a week in wireless


Here we go again…

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Well, readers, here we all are again. The seasonal holidays disappeared in the blink of an eye and we’re all back at the industry coal face, chipping away at great lumps of progress. The Informer feels like something of a great lump himself after the morbid overeating that remains one of the few Christmas traditions to which he still adheres.

You need stamina for Christmas feeding but not as much stamina as the Informer imagined must be required by dainty UK songstress Duffy, who has been named as the central provider of celebrity glamour/easiest accountable expense at this year’s Mobile World Congress, which is just six itty-bitty weeks away. You see, the Informer heard that Duffy is to perform endlessly at this year’s event. She’s got a fair set of lungs, to be sure, but singing without respite? That’s got to be difficult.

It was only on a closer reading that the Informer realised that Duffy’s new album is called ‘Endlessly’, and that the announcement referred to her latest material, rather than the duration of her performance. Shame, the Informer quite liked the idea of Duffy as an audio-visual barometer of the grind of MWC; wavering on unsteady feet as the last day draws to a close, before collapsing on her podium in the central avenue at the Fira as the last delegates drop their badges in the box at the exit.

Still at least most of the industry has six weeks to detox in preparation. Not like the good folk attending CES who barely had time to gobble down some headache pills after their NYE celebrations before heading for the not particularly abstemious environs of Las Vegas for the largest gadget show in the world.

Google previewed Android 3.0, dubbed Honeycomb, at the event, which the firm said had been designed “from the ground up” with larger screen sizes in mind—tablets, in other words. Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of engineering, stuck a brief post on the company blog, trumpeting Honeycomb’s “refined multi-tasking, elegant notifications, home screen customisation with a new 3D experience” and richer, more interactive widgets. He also drew attention to Google Talk, which allows video and voice chat with any other enabled device. In your Face Time, Apple! The video below gives a slick overview.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPUGNCIozp0[/youtube]

There were also rumours coming out of the show this week that Google has anointed Samsung, HTC and Motorola as its favoured vendors for tablets based on Honeycomb. Whether or not the new version of the OS turns out to be full of holes like its namesake, we will see when the products hit the shelves.

Android has been key to the progress of Chinese handset vendors, so says ZTE, at least, which this week announced that its handset shipments had grown by almost 50 per cent year on year, hitting 90 million units for 2010. Flushed with success, ZTE, like others before it, declared its intention to become one of the world’s top three global handset players within five years.

In a bid to pre-empt cynical detractors, ZTE was at pains to point out that its growth had not come exclusively from its gigantic domestic market. Across its European markets, the vendor said it saw volumes grow by 150 per cent, while in the US the figure was 100 per cent. High growth is easier from a low point, however, and actual shipment numbers were notable for their absence.

Not to be kept out of the limelight, ZTE’s domestic competitor and nemesis in a series of farcical corporate spats Huawei announced a new Android handset this week, the IDEOS X5, based on version 2.2 of the OS.

One of the biggest developments in the handset space last year was the comeback of Microsoft, with Windows Phone 7 and the software giant was on hand at CES in a bid to keep up its momentum. It was demonstrating a forthcoming version of Windows that supports System on a Chip (SOC) architectures, and throwing out the hand of partnership to all-comers in a bid to market the widest possible range of Windows devices, from tablets and phones to netbooks, laptops and PCs, said Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live for Microsoft.

Sinofsky name-checked Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments as producers of ARM-based systems that Microsoft would like to work with, and Microsoft said that it was committed to ensuring that its Office suite runs natively on ARM as part of its focus on SoC architectures.

Nvidia, meanwhile, unveiled its own latest offspring, a chipset that it claims will take the mobile devices category beyond “smartphones” to what it calls “superphones”. Great, a new fatuous handset category. The Tegra 2, which is already in the LG Optimus 2X, features: a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU; the Nvidia GeForce GPU; and a 1080p Video Playback Processor.

Qualcomm kept itself in the news in the early part of 2011, having ended the previous year by announcing the shut down of its Flo TV service, sweetening this bitter pill by selling the spectrum that service occupied to AT&T for $1.925bn, a 244 per cent return on its original investment of $558m.

The Informer fully understands how windfalls can burn a hole in your pocket, as does Qualcomm, apparently. This week the Californian firm announced the $3.1bn acquisition of Atheros Communications, which develops wired and wireless networking technology, using wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, Ethernet, power saving and peer to peer connectivity. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of the year.

Not content with this, Qualcomm has also announced that it will spend near on $1bn on the establishment of a manufactory in Taiwan that will produce its mirasol displays. The facility should be operational in 2012. Meanwhile the firm has signed a letter of intent with copper top battery outfit Duracel to explore the opportunities for wireless power transmission.

And they weren’t the only ones pursuing the dreams of Nikola Tessla, with Texas Instruments this week unveiling what it claimed was the industry’s first Qi-certified wireless power development kit, enabling engineers to integrate wireless power technology into consumer electronics devices.

The Qi standard has been developed by the Wireless Power Consortium and, under its plans, all electronic devices bearing the ‘Qi’ symbol could be charged on any charging pad or surface marked with the same logo. The global wireless power charging standard is targeted at low-power devices that are five watts and below, such as mobile phones and personal music players. However, the development kit released by TI this week could also see wireless power technology deployed in infrastructure applications involving furniture and cars.

What with CES, it was always going to be a week heavy in handset news, but there was one small infrastructure development. And we’re talking here about a development in small infrastructure, with femtocell outfit Picochip claiming this week that, within a matter of months, it will be able to fit an entire 3G base station onto a USB dongle.

Just what we need: A base station you can lose! And just imagine—you’ve taken delivery of your brand new base station, presented to you in a matchbox full of cotton wool. You’d be so pleased, until you heard the loud warning siren of an articulated lorry reversing up to your door containing the giant mast you need to install in your garden.

Sticking with infrastructure, Nokia Siemens Networks has seen its acquisition of Motorola’s network assets delayed until later in the first quarter of 2011 because of red tape. The company is still waiting for regulatory approval from the Anti-Monopoly Bureau of the Ministry of Commerce of China, which was expected to complete its review before the end of 2010.

NSN paid $1.2bn to acquire the assets in July 2010, through which it expects to gain new relationships with 50 wireless carriers and strengthen existing commercial ties. Motorola’s networks portfolio caters to a range of technologies, from GSM and CDMA, through WCDMA to WiMAX and LTE. The US vendor will be keeping hold of its iDEN business, however, and will also retain most of the patents related to its wireless network infrastructure business.

Approximately 7,500 employees are expected to transfer to NSN from Motorola’s public carrier wireless network infrastructure business when the transaction closes, including large research and development sites in the US, China and India.

On Tuesday, an era ended as Motorola completed its separation into two separate companies: Motorola Mobility, focusing on handsets and consumer devices; and Motorola Solutions, which develops equipment for public and enterprise organisations.

For Motorola at least, it’s new year, new start.

All the best for 2011, everyone

The Informer

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