a week in wireless

The telecoms weather report

Still three weeks out from MWC and the news has already gone colder than most of Europe. The mercury in the thermometer outside the Informer’s hovel has gone south of zero for the fourth time this week but it’s nowhere near as cold as for some of our cousins further east.

Ukrainian Emergencies Minister Viktor Baloga has advised the public to run six miles every morning and bathe in cold water to keep winter illnesses at bay, which may sound like controversial advice after 100 people are reported dead in temperatures of -35c.

Car manufacturer BMW wasn’t faring much better in terms of PR, after sponsoring the cold weather front sweeping Europe and calling it the ‘Cooper’ after its Mini brand. The stunt backfired after dozens more cold-related deaths in Germany.

But a handful of Hungarian nationals have become trapped in warmer climes after the country’s national airline, Malev, ran out of cash and folded on Friday morning. Planes that are stuck overseas look set to stay there without enough cash to fuel up. The state offloaded the airline in 2010 to focus on other ventures, one of which came to fruition this week when a consortium formed by state-owned firms Magyar Posta, the Hungarian Electricity Works and a unit of the Hungarian Development Bank successfully bid for the biggest block of spectrum in the country’s 900MHz band auction. The move will bring a fourth operator to market alongside the existing three – Magyar Telekom, Telenor Hungary and Vodafone Hungary, which also won frequency blocks in the auction.

Moving next door and 3 owner Hutchison Whampoa has agreed to buy Orange Austria in a deal worth €1.3bn as the next round of industry consolidation begins to take hold. France Telecom recently agreed to sell its Swiss business, Orange Switzerland, to Apax Partners and has also indicated it is interested in disposing of its Portuguese holdings.

In the UK Orange has merged with T-Mobile under the banner of Everything Everywhere, the T-Mobile arm of which this week announced what it claims is the country’s first “truly unlimited” mobile phone plan. The “Full Monty,” which sounds to the Informer like a filling breakfast, allows unlimited internet browsing, unlimited SMS messages and unlimited phone calls with no fair usage restrictions. Tethering, VoIP and peer-to-peer file sharing are all allowed, with prices for the plan start at £41 per month, with a free BlackBerry 9900 handset, or customers can pay a £29 up-front fee to have an iPhone 4S 16GB handset with the deal.

While T-Mobile’s busy giving everything away, the Supreme Court of India has been busy taking everything back, controversially cancelling 122 telecoms licences that were awarded in a 2008 spectrum sale.

The government has claimed that corruption marred the sales process, with former cabinet minister Andimuthu Raja currently in jail awaiting trial for his role in the scandal. The Supreme Court has declared the licences are null and void and has ordered a re-auction to be held within four months. The existing licenses have been revoked, although operations may continue while a resolution is found, although it doesn’t look like the previous buyers will get their money back. Norway’s Telenor, which was allotted 22 pan-India licences during the sale, looks set to be one of the affected.

On the subject of abuse of power, a dossier appeared on the website of Research in Motion this week giving an insight into shareholder concerns that the top RIM jobs held by Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who shared both the CEO and chairman posts, gave them too much control. With the firm struggling to keep afloat on choppy seas, both men have been replaced (although they remain on the board) by Thorsten Heins, former chief operating officer, as president and CEO, and Barbara Stymiest, as chair of the board.

On the subject of keeping things afloat, Facebook has finally come out with its long awaited IPO filing, which if you believe the breathless fervour accompanying it, will hit a region far north of silly money when it happens. The filing was accompanied by a saccharine cover note from Mark Zuckerberg about how the company “was not originally created to be a company” but was “built to accomplish a social mission.” Amid the blurb was something about the company’s business model, along the lines of “At Facebook, we build tools to help people connect with the people they want and share what they want.” No mention of advertising and profiling there, but here’s a tip from the curmudgeonly Informer – if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product being sold.

Selling out to the glitzy marketing experts? Ask John Browett, who is transitioning from head of struggling UK electrical retailer Dixons to vice president of retail at Apple, where he will oversee the company’s plans for world domination direct to consumer.

And the fruity firm is doing something right, as Apple ousted LG as the third largest mobile phone vendor by volume following 4Q11 results up from number five just a year ago, putting it just behind Nokia and Samsung.

One thing that Apple is known for is excellent customer service, so keep your eyes peeled for our bumper MWC issue of MCI which tells you everything you need to know about managing the customer experience.

Japanese firm Sony, which has recently taken charge of its own mobile device arm, Sony Ericsson, is trying on some of these skills to reboot the company’s image by appointing PlayStation brand champion Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai as its new president and CEO. The former president of the Consumer Products and Services Group, credited with making PlayStation a household name, will assume his new role on April 1, replacing current president and CEO Sir Howard Stringer, who will become chairman of the Board of Directors in June.

That’s all for this week. Keep warm.

The Informer

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