a week in wireless

Tier 1 Operators

The Informer had to smile when reading about the new Medal of Honor video game this week. A phrase he uses so often in his working life had been dropped into an altogether different environment in the game’s blurb.

“Operating directly under the National Command Authority, a relatively unknown entity of handpicked warriors are called on when the mission must not fail. They are the Tier 1 Operators.”

Eh? Surely the Tier 1 Operators are an extremely well known group of multinational telecoms carriers, some of which are former state-owned incumbents, whose scale and footprint sets them apart from other MNOs…

Not according to the folks who designed Medal of Honor:

“The Tier 1 Operator functions on a plane of existence above and beyond even the most highly trained Special Operations Forces. They are living, breathing, precision instruments of war. They are experts in the application of violence.”

Erm… Isn’t there an increasingly prevalent view in the industry that the Tier 1 Operators aren’t, in fact, experts in any type of application? Hence the success being enjoyed by over the top service providers and handset vendors. But then you don’t see a lot of industry announcements about the application of violence, so perhaps that’s the carriers’ ace in the hole. If the likes of Google and Apple don’t stop encroaching on their territory, a literal rather than figurative turf war will erupt.

Alierta. Colao. Slim. They’re armed to the teeth, and they’re not taking any prisoners.

Perhaps someone should bring out a video game where the player is an aspiring mobile operator looking to build their empire. It could start with the player putting together a bid team and securing funding for the spectrum auction, before moving through the creation of a network supply and management deal, planning, rollout and deployment handset procurement and so on. The follow-up could be all about tariff structures, marketing and fighting churn. What kid wouldn’t go for that? It could be called SIMs.

If US WiMAX outfit Clearwire was an operation within just such a game, by now the player would probably be thinking about getting online and looking for some cheats. The firm published its Q3 results this week, with losses for the quarter hitting $139.4m, compared to $82.4m for the same period in 2009. Worse, the firm conceded that it has yet to sort out funding for its future evolution, meaning it is being forced to make some cutbacks.

It will be making a “substantial reduction” in sales and marketing spend, and suspending the launch of branded retail outlets. The arrival of its branded smartphones has also been delayed, and 15 per cent of the company workforce is getting the boot. On the network side, Clearwire said it is discontinuing “development activities for sites not required for its current build plan.”

None of this is going to help the WiMAX player when its cellular competitors ratchet up their LTE deployments. In August Clearwire said it would be launching its own LTE trials, which it said this week would be concluded in the first quarter of 2011, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of its core technology. In a bid to dilute the bad news, Clearwire pointed out that it added 1.23 million subs in the third quarter, taking its total to 2.84 million, and it predicted it would break the four million barrier by the end of the year, which is double its own original expectation.

Another key WiMAX player was sharing Clearwire’s pain this week. Israeli vendor Alvarion saw losses for the quarter grow from $1m last year to $6.1m this year as revenues dropped by 7.5 per cent to $54m. “Management continues to expect gradual improvement in shipments,” the firm said in a statement, before adding rather ominously: “Meanwhile, the company is not giving detailed guidance for Q4 because the timing of revenue from various projects cannot be predicted with accuracy.”

One of those unpredictable projects might be the network expansion contract that Alvarion announced this week with Italian player Spa. Alvarion will supply all the kit as well as end user devices and professional services for Spa’s expansion into Lombardia, Veneto, Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicilia.

The third quarter results fairy wasn’t bringing bad news to everyone, though, and it’s been a financially rewarding week for Alcatel Lucent. The vendor surprised everyone this week, probably including itself, by announcing a quarterly profit of $25m. It’s not much, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. But there were bigger numbers involved when the French-US vendor revealed a $4bn network expansion deal with Verizon Wireless that will see it support the carrier’s LTE deployment. Alca-Lu followed this up with news that it had secured deals worth $1.66bn from Chinas Unicom, Mobile and Telecom. Not a bad week.

San Diego money machine Qualcomm bagged $865m from revenues of $2.95bn in the quarter (the firm’s fiscal fourth). Profits were up eight per cent year on year and 13 per cent sequentially. “I am very pleased with our performance this year,” said chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs with a dash of understatement, given that net profit for the year was up 104 per cent to $3.25bn. Jacobs went on to predict further earnings and revenue growth for 2011.

And things were looking rosy for Deutsche Telekom, which reported an eight per cent rise in profits to €1.04bn, from revenues down 4.1 per cent to €15.6bn. The numbers were affected by the merger of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK; with that deal excluded from the reporting, profits were up by 22 per cent and revenues by one per cent.

DT will probably not need to go cap in hand to the European Commission, which is what the Symbian Foundation—which looks to be suffering what you might describe as a ‘terminal condition’—revealed that it had done in the strangest announcement of the week.

“Under an initiative sponsored by the European Commission (EC), the Symbian platform was this week endorsed by the Artemis Joint Technology Initiative and specifically identified as a unique technology that is a vital focus for European-centric mobile software development,” ran a post on the Symbian Foundation blog. A consortium of 24 companies from eight European countries will match the EC’s €11m funding shot in the arm which the Foundation clearly hopes will keep it alive a little longer, although word from within the Foundation is that the first notices of redundancy have already been served.

