a week in wireless


I am not a number… I am a free man!

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In the future, the Informer believes, people will not need to leave their houses to find a perfect mate. This is because every single detail of everybody’s lives, loves, needs, skills, quirks, deficiencies, hatreds, peccadilloes, insecurities, joys, dreams, secrets and genetic predispositions will be held on a central database by Google. The would-be web Omnipotent won’t simply use this infinite repository to hunt for matches, it will actually run simulations of entire relationships.

There in the humming Googlebrain, you will live out countless virtual lives with countless different people. Some will end happily, some otherwise. In some your spouse might murder you in a fit of rage after you fail, for the umpteenth time, to wipe the bath down after you use it. In others, you might grow old together in a haze of golden ones and zeroes, maintaining a healthy love life well into your eighties (ughh!).

When it has found the most suitable partnership, you and your intended will each receive a special message in your Gmail inbox introducing you to one another, supported by adverts for wedding cars, florists, libidinal stimulants and luxury holiday companies.

The only really worrying question is whether the partnership has been chosen because it suits the two of you, or because it suits Google, which may have its own reasons for bringing you together. Maybe it knows you’ll have the kind of children it needs to help it self-perpetuate, for example…

That remains some way off, however, and until then Google must content itself with single steps on the road to its first goal of species control. The latest of these – Google Voice – was announced this week. Back in 2007, Google acquired GrandCentral Communications , the developer of the technology that now sits behind Google Voice. The core offering gives users a single, lifetime phone number (handily doing away with the need for people to identify themselves with names) that can be linked to up to six phones or accounts, allowing users to route different callers to different destinations, as well as a single web-accessible mailbox. Different voicemail greetings can be left for different people. Perfect for when those irritatingly pre-GoogleMatch relationships come to a bitter end.

As is its wont, Google is launching the service to a controlled set of beta testers and additional features include the ability to listen while people give you voicemails, which is the telephonic equivalent peeking through people’s windows, call recording and voicemail transcripts.

Such is the buzz that Google generates, there is actually a queue of people waiting to sign up for this, bleating their desire to surrender themselves to the oneness. Hey ho.

Microsoft once held similar aspirations, but seems to have fallen off the pace a little bit. This week, though, the software firm fleshed out its Windows Marketplace app store plans ahead of the launch later this year. Developers will be allowed to set their own prices, and Microsoft will skim a cool 30 per cent from the top.

An annual registration fee of $99 will be levied on developers, allowing them to submit five applications. Thereafter, each further submission within the twelvemonth will cost an additional $99. Microsoft reckons the store will launch with 20,000 apps in Q4 this year.

And it could be cheaper for European roamers to access all of these app stores now that the European Parliament has voted in support of the EC’s proposals to cap data roaming charges. These proposals, issued in September last year, suggested that users should have to pay no more than E0.11 for each SMS sent while roaming, and that wholesale rates between operators should not exceed E0.50/MB. And the EC hasn’t done with voice yet, either, with Parliament also backing its intention to force carriers to charge for roaming calls on a per second basis from the outset of the call, rather than after a 30-second set rate. The results of the vote could be in effect as soon as this coming summer.

Across the pond other things are happening. AT&T, for example is bucking the credit crunch and pledging to splash $17bn this year on improving its coverage and capacity. The bulk of the cash will be spent on expanding 3G services, nearly doubling the total network capacity in most markets via additional 850MHz spectrum. As well as stepping up speeds, first to 7.2Mbps on the downlink, then up to as much as 20Mbps at a later date.

The operator is also looking at investing in femtocells as a way of enhancing in-building coverage, as well as expanding its wifi footprint and infrastructure, building on the 2008 acquisition of Wayport. Despite previously announced plans to cut jobs in the wireline business unit, AT&T said it plans to add nearly 3,000 jobs in 2009, to support increased customer demand in mobility, broadband and video.

One person who doesn’t need a job at the moment is ex-Vodafone utility player Bill Morrow, who has been appointed CEO of WiMAX poster child Clearwire. Morrow led Vodafone’s UK and European operations, and had rather less fun as president of the firm’s ill-fated foray into Japan. Quite where Clearwire will fit onto that spectrum remains to be seen but Morrow’s predecessor, Ben Wolff, who moves to become co-chairman of the firm recently outlined plans for the operator to have coverage over 120 million US residents by the end of next year.

Sticking in the UK Orange has hooked up with credit card firm Barclaycard to develop a range of payment services using Near Field Communications. The forthcoming co-branded products and services will allow consumers to use their mobiles to pay for goods and services at retailers using contactless technology, by waving their handset against a reader.

Future services are likely to include ticketing, transport, mobile banking and rewards. MasterCard is providing the payment capabilities for the transactions.

Tom Alexander, CEO of Orange UK, said: “Today you pay for things by cash or on your credit card. Tomorrow, you’ll use your mobile to buy the things you want, whether that’s on the high street or the internet. These are the services that will change the way we live and work for the better, and are evolving the way we interact with each other and the way that companies serve us.”

Sound familiar? We’ve been listening to blah like that for a very long time, after all. But perhaps Alexander is right, and now really is the time. The stat-heads at Informa Telecoms & Media reckon there will be a 12-fold increase in global mobile transaction values over the next five years, driven by services in both emerging and mature markets.

By 2013, the analyst predicts that almost 300 billion transactions, worth more than US$860bn, will be conducted using a mobile phone. Informa anticipates that four key sub-markets: remote mobile payments, local (NFC) mobile payments, mobile banking and mobile money transfer (MMT), will be responsible for the boom in mobile money services.

By 2013, over 445 million mobile subscribers are projected to regularly be using their mobile phone to purchase physical goods and services remotely, while over 11 per cent of all mobile handsets shipped are expected to be NFC enabled, allowing users to buy physical goods and services, such as tickets, locally at the point of sale.

Informa also forecasts that ‘unbanked’ consumers in developing markets will help grow figures of mobile banking services worldwide to 977 million users by 2013, a dramatic increase from approximately 67 million at the end of 2008. And in the same period, Informa projects, almost 424 million consumers will be sending over $157bn of personal funds via mobile domestically and a further 73 million will be sending $48bn of funds via mobile internationally.

And that’s about the size of it this week. Short and sweet.

Take care

The Informer


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