a week in wireless

Keep your eyes on the skies!

So, is anyone worried about getting squashed by a defunct weather satellite today? NASA says  we shouldn’t be concerned, as the odds of risk to life from the falling weather satellite are one in 3,200. Now, far be it from the Informer to question the sense of the megabrains at the US space agency, but 3200:1 doesn’t sound like great odds. The risk of getting hit by lightning in a given year in the US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is one in a million. Those odds seem a lot better to the Informer. Until you realise that the average annual death toll from lightning strikes in the US is 39. Suddenly one in 3,200 starts to look a little dicey, doesn’t it?

For wannabe US wholesale player LightSquared, rogue satellites are one problem it has yet to encounter. It’s got enough on its plate keeping the Coalition to Save Our GPS at bay. The carrier, fronted by ex-Orange boss CEO and backed by billionaire investor Philip Falcone, announced this week that it will shortly be bringing to market a range of filters that will end, once and for all, the interference issues that are peeving existing US GPS players.

The firm said Wednesday that it has signed an agreement with a company called Javad GNSS to develop filters that will “eliminate related interference issues for high-precision GPS devices.” Prototypes have apparently been tested and units will be made available for public testing next month. Ahuja made a statement suggesting that the whole thing was little more than a silly misunderstanding.

“I have said from the beginning that this interference issue will be resolved as soon as smart engineers like Javad Ashjaee [CEO of Javad GNSS] put their minds to it,” Ahuja said. “With this new system, Mr. Ashjaee makes another mark for himself as a cutting edge pioneer in the precision GPS industry, a field he has helped shape for more than 30 years.” Does anyone else find that statement just a bit… weird.

Certainly it’s unlikely to convince people with massive firepower at their disposal. The CSOGPS linked to a report this week that quoted General William Shelton, the man in charge of US Air Force Space Command, saying definitively that LightSquared and GPS “cannot co-exist”. Shelton believes that the kind of filters LightSquared claims to have rustled up in double time would take a decade to retrofit to US Defence systems and would cost billions of dollars to create.

And it’s not just the flyboys getting uppity. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann this week wrote an open letter in which she accused President Obama of “overlooking national security” to progress the LightSquared cause on account of his relationship with Falcone, a donor to the Democrats. “Our national leadership should be ashamed. The support of LightSquared is crony capitalism at its worst,” she said.

This could work out well for LightSquared, though, as Bachmann could probably give Sarah Palin a run for her money in a Stupid Race. The internet is awash with examples of Bachmann’s comedy bigotry and wild pronouncements. She thinks the Lion King is gay propaganda, and claims that there is no scientific evidence that Carbon Dioxide is harmful to human beings.

Still, it seems that if you’re a US mobile operator under attack, the Democrats are on hand to lend you their support. It emerged this week that Obama received a letter from 15 Democrats urging him to ensure approval for AT&T’s controversial bid to acquire T-Mobile USA. The politicians said that the deal would create jobs and investment. Although when you’re spending $39bn on an acquisition, you’re going to be looking for some pretty hefty economies of scale, and deals like this usually cut jobs rather than create them.

AT&T’s LTE network went live in five cities on Sunday, meanwhile. Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston were the lucky handful and early reports on the (obviously lightly loaded) network were pretty good. Analyst firm Signals Research got an average speed of 23.6Mbps downloading 90GB of data over three days.

The Department of Justice, which has filed a suit against AT&T’s proposal was in the news this week because of its expensive taste in muffins. Apparently the DoJ serves $16 muffins at its get-togethers, presumably the kind of muffin that even Aerosmith lyricist Steven Tyler, who purports to know a lot about muffins, has never seen.

In France regulator ARCEP has revealed the winners in the 2.6GHz spectrum auctions, with the acceptance of the applications from Orange, Bouygues, SFR and Free Mobile. Bouygues got 15MHz, as did SFR, with the other two getting 20MHz. The French purse was €936m fatter as a result, on a reserve price of €700m.

Sticking with spectrum, Vodafone Hutchison Australia has bolstered its 1800MHz spectrum holding with an eye on future LTE roll-outs, following a deal with state rail authorities. The operator has said that an agreement between itself and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), which holds the licenses to the 1800MHZ spectrum, to create contiguous blocks of spectrum in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, had been approved by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

1800MHz is proving to be crucial for the success of LTE in Australia as 700MHz digital dividend spectrum will not be available for auction until the end of 2012. In the meantime, all operators in the country have announced plans to roll-out next generation services using 1800MHz spectrum.

