Yesterday I spent three and a half hours brainstorming on how to turn Spain around with presidential candidate Alfredo Rubalcaba. He understands that the answer to unemployment is entrepreneurship. I appreciated that he listened carefully to my ideas for increasing employment. Spain has the highest unemployment rates of all OECD nations (20%) and this problem was the focus of our meeting.
Spanish citizens have 3 choices this November. To go with Rajoy, to go with Rubalcaba, or to vote for lesser parties and hope one day they become meaningful actors in Spanish politics. What I decided to do is to promote one simple and I believe powerful idea to grow employment to both Rajoy and Rubalcaba. I started with Rubalcaba today, the candidates with less chances to win. The plan is that during 2012 the Spanish government does not demand that companies pay social charges for all employees hired beyond the level of employment they had in 2011. It is an incentive to grow employment, to promote new and increased hiring only for 2012. It’s a jump start for the economy. The idea is explained in Spanish below. I believe this measure will make the difference that may make entrepreneurs start businesses and grow existing businesses. Rubalcaba reacted well to it and said his economists would study it.
I know most Spaniards believe there is no hope that Rubalcaba will get us out of the crisis. Most Spaniards however also believe that there is little hope that his rival Rajoy will get us out of the crisis. But personally I believe that there’s nothing that is so wrong with Spain that cannot be fixed by what is right in Spain. I am more optimistic than most.
On Rubalcaba himself I can say, after having met Felipe Gonzalez, Aznar, Zapatero, Rajoy and him, that he is different from the other politicians. He is the only one trained as a scientist and educator. He is more of an administrator and thinker. He is a Chemistry professor and it shows. Would I wish Spain had other choices for President? Of course I would. I recently met with embattled David Cameron and in spite of his dubious choice of friends and poor handling of the riots he is a more impressive global leader. I never met Angela Merkel but I got a sense from what I see about her that Rubalcaba is more like her in terms of personality. But a government is not just a president, it’s a president and a team. And even though I find Rajoy an unimpressive candidate I could still end up favoring if he announces a better team than Rubalcaba before the election.
Now Rubalcaba speaks English and that is more than can be said about anyone else who’s run this country. In the end a President has to be the number one promoter of the country. Both Rajoy and Rubalcaba are Spanish characters not particularly appealing to foreign leaders or investors. None of them are like Jordi Pujol for example who was amazing at promoting Catalunya around the world. But between the two, Rubalcaba is slightly better as he can communicate without an interpreter and is more aware of what makes a country succeed in a globalized world. Rubalcaba seems a pragmatist, a person willing to try and fail hoping to get policies right in the end. I identify with that. People expect politicians to get things right but if in business being successful involves being right only slightly more frequently than being wrong I don’t see why decision making should be different in politics. In general when I confronted Rubalcaba with obvious mistakes of the Socialist Party, like the Ley Sinde, he did not try to defend the indefensible. Indeed he agreed to my proposal of bringing some of the tech entrepreneurs who were heavily involved in the 15M movement that brought millions out to the street protesting against the incompetence of all politicians himself included. In that sense he is very different from dogmatic Aznar who still thinks that invading Iraq was a great plan.
What really and concretely happened to this country is that it went from building 800K new homes a year to building 100K and around 12% of the labor force ended up unemployed. That explains 80% of what is wrong here. The rest of the industries were hurt in this crisis but not as badly as the construction industry. Spain can be turned around if we focus on growing the rest of the economy. So far what happened here is that the growth of Spain was fake, based on increasing debt and not sustainable sectors of the economy. My plan promotes employment in whatever sector may end up hiring without having government try to guess exactly how to grow the economy.
I am happy that Rubalcaba said he would have an economist specialized in tax revenues study my plan. Common sense tells me that my plan is a net revenue generator for the government from day one. Why?
Because it only applies to new employees and only on businesses that increase their work force compared to 2011.
Because there is a pool of 5 million unemployed and net job increases must come to a great percentage from this pool.
Because government stops paying the unemployed the moment they join a business and this produces immediate savings.
Because even if the government does not immediately get social charges they will get social charges over time and anyone making financial projections on tax revenue collections will have this into account. As a result rating agencies will see positive trends on tax collections and ratings will improve, this will lower the cost of borrowing for Spain. Shirking the debt premium produces enormous savings.
