a week in wireless

Lording it up

The Informer braced himself for the announcement that Apple was initiating a lawsuit against a manufacturer of adult nappies this week, when he saw the news that the UK’s non-elected legislative chamber, the House of Lords, is to allow the use of iPads during debates. The obvious conclusion to reach on reading such news is that there is a type of incontinence guard called the iPad, and that they are being supplied to the dusty old relics in the HoL to stop them having to nip out to the toilet when they’re supposed to be listening to their peers pontificating. And you’d expect the Apple legal team to jump on that kind of brand infringement, quicksmart. You’d never conclude that the Lords actually use something as technologically advanced as the Apple iPad, although they are probably all dependent on a wide range of tablets.

But the Informer was wrong, and it was indeed the Apple product that has been cleared for use in the chamber, so long as the Lords don’t use it to research a debate in progress.

As if! Far more likely is that the Lords just want to take a leaf from the e-book of Italian politician Simeone Di Cagno Abbrescia, who was photographed using his iPad to browse the website of a high class escort agency while he was supposed to be listening to a vote of no confidence in the Culture Minister. Way to dispel those nagging cultural stereotypes, Simeone!

While a device was spotted at the launch this week of Rupert Murdoch’s new tablet-specific newspaper that was believed to be the iPad 2, it was Honeycomb, the tablet version of Android, that was getting more coverage. (Although we’re still waiting for release dates for the first products running the new version of the platform.)

It’s all go for Android at present. The Google-backed operating system overtook Nokia’s Symbian during the fourth quarter of 2010 to become the leading platform in the smartphone segment according to market analyst firm Canalys. Shipments of Android devices reached 32.9 million by Canalys’ estimation, with Symbian trailing on 31 million. But Symbian’s performance keeps Nokia in first position among the vendors, with 28 per cent market share in the top tier, the analyst said.

The increasing popularity of smartphones saw segment shipments grow by 89 per cent to 101.2 million units for the quarter, pushing the number for 2010 as a whole to just shy of 300 million units.

Now the Informer has never been a dedicated follower of fashion, but when it comes to handsets he might be considered something of an early adopter. Actually, given that fashion is cyclical, and trends always come back after 20 years or so, he may well be a very early adopter. Having jumped from Symbian to the iPhone shortly after it first came out, he this week took the plunge and ditched Apple in favour of the Nexus S, feeling somewhat emboldened by his recent experiences with the Galaxy Tab.

Also crafted by Samsung, the Nexus S is supposed to be the Android experience as Google intended it. An unskinned version of Gingerbread (2.3) zips along on Samsung’s own in house developed 1GHz ARM Cortex Hummingbird processor. This was an interesting element in itself, as it looks like the Hummingbird is the only rival to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon which is currently favoured by the Android-backing smartphone vendors. They’re natural enemies in the wild – don’t hummingbirds eat snapdragons for breakfast?

The Informer doesn’t like change. But once he got over the initial bits of the OS he didn’t like, mainly because they differed from the iPhone, he began to feel liberated by the amount of customisation and personalisation at his disposal. If desired, an Android device could clearly be set up to mimic the iPhone almost exactly. It’s a very flexible software platform.

In terms of hardware, while the Nexus S sports the Hummingbird, 16GB of storage, a curved super AMOLED display and dual cameras, the Informer can’t help but feel that the device is a bit ‘plasticky’. It lacks something of the heft of the iPhone and maybe an aluminium back plate or a bit of metal trim would have made a lot of difference to those shallow enough to be swayed by appearances.

One other thing the Nexus S incorporates, which is of practically zero use right now, is NFC. But if you remember last week the Informer wrote about Everything Everywhere’s plan to roll out a commercial contactless mobile payment service by early summer and hinted at a similar announcement from another UK carrier. Well, this week O2 UK confirmed plans to deploy a mobile wallet app in the second half of this year, which will allow users to pay for physical items and maybe even incorporate the Londoner’s Oyster card.

In related news, LG is also jumping on the bandwagon and will be adding NFC into its product mix for handsets released in Europe in 2012. It’s that whole “in time for the Olympics” thing again.

