a week in wireless


Stupid Mayans

AWIW516

The Informer offers his heartfelt commiserations to anyone out there with a world destruction fantasy. It turns out that December 21 2012 was the Mayan equivalent of April Fool’s Day. As the BBC’s Radio 4 delivered the news: “Yesterday we reported that, according to some Mayans, the world would end on December 21st. It didn’t.” The Informer’s break would have been a lot less restful had the apocalypse reared its head(s)—and even shorter than it felt.

We always end up, bleary-eyed and back at our desks sooner than we thought we would, don’t we. Back to work to face the colleagues we horribly offended at the Christmas party, hoping that by now they’ve forgotten all about what happened at the restaurant. But Happy New Year, nonetheless. It’s the same as last year, of course; you’re just older.

Chinese vendor Huawei set a positive tone for the new year this week, with the firm’s Rotating and Acting CEO (great image) Guo Ping announcing in an open letter to his employees that revenue for fiscal 2012 will exceed $35bn, which will whittle down to a profit of $2.4bn; a ten per cent year-on-year increase for both metrics.

The firm’s decision to report such numbers in USD reflects its dogged determination to win hearts and minds in the west and the Rotating CEO made a nod to Huawei’s tribulations in the US of A. “We have weathered another turbulent year: the downward spiral in the global economy, an investigation into cyber security allegations by a particular committee of the US Congress, political upheavals in the Middle East and Northern Africa, as well as natural disasters including floods and earthquakes.”

In line with its desire to silence the whispers against it, he said, Huawei “will further our efforts in legal and regulatory compliance across the world, become more open and transparent, and proactively contribute to the betterment of the global business environment.”

The statement was perfectly timed to coincide with a story from Reuters this week which reported that a partner of Huawei’s, Skycom, had offered to sell embargoed HP equipment to Iranian mobile operator MCI in 2010. The transaction was never completed but Reuters pitched its story as “new evidence of how Chinese companies have been willing to help Iran evade trade sanctions.” Huawei’s got a steep hill to climb in the US.

Relations between the US and China aren’t frosty throughout the sector, though. In fact it turns out that Google’s handset business is fairly reliant on the Chinese market, according to the latest research from Informa Telecoms & Media.

Figures from the research firm show that almost two-thirds of the handsets sold in China in 2012 run on the Android OS and that China is Google’s largest market for Android devices. As much as one third of Android handsets sold in 2012 were sold in China.

The country is by far the fastest-growing smartphone market, with a year-on-year growth of 85 per cent in 2012—and this growth is being driven by the explosive demand for Android phones.  Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s Windows Phone hold minority shares of China’s total handset sales, with around five per cent and one per cent, respectively.

Perhaps the Chinese tech industry’s only hope is that it will be deemed less threatening than North Korea. In a new year’s address of his own, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un spoke of his desire to reunify North and South Korea and of his plans to turn his country into an economic powerhouse. That must have caused an anxious loosening of collars at Samsung, which does huge business in the US and the West in general.

Google’s Eric Schmidt ruffled feathers at the US State Department this week when it was announced that he was off to North Korea “in a private capacity”. This is a country that leads the world in media and information repression so the purpose of Schmidt’s visit is unclear. A State Dept spokesperson said, with great understatement considering US concern around North Korea’s recent rocket launch, “we don’t think the timing is particularly helpful.”

South Korea’s SK Telecom made a bid for inclusion on Boxing Day by throwing its weight behind the GSMA’s Joyn initiative. The Joyn proposition, announced by GSMA at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year, is the group’s response to the increasing popularity of network independent, OTT messaging applications. It has been designed to bring added functionality to voice call and messaging services in an integrated manner regardless of network and device and the Spanish triumvirate of Telefónica, Orange and Vodafone launched the first commercial proposition in November.

In December, Silicon Valley startup Jibe Mobile also received $8.3m financing from Vodafone to help make the Joyn service compete better with the likes of Skype and WhatsApp.

For many, however, Joyn is comparable to shutting the stable door after the horse has not only bolted but died of old age after a long and happy life of freedom. “There’s a high chance of execution risk that could make [Joyn] worse-than-useless. I have seen no arguments about how to win back users from WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk etc, all of which are better and faster-evolving than RCS,” blogged Disruptive Analysis’ Dean Bubley late in December.

Here in the UK, where EE, 3UK, O2 and Vodafone have been bickering over the deployment of LTE services, it looks like they’ll soon be joined by at least one more competitor. UK regulator Ofcom announced late last year that seven firms have qualified to bid for spectrum in the upcoming LTE spectrum auction.

Joining the four established MNOs are HKT – a subsidiary of PCCW; MLL Telecom; and Niche Spectrum Ventures – a subsidiary of BT. PCCW is a Hong Kong-based firm which has fixed-line, broadband internet, TV and mobile business units and operates in 16 markets globally. It also owns UK Broadband, a former WiMAX licensee that has switched to TD-LTE.

MLL Telecom is a UK firm specialising in designing, installing, managing and maintaining backhaul links and wide area networks. And UK incumbent BT formed Niche Spectrum Ventures in June 2012, although CEO Ian Livingston has previously said that the company has no plans to become a national mobile operator.

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced that it is freeing up some of the spectrum that it owns, which may help with the scarcity issue. The MoD announced it will auction off around 200MHz of the radio spectrum it owns, all of which is below 15GHz. Preparations for the auction are expected to start at the end of 2013, and it is due to be completed by the summer of 2014.

