a week in wireless


It’s always the little ones

“England is a nation of shopkeepers,” said Napoleon a few hundred years ago, in one of the most famous put-downs this island’s people have ever received. Not that the Informer thinks Napoleon should have been criticising. After all, he was so messed up they named a whole complex after him. And it’s not a shopping complex, either; it’s a psychological one. But he might have sided with British shopkeepers this week, given how important it must have been for him to stand up for the little guy.

Thousands of small independent retailers are boycotting Vodafone prepay products in protest at the one per cent cut the firm will be making in the commission it pays to retailers on top-up sales from August 1st. The first protest was last Friday, when 5,250 retailers refused to sell Vodafone top-ups. The number of stores supporting the protest now exceeds 6,200 and further strikes are planned for today and Saturday.

Kevin Hunt, who manages a chain of independent convenience stores, is leading the campaign. This week he claimed that Vodafone’s UK prepay sales fell by 76 per cent last Friday as a result of the boycott and he’s looking to get 10,000 retailers behind him in a bid to force Vodafone into repealing its cut. He’s also trying to persuade his fellow campaigners to give away prepaid SIMs from other UK operators to customers looking to top up their Vodafone accounts.

Vodafone was unmoved: “This decision reflects Vodafone’s commitment to offer value for money and to invest in products and services that our customers want,” purred a Vodafone spokesman.

“The independent channel is still very important to us and in the longer term we believe that this move will drive further footfall into independent retailers as customers use their phones more for services we have invested in and they want, and therefore top up more,” he continued, pledging not to make any further commission cuts for two years.

Resistance, as they say, is futile.

Somebody should tell that to the GSMA, which fired another salvo at the European Commission this week. European communications’ regulatory Robin Hood, Viviane Reding, says she wants to see the roaming fees for text messages fall by up to 70 per cent. She’ll put forward a rule in October this year to cap charges.

Reding Hood suggested that the new fees weren’t being brought in to help out beleaguered travelling businessmen or indeed to lend a financial hand to politicians and bureaucrats who need to travel to Brussels regularly. “We are punishing our young students, our young travellers, and that is completely unfair,” said Reding, getting down with the yoof.

Playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer at the GSM Association said: “According to our analysis, the average price of SMS roaming services in the EU has declined by 18 per cent in the last year…The Commission’s proposals to single out yet another aspect of the mobile industry and apply retail price regulation, threatens to choke growth and stifle competition.”

But then if he didn’t say something along those lines he wouldn’t be doing his job properly. Unfortunately for Phillips and fellow GSM lobbyists, what Viv wants Viv tends to get; she certainly did last year when she demanded that the cost of roaming voice calls should fall. It’s unlikely that she’ll be thwarted here.

Reding is not alone in the Eurozone. EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has a bee in her bonnet about the unfair antics going down in the world of mobile content. She reckons that some unscrupulous websites are duping credulous punters into parting with their cash for ringtones and wallpapers. This reads like a quick recap on the brief history of mobile content. Crazy Frog still gives the Informer nightmares.

Kuneva led an enquiry that was carried out across 500 websites in the EU and found that 80 per cent need to have deeper investigation for suspected breaches of EU law, specifically regarding the ripping-off of youngsters.

There are all sorts of examples of misleading or downright dirty sales techniques in the world of mobile content apparently. Almost half of all the sites checked had some irregularity related to the information about the offer’s price, over 70 per cent of the websites checked lacked some of the information required to contact the trader, and over 60 percent presented the information in a misleading way.

Firms adjudged to be up to no good will be contacted in due course. Don’t expect any immediate changes though, authorities are being asked to report back on their progress in the first half of 2009.

Meanwhile, South Korean carrier SK Telecom has scotched rumours that it’s looking to acquire US cellular and WiMAX operator Sprint Nextel, saying only that it is looking at business opportunities in the States.

Sticking with WiMAX, it hasn’t been the best of weeks for that community. When chip giant Intel finally unveiled its Centrino 2 platform for notebooks in San Francisco on Monday, it didn’t include the much-touted WiMAX/wifi module. The WiMAX-embedded laptop, lest not we forget, is, er, ‘centrino’ to Sprint’s mobile WiMAX business case. It won’t be much cop if the US carrier’s Xohm service launches commercially in September – the latest deadline set by Sprint – and there are no embedded laptops available on which to showcase it.

