Wireless and Net Neutrality: Explain to me…

I’ve been on the handset side a long time, so I’m not fluent on wireless infrastructure challenges. As I read Engadget’s review of the Google / Verizon Net Neutrality Proposal, one section particularly stood out:

Wireless broadband. Possibly the most important provision of the entire agreement, and the biggest compromise. Under Verizon and Google’s plan, wireless networks would be excused from every provision except the transparency requirement. Why? Because of the “unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks,” of course. Or… perhaps because Google has an interest in allowing Verizon to do whatever it wants with traffic on its Android-dominated wireless network. Either way, it’s hard to reconcile the stated need for net neutrality in this agreement with a giant exception for wireless networks, which are quickly becoming the most important networks of all.

I’ve been told many operators have suffered with wireless capacity issues for quite awhile, especially as more users move toward more data-intensive smart phones. So with limited spectrum, they have to be careful so as to maintain a decent level of service for all customers. Some of them will massage certain traffic, like torrent downloads, in favor of others. So in a sense, they are doing the common user a favor by keeping possibly illegal file-sharing and such to a minimum. It really isn’t even about censoring or neutrality, it’s just about keeping the network alive.

So I ask anyone reading this, I beg you to correct my thinking. To me, it seems a reasonable position for some wireless operators to take. However, I’d like to know more about this debate. Educate me please.

One caveat: Give me something better than the “slippery slope” argument.

The “Rescuing Nokia” Plan

For those following Nokia, this article from The Register is a must read.

The corporate culture of Nokia is unique. Like any large company, it has an overwhelming number of processes, political battles, and organizational changes. At time it feels like a monstrous robot trudging along, yet there is a super-computer at its core. A “human cloud” for lack of a better explanation. The analysis that’s done within this cloud, not to mention the innovations conceptually developed there, would astound those that only associate Nokia with cheap, plastic phones. Sadly, this intelligent cloud can’t always get successfully navigates its own robot arms and legs.

So when Juhani Risku, the former Nokia employee profiled in the article, gives his assessment of Nokia’s problems, I couldn’t help but think, “yes…Yes…YES!!!” It’s easy to dismiss him as someone pointing out problems who has no power to solve them, but his message is almost spot on. Risku believes Nokia has become a “a risk-averse bureaucracy” that “stifles innovation” and “makes progress slow or non-existent.” To make it worse, he’s revealed that competitors brought to market ideas that were born in Nokia, but had “realis[ed] them better”.  I happen to agree with him on two sources of this problem.

The first is what Risku calls Nokia’s “obsession with data gathering.” Even a few days inside of Nokia will overwhelm anyone with the immensity of research available to the average employee. In some cases, it’s so bad that one could make a compelling argument for either side of an issue by referencing this or that research report. I do believe senior management had sifted through this data and chosen their direction, but from middle-management down, the often contradicting sources of information could easily immobilize a discussion. Not knowing which side to take, many of us stood still waiting for more data, typically waiting until market conditions validated one viewpoint over the other. There was a line out the door of people willing to make a decision, but culturally, the lack of enough market data prevented many from taking the risk. Since the mobile market is constantly in flux, many new markets just wont show up in a research report. As such, Nokia has accepted to be a fast-follower in certain  trends and development.

Second, Risku takes aim at Nokia’s segmentation and consumer-driven approach towards device creation. As a marketing professional I have a firm respect and appreciation for market segmentation and consumer-facing decisions, so don’t misunderstand my points here.  Up until the last six months of my tenure at Nokia, I drank the segmentation and consumer-focus Kool-Aid just as much as the next person. Nokia’s segmentation strategy offered a common understanding across markets and presented us a vocabulary on how to address them. In that way, it was absolutely fantastic. However, it fails similarly around the “data gathering” issue, that being it could not address markets that were not there. I recognize the obviousness of this statement, but I came to the conclusion that much of our segmentation had created pockets of walled-in thinking. Much of what should have been used to attack markets, became used to attack new ideas and innovation that did not fit within the model. I don’t believe any of the originators of our segmentation had this thinking in mind as it was created, it just developed as such.

