a week in wireless


Bada, bada, bada…

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The British Antiques Dealers Association must have been up in arms this week upon learning that its name had been appropriated by Korean tech vendor Samsung. No doubt its members were rattling three hundred year-old sabres and blowing dust from muskets in outrage at such presumption. Bada, you see, is Korean for ‘ocean’ and is the name Samsung has chosen for what SH Shin, the firm’s European president and CEO, described as its “new open mobile platform for smartphones”.

If there’s one thing the good folks at Samsung know how to do it’s labour a metaphor. At the glitzy (and very well attended) launch event in London this week the audience all but drowned in the references to the “ocean of possibilities” that the new platform will be opening up.

The thing about the ocean, of course, is that it can be very murky; it’s not always possible to see what’s at the bottom. The same appears to be true of Bada – Samsung’s speakers were distinctly hazy (if it’s possible to be distinctly hazy) about the exact details. It does seem, though, that billing Bada as an open mobile platform is somewhat misleading, partly because the word ‘platform’ and the phrase ‘operating system’ are routinely interchangeable within the industry. Whether this was deliberate or unintentional fudging is anyone’s guess.

A new, open OS Bada most definitely is not. From what the firm said it seems to be based on the Samsung’s proprietary SHP OS, seen in recent flagships like the Jet. What the Bada solution does is provide an access layer on top of this closed OS which, Samsung hopes, will encourage developers to build a thriving ecosystem and trundle out highly desirable applications in their thousands. What we’ve got in Bada, then, is a bid to launch an application store for a bespoke platform which features a newly tweaked user interface. Bada, bada, bada…

Truth be told, it’s all a bit underwhelming – and this is largely due to the level of fanfare Samsung insisted on creating. Bada, said Hosoo Lee, head of Samsung’s Media Solution Centre, represents “a new era of smartphones for everyone.” A touch grandiose, perhaps?

The firm’s vision is to “extend the smartphone experience to average users on mainstream devices,” (although Bada won’t be backwards compatible), which tends to suggest that Samsung thinks the industry smartphone collectives and established systems prohibit the development of feature rich, touchscreen handsets at truly affordable price points.

This, if anything, was the central message. Bada is cheaper, because the work on the OS has already been done. Whether or not the developers will flock to it, the Informer believes as he wraps himself in the security blanket of journalistic conclusion, only time will tell.

Samsung had its own security blanket at the launch, with partners from Twitter, EA Mobile, Gameloft and Capcom on hand to make some congratulatory noise. Also present was Neil Davis, the CIO of Blockbuster, the video rental firm that’s rapidly disappearing from our high streets. What the Informer hadn’t realised was that Blockbuster is reinventing itself as a digital media firm. Davis said that Samsung would be pivotal in the transformation, which would see users start watching a film in their house, before moving to the car to watch its conclusion. Who’d do that, though? Surely you’d run the risk of an accident? Then the Informer realised; perhaps that’s what Tiger Woods was doing…

Speaking of dangerous drivers, few things irritate the Informer quite so much as he pedals his trusty iron horse to work than the sight of motorists blithering away on their mobiles as they career down London’s streets. It turns out that the problem’s getting worse, with figures out this week suggesting that the threat of punishment, while initially effective, is simply no longer working.

Fixed financial penalties and points on the licence were introduced in 2006 when studies showed 2.6 per cent of drivers were using their phones while at the wheel. The next year this halved but in 2009 the figure is 2.8 per cent. What a load of idiots.

Back to application stores, though, and Orange this week found some standing room on the bandwagon and launched its own effort, the Orange App Shop. There’s really not a lot of room for manoeuvre when it comes to naming these thing, is there. We’ve got the App Store, the Market, the Application Storefront, and now the App shop. That still leaves the App Boutique, the App Outlet, the App Emporium and perhaps the most criminally over looked: The App-othecary. These are all, as of now, copyright the Informer.

The store was made available Wednesday to more than one million users in France and the UK, Orange said, through an over-the-air download to compatible handsets. From January 2010, devices including the Nokia 6700, Sony Ericsson W995 and the Sony Ericsson Yari U100i (France only) will be preloaded with the App Shop and sold in the UK and France, Orange said. Later in the year handsets from Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and RIM will also be made available with the store pre-loaded.

Orange will roll out the App Shop across its portfolio in 2010, the firm said, extending it to Spain, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belgium, Austria, Moldova and Portugal. Content will be compatible with a range of platforms, including Symbian, Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry and Java.

As one shop opens, so another one closes, such is the way of things. And beating a hasty retreat from the high street this week has been handset supreme Nokia. Having pulled the plug on its premium location on London’s Regent Street last week, the Finnish firm shut the doors of its stores in Chicago, New Yoik and Sao Paulo this week. There’s no point in having fancy, high-end stores, the Informer supposes, when you don’t really have any fancy, high-end phones. The firm said it’s looking for another location in Sao Paulo, though.

Sticking in the Americas, pioneer iPhone carrier AT&T this week offered up a novel excuse for the network problems that have been plaguing it in certain urban centres of late: the customers are to blame. It turns out that just three per cent of the firm’s smartphone users are generating 40 per cent of its data traffic. Damn them for taking their unlimited data tariff promise seriously. The result has been poor user experience in markets like Manhattan and San Francisco.

At an analyst conference this week, CEO Ralph de la Vega promised that the carrier was working to rectify network shortcomings, but added that it might also be looking at trying to force heavy users to cut back. Tiered pricing looks the most likely option, and you can’t help but feel that customers are going to feel a touch aggrieved, having shelled out for the handset and the tariff, at being told they’re going to be penalised just for doing what they were told they could do.

What AT&T needs is a nice, new LTE network. De la Vega pointed out that, even when the networks come on stream, the handsets will be miles off and so the carrier will be relying on HSPA 7.2 for the near term.

There have been some LTE developments this week. For a start the Global Mobile Suppliers Association said that there are now 51 LTE commitments in 24 countries, a near doubling in the last eight months. ZTE, meanwhile, claimed this week that is has wrung a download speed of 130Mbps out of LTE in recent tests, while Deutsche Telekom made a claim of its own for the world’s first voice call over LTE.

You sometimes forget that LTE will need to carry voice, what with all the focus on throughput but, according to DT, it works. The firm placed a call between Bonn and Stuttgart, using kit from Kineto Wireless and Alcatel Lucent.

In a less upbeat LTE development, test and measurement duo Agilent and Anite are to terminate their partnership on the technology. Let’s give them their privacy at this difficult time.

Speaking of difficult times, the axe is swinging at Ericsson again, with around 950 Swedish factory workers for the chop. The majority of the cuts will centre on the firm’s infrastructure factory in Gavle, the firm said. “We must reduce our production staff because the labour requirement for our products is diminishing as we increase efficiency,” Chief executive Carl-Henric Svanberg said in a statement.

Ericsson has pledged to make savings of SEK10bn by the middle of 2010 and headcount reduction is a key part of this. A further 5,000 staff are expected to lose their jobs as part of the firm’s bid to meet this target.

The problem is that Ericsson’s bringing them in as fast as it’s kicking them out. It struck a managed services deal this week with Romanian fixed carrier Romtelecom that sees 400 Romanian workers put on the Swede’s books. The industry leader in managed services, Ericsson’s 2009 wins include Du, O2, Zain, Vodafone, 3UK, T-Mobile and Sprint. The last of these saw Ericsson take on 6,000 Sprint employees as part of the deal. And that’s a lot of extra turkey for the Christmas party.

Take care

The Informer


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