a week in wireless

Poll dancing

It occurs to the Informer that the best kind of hung parliament would be one where the blighters were all strung up but, apart from one member of niche Nimbys UKIP getting brought back down to earth with a thump (in a plane crash), the UK general election has been a disappointingly bloodless affair.

It seems clear that no one party will achieve a majority, which may well lead to the formation of an uneasy coalition by opposing factions. Speaking of which, the partnership between Nokia and Microsoft has spawned its first mongrel pup, and it’s called Microsoft Communicator Mobile. A unified communications client for Nokia’s Symbian-based Eseries handsets targeted at enterprise users, it’s available for the E72 and E52 as an Ovi download. Nokia said that it will preinstall the application on future models, including the recently announced E5.

All of which fanned the embers of speculation that Nokia could be planning to stray from its party line and launch a Windows Mobile-based handset. The suggestion was first mooted when the collaboration was announced last year, and given a boost when the Finnish firm subsequently chose Windows 7 as the OS for its Booklet 3G product. There are certainly arguments in favour of Nokia calling time on its strict fidelity to Symbian, but the firm’s giving nothing away.

Nonetheless, as CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo addressed shareholders at the firm’s AGM this week, he pledged regain ground in the lucrative smartphone market, so he must have something up his sleeve. He certainly identified some shortcomings. “We are working hard to reclaim leadership in high-end smartphones and mobile computers… It is critical that we improve the customer experience with the usability of both our devices and our services.” He’s not CEO for nothing, is he; still, it’s easier said than done.

Not wanting to dwell solely on what needs to be corrected, OPK pointed out that 2009 was Nokia’s twelfth consecutive year at the top of the handset pile and that it shifted 432 million handsets, more than its nearest three competitors combined. He also revealed that the firm’s free navigation service has been downloaded ten million times since it became available in January and that its Ovi application store, which opened a year ago, is averaging 1.7 million downloads a day.

And Ovi should make hay while the sun’s shining, at least according to analysis house ABI Research, which this week suggested that, in just three years’ time, application store downloads are set to peak before beginning a gradual decline, a lot like the Informer did about fifteen years ago. ABI reckons global application store downloads will hit just shy of seven billion in 2013, up from 2.4 billion last year, before beginning to drop off, a lot like the Informer is at the moment.

The reason, the firm said, is that applications will increasingly be embedded in mobile websites, negating the need for a client-based app, or preinstalled on phones, negating the need for download. Unsurprisingly Apple is expected to lead the way throughout, ABI said.

The slanging match between Apple and Adobe continued with gusto this week, as Kevin Lynch, the chief technical officer of Adobe, posted his response to the criticism leveled at Flash technology by Apple chief Steve Jobs last week.

Weighing in at just four paragraphs, Lynch’s response is a featherweight to Jobs’ 20-plus paragraph bruiser. Still, Lynch probably conveyed most of his message with a two fingered salute in Apple’s general direction, warning the Cupertino firm that Adobe has decided to shift its focus away from the iPhone and iPad devices for both Flash Player and Air.

Instead, Adobe will focus on developing products for all the other major participants in the mobile ecosystem, among them Google, RIM, Palm/HP, Microsoft, and Nokia. Adobe plans to deliver Flash Player 10.1 for Android as a public preview at the Google I/O event this month, followed by a general release in June. If you can’t wait, you can check out some of the Informer’s shaky camera work of Flash Player running on Android at Mobile World Congress, here.

Much more entertaining, however, is the unofficial and unsanctioned reaction from Lee Brimelow, a Platform Evangelist at Adobe. Brimelow really took Jobs’ comments to heart: “This is equivalent to me walking into Macy’s to buy a new wallet and the salesperson spits in my face,” he said, taking care not to overstate his case. Adobe clearly got the jitters over Brimelow’s retort as his article is littered with disclaimers and redactions at Adobe’s request.

“What they are saying is that they won’t allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them. This is a frightening move that has no rational defense other than wanting tyrannical control over developers and more importantly, wanting to use developers as pawns in their crusade against Adobe,” Brimelow says. The rest of his response can be read here.

Meanwhile, Jobs was probably consoling himself with the news that Apple sold its one millionth iPad 28 days after the introduction of the device on April 3. In addi(c)tion, iPad users have already downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store and over 1.5 million ebooks from the iBookstore.

Some 20,000 of the iPad downloads are accounted for by an alarm clock application called Nightstand HD from a developer called Sourcebits. The firm saw a gap in the market and a gap in the product, as Apple opted not to install an alarm function on the product.

Alcatel Lucent had itself a different type of wake-up call this week, churning out some pretty miserable numerical reading on Thursday. Net loss for the first quarter of 2010 increased to €515m, up from a loss of €402m in the same period in 2009 and a profit of €46m in the final quarter of last year. Revenues fell 9.8 per cent year on year and 18.1 per cent quarter on quarter to reach €3.2bn, down from €3.2bn in the first quarter of 2009.

But according to Ben Verwaayen, CEO, it’s all somebody else’s fault; namely the component suppliers. “We were not able to fully satisfy customer demand for our products due to tightening components availability. This resulted in a weak financial performance this quarter, which does not reflect the overall underlying momentum within the company,” Verwaayen said.

