KPN Acquires Rest Of iBasis For $93.3 Million In Cash

Dutch telecom group KPN has agreed to acquire the 44% of U.S.-based operator iBasis that it doesn’t already own for $3 a share, or $93.3 million in cash. A special committee of the iBasis board has approved the terms put forward a couple of weeks ago, and is urging company holders to accept KPN’s tender offer.

KPN says it intends to complete the acquisition of iBasis through a merger no later than today.

The deal price is more than double the $1.30 closing price of iBasis shares on July 10, the last trading day before KPN announced an offer for the company, and about a third more than the closing price on Friday of $2.26. KPN adds that all iBasis shares not validly tendered into the tender offer will be converted into the right to receive $3.00 per share, net to the holder in cash without interest.

KPN had to raise its offer to gobble up iBasis quite a few times, and the two companies were mixed up in litigation over the unsolicited buy-out offer. iBasis had filed a complaint last August, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to stop KPNs “grossly inadequate tender offer”.

As part of their agreement, KPN and iBasis have now agreed to drop the litigation.

iBasis, founded in 1996, is one of the three largest carriers of international voice traffic in the world, having carried approximately 24 billion minutes of voice traffic in 2008 according to its website. Besides carrying international calls, the company also provides retail prepaid calling services, VoIP and other services for mobile operators.

The company has its headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts.

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The best video games of 2009; Pick your favorite, too

uncharted 21. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony PlayStation 3. Teen) Naughty Dog/Sony. I’m on the record as saying that this first-person shooter title is one of the best video games ever made. Uncharted 2 certainly could have been a tired sequel and a clone of Tomb Raider, but Naughty Dog got this one right. Just about everything is executed well. The story is compelling and sustains your interest over 26 chapters. Treasure hunter Nathan Drake has to choose between goodness and greed as he hunts down an ancient treasure. He also has to fight off thugs and decide which of two very different women he loves. The art style is hyper-realistic, with vibrant, larger-than-life colors in everything from the characters to the breathtaking Himalayan landscapes. The combat scenes are tough because you’re always fighting your way out of some kind of trap. The train chase scene is unforgettable as you fight thugs from car to car, evade a helicopter blasting at you from above, and make sure you don’t lose your footing as the swaying train rocks back and forth. Those combat scenes, set against lush scenery, are so tough to render that you won’t see them on rival game consoles. You feel like you’re in the midst of a Hollywood blockbuster as you scale dizzying heights and solve riddles as you track down the lost city of Shambhala hidden in the mountains. This game is sharp, polished and consistent from beginning to end, pulling together great elements from good weaponry to awesome sound. That’s why I think this game is one of the finest video games of all time. It’s not enough to single-handedly turn around Sony’s fortunes as the third-place player in the console market, but if Sony can keep on making games like this one, it won’t have to worry.

modern warfare 2 fire2. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (PS 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Mature). Infinity Ward/Activision Blizzard. The single-player campaign of this modern combat game has a controversial civilian-shooting scene and a plot that has some mighty strange twists. The plot was such a stinker I decided not to name this as the best game of the year. (Not only do you shoot Russian civilians, you also shoot Russian soldiers, Brazilian thugs, American soldiers, and an American general). But the action is truly riveting as no one delivers a feel for the experience of modern warfare as Infinity Ward. You can participate in a wide array of tactical combat scenes and choose from all sorts of weapons. That includes Predator drones, Stinger missiles, and sniper rifles with thermal sites. The game really shines with multiplayer combat, where the action is intense as you fight it out in street battles among the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, caves in Afghanistan, and the streets of ruined cities. Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer gaming is addictive because there are so many rewards built into the game, even for those who aren’t playing good. There are 70 levels to achieve, so the multiplayer play could last for months. With a little practice, you can take on the combat fanatics online. My rank is around 3.6 million worldwide now after about 22 hours of multiplayer combat. I live for the kill streak rewards in multiplayer that allow you to rain down Predator strikes on the rest of the players.

killzone 23. Killzone 2 (PS 3. Mature) Guerrilla Games/Sony. This game was another of the raft of titles that helped turn around the console war for Sony in 2009. The game had daunting Helghast enemies with heavy weapons, good artificial intelligence, and spooky orange eyes. Outstanding visual effects are almost routine in this game. You see little dust storms that swirl around an outpost and obscure your view of the action. Wind blows back curtains from windows. Bullets pierce thin metal walls, sending out sparks and killing those hiding behind the barriers. The sound is excellent, and the screams of the enemy Helghast through their muffled helmets is quite haunting. The action is chaotic and the feeling you get is like a sci-fi version of the combat in the Black Hawk Down film. Fighting from a distance is hard because it’s not easy to aim with the controller, but the game is quite satisfying in close combat.

halo 3 odst4. Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360, Mature). Bungie/Microsoft. This game was just supposed to be an expansion pack, but in 14 months, Bungie managed to create a cool new game in the Halo universe that has enthralled nearly 30 million gamers since 2001. You play an “orbital drop shock trooper” who drops into the African city of New Mumbasa to save it from a nasty Covenant surprise attack. These soldiers aren’t as powerful as Master Chief, who isn’t in the game, and that makes you play in a different way as you take on the aliens. Your efforts are just a kind of rear-guard action in a doomed defensive effort. The game comes with Fourth Wall Studios’ Sadie’s Story, a game within the game that is a audio play which reconstructs the story of the city’s fall through the eyes of a civilian. It’s a creative addition to the game. The multiplayer combat is fun, but not that much different from the experience in Halo 3.

