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Hard Times

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Poor old Sprint Nextel. The firm is facing a “very legitimate risk” of bankruptcy in the next four years, according to one (attention seeking?) financial analyst.

The warning came from Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett, who said that there is a 50 per cent chance that the operator could be forced to file for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

“Sprint’s stock price may be best thought of as the awkward probability-weighted expected value of two distinctly different outcomes,” he wrote in a research note. “In the first, the company successfully navigates its complicated Network Vision upgrade, stabilizes Clearwire’s financial position, and delivers a compelling 4G product. In the second, some combination of its gargantuan take-or-pay contract with Apple, a hobbled 4G offering, and a stupendous debt burden bring the company to its knees.”

There’s also the small matter of $65m that the company had to repay to LTE opportunist LightSquared this week after the two officially tore up the spectrum hosting agreement signed in June 2011.

LightSquared is another one that looks like it’s going down, as it struggles to beat regulatory constrictions in an effort to actually launch its network. Last week, the firm hired well-known solicitor Theodore Olsen in a final bid to save its seemingly doomed terrestrial LTE project. Olsen’s main claim to fame was helping George W. Bush claim a victory in the 2000 US election in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case.

Under the agreement terminated with Sprint, the carrier had agreed to deploy and operate an LTE network capable of utilizing the 1.6GHz spectrum available to LightSquared. Sprint is leaving the door open however, just in case the regulatory gods do smile down on the company. “We remain open to considering future spectrum hosting agreements with LightSquared, should they resolve these interference issues, as well as other interested spectrum holders,” Sprint said.

Every now and again the Informer likes to have a look back and see what was in the news this time last year. In this week in 2011, Telecoms.com ran an interview with Martin Harriman, one of the senior management team at LightSquared.

Harriman is no longer at LightSquared having fled that burning building for pastures new. It was recently announced that he will be replacing Tim Sefton as new business director at O2.

In the interview published last year, Harriman addressed the suggestion that LightSquared backer Phillip Falcone might not have a long term interest in the venture. “A lot of people have said this is just Phil Falcone dressing this thing up…and selling it for twice what he paid for it,” he said. “I hope that people are starting to realise that’s not going to happen.”

The Informer is pretty sure that, indeed, people are starting to realise that’s not going to happen.

Harriman continued: “We wouldn’t have raised the debt we raised or signed the deal we signed with NSN if we weren’t going to do this, because that would just be stupid.”

<whistling wind and tumbleweed>

In other executive movement news Bill Morrow, formerly of another troubled US newcomer—Clearwire—is to return to former employer Vodafone, as head of Vodafone Hutchison Australia. Coincidentally it was almost exactly this time last year that Morrow left the doomed WiMAX startup.

VHA—which operates the Vodafone and 3 brands in Australia—has been steadily losing share to first- and second-placed Telstra and Optus, leading to suggestions (denied) that Vodafone is looking to exit the Antipodes. The firm is positioning Morrow’s hire as proof of its commitment to the operation, although it must be noted that his previous tenure at Vodafone is most noteworthy for the improvement and disposal of the firm’s troubled Japanese operation to Softbank.

Sticking in the US, where there’s not much in the way of good news, T-Mobile USA has announced 1,900 job cuts as it consolidates its call centre operations into fewer locations. The company is also planning to restructure operations in other parts of the business, which will take place by the end of second quarter of 2012 and will likely spell more redundancies.

Across the pond, there could be a showdown in ETSI corral coming up, as two proposals for a nano SIM, one backed by Apple and one backed by Nokia, RIM and Motorola/Google, prepare to go head to head. A nano SIM would be about 60 per cent smaller than the full size SIMs found in most handsets these days, freeing up valuable real estate inside the unit.

The actual vote will take place next week, and the standards body could go with one specification, the other, both or neither, which is helpful.

It’s likely that patent licenses are holding the process up. ETSI requires that all IP included in the specs is licensed under FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) terms. Of course, if one of the IP license holders refuses to play ball, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Social butterfly Facebook was charging its own artillery after raiding software giant IBM for a portfolio of 750 patents, which it purchase for an undisclosed sum. While intellectual property has become one of the most valuable weapons a tech company has, Facebook’s available ammunition has been pretty light until now, with the company owning only around 60 patents.

IPR skirmishes are all too common in this industry, and last week internet firm Yahoo fired a legal salvo at Facebook alleging IPR infringement over the latter’s social networking technology.

Back to SIM city though and the GSMA has announced a collaboration with the Wireless Broadband Alliance aimed at simplifying the process by which mobile devices connect to wifi networks. The joint initiative will see the SIM adopted as the principal means by which managed wifi networks identify mobile devices, paving the way for cross-network roaming agreements. The idea here is to get people using their mobile services when roaming by automating the process by which they sign onto partner wifi networks.

Dan Warren, technology director at the GSMA, said the benefits to consumers would be significant. “Consumers get wifi thrown into the mix so, if I’m attached to a wifi network I can be confident that it’s the best connectivity available to me. It’s ready to use and I can attach to that network without the need to find the right SSID, or get a password from the coffee shop or tap in my credit card details. All of that authentication and connectivity is configured onto my phone and happens automatically because of the roaming agreement.”

GSMA expects the remainder of the work between the two organisations to last nine months, with the first commercial deployments in 12 – 18 months’ time.

Over in Blighty, if you thought HRH’s devotion had been slipping of late, well Queen Elizabeth II was busy rededicating herself to the UK (God bless ‘er) while France Telecom’s CEO Stéphane Richard was dedicating himself to the rollout of LTE in ten European countries by 2015.

The move is designed to help the EU reach targets set out in its Digital Agenda, which aims to ensure that everyone in Europe has access to broadband by 2013 assisted by the release of a harmonized band of radio spectrum for use with LTE. It also forms one of Orange’s “ten commitments,” brought down by Richard from the summit of Mont Blanc.

Meanwhile in Uganda, Orange has entered into a 15-year passive network management partnership with emerging markets infrastructure specialist Eaton Towers. The deal will see Orange outsource the operation and maintenance of its existing sites in Uganda to Eaton Towers, while providing ‘build-to-suit’ new sites with a view to reducing costs and capital expenditure.

But just as Orange is getting stuck in, Kenya’s Safaricom is threatening to pull out. The company will pull out of a joint venture to build an LTE network in the county if it is forced by its government to use the 2.6GHz frequency band, claiming this will make it prohibitively expensive to build out.

Safaricom is instead seeking assurances that it will be able to use 700MHz, which requires far fewer base stations and has higher in building penetration capabilities.

As some things go down, others go up. Infamous file sharing website the Pirate Bay has come up with a novel (and early, given that April 1st isn’t until next week) solution for avoiding the legal claws of the MAFIAA and other litigious content providers. The operation is planning to build low cost Linux computers based on the Raspberry Pi architecture into GPS equipped aerial drones and use these as the network’s resource identifiers.

Apparently in Sweden, and in many other countries, taking out such a vehicle is considered “an act of war.”

Take care

The Informer


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