a week in wireless

Stupid is as Stupid does

Do stupid people need protecting from themselves? Is it anybody else’s responsibility to stop them doing stupid things? This is one of the great arguments of political philosophy, of course. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld made a useful contribution to the debate in his discussion of the US Helmet Law that forces motorcyclists to wear protective headgear. This is a ruling, he said, designed to “preserve a brain whose judgment is so poor, it does not even try to avoid the cracking of the head it’s in.”

Along similar lines, the Informer was emailed this week to alert him to the creation of a new charity called e-victims.org. This is a charity that has been set up to help people who have fallen prey to online scammers.

Fair enough, there are probably some people out there who are genuine victims. But the case study provided by the charity highlighted a major factor in the success of online scams: the reliable frequency with which human beings’ greed can override their good sense. In a press release that opens with a motherly, clucking-tongue tone, the charity says:

“It is exciting when a hot gadget like the iPhone hits the market. Unfortunately, they are also exciting for internet scammers. They use high profile products to tempt men wanting those must-have gadgets by offering a low price or a chance to buy a hard-to-get item.”

Hang on. Men? It’s surely not just men, is it? Turns out it is. Take ‘Bob’ the case study ‘victim’. When the iPhone was released he came across an ad online promising to send him an unlocked US unit to his home in the UK. Grinning moronically at his good fortune and pausing only to wipe the drool from his chin, Bob tapped in his credit card details. Stupid, greedy Bob.

There’s a donation link on the charity’s site and it would be a beautiful if perverse thing if the whole set-up turned out to be a scam itself.

Fortunately for Apple, it’s selling enough phones that it doesn’t need to worry about all the hapless Bobs. At its Macworld love-in this week, the firm announced that it holds second place in the US smartphone market, with RIM out front. So far, said Steve Jobs, Apple has sold four million iPhones, which works out at a daily sales rate of 20,000. For a wider round-up of events at Macworld, including a computer that’s lighter than helium, or something, click here.

Sony Ericsson, meanwhile, turned in some fairly healthy figures this week. Net income for 2007 broke the billion Euro barrier, rising from Eur997m to Eur1.1bn on sales of Eur13bn. Q4 shipments were up 18 per cent year on year, at 30.8 million. President Dick Komiyama reiterated the firm’s target of winning the number three spot in the handset rankings, but Ovum’s Martin Garner was on hand to dampen things down a little. The volumes were a little disappointing, he said.

“Motorola handed its competitors a gift last year by losing more than 40 per cent of its world market share – a lot of market share changed hands during 2007 and Sony Ericsson has not cashed in on that as well as Nokia, Samsung and LG have,” analysed Garner. This rather took the shine of the handset JV’s proud announcement that, for the first time, 2007 saw it shift more than 100m handsets.

By way of celebration, the firm announced a four-year sponsorship deal with shrieking tennis pin-up Maria Sharapova. The 20-year old Russian ranks fifth in the world in the women’s game and will soon be adding an agreeably leggy element to SE ad campaigns.

In other handset news, this week saw what appears to be the first demo of applications on Google’s Android platform. Mobile Linux outfit a la Mobile ran a number of apps, including a browser, calendar, games and contacts manager on an HTC Qtek 9090 handset. The firm wasn’t all smiles, however. Pauline Lo Alker, president and CEO of a la Mobile somewhat contradicted Google’s own assessment of exactly what Android is.

“It’s not an off the shelf complete software stack,” she said, before going on to deliver a rousing speech about her firm’s obligations. “We believe it is our responsibility to take the initiative to allay the ‘mystery’ and dispel any scepticism surrounding Android by first demonstrating a complete mobile Linux system stack, including drivers, middleware, and a suite of Android-based applications running on an existing advanced smartphone.”

Google has also struck a partnership with US wireless broadband player – and one time WiMAX cohort of Sprint – Clearwire, which will see the web firm’s applications delivered to the carrier’s customers. During the first half of ’08, Clearwire subs will be migrated to Gmail and Google Calendar.

