEL is that we are not going to fold our arms to let this company go under.

"Where were these financial institutions, where were the auditors who were auditing NITEL at the time? NCC has its own question to answer. At the time, BPE was responsible for the sale and privatization of all the government parastatals, including NITEL.

"The regulatory body will have its own questions to answer. But what I am worried about is that some of these financial institutions who are now putting resources together under the pretext that NITEL is owing them and therefore they want to clamp down on NITEL, they were part and parcel of what happened.

"Government is not going to allow them, otherwise we are going to expose all of them because we have some information; this is a very serious issue.

"And I tell you, as soon as the Senate reconvenes there will be a very serious public hearing on this issue. We will not fold our arms as legislators and allow NITEL to go under."

China - growth of IT revenues

MIIT: IT Revenue Hits RMB 2.66T In H1

China's electronic information industry revenue grew 21.9% year-on-year to RMB 2.66 trillion in the first six months of 2008, according to Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) statistics released on Monday. Revenue from China's manufacturing industry totaled RMB 2.31 trillion for an increase of 20.7% year-on-year during the period.

Revenue from China's software industry was up 30.4% year-on-year to RMB 345.7 billion in the first half.

Approximately 295.23 million handsets were sold in the period, up 9.7% from the first half of last year, while nationwide LCD TV production increased 65.8% annually to 10.31 million units.

Nokia - handset price cuts

Nokia cuts phone prices, pressuring rivals

The world's top cell phone maker Nokia cut prices for many of its handsets in July, according to market data and industry sources, putting further pressure on its rivals' already thin profits.

Manufacturers are facing an increasingly intense battle for market share as demand for pricey phones has started to slow in the United States and Europe, where economies are under pressure from the global credit crunch.

Nokia made the steepest price reductions of up to 10 percent for selected music and media phones, while it made smaller cuts across the portfolio, a European telecom industry source said.

Shares in Nokia fell on the news and were 2.2 percent lower at 17.39 euros by 1321 GMT, underperforming the 1.8 percent weaker DJ Stoxx European technology index .

Market data from its home country Finland showed the sharpest falls were in the average retail price of the 5310 and 5610 music phones and the multimedia N81 8GB.

"This is basically a way to run away from competition. You're putting a lot of pressure on your less competitive peers," said David Hallden, analyst at Cheuvreux.

"I think they're doing a 'Crazy Ivan'," Hallden said, referring to a naval maneuver when a submarine makes a sudden sharp turn.


The price cuts from Nokia, which controls 40 percent of the cellphone market, will put further pressure on its smaller rivals like Sony Ericsson, which has focused on music and camera phones.

"Nokia has always been extremely tactical with its pricing, pinpointing sweet spots in different segments of the market and making adjustments to wrongfoot competitors," said Ben Wood, research director at CCS Insight.

Wood said the price cuts follow Nokia's launch of its SuperNova phone range -- aggressively priced products with integrated music players, challenging Sony Ericsson's Walkman portfolio.

Sony Ericsson made practically no money in the April-June quarter, and said it would cut some 2,000 jobs as it forecast the remainder of 2008 would also be tough.

Struggling Motorola (MOT.N), the third-largest phone maker, has made losses since its flagship phone Razr lost appeal among consumers.

Neil Mawston, analyst with Strategy Analytics, said Motorola could return to profit next year if it is able to slash costs and refresh its model range.

Nokia increased its market share to 41 percent in the second quarter, helped by surging demand in emerging markets, research firms Strategy Analytics and CCS Insight said on Thursday after Motorola reported better-than-expected April-June results.


Nokia has a dominant market position in many emerging markets like India, helping it increase phone sales volumes.

Motorola's market share fell to 9.4 percent in April-June, while Sony Ericsson saw its stake declining to 8.2 percent, CCS said.

LG and Samsung Electronics are seeing rapid increase in their phone sales, helped by close co-operation with operators, and the weaker Korean won that makes its exports more competitive.

Samsung's market share increased to 15.3 percent in the quarter, while LG's declined to 9.3 percent.

Korean vendors are better placed than Sony Ericsson and Motorola for a price battle with Nokia as both reported operating profit margins of more than 14 percent in the quarter.

Nokia's operating profit margin from phone business weakened somewhat to 20.3 percent in the April-June quarter.

A Nokia spokesman declined to comment on price cuts. "If we started to comment on prices, there would be no end, they are changed so often," he said.

New York City - broadband

New York advised to study broadband alternatives to municipal Wi-Fi

Mayor, city council look to expand Internet service to low-income residents, industrial areas

Technology consultants told New York officials today that a municipal Wi-Fi system there would be inadvisable, given the experiences of several other major cities. Representatives of Chicago-based Diamond Management and Technology Consultants Inc. suggested several other ways that the city could expand broadband Internet access.

A study and recommendations by Diamond consultants will be reviewed over the coming week's by the city's Broadband Advisory Committee, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council, city officials said today.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, who attended the presentation, said Boomberg's administration has made it a priority to "determine the most effective and feasible ways to increase broadband accessibility among New Yorkers."

Lieber said the advisory committee and city officials are still working to determine the roles of the public and private sectors in expanding broadband access in the city. In the past, some officials have suggested that city cable providers kick into a technology fund created to help pay for the installation of fiber-optic service. In fact, Verizon Communications Inc. has already contributed $4 million to the fund, Lieber noted.

The consultant's study did find that New York is mostly on a par with other major U.S. cities regarding broadband adoption. However, it also noted that Internet usage remains limited among low-income New Yorkers and could be improved in industrial areas.

Citing the low demand and cost overruns for Wi-Fi systems in some other large municipalities, the consultants said that a citywide network is inadvisable. In did suggest, however, adding Wi-Fi hot spots in public spaces like neighborhood parks.

City Councilor Gale Brewer, a member of the advisory committee, said that Lieber's attendance at the briefing should help the broadband effort move forward. "This is the first time the mayor's office has been behind the [broadband initiative]," she said in a telephone interview.

Brewer said the city's 8 million residents need a unified effort by officials to expand Internet access to low-income residents, which could happen by wiring more libraries and employment centers. She also suggested that the city expand training programs such as Computers for Youth, which provides refurbished desktop computers to children and their parents, along with several hours of training, at no cost.

"Our storefront nonprofit computer training centers are packed" -- but in short supply, Brewer noted.

While some of the major New York parks, including Central Park in Manhattan, are outfitted for Wi-Fi access, low-income residents could benefit from having high-speed wireless networks in neighborhood parks, Brewer said. "We already see the iPhone crowd using the Wi-Fi heavily in the big parks, but people don't have Wi-Fi in the parks near their homes," she said.

Brewer also noted that she has been surprised in recent years by how many businesses in industrial areas are seeking lower-cost Internet access. In many areas, she noted, businesses rely only on the phone company for access. Therefore, the broadband effort should look closely at providing more options for access in industrial areas. More options means more competition and hopefully lower access costs, she said.

Brewer said she hopes that some of the study's suggestions can be turned into initiatives by year's end.

"It's really hard for many people who have no Internet access to know what's possible with it," she said. "In some cases, it's not just getting high-speed access; it's just getting any access. Internet access is huge. With no bandwidth, it's no knowledge."

Bosnia and Herzegovina - privatisation

Telecoms privatisation prompts political debate

Reports from local news source suggest that privatisation of the Bosnian telecoms industry may face delays, with politicians in disagreement over what to do with the funds raised by the process. It is understood that three documents relating to the terms of privatisation have been withdrawn from parliamentary procedure. It is estimated that, once the process is complete, it could raise approximately BAM10 billion (USD7.95 billion), with the government divesting interest in operators including BH Telecom and HT Mostar.

Uganda - HITS Telecom

UCC warns HITS risks losing licence over failure to launch

The Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC) has warned HITS Telecom Uganda that its failure to launch a commercial operation could mean that its licences will be revoked. HITS was awarded Public Infrastructure Provider (PIP) and Public Service Provider (PSP) concessions in March 2007, allowing it to offer a range of telecoms services including wireless; a requirement of the concessions is that operations begin within 18 months. The company completed a test call in November 2007 and at the time announced it was expecting to launch commercially in the first quarter of 2008. However, no launch was forthcoming and to date HITS has remained tightlipped on the cause of the delay. Rumours in the local press suggest that the company is struggling to raise the necessary investment, although this has been denied by spokesperson Jimmy Kiberu. According to Mr Kiberu HITS will make a ‘major announcement’ next week.