Worse, it had the debilitating effect of limiting innovation. To clarify, it did not eliminate it, but may have restricted the scope of many to only think within narrowly defined customer segments and experiences. Many of us attempted to match everything in the phone to the desired segment: design, appearance, pricing, promotion, etc. Contrast this with the current Apple/Google approach that provide a strong platform with a broad ecosystem of innovative 3rd parties. Apple specifically has honed its offering around the user experience, but basically has left each user to define himself by mixing and matching applications. To put it another way, Apple/Google offered everyone a blank sheet of paper with the developer ecosystem providing the crayons.  Nokia unfortunately is left writing in the margins of an old over-used piece of paper (Symbian), with nothing to show for it than a black pen and some white-out.

The patriotic side of me may bleed through here, but one issue I did take with Risku is his almost venomous view of the “American business culture” whose “arrogance and aggression” that be believes “paralysed Nokia.” I can agree it would be near impossible for an American outsider to easily walk into Nokia and make changes without destroying value left and right. However, my judgement is not based off the belief that the American way-of-thinking is inherently wrong. It’s more more due to the complexity that Nokia has built around itself that almost requires a sherpa to navigate. Much of this was built on an arrogance of “not invented here” that makes Nokia bulky in places, extremely limiting its agility to respond to changing markets. I wont even get into how European-centric development arrogance has repeatedly cost Nokia the North American market.

Risku misses the point in regard to aggression as well. The first thing I noticed about Nokia, versus my previous employer Intel, was its lack of aggression. My feeling then, and even now to a certain extent, was that Nokia waited for markets to develop while Intel aggressively went out and built them. Sure, Intel has lost a few along the way (WiMax, Network Processors, etc.), but when it wins, it wins big because it builds the market the suit them. Qualcomm, a historical thorn in Nokia’s side, also takes this approach by building markets where Nokia is too bloated to move or too arrogant to think they can be knocked off their block. So while Risku wants to make aggression sound negative, it is also a source for many companies to continually innovate, seek out new markets, and adapt. If you watch Nokia’s attempt at broad ecosystem creation, you’ll quickly see how the lack of directed aggression hinders much of their progress.

So as a former employee, I’d like to say that Nokia is still an extremely powerful competitor in the market. Yes, many newer entrants are getting the press, but none of them yet does as many things as consistently well as Nokia. They all have exploitable weaknesses that Nokia is capable of addressing. If and when Nokia fixes its smartphone problem, you’ll see many customers come back to them. There is a still a strong brand preference out there for them to rebuild upon if done sooner than later. Their reach across markets and relationships with operators and consumers is still there. The giant robot may be slow in its lumbering, but it’s still a giant robot that could still potentially smash its giant hands down.

And finally, the people inside Nokia are still some of the brightest and most talented in the industry, if not the world. Many of them are quiet leaders in their respective fields, and most of them have an intense desire to see Nokia return to its former glory (and values). Obviously some of them are still my friends, so I’m biased. However, I can assure you that if Nokia can put together a vision of the future for its people to truly rally behind, you’ll see a newly rejuvenated company roaring back across all their markets.

I wish them good luck.

How I Study Chinese

Learning a new language is not easy for me. So to keep what Chinese I’ve acquired up-to-date, I use a lot of different tools.  I’ve provided the below as an overview for anyone interested. I hope it helps.

Chinese Pod

http://www.chinesepod.com

If you’d studied Chinese at all, you’re bound to know about Chinese Pod. Their two primary  hosts, Jenny and John, are “famous” within the Chinese language scene. I’ve been using the service for over two years. They continue to remain the model for podcast-based Chinese learning.

Pros: For beginners, Chinese Pod offers a free podcast series dedicated to that skill level. For the rest of us, the tiered pricing structure gives a lot of flexibility. If you’re a self-learner or need a lot of guidance, they can find a niche for you. There is also a very active user community if you have follow-up questions about the lessons or Chinese culture in general.  Also, for people who need to read their lesson like me, PDFs are available. And of course, the podcasters genuinely sound excited about their work and have great rapport. This definitely is a contagious.