flower5. Flower (PS 3-PlayStation Network, Everyone) Thatgamecompany/Sony. This game is a breath of fresh air. You play the wind in the dream of a flower that wants nature to return to a delapidated city. And that is no joke. This game is wonderfully creative, a wellspring from the mind of Jenova Chen, whose games have been far different. Usually, when you find out that a game has no guns or violence, it’s easy to presume it will be entirely boring. But this game is also quite replayable, as my kids demonstrated. The graphics of the grass and flowers swaying in the breeze tapped the processing power of the Playstation 3. The scenery contains as many as 200,000 individually swaying leaves of grass. And the action at times feels like you’re on a rollercoaster. The game is so pretty to look at that my kids actually snapped digital camera pictures of the game while they were playing it. As a downloadable game, it’s relatively short at a few hours or so. But it also costs less than usual games at $9.99.

resident evil 56. Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360, PS 3, PC, Mature) Capcom. Zombies have been a god-send to the video game industry, and to Capcom in particular. In this game, as in many others, they move so slow that they’re easy to take out with shotguns. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. But if you’re surrounded by them and are running out of ammo, it can get quite scary. This game keeps you on the edge of your seat as it alternates between zombie massacres and a deep plot that you unravel bit by bit. This game requires the combination of shooting and puzzle solving skills. You use those skills in scenes like where you have to trap a monster that you can’t possibly kill by luring it into an incinerator. Besides zombies, you have to watch out for crocodiles, gigantic worm-like creatures, runaway trucks, and motorcycle-riding zombies. It’s a long game with hours of zombie-slaying fun. The imagery in the game is disturbing, and there was a big debate about whether the game was racist because it is set in Africa and you kill a lot of black zombies. The story has nothing to do with racial differences and the setting just happens to be in Africa. If you don’t mind exploding heads, bursting bodies, and truly disturbing scenes, then this is the game for you.

assassin7. Assassin’s Creed II (Xbox 360, PS 3, Mature) Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft. This stealth-oriented title was one of the most successful original games in 2007, and now in the first week of sales the title is up 32 percent over the 2007 performancein the same period. This title has a new lead character in a new time. The previous game was set in the Crusades, but now Assassin’s Creed II has moved into the Renaissance, in the time of Leonardo and the Medici. You play a nobleman-turned-assassin, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The game features outstanding art direction that really makes you feel like you’re amidst the canals of Venice, Florence and the Italian countryside. Half the fun is exploring the cities. You can scale to the top of buildings, parkour style, and look around at the view. It’s a marvelous journey into history. Mix that with the action of a stealth killing game, where the object is to avoid getting caught doing bad deeds. The assassin is armed with knives that pop out of his sleeves, but you can also disarm foes and use their weapons against them. The object remains to sneak undetected through a crowd, pounce on your victim, and then make your escape. This game is Ubisoft at its best, executing on the stealth combat genre.

wii sports resort8. Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo Wii, everyone) Nintendo. This game had a built-in audience, since the original Wii Sports was packaged with the Nintendo Wii game console that sold more than 50 million units. The company took its time launching the sequel and came up with a polished game that took advantage of a new peripheral, the Wii MotionPlus, which made motion-sensing more accurate with added gyroscopes. The better accuracy shows up when you try to flick your wrist to throw a Frisbee or duel with swords. The game takes place on WuHu island, which has plenty of Nintendo-style personality. There are 12 different sports to try, such as flying a stunt airplane, kayaking, and archery. As you play the motion-sensing games, you get a work out. Everything is infused with a sense of humor. My kids laughed their heads off in the sword fights where the loser falls into the water with a splash. It is one of those games where you have as much fun looking at the players guffawing on the couch as you do looking at the screen.

plants vs zombies9. Plants vs. Zombies (PC, Everyone 10+). PopCap Games. A casual game, this one is a rare bird. The team of just a few people worked on it for more than three years just to get it right. Popcap’s designers took the popular “tower defense” concept and turned it into a funny, frenzied action game where you use a cartoon plant army to defend your house against a horde of attacking zombies. It’s cute action, where you can catapult a chunk of butter at the end of a zombie, beheading the groaning creature. As you proceed, the game gets harder and harder. The zombies come at you with fast or slow speeds, with offensive or defensive approaches, and you have to line up your defense in depth to knock their heads off and stop them from coming. The deadliest weapons you can deploy are pea shooting plants that can take multiple shots at the same time. The game has amazing depth, with 48 types of plants and 26 different zombies. The art style isn’t scary, so it’s fairly kid friendly.

borderlands10. Borderlands (Xbox 360, PC, PS 3, Mature). Gearbox Software/Take-Two Interactive. This game managed to garner good sales in between major releases, and that’s because this brand new property was a lot of fun. It’s a first-person sci-fi shooter game with role-playing elements, not unlike last year’s Fallout 3 game, set in a wasteland society on a desert planet. But the style of animation is unique; it has a non-realistic, comic-book style “cel shading” art that seems both realistic and far out at the same time. You play a scavenger, fulfilling missions so that you can earn more currency to spend on weapons and possessions. You can pick one of four combat types and kill foes to earn bounties, a la the Wild West. Since every bullet costs you money, you have to think about exactly how you’re going to dispatch foes without spending your entire hoard replenishing your ammo or weapons. It makes you feel like a miser, but you’re rewarded if you’re a sure shot. The fun part is that you’re constantly rewarded as you find little objects from ammo to better guns that will help you survive the badlands.

