a week in wireless

May the farce be with you


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away lived a little green Jedi master who fought valiantly against the forces of the dark side. Today though, Yoda is feeling the squeeze of these tough economic times as much as anybody and has had to make that unenviable move from shooting genre-defining Hollywood blockbusters to filming advertisements for Vodafone in the UK. Ah, the perils of being typecast – but the Yodafone is not the only one finding himself out of pocket these days.

Sony-Ericsson posted a staggering net loss of €207m ($265m) for the final quarter of 2011. Only last year, the company posted a €8m profit for the same quarter. Sony executives must be sweating like George Lucas being told that his next film can’t be another Star Wars or Indiana Jones sequel, when they realise the uphill struggle ahead of them. They have the unenviable task of resuscitating this joint venture that the Japanese firm will soon own outright.

The terrible three months at the end of last year took Sony-Ericsson to a total loss of €247m for the full year – a stark contrast with the profit of €90m it made in 2010, and the firm’s revenue also dropped by over €1bn over the course of the year.

A new hope is also needed for aspiring US LTE carrier LightSquared, which received a blow to its ambitions of setting up a wholesale LTE network as a report by the executive committee for Space-based Positioning Navigation & Timing (PNT) declared that there are no practical solutions that would permit the LightSquared broadband service to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS

LightSquared claims that there are several measures that can be taken to mitigate or remove the interference between its licensed ‘L band’ 1600MHz spectrum and that of the GPS devices, but the PNT is having none of it, with the report concluding that, “as a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.”

UK operator Everything Everywhere also received bad news this week too, after being told that regulator Ofcom has changed its mind about how to go about auctioning 4G spectrum in the country. Everything Everywhere, the resultant company formed from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange in the UK, will no longer be guaranteed sub 1GHz spectrum for its LTE services.

Ofcom outlined new proposals to extend 4G coverage to at least 98 per cent of the population, and is also keen to get at least four operators competing on 4G services in the UK and had previously planned to a assign a slice of the 800MHz spectrum band to Everything Everywhere for its LTE services. It has now withdrawn that pledge as it believes the benefits of operating LTE at 1800MHz, in some instances, are higher than operating at 800MHz, as the 1800MHz band allows more capacity.

The operator now plans to divest some of its 1800MHz spectrum, as instructed by the European Commission for antitrust purposes, ahead of Ofcom’s spectrum auction later this year. Competitor 3UK will be watching proceedings closely, as it has been guaranteed spectrum in the 800MHz band by Ofcom, unless it, or a new operator that enters the market, acquires some of Everything Everywhere’s 1800MHz spectrum.

Meanwhile, Yoda was not the only famous ‘green’ representing the telecoms industry this week. The Informer was invited to a ZTE event to launch its new Tania Windows Phone handset, where UK rap artist Professor Green performed. Just a few weeks ago, another UK artist, Plan B performed for Huawei’s launch, and after having witnessed both, the Informer would now very much like to see the artists perform a “rap battle” representing their respective sponsors, which is sure to throw up some epic rhyme patterns like:

“Don’t push me, I’m close to losing my head – I’ve got LTE, while you’re still struggling with EDGE.”

Perhaps next month in Barcelona?

And with that annual trip to Barcelona just over five weeks away, the Informer heard many mutterings from his colleagues that the Mobile World Congress website was often unavailable. Either it was struggling under the load of eager registrants or it had gone dark in support of protests against the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills under consideration in the US.

Wikipedia and Reddit lead the charge and with around 10,000 websites switching off for 24 hours. The effect seems to be positive, although the bills aren’t dead yet. The big concern, in case you missed it, is that while the bills are designed to curb online piracy, they potentially give Big Business leeway to go about censoring the web for its own ends.

Either by coincidence or design, the FBI shut down one of the web’s biggest file sharing sites, MegaUpload, on Thursday, citing copyright violations. Federal prosecutors have accused its founders of costing copyright holders more than $500m in lost revenue. Kim Schmitz, AKA “Kimble”, the co-founder of MegaUpload who is no stranger to controversy, has been arrested along with six others associated with the site.

