a week in wireless

My dad’s bigger than your dad…

That was a familiar playground shout when the Informer was a scab-kneed schoolboy, and one that appears to have replicated itself in the world of corporate telecoms.

In August last year, you’ll remember, China Mobile’s subscriber base became the biggest of any cellular carrier across the globe. This robbed Vodafone of a key piece of press release bombast, given that it could no longer describe itself as the world’s largest mobile operator.

This week, the Informer got a Vodafone Group press release that led with a sentence describing Big V as “the world’s largest mobile operator by revenue”. We’re not sure how long Voda’s been describing itself thus, but if it isn’t a Sid James-style ‘up yours’ at China Mobile, presumably accompanied by a two-fingered salute and a raspberry, then the Informer doesn’t know what is.

This corporate thumb sucking strikes the Informer as a bit needless. We all know Voda’s big and important. And the fact that it selected revenue as the KPI, rather than the more important financial markers like profit and margin – in which, we can safely assume, Vodafone does not lead the mobile world – just makes the whole thing look a bit daft. Because as the Informer was told when he first undertook training in the weird glyphs of financial reports, the only thing that really matters is the bottom line.

Voda’s Q2 figures are out next week, according to a terse response received by the Informer from one of the firm’s power-dressed city PRs. It’s got $20.7bn – China Mobile’s second quarter profit this year – to beat.

If there are any other carriers out there yearning to describe themselves as the world’s largest in any way, the Informer has a few ideas for you:

1. The World’s Largest Mobile Operator By Average Employee Height. A good one, this, because height is often associated with strength and power. We’d look to the Netherlands for such a descriptor, as the Dutch are officially the tallest nation in the world. Come on KPN, let’s see that press release.

The Dutch overtook The US as the world’s tallest nation earlier this year. Boffins behind the research that revealed this development suggest that part of the reason for the US being overshadowed might be poor diet. So it would probably be a US carrier that chose to describe itself as…

2. The World’s Largest Mobile Operator By Body Mass Index. Oh, what an intro that would be: “ObesiCom Cellular, the fattest mobile operator in the world, today announces the acquisition of a great big box of Krispy Kreme Donuts.”

3. The World’s Largest Mobile Operator By Footprint (Actual). This doesn’t relate to coverage footprint, it relates to actual footprint – the operator with the biggest feet. The Informer’s sure the corporate alpha-males at this operator would be only too happy to publicise their status. After all, you know what they say about the size of a man’s feet.

4. The World’s Largest Mobile Operator By Footprint (Carbon). Unlikely that anyone would own up to this, really. But the larger the player, the greater the carbon output.

Phew! After all that, it’s time for some news. If you’re interested, the Vodafone press release that inspired the above meanderings covered a deal with Nokia that will see a range of Voda services integrated with Nokia’s Ovi portal services on an upcoming range of phones.

It’s something of a coup for Nokia, winning validation from a player of Vodafone’s scope. Although, you could argue, as Ovum suggested, that Vodafone may be more interested in the control it can exert over Nokia’s service provision aspirations.

If you want some more big stuff, the Mobile Data Association this week revealed that UK mobile users send more than one billion text messages a week. Which is more than the total number sent here in 1999. The monthly total for September, said the MDA, was 4,825,000,000, which is up 25 per cent year on year, and looks set to bust a forecast or two.

It won’t be long before all of those messages, and billions of others around the world, are passing before the All Seeing, Ad-serving Eye of Google, as the webmonster’s handset play (stage 1) was unveiled this week.

In 2005 Google gobbled up a little known mobile software firm called Android, founded by Andy Rubin. Rubin was the man who launched Danger Inc, and thrust the Hiptop and the Sidekick onto an unsuspecting – and largely uninterested – world of consumers. Android has been in development at Google ever since, and emerged gleaming from the underground bunker this week.

It’s a ‘software stack’, comprising an OS, some middleware, a user interface and a bunch of applications. So who’s going to use it?

Google’s no dumb-bum and wouldn’t leave a thing like that to chance, so it’s engineered another creation: The Open Handset Alliance. This is a group of operators, handset vendors, chip-mongers and software houses whose collective mission is to “accelerate innovation in mobile and offer consumers a richer, less expensive, and better mobile experience,” according to the group’s website, which also lists all the members.

Naturally Google wouldn’t own up to having created the OHA (yes! another acronym) all on its own. If it offered anything other than a ‘no comment’ every time the Informer got in touch with it, Google would probably say that the grouping was born out of a shared vision of blah, a mutual desire to blah and a universal realisation that blah-di-blah-di-blah-blah. But the sole purpose of the OHA in the initial stages is to build on Android, which Google owns.

Motorola is hardly a surprise inclusion from the manufacturer side of the fence. With the US firm having publicly committed to Linux as its OS of choice (on which Android is based), and despite it buying a stake in UIQ out of Sony Ericsson’s suitcase, the Informer fully expects to see a RAZR Android in the not too distant future.

Other vendors along for the ride include Samsung and HTC. Noticeably absent is Nokia, which will want to keep Android away from its 40 per cent market share. And yet, the Finnish firm was all smiles when the OHA was announced.

“It’s a positive development, in that another big company is publicly recognising the importance of mobility,” said Kari Tuutti, director of communications for the Multimedia unit at Nokia. “The [Open Handset] Alliance is promoting openness, which is something we all agree on, along with an agreed set of standards and giving the consumer more choice,” he said, “so in terms of motivation, we are aligned.”

