a week in wireless


Holding folding

The Informer had always presumed origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, to be one of those almost Zen-like pursuits. But when he actually tried it this week he quickly discovered that it is in fact one of the most frustrating, fiddly, nonsensical, tasks he has ever attempted. Worse, even, than trying to use an O2 XDA. It did little to calm his blood pressure, and resulted in a window sill littered with crumpled balls and deformed paper planes, where a garden of exotic paper flowers should have been.

So in order to keep his fingers busy, the Informer took the plunge and purchased a tablet. It is the year of tablets anyway. Time to embrace the new use case, step into the future, that sort of thing. He opted for the Samsung Galaxy Tab. At seven inches it’s still nice and portable, sports Android 2.2 (that’s FroYo to the fanatics) and should be upgradeable to Gingerbread with its nippy 1GHz processor. And boy oh boy what a delight to use. Sweep left, sweep right, tap, tap. It’s really brought the Informer’s blood pressure down and it’s the Zen-like experience he’d been hoping for with the Japanese paper tricks, browsing around the internet and firing up all those apps. What a wonderful way of doing things.

The lull in stress is but temporary, though, with the hulking mass of MWC now approaching. Wasn’t it Irish wordsmith WB Yeats who said: “this rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Barcelona to be born?” And the Informer is certain there will be tablets everywhere at the event, and not just the headache type. For one there’s the sweet-looking Motorola Xoom due out, as well as potential updates to the Samsung portfolio. Who’d have thought eh?  Since launching the Droid, Motorola has become cool again, something it’s not experienced since the days of the first Razr.

One of the Informer’s other expectations is that video calling (remember that? The killer app for 3G?) will finally take off. And tablets will likely be the driving force. One of the cool things about the Galaxy Tab is its front and back facing cameras and an integration with Google goodies that makes video calling a breeze. Internet telephony player Skype is clearly with the Informer on this one, having this week agreed to acquire Qik, the US-based mobile video sharing platform. The Qik service is available on phones across the Android, iPhone, Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile platforms, and comes pre-loaded on a wide variety of devices. Skype said the acquisition will allow it to add video recording, sharing and storing capabilities to its offering as well as to get its hands on an engineering team with wireless streaming expertise.

The VoIP player has recently been pushing video capabilities as part of its offering. It updated its iPhone app to allow video calling over both wifi and 3G and last week announced plans to launch a mobile video offering on the 4G LTE network of USA carrier Verizon Wireless. This new version of Skype from Verizon will be deeply integrated into a range of 4G smartphones, which will all be Android-based devices with front- and rear-facing cameras.

Probably the least surprising news of the week was Tuesday’s announcement that Verizon has finally managed to secure a CDMA version of the iPhone 4. The news is a boon for the Verizon network, which is widely perceived as offering the best quality in the country, but bad news for iPhone pioneer AT&T, which could lose subscribers to its closest rival.

Verizon however, will have to pay a price to offer the device, quite literally, with a likely subsidy of $300-400 for each iPhone it sells, similar to that shouldered by AT&T, which could lead to a subsidy bill of $3-4bn if Verizon sells ten million of the devices this year.

But in a twist, some analysts have suggested that there may be an upside for AT&T, which has suffered high profile performance issues as its network as sagged beneath the weight of data-hungry smartphone users. This burden could be eased if, as expected, a significant number of its high end customers churn to Verizon, resulting in a better experience for those who remain.

Fond as he is of foreign language films (Klingon does count, Ed), the Informer was pleased to hear that award winning South Korean director, Park Chan-Wook, he of Oldboy fame, has shot his latest endeavour, Paranmanjang, using only iPhone 4s. That’s another tip if you fancy a trip to the cinema later this year.

Speaking of hot tips, the Informer’s chum and CEO of app store Appitalism, Simon Buckingham, reckons carrier billing for content services is doomed in advanced markets because of fundamental conflicts of interest.

Buckingham suggested that carrier concerns over the ongoing revenue streams for their core services of voice and data render content based transactions, which are far smaller, less important for operators. If content providers are dependent on carriers to provide billing services for their products, Buckingham said, they will always have to take second place to the carriers’ own plans and promotions.

