a week in wireless

If you want something doing…

There are lots of songs about the power of partnership: ‘It takes two’, ‘Let’s work together’, ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ – there’s three off the top of the Informer’s head. And any one of them could easily have sound-tracked the creation of handset OS collective Symbian ten years ago. But this week time was called on the alliance. And handset front-runner Nokia was probably rather more inclined to drain its glass of vino collapso, sling down its handbag and warble the lines from that staple of the girls’ night out, ‘I will survive’, while tracing unsteady, stilettoed circles on the dance floor.

The Finn bought out its partners – Ericsson, Panasonic, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Siemens – on Tuesday, bagging the 52.1 per cent of Symbian that it didn’t already own. Simultaneously it announced the formation of the Symbian Foundation – which has the backing of Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo – which will make the OS available on an open source licensing model, along with Nokia’s S60 platform, Motorola and Sony Ericsson’s UIQ and DoCoMo’s MOAP solution.

The Foundation (which sounds a bit like a shadowy group of vigilantes) will be led by The Council of Ten (well, that’s what it would be called if they really were vigilantes). This comprises the top five handset vendors – Nokia, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson – and five operators and silicon vendors; AT&T, DoCoMo, Vodafone, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments.

It made sense for Nokia to buy out the rest of Symbian, with analysts CCS Insight estimating that it laid out $250m in licence fees to its fellow stakeholders last year. But the strategy is more likely driven by increasing competition from the likes of LiMo, Google’s Android and Apple. The spread of backers in the Foundation does a fair old job of uniting the industry around a common platform – earlier this year, you may recall, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin was calling for consolidation in the mobile OS space. And it prevents Symbian becoming a Nokia nom de plume, which might cause suspicion in the market.

CCS analyst Geoff Blaber had a few questions, though. Might management by committee prove more of a barrier than a bonus? And with the depth of Nokia’s vested interest, can the Foundation be truly vendor independent? As all journalists are taught to write on the first day of hack school: Only Time Will Tell.

In immediate response, there was consolidation within the mobile Linux arena. From the beginning of July, the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum will cleave itself unto the LiMo Foundation in a bid to unify and accelerate the development of Linux-based mobile platforms and specifications. A number of LiPS members have joined LiMo in recent times, leading the two organisations to conclude that they might be wasting resource by doubling their efforts.

In other Linux news, open source handset developer Openmoko has named the first five distributors for the consumer version of its touch screen Linux device, the Neo Freerunner. For the record, these firms are: Pulster, Golden Delicious Computers, TRIsoft, Bearstech and IDA Systems. The first three are German, the fourth is French and the last Indian.

The device uses a similar form factor to the Neo 1973, a popular hit earlier this year, with a 2.8″ VGA touch screen, A-GPS, 128MB of memory, a microSD card slot, Bluetooth and USB, as well as wifi and motion sensors and a faster 500MHz processor. It will come in two versions: a 850MHz tri-band and a 900Mhz tri-band and will ship with a basic developer platform. Subsequent software can be downloaded from the Openmoko developer site.

The Symbian buy-out not only saves Nokia a wedge of cash while defending its status as king of the smartphones, it will surely strengthen the Finn’s services strategy in the long term. A strategy that was bolstered this week with the announcement that the firm will acquire German ‘context-aware social activity service’ Plazes.

The service allows users to geo-tag a location with an invite or information, and then lets selected contacts know about it in a micro-blogging social networking Web 2.0 sort of way, further eradicating the need to actually talk to your friends. The Informer imagines a dystopian future where voice functionality on phones is considered as outmoded as the fax.

It seems likely the Finnish vendor will integrate the application with its own social networking offering, Mosh, as well as the Ovi platform. “This acquisition helps Nokia to accelerate its vision of bringing people and places closer together, in line with our broader services strategy,” blurted Niklas Savander, head of Nokia Services & Software in pristine business speak gobbledegook.

Another firm accelerating its vision this week was ISP AOL. The web giant’s UK business has announced a partnership with mobile content delivery firm WIN, which will see the ISP offer its wares wirelessly.

WIN will provide content aggregation, web and mobile portal design and ongoing service development and will also integrate mobile delivery of AOL’s instant messenger service (AIM).

Not to be outdone in the business speak gobbledegook stakes Chris Locke, director of mobile at AOL Europe, said: “AOL strives to offer our users a compelling mobile experience; we want to continue to enrich the web to mobile experience and attract new mobile users through attractive, made for mobile content.”

One firm resolutely staying out of the services space is Motorola which this week unveiled its latest device. The MotoZine ZN5 is Moto’s first camera-centric phone. The firm has teamed up with Kodak and the device supports the camera specialist’s web and PC services. Users will almost certainly resort to uploading their images at home though because the terminal is only EDGE.

Sony Ericsson must be bricking it.