There were less positive scenes at Nokia’s German operations this week, as the Finnish handset market leader announced the closure of its manufacturing site at Bochum. It’s become too expensive to make phones in Germany, Nokia said, and so it’s waving Auf Wiedersehen to 2,300 of the good burghers of Bochum. Production will be moved to lower cost European sites, the firm said.

Unlike Nokia, the Informer is going to hang around in Germany a little longer from whence there were a couple more stories this week. You know that saying ‘Every Cloud has a silver German hotel-based wifi hotspot network’? Well, that came true this week as UK-headquartered wireless broadband outfit The Cloud purchased GlobalAirNet AG – known colloquially as Ganag – which, it says here, is Germany’s leading provider of sophisticated high quality wifi services to four and five star hotels. The Cloud already tops the British and Swedish wifi markets and this acquisition gifts it the number one spot in Deutschland too.

O2 Germany, meanwhile, is sugaring its domestic DSL proposition by offering customers who sign up between now and the end of March one year’s free flat rate Napster contract, worth some Eur179.40. Content bundled free with access – will this work better than access bundled free with content? Does it really make any difference?

In other German DSL news, T-Mobile is reaping the benefits of its parent’s total communications strategy by offloading its 3G backhaul traffic onto sister firm T-Com’s network. “HSDPA needs more bandwidth. So T-Mobile wanted an economical solution to expand what are known as the ‘mobile backhaul’ links between base stations and radio network controllers (RNCs),” said Adolf Nadrowski, VP of RAN Strategy at T-Mobile Germany. “It made sense to do without expensive E1 leased lines and, instead, access a very well-developed DSLAM infrastructure and T-Com’s transport networks and buy DSL backhaul as a service.” Vendor Rad Data Communications benefits from this manoeuvre, and will continue to do so as T-Mo looks to replicate the strategy in other markets where Deutsche Telekom boasts DSL properties.

DT, meanwhile, this week pledged to create 4,000 new jobs in Germany. Probably a good idea to get a poster up at Nokia’s Bochum plant.

In the UK, T-Mobile and Yahoo have struck a deal that will see graphical advertising supplied by Yahoo appear on the T-Mo Web’n’walk internet service. Yahoo already looks after the advertising on Vodafone’s Live service and is squaring up nicely for a big old mobile rumpus with Google.

For any internet firms that want to bypass the operator community idle screen tinkerer Celltick announced this week that its offering now includes a direct to consumer offering. Celltick’s Livescreen Media solution streams messages to handset screens when the phones are idle and, hitherto, has relied on the client being installed on SIM cards – and therefore depended on the cooperation of the operator community. Not any more, as Celltick now has a version of the client that can be distributed in a text message, allowing internet companies and content providers to reach users even when the carriers aren’t interested. Whether this will have an impact on carriers’ inclination to endorse the product remains to be seen.

It’s all been a bit quiet on the roaming front recently, but Telefonica O2 this week announced that it is slashing its roaming tariffs, both on and off-net. Consumers in Spain, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic will benefit from the new rates, which cover data and voice usage. Pre- and post-paid users will now pay Eur4.01 per MB when downloading data overseas. This is down from a staggering Eur20 for prepaid users and Eur9.43 for postpaid.

SMS charges will now allow the use of bundled messages, while prepaid users will see their rate drop toEur0.33 per message, the current price charged to postpaid customers. The changes come into effect in July.

Perhaps Telefonica reckons it can make up the lost revenues by cracking down on roaming fraud, because that’s what it’s doing simultaneously through a deal with Luxembourg-based clearing house Mach.

Or perhaps the carrier thinks that less outrageous roaming charges will enable it to better combat churn. And well they might, because according to some research released this week by Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software, churn in the mobile sector of certain key world markets has risen by 15.3 per cent to 38.6 per cent per annum. It’s relatively low in the US, the firm said and highest in Britain, with other leading western European markets not far behind. The firm also quoted a statistic that said there are now 666 million mobile users in Europe, bringing about what many have long predicted: the alignment of the European mobile market with Beelzebub himself. The dark lord was unavailable for comment.

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