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Friday, April 4, 2008

AT&T, Qualcomm win licenses in FCC auctions

SAN FRANCISCO (Thomson Financial) - AT&T Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. each said late Thursday they have won wireless broadband spectrum in Federal Communications Commission 700 MHz-spectrum auctions.

AT&T said it won prime B-Block spectrum in a recent auction that augments the C-Block spectrum acquired from Aloha Partners earlier this year.

The San Antonio-based telecommunications company said that when the auction award is completed, its 700 MHz spectrum will cover 87% of the U.S. population and each of the 200 top markets.

The company does not expect the spectrum purchase to have a material impact on its operating results.

Qualcomm said it paid $558.1 million for eight E-Block licenses in a recent FCC auction.

The licenses cover the Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco regions.

The San Diego-based telecommunications company also bought three B-Block licenses, in the California-Imperial, New Jersey-Hunterdon and Yuba City, Calif. cellular market areas, for $3.5 million.

AT&T shares closed the regular session up 29 cents at $39.01. Qualcomm stock fell 6 cents to $41.89 at the closing bell. Brigid Gaffikin

Google mulls next moves on U.S. wireless networks
Google Inc confirmed on Thursday it had been an active bidder in recent U.S. auctions for licenses to create a national wireless network and that it will weigh in as regulators set new rules.

In a statement, the Internet services leader said it planned to remain active in rule-making by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that will govern how Verizon Communications , the winning bidder for the "C Block" of nationwide wireless spectrum, will operate its network.

"In ten of the bidding rounds we actually raised our own bid -- even though no one was bidding against us -- to ensure aggressive bidding on the C Block," Google said. Active bidding ensured the rules designed to make these networks more open to independent Web services will be implemented, it said.

The Silicon Valley company also said it will weigh in on new rules the FCC may set as it re-auctions airwaves that are to be shared between public safety agencies and commercial service providers -- the "D Block" in the auctions.

"As more policymakers and regulators around the world evaluate their own spectrum policies, we'll continue pushing to help make the wireless world look much more like the open platform of the Internet," the company said in its statement.

Virtual World Gets Another Life

Virtual business 2.0.

Not long ago, companies were racing to set up storefronts and showrooms in computer-generated environments such as Second Life. Few found big profits.

But commercial interest in such simulations seems to be morphing, not diminishing. Rather than selling goods and services to users -- who typically take on animated shapes known as avatars -- companies are turning to virtual offices and landscapes as tools for employees and business partners to collaborate and learn.

The shift, in some cases, requires big changes in the way computer simulations are designed and used. Where companies may be happy to hold the equivalent of parties or trade shows in public virtual spaces, for example, conducting confidential business over a network of servers that another company controls can be worrisome.

"I can think of a few reasons to not use public infrastructure with no guarantee of security," says Christian Renaud, Cisco Systems Inc.'s chief architect for networked virtual environments.

Such issues are expected to be a major focus at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference opening Thursday in New York. For example, International Business Machines Corp. and Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based operator of Second Life, plan to announce a relationship under which IBM will run Linden software on its own servers so the computer maker can set up private Second Life environments.

Meanwhile, start-ups such as Qwaq Inc., Multiverse Network Inc. and Rivers Run Red are showing off technology that offers companies the equivalent of a private "workspace" -- simulated three-dimensional rooms that allow employees to meet as avatars, view presentations and conduct other business.

"It gives companies a walled garden to experiment in," says Justin Bovington, chief executive of Rivers Run Red, a London-based company that does consulting work for companies using virtual environments.

Some of these ideas are not new. Alan Kay, a computer researcher known for groundbreaking inventions at Xerox Corp. and other companies, notes that prototypes of computer-generated workspaces were part of a famous demonstration in 1968 by Silicon Valley pioneer Doug Engelbart.

But perfecting such concepts has taken years, and major advances in computing power, software and networking speeds. To render scenes that look realistic, for example, personal computers typically need sophisticated graphics chips.

Linden Lab, founded in 1999, developed a kind of browser program that renders images and allows users to move through a simulated environments. It assigns pieces of territory to individual servers, allowing Second Life to expand geographically by adding more machines.

