Looking back at Enron and the net in 2000

Enron: even now is a byword for dodgy dealing and corruption. Back in the summer of 2000, Enron was a large respectable corporation.  Three people came over from Portland, Oregon to London. They looked to pioneer a new way of thinking about broadband capacity and they came to Europe to do peering agreements and business deals. They were ‘Enron Broadband Services’.

The whole thing was moving at ‘internet speed’, which is a euphemism for crazy fast and with money flittered everywhere.  So I ended up working agency side arranging everything from pre-paid mobile phones to a dinner for 150 internet geeks at The Hempel – a luxury hotel with a minimalist restaurant that used to be in Bayswater.

Enron acquired Portland General Electric (PGE) back in the mid-1990s. This was part of Enron’s play in deregulated electricity markets. With PGE also came an optical fibre network. The company had been dropping fibre into the ground every time it did reinstatements. Enron then built and leased optical fibre from the likes of Level3.

 

While I was trying to get these guys in front of the European telecoms press I was hearing from my media contacts that Level3 were actively briefing against them, saying that their business model was full of shit. They were right it was. Enron Broadband Services depended on their ‘Enron Intelligent Network’ a set of proprietary technologies that was supposed to prioritise traffic for quality of service and commercial traffic reasons.

Like many things at the time the technology was less developed than one would believe. Much of the functionality replicated existing technology such as MPLS. IBM developed their e-commerce offering on the back of ‘suckered’ customers like Boxman.com. Technology was a sketchy business at the time; but it seemed to matter less as the world was being changed. This was pre-9/11 and Gap was convincing many people that khakis were cool.

In the case of IBM, they seem to be still doing similar practices two decades later; this time with their Watson machine learning offering.

The problem was that the ‘Enron Intelligent Network‘ was a relatively minor sin compared to everything else that was going on in the corporation.

What happened to the companies mentioned in the Enron slides?

  • ARC
  • Atom Films – Founded in 1998, Atom was bought in 2006 by MTV Networks, Google had considered buying it when it eventually purchased YouTube. Eventually it was absorbed into Comedy Central
  • Avici Systems – was hit hard by the dot com bust. It eventually pulled out of the core network router business and changed its name to Soapstone Networks
  • Ciena – Ciena still exists as a networking equipment and software company. It managed to ride out the dot com bust by diversifying its portfolio of networking equipment
  • Cisco Systems – continues to be one of the world’s largest companies in networking equipment
  • Compaq – never managed to fully integrate its acquisition of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and ended up being acquired by Hewlett-Packard. In 2015; Hewlett Packard split into two businesses. HP held the PC, printers and related businesses. Hewlett Packard Enterprise contained business software (subsequently merged with Micro Focus), services business (merged with Computer Sciences Corporation) and a hardware business.
  • CountryCool.com – started as a country music site and seems to have morphed into an analogue of Comedy Central
  • The Drew Carey Show – ABC situation comedy that finished its run in 2004
  • EasyStreet – ISP that is still going, mostly reselling other vendors products
  • Epoch Internet – was the first tier one ISP on the west coast when it was founded in 1994 and played a crucial role in some of the first commercial peering points. It was eventually acquired by MegaPath in 2004. MegaPath in turn is owned by Fusion Connect, who were recently acquired by Birch Communications Inc. as part of a further consolidation of business ISPs in the US
  • Firstworld
  • FlashNet – FlashNet now only exist as a legacy domain that AT&T supports for customers. FlashNet Communications was founded in 1995 as a Fort Worth, Texas-based internet service provider. It had an IPO on the NASDAQ in March 1999 and was acquired by Prodigy Communications in November that year. Prodigy was acquired by AT&T in September 2001
  • FYINet.com – FYINet was a Houston, Texas based company that provided training materials on CD ROM about networking technology. They then moved their content to the web and promoted their 3D animation and interactive design capabilities. They seem to have disappeared sometime around 2002.
  • GST Telecommunications
  • GTE Internetworking – GTE Internetworking became Genuity when its parent company merged with Bell Atlantic to found Verizon. It was eventually acquired by Level3, which was in turn acquired by CenturyLink 2017
  • Inktomi- Inktomi was one of the leading providers of web caching for both content and streaming. It became a key provider for early content delivery networks. It was eventually acquired by Yahoo! in 2003. Yahoo! was acquired by Verizon and merged into Aol as part of Oath
  • iStream TV encoding – iStream continues to provide solutions for both video on demand and live streaming. Turner acquired a majority share in the business during 2015
  • latinsoccer.net – Mexican based site that covered Latin American football news. It featured both video and audio which wasn’t the norm for the time. According to Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, the site didn’t survive the dot com bust
  • Lucent Technologies – acquired in term by Alcatel and Nokia
  • MShow.com – Chicago-based Mshow provided interactive broadcast services. It was founded in 1986, had one round of funding in 2000 and is no longer in business
  • NetRail – provided backbone networks and hosting to ISPs. It was acquired by Cogent Communications Group in 2001
  • NextVenue – specialised in video and audio streaming, it was acquired by iBEAM Broadcasting – a satellite networking company. iBEAM went under in 2002, its assets were acquired by Williams Communications LLC. Williams is now owned by Level3
  • Oracle – Oracle remains a leading provider of enterprise software
  • OrcoNet.com – was a US ISP, eventually filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in California
  • pdq.net – was an ISP. It was acquired by Internet America. Internet America was acquired by JAB Broadband and folded into Rise Broadband
  • Q4i.com – defunct online brokerage with video component for independent brokers
  • RCN – Boston-based ISP that has gone on to become the sixth largest cable and broadband provider in the US
  • rmi.net – Rocky Mountain Internet was an early provider of dial-up connectivity. It moved into e-business for SMEs and eventually became part of EarthLink, which went on to consolidate with Windstream
  • showdigital – provided broadband to the hospitality industry. Its assets were acquired in 2001 by STSN
  • Sun Microsystems – Sun Microsystems never managed to recover from the dot com bust and was eventually acquired by Oracle. Oracle now sells its own brand of hardware that can run Solaris UNIX – Solaris is now owned by Oracle who continues to maintain it alongside a distribution of Linux
  • Sycamore Networks – Sycamore Networks was wound up by its shareholders in early 2013. During the internet boom it had a market capitalisation of $44.8 billon. It was worth just $64 million when wound up.
  • TeleCommute Solutions – Atlanta based ISP that specialised in providing workforce connectivity to companies. Crunchbase lists it as closed
  • Telescan – founded in 1982 as a provider of stock charting tools, it eventually became part of TD Ameritrade’s Thinkorswim
  • TotalCricket
  • USWest – one of the original ‘baby Bells’. It merged with Qwest in 2000. Qwest was acquired by CenturyLink in 2011
  • Verio – founded as an ISP in Denver. Acquired by NTT of Japan in 2000
  • VillageNet – small Canadian ISP which is still running

