Of Opera Unite, Femtocells Mickey Mouse and the Art of war …

The art of war - Sun Tzu1.jpg


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a) Many thanks for the comments and feedback on this article. This is a conceptual article – hence the ideas are more a Gedankenexperiment(Thought experiment) as I often do on the OpenGardens blog



This may need a seperate blog .. but it seems Opera browser figures are a lot higher especially considering the global perspective

The newest State of the Mobile Web report: from Opera

Q1 report from Opera (slides 4, 19, 34):

StatCounter numbers:

I will probably do a seperate blog on this..


c) I have been historically supportive of Opera's innovation in the mobile space such as with Mobile Widgets but not of it’s stand in the EU over Web standards Microsoft vs. the EU: Can we legislate to force a company to use Web standards ..

d) Having said that, Opera Unite is true innovation and should be encouraged since it could be disruptive(like any peer to peer service) and needs radical thinking

e) In general, I am NOT a big fan of bearer aware applications, differential charging of IP, tying services to network types etc. However, I AM a big believer in femtocells and their potential for Operators because femtocells benefit the customer – and in doing so, if femtocells are adopted widely – could also be used for unique services which are bearer aware(ie tied to femtocells/home gateways. These will benefit the Operator. As a general theme, bearer aware mobile applications are still emerging

f) While I use Google as an example(since it is often a real question Operators ask – even if it is framed in context of the ‘Web’), the concept is generic to web search as it works today.

g) Every new computing paradigm has a new market leader because the strengths of the existing one are tied to the current paradigm


Last week, Opera unite was launched.

The pre-announcement said that ‘Opera will re-invent the Web’. A statement like that makes you sceptical, but in this case – from an innovation perspective, we were not disappointed. Opera Unite is significant and Opera deserves kudos for taking a truly innovative step even within a recession.

The basics of Opera Unite have already been discussed before- but not how it could be used.

Hence, I will cover a potential application of Opera Unite as I see it.

Opera Unite is a classic disruptive application (in the tradition of crossing the chasm by Geoffrey Moore ) which says that a new class of customer will often take up a disruptive application and will sustain it till it potentially becomes mainstream.

The attempt here is to find that new class of application/user.

Specifically, I am going to co-relate P2P with the network/femtocell layer(i.e. a bearer aware peer-to-peer service) and in doing so – I see a potential reason for converged network Operators to consider Opera Unite. The intersection of Privacy,P2P, mobility/convergence is of research interest to me with my PhD work – hence I am interested in this topic from a broader perspective(and also this article will refer to some research papers).

As I see it, there are two (sometimes contradictory) trends:

On one level, we want to put information in the Cloud. At another level, we want some privacy for our data. We want to be ‘Open’ but we also worry about the power of providers to ‘harness’ the metadata and to co-relate data elements for ‘advertising’ and behavioural targeting. Couple this with developments on the network layer where networks are evolving ‘beyond 3G’ to LTE and we could have interesting applications. (Femtocells/ home gateways are an important part of LTE).

Increasingly, we are seeing bearer aware applications i.e. services which will be able to leverage the power of the underlying network. Rather than trying to consider universal convergence, network operators may consider convergence between the ‘home’ (through home gateways and femtocells) and ‘outside the home’ (through the cellular network)

Consequently, Opera unite could co-relate these network layer developments to the service layer through P2P and at the same time mitigate the privacy concerns of people

What is Opera Unite

Opera Unite transforms the browser into a server and it makes your browser a potential node in a peer-to-peer network. Thus, any content can be posted on your Opera Unite instance and it becomes available to others within the network. Peer to Peer is opposite to the ‘Cloud’ philosophy.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) networking

is a method of delivering computer network services in which the participants share a portion of their own resources, such as processing power, disk storage, network bandwidth, printing facilities. Such resources are provided directly to other participants without intermediary network hosts or servers. Peer-to-peer network participants are providers and consumers of network services simultaneously, which contrasts with other service models, such as traditional client-server computing.

The Web (in it’s original Tim Berners Lee version) was always meant to be a ‘Network of peers’ the ‘Client server’ paradigm was added later since it made practical sense from an implementation standpoint. Thus, a return to a Peer to Peer mode would be indeed ‘re-inventing’ the Web and bringing it to its grassroots.

Centralization overcomes two problems of Peer to Peer: Availability and security. Availability implies that the content is accessible only as long as your node is on – and when your computer is shut down, the content disappears from the network as well.

Hence, centralization was needed to overcome these issues. However, with centralization came the issues of data ownership and unintended use of data. By extension, decentralised Online social networks(Peer to Peer) could offer a solution to the problem by bypassing the current client server paradigm of the Web.

Who could use this and why?

Who could use Peer to Peer and why?

Mobile network Operators are paranoid of Google.. and about a year ago when an Operator asked me the question: ‘How can we(Operators) overcome the Google threat?’ – I mentioned that Peer-to-Peer is a potential solution.

Specifically as I said then in P2P may be Google’s biggest weakness and an Operator’s biggest asset:


And what has this(Peer-to-Peer) got to do with the Web and Google?

Think server farms ..