Ovum’s Adam Leach and Martin Garner were upbeat though, saying: “If this is the shape of Motorola’s strategy for a refresh of its entire portfolio, then it could well be the start of its recovery.”

Why no 3G? Who knows? It is certainly bucking the trend. European 3G WCDMA subscriptions passed the 100 million mark at the end of May according to the Informer’s analyst chums. Still, there ‘s a long way to go, five years after the region’s first commercial WCDMA network launch penetration only sits at 11.1 per cent.

Not surprisingly, Western Europe leads the way in terms of 3G subs. Informa Telecoms & Media reckons Central and Eastern Europe will break into double figures by early 2011.

As the makers of femtocells read this news they might want to consider packing their best Gucci and Armani power suits because Italy accounts for a quarter of Europe’s WCDMA subscriptions and has one of the highest 3G penetration rates at 28.7 per cent.

Why will they want to go to Italy? Well, because 3G in building coverage is rubbish apparently, and when it’s not rubbish outdoors so many people will want to use data hungry services that the networks will get over loaded. That’s the femto sales pitch see, the Informer knows because he went to see femto vendor Airvanna in the week.

He can confirm that watching YouTube on his phone via the femtocell yielded a first rate user experience. However, why he’d want to sit at home watching YouTube on his phone is beyond comprehension. Still, according to analysts at ABI Research, an estimated 40 per cent of European users might be making a femtocell purchase within the next year, this despite the fact that the majority of consumers would look blankly at you should you utter the word.

On Monday, femto vendor ip.access introduced a 3G Home Routing technology that connects 3G phones to a home network via a femtocell. ip.access claims the technology will make way for a new wave of applications such as streaming live video from a home media server to the handset, using the phone to browse the music on the home server and select tracks to play, or displaying a slideshow of phone photos on the TV.

All well and good for the digital home, but not all commentators think it will be that easy. Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis recently released a report which predicts that beyond the ‘femto 1.0’ business models, which work on the selling point that femtos work flawlessly with existing handsets, devices will need to be revised.

Bubley argued that if the phone will be used differently, it needs to be designed differently as well. “Standard phones can work with femtocells, but they are not optimised,” he notes. “The phone needs to be ‘aware’ of the femtocell, ideally both in the radio and the application platform.”

Meanwhile, back with our feet firmly on terra firma US MVNO Virgin Mobile is going toe to toe with the incumbent operators by introducing a flat rate calling plan for prepay subscribers.

The plan is called, like, Totally Unlimited. For $79.99 per month it, like, totally lets customers talk as much as they want to nationwide numbers, and for an extra ten bucks more per month, users can add Unlimited Text & Messaging. The Informer hopes for Virgin that the offer isn’t too unlimited.

Speaking of tariff-based malarkey Super-Viv’s been at it again. Commissioner Reding, the EU telecoms minister has proposed yet more measures to drive mobile phone charges “down, down, down”, as the man in black might have said. The EC has initiated a public consultation on the future regulation of mobile voice termination rates, which Viv reckons can come down by as much as 70 per cent.

Currently these charges are managed by national regulators and thus range enormously – from Euro0.02/minute in Cyprus to Euro0.18.minute in Bulgaria. Overall, mobile termination rates are nine times higher than fixed line charges. This distorts competition from country to country, Reding said, and makes for an uneven playing field for the fixed carriers. Not to mention unreasonably high costs for the blessed consumer, in whose name all of Reding’s crusades are carried out.

The Informer was due to cover a different story at this point but it was so boring that he fell asleep with his eyes open just reading it. So, instead we have the following news about The Waves!!! Dutch researchers have identified “potentially hazardous” effects on hospital equipment exposed to RFID technology. You can read the details about it here.

The thing about it that caught the Informer’s eye is that they apparently use RFID to track patients. Eh?

Surely there are only two types of patient that require RFID tracking: the elderly ones who’ve lost their conkers and think all the doctors and nurses are their children and the ones who have turned their toes up. I suppose you could use RFID to track the remains of all those people who cark it because RFID technology buggered up their life support. That would make for a neat case study.

Anyway, by way of a wrap-up, the Informer would like to apologise wholeheartedly to the Dutch nation. In this very newsletter last week he voiced his support for the Dutch football team and they promptly flopped out of Euro 2008, beaten by the Russians. This has been a theme of the Championships for the Informer. Every team to which he has pledged allegiance has been knocked out. So apologies to Croatia, Turkey and Russia as well.

So on this coming Sunday evening, having taken note of this alarming trend, the Informer will take a seat on his sofa, with a can of Becks and a bratwurst and throw his weight well and truly behind THE GERMANS!

Auf Wiedersehen

Das Informer

One comment

  1. Avatar Bernard Hayes 30/06/2008 @ 10:58 am

    Tell your friends at Nokia that this sounds like the Open Software Foundation V2.0


    The OSF didn’t unify Unix.


    Disgruntled ex-DECie

    Yes, young one, if you live long you see the same cycles repeating….

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