“I’m trying to get my members to become revenue generating customers. But with carrier billing I have to get carrier approval for all my campaigns, because the carriers are so worried about cannibalising their own projects,” he said. “It’s a fundamental conflict of interest. I think what’s going to happen is that the Paypals and Visas and Mastercards are going to be the billing entities and the telcos are going to do the telecoms services.”

Buckingham suggested that the principal obstacle that needs to be overcome for this evolution to take place is consumer reticence over using their mobile phones to enter credit card details and initiate transactions. Content players are pushing aggressively for this to happen in 2011, or soon thereafter, he said.

On to something completely different now, and hopeful US market debutante Lightsquared, which is aiming to deploy a combination of LTE and satellite wireless services on a purely wholesale basis, faces an obstacle to deployment as a number of US governmental agencies have aired concerns that the modification of its licence to allow for terrestrial as well as satellite offerings will cause interference with existing services.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the US Department of Commerce, wrote to communications regulator the FCC this week voicing its own concerns, along with those of “several Federal agencies” including the Department of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security (DoD). Danny Price, director of Spectrum and Communication Policy at the DoD wrote to the NTIA in December, leading to the NTIA communication this week.

Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, wrote: “In our view, this proposal raises significant interference concerns that warrant full evaluation as part of the FCC’s consideration of Lightsquared’s application to ensure that Lightsquared services do not adversely impact GPS and Global Navigation Satellite System receivers, maritime and aeronautical emergency communication systems, and Inmarsat receivers used by the Federal agencies.

The modification of the licence is essential to Lightsquared, headed up by former Orange chief Sanjiv Ahuja and funded by Philip Falcone’s hedge fund Harbinger Investments, as it is the terrestrial offering that represents the real opportunity for the newcomer. Questions have been raised over the commercial viability of the satellite element of Lightsquared’s offering.

Strickling’s letter hints at the concern that Lightsquared may not be genuinely focused on fully exploiting its satellite capability—despite the firm having already launched a satellite in accordance with its licence terms.

“Although Lightsquared intends to make dual-mode handsets available to its wholesale customers, it has not made clear whether it will require its wholesale customers to offer dual-mode handsets to their end users,” Strickling wrote. If this requirement is not passed on, he suggested, the carrier’s wholesale customers could opt to resell only cellular services. “The large increase in terrestrial usage that is expected to result from Lightsquared’s new business model creates a new and more challenging interference environment that must be addressed satisfactorily,” wrote Strickling.

Over in Nigeria meanwhile, Globacom has launched the African continent’s first LTE network. Available in Lagos, the LTE network promises to deliver data speeds in excess of 100Mbps on the uplink and 50Mbps on the downlink, which seems the inverse of what most carrier’s operate but that’s what it says here, making possible such services as high definition video streaming, gaming and mobile health services as well as major improvements in capacity and reductions in latency.

But despite the growing momentum behind LTE deployments, one of the greatest concerns for established network operators is the legacy of their mature voice networks and the role of established 2G services in the all-IP future. Well, this week, Chinese vendor Huawei trumpeted circuit switched fallback as an opportunity to leverage these legacy networks. The firm said Thursday that it has successfully completed a circuit switched (CS) fallback voice call, in a lab environment in Shanghai.

Early LTE deployments have not addressed the need for voice services over the new technology. Tommy Ljunggren, SVP and head of system development, mobility services at LTE pioneer TeliaSonera, and one of foremost authorities on early LTE deployment, said that the Nordic carrier’s 4G launch was made easier because it “focused on data only” and “did not complicate it with voice and voice integration with legacy systems.”

On the subject of integration, and not necessarily of the legacy type, the Informer would like borrow the words of Mr T. and introduce you to his friend Payne – that’s Graham Payne, managing director of T-Mobile and 3’s UK infrastructure joint venture, MBNL. Payne talks to telecoms.com about running the industry’s largest network integration project and it’s very much worth a visit.

Until next time

The Informer

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