Could Twitter + Mobile Phones Kill ESPN?

August 18, 2011

Editor’s note: Here is a sneak preview of the new site we have been working on here at Sidecut Labs, something we call Mobile Sports Report. It is a work in progress but one whose time has come… stay tuned!

Seeing the news today about ESPN teaming up with Foursquare to provide a platform for fans at events is evidence that The Mother Ship of sports is doing all it can to keep astride of the latest trends. But as our purposely provacative headline asks, is there a new “broadcast” paradigm emerging that could allow Twitter and fans on mobile phones to become the dominant method of disseminating sports news, opinions and information?

Before you dismiss the idea as crazy, remember that when ESPN debuted in 1979 it was seen as a place where you could watch Australian Rules football and exercise videos. Nobody at the time was guessing that ESPN would eventually replace the major networks or newspapers atop the sports-media scene, but some 30-plus years later that has come to pass.

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Will Microsoft-Skype Finally Kill the Cellular Minute?

May 10, 2011

As someone who has watched Microsoft try and fail to embrace and extend the idea of Voice over IP on more than one occasion, today’s announcement of Microsoft’s purchase of Skype has the feeling of an “all-in” moment at the World Series of Poker. It’s not a stretch to see Microsoft trying to goose the juice for Windows on mobile devices by blending it with the world’s most popular form of voice communication. But is it enough to kill off the cellular carriers’ legacy “minutes” rate plans?

Just yesterday I happened to be in a cellular carrier store, seeing if I could add another phone to my current smartphone plan. What I wanted — and this seems reasonable — was a smaller, flip-architecture phone to make voice calls and sometimes check email. What I didn’t want was a huge addition to my bill since I don’t use my cellular devices to talk that much — I rarely hit my 450-minute a month limit — but the carrier in question had no way to satisfy my desire to have one plan for multiple devices.

Instead, I was told that any “shared” phone plan had to have a minimum voice contract of 1,500 minutes per month — no matter whether I used them or not. Arguing did nothing to help since store personnel aren’t able to modify plans. And I suspect I would find no different a situation at any other major carrier. So even though smartphones, apps and data are all the rage the big-change ante in the cellular contract game is still the voice plan, something we almost never talk about anymore. But Micro-Skype has the potential to change all that, especially when you throw in the chips of partner Nokia.

Verizon Wireless and other carriers may have made noises about partnering with Skype before, but it’s hard to believe they were serious about really enabling an over-the-top carnivore whose very DNA is all about making “minutes” irrelevant. Now you have some big players with big bankrolls who could do some truly innovative things: How about a Windows Smartphone from Sprint, running Skype with unlimited data on the Cleawire WiMAX network? For, say, $50 a month? All you can call and all you can download? With a portable hotspot embedded to beam Wi-Fi to any other device you own, like an iPad?

Right now, of course, this is simply a dream and it may not ever occur given Microsoft’s apparent inability to do anything innovative when it comes to communications. But by buying Skype they have taken the keys to the single most innovative application and service in the voice space, an entity that scares the bejeebers out of the telecom status quo. Let’s see if Ballmer has one more win in him. It’s long past time for the cellular billed minute to finally die.

AT&T’s Palo Alto Wireless Improvements Get Rocky Reception

April 6, 2011

Despite the friendly face it is putting on its strategy to beef up wireless reception in Palo Alto, AT&T is facing some rough local resistance to its implementation ideas from citizens of the cultural center of Silicon Valley.

Though AT&T has earned city approval to install a new regular cellular antenna as well as some new antennas to support a public Wi-Fi hotspot zone, its actions have riled some residents including one longtime Internet technologist who has threatened to cut off the city government’s free Internet access due to his opposition to the cell-tower approval process. There was also heated debate about the Wi-Fi hotspot plan, which eventually won city approval in part because of AT&T’s pledge to install the gear without entering the building the antennas will be mounted on.

So far there has been no city decision on a wider-reaching AT&T plan to install numerous smaller cellular antennas in a technology deployment known as Outdoor Distributed Antenna System (ODAS), which like the other ideas is aimed chiefly at improving AT&T’s cellular reception in the California city that is home to a wide range of Silicon Valley leaders and influencers, and sits next door to Stanford University. The Palo Alto deployment is part of a wide-ranging AT&T strategy to increase the number of DAS deployments nationwide, but like the other ideas it is running into some local opposition.

While the smaller DAS antennas (which can be mounted on existing structures like power poles) might seem more aesthetically acceptable, several residents feared that by agreeing to allow AT&T to install the antennas the city could be jeopardizing a long-standing plan to bury utility lines and eliminate overhead poles. According to one news report, the Palo Alto city council may “step back and discuss a larger, citywide approach” to cellular implementation plans, based on the contentious nature of some recent applications like AT&T’s.