a week in wireless


Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200

Way back when the Informer was a lad, during the summer holidays he would invariably spend part of each day playing the board game Monopoly with his siblings. It’s not so much that electronic entertainment didn’t exist – it did – it’s just that it existed in the form of the Commodore 64; the worst computer ever sold. You never got to play the games, you just watched the cassette tapes turn round in the machine until, after about ten minutes – when the tape was about to run out and the game was supposed to load – a message appeared on the screen saying “Syntax error: Line 20″. Then it all went dead.

So Monopoly it was. There were two strategies. On the one hand you played cautious, like the Informer. Go for the best returns, the most reliable, the utilities. Or, if you were Informer Minor, the cheeky younger brother, you spent like a Russian oil billionaire. You bought everything you could get your hands on and eventually bled your tolerant siblings dry, rounding out the game with a cackle of capitalist ecstasy. You also (and you only admitted this decades later) used to keep several thousand pounds tucked under the board that shouldn’t have been there, which you used to fund these acquisitions.

All of which came flooding back to the Informer this week as he observed yet another land grab in the internet services space. On Tuesday, all-seeing webmonster Google gobbled up a Finnish firm called Noki… only joking, called Jaiku – a presence sharing service through which people can update their status and location information and tell a bunch of other people. A bit like Twitter.

The service works on S60 handsets, thus allowing the G-tendrils to snake further into the mobile space. Users can share their calendar as well as location and availability which could enhance Google’s torque in the mobile advertising space.

It’s a great time to be running an internet services company at the moment, because the big boys vying for position seem to want to buy everything. Does this remind you of anything? Say, about six years ago?

Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see how Nokia responds. But we don’t need to wait and see how Motorola will respond, because we already know. Commenting this week on Nokia’s $8.1bn acquisition of digimap-house Navteq, Moto CEO Ed Zander said: “That’s not our strategy. We are not in the applications business.”

He was speaking to students and teachers at the Chicago Graduate School of Business, when he revealed that Moto, too, had looked at Navteq. “We looked at it and went on our way,” he said, adding: “We didn’t even think about it.” Whenever the Informer walks past the Bentley and Porsche showrooms on London’s Glitzy Park Lane, he looks at the cars, and goes on his way. He never thinks about buying them. Because he hasn’t got the money.

Funds Nokia may have, but the honeymoon period looks to be well and truly over at the firm’s infrastructure arm, Nokia Siemens. The CEO of German parent Siemens, Peter Loescher, had a pop at the operation last week, it has emerged. He drew attention to the “weak and therefore unsatisfying operating performance of the joint venture” and is now expected to juggle his board around to make someone responsible for the whole thing.

It’s not like Siemens was going great guns before the merger; weak and unsatisfying is probably a fair summation of the firm’s position before April this year, when the JV launched with, instead of a fanfare, a warning about poor growth prospects. The Informer is reminded of a Nokia Mobile Phones SVP commenting a few weeks back on the possibility of consolidation within the handset chasing pack. You may remember he said: “Two turkeys do not make an eagle”. It would be a bit harsh to describe either of these firms as a turkey, but the principle stands. (It occurs to the Informer that, if two turkeys did make an eagle, Mrs Turkey would probably have some explaining to do).

It was gobble-gobble all the way at Sanyo this week, as the Japanese firm’s loss-making handset outfit offloaded itself onto compatriot vendor Kyocera. Sanyo’s phone unit lost $387m in 2006, which isn’t that bad, but the firm has wisely decided to focus on its component business, which is in much better shape.

And it wasn’t just vendors dealing with difficult times this week, as Sprint CEO Gary Forsee was shown the door by the US carrier’s board, following a period of difficulty. The Informer’s chum, Karl-Heinz Rumourmonger, dropped a hint about this last week, you might remember. And the word from KHR this week is that the Sprint board has joined in a chorus of that classic tune from the musical Annie: “Bill Mor-row, Bill Mor-row, we love you, Bill Mor-row, we hope you’re not faaaaaaaaar awaaaaaaay.”

Yup, reports have surfaced that ex-Vodafone UK front man Bill Morrow – who left the mighty red comma (or is it an apostrophe?), last year to return to the US for family reasons – could be in the running for the Sprint job. Morrow did a ten-stretch at Vodafone and is no stranger to carriers in difficulty. He was put in charge of Vodafone’s struggling Japanese operation to oversee its sale to local ISP Softbank.

Leaving under more auspicious circumstances this week was AT&T Mobility premier Stan Stigman, who is retiring after 42 years at the firm. Stigman is to be replaced by Ralph de la Vega, previously the firm’s group president for regional telecom and entertainment.

