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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Why Fi? Muni Model Broken

The CEO of Manchester MetroNet has lent his weight to the argument against local authorities investing in municipal Wi-Fi. I’ve long argued that there is no value to state-funded metro Wi-Fi and that it would be a waste of public money; Elliot Mueller agrees. Rather than have publicly funded competition for such services, he is willing to offer metro area Wi-Fi free: “With a profitable and sustainable business model, an urban network operator such as Manchester Metronet is well positioned to provide WiFi free of charge.”

Read the full article at newswireless.net.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

OpenCoffee – Next Event 14th June

I attended the second meeting of a new Manchester networking group yesterday. Called OpenCoffee, it is the local chapter of an international organisation, designed to bring together investors and web entrepreneurs, much as many similar groups did around the first dotcom boom.

Turnout was impressive at 14, with a good split of ideas people and money people, plus a few facilitators and advisors like myself. While a little more structure might be welcome to help people find what they are looking for, I think the idea has legs, and I’ll definitely be attending the next one.

If you are based in the North West and looking for investment opportunities, financial backing, or just advice, then get yourself along on the 14th June — details here.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Something Must Be Done! Panorama goes all Daily Mail

I haven’t yet seen last night’s Panorama, but by all accounts it was a fairly shocking affair. Who needs the Daily Mail to scaremonger, when the widely trusted and impartial BBC can do it better?

Science degrees may not be cool, but at least if we had a few more geeks in the media we could get away from this nonsensical approach to news. “Electromagnetic radiation? Oooh, sounds scary. Best do an expose on it.”

Only this morning I read a story about a campaign by ‘families’ to get at least one of the three mobile phone masts ‘near’ their houses moved. Try telling them that the radiation from their phone is many times what they will receive from the mast, or that the further they are from the mast, the more radiation it will emit. They won’t listen. Of course they don’t want to hear that — that would mean giving up their mobile phone. Much easier to believe that the big scary mast is the problem, rather than their cute little handset.

Before crying ‘something must be done’, people really ought to do a little reading.

(Read more responses on BadScience.net, here)

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Big Brother

Hampshire Deputy Chief Constable Ian Readhead has expressed concernsabout the number of CCTV cameras being deployed. He described it as ‘Orwellian’, especially in places where the levels of crime don’t seem to justify the expense — both financial and in terms of lost civil liberties.

It is not the cameras themselves that worry me. One, five or even twenty CCTV cameras observed by human operators provide a reasonable means of monitoring security. But link the cameras to all of the other cameras in the country, and apply some form of intelligent storage, search, and alert facility and suddenly the prospect of ‘Big Brother’ becomes more real.

What is most frightening is that we have already surrendered to this level of monitoring in our telephone communications. The US intelligence’s Echelonsystem provides exactly this type of automated monitoring of our calls, searching for keywords that might indicate terrorist activity, or whatever else they might be looking for (forgive me if I’m not too confident that such powers aren’t being abused).

If we are to debate the ‘right’ level of CCTV coverage in the UK, we need a more sophisticated understanding of how the video captured will be processed and used. Will it just be a human operator looking at it? How long will the coverage be stored? Will it be linked to a national monitoring system at any point? Will the information be made available to anyone other than our own security services? I’m sure video footage of human behaviour on a shopping street, or responding to advertising stimuli would be immensely valuable to advertisers.

The same concerns apply to any form of monitoring, and are multiplied when different types of data are connected. Banking information, linked to phone records, CCTV coverage, and online activity tracking, all accessible to the police and automatically monitored? The end of civil liberties, or just a very safe country?

These are questions we all need to address, and soon. With data technologies advancing at their current rate, dealing with the volumes of data such a system would collect won’t be impossible for much longer.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Hardware: A Solid Investment

For someone in the telecoms industry, yesterday’s results from BT were perhaps a little counter-intuitive. Only a couple of weeks ago I heard someone at a conference suggest that BT was ‘struggling’. I disagreed, but wasn’t too surprised to hear it.

The fact is that the market sees any company that owns a network as outdated. Thanks in part to the new dotcom boom, there is the perception that hardware is old-hat, and those that make it or operate it are going to struggle in the new world of ‘2.0’. The theory goes that bandwidth becomes a commodity, and the service owner, rather than the connection provider, owns the customer. The telcos — fixed and wireless — will be left holding a high capital investment with no way to make returns at an appropriate rate.

This is, of course, bollocks. Compare the revenues of a Vodafone, or a BT to any one of the new boomers and you realise that however hot the new company may be, they have a long way to go.

“What about Google?” someone says. “That’s a software business that has comparable revenues”.

And what is Google spending all its money on at the moment (apart from YouTube)? Hardware. It is building out enormous server farms and global Ethernet networks to support the services it delivers today and those it envisions for the future. I might have questioned the minds that paid so much for YouTube, but I don’t think they are dumb enough to blow a fortune on hardware if it’s going out of fashion.

In short, the theory that you can’t make money out of owning a network is a dumb one. Yes data prices are falling. Yes voice minute revenues are falling. But we’re going to be using a hell of a lot more data in the next few years, and the margins for the smart providers are growing, not falling, as they replace expensive legacy gear with cheap, reliable IP networks.

BT’s data business has gone from a few hundred thousand business customers paying £6k a year for a leased line, to millions paying £150 a year for DSL. On top of that they can now sell the business customers IT services, and the home customers media.

Want to make some money out of the new dotcom boom? For me, the smart money’s on the networks.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Arguing in Circles

I got in to another debate last night about the meaning of Web/Internet 2.0. That most zeitgeisty of terms that has spawned a thousand imitators (although you could blame CNN). The arguments from a panel at one of the Circle Club debates argued variously that it was “bollocks”, “no different to Web 1.0”, or just the broadband realisation of everyone’s hopes for what Web 1.0 should have been.

