a week in wireless


Iron Ladies, Curtains, Skies

This week the people of Britain bid farewell (or at least goodbye) to a woman who divided the nation in death as much as she did in life. Ex-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was a strong proponent of free market economics – support the big guys and the devil take the hindmost.

It caused trouble then and it still does now. Over in Canada this week three of the country’s smaller operators quit industry body the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), with the claim that the association consistently shows bias towards the country’s three largest operators.

Wind Mobile, Public Mobile and Mobilicity are dwarfed by the country’s leading players in terms of subscriber numbers and voiced their mounting frustration with the CWTA’s “consistent bias” in favour of Rogers, Bell and Telus on a wide variety of issues.

Gary Wong, director of legal affairs at Mobilicity said: “There seems to be a blatant disregard of the new entrants in favour of acting in the best interests of the Big Three carriers and it is unacceptable.”

The move marks a growing frustration among smaller operators and new entrants towards the power wielded by the industry’s big players. According to trade body the European Telecoms Association (ECTA) the situation is no different in Europe.

“There are more that a 100 operators in Europe and the ones that are most represented in the industry are the ones with the biggest market share,” said a spokesperson.“The views of the bigger operators are normally the most influential in industry bodies.”

Microsoft, Oracle and Nokia aren’t typically names you hear in reference to the underdog (well, Nokia more so these days, perhaps), but that’s what these guys were straight-facedly claiming as they filed a complaint under the united brand ‘FairSearch’ with the European Commission asserting that Google has used anti-competitive practices to dominate the mobile space.

The Informer isn’t sure if the group’s ‘FairSearch’ moniker is ironic but the trio claim that Google has unfairly cemented its control over consumers’ mobile internet experience and in online advertising for mobile.That’s right, Microsoft is anti-monopoly.

Google’s Android platform runs on 70 per cent of devices shipped at the end of 2012, according to Strategy Analytics, FairSearch noted, and Google has a 96 per cent share of the mobile search advertising the market, according to research agency eMarketer.

“Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolise the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data,” said Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition, demanding the search giant’s suppression.

For which read: “Google has achieved something we haven’t achieved. And that makes us angry!”

But if you suppress something, your actions often have the opposite effect. In an example of one kind of emotion Maggie Thatcher inspired in society, sorry, ‘people’, the big closing number from the 1939 film the Wizard of Oz – ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ – has made a comeback and is currently threatening to take a top spot in the British music charts. As a result, UK broadcaster the BBC will be obliged to play the song during the official chart show on Saturday, to the glee of the nation’s Thatcher-haters.

Surprisingly, UKIP leader Nigel Farage – a staunch supporter of Thatcher’s – was calling for the song to be played on the basis that: “If you suppress things then you make them popular, so play the bloody thing. If you ban it, it will be number one for weeks.”

Chinese infrastructure vendor Huawei appeared to benefit from a similar attitude this week, when the Australian government was seen to offer an olive branch to the firm. Last year Huawei was told not to bid for any contracts relating to Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) project, reportedly due to security concerns harboured by the government.

Yet this week, Huawei chairwoman Sun Yafang was pictured grinning into camera with Aussie Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Beijing and the company says it is working with Australia’s ICT industry and has established a local board of directors in Australia. Huawei Australia has grown from a company with 20 staff in 2004 to over 700 staff today, the firm said, over 85 per cent of which are locals.

The Chinese firm saw its net profit for 2012 increase by almost a quarter year on year to reach CNY15.38bn ($2.47bn), while revenue for the year stood at CNY220bn, up from the CNY203.9bn recorded in 2011 due to growth across all three of its business groups: carrier network, enterprise and consumer (devices).

The Iron Lady would have approved no doubt, one of the main tenets of the free market system is that the lowest bidder always wins, and this is something that, over the years, has helped Huawei win a lot of business—at least in the early days. The Informer was reminded of a comment by Mercury-Atlas 6 astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth (three times) in 1962. When asked how he felt during his flight, he replied deadpan: “As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind: Every part of this capsule was supplied by the lowest bidder.”

Huawei’s founder and chairman Ren Zhengfei, is clearly buoyed by the turnaround in Australia and is hoping that a similar reversal might be on the cards in the USA. In a statement released to coincide with the results announcement he revealed that “With lofty aspirations and esprit de corps, we are striding across the Pacific Ocean”. In a call to arms message called “Might from a Small Hole, Benefits from One Source,” which the Informer suspects might have been ghost written by Eric Cantona, Zhengfei called for his employees to be more passionate about their work, “then there will be nothing we cannot conquer.”