batmanHonorable mention: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, PS 3, PC, Mature) Rocksteady Studios/Eidos/Warner Bros. Interactive. This game came out in August, but it has a lot of lasting power. And surprise, surprise. It is possible to make a superhero game that isn’t horrible. I was ready to dislike this from the beginning, but I was mesmerized by it instead. The beginning of the game is haunting as a captured Joker — always Batman’s most unpredictable enemy — is escorted by Batman into Arkham Asylum. The foreshadowing of something going wrong builds a lot of anticipation. The interior of the insane asylum is menacing, making you feel like you’re descending into Dante’s Inferno. Then the Joker springs his trap, taking over the entire asylum and setting up ambush after ambush for the caped crusader. The Joker lets loose all of the asylum’s baddies, forcing Batman to fight some of the most well-known figures in the Batman pantheon. Batman can fight enemies with his brute strength, glide with his cape from one part of the asylum to another, and use his grappling hook to spirit himself out of troubles on the ground. The combat system is cool and the fighting animations are quite fluid and realistic.

brutal legendAnother Honorable mention: Brutal Legend.

Brutal Legend (Xbox 360, PS 3, Mature). Double Fine Productions/Electronic Arts. This is probably the most creative and unique titles of the season, or maybe in the history of gaming. It springs from the brain of star developer Tim Schafer, one of the funniest people in games. The game is a sci-fi combat game that is a heavy metal fantasy. You play a Eddie Riggs, a rock band roadie modeled after actor Jack Black who gets hurt in an accident and wakes up in a supernatural world full of monsters, thugs, demons and rock and roll legends. As Riggs, you have a battle axe in one hand and a guitar in another, pursuing enemies in a 64 kilometer square open world. You drive around in a hot rod with flame decals and fight off enemies with your guitar tricks and recruit as your soldiers “headbanger” miners who crack rocks with their own heads. Schafer says the game originated from his fantasies about heavy metal rock album covers. The soundtrack brings back memories, and the game’s story includes animated characters based on metal rock stars such as Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, and a host of others. Despite its sometimes horrific and blood-soaked scenes, this game is one of the funniest I’ve played.

And we’ll close with the list of my top ten games of 2008. Please fill out the poll to tell us about your favorite game of the year and leave a comment explaining why (vote for one).

Also, here’s the top ten best-reviewed games of 2009 from Metacritic.com, which aggregates review scores.

metacritic


Mobile games: Have we learned anything at all?

GetJarEditor’s note: This post is sponsored by GetJar.

It seems games publishers are an ungrateful group. A couple of years ago you heard them (myself included) endlessly complain about deck placement, carrier content managers who didn’t call them back, lacklustre revenue shares or outrageous porting requirements. Then came the App Store and the rest is history. Right? Wrong. The carrier is now called Apple, the deck is called the app store and although you only have one handset to develop for the submission process makes the carrier submission process look almost inviting by comparison. Although the revenue share is much better then it was with carriers the “open” nature of “set-your-own pricing” has – predictably driven prices downwards. As more people have piled in pricing has eroded so badly that only the highest quality games (mostly branded games titles) are able to maintain their margins. So if in the carrier model the winners were the likes of EA, Gameloft and Glu, the Apple model winners are more mixed. The big winners on the App Store are consumers who have an amazing choice of free and low cost games, small developers who would never have made it onto the decks of carriers and some of the larger publishers who have high quality branded titles who’s franchises they actually own. So although the winners seem to have changed one of the industry’s most fundamental challenges remains: how does it build enough scale to give rise to the next EA Games or Gameloft?

Part of the answer is what many iPhone developer don’t want to hear: cross platform development. Gaming is a mass-market pastime that appeals to people everywhere and more people have phones than PC’s. It should work. Tackling other platforms to ensure people all over the world can enjoy games regardless of platform / handset will help drive the viral awareness of games and generate word of mouth. Research has repeatedly shown that recommendations are one of the best ways to drive adoption (as is free trial). That’s hard to do on only one platform. The other part of the answer lies in the business model itself. Some people will simply never pay for games. The reasons are many but in a recession where people have to prioritize voice / text they will forego the rest (including games). Furthermore, in emerging markets like India where over 95% of the population are on pre-paid cards, paying for games simply isn’t an adoption. But this challenge is also part of the solution.

Innovative developers have shown that they can make money from games and apps without charging consumers. Flirtomatic, a mobile dating service, sells virtual goods. Google pays Opera Mini, the popular mobile browser, for search results. With mobile web usage surging in the emerging world and the mobile becoming an integral part of people’s lives the possibility for mobile advertising to finally deliver is starting to become a reality. Could in game ads be the solution to monetizing games in the 3rd world?

Patrick Mork, VP Marketing, GetJarThis post was written by Patrick Mork who joined GetJar in 2008 as VP of Marketing and member of the executive team. His primary role at GetJar is to develop the company’s overall marketing, branding, content and communications strategy. Patrick has been in the mobile content space since 2004 first at mobile games publisher I-play then subsequently at glu mobile. Prior to joining GetJar, Patrick was Marketing Director Europe at glu where he built up the company’s marketing team and was a key part of the European management team that helped take the company public on the NASDAQ in March 2007. With 15 years of marketing experience at leading companies such as PepsiCo and Diamondcluster, Patrick has worked in large multinationals and venture-backed start-ups in marketing, sales and general management. Patrick holds on MBA from INSEAD and a BS from Georgetown University.