Mali - privatisation

Sotelma details privatisation process

Further details regarding the privatisation of fixed line incumbent Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (Sotelma) have been announced by the telco’s CEO, Lassana Ndiaye. The process will see a 51% stake sold to a strategic investor, and Sotelma has confirmed that 10% and 19% stakes will be reserved for employees and institutional investors, (including the public), respectively. The remaining 20% will be retained by the state. The process for privatisation is due to begin in October this year and it is understood that the sale is expected to raise funds to help Malitel, the wireless subsidiary of SOTELMA, to expand its network infrastructure.

NTT DoCoMo - cutting cross-subsidies and raising profits

Subsidy cuts boost DoCoMo profits

NTT DoCoMo yesterday said quarterly operating profits jumped 45 per cent as Japan's largest mobile operator benefited from a reduction of handset subsidies and focused on retaining customers.

Operating profits rose to Y296.5bn ($2.75bn) for the April-June quarter, with the change in the business model to cutting subsidies and selling handsets in instalments more than offsetting a decline in revenue from discount plans. The picture would even out over time, an analyst said.

The new business model DoCoMo and its rivals have adopted involves reducing the handset subsidies they tried to partially pass on through the monthly fees. Instead customers pay more for the handset, popularly through instalments, and have a clearer idea of monthly fees.

The company has had a tough time in its home market as it tries to fend off competition from its smaller rivals KDDI and SoftBank, and has seen its market share shrink to 52 per cent from almost 60 per cent at its peak.

DoCoMo back in April announced a change in strategy to try and retain its clientele through better customer service and improving its image, rather than seeking new clients.

The group reported a reduction in its churn (attrition) rate to 0.51 per cent from 0.85 per cent in the same quarter last year.

"[DoCoMo] had been too focused on the monthly net additions number, which is ridiculous because all new customers are low value, meanwhile, it had very high- value customers marching out the back door," said Neale Anderson, an analyst at HSBC. "There was a belated recognition that this needed to change [in favour of] rebranding and customer care.

"The lower churn number is a positive reflection of that strategy. There has been better execution by DoCoMo in focusing on its existing customers' wants and needs."

The reduction in the churn rate is helped in part by customers needing to sign up for two years to benefit from the discount plans it introduced late last year to compete with its smaller rival SoftBank, which initiated a price war with its so-called "White Plan" in the middle of last year. The introduction of paying for handsets in instalments has helped reinforce this.

However, the discount plans took their toll on revenue, with DoCoMo's sales slipping 1.1 per cent to Y1,170bn. Aggregate average revenue per user dropped to Y5,890 compared with Y6,560 last year. The increase in Arpu for data could not offset the decrease in voice Arpu.

The company maintained its full-year profit forecast of a 2.7 per cent rise in operating profits to Y830bn, on revenues of Y4,768bn.

KDDI said this month its operating profits slid 12 per cent, although the quarter did not include its instalment payments for handsets.

Internet - redesigning from scratch

Project to rebuild Internet gets $12M, bandwidth

A massive project to redesign and rebuild the Internet from scratch is inching along with $12 million in government funding and donations of network capacity by two major research organizations.

Many researchers want to rethink the Internet's underlying architecture, saying a "clean-slate" approach is the only way to truly address security and other challenges that have cropped up since the Internet's birth in 1969.

On behalf of the government, BBN Technologies Inc. is overseeing the planning and design of the Global Environment for Network Innovations, or GENI, a network on which researchers will be able to test new ideas without damaging the current Internet.

The $12 million in initial grants from the National Science Foundation will go to developing prototypes for the GENI network.

To test these prototypes, the Internet2 organization is contributing 10 gigabits per second of dedicated bandwidth, so researchers won't have to worry about normal Internet traffic interfering with their experiments. National LambdaRail is offering another 30 gigabits per second of capacity, though it won't be dedicated to GENI at all times.

The bandwidth is thousands of times faster than standard home broadband connections - enough to run 30 high-quality movies into your home simultaneously.

Craig Partridge, chief scientist at BBN Technologies, said the commitments amounted to an important endorsement of GENI by two organizations that run ultra-high-speed networks for universities and other researchers to conduct data-intensive projects.

Construction on GENI could start in about five years and cost $350 million. Congress still has to approve those funds.

France - conditions for MVNOs

MVNO : le Conseil de la concurrence dénonce les pratiques des gros opérateurs

L'autorité juge sévèrement les contrats que les opérateurs virtuels ont signé avec leurs opérateurs hôtes. Pour préserver leur position dominante, SFR et Orange leur ont imposé des conditions tarifaires et techniques ne leur permettant pas de se développer.

SFR et Orange, les principaux opérateurs mobiles français accueillant des opérateurs virtuels (MVNO), n'ont rien fait pour que ces derniers puissent développer leur activité dans de bonnes conditions, bien au contraire.

C'est en substance ce qu'a conclu le Conseil de la concurrence, qui vient de rendre au gouvernement son analyse sur les freins au développement en France des MVNO. Le Conseil avait été saisi sur la question en mai dernier, après la rencontre entre Éric Besson et les principaux MVNO français. Le secrétaire d'État en charge de l'Économie numérique s'étonne que ces nouveaux acteurs, apparus depuis 2004, détiennent toujours moins de 5% des parts de marché en France, contre 10 % environ dans les autres pays européens, et même 25 % en Allemagne où 15 % au Royaume-Uni.

Des conditions peu favorables

Le Conseil de la concurrence a estimé que cette situation est la conséquence des contrats que les MVNO ont dû passer avec leurs opérateurs hôtes pour louer leur réseau. Les conditions d'hébergement prévues par ces contrats sont « peu favorables au développement de leur activité », estime le Conseil. « Les tarifs négociés pour l'utilisation des réseaux permettent aux opérateurs de réseau de contrôler la pression concurrentielle par les prix susceptible d'être exercée par les MVNO : le prix par minute de communication est fixé par référence aux propres prix de détail des opérateurs de réseau », peut-on lire dans l'analyse.

Par ailleurs, les clauses d'exclusivité souvent très longues - allant parfois jusqu'à dix ans - ce qui empêche les MVNO de renégocier ces conditions d'hébergement en faisant jouer la concurrence entre opérateurs de réseau. Enfin, les contrats contiennent des clauses « limitant les possibilités de valorisation de l'activité d'opérateur virtuel, et donc les incitations à l'investissement ou à la consolidation des acteurs dans cette activité ».

Il faudra peut-être légiférer

Comment sortir de l'impasse ? Le Conseil propose de « déverrouiller » les contraintes contractuelles qui pèsent sur les opérateurs virtuels. Le régulateur des télécoms, l'Arcep, pourrait d'abord donner une impulsion au marché en recommandant certaines pratiques à appliquer par les opérateurs hôtes.

Mais si cela ne suffit pas, le Conseil préconise d'encadrer le secteur des MVNO par la loi, afin de garantir qu'ils disposent de conditions viables pour leur développement. « Une telle voie législative ne peut être exclue si l'on veut parvenir à la conclusion de contrats plus équilibrés, notamment en ce qui concerne les aspects techniques et tarifaires permettant aux MVNO d'animer réellement la concurrence sur le marché de détail de la téléphonie mobile », conclut le Conseil.

Suite à ces conclusions, Christine Lagarde, ministre de l'Economie, et Luc Chatel, secrétaire d'Etat chargé de l'Industrie, ont pris note que « le manque de compétitivité des offres des MVNO s'explique essentiellement par les conditions contraignantes d'hébergement proposées aux MVNO par les opérateurs de réseau ». Ils « invitent le régulateur à prendre toutes les initiatives nécessaires pour que les conditions d'accès des MVNO aux réseaux de leurs opérateurs hôtes permettent réellement l'animation de la concurrence sur ce marché ». Mais se sont gardés, pour l'instant, d'évoquer la piste d'une voie législative.

Hawai'i - Japanese 3G

NTT DOCOMO and AT&T Inc. Extend 3G Network throughout Hawaii

NTT DOCOMO, INC. and AT&T Inc. announced today that the extension of a third-generation (3G) mobile network to all principal islands in the U.S. state of Hawaii has been completed.

Using AT&T's 3G network, which is based on W-CDMA technology, DOCOMO customers now have access to data and voice roaming services in the main populated areas of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kauai.

NTT DOCOMO began providing 3G roaming services on Oahu in October 2007 and then extended the services to other islands including Hawaii and Maui islands as the network was expanded.

DOCOMO handsets compatible with international roaming services in the Hawaiian Islands are the SH905iTV, SH906i, F906i, SO906i, N906iμ, SH906iTV, NM705i, NM706i (to be available soon), hTc Z and HT1100.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

South Korea - unlimited music downloads

Telecoms Offer Unrestricted Music Downloads

The country's three major mobile communications service providers SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom are set to boost the music market by showcasing digital rights management-free music files. DRM prevents illegal copying and allows users to listen to paid music services only from devices supporting it.

