a week in wireless

Some you win, some you lose

It’s not really the kind of week in which the Informer feels like mentioning football. But, when he wasn’t watching England crash out of the Euro 2008 qualifiers, he was sifting his way through the world of contactless payments, and he came across the news that UK operator Orange and UK football club Manchester City are trialling a new mobile-based ticketing system for matches.

There’s an extra wireless twist as City’s new chairman, Thaksin Shinawatra, used to own a Thai carrier through his family company, Shin Telecom. He was also the Thai PM. He was deposed following a coup last year over the sale of the carrier, so you could say he’s swapped one premiership for another. You might also observe that this news about Orange and Man City isn’t the first time that the words ‘Thaksin Shinawatra’ and ‘trial’ have appeared in the same story.

Anyway, about the mobile ticketing. Select season ticket holders will be given NFC-enabled mobile phones to replace their existing contactless cards. They’ll use these to pass through the turnstiles at games and the firms have suggested that, down the line, the phones may be used to buy merchandise or refreshments. The trial starts early next year. Will Orange score with NFC, or will it rugby tackle the opposition on the edge of the box, concede a penalty and then collapse? It’s a funny old game of two halves.

Team Nokia was a clear winner in the numbers this week, posting some serious results. Net profit for 3Q07 was up 85 per cent year on year to EUR1.56bn. They must be doing something right over there in Espoo – net sales grew by only 28 per cent year on year to generate that profit.

As usual with Nokia, it was the handset division wot won it, with sales of EUR6.1bn. The multimedia unit pulled in EUR2.5bn, while the Nokia Siemens Networks JV – the source of some Teutonic griping last week, you may remember – dropped EUR3.67bn into the pot. Handset unit shipments were up 26 per cent to 111.7 million and Nokia now reckons it’s got 39 per cent of the global handset market. Its oft publicised target is 40 per cent and you wouldn’t bet against it, would you?

It was a different story altogether across the border in Sweden, where kit maker Ericsson issued a profit warning after cutting its Q3 forecasts. Sales are only expected to grow by six per cent year on year, to EUR4.75bn. Operating income is expected to fall by 36 per cent to EUR611m. CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg laid the blame at the feet of the operating community, which has cut back on its expansion and upgrade programme. The firm’s shares lost almost 25 per cent of their value.

Samsung secured its position as the world’s number two handset vendor, meanwhile, shipping 42.6 million units in Q3, a year on year improvement of 47 per cent. The Korean firm also boosted its ASP slightly, to $151 for Q3.

Samsung nicked second place from Motorola, of course, which was in the news this week for buying half of user interface specialist UIQ from owner Sony Ericsson; itself set to overtake Moto in the not too distant future. The Informer did a double take at that one. Motorola has been banging the Linux drum for some time now, so why invest in UIQ? A post on the telecoms.com blog called it an “expression of desperation” which is probably not too far from the truth.

Moto also unveiled some new handsets late last week, after the Informer had gone to bed, including – you guessed it – a ‘special edition’ of the RAZR2. It’s not even funny any more.

Sticking with phones for a while, there was an interesting development in “Project iPhone – Tomorrow The World” this week when it was revealed by Orange France, Apple’s distribution partner, that the handsets will be sold unlocked in France. You’ve got to love that. It’s French law that unlocked handsets have to be available but no doubt Apple will find a way of getting round it somehow. Perhaps it will pack the unlocked versions with plastique so that anyone who dares to use the phone on their own terms, a phone they’ve paid for with their own money, will get all of their fingers blown off.

In other iGuff this week, Steve Jobs blogged that the firm is going to allow third party applications to run natively on the handset. “Let me just say it,” Jobs Jobsed, “we want native third party applications on the iPhone and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February.”

For anyone who wants to get decent speeds when accessing the internet while mobile, and not rely on EDGE, T-Mobile UK has launched laptop 3G access that you can buy by the day. It’s four quid a pop and the firm has also cut its Web ‘n’ Walk Plus and Max plans to £20 from £29 and to £35 from £44 respectively, if that makes sense.

The BBC, meanwhile, in a deal with UK wifi outfit The Cloud, has announced that anyone with a wifi-enabled laptop will be able to access all of its content for free at Cloud hotspots. This is a fascinating development. Presumably the Beeb, which has been busy sacking journalists this week, is paying The Cloud a reasonable sum of money to let users access its site for free. This opens up a whole new way of doing business for content owners and publishers. Instead of putting your content out there and watching users get put off by the cost of access, pay the access provider yourselves and make your money from advertising. Except, of course, the BBC is not a commercial outfit and so can’t carry advertising. But lots of other firms could and, you never know, it might take off.

As might this piece of tech craziness: Korean handset vendor Pantech has unveiled a ‘bone conduction’ handset that lets users listen to callers through vibrations in their skull. Check that out. Unfortunately Pantech has opted not to call the product ‘The Phoner’, or even the BonePhone. Instead it’s gone for the slightly more boring, but less juvenile A1407PT. The product was designed to overcome the problem of communicating in a noisy place, but is also expected to offer benefits to people with certain hearing problems.

While we’re on vibrations, there was some silliness this week when reports emerged that some people are getting phantom calls, when they don’t even have their mobile phones on them. Ooooohh. People are so attuned to their devices that they feel them even when they’re not there. Like the poor souls who have their legs amputated then get a nasty itch on their foot.

Back in the real world, it is expected that the ITU will today approve WiMAX as a 3G IMT-2000 standard, paving the way for deployment in the 3G frequency bands. We understand that the agreement was reached late last night, after numerous objections were eventually overcome. Now who might have objected? Hmmm. The UK, US and Australian administrations in particular pushed strongly for WiMAX’s inclusion, as the Informer understands it, but there are those within the 3G industry that want to keep the 2.5-2.6GHz spectrum for 3G. Last year the GSM Association (GSMA) attacked European Commission attempts to pursue technology neutrality in the 2.5-2.6GHz band and, in the UK, O2 and T-Mobile opposed regulator Ofcom’s plan to reopen 2.5-2.6GHz spectrum, as did vendor Siemens and the UMTS Forum. Why can’t they all just play nicely. Like the English rugby team. Football schmootball.

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