In case it had escaped your notice, famed economist and Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase died earlier this month at the age of 102.
Coase’s contributions to the field of economics were numerous and substantial. He first gained notoriety addressing the very elemental, but deceptively difficult question of why firms exist. His seminal 1937 paper entitled “The Nature of the Firm” introduced the concept of transaction costs, and theorized that firms exist to reduce these costs by performing certain functions, which would otherwise need to be procured in the open marketplace, themselves.
Anybody who has slogged through an upper-level economics class has almost certainly encountered the Coase Theorem, which states that when two parties confront an externality—an action on the part of one that positively or negatively impacts the other—the most efficient solution is not government intervention, but direct bargaining between the two parties. For example, if a lawfully-operating industrial plant’s emissions are negatively impacting local air quality, an efficient solution would be for those affected to pay the plant to reduce emissions to a socially acceptable level.
Coase had a major and ongoing impact on the telecommunications industry, as well. In a 1959 paper entitled “The Federal Communications Commission,” Coase posited that rather than having the government assign rights to radio waves in a first-come, first-served manner, spectrum should instead be treated as a commodity and auctioned off to the bidder who most highly valued it. Read more
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently filed a petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to adopt a rule requiring mobile wireless providers to allow consumers to “unlock” any wireless device purchased from that provider. This would enable the customer to continue to use their device if they choose to obtain service from another provider.
If you own a mobile wireless device (cell-phone, smart-phone, tablet, etc.), chances are that you have at one time or another thought of switching providers. And chances are that you know that you can’t always take your device with you because it’s “locked”; in other words, you can’t take it to a new provider and obtain service using that device. It’s worth noting that a number of providers do sell unlocked devices and some will allow a consumer to unlock their phone, if their contract has expired. Read more
Blackberry’s sputtering, lurching, cringe-inducing, wince-producing flirtations with The End reached a muted thud today with the announcement that the once market definer and leader would accept a $9 per share offer from Fairfax Financial Holdings, a group of private investors. The announcement came without fanfare and little surprise, but probably with some regret that the company which cultivated a market changing product would be left without a place at the international table of device.
“Too little, too late” was an aphorism tossed about last summer when Blackberry introduced its new OS10 and rebranded its stock moniker from RIM to BBRY. I rooted for their success, but without much confidence that they would be able to reclaim sufficient market share from Apple and Android-running devices. Even my IT department warned me a few weeks ago that I am interested in a new Blackberry phone, it will need to be a “new” older version since our system would not be configured to support OS10.
The decline of Blackberry is in some respects more compelling (chilling?) than the end of Kodak. The latter simply had too much invested in a product that was at the end of its life cycle; the former pioneered a product but missed a crucial opportunity when it maintained its focus on business users rather than mass consumer adoption. Even Microsoft garnered attention today as it announced its new Surface tablet.
Kodak has retained value in part upon the basis of the many patents that it holds. Away from the public eye of public traders, Blackberry might focus intently on singular market targets and score big hits, but in smaller venues.
As the IT Expo wrapped up, perhaps the most striking impression it left is not only how the convergence of information technology and telecommunications is by now pretty much taken for granted, but also how rapidly this trend is accelerating. The two fields increasingly speak the same language and have the same concerns, and it was even more evident at this event than at the same show held just last year. To be sure, there will always be differences between service providers and enterprise IT departments, but it is not a stretch to say that these will continue to diminish.
Like most other conferences, this one had some buzzwords that could not be avoided. These topics were news to some, yet old hat to others. Some issues seemed stealthier, coming up in a less predictable manner that still merits attention. Which of these items may be truly transformative, over-hyped, or somewhere in between can be difficult to discern. Still, among the items of note that came up were WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications), and HD voice, which is finally being initially deployed by wireless carriers. Read more
Online retail giant Amazon.com is said to have been involved with tests of new wireless broadband spectrum applications, according to media stories that surfaced last week. Bloomberg first reported that the Amazon tests used spectrum held by satellite company Globalstar, which is seeking to repurpose some of its spectrum to terrestrial low power services (TLPS) that operate in the 2.4 GHz band, adjacent to the frequencies currently used by Wi-Fi. Globalstar’s proposed TLPS service is intended to provide faster and longer-range wireless connections than conventional Wi-Fi can achieve.
Earlier this summer, consulting firm Telecom, Media and Finance Associates, Inc. (TMF) noted that a submission to the FCC involving Globalstar’s experimental 2.4 GHz license declared that tests were being conducted “to help a major technology company assess the significant performance benefits of TLPS for a transformative consumer broadband application.” TMF concluded that the coordinates listed in the license correspond to Lab126, Amazon’s research and development company. Considering the extent to which Amazon’s Kindle product relies on Wi-Fi, any joint effort between Globalstar and Amazon would clearly be appealing to both parties.
However, Amazon is not assured of another success. The spectrum in question may have interference issues with broadcast auxiliary service (BAS) signals, which radio and television stations use to relay content from a studio to a transmitter, or from a remote location to the studio. Yet if any problems can be ironed out, Amazon does stand to gain an attractive new way to deliver content to consumers.
Smart homes that incorporate web-enabled devices to control lights, security and other functions may be at risk for prank or malicious hacking. A series of presentations at last week’s Black Hat conference in Las Vegas highlighted to potential risks of linking an increasing number of home-based devices to the Internet. The issue has moved from beyond the scope of the infosec world and into popular media; a Forbes author recently described how from San Francisco she operated the bedroom lights of a couple in Oregon whom she had awakened with an early morning call.
Some of the applications may seem humorous – and, if I thought I was the only one who noticed the potential mischief that could found in hacking someone’s smart toilet, I was wrong. Both CNN and Network World covered the issue, albeit with greater focus on the risks that could accrue from constant flushing (drive up someone’s water bill or cause significant water damage) than the bidet-focused hijinks I imagined. But greater, more serious issues loom when considering the prevalence of web-enabled door locks, and how their susceptibility to hacking would render persons and property to risk of silent home invasions. Similarly, remote control of lights could be activated in pursuit of nefarious ends. One presentation at Black Hat noted Android-powered ovens. Pranksters among us may envision either burning a friend’s dinner or keeping it raw, but more malevolent attacks could be contemplated.
These vulnerabilities are growing pains in a $1.2 billion industry of smart home products. In 2012, a security expert advised businesses to see hacking as an opportunity to improve security. The advent of smart homes similarly offers opportunities for a new branch of home security that transcends closed-circuit magnetic and glass-break sensors.
Google announced the launch of its Chromecast over-the-top video product this past Wednesday. At a mere $35, sales were not just strong, but exceeded all expectations. By the weekend, Chromecasts had become almost impossible to find. Retailers sold out within minutes of opening. Online backorders are expected to take weeks to fulfill. Initially, purchases came with three free months of a Netflix subscription. But sales were so robust that this offer ended after only one day, resulting in some confusion for consumers.
Although the rise of online commerce, and the fact that Christmas is still five months away, may keep the Chromecast retail experience from resembling the chaotic, and at times violent, holiday rush for Cabbage Patch dolls back in the 1980’s, consumer reaction seems to be nearly as enthusiastic. Google appears to have hit upon a very winning combination with Chromecast: simplicity and affordability. All reports indicate that consumers don’t have to do anything more than attach a power cord, plug the Chromecast dongle into a television’s HDMI port, connect to their Wi-Fi network, and they’re ready to display content from their tablet, smartphone or laptop on their TV. Read more