a week in wireless

Floppy disks, car phones and beepers

Remember having to hang up the land line to use the internet? Or before that, when hours of entertainment could be derived from a simple game of Pong? Typewriters, fax machines, floppy disks, car phones and beepers were all the rage at some point in time. The Informer, like Pepperidge Farm, remembers.

In The Informer’s days, schools were lucky to have one computer to an entire year group and even then, the entire year was displaced from the classroom to accomodate the machine. Technology has moved on leaps and bounds since then, but has teaching in schools? Not enough, according to the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.

Fresh from drawing up reform plans in the telecoms sector, speechmaker extraordinaire and champion of the rallying cry, ‘Steely’ Neelie Kroes is once again banging her drum – this time about education in the EU.

This week she outlined her intentions to transform education across the EU using information and communications technology (ICT). Along with the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, Kroes plans to unveil new proposals to reform education in Europe next week.

She spoke of ICT enabling a whole new way of learning since information is no longer “locked up” and open resources now enable “a million different ways to learn”.  Teachers are “no longer gatekeepers, but guides”, she said. Indeed, the gatekeeping of that information is now down to the IT department and their array of appropriateness filters.

“It’s about ICT transforming teaching, just as it has transformed and disrupted so much else in our lives,” she said, perhaps with a nod to those filters and the general disruption caused by free information on the internet.

But Kroes acknowledged that there are barriers blocking her vision, and not just from her reading glasses steaming up during another impassioned speech – she blamed those teachers unfamiliar with ICT, or being underequipped, adding that there is also legal uncertainty on what educational institutions can share and access. She then called for IT and telecoms firms to do more for Europe’s workforce.

Kroes claimed there are more jobs in the digital sector than can be filled but these jobs are waiting for the next generation with the right digital skills.

She addressed “People who don’t just think: “I could buy this gadget!” – but: “I could make it better!” People who don’t just notice all the problems – but spot the opportunities, and innovate to capture them. Those who don’t dream of a nice steady “9 to 5″ – but want to take a risk and break out on their own.”

Kroes said this was the reason the EU set up a Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs; a multi-stakeholder partnership to tackle the lack of ICT skills and the hundreds of thousands of unfilled ICT-related vacancies.

Over in Africa, fibre network operator and subsidiary of Econet Wireless, Liquid Telecom, was creating  jobs of its owne as the company opened a carrier neutral datacentre in Nairobi.

The East Africa Data Centre offers secure and reliable space for dedicated hosting, interconnect services, colocation, disaster recovery, network-based services, applications and cloud services to carriers, network providers and enterprises from across the continent. Existing customers include banks, mobile network operators, ISPs and cloud solutions providers.

Liquid said that the challenges facing new data centre builds in Africa are the same as those for any kind of telco activity: connectivity, security and power supply. As a result, the data centre is carrier-neutral with connectivity to the backbone and metro fibre is offered by a number of carriers including nearly all local Kenyan carriers and international carriers such as Tata, Level3 and Seacom.

Elsewhere, KPN has been having money problems. Selling an asset is supposed to give you a profit, right? You wouldn’t sell a car and expect to be left out of pocket for your troubles, but that same principle doesn’t seem to apply in business, or cars loaded down with debt.

The Dutch operator group announced this week that it is expecting to make a loss of €3.7bn as a result of the sale of its German subsidiary E-Plus to Telefonica Deutschland. The group will however be able to deduct the loss against taxes.

It said it has reached an agreement with the Dutch tax authorities related to the size of the tax book loss which is expected to be recognised upon completion of the sale of the German subsidiary. The loss is expected to offset KPN’s taxable income in The Netherlands in the coming years, starting in 2014.

The sale of E-Plus comes as Mexican operator group America Movil attempts a takeover of KPN. The group, led by Carlos Slim, announced its intention to acquire KPN in August. It already holds just shy of 30 per cent of the Dutch incumbent.