SK Telecom and KTF both announced the launch of DRM-free products on Tuesday. If people buy music files at their respective sites and, they can keep, copy or transfer them regardless of the gadget they are using. LG Telecom will launch a similar product in mid-August.

Both SK and KTF offer downloads of 40 DRM-free music files for a monthly fee of W5,000 (US$1=W1,009) and 150 songs for W9,000. The downloaded files can be heard on any device including Apple's iPod or Samsung Electronics’ Yepp.

DRM-free is the global trend. Major online music sites like Apple's iTunes and Amazon have been selling DRM-free music from last year in a bid to maximize customer satisfaction to boost the market.

Pregancy and the use of mobile phones

Prenatal cell phone exposure tied to behavior
see also Prenatal and Postnatal Exposure to Cell Phone Use and Behavioral Problems in Children Epidemiology. 19(4):523-529, July 2008.

Children whose mothers used cell phones frequently during pregnancy and who are themselves cell phone users are more likely to have behavior problems, new research shows.

The finding "certainly shouldn't be over interpreted, but nevertheless points in a direction where further research is needed," Dr. Leeka Kheifets of the UCLA School of Public Health, who helped conduct the study, told Reuters Health. "It's a wonderful technology and people are certainly going to be using it more and more," she added. "We need to be looking into what are the potential health effects and what are ways to reduce risks should there be any."

Kheifets and her team looked at a group of 13,159 children whose mothers had been recruited to participate in the Danish National Birth Cohort study early in their pregnancies. When the children reached age 7, mothers were asked to complete a questionnaire about their children's behavior and health, as well as the mother's own cell phone use in pregnancy and the child's use of cell phones.

After the researchers adjusted for factors that could influence the results, such as a mother's psychiatric problems and socioeconomic factors, children with both prenatal and postnatal cell phone exposure were 80 percent more likely to have abnormal or borderline scores on tests evaluating emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity, or problems with peers.

Risks were higher for children exposed prenatally only, compared with those exposed only postnatally, but were lower than for children exposed at both time points.

Kheifets and her colleagues note that a fetus's exposure to radiofrequency fields by a mother's cell phone use is likely very small. However, they add, research has shown that children using cell phones are exposed to more radiofrequency energy than adults, because their ears and brains are smaller.

Because cell phone use was so infrequent among children in the study - 30 percent of kids were using a cell phone, but just 1 percent used a cell phone for more than an hour a week - radiofrequency exposure seems unlikely to have caused any behavior problems, they say.

"Another possible explanation for the observed association might be the lack of attention given to a child by mothers who are frequent users of cell phones," the researchers suggest. They note that mothers who used cell phones frequently were of lower socio-occupational status, more likely to have mental health and psychiatric problems, and more likely to have smoked while they were pregnant.

No matter what the factors behind the association are - if there indeed is a real relationship between cell phone use and behavior problems--one simple way to reduce exposure to cell phones would be to use hands-free technology, Kheifets said in an interview.

Editorialists writing in the journal raise the question of whether the publication of these findings may scare people for no reason.

Kheifets and her team believe that while their findings are preliminary, they should be reported. "We felt that the public is quite capable of dealing with proper information," the researcher said. "One shouldn't really try to be paternalistic about it."

Mobile - Dolby sound

LG to Use Dolby Mobile Audio System in Cell Phones

LG Electronics plans to start adding Dolby Mobile to high-end phones later this year, it said Wednesday.

The two companies have reached a deal that will make South Korea's LG the first cell phone maker to incorporate the Mobile version of Dolby's system into its handsets. Dolby Mobile is an audio processing system tuned to match the processing and audio capabilities of cell phones.

As cell phones have gotten more complex in recent years, a lot of effort has been spent improving the screens but relatively little work has been done on the audio systems. While most phones today feature an MP3 music player it's been more or less an after thought in many handsets, but with more and more people using the function a richer, deeper, better sound could become a key selling point.

LG is currently the fourth largest cell phone maker in the world with an 8.2 percent share of the market in the first three months of this year. It shipped 24.4 million [m] handsets during the quarter on strength from emerging markets and its domestic market in South Korea. But shipments slipped in Europe.

The first LG phones with Dolby Mobile are due out in the fourth quarter of the year. The company plans to build the technology into high-end multimedia handsets.

USA - contract termination penalties unlawful

Sprint Ordered to Pay Millions in Early Termination Fee Flap

A judge is ordering Sprint Nextel to refund $18.25 million to California customers who paid early termination fees to get out of their mobile-phone contracts. The tentative decision also requires the company to forgo $54.75 million in early termination fees it levied but went unpaid by California consumers.

A California judge late Monday ruled (.pdf) that the fees, which range as high as $200 a line, were an unlawful penalty under California law and were "implemented primarily as a means to discourage customers from leaving" their contracts.

The decision comes as major wireless carriers -- T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T -- have recast their early termination fee schedules and pro-rated them, in part to avoid or settle lawsuits. Verizon agreed two weeks ago to pay $21 million to settle a similar class action.

A pro-rated fee means a customer pays less to break a contract the longer one continues the contract. Contracts usually vary from one to two years.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering regulating early termination fees on a nationwide basis. The FCC is also weighing whether to block class action lawsuits like the Sprint case. No timetable for a decision has been set.

Sprint and other carriers said they charged the fees to subsidize handsets and monthly rates.

India - only 4 million broadband users

India has 4.38mn broadband users

India has 4.38 million broadband internet users as of June 2008, a recent report from the country's telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said.

According to the report, the total broadband subscribers, internet users with download speeds in excess of 256 kilo bytes per second (kbps) has reached 4.38 million from 4.15 million it had at the end of May 2008.

The Trai statement also said that during April 2007 to June 2008 the country has almost doubled broadband users.

"We have only now reached a point where broadband is slowly entering the scheme of things of household users. The costs are still high. For instance, a household should shell out not less than Rs 500 a month for broadband connection and the costs only go up, depending on usage.

A further reduction in costs will only help grow the base," an official with a telecom service provider said.
The data pertaining to broadband only shows how India is still a pygmy in the internet users space.

Only a few days back, China became the capital of cyberia with The China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC) revealed that its netizens reached 253 million by end of June, which is the highest in the world. It also said that it has the highest population, (80% of the internet users), of broadband users while the rest used low speed internet services.

The Trai statement said, the country added 8.81 million telephone connections (both wire and wireless) during June 2008 as compared to 8.46 million it added during May 2008. In the wireless segment, which includes GSM, CDMA and WLL, there was an addition of 8.94 million as against 8.62 million during May 2008.

This means that there has been a fall in the wireline users in the country, which decreased to 38.92 million from 39.05 million in May.
With this, the total telephone connections has reached 325.78 million (316.97 million at the end of May 2008). The overall tele-density now stands at 28.33% as against 27.59% in May

USA - criticism of OECD broadband ranking

OECD Broadband Ranking System Needs Restructuring, Says Think Tank

Basing telecommunications policy around the faulty ranking system of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would lead to an “ill-defined national broadband strategy,” officials from the Phoenix Center think tank said Monday.

Decrying the widespread assumption that America has fallen behind the rest of the world in broadband penetration, George Ford and Lawrence Spiwak criticized the OECD’s ranking system at a luncheon in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The current OECD system ranks measures broadband penetration on a per capita, and not a per household basis, which has led to countries with smaller household sizes moving up in the chart since 2001.

People do not buy broadband connections, Ford said; rather, households and businesses buy broadband conections.

Moreover, said Ford and Spiwak, countries that have risen in recent rankings – Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – are small and do not have large rural areas where broadband deployment remains a challenge.

Additionally, many countries that were near the top in broadband rankings in 2001 have since fallen, said Ford. “Miracle” Japan has dropped in the OECD ratings, for example. In spite of having 100 Megabit per second-capable broadband networks, Japan ranked behind the U.S. in the December 2007 OECD ratings.

If areas in the U.S. that do not have broadband access were reached, the country would only climb to eleventh in the world – assuming that none of the counties directly before and behind the U.S. make similar adjustments, he said.

Politics and the poor data collection abilities of nearly all governmental agencies in OECD countries are also to blame for the current unreliability of OECD rankings, he said.

Ford said that the existence of two competing broadband networks in the U.S. – cable modem and digital subscriber line – put America way ahead of where it should have been in 2001.

Ford said if one factors in price, per capita Gross Domestic Product, education, the percentage of senior citizens, population density, urbanicity, population per household, population per business establishment, and the length of time one is measuring, one should get a fairly accurate depiction of why the U.S. has fallen in OECD broadband rankings.

