July II 2007

31 July 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

You know it’s a major show when CBOSS is there with their bevy of show-stopping long-legged Russian dancers circulating throughout the show and – every now and again – dancing. I first saw them years ago at Singapore’s CommunicAsia show in rather abbreviated cowboy (uh…cowgirl) costumes, but they’ve since become a fixture at major shows – almost a mark of major shows – around the world. CommunicAsia certainly qualifies as a major show – they were there in long gowns.

CommunicAsia 2007 attracted close to 70 thousand visitors, about a third from overseas. The show seems to get bigger, and more exhausting every year. This year, I’m told, there were 2,413 companies, about 80 per cent from abroad – not at all surprising considering the size of Singapore, S’pore, as they call it, the host country.

The four-day show was divided into a number of sub-shows and conferences – each big enough to qualify as a good-sized show on its own.
The shows, CommunicAsia itself, EnterpriseIT, BroadcastAsia and Interactive DME (Digital Media and Entertainment) are held concurrently; despite the distinctions, they are really one big show. They are also one big draw for the trade – all the ICT sector suppliers and service providers doing, or hoping to do, business in the region. Whoever wants to do business in the region will probably find everyone they want to do business with at the show.
As one would expect at this Asian mega ICT event, it was chock full of ‘est’ – the biggest, badest, mostest, slimest, fastest, sharpest, prettiest…- products, services, suppliers, leaders, buyers and sellers, speakers, you name it, imaginable.
Interactive DME is the newest and smallest event at CommunicaAsia. It is aimed at all the service, equipment and content providers in the digital media universe; that is, all those in some way involved with digital video, audio, cinema, home entertainment, advertising and marketing, multimedia broadcasting, games, IPTV and so forth – it’s a very long list.

The Interactive DME event’s two conferences, the one-day Mobile TV and IPTV Forums, counted with sector leaders and attracted some 300 professionals to learn about state-of-the-art technology and services to network and do business.
EnterpriseIT 2007, or the 4th International Information Technology Exhibition & Conference for the Enterprise – Asia’s Definitive Enterprise Technology Event (quite a mouthful) was supposedly about using IT to run your business better. Actually, it was about selling more technology so the exhibitor’s business goes better, but a bit of exaggeration is forgivable. Given the growth of the Asia Pac market, the interest in EnterpriseIT was intense. The organisers divided the event into vertical industry groupings – financial services, healthcare, hospitality, retail, logistics, manufacturing, media and entertainment, telecommunications, government, but if you were looking for something else, you could probably find it.
The associated IX Conference 2007, run by Singapore’s InfoComm Technology Federation, is an unabashed attempt to bring more business to the region – especially to S’pore. It is a showcase for the latest technologies, services and companies. It is aimed at buyers and, I hear, does a pretty good job attracting mid and senior level executives.

