a week in wireless

We’re off to email the wizard

The explosions in internet and cellular adoption happened more or less side by side – like Take That and the Spice Girls they boomed, bust and came triumphantly back together – and now, at long last, they’re starting to converge.

(Let’s just take a minute to imagine the true horror of a fully converged Take That and the Spice Girls.)

This week Nokia sent as clear a signal as you’re likely to see that email will make the leap from desktop to mobile in the consumer space as it once did in the enterprise. The Finn announced that it has given up the ghost on in house development of business email solutions formed out of the 2006 $385m acquisition of Intellisync – rendering that part of the business Intellisunk. But in the same breath, it announced the beefing up its mobile services offering Ovi with the acquisition of consumer mobile email and IM specialist Oz.

The Oz purchase presents Nokia with the ability to easily access Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail and other consumer email, social networking and integrated IM clients, giving a connection to the big internet brands without having to do separate deals with each company. Nokia customers will be given almost instant access to their POP email accounts, which – in combination with all you can eat data tariffs – is sure to help drive up consumer mobile email and IM at the cost of SMS.

Yes, yes, the Informer is well aware that we’ve all been down this particular yellow brick road before. Last year the SMS Forum closed its doors for good and at the World Congress the GSM Association announced that its Personal IM campaign was gaining traction. At this point in time only 38 mobile operators out of 750 GSMA members have launched Personal IM services. Clearly, the war on SMS is far from over and operators would likely argue that a war on SMS, like all wars, would be good for absolutely nothing.

In order to protect their own portal offerings some operators may switch out Oz as a supplier, since there are at least two other vendors, Seven Networks and Visto, which enable a comparable service. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, this is not the end of the mobile email story, it is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Meanwhile, Comes With Music, Nokia’s all-you-can-eat music service was launched on the 5310 last night in London and Singapore. Analysts at TNS reckon mobile phone owners in the UK could download 2.1 billion music tracks annually from the Sony Ericsson and Nokia music portals. This figure dwarves the current legal UK music download figure in 2007 of 1.5 billion across all channels.

Richard Windsor at Nomura is upbeat about Nokia’s new offering: “Given the current price of the 5310 at £85, the premium for Comes with Music appears to be about £45 or Euro56. This is more than the Euro40 we had been led to expect but much less than the Euro90 we had feared. At this kind of price we can see good demand for the service which has the benefit of all-you-can eat access to six million tracks which the user gets to keep at the end of the contract. The only problem is that the tracks remain locked up with Windows DRM which will only allow them to play on Windows DRM enabled devices (i.e not iPods). This compares unfavourably with BitTorrent where the tracks are free and have no DRM but has the added advantage of being legal.”

Over in the Finn’s infrastructure business, Nokia Siemens Networks has struck a patent licensing agreement with Chinese manufacturer Huawei. The firms said that the deal covers all standards essential patents relating to GSM, WCDMA, CDMA2000, optical networking, datacom and WiMAX in mobile devices, infrastructure and services.

Ilkka Rahnasto, VP of Intellectual Property rights at Nokia said Huawei is the 35th company to licence Nokia patents, and said the agreement, “Demonstrates how companies can licence intellectual property in a way that encourages industry innovation and fosters a healthy IPR environment.” Which is nice, especially as Huawei was noticeably absent from the inauguration of both the LTE and WiMAX patent pools formed earlier this year.

In other news from Espoo, the firm’s chief technology officer, Bob Iannucci, has resigned from his post with immediate effect. He will continue to work as an advisor to the firm until a replacement is found. Personal reasons were stated as the reason for his departure, although the Informer’s Teutonic cousin, Karl-Heinz Rummermonnger, would like to point out that Motorola is hiring at the moment.