Because as soon as somebody is employed this person starts consuming and pay VAT and all sort of consumption taxes, gasoline etc that help tax revenues.
Because my plan provides an opportunity for the millions in Spain who work illegally to negotiate a transition to legality that will cost nothing to the employer during the first year and some will emerge from the underground economy in a way similar to a tax amnesty. It is an attack on the underground economy based on incentives that could be more successful than the failed Socialist Party plan based on increased fines that was put in place.
Now one way in which this plan would cost the government money is if ONLY those employers who were going to hire anyway hire, nobody else is attracted by the incentive and then the government loses 2 and a half years of social charges and some severance packages. But from an informal survey to my entrepreneur friends and the question, would you start a business or grow a business further if during 2012 you don’t have to pay social charges and if the business fails you don’t have to pay severance packages the answer from everyone was a resounding yes.
Note: if you feel that this article lacks content you are right While with Rubalcaba I agreed not to disclose a lot of the ideas that were part of the brainstorming.
Talking to my friend, a military expert, I learned that fighters with real pilots will be rare in the future. That most air battles will be fought with drones. So instead of “the best pilots”, in the future what the air force will need, is amazing video game players to guide drones. Indeed use of drones is already common in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Now what surprised me was to find out that drone operators are suffering from more war stress syndrome than real pilots, a lot of it is from the thought of killing innocent people. As bad as it sounds I think this is good news. It shows humanity in them. I think that pilots are stressed enough but when they kill they are also at risk, so maybe they have less remorse. Pilots are like toreros, they have the upper hand, but they can also die. Drone operators are like toreros outside the arena. They just zap the bull.
Personally I don’t share other people’s fascination with high tech war. I know there are bad people out there, Osama Bin Laden and others who want us dead and if they could they would nuke us. But I also know that in the last 10 years we have lost the moral high ground that we had after 9-11, we have committed a lot of atrocities, and if anything there are more terrorists now than there were 10 years ago. And as excited as some people may be with drones I think they make us in USA and EU look like terrorists. Moreover we armed Osama with Sting missiles and we suffer for it. These drones will sooner or later be used by Hamas, Hezbollah, and war will escalate much further.
- In Pakistan, drone strike kills 4 (cnn.com)
- Drone strike kills six in Pakistan (cnn.com)
- Deadly robots in the sky (theglobeandmail.com)
At Fon, we are currently designing the retail box of the new Fonera SIMPL. We already sold over 1 million of these wifi routers wholesale to mobile operators. We will soon go retail with this product in Europe and the USA.
Now what we would like to do is to illustrate one side of the box with a comic strip that explains what Fon is in something like 6 squares and in English. We are offering a €300 appreciation prize to the fonero who draws the comic strip that makes it to the box.
So what is Fon? It’s in our web site. Some say, “you share a little WiFi at home and you roam the world for free”. Basically, a Fonera SIMPL is an 802.11n router (connects faster and farther than wireless g) that allows users to connect to WiFi themselves via an encrypted and secure SSID (WiFi signal), but that also has the unique capability to create a second FON SSID that allows people who live nearby or pass by your home to connect to your router and use a small portion of your bandwidth. In exchange for opening a second SSID, you get two major benefits, one is free global WiFi roaming at well over a million hotspots around the world, and the second is that you can make money selling WiFi passes in the Fon network to those who do not have a Fonera (fon router), and therefore do not share their home WiFi, and so have to pay to connect when they find your signal. You keep half of the money and Fon keeps half. Notice that you are selling access to the whole network not just to your router. Another benefit of the Fonera SIMPL is that it auto-connects to iPhone and Android smartphones.
Ideas? Somebody suggested a comic strip telling the story of a lonely WiFi user who had no friends with his conventional WiFi router until he got a Fonera router and then had lots of friends and traveled the world connecting for free. Somebody else added that now he has money and travels the world (clearly a joke as very few make the kind of money you would need for a trip, though many do make enough to subsidize the cost of their broadband). We are open to any ideas that describe the benefits of Fon in a comic strip. Please send your proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
update: we already have one that we are likely to use.