BroadcastAsia, in its twelfth year, is the oldest parallel event at CommunicAsia. The exhibition this year was organised into a number of ‘technology trails’ – DVB/DMB, HD (high definition) technology, IPTV, professional audio. There was a certain overlap with the CommunicAsia event itself and Interactive DME in the IPTV, mobile entertainment and the gaming exhibits.
The big topic, both at the show and the conference this year was HD. Everywhere you looked, whatever the trail, whatever the subject, one seemed to run up against the latest in HD products, services. The quality difference between standard definition and high definition is becoming the driving force in consumer device sales and – obviously – the entire value chain in the marketplace is re-aligning itself accordingly. From content producers to viewing devices manufacturers everyone is concerned with getting HD right, affordably.
The cost of HD production is quite a concern and it’s not just a case of getting new equipment. Even the scenery has to better withstand the scrutiny that HD enables. Another concern at the show was, of course, the rollout and uptake of the broadband capabilities that will enable HD transmission and reception.
If there was any star at this show it was broadband At CommunicAsia itself, and at all the parallel shows, when talking about the market, the business models, the future of the carriers, the latest and greatest carrier gear, of the simplest to the slickest mobile handset, the talk all revolved around broadband. It’s not tomorrow, not in the least, not anymore. It’s now, it’s urgent and it’s pretty much all here. The buyers are looking and the choice is growing throughout the range of equipment.
The CommunicAsia exhibit and conference, itself, was divided into a number of sub-topics, of which – besides the ever present broadband beat – the biggest draw was wireless, mobile wireless to be precise. Although there was a good deal of talk about the lowest-end handsets, the ULC (ultra low-cost) handsets destined for the emerging markets. It was the high end of the handset market that attracted hoards of viewers at stand after stand. Once more the bigger (okay, in this case, smaller) better, faster, more feature packet gizmos enthralled the crowds.
It seems certain that we will all soon be chained to relatively low cost, pocketable, devices that do just about everything, even voice calls, if you are really interested in anything so commonplace as all that. There are a growing number of really capable cameras, two way live action cameras, personal assistant functions, and Window’s enabled, slide out or flip open full keyboard phones. It is easy to imagine a day, not far off, when most of us will have one of these devices – a personal window on the world and all-purpose tool. We will soon depend upon these devices as much as we depend upon electricity and, no doubt, take them just as for granted.
All in all, no big surprises, just more of the same, but better; it was, though, one hell of a show of the sort we have come to expect at CommunicAsia.
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Our next issue, Connect-World Africa & the Middle East (2007), will be published later this month. The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are media sponsors such as: GSM ME Gulf and North Africa (Dubai, 2-3 Sept), Gulfcomms (Dubai, 8-12 Sept), ICT Africa 2007 (Nairobi, Kenya, 1-5 Oct), Cards Africa, South Africa (Johannesburg, 8-11 Oct), and GSM Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, 21-22 Nov).
The theme of this issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will be: ICT for the people – Economic and social development in Africa and the Middle East
Development depends upon a wide variety of factors. Economic growth calls for investment, an educated population and easy access to markets, information and communications. Information and communications technology, ICT, cannot, by itself, improve health, stop wars or provide education, but it is a major driver of socio-economic growth and development.
The advent of ICT in Africa and the Middle East has, arguably, done more than any other single factor to alleviate the region’s problems and provide tools for sustainable development. The influence of ICT extends from the continent’s commercial and financial centres to unimaginably remote rural areas. It helps big businesses grow and small businesses survive, it creates jobs and ties even the smallest farmer, tradesman or business of any sort to the markets they depend upon. ICT is helping reform governmental, educational and health services and is bringing them directly to the people – wherever they may be.
ICT provides the region’s door into the global economy, to citizenship in the Information Society. This issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will investigate how ICT is already revolutionising the region, changing its economies and societies forever. We will ask the region’s top decision makers to describe their vision of Africa and the Middle East’s future and of what is needed to achieve it.

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July I 2007

31 July 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

Doing the broadband bounce

I just got back from NXTcomm in Chicago – without my bag, notes and research material, all lost somewhere along the way – so if I get a fact or two wrong, blame my airline.

NXTcomm is the ‘son-of’ SuperComm. The TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) and the USTA (US Telecom Association) jointly produced the SuperComm series of mega-telecom shows for years. They broke up, and each then produced their own much smaller shows. The TIA had its GlobalComm show and the USTA produced NextComm. Industry pressure, supposedly, forced them to marry again.

The new show is much smaller than SuperComm. Still, given the support of the industry, of the TIA and the USTA, NXTcomm is bound to grow and regain much of the ground lost during the SuperComm break-up. NXTcomm, fortunately, has successfully re-edited one of SuperComm’s strongest attractions – their excellent series of conferences.

As always, the IEC was there with their superb Communications Forums. A number of other groups were also invited to run special conference events including: ATIS TechThink Technology Conference; BICSI North-Central US and Canadian Regional Meeting; The Digital Hollywood Conference; DiversityNXT – Supplier Diversity for ICET; FierceMarkets – WiMAX Strategies; International Business Development Panel; Stifel Nicolaus Investor Conference; NTIA Program (dealing with disasters); and the Wiley Rein Communications and TechLaw Conference.

The theme of the event, ‘The ICET Universe Expands’, reflects the increasing importance of entertainment – ICET stands for information, communication and entertainment technology – as a driver of the sector’s economy. As Bob Wright, former head of NBC Universal, and currently Vice Chairman of its controlling corporate parent General Electric, said in his keynote address, telecom service providers need to work with content providers because the entertainment option is the ’front door’ to the market for telecom service providers.

I have to agree with him, but there are times it seems that many of today’s service providers do not do much more than put their foot in the door and wait until the door slams back on their foot. Many of the telecom sector executives I have spoken to over the last years have little vision of the telecom world beyond entertainment, triple or quad play or even the ring-tone. Their inability to see some of the real challenges the industry must one day face, or even the opportunities they create, is astonishing, but that’s the subject for another eLetter – or book.

