a week in wireless


Tina Turner vs Bonnie Tyler

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During the 1980s an inferno of socio-political debate threatened to raze the great institution of big-haired power balladry to its very foundations. On one side, shaking her hips super-fast to add urgency to her cause was Tina Turner. An avowed individualist and staunch believer in self-determination, Turner’s rallying cry – “We don’t need another hero” – thundered around the steamy-windowed corridors of power.

Facing Turner down was gravel-throated Welsh songbird, and unwavering defender of the patriarchal tradition, Bonnie Tyler. Back-lit and surrounded by billowing white curtains wherever she went, Tyler was forever “Holding out for a hero” – an insistence that, in retrospect, had its roots more in lightweight gothic romance than in any recognisable political philosophy.

It was anarchy versus monarchy and the discourse might never have ended, but for the arrival of the navel-gazing Nineties; a decade which brought us the less overtly political and instead more surreal and breakfast-based explorations of Tori Amos’ cornflakes and Alanis Morissette and her 10,000 spoons.

In 2009, however, Tyler’s yearning has at last found satisfaction, from the unlikely source of Taiwanese handset vendor HTC. Not so much a white knight upon a shining steed as a mobile phone based on the Android operating system, the HTC Hero was unveiled this week amid levels of pre-event secrecy and the kind of flashing-lights and bone-shaking bass usually reserved, in fact, for appearances by pop stars.

The Hero wasn’t really the centrepiece of the show, though, with HTC’s CEO Peter Chou keener to talk up the interface layer that HTC’s put on the OS, which it has named Sense. The new UI has been in development for three years, Chou said, and will henceforth be rolled out across the firm’s portfolio. The Informer had a brief play with the phone and at first glance it looks like three years well spent. If he gets to have a longer play, he’ll let you know in more depth what it’s like.

The interesting thing about Sense, though, is that it is clearly a bid by HTC to extend its brand presence in the consumer market. “Our strategy with HTC sense,” Chou said, “is to allow us to differentiate ourselves, and also to build a closer relationship with people.” Orange and T-Mobile will be the first carriers of the new phone, with the German-owned player marketing it as the G1Touch, which we mentioned last week.

The likes of Nokia and Samsung probably don’t have much to worry about just yet in terms of market share; Nokia especially, since it’s not going to play in the Windows Mobile or Android spaces that HTC has made its home. In those spaces, though, the Taiwanese vendor is making itself very comfortable indeed, and is building quite the workforce. “We probably have the most Android and Windows Mobile developers outside of Google and Microsoft,” Chou said.

Samsung, meanwhile, has been drumming up interest in its own new touchscreen device, the Jet. The 80s revival really is coming to mobile phone nomenclature, isn’t it. This week the firm said it’s got two million pre-orders for the new unit, which features the Korean firm’s 3.1″ WVGA AMOLED display. Samsung reckons this gives resolution four times as good as a WQVGA screen. Despite Samsung’s renowned promiscuity in the world of handset OS, the Jet runs on proprietary software.

Nokia, meanwhile, has teamed with Intel to respond to Qualcomm’s recent announcement of a new utlra-mobile PC form factor called the ‘smartbook’. According to Nokia, the platform it’s releasing with WiMAX backer Intel will “define a new mobile platform beyond today’s smartphones, notebooks and netbooks.” What could it be readers? Will it be rhomboid? Dodecahedral? We’ll have to wait and see.

In other handset news, here’s something that’s become a bit of a rarity: a product announcement from Motorola. Partly because of a nagging feeling that it may be the Informer’s last chance to do so, he’ll give you the low down on a new phone from the US vendor.

Dubbed the Karma (which is asking for trouble, for the Informer’s money), the new unit looks like a kind of BlackBerry-lite for the consumer market. It’s got a full, slide-out QWERTY keyboard and home-screen access to Facebook and MySpace, indicating that Moto product managers have been keeping a close eye on the N97, the G1 and the INQ1.

