a week in wireless

Night at the museum

The Informer attended a glittering occasion at London’s Science Museum last night, held to celebrate 25 years of the UK cellular industry. He had a wonderful time, wandering around the museum looking at all the old relics, some of whom had some fascinating stories to tell.

But seriously…

The bash was well attended by industry luminaries who were present back when it all began and it prompted one analyst with whom the Informer found himself in conversation to muse: “Isn’t this good. It makes me feel so young.”

The keynote was delivered by the right honourable Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, who made a quick exit after his speech, just before the shouts of: “Give us more spectrum” reached crescendo. At least the Informer thinks he made an exit. There were reports of him getting a good shoeing in the cloakroom from the five operators present.

After listening to Mike Short, CTO of O2 Telefonica, Emin Gurdenli, technical director of T-Mobile UK, Ed Candy, CTO of Hutchison 3, Graham Fisher, head of R&D at Orange Labs, and Jeni Mundy, CTO of Vodafone UK, one thing was clear: The days of voice are over. Candy trotted out some astonishing figures, including the fact that 94 per cent of network traffic is internet or data related. And Mundy said that 30 per cent of Vodafone customers access the internet on their handset every day. This trend shows no sign of slowing up but, as some operators are finding out the hard way, how do you deal with the data explosion? According to the bigwigs at the event we’re approaching the limits of physics, and it may be that LTE is squeezing the last few drops available from technology. What’s needed, according to all the operators and vendors, is more spectrum (are you listening Mr Timms?), and, according to T-Mobile’s Gurdenli, a new architecture.

Femtocells got a lot of mentions at the event, which coincidentally took place the same week Vodafone UK re-launched its own femtocell offering. The Big V became the first European carrier to make femtocells commercially available, in July 2009 under the name of the Access Gateway. It was a name that didn’t ring true with consumers so Voda has seen fit to re-label its offering Sure Signal to better explain the concept of paying to install a cellular base station in your house. The newly rebranded offering costs £50 in a one off charge, or £5 a month for 12 months on price plans of £25 or more; or £120 in a one off cost, or £5 a month for 24 months on price plans of less than £25, making it only available to contract customers. The devices are probably quite heavily subsidised but it remains to be seen if consumers will bite at these prices. Still, it’s in the operator’s best interests if they can effectively shift some of their traffic onto another provider’s network with no associated cost.

Vodafone started pushing its femtocell service just days after it made the Apple iPhone available to its customers. It’s well known that O2 was caught off guard by the sudden spike in data usage prompted by the iPhone so the Informer wonders whether the two Vodafone initiatives are linked.

On the subject of mobile data usage, Finnish handset giant Nokia is adding to the problem by making mapping and turn by turn navigation available for free to a potential 83 million users worldwide. Earlier this week the company revealed what it’s been up to with location and mapping firm Navteq which it bought in 2008 for $8.1bn. At a launch event hosted by Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president of Nokia, the company removed all costs associated with its Ovi Maps offering.

And the Finn reckons it’s got a fancy solution to avoid network congestion by making maps available both in on- and offline mode. They can either be downloaded on the fly over cellular or wifi, or sideloaded in advance from the PC. Any maps that are downloaded are also cached so they don’t need to be downloaded again. The company claims that the vector mapping technology used by its platform is ten times more efficient than the bitmap-based offerings from other providers.

The new Ovi Maps features car and pedestrian navigation including turn-by-turn voice guidance for 74 countries in 46 languages, and traffic information for over ten countries. Through a partnership with Facebook, Nokia has also introduced a ‘share my location’ feature to use with the social networking service. The move threatens to destroy the PND (portable navigation device) market, and also sticks the boot into any other paid for navigation offerings as well as making an attractive alternative to offerings like the iPhone, which boasts native mapping using Google Maps, but does not allow for caching or offline usage.

When asked about the potential revenue loss from making features such as turn-by-turn navigation available for free, Vanjoki said the intention was to make a little money from a much bigger pool of users, rather than taking a lot of money per user from a smaller base. He also hinted that, in the long term, the platform would be good for mobile advertising, suggesting another revenue stream.

In fact, it certainly looks like a good time to be in the mobile advertising business, where companies are being snapped up like hot cakes. On Wednesday mobile browser king Opera acquired AdMarvel for a reported $8m in cash and the promise of a further $15m if targets are met. AdMarvel, based in California, is a startup firm running a mobile advertising ecosystem with service offerings including mobile web, WAP, SMS and in application advertising.

Opera intends to combine AdMarvel’s monetisation and analytics platform with the Opera browser and widget platform to offer advertising options to mobile operators and content partners on any Java capable handset including Symbian, BlackBerry, Palm, Windows Mobile and various flavours of Linux.

Don’t forget that earlier this month Apple acquired mobile advertising firm Quattro Wireless for somewhere between $250m and $275m and late last year Google purchased AdMob for $750m.

We’re just about out of the January gloom and heading towards the bright sunshine of Barcelona for another Mobile World Congress, where nobody can hear you scream. Which also means it’s results time!

First up we have Google, which is definitely basking in the fiscal sunshine with 17 per cent year over year growth taking its revenues to $6.67bn, while fourth quarter net income came in at $1.97bn, compared to $382m in the fourth quarter of 2008.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sony Ericsson, which to be fair, is moving in the right direction. Fourth quarter loss shrank to €167m in 2009, from €187m in 2008, but sales also shrank from €2.9bn in the fourth quarter of 2008 to €1.7bn in 2009. Units shipped in the quarter hit 14.6 million, a sequential increase of 3 per cent and a year on year decrease of 40 per cent. Yikes!

Still, it can happen to anyone. There was a slightly uncomfortable moment back at the Cellular 25 event when Motorola senior vice president Alain Mutricy delivered his ten minute presentation on the evolution of the handset, leaping from the Dynatac to the RAZR in about six minutes. Just how was he going to fill the remaining four? Fortunately he then reminded the attendees that Motorola has been back on its game of late with the recent launch of the Droid. It’s also taking its game to South Korea where it this week unveiled the first smartphone in Korea to be powered by Android version 2.0.

The MotoRoi is offered in partnership with SK Telecom and boasts a full touch screen with a 3.7″ high definition WVGA (480X854) display, wifi, an eight megapixel camera with Xenon flash and a 720p HD camcorder, HDMI capabilities, 8GB of storage and a UI that offers five different virtual input methods including a 3X4 keypad, full QWERTY, half QWERTY, hand writing and writing pad. It looks a bit like an attack on the home turf of local vendor LG Electronics, which currently holds third position in the global handset vendor rankings. LG recently said that more than half of its 20 smartphones to be released in 2010 will be based on Android, in a bid to become one of the top two mobile device manufacturers by 2012. The company plans to do this with a strong push into the Korean and North American markets where it wants to be recognised as a provider of customised smartphones.

The Informer was always told that ‘I want’ never gets.

Take care

The Informer

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