a week in wireless

Once upon a time in the wireless West

The tit for tat, spit for spat between East and West continued this week as both Chinese mega vendors came under fire. A local Austrian paper alleged that Huawei had bribed a consultant to secure it business with local incumbent Telekom Austria. They say there’s no smoke without fire though and the consultant in question, one Peter Hochegger, is also under investigation with regard to similar allegations involving state owned businesses between 2000 and 2007.

The allegations prompted a round of buck passing from Telekom Austria Group’s management board, which stated that it: “Would like to distance itself fiercely from such alleged business practices, which fell under the responsibility of the former management, and has launched internal investigations into these allegations in order to examine those and to get the facts out on the table.”

ZTE was under the gavel as well, as Swedish rival Ericsson filed claims that the Chinese firm had infringed on patents for its 2G and 3G technologies. Naturally, ZTE has responded by saying it is considering taking similar action against Ericsson. ZTE said it will initiate patent invalidation procedures against Ericsson before the patent re-examination board of SIPO, China’s State Intellectual Property Organisation.

Over in the West however the cogs are being well greased as the EU and US governments have shaken hands on an agreement to jointly support and promote ICT trade principles between the two blocs. As part of the agreement, ten principles have been agreed on, with the aim of making it easier for IT businesses in Europe and America to compete for contracts globally. An interesting clause in the agreement however, states that the governments in question “should allow full foreign participation in their ICT services sectors, through establishment or other means,” leading the Informer to assume that this welcome for foreign participation is geared towards heading-off any further discord between the EU and China. Still, the Informer doesn’t fancy Huawei’s chances, even if it has made the shortlist in the tender for US Cellular Corp’s LTE network.

Just over the border, Canadian operator Telus has announced plans to deploy an LTE network early in 2012, with an RFP process currently underway. Rollout to rural areas depends on Canada’s auction of spectrum in the 700MHz band, due in 2012.

Moving over to Europe now, and Everything Everywhere, stepmother to UK siblings T-Mobile and Orange, has added three new MVNOs to its family. Priyo, The Phone Co-op and RMmobile were secured by MVNA Transatel, taking Everything Everywhere’s total of MVNO customers to 21, including such partners as Virgin, H3G, Telecom Plus, GET, Ikea, Vectone, Nowtel, Matrix, Econet, Lyca, Ethnic Challenge, Cable and Wireless, i-Pass, Opal, Intercity, C Mobile, Axis Telecom, and Unicom.

Hopping over to Ireland now, where incumbent Eircom and Telefónica’s O2 have also hopped into the network sharing bed, which, the duo say, will “result in an unrivalled mobile experience for customers”. The firms said they plan to collaborate on areas such as power supply and site equipment as well as transmission sharing. Existing sites will be consolidated where possible, they said, and new sites jointly built. But the carriers were at pains to point out that the deal did not herald any more formal consolidation.

US regulator the FCC is pretty much forcing AT&T and Verizon to throw their keys into the pot however, by requiring that they share their data networks with smaller operators. The data network sharing arrangements expand upon similar ones for voice calls which are already mandatory.

Over in Germany, KPN-owned E-Plus is making a power play of a different kind, by setting up an off grid base station powered by a combination of sun and wind. E-Plus tapped Nokia Siemens Networks to roll out the green site, which the carrier has implemented as part of its environmentally friendly initiative to increase energy efficiency by five per cent by the year 2012, and by 20 per cent by the year 2020. It’s not clear whether E-Plus will deploy more of these green sites or whether the solitary installation is just a token gesture.

Another token gesture was made by Nokia this week as it leads lame racehorse and ex-champion, Symbian, down the lane to the knacker’s yard (don’t forget to have a flutter on the Grand National this weekend). The OS is officially no longer open source, a state of being which lasted less than a year. Under the new set-up, developers will be required to register for a licence to access the source code for the OS, which will enable Nokia to continue working with the remaining Japanese OEMs and the relatively small community of platform development collaborators.

While this looks like another step in the slow winding up of what was once the world’s leading mobile platform, Nokia has said that it plans to ship at least 150 million Symbian smartphones in the coming year.

