a week in wireless


Off the clock

AWIW573

The Informer has often thought that it would be fun to work in France. He is full of admiration for the two-hour lunch; the 35 hour working week and the Gallic shrug. Well the country has gone one better this week, bringing in rules to protect employees from being disturbed by work email when outside of office hours.

About a million people working in the digital industries will now not be obliged to respond to or even receive emails sent outside the hours of 9am and 6pm. The move comes as a kickback from employers’ federations and unions which are concerned about how mobile devices have exposed employees to longer working hours.

It’s a great idea, isn’t it, but hardly one that is workable. The world will soon divide into wealthy, senior people who are prepared to engage outside of hours and poor, junior people who are not.

It is not known at which hour of the day Vivendi sealed its deal with cable operator and investor Altice this week; a deal which saw Vivendi accept Altice’s offer for its mobile operator subsidiary SFR.

Under the terms of the offer SFR will merge with Altice subsidiary Numericable and Vivendi will receive €13.5bn for SFR as well as a 20 per cent stake in the newly merged entity. The firm estimates the total value of the offer at around €17bn.

Vivendi had been fending off approaches from more than one suitor, the other being rival mobile operator Bouygues Telecom, which in a show of increasing desperation, raised its offer several times despite Vivendi claiming to be in ‘exclusive’ discussions with Altice.

Vivendi said key factors in its decision were the potential benefits of the merger formed by SFR and Numericable, which would create many synergies from Numericable’s fixed network and SFR’s mobile network. But the news comes as a blow to France’s newest operator Free Mobile, which potentially stood to acquire Bouygues’ mobile network and portfolio of frequencies for “up to €1.8bn” if Bouygues was successful in its bid for SFR.

Indeed the Vivendi deal was followed by rumours that Free’s parent Iliad is planning to press ahead with a Bouygues acquisition anyway.

The other big news story this week read like a repetition of last week’s, as Telekom Austria parted ways with group chief financial officer Hans Tschuden. A source at the operator told the Informer that Tschuden’s departure was fuelled by a conflict with the Works Council over America Movil. The LatAm operator, through its holding company Carso Telecom, increased its stake in the firm to just over 25 per cent in January. America Movil has been gradually increasing its ownership of Telekom Austria of late and it’s expected in some quarters that Carlos Slim is planning to make a bid for the company. As a result, it would be better if Slim had his own man in place and it’s understood that Tschuden is no one’s man but his own.

Someone else who is his own man, is T-Mobile USA’s Richard E Grant doppelganger, John Legere, who’s continuing to do what he does best—needle his rivals. Attacking the industry use of overage fees for those who slip outside their data allowance, T-Mo introduced a $40 Simple Starter plan this week, which cuts off data access altogether when the limit is reached, rather than hobbling speeds and continuing to charge the user.

In trademark headline-grabbing style, Legere also unveiled Operation Tablet Freedom, which sounds like the title of the next Expendables movie, as they all line up for their meds and cod liver oil capsules. The offer entices customers to buy tablets featuring LTE cellular connectivity for the same price as the models featuring wifi only. The company will then provide 1GB of free 4G LTE data for the remainder of the year in addition to 200MB of free data lasting for the life of the device.

Speaking of tablets, here’s a bitter pill to swallow: The Informer’s iPad, not two years old, effectively died this week when the screen gave out. The Informer duly booked an appointment at the Genius Bar of London’s flagship Apple Store on Regent Street. He had to wait ten minutes to be seen while a Genius, with remarkable good nature, repeatedly explained to a frustrated posh woman the difference between a password and a user name.

When his turn came and his Genius wondered over (Neck tattoo: check. Beard: check. Big ear disk piercing things: check. He was textbook. When, exactly, did tattoos and facial piercings become a means of displaying friendly approachability and not a warning of imminent physical violence?!). The man turned the iPad round a few times, tried to switch it on and then said: “That’s a broken screen.”

This gave the Informer the opportunity to respond with: “No offence, mate, but it doesn’t take a Genius to figure that out!”

Because the device is out of warranty the Genius tried to sell the Informer a new iPad, something that is not going to happen because the screens stop working inside two years. The Genius failed to grasp the incompatibility of his admonishment that the Informer should have taken the paid-for extended warranty with his observation that, in any case, they hardly ever go wrong.

Within Apple itself it all seems to be getting a bit Game of Thrones. Not that there’s loads of people prancing round in the buff cutting each others throats (although there may well be, for all the Informer knows), more that there are rumours of empire-building shenanigans underway.

It emerged this week that Apple’s head of Human Interface (that’s interface between product and customer, not between Apple and the rest of the world) Greg Christie has resigned, leading to suggestions that there was a rift between Christie and Sir Jony Ive, the firm’s head of design, who now assumes responsibility for Human Interface. Apple issued a statement claiming that there was nothing acrimonious about Christie’s decision, however.