Although NXTcomm was true to its promise to look into the growing world of ICET, the real star of the show was broadband. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, was there to proclaim the wonders of IP, of video, of touchy-feely Web 2.0 interaction among people and, not so incidentally to gloat over the success of its CRS-1 router. The CRS-1, the Carrier Routing System-1, or the HFR (huge f…ing router) as it was code named during development, is a huge f…ing success. If my memory serves me (sorry my notes are gone) they have already sold more than a thousand in the three years since launch and are well on their way, with more than 900 sold just this year, to double that mark shortly.

Despite Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist credo, “Less is More”, when it comes to ICT, especially broadband, more is definitely more. . The CRS-1 is proof. There is only one way to answer the question, ‘How much capacity do you want?’. The reply can only be, ‘more’.

The CRS-1’s resounding success in the marketplace is one of the strongest indicators of broadband’s exponential growth. The CRS-1 is a giant carrier router that can be configured to handle up to 92 Tbps (yes, that’s terabits – trillions of bits per second). When the CRS-1 was launched in 2004, most industry observers thought it would take ages to earn back its half billion dollar development cost.

When mainframe computers were first commercialized, few thought there would be a market for as many as one hundred throughout the world. Similarly, most thought that only a few of the giant CRS-1 routers would be sold. Cisco’s competitors were so slow to catch on, so slow to believe that broadband would grow by three hundred to five hundred per cent year, that they are still running to get their own super gear to market.

The other NXTcomm keynote speakers including AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson seem to agree that consumer broadband demand, especially for TV and video, which use as much as a thousand times more bandwidth than voice will be continue to grow explosively. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg spoke of their Fios all-fibre network build out strategy. The costly network, he explained, was needed to ensure the sort of bandwidth that new applications, especially, video demand.

AT&T and Verizon, like all the major service providers are counting on video, data and entertainment to anchor the service bundles – read, weapons – they are using to fight off the cable provider voice, video and data bundles that are eroding their market share. The operators, like Cisco seem convinced that there will be no let-up in broadband demand for the foreseeable future.

Chambers attitude seemed to sum up the show much better than anything he or any of the other keynoters said. At the speech and the press conference that followed, he raced through his presentation, changing densely worded slides faster than one could read them while he preached the gospel of the coming – Hallelujah – monster broadband tidal wave. He fairly bounced with glee, like a silicon super ball, to the broadband beat.

Convergence, a term used and abused in recent years, was still an important subject at the show – no longer as a promise, but as a fact. The hype has calmed down and convergence is mentioned more often simply as a driver of broadband growth. As more and more functions are loaded onto the same network, the more the traffic the network must handle; the ‘pipes’ through which the traffic flows need to get fatter.

IMS, a great star at events in recent years, got only passing mention. No one seemed anxious to speak too loudly about it. Not that anyone really doubts it will play a significant role in the sector’s future. It is just that – When? – is a question no one really wants to answer.

It still seems odd to me, despite the irrefutable logic behind the choice, that Ethernet is still – after all these years – the technology of choice and one of the star technologies at the show. I have vague memories of twisting together a pair of kite strings to make an Ethernet connection between two paper cups. To my prehistoric ICT dinosaur brain, the talk of carrier Internet, the latest in Ethernet’s long series of re-births and reincarnations over the last 30 years or so, seems like talk of great grandma rising from the grave and do battle with the latest technologies – and winning.

Ethernet has been quietly battling all comers for years now with a winning combination of speed, scalability and low-cost implementation. Carrier Ethernet, built upon the old, familiar LAN standard, added the sort of features to the standard that carriers must have to operate their networks reliably. The features – standardised services, scalability, reliability, quality of service (QoS) and service management – have added new life and unlimited growth potential to the ancient (in ICT years) standard.

It is Carrier Ethernet, together with the foresight that drove the development of the HFR super router, which by sustaining the growth of broadband, is providing a lifeline for the carriers. Broadband keeps bouncing along, higher and higher.

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Connect-World Africa & the Middle East (2007) will be published later this month. The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: GSM ME Gulf and North Africa (Dubai, 2-3 Sept), Gulfcomms (Dubai, 8-12 Sept), ICT Africa 2007 (Nairobi, Kenya, 1-5 Oct), Cards Africa, South Africa (Johannesburg, 8-11 Oct), and GSM Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, 21-22 Nov).

The theme of this issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will be, ICT for the people – Economic and social development in Africa and the Middle East

Development depends upon a wide variety of factors. Economic growth calls for investment, an educated population, easy access to markets, information and communications. Information and communications technology, ICT, cannot, by itself, improve health, stop wars or provide education, but it is a major driver of socio-economic growth and development.

