a week in wireless

Ladies and Gentlemen: Please give it up for… Lent!

We’re well into Lent now, as any practising Christians among the Informer’s readership will tell you. Lent – when the religion’s followers are encouraged to forego a regular food, habit or pleasure – is one of those elements of Christianity that has been adopted by the secular community. Each year unbelievers can be found using it as a handy pre-allocated time period in which to cut out the booze or stop gorging on fatty snacks.

But over in Italy, which is home to one or two prominent Catholics, as you know, one Archbishop has called for the nation’s youth to relinquish text messaging for the duration of Lent, along with social networks and video games. Apparently, said Monsignor Benito Cocchi, this will allow them to “cleanse themselves from the virtual world and get back into touch with themselves.” They will, of course, lose touch with all their friends, but that’s by the by.

The Informer has been unable to get any comment from Italy’s operators on the Archbishop’s proposal, which could prove costly if he has any sway with Italian teens. They’re a text-happy bunch, after all, and revenues could take a dent. A Lent dent. But the Informer can’t see the carriers publicly denouncing the church (although he’d dearly love to sit back and watch such a fracas), so they’ll probably take a vow of silence on the matter.

So what are other people giving up? Well, Telekom Austria (TA) CEO Boris Nemsic is giving up his job. Nemsic, who’s been at TA in one capacity or another for 13 years, is jumping ship to take the helm at Russian carrier VimpelCom. It’s a big step up for Nemsic, with VimpelCom boasting 57.8 million mobile customers across Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazahkstan and Ukraine as of Q308. The firm also won licences to operate in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2008.

Mobilkom, TA’s mobile arm, which Nemsic ran as CEO prior to assuming control of the whole group in 2006, counted 17.8 million customers at the close of 2008 across Austria and seven Eastern European states.

In his ‘it’s not you it’s me’ speech, Nemsic said: “Today Telekom Austria Group is a well-positioned and strong player in the telecommunication markets in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, with sound domestic mobile and fixed net business. The strong growth of our mobile communication segment in 2008 in particular, as well as the first positive developments of the fixed net access lines in 12 years are clear evidence of the potential of this company.”

Nemsic will be succeeded by Hannes Ametsreiter, who presently holds the position of chief marketing officer at mobilkom.

TA published its results last week, and you can read them here.

Speaking of results, the Informer had seriously been considering using Lent as the ideal opportunity to stop reporting Nortel‘s, such litanies of woe as they are. But he’s sad to tell you that he’s cracked already. The headline number released this week was a biggie: The Canadian vendor lost $5.8bn in 2008, compared to $957 in 2007, with Q4 losses alone hitting $2.1bn. Revenues were all but flat at $10.4bn. Tax and goodwill write downs cost the firm around $5.5bn.

In a move of bold positivity, Nortel opted to retain the ‘Business Highlights’ section of its release statement. All this contained, however, was the news that, from Q1 this year, the firm will report its results under a new operating model with four business units; Carrier Networks, Enterprise Solutions, Metro Ethernet and the LG-Nortel joint venture. This can be used my mathematicians to form the following equation:

Pig + Lipstick = Nortel definition of ‘Business Highlights’

The firm would have been better off including in this section the news that, despite the great big hole where the profit should be, it still managed to increase its cash balance at the end of the year to $2.8bn from $2.7bn at the end of the third quarter.

Also resulting this week was France Telecom, with profit dropping to E4.5bn for 2008 from E6.8bn in 2007. Mobile services performed well, with Orange reporting 121.8 million customers at year end, gaining 11.8 million new additions during the year. The number of mobile broadband customers was up to 26.7 million, compared with 15.7 million at the end of December 2007.

The results won high praise from the abacus fiddlers: “In our opinion, the story in today’s results is France Telecom’s ability to drive operational top-line and bottom-line growth in what remains a difficult macro-economic environment. This, coupled with enough visibility to give solid guidance on minimum organic cash flow for the mid-term, highlights why we continue to view Euro telecoms as a beacon of stability in difficult times,” said Michael Kovacocy, European telecoms analyst and sector strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Now, complete the following sequence:

Space Hoppers, Deely Boppers, flared jeans, jelly beans, shell suits, platform boots, Star Wars and …?

