a week in wireless

Happy Birthday Justin Bieber!

The Informer is not one to keep up to speed with pop culture. He has no idea what a Lady Gaga is when it’s at home, and a Tinie Tempah sounds like a child’s doll – one that raps and then realistically wets itself. Occasionally, the Informer does like to get his feet wet, however, and while trawling twitter for news of Nokia Siemens Networks, he was surprised and amused to discover that the ‘NSN’ contraction had been hijacked by frenzied fans of some squawking teen popster called Justin Bieber.

Apparently it was Bieber’s birthday on Tuesday and the sprightly 17 year old’s followers were swamping social media sites with declarations of undying love and feverish admiration for his ‘Never Say Never’ attitude to life, which is where the NSN confusion came in. The boy’s more obsessive fans are, scarily, known as “Beliebers”. He must know exactly how Steve Jobs feels.

Thinner, lighter, whiter: they were the takeaways from the latest Apple-fever-fest, which saw the launch of the iPad 2. Yawn…

Meanwhile there was dissention in the ranks of Apple’s bitter rival, as a group calling itself The Android Developers Union took form to demand changes in the Android Market’s terms and conditions. The so-far anonymous group issued a list of seven demands which Google can implement “to improve the market,” stating that they are “tired of being treated like sharecroppers on Google’s digital plantation.”

The demands include a “renegotiation of the 32 per cent Google-tax on applications sales, public bug tracking, increased payment options, algorithmic transparency and codified rules and a removal appeal process.” According to the Union, the implementation of its demands “will absolutely improve the working conditions for Android developers, thereby improving the Android ecosystem and giving a better experience to our customers.”

In the highly likely event that Google ignores its demands, animating some kind of digital Thatcher to take them on, the Union is threatening to “cease Android development in favour of other more open platforms.” Pay up or the little green guy gets it.

Actually, the Informer hears he’s already got it. Around 50 applications available in the Android Market have been yanked after they were found to contain a virus. Some 200,000 users could have been affected if the numbers bandied about on the web are anything to go by, after a rogue ‘developer’ repacked some legitimate apps with a nasty surprise. Google has pulled the suspicious apps and has the ability to use a remote killswitch to remove them from users’ phones, but that won’t disable any other malicious software that has been downloaded by the infected code in the meantime. The whole incident is being politicised to the detriment of the open platform model and the reason why walled gardens are a superior model. Sigh. Can’t we just find some happy medium?

A little bit of Android history will also be put to rest this year, as Microsoft switches off its Danger servers before the end of May. Danger, if you remember, spawned the Sidekick and Hiptop, niche messaging-focused gadgets with a flip out QWERTY keyboard that were pitched at the youth market and promoted by the likes of Paris Hilton (in that respect, Android’s predecessor was already familiar with virus-ridden marketplaces). Andy Rubin was the founder of Danger and went on to form a highly secretive mobile software firm known as Android that was snapped up by Google in 2005.

Users that hold on to their devices will lose most of the features but will, according to Sidekick carrying operator T-Mobile USA, still be able to make calls or send text messages. T-Mobile said it will launch a new 4G Sidekick device that runs on Android “soon” and intends offering compelling incentives to existing Sidekick users to migrate to the new Android devices.

What compelling incentives will China Unicom offer, The Informer wonders, in order to convince its subscribers to adopt the depressingly named ‘Wophone, ’a Linux-based in house platform (not based on Android) to be supported, apparently, by Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Huawei and ZTE. Perhaps it’s supposed to be Wophone as in “woah!” Or maybe it’s just one upmanship of China Mobile’s OPhone initiative, which has so far been more “oh…” than “Oh!”

Sticking with handset OEMs and Asia, embattled South Korean vendor LG has announced that it’s developing its own smartphone chips in a bid to boost its flagging handset business. Although LG is the world’s third-largest mobile phone manufacturer, the company has reported losses for three quarters in a row and is under increasing pressure from rivals. By making its own chips, LG would be joining a very small club in the mobile world: currently, only Apple and Samsung design and build their own chips for their devices. In doing so, they are able to save costs and reduce time to market with new handsets and devices – an advantage that LG is no doubt keen to gain over its rivals.

