a week in wireless

Red, white and blue

In preparation for the frenzied celebrations that will take place over this weekend, to mark 60 years of our Queen’s royal behind warming the throne, the Informer presents the Jubilee edition of AWIW. Well, everybody else seems to be doing it.

Big Red on Friday unveiled an Android smartphone for the mass market, so little Johnny White Socks can be forced to evolve, like the apes at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Not only does the aptly named Smart II, a pocket-sized version of Arthur C Clarke’s Sentinel, boast twice the processing power of the most expensive and sought-after smartphone of three years ago, it also costs a fraction of the price of that three year-old smartphone. Or the price of that three-year old smartphone three years ago, at least.

What were we on this time in 2009? The iPhone 3G? If Vodafone had waited a couple more months it could have compared the Smart II to the 3GS at least. But for now, we’ll have to stick with the 3G, well two 3Gs stuck together (that’s the plural of 3G, not the 3GS. This is all terribly confusing, I know). And with those still changing hands for over £100, the Smart II’s price tag of £70 is hardly a fraction of the price is it now?

Interestingly, Broadcom is supplying the processor for the unit, which Vodafone announces with a somewhat backhanded compliment: “A brand new Broadcom 21552 with 832MHz processor and 512MB of RAM – the computing power of high-end smartphones 3 years ago.” Way to go Broadcom! It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

The question is though, whether the Smart II can accurately be called a smartphone if it was deliberately retarded during its gestation period? It’s the kind of smartphone the World Controller would have commissioned in Aldous Huxley’s dark vision of the future to distribute to the Epsilons while everyone else was popping Soma at the Feelies.

There was a splash of red over at Research In Motion’s headquarters this week too – a somewhat ominous portent of the bloodbath to come. The company warned of an operating loss for its quarter to end June 2, and said a number of RIM jobs would be on the line as a result. It seems that Thorsten Heins’s plans to ketchup to the rest of the market are not coming through. Has he tried shaking the bottle with the lid on?

The white noise of radio spectrum was crackling away this week, all over the world. Over in the US Sprint Nextel caught a lucky break after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new legislation surrounding the use of the 800MHz spectrum, which Sprint currently uses for iDEN.

Sprint can now run CDMA2000 and LTE technologies on the frequencies and CTO Stephen Bye told the Informer this week that the company has already begun refarming its 800MHz spectrum to run 3G and 4G technologies.

More spectrum was being cut free in the market formerly known as the Jewel in the Crown, after the Department of Telecom (DoT) approved plans to release more 1800MHz spectrum in each of the country’s circles ahead of the 2G re-auction. If you remember, all 2G licences were revoked by the Supreme Court recently amid allegations of corruption during the original licensing process.

Under the latest recommendations, the Telecoms Commission has saved a large slice of the 1800MHz band, so that all of the operators that held spectrum in the 900MHz band, would be given an equivalent amount in the 1800MHz band when their licence expired. India’s Telecoms Commission has now made some of this reserved spectrum available for the 2G upcoming auction.

According to Shiv Putcha, principal analyst in Ovum’s Emerging Markets team: “By reserving a huge chunk of spectrum, the problem is that it creates an artificial scarcity. The need for spectrum is today. Refarming will take place over several years, but the spectrum is needed today. By doing this, the government is actually limiting supply and creating an artificial scarcity, which is good for those selling the spectrum, but it’s not necessarily good for the sector as a whole.”

The Indian government was also busy approving a new telecoms policy that does away with roaming within across the country and allows citizens to retain their phone number regardless of where they are in the country, without having to pay extra charges.

At the end of 2011, the DoT ordered mobile operators Bharti Airtel, Idea and Vodafone to end their roaming pact, after the three operators had entered into an agreement with one another to offer 3G mobile services in India’s circles in which they had failed to acquire spectrum in the country’s 2010 3G spectrum auction.

European operators will also face a challenging time in the roaming market as Western Europe is overwhelmed by strict EU regulations, with the price of voice calls falling by 46 per cent and data roaming services cut from average costs of around $4 to just $0.26 by 2014.

These regulations have been a long time coming with the EU attempting to threaten, cajole and even embarrass European operators into cutting roaming charges which in some extreme cases see mark-ups in thousands of percent.

Analyst Paul Merry, author of Informa Telecoms and Media’s latest analysis of the roaming market said: “The Western European market is expected to continue to grow but at a considerably slower rate than it had. The region is expected to generate $12.5bn by 2016, $6bn less than the Asia-pacific region over the same period.

There was a bit of good news for the operators from Informa though, which said that while traditional SMS revenues are under pressure from rich messaging apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage and others, mobile operators will still generate a total of $722.7bn in revenues from SMS between 2011 and 2016.

Indeed, there will not be a uniform decline in mobile operators’ SMS traffic and revenues as a result of the adoption and use of over-the-top messaging services. Informa also forecasts that, by 2016, mobile operators globally will still be generating a higher proportion of revenues from mobile IM than the third-party providers of OTT messaging services will, at $8.7bn or 54 per cent of total IM service revenues. However, the OTT messaging service providers’ share of IM revenues will climb from 37 per cent of total revenues in 2011, to $7.4bn or 46 per cent of total revenues in 2016.

On the subject of those OTT guys, a bit of blue now, but not for the dads. Facebook launched its own photo-sharing app that is remarkably similar to that of recent $1bn acquisition Instagram. Could it be that Facebook’s purchase of the photo-sharing company was a cautious move, possibly to avoid litigation? And was anyone else astonished by Mark Zuckerberg’s apparent lack of faith in his own firm after he saved himself £111m by dumping Facebook stock heading south just one day after the IPO took place. Still, he did have a honeymoon to pay for. The Informer bets there was a somewhat lengthy pre-nup signed before those two made it up to the bridal suite.

On a similar note, Google–owned YouTube has introduced an app which enables users to take photos at events when they are not physically there. The FrontRow video-sharing site is holding a live streamed event online this week, virtually held at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. But during the event, users can take photos through the camera app and and immediately share the pics on their social networks. Wish you were here? Wish I was too.

Righto, the Informer’s just been texted by O2 and he’s got to rush down to BHS and collect his complimentary pair of Union Jack flip flops (while stock last!) so he’ll be off now. Then it’s down by the river for the Jubilee flotilla, where over one thousand boats will muster on the River Thames to pay homage to HRH. The Informer wonders whether it will be anything like the 1977 Silver Jubilee flotilla of somewhat smaller proportions, headed up by long time royalists the Sex Pistols.

Thanks for the day off Ma’am.

The Informer

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