Apple Special Event – September 12, 2018

Random notes as I watched the iPhone Xr/s and Apple Watch Series 4 launch.

Phil Schiller

Watching the introductory clip, this felt like an event designed mostly for an internal audience. The events have become a parody of themselves with very well worn tropes.

Company and eco-system update

  • Apple stores: 500,000,000 visitors per year. The stores have free wi-fi and classes, so this isn’t just about purchasing or building loyalty with customers. It has become public private space.
  • 2 billion iOS devices – many users will have replaced at least three devices so the community of likely iOS users is probably closer to 600 million. iPad tend to end up being communal devices in family homes and so have a longer life.
  • Apple Watch is the number one watch – I found this clip suprising. I find that hard to believe given the ubiquity of the Casio G-Shock range, or the F-91W family of basic digital watches

Apple Watch series 4

It is clever in some of the engineering: mass producing a ceramic back. the way Apple has managed to squeeze an ECG function in there. But there is a lot not to like about the watch
The case design preportions seem off in the video, it may look better in real life. I am guessing that part of the move is about the cellular aerial, but then you have the ceramic back

  • They still haven’t sorted the crown positioning and protection – it will still fire up Siri for no apparent reason
  • The device is only minimally waterproof
  • The awful information design in the face used on Apple Watch hero images

apple-watch-series4_watch-front-training_09122018
Which got me rooting through old copies of Wired magazine. They used to have a ‘Future of’ section on the back inside cover. And lone behold
watch

iPhone Xs

I was really unimpressed by this. Don’t get me wrong it looks ‘nice’ and takes a lot of engineering. There isn’t an upgrade reason for X users. I find the AR applications are gimmicks rather than necessarily being regularly used apps. The notable exception would be the measuring tape app included in iOS 12

Screen pixel counts are now getting ridiculous – you won’t be able to see the difference in terms of pixel refinement. Contrast may improve in HDR.

The sound on the device doesn’t recognise that consumers use headphones. It was all about louder speakers.

For iPhone 6/7/8 users the battery life descriptions fo the new X devices were weasel language that I would be wary of upgrading on this cycle.

Facial recognition but no in screen biometric touch sensor means that you still have a notch. It also means that there is a dissonance in experience between the touch sensors on the latest MacBook Pro models and iPad models. How will Apple be handling websites that have integrated Apple Pay validation?

As a MacBook Pro user, this told me to hang on to my current device. Wait and see if Apple changes the authentication again on the next round.

A12 Bionic chip. 20 years ago five trillion instructions per second would have been impressive as this would have been a super computer. Now it is pretty much in line with what one would expect in Moore’s Law. Intel are squeezing double the rate fo computing power out of FPGAs. You’ve got all that power and you get animojis…

How the software handles the paralellism of the chip is key. That is something that Sony found in the Cell architecture of the Playstation 2. Don’t expect that power to be obvious in 3rd party applications. The addressable memory claim surprised me. Its a 64 bit processor, so of course it could address 512GB of memory.

  • How much of the A12 chip is required to get FaceID to work?
  • How will the software get the most out of the cores?
  • There isn’t modem integration which helps rivals with their circuit board designs.

iPhone camera ‘breakthroughs’ seem to come from intellectual property that Lytro developed?

