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Entries in Google (5)


Loon aloft: But can it work?

From the team that brought us the driverless car and Google Glass: Google Friday launched some real trial balloons near Christchurch in an effort to bridge the global digital divide.

Project Loon involves placing solar-powered balloons at 20km above the earth’s surface to deliver 3G-like internet bandwidth via the 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz bands, Tech Central reported.

The balloons are clustered in a mesh network so that they maintain connectivity. Each serves a radius of 20 km and a couple of hundred customers simultaneously.

Given that the backhaul must also go over that link, it’s not going to be anything like broadband service, but Google is aiming for the two-thirds of the world who don’t have any internet access.

It will need to be cost-competitive with WiMax, however, which offers broadband speeds across hundreds of thousands of square kilometres from a single tower.  Unlike Loon, Wimax has an industry ecosystem to back it and doesn't need the installation of a ground antenna. Google is clearly betting on the speed and simplicity of building its balloon platform.

Notwithstanding those doubts, who can resist the romance of balloons aloft? Google engineers spent a lot of time picking the brains of NASA and defence boffins to figure out the tech. I’m sure Motorola wished they had that idea instead of tipping $7.8 billion into Iridium.

From the telecom point of view it marks another Google foray into connectivity, along with the Unity cable, the US fibre trials and the oft-rumoured free Wi-Fi scheme.



Android to the rescue

If you’re under 20 years old and not Japanese you might be surprised that Japan actually makes mobile phones.

Today only Sony Ericsson, half-owned by the Japanese electronics firm, sells phones in any volume outside the Japan market.

The disappearance of Japanese handset firms from the global stage is a business study on “how not to succeed” (and probably says a lot about the country’s wider economic retreat).

One reason has been the industry’s inability to refresh itself. Whereas western handset brands like Nortel, Alcatel and Siemens have disappeared or were sold off, only in the last 18 months have the Japanese players consolidated.

The other is because they decided to focus on the local market, building handsets to specs set by domestic operators - NTT DoCoMo in particular – perhaps in the belief that the rest of the world would follow.

In any case, the days of the narrow focus are over. Japanese handset guys are putting their faith in Android, the broadest church of them all.

Sharp, NEC, Kyocera and Sony Ericsson are all betting big on Android, the NT Times reports, noting that one of the shocks was the smash success of the iPhone, gaining 70% market share in a territory where foreign brands find it tough to get traction.

So Sharp is doing things it’s never done before, like opening up its lab and working with developers, and trying to focus on customers, not operators.

The combination of Android and Japanese hardware smarts is a natural one and, who knows, might propel one of the Japanese firms into the handset top ranks again.

But Gerhard Fasol, chief executive of Tokyo consultancy Eurotechnology, reminds that the Japanese firms are merely “soldiers in the Google army, with Google as king.”

Which also reminds that the Japanese firms are also missed recruiting targets for Nokia-Microsoft, who are well short of an army.


Spotlight again falls on Baidu's MP3 habit

By placing Baidu on its “notorious markets” list for providing links to unauthorised MP3 files, the US Trade Representative has reopened an unwelcome issue for the Chinese search champion.

E-commerce site Alibaba, The Pirate Bay, and clones of Russia’s now-closed Allofmp3 are also on the list, which names and shames alleged pirates with the aim of encouraging local authorities to take action (though it is also a handy guide for those who wish to buy counterfeit goods).

It is telling that while Alibaba acknowledged the move and said it was working “with brand owners in protecting their intellectual property rights,” the Baidu isn’t touching it.

Early last year Baidu won a copyright infringement case filed in Beijing by the global music group IFPI on behalf of the big four labels – reportedly because the actual hosts of the MP3 files could not be identified.

However, Yahoo Music China, which had also provided deep links to MP3 files, lost a similar case in 2007.

While it is unfair to expect a search engine to be responsible for the content that it links to, there are two points to made.

First, Baidu is more than just a passive provider of search results – it has built a dedicated search page that catalogues and sorts MP3 files and hosts banner ads. It is hard to see how it can argue that it was a neutral third party.

Second, it is a competitive advantage over foreign search rivals. For legal and political reasons, it’s not a business that Bing and Google can get into.

Baidu clearly values its MP3 business. But as one of China’s top global brands, it also values its international reputation. We'll see how long the former remains more important.


MWC day 2: WAC & a Google attack

Cellco chiefs turned out in force in Barcelona Tuesday to pump the first offerings from WAC (Wholesale Applications Community), the industry’s plan to cash in on mobile apps. They showed off new apps, handset and app stores, although some wondered about the lack of actual developers.

Vodafone boss Vittorio Colao and Telefonica’s Cesar Alierta rounded on Google, with Alierta calling for a “new engagement with content providers” – a not-so-subtle pitch to force more fees out of internet companies.

China Mobile chief Wang Jianzhou sought  handsets with embedded Wi-Fi to cope with the mobile data crunch.

HTC’s Peter Chou was “positive” about Nokia and Microsoft, while AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson put a positive spin on the loss of iPhone exclusivity – all those Apple ads were free publicity, he said.

HTC unveiled its first tablet, the 7-inch Flyer, while Huawei showcased its own 7-inch tablets, priced at around $300, and Nvidia promised a new processor with five times more grunt than its existing Tegra chip.

Product of the day, however, was Gemalto’s Facebook SIM, giving direct access to the social networking site from any phone.


Mobile World Congress instant preview

The striking thing about the GSMA confab, which kicks off today, is the presence of virtually none of the web heavyweights with mobile ambitions. Here’s what to look for (or avoid):

Handset OS wars:  A current favourite, given new life by Nokia’s embrace of Microsoft, and extra spice from Elop’s insistence that RIM doesn’t exist. It will be handsets at 30 paces when Elop and RIM’s Jim Balsillie share a platform on Wednesday.

Mobile vs. the web: Another saga; Eric Schmidt played the baddie to perfection last year and is back again for more this year with a dedicated keynote session of his own. Respect! This year the other net-centirc speakers – Chambers, Otellini, Son and Bartz - have been bottled up into one session.

Mobile traffic loads: Vendors big and small are pitching ways of smoothing out groaning traffic levels on mobile networks. Alcatel-Lucent is promising to do away with the base station altogether.

New threats: Even for the continually-disrupted telcos, the latest challenges look especially stressful, with Apple plotting its own multi-SIM phone and Facebook and PlayStation also prepping handsets. None of those will be in Barcelona, nor will Google, Twitter or Skype; along with Apple (a perennial truant) these are the web firms that will most impact on mobile.

A quick glance at the MWC conference agenda will tell you what else is preying on the minds of operators: advertising (ie, how to make money out of it), social networking (ditto), mobile money (how not to get screwed by the banks), and innovation (how to get some).

Otherwise, a bog standard telecom industry conference, with delicious tapas not quite enough to make up for congested Wi-Fi and the steep hotel tariffs. At least the rip-off roaming rates will make the cellco guys feel at home.

Update: This post has been revised to reflect that Eric Schmidt was in fact a conference speaker (I missed that he was given his own late afternoon session!).  His presentation contained nothing new, apart from announcing a video editor for the Honeycomb version of Android and unsuccessfully trying to show a demo of it, according to Ovum.