a week in wireless


It came from the stars

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Earlier this week, scientists and military personnel gathered in a Latvian meadow somewhere near the Estonian border and gazed in awe at a ten metre wide crater thought to have been caused by a meteor strike.

The excitement was soon over however, as it quickly emerged that the three metre deep pit, complete with flaming material at the bottom, was a hoax. A hoax carried out by Baltic operator Tele2 as the premise to an ‘out of this world’ marketing campaign. Since then the incident has become an exercise in how not to do PR. Not only did the Latvian government have to fork out to send a specialist military unit to the location to conduct tests for radiation, the prank also caused concern for nearby residents. As a result, the Latvian government, which is a customer of Tele2, will yank its contract. Whoops.

PR go home.

Still, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and perhaps Tele2 only wanted to draw attention to the fact that it’s not performing too shabbily in the face of the recession. Profits came in at SEK2.2bn (€212m) for the third quarter of 2009, compared to SEK156m in the same period in 2008, although this jump was largely due to impairment charges in the year ago quarter. Sales were up just three per cent at SEK9.8bn.

The industry’s eyes were also turned heavenward to watch the arrival of the Droid – Motorola’s first handset to be based on the Android 2.0 platform. Now Motorola’s results are usually a B movie horror themselves, but this time they were pleasantly surprising. The firm is back, yeah back, back in black. Profit for the third quarter of 2009 swung to $12m, compared to a loss of $397m in the same period last year. Net sales were still down, from $7.5bn in the third quarter of 2008 to $5.4bn in 2009, although things were looking up at the handset unit.

Mobile device sales were down 46 per cent year on year to $1.7bn, but the operating loss shrank from $840m to $183m, also reporting a 28 per cent sequential shift in the right direction. The firm, which shipped 13.6 million handsets, giving it an estimated global handset market share of 4.7 per cent, is betting the farm on Android. The Droid handset will land November 6 on Verizon Wireless’ network, in the wake of a vendor funded advertising campaign pitching the device against the Apple iPhone. This week Verizon reported that net income for the three months to the end of September fell 9.8 per cent year on year to $2.8bn, while operating revenues climbed just over ten per cent year on year to $27bn. Wireless revenues for the quarter were up 23 per cent year on year to $13.5bn, although net adds fell 38 per cent year on year to 1.3 million in the third quarter leaving the company with 89 million subscribers.

In a slider form factor with a full QWERTY keyboard, the Droid boasts a 3.7″ high-resolution capacitive touchscreen, with a width of 854 pixels and more than 400,000 pixels in total. The camera weighs in at five megapixels, with a dual-LED flash and video capture, backed up by 16GB of removable storage. Connectivity is provided by 3G EV-DO, wifi and Bluetooth as well as A-GPS, while the operating system is Android 2.0, supporting multitasking for six apps, and access to more than 12,000 applications via the Android app store. Droid is also the first device to support Google Maps Navigation (Beta), which provides turn-by-turn voice guidance as a free feature of Google Maps and can also be voice controlled.

It sounds impressive, especially for a Motorola device, but probably the most advantageous thing Droid has got going for it is a Webkit HTML5, Flash 10 ready browser, and an ARM Cortex A8 processor, making it roughly twice as fast as existing Android handsets including the recently launched Motorola Cliq/Dext. And perhaps as reward for getting the company back into profit, Edward Fitzpatrick, who has served as acting CFO since February, has been appointed full time chief financial officer, effective immediately.

Not content with taking over your handset, the robots are also taking over your network, with Austrian carrier T-Mobile and Chinese equipment vendor Huawei completing testing of what they claim is the world’s first LTE self organising network (SON). The tests were carried out in Innsbruck, Austria, and demonstrated the technology’s ability to configure and optimise the network and recover automatically. As network topology changes to an all IP infrastructure with migration to LTE, a SON deployment claims to ensure a high level of connectivity and optimisation of performance network wide.

The Austrian tests used T-Mobile’s existing base stations and were conducted to verify Automatic Neighbour Relation (ANR) functionality, and how the SON platform is able to automatically establish and optimise neighbour relations.

Optimising neighbour relations sounds all well and good – the flat next to the Informer’s hovel is presently occupied by students who are apparently taking a night course in Xbox and whooping – but all this intelligent networking stuff makes the Informer’s head spin. Since checking out ex-Symbian employee and ‘futurist’ David Wood’s blog and reading about the Singularity, the Informer’s not so sure intelligent machines are a good idea.

Sticking with Symbian, the Informer was down at London’s Earls Court this week, attending the Symbian Exchange and Expo (SEE) show, where the Symbian Foundation officially launched its application publishing platform – Horizon. The Foundation said that there are now a total of five app stores supporting Horizon. Along with the initial stores – the Ovi Store by Nokia, Samsung Applications Store and AT&T’s MEdia Mall, new additions include China Mobile’s Mobile Market, and Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow arena.

The Informer had a good chat with John Forsyth, whose business card says “leadership team” for the Symbian Foundation. Does this mean he is the team? Sometimes the Informer feels like an army of one so he can sympathise. Anyway, Forsyth explained the Foundation’s strategy and explained that the organisation had a new way of looking at the open source model. He said the idea is to be as transparent as possible in governance of the organisation, adding that most backers of the Foundation, and its concepts, are geeks and are passionate about the Symbian OS.

Well, the initiative is certainly striking some chords. Finnish handset vendor Nokia launched its assault on China’s 3G market this week, introducing its first device built for China’s homegrown TD-SCDMA technology. The 6788 is the result of close collaboration between Nokia and China Mobile, which apparently is a big fan of open source Symbian. “We had meetings with China Mobile, which is very much in alignment with our open source vision – they want an open, independent platform for devices,” Forsyth said.

This might seem like a paradox but Qualcomm’s another one jumping on the open source bandwagon. The US chip shop has announced a shiny new wholly-owned subsidiary focused on mobile open source platforms. The Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) is formed of a dedicated group of engineers, headed up by Rob Chandhok, senior vice president of software strategy for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies. QuIC’s mandate is to use open software to spur the development of advanced services for traditional handsets as well as sophisticated smartphones and mobile computing devices. “Open source and community-driven software development is becoming increasingly important to the wireless industry,” said Chandhok. “These engineers will focus on such important open source initiatives as Linux and Webkit, and on open source operating systems such as Symbian, Android and Chrome.” Check that out.

Android backer Google landed a major coup in the mobile market on Wednesday, when Orange announced a deal to put Google Mobile Apps on the homescreens of customers in Europe. The multi-year strategic agreement will see Orange launch Google apps across its footprint in a phased approach across a large range of Orange Signature phones including those based on Android. Google Mobile App will later be made available across a wider range of Signature devices operating on Symbian S60, RIM (BlackBerry) and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.

Orange’s big daddy was just about holding the fort meanwhile, with France Telecom reporting that EBITDA dropped 5.4 per cent year on year during the third quarter of 2009 to €4.56bn from €4.8bn last year. Group revenues also took a slight hit, falling 3.7 per cent year on year to €12.7bn, with the weakest performing units identified as Poland and the UK. The company is also setting aside €1bn to fund a stress reduction programme for staff in a bid to tackle the recent spate of suicides affecting its workers.

Ca plane pour moi,

The Informer


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