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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 9th February 2009

In Today’s Issue: Vodafone-Hutch merger in Australia; Vodafone profits from plummeting pound; Sprint-Nextel in forced iDEN sale; horrible ALU results, quits WiMAX; IMS sales “more than TDM” but this may not be much; Alvarion left holding bag after Nortel bankruptcy, manages to ship units anyway; horrible results at Motorola; Moto goes upmarket, launches cheap “unattractive” phone; $10 lappy that isn’t; Makerere teaches African GSM hackers; shadow CDR analysis app; fridge; Google launches its take on stalkerware; Reading “not that boring after all”; MS’s My Phone contactabase; shiny gadgets; Netflix for mobile; heads roll at Salesforce and RIM; OFCOM tackles Dutch astronomers over Channel 38; strike at AT&T; nine-year old iPhone dev wanted to impress sisters

Meet Vutchison - Vodafone and Hutch are merging their Australian operations into a 50:50 joint venture. The main motivation is to keep up with Telstra, whose heavy investment in its Next-G 850MHz UMTS network has left it with 42 per cent of the market, and SingTel, which has a respectable enough 32 per cent. The new firm will hold 26 per cent and will presumably be trying hard to push into second place, at least if you agree with Jack Welch’s contention that it’s only ever worth being first or second.

Vodafone gets a A$500 million cash contribution as part of the deal, but retains control of the company, which will call itself “Vodafone” and be headed by Vodafone Asia-Pacific boss Nick Reed. Sounds like a deal, but then, a lot of participants in joint ventures with Hutchison thought that…

Vodafone, for its part, announced reasonable results; the good news was that revenues were up 14 per cent at £10.47bn, with operating profits for the year forecast to be a similar amount, and data service revenue was up 25 per cent. The bad news was that European voice is stagnant and much of the good news was simply because Vodafone is essentially an exporter of services, so the fall in sterling automatically helps its figures.

Meanwhile, the Telco USSR’s regional conflicts have flared up again. You thought the rows with Sprint PCS affiliates were over? You were wrong. RCR Wireless reports that a court in Cook County, Illinois has ordered Sprint to sell its iDen network in the area in order to fulfil a noncompete agreement with its local PCS affiliate. This is a strategic problem for Sprint; they are rightly keen to develop the Nextel assets’ enterprise voice and messaging capabilities, but at the same time, they are constantly subverted by the need to greenmail the old affiliates. According to RCR, this is even a problem for the XOHM WiMAX deployment.

Speaking of WiMAX, it looks like Alcatel-Lucent is the next of the megavendors to quit the field; the company swung from a €2.56bn profit in the last quarter of 2007 to a €3.87bn loss in the same period of 2008, adding up to a loss of €5bn for the full year. As a result, they’re trimming their immense range of products (ALU covers pretty much every technology you can think of), and dropping Mobile WiMAX - which is a shock, as ALU was very successful in landing contracts for WiMAX networks. The background is that the wireless access division had an especially shocking 2008, with their revenues plunging 22 per cent (compared to 5.4 per cent for the whole company). Now they want to concentrate on LTE and “enhanced wireless DSL”, which probably means fixed WiMAX (rather like Ericsson). In a call, Alcatel claimed that IMS revenues now exceed TDM switching revenues, but then, who is buying TDM switches today?

Increasingly, then, WiMAX kit will be coming from China (Huawei and ZTE don’t appear to be cutting their WiMAX products), Motorola, or specialists like Alvarion. They, meanwhile, are picking up the pieces from the Nortel bankruptcy - they’ve had to take a $3.4m restructuring charge related to the end of their partnership, and also accept that they can’t recognise $2.4m worth of sales to Nortel - we think that means “we shipped Nortel $2.4m worth of kit and they went broke before the cheque cleared.”

Despite that, Alvarion managed to post revenues up 19 per cent, and WiMAX sales up 37 per cent, so perhaps it’s best to leave these things to the experts.

