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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 2nd June 2008

In Today’s Issue: More spy scandal at DTAG - Ricke implicated; your insecure mobile; iPhones that look like Windows!; killer photos hack RAZRs; “Safari” browsing, not browsing with Safari; FeliCa hacked; shareholder revolt at ALU; Isenberg on teleconferencing; Google’s app store; BREWidgets; Intel - they’re back; UK WiMAX delays; it’s Christmas for Openreach; Phorm demonstrations; Virgin Media adds more limits to unlimited broadband; KPN launches mobile TV - sort of; mobile phone shipments sink in Europe

Oh dear, oh dear; the Deutsche Telekom spy scandal takes another turn for the worse, as it turns out the spy was receiving money from the firm as recently as early last month, although the company had claimed it had all ended in early 2007. DTAG management, of course, claims that they were paying for something different and entirely aboveboard…they just don’t seem clear what. Interestingly, the spying included the mapping of targets’ movements using the mobile CDR stream — now that’s what we call a location-based service.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, meanwhile, claims that the spying project’s bills were sent to the same cost centre as the then CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke’s office.

Mobile spookery isn’t confined to the network operators, of course. Here’s an interesting article about extracting evidence from devices. Did you know the iPhone caches screenshots of the last view you had of all applications you use, so the sexy UI effects work? Or that mobile Google caches all your search requests in a plain text file on your phone? In fact, the iPhone looks to be a bit of a security vortex, what with all the private information it caches in the clear. Hey, you can even make it look like Windows! In other security news, last week saw the declaration of an exploit on Motorola RAZRs that let you break in by sending a specially crafted JPG image to it as an MMS message, rather like Langford’s Basilisk. You see, machine-to-machine really is the opportunity for MMS after all.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Samsung’s latest phone, advertised as offering “Safari browsing”, actually does browsing that’s like a safari, or something; whatever they meant, it wasn’t the Apple-made Web browser, to the disappointment of millions. Or not as the case may be — as this week also saw the discovery of a major security breach in the browser.

And whilst we’re on the topic, the RFID security fiasco goes on. Researchers at Fraunhofer demonstrated yet another attack, this time on FeliCa/NFC as well as on the already-classbroken MiFare chips. They proved that it was possible to intercept the communication between an NFC phone and one of those “smart posters” NFC fans love so much, and tweak it so the user got something completely different. It’s a great reason to use the trusted, encrypted and location-aware infrastructure we’ve already got — that’s right, your friendly local mobile network operator.

In other corporate distress news this week, Alcatel-Lucent’s twin bosses Serge Tchuruk and Patricia Russo are being criticised for accepting a generous golden parachute. Specifically, the company’s AGM voted to link Russo’s pay to performance targets. They also required a smaller majority to sack Tchuruk, with his side of the epic Franco-American culture gap looking the more vulnerable here.

David “Stupid Network” Isenberg, meanwhile, spots the airlines advertising directly against teleconferencing, a sure sign of a maturing technology at increasingly affordable prices. He reckons it’ll need more than just “gourmet food, sleeper seats, and vintage wines” to overcome security madness and high kerosene prices. We are not so sure. Isn’t it the case that flying is the one time you have to get things done without any interruptions?

Google’s annual geekfest, Google I/O was the scene of more semi-thrilling announcements about Android. This time, it looks like Google plans to set up something analogous to the iPhone App Store, as a way for small developers to commercialise Android software and for Google to keep an eye on it. The interesting thing here may be to what extent it’s open to non-Android work. Google, of course, is in the business of searching and publishing open-source software through code.google.com, but so far you can’t get paid directly for your efforts. It’s another plank in the platform.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, made another move in the emerging mobile platform race. They’ve had their own application developer ecosystem (BREW) for a while, but it’s been lacking a low-overhead way to build small applications comparable to Java FX, Flash Lite, MS Silverlight, S60/Python, or the Nokia Web Runtime. Now, BREW is getting features to create widgets under a project called “Plaza”. Qualcomm is making some smart moves as its CDMA franchise matures.

At the same time, Intel announced its re-entry to the mobile market. The argument is apparently that if you can do a good webpuck/pda/whatever, it can’t be that hard to add voice capability, so all the devices using the new Atom chips could be phones. In some ways this is a Telco 2.0 prediction coming true — voice gets added to all kinds of devices and all kinds of software. But one thing that our work on the Voice & Messaging report and on voice- and audio-related consulting projects has shown is that voice is both crucial, and difficult to do well. Intel will need to find ways of supporting all kinds of strange new voice applications, and also to provide high audio quality - something which is very dependent on hardware, just not any kind Intel makes. Another IT company that entered the mobile hardware business, RIM, has gained an unwanted reputation for poor voice calls.

The UK’s 2.6GHz spectrum auction is being held up, which is bad news for the WiMAX community. It’s the only major EU market where the high-quality 2.5-2.6 band is up for grabs, and the HSPA Evolution and LTE world is gradually beginning to catch up WiMAX’s lead. You want proof? 3 Ireland is upgrading its backhaul to support 14.4Mbits/s HSPA Class 10.

And it’s done; OFCOM is going to make all BT’s Christmases come at once, by letting them hike the prices Openreach charges independent ISPs, who will just have to either pass the bill on to subscribers or go under. Watch those “free” broadband offers go! Meanwhile, opponents of the now-notorious Phorm web-spooking system are planning to kill the head so the body will die, by staging a mass demonstration at the BT AGM on the 16th of July and then filing charges with the police against BT executives.

Speaking of “free” broadband, what about “unlimited” broadband? Or, for that matter, “broadband”? After all the advertising about their “fibre” network, Virgin Media has announced a new set of usage caps.

The good news is that they are being open about it — at the link, there’s a useful table giving all the restrictions, the times of day, the trigger levels, and their relationship to Virgin’s pricing. Expect to see more of the same from other ISPs.

KPN, meanwhile, launches DVB-H mobile TV. However, they don’t seem very committed. The devices are not being subsidised and will cost €499 a go, even before the service charge. We somehow doubt anyone wants to watch “snack TV” enough to pay four hundred quid up front. But then again, despite all the subsidies, mobile phone shipments have started falling in Europe…

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