a week in wireless


A bowl of Shreddies

When the Informer was a stripling, each day used to start with a lovely bowl of Shreddies (a lattice-shaped breakfast cereal), with warm milk and plenty of sugar. One spring morning, he bounded down the stairs – this was back when life was fun – looking forward to his day. There on the table, lovingly placed by his dear Mama, was his bowl of Shreddies. And there was the sugar.

There, also, was little-brother-Informer, all angelic smile and unruly hair. After applying liberal sprinkles of the sweet stuff, the Informer took his first spoonful and promptly gagged in disgust – for little-brother-Informer had replaced the sugar with salt. Why? Because it was April Fools’ day.

Ever since then, the Informer has had no time for April Fools’ day, and the sniggering practical jokes it involves. And he’s only got marginally more time for the little brother.

So it is with weary index finger that the Informer clicks on his inbox at this time of year, knowing as he does that some merry prankster or other will have wasted a tiny but valuable part of several peoples’ lives by punting out a spoof release. The Informer always imagines these people in such fits of self-induced hilarity that they’re spraying mouthfuls of coffee over their desks as they hit the ‘send’ button.

There’s usually a story about a handset with a holographic display that renders video callers in three dimensions. Or maybe a microscopic implant that turns a human being into a fully functioning radio device. This year there was one about a brain scanning machine that can upload the entire contents of your brain onto the internet. Perhaps these people should actually invent one and try it out themselves. You’d log onto the page and it would just be a sound-loop of a klaxon horn and a swannee whistle providing an acoustic backdrop to footage of a monkey fiddling with itself.

Anyway, it was CTIA in Vegas this week and the wireless industry’s Japester-in-Chief, Sir Richard Branson, pulled off a bit of a corker. During his keynote speech, he managed to convince a good portion of the assembled delegates that Virgin and Google had founded a JV that would see a spaceship containing a cargo of human beings and animals sent to colonise Mars inside a decade. Why I oughtta…

Another CTIA keynote that had generated a good deal of anticipation turned out to be a bit of a let-down, with Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse providing precisely no information on the anticipated WiMAX joint venture between his firm, Clearwire, Google and Intel and cable players Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which we mentioned last week. Instead, Hesse simply assured delegates that Sprint would be pushing ahead with its WiMAX rollout, which would enjoy a two year advantage over LTE in the US.

In other news that ticks the WiMAX and CTIA boxes, handset supremo Nokia debuted its first WiMAX mobile device at the show this week. The N810 Tablet, with a 4.13 inch screen should be available on Sprint Nextel’s Xohm mobile WiMAX network in June, assuming the network is there for it to be available on. Second placed handset vendor Samsung, not to be outdone, announced the impending availability of two Xohm devices of its own at the show, a mobile PC called the Q1 and a PC card.

Industry seers Juniper Research this week suggested that mobile WiMAX could find a niche in DSL substitution over the next five years. The firm reckons that it could steal 12 per cent of DSL customers, which equates to 47 million subscribers. The top geographies for the trend will be the Far East and North America, said Juniper.

And if it’s LTE that floats your boat rather than WiMAX, you’ll be all hot and bothered when you hear that Ericsson has introduced what it reckons is the world’s first commercially available LTE-capable platform. It won’t actually be available until next year but, says the Swede, it will then form the basis of USB and internal laptop modems and the like.

Microsoft was cleaning Windows Mobile this week, unveiling an update to the software intended to make it more intuitive and accessible. It’s a response to customer feedback, apparently, and involves a system of information panels that scroll in all directions (within two dimensions, obviously. We don’t think this one’s an April Fool). Anyway, a lot of it looks a little like it was nicked off of Apple, which is pretty much a trend for Windows, anyway.

In other Apple News, German wireless carrier T-Mobile has slashed the price of the iPhone, fuelling further speculation that a 3G version of the device is in the works.

From Monday, April 7, German consumers will be able to able to pick up the original 8GB version of the device for as little as Eur99, if they take it with the XL size package, which comes in at Eur89 per month for 24 months. For those taking the cheapest S package, which costs Eur29 per month, the hardware costs Eur249.

Even so, that’s a good bit cheaper than the Eur399 at which it was previously pedalled. The newer 16GB version still retails for Eur499 however.

But the price cut has been enough to set tongues wagging about the impending launch of a 3G device. The word in the US is that existing iPhone supplies are drying up as AT&T looks to shift its inventory to make way for the new unit, and T-Mobile’s move seems in line with this strategy.

What could be described as harder evidence of the existence of a 3G iPhone also turned up late last month when Japan’s biggest intercom maker, Aiphone, revealed that it has been in discussions with Apple since last summer and has recently come to a friendly agreement that will allow the Californian gadget vendor to use its beloved “iPhone”brand in Japan.

It turns out Aiphone owns the trademark to the “Aiphone” brand in Japan and about 70 other countries. But while “Aiphone” and “iPhone” are spelt differently in English, the phonetic similarities apparently give Aiphone the company the rights to the “iPhone” trademark in Japan.

Regardless, it’s probably a safe assumption that Apple wouldn’t go to all this trouble if it wasn’t going to launch the iPhone in Japan. And given the technological landscape of the country – NTT DoCoMo and Softbank on WCDMA and KDDI on 1x EV-DO – it seems clear that a WCDMA iPhone is in the works.