Motorola is still very much a WiMAX-friendly operation, but of course the news flow from there is all about the continuing disaster at the handsets division, which lost $2.2bn in 2008. However, the whole company was looking pretty sick in the fourth quarter - a net loss of $3.6bn, of which “only” $595m was attributable to the gadgets mess. The CFO, Paul Liska, became the latest of many Motorola execs to call a cab.

Apparently the firm is hoping to revive the handsets operation by going upmarket. So, obviously, they just launched a barebones low-cost phone. The USP is that it’s the “greenest phone yet”, being made of recycled plastic bottles and subject to full offsetting of all the CO2 released by its manufacture. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to have got the memo about Viridian Design and the doctrine that green products ought to be better than the ones they are meant to replace…
The handset isn’t entirely barebones either - it features a music player, SMS and MMS, games, a MicroSD slot, hands-free headset and will be compatible with T-Mobile’s popular MyFave service. With a (true-to-its-cause) dark green, water bottle shell, it’s not the most attractive handset on the market..
Restricted feature set and ugly industrial design; a sure-fire winner in the iPhone era. You could say something similar about this bizarre tale; Indian media thought they were going to see a “$10 laptop”, but it was actually more like a $10 USB drive.

Nathan Eagle@Forum Nokia points us to a rather impressive curriculum on mobile technology at Makerere University in Uganda; there’s also an application that analyses your call log to look at. This is an important point; if you don’t find creative things to do with the CDR pile, people will find ways of collecting the same information and using it. Less usefully, there’s also a socially networked fridge.

Google, meanwhile, leaps into the LBS arena with Google Latitude, a service which lets users announce their current location to others - so a bit like Yahoo Fireeagle then, or that Nokia Contacts on Ovi/Jabber app we mentioned last week. There are obvious stalkerware concerns, but the main obstacle to using Contacts we’ve found was just getting our contacts into the thing.

Reading city council, to our surprise, has launched a mobile information service with live public transport running information, maps, and CCTV streams from all their traffic cameras. This reminds us of going to a mobile apps fest some years ago; having ploughed through the miles of Sexy Football Babes, Tentacles for your RAZR, and whatnot, we were refreshing ourselves at the bar when we met the only man at the show who had a useful product - an app that showed live feeds from traffic cameras covering most of the UK. And he couldn’t get any financing to deploy it.

Synchronisation, migration, deployment; boring but essential problems that are especially tough on mobile because of those tiny keyboards. Microsoft is the latest company to provide an on-line backend to keep track of your contacts and similar data - My Phone will be launched in beta at MWC. (Nokia is adopting the time-honoured MWC option of launching a shiny, as is Samsung.)

More excitingly, here’s an example of integrated video delivery on mobile; Netflix for Windows Mobile is a frontend for Netflix services, on Windows Mobile gadgets, which lets you search, see previews, order, and manage the queue. And then, of course, the actual heavy video is delivered off-line. More fun and possibly more use than yet another IMS plugfest.

Anyway, does anyone remember when everybody loved Salesforce? The Web-based enterprise development platform was the geekosphere’s darling, but suddenly you never hear about them. This week, there appears to have been some corporate turbulence there; the president/chief of strategy has quit, as has the EVP of sales (ironically enough), and another unnamed executive. You’d still be well advised to look at integrating your Voice 2.0 products with Force.com, but watch out…In other boardroom stabbings this week, half the CEO of RIM has resigned in connection with a shares scandal, but they’ll be all right as that still leaves them with one CEO.

Back in the UK, OFCOM was trying to tackle some of the problems of opening the 800MHz band; it’s going to involve moving part of the digital TV allocation (doh!) and paying compensation to theatres and film makers who use lots of wireless mics, oh, and tiptoeing around some Dutch radio astronomers.

There is a strike coming up at AT&T Mobility; and finally, aaah! The nine-year old iPhone hacker, it seems, wasn’t motivated by a desire to subvert AT&T’s switching infrastructure, but rather to make something that would interest his younger sisters. Kids these days, eh. They’ve all gone soft.

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According to me the deal between vodaphone and hutch is approval by HTAL share holders and this is a necessary condition for Australian foreign investment board and Australian government.

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