Other features include a two megapixel camera, meanwhile, indicating that Moto product managers have also been keeping a close eye on the Sharp TM200, a phone which launched at the end of 2004. It’s like watching a once-great sporting champion slowly losing touch and pace but refusing to bow out.

While we’re on the subject of new phones with weak cameras, Apple announced this week that it sold more than one million iPhone 3GS units in the first three days of the model’s availability. The company also said six million users have downloaded the latest version of the iPhone software 3.0 since its release on June 17.

It is also believed that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is back at the helm following six months’ medical leave.

In other CEO news, Swedish vendor Ericsson is losing its top man to British energy outfit BP. Svanberg has been a successful leader at Ericsson, positioning it at the head of the infrastructure market in the face of stiff competition form the likes of Huawei and ZTE while Western Competitors such as Nokia Siemens and Alcatel Lucent have turned to M&A survival activities that have yet to prove themselves well thought-out.

Not for Ericsson an angsty hunt for a new CEO, though, as Svanberg has propelled CFO Hans Vestberg to the top spot. Svanberg will make way for Vestberg in January, although he will become chairman-designate of BP in September. One senior insider at Ericsson told the Informer that Vestberg has been groomed for the lead role at the firm over the past 18 months, not least by the man he’ll replace. While some reports have cast doubt on the new CEO’s ability to match Svanberg’s easy, media-savvy manner, our insider says the opposite is true. Vestberg, he said, is a “charismatic and powerful communicator” with a “solid view of the business” who is “great with customers.”

Back to his competitors, though, and Canadian vendor Nortel’s long, drawn-out departure from the wireless stage was concluded with a final, shuffling step this week with the sale of the firm’s LTE and CDMA businesses to Nokia Siemens. The deal is valued at $650m and gives NSN a much-needed boost in the North American market. It will become one of the leading CDMA vendors in the region, and will benefit from a deeper relationship with key US players Verizon and Sprint.

The transaction will see more than 2,500 Nortel employees, located mainly in Ottawa, Canada and Dallas, US, as well as those in Mexico and China, transferred to NSN. Around 400 of these are focused on LTE research and development.

Mike Roberts, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media said that this latest development signalled the end of the line for Nortel, “This takes the company out of the mobile business, and it looks like the rest of the company is being sold off piecemeal.”

This week the Informer met with Dr Sultan A. Bahabri, chairman of Hits Telecom, a carrier that operates a range of models in markets as diverse as Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Spain. He offered his own views on the infrastructure market and, like those of CSL CEO Tarek Robbiati last week, they don’t make easy listening for Western Vendors.

“The network is a commodity now,” said Dr Sultan. “Whoever can package it best financially and in terms of after-sales service will win the game. That’s why Alcatel Lucent and Ericsson are facing difficulties. And Nokia Siemens; I think they will disappear. It’s an interesting world because it’s not just about managing change any more, it’s about managing the pace of change.”

He also mentioned a story that’s gone quiet this week, namely the possibility that pan-MEA player Zain could be about to offload some or all of its African portfolio. “They were talking to Vodafone and China Mobile very seriously last year,” he said. “They are highly leveraged and that leverage is going to be heavy on their shoulders for years to come.”

Hits bid in the Saudi Arabian auction that saw Zain buy a licence to operate in Saudi Arabia two years ago for more than $6bn. Penetration at the time was already over 80 per cent. Hits bid just over $4bn, Dr Sultan said, but he couldn’t justify the money that Zain ended up spending. “When you can’t think of a reason to justify that sort of spend, you just call it ‘strategic’,” he said.

Many operators, he went on to add, have, “a very dangerous combination of ego and cash. That leads to many mistakes.” That’s the sort of comment that puts noses out of joint.

Speaking of which, the Informer can’t quite believe the news about Michael Jackson.

Take care

The Informer


2 comments

  1. Valery Schwarz 26/06/2009 @ 2:22 pm

    The Schwarz could not quite believe the news about Michael Jackson too.

  2. DG 26/06/2009 @ 5:47 pm

    Wouldn’t Moto’s new phone more appropriately be named KRMA?

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