A world where businesses don’t have fixed lines at all – only mobile – that’s the vision Vodafone Netherlands has through its tulip-tinted glasses. The Dutch subsidiary of operator group’s head of technology strategy, Marcel van den Biggelaar explained to telecoms.com that the firm was presented with a new customer that lacked indoor coverage at the new site, due to the steel and type of glass used in the building.

“I’m not sure if the trend in the Netherlands is in advance of trends in other countries, but in our own premises at Vodafone we implemented a mobile working concept as of 2009, which implies that no-one within our premises has their own desk, everybody works with desktops and there are no fixed phones anymore,” said Biggelaar.

 “The customer, for which we’ve now built this system in the Netherlands for their new headquarters, is also based on this mobile working concept and has no fixed phones, so you rely fully on mobility and on the mobile networks, and the handset needs to be working indoors as well with enough capacity.” The Informer wonders whether architects are now designing new buildings based on optimal radio propagation characteristics or if lead lined boxes will still make an appearance like they did in almost every espisode of Knight Rider, when Kitt was put at a communications disadvantage.

Vodafone’s traditional solutions, which are mainly distributed antenna systems, could not fulfil the needs and faced with only six weeks to realise indoor coverage for the customer, for whom cost was less of a factor, the operator turned to SpiderCloud.

“Because of the very easy installation of these radio nodes often over existing cabling, powered over Ethernet, the solution is quick to install hence cost and lead times are reduced,” he said of the vendor’s scalable small cell enterprise radio access network (E-RAN) system. It allows the operator to facilitate a “mobile working environment” for its business customers, he said, which means they no longer need to rely on fixed line services.

Not to be outdone, rival operator group Telefonica made a tech announcement of its own. Its news was that it has installed a chat application to power its customer service and support its operations in Spain.

The group invested in software provider Moxie Software’s Chat Spaces solution to engage customers across multiple communication channels. The solution enables Telefónica Spain customer service supervisors to manage and monitor active sessions and access real-time and historical reports. The application also allows the operator to provide differentiated and personalised customer experience at scale, according to Moxie Software.

The vendor claims the solution will enable Telefónica to extend the same customer experience available via the phone to its website; allow customers communicate in real-time with an agent via online chat; engage with customers browsing the website to provide non-intrusive assistance as needed; and generate revenue and decrease shopping cart abandonment (on the web store, not at the bottom of rivers).

Like Vodafone Netherlands, UK B2B fixed line player Virgin Media Business is also seeing opportunities in providing mobility in the enterprise. The operator has launched a mobile service for its public and private sector customers piggybacking on UK mobile operator EE’s LTE network.

The service, Virgin Media Business’ first ever mobile offering, reduces cost by integrating fixed and mobile communications, according to the firm. Using EE’s network, it will offer superfast speeds to over 60 per cent of the UK.

The business-grade 4G service will be offered as part of Virgin Media Business’ complete range of telecoms services. New and existing customers will have the opportunity to integrate their fixed and mobile communications through one supplier, rather than having to manage a different provider for each service. According to Virgin Media Business, this saves organisations money, time and complexity.

The service includes features such as mobile email services; the ability to connect your desk phone and mobile seamlessly; online portals for support and billing; and telephone support for users and customer administrators. It is available on leading 4G handsets, including Windows, Android and BlackBerry devices. The service is also available in 3G on EE’s network.

Google has been splashing the cash this week, acquiring smartphone app developer Bump. The iOS and Android app maker has previously developed a tool (called Bump) for exchanging business cards and sharing files and Flock; a photo-sharing app.

It has seen 125 million app downloads in its four year history and facilitated the sending of over a billion photos and it has grown the company to 25 employees.

“Our mission at Bump has always been to build the simplest tools for sharing the information you care about with other people and devices,” said David Lieb, CEO and co-founder at Bump.

Lieb added that the two apps, Bump and Flock, will continue to work as they always have for now but noted that users should stay tuned for future updates.

