a week in wireless

The bigger they are…

Ah, the London skyline. Such a distinctive view the Informer considers, whenever he finds anywhere high enough to enjoy it. The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin and of course, Big Ben – or St Stephen’s Tower as it should technically be referred too. Impressive symbols of man’s ingenuity for sure, but these tall structures also hint at darker economic times, according to Barclay’s Capital, which made some rather insightful claims this week, suggesting that skyscraper building is linked with imminent financial doom.

New York’s Equitable Life building, perhaps the world’s first skyscraper, was finished in 1873 during a five-year recession, while the Empire State Building was built in 1931, as the Great Depression was settling in. Then as the early 1990’s recession hit the UK, One Canada Square was finished in London, and as the dot com bubble burst, Taipei 101 scraped the skys. Most recently, the Burj Khalifa was finished in Dubai, just as the country started struggling. Now the Informer harbours some concerns as Western Europe’s tallest building, the Shard, is due for completion in May of this year.

But not to worry, there’s still gold in them mobile payment hills, or so online auction giant eBay would have us believe. The company, which owns payment platform PayPal, is predicting global sales of $8bn via mobile on eBay alone up from $5bn last year, while PayPal is projecting that its global mobile total payment volume will be $7bn in 2012.

“According to our research, mobile retail will be worth a massive £19bn to the UK economy by 2021,” said Angus McCarey, UK retail director for eBay.

Meanwhile Visa was trumpeting the opportunities in the space via NFC-enabled smartphones, having certified new devices from Samsung, LG and RIM for use with its PayWave mobile payments application. The PayWave application is installed on a secure SIM card and allows users to make payments at points of sale using a contactless payment terminal. Research house the Yankee Group predicts that the value of NFC-based transactions will grow significantly, from $27m in 2010 to $40bn in 2014.

EBay is banking on the rollout of 4G to help drive its mobile sales expectations, after UK regulator Ofcom published some revisions for its plan to auction 4G spectrum. The UK is lagging many other countries with regards to 4G deployments and latest plans to boost mobile broadband coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population could help with the adoption of richer services.

The Ofcom proposals have met with mixed responses from the operator community however, and there’s an awful lot of confusing information out there. But more on that here…

Sticking in the UK for a moment longer and MVNO Giffgaff is taking a hard line approach to users that it feels are taking the Michael. The organisation, which piggybacks on the O2 network, discovered that less than one per cent of its customers are accounting for over a third of its total mobile internet data use across its entire network. “The way in which these users are using their data is simply not economically sustainable for us – both in the cost of the data they are using, and in the business time spent on investigating and working with these cases,” the company said.

Those users who have been found to be among the one per cent responsible for the heavy data usage will first have a data bar imposed upon them, which they may elect to have removed. A second offence will result in termination of the service completely.

If you’re one of those people that just can’t help themselves, then Las Vegas is probably not the place to be, but that’s where most of the industry’s consumer facing pundits were this week, as monster gadget fest CES kicked off for another year.

Among the highlights were a rash of much anticipated LTE devices, which should help drive adoption in many mature markets, again with the exception of the UK. One such device was unveiled by Finnish handset giant Nokia, which showed off the latest in the Lumia Windows Phone portfolio – the 900.

But rather more interesting was Nokia’s acquisition of Norwegian start-up operating system (OS) developer Smarterphone, which makes Linux-based feature phone operating systems. There’s still plenty of opportunity in the lower tier markets, which is where Nokia still has a stranglehold, although since development of Symbian was farmed out to Accenture last year, the question now is what will become of the once mighty OS?

Much the same could be said of RIM, which was showing off the latest versions of its flagship operating systems for both smartphone and tablet devices. The struggling PlayBook tablet is to get a software overhaul with OS version 2.0, due out in February and the much requested native email application will finally make an appearance, alongside deeper integration with social networking tools and address book. On the handset side, BlackBerry OS 7.1, rolling out this week, delivers enhanced sharing functionality, with the addition of NFC-focused updates such as BlackBerry Tag; an update for the popular BBM messaging service; and mobile hotspot functionality via tethering.

Chip shop Intel is making a foray back into the mobile market proper through a multi-year deal with handset maker Motorola Mobility, which will see the companies work together on a range of smartphones and tablets over the coming years, beginning with an Android smartphone based on the Atom chipset later this year.

Intel also used CES to showcase an Android smartphone, the Lenovo K800, based on the Atom chipset, which will be available in China in the second quarter. The company better hope the launch goes better than that of the Apple iPhone 4S on Friday, which was cancelled at the very last minute after the crowd outside Apple’s flagship Beijing store got so big the police were called in to disperse the mob.

The crowd was swollen by large gangs hired to snap up as much stock as possible so unscrupulous dealers could then resell the devices at a markup when stocks were low. When Apple called off the physical launch due to security concerns the crowd pelted the store with eggs and the police were called in.

Stepping back to CES and LTE handsets for a moment, Sony dropped a bombshell, announcing that Sony-Ericsson will be renamed Sony Mobile Communications after its decision to part ways with Ericsson last year. The company also unveiled its first own-brand handset, the Xperia S, which will be launched globally in the first quarter of 2012. The handset will initially feature the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, but will be upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS during the second quarter.

The move also gives a glimpse into Sony’s intentions in the smartphone market as it looks to offer an ecosystem of devices to consumers. The Xperia S is PlayStation-certified and benefits from access to Sony’s music catalogue, Music Unlimited, which offers 12 million songs, and Video Unlimited, which offers the latest Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows from major studios.

Erstwhile partner Ericsson meanwhile was busy pulling together an intellectual property commando squad, rejigging its line up so that the company’s chief intellectual property officer, Kasim Alfalahi, will now report directly to president and CEO Hans Vestberg. The Swedish company is also reorganising its Licensing and Patent Development department with the aim of creating a larger revenue stream from its IPR, targeting an increase in IPR revenues above the SEK 4.6bn ($662m) net revenue generated in 2010.

Ericsson claims to have the industry’s strongest wireless IPR portfolio with 27,000 granted patents covering a range of technologies, such as wireless access and WLAN. It has already signed more than 90 license agreements with firms in the industry and as wireless access is now being added in new types of devices.

And sure enough the patent wars are still going on, as Korean vendor LG Electronics this week signed a patent agreement that provides broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for LG’s tablets, mobile phones and other consumer devices running the Android or Chrome OS platform.

These towers just keep getting taller and taller.

Take care

The Informer.

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