The advent of ICT in Africa and the Middle East has, arguably, done more than any other single factor to alleviate the region’s problems and provide tools for sustainable development. The influence of ICT extends from the continent’s commercial and financial centres to unimaginably remote rural areas. It helps big businesses grow and small businesses survive, it creates jobs and ties even the smallest farmer, tradesman, business of any sort, to the markets they depend upon. ICT is helping reform governmental, educational and health services and is bringing them directly to the people – wherever they may be.

ICT provides the region’s door into the global economy, to citizenship in the Information Society. This issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will investigate how ICT is already revolutionising the region, changing its economies and societies forever. We have asked the region’s top decision makers to describe their vision of Africa and the Middle East’s future and of what is needed to achieve it.


June I 2007

1 July 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

Seek and meta-seek and ye shall find…
Search engines (SEs) are among the great hallmarks of the information society. Computers that ‘crawl’ the Web cataloguing everything they come across have become indispensable. Google has even become a verb – ‘Let’s Google it’.
There’s Google, of course, and Alta Vista, Yahoo!, All The Web, Lycos, even a Hog Search -have you ever heard of it? There are search engines specialized in specific sectors, search engines that specialize in finding people, there are even search engines that specialise in getting and vetting information from other SEs, called meta-search engines.
Have you got a question? Just feed it to your SE and in a few seconds – after scanning its index containing millions and millions of WebPages – most SEs will spit out a list of articles, references, ads, photos, indeed anything and everything that has to do with your query. Not even the best librarian in the biggest, best, most up-to-date library in the world can match this performance.
Of course, some of the SE feedback lists tens, hundreds, thousands and, yes, even billions of references – and many of those are as closely related to what you are looking for as a free-association response on a psychoanalyst’s couch. Try looking up, ‘The Internet’, on Google; you will get more than one and a half billion responses in less than one quarter of a second. What if the answer you need is in the 3,002,644th reference? Now that’s really useful. Sure!!!
The Internet, the Word Wide Web, has become one of the great repositories of human knowledge, perhaps the greatest of all time. In time, the projects to digitalise the world’s knowledge, all the world’s books, will certainly be realised and the value of the Web will multiply accordingly. The Web will have everything; the problem will be finding it. Today, the number of hopeless responses, and those that merely miss the mark a bit, far surpass the number of responses that really answer the questions you ask.
Checking for search engines (I ran a quick search using – right – a search engine), I immediately found about 70 sites, but there are probably hundreds. I recently read – I don’t remember where and do not know how true it is – that all the search engines together only cover about 60 per cent of the material on the Web. The article said that, none of the major search engines has catalogued more than twenty per cent, and that the search engines, at least partially, all duplicate results of other SEs. Still, the search engines cover a staggering amount of information and most of the time, if you’ve got the time to hunt a bit, you can usually find what you are looking for.
Given the complexity of searching the Web, the number of false responses you get, and the vast number of ways you can get a question wrong, it is a wonder we find as much as we do and it’s astonishing how valuable and time-saving it is. It is no wonder, though, that a generation of meta-search engines has sprung up. A meta-SE has no database of its own; instead, it sends your search terms to a number of SEs. If two heads are better than one, then two, or five or more SEs should be better still. On the other hand, if both heads belong to idiots, the result will be, well, idiotic. For the most part, it seems obvious that despite the fancy technology used to select the results – the clustering, linguistic analysis and textual analysis some of the better meta-SEs employ – the meta-SE’s results can be no better than the material available on the SEs. Meta-SEs cannot turn search engine hip-hop into Shakespearean sonnets.
Of course, the problems are well-known. Researchers in universities, in start-ups, major ITC corporations and the search engine companies themselves have been working long and hard to build better search algorithms.
One way to improve search engines is to personalise their search algorithms so they return results more closely attuned to the information seeker’s interests. If I search for the ‘Web’, I really don’t want to know about spiders – although an entomologist might – unless they are search engine ‘spiders’, also known as crawlers. These are programmes that search the Internet for information to catalogue and file in the search engine’s database. Algorithms that include information about the searcher’s past history are much more likely to return the sort of results required and leave out unsuitable responses.
The best-known search engines all give advertisers a certain priority when they display results so they appear more important – that is more relevant than they are. Corporate advertisers pay for your free ride on the search engines, but ‘there is no free lunch’; they rob a bit of the SE’s utility and accuracy in the process.
A group at Colorado State University has developed a software search agent called QueryTracker, a software agent that mediates between the users and ‘normal’ search engines. QueryTracker seeks information that the user wants to track over the long-term – be it the stock market, ICT trends, or string theory research -– by querying the search engines each day and checking for changes and new results on the Web. What makes QueryTracker interesting, is that, based on the results of past searches, it can re-formulate and improve its queries day-to-day, refining them to provide much more sharply focused results.
There are many ways to personalise searches, and each provides a certain amount of added value, but none of them are even close to what users really want – exact answers to the imprecise questions of the sort we ask one another, understand intuitively and respond to precisely.
Personalised searches exist that just search for specified types of pages. The pages might look for news about banking industry technology, running shoes or butterflies – whatever interests you. A more sophisticated SE might start looking for specific pages, but would rank the results based on an analysis of the pages that were actually accessed and read and, perhaps, how much time was spent looking at each page. Specific search criteria and logical search operators such as and, not, or, if… then, might also be employed. Tabulations of the numbers of searchers that have read a certain article, the number of links from other sites, the number of citations in scholarly papers are also used, but none of these techniques – or any other – have been wondrously successful.
Google’s Custom Search Engine Service helps anyone, any company, to put a specialised Google search box on their Website. The service can access Google’s entire index, but selects its results from a predefined universe of sites and pages. Google provides tools, menus and wizards, that let anyone quickly build their own custom search engine. In a way, this is just another manifestation of the social search mechanism whereby users feedback their opinions and help select the results for other like-minded users within their own community or group. Users appreciate the pre-selections made by their peers; many feel that the search experience is enriched by the feedback from users with similar interests.
The developers of Wikipedia, the user written online encyclopaedia, are now developing a ‘people powered’ search engine that will weigh its results based upon user input.
For the moment, brute force, rather than sophistication seems to hold the most promise – that is until someone develops a breakthrough search algorithm. IBM tried something of the sort with its WebFountain technology. WebFountain’s crawlers index many millions of pages per day; it mines mountains of data using some of the most sophisticated linguistic analysis to ‘understand’, to discover the meaning, of whatever text it encounters and tags it all using XML to make it searchable. Still, like all computer programmes, it’s fairly good at facts, but not so good at determining what people mean. We all understand when a statement is meant to be ironic, but computer programmes don’t, the best still interpret statements literally when any of us would assign a wholly different meaning.
WebFountain is pretty good, but the service which is sold only to corporate clients lost one of its biggest users because it took to long to fully analyse all of the data it collected. Given the constant growth of computer capacity things are bound to speed up considerably in the near future and the brute force approach will become better.
Time will tell what approach works best. There are still moments when wildly wrong, inadvertently funny results, remind me of a story from the early days of computerised language translation. Many years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon was supposedly working on a programme to translate Russian to English and vice versa. To test it, they fed in the proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind”. The resulting sentence in Russian was then fed into the counterpart programme and translated back to English. The result? – “Blind Idiot” – a pretty good description of some of today’s search engines.

