a week in wireless

Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly

There was a report on the news in the UK this morning that this autumn will be a bumper season for spiders in this country. This is terrible news for just about everybody, because spiders are horrible. The Informer once spent a month in Costa Rica, a glorious country, and encountered some of the biggest spiders in the world. But that hasn’t helped him overcome the panic he experiences when even the most unprepossessing common-or-garden UK spider scampers into view. And if you think the humans are unhappy over here, imagine how the flies are feeling. The wren community is chuffed to bits, however, because it eats spiders.

Whenever spiders crawl into the Informer’s consciousness he’s reminded of one of the most terrifying pieces of cinema ever created; the end of the original, 1958 version of The Fly, in which a fly with a man’s head and arm is stuck in a spider’s web screaming for help as the owner of that web stalks ever closer to his tasty dinner.

What’s this all got to do with wireless, though? Simply this: it occurred to the Informer this morning on listening to this news that it’s a useful metaphor for explaining the battle for customer ownership that typifies our industry today. Firms are always talking about how important it is that their services are ‘sticky’ and those services are all on the web. End users are like the prey, trapped in the sticky web of services. The more consumers the service providers catch and feed upon, the more nourished they become and the more webs they can build.

The carriers, the handset players, the internet firms, they’re all after customer ownership. And the latest trend is for social network aggregator services that enable users to manage all of their accounts under one umbrella interface. Vodafone became the latest outfit to launch such a proposition, with its Vodafone 360 solution. The new services enable users to pull together all of their content and contacts from Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk and will include PC- and Mac-based services, as well as games, mapping solutions and a whole bunch of other stuff. This is the Voda-web, and it wants you stuck bang in the middle, injected with its special serum, that leaves you too weak to try and leave.

The thing is, the Informer thinks, that – just as a number of organisations have launched social networks – so a number will launch social aggregators. And if you’ve got a number of aggregators, that’s just going to require another aggregator to be launched. Like some kind of spiderweb fractal repeating itself into infinity.

At the heart of Vodafone’s 360 solution, the firm said, is “the most personal address book available”. Maybe it’s just the Informer, but that immediately called to mind a phone contacts book where each entry had a nude photograph of the contact. And a piece of intimate information about them. The Informer scrolled through his own contacts. He only had to get to ‘Dad Mobile’ before he went right off the idea. The 360 contacts book also has a feature rather grandly titled the “Vodafone Proximity Algorithm” which simply ranks entries by most recent usage.

Vodafone’s 360 offering also heralds the arrival of the first Release 2 handsets from open source mobile crowd the LiMo Foundation. LiMo – another splinter group chasing the mobile Linux bandwagon – is known to be very accommodating to the operator community, seeing handset customisation as its forte. Other than Vodafone, the operators that intend to bring LiMo-based handsets to market include NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Telefonica and Verizon Wireless.

Vodafone will use the LiMo R2 software to stock its app store – the Vodafone Shop – with over 1,000 apps available for the LiMo handsets at launch and Vodafone 360 also appearing on Symbian-based Nokia handsets as a pre-install or a downloadable software suite.

Not to be outdone in the social networking stakes, Nokia recalled one of its reconnaissance droids to the mothership this week, through the acquisition of Dopplr, a social network that was launched two years ago by Nokia’s former director of design strategy, Marko Ahtisaari.

Status and intention broadcasting could be used together. For example:

Status: “I am currently on my eighth pint of premium strength lager, it’s only 9pm and I think Susan from logistics might be up for it.”
Intention: “I’m going to phone in sick tomorrow rather than come to work in the same clothes. Lol.”

Nokia is rumoured to be buying Dopplr for a purchase price of between €10m and €15m, which is also thought to be less than Ahtisaari was hoping for. Both Nokia and Dopplr are keeping quiet, but the move fits in with Nokia’s rash of acquisitions in this space. Earlier this month, Nokia bought cloud-based social media sharing and messaging service Plum, and that was in the wake of the acquisitions of Cellity and Bit-Side earlier this year. In 2008 there was the acquisition of Plazes, and prior to that, Twango.

As one comes back another one leaves, though. Could this point towards a future acquisition? Swiss firm Myriad – one of those middleware vendors not many people have heard of but which has software installed on over 1.8 billion handsets – has stolen Nokia’s chief technology guru Benoit Schillings. Schillings joined Nokia after its 2008 acquisition of Scandinavian mobile Linux firm Trolltech and is to take up his new role with Myriad on October 1. The move is likely to leave something of a hole at Nokia, where Schillings was responsible for Nokia’s cross-device technology strategy as advisor to CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.