I have spent the last two days showing the Fonera 2.0n to key opinion makers in the Valley and with a few exceptions I found a clear generational divide. To people over 40, my contemporaries, the key feature of the new Fonera, namely its ability to upload and download is mostly uninteresting. Older people seem to send and receive few large files from the Internet. People in their 20s however want one. They spend an incredible amount of time uploading to YouTube, Facebook, and to some extent Flickr and Picasa. More important they spend and even greater amount of time downloading from Bit Torrent sites, Megaupload, Rapidshare and they know what it is to wait and wait for content to download. For older people the only feature that they find interesting is converting 3G to WiFi (some spoke about using it for the kids in the van) and backing up their files. For many of them the feature that we are working on that will allow you to ask your computer to download torrents via Twitter and to be notified when they are done, was irrelevant. Because of my age, I should be on the group that finds the Fonera uninteresting. But I live in a country, Spain, in which we pay a tax on hard drives and digital memories of all kinds and then we are allowed to download whatever we want for personal use. Moreover I also download paid and free content. And as you can see in this blog, especially in the Spanish version, I also upload. There are tons of videos that I send to YouTube. As I switch to HD, at 100MB per minute of video content trying to reach Youtube, the waiting during uploading is exasperating. Instead with the Fonera 2.0n I send the video over WiFi to the Fonera 2.0n and go to work, in a few hours it is in Youtube.
So just like I had the idea for while Fon searching for WiFi in Paris in late ’05, I got the idea for the Fonera 2.0n a year later while trying to free up my laptop from doing tedious tasks that required me to wait at home such as uploading and downloading. In general I would say that I design products that I like to use. And thanks to the amazing team of developers we have at Fon, they happen. But from what I have seen my products are unfortunately not for my generation. Still so long as there are people who are willing to buy them why should I care if they are not in their 40s?
Last night at the Village Pub in Silicon Valley (Woodside, CA), we launched the Fonera 2.0n WiFi router – available for sale in Europe (€79) on September 15th and in the US ($99) on October 15th. The Fonera 2.0n is similar to the Fonera 2.0g but has a much more powerful processor and is built around the 802.11n standard which means that it has greater range, bandwidth and speed than its predecessor. The launch was attended by 30 of the most important bloggers, Twitterers and news organizations in the world, including The New York Times and The Economist.
Thanks to Loic Le Meur and Geraldine who organised a great event.
Here is the full press release.
A few pictures below. You can also see nice pics of the dinner @briansolis
Martin Varsavsky + Nina Wiegand – FON
Loic Le Meur + Geraldine Le Meur – Seesmic
Bernardo Hernandez – Google
Michael Arrington – TechCrunch
Seth Sternberg – Meebo
Gabe Rivera – TechMeme
Dave McLure – Founders Fund
Jeremiah Owyang – Forrester
Brian Solis – Future Works
Joanna Rees – VSPCapital + John Hamm
Ariel Pohler – Textmarks
Jeff Clavier – SoftTechVC + Babette Clavier
Dave Morin – Facebook
Brittany Bohnet – Google
Randi Zuckerberg – Facebook
Louis Gray – louisgray.com
Jack Dorsey – Twitter
Jennifer Leggio – ZDNet
Robert Scoble – RackSpace
Erik Lammerding – Apple
Paul Boutin – New York Times
Troy Wolverton – San Jose Mercury News
Martin Giles – The Economist
ijustine – Twitter star
@veronica – another Twitter star
It is unacceptable to go on sending planes over the ocean without position trackers, real time weather information, ground based support and no satellite phones. It is wrong that in emergency situations pilots can only communicate with, say, Cape Verde control and not with their own airline, or even plane makers such as Boeing or Airbus. It is absurd that we don’t know where planes are when they fly over the ocean and even when they are on the ground we only know it within a few miles range but not exactly where they are because radars are so inaccurate.
Aircraft in transoceanic flights should send location, heading, speed and other relevant data by satellite; automatically and every few seconds. They should be capable of downloading real time weather data to increase the efficiency and safety of flights and pilot autonomy. Weather radar is a very primitive way to fly, especially without ground support. Weather radars from the plane should be contrasted with satellite info received in the aircraft. There should also be a secondary means for voice communication, also by satellite to be able to quickly contact an airliner crossing the ocean. Furthermore, making these flights safer should impact insurance costs, and increases in operational efficiency would lower fuel consumption.