Cons: At some of the lower price tiers, the audio for the dialogue is not offered. This means you actually have to find the time in the podcast where the dialogue is and continually replay it. This is a little bit annoying, as this should be an easy feature to provide. There are also some free alternatives out there that may make Chinese Pod start looking expensive, however  I’m still investigating them.

nciku

http://www.nciku.com

This is the “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” site for Chinese learners.

Pros: The dictionary has every input method you could want: English, Hanzi (汉字), and Pinyin. It’s pretty forgiving on the Pinyin side, which is helpful when trying to find a word whose tones you can’t quite remember. Also, they have tons of sentence and dialogue examples that allow you to see the words in action. If you use MSN, they even have a bot to do quick dictionary look-ups.

Cons: The site is just too messy, so I don’t use it beyond the dictionary capability that often. Because of this, it becomes more of a reference tool,  instead of an effective study device. And since they do so many things, it just gets garbled together, almost begging you to go elsewhere. Some of the sentence examples tend to be fairly advanced, so casual users may have some difficulty finding examples relevant to their needs.

Lingt

http://www.lingt.com

Recommended by a friend, this site could develop into a great tool for mastering new vocabulary.

Pros: The overall concept of putting together a review schedules for new words is solid. If you already are using a set of books they support, this site can be a snap to get started with.  The game mechanics around earning badges, while cheesy, do provide enough incentive to get started with the site. Also, the cram mode is nice, especially if you need to learn a lot of words in a short period of time.

Cons: If you have to create your own vocabulary list, it can time-consuming. The list creator tool is buggy and does not let you fix mistakes, which can be extremely frustrating. You definitely need to double-check EVERYTHING you put into this tool. If you master a vocabulary list, there is no way to archive it. You either must leave it in the queue or delete it forever. So while I enjoy parts of this site, the lack of feature improvements makes me feel like the developers don’t really have their heart in it. Sadly, I think their missing a huge opportunity.

Remember.it

http://remember.it

Very similar to the Lingt concept, except with a focus on learning Chinese characters. It’s a flashcard system that passes over the writing and focuses on recognition. I’m still in the trial stage, so this review may be a little premature.

Pros: Overall, the layout of the site is nice, clean, and clear. The actual learning tool is easy to use and heavily drills you on new characters (if you’re honest). For the most part, the logic around the new characters they introduce makes sense.  During the lesson and tests, you are given access to the Hanzi, Pinyin, as well as an audio of the character. The fact that any character you fail to recognize during a test gets put into the next lesson is great for lazy students like me. It is a paid service, but you can participate in a 14-day free trial.

Cons: Outside of the tests and lesson review, you can’t go back in and review characters. A cram mode, like what’s found on Lingt, would be nice. If you want to see the character again, you must wait for the next testing of it.  And while I understand the logic of new lesson characters, it does tend add in some complicated (and not widely used) characters early in the study process.  You’d think they’d focus on some simple and more common characters. Payment is also a little high ($68usd) for some. Also, one could argue that the fact that stroke order is not taught diminishes from one’s learning, but this is only relevant if you want to learn writing.

Got a Question?

Maybe you should ask Quora

Where’s Ovi?

It’s one thing to be lagging behind certain competitors, it’s a completely other thing not to be even mentioned. So when Gizmodo did their Detailed State of the Apps report, one major vendor’s app store was missing. Worse, Palm was listed twice, once under the HP brand.

I love you Nokia, you paid my bills for many years. I can wax nostalgic on your great North American past. I can make an argument that your current state is due to the rise of operator brands. I can even still believe you have the best interests of your consumer in mind.

What I can’t do is justify how you lost so much mindshare…

So I wonder, how does any company, especially one with the marketing resources of Nokia re-build a relationship with its lost consumers?

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