Hence the U.S. is pretty close to where it needs to be at fifteenth in the world, he said. The countries that should be worried are Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, and Greece: each are underperforming based on the Phoenix Center’s “Broadband Efficiency Index,” said Ford.

Under this “efficiency index,” the U.S. ranks 13th.

The decline in the United States’ OECD ranking does not mean that a change in government broadband policy is necessary, said Ford.

If the government desires to eradicate broadband unavailability in the U.S., Ford suggested that federal and state governments eliminate taxes on wireless services, stop local governments from extracting “rents” from telecommunications providers seeking to offer video services, and increasing the number of broadband education programs and computers in schools.

Additionally, the government should allow tiered pricing and network management. Together, these actions could increase broadband deployment, he said. After all, Ford said, “it is [the company's] freaking money.”

Costa Rica - Liberalisation

New telecommunications guidelines to receive public scrutiny

Once the Constitutional Court gave the green light to legislation opening Costa Rica’s telecommunications market to private companies, the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) began drafting three sets of guidelines that will regulate this market, and which will be presented at public audiences where citizens can scrutinize them.

ARESEP will organize videoconferences on Aug. 25, 26 and 27, linking up the country’s eight regions simultaneously. The meetings can be attended at the ARESEP auditorium in San Jose, at the justice tribunal headquarters in Liberia, Limon, Heredia, Ciudad Quesada, Puntarenas, Perez Zeledon and Cartago.

“Starting today, we are opening a public discussion about how we will apply regulations according to the new General Telecommunications Law,” Regulator General Fernando Herrero said. “These three sets of guidelines seek to secure access for all Costa Ricans to telecommunications services, competition among providers for the benefit of consumers, and rational use of current and future infrastructure.”

Added Herrero: “These sets of guidelines are founded on knowledge of our institutional framework and on analysis of international experiences. One lesson that is learned from the latter is that for market opening to be successful, and so that it serves the benefits of the majority, it’s essential to have clear and well-defined guidelines that specify the rules which will guide the development of this market.”

The guidelines proposal that ARESEP will present are part of a process of revision and consultation, Herrero explained, adding that the drafts began at ARESEP’s Telecommunications Office, which conducted preliminary studies and came up with the first version of the guidelines. In the second phase, ARESEP hired the services of international consultant Salma Jalife, who conducted a technical review of all documents.

For the third phase, a team that included officials with the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX) was created to critique the proposals from the perspective of the policies the Executive Branch seeks to promote and the commitments of the country with its commercial partners.

“Now it’s time for the next phase, of public consultation, so that we can receive feedback from different sectors and have the proposals critiqued,” Herrero said. “In the final phase, the guidelines will need to be approved by ARESEP’s board of directors.”

The main objective of the country’s new telecommunications paradigm — billed as one of universal access, universal service and solidarity — is to promote access to quality telecom services in a fast, efficient manner at affordable and competitive prices for residents everywhere in the country, even in areas where the high cost of installation and maintenance of telecommunications infrastructure makes offering such services unprofitable.

Additionally, the systems seeks to provide the same quality of services to institutions and individuals with special needs, including orphans’ homes, the elderly, people with disabilities, Indigenous communities, public schools, and public health centers.

Indonesia - Grameen phone

Grameen Foundation, Bakrie Telecom and Qualcomm Join Efforts to Enable Affordable Telecommunications Access to Rural Indonesia

Grameen Foundation, Bakrie Telecom and Qualcomm Incorporated (Nasdaq: QCOM) through its Wireless Reach(TM) initiative, today announced the launch of the first Village Phone Program in Indonesia, branded as Uber ESIA, using 3G CDMA technology to provide affordable wireless telecommunications services for rural communities. The launch was held at the Asia-Pacific Regional Microcredit Summit held in Bali, Indonesia.

Uber ESIA, which means joint cooperation, aims to facilitate affordable telecommunications access in a sustainable, profitable and empowering way to rural Indonesia. Uber ESIA is one of many similar programs around the world already launched by Grameen Foundation as Village Phone Program. However, this is the first program using 3G CDMA, so users can access higher quality voice services and more advanced mobile applications, including high-speed data.

Grameen Foundation, Bakrie Telecom and Qualcomm will be working with local Indonesian microfinance institutions to enable microfinance clients to borrow the money needed to purchase a Village Phone "business in a box," which consists of a wireless 3G CDMA-based phone and charger, marketing materials, tariff posters, business cards and training materials. The Village Phone Operators (VPOs) will operate their businesses in rural villages where telecommunications services did not previously exist, renting the use of the phone within their communities on a per-call basis.

"Building on the visionary leadership of Grameen Telecom, Grameen Foundation is committed to ensuring that the rural poor are not left behind in this rapidly changing information and communications technology environment," said Alex Counts, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation. "Microfinance helps to put technology within financial reach of the poor and we are pleased to work with Qualcomm and Bakrie Telecom to help Indonesia's rural microentrepreneurs build self-sustaining businesses that also enhance the socio-economic development of their wider communities."

The Village Phone model enables everyone to benefit. Microfinance institutions provide financial services and earn income on the loan interest, as well as commissions from the sale of prepaid airtime to their clients. They also attract new clients who are drawn by the opportunity to start a technology-oriented business. Telecommunications companies benefit by tapping a new market. VPOs have strong, thriving businesses, and most importantly, individuals living in impoverished communities gain access to affordable telecommunication and information services linking them to their friends, family, business contacts and the world.

The VPOs provide affordable rates to their customers, while earning enough to repay their loan and earn a profit that will allow them to make investments in their family's health, nutrition and education, and in other business ventures. The project aims to empower underserved communities in rural Indonesia with mobile communications using Bakrie Telecom's Uber ESIA service based on 3G CDMA wireless technology.

"Bakrie Telecom is proud to partner with Qualcomm and Grameen Foundation to provide enhanced communication and information access to remote communities in Indonesia. From the beginning, we believe that telecommunication is a birthright for every Indonesian citizen. Based on our competency, we try to implement reliable and affordable telecommunication services," said Anindya N Bakrie, president director, PT Bakrie Telecom Tbk. "Uber ESIA is a breakthrough in Indonesia's telecommunication industry and for Bakrie Telecom, as well as a valuable instrument to help Indonesia's rural communities to enhance the economic and social livelihoods of those who are underserved."

Another positive point of this program is empowering women who live in rural area, since the main target is household community. Women have a significant role in helping the family's income, but they still have limited positions and access to economic resources. Central Statistics Agency data shows that out of a population of 97.5 million, only 35.4 million women (36.3 percent) are recorded as employed, of which 59.9 percent or 21.2 million graduated from elementary schools. Also, 26.3 million (74.28 percent) employed women work in an informal sector. Uber ESIA will facilitate them to gain additional income for their family.

"The Uber ESIA program strengthens our commitment towards good corporate governance. As a national company, we believe that we have to contribute to our community. Nevertheless, moving together with the community is also our priority, which can be achieved through Uber ESIA," added Bakrie. "We always consider the poor communities as a productive because they also have the rights for telecommunications access. But in fact, most of them do not have the necessary purchasing power. Thus, Bakrie Telecom, through Uber ESIA, is providing the opportunity for the poor to improve their purchasing power. This is a challenge for Bakrie Telecom, not only to help raise the poor's income but also to deliver the right product to them."

"Qualcomm believes access to advanced wireless voice and data services bring social and economic opportunities to all communities, regardless of where they may be," said John Stefanac, president of Qualcomm Southeast Asia-Pacific. "Today's announcement of the Uber ESIA reinforces our commitment to support our partners, customers and the government of Indonesia's common goal of providing world-class communications services to all parts of the country, including rural areas."

Nigeria - GLO undersea cable

Nigeria: GLO's Submarine Cable to Berth Country Next Year

By the middle of next year, the 9,500 kilometres submarine telecommunications cable being laid under the sea by Second National Operator, Globacom, would berth in the Nigerian under waters as its billed to be completed sometime in May.

The project which is expected to revolutionize the provision of telecoms services on the sub-continent and make services truly affordable to individuals and corporate organizations, is connecting Africa with Europe and the United States.

The submarine cable project, which Globacom said is costing about $250 million, runs from London to 14 West African countries, with a dedicated link to the US. The project, Globacom revealed recently, is expected to reach Ghana by May 2009, where it would shortly after, berth the Nigeria sea shore.

Making the revelation in Accra Ghana, as his company was formally presented the license to operate GSM by the country's National Communications Authority (NCA), Globacom's Group Chief Operating Officer, Mr Mohammed Jameel, said the project would enable more services and products to be introduced by Globacom.

He also promised that Glo would not disappoint the people of Ghana as it would replicate its success story in Nigeria and Benin Republic by giving the people value for their money. He said Glo would start operations in Ghana by the end of this year, and hopes to hit a subscriber base of two million in two years.

