a week in wireless


New Order

There can have been little doubt in anyone’s mind that Nokia Siemens Networks’ decision to buy Motorola’s network assets was more about the customer base than the technology itself. Nonetheless, as the deal closed this week, NSN felt bound to remind us all of its motivations. And it showed precious little sensitivity towards any inadequacy that Motorola might be feeling at the passing of its once sizeable infrastructure business.

In announcing a new evolutionary path for the Motorola GSM customers that it has inherited as part of the deal, NSN kicked sand in the face of their existing Motorola kit. “A single [NSN] Flexi Base Station Controller is effectively capable of providing the same support as up to 30 of Motorola Solutions’ installed base station controllers,” said NSN in a statement. “So who’s yo’ daddy now,” the firm didn’t add.

And Motorola’s isn’t the only carcass being picked over, with approval this week given to Google’s $900m bid for a clutch of Nortel patents and patent applications. The sale required sign-off from the courts overseeing Nortel’s bankruptcy proceedings in Canada and the US, although that approval does not guarantee Google’s success. The bid from Mountain View kicks off a stalking horse process in which other bidders are invited to trump Google’s offer.

That offer must be beaten by a minimum of $29m and if Google loses out, it pockets a $25m ‘break-up fee’. If the Informer had known of this arrangement, he’d have made a bid of $900m himself, before Google got its foot in the door. Sure, there’s always the chance that no-one will beat the opening offer, which would leave the Informer with $900m to find, but if someone were to better it, that’s $25m for nothing but an empty promise!

Besides, Nortel’s compatriot Research In Motion has also voiced an interest in the patent portfolio, which covers a range of stuff including LTE, data networking, optical, voice and internet technologies and social networking. Nortel tech pops up in Blackberry, as well as iPhone and Android devices. RIM was also interested in Nortel’s wireless business back in 2009, although its offer was blocked over some murky procedural issues.

On the topic of auctions, the good people at Telekom Austria have shown outright disdain for the Informer’s sound advice that, in the absence of competition for their bid, they should lower the price they offered the Serbian Government for a half stake in Telekom Srbija. Instead they have upped their bid from €800 – 950m to €1.1bn, having apparently been made aware of “additional value-enhancing elements” of the deal. These, TA said, include “spectrum agreements and the prolongation of telecommunications licences”; although these remain subject to approval. The Serbian G is holding out for somewhere in the region of €1.4bn, though, and it is yet to be seen whether this latest offer will sway it in TA’s favour.

Back to RIM, though, which this week has been cosying up to Microsoft. From here on in, Microsoft’s Bing will be the default search engine and mapping tool on Blackberry handsets. Steve Ballmer was on hand at this week’s Blackberry World conference to tell attendees that Bing will be “deeply integrated” into Blackberry devices, including RIM’s recently released Playbook tablet, at an OS level. Could RIM be looking to offer alternative operating systems on its handsets? Given RIM’s enterprise strengths, WP7 might seem the logical choice if so…

So, do you like fat chips or skinny chips? Intel likes skinny chips and this week the firm announced what it claimed was a “major technical breakthrough” with high volume production of the world’s first 3D transistor design. The developments, which will be implemented in Intel’s Atom chipsets, will see transistors move from a two-dimensional planar structure to a three dimensional one called the Tri-Gate.

And these gates are thin. The new technology uses gates that are just 22 nanometres in length. “Can you imagine anything that small?” said the Informer to Mrs the Informer after reading the press release. Mrs the Informer shook her head and let out a bitter chuckle. Women – they’re so hard to read.

A human hair, depending on colour, can be anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 nanometres in diameter, so that gives us some idea of just how small these things are. Whether 22 nanometres is the limit remains to be seen, although experts have speculated that, one day, it might be possible to create a gate that’s almost as thin as Keira Knightley.

