a week in wireless

Stars in their eyes

The difference between Apple and Samsung launching a new device is that when Apple does it, the handset is the star. When Samsung does it, it needs to hire in the stars to promote its new wares. Alas, while the phone being launched was named the Galaxy, a billion blazing suns were not in attendance and we had to make do with some rather more earth-bound z-listers. It wasn’t so much the cream of Britain’s celebrities as the powdered milk.

It might be that the Informer is just out of touch, but he could have used some facial recognition technology, as to him it looked as if he could have been rubbing shoulders with anyone. (But then, he doesn’t watch much TV.) The launch took place in the lofty heights of Altitude 360 in Millbank, London, and the only way the Informer was able to recognise celebrities was that they were the people surrounded by burly, black-suited handlers pressing curly wired earpieces against their heads.

Then again, perhaps the bodyguards were there to protect the handful of demonstration devices on show, or even to protect the most important people in the room in the Informer’s opinion – the small group of Korean Samsung executives, who moved unassuming through the gaggles of poseurs and preeners competing for the camera’s lens.

The crowd was treated to a few numbers by one Alexandra Burke, who the Informer is told is one of the winners of those televised talent contests and is quite hot property in the UK. The Informer has only heard one of her songs before and he’s grateful she didn’t go through her unflattering Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley cover. Hallelujah!

Whilst hobnobbing with one of the event PRs, the Informer did in fact clock a few faces that looked familiar, and it was confirmed that they were indeed bona fide celebs, and also mostly freeloaders who apparently turned up for five minutes, had their pictures taken and then made off with whatever booty was available after a gulp of free booze.

The one face the Informer could put a name to was that of former sprinter and Olympic gold medallist Linford ‘lunchbox’ Christie who added a much needed dash of credibility in the Informer’s out of touch eyes. Unfortunately the Informer was to depart crestfallen just minutes later after excitedly thrusting his voice recorder under Linford’s chin and asking for a soundbite on what the athlete thought of Samsung’s latest gadget and the Android operating system.

“Look I don’t know anything about this stuff, as far as I’m concerned an android’s a robot,” he said. “I’m just here for…” at which point his handler jumped in front and said she’d get back with a quote if that’s what was required.

On the other side of the world, things were looking good for the star of Cupertino’s own show though, with Apple on Wednesday announcing that pre-orders for the iPhone 4 topped more than 600,000 in a single day, when hotlines opened June 17. As a result, the order and approval system packed up and “many customers were turned away or abandoned the process in frustration,” Apple said. Steve Jobs must be choking on his peyote but victims aren’t we all? And it’s better to be a victim of one’s own success than to a victim of one’s own navel gazing like Nokia.

The Finnish handset giant has been forced to downgrade its outlook for the second quarter of 2010 as increased competition at the high end of the market is giving the somewhat unimaginative vendor’s handset portfolio a good kicking.

Nokia now expects Devices & Services net sales to be at the lower end of, or slightly below, its previously expected range of €6.7bn to €7.2bn for the second quarter 2010. The company also expects its mobile device value market share to be slightly lower in 2010, compared to 2009. The Finn clearly needs an inspiration injection to beef its tired looking Symbian portfolio up, or it needs to adopt Android.

Moving to the other end of the spectrum, well known maker of biros and cheapo razors, BIC, has announced the introduction of its BIC Phone in Belgium, after successful launches in France and Spain.

The BIC phone, styled in the familiar orange plastic, will be available in a pack of ten from your local supermarket and will lose its edge so quickly that it will tear your face to shreds from its second use. Actually, none of that’s true, except the orange bit. Retailing for €39.99, including a Proximus top-up credit of €19, the BIC Phone is designed by Alcatel (yes they still make phones) and is pretty cutting edge (boom boom) compared to what usually comes out of the French firm’s handset division. It’s actually got a 1.5 inch colour screen for a start. And an FM radio.

In other handset news, The US International Trade Commission has agreed to investigate the complaint filed by Taiwanese Android pioneer HTC against Apple. HTC alleged last month that Apple had infringed five of its patents, now understood to relate to power management, and rather ambitiously called for the ITC to “halt the importation and sale of the iPhone, iPad and iPod in the United States.” It’s all a bit of tit for tat, as Apple had made a similar allegation against HTC relating the company’s user interface.

While we’re on the subject of petty spats, the Informer remembers well how as a child he would forever be brawling and bickering with his brother. The shared room, the shared toys, the shared responsibilities, it all used to get a bit much. So he feels that he’s in a position to empathise with the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, two of India’s richest men and each owner of half of what used to be Reliance.

One of the nation’s largest and most powerful conglomerates, Reliance was inherited by the two brothers upon their father’s death. But, in a story that’s not without its Biblical undertones, there came a feud to the house of the two brothers and the company was split amid acrimony in 2005. As part of the separation deal, Mukesh was made to walk away from the telecoms operating business under a non-compete clause, with Anil getting control of Reliance Communications, the fixed and mobile carrier.

