a week in wireless

You’re never too old to start

It used to be that a man was defined by his actions. Well, in Motorola’s world view, this is no longer the case. The US vendor this week proclaimed that man is instead defined by his technology choices.

Yes, it does sound like the synopsis to a science fiction novel, but the firm this week released the results of some research it recently carried out which suggests that connectivity is more of a lifestyle issue across age groups, than the yoof phenomenon we might otherwise be led to believe. “Being accessible at all times is seen as a necessity across generations (Millennials, 79 per cent; Gen Xers, 64 per cent; Boomers, 65 per cent),” Moto says.

And granny and gramps are just as likely to influence the technology habits of their grandkids as little Johnny is to influence theirs. Farewell to the whisker-lipped peck on the cheek and a fluff covered Werther’s Original, and welcome to heated debate over tea and biscuits about which is the best fart app to buy for the iPhone.

And if indeed we are defined by our technology choices, then Motorola must be pleased that it’s backed Android. There are reports floating around the web that the Droid device is selling like hot cakes and Motorola may even be on track to shift one million units before the year is out. The handset comes to Europe as the Milestone next week, which may give it even more of a boost over the Christmas shopping period.

Even though he’s traditionally of the Bah, humbug! school of thought, it fills the Informer with seasonal joy to have written three paragraphs of, well, not necessarily bad news about Motorola, so why stop there? Is the epithet “struggling handset vendor” about to be replaced with “resurgent handset vendor”?

Very much in keeping with its tech theme, the company has also invested in a developer of multi-touch platforms and “natural user interfaces” known as Sensitive Object. Apparently the company has developed technology “capable of “tactilizing” any surface, using acoustics to analyze sound waves departing from the point of a touch to precisely and cost-effectively transform any product into a touch device.” Eh?

Take that iPhone! Take that Symbian!

Or maybe not. Handset giant Nokia has plans of its own for Symbian you see, and is planning a major overhaul of its Symbian user interface in 2010.

Speaking at the Nokia capital markets day on Wednesday, Nokia CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, put paid to rumours that the world’s biggest handset maker is preparing to shift its focus away from Symbian. The Nokia chief said the company is working to improve the user experience on its Symbian devices and is re-engineering its UI in preparation to deliver a major product before mid-year 2010, and another major product milestone before the end of the year.

“In 2010, we will drive user experience improvements, and the progress we make will take the Symbian user interface to a new level. As an operating system, Symbian has reach and flexibility like no other platform, and we have measures in place to push smartphones down to new price points globally, while growing margins,” said Kallasvuo.

Developers will also get a look in, with Nokia set to provide third party app creators with better tools to create applications and content for the Ovi ecosystem. Earlier this week the company unveiled the latest version of Qt, the cross platform application and user interface framework acquired with Trolltech, providing support for more platforms including Symbian, Windows 7, Mac OS 10.6 and Maemo 6.

The Informer recently had a chat with John Forsyth, whose business card says he is ‘leadership team’, Symbian Foundation. He was enthusiastic about getting Qt onto Symbian. “Application development has not been great for Symbian, there’s no sense in hiding this, and that’s due to a mixture of tools that have been good but not best in class and an environment that’s brilliant for making phones, but too complex for making applications,” he said.

“So in the roadmap we have a couple of big thrusts: Getting Qt into the platform – there are already 300,000 developers that love Qt, and it’s a fun productive environment; and there’s also the web runtime, so you will be able to program just in JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and write an application that uses all the underlying native services,” Forsyth added.

But Nokia’s reliance on Symbian is well documented, and it seems the Finn is hedging its bets, with Kallasvuo revealing that the company is investing in its Linux-based Maemo platform, and will deliver its first Maemo 6-powered device in the second half of 2010.

There’s a lot of speculation floating around at the moment that Nokia is going to make a big deal out of Maemo, using it on more and more high end handsets. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s true or not, but one thing’s for sure – the device guys are still looking for a way to stave off the ever present threat of the iPhone. Last week UK supermarket Tesco said that it would be stocking the device in time for Crimbo, and this week the Informer has heard that the other UK networks may not be so far behind as first thought in getting their mitts on the Apple gadgetry.

3UK is already dishing the iPhone out to “select user groups,” the Informer’s not sure what this means, and none of his buddies appear to be in 3’s required demographic. So it’s probably just for the big spenders then at present. Also, Vodafone UK has started priming its business customers who pre-registered their interest in the device, despite expectations it wouldn’t arrive ’til January. Maybe Christmas has come early.

