a week in wireless

A nugget of purest Green!

These days, most of the people the Informer meets consider themselves to be making at least a token effort towards Saving The Planet. There are some, of course, who do a great deal, although they are in the minority. But at the very least most human beings of his acquaintance are motivated to sort their domestic waste for recycling where applicable.

Naturally attitudes and commitments will vary from market to market but the Informer was nonetheless surprised to discover this week that only three per cent of consumers worldwide recycle their old mobile phones. This stat came from a Nokia study, accompanied by the news that 75 per cent of handset users never contemplate recycling discarded phones and almost half are unaware that it is even a possibility.

Researchers interviewed 6,500 mobile users in 13 countries – Brazil, China, Finland, German, India, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, Sweden, UAE, UK and USA – and concluded something that we all know only too well: the majority of disused phones end up gathering dust in a drawer somewhere around the house. This is clearly better than throwing them into landfill though, a fate that’s befallen only four per cent of used handsets according to the study. 44 per cent remain at home, 25 per cent are handed down to friends or family and 16 per cent are sold. As you might expect, awareness of recycling was lowest in the emerging markets where the population have a different set of priorities to those in Western territories.

The Informer’s been having a bit of a dig into environmental issues over the last couple of weeks, including handset recycling. Earlier this week he was chatting to Allison Murray, head of corporate responsibility at T-Mobile’s UK operation, and she said that T-Mobile puts a freepost recycling bag in the box of every handset it supplies so that it’s the first thing the customer sees when they open the package. Hopefully this will get the idea that they should send off their old phone into their head, she said.

“Hmmm,” thought the Informer, who took delivery of a brand new phone last week. “That’s a good idea, I wonder why my new network provider doesn’t do the same thing…?” Then, when he got home that night, he discovered that his provider did do it. He just hadn’t noticed, as he’d whipped all of the bits and bobs out of the package, discarding them over his shoulder, in a frenzied bid to get at the handset itself, like a child on Christmas morning. The bag had been sitting on his kitchen work surface for a week and he hadn’t clocked it. Then again, the other week he left the hob on for two days and nights, so maybe he’s not the best example of eagle-eyed awareness.

In fact, this reminds the Informer about the time he was at college living in shared digs. He was the last to leave the house for the Christmas break and he was the first to return in the New Year. He’d left the gas hob on for the entire break. Later that year the gas bill arrived and to his housemates’ horror it was astronomical. The Informer stayed quiet, the housemates with gas fires in their rooms bore the brunt of the blame and never used their fires again. They might well have been cold, but think of the overall savings in carbon emissions they made.

Anyway, back to handsets, now there are even more ‘green’ incentives to users, in the guise of a number of firms that will pay you for your old phone, allowing them to either break it down or refurbish it and sell it on to emerging markets. Got an old Sony Ericsson W850i? You can get £30 for that from Fonebank, an arm of Corporate Mobile Recycling (CMR). Or if you want shot of your N958GB, it’s worth £145. CMR’s head of marketing, Olly Tagg, told the Informer that the firm recycled close on one million handsets from the UK last year through its work with charities and its direct to consumer programmes.

CMR’s principal market is Africa where, this week, pan-continental carrier MTN extended its merger talks with one of India’s aspiring international operators, Reliance. Discussions between MTN and Reliance’s domestic competitor Bharti Airtel went for a Burton (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-gon1.htm) in May this year, with Bharti moved to silence rumours that it was planning a bid for its African counterpart, suggesting a merger of equals was a truer portrayal of the scenario.

This latest bid – and talks have been extended to July 21st – would more likely be classed as a takeover of Reliance by MTN, although Anil Ambani, who owns 66 per cent of Reliance Communications, would become the largest shareholder in the new MTN. There’s one problem, with something of an Old Testament theme – sibling rivalry. Ambani’s elder brother Mukesh wants right of refusal over the deal. Come on boys, play nicely.

In other expansionist news – and if we had sound on A Week in Wireless, this story would play against the backdrop of the Jimi Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower – Russian carrier Vimpelcom revealed this week that it has fully established the Vietnamese joint venture that it first announced last year.

For its investment of $276m, Vimpelcom – placed second in its home market – holds 40 per cent of the new firm, GTEL-Mobile. Vietnam’s state-owned Global Telecommunications Corporation (GTEL) will hold 51 per cent, while GTEL TSC guards the remaining nine. On announcing its plans last year, Vimpelcom pledged to invest $1bn in the GSM network venture.

