a week in wireless

To baldly go…

The Informer was in Tokyo recently. While there he paid a visit to Sony HQ in the hope that he might get a glimpse of the future in some of the tech on display. Regrettably he didn’t see anything that wasn’t already public domain – not even the PS4. At least, not that he was aware of. This week the Informer realised that the very latest in wearable tech might have been hidden in plain sight the whole time, because Sony has applied for a patent related to a Smart Wig.

The first thing that occurred to the Informer on hearing of the patent was that this could mean a whole new industry association, the Smart Wig Special Interest Group, or the sWig SIG. Presumably the sWig SIG will need a chairman, or the sWig SIG bigwig, as he’ll be known informally. For this job, to adapt Virgil’s famous observation, fortune will presumably favour the bald.

The smart wig could be used to gather physiological data, or manage a personal navigation app. Or it could perhaps force its wearer’s head to turn and look at certain adverts, if deployed in combination with Google. Wearers would be like modern-day Samsons, dependent for their strength on their hair. But what if the wigs went rogue? What if one took over the brain it was keeping warm?  It does all sound a bit like the genesis of some cartoon super villain, doesn’t it? He could be called Hell Toupée.

So, who’s been tearing their hair out this week, then? Well, Turkcell’s not happy, for one. The Turkish incumbent has renewed its legal assault on South Africa-based multinational operator MTN. The dispute centres on Iran, where Turkcell accuses MTN of having employed all manner of underhand techniques to block it from using its GSM licence, acquired in 2004. Last year it filed a suit in the US alleging that MTN had “engaged in acts of corruption and bribery to steal Turkcell’s award,” adding that MTN had promised to supply Iran with weapons and engineer support for Iran’s cause at the International Atomic Energy Agency. (The Informer’s not sure Turkcell’s decision to revive its claims this week was entirely coincidental.)

Having withdrawn last year’s US-based action, Turkcell this week filed in Johannesburg, “Turkcell yesterday filed a law suit against MTN before the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, South Africa, seeking damages,” the firm wrote on its Twitter account.

“Despite its successful bid, Turkcell was prevented from receiving Iran’s first private GSM license due to MTN’s unlawful actions. The filing of the lawsuit in South Africa is in continuation of the legal process that was initiated in US courts.”

In other courtroom drama this week it was confirmed that T-Mobile Austria is going to appeal the results of the country’s recent LTE auction, which has not been without its critics. In what appeared to be an optimistic assessment of the situation, a T-Mo spokesman told Telecoms.com: “There are only two possible outcomes. Either our appeal is turned down or the auction is repeated.” Given that the auction has bagged the Austrian Government in excess of €2bn, it might be reasonable to suggest that there is, in fact, only one possible outcome

Chief among T-Mo’s gripes is that the auction recalibrates the licence terms such that the operator, which won 2 x 45MHz for a total consideration of €654m, ends up paying for frequencies from 2016 to which it had rights under a previous licence through to the end of 2019. The firm hinted that bidding was forced so high (the Government had deemed €526m an acceptable haul prior to the auction) that one of the participants – presumably 3 Austria – had almost been priced out of the process altogether. Instead of the licences going at their own market value, said the spokesman, they went at the market value of the buyer.

While we’re on auction prices, let’s drop in on India, where the nation’s Empowered Group of Ministers decided to cut the reserve price of spectrum to be auctioned off in the new year down to Rs1,765 crore/MHz for nationwide 1800MHz frequencies and Rs813 crore per MHz for 900MHz lots available in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The cuts don’t go quite far enough for the regulator, however.

Meanwhile Ericsson is being investigated by India’s Competition Commission over claims from local handset vendor Micromax that the Swedish vendor has been stitching it up like a good’un over GSM patent licensing. Ericsson stands accused of demanding “unfair, discriminatory and exorbitant royalty” for the patents and for being generally unFRANDly.

For its part Ericsson claims to have made numerous attempts to extend the hand of FRANDship to Micromax only to be rejected, motivating it to launch legal action against the handset vendor in March. Micromax’ complaint to the CCI is part of its “general defense” Ericsson said.

However, according to the filing, no details of the patents infringed by the handset maker were provided by Ericsson. Moreover the filing alleges that Ericsson made its demands only after 16 months’ of requests from Micromax, giving the handset vendor only 25 days to comply.

The document stated: “The allegations made in the information and not refuted by [Ericsson] concerning royalty rates make it clear that the practices adopted by [Ericsson] were discriminatory as well as contrary to FRAND terms.”

