a week in wireless


There can only be one

That Mark Zuckerberg, what a guy. The Informer feels pretty bad for him after all that he’s been through these last few years. But this week was the final straw, when he woke up one morning to find out that he’d been kicked off Facebook. In this day and age that’s pretty much the ultimate insult. It’s almost as if you don’t exist at all.

Oh, no, the Informer isn’t talking about that Mark Zuckerberg, no, no, this is the other MZ – a mild mannered lawyer from Indianapolis who just happens to share the same name as the billionaire entrepreneur. This guy tried to sign up to Facebook two years ago – a process which took four months and countless copies of proofs of his ID, because Facebook’s policy is, apparently, that there’s only one Mark Zuckerberg.

Now this week, after less than two years of usage and the fending off of countless rabid groupies mistaking him for the other guy, the Indiana Zuckerberg’s account has been inexplicably suspended. Yet the two Zuckerberg’s shouldn’t be that hard to tell apart – one has around 350 friends, while the other has 650 million friends, and quite a few enemies.

As of Thursday, one of those enemies is probably the mighty Google. Facebook was left red-faced when it emerged that it had hired PR consultancy Burson Marsteller to undertake a smear campaign in the US, trying to convince high profile media outlets like USA Today to run with stories about how Google is trampling the privacy of millions of Americans. The foundation of these claims is a little known Google tool called Social Circle, which the Informer had never heard of before today and imagines the same is true for much of the world.

Social Circle launched in 2009 to help remind Gmail users of the people they regularly contact, but also puts these users in touch with people their primary contacts are following on the web. These are known as secondary contacts and can also be acquired by the voluntary connection of user accounts on Facebook, Yahoo, Flickr, LinkedIn and the like. It’s an accelerator for connections – a bit like how Facebook puts users in touch with their friends’ friends.

But against the background of Facebook’s spurious claims that Google was being irresponsible with user data, a security firm, admittedly known for it’s love of the limelight, pointed out that a security issue at Facebook has left personal information available to third parties for “a few years now”.

The glitch is in the way access tokens are made available to third parties and has left profiles, photographs and chat messages vulnerable through around 100,000 Facebook applications. Whoops.

Google on the other hand was out making enemies of its own and, as befits a company of such muscular proportions, it doesn’t go after the weak. At the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco this week, the company revealed a beta version of Google Music. The service has been on the cards for some time and is known to have been designed in the image of iTunes and Amazon, yet Google was unable to strike a deal with the record labels – in fact the word is that it has thoroughly irked said labels – so what was on display has been described as a “half way house” by some pundits.

The digital locker will allow users to upload their music collection to Google, and stream it back to their devices. With the project still in beta however, there are plenty of restrictions. The service is only available to US users by invitation, it allows for the storage of 20,000 songs free of charge, and only supports Android devices. Google gets around the licensing issues, or rather the lack of a licence, by storing each users’ songs separately and ensuring they can only be streamed by their owner. This however is a legal grey area, and no doubt the record labels – known affectionately as the MAFIAA – will start throwing their weight around over this.

In fact, Simon Dyson, senior music analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, reckons the fact that Google has had the cojones to go ahead and launch the service, will most likely put an end to licensing negotiations between Google and the major record companies as well as most other companies looking to get into the locker space.

“The implications surrounding the launch are massive. Amazon launching on its own was a risk, but having Google alongside it swings the balance of power in favour of the service providers and away from the record companies,” Dyson said. “We are no nearer finding out if a license is required for this sort of service but that isn’t the point. Google has claimed that it tried to get a license and was denied by the major record companies. Google can only be seen as a defender of what consumers deserve and if the major record companies challenge this it could turn out to be a PR disaster for them. Without being too dramatic, Google has effectively said to the record companies, sue us if you dare,” he adds.

In a less warmly welcomed but arguably just as disruptive move, Google also launched its much anticipated Chromebook device, which is to be manufactured by Acer and Samsung. Anyone who’s been in this industry as long as the Informer knows that technology, like fashion, comes around in circles. So in a throwback to the days of the dumb terminal, the Chromebook acts as a portal to cloud-based applications and services, all accessed through the Chrome browser.

What the Informer marvels at however, is the price. Samsung models will start at $429 ($500 with 3G) while the Acer’s will come in at a lower $429 with 3G – and yet the notebook has no installed software save the Chrome browser and, since all the horsepower is stored in the cloud, users are effectively paying out for a window onto the internet. Margaret Thatcher would’ve been proud. And Google is quick to play the role of the white knight, with co-founder Sergey Brin waxing lyrical that the current computing model was a flawed one: “Whether it be Microsoft or other operating system vendors, the complexity of managing your computer is really torturing computer users out there.” Brin said that the Chrome notebooks remove the “burden of managing a computer” from end users; apps, games, updates and security will all be managed automatically and remotely. Thank you nanny.

