a week in wireless


Discord Down Under

AWIW469

Petty squabbles, underhand tactics and stomach churning trials in Australia, with the masses waiting fervently for a verdict – it’s all making for compelling viewing. No, the Informer hasn’t been watching ‘I’m a Celebrity…’, rather the Apple-Samsung patent saga has taken another intriguing twist.

It seems Samsung has been given the green light to sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 Down Under after all, as an Australian court has ruled that the device does not infringe on patents held by Apple.

Regular AWIW readers may remember that, just a few weeks ago, Apple was granted a temporary injunction that stopped Samsung from selling the device in Australia, much like the injunction it has secured in Germany.

Apple has been insisting that its Korean competitor had “chosen to slavishly copy its innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design.” The firm asserted to US anti-competitive authorities in April this year that Samsung’s tablet violates Apple’s intellectual property rights, and has been trying to stymie the sale of the device by taking its grievances to courts in various different countries.

Upon hearing the news of the ruling, Samsung’s people were in joyous celebration – or at least they would have been – but it looks like there could be a sting in this Christmas tale. Apple has no plans to make life easy for the Korean manufacturer with reports suggesting that it is likely appeal this latest decision, which could stop Samsung from being able to capitalise on the potentially lucrative Christmas sales period in Oz.

Samsung hasn’t had a lot of luck taking its products out of its factories and into consumers’ homes lately. For a couple of days this week, Telefónica’s UK operation O2 was not fulfilling orders for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The carrier was waiting until Google and Samsung fixed a bug that saw the phone spontaneously lose audio, affecting voice calls and audio alerts. A fix from the vendor saw deliveries reinstated towards the end of the week.

It always amazes The Informer how handset vendors often spend millions of dollars and months of man-hours on research, development and quality control, only to release a product which is found by consumers to contain fundamental flaws in its first days of availability. Especially when you take into account that operators themselves will often claim to conduct rigorous testing on devices, with internal friendly user trials designed to expose any issues.

Last week, we heard Nokia-Siemens Networks announcing that it will lay off 17,000 staff. This week the divestments accelerated, with the vendor revealing that it is selling off the WiMAX equipment portfolio acquired from Motorola Solutions as part of a wider deal earlier this year. The division will be sold to messaging and infrastructure player NewNet Communication Technologies for an undisclosed (and probably not too sizeable) sum, along with around 300 employees, as well as active customer and supplier contracts.

NSN picked up the unit as part of its $975m purchase of Motorola’s network infrastructure assets in May, but is now cutting back on non-core activities to focus on end-to-end mobile network infrastructure and services, with a particular emphasis on mobile broadband.

Meanwhile, Siri, the talking “assistant” in Apple’s iPhone 4S, is pro-life, it appears. When asked to point users to the nearest abortion clinic, the principled bot flatly refuses to. In one test, in New York’s Manhattan district, a Siri search for abortion clinics in the area turned up no results, but a similar Google search for revealed seven potential clinics in the area. Apple responded to the news, explaining that it hasn’t, of course, programmed Siri to have a socio-political agenda.

“These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks,” an Apple rep told the New York Times.

The Informer is not an Orange customer – and this week, he’s quite glad for it. The operator has hiked prices for UK customers on pay-monthly deals – mid-way through their contracts – with fees rising by 4.34 per cent. And customers cannot now cancel those contracts – their options: to put up or shut up.

The operator claims it can get away with this move as it states in the fine-print of its contracts that the monthly terms and conditions allow it to increase charges by up to the Retail Price Index (RPI) figure in any 12-month period.

As the increase in the price plan charges is less than the 5.4 per cent rate, Orange is within its rights, it said. However, UK regulator Ofcom‘s rules say that any change in contract must not only be made clear to customers in plenty of time, but must also come with a free opt-out option, so we’ll see if Ofcom clamps down on the operator.

Over in the Middle East, Cherie Blair is fighting the cause for women who want to work in mobile phone shops. Confused? Well, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has carried out research which reveals that Middle Eastern and African mobile operators stand to make gains from employing more women in their retail chains.

According to the report, mobile retail sales present a flexible and relatively easy business opportunity for women entrepreneurs, although the findings reveal regional variations in women’s participation in the mobile value chain.

Commenting on the findings of the study, Mrs Blair said: “Women entrepreneurs stand to gain a great deal from selling mobile products. Setting up a mobile sales business is relatively easy and has a flexibility that suits the way many women live their lives. But there is also a real business case for mobile operators to include women in mobile value chains, as they offer significant advantages such as better branding and access to new markets.”