Justin.tv Rolling Out Pay-Per-View Next Month [NewTeeVee]

Be prepared to pay up for watching live-casters like Chris Pirillo any day now, as Justin.tv is preparing to launch a pay-per-view service. The live streaming start-up is rolling out its premium offering with a few of its broadcasters next month, according to a Beet.tv report, with plans to open up the offering to everyone in Q2 of 2010. Justin.tv is modeling its revenue split after the iTunes store, and the company’s VP of marketing told Beet.tv that the new offering will finally make it possible to make “digital dollars” instead of just dimes online.

Pay-per-view for live streaming isn’t exactly a new idea. Stickam launched a similar service almost 18 months ago, and Ustream has been talking about charging viewers for live video in the past as well. In fact, Justin.tv’s own CEO Michael Seibel toyed with the idea almost two years ago already. Back then, he told the Silicon Alley Insider that the company was working on a combination of “pay-per-view, Craigslist and eBay.” You know, minus the hookers and the ridiculous shipping fees.

Actually, it sounds like Justin.tv is now taking a more traditional pay-per-view approach. Broadcasters will be able to set their own fees, with single live shows starting at $1 each. There will also be an option to do subscription services, which could be especially interesting for regular broadcasters with an audience willing to pay. Justin.tv will handle all the billing and charge a flat 30 percent fee on any pay-per-view or subscription sales.

That’s slightly different than the pricing structure of Stickam’s Payperlive program, which it rolled out gradually beginning in July 2008. Stickam offers broadcasters a number of different service plans with scaling bandwidth allocations, revenue splits and monthly fees. The cheapest plan, which includes 100 GB of bandwidth, costs $19 per month, on top of which Stickam charges 25 percent per ticket sold. The so-called platinum plan costs $79 per month, but broadcasters keep 85 percent of their pay-per-view revenue.

Justin.tv has lately been in the headlines for its attempts to appease rights holders with copyright filters. Pay-per-view could actually help the company to strike deals with sports leagues that don’t want to see their video transmitted for free, but we’ll have to wait and see whether Justin.tv’s audience will bite.



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App Store External Games Rating Pressure Mounts [TheAppleBlog]


Apple implemented its own games rating system when it introduced iPhone OS 3.0, one that’s designed to let consumers know what kind of content they’re in for when they buy any kind of software from the App Store. But according to some notable critics, it isn’t enough.

South Korean regulators, for instance only allow games to be sold in the country that are reviewed and rated by the official government Games Ratings Board, and so the Korean App Store actually doesn’t include a “Games” category or any of the apps therein.

The blanket blocking policy isn’t a perfect solution, though, since many games are still available through the “Entertainment” section, or by using the App Stores of other countries, something which is very easy to do using a fake U.S. address and temporary Visa gift card, for example. The Ratings Board is worried about the violent and sexual content that slips through these cracks.

Speaking to the Korea Herald, one official for the video game regulatory group said that they’d approached Apple to discuss the possibility of opening up the App Store’s games to review and classification by the board, but that Apple had yet to respond. As the iPhone continues to gain ground in the South Korean market — some 150,000 units have been sold in the three weeks since it was launched — tension between the Ratings Board and Apple is expected to grow.

Another country notorious for its game ratings, Australia, is also seeking to gain the ability to review content before its offered for sale to consumers via the App Store. Sooner or later, I expect Apple will have to address these requests, but I imagine it’ll wait until some organization or legislation forces its hand.



Google DNS Helper Offers No-Commitment Google DNS Try-Outs [Downloads]

Windows: Want to give Google Public DNS a go to see if it really speeds up your web browsing, but don't want to muck with your router and network? Google DNS Helper offers single-computer tryouts of the search firm's servers.

We've previously detailed how you can try out numerous public DNS servers on a machine to see which servers do the fastest job of converting names to IP addresses. In the U.S., at least, Google doesn't usually win in the numbers alone, but you might want to see for yourself if there's an effect noticeable to the human eye.

A coder going by the name of Prasannah has released a tiny, no-install-needed Windows app that switches just the computer it's running on over to Google Public DNS, and backs up your DNS configuration before it does so. Browse around, see if web sites pop up any speedier, and when you're ready to switch back, just hit the other button.

Speed, of course, isn't everything, which is why we still consider OpenDNS a speedy, but also safe, DNS solution. Still, if you want to try out Google's (surprisingly) ad-free, optimized DNS experience, this app is the way to go. Google DNS Helper is a free download for Windows systems only.




Ford Adding Wi-Fi to SYNC [GigaOM]


Ford today said it will add Wi-Fi to its SYNC offering, effectively turning some of its cars into mobile hotspots. Similar to Verizon’s MiFi, the solution allows customers to use their own USB mobile broadband modems to connect to the web, providing access for anyone in the vehicle with WiFi-enabled devices. The solution will be standard on select SYNC-equipped vehicles and will require no additional hardware or subscriptions beyond users’ mobile broadband services.

The car is kind of the last frontier for Wi-Fi, which has become commonplace in the home, the workplace and in countless public areas. And by providing 3G connectivity to the car, automakers like Ford will be able to generate revenue from carriers — which could be crucial at a time when car manufacturers are struggling mightily.

But the move could also be another step toward bringing the app store model into our cars (GigaOM Pro, sub required). BMW, Nokia and Parrot — among others — are working on auto app initiatives, and Ford has said it will open its SYNC API to developers next year. So while in-car Wi-Fi may be a way for automakers to pry a few dollars out of mobile network operators over the next few years, it also could help pave the way for car manufacturers to become retailers of in-car applications.

Image courtesy Flickr user davidking.