Around 60 to 70 per cent of vehicle recalls in North America and Europe are due to software glitches, The Informer learned this week.

A study released by Frost & Sullivan suggests that over the air (OTA) software updates to wireless-capable cars could be a game changer for the automotive industry.

Sign up for a forthcoming webinar on managing Over the Air updates

The research firm found that mass market cars have at least 20 million to 30 million lines of software code, while premium cars could have as much as 100 million lines controlling essential systems. At an average cost of $10 per line, these electronic systems do not come cheap and recalls not only leave a dent on manufacturers’ reputations, but also lead to multi-billion dollar losses.

The situation could get worse as Frost & Sullivan predicts that the value of software in vehicles is set to increase as much as 50 per cent by 2020, which makes it imperative for OEMs to manage the software efficiently over the lifecycle of the vehicle and reduce the impact of product recalls.

According to Frost, OTA is a potential game changer with its ability to fix bugs and enhance features without requiring a physical connection to the vehicle. Once OEMs upgrade to this infrastructure, they are likely to experience a rapid and dramatic improvement in vehicle performance and customer satisfaction, and a steep dip in costs.

Meanwhile in Russia, operator group MTS announced plans to launch its first MTS LTE FDD network in Russia’s Northwest Federal District. It is relying on Korean vendor Samsung to provide the kit for the rollout of the network, which is a part of the three-year agreement signed between the two firms in 2013.

The rollout is now in its final stage and this phase will also mark the beginning of the testing of network services. By the end of 2015, MTS plans to deploy 4G LTE base stations in the area to ensure exceptional network performance.

Under the two firms’ agreement, both have decided to cooperate in the supply chain, commercial launch of telecommunications equipment and other related services such as integration into existing infrastructure, demonstration tests and technical support.

It was also forecast that LTE Diameter signalling traffic will grow at more than twice the rate of mobile data traffic until 2017. The prediction comes from aptly named software vendor Oracle, which expects that worldwide LTE Diameter signaling traffic will increase at a 140 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), from 1.2 million messages per second (MPS) in 2012 to nearly 99 million MPS by 2017.

The figures were published in the second annual Oracle Communications LTE Diameter Signaling Index. The Index bases its LTE Diameter signaling traffic numbers on LTE subscriber forecasts from Informa Telecoms & Media’s WCIS, which forecasts nearly one billion LTE subscriptions by 2017.

And US operator AT&T has teamed up with Microsoft to offer a cloud solution allowing enterprise customers to connect to Microsoft’s cloud platform using a private network. The solution will use cloud integration technology from AT&T over a virtual private network to pair with Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform.

The two firms claim that customers will benefit from the enterprise grade security of virtual private networking, with up to 50 per cent lower latency than the public internet, and access to cloud resources from any site using most wired or wireless devices.

“This is a game changer for businesses that have been seeking a more secure way to reap the benefits of cloud services,” said Andy Geisse, CEO at AT&T Business Solutions. “By bringing the security and performance of our virtual private network to Windows Azure, we expect to energise enterprise demand for cloud solutions.”

It was also revealed this week that the former Microsoft exec who took the reins at Nokia before bringing the company in from the cold is receiving a $25m payout for his troubles.

Stephen Elop will receive the payment once Microsoft’s deal to acquire Nokia goes through. According to the BBC, Finland’s economy minister, Jan Vapaavuori, reportedly said: “I find it difficult to understand the merits of this bonus.” Well, it’s looking more and more like the fix was in for this deal a long time time ago and that’s why Elop was sent over the wall. Perhaps Ballmer wasn’t keen on the whole thing and that’s why he’s leaving? Who knows.

And finally, a salute to the man who made Nintendo the video game giant it is today. Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died this week, is credited with transforming Nintendo from a Japanese trading cards company into the games maker we all grew to know and love. Yamauchi ran the company from 1949 until 2002, during which time characters such as Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and the entire troupe of Pokémon entered our hearts. His legacy lives on.

And that’s about all for the week – take care.

The Informer

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