In this post I present a few possible solutions to these problems. Of course, this is only one of many series of measures that can be taken to make these flights safer.
Voice communication and transmission of important flight data
The Guardian Skytrax 3Xi is a device that transmits GPS location, altitude, bearing, wheels up-wheels down, time and velocity information over the web, where it is accessible through a secure internet connection using IE or Firefox. A transoceanic airliner requires the 3Xi model, which works with external antennas and costs $2395. It can be configured for a message frequency of your choice (eg. one message per minute). The messages are $0.06 each, and there is a one-time activation fee of $110.
This device comes with the Maptrac system for tracking and reports, which costs $39.95 per month. Maptrac is a web-based mapping tool requiring no server, software, data purchase or IT investment. It allows airlines to see all their aircraft simultaneously, whether it be their active or historical tracks. There is a screenshot of Maptrac in action below. Guardian Mobility, the makers of the Skytrax, also have a Google based mapping system called Rimtax which can be used on iPhones and Blackberrys.
The Skytrax is offered standalone and in a package including a satellite phone. This package, including the additional antenna, goes up to about $4000 plus installation.
The cost for installation and certification of this equipment on an aircraft like the A330 is about $8000. The certification required is called a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) and only needs to be done once for each aircraft model. After that, the cost of installation would approximate $2000.
It is also possible to send location, speed, etc. via Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) messages. ACARS is a protocol in aviation communications for the transmission of short messages between aircraft and ground stations via Very High Frequency (VHF) radio or SatCom (Satellite Communications). This can be done for about $0.15/message. At one update per minute it would amount to $108 for a 12 hour flight.
Most planes on transoceanic routes are equipped to transmit ACARS via satellite, so this option involves no certification or hardware upgrades. It is still however more expensive than the Skytrax solution. Assuming two flights per day, one message per minute and the aforementioned prices you would save around $3900 a month by using the Skytrax 3i instead of ACARS. According to this, the Skytrax system is the better choice.
Receiving real time weather data
Real time weather data would require about 512kbit/s. The commonplace SatCom equipment in transoceanic flights uses a band of the electromagnetic spectrum named “L band“. Bandwidth here is too low and expensive to handle the data rates required for this application.
The “Ku-band” is another band that has been used to provide passengers with broadband connectivity aboard commercial flights in the past. It isn’t certified for flight critical functions but it is ten times cheaper at about $0.5/mbit of transmitted data. The intention here is not to replace primary, safety critical systems; but to complement them. Hence, Ku-band could be a suitable type of connection to download real time weather data.
The problem here is that although most of the aircraft that fly over the ocean are equipped with L-band avionics, very few are equipped with the systems required to connect to Ku-band signals. And they are expensive: About $0.25M each. However, this cost can be recouped by selling broadband to passengers, generating ad revenues from adverts placed for the passengers, more efficient flight routes and the lower insurance costs that should be associated with safer flying.
I am a pilot. Not a professional pilot, as in real life I am a CEO of a tech company. But in my spare time I became a pilot and fly a small jet, a Citation Jet. During my training as a pilot I was shocked to find out how poorly equipped planes are. Planes are all about radios, VOR, DME, ILS and other systems invented over 50 years ago and still running the cockpit. When I was involved briefly involved in the airline business (with poor consequences I must say) I could not believe how badly equipped planes are, especially when they cross the Atlantic. What just happened to the Air France airliner is but a proof of everything that can wrong in aviation.
Would you believe it if I told you that many planes that cross the Atlantic do not even have GPS systems and instead use highly inaccurate, archaic positioning systems that would be useless to report a crash position? I don´t know what happened to that Air France flight but there´s a reason neither I nor anyone knows. It´s because planes don´t report where they are unless pilots do and many times pilots don´t even know precisely where they are. This is what AP says:
The area where the plane could have gone down was vast. Brazil’s military searched for the plane off its northeast coast, while the French military scoured the Atlantic off the West African coast near the Cape Verde Islands.