As though in reference to Glenn’s rocket, Zhengfei said: “As we know, water and air are among the most gentle stuff in the world…We also know that this same gentle air can send rockets into space. The high-speed exhaust that results from the burning of rocket fuel can generate tremendous thrust through a small hole in a device called a de Laval nozzle; the air expanding out of the nozzle can propel mankind into space.”

It’s probably not so little known a fact since this week, but a young Mrs Thatcher was part of a lab team that developed emulsifiers for ice cream, effectively allowing outfits like Mr Whippy to sell less frozen comestibles to sunburned Brits for more money by inflating the product with air.

And on the subject of air expanding out of nozzles, we come to the lawyers of Apple and Motorola Mobility, which were this week held in check by a Floridian judge who accused them of using their litigations around the world as “a business strategy that appears to have no end.”

Declaring the litigation an improper use of the court – a case which now includes over 180 claims asserted from 12 patents, the meaning of over 100 terms of which are disputed – Judge Robert N. Scola of the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, said the parties are asking the Court “to mop up a mess they made by holding a hearing to reduce the size and complexity of the case. The Court declines this invitation.”

Apple’s operator management strategy won some support from an unlikely quarter this week in the form of UK operator EE. Since Telecoms.com broke the news that Apple is vetting networks for LTE capability before activating the technology on the iPhone 5, more and more carriers are speaking out about it.

But EE’s CEO Olaf Swantee believes that the practice is good for the industry and good for consumers. The operator launched its 4G network in September 2012, with the iPhone available at launch as an LTE-capable device.

“We work very closely with Apple and other manufacturers to ensure the device experience is right, because we agree with Apple,” Swantee said. “You really need to make sure, as we move away from pure voice and text, that the mobile internet experience is good and solid.”

“We have seen many 4G operators that are not announcing the leading 4G handsets on their network because their 4G network does not support a good customer experience, so we absolutely support [Apple’s policy],” he added.

This week EE also said it is doubling network speeds for all of its 4G LTE subscribers, after gaining permission from Ofcom to refarm its 1800MHz spectrum for LTE. Making the most of its competitive advantage, EE has now doubled the amount of 1800MHz spectrum bandwidth that it dedicates to LTE services — from 10MHz to 20MHz. This, the firm said, will double the average speed 4G customers experience to more than 20Mbps, offer increased capacity on the network and boost headline speeds to 80Mbps.

LTE speeds will be introduced in ten UK cities by summer: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield. The network currently covers just over 50 per cent of the UK population in 50 cities across the nation.

Coverage has always been a contentious issue, and this week industry body the GSMA called for national governments and regulators to review their approach to Universal Service Fund (USF) levies, which it has labelled as inefficient and ineffective.

Designed to extend rural coverage or lower the cost of mobile ownership, USFs are collected by imposing a levy on a country’s operators to be used for providing communication services to the underserved.

But the GSMA surveyed 64 USFs and concluded that most of them remain inefficient and ineffective, with more than $11bn waiting to be disbursed between them. “USF levies and taxes have been established without any substantive analysis regarding the actual service funding or subsidy levels needed, if at all,” the GSMA said in a statement. “Many funds continue to request operator contributions that appear to be in excess of the actual USF needs or capabilities even though they seem unable to use the levies collected.”

And there’s nothing that unsettles the GSMA more than millions of dollars sitting around unaccounted for.

How are you accounted for? That’s an interesting and timely question posed this week by Google, which looks to be the first major company to deal with the tricky subject of what happens to your online information after you die.

A set of features applying to Google-owned email and social services will give users the option to set their information to be auto-deleted after a certain period of inactivity, or to have that data passed on to specific people.

“We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife – in a way that protects your privacy and security – and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone,” Google said. There was no mention of what will happen to people who emerge from a persistent vegetative state that has lasted several years.

“Yay! I’m awake! What? My Gmail’s been deleted? Put me back under!”

Facebook has tackled this same issue to an extent, by allowing users to “memorialise” the account of the deceased, thereby continuing the reality distortion that is its most fundamentally appealing feature to the dead and gone.

The Informer’s not sure if Thatcher had a Facebook page, she only slept four hours a night so she presumably had time for social media, but he expects there are ‘memorial’ pages aplenty out there.

And at that natural conclusion it seems fitting to reach another conclusion, so the Informer will wrap up this week’s AWIW and see you next Friday.

Take care

The Informer


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