Back to Sprint, which, of course, is a champion of WiMAX. Should Mr Forsee be looking for a job, the Informer notes an interesting development on the Falkland Islands. The Government of that far-flung, windswept outpost, has announced that the telephone network is to be upgraded, and will use WiMAX for broadband access. Cable & Wireless South Atlantic (enjoying its first appearance in A Week in Wireless – we welcome you) is stumping up £1.3m, while the G is putting in £823k, according to reports. In other WiMAX news, Motorola this week scored a WiMAX deal with Taiwanese carrier FarEasTone. In other, other WiMAX news, NTT DoCoMo, Softbank and KDDI have all applied for Japanese WiMAX licences.

In happier news for Sprint, it’s about to be $80m better off now that VoIP player Vonage has settled with the carrier over a series of patent disputes. $35m of the sum covers past use of Sprint’s VoIP licence, $40m buys a full future licence and $5m is a prepayment for services. The pain’s not over for Vonage, though, as it’s still in the doghouse for infringing patents belonging to Verizon.

Staying in the land of the free, AT&T flung $2.5bn in the general direction of Aloha Partners this week, in exchange for 12MHz of 700MHz spectrum. It’s looking like a mobile TV-flavoured deal, as thrown in was Hiwire, an Aloha-owned company piloting DVB-H broadcasts in Las Vegas. If AT&T is up for some TV behaviour of its own, it’ll raise a question mark over the firm’s relationship with Qualcomm offshoot MediaFLO, which operates its own ‘mediacast’ network in the 700MHz neighbourhood. The two firms signed a deal in February that would see AT&T taking services from MediaFLO.

Perhaps AT&T figured it was a good time to get its hands on the spectrum at a fixed price, ahead of next year’s 700MHz FCC auction. This sell off, scheduled for January 2008, will see 62MHz of 700MHz spectrum go under the hammer. It makes sense for AT&T, even if the auction eventually values the spectrum at a lower price than the carrier has paid. A stateside buddy of the Informer’s pointed out that the Aloha spectrum has neither build-out requirements nor open access or public-private partnership requirements attached to it. AT&T can sit on the spectrum until it needs it some time down the line, which is not true of the spectrum that will be auctioned.

In an unrelated development, the FCC auction has been delayed by eight days, in order to give prospective bidders more time to put their bid specifications together. It will now happen on January 24th.

While we’re busy with sell-offs, the first auction of dotMobi domain names raised $850,000, the dotMobi consortium announced this week. “Dozens” were sold, apparently, with the highest price attracted by hosting.mobi, for $101,000. Money well spent? We’ll have to wait and see.

One of the many double-edged swords plunged into the world by the US of A is burger firm McDonald’s, which this week looked to wireless to help bolster its sagging popularity. Here in the UK, 1,200 of the firm’s eateries will soon have free wifi access served up alongside their meals, following a deal signed between the food chain and wifi provider The Cloud. McDonald’s’ corporate communications needs will also be met by the arrangement.

Now the Informer doesn’t know about you, but McDonald’s ranks pretty high on the list of places he would not take his laptop. Just imagine the state it would get into.

Not to be outdone, archrival Burger King, has also got into the mobile space this week, apparently commissioning some themed mobile games from provider Mobliss, part of Japan’s Index Corporation. It remains to be seen whether or not these games will involve chasing down and killing red-haired clowns.

Handset industry darling Sony Ericsson had some numbers out this week that were interpreted by some as bad news. It’s all relative though. Bad news for Sony Ericsson means Q3 profit dropping to Euro267m from Euro298m a year ago. Sales were up seven per cent to Euro3.1bn, on the other hand while unit shipments increased by 31 per cent to 26 million. The vendor’s ASP dropped Euro20 to Euro127.

The analysts at Ovum reckons the results were “disappointing”, warning that SE’s top end handset range is getting on a bit. Consequently, the researcher has revised its prediction that SE will overtake Motorola this year. The shift in Sony Ericsson’s numbers is hardly unexpected, though, as the vendor has been broadening its portfolio at the lower end in a bid to grow market share.

And that’s about the size of it this week, apart from one final, depressing fact, which has nothing to do with wireless at all. This week, on the 9th of October, the Informer saw his first Christmas related advert on television. October 9th! The culprit? Frickin’ EuroDisney. Good grief.


One comment

  1. Nick Hunn 12/10/2007 @ 2:46 pm

    I think you may have missed the point. If we’re to believe those technically savvy folks at The Independent, Wi-Fi is killing our kids. That’s why they’re trying to get the Government to ban it from Schools.

    I bet some bright young marketing thing at the Big M has realised that if they start radiating kids it will take the pressure of those who claim they’re killing them with the burgers. So they can go on serving minced up mad cow and blame The Cloud instead. And just think of the extra exercise the kids will get from lugging their laptops around and fighting off the muggers. Not to mention the weight loss from all of that extra microwave radiation melting some of their surplus MacBlubber.

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