a week in wireless


Oh Lordy

Several times in the last two weeks the Informer has been contacted by his company email administrator because his inbox has exceeded its size limit. This is because we are bearing down on the brouhaha of the Mobile World Congress, and thousands of PR folks around the world are frantically issuing press releases, briefing invitations and announcements about announcements.

The Informer has found his way on to many mailing lists and is therefore the recipient of hundreds of such messages each week. They come in too fast to be effectively processed so they just sit on the server, causing it to creak and grumble.

As you can imagine, there is a certain homogeneity to these emails; there aren’t many that stand out. There was one, though, that the Informer noticed because he thought it was a bold marketing ploy. Possibly, indeed, an incendiary one.

The teaser email implored the recipient to “come and see God” at the World Congress. Either they’ve booked Eric Clapton, the Informer thought when he saw the headline, or Rob Conway’s been promoted.

Turns out the invite was from a content company called Zlango, which will be erecting a 20 foot statue of the Heavenly Father on its stand in a bid to promote a messaging platform that uses icons instead of words.

The way things are in the world these days it takes a brave person to suggest that a giant statue of a deity which counts billions of people among its followers is a good gimmick at a telecoms trade show. Especially when some of those followers are a bit temperamental and the statue is sporting a pair of wraparound sunglasses. The Informer will let you know if any holy wars erupt that aren’t to do with LTE and WiMAX.

As for what will become of the statue at the close of next week, it’s not clear what happens to the prophets from the show.

Speaking of monies, things were looking rosy at Orange-branded France Telecom this week, which turned in profits for 2007 of EUR6.3bn, up 52 per cent year on year. The mobile arm did well, contributing revenues of EUR29.1bn to the total of EUR52.95bn. The Informer’s just this minute remembered that he used to work with a French chap – big feller, looked a bit like Eric Cantona. Once during a lunchtime trip to the pub he was asked what sort of things worried him. Without a trace of irony he replied: “I have nothing to worry about because I am a man, and because I am French.”

Across La Manche things were less agreeable. BT reported its Q407 results, revealing that profits for the three months to end December dropped 30 per cent year on year to £447m.

The UK incumbent was also forced this week to defend itself from accusations that it is to abandon its convergent Fusion offering. Launched in August 2005, the service gave users a Vodafone handset that used Bluetooth to route calls through the landline once the customer got home. Later, a modified offering that used wifi indoors rather than Bluetooth was launched.

Hopes were high at BT that it would make good on the proposition, which was a rebirth of the DECT/GSM Onephone idea that stalled in the late 90s. But Fusion doesn’t seem to have captured the public’s imagination, with BT confirming it has attracted only “around 45,000″ consumers since launch.

UK Broadsheet The Telegraph ran a story this week that BT had cooled on the offering, which was picked up and run by some industry sources. But the UK carrier told the Informer this week that the service had not been given the chop.

“BT has not abandoned Fusion. It is actively marketed to SMEs and large businesses, both here in the UK and overseas,” the firm said. “We have scaled back our marketing for the consumer product but this is because we are trialling the next generation of devices. These devices are similar to [RIM] BlackBerries and so our strategy is to make broadband more mobile than ever.”

Either way, it seems that the lure of a separate home tariff is not particularly strong. UK mobile carriers are stuffing more and more minutes into their bundles now, which negates the benefit of a low-cost voice offering from BT and, probably more importantly, there just weren’t very many handsets available on the Fusion service.

3UK and domestic competitor O2 were involved in a fusion of their own this week when they revealed the decision to merge their user generated mobile video services into a single community. Combine SeeMeTV and LookAtMe and you get EyeVibe, which while clearly a silly name, is at least less obviously designed to appeal to witless exhibitionists.

Anyway, it looks to the Informer as if the mashing up of the two is designed to protect against the mobile march of established internet UGC specialists. Both services are based on a platform developed by Yospace – which will continue to manage the merged offering – and both, if conversations that the Informer has had with some 3 types are anything to go by, consist largely of DIY naughties. We did hear that as much as 80 per cent of the content had to be filtered out by people hired to vet submissions because it was too raunchy. (How do you advertise for that job?)

The two carriers reckon 32 million downloads have been made since they launched the services and that this has generated some £800k for users, who are paid when their clips are viewed. More than 60,000 clips have made it onto the services, which if that 80 per cent is about right, means that 240,000 home-grown bongo flicks have been rejected on grounds of steaminess. Someone’s been busy.