Well, yes. But then opposing sides in a bitter civil war are aligned in terms of motivation: they both want to run the country. Sony Ericsson was another no-show at the OHA, sticking with Nokia in the Symbian stronghold.

On the operator side, big names included China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo, Telefonica and T-Mobile, the last perhaps included principally for reasons of loyalty. It was the only carrier to sell the Hiptop and Sidekick.

Android will release an SDK on November 12th, and the platform will be made available for free to operators and device manufacturers under a progressive open source licence.

Remarkably, the Informer has yet to see an article or press release describe Android as an iPhone killer. From an operator’s perspective, the real iPhone killer might just be the sheer amount of effort and money that needs to be expended in order to take the thing to market. Witness O2 in the UK, ahead of today’s iPhone launch.

If O2’s preparatory work were a buffet, it would be orchid and truffle stuffed roast swans with great big bowls of beluga caviar and chips, and hen harriers on toast, all served with pint jugs of Krug Clos du Mesnil (that’s a posh champagne). The carrier has put on quite a spread.

It’s hired an extra 1,427 staff to cope with what it anticipates will be huge demand for the 200,000 units it’s got tucked away to see it through until the New Year. In Scotland, 700 fresh, specialist call centre staff have been added to 300 retrained employees in the carrier’s Glasgow call centre.

A further 727 in-store workers have been drafted in “to ensure the best possible customer experience for new iPhone customers.” Every O2 retail store will have at least one iPhone specialist to talk customers through the features of the handset, and wave away the absence of 3G with a pearly-toothed smile.

What with the recruitment costs, the wage bills, the training costs for existing staff, the overheads, the EDGE upgrade costs and the hefty kick-back O2’s giving to Apple, you’ve got to wonder what customers are going to have to spend to generate O2 some revenue out of all this.

Sticking with the iPhone, debutante US carrier partner AT&T has launched a data roaming plan for the Apple handset that offers its customers 50MB of data each month for $59.99. That’s on top of the $59.99 – $219.99 that users pay in monthly bundle charges, depending on the tariff they’ve opted for after they’ve dropped $399 on the phone itself. So there you go, O2, that’s the way to do it.

The plan offers access in 29 countries where preferential rates have been arranged that will see users paying $5.12 per MB if they exceed their bundle. Roaming outside of this network of partners, customers will see that charge moving very close indeed to $20. Ker-ching!

In other US carrier news, Sprint’s plans for WiMAX have taken quite a knock, as its roll-out pact with Clearwire looks to have been scrapped. Clearwire put out its Q3 results this week. The internet provider has managed to more than double its revenues for the quarter year on year to $41.3m, while also more than trebling its losses to $81.4m.

And away down the results release the firm included a paragraph that distances it from the Sprint deal. “Clearwire and Sprint Nextel continue their discussions regarding how best to collaborate for the deployment of a nationwide mobile WiMAX network,” the firm said. “Over the course of the parties’ discussions, Clearwire and Sprint concluded that the joint build transaction originally contemplated by the previously announced letter of intent was likely to introduce a level of additional complexity to each party’s business that would be inconsistent with each company’s focus on simplicity and the customer experience. Consequently, the parties have agreed to terminate their obligations under the letter of intent, although discussions continue regarding the best means to accomplish the benefits that were expected under the letter of intent. Notwithstanding the ongoing discussions, there can be no assurance that a transaction or agreement between Clearwire and Sprint Nextel will be concluded.”

There’s nothing like straight talk, is there.

On the topic of faltering partnerships, you may recall that, a few weeks back, Peter Loescher, the CEO of Siemens was having a whinge about the performance of Nokia Siemens Networks. And as well he might, because his firm’s Equity Investment unit this week posted a loss of EUR11m in the quarter to end September. The same period last year delivered a profit of EUR75m. The loss was largely down to NSN, which has cost the unit a loss of EUR429m for fiscal ’07.

Rumblings from Siemens have led some to suggest that the firm wants out of the NSN joint venture, although a meeting understood to be slated for later this month is expected to lead to more concrete information on Siemens’ ongoing participation.

NSN has had some success over in Finland, where second-placed carrier Elisa is claiming a world first with the commercial launch this week of WCDMA in its GSM900 spectrum. The firm’s been working with Nokia Siemens Networks, trialling the vendor’s frequency re-farming product for the last year, and it looks like it works.

Elisa’s planning to use the tech to boost indoor 3G coverage as well as extending it to rural areas. There aren’t that many handsets around, though. Nokia’s supplied one – the 6121 Classic – but one model is hardly critical mass.

And that’s about all we’ve got time for this week, so it’s farewell from the world’s largest weekly wireless email roundup by… erm, by… by God!


  1. Avatar Janet 10/11/2007 @ 8:35 am

    Now I wonder if Google is going to go for the same market as Apple, with the consumer based device.

  2. Avatar Android Mobile 11/11/2007 @ 8:02 pm

    After all the excitement about the Android platform, a community for Android developers has been set up called http://www.androiddeveloper.com which is a central hub where developers can discuss and learn about the Android platform.

    A different site called http://www.androidmobileforum.com has also been set up for everyone to discuss anything about Android mobile.

    It looks like theres going to be a lot of talk before we even get the first Android mobile devices in late 2008.

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