Every week the Opus team picks a news story or topic or idea that is relevant to the entrepreneurs and businesses we partner with.

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Have small cells finally arrived?

Ajit Deshpande - - 0 Comments

Last week saw a couple announcements about carrier giants AT&T and Verizon rolling out small cells in a few locations in the United States. AT&T announced that it had completed rollouts of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), small cells and repeaters across multiple theme parks for Disney. As for Verizon, supplier Alcatel Lucent announced that its small cells are now being deployed in the Verizon Wireless network to boost coverage and capacity in busy areas such as shopping malls, sports stadia, and high high-traffic areas. These announcements indicate continued momentum within the small cell space, and the actual deployments follow well from last year’s multi-year plan announcements from the carriers on this front.

There are only a few ways to deal with the cellular spectrum crunch: DAS deployments, or small cell deployments or Wi-Fi offload infrastructure. DAS involves more complex deployment, and wi-fi offload depends on VoiP smartphone adoption, which leaves small cells as the default solution for consumer cellular coverage. In this context, the fact that the carriers are moving forward essentially means one or both of two things – that the time has come to deal with the spectrum crunch, or that the consumer geo-targeting-driven ROI from these small cells has finally become interesting enough for the carriers.

As for enterprise-grade small cell solutions, things keep moving forward. Self-organizing small cell networks within the enterprise (such as from Opus portfolio company Spidercloud) make even more business sense for carriers than do consumer small cells, because the enterprise has far more willingness to pay for business services offered through such small cells (e.g. cloud access, security), and because aside from the more complex DAS, small cells are about the only way for pure-play wireless carriers to even have a device node within the enterprise. So, likely, the time for small cells has finally arrived…

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Flickr Turns 10!

Ajit Deshpande - - 0 Comments

Photo-sharing site Flickr last week celebrated its 10th anniversary. Acquired by Yahoo in 2005 for 35 million, Flickr currently has 92 million users across 63 countries that between them share a million photos per day. More than 6 billion photos had been uploaded to Flickr by mid-2011, indicating that likely approximately 7 billion photos have been uploaded so far.

The past decade has seen significant evolution in this space, from image repositories to private image sharing groups to mobile social sharing communities. Facebook, Instagram, Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket and Shutterfly, as well as many other upstarts, have all been jostling for consumer attention over this timeframe. A lot has been said about Yahoo’s role in Flickr’s evolution over this decade. On the whole, Flickr has done reasonably well, yet the product has been clearly negatively impacted by the social and mobile wave. It took just more than a year (between 2010 and 2011) for a billion images to be uploaded to Flickr, whereas their current upload runrate of 1 million a day is far slower. Further, Flickr is already dwarfed by two-year old Instagram’s 150 million users and 16 billion uploads.

So, here we are today: mobile device adoption resulting in exponential growth in image data, storage constraints creating silos of content across multiple devices for the user, and multiple social-sharing communities causing further fragmentation of consumer-owned content. Now that the key platforms have emerged, the need of the hour might be for an aggregator to bring all these together: one that might be able to sync images and track friend-lists across a user’s various image platforms, one that could potentially consolidate storage capacities across these platforms, one that could help a user seamlessly share albums and images across various public or private lists. Efforts are underway on this front, at Opus portfolio company Eye-Fi , at Lyve (Seagate funded startup set up by Apple alums) and at other firms. We have now moved on from physical prints to digital memories, so here’s hoping that we are able to manage these digital memories and revisit them over coming decades.

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Isis and the banks!

Ajit Deshpande - - 0 Comments

Contactless mobile payment technology has been around for almost a decade now, but has not yet become main-stream in the United States. Isis, the joint mobile wallet initiative undertaken by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, has been touted as a key player in driving technology and consumer adoption in this space. Last week, the company announced that three large banks, Wells Fargo, Chase and American Express, as well as a number of key merchants including Jamba Juice, Coca Cola and Toys’R’Us had partnered with it to offer cash and in-kind incentives of up to $300 over the next three months for each consumer that used the Isis Mobile Wallet.

Contactless mobile payment makes logical sense for the long run, since it leverages the pervasiveness of mobile devices to enable online tracking and management of financial transactions. However, the technology has seen adoption challenges on two main fronts. First, deployment of Near Field Communication (NFC) compatible Point-of-Sale Systems needs merchants to commit to capital expenditures and PoS integration. Second, getting consumers to adopt and start using mobile wallets is a significant challenge around user experience, credentials management etc. With last week’s announcements, Isis is attempting to address both of the above challenges to some extent, thus providing some much needed momentum to contactless payments. Carriers have much to gain from this, since they control the mobile handset, and so would much rather have the mobile phone become the hub for all transactions. For merchants and banks too, the benefits are significant early on – high-end early-adopter consumers for the merchants, and ‘top of the wallet’ spots for participating bank credit cards.

Significant headwinds still remain in this space. Large corporate entities such as Google and Sprint, as well as startups including Opus portfolio company Sequent continue to chip in to spur market adoption, yet NFC continues to have its challenges. Apple continues to be the most visible holdout on the device front, and NFC compatible PoS system deployment continues to be slow. Can Isis and its banking and merchant partners create enough of a positive feedback loop with these near term offers to successfully lure and retain consumers? Consequently, could 2014 eventually become the ‘year of NFC’? All that remains to be seen…

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OpenStreetMap gets a fillip

Ajit Deshpande - - 0 Comments

Last week, mobile GPS-based mapping player Telenav announced that it had purchased OpenStreetMap (OSM) based mapping app developer Skobbler for approximately $24 million. Based in Germany, Skobbler is the top-rated OSM-based navigation app at this time. This move by Telenav unites Skobbler’s strong team with OSM founder Steve Coast who joined Telenav from Microsoft in 2013.  OSM itself is a 10 year old project that currently more than 1.5 million individuals contribute towards, to continually build and enhance an editable global map. Recently, it has been adopted by apps such as Foursquare.

As of today, mapping data comes from four key sources: Google, TomTom, Navteq (part of Nokia), and OSM. Navigation apps use this data across three broad categories – web and mobile mapping which sees players such as Google Maps, Waze, Telenav (Scout mobile app which uses Navteq) and Apple Maps (based on TomTom); automotive mapping which is dominated by Navteq, Garmin (based on Navteq) and TomTom; and the consumer GPS device segment where Garmin dominates. Of the mapping data providers, clearly, the only one with any chance at competing with Google is OSM and its crowd-sourced, open-source approach. Now, with Steve Coast and the Skobbler team on board, Telenav becomes the first major GPS mapping player to formally ‘get behind the crowd’. This should likely cause some introspection at Google, and even more so at Apple and Nokia.

While Skobbler clearly wasn’t a big exit, it does further prove the validity of a crowd-sourcing focused business model, following in the footsteps of Waze. As for Telenav, in theory it now has the resources to build an OSM-based competitor to Waze. Could the Telenav leverage these resources to obtain a billion dollar outcome for itself? Now that depends on execution (and potential acquirer Apple as well).

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