Then looking on the bright side: “We are witnessing a recovery in the telecommunications equipment and related services market in some geographical areas especially North America. This recovery is driven by key technologies such as IP, terrestrial optics and WCDMA/LTE.”

Indeed, revenues in all markets except North America took something of a battering. Although the numbers are moving in the right direction at least. Losses from the networks business fell to €128m from €154m a year ago, losses from applications shrank to €27m from €55m a year ago, and losses from services improved to €40m, from €63m a year ago.

There were glum numbers on offer at mobile WiMAX pioneer Clearwire this week, as well. Q1 revenues were up by 72 per cent to $106m but net loss grew to $94.1m, up from $71.1m year on year. That loss was smaller than the company reported in the fourth quarter of 2009, however. Despite these numbers, CEO Bill Morrow, formerly of Vodafone, was upbeat.

“With record breaking subscriber growth, a robust wholesale ‘network of networks’  approach to 4G, and customer usage that far surpasses anything seen on 3G networks today, Clearwire is standing at the forefront of the next evolution in telecommunications and technology,” he said, opting not to mention exactly what records had been broken, or just what that customer usage is. Clearwire ended the first quarter with 971,000 total subscribers, and predicted that it would more than double this by the end of the year.

The Informer’s memory isn’t what it used to be, so it was with interest, if not necessarily understanding, that he read the latest announcement from the boffins at Korean handset vendor Samsung. The company is promising to improve the performance of mobile handsets, by making memory cheaper and more efficient, using a chalcogenide glass-based technology known as Phase Change Memory (PCM). Ah, yes… the old chalcogenide glass-based techonology manoeuvre…

Chalcogenide is the same material used in re-writable optical media such as DVD-RWs but in PCM the material’s electrical resistivity is manipulated, switching it between two states, crystalline and amorphous, which represent a binary 1 or 0. The material’s transition is temperature dependent but Samsung has brought the transition speed down to something approaching that of DRAM. Still with me?

PRAM (Phase Change RAM – Samsung’s flavour of PCM), stores data via the phase change characteristics of its base material, an alloy of germanium, antimony and titanium, and provides three times faster data storage performance than NOR flash technology commonly used in consumer electronics today. Its simple cell structure also makes designing chips for handsets a faster and easier process, Samsung says.

According to the Korean firm, as a replacement for NOR, PRAM can more easily accommodate the growing demand for high-speed, high-density non-volatile memory in mobile phones and other mobile applications such as MP3 players, personal multimedia players and navigational devices. Samsung’s offering is due to be available for use in mobile handsets later this quarter.

Sticking with the chips, Intel decided to take another crack at the mobile handset space this week, confirming long expected moves to put its flagship Atom processor in smartphones. Intel exited the mobile devices business in 2006, when it sold its XScale unit to Marvell Technology, and the firm has since been chipping away (boom-boom!) to get back into the market, spurred on by the success of the burgeoning mobile internet devices (MIDs) and netbooks space.

Giving Intel a platform to target “high-end smartphones, tablets and handheld devices”, the Atom Z6xx – formerly known as ‘Moorestown’ – promises to increase idle time power reduction by 50-fold (compared to previous generations of the Atom), while increasing performance, reducing size, and still providing such features as fast internet, multi-tasking, 1080p video, 3D graphics, multi point videoconferencing and voice.

Also taking a second crack at a market this week was Blyk, the one-time ad-funded MVNO which last year repositioned itself as an advertising services provider. Blyk has brought its consumer offering back from the dead with a move into the Netherlands market with Vodafone as a partner.

The direct to consumer offering includes 1,000 free text messages and 1,000 free Blyk-to-Blyk minutes per month, in return for viewing a number of MMS-based adverts per day. The company is targeting the 16 – 29 year old demographic and requires that subscribing members are profiled. Users will also need a SIM-lock free, MMS capable mobile phone.

Blyk’s launch advertiser partners for the Netherlands include Nike, Beachmasters, Universal Pictures, McDonald’s, Pearle and Electronic Arts. But the company is covering its consumer offering with the introduction of its service provisioning model as well.

Blyk wound down its virtual network operation in the UK in the summer of 2009 and repositioned itself as a provider of managed mobile advertising services, signing an exclusive deal with Orange in the UK, the carrier that hosted its MVNO. While the firm’s advertising response rates remained high, at 25 per cent, it lacked the kind of reach that advertisers are used to buying through more established media. And the volume of free usage made available to end users through advertising subsidies was simply insufficient. So no doubt the company’s Dutch initiative will be watched closely.

Finally this week, the Informer would like your help to meet some women. No, not like that.

When MCI and telecoms.com ran a survey to find the most influential people in mobile last year, the top 40 list contained only one woman. So the survey is being taken again, with a distinct gender bias against the chaps. We’re looking for your suggestions for the women in the most influential jobs in the mobile industry, with the results being published next month. We’ve already got our list well underway, but we’d like to know what you all think.

Send your ideas to [email protected] or [email protected]

Take care

The Informer

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