That’s the sort of talk that gets the kit vendors salivating in these straitened times. But hark! What’s this? Word of a little boom from within these very walls. Informa Telecoms & Media’s number crunchers reckon there’s a turnaround in the base station market on the way. There are now some 100 million mobile broadband users on more than 300 networks and mobile data traffic is set to increase by 1088 per cent between 2007 and 2012, the firm said this week – which will translate into capacity build out and more kit sales.

Web browsing and mobile video usage will see traffic leap to 1.925PB by the year of the London Olympics in 2012, with mobile data traffic exceeding mobile voice for the first time in 2011.

Principal analyst at Informa, Mike Roberts, said: “The mobile industry is still largely structured around its key product to date; narrowband voice. But that structure is breaking down fast due to the boom in mobile data traffic. The rapid transition from voice to data traffic will lead to a fundamental overhaul of mobile networks, as mobile operators and vendors shift their focus from voice to the mobile broadband internet. This in turn will help drive a wider overhaul of mobile business models and strategy.”

But while these forecasts spell good news for infrastructure vendors, the outlook for operators is not so good. Informa expects that operators will struggle to cope with the traffic boom because the popularity of flat rate tariffs means that mobile data revenues will not keep pace with traffic, and will have a direct impact on costs.

“We forecast that global mobile data revenues will only increase 77 per cent from 2007 to 2012, compared to a 1088 per cent increase in mobile data traffic over the same period,” said Roberts. “This will push current mobile network costs and architectures to the breaking point, and will lead to everything from network sharing and spectrum re-farming to the launch of femtocells and next generation networks.”

In other positive financial news for vendors this week, Ericsson employees who were facing down tax evasion charges have all been acquitted by the Svea Court of Appeal. Among their number was Torbjorn Nilsson, the firm’s chief strategy officer. Charges were filed by the Swedish National Economic Crimes Bureau but ultimately came to nought.

Henry Sténson, senior vice president and head of Corporate Communications, Ericsson, said: “We have at all times been of the firm belief that all the accused were innocent of the alleged evasions of tax control, and that belief has now been confirmed,” he said, crumpling up the other speech he’d prepared about being extremely disappointed and ensuring everyone that the firm would stop at nothing to root out such behaviour in the future.

It was a tax-happy week for Vodafone as well, to the tune of more than $2bn, which is big potatoes by anybody’s estimation. That was the amount Vodafone expected to lose if it was forced to pay UK corporation tax on a subsidiary based in Luxembourg that it set up as part of its Mannesmann acquisition almost ten years ago. HM Revenue and Customs has been chasing Vodafone since 2001 and the ruling will be seen as a blow for the UK Treasury’s anti-tax-avoidance plans relating to UK corporations with overseas subsidiaries. Still, it’ll be Pommagne all round at Newbury.

The hype machine all but bust a gasket this week as the world readied itself for the arrival of the 3G iPhone. By the time you read this missive a few fortunate Kiwis will have already grown bored of accelerometer. As the Informer writes these words the memory of seeing a dozen anxious looking blokes lining up outside the Regent Street Apple flagship shop is already fading, zapped back to the forefront of his mind by the text he’s just received from a mate in Harringey who reckons the Carphone Warehouse has already sold out. Our Stateside cousins will no doubt be green with envy, once again questioning the wisdom of placing the International Date Line down the middle of the Pacific rather than the Atlantic Ocean.

In the run up to today, in the UK, O2 fanned the flames by reporting dwindling stocks of pre-order devices. In Canada, Rogers, is busy making amends after being castigated for taking advantage of its position as the only GSM carrier in the country by charging gadget hungry Canucks a king’s ransom for the privilege of adopting the phone. Steve Jobs was reportedly “disgusted” with Rogers, but the Informer thinks Jobs is probably secretly “pleased” with the spin generated.

There’s not much else to report, most marketers have sensibly been keeping mum this week so don’t expect any more major announcements. We might get some Moore announcements though since today would most certainly be a good day to “bury something”.

Finally, speaking of buried things, one person who might like to invest in an iPhone is Norwich teenager Abbie Hawkins who figured her phone was vibrating this week – on and off – for five hours. Upon investigation she discovered a bat had taken up residence in her underwear. She’d had “one or two” drinks the night before apparently. The Informer can well imagine what it must be like to wake up the wrong side of one or two drinks and find something unsavoury lurking in your smalls, but a bat! One can only assume vampirism is alive, well and thriving in the nightspots of Norfolk.

Holy brassieres Batman!

The Informer

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