Sticking in the UK, and O2 is investing in the mobile advertising dream, seeking to position itself as the advertising partner that actually makes good use of all its customer data.

On Wednesday O2 UK launched O2 More, an opt in programme for subscribers that will match user data with voluntary preferences and deliver ads via mobile accordingly. We’ve heard it all before, yet the carrier maintains this will lead to highly personalised campaigns for advertisers and trotted out the following scenario: If a customer says that they are interested in sports and O2 knows they roamed in Switzerland over the winter, a deal on a skiing holiday could be offered to that customer.

It all sounds so simple, but no one has yet achieved the Holy Grail of wide reaching mobile advertising. O2 subscribers signing up to More will receive no more than one ad per day, but the initiative has more than a whiff of Blyk about it. Yet, unlike Blyk, O2 is offering no incentive except for the ad content itself. At launch, offers will include discounts from high street retailers and restaurants, special holiday offers and trials of new services or information about forthcoming launches.

Over 50 brands have already signed up to the More scheme, including Adidas, Cadbury, Interflora and Blockbuster, O2 said. The Informer wonders what the advertiser to subscriber ratio is like.

Despite some impressive response rates – O2 claims it got a 52 per cent response rate for a Blockbuster campaign on Top up Surprises, while Blyk, the MVNO which repositioned as a managed services provider, claimed typical rates of 25 per cent – mobile advertising has failed to get off the ground. The problem, it seems, is that it lacks the kind of reach that advertisers are used to buying through more established media. Despite lots of talk about how well equipped telcos are to deliver more personalised advertising, no service provider has yet got advertising down to a fine art, as brands seem more interested in reach.

Still, Shaun Gregory, managing director of O2 Media and a former Blyk exec, reckons all this will change. “Mobile advertising has been slow to deliver on its promise. Much of that has been down to a lack of understanding, limited opportunities and no real accountability or measurement. At O2 we understand the value of personalisation and putting the customer at the heart of everything we do,” he said. “Because customers opt in we can deliver truly relevant content that provides an experience and a richer opportunity for marketers.”

Just as Orange, which incidentally was Blyk’s first partner, did a couple of years ago, O2 Media is also opening of a central London office dedicated to mobile advertising, complete with a “rapidly expanding team,” in order to show its dedication.

The Christmas party season is in full swing and the Informer is showing dedication to his rapidly expanding waistline. But it might be a cold, cold Christmas over in Germany. It’s not often the Informer writes about Siemens anymore, given its departure from the telecoms space. But the firm is still paying dearly for its joint venture with Nokia, on Thursday announcing an impairment charge of €1.634bn on its partnership in Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN). Ouch.

For the quarter to the end of September, Siemens recorded a net loss of €1bn, a 56 per cent increase on the €2.4bn loss reported in the same period last year. This included a charge of €1.634bn on its stake in NSN as well as a direct quarterly loss of €328m related to the JV.

NSN was established at a time when the market looked like it was growing, but the venture’s augers didn’t see the crash coming, or perhaps anticipate the painful and considerable integration process.

Last month NSN said that almost 6,000 more staff face the axe as it seeks to reduce annualised operating expenses and production overheads by €500m by the end of 2011. And this is despite having fully achieved its original merger integration savings. “Changes in the global economy and competitive environment make further cost reductions necessary,” the company said. NSN estimates that total charges associated with these reductions will be in the range of €550m over the course of 2010-2011.

Nokia CFO, Timo Ihamuotila, said the company expects a flat market in euro terms for the mobile and fixed infrastructure market in 2010, but NSN is targeted to grow faster than the market.

That’s about it for the news this week, the Informer’s jetting off to Dubai shortly to cover the GSM>3G Middle East Telco World Summit. In preparation for the event the Informer has been chatting with some of the region’s leading lights and one of the topics was how lightly the regional market had got off in terms of exposure to the global credit crunch. Well, that all changed this week didn’t it. Well, sort of. They know how to have a recession over in Dubai – one day the market is in uproar about how exposed everybody is to the investment monstrosity that is Dubai World, then 24 hours later it’s all blown over. It’s all fascinating stuff and there shall be news from the front line in next week’s AWIW.

Until then, take care

the Informer.

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