Report: Twitter Made a Profit in 2009

twitter_logo_dec09.jpgAccording to a report by Business Week's Spencer E. Ante, Twitter's search deals with Google and Microsoft made the company about $25 million - enough to turn Twitter into a profitable business in 2009. According to these reports - which Twitter did not comment on - the deal with Google made Twitter about $15 million this year and a similar deal with Microsoft generated about $10 million in revenue.

Sponsor

The idea that Twitter made a profit from these deals is based on the assumption that the company's annual operating costs are roughly $25 million. Twitter, of course, doesn't release any information about its operating costs or the revenue it made from these deals, so we have to take this estimate with a grain of salt.

Bringing Costs Down

Business Week's Spencer E. Ante also argues that Twitter was able to reduce operating expenses by renegotiating its deals with the telecom carriers that support the service's text message system. Until this year, the cost of supporting the SMS system represented Twitter's largest expense, though according to one source quoted by Bloomberg, "now people are the biggest line item."

Generating More Income

Earlier this year, Twitter also announced that it plans to create a revenue-sharing scheme that would allows Twitter to share in the profits generated by third-party applications and vice versa. The details of this plan are still under wraps, however, though at LeWeb, Ryan Sarver, Twitter's Director of Platform, announced that the company would announce details about this plan early next year.

Chances are that Twitter is still looking into creating revenue from advertising as well. If the company really managed to be profitable based on the search content deals with Microsoft and Google, however, then Twitter will at least have a longer runway before it has to open up this revenue channel, which is likely to alienate quite a few users.

Discuss


ETFs Without a Hardware Subsidy and No Data-Only Plans Have Me Flustered [jkOnTheRun]

Over the weekend, I did a bit of research into my crazy new idea. As my Palm Pre was put on notice back in November, I’m looking at dropping it for an fast, new Android device in the first quarter of 2010. I have an iPhone 3GS as my primary cell and I’m an advocate of using Google Voice to manage my incoming calls — it’s especially handy with more than one handset. So I really don’t need two or more voice lines with my current setup. Using the Nokia N900 for both Google Talk and Skype voice calls actually sheds the spotlight on this fact — with fantastic Google Voice or voice over IP integration, a second “handset” could easily be a data-only device for me. That’s where my research for a data-only SIM card started… and quickly ended due to the dreaded ETF, or Early Termination Fee.

Since the new Google Nexus One offers known specifications that will meet my needs, I decided to look at T-Mobile for data. The carrier recently introduced some contract-free voice / text / data plans, so I figured there might be a plan for my new strategy. Sure enough, I found the T-Mobile Total Internet plan, which is $39.99 a month and offers up to 10 GB of data per month. With the plan, you can make voice calls, but you’ll be paying by the minute. That’s a chance I’m willing to take, since I have another dedicated handset for voice and because I’m thinking that a Skype phone number ought to provide cheap insurance. And most of the folks that I talk to on a regular basis are all on Google Talk already, which works just fine over 3G or Wi-Fi. So I added the plan to my cart.

The next step was to choose a device, but since I’ll be providing the hardware, I simply chose the first option, which was for a free SIM card. Thinking I was good to go, I went to checkout and then the dreaded two-year commitment and $200 Early Termination Fee information popped up. Here’s the burning question: if ETFs are meant to protect carriers against early losses of subsidized hardware, why would there be an ETF associated with a data-only plan? The fact is — there shouldn’t be one and it’s tragic that the FCC allows for this to happen in the U.S. Ironically, after tweeting about this over the weekend, T-Mobile has updated it’s site and I currently can’t choose just a SIM card for this plan.

While it may appear that I’m bashing T-Mobile over this, I’m simply using this situation as an example. The fact is: I want to give T-Mobile $40 a month to use unlocked phones as data-driven devices. But I won’t do that if there’s an illogical fee that I could end up paying for. What if I have a career change in the next two years and don’t need to review phones any longer, for example?

This is part of the reason that unlocked phones simply don’t do well here in the U.S. In other countries, carriers often use the same voice and data frequencies, so you simply shop around for the plan and SIM card that suits you best, pop it in your phone(s) or your data device and you’re good to go. Here a SIM card for an unlocked phone works with either T-Mobile or AT&T for voice, but unless the device supports quad-band HSPA (most, if not all, don’t), you only get fast 3G data on one network or the other. There’s simply little to no incentive to buy an unlocked phone like the Google Nexus One.

Let’s say for a second that the Nexus One will be unlocked — which is all but officially confirmed. It won’t support AT&T’s 3G network, so very few people will even consider an AT&T SIM or plan. Why would you when the primary use case of the device is for apps and the web, which are data-driven services. These days, the voice component of a smartphone is more of a necessary add-on rather than the primary function. So that brings you to T-Mobile, which does offer contract-free plans with the Even More Plus Plans. The cheapest one offers 500 voice minutes along with unlimited text and web for $59.99 a month. That’s $20 more per month than the Total Internet Plan because it offers the voice and text component — that I don’t need. Texting through Google Voice on an Android phone — or via the web on any other platform — is just fine.

In fairness to T-Mobile, let me look at the situation with AT&T — you can add just the data component to a smartphone or PDA for $35 a month. OK, that’s reasonable, but what if I don’t need the voice component? No can do — this is an add-on for existing voice plans. For data only , you need a SIM card tied to the $60 a month DataConnect plan, which nets you the same 5 GB of monthly bandwidth for almost double the price of the add-on. There is a $35 plan, but that’s limited to a paltry 200 MB, so it’s a non-option for me. So let’s say I was willing to go with the $60 a month data plan — you can’t do that with just a SIM card, at least not on AT&T’s website. Instead you have to pick a device and we all know what that means. Yup, this is where the ETF comes in again. Either that, or I can buy a device I don’t need at full retail price, which is often higher than the ETF in the first place.