The findings were announced at Informa’s Middle East Telco World Summit, where many other announcements were also made.

For instance, Saudi operator STC declared that it has expanded its LTE network to reach another five cities. Makkah, Madinah, Abha, Khamis Mushayt, Dhahran now have access to LTE, in addition to the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Jubail, Al Khobar, Al Ahsa.

The carrier said that there were now 600 specific locations within these cities where LTE could be accessed and that it also offers HSPA+ to maintain high data speeds outside of the LTE areas.

And Middle Eastern operators have been told to grow up – or rather, they’ve been told they need to evolve. A report published by Informa this week warned that the convergence of media and telecoms is creating new challenges, all over the world, and particularly in the Middle East. Operators need to develop new business models if they are to succeed, and the analyst has identified strategies to reap success in the rapidly-growing market for online and mobile content in the region.

Another Informa report has revealed that the number of mobile subscriptions in the Middle East will cross the 250-million mark during 2012, as mobile penetration tops 100 per cent. This will see the region exceeding the mobile penetration rate in North America for the first time. Iran will continue to be the biggest mobile market in the Middle East by subscriptions, with Saudi Arabia the next biggest mobile market in the region.

Over in Africa, Orange’s reputation is only improving, as its own mobile money offering has reached three million customers, after tripling its user base in the last year.

Orange Money is designed to meet the needs of customers in Africa and the Middle East, where general figures suggest that less than ten per cent of the population have access to a bank account but more than 60 per cent have a mobile phone. Key services include money transfers, utility payments and top-ups and financial services like insurance.

Back to the UK, and Vodafone Group has acquired communications consultancy Bluefish Communications. The consultancy will form part of Vodafone’s Global Enterprise division, which manages communications technologies for its largest multinational customers.

The firm said that Bluefish will form the nucleus of a new unified communications and collaboration practice within Vodafone Global Enterprise, which will focus on advising multinational companies on how to get the most from their mobile, fixed line and IT services. It will also offer guidance to clients on the adoption of cloud services.

And the results of the Portuguese spectrum auction have been announced, with Portugal Telecom, Sonaecom and Vodafone coming out victorious. Portugal Telecom and Sonaecom’s mobile phone units, TMN and Optimus respectively, both announced that they had placed winning bids in three frequency bands. They each paid a total of €113m ($152m) for nine blocks. Meanwhile, Vodafone Portugal announced that it has also won a total of 123MHz spectrum in the 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz frequency bands, for which it will pay a total of €146m.

Meanwhile, social site Twitter has acquired a small mobile security firm, Whisper Systems, which specialises in secure tools for Android. The acquisition may seem a little seem a strange from the outset, but it has been suggested that the firm’s in-house talent is what Twitter is really after.

Whisper Systems became somewhat famous during the Arab Spring, when it released an encrypted voice communications system called RedPhone specifically to aid those involved in the Egyptian revolution. However, much to the disappointment of protestors worldwide, post acquisition, Whisper’s tools have all been taken offline, during a “transition period”.

In India, the world’s largest mobile infrastructure and services provider Ericsson has announced an extension of its managed services deal with Indian carrier Bharti Airtel. The new, five-year deal will see Ericsson manage Airtel’s multi-vendor, multi-technology network across 15 Indian telecom circles, which together account for 70 per cent of Airtel’s Indian network.

Sticking with infrastructure, Samsung is set to take the lead for the number of LTE macro base stations deployed by the end of 2011 across the Asia Pacific region. The forecast is from NPD In-stat, which expects Samsung to dominate the region with a projected 10,000 base stations; a quarter of all LTE macro base station deployments in Asia Pacific.

And in Spain, cloud telephony provider FonYou has announced that its XtraLine solution is now available to mobile operators as a white-labelled iOS and Android app. Spanish incumbent Telefónica is the first carrier to launch the app, which it deployed in a trial earlier this year. The app enables mobile operators to provide consumers with a second phone line bundled with a range of rich services, such as visual voicemail, call registers and advanced voice screening.

And finally, the UK government has announced a plan to invest £100m ($156m) to create ten ‘super-connected’ cities equipped with high-speed broadband in the country. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne made the announcement in his Autumn Statement, and this forms part of a general £5bn increase in infrastructure spending, as the UK attempts to boost its stalling economy.

The ten cities included in the plan and include London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, with the other six cities to be announced in the 2012 Budget. The aim is to provide fixed-line broadband on between 80-100Mbps and also ‘high-speed’ mobile connectivity.

That about wraps it up for the week – take care.

The Informer


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