a week in wireless

The final frontier

If you’re anything like the Informer then you’re just starting to think about what to buy your loved ones for Christmas this year. You’re phoning your sister-in-law to find out what to get for your brother and then asking him what his wife wants. Same deal with the parents, the sister and her branch of the family. You’ve got no idea.

But you are not yet desperate enough to fork out £10 for a piece of paper certifying that you’ve sent a text message into space for one of your kin. This is the latest ruse from everybody’s favourite wacky MVNO, Virgin Mobile. The firm has teamed with an outfit called SentForever.com that has built an entire business out of transmitting messages into space for people bored or silly enough to pay for the privilege. Now Virgin’s customers can send these messages direct from their phones (They get converted and sent via satellite, of course, you can’t text straight into space.)

Virgin described the service as allowing people to send “declarations of love and affection into the unchartered (sic) territories of space where they will travel through the cosmos for all eternity.”

“We are quite literally over the moon,” said the firm’s Tim Dowling, evidently so excited that he confused himself as to the meaning of “quite literally”.

But how can they guarantee that the messages will be travelling for all eternity? Granted, the Informer’s no astrophysicist, but isn’t it widely thought that, one day, the universe will collapse in on itself and cease to be? If so, the message will have to stop travelling at some stage, unless it actually travels beyond the bounds of this universe. Churlish to quibble, perhaps.

More importantly, do we really want our first contact with other intelligent life to contain the phrase: “luv u!!! lol!!!” No, I think we do not.

Clearly the Informer has come over all Bah Humbug this week, for the final Week in Wireless of 2008. And it’s hardly surprising, what with this financial turmoil and everything. This week the nascent WiMAX sector felt the icy finger of the credit crunch upon its bare neck, as it was revealed that global sales of fixed and mobile WiMAX kit, as well as phones and Ultra Mobile PCs, fell sequentially by 21 per cent to $245m in the third quarter of this year.

And according to Infonetics, which pulled these numbers together, things aren’t going to get any rosier next year. “With less cash available for network rollout – and possibly less spectrum being auctioned until the current financial crisis passes – WiMAX deployment will be inhibited for the next 12 months,” said Richard Webb, wireless analyst for the firm. “Infonetics expects revenue growth to return to the overall WiMAX market in 2010, with growth being driven by mobile WiMAX, as a growing number of WiMAX networks are being rolled out based on 802.16e, even if initial services will be fixed CPE-based broadband.”

And it’s squeaky bum time at Nortel, too, as this week it emerged that the Canadian vendor has been seeking legal advice in anticipation of a possible bankruptcy protection filing. This is probably something that Nortel would have preferred to keep quiet. Indeed it has been at pains to reassure investors that there is no imminent prospect of such a filing and that the firm is just being cautious in case its restructuring plans come a cropper. Nortel reported a net loss of $3.4bn for Q3 this year.

In more financial news from vendor land, Alcatel-Lucent has announced a series of dramatic cost-cutting measures that it hopes will be enough to secure an operational breakeven point of €1bn revenue in both 2009 and 2010.

The belt-tightening initiatives by the giant vendor include a reduction in the number of managers by around 1,000 a cut in the number of its contractors by 5,000.

The cost-cutting announcements are part of a ‘major strategic transformation’ plan unveiled by Alcatel-Lucent today, which includes a realignment of its operations. The company is to focus on three markets: service providers, enterprises and selected vertical, and on four areas of investment: IP, optical, mobile and fixed broadband, and applications enablement.

The company says it is accelerating its shift of investments towards next-generation platforms. With the cuts and a tighter strategic focus, Alcatel-Lucent expects by 4Q 2009, on a run-rate basis, it should achieve total savings of Euro750m at a constant exchange rate.

Alcatel-Lucent’s outlook for the telecoms market in 2009 is far from rosy. The supplier expects the markets size for equipment and related deployment services to drop, at a constant exchange rate, between 8 percent and 12 per cent.

And these aren’t the only companies trying to find their way this Christmas, as Vodafone this week tabled a bid for Swedish mapping and navigation outfit Wayfinder Systems. The big V offered just under $30m for the firm, whose board of directors offered a unanimous recommendation to shareholders to accept the offer. It’s the first time a carrier has made a play for a navigation firm, and it’s a decent indicator of the industry’s belief in the potential of the sector.

Meanwhile, Vodafone’s former chief navigator, Arun Sarin, was the subject of industry rumour this week, with widespread speculation that he is about to take the top job at Yahoo. The firm’s founder, Jerry Yang, departed last month, having failed to close a takeover deal with Microsoft by holding out for a higher price than Redmond’s finest wanted to pay. Yahoo has also recently seen its advertising partnership with Google crumble to dust.

Sarin left Vodafone during the UK summer this year, announcing his intention to take a well earned rest. Whether or not the temptation to return to the cut and thrust of corporate life will prove too much to resist remains to be seen.

And, like a weird telecoms themed edition of seminal children’s programme Bod, here comes Arun Sarin, and there goes… Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross, forced to resign this week amid a share scandal. Ross, who owns just shy of 20 per cent of the retail outfit that be launched with school chum Charles Dunstone, used 136 million of his 177 million shares as security against personal loans without telling anyone in the company, the naughty scamp. He did the same with shares in other companies.

The Financial Services Authority requires that company directors disclose all share dealings. Did Ross simply forget, like Rio Ferdinand with a drugs test? Or did he deliberately keep schtum because he was doing something bad? Only he can tell us that, and he probably won’t, so you’ll just have to make up your own minds.

Taking a more open approach to life this week is Google, which has released a SIM- and hardware-unlocked version of its G1 Android handset, dubbed the Android Dev Phone 1.

Unlike the operating platform’s bootloader on retail devices, the bootloader on the Dev Phone 1 does not enforce signed system images, which means developers can flash the phone with custom builds of the Android OS. The developer unit also has a funky image printed on the back. Woohoo!

To purchase a Dev Phone, at a price of $399, users have to register as an Android developer on the Android Market site, and there is a limit of one device per developer account. Because the device is intended for developers, Google will not offer consumer support. Instead it offers only this slightly chilling disclaimer: “End users operate these devices at their own risk.” Eek!

That’s a nice warning to see when you open your Christmas presents, isn’t it?

Anyway Readers, the Informer hopes you have a good break over the holidays, and wishes you peace and prosperity for 2009, when he shall invade your space next.

Take care

The Informer

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