Back in October a chum of the Informer’s from one of the big infrastructure vendors told him that Apple was auditing LTE networks before allowing operators to offer the iPhone 5 as an LTE device. The Informer made a few calls to people in the know and was told the story was true, although Apple maintained a stony silence and nobody else, operator or vendor, would go on the record.
This week Swisscom launched the first LTE service in Switzerland and mentioned in its press release that the iPhone 5 would not be available at launch but that “ Apple will provide a software update in due course for customers with an iPhone 5.”
When asked why the software update was required, a Swisscom spokesperson told Telecoms.com that: “The iPhone 5 requires a software update since Apple only enables 4G access after having successfully tested their device on an operator’s live network.”
And there you have it, the first operator to publicly admit that it is Apple that decides whether or not that operator’s customers can use its devices over the LTE network, and not the operator. This is a big deal.
Handset testing has always been crucial but the aim of it historically has been to ensure that devices meet network operators’ requirements and will function in a way that does no harm to the network or to the relationship between the operator and its customer. Now Apple has turned the tables, judging whether the network is good enough for the handset, and that the network won’t damage Apple’s customer experience. (This from a company who told people they were holding their phones the wrong way because the antenna was dodgy.)
It has been observed that we live in a time when the network, despite being by far the most expensive piece of the mobile experience, has the lowest perceived value (compared, say, to the handset or the app) in the eyes of the end user. So you could look on the upside and say that Apple is reinforcing the importance of the network by running its own testing programmes. And Apple will find it harder to shift the blame for any problems onto the operators if it has given them its stamp of approval.
But equally you could argue, as many surely will, that this is something of a presumption from a company that contributes nothing to the cost of network deployment. What we don’t know, of course, is how many—if any—operators’ LTE networks have been rejected by Apple. Nobody’s going to ‘fess up to that, are they.
Meanwhile the operator community continues its bid to secure relevance through imitation. Spain’s mobile operator triumvirate of Vodafone, Orange and Telefónica finally launched their interoperable Joyn service this week, enabling Spanish consumers to make rich communication calls to one another. Joyn is the consumer-facing brand of the GSMA’s Rich Communications Suite project, which was conceived to help operators compete with OTT IP messaging providers like WhatsApp and Skype—and Apple’s Facetime.
Users will now be able to exchange video and image content in-call, the GSMA said, although the really attractive functionality—VoIP and IP video—is not yet enabled. The service is available as an Android app at launch, with an iPhone version to follow and handsets with native capability expected early next year.
The GSMA stressed the security and quality of service that operators could provide and suggested at Informa’s recent Rich Communications conference that a further 30 operators in 18 countries are committed to the launch of Joyn services. The Informer reckons that commitment will depend on how things go in Spain, a market that, overall, is in pretty big trouble at the moment.
Joyn isn’t a bad idea but it is not going to be easy to get it to scale to the level where it can truly compete with the applications that it’s going up against. The Informer has a nasty feeling that operators’ attempts to reinvent themselves as OTT players on their own networks will go the same way as their attempts to turn themselves into content and application developers.
Sticking with the GSMA for a moment, the Informer was very interested to see that the organisation has launched a 2100km cycle ride from Brussels to Barcelona next September to raise awareness of diabetes and m-health solutions. The Informer loves a good bike ride, although he doesn’t reckon he’ll get a pass for long enough to complete the whole thing. But it can be divided into relays with teams of people riding just a stage or two. He’s up for it. Are you?
Back to the TLAs with which the GSMA is more readily associated, though, and Swisscom wasn’t the only operator launching LTE this week. TeliaSonera subsidiary Moldcell became the first operator to go live with LTE in Moldova, while Sprint this week took the technology to 11 more cities and is now offering it in a total of 43.
Whatever device is being used on the LTE network, it will need a big old power pack if users want to do VoLTE when it comes online. According to testing specialist Metrico Wireless, part of Spirent, VoLTE calls consume twice as much power as calls made over a 2G CDMA network
Wheeling round the giant batteries in Hong Kong is ZTE, which is running a commercial trial of the service in the territory; the first to use enhanced single radio voice call continuity (eSRVCC), the firm said.
Now, it wouldn’t be a week in the business if we didn’t have some IPR dispute news. This week, scrapping it out like two former soap stars rolling around in the mud on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, RIM and Nokia have been going at it over intellectual property they have licenced to each other since 2003, which enables devices to connect to wifi networks.
This dispute concerns the US, Canada and the UK and Nokia is attempting to enforce a similar arbitration order to one that was handed down by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce as part of the same dispute. The Swedish arbitrator ruled that RIM is “not entitled to manufacture or sell products compatible with the WLAN standard” until it agrees on royalties with Nokia.
According to Nokia, a cross-license agreement was reached with RIM for standards-essential cellular patents in 2003 and was amended in 2008.“In 2011, RIM sought arbitration, arguing that the license extended beyond cellular essentials,” Nokia said in a statement. “In November 2012, the arbitration tribunal ruled against RIM. It found that RIM was in breach of contract.”
“RIM and its US subsidiary nevertheless continue to violate the award and breach the underlying agreement. In order to enforce the Tribunal’s ruling, we have now filed actions in the US, UK and Canada with the aim of ending RIM’s breach of contract.”
Well used to these kinds of disputes on the handset side of the business, Korea’s Samsung has attracted legal action from Ericsson after the Swedish vendor claimed it had infringed one of its infrastructure patents. Ericsson said its competitor had refused to sign a licence agreement on FRAND terms, despite 24 months of negotiation.
“Ericsson has tried long and hard to amicably come to an agreement with Samsung and to sign a license agreement on FRAND terms. We have turned to litigation as a last resort,” said Kasim Alfalahi, chief intellectual property officer at Ericsson.
While we’re on matters legal, the Informer was delighted to see this week that some UK SMS spammers have been slapped with a £400k fine and named and shamed as the scum they are. Tetrus Telecoms, jointly owned by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish, was found to have “plagued the public with millions of unlawful spam texts” over the past three years, according to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.
Tetrus was using unregistered pay as you go SIM cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal text messages a day, and received income of between £7,000 and £8,000 each day as a result. This is the first time that the ICO has used its power to issue a monetary penalty for a breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
On the subject of raising money, although not on the subject of raising it illegally, Russian operator MegaFon began trading on the London Stock Exchange this week, ahead of its listing on Monday. The firm raised £1.1bn ($1.7bn) in its IPO, the largest new capital raised by a telecommunications company in London since Orange in 2001, according to the LSE.
Earlier this week, Swedish operator TeliaSonera’s CEO Lars Nyberg announced that he would be investing $2m of his own money in MegaFon’s IPO. Nyberg is a member of the board of directors at the Russian operator and said he would purchase the shares at the offer price.
“I have a strong belief in the future prospects of MegaFon. As a member of the MegaFon board, making a sizeable investment in the company is a way for me to show my commitment,” he said.
And that’s about it for this week
Will regulators ever be able to catch up with the rate of change in the telco/tech industry?
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