a week in wireless

Our house

Here in the UK we’ve this week been turned into a nation of peeping toms, with the arrival of Google’s street view mapping application. Although, it seems that people are only really interested in looking at places they’ve looked at thousands of times before. Its initial purpose appears to be viewing everywhere you’ve ever lived in reverse chronological order. The secondary function is enabling people to view the streets they frequent to see if they themselves are in the images. It prompted one wag known to the Informer to write: “I’ve been trying to find myself on Googlemaps. I should just go to India like everyone else.”

Googlemaps is the default mapping application on the iPhone of course and even without Steve Jobs at the helm, Californian gadget maker Apple is still managing to keep the hype machine running at top speed. This week the company gave the Apple faithful a mouth watering glimpse of what the future holds for the iPhone version 3.0, by releasing a beta version of the software to registered developers.

And what does the future look like? Well, it looks like MMS. It looks like copy and paste. Who would ever have thought such things possible?

Under the hood of the forthcoming release are over 1,000 new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), giving developers better tools to access the features of the iconic device. These include In-App Purchases; Peer-to-Peer connections; an app interface for accessories; access to the iPod music library; a new Maps API and Push Notifications.

Apple also announced over 100 new features that will be available to iPhone and iPod touch users this summer including cut, copy and paste; MMS; landscape view for Mail, Text and Notes; stereo Bluetooth; syncing Notes to the Mac and PC; shake to shuffle; parental controls for TV shows, movies and apps from the App Store; and automatic login at wifi hot spots. The OS 3.0 beta release will also include a Voice Memo app and expanded search capability for all key iPhone apps, as well as Spotlight search.

In the UK, iPhone carrier O2 has made the gadget more affordable to cash strapped consumers by launching a 24 month contract option, which will allow customers to get the handset for free in return for signing two years of their life away to O2. On the 24 month tariff the 8GB iPhone 3G weighs in at £34.26 per month and the 16GB device costs £44.05 per month.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, AT&T, which is the exclusive iPhone partner in the US, is gearing up to sell the device without a contract. The catch is that it will still be locked to AT&T’s network, and it will cost a whopping $599 for the 8GB version and $699 for the 15GB version.

But there was bad news in the post for other handset vendors this week, with Finnish gadget shop Nokia struggling to fend off the slavering wolves of the credit crunch, announcing plans to slash a further 1,700 positions. As part of its previously outlined plans to cut costs, the world’s biggest handset vendor is decreasing its workforce in its Devices and Markets units as well as in its Corporate Development Office and global support functions.

There were glum tidings also from Japanese-Swedish joint venture Sony Ericsson, once the young pretender of the handset market but now in danger of being categorised as an entity that never really fulfilled its potential. A bit like Michael Owen. Sony Ericsson warned its first quarter results would be hard hit by consumer belt tightening and de-stocking in the retail channels.

The handset manufacturer said that it expects to shift approximately 14 million phones during the first quarter of 2009, with an estimated ASP (average selling price) of Eur120.

Net loss before taxes is estimated to be in the range of Eur340m to Eur390m, excluding restructuring charges in the range of Eur10m to Eur20m.

Rumours of a break up also abounded this week, with Sony reported to be looking down the back of the sofa for enough cash to buy out Ericsson’s 50 per cent share in the joint venture. Some speculators believe that the adoption of the ‘Sony’ brand alone would pave the way for the introduction of the much talked about PSP phone.

Ericsson’s having a better time of it on the networks side, where it picked up an outsourcing deal from Vodafone’s UK operation this week. This put the kybosh on rumours that Vodafone and O2 were about to announce a British network sharing arrangement. Ericsson’s deal with Vodafone is good for seven years and covers the maintenance and operation of the carrier’s 2G and 3G radio access networks. It also involves the transfer of some 350 Vodafone employees to the Swedish vendor.