Individuals, companies and educational institutions design the equivalent of homes, offices and play spaces, often "buying" the equivalent of private islands. Users take assumed names and can alter their clothing and appearance, and buy virtual goods and services using a currency that is convertible into dollars.

Second Life has plenty of competition, including free-form sites such as Makena Technologies Inc.'s There and MindArk PE's Entropia Universe, and services for specific audiences -- such as the kids-oriented Club Penguin site that Walt Disney Co. purchased last year for $700 million. Such public environments can create opportunities for branding and marketing.

But there are downsides for businesses. Because avatars often carry pseudonyms, for example, customers or co-workers may not be immediately recognizable. Some pranksters have exploited anonymity to disrupt gatherings.

So companies have been developing in-house virtual worlds, aided by software from vendors such as Activeworlds Inc. and Forterra Systems Inc. Sun Microsystems Inc., meanwhile, has developed its own software, called Project Wonderland, and a simulated building called MPK20 that employees of the computer maker can use to collaborate.

Sun teams from around the world attend simulated meetings, at which their avatars may view presentations and videos and hold discussions. The biggest value of MPK20 is stimulating the kind of collaboration that comes from chance encounters, like those employees might have in a real hallway, says Nicole Yankelovich, who manages Sun's collaborative environment team.

Start-ups pursuing similar goals include Qwaq, a company in Palo Alto, Calif., that inherited work once conducted by a Hewlett-Packard Co. team under Mr. Kay. Qwaq co-founder David Smith, a pioneer in interactive gaming, helped develop software called OpenCroquet to let PCs render virtual worlds. That software, which is available to other programmers on an open-source basis, helps companies set up simulated spaces for animated meetings and to manage projects, says Greg Nuyens, Qwaq's chief executive.

Costs for corporate virtual environments can vary widely, especially if much custom programming is involved. Qwaq charges $60 a month per user for small groups; equipping a 10-person unit would cost $7,200 a year, Mr. Nuyens says.

Multiverse, founded by former employees of Web browser maker Netscape Communications Corp., plans to manage a network of virtual games and business environments accessible by a common three-dimensional browser. Eventually most Web sites may become three-dimensional. "You will be able to go to any site and there will be a 3D interactive option," predicts Erica Driver, an analyst at Forrester Research.

But there are many steps between here and there. Linden, whose founder, Philip Rosedale, recently announced plans to relinquish the job of chief executive, has been offering companies more control over their spaces in a program it calls Second Life Grid.

The IBM deal is the first time Linden has allowed another company to run its software. Colin Parris, IBM's vice president for digital convergence, says the arrangement enables the controlled movement of employee avatars and objects they create to pass among public parts of Second Life and private zones managed on IBM servers.

"There has been so much hype and puffery around virtual worlds," says Ginsu Yoon, Linden's vice president of business affairs. "It's really important to Linden Lab to be able to demonstrate that it is able and willing to meet the requirements of companies like IBM

Ford revamping engineering centers to speed product development

24hoursnews Though its late but the thinking of upgrading is really a good news for FORD lover.
- Organization changes will align Ford's global product development and
global purchasing units into an integrated team

- Actions will accelerate development of new vehicles, improve quality,
reduce costs and eliminate duplicate engineering and purchasing efforts.

- Changes reflect evolution of "One Ford" philosophy of taking advantage
of the company's global scale and expertise around the world.

Ford Motor Company is taking further steps to align its product development and purchasing organizations into an integrated global team to accelerate the creation of vehicles customers really want, reduce costs, enhance quality, and improve efficiency by eliminating duplicate engineering and purchasing efforts.

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) has recognized in the last 24 months that it needs to get the kind of vehicles that customers actually want to purchase to market much faster. Foreign competitors have been able to do this for a while now, which is a reason Toyota Motor Co. (NYSE: TM) has moved up the chain to become the global automotive heavyweight to beat these days -- even ahead of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM).

