a week in wireless


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings, so they say. And if the ‘it’ in this particular instance is the summertime, then the fat lady is none other than Mama Cass, and she’s crooning that ‘all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey’. It’s autumn. The Informer himself is a seasonal harbinger, of course, and his reappearance, like that of the little robin redbreast, means winter’s on its way.

But hold on, we mustn’t be hemisphere-ist, must we. On the other side of the world they’re gearing up for an actual barbeque season. And, while Australia won’t enjoy an Ashes victory in their summer this year, as we did in ours, they can take heart that the South Africans will probably pummel the Pomms on their behalf.

It’s only the beginning of September, of course, but if you needed any further evidence of the creeping onslaught of the seasonal holidays, you could turn your attention to the swathes of handset announcements that greeted the Informer upon his return to the office this week. It wasn’t until May or June this year that ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues finally left the Informer’s head, having lingered there from last year’s Christmas music barrage and so it was with heavy heart that the he actually read product marketing spokespeople bigging up the chances of their new shiny things being on people’s yuletide lists this year.

Let’s start, then, with Android and the gathering momentum that Google’s OS is now, erm, gathering. This week saw Chinese vendor Huawei join the throng. Well, it’s not really a throng just yet, is it. More like half a volleyball team. Anyway, Huawei announced a new unit that will go straight to Android evangelist T-Mobile. The new phone, dubbed the Pulse, is billed as the first touchscreen handset for the mass market.

All this really means is that it will be available on prepay tariffs; there’s nothing fundamentally different about the phone’s software or capabilities. In fact T-Mobile UK’s acting head of device marketing, Nicola Shenton, predicted at the launch that segmentation in the future would be more likely to be hardware- rather than software- based. She also said she expects to see 20 Android handsets available worldwide (not just on T-Mobile) by the end of the year and that the German carrier predicts Android handsets will be outperforming devices based on other operating systems in sales terms by 2013.

Shenton could soon have a new boss, according to the FT, which reported Friday that a source had revealed that Vodafone, Telefonica and France Telecom are all still in the running to buy the German incumbent’s UK operation.

Samsung’s first Android handset, the i7500 became available on Telefonica’s O2 this week as well, bringing the number of vendors in the commercial Android space to three (with Samsung and Huawei following in the footsteps of Android pioneer HTC) and the number of phones to five. It’ll be interesting to see if this quadruples before the end of the year, as Shenton believes will be the case.

Word is that Korea’s LG is soon to take the plunge, along with Motorola. The US vendor, which is making the latest in a series of do or die bids for success in the handset market, is understood to be about to unleash a phone called the ‘Sholes’. Motorola has long dabbled in funny names but this one really is hard to fathom.

However, the Informer thinks he’s nailed it with the following sporting link:

Insert a ‘c’ after the first letter and it could be named for the famous ginger-haired Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes. Prefix the phone’s name with ‘as’ and you’ve got the whole team!

There’s no news yet of a Nokia Android handset, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that one might be on the way, what with the Finnish firm’s new-found promiscuity in the software stakes. You’ll have seen it’s going with Windows for its Booklet device (the Informer got rapped for describing this as a netbook. It’s not a netbook, apparently, it’s a mini-laptop. Which is a bit like arguing the distinction between a pedant and a pedagogue.) and that it’s back on the Linux bandwagon with its Maemo platform-based N900.

It’s also mounting something of a fight-back in the smartphone sector where, despite a massive lead in shipments, it has been lagging in innovation and desirability. It’s certainly taking a leaf out of Apple’s book by making the second iteration of its flagship product what the first iteration should have been. Hence the N97 mini, which is like the N97 after some much needed liposuction. Apparently it feels like a completely new person.

There are also some new Windows phones in the offing, with LG nodding towards three upcoming units based on Windows Mobile 6.5. Expect a full touchscreen, a touch-slider and a QWERTY candybar unit. Direction-seeking Sony Ericsson also had its Xperia X2 to shout about.

Sony Ericsson came under new leadership this week, with an Ericsson EVP by the name of Bert Nordberg becoming co-president on September 1st. He will take full control in the middle of next month, with incumbent CEO Dick Komiyama bowing out at the end of this year. Howard Stringer, chairman, CEO and president of Sony will take over as chairman of the board of Sony Ericsson on October 15, succeeding Carl-Henric Svanberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, who is leaving to head up BP.

And it looks as if the new regime is introducing a certain whimsy to its operations, as it unveiled its new brand values. The firm’s new brand message – in line with other Sony Group companies – is ‘make.believe’. So, perhaps Sony Ericsson is simply going to pretend that it’s not in a worryingly precarious position any more. Safe in this new found knowledge the firm can turn its attention to more important business, such as the “realignment of its external visual identity”.

“Sony Ericsson will expand the appeal of its globally recognised ‘liquid identity’ logo by adding seven new colour variations plus a new a ‘liquid energy’ flowing from the logo to make it more playful and visually appealing for the digital arena,” ran the firm’s announcement. ‘Nuff said.

There were other personnel shifts going on this week, with Nokia Siemens Networks’ CEO Simon Beresford-Wylie announcing that he’s to step down at the end of the month, to be replaced by Rajeev Suri, currently the head of the services business at the vendor. Beresford-Wylie will not be staying on the Nokia group board, and we don’t know yet where he’ll next pop up. Maybe he’ll have a little rest as the JV he’s credited with creating hasn’t had the best of times since birth.

There were top level departures at WiMAX hopeful Clearwire as well, this week, with CFO David Sach off to pursue other opportunities and chief strategy officer Scott Richardson signalling his intent to follow suit. So now Clearwire has nobody in charge of money and nobody in charge of strategy. What it does have now, though, is a good excuse.

In other exit-based news, Spanish carrier Telefonica and Portugal Telecom said this week that they have jointly sold their controlling holding in Moroccan operator Medi Telecom to the other local partners in the company for €800m in cash.

Under the deal, Telefonica and Portugal Telecom will offload a stake of 64.36 per cent – or 32.18 per cent each – to Meditel’s other investors, including FinanceCom, Watanaya and Fipar Holding.

Meditel held second place in the Moroccan mobile market at the end of June, with 8.6 million subscribers, following market leader Ittissalat Al-Maghrib with 14.3 million customers. Both these carriers operate GSM and 3G WCDMA networks, while trailing CDMA player Wana records a subscriber base of just 661,000 users. Mobile penetration in Morocco topped 73 per cent at the end of June.

Finally this week the world’s smallest island nation, Nauru in the South Pacific, found itself with a new national holiday this week, inaugurated to celebrate the arrival of mobile telephony to the island. Thanks to exotic location specialist Digicel, the island, which is one tenth the size of Washington DC, and home to 15,000 people, now has GSM. And the first of September every year will now give those people the opportunity to remember its arrival.

Take care

The Informer

  • Huawei


One comment

  1. Clay Loges 05/09/2009 @ 6:28 pm

    Much appreciate your returning from the summer holiday. Always enjoy your cleverly wry observations of the industry.

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