Femto to you too!

My ex-BT colleague is keen on the Femto idea – he must be because he founded the leading provider today of Femto cells. When he first spoke to me about Femto cells my reaction was that if the only benefit is cheap home calls from my mobile then operators only need to tweak their home zone charging to avoid making the investment in Femto cells. The key for me to their attractiveness therefore lies elsewhere and Len’s response was spot on – operators can cut the costs of the their networks by pushing traffic off the macro network and also gain a foothold in the household at the entry point of broadband in the home.

We now see that Femto cells have the capacity to act as an any-device hub in the home and a mobile hub outside. Sending an MMS home for your kids to see a picture on the TV of your recent trip and many other variants with heavy media types will become a possibility.

I presume that once the trials are complete we will see the equipment manufacturers buying up the start-ups in this space.

On device portals – walled-gardens with better user experience but no exit

ODPs have been around since around 2000. They seemed to be one of the stars of the Mobile World Congress 10 days ago in Barcelona but I have my doubts about whether they represent a good investment for VCs. On closer examination ODPs seem to be solving the user experience problem – they are placing fatter clients on the phone and pre-loading a lot of content – this improves the customer experience. It also allows mobile service providers to control and track the user to a far greater extent. Mobile service provider love it and I even heard that Vodafone Live was going to be dumped for an ODP approach.

Why are they not good investments for VCs? Two reasons, firstly ODPs are not purchased by users but bought by operators – therefore there is no “facebook” factor. Secondly, who will buy the ODPs when they are so controlled by the operator channel?

Unstructued data – how to benefit or what has “plunge and squish” got to do with it all anyway?

Back in 1992 David Gelernter wrote a wonderful book entitled “Mirrors Worlds”. Gelernter’s work influenced the Sun team and the creation of JavaSpaces (technology that I based my first start-up on).

In this book Gelernter talks about “plunge and squish”. Imagine you have a huge vat of data that from a distance appears homogeneous but upon close inspection is a massively heterogeneous, some structured, some unstructured. You wish to know what data in this vat has a strong relationship to something or other, a particular thought, question or subject that you have in mind for instance. How do you find this related data? Gelernter imagined a system that allowed you to plunge your “something” into the vat of data and see the related data attracted or squished towards your “something” allowing you then to extract that related data to find the answer to your question. This is all very theoretical but still important in that to find a solution to a problem it helps to imagine what your solution looks or feels like. Gelernter didn’t stop there but went on to create Scopeware which was the equivalent of Google Desktop however launched well before Google’s product. Scopeware then disappeared from view (purchased by some group and the technology integrated into their product set) being faced with the competition from Google’s and Microsoft’s products in this area.

Scopeware was a first step in the road-map to solving the problem of data mining in that data was pre-searched during computer downtime and the user then used keyword searches to search across all document types desired. This is a first generation solution with the pre-search facility clearly helping in speeding up the searches. A second generation solution to this problem has not yet, as far as I am aware, been launched but I believe it is now worth investigating. BTW if anyone feels that second gen solutions are here already then do let me know.

One area that I am interested in and have been brainstorming with a friend of mine is in the area of knowledge management. How sensible is it to spend time researching a topic when someone maybe only two-steps down the office has done this research and has done so from within a similar context to your own? It is only sensible if the person is not able to be found by you simply and rapidly. If an enterprise system could quickly and efficiently find the person within the enterprise with the some or all of the knowledge that you are seeking to find this would potentially be of significant value. The identification of the person is the key to finding the information. Sometimes simple answers to simple questions are the most tricky to solve.