Aviation today is as it was 30 years ago. Planes do not carry GPS geolocators. Even if that Air France pilot was as good as the pilot who landed in the Hudson and even if people could get out of the plane after it water landed, passengers would probably be dead by the time we found the plane. Presently in the aviation world we only know where planes are when they fly near or over land. And that is because the only way to know where a plane is is to see the plane with a radar. Planes in the Atlantic do not themselves say where they are and controllers can´t see them.
To know where they are you need a pilot talking over a lousy quality HF radio to report where he/she is using inaccurate equipment You would also be astonished to find out that even though satellite telephony has existed for over a decade many planes that cross the Atlantic do not carry satelllite phones in case the pilot´s radios fail. Flying today is still all about radars and radios and most signals don´t make it to the mid Atlantic, Pacific or many areas over which we fly today. Moreover many parts of the land mass are not covered by radars and planes have to tell each other more or less where they are or choose primitive methods such as flying at different levels not to crash into each other. Satellite technology has not made it to planes. GPS are there, in some but not all commercial planes. But they are not supposed to be used for landing. Landing is supposedly done with antiquated radio systems that seem straight out the 1950s because USA may turn the GPS off in case of war.
Why are things this way? I don´t really know. It´s a miracle that there are no more accidents. Yes planes are safer than cars but they would be much safer if their functioning combined elements of radio communications as now with elements of satellite communications and many, many more technologies available today. Indeed sometimes new piston planes have better instruments than 747s.
As we know pilots can only handle so much information. But planes could have many more instruments. If planes were in permanent contact via satellite they could be reporting the most minute details of what is happening with them to say a global Airbus or Boeing maintenance center. And even though this information would be impossible for the pilot to digest, people and/or computers at Airbus or Boeing could be monitoring a lot more information every second a fly is on its way. They could alert the airline and the pilots of minor yet possibly fatal flaws if not attended. While that Air France plane that vanished a few hours ago was crossing the ocean Airbus could have been receiving tons of information from the engines, tanks, instruments, and all critical parts of the plane. Instead we know nothing. We don´t know what happened to the plane and a tragedy could have been prevented. But now, do not have the information of where the accident actually happened. Yes, the plane has a radio that should float or be somewhere and should tell rescuers more or less where it is but is that all we can do for airline safety? Why do we need a black box? All the info in a black box should be on the ground the moment it is created. Think about this, even a passenger with a geolocator as the one used for anti car theft would have been able to send more information than the whole plane before the crash. Nowadays a person carrying an iPhone or a Nokia E71 pointed at the window could have better positioning information and software than the pilots of the plane. For 1000 euros a plane or less we could at least know precisely where each aircraft. Why we don´t it? And then there´s weather information. Planes that cross the Atlantic sometimes face ferocious CBs that go up to 40,000 ft. There is now instrumentation available over satellite that gives even small aircraft real time weather information. But this instruments are not available yet to most large commercial aircraft that cross the Atlantic. And a CB could bring down a plane and maybe that´s what brought the AF flight down.
If anything our collective lack of action is a conspiracy of people trained in the past scared of change. Many pilots surprisingly actually fear modern instruments. But I am not advocating the end of the pilot. I am advocating support for pilots who have too much in their hands and could receive much more help while flying if their planes were in constant contact with the ground but not always through them. If what brought down the AF flight was a high hurricane like cloud known as CB avoiding that cloud would have been incredibly easy with a combination of the information that is available to a pilot through his own radar and ground information as to where all the CBs maybe located. We now have extremely accurate 2 hour forecasts. It is negligence that those are not in the hands of all pilots.
Yesterday we had our first in person presentation of the Fonera 2.0. It was in Paris. During this presentation I announced that the Fonera 2.0 will go for sale everywhere in Europe on April 21st. USA and Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan will start in May. The promotional price for the launch will be 49 euros.
Here´s a video in English that explains some of what the Fonera 2.0 does which is basically to upload and download while you take your computer somewhere else and to convert 3G to WiFi.
Here´s a video of the event. It is in my poor French which is only as bad as Emilio Botín´s English as you can see in this video. In case you don´t know who Emilio Botin is he is the CEO of Banco Santander.