According to him, in Ghana, Glo has already gone to work to make this dream a reality. This, he said, would enable many Ghanaian businesses and individuals derive maximum satisfaction from Glo's services.

He added that Glo has applied to the NCA for 3G licence, which he was optimistic that Glo would get soon to improve its services together with the cable connection in addition to making bandwidth available for businesses that require it. These, he noted, would help Glo to provide high speed Internet connectivity, data and voice transmission, etc.

He gave kudos to the NCA for making the licence bidding process extremely transparent and also keeping to the timeline for issuing the licence as advertised.

Nitel - to be transformed in 120 days

Nigeria: We Will Transform Nitel Within 120 Days - Iseghohi

GROUP Managing Director of Transcorp, Tom Iseghohi last week in Lagos reassured Nigerians that the ailing former government telecom monopoly, NiteI would be transformed within the next 120 days following the arrival of Kevin Caruso, as the substantive Managing Director & Chief Executive.

The Transcorp GMD who spoke to newsman during a press conference to introduce the new Mr. Caruso, noted with optimism that Nigerians will no longer see the old Nitel adding that Nigerians would see tangible impact this time around with the new management team.

"Within 120 days, Nigerians will see a difference in the new Nitel. This time around, Nitel will be taken to the next level. There will be a huge impact as from now. Nitel of yesterday will no longer exist. There will no more be labour strike. There will be broadband internet access that will allow many Nigerians to do online businesses. There will be more fixed lines across the country", said Iseghohi, who now assumes the new position of Chairman of Nitel.

Announcing the appointment of Caruso, as the substantive Managing Director of NITEL, Iseghohi, had earlier stated that the appointment of a renowned telecommunications transformation expert is in line with Transcorp's commitment to turning the telecom firm around prior to its impending sale to new core investors.

"We are excited to have Kevin to join us.

This is a man that has a track record of success. He has exhibited extraordinary talent in telecommunications management. We are certain that Caruso's proven expertise will re-position NITEL in readiness for sale to new investors", he added

According to him, his appointment was a deliberate decision by Transcorp in exercise of its legal rights to name a Chief Executive to NITEL as the current core investor.

It will be recalled that a few weeks ago, Transcorp embarked on the implementation of a strategic interim resuscitation plan for NITEL with the replacement of its representatives on the NITEL Board.

With over twenty six years telecom/mobile experience, and having worked and lived in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Caribbean, Caruso has a wide, knowledgeable and very versatile background.

The new NITEL helmsman has extensive strategic planning, marketing, and sales experience in a wide variety of organizations, including both incumbent carriers, as well as start-up competitors, in wireless and traditional wire line businesses. He also has worked in call centres, billing, process re-engineering/change management, international joint ventures and training.

Corporate Data at Risk in Telecommuting

Study: Customer, Corporate Data at Risk in Telecommuting Environment

Telecommuting and the virtual office put sensitive corporate data, including the personal information of customers, at risk of compromise, according to a report released today by the Center for Democracy & Technology and Ernst & Young. The report is based on a survey of 73 organizations and recommends that companies with a telecommuting workforce need to pay more attention to the unique privacy and security risks posed by remote access. The report offers practical advice to companies on securing data accessed by employees working from home or other remote locations.

BT and Ribbit

Why BT spent $105 million on Ribbit

JP Rangaswami, managing director of service design at BT (British Telecommunications plc), has a vision for the future of the telephony industry.

"The telcos have lost control of the device. When you start building genuinely agnostic services, when you don't know the target device, it requires a different form creativity," he said. It's a move from closed networks to more open software platforms, and part of BT's transformation from a telco to a platform-based, software-driven services company. "Everything we do at BT is embeddable as workflow for customers. Voice is a feature embedded in the workflow," he added.

Rangaswami's vision explains why his company plunked down $105 million to acquire Ribbit this week. (see Techmeme). Ribbit's software allows developers to integrate voice features to Web applications, such as, Facebook, and the iPhone. In the coming weeks, BT will integrate Ribbit with its 21CN network, which is available in more than 120 countries.

Ribbit Applications

Ribbit built a set of voice APIs that only make sense as part of a global network services company like BT. "The market moved from voice as a silo to voice as applications, and is still stuck there. Voice as a feature is our starting point," Rangaswami said.

He is depending on what he called the "magic of the community" to "see things we cannot" and innovate with BT's development platform and network. "We have become background catalysts, building better tools for the channel and developers," he added.

"The value only comes if you have applications that are used in an all-IP environment, and you can deploy services at the touch of a button rather than fiddling around with jumpers and cables. Ribbit is Silicon Valley's first phone company where you fiddle with software, not cables," Rangaswami said. "The story is not about cost reduction per se or telling customers what they must do to change or a backplane move. It's about innovation. The primitives of the network are exposed."

The fact that Ribbit is located in the midst of Silicon Valley, and a hotbed of developers, was also a factor in BT's decision to buy the company.

GigaOm's Om Malik likes the vision, but is skeptical about BT's ability to execute.

The 21CN plan included a platform that allowed developers to embed voice into Internet applications. That platform still exists, but one wonders if anyone is using it. So perhaps they had to go out and buy what is essentially a Class Five switch with a pretty Internet interface.

Ribbit, as an independent company was able to get some--not a lot--of developer interest. I am not sure how BT is going to do that. It is after a telecom operator, who wants to operate like an Internet company. Sure, in a circus you can make a dog walk on two legs as well.

As Malik implies, Rangaswami's next challenge will be getting the developer community to adopt his voice-as-a-feature-at-the-edge-of-the-network approach. It won't be difficult to convince people that voice features, like social networking, should be available to any Web site or application. Competing against Google's forthcoming Android, the iPhone, and other developer platforms will be trickier. As Rangaswami said in a video about the deal, "Execution is the name of the game now."

East Africa - ICT policy harmonisation

EAC States Meet to Discuss ICT Policy Harmonization

Members of the East Africa Community (EAC) are meeting in Nairobi to discuss plans for regional ICT policy harmonization and to determine if and how a single regulation policy can be applied uniformly.

"Our ultimate aim is to ensure that the policy must not favor one country or its businesses and citizens over another," said Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Information and Communication.

The EAC, which includes Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, has lagged behind in its quest to unite the region due to a sentiment among members that policy plans favor Kenya.

Noting the need to expand regional e-commerce regulation, Ndemo argued that the EAC ICT policy will enable cross-border trade that benefits even the landlocked partner countries equally.

The current meeting will discuss a draft harmonization framework for ICT Policies in the region, and the findings will guide national stakeholders in their discussions on the best and most practical way to achieve national and regional ICT policy objectives, said Juma Mwapachu, EAC secretary general.

"The telecom reform process is directed at creating an environment to foster massive expansion in the coverage and capabilities of the information infrastructure networks," Mwapachu said.

The draft framework identifies interconnection costs, innovative technology and finance, open access, Internet governance, and ICT-related environmental concerns (e-waste) as the major issues to be addressed.

Uganda - MNP

Uganda Doing Feasibility Study on Mobile Number Portability

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is working on a feasibility study aimed at the introduction of MNP (mobile number portability), a consumer protection tool that would help improve quality of services and push competition to new levels in the mobile telephone industry.

The system would also help monitor inactive subscriber numbers and the unregulated sale and ownership of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards.

MNP essentially allows subscribers to switch service providers while keeping their mobile phone numbers.

The plan is part of an ongoing telecommunications policy review process that is being undertaken by the Ministry of ICT and the UCC, said Fred Otunnu, UCC communications and consumer affairs manager.

Issues that must be examined before MNP can be fully deployed include the positions of operators and users and the cost implications, he said.

If Uganda does introduce MNP, it will be the first country in the East African Community region to do so. Consumer rights lobbyists in Kenya are pushing for the country's communications commission to do the same.

MNP would keep in check dominant market players who do a disservice to mobile subscribers by weakening competition, said Jimmy Kiberu, communications manager of HITS Telecom, a fifth Ugandan operator set to launch by the end of the year.

"It is very hard in a commercial sense for a new operator to enter this market," Kiberu said in an interview. "I think government needs to support new players by introducing MNP to level the ground so that incumbents and new players compete favorably for the same customers."

Those opposed to the introduction of MNP in Uganda worry that the entry of more players in the telecom market could exert downward pressure on voice charges.

Siemens - corruption scandal

Siemens to sue 11 ex-board members

Siemens on Tuesday announced it planned to claim damages from eleven of its former executive board members, including ex-chief executives Heinrich von Pierer and Klaus Kleinfeld, over their role in the bribery scandal that struck the company almost two years ago.