From slender starlets to slender chances, and more than once the Informer has heard people say that troubled WiMAX pioneer Clearwire doesn’t have a hope. What it does have, though, is a Hope; namely CFO Hope Cochran. This week, on the back of results that saw subscriber growth for the first quarter exceed expectations at 1.8 million and revenues increase by more than $130m, Cochrane announced that the firm would postpone the spectrum sell-off it had planned to raise some much needed funds, before she is forced to consider employing her siblings – Faith and Charity.

But the news wasn’t all good, and Clearwire still turned in a net loss of $227m for the quarter. This followed the early termination of an agreement with backhaul provider FiberTower Corporation, which saw Clearwire discontinue service from the end of last month. This will cost FiberTower some $434,000 in monthly revenues, a blow somewhat softened by Clearwire having to pay it $1.9m in early termination charges. This is the second such termination this year.

Still, Cochran said that the firm was now confident of being able to keep itself ticking over for the next year, without selling off any of its spectrum—arguably the firm’s greatest asset. “With the near-term capital needs of our current business now satisfied, we will be extremely judicious with our spectrum assets,” said Cochran. It remains to be seen whether her confidence in the firm’s future is justified or whether it turns out to be the triumph of Hope over experience.

Sticking in the US, Verizon has struck another partnership in its project to outsource the building of rural elements of its national LTE network to regional players. Convergence Technologies, the latest member of the Verizon gang, will be providing the network in parts of Indiana, using Verizon’s 700MHz spectrum in the area.

Delivering high speed internet to rural areas is a good thing in its own right, but even more so now that it has emerged that the absence of internet traffic was one of the factors that enabled the US security forces to identify and storm the house where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. Get on the internet people, you don’t want anyone getting the wrong impression!

Meanwhile, the Isis mobile payments joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon looks to have hit a stumbling block. Isis was a goddess of magic and it’s looking like the JV could use a bit of that action. The project originally envisioned the deployment of an NFC mobile payment network, in partnership with Discover Financial Services and Barclaycard, as the trio of carriers were looking to take a chunk of the market dominated by Visa and Mastercard. The plan was that they would take fees on transactions carried out over their networks.

Now, though, this has been revised down to an m-wallet offering based on subscriber’s existing credit cards. There might be no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there’s an ‘isis’ in ‘crisis’, alright.

Now, let’s head over to Kenya, where it’s all kicking off between Safaricom and Airtel. The war of words between the carriers and the company enlisted to manage the market’s recently introduced mobile number portability (MNP) programme, Porting Access, has gone legal. In a statement issued Tuesday, Safaricom’s director of corporate affairs, Nzioka Waita, said the firm is suing Porting Access, along with spokesman Patrick Musimba, for defamation.

The spat broke out just two weeks after MNP was introduced, with each operator accusing the other of tactics designed to disrupt the porting process. Safaricom stood accused of blocking calls to its network from customers who had switched to Airtel, while it in turn alleged that Airtel was providing misinformation to customers wishing to switch.

In this week’s instalment of the dispute, Safaricom, co-owned by the Kenyan Government and Vodafone, accused India’s Airtel and Dutch-owned Porting Access of collaborating to the benefit of Airtel over Safaricom. Safaricom’s defamation suit surrounds allegations that it has sought to disrupt the porting process as well as some suggestions that it is not at heart a ‘Kenyan’ company.

“Contrary to the impression that Porting Access are trying to create, Safaricom is a Kenyan company, supporting a huge local stakeholder base and social economic ecosystem that includes over 740,000 individual Kenyan shareholders and the Government of Kenya (by extension all Kenyans),” said Waita.

And finally this week, Vodafone UK is installing mobile phone chargers in 500 of London’s Black Cabs and offering passengers the ability to pay for their cab ride by texting the taxi licence number to a short code that will put the cost of their journey on their bill. This provides an excellent excuse for misers not to tip the doughty London cabbies. The cabbies will no doubt make their feelings known; they’re a famously forthright bunch.

Take care

The Informer

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