a week in wireless


Spare ribs

awiw

Spare ribs, that’s what the Informer needs after all of the ones he was born with exploded from excessive laughter this week, which featured, nestled at its centre, April Fool’s Day. One of the great George W. Bushisms runs: “There’s an old saying in Texas: ‘Fool me once… shame on… shame on you. Fool me… you can’t get fooled again.” And that’s kind of how the Informer felt as March went out like a lamb.

It’s not a good look having no ribs, so the Informer wags his finger in wearily amused frustration at the merry pranksters who saw fit to flood his inbox with news-based fake-japery. Fortunately the Informer was able to remove his shattered ribcage with ease, because his sides had split as well.

So, here we have mobile browser specialist Opera releasing the news that it has developed software allowing users to control their browser using only facial gestures. “Face Gestures makes surfing the Web as easy as smiling, batting an eyelash or flaring a nostril,” corpsed the press release. Brilliant. Not so funny, though, if you happen to be one of those poor people afflicted by violent facial spasms. Then all it makes you think is how, if you had it, you’d be forever navigating your way to the wrong page, compounding your existing woes. No, those people aren’t laughing – and even if they were, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell.

Then we had Qualcomm punting out a video in which it claimed to have developed a chimera to outrage the laws of nature. An un-godly cross between a pigeon and a wolf in which the firm had embedded a tiny base station, these could, in sufficient numbers, create an organic, airborne network. A network that delivers crappy service literally as well as figuratively. Well, the Informer had already dashed off a letter to his MEP complaining about this unethical pursuit of coverage and capacity improvement when he realised that it was all an elaborate spoof. It was the shark falcon that made the Informer see that Qualcomm was just ripping off the central theme of Disney’s short-lived 1985 animation series The Wuzzles.

And finally there was secretive proprietary broadband network provider XG Technology, which announced that it had turned a profit for 2008, despite the economic downturn. XG got this in early, on March 31st, which is a popular move among the April Foolers these days. Still, it was one of the better ones this year, and… Eh? Oh – oh, I see.

My mistake; apparently this one’s true.

XG, the firm said, clocked an operating profit of $7.7m in 2008, up from a $6.2m loss in 2007. Net profit was $2m. The improvement is thanks largely to the sale of 327 of its bespoke low-power, long range, non-pigeon-based broadband base stations, which generated revenues of $16.4m. Profit there may be but prices look to have taken a hit, as the firm said in September when it announced the deal that it would ship 1,000 base stations to customer Tresco International at a cost of $75m.

As well as being a customer, Tresco is also a shareholder in XG, which claims its technology, when commercially launched, “will defy all other [mobile communications systems] on the market”. One of the definitions of the verb ‘defy’, the Informer noted after consulting his dictionary, is: ‘To elude, especially in a baffling way’. Interesting.

As well as being April Fool’s day this week it was also the beginning of the G20 summit, being held in London due to the UK’s current presidency of the organisation. The Informer was personally inconvenienced by this when his bicycle ride to work was interrupted by Barack Obama’s motorcade leaving Downing Street. Watching this go by was a bit like waiting for the back end of the Imperial Star Destroyer to appear at the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV.

The G20, as you may know, is a grouping of the world’s most powerful countries. This week their heads of state and top finance bods are meeting in London for some fine dining and to try and solve the current economic crisis. It is a truth universally acknowledged, after all, that consuming the mashed liver of a force-fed goose does wonders for one’s capacity for strategic economic thought.

As you may also know, wherever representatives of the world’s most powerful economies gather, so to do a ragtag bunch of angry protesters, bent on disrupting the meetings in a bid to generate greater awareness of the causes they support. They get dressed up in their funny costumes, band together and shout angrily about what’s most important to them, usually to very little effect. Sometimes they break a window or two, if goaded on by a pack of desperate photographers.

Sample chants from this week’s rallies include: “Stop the war!”, “Hang a banker!”, “Shame on you!”, and “We want a stable, predictable and minimally intrusive regulatory environment!”

One of these, you will have noticed, differs markedly from the other three. This is because, in among all the dreadlocked anarchists, the Spiderman-suited Fathers for Justice daredevils and the benign dopers simply enjoying the opportunity to smoke a bit of weed in public, were 24 mobile operators and vendors, drenched uncharacteristically in patchouli oil, bearing aloft special interest placards of their own.