The unofficial unveiling was very understated and included pasta dinner, Spanish wines and French Cheeses at my Paris flat in Place des Vosges. Nina and my two sons were there. In an informal atmosphere with discussed the pros and pros of this new product (sorry, I just can´t get to say pros and cons). Reaction of the unveiling in my Spanish blog was very negative probably because we did not do the unveiling in Spain but then the French have adopted Fon in bigger numbers something the Spanish Foneros still can´t stomach.
Here are some pictures of the event.
Here´s one of the articles that were published after the event that includes a comparison chart.
After my first day at Brainstorm in Half Moon Bay I have this comment to make. Great business leaders such as Michael Dell and Jeff Bezos, people whose companies reach hundreds of millions of consumers and whose revenues are in the tens of billions, are not necessarily great communicators. While bloggers who reach millions and whose ad revenues are in the single digit millions, people like Robert Scoble, Kara Swisher and Om Malik, are phenomenal, entertaining, insightful communicators. Dell´s and Bezos´sessions were hard to endure, while the bloggers where tremendously fun.
What I don´t understand though is how come people who do so much are able to communicate so little and people who do so little in comparison, as the bloggers, can communicate so much. Or is it that business leaders like Michael Dell or Jeff Bezos could present much more interesting stuff but because they manage publicly traded companies their hands are tied when it gets to talking to the public? While I think that some of that is true, as I have had the opportunity to have social and private conversations both with Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell, what I can say is that CEO´s like them achieve so much because they are focused, not because they are amazing communicators. In my talks with Michael Dell in private for example, I have found him to be extremely knowledgeable (no surprise there) about the computer industry, about his competition, and about the exact situation at his own company, the challenges, the opportunities. But when it gets to talking about the world the impression I get is that Michael feels that his hands are full with his $61bn revenue empire. Kind of… what else is there to know well? And same is true of Jeff Bezos, amazing understanding of his consumers.
In Spanish they say “el que mucho abarca poco aprieta”, something like if your reach is wide your targeting is poor. Both Michael and Jeff have an amazing understanding of their target, their consumers, and that is all they are focused on. As Michael Dell put it today, we have “big ears” at Dell. And they do, and they are tuned in to the Dell consumer. And this obsession, which makes Michael so successful, may not make him the most interesting speaker. Michael Dell is about learning what he needs for him to make the best computer he can make for you. He is not about sharing his trade secrets.
Now sometimes some business leaders can actually communicate extremely well in public, as in the case of Steve Jobs. But interestingly, as well as Steve Jobs communicates to the masses, he is almost rude at a personal level. On a one to one basis, Jeff Bezos is funny, considerate, kind. So is Michael Dell. Steve Jobs is the opposite, most of those who don´t know him personally think he is great, most of those who do know him think he is abrasive and difficult, a genius, but extremely hard to deal with.
So what´s the conclusion here? That I still need to find the business leader who is both fascinating to listen to in public, great in private and very successful at running his company.
FON Facebook Status Updater is a new tool from FON labs that allows you to quickly and easily change your Facebook status directly from Google Talk. This tool, which is an idea of Nina Wiegand from Fon, makes updating your status much faster as it doesn’t require you to open a browser window and login to facebook, and even allows you to change your status using your mobile, wherever you are.
To start updating your Facebook status from Gtalk you just have to follow these simple steps:
- Add email@example.com to your Gtalk contact list
- Type help in the chat window to receive instructions
- Get your identification code clicking on the link in the message
- Type “identify facebook code” in the chat window
- Type your status message in the chat window
- Click on the link to authorize the application to update your Facebook status in the future (this will be asked you just the first time).
From now on you can just type your status message in a chat window with firstname.lastname@example.org and your Facebook status will get immediately updated.
At FON labs we work on the development of new FON products (like the Fonera 2.0) and tools for FON users (FON Connection Manager, Fonspot), but we also develop useful tools like Gspace (use Gmail to access your files everywhere), FON Backup (sync one of your computer folders with your Gspace account), FON GS (convert long URLs into short, easy-to-remember URLs), FON Uploader (import your old emails to your Gmail account), FON Wit (Skype add on that performs word searches when you pass the cursor over an unknown term) and now Facebook@fon.com.