Here in the UK, O2 was beefing up its LTE offering, confirming that its 4G network now covers one third of the UK population indoors and 41 per cent of the population outdoors.

Since its 4G launch in August 2013, O2 has amassed over one million 4G customers and the company revealed those customers used more data in the LTE network’s first six months than the entire O2 network carried between 2000 and 2008.

The company is also committing £16m to “bringing it to people who have never had it before”, under which 200 areas across the UK will get their first taste of 3G data coverage from O2 later this year.

Taiwan’s Far EasTone was on a similar tip, calling on Swedish vendor Ericsson to provide hardware, software and support services as it rolls out its 3G and LTE multi-access RAN and core network nationwide. The operator’s LTE network will offer subscribers downlink speeds of up to 150Mbps and uplink speeds of up to 50Mbps, according to Ericsson, and the network will use the 700MHz and 1800MHz spectrum bands.

Spectrum was trading hands in the US as regional US operator Cincinnati Bell admitted it was more kitten than Bengal and announced the closure of its cellular business, selling its spectrum licences to Verizon Wireless for $194m. The firm, which reported a wireless subscriber base of 340,000 at the end of 2013, down from 398,000 at the close of 2012, saw full year 2013 wireless revenues drop by 17 per cent to $202m.

In India, Vodafone took full control of the Vodafone India operation, after buying the remaining 11 per cent it did not own from Indian conglomerate Piramal Industries for almost $1.5bn. The sale generated a 50 per cent return on an investment made by Piramal during the 2012 financial year.

The $1.5bn outlay adds to the $3.2bn that Vodafone spent in February on spectrum licences for 11 of India’s telecom circles. The UK-based operator acquired a total of 23MHz in the 900MHz band in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata and 49MHz in the 1800MHz band in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, UP East, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab.

Vodafone India has over 160 million customers, with the number of mobile internet users increasing 38 per cent to 45.7 million according to its latest statements. Data usage also continues to grow strongly with 3G usage now averaging in excess of 700MB per month, the company said.

And if you want to make the most of that data usage you have to remain agile. That’s the core message from a survey carried out by the Informer’s chums on Telecoms.com Intelligence.

In the report, 85 per cent of operator respondents acknowledged that market conditions require increasingly agile BSS systems enabling operators to provide service diversity and faster time to market and specialist BSS vendors are seen as the most appropriate company type to address these issues.

It is common for network equipment providers to bundle BSS software in with the infrastructure purchase in order to enhance their proposition. This has the effect of somewhat obscuring the true cost of a BSS platform, yet looking at four key attributes of business agility, over 70 per cent of the operators surveyed pointed to specialist BSS vendors for the best solutions.

Microsoft was doing some work on its own billing system, extending carrier billing capabilities for its Windows Phone Store. The firm has implemented a platform from micropayments and messaging services from Netsize, a subsidiary of SIM and authentication specialist Gemalto, which will enable more Microsoft Windows Phone users to purchase apps on their handsets and pay for them via their phone bill.

Windows Phone is the third most popular smartphone platform globally, according to research firm IDC, with a worldwide market share of 3.9 per cent as of February 2014. Which to be fair is still al long way behind Apple’s iOS with a 14.9 per cent global share, and market leader Android with its nose firmly in front with a 78.9 per cent global market share, according to the research firm.

However, with Microsoft in the process of acquiring Finnish smartphone maker Nokia for €5.44bn in cash, the software firm is ramping up its efforts to grow its market share. It already offers carrier billing services for its Windows Phone Store through 56 mobile operators spanning 34 countries, while Google has just 40 carriers offering the service for its Play store across 21 countries. Apple, meanwhile, does not use carrier billing as its customers must purchase App Store apps directly from Apple. Netsize said that its platform will potentially allow Microsoft to extend the service to 160 operators spanning 50 countries.

Facebook was doing a bit of spring cleaning, removing its mobile app’s messaging capabilities in certain European markets so that users have to download Facebook Messenger instead. Pamela Clark-Dickson, senior analyst for messaging at Informa Telecoms & Media (now Ovum), said the company risks alienating its users to grow the reach of its Facebook Messenger app as a platform for communications, content and commerce.

“What Facebook is doing, in a sense, is ‘forcing’ its mobile users to change their behaviour, in which case it will need to provide users with a good incentive to do so,” she said. “WhatsApp reportedly has a higher penetration than Facebook Messenger on mobile in Europe, so it is possible that this is a reactionary move from Facebook. It is significant that Facebook has taken this step in Europe first, and not the US, where Facebook Messenger reportedly has higher penetration than WhatsApp.”

However, having acquired WhatsApp in February for $19bn in cash and shares, it’s unlikely that Facebook will want to risk devaluing its investment in its new subsidiary.

On the subject of value, Google will be making the Glass available for $1500 to US citizens for one day only on Tuesday. It’s the first time the device has been made available to the general public amid claims that the product is still very much in development.

If you go for one, let us know how you get on. Otherwise, see you next week.

Take care

The Informer


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