In that vein, Ford has sold off some of its niche brands, reorganized focus on its core manufacturing and sales finesse and is now taking another step under "fixit" CEO Alan Mulally. The global automaker is reorganizing its design and engineering centers worldwide to speed product development on a global scale. Not only will this help Ford compete more effectively, but let's also hope the company knows -- in advance -- what the majority of customers want to buy in terms of new vehicles. Unless I'm completely wrong, the large SUV won't be at the top of those plans for a long while.

It's been said that the business world of sellers and buyers takes place in a "global village" -- and automakers like Ford are finally realizing that a broader global view makes perfect sense in trying to maintain consistent sales when one market may be down while others are up. It's no secret that U.S. auto sales have been down for a long while -- and the capability of shifting more product mix to non-U.S. markets to deflect slowing sales would seem to have been on Ford's roadmap much sooner than it actually was. Better late than never, though.
From ford press release
Under changes effective April 1, Ford is reorganizing senior leaders in the product development and purchasing organizations to assign global responsibility for key vehicle segments and major purchasing functions. In addition, Ford is designating a global network of engineering centers that will be responsible for developing the core attributes of Ford brand vehicles worldwide. These changes will allow Ford to more effectively and efficiently support the company's regional business units in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific and Africa.
"We have successfully shared technologies across many of our product lines in the past. These changes will allow us to fully leverage Ford's global product development and purchasing organizations to create more customer- focused vehicles faster," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president, Global Product Development.
Ford consolidated its global product development activities under Kuzak in December 2006. Since then, work has been underway with the purchasing organization under Tony Brown, group vice president, Global Purchasing, to more closely integrate the two organizations and eliminate duplication in how vehicles are created, engineered and sourced.
"Better alignment of our resources not only helps Ford - it will also improve the way we do business with our global supply base by simplifying our sourcing process," Brown said. "This is consistent with the principles of our Aligned Business Framework, which is strengthening collaboration with our key suppliers."
Under the new structure, Ford is designating global product development leads for different vehicle segments, such as small, mid-size and large cars, leveraging the company's engineering expertise around the world.
At the same time, Ford is assembling joint product development and purchasing teams around the world with responsibility for the company's core engineering and purchasing functions. Teams in North America will be responsible for electrical and body (interior and exterior) engineering for vehicles worldwide, as well as select powertrains such as V-6 and V-8 engines, hybrids and automatic transmissions. Teams in Europe will be responsible for chassis engineering, and certain powertrains, including 4-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, and manual transmissions.
Asia Pacific and Africa engineering and purchasing resources will be integrated into Ford's global core engineering and purchasing groups in Europe and the Americas. APA will remain responsible for specific global product development programs and all regional programs. The global core engineering teams will ensure that all Ford brand vehicles around the world share common DNA, including consistent driving dynamics, interior quietness and other vehicle attributes. The core engineering and purchasing teams also will improve interaction with Ford's global supply base to leverage economies of scale through common sourcing, reduce complexity and increase sharing of common parts.
The changes are designed to further enhance the speed at which Ford is bringing new vehicles to market. In the past four years, Ford has shaved eight to 14 months off the time its takes to bring a new vehicle to market depending on program complexity. The average age of the product portfolio in North America will improve by 35 percent by 2009. By the end of 2008 in Europe, the complete product portfolio will have been replaced or refreshed within the last three years.
While Ford is moving rapidly to a global product development system, certain vehicle systems will continue to be developed on a regional basis. For example, chassis engineering for F-Series trucks will remain in North America. Teams in Asia Pacific and Africa will also continue to be responsible for Ford's global compact pickup truck development program. However, going forward there will be closer coordination on a core engineering and commodity purchasing level to improve efficiency and eliminate duplication of work.
The organization changes supporting the new structure will start in April and continue as new vehicle programs are started. They will not result in layoffs or large-scale relocations.
"This is a crucial part of the plan that we started more than a year ago," said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. "We need product development and purchasing organizations that are aligned on a global scale. This is an important step in fostering a One Ford approach that leverages our global resources and expertise."
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles in 200 markets across six continents. With about 245,000 employees and about 100 plants worldwide, the company's core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit .

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