a week in wireless


Four Candles

Lovers of word play the world over will rejoice at the news that users of social networking tool Facebook can now update their profiles using the speech to text application Spinvox. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Spinvox converts voicemails into text messages and the technology has now been adapted to let users post to their pages on Facebook. Some people love the concept, some aren’t so sure.

The Informer used to have Spinvox on his phone and, sorry, but he couldn’t get on with it at all. Every message came out wrong and he always had to phone his callers back to find out what was going on. A typical Spinvox SMS transcript of a message from one of the Informer’s pals might read:

“Hello the chin warmer. Do you still want to mate with everybody at the pub tonight? I’ll bus, and get two tankards – I’m eating my mum for lunch tomorrow.”

So while it was briefly diverting, the frustration endured longer than the amusement. The problem was that, for some reason, the Informer was unable to deactivate ‘Skinpox’, which he’d been trialling. It was while facing down a lifetime of hilarious miscommunication that the Informer was saved by one of London’s many petty criminals. The phone was stolen.

The Informer’s phone has been stolen many times and he always leaves angry, helpless threats on the voicemail in the immediate aftermath. Presumably the criminal in this instance received a text message from ‘Shinsocks’ that ran:

“You grieving little slit. When I get old with you I’m going to sling you up by the bores and knock your lucky teeth out.”

So, all Spinvoxing Facebookers out there keep an eye on your profile. Facebook was also in the news this week after it emerged that Canada’s own Research in Motion has made the service available to users of its Blackberry handsets. Mike Lazardis, founder of RIM and Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook (now there’s two names that are dying for a good Spinvoxing) unveiled the application at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show in San Francisco on Wednesday.

And in further related news, Facebook is now ‘valued’ at some £15bn after Microsoft this week paid £240m for a 1.6 per cent stake in the firm. The Informer went off and poked Bill Gates. It’s a lot of lolly for a firm that turned in only $30m last year, that’s the kind of money Gates finds tucked away when he’s looking for the TV remote down the back of the sofa.

A few years back Vodafone also invested a massive sum – $3.25bn in two separate lumps – for a small (3.75 per cent) stake in China Mobile, as well as a seat on the board. And this week, the world’s largest operator by subscriber numbers (and that’s China Mobile, folks) reported Q3 profits up 38 per cent year on year, according to Bloomberg. Net income was at $2.9bn, as the firm slashed its end user prices and continued a push into rural areas.

Also on the rise was Nordic carrier TeliaSonera, which reported a 6.8 per cent increase in Q3 profit, to $839.57.

The financials weren’t treating everyone so kindly, though and Motorola posted a quarterly profit of $40m for the quarter, down from $727m for Q306. Motorola may be having a tough time in business at the moment but its latest personnel appointment means that at least it won’t have a drug problem. Karen Tandy, the first woman to head the US Drug Enforcement Administration, has left the DEA to join Motorola as a senior VP. No more sneaky bifters in the john, guys.

Japanese market leader NTT DoCoMo will be drunkenly singing sad songs at the Karaoke club tonight, meanwhile, as the firm posted a 21 per cent drop in H1 profits for this year. The carrier’s customers have been flocking to second placed KDDI and third placed Softbank, which have cut their prices in the face of market saturation. The Doc’s numbers were YEN408.5bn for the first half of the financial year, down from YEN516.89bn for the same period in the previous year. It’s not all bad, though, as the firm’s full year forecast remains unchanged, with operating profit expected to rise one per cent to YEN780bn, which is $6.8bn.

Swedish kit-house Ericsson is now one Karl-Henrik short of a boardroom. Not CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, but CFO Karl-Henrik Sundstrom who Hara-Kiried his way out of the Swedish firm after it made good (or should that be bad) on its profit warning last week.

As promised, the firm posted a 36 per cent drop in net income for Q3 this year, with profit falling from SEK6.2bn to SEK4bn year on year, on a revenue increase of six per cent to SEK43.5bn. Sundstrom will be replaced by Hans Vestberg, up until now head of Ericsson’s Global Service business unit and executive VP.

The wireless industry’s revolving door kept on spinning this week as former Virgin Mobile UK front man Tom Alexander finally got bored of racing Aston Martin supercars and double-declutched his way back onto the wireless track, taking the job of CEO at Orange UK. Expect plenty of boardroom chicanery. (Boom! Boom! – Ed.)

The role was vacated by Bernard Ghillebaert, who will be assuming the position of executive vice president of sales and customer experience. When he left Virgin Mobile as it merged with NTL, Alexander confessed to UK broadsheet The Telegraph that he was “not really a corporate man”. The paper also pointed out that he’d bagged a cool £20m from his time at the top.

