a week in wireless


Keep calm and carry on

The Informer fears this week’s AWIW bears a certain similarity to last week’s but assures you that this is an all new instalment. Just three days after the industry learned that Nokia chief OPK is to step down, his right hand man, Anssi Vanjoki, head of Mobile Solutions, also threw in the Wellington boot.

But the Informer wasn’t quite so dismayed at Vanjoki’s departure, again not because of a lack of any personal compassion for the man, but because the BBC had kindly solved the problem of remembering how to spell his name. It was a brief solution but one none the less, when Auntie referred to the departing exec as Anssi Vanjokia, the man from Nokia. The Informer snapped some proof of the rhyming gaffe before it was corrected.

Anssi Vanjokia, the man from Nokia

Vanjoki, as he should be known, has more than 20 years at Nokia under his belt and took on his new responsibilities on July 1st this year. He marked the occasion with a gung-ho blog post about his intentions to steer Nokia back to the top of the smartphone business claiming to be “obsessed” with the task of getting Nokia back to being number one in high-end devices.

It seems to have been a short lived obsession, and while at the time Vanjoki acknowledged that the task was no mean feat, his decision to quit has raised concerns that the mountain he was faced with may just be too big to climb. But there is also the possibility that there are compatibility issues with the incoming CEO Stephen Elop, currently head Microsoft’s Business division.

Analysts have raised questions about Elop’s ability to take the firm forward. His software expertise and prior roles with Macromedia/Adobe demonstrate the direction Nokia’s board feels the company needs to follow, but the handset business must be maintained. And this is an area in which he has little experience. “Balancing this requirement with the need to move Nokia forward in new areas may prove a difficult challenge to manage effectively,” said Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum.

Vanjoki’s announcement was ill timed for the firm, with the London Nokia World event taking place at the same time. The message was “keep calm and carry on” as the Finnish firm unveiled a trio of high end devices built on the new version of the Symbian platform, Symbian ^3, which together with the flagship N8 will form the first wave of Nokia’s renewed assault on the smartphone sector. The E7 is the new offering for the corporate sector, the C7 is pitched at social network users while the C6 is a scaled down unit aimed at users who want less bulk.

“Today our fight back to smartphone leadership shifts into high gear,” said an enthusiastically optimistic Niklas Savander, executive vice president, Markets, Nokia. “Based on the level of consumer interest and the highest online pre-orders in Nokia history, we expect big things from the Nokia N8,” he said.

Much has been made of the pressure Nokia finds itself under in the high end, with Android handsets gaining popularity and the bespoke players like RIM and Apple gaining serious ground. RIM in particular posted some timely results this week, reporting that second quarter revenue grew 31 per cent over the same quarter last year to $4.62bn, while earnings increased 76 per cent year on year to $796m. BlackBerry shipments grew more than 45 per cent to 12.1 million and the company’s subscriber base grew approximately 56 per cent over the prior year to over 50 million.

But Nokia and RIM’s Korean rival, LG, which currently holds third place in the handset manufacturer rankings, was also having a crisis of confidence at leadership level. LG CEO Nam Yong has handed in his resignation after the firm posted a record loss at the flagship handset business. Nam will be replaced on October 1st by Koo Bon Joon, who just happens to be LG Group chairman Koo Bon Moo’s younger brother, and a grandson of LG Group founder Koo In Hwoi. Nothing like keeping it in the family, eh? Still, the Informer would never go into business with his own relations.

Back to Nokia World now where Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao caused a bit of a stir with the warning that we would all be in tiers before long. During his keynote presentation, Colao said that the end of the culture of “free-ism” was approaching and data pricing had to adjust accordingly. The Vodafone chief said that streaming music and video were the biggest contributors to data traffic on his company’s network and suggested that every class of service must have its own price – a hint at the more varied and sophisticated pricing strategies expected to come.

In June, Vodafone UK scrapped the fair usage policy on its 500MB Flexi or Value Pack offerings, introducing out of bundle charging for pay monthly customers that go over the 500MB limit. The carrier also introduced a real-time notification service to alert its customers to their usage patterns in an attempt to be completely transparent about these charges and to “protect [its] network from data abuse”. Vodafone’s German operation has already said that it will cap its LTE pricing plans based on speed when it launches them before year end.

The Big V is also expected to shed more weight following a reorganisation of its structure late last week, in which certain assets were left out of new portfolios, with management given a remit to “maximise shareholder value” from them. The company recently divested its 3.2 per cent stake in China Mobile and it is thought to have placed a £7bn ($10.78bn) price tag on its 44 per cent stake in French mobile carrier SFR. Polish carrier Polkomtel, Indian player Bharti and the much-discussed stake in US player Verizon Wireless joined SFR on the ‘get rid’ list.

Denmark’s TDC was in a similar mood, announcing a deal to sell its Swiss subsidiary, Sunrise Communications for CHF3.3bn ($3.27bn) to private equity firm CVC. Still, the move was second choice for TDC after ComCo, the Swiss Competition Commission ruled back in April that a proposed merger of France Telecom’s Orange Switzerland with Sunrise would not be allowed to go ahead.

Still, $3.27bn ain’t a bad haul and as Thorton Wilder said: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.” Which is exactly what newly resurgent handset vendor Motorola was up to, when it announced the acquisition of a privately held developer of location based software known as Aloqa. Naturally, the transaction was FAUD (for an undisclosed sum).

The handset vendor owes much of its success to the adoption of the Android platform and has been expanding its development ecosystem, most recently with the acquisition of 280 North. Aloqa distributes its platform as a mobile application for smartphone operating systems including Android, with an end user base of more than one million. Motorola said it will use Aloqa’s expertise to enhance its MotoBlur UI to connect users and publishers of location-aware content in real-time.

Speaking of which, social networking monster Facebook has launched its Places feature in the UK, following the launch in the US last month and Japan earlier this week.

Places is a location-enabled service element that lets smartphone (iPhone only) users publicise their whereabouts through the site. Users can also tag friends who are with them, and locate other friends that may be nearby. The service chimes with many of the location-based service concepts touted within the mobile industry when LBS first rose to prominence a decade or more ago.

Of course, privacy has been one of biggest negative issues surrounding Facebook and its user base. And the company is already moving to neutralise concerns over the prospect of third parties publicising a user’s location, regardless of whether they have ‘friend’ status or not.

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

The Informer

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One comment

  1. Avatar Paul W 17/09/2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Regarding the tiered pricing on data…if that is not done carefully, it will encourage the return to downloading/copying at off hours/lower rates followed by local streaming, which will in turn encourage certain forms of piracy, no? I thought the powers-that-be were loving the streaming thing since it precludes piracy…witness Netflix.

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