a week in wireless

Steve Jobs: The boy named Sue

To a man with an iHammer, everything looks like an iNail, as the Informer’s great friend Mark Twain once said. And just to prove the old man right, the powers-that-be at Cupertino are suing Samsung, HTC, Mother Theresa, Adam and Eve and growers of mostly green, rather tasty pieces of fruit for infringing on its intellectual property. Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter, who wouldn’t have been able to attend legal proceedings in person as she couldn’t get the time off from kindergarten, settled out of court.

At a time when just about every telecoms legal suit seems to involve Western companies suing their Chinese counterparts, or vice versa, Apple is taking its “Think Different” motto to its logical conclusion and suing everyone, regardless of nationality. With its announcement last week that it was going to sue Samsung for “blatant copying”, however, the Informer is beginning to wonder if the plot hasn’t well and truly been lost – after all, Samsung only makes the CPUs and LCDs for the iPhone.

According to Apple, that’s not the only point of commonality: “It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad,” quoth Apple, before going on to accuse the Galaxy maker of “slavishly” following its lead, right down to the cardboard boxes it ships its products in (called “Trade Dress” in iSpeak).

If slavish following is indeed a crime, one can only conclude that the hordes of iSheep lining up outside Apple shops would be better off skipping the next iUpgrade. Next week: St. Steve of Cupertino sues everyone with Jobs…

In the meantime, Samsung is entering into the spirit of things by launching a countersuit. Rather than even try to suggest that its products don’t resemble Apple’s, Samsung has decided to change the subject a smidgeon, accusing its biggest customer of stealing its technology to optimise data transmission, reducing power usage during data transmission and a technique for tethering a mobile phone to a PC.  If Samsung decides to suspend production while the two lock horns in court, things could get very interesting indeed.

In a “Me Too” world, Apple and Samsung aren’t the only ones filing legal paperwork. This week, AT&T filed the official documentation for its merger with T-Mobile with America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC). All 381 pages of it.

Predictably enough, the tome is heavy on things like how the proposed merger will solve the telcos’ respective spectrum crises and how the explosion in mobile data usages is threatening to bring their networks to a halt. Indeed, according to AT&T, in the first 5-7 weeks of 2015, it expects to carry all of the mobile traffic volume it carried during 2010, meaning that it faces “severe capacity constraints” and “cannot simply wait for the next major auction to resolve them.”

Somewhat bizarrely, the document consistently states that AT&T’s ability to offer quality services is deteriorating faster than the Informer can type. In the not-inconceivable event that the deal is blocked, how many customers will stick around to see if the network with the most dropped calls can turn a profit on dead air?

And speaking of profits, it’ll be very interesting to see if the document’s statement that T-Mobile customers will be allowed to keep their rate plans will survive the merger. If not, no worries – according to the document, “other providers already fill – or could easily move to fill – the competitive role T-Mobile occupies today.” And if you’re wondering who these alternatives might be, “Sprint has re-emerged with a combination of first-to-market 4G services, attractive devices and aggressive pricing,” while MetroPCS and Leap offer “inexpensive, no-contract service with nationwide coverage…and have won dramatic gains in total subscribership.” With that kind of free advertising, one can only assume the growth will continue.

One telco likely to be wishing that everything AT&T says in its document is true is rival Verizon Wireless. AT&T’s assertion that Verizon claims “unequalled network advantages in the provision of high-end LTE services” will come as empty praise following the collapse of America’s largest wireless provider’s LTE network yesterday. Users of the HTC Thunderbolt handset reported difficulties getting online as the telco admitted there was “an issue” with the service. At the time of writing, the service was still down, and no further details as to the cause or when services will resume were available.

Thunderbolt users are reporting that the issue appears to extend beyond simply being unable to access the LTE service; many are complaining that they can’t connect to 3G or any other service, while subscribers to Verizon’s LTE wireless access card and hotspot offerings have also been unable to connect. According to a statement from Verizon, LTE handset users will still be able to make calls but some “may experience a 1XRTT data connection during this time.” The company said it expected to see the network restored on a market-by-market basis.

For Verizon, the timing couldn’t be worse: the company was due to launch its second LTE-enabled handset, Samsung’s Droid Charge, today. While there’s been no official announcement on the subject, it seems unlikely that the launch will go ahead while services are down.

Verizon isn’t the only ones with network problems this week. Vodafone Hutchison Australia’s coverage troubles looked set to deepen, with a proposed class action suit against the telco for poor service gaining ground in the country. When the idea was first suggested at the beginning of this year, about 9,000 claimants expressed interest; that number has more than doubled to 22,000 in the past couple of months, according to reports in The Australian.

The report comes on the back of a weekend network outage that saw VHA customers unable to send or receive SMSs on Easter Sunday. Disgruntled subscribers vented their anger on Twitter and Facebook, with the former managing to make “Vodafail” the trending topic in Australia for the day. VHA apologised to customers on a blog post and offered 12 hours of free SMS services on May 1st by way of compensation, but comments posted in response suggest that the gesture is unlikely to make much difference to increasingly negative perceptions of the carrier’s service.

Nokia’s Symbian operating system must be feeling similarly unloved, with the announcement on Wednesday of plans to outsource its development to consultancy firm Accenture. As part of the process, Nokia will also transition some 3,000 employees in China, Finland, India, the UK and the US to Accenture.

The move casts Nokia is the role of hardware developer. Under the collaboration agreement, Accenture will provide Symbian-based software development and support services to Nokia for future smartphones, extending beyond Symbian. Accenture will provide mobility software, business and operational services around the Windows Phone platform to Nokia and other ecosystem participants.

In October 2009, Accenture acquired Nokia’s professional services unit that provides engineering and support of the Symbian operating system to mobile device manufacturers and service providers, and which then served as a key building block in Accenture’s Mobility services portfolio. But the changes don’t stop there: As part of measures to reduce its Devices & Services operating expenses by €1bn for the full year 2013, Nokia will reduce its global workforce by about 4,000 employees by the end of 2012, with the majority of reductions in Denmark, Finland and the UK. The company’s research and product development sites will be hit hard, with the expansion of some sites and the contraction or closure of others.

Speaking of closure, it’s time for the Informer to wrap things up for the week and prepare for the impending nuptials tomorrow. Despite the current litigious environment, it seems that the Happy Couple are hell-bent on saying “iDo”, so it can only be hoped that the bride’s frock doesn’t look suspiciously like an iPad.

Take care,

The Informer.

One comment

  1. Avatar L. Hill 28/04/2011 @ 12:47 pm

    Such a shame that Apple is turning into another bad seed, rotten to the core. (Excellent column from the Informer, by the way, very entertaining and informative.)

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