You might say, to use a cricketing metaphor and to borrow extensively (OK, plagiarise) from the resignation speech of a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this would be like “sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”.

The people at Intel say the reason for the delay in shipping out the WiMAX/wifi card to PC manufacturers is to do with FCC-related certification issues and getting the right paperwork sorted out and so on and so on. All the remaining technical glitches, they say, have been sorted out.

So, when will it be ready to ship? “Later this year,” is the informative reply from an Intel spokesperson at the San Francisco launch bash. Given that Intel refers to its fifth-generation Centrino platform as Centrino 2, maybe we shouldn’t take ‘later this year’ too literally.

Intel, though, will no doubt be working as hard as possible to make the ‘full’ Centrino 2 available in time for the Xohm launch. It’s invested too much in WiMAX not to. But wisely, it hasn’t given a more precise and exacting deadline for the appearance of the WiMAX/wifi module. Sprint has already missed its original April 2008 deadline for commercial Xohm launch, and Intel failed to meet a June unveiling for Centrino 2. So why run the embarrassing risk of another missed WiMAX deadline by setting a new one? The Informer only wishes he could have a bit more latitude on his own ‘deadlines’ but suspects he wouldn’t be in a job for long if he continued to flout them.

Over in India, delays are par for the course when it comes to decisions on spectrum licensing. But surprise of all surprises, TRAI (India’s regulatory body) and DoT (Department of Telecommunications), after a long-running feud, have finally come to an agreement about how much WiMAX much spectrum should be awarded and what the reserve price for the licences should be in the upcoming auctions in the 2.5GHz-2.6GHz band. The bad news for WiMAX supporters is that TRAI has ditched its previous (and lower) recommendations for licence reserve prices and sided with DoT. For broadband wireless access services (read WiMAX), TRAI had earlier set a base price of Rs 10 crore, Rs 5 crore and Rs 2 crore for metro, category B and category C circles respectively. Now this has been revised upwards to Rs 60 crore, Rs 30 crore and Rs 10 crore respectively.

But it’s not all sweetness and light between TRAI and DoT. India’s regulatory body has also criticised DoT for keeping it in the dark about how much spectrum is actually cleared in the 2.5GHz band and ready for use by prospective WiMAX licence holders.

Redline, a Canada-headquartered WiMAX supplier, has also had a difficult week. In a revenue outlook ‘update’ (read ‘downward adjustment’) the company said it is cutting $6m off analyst revenue forecasts for 2Q 2008. The updated revenue outlook is now between $9m and $9.5m for the three months ended 30 June 2008.

The company attributes the downward revenue adjustment (which can also mean update) to a number of reasons, including “a softening in the overall demand for WiMAX products based on the current 802.16d standards as operators consider whether or not to wait for the next generation of Mobile WiMAX technologies”.

It sounds almost nice and comforting, doesn’t it? “A softening in the overall demand…” Certainly beats saying “hardly anyone’s buying our kit”.

This is evidently something that Nokia doesn’t have to say. Q2 results out this week show sales of Euro13.2bn, up four per cent both sequentially and year on year. The Devices and Services unit dropped off by one per cent year on year and two per cent sequentially, with revenues of Euro9.1bn, shifting 122 million devices. Meanwhile, Nokia Siemens Networks saw sales go up 18 per cent and 20 per cent by the same comparisons to Euro4.1bn.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that profits dropped from Euro2.83bn for Q207 and Euro1.22bn for Q108, to Euro1.1bn.

$4bn that probably won’t be coming Nokia’s way is that which China Telecom has earmarked for investment in the CDMA network it’s taking over from China Unicom. The firm opened tenders this week and the Informer reckons Huawei and ZTE could be strong contenders.

Soon, of course, the Olympics will begin in Beijing. And this is the last A Week in Wireless for a while, as the Informer is off for his summer holidays. The concurrence of his vacation and the greatest sporting festival on earth is mere happenstance, however. Contrary to rumour, he has not been called up by the Great Britain Olympic selectors. Which is a shame, because you should see the floor routine he does with those ribbons on sticks, it would bring a tear to your eye.

Have a good summer

The Informer


One comment

  1. peter 21/07/2008 @ 8:31 am

    The technology in question is known as High-Speed Downlink Packet Access or HSDPA and currently allows for download rates of up to 7.2Mbps, very close to rivalling the advertised rate of most fixed line connections.

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