a week in wireless

Steamy Windows

The Informer finally ditched the old boiler this week for a newer model. And boy, oh boy, things are really hotting up in the bedroom, which was the coldest part of the house before the plumber flushed the radiators. The best thing about the new boiler is that it is controlled by a thermostat with a wireless link. It’s the first little step on the way to a connected home, something which probably ought not to make the Informer quite as excited as it seems to. Obviously it’s not really connected until it can be operated from a mobile phone. But – hey, it’s a start.

It’s great timing, because winter is on its way here in the UK. But it has been the Egyptian Weather that has hit the headlines this week, with Naguib Sawiris’ Weather Investments announcing a merger with Russian international carrier Vimpelcom. Weather owns African carrier Orascom as well as Italian player Wind and the deal will create the fifth largest mobile carrier by subscriber numbers, with 174 million customers in 20 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Net operating revenues for the group are expected to be in excess of $21bn.

Vimpelcom will pay $1.8bn to Weather  in exchange for ownership of 51.7 per cent of Orascom and 100 per cent of Wind. VimpelCom shares will also be issued to Weather shareholders representing a 20 per cent economic interest and an 18.5 per cent voting interest in the enlarged VimpelCom group. The Russian carrier’s ownership structure borders on the arcane, and there have been numerous disputes between other shareholders, particularly Telenor and Altimo. You can read more about it here.

While we’re talking about disputes, Apple’s in the line of fire this week, fighting legal battles on multiple fronts. There can be little better indication of the swagger that Motorola has recently rediscovered through some successes with its Android portfolio than the fact that it’s decided to sue the iPhone manufacturer. Moto alleges that the iPhone, the iPad, the iTouch and some Mac computers all infringe its patents. There are 18 patents involved, which Motorola says “relate to early-stage innovations developed by Motorola in key technology areas found on many of Apple’s core products and associated services, including MobileMe and the App Store.

Separately, Apple is fighting a judgement that says it must pay out $625m to a firm called Mirror Worlds to compensate it for infringements of patents relating to elements of the Apple computer OS.

Back to Motorola’s Android-induced renaissance, though, and the firm this week unveiled a quintet of new devices based on the open source OS. The Droid Pro, which combines a hard QWERTY keyboard with a touchscreen is being pitched against RIMs Blackberry range, while the Citrus is a bid to mop up some trade in the lower tiers of the smartphone market. The Spice, the Flipout and the Flipside are the three other new additions, all trying out different takes on the smartphone form factor.

Speaking of Blackberry, you’ll recall that Research in Motion has been having a few troubles in India and the Middle East over the fact that security forces in certain markets want access to messages sent over the firm’s closed network. One of those markets is the United Arab Emirates where an imminent ban on Blackberry services has been avoided after RIM agreed to pacify the country’s government with a list of measures that have not been revealed.

It may be that the situation is similar to the solution RIM found in India, where it promised to lead an industry form “focussed on supporting the lawful access needs of law enforcement agencies while preserving the legitimate information security needs of corporations and other organisations.”

The tribulations being endured by handset market leader Nokia show no sign of abating, with another high profile executive throwing himself clear this week. Ari Jaaksi was head of the MeeGo OS being developed by Nokia with Intel, and seen as key to any efforts by the Finnish firm to re-establish itself in the high end smartphone sector. Jaaksi must have been repeating the platform’s name to himself incessantly before finally deciding to interpret it phonetically, and he has walked out, citing personal reasons.

This follows the ejection of CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo and the departure of Anssi Vanjoki, who was tasked with leading the firm’s smartphone revival. These are not good times for Nokia.

On the upside for Nokia, the deal that its infrastructure arm Nokia Siemens Networks has won with aspiring US wholesale LTE player Lightsquared has put it in the sweetspot for the development of devices to run on that network. Interestingly Lightsquared, which will not have any direct relationships with end users and will sell service exclusively on a wholesale basis, is getting involved in the provision of devices. The firm said this week that Nokia will provide “branded, data-centric products for LightSquared customers in support of Nokia Siemens Networks’ infrastructure build-out for LightSquared’s network.” You can bet that when Nokia spun out its networks business into the JV with Siemens it wasn’t anticipating that it would be reliant on it for handset deals within a few years.

Also picking up some trade from Lightsquared’s bid to ensure there are devices to play with on its network was Qualcomm. The new network player trumpeted the fact that the silicon vendor is “integrating L-Band LTE technology in its mainstream chipset roadmap.” The announcement continued: “Qualcomm has also developed an advanced satellite air interface technology called EGAL (Enhanced Geostationary Air Link), which enables the satellite mode of operation in mobile devices. Qualcomm is adding L-Band LTE/and EGAL to standard Qualcomm products, including its MDM9600 chipset.”

Now we can’t be one hundred per cent sure about this – and it would certainly be a surprise – but it looks this week as if Qualcomm might have been paying the Informer’s Mum and Dad to supply the firm with key strategic consultancy services. Because when the Informer was a boy, sat square-eyed in front of the goggle box for as many hours a day as possible, his parents would often urge him to “switch off the TV and go and do something more worthwhile with your time.”

The firm this week gave the strongest indication yet that it is set to call time on its Flo TV mobile television service by announcing that it is to suspend direct to consumer sales of both service and devices immediately, and is only prepared to commit to continuing service for existing D2C customers until spring 2011. Qualcomm said that it would offer refunds to users “in the event of a discontinuance of service”, suggesting that this is the probable outcome, and conceded that it was expecting to have to make “some layoffs”.

It’s no secret that Qualcomm has been unhappy with the commercial performance of its Flo TV service for some time. In late June this year, Flo TV president Bill Stone conceded he was unhappy with take-up and said the future of the service was dependent on it finding some success outside of the US. Trials have been undertaken with British satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB and Japanese carrier KDDI but there have been no indications as yet that they could result in commercial services.

Verizon is one of two US carriers (the other being AT&T) that also offers services from Flo TV and this week it announced its LTE deployment plans. Verizon had been in the running to make the first US launch of the 4G technology but it was pipped to the post by regional specialist Metro PCS last month. It may have been nudged into second place, but its deployment will be on a far larger scale.

The US market leader has said it will launch commercial LTE service in 38 major metropolitan areas, covering 110 million Americans, by the end of this year. It will also roll out the technology to 60 key airports. CEO Lowell McAdam said its 700MHz spectrum will improve the pace of coverage deployment, and the firm will, unsurprisingly, be targeting enterprise users at the outset.

Finally this week a look at the latest development work being undertaken by carrier lobby group the GSM Association. The GSMA has launched the mWomen Programme, designed to address the mobile phone ‘gender gap’ that exists within the world; something that was highlighted by a report undertaken by the GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. That report, published earlier this year, showed that a woman in a low or middle-income country is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. Closing this gap, the report found, would bring the benefits of mobile phones to an additional 300 million women.

The top brass at the GSMA love rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, and CEO Rob Conway was accompanied at the launch by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the aforementioned Cherie Blair. Gender equality is an unarguably good thing, so this is doubtless a worthy project. But what was that Ghandi quotation that Hillary’s boss hammered out when he was campaigning for the presidency, though? “Be the change you wish to see…” The GSMA board has 26 seats, and 25 of them are filled by men.

Take care

The Informer

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