Ericsson added that it will fully cooperate with the authority in this investigation to reach a “fair and reasonable” conclusion.

While Ericsson’s getting examined in India it’s one time arch-enemy Qualcomm is getting probed in China. The Chinese government is conducting an investigation into the silicon vendor relating to a possible breach of the country’s anti-monopoly law. More than that the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission was unwilling to say. Like Ericsson in India, Qualcomm has promised to play along.

“We will continue to cooperate with the NDRC as it conducts its confidential investigation,” the chipmaker said in statement.

News of the investigation came days after Qualcomm announced that it had added support for China’s BeiDou navigation satellite system to its solutions. The vendor said that using BeiDou will enhance location precision in smartphones and tablets in China and globally.

In October this year, Qualcomm appointed former US ambassador to China Clark Randt to its Board of Directors, as the firm looks to expand its footprint in China. So this investigation gives him a chance to show what he can do.

Meanwhile, China is gearing up to launch LTE services, with China Mobile expected to launch its 4G service on the December 18 with a new brand, He, according to local sources.

This week China Mobile teamed up with infrastructure vendor Huawei to demonstrate the world’s first international VoLTE HD voice and video calls between a TDD LTE network and a FDD LTE network, the vendor said. The demonstration was conducted over China Mobile’s VoLTE trial networks in Chengdu and Hangzhou, and a VoLTE network in South Korea.

In other sad face news for Qualcomm this week long time Snapdragon loyalist HTC has decided to mix it up a bit, using processors from ST-Ericsson, Broadcom and Spreadtrum in a recent salvo of lower-range handset launches. A report from Focus Taiwan quoted Jack Tong, HTC’s head of China and North Asia, as suggesting that this might be the beginning of longer term a spread bet on silicon vendors, even in the high end segment where Qualcomm enjoys a strong position.

Silicon vendors should be “thinking about how to take advantage of the overall trend to secure and expand their ground in the market. So there’s likely to be a restructuring,” according to Focus. “If most players in the industry are seeking high performance to cost, then we would not be able to ignore such a trend despite good design and applications,” he added.

Sticking with Android smartphones, Blackberry revealed this week that its messaging platform, BBM, will soon be going native in markets including Africa, India, Indonesia, Latin America and the Middle East. From December 13 the software will be pre-installed on a range of Android devices from vendors including Brightstar, Celkon, Evercoss, Imo, Ericsson’s current nemesis Micromax, Mito, Snexian, Spice, Tecno, TiPhone (how come Apple hasn’t squashed that one?!) and Zen.

Earlier in the week Blackberry shed a Tear; Kristian Tear, its chief operating officer (formerly global head of sales at Sony Ericsson). CMO Frank Boulben and CFO Brian Bidulka also bid their farewells as the firm continued its Boardroom sweep up.

Blackberry is cleaning house because of poor performance, while Nordic operator TeliaSonera is looking at what we might term “ethic cleansing”. The fallout from the group’s shadowy activities in Eurasia continues, with the firm announcing this week that four more senior heads are gonna roll. “Some senior employees no longer have the trust of the Board,” said Marie Ehrling, chairman of that board in a statement, while Johan Dennelind added: “The way some transactions in the past were managed does not live up to the high standards of business ethics that TeliaSonera wants to stand for.”

At the time of writing TeliaSonera hadn’t named all of the shamed, although a separate yet simultaneously issued statement revealed that CFO Per-Arne Blomquist is out effective immediately. Blomquist must have thought he was safe when the board made him interim CEO while they wooed Dennelind…

While TeliaSonera was getting to the core of that problem, NSN and SK Telecom were getting to the core of another. The two firms announced this week that they had demonstrated the implementation of a virtualised Evolved Packet Core, deriving benefits in terms of both throughput and signalling capacity. The solution can run on off-the-shelf hardware, said NSN, while SK Telecom also recently struck a deal with Intel to work on a virtualised base station.

The operator also announced this week that it had demonstrated next-level LTE-Advanced services by aggregating 20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum and 10MHz of 800MHZ spectrum to drive throughput speeds of 225Mbits/s.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Smart Communications was claiming the first video multicast over LTE, in partnerhsip with Huawei. According to Smart the trial puts its network on a par with industry Verizon in the United States and Telstra in Australia, which have both kicked off trials of the technology, variously known as eMBMS and LTE Broadcast, on their own LTE networks.

Which is where we’ll wrap up this week.

Take care

The Informer

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