a week in wireless

Give it to me straight, Doc…

In scenes reminiscent of some corny medical drama this week, Motorola finally opted to sacrifice the infected limb that is its handset division in a bid to save the rest of its body. The Informer presumes this decision was taken on the advice of the firm’s personal physician, Dr Carl Icahn.

Motorola’s CEO Greg Brown gave it some blah about remaining committed to the handset unit, saying that “creating two industry-leading companies will provide improved flexibility, more tailored capital structures, and increased management focus – as well as more targeted investment opportunities for our shareholders.”

That last bit’s certainly true, as it will enable people to invest in the bits of Motorola that aren’t being carried away by an orderly at arm’s length. The part of the statement that confuses the Informer somewhat is the bit about “creating two industry-leading companies”.

Yes, that’s a good idea, but it’s not clear that this is what will actually happen.

Nonetheless, the move won the support of Ovum’s Martin Garner, who has shared Icahn’s belief in the split, and who described it as a “big relief for Motorola investors”. Garner’s only issue with it is that, with the split tabled for 2009, it might not happen soon enough.

The move also suggests that Motorola has had no luck in finding a buyer for the unit and Brown announced that he is undertaking a “global search for a new chief executive officer for the Mobile Devices business”. This process will no doubt be characterised by that kind of desperate, weary optimism that accompanies the search for a new England football manager.

There was a kerfuffle this week in the wonderful world of WiMAX, as vendor Airspan hit back at claims from an Aussie carrier and ISP that the technology is a flamin’ gallah. Last week, the CEO of service provider Buzz, Garth Freeman complained that the kit supplied by Airspan was a “disaster”, adding that non line of sight performance was “non-existent” further than 2km from the base station and that latency rates were so high that VoIP on the network was impossible.

So it was handbags at dawn. Airspan’s CEO, Declan Byrne, issued a stinging rejoinder, in which he claimed that the Buzz experience was down to the carrier being a bit cheap.

“With regard to range, although Airspan offers both micro-cell and macro-cell base station solutions, Buzz Broadband opted to go with the less-expensive micro-cell base stations in order to reduce cost,” said Byrne.

He continued: “We know that there were significant under-provisioning issues in the core network which connected the Airspan equipment to the internet,” as other Airspan employees shrieked: “leave it Dec, he’s not worth it”.

“Very early in the relationship, Airspan technical services determined that Buzz’s backhaul network was considerably under-dimensioned (again to save cost) and lacked sufficient QoS, and that these factors were the direct cause of VoIP quality issues in the network,” Byrne concluded. It’s all about customer relationships, eh?

In other WiMAX news, research outfit Maravedis this week, said there were more than 800,000 subscribers using WiMAX Forum certified products across the globe at the end of last year. That said, Maravedis suggested that WiMAX has yet to reach the tipping point that will see growth seriously accelerate.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal turned up some insider suggestions this week that two of the largest cable players in the US, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, could be looking at shovelling $1.5bn into the Sprint/Clearwire will-they-won’t-they nationwide WiMAX rollout. According to the WSJ, the cable players would get equity in a Sprint Clearwire JV and first dibs on any wholesale access deals.

On the other side of the technology wall, Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo this week announced that it had wrung downlink speeds of 250Mbps from its ‘Super 3G’ LTE network. But that’s too near term for the boffins at DoCoMo to rest on their laurels, so the firm also announced that, in conjunction with the University of Tokyo, it had successfully demonstrated the world’s first “molecular delivery system for molecular communication”. Que?

Turns out DoCoMo has been working on a means of using molecules as a communication medium, allowing biochemical information to be transmitted directly from living organisms. The Informer will quote this next bit from the release, because it makes about as much sense to him as monkey babble.

“The experiment has confirmed the feasibility of a proposed delivery system to transport specific molecules using artificially synthesized DNAs and chemically energized motor proteins, typically found in muscles and nerve cells, which are capable of moving autonomously by converting chemical energy into mechanical work.”

So, if you get that, and want to know more, you can read about it here. It looks like the days of letter writing are numbered, though, doesn’t it.

Back to the real world, though, and in an announcement that by comparison with the above seems a bit Luddite, Nokia Siemens Networks wants the world to know that it has doubled the downlink speeds available over EDGE. Good news for iPhone users, the Informer supposes, now that NSN reckons it can get 592Kbps from EDGE networks. The Dual Carrier EDGE software upgrade will be available in the third quarter of this year.

