a week in wireless


Et tu, Google?

When Google’s chief counsel, Kent Walker, explained recently that the firm wants to use Nortel’s patent portfolio to deter litigious attacks from other players, he was acknowledging the downside of the firm’s rise to power. Its competitors, threatened like cornered animals, are likely to embrace attack as the best form of defence. But for all his grim realism, even Walker must have been surprised by the sheer velocity with which PayPal launched a legal assault on Google over the launch of its mobile payment strategy this week.

Barely had the streamers hit the floor at the launch party when PayPal weighed in with charges of espionage and betrayal. The payment firm, owned by eBay, is suing Google in its entirety, as well as two Google employees, who in happier times were PayPals themselves. Stephanie Tilenius, Google’s head of e-commerce left eBay early in 2010, while Osama Bedier quit his role as the firm’s VP for platform, mobile and new ventures to take up a similar position at Google in January this year.

PayPal alleges that Bedier has taken with him trade secrets relating to its “capabilities, strategies, plans and market intelligence regarding mobile payment and related technologies”. Worse, it said, between 2008 and 2011 the two firms were negotiating a deal that would have seen PayPal positioned as a payment option for mobile app purchases in Google’s Android Market application store. Bedier was leading these discussions but simultaneously carrying out some negotiations of his own on the side, said PayPal, which led to his jumping ship.

Tilenius stands accused of breaching terms by luring Bedier across in the first place, while he has apparently gone on to poach more of his former colleagues, PayPal said.

With its central themes of power, greed and treachery, the whole thing’s got more than a whiff of Shakespearean drama about it. Indeed, with a title like Bedier and Tilenius, it could nestle comfortably among the lesser-known works.

All of which rather effectively overshadowed the launch itself, which you can read about here.

It seems to be a rule of thumb these days that handset software updates need to have cutesy names. While Google’s Android is all about the cakes, Microsoft has gone for something altogether fruitier. The Mango iteration of the WP7 OS dropped ripe from the Redmond tree this week, bursting with 500 juicy new features. The emphasis is on greater integration between apps and social networks — so message threads can now switch between SMS, Facebook and Messenger, for example.

Andy Lees, president of the Mobile Communications Business at Microsoft said Mango would help users navigate “a sea of disconnected apps and accounts as people attempt to keep pace with all the ways they communicate.”

You could lead a horse to the sea of disconnected apps, but could you make it drink the water? Ovum analyst Tony Cripps isn’t so sure. “Integration is a tough concept to sell to consumers even if they may benefit enormously once they’ve adopted it,” Cripps said. “Cracking this conundrum may well be key to Windows Phone’s future success,” he added.

Aside from the software update, Microsoft was keen to point out that Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE have joined the throng of WP7 handset vendors. This may have something to do with the fact that Microsoft has relaxed its hardware specifications. It also emerged that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor, so beloved of the Android handset community, will power the next generation of WP7 handsets.

From next gen handsets to next gen networks, and there’s been a rich bounty of LTE news this week. John Donovan, CTO at US carrier AT&T revealed on his blog that the first five markets into which he will launch LTE will be Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and San Antonio. Donovan didn’t specify a date, but said that the networks would be deployed during the summer. He also said that AT&T is planning to add a total of 20 new ‘4G’ products to its device roster before the end of the year. In a perfect illustration of the confusion surrounding the marketing of  ‘4G’ in the US, though, he confirmed that only some of these would be LTE devices.

In Australia, incumbent carrier Telstra said this week that it has become the first of the nation’s carriers to switch on LTE kit, with base stations sent live in the cities of Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. Not that the carrier wants to promote speed at any cost. The firm also announced this week that it is to start throttling data rates for customers who exceed their monthly limit.

Pitching the move as a bid to counter bill shock, Telstra said that it will not charge users for the data they consume, slowly, when they’ve gone beyond their allowance. They will be able to top up their accounts over the air, though, enabling them to regain access to the full scope of the Telstra NextG offering.

Back here in the UK we’re late to the party. This week Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom JV Everything Everywhere announced that it is to be the first of the UK carriers to test LTE, which it plans to do this September, in Cornwall. Using 800MHz spectrum, the firm plans to trial the technology as a means to bring broadband to remote rural areas that are not adequately served by fixed infrastructure. More than700 buildings in a 25km square test area will get broadband for the first time.

The Informer is off to Cornwall for a week’s relaxation in a month’s time. Unfortunately he will be too early for the LTE, but he will be sure to savour the buzz that is no doubt riffling through the county at the prospect of playing host to the UK’s first LTE test.

Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks have got the gig to supply the network equipment for the test, which will involve broadband dongles and smartphones from as yet unnamed suppliers.

Huawei also announced this week that it has picked up a managed services deal on its home turf, with China Unicom. The deal covers the city of Shanghai. A managed services contract for a city would, in most countries, be small beans. This being China, though, it covers a population of more than 23 million.

It’s perhaps a good thing that Everything Everywhere is leading the way, given that its two brands – Orange and T-Mobile– are at the bottom of the heap in terms of UK network performance. Research commissioned by UK regulator Ofcom provided the Informer’s biggest jaw-drop of the week, when it revealed that O2 offers the best mobile broadband service in the UK,

The study, conducted by Epitiro, was focused solely on dongle and datacard usage. A consumer panel of 1,000 users with measurement software installed on their laptops yielded the fact that the average speed enjoyed by these people is 1.5Mbits/s, which actually isn’t that bad. It’s more than enough for simple surfing, which is what most users are doing, according to Epitiro’s VP for marketing, Iain Wood.

Wood said that latency is the more crucial issue, anyhow, and an average from the UK operators of 100 milliseconds effectively rules out online gaming, video and some VoIP services. O2 led the pack in terms of latency as well as throughput.

Epitiro also set up static test instruments to mimic connected laptops in areas of known good coverage. These results, which were designed to test circumstances so ideal as to be almost impossible, saw average speed leap to 2.1Mbits/s,

It’s all good news for O2, but not for Orange and T-Mobile. For T-Mobile in particular it must have been galling to be trounced by 3UK, its partner in network management JV MBNL. The integration of the two firms’ 3G networks was completed late last year, and the whole project is understood to have given some within T-Mobile UK cause for concern. Looks like that was entirely justified, as 3 is making hay while T-Mo’s eating dirt.

And that’s about all we’ve got time for this week.

Take care

The Informer

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