Google is client server .. It has to be .. if it needs to store, manage and index the Web. Indexing the Web, as we know it, has to be centralised ..

Consequently, if a decentralised – P2P architecture takes off – then Google cannot match it because it is not in Google’s DNA to do so(just as the Web was never in Micosoft’s DNA) .. And furthermore .. it will be a service which people will want(Doubt that? – My Skype account shows 8,663,106 online at the moment!)

This is classic Sun Tzu ..

Unfortunately, more strategies are driven by Mickey Mouse than by Sun Tzu ..

And I mean that quite literally .. in the sense that it is driven by the content industry aka the Disney’s and the Warners of the world. The telecoms industry sadly does not realise that it is in the communication business – and not the content business.


So, if an Operator were to really think like Sun Tzu(strategic and disruptive) as per the ancient Chinese classic Art of War and not worry about Mickey Mouse(the content industry) – they could have a unique competitive advantage

LTE – femtocells, bearer aware applications and P2P

Much has happened since I made that comment in late 2007

Firstly, there is a clear move towards LTE and specifically femtocells

I have been following bearer aware femtocell applications for some time. and as I said in Femtocell(bearer) aware web services


My overall vision is: It is hard to sell capabilities of networks themselves(or for that matter to charge for networks). However, Operators can sell services. Customers understand services. They are used to paying for them. The basic version of the service could be free followed by some premium features.

From a mobile perspective, services could be:

a) Long tail i.e. completely decoupled from the device or the network(this is mainly in appstores)

b) Coupled to the device – ex deep integration of a web service to the device(ex address book integration of facebook(INQ1) or Skype(N97)

c) Coupled to the network

Learning from Amazon (and the Web 2.0 in general), the more the customer interacts with the provider, the better the service could be because the provider captures insights and preferences from the customer and can use them to enhance the service.

I have covered (a) and (b) extensively before. There were not many examples of (c) i.e. services coupled to networks.

In one sense, services should not be coupled to networks. However, femtocells could provide an exception to this model by creating services which could be useful to the customer. From an Operator standpoint, they provide an opportunity for customers to stay on their network longer and to provide services that can be improved by usage.


The co-relation

a) Femtocells/home gateways couple services to the network

b) Such services empower the user by making applications and meta-data resident in the home gateway(and with the Operator)

c) Opera unite also empowers the user by being ‘anti-cloud’

d) The femtocell applications need a service layer which could be provided by Opera unite.

The privacy paradox

Anyone who researches privacy knows of the privacy paradox l aka while we are concerned about privacy – our behaviour does not reflect that trend(including mine I must admit). For instance,

A Pew Internet Study from 2005 showed that 54% believe that Web sites that track their behaviour invade their privacy. But the same study showed that 64% would give up personal information to get access to a Web site. In other words as the Forbes article says: Users talk the talk about privacy, but they don’t change their behaviour.

Privacy alone is not enough .. We need more. So, bearer aware services could provide more especially if you extend the ‘home gateway’ to devices .. Probably a topic for a subsequent blog i.e. I am saying that the home gateway/femtocell may capture a lot of data about devices at home and users will be DEFINITELY very reluctant to let that data fall into the hands of search engines

Further reading

This is an emerging area and here are two papers of interest

Privacy, Cost, and Availability Tradeoffs in Decentralized OSNs(pdf)

The paper presents three schemes for decentralized online social networks. In all three, each user stores his own personal data in his own machine, which we term a Virtual Individual Server (VIS). VISs self-organize into peer-to-peer overlay networks, one overlay per social group with which the VIS owner wishes to share information. The schemes differ in where VISs and data reside: (a) on a virtualized utility computing infrastructure in the cloud, (b) on

desktop machines augmented with socially-informed data replication, and (c) on desktop machines during normal operation, with failover to a standby virtual machine in the cloud when the primary VIS becomes unavailable. We focus on tradeoffs between these

schemes in the areas of privacy, cost, and availability.

VISs self-organize into peer-to-peer overlay networks, one overlay per social group with which the VIS owner wishes to share information. This structure supports many of

the social networking features provided by popular OSNs, such as forming groups, finding friends, exchanging messages, etc. We use the word “virtual” because VISs can take the form of virtual machines, which offer important manageability and other advantages when compared to physical machines. The main insight behind this scheme is that users may be willing to replicate some of their personal data on machines belonging to social connections who would in any case have access to the data through normal OSN operations.

A Platform and Applications for Mobile Peer-to-Peer Communications – Takeshi Kato. Norihiro Ishikawa. Hiromitsu Sumino. NTT DoCoMo Inc(pdf)

To conclude

I make the co-relation between LTE/femtocells and Opera Unite where I propose that a Peer-to-Peer network is philosophically compatible with femtocells and home gateways. Both of which could potentially empower the user and a bearer aware P2P application may be a unique competitive advantage to a Telecom Operator in an converged LTE scenario

Update: See this blog from Martin Sauter which also explains the same concept Opera Unite and the Anti-Cloud

Image source: wikipedia

he beginning of The Art of War, in a “classical” bamboo book from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.


  1. After reading the pathetic assassination of Opera Unite on The Register it’s refreshing to see this positive view on this innovative product.