I can’t wholeheartedly disagree with any of these statements, but I do believe that there is a reasonable definition for what is a Web 2.0 business and what is a Web 1.0 business. For me, Web 1.0 is an offline business model migrated online to take advantage of some of the benefits of the Web, e.g. a retailer seeking global access to customers and to avoid the need for an expensive physical storefront etc. A Web 2.0 business is one that can exist only because it leverages the fundamental properties and technologies associated with the internet: e.g. you couldn’t have YouTube without broadband and easy access to digital video recording/editing.

The real problem here comes not with the definition of what is 1.0 and what is 2.0, but with the definition of a business: as Manchester Confidential’s Mark Garner pointed out, to date neither YouTube nor MySpace nor any of the other Web 2.0 heavyweights are pulling in huge revenues. Unfortunately I doubt that will dampen the bankers’ enthusiasm for the Next Big Thing when Web 2.0 has well and truly jumped the shark. Mobile 2.0 anyone?

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Sharks Jump to Second Life

According to Vaughan Allen, chief executive of Urbis, blogging has ‘jumped the shark’. At least for those organisations that exist to be at the cutting edge of culture. Fortunately for me personally, and professionally, I don’t consider it important for me to be at that bleeding edge. I’m more of an ambassador from the early adopters to the other 99% of humanity.

In my experience, a large part of the real world has yet to catch up even with blogging: I got asked today, not for the first time, nor, I expect, for the last: “what is blogging?”. This didn’t come from some ancient pensioner still pondering the wonders of the wireless, but from a successful businessman, fully blackberried up and generally au fait with the modern world.

Having spent an evening with those at the bleeding edge, I can report back that apparently Second Life is (or remains, depending on your perspective) rather more acceptable than blogging as a way to present an up-to-the-minute online persona for you or your brand. Urbis, for example, is in the process of constructing an online environment modelled on its own environs. And rather impressive it is too, in its full multimedia glory.

I have long been keen on the idea of Second Life, not because I wish to escape this one, but because I like the idea of it as a communications system (although there is some evolution to happen before it becomes suitable for this purpose). In the past I have decided against creating my own avatar because I didn’t want to devote time to SL as a leisure activity and couldn’t see any financial value to taking part. But with the increasing numbers of businesses creating online outposts, I’m beginning to think I ought to check it out in more detail.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

(Football) Crowd-Sourcing

One of the suggestions that really caught my attention at the seminar I attended on Second Life was the idea that the real opportunities are at the interface between the real world and the virtual. For example, building and selling ornaments online in a virtual shop is apparently netting a Manchester-based craftsperson an extra £20k a year. In real money, not virtual.

While most of this activity takes place online and the only translation in to the real world is cash, there are other examples where the web is acting as just an enabler for major change in the real world. But however minor the web’s role, what is important is its ability to capture and communicate rich information to disparate individuals who may have a common goal. Nowhere is this illustrated more basically than in the example of people pooling resources for a common goal — crowdsourcing where the whole crowd is involved.

In this example, 50,000 members are being invited to buy a football club by investing £35 each. With all the recent billionaire buyouts, and the resulting backlash (notably with creation of grassroots clubs like FC United), this is a topical idea and one that I’m sure will prove very popular. Especially after its coverage from the BBC.

I’m game. I always fancied myself as a sheepskin-coated football manager. And, like all the best managers, I was a crap player.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Networked World

Interesting little case study this, of the way our modern media works, and just how connected our worlds are.

It all starts with a fire, affecting the offices of a company I know. Fortunately being an IT company that practices what it preaches, the team there had backed up all their data over a broadband line to the MD’s house. That last sentence alone is pretty telling of how far we have come in terms of data speeds in the last five years — that backing up a whole IT company’s files is realistic over a home broadband line. But it is what happens after this that gets more interesting.

The company’s PR agent sees the opportunity to make some capital out of this, and having struggled to get the interest of the media in his client beforehand now returns to them with the story of the fire. So far so traditional — but good — PR. But next the PR posts the whole episode on his blog, then contacts his blogging chums (including yours truly), and asks them to link to it to raise the blog’s profile. Of course his mobile number is posted at the bottom should any journos come across it and want to speak to his client. Clever.

I don’t know whether this will work, but it is an interesting example of the constant manipulation of the web, and the tools and algorithms that govern a site’s popularity and search ranking.

It reminded me about an article in Sunday’s Observer where Web 2.0 naysayer Andrew Keen received some fairly hefty coverage. Having read Andrew’s blog he doesn’t exactly agree with his portrayal in the article, but he is genuinely against the ‘cult of the amateur’ as he calls it. He seems to have two issues. Firstly that in the online world, people can be totally self-defining, or as he puts it “we are what we broadcast ourselves to be”. The lack of checks and balances on our online personas is ‘infantilising’. Secondly that the open ability to post and edit on blogs or sites like Wikipedia devalues or bypasses genuine measures of achievement; i.e. you have to be qualified to be a doctor, be published to be an author etc.

I’d like to read Andrew’s book before I start laying in to his theories, but my immediate reaction is a negative one. The online world that we inhabit today is an infant, not infantilising. It is an embryonic community where the rules are still being set, and like any society, those rules will need to be constantly refined to accommodate changes in technology and culture. While manipulations of the system like the attempt above are today possible, and even legitimate, the chances are that the evolution of the system will make them more difficult and less acceptable. And at the same time the experts today disenfranchised by disintermediation will rise to their rightful positions as they become more acquainted with the technology, and the rules are put in place to grant them the respect they deserve.

Tom Cheesewright