Speaking of the Cupertino mob, The Informer was startled to discover a day or two ago that Apple is the world’s most loved brand, at least according to consultancy Interbrand, which recently held its annual brandjunkie awards. Consumer addiction is a lovely concept to celebrate in the midst of a credit crunch, isn’t it? Anyway, the Californian icon scooped no less than six awards, ranging from the impressive ‘brand that consumers cannot live without’ (surely that should have been O2! Boom Boom!, ed.) to the unusual, ‘brand that you most want to sit next to at a dinner party’.

Given that you can’t sit next to an intangible, complex mesh of abstract ideas and aspirations – which makes this a very stupid award indeed – you’d probably be asking Steve Jobs to pass the ketchup. Imagine how terrifying that would be, with all those wheatgrass shots and perfectly positioned place settings. The Informer would be too nervous to pick up his chopsticks lest he disturb the feng shui of the table. The food would probably look great, but be way overpriced and need to be taken back to the kitchen to be mended almost immediately.

Bearing in mind that Apple’s most popular product is probably the iPod, the Informer finds it difficult to believe that consumers don’t rate the brands of those other electronic devices they carry around their pockets all day. As a result, telecoms.com has been running a poll this week to find out what is the most loved mobile handset brand.

Turns out its Nokia with a clear 42 per cent of the vote (nicely tallying with its market share), trailed some way by Sony Ericsson with 17 per cent. Motorola managed to scrape together 14 per cent of the ballot, which put it on an equal footing with Apple. Mind you, given that Apple only has one phone on the market…

Motorola was still howling the blues this week, with the announcement that a further 2,600 poor folks are to have their headcounts rationalised. This brings the total number of job cuts to more than 10,000. That’s equivalent to a large village. All of the company’s business segments are impacted by the latest round of job cuts, although it is fast running out of executives to offload.

If this is another of Carl Icahn’s strategies, the Informer is beginning to wonder if he doesn’t just want the place to himself – like a parent who’s finally seen all of his kids off to college. One day he’ll wake up to peace and quiet, wander downstairs to the R&D department in the altogether and do the nudie dance, revelling in the joys of solitude. Then he’ll make a base station. Moto’s going to take a $104m hit on the redundancies.

So, what can we do to take our mind off the unsavoury image that found its way into that last paragraph? Well, we could always watch a movie – on our mobile phones. Sony Pictures Television is launching a mobile movie channel in the US, using MediaFLO. This, as you probably know, is a Qualcomm subsidiary that operates a States-wide media network that is available for lease by carriers and media owners who want to pump out the content but not the capex. The Sony Pictures channel will be available to start with on AT&T’s mobile TV service, which is scheduled for launch in June.

Users won’t exactly be getting the latest releases, though, as Sony will be using the service to try and wring a few more cents from some classics which featured heavily in the Informer’s childhood. Ghostbusters, the Karate Kid (wax on, wax off, Daniel-San), Roxanne, Stand By Me; they’re all in there. All they’d need to add is The Goonies and the Lost Boys and the Informer would sign up in a shot. Well, if he lived in America, anyway.

The only problem would arise if the service has to feature commercials. And as anyone who has watched American television knows, there is a strict mandate that no more than three words of dialogue are allowed in any kind of broadcast before another ad-break must occur.

According to Gartner, mobile advertising revenues will exceed $2.7bn this year, which is an increase of $1bn on 2007. “Innovative developments, such as minimising the number of keystrokes required to access information, using the phone’s camera to improve the overall user experience and tying content or shopping location relevancy to advertisements will move the market forward,” said Tole Hart, research director at Gartner. “To encourage users to accept advertisements, advertisers must improve the way search results are managed on the handset so that the experience is painless and rewarding to end users.”

The day that advertising is painless and rewarding, A Week in Wireless will be sponsored by Agent Provocateur.


3 comments

  1. Nelson Lewis 04/04/2008 @ 3:10 pm

    While not many are great fans of Microsoft, including me, you seem to be completely oblivious to the wireless handset and OS sectors of the marketplace. HTC brought to market a quad band 3G, quad band GSM & wifi (9 radio frequencies) device running WM 6.0 OS with touch flow months before Apple showed their iphone. HTC also demo this handset to a select few in the GSMA Macau 07 and presented to core customers prior to that in 2006. So, please, in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, please try to put aside your bias against Microsoft, clean your specks so you see through the Apple hype surrounding the delivery of a technically inferior and flawed product, months later that HTC.

    Rather than sending me an ever so slightly witted bloody rebuttal, show us your prowess and deep insight into the wireless marketplace and tell us all about the new handset(s) that are going to be released very soon that obliterate the HTC Touch and Apple’s newest hype of finally bringing a 3G handset to market.

    His note was written on one of the new devices. Qool!

  2. Mark Channen 04/04/2008 @ 3:11 pm

    I simply had to write – #306 was hilarious. Thank you for making me choke on my overpriced sandwich.

    Have a nice weekend.

    All the best.

  3. Vinay Mandaville 07/04/2008 @ 7:53 am

    As someone who will do anything to lay his hands on an iPhone, I wonder when will it infiltrate India ?

    Also, in my opinion, the survey just reflects what phone one owns and not the most loved one. Its not in everyone’s budget to buy his/her most loved phone. Whatsay ?

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