Simply put, this whole experience is like running on a treadmill — I keep going and going to find a solution, but essentially, I’m stuck in place. It’s time for a real shakeup in the U.S. cellular market because data, not voice is where it’s at. I don’t know who will cause this shift — the FCC, Google, or someone else entirely — but it’s long overdue. I know I’m a bit ahead of the curve on the need for data-only plans without ETFs, but these territorial cellular fences need to be torn down.



Twitter May Be Profitable — No, Seriously! [GigaOM]


Team Twitter: Biz Stone, Ev Williams & Jack Dorsey. Photo by Om Malik

We, like so many others, have joked about Twitter’s non-existent business model and its frothy billion-dollar valuation. Apparently we might have to stop that – at least for now. The San Francisco-based micromessaging company is said to be profitable, according to a report in Bloomberg that quotes someone close to the company. The profitability might be shortlived, however, as Twitter continues on path of hyper-growth.

The company is going to bring in revenue of $25 million, thanks to its search deals with Google and Microsoft. Google is paying the company $15 million a year, while Microsoft is paying it $10 million for access to its real-time data. The company, Bloomberg claims, has operating costs of $20-$25 million a year, which allows it to be slightly profitable for 2009. According to some estimates the company, which has 105 employees, is likely to have revenues of $114-$134 million in 2013, sans profits.

I have to admit, the report came as a bit of a shock. Even if the search deals are rewarding Twitter handsomely, it was safe to assume that the company would still be spending a lot more as it continues to grow its business. In 2010, I won’t be surprised if it spends lavishly on three things:

  • *New management team including several new “C”-suite executives.
  • *Infrastructure to scale their network to accommodate future growth.
  • *Hiring more engineers and other key people as it tries to build out the service.

Which means the so-called profits are going to evaporate and the company will have to dip into its $155 million (VC) cash hoard. Even the soon-to-come commercial accounts might not be enough to make up for all that spending. That said, I think Twitter isn’t charging Google and Microsoft enough for its core product: the status updates. But hey, that’s just me!



Limelight Agrees to Buy Up EyeWonder for $110M [NewTeeVee]

Limelight Networks, in a bid to get into the fast-growing online ad-serving business, has agreed to purchase EyeWonder for $110 million in cash and stock. The company expects the deal, which it hopes will close in the first half of 2010, to add some $40 million in annual revenues and to substantially boost Limelight’s gross margins as it attempts to move away from a high-capital, low-margin commodity CDN business.

Of the $110 million that Limelight has agreed to pay for EyeWonder, $62 million will be in cash, plus 12.74 million shares of Limelight stock worth some $48 million. An additional 4.86 million shares could be issued in 2011 if EyeWonder achieves certain financial results in 2010. On an investor call announcing the deal, Limelight CEO Jeff Lunsford said the acquisition is expected to be accretive on a pro forma basis by the end of 2010.

EyeWonder will provide a fast-growing and high-margin revenue stream to complement Limelight’s existing CDN business. According to Lunsford, the ad-serving company is expected to have sales of $32-$35 million in 2009, with gross margins in excess of 70 percent. That revenue grew 40 percent on capex of less than $1 million over the past year, according to Lunsford, and Limelight expects EyeWonder’s sales to rise an additional 30 percent in 2010.

EyeWonder will also bring a number of new customers to Limelight — more than 800 interactive agencies worldwide — which will help the CDN move further into the enterprise market. At the same time, Limelight believes it can help introduce EyeWonder to more media companies and publishers that could leverage its interactive ad-serving platform to monetize their media assets. The combined company will have more than 2,500 customers.

EyeWonder had already used Limelight’s CDN for the majority of its ad serving, which should come as a competitive advantage as it will now operate within the network at no additional cost. “The biggest cost of the business is the CDN side of the business,” said EyeWonder founder and CEO John Vincent on the investor call. While EyeWonder has a partnership with Limelight rival Akamai Technologies, Lunsford said that the ad firm would operate as an independent business unit and would continue to service customers in an open way.

This is the second acquisition that Limelight has announced in 2009 aimed at expanding beyond the commodity CDN market into more high-value services. It bought Kiptronic earlier this year to expand more deeply into mobile content distribution.



APNdroid 2.0 Adds Automation to Android Battery Saving Tool [Updates]

Android: From hard-won experience, we've previously labeled android app APNdroid as a crucial battery-saving utility. With faster operation, an automating plug-in for Locale, and the ability to keep MMS messages coming through, it's even more essential.

On its face, APNdroid doesn't do anything fancy, and, in fact, is kind of weird: it turns off your mobile data (EDGE/3G) usage by messing with your Access Point Names (APN), leaving you with the basic voice call/SMS capabilities of a standard cellphone. But if you're rocking an Android phone with annoyingly limited battery life, this feature can be a real battery saver for stretches of time when you're not going to be tinkering on the web or checking email.

Previously, APNdroid took a good 4-6 seconds to do its thing, and locked up your phone while doing so, as well as denying picture messages over MMS. The 2.0 release, now available in the Android Market, offers a home screen widget that turns your mobile data on or off in about a second. If you're using the very awesome Locale app to automate your phone based on location, time, battery state, or other conditions, APNdroid now offers a plug-in that can turn off mobile data when, say, you hit 20 percent battery life, or maybe when you're going to sleep most weeknights.

