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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 26th May 2008

In Today’s Issue: Chinese restructuring and 3G licences are here!; Unicom tapped for UMTS; Every breath you take, every move you make, DTAG is watching you; no further disaster this week at Moto; 3UK squeezed on MTR; dumb pipes smarter than you think; Nokia drinks the DRM Koolaid; MTN-Bharti off, MTN-Reliance on; no money for you, WU; two-sided API-enabled OTA config firm launches in Telco 2.0-fest; send in photos of your unmentionables for only £49.99.

The great Chinese 3G story is at an end. After years of speculation, MII — that’s the Ministry of the Information Industry if you’ve not been keeping up — has spoken. China’s essentially going to end up with three huge converged telcos, in a sort of ‘Son of RBOC’ arrangement mimicing the USA: as China Unicom merges with China Netcom, China Mobile buys China Tietong, China Telecom buys Unicom’s mobile assets, and China Satellite becomes a China Mobile division. (Yes, there will be a test afterwards to check you’ve remembered it all.)

Now, China Unicom was famously the large mobile operator that wasn’t legally allowed to be one — it was restricted to providing CDMA WLL service, but just didn’t bother to restrict the users’ mobility. So that’s cleared up. But are the Chinese just going to strong-arm Unicom into giving up a profitable chunk of its business? Not quite.

The other China news is that the 3G licences are finally out. And MII has finally resolved its conflict between wanting to boost indigenously-developed standards, wanting to use an established world standard, and wanting competition. They’ve decided to cut the baby into three equal parts. Despite much talk about guiding enterprises to use homemade standards, China Telecom gets a CDMA2000 licence from Unicom, presumably without the dead-letter WLL clauses. China Mobile gets the short straw and will be forced to deploy TD-SCDMA whether it works or not (no wonder the shares tanked). And China Unicom, it seems, will be compensated for losing the CDMA business with a spanking new UMTS licence.

Stand by for fleets of Ericsson, NSN and Alcatel-Lucent salesmen heading east, to say nothing of operators — with Vodafone already having a stake in China Mobile, and Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom both being in the mood for a really ambitious monster acquisition, someone’s bound to try.

Ah, Deutsche Telekom. They’re the ones who just added to their problems when they were caught tapping their own board members’ phones. Not just them. Every financial journalist in Germany. Result: a major row. Rene Obermann apparently enjoys the confidence of the German government, a major shareholder, but then, a vote of confidence from the board is traditionally the first step to getting rid of an unwanted football manager. The big questions are likely to be what Obermann knew and when he knew it, as the spying apparently took place whilst Kai-Uwe Ricke was in charge, and Obermann was still at T-Mobile. Perhaps they could have paid more attention to their customers and less to each others’ conversations…

In other corporate crisis news, Motorola finally had some good news. They won’t have to pay four billion bucks in debts arising from the falling commercial debris of satellite operator Iridium. This cheered everyone up so much, they reckon Kyocera might want to buy the doom-sodden handsets operation.

3UK recently stopped being a crisis, when it suddenly started to make money. But some traditions die hard. UK regulator Ofcom has just told them off about their termination fees, which will be coming down some 45 per cent. Ouch. Of course, the main way 3 was making money was by pushing out as many USB dongles and multi-gigabyte data buckets as possible. Hardly surprising given that 3G’s real purpose in life was more voice capacity, followed by big, fat, dumb pipes.

It looks like only about 4% of (much increased) data traffic on a Finnish UMTS net comes from smartphones, with 92% coming from laptops. Indeed, who on earth would want an IMS with numbers like that? In the above article, Brough Turner further claims that China Mobile’s NGN is going to consist of a straight IP network with voice switching provided over-the-top using SIGTRAN. (Question — so where are the third party APIs?) But there’s something more fundamental about this. If you want to sell data transfer, it makes sense to assume that most data will be transferred between the most convenient devices to produce, store, or consume it. And those won’t be the ones with 4×3 keypads and postage stamp screens — right?

One way to make people ‘consume’ mobile content is to, um, destroy their old stuff without asking them. Yes, put like that it sounds silly, but it does seem to attract some people — like Nokia, sad to say, who have got a lot of unhappy gaming customers who can’t play their games on new handsets.

Meanwhile, the MTN-Bharti Airtel deal fell apart, and Reliance instantly vultured in, in the same week they picked up the pieces of crashed VNO Vanco.

Cat Keynes, meanwhile, agrees with Telco 2.0 about the problem with a mobile-money partnership that includes Western Union. Quite simply, the whole point of a mobile money application is to eat WU’s gutbusting monopolist’s lunch (their margins are around 15% of transaction value, with an average transaction below $200 - work it out for yourself).

Recently, we have been doing some research into future identity services telcos could support. We said there would be a much wider range of customers for over the air access to configure and authenticate via SIM cards. And as if on cue, here’s one now. WDSGlobal is hoping to get the public to pay £1 to get their devices properly configured. This doesn’t sound so great, until you realise that mobile operators’ (and other players’) shops don’t have any incentive to make sure the gadgets leave the building correctly set up. And if the IP configuration’s not there, well, they won’t be doing any of that evil over-the-top stuff, will they?

So WDS will sort it, for a price. Here’s the cool bit, though: there are APIs so that mobile content or software makers can link this to their sales and delivery processes, making absolutely sure their products will work.

And finally, you can pay £50 to MMS someone photos of your naughty bits. We thought YouTube already provided that for free. No. The someone is a doctor and the idea is to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases of the very shy, apparently. Now if only I could get MMS to work on this handset I have here… hmm, could there be a service to help me?

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