a week in wireless


You won’t get away with it

This week, the Informer received a missive from his Big Boss reminding him that inappropriate use of the company’s IT infrastructure was a sack-worthy offence. With this in mind he begrudgingly removed his teacup from the aging G4’s CD tray and took down his Ethernet cable washing line, placing his damp socks on the radiator instead. Then he took out his Big Book of Jokes and put a thick red tick next to the chapter regarding inappropriate use gags.

His Big Boss wasn’t talking about that sort of inappropriate use, silly. He was talking, primarily, about the downloading of $mut. It’s not a laughing matter, so you can take that grin off your face right now. The Informer will have to be careful with his phraseology here, for up and down the land and all around the world spam filters will happily block emails with words like f1lthy’and ‘p0rn’ – and it’s a good thing too.

The Informer’s IT department has put in place just such a spam filter, which raises the following question: Who at Informa Towers can circumvent things like spam filters? Who is not surrounded at all times by colleagues in a large open plan office, but sits alone in the gloomy basement of the building? Whose first (and sometimes only) suggestion when faced with a problem is to “turn it off, and turn it on again?” The Informer thinks he knows, but firewalls have ears, so he’d best not name names.

The corporates’ primary concern here is not protecting their employees’ innocence. For innocence – as everyone knows – is the first casualty of work. No, the corporates are simply trying to avoid any potential bad PR and, more importantly, they’re trying to avoid being sued by litigious rivals or business partners who might – mistakenly or not – receive material that they deem inappropriate.

But corporations aren’t the only organisations keen to keep a watchful eye on their flock. It has emerged this week that the UK government is mulling plans to build a monster database capable of holding the details of all mobile and landline phone calls, emails and internet sessions initiated by UK citizens. This isn’t Big Boss, it’s Big Brother.

The proposals appear to be an extension of 2006’s EU Data Retention Directive (DRD), which requires all ‘access providers’ to store call records and ‘event logs’ for a period of not less than six months and not longer than two years.

The original implementation of the DRD suffered from a number of problems – not just the massive financial burden placed upon companies required to comply with the storing of, and access to, the data in question, but also with the definition of those companies. MNVOs ran into trouble, because they are required to produce comparable data records to traditional MNOs, but do not have the same access to the complete network and IT systems that are required.

Maybe the Informer is overreacting here; he has nothing to hide, so why should he care? Well, it would be a different case if this sort of thing were to happen in a country currently being led by a wildly unpopular premier who is failing to step down in the face of overwhelming evidence that he should. Somewhere like, say, Zimbabwe where – quite coincidentally – the local regulator has just announced that it’s going to scan all text messages to make sure subscribers are not “abusing the service”. By abusing the service, we can read sharing political thoughts and ideas that run contrary to those of one Robert Mugabe.

But since the Informer lives in a nice place where all the people at the top are looking out for his best interests, he has nothing to worry about, right? Mind, if you are a fan of totalitarian police states, you’ll be glad to hear that Orascom Telecom has revealed that it has successfully trialled WCMDA 3G services inside the Democratic [sic] People’s Republic of Korea.

The Informer is pretty sure that those lucky enough to get hold a 3G phone in North Korea will be free to talk to anyone they like, about whatever they like, without fear. Because the government will be poring over every single bit of data to make sure that they’re safe. Because that’s what governments do, right?

The Informer realises that comparing Gordon Brown with Mugabe and Kim il-Sung (yes, he’s still the president, despite dying in 1994) would be unfair. The latter two were actually fairly popular in their homeland when they came to power. BOOM, BOOM.

Brown, of course, would argue that his cyber-snooping is being put in place to crack down on serious crime. Maybe he needs to have a word with the guys and gals over at the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP). They’ve written a 200 page recommendation that looks at the best ways to protect mobile devices as they begin to support more advanced features.