This industry certainly can help a person make a buck or two, as the Informer has yet to prove, and one of its top entrepreneurs was in the news for nothing to do with wireless this week. Mo Ibrahim, who founded pan-African operator Celtel and offloaded it at a tidy profit to Kuwaiti firm MTC last year, is rewarding honesty and integrity in African politics from his own pocket with the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

Bestowed by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation-and counting former secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan on its panel – the inaugural award went, this week, to Joaquim Chissano. The second president of Mozambique, and a key figure in the ending of that country’s civil war, Chissano will receive $5m from Ibrahim, as well as contributions to causes that he (Chissano) supports. The Informer met Mo Ibrahim many years ago, as a young reporter, and he was a very nice bloke.

To a group of Aussie shareholders, Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo is not such a nice bloke. According to them, he is, in fact, a flaming gallah. They’re bringing a class action law suit against him, alleging that he withheld information that should have been divulged to them – information relating to a drop in the shareprice.

What they’re saying, according to reports from thelanddownun-der, is that Trujillo held a private meeting, at which Aussie Prime Minister John Howard was present, where he disclosed his belief that Telstra had underinvested in its infrastructure to the tune of AUS$3bn. They also believe he divulged at the meeting that his fixed line business was on the slide, with revenues set to drop off by AUS$1.2bn between 2005 and 2008.

The shareholders are suing for a drop in Telstra’s share price, which they believe they would have been able to foresee had they known about Trujillo’s assessments. Big Sol – who is not the most popular man with Australian stockholders generally – is in court next month to give evidence in the case. Naturally Telstra is pleading innocence.

While we’re dealing with the crazy world of litigation, Vonage – which seems to spend most of its time either in court or writing out large, apologetic cheques – is now on the receiving end of a legal assault by AT&T, which claims that Vonage infringed its patents.

Vonage loves infringing patents like a fat kid loves cake. The firm’s already settled disputes with Sprint Nextel and Verizon this year. Maybe it’s going for all the US operators before trying its luck overseas. It’ll probably fly over here to London in the new year, claiming to have invented the Queen.

Anyway, AT&T reckons that Vonage has stepped on its patent shoes in the area of internet telephony routing and is getting all “Ob-jection your honour! Move to strike. Jury will disregard witness testimony. Council, approach the bench. You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth” about it. No doubt Vonage will settle the matter with cash money once the two firms have fattened up the lawyers a bit.

One of the Informer’s chums calculated this week that almost half of AT&T’s Q3 adds this year bought the iPhone. AT&T didn’t release the number of iPhones it’s sold, but it did say it added two million net new subs in Q3. Apple has shifted 1.4 million units, though, and even if 250,000 have been hacked and remotely assassinated, that still means nearly half of those subs bought themselves an iPhone. AT&T turned in some good numbers as well, with revenues up to $30.1bn from $15bn for Q306. Profit was up healthily, too, at $3.1bn, compared to $2.2bn a year ago.

When the 3G iPhone comes out, and all Apple’s customers click into the upgrade cycle, what will happen to all those first wave models? Well, they can be refurbished and resold, a process which is generating a nice plump market according to ABI Research. The analysts reckon that revenue from second-hand handsets will reach more than £3.5bn in 2007, driven by shrinking handset replacement periods and increased demand for lower cost units in emerging markets. So don’t just throw them away. Unless they keep turning themselves off.


4 comments

  1. Alastair 29/10/2007 @ 4:18 am

    Dear Informer,
    I look forward to your weekly musings.
    The folks at TeliaSonera must have been very please with their effort of increasing Q3 earnings by fifty three dollars and forty six cents to eight hundred and thirty nine dollars and fifty seven cents! Or should that have been $839 MILLION?

    Cheers
    Alastair

  2. Jane Henry 29/10/2007 @ 3:18 pm

    All of us in Marlow enjoyed hugely the Informers’s hilarious description of life with SpinVox but we’re disappointed that The Informer `couldn’t get on` with SpinVox, particularly as it seems to be a highly unusual experience. Our service works by combining state-of-the-art speech technologies with human intelligence and learning and so is improving constantly. Users around the world currently report 97 per accuracy in conversion of voice to text and 80 per cent of those who sign up to our initial free trials go on to use the fully paid-for service.

    Perhaps The Informer would like to give it another go or encourage his readers to go to http://www.spinvox.com/pricing.html where they can see our seven day free trial for voicemail-to-text or our new Social Networking through SpinVox service at http://www.spinvox.com/social_networks.html and sign up so they can judge the service for themselves?

    In the mean time we’ll keep reading and enjoying the column – when you are growing at 500 per cent a year you can do with a little light relief sometimes…

    THE INFORMER SAYS: “Oooh, get you and your 500 per cent annual growth.”

  3. Michael Rector 29/10/2007 @ 5:02 pm

    Hey Informer,

    Glad you are back! I really enjoy all of your news and commentary!

    Please keep it going.

  4. Steve Page 29/10/2007 @ 5:03 pm

    Very amusing – one of the best this week!

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