No? Well, it’s App Stores, as all the rest were rhyming pairings of trends that were hallmarks of their times. And by crikey if app stores aren’t just the Rubik’s Cube of 2009; everyone and their dog is at it. In fact, the Informer fully expects the Queen of England to launch one soon. She’s already got a channel on YouTube, featuring footage of her happy slapping her staff.

But until the Buckingham Palace App Boutique opens up we’ll have to make do with the Research in Motion Blackberry App World. The Canadian vendor has started accepting submissions for its application store, which is due to open its doors later this month. BlackBerry App World will launch in the US, UK and Canada, with local language versions to follow soon after. Developers can already submit their apps to the store for RIM’s consideration, although there is no word just yet on how tough the vetting process will be.

RIM has advised developers to bear a number of features in mind when writing applications for the BlackBerry platform, including ease of use, speed, user interface, and battery drain. But the firm has hinted it will also favour applications that integrate well with the BlackBerry software and hardware, by making use of available features on the device such as GPS or camera, as well as its push technology.

A fancy new app store the firm might well have, but it couldn’t manage to find an executive to talk to the Informer about a feature he’s writing on mobile operating systems. Is it having a spring clean in the boardroom, do you think?

The Blackberry may have the sweetest juice, but it’s the Apple that’s the most popular with frequenters of the mobile internet. At least, that’s what website tracking firm StatCounter says, which reported this week that the iPhone overtook Opera as the most popular mobile browsing platform in mid-February. Now StatCounter reckons that the iPhone has 24 per cent of the global mobile browser market (in usage terms).

Opera has 22 per cent of the global market, followed by Nokia‘s in-house browser platform with 18 per cent. But Apple is back in the rankings at number four, with the iPod Touch wifi device claiming 14 per cent. BlackBerry trails behind with 5.8 per cent of the global market.

One place where it turns out you can guarantee that you won’t find an iPhone being used, however, is at the home of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. Mrs G. gave an interview to Vogue recently, which hit the IT and mobile consciousness this week (not far off a month after it came out – which kind of shows how fashion savvy we all are) in which she revealed that none of the couple’s kids are allowed Apple devices of any sort. No iPhones, no iPods, nada.

The Informer imagines this is the only way in which the Gates troop are deprived but he can’t help but feel it’s a bit over the top. After all, if you tell kids they can’t have something, they’ll want it all the more. And you’ll drive them to furtive behaviour. Before you know it, they’ll be in some filthy squat getting iHits all day long, their eyes vacant, their skin pallid and clammy. Much better to let them use these things in the house, where you can check up on them.

Melinda even conceded that she experiences pangs of envy when her friends whip out their iPhones, which for Bill must be tantamount to her visibly lusting after muscle-bound men in the streets. The Vogue article also described Melinda as having “luminous chestnut hair that falls freely to her shoulders,” which makes it sound like the poor woman has alopecia.

The Gates’ will probably survive the credit crunch intact, if the Informer’s financial analysis skills are to be relied upon, and in this way they are not unlike the smartphone sector, according to Informa Telecoms & Media (ITM). Despite the global slowdown in consumer spending, handset vendors are expected to reap the benefits of growth in the smartphone segment, with sales of high end handsets on an upward curve over the next five years, the analyst firm said.

Figures released by ITM this week predict that, while total new handset sales will fall 10.1 per cent year on year through 2009, sales of smartphones are expected to grow 35.3 per cent. By 2013, smartphone penetration is forecast to treble to just over 38 per cent, accounting four almost four in ten of all handsets sold worldwide. In 2009, smartphones are expected to account for around 13.5 percent of all new handsets sold worldwide.

Just over 49 per cent of all smartphones sold in 2008 were based on Symbian, a significant drop from a near 65 per cent share it enjoyed one year earlier. While Informa notes that this is largely due to the relatively poor performance of Nokia’s smartphone range, it is also an indication of the popularity enjoyed by competing platforms including Linux, BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, OS X on the iPhone and new entrant Android.

And finally, if you were in the same line of work as the Informer, you’d know that some PR people can be a bit presumptuous. Check out this email that the Informer received this morning:

“I’m sure you’ll be including the news that Telcordia and Syniverse have been selected by the DoT in India for their MNP solutions. I look forward to reading that later.”

And this, readers, from a PR who has never even taken the Informer out for lunch! Jeez, some people.

Take care,

The Informer

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