Top of the list of people you might not want to be this week is former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who became the firm’s former CEO with an unceremonious ejection on Thursday. Apotheker took the reins at HP late last year and in the ten months of his tenure the firm has been flip-flopping like a fish out of water.

Of note is the $1.2bn purchase of Palm in 2010 which has now been written off, as WebOS, the software HP was so keen to get its hands on, has been binned. The news was a complete u-turn on plans announced in March under which the webOS operating system would be installed on every PC shipped by HP. In fact, HP is getting out of the hardware business altogether, with Apotheker announcing plans to spin off the Personal Systems Group as a separate entity if it can’t find a buyer.

Now the word is that HP is laying off over 500 staff directly involved in the WebOS platform. Instead the focus is on cloud computing, with the firm having spent $10bn on Autonomy.

It’s the second time in two years Apotheker has been forced out of a top role. He joined HP from SAP, which he left under a cloud (ahem), with SAP accused of nicking software from Oracle and reselling it to the latter’s customers at a knock-down price. His replacement, effective immediately, is Meg Whitman, the former head of eBay, who is credited with building the auction site into a global force.

HP and Oracle have been riding the app store bandwagon this week, both unveiling platforms designed to help service providers and operators get their own app store initiatives underway.

HP’s SDP Storefront Portal is an extension of the company’s service delivery platform (SDP) technology, and offers a framework capable of enabling two-sided business models: wholesale and retail. As well as the actual marketplace, HP’s suite offers application programming interfaces (APIs) and a test-and-certification module to ensure that applications work as intended on subscriber devices.

In a similar pitch, Oracle announced its own Digital Store platform, designed to help service providers manage the complete content lifecycle, spanning content submission, test and approval and storefront management of their app stores, the firm said.

In other personnel news, meanwhile, Nokia has confirmed that CTO Rich “Rich” Green, who walked out over the summer, won’t be returning to work. Instead, he is immediately replaced by Henry Tirri, who previously headed up Nokia’s research facility and has a background in research in intelligent machines.

Green, who was appointed CTO in May 2010, took an extended leave of absence one year later after falling out with new president and CEO Stephen Elop over the Finnish firm’s tech strategy. A veteran of Sun Microsystems and a mover and shaker in the Java world, Green was sidelined when the firm outsourced development of the floundering Symbian operating system to Accenture, while MeeGo was shelved in favour of Microsoft Windows Phone.

While we’re on the topic of smarpthone platforms, the ongoing spat between Apple and Samsung continues apace, with the Korean vendor looking to block the sale of the iPhone 5 in its home market, when it launches. Samsung reckons the iPhone range infringes seven of its South Korean patents.

Taiwanese player Via Technologies is also suing Apple over an alleged infringement of three patents.

Meanwhile Google got its wallet out this week; it’s mobile wallet, that is. A trial version of the service launched in May and, while it is now a commercial reality, it remains early days. Only the Samsung Nexus S WiMAX handset supports the service on the Sprint network, although the retail side is supported by the MasterCard PayPass nework, which has 124,000 points of sale in the US and more than 311,000 worldwide.

Google Wallet still has a long way to go before it is rolled out on a large scale and it faces competition from several quarters. Similar announcements came in a flurry, with Orange’s European operations promising to deliver an NFC-enabled version of the Samsung Galaxy S II in October as part of its Cityzi portfolio, which is promoting NFC service in France on behalf of the French mobile contactless association (AFSCM).

The Android device will use the SIM card to guarantee the security of contactless mobile services, which is where the system differs from Google, which is pushing the idea of a separate, dedicated ‘secure element’ within each NFC device. Yet Orange said that a new generation of secure SIM cards will soon be rolled out in France and the group is working with equipment manufacturers to ensure that more than half of the new smartphone models are compatible with the contactless services.

In a separate announcement however, Google revealed that it has secured a worldwide licence for Visa Paywave, which gives Visa-issuing banks the opportunity to offer Visa account holders the chance to add their debit, credit and prepaid cards to Google Wallet, expanding the service’s reach even further, particularly given Visa’s presence in Europe.

Friday morning, just as the Informer was getting ready to send out this week’s edition, reports were surfacing that Google is readying an MVNO play in Spain. Details are sketchy and we haven’t got any form of confirmation yet, but be sure to keep your eyes on Telecoms.com as we’ll no doubt have the skinny soon.

Take care

The Informer

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