APNdroid is a free download for Android phones only. Need to get even more juice out of your Android phone? Check out the relevant section in our exhaustive guide to saving a smartphone battery.




YouTube Competitor Dailymotion Comes to the iPhone

dailymotion_logo_dec09.jpgDailymotion, the Paris-based video sharing portal that is extremely popular in Europe, just launched its first set of iPhone applications. Dailymotion launched two apps: a free ad-supported version (iTunes link) and a paid version for $5.99 (iTunes link) that does not feature any ads. The apps allow iPhone users to play videos from Dailymotion's catalog of roughly 12 million videos. Dailymotion users can also use the apps to upload videos directly to the service.

Sponsor

dailymotion_iphone_launch.jpgUntil now, the only way to access Dailymotion from the iPhone was through a mobile-optimized web interface. Given YouTube's position as a default app on the iPhone, this put Dailymotion at a significant disadvantage.

In terms of content, Dailymotion can't really compete with YouTube, where users now upload more than 24 hours of video per minute, but the app can easily compete with those from other streaming video services.

One feature of the app we especially like is how easy it is to browse through different categories. This is also where Dailymotion's international focus shines through, as the app also makes it very straightforward to restrict searches to popular videos in a specific country.

Discuss


Latest on O2-Jajah Deal: Not Done Yet [GigaOM]


Yesterday, rumors were flying that O2, a division of Telefonica, a large Spanish phone company, was buying Israel-based VoIP company Jajah for about $200 million. Last night I explained that it’s actually a good idea for O2 to buy the upstart, mostly because it (and its parent) have the scale to leverage Jajah’s virtual network and platform.

Of course when I heard about the rumor, I reached out to sources in Israel. When I woke up this morning, I’d heard back from them with new information: first of all, the deal isn’t done just yet. And according to my Israeli grapevine, the price is not $200 million and might be north of $100 million. I will keep you posted.



Disktective Helps You Visualize Hard Drive Usage [Download]

Windows: If you're on the hunt for which folder and files are chewing up the most hard drive space, Disktective is a free and portable app that makes short work of it.

Disktective scans any drive or folder you point it at and returns a list of the folder and files sizes container therein and a pie chart displaying the portion of the disk or folder in use by the folder or files in question. Once you scan you can drill down through any sub-folders and the chart will automatically update to reflection the ration in the new folder.

If you want to visualize your data as a radial map, check out previously reviewed OverDisk, and definitely check out our guide to managing your diskspace with the popular WinDirStat and JDiskReport. Diskective is free, portable, and Windows only.




Best LittleCo of 2009 & Most Promising for 2010

Don't worry, it's not Twitter! For our Best LittleCo of 2009, we've chosen a small company whose product launched in 2009 and quickly became a leading example of one of the year's big trends: the real-time web.

Our pick for Most Promising is something that could change the way people search on the Web.

Last week we announced that Google was our choice for Best BigCo of 2009, due to its product innovation in 2009. Today we're announcing Best LittleCo and Most Promising Company, as selected by the ReadWriteWeb writers.

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This is the 6th year we've done this and many of the small companies we choose each year go onto much bigger things. Here's a quick look back at previous winners:

  • In 2008 we chose web office vendor Zoho as Best LittleCo and Brightkite as our Most Promising. Zoho is still competing well above its weight bracket against office software giants like Microsoft and Google. However it's fair to say that Brightkite hasn't delivered as much on its promise as we thought it might, due in part to the emergence of Foursquare as 'the next big thing' in mobile social networking.
  • In 2007 Twitter was Best LittleCo and in a break from tradition we named "the open source movement" as most promising. Twitter, of course, has since gone on to make a huge impact on the Web and media.
  • In 2006 YouTube was Best LittleCo and Sharpcast Most Promising. YouTube was acquired by Google in October of that year.
  • In 2005 37Signals was Best LittleCo and Memeorandum (now Techmeme) and Digg were joint Most Promising.
  • In 2004 Ludicorp, creators of Flickr, was Best LittleCo and Feedburner Most Promising. Both went on to be acquired, by Yahoo! and Google respectively.

Now let's find out who is ReadWriteWeb's Best LittleCo of 2009. Then on page 2 we name our Most Promising company for 2010.

Best LittleCo of 2009: Aardvark

Aardvark (our initial review and then a comparison review) is a social search engine that combines artificial intelligence, natural-language processing and presence data to create what the company calls "the real-time Web of people." The company was founded in 2007, but the product only launched in March 2009 at SXSW. It quickly became one of the companies we point to most when we discuss the Real-Time Web, one of the most significant trends of this year.

In our report on the Real-Time Web released in November, we described how it works:

"You can ask Aardvark any question, and it will try to find a person in your extended social circles who knows about that topic and is available to answer at that moment. Aardvark facilitates these conversations through a very polite IM bot, an iPhone app with push notifications, the company's website, Twitter or email. Instead of broadcasting your question to every one's stream of information, Aardvark delivers the question only to people who are relevant and available."

Unlike Yahoo Answers or similar services, Aardvark doesn't keep a repository of frequently asked questions. The service's mission is to get you current answers from experts in your own social networks. On most days, over 85% of all questions get answered.

As we noted in our report, Aardvark's got an all-star team of engineers from Google and Yahoo and high-profile investors. It's already cutting deals with major tech brands and is rumored to be on Google's acquisition list. Whatever happens to the company, the use cases for Aardvark are just beginning to be explored.

In short, Aardvark impressed us a lot this year and it made no fewer than 3 of our 2009 best-of lists:

Aardvark's iPhone app was also popular with our writers, two of them putting it in their top 5 mobile web applications of the year.