Europe’s biggest engineering group claimed the managers had ”breached their organisational and supervisory responsibilities”, thus failing to stop illegal practices and wide-ranging bribery in a scandal that could potentially cost the engineering group several billion euros.

Siemens’ supervisory board on Tuesday approved recommendations by Hengeler Müller, the law firm, to sue almost all executive board members in charge between 2003 and 2006.

It will be the first time a chief executive of a company listed in the German blue-chip index Dax has been sued for compensation by his former employer. Mr von Pierer, who as well as Mr Kleinfeld always denied any wrongdoing, was chief executive until 2005 and stepped down as chairman two years later.

Mr Kleinfeld, Mr Pierer’s successor as chief executive, is now heading the US steel group Alcoa. Both managers are also facing civil proceedings by Munich prosecutors on suspicion of failed oversight.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Siemens bribed customers around the world to win infrastructure contracts, using slush funds and sham companies.

On Monday, the prosecutors won their first trial in the Siemens’s case in what they interpreted as having a signal effect on the other charges that would follow.

A Munich court had given Reinhard Siekaczek, a former middle-ranking manager, a two-year suspended sentence and a hefty fine.

The supervisory board also decided to sue for compensation two former executive board members, in another case where company money was allegedly being transferred to set up a rival to Siemens’ main trade union IG Metall. One of the managers, Johannes Feldmayer, was recently charged by prosecutors in Nuremberg.

The company on Tuesday also said it planed to spin off SEN, its telecom unit for business clients, into a joint venture with US financial investor The Gores Group.

Siemens said it expects to see a significant negative impact in the current quarter due to the transaction. Chief Financial Officer Joe Kaeser said he would not rule out a high triple-digit million euro hit.

The industrial group has been trying to sell this unit for two years. In the same time SEN has lost lost more than €1bn.

Siemens’ shares were down 0.5 per cent at €72.14 in afternoon trading.

Palestine - spectrum

Spectrum allocation agreement reached for Wataniya Palestine

Following reports earlier this month that mobile operator Wataniya Palestine was close to receiving mobile spectrum, reports from Qatari news source The Peninsula claim that an agreement has now been reached. Official confirmation is understood to have come from the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT), stating that spectrum is to be released to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which will in turn allocate spectrum to Wataniya. Following the release of spectrum, construction and commercial launch of mobile services will be possible. No confirmed dates for release of the spectrum have been announced however.

Vodacom - Black Economic Empowerment

Vodacom wants more empowerment

Following the completion of Vodacom's protracted R7.5-billion broad-based empowerment deal, the country's largest mobile provider is hungry for more empowerment, CEO Alan Knott-Craig announced this morning.

According to Knott-Craig, the transaction, as it stands, will bring Vodacom's BEE rating to level four, which will allow the company to participate “meaningfully” in government business. However, he says Vodacom hopes to increase the participation to level three.

Broad-based empowerment is measured using seven pillars, each with a relative weighting, measured on a scorecard. Level four is the minimum requirement for government participation. There are several companies which measure and rate BEE, and there are inconsistencies in this process.

However, Knott-Craig says the company's current rating can be assured. “Our scorecard was relatively strong in many areas before this deal, however, we scored poorly in the equity category.”

Knott-Craig says the next step for the company will be to look at attaining the next level of participation (level three), which will allow it to contribute even more in government. “We still have a lot of work to do on the scorecard rating. In some areas we scored 100% and in others we did not do as well, so there is still room for improvement.”

What to expect

In what could be the largest BEE transaction completed in the SA ICT space to date, the R7.5-billion deal equates to 6.25% interest in Vodacom's operations. This values the company at R120 billion.

“If the public offer is fully subscribed, the equity contribution by participants will be R900 million,” the company explains.

The public offer will open on 30 July and closes on 11 September. At the end of the month, the SA Post Office will have a prospectus detailing the public offer.

Vodacom has stuck with its initial structure, namely: SA staff will participate in 25% and strategic black partners is 45% of the BEE transaction. Royal Bafokeng Holdings and Thebe Investment Corporation are Vodacom's partners in the deal.

Following the completion of the deal, the black public will own 1.89%, employees 1.55% and strategic black partners 2.81%. The balance of ownership of 93.75% will continue to be held by the Vodacom Group.


Black people, black-controlled groups and Vodacom's SA black business partners can participate in the black public offer. Some 14.4 million YeboYethu shares will be available for subscription by the black public.

Of this, 3.6 million YeboYethu shares will be reserved for Vodacom's black business partners who are black entities forming part of Vodacom's SA distribution network and who have been invited by Vodacom to participate in the offer.

All Vodacom South African staff will participate through the YeboYethu Employee Participation Trust (ESOP). The current market value of the ESOP stake is R1.875 billion.

Allocation to employees will be based on percentage of salary, with the lower paid employees getting a higher percentage. It is a condition that 70% of the ESOP must be in black hands and 30% in black women's hands. A further 25% will be held for future employees.

South Africa - cheaper calls

Cheap international calls for mobiles

Altech and ECN Telecoms are offering cheap rates for mobile-to-mobile international calls. The two telecoms companies have combined efforts to launch a service where customers can dial an international number, via ECN's network, and be charged less than R1.25 per minute.

ECN's chief commercial officer, Andy Openshaw, explains that the company would carry the cost of the calls. ECN would only charge customers international rates which, Openshaw says, are “considerably cheaper” than standard Telkom rates. “Essentially, the customer will get charged international rates that are less than R1.25 per minute and we will also charge them per second,” he adds.

Openshaw also says that the service is already online and will be formally launched by Altech in a week's time. He says that customers will have to dial a specific number that will lead to an auto-prompt to dial the international number that they want to contact. ECN will then dial that number and connect the two.

Altech's Brogan Clark could not comment on the new product, stating that it is yet to be formally launched by the company. Yet he is confident that it is ready for consumers to test. Openshaw says that the service was tested for a few months before it went online this month. He says that Altech will be offering this service to all mobile users across all networks.

China - 600 million mobile users

China mobile handset user base grows to 600.76 million in June

There were 600.76 million subscribers for mobile communication services in China as of the end of June 2008, representing growth of 1.46% on month and 19.76% on year, according to statistics published by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT, renamed from Ministry of Information Industry).

The number of subscribers at the end of June accounted for 45.6% of the country's population (user density). Also at the end of June 2008 were there 356.32 million subscribers of fixed telecommunication networks in China, translating into a user density of 27.0%.

In June 2008, mobile phone subscribers in China sent 56.87 billion short messages, averaging 3.18 short messages per phone number a day.

China's Internet-access user base

Internet-access mode Number of subscribers at end of June 2008

Dial-up (narrow band) 15.96 million
Dedicated lines 71,391
xDSL 60.24 million (Y/Y 34.59%)
Aggregate 76.01 million (Y/Y 27.89%)

Social networking - next generation

Researchers Help Define Next-generation Social Networking

The next generation of social networking will give people more tools for defining smaller online communities in a way that mimics the real world, academic researchers said Monday.

"One thing that's very broken in the social tools we have right now is context and boundaries and a sense of who I want to share what with," said Liz Lawley, director of the laboratory for social computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Many social-networking sites essentially force users to become part of a huge community, or they force users to choose whether someone else is a friend or not, with no other subtleties defining that relationship, she noted.

"People want to create villages and they're being forced into cities. That's creating a huge tension in social interactions," she said. Lawley and other academic researchers spoke at the Microsoft Research annual Faculty Summit, an event that brings together academics, government workers and Microsoft researchers to discuss new fields of computer-science research.

Ideally, Lawley and the researchers she shared the stage with would like to be able to define various sets of friends online.

"The people I fly with as a pilot could care less about my... amateur radio work. They should have the ability to say they'll be my friend in this context and not necessarily in another context," said R & H Security Consulting President and CEO Howard Schmidt, a former academic who also consults for the government. "This is something we have to fine-tune as we build out social networking."

Academic researchers could help contribute to developments allowing such fine-tuning, but first they'll have to start using the existing tools, Lawley said. "Many of my colleagues could bring interesting insight, but I look at their use of these tools and they have no idea that there's a way you can share bookmarks with other people, no idea that you can moderate comments on a blog."

The researchers also discussed opinions, some of them perhaps surprising, on other important subjects in the online social-networking space. Lawley, who has a 14-year-old son, said she feels strongly against some of the restrictive methods used online to segregate adults from children in an attempt to protect kids from predators. On Second Life, for example, she can't interact with her son because he has to be in the teen grid and she has to be in the adult grid. "So I don't learn from him about how to use technologies and he doesn't learn from me about how to interact in a social context," she said.