Dual SIMs – it is definitely a minority interest. It is likely to annoy carriers in mature markets with the exception of challengers like T-Mobile US.

The SIMs are all non-standard formats which is a pain in the backside. eSIMs are only supported by EE and Vodafone in the UK. The nano-SIM is yet another smaller format of SIM which will be hard to sell to carriers. The most attractive model is the China market one with two physical SIMs.

This could be:

  • Because China Mobile, China Unicom or China Telecom wouldn’t get on board with eSIMs
  • To screw with the Chinese grey market for iPhones (which is on the decline anyway
  • An unfortunate side effect is that it makes the China models more desirable for a (minority) consumer like me. So the grey market is likely to go the other way

iPhones are coming with a USB rather than USB C cable in the box, which raises questions about the longer term commitment to Thunderbolt 3…

iPhone Xr

Why did Apple create so many colour versions. It has too many colour variations. One of Apple’s historic strengths has been keeping a tight leash on the product portfolio.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week:

A cheap facsimile of the classic Nokia 8110 managed to upstage the launch of of a range of premium Android phones at MWC.  Nostalgia is powerful, but I don’t think what’s going on here. I could see this as a weekend phone allowing consumers to wind down at the weekend and go cold turkey on the app economy.

nokia8110traditionalblack3 png-257014-original

I think that the model of a single form factor based on common reference designs is broken. Apple managed to elevate the build quality of all smartphones as contract manufacturers moved towards an armada of CNC machines and advanced manufacturing. But in the process, the common designs, common components and new baseline in product integrity has homogenised and commoditised Android handsets to such a decree that only scale and advertising budgets are differentiators.

Amazing selection of music from the sound tracks of classic kung fu movies over at Shaolin Chamber 36.

Roni Size talks about the music that influenced him

Frank Herbert talks about creating the science fiction epic Dune

digitalethnography | Field Note Painting Booklet – done by Xinyuan Wang, a UCL social anthroplogist in a lower tier Chinese city. Ms Wang wrote a really good monograph on social media in industrial China.

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

After Anbang Takeover, China’s Deal Money, Already Ebbing, Could Slow Further – The New York Times

Hello, mobile operators? This is your age of disruption calling | McKinsey & Company – lots of buzz words, diagnosis but not a glimpse of a way forward

Edelman Revenue Up 2.1% In 2018 To $894m | Holmes Report – given that all the global PR groups have had exceptionally low growth or even declines

How Douyin became China’s top short-video App in 500 days – WalktheChat

Nokia on 5G at MWC, what struck me is the sales pitch was more like an enterprise software company like IBM or Oracle than a telecoms vendor. There is lots of tech in the networks but there isn’t a recognisable killer app. His warnings about 5G upgradeable products ring true though.

Asian Boss do some really nice street interviews in different Asian cities and this one about Apple iPhones in Korea is particularly instructive. Samsung is seen as the default as they assemble phones (mostly for Asian markets) in Korea. Whereas in Europe all of the are made in China.

The iPhone seems to have won out on product design amongst younger people.

Oprah time: Operaatio Elop (Operation Elop) by Pekka Nykänen & Merina Salminen

Nokia

Operaatio Elop covers one of the most dramatic events in Finland since the Winter War. At the time of Nokia’s high point it accounted for over 25% of the Finnish economy. There has seldom been a fall so drastic as Nokia’s fall in the mobile phone market from leading player to disaster. With that fall came the humbling of an entire country.

Given the scale of the fall and the size of Nokia as a brand around the world, I was surprised the the Operaatio Elop hadn’t been translated and published in different language editions. Instead it was up to numerous Finns to crowdsource a translation into English for free and provide it on an as is basis.

Has Nokia’s fall had been so complete that it literally fell out of interest for non-Finns?

What becomes apparent is a story more nuanced than the press coverage would allow. Elop comes out of it a flawed tragic figure – a one-trick pony; rather than a skilful trojan horse.

Nokia’s feature phone line up where surprisingly a hero of the piece contributing positively to the business for longer than I would have expected and slowing down the business collapse precipitated in the smartphone business.

Nokia’s board of directors and former management come out of it much worse.

Fatal flaws

Nokia’s strengths had become its weakness.

  • Smartphone manufacturing processes weren’t ready for mass adoption
  • MeeGo had been unfairly assessed
  • It blew its marketing budget on a bet on the North American market, ignoring other countries
  • The marketing budget was spent too early and all at once. What resulted was an ineffective and inefficient marketing campaign. By my reckoning it was roughly $100 per phone sold during the launch of the Lumia range in the US
  • Poor quality Windows Phone software, small Windows Phone application ecosystem and cheap Android phones were key issues
  • Chip technology partner issues from its relationship with Qualcomm to Intel’s failure in 4G as it focused on WiMax rather than LTE

The more pertinent question would be is there any circumstances where Nokia stood a chance of staying on top in the mobile phone marketplace?