It’s quite an interesting strategy, when staff who are itching to try something new are given a long leash and told to go fetch. UK carrier O2 did something similar this week, when it announced the creation of a new MVNO called GiffGaff. Details are scant, deliberately so judging by the website, but from what the Informer can glean, the idea is that subscribers are rewarded for bringing in new subs, or participating in marketing drives for the firm, even creating its advertising and answering technical queries posted by other users.

The firm’s headed by one Michael Fairman, who has previously been head of broadband, new product development and online sales at O2. The firm’s head of marketing is Kylie Evans, who joined O2 earlier this year (presumably with a view to boarding the spinoff pod) from UK broadcaster ITV.

It’s got more than a whiff of failed ad-funded MVNO Blyk about it, particularly when it comes to relying on a self supporting user base (Blyk was very keen on the idea that its users answer one another’s queries). Perhaps Blyk’s departure, which was painted by the firm as the “plan all along”, created a vacuum in the market for the whacky MVNO that hopes to get its users to pay its bills, without actually paying its bills. We’ll see.

Now, Canadians have a reputation for warmth and generosity, at least that’s what the Informer’s heard. So he was surprised to see them objecting so strongly to Johnny Foreigner trying to carve himself a slice of their mobile market this week. Globalive Communications is the new mobile licensee in Canada, and the fact that it’s backed by Egyptian firm Orascom (Globalive will use Orascom’s Wind brand in the market) has caused a few Canadian kerfuffles. Voting rights apparently remain with Canadian investors and Orascom’s top man, Naguib Sawiris, claims to be unhappy to be such a dominant financial stakeholder in the company. The credit crunch is to blame, he said.

In other news from that vast country, Research In Motion (RIM) said this week that net income for the quarter to the end of August fell slightly to $475.6m from $495.5m in the same period 2008.

The BlackBerry manufacturer reported quarterly revenues of $3.5bn, up 37 per cent from $2.57bn in the same quarter of 2008, broken down as 81 per cent for devices, 14 per cent for service, two per cent for software and three per cent for other revenue.

During the quarter, RIM shipped approximately 8.3 million devices and added around 3.8 million net new BlackBerry subscriber accounts. At the end of the three month period, the total BlackBerry subscriber base was approximately 32 million worldwide. RIM also revealed it had settled litigation with mobile email firm Visto, resulting in a one time payment of $267.5m, from Rim to Visto. Ahhhh, Visto.

And, at risk of making it look like we’ve got some kind of mad Canadian bias going on here at Informer Towers, here’s the news that the Nortel fire sale continued this week with the once flag-carrying vendor announcing the auction of its Carrier Networks Packet Core assets.

The Packet Core Assets consist of software to support the transfer of data over existing wireless networks and the next generation of wireless communications technology, including relevant non-patent intellectual property. The deal will however include a non-exclusive license of relevant patent intellectual property.

Finally this week, two of those firms we were talking about that are driven to own the consumer through services, Apple and Google, have had their dirty linen aired in public over the weekend, as the US regulator gave an insight into the row the two firms are currently having.

The spat started back in July when the FCC began looking into the application approval practices of mobile app stores. The regulatory body sent letters to Apple, AT&T (the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the US), and Google asking about the rejection of the Google Voice for iPhone app.

The result is something of a ‘he said, he said’ argument, with Google claiming that Apple has outright rejected the Google Voice app, and Apple claiming that it is still reviewing the app.

In Apple’s initial response, which the company published in its entirety online, the company said: “Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”

Apple argues that the Google Voice application replaces native iPhone functionality such as Apple’s Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, effectively disabling Apple’s Visual Voicemail. Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub, replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature.

By way of response, Google has asked the FCC to publish its own response in its entirety, which the authority has done. In its letter, Google claims that it was informed that the Google Voice application had been rejected because “Apple believed it replaced the core dialler functionality of the iPhone.” Moreover, Google also claims that it was Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of worldwide product marketing, who informed Google of the rejection in person.

The question now is, which firm is factually correct in its claims? Has the Google Voice app been outright rejected, or is Google able to tweak it so that it falls within Apple’s guidelines? This is likely to be something the FCC wants to find out too.

What a tangled web we weave…

Take care

The Informer

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