It’s still a good number, but not good enough. According to the seers at Gartner, Android will account for almost 50 per cent of the smartphone market by the end of 2012, with sales hitting 310 million in 2012 as the smartphone market surges to 630.5 million devices for the year. The figures represent solid growth for the Android OS, which had a market share of 22.7 per cent at the close of 2010. Gartner expects this to swell to 38.5 by the end of this year.

Still, the analyst is forecasting a slight drop in market share for Android between 2012 and 2015 as though Android’s position at the high end of the market will remain strong, its greatest volume opportunity in the longer term will be in the mid- to low-cost smartphone range, above all in emerging markets.

Google was forced to respond to reports of growing tension between it and device manufacturers over what many view as Mountain View’s efforts to lock down Android. This mainly stems from Google’s decision not to release the source code for Honeycomb, which the Big G claims was not designed to be used on smartphones, although work is now underway to make that possible.

The Japanese love their smartphones and Android is making good headway in the country against established incumbents. Leading local carrier, NTT DoCoMo, this week has integrated carrier billing, allowing for Android users to pay for apps via their mobile phone bill, which should give the OS a greater foothold in the market.

Smartphone rival Apple is not expected to follow Android into the lower reaches of the handset market however, preferring to maintain margins and Gartner therefore expects the market share for iOS to peak in 2011 at 13.4 per cent. Apple this week won a $625m lawsuit thrown at it by small US software firm Mirror Worlds, which claimed last year that Apple’s Spotlight, Time Machine and Cover Flow systems violated three of its patents. A judge threw out the previous ruling against Apple on appeal, saying that Mirror Worlds had failed to make its case.

Things are also going great guns for Apple’s iPad 2, with the word on the web saying that RIM’s forthcoming PlayBook tablet has been delayed by a month because Apple has booked up all available capacity for the production of touch display panels. The unit was due to hit shelves during the first quarter.

There’s lots of money on the table this week as well, with Google eyeing the last bit of meat on Nortel’s bones. The search has offered $900m in cash in a “stalking horse” arrangement for a suitcase full of patents granted and pending, covering wireless, 4G/LTE, data networking, optical, voice, social networking and internet, among others.

As Google’s strategy sees it moving into the mobile and desktop operating systems space, it has attracted a number of patent-related legal challenges from the likes of Oracle. According to Google General Counsel Kent Walker, the company hopes that a successful bid will “create a disincentive for others to sue Google,” adding that: “As things stand today, one of a company’s best defences against this kind of litigation is to (ironically) have a formidable patent portfolio.”

US chip shop Texas Instruments (TI) was so impressed by National Semiconductor’s portfolio that it has made a cash deal for the firm, valuing it at $6.5bn. “This acquisition is about strength and growth,” said Rich Templeton, chairman of TI.  ”National has an excellent development team, and its products combined with our own can offer customers an analogue portfolio of unmatched depth and breadth. Our ability to accelerate National’s growth with our much larger sales force is the foundation of our belief that we can produce strong returns on our investment.”

A similar sum of cash was being stuffed into briefcases by Vodafone too, which announced that it is to sell its 44 per cent stake in French carrier SFR to its partner in the operation, Vivendi, for €7.95bn, marking the latest in a planned series of divestments as Vodafone exits markets in which it does not have majority ownership. It has not escaped notice that the price is noticeably higher than what Vivendi was reportedly prepared to pay. But there you go, several years ago, the balance of probabilities favoured Vodafone to take over SFR. By 2010, a shift in focus at Vivendi, and Vodafone’s unwillingness to hang onto minority stakes made a deal possible.

Finally, the Informer took a stroll through a misty memory lane this week. Remember the plastic beige beauty of the Commodore 64? Cartridge games? Noisy tape loaders? The hours spent watching multicoloured horizontal bars flash across the TV screen before being greeted by: ?SYNTAX ERROR IN 140 READY.

Well, Commodore is still alive and kicking and is about ready to sell you a retro C64 shell housing an Intel atom processor, hard drive, 4GB RAM and a Bluray drive, all for a whopping $900. That’s an expensive visit to the Informer’s childhood, but he’s still pretty interested to see what the mysterious and forthcoming Commodore OS has to offer. It’s being billed as “a distinctive, attractive, advanced and stable operating system experience, that will come pre-loaded with dozens of the latest and greatest productivity, creativity and education software the open source world has to offer,” by the company, but hopefully offers more than 64K memory.

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The Informer

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