“Anything you can do…” said Vodafone rival Orange, and skipped off to Nokia Siemens Networks to establish a similar relationship. Under that contract, NSN will manage, plan, expand, optimise and provide maintenance services for the Orange UK 2G/3G mobile network for the next five years. Around 470 staff are expected to cross the great divide from customer to supplier, with approximately 230 joining Nokia Siemens Networks and the remainder being transferred to a first line maintenance sub-contractor. The two firms struck a similar deal in Spain and NSN this week.

Back to Ericsson, though, and it had more good news to shout about, this time from China. The vendor’s won a contract from existing customer China Unicom that will see it deploying WCDMA networks in 15 Chinese provinces. It will also be upgrading Unicom’s 2G network in ten provinces. It’s a big score for a Western vendor, psychologically as well as economically, as the likes of China’s ZTE and Huawei continue gobble up business all around the world.

Sticking with Chinese expansionists, China Mobile put out its results this week, and reiterated its desire to embark on some overseas investment. While the firm has ‘adequate conkers’ to fund any acquisitions that might take its fancy, the results it released on Thursday show that even a carrier in a growth powerhouse like China feels the effects of the economic crisis.

But, whereas other companies are talking losses shrinkage, China Mobile’s woes are limited to slowing growth. Q408 revenues were up 11 per cent year on year, compared to 26 per cent for Q3. Wang Jianzhou, China Mobile’s chairman warned that certain of its markets are reaching maturity. “The global financial crisis is affecting the telecoms industry,” he said in a statement. “Certain large cities are showing signs of maturing as penetration continues to rise. Competition is intensifying following the industry restructuring and the award of 3G licences.”

Meanwhile ARPU is down to RMB83 as the firm has moved to rural areas for its subscriber growth.

So China Mobile, which before too long will have half a billion customers (half a billion!), is unfurling its tendrils. “The Company will actively search for quality overseas assets as investment opportunities and as a way to explore international development,” the big man said.

Middle East and African regional specialist Zain continued its own colonisation efforts this week, buying into Morocco. In a 50/50 partnership with the Al Ajial Investment Fund, Zain has donated towards a pot of $324m to buy the stake in the third placed Moroccan player, Wana.

Wana, which presently offers fixed and restricted mobility services based on CDMA under the Bayn brand, said it will use the cash to expand its operations and launch its GSM network this year. The company was awarded Morocco’s third GSM licence in February.

Along with the investment, Wana and Zain will enter into an operating framework agreement that will give Wana access to Zain’s expertise, purchasing power, products and services, including Zain’s One Network.

In related news, Zain also launched a mobile banking service called Zap, this week. Targeting over 100 million people in East Africa, Zap will be initially available in Kenya and Tanzania prior to launch in Uganda under partnerships with international and regional banks including Citigroup and Standard Chartered.

The service will allow users to pay bills and pay for goods and services; receive money and send money to friends and family; send and receive money to bank accounts; withdraw cash; top up their own airtime account or top up someone else’s; send airtime to Zain customers in East Africa; and manage their bank accounts.

Finally this week, where you work, you’ve probably got an office clown. You know the type, he’s ‘wacky’, ‘likes a giggle’, all the office monkeys think he’s ‘hysterical’. He is, it goes without saying, a bit of a plonker. Anyway, there was definitely one of these people at Vodafone this week, because he inadvertently left a voicemail for a customer, poking fun at that customer’s name.

The customer in question was one Roger Titman. Oh come on, readers. Grow up! “Titman by name, Titman by nature,” the Vodafone employee apparently said into his telephone, immediately ruling himself out of the running for this year’s Perrier award. The customer had to threaten legal action before Vodafone conceded guilt and offered an apology and compensation. You wonder if the firm’s data mining software has a function that searches out funny names and launches pre-emptive strikes against gigglesome employees. Perhaps soon Vodafone will be getting irate calls from Biggus Dickus, and Incontinentia Buttocks.

Take care

The Informer

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