Let’s have a look at something else, altogether, specifically the plans of Orange UK to run some mobile advertising trials. The carrier is shortly to test a service that lets users access free music content in exchange for their willingness to consume advertising material. Orange is making just 500 tracks available on a section of its portal, and 800,000 users will be invited to pick from these for three months while being poked and prodded by the likes of Paramount Pictures and Ford Motors. Mobile ad specialist ScreenTonic is providing the ads for the trial.

Orange is the host operator for UK ad-subsidy MVNO Blyk, which launched last year to mixed predictions of success. The Informer spoke to Leif Fagelstedt this week, who is Blyk’s COO. He said that the firm is ahead of schedule for its target of signing up 100,000 users in the first year of operation, and revealed that response rates for the advertising are more than satisfactory.

With 600 campaigns under its belt, said Fagelstedt, response rates are averaging 29 per cent, which is a pretty hefty number. Traditionally, with the arrival of any new advertising media (television, online) responses have peaked during a honeymoon period because of the novelty factor. But Blyk says that rates stabilised at 29 per cent after 500 campaigns.

Either way, it looks like Orange has been convinced by Blyk’s advertising model and is trying one of its own. Fagelstedt told the Informer that it is crucial that there is no brand clash between his MVNO and any host with which it is working and, given that Blyk targets the 16 – 24 age range and Orange is working with clients in the automotive industry, it looks like overlap will be minimal.

Unlike the impact of Emirates Airline’s decision this week to allow the first mobile call to be made during a commercial flight. The airline is using a system called AeroMobile, which limits the power at which handset transmit, and also restricts the number of simultaneous calls to just six. Cabin crew can also turn the system off in the same way that they can withhold alcohol from boisterous passengers. The inaugural call was made en route to Casablanca. Whoever made that call will go down alongside Neil Papworth in the history books, of course.

So now Emirates is kitting out its whole fleet with the system. Airliners hold quite a few people and the Informer wonders how effective the service will be given that only six at a time will be able to make calls. Will there be a queue? Will you have to pay to get to the front of it? Will there be a time limit on calls? Sounds like a recipe for a whole lot of air-rage. Better off sticking to the red wine and the movies.

And finally: It’s not often that you can look to the Taleban for light relief, is it? This week, though there was a development in the group’s anti-mobile strategy that was not without a certain irony. You may remember a few weeks ago the Afghan insurgents threatened the troubled country’s mobile networks with sabotage unless they began powering down in certain areas at certain times. The Taleban were concerned that they were being tracked by US forces using cellular network information.

They made good on their promise and started blowing up towers, leaving the nation’s operators with little option but to comply with their demands. This didn’t go down too well with inhabitants in the affected regions and, much more amusingly, went down no better with the Taleban’s foot soldiers, who found themselves periodically (and predictably) unable to communicate. You couldn’t script it, could you.

So now, according to US news sources, the Taleban has hinted that it might change its tactics when it comes to mobile networks.

It’s a bit like those anti-tower nimbys who campaign against having cellular masts anywhere near their homes or schools because of The Rays!!! but then whinge when they can’t get a signal. Obviously the Informer isn’t likening these campaigners to fundamentalist insurgents, but there is a similar irony involved.

Perhaps the two groups could arrange some exchange visits.

“Ok, everybody, welcome to the meeting. There’s some good news to start with: Myself and Anita had a meeting between ourselves, the council and a representative of the phone company and I think we sent them away with something of a flea in their ear. The mast will not be sited anywhere near the children’s play area. Some we win, my friends, some we win. So we’ve bought along some sparkling wine. And there’s some plastic cups. Has everyone got one? Good. Ok, well a toast then: Death to the Infidels!”


  1. Avatar Russell Dreisenstock 01/04/2008 @ 3:57 pm

    That was possibly the most readable, enjoyable and informative industry news mail, that I have ever received.

    …and i get a LOT.


  2. Avatar Jeremy Foster 01/04/2008 @ 3:58 pm

    Just wanted to drop you a note to say ‘Excellent work!’.. Really, it’s not often I actually take time to read broadcast emails that drop into my inbox but I do read yours and they are bloody funny.. nice job!

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