That non-compete clause was scratched three weeks ago in an apparent return to some degree of cordiality between the siblings and Mukesh has wasted little time in getting his foot back in the telecoms door. This week his firm Reliance Industries (RIL) announced that it is to acquire 95 per cent of Infotel Broadband Services for $1.03bn

Infotel was the only bidder in the recently concluded Indian Broadband Wireless Access auction to win 20MHz of nationwide spectrum. The firm bid $2.47bn for the spectrum which, handily, is a bill that will be picked up by RIL. Announcing the acquisition, RIL revealed that it will pursue LTE deployment, which some analysts have suggested may not make sense given how far away the technology remains, timewise. Nonetheless, the firm made grand statements of its intention to “leapfrog India to the 4G revolution.”

So what did brother Anil make of this? Well, Reliance Communications was one of the big spenders in the 3G auction and pulled out of the BWA auction at a very early stage. This week the firm announced that it is to spin out its tower firm, Reliance Infratel. The firms are apparently in “advanced discussions with several domestic and international strategic and financial players” and are expecting to make an announcement over the future ownership of the business shortly.

Anil spoke of “looking forward to an era of healthy co-operation and collaboration with existing and new players, especially recent winners of 3G and BWA spectrum.” Given the timing of events it’s natural that some kind of tie-up between the two brothers should be anticipated, especially as RIL stressed it was looking for an “asset-light” strategy for its network deployment.

Another possible partner for Reliance Communications is Qualcomm, which won BWA spectrum in Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Haryana which has said that it, too, is looking for partners to help it deploy an LTE network. However, Alison Hancock of consultancy Coleago Consulting, who was involved in advising one of the BWA bidders, told the Informer this week that it was widely rumoured while she was in India during the auctions that Qualcomm had already struck a deal with another Indian tower firm, GTL.

Staying in India for just a moment longer, Tata Teleservices, another local carrier, announced this week that, with the addition of 2.33 million new subscribers in May this year, it had crossed the 70 million subscriber mark in just over five years of operation. The firm launched mobile service in early 2005, and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo took a 26 per cent stake in the firm in 2008. Last year the Tata DoCoMo brand launched into the market.

Tata says it’s the fastest Indian operator to reach 70 million subscribers, and justifiably clapped itself on the back for exhibiting subscriber growth of 100 per cent in the past year; it had 35 million mobile customers in May 2009. The firm’s alliance with DoCoMo could prove useful as it looks to 3G deployment of its own, said Anil Sardana, managing director of Tata Teleservices.

“With the countdown on 3G services having begun, we will continue to walk the innovation path, providing our customers with differentiated products and services which will take telecom to the next level. We are working closely on the creation of such relevant products with our partners, particularly NTT DOCOMO, which is acknowledged as the world leader in telecom technology development, and look forward to the next wave in Indian telecoms,” Sardana said.

All this talk of next waves threw up an interesting suggestion this week in an LTE paper from Swedish consultancy Northstream. The firm suggested that wireless data is now the central plank of the mobile operator’s business model and that, as GSM networks come to the end of their life, and operators are faced with investment in solutions designed to enable voice over LTE, some may opt to exit the voice market altogether!

“Wireless data is the core business of a mobile operator,” the firm said.  “It appears clear that the telcoms industry has agreed on using IMS and MMTel (Multimedia Telephony) as a standard for voice over LTE,” the firm continues. “Sooner or later, operators must decide whether to invest in voice, or whether to slowly exit the voice segment as GSM networks approach their end of life. Some operators may conclude that LTE voice revenues do not justify the the related costs and uncertainties.” Northsream cited the cost of service platforms, RCS solutions, device software, handset subsidies and customer service as factors that may act on operators’ decisions.

Furthermore, the firm says, online service providers including Skype, Google and Facebook are planning or already making forays into the voice market, with a view to offering richer services than the basic voice that operators are used to providing. Such services include contact management, presence, messaging and video calling, the firm says, adding: “This raises the bar for operators to deliver a service that today’s mobile voice is just a small part of.”

If this makes uncomfortable reading for operators, Northstream was not interested in softening the blow. The firm argued that operators should accept their place in the value chain, and not try to compete with superior organisations in the area of service provision. “The level and speed of innovation originating from online service providers is too massive for operators to offer serious competition on the service level, even in markets where operators continue to dominate mobile service delivery.”

Operators: know thy place!

Take care

The Informer

One comment

  1. Avatar Anonymous 20/06/2010 @ 11:51 am

    When I heard about the iPhone and Samsung annoucements I looked at both companies web sites. At apple theiPhone was al over the plac. At Samsung I coud not even find the Galaxy S…

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