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Our next Connect-World North America Issue will be published later this month.
The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: ISCe, International Satellite & Communications Conference (June 5-7 San Diego, USA) and NXTComm (18-21 June, Chicago).

The theme of this issue of Connect-Word North America will be The Broadband connection -from enterprise to entertainment
Now broadband has been a hot topic for some time. Throughout the world, even in the least developed nations, the goal for the universalisation of telecommunications has been raised from telephone access for everyone to a broadband/Internet connection for everyone. Service providers of all types have been delivering broadband for some time, but the demand is growing still. TV, for example, has always been hot; today it is hotter. Everyone wants a piece of the advertising, everyone wants a piece of the audience and not just the broadcasters, but also the mobile operators, the wireline telephone operators, the ISPs – in fact, everyone – and this means more broadband – wireless broadband, copper wired broadband, fibre broadband. Everyone, in fact, who can pump a signal to a screen – even if it’s the size of two postage stamps, is looking for the content to drive the viewer into their own version better mousetrap TV.
It doesn’t stop there. Virtual worlds such as Second Life float in a broadband sea and business applications, always broadband intensive, will call for ever broader, ever quicker links. With virtual presence applications, we might be seeing headquarters executives ‘strolling’ down the aisles of their factories halfway around the world. This takes a lot of bandwidth, but this is just the start.
Much of the bulge in bandwidth demand comes from mobile operators, handset producers, turbocharged DSL manufacturers, content producers, traditional telephone companies jockeying for their share of entertainment revenues, but the next generation of business services, and exponentially intensified service outsourcing will multiply this demand. This is already driving interest in new business models and promises to generate active searches for new partners. Many of the consolidations, the mergers and acquisitions that will take place would have been considered strange marriages not so very long ago.
The drive for broadband capacity will, once again, revolutionise the industry