Back in February (remember February? It’s that short month with the really loooooong week in the middle) McAfee Mobile Security presented the results of its annual Mobile Security Report. The report, carried out in conjunction with analyst house Datamonitor, stated that 86 per cent of the 2,000 mobile consumers it surveyed across the UK, US and Japan are worried about security risks posed to their mobile handset, with 79 per cent knowingly using unprotected devices. Consumers feel threatened, it seems, but not enough to do anything about it.

Fortunately, for the carriers and subscribers alike, problems with handset security are rarely encountered. “We first saw malware for mobile phones appear at the beginning of this century,” Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant, Sophos told the Informer. “But they have always been largely proof of concept. So written by kids mostly to show off.”

Cluley estimates that there are about 200 known mobile phone viruses currently running ‘wild’. This compares to over 300,000 for Windows. “I think the criminals simply thought ‘well yes we could write viruses for mobile phones, but they’re unlikely to give us as good a return as the viruses for Windows at the moment’. Because with mobile phones you have to think about the different operating systems and the different devices. Many of the phones out there simply aren’t compatible with each other, so you are instantly narrowing your market of how many people you can infect.”

Still, just because something’s alright now doesn’t mean it won’t run into trouble down the line, which could quite easily have been what the 17th century sailors landing on Mauritius said when they first clapped eyes on the dodo. In all honesty, the Informer will probably give the OMTP’s 200 pages of wisdom a miss for now.

We’ve had the crime, now let’s have the punishment. Motorola has just been slapped with a …oh hang on, the Informer is so used to writing about bad things happening to the embattled kit maker he’s forgotten that sometimes good things can happen too. A judge in the US has ruled that the outcome of the nine year old Iridium bankruptcy fight will not cost the company a penny. Moto was looking down the barrels of a possible $4bn payout, which given the current situation would probably have just about finished it off.

Poor old 3UK wasn’t so lucky; it’s just been clobbered with a court order to cut its call termination rates by 45 per cent. Ouch. Termination rates are 3 CEO Kevin Russell’s worst nightmare (apart from the one where he’s being chased round his desk by a man with the head of a cockerel). When the Informer spoke with Russell late last year he explained: “There is a fundamental problem in the UK market on mobile to mobile termination rates. You cannot have a new entrant subsidising profitable incumbents. It has no place in a level playing field.” Seems Ofcom disagrees, and credits 3 with “significant market power”. Which, under any other circumstances, would be music to Russell’s ears.

Speaking of music, France Telecom-owned UK mobile operator Orange lifted the curtain on a wireless internet radio device this week. The Liveradio is a wifi radio device which gives broadband customers access to over 4,000 local, national and international internet radio stations. It costs £99.99 and sounds about as unexciting as the iPhone sounds exciting.

Thankfully, for Orange, it also had some iPhone-related news to trumpet this week. Quite possibly dancing round HQ to Daft Punk’s Around The World, executives at the French carrier have agreed a deal with Apple to sell the ‘must have’ gadget in Austria, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland and Orange’s African markets – so Guinea Konakri, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mali, Kenya, Cameroon, Madagascar, Botswana and the Central African Republic. Phew.

Sales may have slowed in the iPhone’s existing markets, as punters await the arrival of the 3G version, but the new territories will help Steve Jobs to his stated aim of flogging ten million units before the end of this year. Global handset sales did their traditional post Christmas dip in the first quarter of this year according to analysts down at IDC. A total of 291.6 million units were shipped during the Q108, down 11.6 per cent from the previous quarter. The good news is sales were up 14.3 per cent on Q107.

And there was some even better news for smartphone mobile operating system developer Symbian this week. It said 18.5 million devices using the OS were sold in the first quarter, that’s a 16.5 per cent year on year increase in unit shipments. As one would expect revenues were up too, from $41.3m in the first quarter to 2007 to $43.5m in 2008. That’s a little over five per cent.

Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis is unimpressed and reckons that sales are down not just seasonally since Christmas, but are even below the level of mid-2007. “Against continued shipment growth of the overall market to above 1.1 billion phones a year, that’s not looking too promising for some observers’ expectations of 30 per cent penetration of smartphones in a few years’ time,” he said.

The handset market can be a dangerous place for the uninitiated. While the balance of power that exists between operators and OEMs generally swings towards the former, one carrier rumoured to be looking at making things even more one-sided is Newbury’s finest, Vodafone.

Word has it that Huawei has decided to put up to 50 per cent of its handset business on the market, in a bid to raise around $2bn and overcome US concerns about security issues related to Chinese companies. And there has been speculation that the big V might be up for a slice.

Vodafone, of course, built its position as a telecoms super power by snapping up operators. And that’s not a strategy it looks like ditching. This week it agreed to acquire the remaining 26.4 per cent stake that it didn’t own in German fixed line operator Arcor for Eur474m in cash.

Vodafone bought the remaining shares from Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Bank and, with full ownership of Arcor, can lay claim to some 2.6 million DSL lines, representing 14 per cent of the German market.

Staying with acquisitions, giant US chip shop Qualcomm as made a strategic investment in femto and picocell manufacturer, ip.access. The Big Q joins existing investors Cisco, Intel Capital, ADC, Motorola Ventures, Scottish Equity Partners, Rothschild Gestion and Amadeus Capital Partners, with funding for ip.access’ latest bit of kit, the Oyster 3G femtocell.

In more news from Femto Corner, industry association the Femto Forum has made some headway towards harmonising the integration of femtocells into mobile networks. Speaking with the Informer’s colleagues at telecoms.com, Forum chairman, Simon Saunders, said the operator community had agreed on a single definition for the so-called Fa interface, allowing a multi-vendor approach to femtocell infrastructure deployments.

The Informer is still not entirely convinced of the need for home-installed 3G base stations, but then his granddad said The Beatles would be a flash in the pan when he first heard Love Me Do, so writing things off early is in his genes.

Besides, with all that money and all those high-flying ‘Plugged In’ firms backing a technology it’s bound to succeed, right? Just look at Twitter bagging $15m in a second round of funding (that’s $20m so far!). The firm is currently valued at $80m. We’re not quite sure what it’s turning over at the moment, but it’s got “bags of potential”. The mind boggles. Then, of course, there’s Location Based Services.

If ever there were a case for the expression, the perennial underachiever, LBS would win hands down. This week, one the Informer’s telecoms.com colleagues attended an LBS roundtable. “We all know what the BS in LBS stands for,” he quipped upon his return. You can read more of his comments here. In case you’re rushed for time, the take-home message is that the industry has yet to locate a workable business model.

Cell-ID is not accurate enough, GPS avoids cellular networks. So how can the mobile operators make money? Well, like all good VAS the value added for the operators could come from advertising. Analyst Arthur D. Little predicts about 60 per cent annual growth in mobile advertising spend over the next four years.

Ah, advertising that never-ending pot of money that will pay for everything. It’s like having a wealthy uncle who you know will one day kick the bucket and bequeath you a fortune. Except it turns out that he’s been telling all his other relatives the same thing, and that fortune will need to be spread out very thinly.

Surely it would be smarter to find something for which punters are willing to part with cash before developing that something, rather than the other way around. Still, taking risks is what it’s all about. And with that the Informer would like to bid you all a fond farewell.

Although, as Lieutenant Columbo used to say, there is just one last thing. Last week he (the Informer, not Columbo) asked what was so special about Entel PCS, promising an answer at the bottom of the page. Trouble is, the IT crowd that sends out the email managed to delete the p.s. Maybe they were too busy monitoring inappropriate material. Here’s the answer: Ay Carumba! You guessed it! Entel PCS was the first GSM carrier to launch on South American soil, earning it a GSMA Gratitude Award in 1998.

Hasta la vista, baby

(I’ll be back)

The Informer


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