Meanwhile, O2 has been busy preparing to launch its LTE service as soon as it gets the go ahead and has selected Nokia Siemens Networks to make it happen across London and the South East of England. The operator is preparing to launch its 4G services soon after the UK’s spectrum auction in early 2013. The decision was made after a successful 12 month LTE network trial involving hundreds of consumers and businesses across parts of London.

Meanwhile Ofcom has launched a consultation into methods of protecting consumers from mid-contract price increases for fixed, broadband and mobile services. The consultation comes on the heels of a review in which Ofcom studied more than 1,600 consumer complaints in a six-month period about changes in tariffs for what consumers believed were fixed-price contracts.

The regulator is proposing that customers should be allowed to walk away from their service contracts without penalty should their service provider decide to raise the price of the contract during its term.

Vodafone was having none of it. In a prickly statement the UK’s third-placed operator said Ofcom’s proposal risked “generating significant confusion and potentially increasing the cost of getting a mobile phone contract for millions of people,” and suggested that Ofcom didn’t understand the difference between prices set by mobile operators and those set by other players.

“We simply do not control many of the charges faced by consumers. They are set by third parties and mobile phone companies have to pass those costs on or they will be subsidising other companies,” the operator said. “Ofcom appears resolved to introduce measures that would effectively prevent any rises in these prices being recouped while customers are still in contract.

“We cannot be held accountable should BT, for example, put up the price of calls to premium rate, 08 or its 118500 numbers. Nor can we be expected to swallow that sort of price rise ourselves.”

Now, probably the nicest thing you can say about handset-based NFC is that it appears to be fashionably late to the payment party. But could this year see us all paying for our shopping by swiping our smartphones at the till? That’s what Orange and China Mobile are banking on.

The two have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aiming to accelerate the commercialisation of mobile contactless services, vowing to adopt internationally recognised standards for embedding the secure technical protocols directly into the SIM-card.

The firms said they aim to participate in the development of a market in which users can access NFC services regardless of their device or operator.

Orange and China Mobile share a common belief that, for [NFC] services to take-off on a global scale, the industry needs to work together in order to adopt a common set of standards that operate within  a fully-interoperable business platform,” the firms said in a joint statement.

Now, a show of solidarity from Sweden, where the country’s leading car manufacturer has teamed up with another national darling, global infrastructure market leader Ericsson, on connected cars. Volvo has announced it will use Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud solution in order to allow drivers, passengers and the car itself to connect to services available in the cloud.

Volvo drivers will be able to access in-car applications for information, navigation and entertainment. Content providers will have agreements with Volvo and the other members of the ecosystem, such as internet radio providers, road authorities, cities’ governments, and toll-road operators.

Over in North Africa, Ericsson has announced a new agreement with Etisalat Egypt to “transform” the telecom operator’s radio network. In a brief statement, Ericsson said that as part of the deployment, it will provide Etisalat Egypt with its latest RBS 6000 radio base station technology.

Elsewhere in the region Tunisia’s government has announced it will sell a further 15 per cent stake in partly state-owned operator Tunisiana to Qatari incumbent operator Qatar Telecom (Qtel). Q-Tel already holds a direct 75 per cent stake in Tunisiana through its subsidiary Wataniya and this latest 15 per cent, for which Q-Tel is paying US$360m, will take its holding to 90 per cent.

Further south, in Ethiopia, the country’s monopoly operator Ethio Telecom has announced plans to deploy LTE services in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. The operator recently launched a program of 26 projects aimed at improving service provision, customer handling and communication, and network expansion. Its network expansion plan includes an internet broadband strategy which is expected to include introduction of LTE services in Addis Ababa, as well as HSPA+ in all major cities and universal internet access by 2015.

Canonical, the developer behind the popular and user-friendly Ubuntu Linux distribution said this week that it has a version of its operating system for smartphones now ready to deploy.

The company said it will be at CES in Las Vegas next week, looking for partnerships with OEMs and carriers. “We have the needs of network operators, OEMs and ODMs in mind in bringing Ubuntu to the phone. It offers great performance on handsets with a low bill of materials, while opening up new opportunities for phone and PC convergence at the top end of the market.” Ubuntu claims 20 million desktop users around the world in over 70 countries and hopes to cash in on its desktop presence when moving into mobile.

The open source mobile operating space looks a promising one as the first Tizen based smartphone could also be released this year, and go on sale in Japan, according to local media reports.

Without citing sources, the Yomiuri Shimbun said that NTT DOCoMo is working with Intel and Samsung – both backers of the Tizen OS – on at least one new smartphone based on the platform.

International carrier Hutchison Whampoa, which operates the ’3′ brand, has been given clearance by the European Commission to acquire Orange Austria. As a result Orange Austria, currently owned by Mid Europa Partners and France Telecom, will be 100 per cent owned by Hutchison 3G Austria.

The move comes after more than ten months of intense scrutiny of all aspects of the proposed merger by the EU and Austrian authorities, according to Hutchison 3G Austria CEO Jan Trionow.

And finally, here in the UK, we’re seeing a trend of “hand me ups” as Christmas presents. This festive period, young adults, primarily in the 18-24 year old category, have been giving their parents their old mobile phones and tablets as they upgrade to new ones, according to a survey by 3UK.

–          Here Dad, I got you an iPad for Christmas.

–          Oh wow, that’s so kind, Son, although it looks, well… used.

–          Yeah, about that – when I say I got you an iPad for Christmas, what I meant was I got me an iPad.

Take care,

The Informer


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