Next page: ReadWriteWeb's Most Promising Company for 2010...

The State of Global WiMAX: The 2009 Report [GigaOM]


worldwimaxmap.gif

No disrespect to Clearwire, but I’ve long maintained that the future of WiMAX, the wireless broadband technology is outside of the U.S. The end of 2009 report issued by The WiMAX Forum has only reaffirmed my belief. According to the report:

  • There are 519 wireless broadband Internet deployments based upon WiMAX in 146 countries around the world.
  • 112 of these deployments came in 2009.
  • There are 95 WiMAX networks deployed by 2G mobile operators.
  • Yota, a Russian WiMAX operator, now has 250,000 active commercial users and has broken even as a business.
  • Clearwire has over half a million subscribers.
  • Huawei, Airspan Networks, Cisco and Alvarion are key suppliers of WiMAX gear, while Intel and Beceem Communications are leading WiMAX chip suppliers.
  • Nokia, Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent are three companies that have beaten a hasty retreat from the WiMAX equipment business.

In the U.S., WiMAX could stage a stunning comeback, thanks to the many millions of dollars being given away as part of the broadband stimulus program. According to some estimates, nearly 300 WiMAX applications were submitted for the funds, about 25 percent of the total applications, or about $1.6 billion.

From the looks of it, in 2010, WiMAX carriers will see competition from LTE operators, which are slowly rolling out their networks.

Map courtesy of WiMAX forum. The red pins represent networks based on 802.16d technologies while 802.16e technology-based networks are represented by the blue pins.



TC50 Star Tonchidot Releases Its Augmented Reality Sekai Camera Worldwide

The wait is finally over. Over a year after its memorable (and zany) debut at TechCrunch 50 2008, Tonchidot’s Sekai Camera iPhone application is now available worldwide. The augmented reality (AR) app has already established itself as a huge hit in Japan, and now Tonchidot is taking its shot at world domination. Or, at least, at getting everyone to start leaving each other geo-tagged virtual Post-It notes. You can grab Sekai Camera here, free of charge.

The premise behind the app is quite simple: as you go about your day, Sekai Camera invites you to leave text messages, photos, and audio recordings that will appear as floating bubbles wherever you created them. You can also fire up Sekai Camera to look at the world around you to see what kind of content has been left by other users. As you spin the camera around, you’ll see new messages pop up as floaty icons. Click one, and you’ll see the content that was shared previously. It’s a bit like Twitter in that everything is publicly available, but everything is built around location — if you aren’t near a message, you can’t see it.

The application itself is quite well done. As with a number of other AR apps, Sekai Camera takes advantage of the iPhone’s GPS and compass (if you have a 3GS), allowing you to shift the position of your iPhone viewfinder as new tags pop up in real-time. I found the performance to be good, though there aren’t many tags floating around in my area yet so I couldn’t test to see if performance is affected by a high density of tags. Because high traffic locations will likely spawn dozens of bubbles (or more), the app offers a number of filters. The interface is simple and polished, though it may take users a minute to figure out what some of the features (like the Pocket) are for.

Tonchidot has already established Sekai Camera as a huge hit in Japan. It launched there in late September, and was installed on over 10% of Japan’s iPhone userbase within four days (though the company acknowledges that the Japan has a relatively small iPhone install base). Tonchidot has already partnered with some major Japanese retailers, and the company says it was recently named “Best App in 2009″ by Apple Japan.

The worldwide release actually features version 2.0 of Sekai Camera, which introduces a few features that improve on the original Japanese release. In the original version of the app, you had to be physically present to see tags, making it difficult (if not impossible) to keep tabs on items your friends had created. The new version also your to ‘follow’ friends (you’ll see a Twitter-like stream of their activity). You can also put your favorite tags into a ‘Pocket’, which essentially lets you bookmark tags for future reference so that you don’t have to track them down again.

The application itself free, but there are a few avenues that Tonchidot can use to monetize. For one, they can allow businesses to insert their own tags in the Sekai virtual world.  Tonchidot can also provide these companies with PC-based tools to manage their tags remotely (something that normal users can’t do). Sekai Camera isn’t launching with any of these relationships in place in the US, but in Japan Tonchidot has partnerships with a number of major retail stores.

To help further enhance the app, Tonchidot is allowing third parties to integrate their content into the Sekai Camera virtual world via an API. For example, if I used a virtual whittling app to cut out a 3D version of the TechCrunch logo, I could post it right in front of TechCrunch headquarters, so anyone who used the Sekai Camera app nearby could see it. This API has quite a bit of potential, and Tonchidot says that a number of game developers are currently finding ways to fuse their games with the service. These third party integrations will likely prove very important to Tonchidot’s success. Checking in on random messages left by people nearby is fun at first, but it will need variety and some addictive features to keep people coming back for more.

Tonchidot has come a long way from its classic TechCrunch50 presentation, which left some of the judges scratching their heads as Tonchidot execs answered their questions with non-sequiturs and over-the-top gestures. Their success in Japan proves that they’re on to something — the question now is whether or not that will translate to success abroad.

Tonchidot recently announced a $4 million funding round.

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Limelight Networks Shells Out $110 Million For Ad Platform EyeWonder

Content delivery platform Limelight Networks has acquired ad platform EyeWonder for $110 million. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2010.

Seattle-based EyeWonder, which as seen success with its ad formats, helps interactive agencies and content publishers create, build, track and optimize rich media and interactive video advertising campaigns. Limelight recently acquired video ad insertion firm Kiptronic in May for an estimated $12 million.

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