a week in wireless

Monkey Business

This week it was announced that a new species of monkey had been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To the untrained eye – and even to the trained eye – this new monkey bears a striking resemblance to species already in circulation. Nevertheless, close inspection revealed it to be distinct from its peers. The fact that the differences are less in evidence than the similarities has not dampened the sense of jubilation in the monkey-studying community, because new monkeys don’t come along all that often.

Now, does this remind you of anything else that happened this week?

The central debate around the launch of the iPhone 5 on Wednesday was whether or not Apple’s iPhone launches have lost some of their impact. Detractors suggested that the headline developments—LTE and a bigger screen—were catch-ups rather than  ground-breakers while devotees argued that innovation doesn’t have to involve sweeping change.

Indeed. Innovation can involve switching the cable ports so that everyone who has expensive peripherals like Bose speaker docks won’t be able to use the new iPhone with them, or anyone with an existing iPad who wants a new iPhone will need multiple cables and chargers. Expect a new range of $25 – 50 adaptors to appear in an Apple Store near you. You could buy them there, or you could wait for the knock-offs from China.

The addition of LTE wasn’t without its controversy, with the version of the iPhone bound for Europe supporting only one of the three recognised European LTE bands; 1800MHz. It also supports 850MHZ, which isn’t available in Europe, and 2100MHz, which is currently chock full of 3G traffic. This was described as “really odd” by the founder of industry consultancy Coleago, Stefan Zehle, who questioned why Apple hadn’t instead included the European digital dividend band (800MHz) and the 2.6GHz that is licensed (or being licensed) across the continent.

Zehle suggested that Apple would release an amended version of the handset some way down the line.

This certainly played into the hands of EE, the abridged new name for Everything Everywhere, which is soon to become the UK’s first LTE operator. EE will be the broadband brand of the organisation that also runs T-Mobile and Orange in the UK, offering high speed access over fixed and mobile. At the launch event Tuesday, CEO Olaf SwantEE said he plans to have commercial LTE services available in 16 UK cities before the end of the year.

The move will effectively see a new player enter the market; the only UK operator to offer LTE and the LTE iPhone. Over time we will all migrate to LTE, at which point, perhaps, the Orange and T-Mobile brands will be off to the knacker’s yard. But for now it looks like T-Mobile will be positioned in line with its One2One history, targeting a segment of the UK market once memorably described to the Informer by one of the operator’s competitors as “Johnny White Socks”. Orange will likely sit somewhere in the middle.

A new brand means a new logo, and Steven Day, EE’s chief of brand was on hand to explain what it stands for.

“This is our logo: It moves. It’s a very different logo from those designed before the internet which were static and still. A brand is more than a logo, it has to have a personality as well. EE has a personality that is personable and playful, its colours are vibrant and inviting. Ours colours are aqua and yellow; that’s aqua, not blue or green. Our secondary colours are grey and ivory, for use in business communications. If you look closely at our iconography you will see it’s made up of dots, or as we call them ‘particles’.”

That’s brand-speak, alright. Or, as we call it, ‘bullsh[CENSORED]’.

The Informer was sat next to a foreign journalist at the London launch who nudged him as he was scribbling away and said: “Oh look, they’ve got one of those funny-looking 2012 Olympic mascots onstage.” The Informer quietly pointed out that it was, in fact, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. Johnson rolled out his bumbling-upper-class-twit shtick like the old pro that he is, providing a titter of amusement as he name-checked all of EE’s competitors and thanked BT, the official London2012 comms partner.

And while Johnson was clowning around for EE this week, his boss David Cameron was fist-bumping with Huawei founder and chairman Ren Zhengfei. The two appearances were not unrelated as the Informer learned later that Huawei is providing the access network for EE’s LTE deployment. The operator did not reveal its supplier at its press conference, saying only that it had invested £1.5bn in the rollout.

Huawei will have £200m of that left once it has pumped £1.3bn into the UK economy; which was the reason the two men were cosying up for the cameras. Half of the investment will go on the creation of ten “global centres of technical and financial excellence” according to Huawei, which will include some headquartered R&D functionality. The other half will go on procurement of unspecified products and services. Given the demographic breakdown of the UK service industry at the moment, a good portion of this £650m will probably make its way out to Eastern Europe pretty damn quick.

The Spanish aren’t shy of Chinese funding, either. Telefónica revealed this week that it has signed a credit agreement with two Chinese banks worth $1.2bn. The purpose of the credit facility from China Development Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Telefónica said, “the purchasing of products and solutions  by Telefónica group worldwide.” It’s probably safe to suggest that this money is on a circular journey out of China and will probably funnel back in through the revenue collection departments of the likes of Huawei and ZTE.

What are they likely to make of this in the US? Certainly you wouldn’t get the US Premier on a photo call with the head of a Chinese tech firm at the moment. In fact Huawei and ZTE were this week protesting charges that network equipment they have installed in the States has been sending sensitive information back to the People’s Republic. At a hearing with US legislators, the BBC reported, the two firms agreed to submit lists of their Communist Party committee members.

Sticking in the US and aspiring but floundering wholesale carrier LightSquared is struggling to get the approval of its creditors for restructuring plans. LightSquared filed for Chapter 11 in May this year.

Now the firm has asked a Manhattan bankruptcy court for a 150-day extension of its exclusive right to control the bankruptcy case. But lenders, who together say they own around $1.1bn of the $1.7bn in secured debt of the company’s LP unit, objected to the filing.

“Having nothing to lose, Falcone wants to pursue a high-risk, high-return strategy” of trying to get regulators to reverse their stance on LightSquared’s technology, the lenders said, according to news agency Bloomberg. They added that they favour a “more conservative approach that would realise value through a third-party transaction or otherwise force Mr. Falcone to put his money where his mouth is.” The firm has until November 10 to solicit creditor approval.

For those operators focused more on retail than wholesale, the evolution of billing for mobile data services is a pressing issue indeed. And according to a survey conducted by the Informer’s colleagues here at Telecoms.com, most operators lack the capability to deliver the kind of charging structurers that will make a success of these services.

More than three quarters of mobile operators do not have real-time data available in their billing systems even though 88 per cent of operators believe it to be essential to the future of mobile data billing.

Innovations such as shared data plans and contextual short-term service upgrades—such as the “turbo button” planned by Verizon Wireless—will be increasingly important to operators as they look to monetise mobile data. But the network controls required to implement these kind of services are dependant on the availability of real-time data.

The survey—The Future Of Mobile data billing—which was carried out in association with Openet, found that 94 per cent of operators believe the availability of real-time data to be important or very important for operators looking to apply network controls and notifications. For a range of services and billing models about which operators were asked, real-time data was given a high importance rating.

But just 22 per cent of operators surveyed currently have a post-paid billing system that provides real-time data collection and rating, suggesting that widespread upgrades are necessary.

The survey also revealed that operators believe the delivery of bills directly to smartphones offers far greater opportunity for upsell and convenience, with almost 80 per cent of respondents saying they believe this model to be the ideal means of bill delivery.

You can download a copy of the report here.

That’s about it for this week.

Take care,

The Informer

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