If downloading such content is your thing and you’re an aspiring iPhone owner, you’ll be pleased to know that Apple has released a new version of the handset, with the storage capacity doubled to 16GB. Announced this week, it’s already available in the US and Europe. In the UK, O2 is knocking them out for £329, which is £60 more than the 8GB model while, in the US, it’s $100 more expensive than the first iteration, at $499.

Apple’s US distribution partner is AT&T, which this week announced that it’s going to spread the 3G love a little further, rolling out service to a further 80 cities, which will take the total to 350 by the end of this year. It’s also planning to have made an HSUPA upgrade by the summer.

The firm’s CEO, Ralph de la Vega, took the opportunity to nail his colours to the LTE mast, saying: “The evolution towards HSPA+ and LTE technologies will enable the company to continue to deliver higher speeds and capacity in the years to come.”

Earlier in the week the FCC gave its blessing to AT&T’s purchase of a bundle of 700MHz spectrum from Aloha Partners. The great thing about this spectrum is that it’s free of deployment requirements so AT&T can just put it in the fridge.

It’s still in the running for the bulky C Block spectrum being sold off in the FCC’s 700MHz auction as well. That auction’s open access rules were triggered this week, as bidding for the C Block hit $4.6bn. Speculation is that, now the rules have kicked in, Google may bow out as it effectively committed to a $4.6bn spend in order to secure open access. Total bids in the auction so far are approaching $20bn, and Verizon is a strong contender for C Block.

Further proof, if proof be need be, that the mobile world is opening up to the opportunities offered by online communities came this week in the form of two announcements by Verizon’s co-owner Vodafone.

First came the news that Newbury’s finest has employed the services of messaging firm NeuStar to help it roll out Microsoft Windows Live Messenger to customers in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, France (via SFR), Germany and the UK. Additionally, NeuStar has also supported the launch of Yahoo Messenger in Portugal.

That was swiftly followed by the announcement that the social network site Facebook has revamped its mobile platform and Voda will debut the service in the UK and Germany, with plans to expand the platform to Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal.

According to Informa Telecoms & Media’s latest report: Mobile Social Networking, Communities and Content on Move, the global user base of mobile social networks nearly doubled in 2007, reaching about 57 million by year end. Informa expects the expansion of the user base to continue by 50 to 60 per cent year-on-year between 2007 and 2012.

Christine Perey, president of Perey Research & Consulting (and author of the report) wrote in MCI: “There still needs to be detailed consumer studies to unpack and understand exactly what people are doing with the mobile community platforms. But for the moment, just having a few mobile data skills such as starting an application, like a browser, composing messages, taking and finding photos to upload and browsing or searching through profiles covers the bases for most people.”

The Informer is not about to argue with his analyst friends, but having set up a Facebook profile some time ago, he has yet to derive any actual value from it. But then, since he remembers a time when there were only three TV channels and social networking involved going down the park with his mates to watch the glue sniffers, he’s not really the target demographic.

Ah, the glue sniffers. Where have they gone?

Away from the world of recreational solvent abuse, the LTE train kept a-rollin’ this week with the news that the LTE/SAE Trial Initiative (LSTI), an industry body that focuses on interoperability, announcing the completion of its latest round of tests. The LTSI confirmed the kinds of speeds that vendors have been touting around – in excess of 100Mbits/s.

In other LTE news, Californian money machine Qualcomm has revealed that it aims to ship its first multi-mode LTE chipsets in the second quarter of next year. The firm also said that Hutchison 3G, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telstra have all committed to trial HSPA+ tech, based on Qualcomm chipsets, later this year.

No doubt LTE will be much under discussion at the Mobile World Congress next week. The Informer’s travelling over there with his buddies from telecoms.com, which will feature the most important stories from the event. Keep an eye on it.

This year, for the first time, telecoms.com will be running a mobile service, with news delivered straight to the phone of anyone who signs up, which you can do here.

The site will also feature a voice blog function, courtesy of Spinvox. Anyone who wants to give us their feedback on the show can ring +44 151 266 6531, leave a message and, so long as it’s not too rude, it will appear in all its voice to text glory on the site.

And that’s about the size of it this week. See you at the show.


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