a week in wireless


Publicity shy

The Informer loves his anonymity like he loves the darkness. He can hide in the shadows, it gives him respite from the world and allows him to communicate with people without fear of revealing his staggering social ineptitude. For, truth be told, the Informer suffers from crushing insecurity. At school he crept from class to class, learning nothing so well as how to make himself near invisible to other people. And it’s become a way of life.

It’s always nice to support a kindred spirit, so the Informer was gladdened this week to see that Virgin Mobile has launched in India, an event which coaxed Virgin front man Sir Richard Branson out of retreat for a rare spot of media engagement.

To mark the arrival of the Virgin service in India, Branson was suspended on some wires and winched down the side of the 35-storey Hilton Towers in Mumbai. My, but this guy just doesn’t miss a trick, does he? The extent of his thirst for publicity must be all but unique in the telecoms industry. Rumour has it that Sir Richard drinks a glass of water every day that contains millions of pairs of tiny Virgin-branded swimming trunks, so that if doctors ever needed to look at his tadpoles under a microscope, their appearance would be on message.

Anyway, the Indian launch is a partnership with the country’s sixth-placed mobile carrier, Tata Teleservices. In a break from standard practice, the Indian operation is not structured as a 50/50 joint venture because Indian regulation does not allow for MVNOs. Instead, it’s a co-branded offering from the two firms. At launch the service will be available in 50 Indian cities across 17 of the market’s telecoms circles. The ambition is that it will be extended across 20 circles, giving it access to 99 per cent of the Indian subscriber base.

A theme of partnership and collaboration has threaded through the news this week. In the UK, Cable & Wireless has teamed with Orange to offer its customers a new fixed mobile convergence service for enterprise customers. Under the five-year deal, all of C&W’s new and existing IP Virtual Private Network customers will be issued with picocells for use on campus, and will be able to roam onto the Orange network when out of range of the office.

And if picocells are too large and unwieldy for you, you’ll be pleased to hear that German carrier Deutsche Telekom’s mobile investment arm – T-Mobile Venture Fund – has invested in femtocell specialist Ubiquisys. T-Mobile joins Google as an investor in the manufacturer, alongside founding VC outfits Accel Partners, Atlas Venture and Advent Venture Partners. Ubiquisys femtocells are already in production and are being deployed for trial to operators around the world, including T-Mobile, by Nokia Siemens Networks, among others.

The love was being spread in the handset space as well. Nokia said on Tuesday that it’s going to make Microsoft’s Silverlight web platform available for its Symbian S60 and S40 devices, as well as the Finn’s internet tablet products. Silverlight, which is a cross-browser and -platform plug-in for rich media and interactive web applications will be a boon for developers, Nokia said, who will get their hands on Silverlight for S60 later this year, followed by S40 and the tablets (which sounds like a geek-rock band).

And Nokia wasn’t the only unlikely candidate cosying up to Microsoft this week. None other than arch rival Apple pledged on Thursday to release a Microsoft Exchange-compatible version of its iPhone software in June this year. Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft which will allow for email, calendar information and contacts to be pushed to iPhones. Apple is clearly looking to turn BlackBerry vendor RIM into RIP as it flashes a bit of leg at the enterprise user community.

As expected, this week also saw the release of the iPhone software development kit with the handset’s 2.0 beta software release. “We’re excited about creating a vibrant third-party developer community with potentially thousands of native applications for iPhone and iPod touch,” said Steve Jobs, although Apple will be restricting the number of developers given initial access to the SDK. One visitor to telecoms.com yesterday complained that he’d followed the online instructions to get access to the iPhone SDK, only to be led to a blank webpage.

A full version of the kit will not be available until June, possibly coinciding with the Mac World Wide Developers Conference. Cunningly however, Apple is maintaining control of the distribution channel for applications. Version 2.0 of the software will feature the App Store, an application that lets users browse, search, purchase and wirelessly download third party applications directly onto their iPhone or iPod touch.

While this means developers can potentially get their apps in front of every iPhone owner, it also guarantees Apple a nice revenue stream. Developers can set the price for their applications but Apple gets 30 per cent of all sales revenues.

Not everything will be allowed, however. Jobs said that apps which are “bandwidth hogs” would be banned, including VoIP apps which use the cellular network, although those based on wifi would be allowed.

So there’s Microsoft, playing nice with its new friends, Nokia and Apple. And then up rocks Google! It’s keep your enemies closer week at Microsoft, and no mistake. Google announced this week that its Google Gears platform is now available for Windows Mobile devices.

The Informer wonders whether all of this was news good enough to haul Microsoft founder Bill Gates out of the doldrums, now that he’s only the world’s third richest man. According to the Forbes rich list, issued this week, the top spot now belongs to stock-market Midas Warren Buffet, with second position occupied by Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim. The Informer didn’t place.

What do you reckon Buffet would make of Carl Icahn’s – another billionaire, who managed 46th on the list – ongoing attempts to secure greater control of wobbly vendor Motorola? This week Icahn increased his stake in the manufacturer by 1.3 per cent to 6.3 per cent. Last year he failed in an attempt to get a seat on the firm’s board and earlier this month, it emerged that he’s planning to nominate four directors to stand for election at Motorola’s 2008 stockholder’s meeting to do his bidding for him.

Anyway, back to the mobile internet plays. Not to be outdone by Google, Yahoo! – at which Microsoft has recently been pitching the woo – augmented its own mobile play this week, with the announcement of a content management system called onePlace (how long must we wait, readers, until this stupid ‘stick a capital letter anywhere you want’ fad is quashed?). OnePlace is designed to complement the oneConnect social networking application that Yahoo announced a while back.

The service is a beefed up bookmarking application that automatically updates the user’s links – a sports score, or a share price, for example – and allows bookmarks to be grouped in customised collections by users. The function is expected to launch, along with oneConnect, in the second quarter, across hundreds of devices and mobile browsers.

Alas, while all this was going on, news of a demise reached these shores as Japanese electronics vendor Mitsubishi announced that it is to quit the handset market due to loss of market share. The overwhelming majority of Mitsubishi’s business was in Japan, where it started supplying carphones to NTT in 1983 and evolved to become a supplier to the incumbent’s mobile arm NTT DoCoMo. Fiscal 2008 will see shipments of just 2.1 million said the firm’s president and CEO Setsuhiro Shimomura and so no new models will be developed once existing stocks have been run dry. The staff and resources of the handset division will be reallocated, some of them to the firm’s infrastructure unit.

And on that somewhat funereal note, the Informer will bid you good day.


2 comments

  1. Help4Mac 07/03/2008 @ 1:36 pm

    I successfully downloaded the kit. Some things shouldn’t be written
    about based on here-say, huh? The sdk is a beta but it’s not restricted.

    Sorry chump, you are going to have to write more about Apple in the
    future. Better get it right, cause them peoples will be’s watching….

  2. The Informer 10/03/2008 @ 6:02 pm

    So, we referenced a post we got from someone whose attempts to download the SDK proved futile. You dismiss this as unsubstantiated but expect your post – reporting that all went well – to be taken as proof of success. One’s no better than the other in terms of veracity. So what can we learn from this experience? The Informer has learned that some people get a bit territorial where Apple’s concerned. You, meanwhile, have learned how to spell ‘hearsay’. Happy days.

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