Rummermonnger’s been perusing the job ads lately you see. This week Motorola’s career site had no less than 30 Android related positions listed, and the word on the web is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Simply put, we are building the best Android device – from compelling hardware to unique applications and services. Join the System Software team and be one of the first people working on the core of the Android platform,” one of the ads reveals. Building an Android-based portfolio might be the most innovative move Moto has made since the launch of the first RAZR back in 2005. So expect to see an Android-based RAZR in the not too distant future.

Staying in the human resources department for a moment, US operator AT&T has given more responsibility to Ralph de la Vega, head of its wireless operation, by making him chief of the consumer fixed line unit. The new appointment is part of a wider shake up within AT&T that will see the carrier restructured into three divisions – consumer, business and diversified business and global operations.

Meanwhile over at Vodafone, there’s been more reshuffling than you’d find at the gaming tables of Casino OCD. Nick Read, currently CEO of Vodafone UK, will become CEO of the Asia-Pacific & Middle East region, Morten Lundal, currently CEO of the Middle East & Africa region, takes over the Central Europe & Africa region, while Guy Laurence, currently CEO of Vodafone Netherlands, will take over from Read as CEO of Vodafone UK. He will report to Michel Combes, CEO of the Europe Region. This latest move follows an earlier reshuffling of the Big V’s top brass at the start of this month, which saw Combes join Vodafone from French operation TDF, where he was chairman and CEO.

Vodafone, along with 15 other equipment manufacturers and mobile companies, is also throwing its considerable weight behind the GSMA’s Mobile Broadband inside sticker which was officially announced this week. Voda is joined by 3 Group, Asus, Dell, ECS, Ericsson, Gemalto, Lenovo, Microsoft, Orange, Qualcomm, Telefonica Europe, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile and Toshiba.

Last week the Informer had predicted that the industry trade group would be announcing a logo licensing scheme. Granted it was a slightly tongue in cheek forecast, but a goal’s a goal whether it’s a 30-yard screamer or a fortuitous deflection in off your backside. The GSMA’s been talking about embedded devices for some time now, and the WiMAX Forum’s self-styled certification programme will not have gone unnoticed.

The Association reckons that there is a $70bn untapped market, which is addressable by laptops with built in mobile broadband. But there are plenty of question marks surrounding the scheme. The upgrade cycle for laptops is way slower than phones, so it remains to be seen whether consumers be willing to pay a premium. Why not use a dongle or tether a 3G handset to a laptop?

Well, maybe consumers won’t be paying a premium to cover the additional cost of embedding the HSPA chipsets and covering the GSMA’s logo licence fee. Perhaps carriers will end up subsidising the laptops and offering all you can eat data plans, which suggests that the only real revenues could come from value added services.

One thing’s for sure Barry West and the gang over at Sprint’s mobile WiMAX business unit Xohm will be paying close attention to the mobile broadband developments. After missing the original Xohm commercial launch deadline in April 2008, West subsequently pledged that the service would launch during September in the east coast city of Baltimore. And so it came to pass mobile WiMAX made its September 2008 debut in the nick of time. Sort of.

Punters in Baltimore can now access the Xohm web page, or visit one of a ‘select number of retail outlets’, and place their orders for either a Zyxel modem ($79.99) for the home PC, or a Samsung Express Air Card ($59.99) for their laptops. The Xohm network currently has a total of around 1,300 base station sites ‘on air’ across six markets: Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia. West expects Xohm to have a total of 2,000 base station sites on air, across these six markets, by the end of 2008.

While the initial Xohm-branded device selection is modest, this is expected to widen next month. A WiMAX USB model from ZTE will most likely become available, which will be priced at under $50.

Speaking of ZTE, the Chinese vendor this week took the wraps off what it claims is the world’s first HSDPA TD-SCDMA handset. The U990 is ZTE’s third unit based on China’s home grown 3G technology, with the earlier units identified as the U980 and U981. However, the U990 is the first to incorporate HSDPA, and claims download speeds of up to 2.8Mbps and an uplink of 384Kbps.