Shutting down sites or trying to shut out people won't solve the problem of sexual predators, she said. "We don't talk about shutting down the Catholic church," she said, referring to the clergy sex-abuse scandal. "Sexual deviancy isn't unique to the online world."

While she sees the value in age verification online, age shouldn't be used to segregate users. It's better that parents and adults teach young people how to interact safely online-- "that's the real preventative," she said.

Other academics agreed. Few people assembled at the conference could go online and fool a kid for long because most people wouldn't be able to imitate their vocabulary well, said Dan Reed, director of scalable and multicore computing at Microsoft Research. Training young people how to identify adults posing as children can work well, he said.

At the event, Microsoft unveiled some free software tools now on offer to researchers, aimed at making it easier for them to publish and share data throughout academia. The products include e-Journal, a hosted service that lets researchers self-publish online-only journals; the Research Output Repository Platform, which connects various types of research output such as papers, lectures and presentations to make it easier for others to find related materials; and the Research Information Centre, a collaborative workspace based on Microsoft SharePoint and delivered in partnership with the British Library.

Spain - economic downturn

Telecoms Spending in Spain Hit

CMT, the Spanish regulator, has reported its numbers for the first quarter of 2008. Given Vodafone’s well-documented problems in Spain in the second quarter, these are interesting. Total telecoms revenues were up 1.3% on a year-on-year (y/y) basis, which represented a major slowdown from previous quarters. Retail telecoms revenues grew 2.1%, down on previous quarters, while wholesale telecoms revenues slipped into negative growth of 2.6%. The largest retail segment, mobile, reported a small decline in revenues in the first quarter, while the second largest retail segment, fixed-line voice, reported a y/y decline.

Significance: The Spanish economy is slowing down, but in the first quarter this was not particularly discernable in the fixed-line voice segment, where the total number of lines grew between December 2007 and March 2008. In the mobile segment, new registrations and monthly contracts and SMS experienced a decline in revenues in the first quarter, although this is not uncommon given that the fourth quarter is boosted by Christmas. We expect to see a further weakening of the telecoms sector shown in the second-quarter figures as a result of both economic weakness, particularly within the construction sector, but also intense competition.

USA - the economy and broadband

More Bad News for Broadband Biz: Verizon's Growth Stalls

Just a week after AT&T dropped a stink bomb -- a pitifully low 46,000 new broadband subscribers added in the second quarter -- Verizon said it grew its subscriber base by a grand total of 54,000 broadband subscribers. (As it turns out, the company lost 133,000 DSL subscribers during the quarter, but added 187,000 FiOS internet subscribers.)

Hey, at least the subscriber base is growing, but that's certainly not brag-worthy growth. To provide a little perspective: The company added 266,000 new subscribers in the first quarter, and added 288,000 in the year-ago period, which makes the 54,000 figure appear outright sickly.

"Although cable will likely benefit from the DSL declines, we're concerned about the overall data broadband growth," said Tom Egan, an analyst at Collins Stewart, in a research note.

Part of the problem is that there are only so many people who can afford broadband service -- especially given the rich monthly subscription fees -- and that market looks like it's been tapped.

And if there is indeed an industry-wide slowdown in the pipeline, the cable operators -- such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- could be next to take a hit.

"I don't think this is indicative of the competitive dynamics between cable and DSL," says Peter Rhamey, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets-Canada. "I think this reflects an overall softening of the economy."

So when does Rhamey think growth will pick up steam again?

"I don't know, when do you think the economy will recover?," he says. "I get asked this question a lot. I think maybe by first quarter next year."

In the meantime, if Verizon execs are concerned about a slowdown, they haven't let anyone see them sweat.

"First, hopefully, you got the sense that (Verizon CFO) Doreen and I, and I know (Verizon CEO) Ivan also feels very comfortable with our business plan, despite some of the concerns that others have been expressing about the economy. Although we may see some softening in some of our volumes, we do not expect any significant economic impact on our financial results in the second half of the year," said Denny Strigl, Verizon president and COO, on a conference call with Wall Street analysts this morning.

Of course, we won't know the full extent of the carnage until the cable operators report -- Comcast reports second-quarter results on July 30; and Time Warner Cable releases earnings on Aug. 6.

Mobile - the growing use of maps

Mobile Map Usage Growing Rapidly

Users around the globe are increasingly turning to their mobile phones to get directions, according to new data from ComScore.

The report found that 8% of U.S. wireless subscribers and 3% of European mobile subscribers accessed maps from their mobile handsets between March and May 2008. This represents a growth rate of 82% and 49%, respectively, compared with the same period last year.

"The mobile phone as a personal navigation device makes tremendous sense," said Mark Donovan, senior analyst at ComScore, in a statement. "With the influx of devices, such as the iPhone with GPS, entering the market, Nokia's purchase of Navteq, and the growing popularity of downloadable navigation applications, you don't need a map to see where this sector is going."

The study found that Apple's iPhone was the leading device for U.S. customers to access maps. This can be attributed to the integrated Google Maps, and this is expected to continue now that the iPhone 3G has built-in GPS.

Meanwhile, European users preferred Nokia's N95 and N70. The report said the vast majority of mobile map users are seeking driving directions, even in Europe, where public transportation options are more popular.

According to the report, the majority of users -- 73% in the United States and 57% in Europe -- accessed mobile maps via the handset's browser. Less than a third of customers in these markets used a downloaded application.

As more cell phones sport built-in GPS chips, wireless operators and handset manufacturers are increasingly offering data-heavy navigation services. To counter this increase in competition, Garmin will enter the mobile phone market later this year with the Nuvifone.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Australia - broadband

Butting heads over broadband

BRUCE Billson likes to think of himself as an average tech kind of guy. He's an ADSL subscriber, sends and receives copious amounts of email, is attached at the ear to his Palm Trio mobile phone and loves to play on the Nintendo Wii with his kids.
Butting heads over broadband

'There is a case for taxpayer subsidies where areas in the market are under-serviced,' says Bruce Billson
Billson's use of technology serves as his own personal Geiger counter to alert him to successes and failures in Australia's telecommunications landscape.

Like any good shadow minister, he is vocal about issues that set of his Geiger counter, particular if they come from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Since the Labor Party's ascent to power, Billson's main concern is the National Broadband Network, a $4.7 billion government-funded plan to bring high-speed broadband services to 98 per cent of Australians.

The broadband network was one of the Labor Party's election promises and a rebuttal of the Coalition's plan for the Opel joint venture to supply affordable broadband to under-serviced parts of Australia.

The Opel plan was scrapped shortly after Senator Conroy's appointment but its undoing could relegate Australia to the broadband dark ages, Billson says.

Are you happy with the state of technology in Australia?

The uptake of new technology has always been a plus for Australia. The need for technology options at an affordable price is what motivates me.

Dominating the tech landscape at the moment is Labor's national broadband network, but its details are so heavily shrouded in fog that no one yet knows how it will benefit consumers.

There has been a lot of talk about whether the broadband network should be subsidised to the extent that has been proposed. Do you think the public is prepared to buy fibre to the node services at a price that generates a profit?

My view, and the Opposition's view, has always been that there is a case for taxpayer subsidies where areas in the market are under-serviced, uneconomic or commercially unviable. With the broadband network the Labor Government has been talking about being a venture partner and getting a commercial rate of return on taxpayer funds.

That has all the hallmarks of a viable commercial venture, so why wouldn't you leave it to the private sector to do?

We've seen the broadband network time line blow out and we have a complete fog about what the open access and pricing framework will look like.

We also have telcos out there offering performances equivalent to the government policy benchmark using DSLAMs that might end up dangling in the wilderness if they are bypassed by this broadband network. It's a very worrying time for many in the industry and a very confusing time for consumers, not knowing where all this might end and seemingly shrouded in secrecy, with gag orders that won't even let people talk about these things.

We've seen the broadband network process blow out of its initial timeframe a couple times. What are your thoughts on the network being built to schedule?

What motivates me is the national and consumer interest. In that spirit I've repeatedly offered to Senator Conroy our positive input, co-operation and assistance to make sure consumers have access to high-speed and more affordable broadband and to go about that in a measured, well-researched, evidence-based way.

He has declined that help and instead embarked on a process that Robert Mugabe would be pleased to call his own.

You've got a gag order on key participants who have much to offer in the public debate, an expert panel of handpicked advisers to whom Senator Conroy has made clear what he would like to come out of it.

It's all in a fog of politicking and the Rudd Government seems more interested in getting a political headline than it is in higher speed, more affordable broadband and the economic and social benefits that will bring for our economy and community.

The OECD is targeting broadband speeds for the European Union of between 20Mbps and 50Mbps by 2010 to 2015. Do you think Australia should focus on keeping up with OECD countries, or are the current broadband network specifications of 12Mbps are good enough?

