a week in wireless


Lana Del Rey and Femtocells

AWIW478

It’s not the strongest that flourish, it’s the most adaptable. Well, sometimes it’s the strongest, of course; usually in fights – the playgrounds of the world are littered with weaklings spitting teeth and crying that at least they’re adaptable. Anyway, this kind of quotation is not to be taken literally. The point is that flexibility and willingness to move with your environment can be crucial to success. Just look at aspiring US songstress Lizzy Grant. She wasn’t getting anywhere four years ago so she morphed herself with remarkable success into Lana Del Rey and now everybody’s raving about her.

A name change can do a lot to help a re-alignment and this is clearly what the Small Cell Forum is hoping for, now that it’s killed off the femtocell moniker. This is vaguely reminiscent of a 1980s political-correctness initiative—as if the ‘Femto’ prefix had somehow become pejorative, inviting abuse from passers-by at trade shows—and it’s clearly designed to bring down the barriers between Big Infra and the smaller ex-femto crowd.

This was confirmed by the announcement that, with the name change, Ericsson has joined the Forum’s board. Acquisition must be the intended exit strategy for the likes of IP Access and Ubiquisys (with PicoChip already snapped up by Mind Stream) so, like Lana Del Rey, the ex-femtos are trying to make themselves more appealing to the market. The aim is to live rather than being born to die.

That’s about where the comparison runs out of legs, though. Del Rey appears to have achieved much of her successful transformation by resolving to wear exclusively skimpy outfits—and by having so much collagen injected into her lips that it looks like she’s been hit in the face by a stray football. Recent viewings of the ex-femtos show no evidence of hot pants or plastic surgery. That will come next, if the name change doesn’t work. Let’s hope the name change works.

The Informer reckons you could do worse than have 20 quid on Ericsson making a purchase in this space—now that it’s cut needy Sony Ericsson out of its life. Ericsson’s extrication from that awkward situation became complete on Thursday this week. The Informer wonders if it sent a good luck card to Sony, which is now facing its first solo trip to Mobile World Congress in a long, long time.

Maybe it can make a positive impression by announcing that it’s pre-loading Whitney Houston’s entire back catalogue for free on all handsets from now on, after its sister company upset the grieving millions by upping the price of her greatest hits album moments after news of her death broke (although you’d expect her biggest fans to already own all her music). Blimey that was quick, wasn’t it? Do you think Sony has some kind of algorithm that scours the web for musical deaths and then adjusts the prices accordingly?

Most people don’t give a monkey’s about the infinite cynicisms of global capitalism – many of which are pretty tasteless – but somehow increasing the price of an asset that had just gained significant rarity value is beyond the pale. Yeah, sure, we should be sensitive to the fact that Whitney Houston was popular and lots of people loved her music. But let’s not forget that she did some truly dreadful things in her life, which remain deeply offensive to this day. The Bodyguard, for example.

So there’s a lot of love in the US for Whitney right now, but not so much for LightSquared. Try as it might the aspiring LTE wholesaler just cannot curry favour with the powers that be, in thrall as they are to US GPS operators and users.

The FCC said this week that it plans to suspend indefinitely a conditional waiver that would allow LightSquared to build its LTE network. The decision was based on a recommendation from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which found that “LightSquared’s proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS services and that there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time.” While the NTIA conceded that technological work-arounds are feasible, it argued that they couldn’t be achieved in time to coincide with LightSquared’s planned deployment.

The keen-to-be-operator hit back, claiming that the GPS community strong-armed the NTIA (and that community contains the armed forces, so it’s not inconceivable) and that the testing process was “severely flawed”.

It’s starting to look like LightSquared might never get its project up and running, which would be bad news for Sprint, which had struck an $11bn deal with LightSquared to deploy the LTE network on its behalf, so it could wholesale LTE capacity back to Sprint and other operators.

Sticking with regulatory behaviour, the European Commission has this week given its blessing to Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s handset unit. The EC’s principal concern was whether or not the deal would see Google excluding other Android vendors in Moto’s favour, which leads on to two points: First, if that’s the EC’s principal concern about what Google’s up to, it had better have another think about things and, second, if Google was going to pick up a vendor in a bid to try and storm the hardware market, it would probably not have gone for Motorola.