Ok, so they weren’t actually there. But they did use the G20 summit to send a letter – a letter, no less – to the summit attendees, asking them to dish out lots of tasty spectrum for the future and get those pesky regulators off their backs. The signatories to this letter, included here because of the boost they give this edition of A Week in Wireless’s company mention statistics, were as follows:

Ben Verwaayen, CEO, Alcatel Lucent, Daniel Hajj Aboumrad, CEO, America Movil, Ralph de la Vega, CEO, AT&T Mobile, Sunil Bharti Mittal, CEO, Bharti Enterprises, René Obermann, CEO, Deutsche Telekom, Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO, Ericsson, Robert Conway, CEO, GSMA, Phuthuma Nhleko, CEO, MTN Group, Ryuji Yamada, CEO, NTT DoCoMo, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, CEO, Nokia, Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO, Nokia Siemens Networks, Olaf Swantee, CEO, Orange Group

…pause for breath…

…Naguib Sawiris, CEO, Orascom, Masayoshi Son, CEO, Softbank Mobile, Man Won Jung, CEO, SKT Group, Sol Trujillo, CEO Telstra, Franco Bernabe, CEO, Telecom Italia Group, Cesar Alierta, CEO Telefonica Group, Boris Nemsic, CEO Telekom Austria Group (now at Vimpelcom, of course), Jon Fredrick Basksaas, CEO Telenor Group, Lars Nyberg, CEO TeliaSonera, Jamal Ibrahim, CEO TMI, Alexander Izosimov, CEO Vimpelcom, Vittorio Colao, CEO Vodafone Group and Saad Al Barrak, CEO Zain Group.

“The deployment of mobile broadband could create 25 million jobs around the globe and be financed by private capital,” the letter said. “This boost to the global economy at this critical time will also enable widespread Internet access, stimulating significant productivity enhancements and social benefits.”

It went on: “The business case for mobile broadband is highly dependent on regulatory policies. In recent times we have experienced a trend of increasing regulatory intervention, often where this is not appropriate…We therefore ask the G20 leaders to consider the vital contribution that mobile technology can make to global economic recovery and recognize the importance of these key enabling actions by government. The mobile industry stands ready to support the efforts of governments to stimulate sustainable economic recovery.”

Whether or not this will work remains to be seen. If not, perhaps they’ll have to make Viviane Reding an offer she can’t refuse. You have to wonder, though, what response a group of 24 user groups would get if they sent a letter to GSMA HQ, demanding lower pricing all round.

The big problem for this group of mobile agitators, though, is the absence of the ‘or else’ clause in their letter. They rightly point out that the industry is set to make huge investment over the coming years. But if their demands aren’t met, that investment will still be made. And, let’s face it, they’re not about to smash any windows to make their point. Not that this, as most modern protests seem to prove, would work anyway.

In other alliance-based news, it was announced this week that Verizon Wireless is to join with China Mobile, Softbank and Vodafone in the three carriers’ giant app store project, the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL), established just over a year ago. Specifically designed to take the whole widget/app experience mass market – more than achievable given the almost one billion customers to which the four carriers can lay collective claim – the JIL is the Walmart of app store projects.

Later this year, JIL plans to launch a range of developer tools, including a common mobile widget spec, developer kits and an online repository, distribution and payment mechanism enabling developers to get their product in front of customers from 70 countries across four continents.

On a similar theme the Symbian Foundation used the CTIA show in Las Vegas this week to launch its beta site test programme, claiming a ‘”significant milestone” in the wider Foundation project. The site, it says here, has a full developer offering, including platform release information, council charters, wikis, forums and access to the SDK, code repository, tools, documentation, wiki, bugtracker and forums.

And in another paragraph containing the word ‘beta’, Nokia’s head of sales, Anssi Vanjoki, likened aspiring 4G technology WiMAX to the Betamax video standard which lost the video format battle to VHS (read LTE) in the 1980s. Quoted in the FT this week, Vanjoki said: “I don’t think the future is very promising [for WiMax]. This is a classic example of industry standards clashing, and somebody comes out as the winner and somebody has to lose. Betamax was there for a long time, but VHS dominated the market. I see exactly the same thing happening here.”

Betamax, Sony’s video format, traded on the high quality of its recordings. VHS, meanwhile, won out because it enabled users to record for longer periods. It had a capacity advantage, so to speak. In order for LTE to have its capacity advantage, though, the right amount of spectrum is needed.

One alternative theory as to what caused the demise of Betamax is a giant asteroid colliding with the Earth. Oh, no, hang on, that was the dinosaurs. No, the other theory about Betamax is that it failed because Sony was reluctant to allow its standard to be used for the distribution of naughty films (project Mustn’t Grumble?). Adult content drives all new media, of course, so what Vanjoki could be saying is that the success of LTE will be because of the high volumes of mucky stuff that will be flying across the airwaves. Who knows…

In other WiMAX news, Japanese vendor NEC wants everybody to know that it has been awarded the WiMAX Forum Certified seal of approval for its 3.5GHz base station, named PASOWINGS.

And finally, the Informer would like to draw your attention to his lovely home, www.telecoms.com, which has been given a ground-up makeover and is looking and feeling very tasty indeed. Go there, now! You’ll be able to read stories about Ovi and RIM that didn’t make it into this edition of A Week in Wireless and do all sorts of fun stuff.

Take care

The Informer


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