Of course for every action, there is a reaction, and in this case it was notorious hacking group Anonymous that took up the mantle. There’s since been a flurry of attacks on government and music and film content producing industry websites as the Guido Fawkes mask wearers stick it to the man.

Also this week, Samsung chose to bite the hand that feeds it, one might argue. The firm is currently the market-leading smartphone manufacturer thanks primarily to its success with Android handsets, but it’s looking to ease its reliance on the platform and strengthen its own mobile OS, Bada, in order to compete more aggressively with Google.

The Korean manufacturer will merge Bada with Intel-backed open source platform Tizen, as it looks to consolidate its position in the global smartphone market. Tizen supports smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, netbooks, and “in-vehicle infotainment” devices, and the Tizen APIs are based on HTML5 and other web standards. The first release of Tizen and its software developer kit (SDK) is expected to be launched in the first quarter of 2012.

European telecom operators were also told this week that they risk being sidelined in the global cloud computing market by aggressive North American and Asian operators spending billions on an international presence. Research from Informa’s Telecom Cloud Monitor revealed that European operators accounted for only seven per cent of the $13.5bn that services providers spent on cloud assets in 2011. North American and Asian operators accounted for 90 per cent, or $12bn of the total.

Uncertainty around European security and privacy laws, coupled with continuing economic weakness, are responsible for stalling investment, according to Camille Mendler, principal analyst at Informa. However, the European Commission aims to define a common legal framework for cloud computing in 2012. And European operators are supporting local innovation, with half the cloud services launched in 2011 relying on European cloud technology vendors.

Over in Asia, the Indian government has announced plans for all of its departments and agencies to develop and deploy mobile applications to provide all of their public services through mobile devices, to the extent that is feasible on the mobile platform. Meanwhile, neighbouring Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced plans to hold the country’s spectrum auction in March of this year. The body said that the licenses issued will be technology neutral and the auction winners will be able to deploy 3G or 4G-LTE technologies.

Elsewhere, research conducted by PayPal owner eBay also revealed that service revenues or fees from m-commerce transactions are expected to reach $37bn by 2016, bolstered by mobile remote payments for physical goods and services and international mobile money transfers. These two elements together will be worth over $25bn in 2016, accounting for two thirds of the total m-commerce market, according to statistics released this week.

There’s been another development in the ongoing patent wars that, quite frankly, has passed the point of embarrassing. Apple lost an interim ruling in the US, after the firm attempted to sue Motorola Mobility for infringing three of its patents. The Informer is encouraged by what he sees in Germany though and is hoping Ze Germans can set a precedent. Over there, there are ongoing lawsuits filed from both Apple and Samsung against the other, both gaining momentum and both arguing that the other’s products be banned from the marketplace. Hopefully, they’ll both “win” and neither will have their products on the market – maybe then they’ll learn a lesson and instead, just focus on innovation.

Apple has also publicly identified nearly all of its suppliers and invited an outside workplace conditions group to inspect them. The news came soon after 150 workers from Apple supplier Foxconn climbed to the roof of one of its factories in China and threatened to commit suicide.  Just under two years ago, a series of suicides committed by Foxconn staff shook the consumer devices world, so the Informer hopes this inspection might improve working conditions for staff clearly at their wit’s end.

On a lighter note, in an apparent show of generosity, UK broadband provider Virgin Media has announced that it is to double the broadband speeds of most of its customers at no extra cost. The ISP, which provides hybrid cable connectivity to four million households across the UK, said that it will double the top-line speeds of all those on its 10Mb, 20Mb, 30Mb and 50Mb packages, while increasing those already on its 100Mb package to 120Mb.

And with copper theft on the rise due to the value of the metal used in communications equipment, a component manufacturer has developed an alternative cable which uses less copper. This will hopefully result in less cable theft being committed, which is often cited by rail companies as the reason for the Informer’s trains being delayed or cancelled for his commute – so this news is doubly welcomed. And that’s about all for the week.

Peace out

The Informer

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