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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 8th September 2008

In Today’s Issue: Cult of Ben? Verwaayen to ALU; “company under siege”; killing Bell Labs; police raid at Newgate Street threatens BT execs with Newgate’s knocker; AT&T 3G KO; fibre lobby thinks fibre cheaper than BT does; Telefonica fibres up, ignores protesting pipsqueaks; there are limits to Nokia; 3 offers “unlimited” “e-mail”; Vodafone mini-laptop HSPA bundle; Orange boots RIM mapping, reverses course; Qualcomm’s robo-medic; 10 years of Google

So what would Ben Verwaayen do after BT? The speculation was rampant; a hedge fund? a return to Holland to become prime minister? The creation of a weird, telecoms-focused religious cult? Now we know. In fact he’s going to run Alcatel-Lucent, in which he has the advantage of having worked in both halves. At the same time, Philippe Camus becomes chairman and will be based in New York; a nice idea, but you wonder how the American half of the company will respond to yet another Gaullist industrial-establishment figure. Camus’s last gig was, of course, the huge Franco-German aerospace firm EADS, which is about as French a company as it’s possible to get, and he’s still a managing partner of Lagardere, the conglomerate that owns most of the French media, a chunk of EADS, and the bits of the aircraft industry the French government didn’t trust the Germans with.

There’s a good interview here, and this bit stuck out.

So both companies had lost purpose and didn’t know what they were for any more? For once, Verwaayen doesn’t disagree, saying he has asked people he has met in at Alcatel-Lucent’s Paris headquarters to say exactly what they see the company as doing and has discovered that the internal view of the company is completely at odds with the external view, which is one of “a company under siege”.

But will he save Bell Labs Fundamental Research? After all, Intel R&D is getting into “programmable matter”.

Back at BT, meanwhile, the police are in the building. City of London Criminal Investigation Department paid a visit last week to grill BT executives over the Phorm phiasco and possible violations of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (i.e. wiretapping without a warrant to insert your ads). “Get out or I’ll call the police!” “Madam, we are the police…” (Unrelated historical note: BT’s HQ is sited near the former site of infamous Newgate Prison.)

Over at AT&T, more customers are suing about supposed poor performance of their 3G iPhones, and it can’t have helped that their UMTS data network fell over in a large chunk of the northeastern US last week.

There’s a range of slightly unconvincing theories, the best of which is probably that AT&T might have tried to shoehorn the UMTS equipment into the same radio plan as their GSM net. Not a recipe for high performance, but it’s worth remembering that optimising the first few 3G networks often involved having fewer cell sites to reduce the inter-cell interference. Radio: it’s difficult.

So you might prefer fibre. The Broadband Stageholder Group estimates this week that it would cost £28bn to fibre up the whole of the UK, with dedicated fibre to every door, but about £5bn to do a national FTTC roll-out. Interestingly, they reckon the first 58% of such a build would fit into £1.9bn; this suggests their cost estimate is somewhat more optimistic than BT’s.

Telefonica is the next carrier to leap over the parapet; fibre is coming in November. So far, they’ve been arguing about the terms on which other operators can have wholesale access. No doubt they’ll keep arguing, but the fibre is coming and they’ll just have to deal with it.

So too will Nokia: they recognised this week that if something can’t go on forever, it won’t, and specifically that their market share is unlikely to keep rising much above the recognised world domination mark of 40 per cent. Perhaps fear of a Google planet had some impact? They claim that 80 per cent of the users in a trial “want” NFC payments; they don’t, however, say how many actually used it.

3 is offering unlimited mobile e-mail for £2.50 a month, with a higher rate for Exchange users. Well, we’re all in favour of a fine for using that…but we thought they were offering cheap data buckets up to 15GB for similar prices? Somebody must be playing with a new billing system. And for those who get excited at the word ‘billing’, here’s a story on VZW’s efforts to integrate its various BSS.

Vodafone is bundling HSPA modems and airtime with Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9 “small, cheap computer”; Orange debundled BlackBerry Maps from the RIM GPS devices it sells, before rowing back under user disgust.

But how many minutes of airtime do you get with a robot from Qualcomm? And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it’s Google’s 10th birthday.

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