a week in wireless

Double scotch

Last week the Informer had Vodafone scotching rumours of a network sharing deal with O2 by announcing an outsourcing deal with Ericsson. This week the firm scotched the scotching of those rumours by unveiling a pan-European infrastructure sharing deal with Telefonica (O2’s owner) covering Germany, Spain, Ireland and the UK, with the Czech Republic likely to follow.

Whereas a double scotch has been known to make some people aggressive, the results of this one are strictly passive. The deal is limited to site sharing of various formats and to various extents, so it’s nothing particularly new in technological terms. It is a big deal, in the literal sense, given its geographical reach. The two firms reckon they’ll save hundreds of millions of Euros apiece over the next ten years as part of the deal.

No doubt the economic crisis is the storm that’s forced the two competitors into this particular port but, according to the European Commission, the EU telecoms sector is actually weathering that storm fairly well. Figures released by the EC this week show that the sector grew throughout 2008, outperforming the rest of the regional economy. That’s either bad news for the rest of the regional economy, or good news for the telecoms sector, depending on your point of view.

Revenues delivered by the EU telecoms sector amounted to E300bn in 2008, up 1.3 per cent on 2007 and accounting for about three per cent of EU GDP. By comparison the rest of the economy only saw revenues increase one per cent on 2007.

Europe’s mobile penetration rate topped 119 per cent at the end of 2008, up seven points from 2007, remaining well ahead of the US (87 per cent) and Japan (84 per cent). Mobile broadband in the EU, based on data card adoption, hit a penetration rate of 2.8 per cent in January this year.

The EC also said that consumers are benefiting from increased competitiveness in the sector, with Brits, for example, seeing their average monthly mobile bill fall to £18.31 in 2008, down from £23.53 in 2007. But then the EC would say that.

The news is not so good thousands of miles away in the Asia Pacific region, going by some numbers pulled out of the Informa Telecoms and Media tombola this week.

The Asia Pacific mobile industry has been hit hard by the economic slowdown, with the number of new mobile subscribers signed up over the traditionally strong Christmas quarter falling almost 20 million on the previous, and typically slower, quarter, the analyst said.

Mobile net additions in the region declined 22.6 per cent from 87.69 million in the third quarter of 2008 to just 67.91 million in the fourth quarter. The analyst noted that the last Christmas reversal came in 2002 when net adds fell 5.9 per cent from 26.75 million in the third quarter of 2002 to 25.17 million in the fourth quarter of the same year.

“Economic woes, subscriber base clean-ups in China, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as less competition in Indonesia, contributed to the uncharacteristic fall in net additions,” said Nicole McCormick, senior analyst at Informa.

China alone accounted for more than half of the region’s total decline in net adds, falling 56.65 per cent from 23.39 million in the third quarter, 2008, to just 10.14 million in the following period.

However, the blip in China appears to be a one off, as China Telecom culled 13.3 million inactive subscriptions in the month of October alone after taking control of China’s Unicom‘s CDMA business as part of the country’s restructuring plan.

Operators in Pakistan and Bangladesh also fared badly, with net adds decreasing by 112.4 per cent and 26.2 per cent respectively in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter. In both countries mobile growth was impacted by the crackdown on unregistered SIM cards as well as economic factors.

Pakistan recorded a net loss of almost 300,000 subscribers, compared with almost six million net adds in the second quarter and 2.18 million net adds in the third. Indonesia also took a hit in terms of growth, with net adds falling from 14 million in the second quarter to 13.15 million in the following period, before more than halving to 6.36 million in the fourth quarter.

Despite the fact that tough times lie ahead in the Asia-Pac region, China Unicom appears hopeful that consumers will be willing to spend big bucks, or Yuan even, on flashy 3G handsets.

The Chinese carrier was recently blessed with a WCDMA 3G licence, making it the envy of its peers, China Telecom and China Mobile, which have to make do with cdma2000 and TD-SCDMA licences respectively. In what could be interpreted as an act of gloating, Unicom this week published a new section on its web site displaying the mouth-watering array of 3G gadgets its subscribers will soon be able to get their hands on.

Among the line up is the iPhone 3G, which is fuelling rumours that the Chinese operator and Apple have reached a breakthrough in reported discussions on plans to bring the iconic device to China. And the iPhone is in good company, alongside the Android G1 device, the Sony Ericsson X1, the forthcoming Nokia N97 and the Nokia E71.

Another firm with faith in the Asia Pacific region is none other than Big Red, the World’s Largest Carrier by Revenue (WLCR), which struck a deal with Thai operator dtac to bring the Vodafone brand to the country. Under the terms of this agreement, dtac will have exclusive access to Vodafone’s range of products, devices and services in Thailand and will be able to draw on Vodafone’s experience in supply chain management, technology development, and the acquisition of enterprise customers.

But back to the crunch, and another firm not weathering the storm so well, as we reported last time, is Japanese/Swedish handset outfit Sony Ericsson. This week the firm lost its US head of operations, Najmi Jarwala, The firm has yet to announce a replacement. What it has announced, though, is the availability of its latest handset, the “stunning” T707.

The phone was launched by tennis player Maria Sharapova who, Sony Ericsson said, “perfectly epitomises the phone’s sleek and elegant qualities.” Maria Sharapova – currently ranked 30th on the Women’s Tour – is nowhere as good as she used to be. Do you think that’s what Sony Ericsson meant? Like the phone is quite attractive but actually not that good at its job? Or perhaps the only available ringtone is an excruciating shriek, like the one Sharapova emits each time she hits the ball. Who knows?

Sharapova said: “The T707 is my ultimate new accessory. I never miss a call with the eye-catching light effects and personalised pulsation settings and I love the fact that I can just wave my hand to mute a call using the gesture control. I can also use my practical and stylish Bluetooth(TM) Headset HBH-PV715 to take my calls, check my emails and blog to my website from the phone. It’s great to have a phone that looks good but also lets me keep up-to-date with everything I need.”

But did she say that, readers? Did she really? Sometimes the Informer wonders whether these quotes might actually be written by somebody else…

Take care

The Informer

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