There is every likelihood that ZTE and Huawei will corner the market in HSDPA TD-SCDMA dual mode handsets. China is, of course, unlike other emerging markets where insisting on pointless home-grown technologies for protectionism is simply not an option. Emerging markets are generally keen to foster cross border trade.

Although cross border mobile money transfers are currently in their infancy, analysts at Juniper Research expect the market to gain significant traction over the next two to three years, especially on migration routes such as Philippines/Middle East and Mexico/USA.

“The vast increase in migrant workers globally has fuelled the number of remittances being sent home to friends and families regularly. The mobile phone will become a vital enabler in developing countries because often many more people have phones than have bank accounts,” said Juniper analyst Howard Wilcox.

Speaking of cross border trade, pan-African operator MTN continued its acquisition spree this week, snapping up two service providers on the Ivory Coast. MTN, which is based in South Africa, said it has acquired 100 per cent of the Ivory Coast’s second biggest land line operator, Arobase, as well as internet service provider Afnet. Financial details were not revealed.

MTN already operates a cellular network in the country, and both Arobase and Afnet run WiMAX networks, so the move will give the South African operator a strong foothold in Cote d’Ivoire’s fixed line and broadband market as well as a platform for converged services.

But it was down to UK cable company Virgin Media this week to really show how convergence is done, as it unveiled its first ever Mobile Broadband offer. The new service adds another string to Virgin’s bow, which already includes cable broadband, fixed line telephony, IPTV, and mobile services via the Virgin Mobile MVNO.

Mobile Broadband from Virgin Media is available on an 18 month contract and comes with a free USB dongle and a 3GB monthly data cap for £15 per month. Outside the allowance, data is charged at £15 per GB and Virgin reckons speeds of up to 3.6Mbps are achievable.

With the mobile web still hot on the agenda the iPhone community has been foaming at the mouth yet again, in the wake of reports that software developer Adobe has confirmed the existence of a Flash player for the Apple device.

At the Flash on the Beach developers conference, which took place in Brighton, UK this week, Adobe’s senior director of engineering, Paul Betlem, gave the game away. In response to an audience question during a panel session, Betlam said that the company was working on getting Flash onto the iPhone. Although he also acknowledged once again, that the Apple device is a closed platform and Apple holds all the cards.

What this actually means, according to an Adobe spokesman the Informer spoke to later, is that Adobe has “evaluated the iPhone SDK and is starting to develop a way to bring Flash Player to the iPhone”. But, the firm said it needs to work with Apple beyond what is available through the SDK and the current licence around it.

So it would appear that the Adobe is still in pretty much the same position it has always been in. It may well have a Flash player for the iPhone, but unless Apple gives it the green light, it’s not going anywhere, as the App Store is the only (official) channel to market.

The constraints of Apple’s SDK licence for the iPhone have caused a number of big name companies to come unstuck besides Adobe. Notable are Sun and SAP, which pledged to bring Java and SAP respectively to the iPhone, only to find it would have broken Apple’s licensing conditions, which don’t allow for the level of integration these applications need.

So could it be sign that Apple frontman Steve Jobs is softening up a bit in his old age, when earlier this week the Californian firm removed the requirement that developers pledge an oath of secrecy on the contents of the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). Apple said it had decided to drop the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for released iPhone software on Wednesday, just days after Google championed the ‘openness’ of its own Android platform with the release of the G1.

With all these snazzy touch screen gadgets coming out, it’s no wonder some people think 2009 will be the dawn of the smartphone era. The Informer had a chat with Alfredo Patron, EMEA regional director for Microsoft Windows Mobile, a couple of days ago, and he reckons that with the convergence of the consumer and professional markets, which has spawned the awful ‘prosumer’ moniker, lots of people who wouldn’t normally buy a smartphone are now thinking about getting one.

What with the launch of Comes With Music, Android and the threat of the iPhone, there’s everything to play for.

Take care,

The Informer

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