On the subject of mobile money, Ericsson has announced its entry into the mobile financial services market, with the launch of Ericsson Money Services. Aiming to address demand for mobile financial services in both developed and developing markets, the firm said that it is “set to create a global ecosystem that make sending money person to person as simple as sending an SMS.”

Informa Telecoms & Media has forecast that revenues from mobile banking and payment services will grow from $831m worldwide at the end of last year to $5.4bn by the end of 2013. By this time, Informa predicts, there will be more than 3.2 billion users of mobile financial services worldwide.

Back in its more traditional space, Ericsson said this week that it had wrung 168Mbps downlink from Singaporean incumbent Singtel’s HSPA network in a multi-carrier HSPA demonstration. Meanwhile Huawei and Australian carrier Optus were bristling with pride having achieved 150Mbps over LTE at 2.6GHz. So has Ericsson shot down its own LTE sales story with its HSPA speed record? Not according to Jan Häglund, VP and deputy head of PAIB, product area IP and Broadband, who said that HSPA needs continued work because it is where the smartphone ecosystem will remain focused for some time to come.

The Swedish vendor has obviously softened towards its two JVs, Sony Ericsson and ST Ericsson, meanwhile, as it will be bringing them into the warmth of its giant hall at MWC, now that they’re both turning profits. Ahh, the family reunited. For now.

While we’re on the topics of handsets and silicon, Infineon’s sale of its Wireless Solutions business to Intel, first announced in April last year, was concluded this week. Some 3,500 staff will be joining the new Intel Mobile Communications business, to be headquartered just outside Munich, with the deal worth $1.4bn.

Also in the money was the UK’s ARM Holdings, which reported Q4 revenues for last year of $179.6m, up 28 per cent year on year. ARM had the smartphone market to thank, but CEO Warren East talked of a “broadening range of electronic products” offering scope for further growth. The firm signed 35 processor licences during Q4 last year.

Sticking with results boosted by smartphones, Vodafone reported a significant rise in data revenues during the final quarter of 2010, with data actually exceeding messaging revenues for the first time ever. The proliferation of smartphones and growing use of mobile broadband dongles among enterprises was largely responsible for the growth, Vodafone said.

Data revenues increased 27.2 per cent year on year during the fourth quarter to hit £1.327bn, just edging out messaging revenues at £1.319bn. Overall group revenues increased by 3 per cent year on year to £11.894bn, while service revenues increased by 2.1 per cent to £10.9bn. Operating profit for the year, which ends in March for Vodafone, is expected to come in at between £11.8bn and £12.2bn. The carrier has around 360 million customers as of the end of 2010, an increase of 14.4 per cent year on year.

This didn’t sit too comfortably with a mischievous marketing gambit from Tellabs that warned operators that they are likely to reach ‘end of profit’ in a little over two years. The costs of building and running networks could exceed the revenues those networks generate before too long, Tellabs suggested, with North American carriers facing the most urgent reckoning, in Q1 2013. Developed Asia Pacific carriers were looking at Q3 2013, with Western Europe winning a reprieve until Q1 2014.

It was a bid to sell solutions, of course, with Tellabs careful to point out that the operators modelled were all hypothetical, and all sticking with things like flat rate billing for data, which most operators are currently moving away from.

“Spuriouser and spuriouser,” quipped one wag, although there were some hefty downturns in the news this week as well, lending credence to Tellabs basic observation that the operator model is increasingly under threat. China Unicom announced that its full year profits for 2010 are likely to be less than half what the company reported for 2009. The news came days after it was revealed that the Chinese carrier is to deepen its equity relationship with Telefónica, with the Spanish incumbent investing €500m to take its stake in Unicom to 9.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, Indian player Bharti Airtel was feeling the Zain strain, as its profits fell by 41 per cent for the last quarter, to $291m. Revenues were up by 53 per cent to $3.52bm thanks to the Zain acquisition, but profits were high by one-off charges relating to the deal, as well as increased debt interest and some spectrum charges, Bharti said.

Finally, Vodafone was also in the news this week on the back of the unrest that has been seen in Egypt. The carrier came under criticism for disabling its network in certain areas and sending out partisan messages to its users. Vodfaone hit back at the accusations, saying that the Egyptian Government was to blame. “Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.”

Take care

The Informer

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