Yet there’s no denying the impact the little green guy is having (the Android, not Brin) as Google claimed that more than 400,000 Android-based devices are activated every day, amounting to about 12 million units each month. The firm whetted our appetites with the unveiling of an Android 3.1 update to be known as Ice Cream Sandwich, which will unite the tablet and mobile phone operating systems into a single programme.

Planning to do some uniting of its own, software giant Microsoft finalised the $8.5bn purchase of internet telephony darling Skype on Tuesday. The acquisition is the largest in Microsoft’s history, and gives it a significant foothold in the online communication world, with Skype claiming 170 million connected users and over 207 billion minutes of voice and video conversations in 2010.

Skype will become a new business division within Microsoft, and Skype CEO Tony Bates will assume the title of president of the Microsoft Skype Division, reporting directly to Steve Ballmer. Skype will support Microsoft devices like Xbox and Kinect and Windows Phone, and Microsoft will connect Skype users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live and other communities. Microsoft will continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms, which all sounds peachy but there are some that are sceptical.

Paul Saffo, managing director of Foresight at Discern Analytics who gave the guest keynote at the 2011 Ericsson Business Innovation Forum, which the Informer attended in Silicon Valley this week, compared the new acquisition’s prospects to the fate of the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Locked into an anonymous crate, the ark is wheeled into a massive warehouse full of other anonymous crates, never to be seen again.

Things were looking up for Chinese vendor Huawei, meanwhile, which has long struggled with trust issues in the West, particularly in the US. But UK cellco Everything Everywhere clearly has no such objections after signing up the firm in a four year deal to upgrade the telco’s 2G radio network, allowing it to carry 3G data services over the spectrum assigned for 2G use.

The re-farming of Orange and T-Mobile’s 2G spectrum allocation follows UK regulator Ofcom’s recent move to a “technology neutral” policy, allowing carriers to run 3G services on spectrum previously limited to 2G – HSPA900 in this case. More importantly for Huawei, the legacy kit being replaced includes that supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks, Ericsson and Nortel. Under the agreement, Huawei will replace approximately 10,000 base stations and the associated infrastructure, and with Everything Everywhere yet to choose an LTE infrastructure partner, a successful rollout on this deal could well see the smart money going on Huawei to feature in the UK carrier’s LTE future.

Last month, Huawei announced its plans to expand its UK workforce to 1,000 people over the next three years; this despite losing out on a bid to supply a network for the London Underground in time for the Olympics in 2012. Huawei was so keen to close that deal, it offered to donate some of the equipment for free.

Speaking of keen, keen as French mustard in this case, the future for fast internet in rural areas of France has received a boost from Éric Besson, Minister of Industry, Energy and the Digital Economy, who has advised that mobile operators will be able to acquire two blocks of 15MHz channels in the 800MHz band – one for download and the other dedicated to upload.

In Germany and Sweden, two countries which have already had their digital dividend, the 800MHz has only been offered in blocks of 10MHz. A 15MHz block would enable operators to offer faster speeds, which would mean that France’s remote areas could eventually be enjoying the speediest, fastest mobile broadband in the whole of Europe.

However, there are stumbling blocks in the way, not least of which is that while base stations are compatible with the wider frequencies, terminal devices are not. Many of these already have issues switching between LTE and 3G signals so adding compatibility for wider frequency bands could just complicate the issue.

Trying to beef devices up, however, is US-based graphics processor firm Nvidia, which has announced a surprise deal to acquire a UK-based baseband processor manufacturer, adding wireless connectivity to its arsenal. With smartphones becoming more powerful and chipsets increasingly more integrated, owning a radio baseband processing unit seems a reasonable move to the Informer and Icera, which will be acquired for $367m in cash, will give Nvidia 3G and 4G baseband technology, as well as 550 patents granted or pending worldwide. More importantly for Nvidia though, the move will allow the firm to double its revenue opportunity within each device.

Lastly, the Informer is dumbstruck by the Serbian government’s decision to not only turn down the only offer it received for its majority stake in incumbent carrier Telekom Srbija a second time, but to actually the whole thing off.

The Informer’s been tracking this one for a few weeks and if you remember, sole bidder Telekom Austria last week increased its bid for the 51 per cent stake, despite being the only interested party and having tabled an initial offer of €800 – 950m, which was upped to €1.1bn, having apparently been made aware of “additional value-enhancing elements.”

Yet Serbia was holding out for somewhere in the region of €1.4bn – a length TA wasn’t prepared to go to. So Serbia has refused the latest offer and called off the tender process.

There’s no pleasing some people

Take care

The Informer.

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One comment

  1. Avatar stentor 05/06/2011 @ 12:27 am

    If the US gov said, “hey Huawei, would you mind retrofitting our entire gov telecom infrastructure for free, including all secure channel military traffic?”, they (and their overseers) would not just jump over the Moon, they would jump over planetesimal Pluto with a million man Chinese telecom worker army in tow, packing a billion Chinese lunches to last the duration.

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