We certainly shouldn't be left behind. Our ambition should be to have competitive broadband - not only in speed but in price.

Australia is a vast continent and we need to embrace the range of technology to offer the highest speed and most affordable broadband that can be delivered.

Many people already have access to 12Mbps but choose not to take it up for a range of reasons.

Others are looking for reliability at higher speeds, which is why we need to keep an eye on what is available among our competitors in the OECD, to make sure we are not left behind, and to avoid being prescriptive about the build platforms, which could limit our options for the future.

Given the ubiquity of high-speed internet services in Australia's capital cities, is there a case to build a national broadband network from the outside in, instead of the way Senator Conroy is proposing through the broadband network?

That was our strategy with Opel. There was an Opel blueprint available to Senator Conroy but he decided to pull the rug out from underneath it. It had scalability that integrated a range of technology to suit the terrain of our vast continent.

Alongside that the former government was working co-operatively and collaboratively with industry to see what kind of regulatory environment was needed to have further investment rolled out in the city.

Senator Conroy is going about it the other way. He is giving very little confidence to those who are under-served about when their issues will be addressed.

He's providing higher levels of service availability to areas that already have high levels of service. His intransigence in focusing on build characteristics and not on broadband performance characteristics could add billions of dollars to project costs, which will need to be recovered from broadband users.

There has also been a lot of talk about the need for structural separation for whichever bidder ends up being the builder of the broadband network. Do you think the Government should require separation of the winner of the broadband contract?

If there is no taxpayer spend towards further investment, there should be no new obligations on the provider.

For instance, if Telstra was of a mind to push on with its investment and there was no new taxpayer funding going into it, there should be no new government imposition on Telstra and its shareholders.

If more than $4.5 billion of taxpayer money is to be put into this project we argue there should be additional public policy gains that strengthen the goals of open access and competition.

We've been less specific about the precise nature of that separation because we are aware that internationally there are various models that achieve that goal.

We want a no-conflict open access outcome, so wholesale prices are available on a consistent basis to retail service providers as was required under the Opel contract.

History has shown that regulation and structural separation is not easy when Telstra is involved. The Howard government was ineffectual in its attempts to enforce structural separation and regulation on Telstra. What do you think needs to be done to bolster regulation?

The first thing is not to freeze the ACCC out of the expert panel. The ACCC has been reduced to an also-ran: it can make a submission to the panel, but so can you and I. I don't think anyone would suggest regulation is an easy process. Having said that, I find completely it unacceptable that there's no discussion about what the ACCC should and shouldn't be doing concerning the broadband network.

There's no opportunity to even canvas those views.

The ACCC's powers, and whether they should or should not be bolstered, comes right back to the question of what regulatory framework is needed to support what could very well amount to a re-monopolisation of a crucial part of our telecommunications infrastructure.

Nigeria - Nitel

Our plan is to transform NITEL into a profit making entity – Iseghohi, GMD, Transcorp

Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Transcorp Plc, Mr. Tom Iseghohi, is a man who likes to talk straight. Even though he took over an organization that was bedeviled by crisis, he said that the task ahead of him, though daunting, is surmountable and he has set out to put things right. Iseghohi said Transcorp did not just get into NITEL because it felt so, but because “we want it to work and we do not want what happened to Nigerian Airways to happen to NITEL.”

According to him, “Nigeria has witnessed a very fast rate of expansion in the telecommunications sector . We are now eager to see such fast rate of growth more in the industry. Mobile phone services account for 99 percent telephone availability in Nigeria today.

We, therefore, want to encourage investment in the sector. We have a near term strategy, recovery strategy to ensure that the company continues to prosper, be stable and more valuable than it is today. We are ready to make NITEL work and reposition it as an efficient world-class telecommunications investor. We will put in financial control, which I have achieved.” He said the position of telecommunications in Nigeria is very bright despite the estimated 60 million subscribers that the market already has.

The Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer noted that Transcorp is a publicly quoted wholly-owned Nigerian business enterprise with interest not only in telecommunications, but also in agriculture, hospitality, shelter, infrastructure development, oil and gas, saying that this should put paid to insinuations that the conglomerate is owned by any single individual.

"The truth of the matter is that Transcorp is owned by 250,000 Nigerians. There is no individual that owns more than five percent of Transcorp. Because of our key position in the economy, international companies are willing to invest in Nigerian economy today”, he added

The CEO said that Transcorp took a giant stride in December 2005, when it paid $105million to the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) for 51 percent equity in NIRMSCO properties, owners of Hilton Hotel. The hotel would subsequently be re-christened Transcorp Hilton which is one aspect of the company's business. He equally pointed out that Transcorp made yet another big catch on November 14, 2006, when it signed a share sales and purchase agreement with BPE for the sale of NITEL with the sum of $500million.

“If the hotel is not so difficult to run, NITEL and its mobile subsidiary M-Tel will also not be difficult for us to run. We are ready to reposition NITEL as an efficient entity, ready, worthy and attractive for reputable world class telecommunications”, he said.

He noted that the reason people did not want Transcorp to come into NITEL was that it would put in discipline and every money that comes in would strictly be monitored. Iseghohi, who is our chief executive officer of the week also spoke on other issues.

cuil - a new search engine

Former Googleers unveil Cuil, a new search engine
see also cuil

A start-up led by former star Google engineers on Sunday unveiled a new Web search service that aims to outdo the Internet search leader in size, but faces an uphill battle changing Web surfing habits.

Cuil Inc (pronounced "cool") is offering a new search service at that the company claims can index, faster and more cheaply, a far larger portion of the Web than Google, which boasts the largest online index.

The would-be Google rival says its service goes beyond prevailing search techniques that focus on Web links and audience traffic patterns and instead analyzes the context of each page and the concepts behind each user search request.

"Our significant breakthroughs in search technology have enabled us to index much more of the Internet, placing nearly the entire Web at the fingertips of every user," Tom Costello, Cuil co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement.

Danny Sullivan, a Web search analyst and editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, said Cuil can try to exploit complaints consumers may have with Google -- namely, that it tries to do too much, that its results favor already popular sites, and that it leans heavily on certain authoritative sites such as Wikipedia.

"The time may be right for a challenger," Sullivan says, but adds quickly: "Competing with Google is still a very daunting task, as Microsoft will tell you."

Microsoft Corp, the No. 3 U.S. player in Web search has been seeking in vain, so far, to join forces with No. 2 Yahoo Inc to battle Google.

Cuil was founded by a group of search pioneers, including Costello, who built a prototype of Web Fountain, IBM's Web search analytics tool, and his wife, Anna Patterson, the architect of Google Inc's massive TeraGoogle index of Web pages. Patterson also designed the search system for global corporate document storage company Recall, a unit of Australia's Brambles Ltd

The two are joined by two former Google colleagues, Russell Power and Louis Monier. Previously, Monier led the redesign of ecommerce leader eBay Inc's search engine and was the founding chief technology officer of two 1990s Web milestones, AltaVista and BabelFish, the first language translation site.

"They do have the talent that is used to building large, industrial-strength search engines," Sullivan says of Cuil.

Cuil clusters the results of each Web search performed on the service into groups of related Web pages. It sorts these by categories and offers various organizing features to help identify topics and allow the user to quickly refine searches.

User privacy is another appeal of its approach, Cuil says. Because the service focuses on the content of the pages rather than click history, the company has no need to store users' personal information or their search histories, it says.

"We are all about pattern analysis," Patterson says. "We go over the corpus (Web pages) 12 times before we even index it."


Cuil has indexed a whopping 120 billion Web pages, three times more than what they say Google now indexes, Patterson said, adding the company has spent just $5 million,

Google itself preemptively responded to Cuil's arrival with a blog post on Friday boasting of the growing scale of its own Web search operations.

Sullivan said he puts no stock in either company's boasts about the size of their indexes, since it has only an indirect effect on the ultimate success Web surfers have in searching. And Cuil's privacy virtues are exaggerated, he adds.

Founded in late 2006, the Menlo Park, California-based Cuil has raised $33 million in two separate rounds: The first, for $8 million from Greylock and Tugboat Ventures, and the second for $25 million by Madrone Capital Partners.

Initially, Cuil is optimized for American English. Later this year, the company plans to enable Cuil users to perform searches in major European languages, Patterson said. Eventually, Cuil plans to make money by running ads alongside search results, she said, but provided no further details.

Cuil is one of a number of start-ups that are looking to introduce new technology that can change the competitive dynamics of the Web search market that Google dominates.

Earlier in July, Microsoft bought Powerset, a San Francisco-based search start-up that enables consumers to use semantic techniques -- conversational phrasing instead of keywords -- to search the Web.