Also looking to gain an edge is Motorola Mobility, the spin-off that houses Motorola’s device and home businesses, which has just bought a stake in games developer Moblyng, through its investment arm Motorola Mobility Ventures. Moblyng develops HTML5-based games for mobile devices and social networks, and has racked up more than nine million downloads, Motorola said, while the developer’s games have been published for Android, Facebook, iOS and WebOS platforms.

More tie-ups were on the agenda this week: Spanish incumbent Telefónica launched a cloud-based telephony offering, giving users access to a second number and a range of services, including visual voicemail, via local player fonYou, as it seeks to defend itself against the rise of over the top players like Google. But the deal may raise questions about Telefónica’s commitment to Jajah, the IP telephony player it bought late in 2009.

Vodafone appeared in a good few partnerships too, tying up with Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai, which also owns the Kia motor brand, on telematics services for the European market and also with electronics manufacturer Bosch, on a global machine to machine (M2M) platform, expanding the sectors in which both companies can offer their services. The Big V was also polishing its hubs, roaming hubs that is, after a deal with international carrier services collaboration BICS, formed of Belgacom, Swisscom and MTN, which will see those involved pooling their respective roaming hubs. The move will initially simplify the administration of roaming traffic between the Belgacom, MTN, and Vodafone networks but will eventually expand to handle all operator members of both hubs.

Russian network operator Yota appears to have won its game of er, Russian Roulette, having initially backed WiMAX, then switching bets to LTE. This week the company signed a deal with the country’s leading operators, to act as the network provider for LTE. Under Thursday’s agreement, MTS, VimpelCom (Beeline), Megafon and Rostelekom will see Yota become their 4G network provider and guarantee the roll out of its LTE network over 180 cities with a total population of more than 70 million citizens by 2014.

But not all partnerships were looking so positive. UAE operator Etisalat’s move to buy a large stake in Zain looks to be on shaky ground after the Kharafi group, a major player in the transaction, said it was no longer committed to the deal. Kharafi is a direct shareholder in Zain to the tune of 12 per cent but owns an additional eight per cent through a Kuwaiti vehicle known as National Investments Co. (NIC). With 20 per cent of Zain in total, Kharafi was seen as the main deal broker.

Yet Etisalat, which is looking to pick up 46 per cent of Zain for an estimated price of between $10-$12bn, has let the due diligence period expire, causing NIC to release a statement announcing the end of its commitment to sell the stake. Zain had already caused a kerfuffle by rejecting three offers for its Saudi Arabian operation, which it is required to offload as part of the Etisalat transaction.

These on-again-off-again marriages make the Informer Djezzy. Indeed, his head is spinning, like a whirlpool, it never ends… as the Algerian government has now hired consultants to assess the value of mobile operator Djezzy ahead of its plans to nationalise the lucrative telco.

Owned by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, Djezzy has become the centre of a diplomatic tit-for-tat between the two countries that is said to have its origins in Orascom’s construction arm’s 2008 decision to sell its Algerian cement business to France’s Lafarge without consulting local officials, with Orascom locked in a legal dispute over a $597m tax bill that Algeria claims Djezzy owes. It’s too complicated to get into now, but there’s more on that here.

By the sliver of blue sky the Informer can see from his cell window, spring is on its way. Well, everything looks brighter after Barcelona doesn’t it? But that also means the hayfever is headed in this direction too. Maybe Deutsche Telekom has the answer? At CeBit this week, which presumably some of you are unlucky enough to be at, travelling in from your hotel in France, Poland or Sweden, DT unveiled the Sinus family of cordless phones. With a more user friendly design and greater talk time, that’s certainly one way to tackle network congestion. Boom boom!

Never Say Never,

The Informer

One comment

  1. Avatar David Field 07/03/2011 @ 12:12 am

    In relation to the name of the “Woah! phone” – the word “wo” that China Unicom is using means something like “fertile” or maybe “bountiful”. What’s interesting is that the Chinese love their puns, and the word they are using is similar in sound to the word “wo” meaning “me” or “I” – so the “Wo Phone” is the “Me Phone” or maybe even… “I phone”!

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