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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 5th January 2008

In Today’s Issue: Carter the unstoppable spec machine; UK rocked by spectrum row; double dongle density; no more BT USO, a quid pro quo for fibre? oh no; Andy Burnham is king of the world, it says here; Indian 3G licences, prices doubled; Nokia goes into crisis vulture mode; new PyS60 comes with music, without Symbian security certificate; CCC demonstrates killer SMS; Android vs OpenMoko; changes at the OMTP; Samsung fabs own mobile chips, escapes the Qualcomm Borg; Telco 2.0 elsewhere; models for efficient message-passing protocols!

Ministerial intervention; the UK’s telecoms minister, Lord Carter gets involved in the increasing row about 900MHz refarming and the 2.5-2.69GHz auction. The short version is that OFCOM wants the original GSM operators to disgorge some or all of their 900MHz spectrum, which has benefits in terms of range and building penetration, in return for the industry getting any more spectrum from the public sector. They feel this is unfair, while the other UK mobile operators who either began as 1800/1900MHz PCS GSM or 2100MHz UMTS feel they are being disadvantaged by not having access to the older GSM band as more users migrate to UMTS.

A fine mess. Nobody imagines either lot of spectrum will sell for anything like as much as the 2.1GHz did, but the issue is going to remain bitterly contested as all those mobile broadband dongles the networks handed out (there are more faster ones coming) chew up data network capacity. Carter has decided to leap into the open ground between the two groups of carriers, the various interested parties on 2.6GHz (notably BT), and the regulator - but what he intends to do there is far from clear.

As Sir Humphrey said, we’ve got to do something, this is something, and therefore we’ve got to do it. Most of the news this week comes from the UK, and His Carterness is a strong believer in this doctrine. In an interview with The Times, he suggested dropping BT’s Universal Service Obligation in favour of hitting up the whole industry for a levy that would subsidise broadband service in otherwise hard-to-reach parts of the UK. Gordon Brown, meanwhile, has been talking about “digital broadband” (as opposed to analogue broadband?) in terms of a Keynesian public works programme.

So is this the starting gun for FTTH in the UK? After all, it’s always been a question of aligning the three main political forces, OFCOM, BT, and the Ministry. Ending the USO would make BT happy, but at the expense of OFCOM; hence the idea of a universal service levy. As the idea comes from the Ministry, presumably they’re happy too. But Carter apparently wants to guarantee “2 megabit video-capable” service - which is rather less than all UK urban and suburban and most rural DSL lines will currently support. Seeing as you can now get 100Mbits to the home in five Brazilian cities, this is weak, weak, weak. The good news is that he is apparently impressed by arrangements in France and Finland.

I can’t wait for my Iliad UK line. Interestingly, it is suggested that mobile/fixed-wireless service might substitute for the BT copper in the wilds. Which suggests there’ll be a use for that spectrum after all. (The bad news is, well, NTL…) At least all this is a bit more positive and sensible and practical and useful than the latest wheeze from Carter’s boss, Andy Burnham, who apparently wants to make all English-language content on the Internet carry parental-guidance ratings. Because he’s in charge of English, or something.

After all, who imagines that India, the biggest concentration of English-speakers on the planet, knows or cares who Burnham is or what he wants? Their 3G spectrum auction has been held up, because the ministry of finance wants to double the reserve price. Crisis, what crisis? as somebody didn’t say. Similarly, Richard Li, with a little help from the Chinese government, just raised his bid to take PCCW private.

Nokia, meanwhile, is practically boasting that it hopes to further expand its market share during the crisis, basing this on its historic success in the mid-market. However, at the same time they reckon they will also expand their share of the smartphone business…Over Christmas, Nokia shipped a major new version of Python for S60, including all kinds of nice new features, a move to Python 2.5.1, and less restrictive Platform Security signing requirements. Unfortunately they omitted to put their own product through the signing process, so anyone who tried to upgrade without disabling the certificate check got a fatal error. And it has dependencies on firmware that hasn’t reached most S60 devices yet. Whoops.

Whoops the second. This year’s Chaos Computer Club hackercon saw the demonstration of a serious exploit of the SMS/MMS functionality on most S60 devices. Basically, you send the target an SMS e-mail with a FROM: field of more than 32 characters, which overflows the buffer and sporks the messaging service so badly that only a factory reset will get it going again, probably because the overflow ends up in the persistent memory it uses for system files. More here.

Meanwhile, Google Android runs on the OpenMoko open-source phone. If you wanted to do that. And a gaggle of vendors are the latest “advisers” to the Open Mobile Terminal Platform.

Qualcomm’s dash for applications, media, services, and PC/netbook technology looks more and more timely, as Samsung announces that it’s taking its mobile radio chipmaking in-house. Their LTE and WiMAX kit will therefore now be fabbed in their own plants, and it’s all in aid of not paying Qualcomm royalties any more.

Need even more Telco 2.0? There’s a long interview with Martin Geddes on the future of telecoms at EComm’s blog.

And finally, we’ve occasionally promoted the lightweight, open-source, push-only voice and messaging protocol XMPP on this site. This week, it turned out that even models like it.

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