The consortium is called SYMBEOSE, which stands for “Symbian – the Embedded Operating System for Europe”. What’s it going to do? “The precise aim of the Symbeose consortium is to instigate a series of state-of-the-art development projects that will create new opportunities for Symbian’s global stakeholders,” Foundation said. If that’s the precise aim, the vague aim could be anything.

You can’t help but feel that trying to position Symbian as a fundamentally European platform is daft and desperate in equal measure. Any successful mobile software platform would have to be global in reach and appeal, by definition. Informa analyst and AWIW chum Malik Saadi suggested that the new consortium might be likely to make use of an existing Symbian framework for vertical sectors that was never exploited by Nokia. If this is not the case, and if Symbeose is really about continuing the development of the handset OS, then Saadi said he couldn’t’ understand the rationale. And the Informer’s with him on that one.

Saadi also had some interesting things to say about Apple, namely that the advantage the firm once had in terms of user experience on its iPhone no longer exists. “There is almost no gap in terms of user experience between Windows Phone 7 and the iPhone,” he said. “And if you look at the Droid X and upcoming Android products, I believe that the super user experience of the iPhone is already history. Apple are panicking right now, and they will be pursuing other vendors more and more.” This was on the back of Apple’s patent infringement suit against Motorola, which was issued this week.

Informa Telecoms & Media put out some smartphone-related research this week and, in doing so, claimed paternity of a new metric; Average Traffic per User (ATPU). Smartphone use accounts for 65 per cent of all mobile cellular traffic worldwide, despite smartphone penetration running at just 13 per cent, ITM said. And ATPU is set to increase by 700 per cent over the next five years.

Smartphone users across the globe currently average 85MB of traffic per month, with Apple’s iPhone the platform on which most traffic is generated on average. Devices running the Android OS sit behind the iPhone in terms of traffic generation, and the Google-backed OS will not overtake Apple in this metric, Informa said, because Android will be deployed across low-, mid- and high-user segments. Some Android handsets, however, are enabling ATPU in some markets that is higher than that generated on the iPhone, however. You can read more about it here.

Smartphones aren’t just for consumers, though, as Vodafone UK attempted to prove this week. The carrier announced an enterprise smartphone service allowing corporate customers to manage and secure their data over a range of high end devices. The service, dubbed Smarthphone Professional, uses a solution from mobile security firm Good Technologies, which aims to provide security across a variety of devices at the kind of level that has made RIM’s Blackberry solution so popular with enterprise customers.

RIM has established Blackberry as the favoured secure cellular option for many enterprises, with more than 50 million subscriber accounts worldwide, and Vodafone UK is among the Canadian firm’s operator partners. And the firm has been working to expand the range of devices it offers to cater to a wider range of tastes amid the realisation that many users will have one device for both personal and professional use. But Good CEO Brian Bogosian told the Informer in an interview earlier this year that enterprise users want to be able to choose from a selection of devices and vendors, getting in a little dig at RIM while he was at it.

“I think Blackberry is a bit like Ford was a hundred years ago,” Bogosian said; “you can have any colour, so long as it’s black. People have choices now and device specific solutions are going to be increasingly limited for enterprises looking to deploy mobility in within their organisations. Less and less are people going to want to use a Blackberry by day and an iPhone by night,” he said.

Now, the Informer is off to Cape Town for the AfricaCom event next week and, by some heavenly miscalculation, he has been granted access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Lounge at Heathrow Airport. In between gulps of free champagne, and ignoring the disapproving sniffs of the people that are used to such luxury and resent interlopers such as he, the Informer will be familiarising himself with the Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet device while there.

This is because Samsung’s UK arm has struck a deal with UK airline Virgin Atlantic that will see its device showcased in the lounge. Passengers will have access to the tablets, which will be preloaded with films, music and games, as well as the lounge food and drink menu. It’s a neat marketing move from Samsung, given the demographic that Virgin’s Clubhouse attracts; the lounge is open to Upper Class passengers and Gold Card holders only (although guests are sometimes allowed). Many of these people are corporate travellers, and the tablet devices will enable them to make calls and check emails as well as access the internet, Samsung said.

We’ll finish off on handsets this week, with a story about the Tradesman’s entrance and a persistent floater. Data Select has worked with digger firm JCB to develop the Tradesman, a phone that they claim is all but indestructible. It works even after being submerged in water and it floats, so you can retrieve it if you drop it in the sea, or a pond, or something. The firm said it is the perfect phone for people working outdoors, sailing or who are just extremely accident prone.

Take care

The Informer

One comment

  1. Avatar Matt 07/11/2010 @ 12:47 pm

    Regarding the Samsung tablets in the Virgin Club, the KLM Crowne Club rooms at Schiphol airport have had 8 iPads in each room for several months now. Nice trend for those of us who frequent these rooms.

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