In fact, read as an analysis of the thinking behind the acquisition, the EC release is damning in that it can’t seem to locate a single strategic advantage in the deal. It essentially concludes that Google can already do pretty much what it wants to, and that adding Motorola Mobility to the mix will make such a small addition to its already vast momentum as to be almost undetectable.

Matters regulatory didn’t work out so well for UK operators Vodafone and Everything Everywhere this week, which would have done well to heed Kenny Rogers’ observation that you’ve got to know when to hold. Just under a year ago UK regulator Ofcom ruled that termination rates should be cut from just over £0.04/minute in 2010 to less than £0.0065/minute by 2015. Up in arms at this assault on a lucrative revenue stream, the two operators, with support from O2, appealed to the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT).

This week the CAT did what CATs do when they’re unimpressed; it raised its haughty tail and showed the operators its… opinion, ruling that Ofcom had not, in fact, been aggressive enough. Vodafone et al will now have to meet the pricing targets by 2014, a year earlier than they were originally required to. That’s the thing about CATs; you just can’t trust them. If the UK TI’s Department of Grievances had been making the call, it would have worked out differently. The DoG rolls over every time.

Norway’s Telenor has been busy with disputes of its own this week, demanding compensation from Indian partner Unitech in the wake of the Indian 2G licence fiasco, as well as filing lawsuits against Nokia Siemens and Huawei in Pakistan. It’s not clear exactly what these suits concern, although there was supposed to be a managed services deal between Telenor and Huawei in Pakistan.

Against the backdrop of all this corporate jostling, the operator has ended one if its longest-running feuds, withdrawing all claims against Russia’s Altimo. The firms are partners in international player VimpelCom and this week Telenor bagged 234 million preferred shares in the Netherlands headquartered multinational from Weather Investments for $374m. This takes Telenor’s voting share in the firm to 36.36 per cent which is apparently enough to soothe its attitude to Altimo.

Over in France another cohabitation has gone sour, with Orange complaining that Iliad subsidiary Free Mobile is eating more than its fair share of the minutes. The clue is in Iliad’s naming strategy, as the firm has offered its ADSL customers free calls on its mobile network. Except the calls aren’t happening on Free’s mobile network, they’re happening on Orange’s.

Orange entered into a net share with Free that came into effect once Free’s own network had reached 27 per cent of the population. However, it is estimated that 97 per cent of calls made by the two million-strong Free Mobile customer base are carried by Orange. “When you put such extreme offers on the market, it is obvious that demand will be high and this was very largely under-anticipated by Free,” an Orange bod told Telecoms.com.

Meanwhile Orange has agreed to buy the majority  of the personal stake in Egyptian carrier Mobinil held by Naguib Sawiris. The deal takes the Orange stake in Mobinil to 71.25 per cent.

There were a couple of mobile financial services deals this week. UK carrier O2 signed up with Sybase365 for the development of a mobile wallet solution, while UK bank Barclays got in on the act with a new service called Pingit.

The service allows users to tie their mobile number to their current (or checking) bank account, enabling them to send money back and forth using nothing more complicated than a text message. The Pingit app is available on iOS, Android and Blackberry – wot no Windows? – and will initially only be usable by Barclays customers. This is a short term thing, though, and it will be available to all UK banking customers by March.

This is a very interesting service and one that we’ll be hearing a lot more about on Telecoms.com in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled.

And that’s about it for this week, apart from an update on the threat of a public transport strike in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress. The GSMA put out a statement this week saying that its “senior executives” are in Barcelona and have “advised the government authorities that they should do everything to avert the strike”. The Informer supposes it’s that kind of strategic thinking that separates the senior execs from the rest of us.

Meanwhile there is apparently a “comprehensive contingency plan” but it’s a secret. Perhaps the senior execs are busy rounding up the donkeys of Catalonia.

Take care

The Informer.

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