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China Mobile’s awesome No.s; the ‘HP-ocalypse’; Apple turns bear? - Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed. After last week’s coverage on Google/Motorola, have your say via our 2 minute survey here. Why did they do it, and who is it good/bad for? We’ll publish the results next week. Also, August is often a great time for diary maintenance, so why not pencil in our next Brainstorms in New York (5th-6th October) and London (9th-10th November) run in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.]

China Mobile reported that it has 622 million subscribers at the end of the quarter. To put that in context, that’s more than twice the population of the USA. 37.6 million of China Mobile’s customers are on 3G, and interestingly, despite the fact that it doesn’t offer the Apple iPhone, hasn’t got a contract with Apple, and has limited network coverage for such a device, it has 7.4 million subscribers with iPhones. Fortune reports that China Mobile has had several meetings with Steve Jobs and other Apple executives about the possibility of an iPhone that supports the TD-SCDMA network the Chinese government insisted China Mobile build.

In the meantime, you can get an iPhone 4-sized micro SIM from China Mobile but you’ll have to content yourself with EDGE data rates.

In the other direction, Huawei’s Android devices are coming to the UK as a brand in their own right, sold via Phones4U. The most basic will cost around £100. China Telecom is also on its way - they’re planning an MVNO aimed at around 500,000 Chinese in Britain.

This week had another Android casualty - WebOS, to say nothing of HP’s mobile hardware business, which is shutting down, and its vast PC-building empire, which is for sale. It’s becoming something of a cliché that when mobile vendors walk away from a platform, they announce that they aren’t walking away from it. The HP VP in charge, Stephen DeWitt, says that development is continuing and they intend to licence the software, although the question must be “to whom?” DeWitt, for his part, blames the hardware.

He may have a point if this story is genuine. The Next Web claims that HP developers hacked an iPad to get WebOS running on it, succeeded, and discovered that it ran about twice as fast on the iSlab as on their own product. It is further suggested that the hardware goes back to Palm before the merger, in which case it wouldn’t be surprising if a much more recent device was faster. TNW also suggests that there was a much newer, 7 inch screen WebOS device in the works.

DeWitt also told Businessweek that they would keep supporting it, but also that they might compensate people who bought TouchPads. They may have to start by compensating the people who tried to sell them, as the retailers are reported to be stuck with hundreds of thousands of the things.

The substantial Palm fanbase is in mourning - note the excellent point about real unified messaging. Reaction has centred around deep scepticism about CEO Leo Apotheker’s judgment. Having killed the mobile business, put WebOS on death row, and the PC business on the auction block, they proceeded to announce a snap acquisition - taking out British software house Autonomy for £7bn, a mere 64% premium to its share price.

HP has borrowed the money from Barclays. Additional analysis.

Elsewhere, dark economic news - if there are two mobile vendors who are towering above the chaos, they are Apple in the Apple camp and HTC in the Android camp (well, they make some Windows handsets too). South Korean media is reporting that both of them are cutting back on their orders for semiconductors in Asia, implying that even with the next wave of hero phones timed for autumn, they’re expecting a plunge in demand pretty soon.

Best move of the week, though, may have been one of the cheapest: Samsung has recruited the hacker behind CyanogenMod, the main unofficial Android project, which permits all sorts of useful enhancements that the manufacturers don’t support. His mission there is to “make Android more awesome”.

And Symbian Anna has just gone generally-available, so users of various Nokia devices can upgrade. Comments say the UI is as good as anything in the droidosphere. And this is a good point:

There’s also Nokia’s habit of doing 90% of a great product in their hardware. The N8 is short of GPU RAM (20Mbytes), and if it had been given a bigger battery would be untouchable for battery-life. Small penny-pinching, and trying to launch comparable and competing devices in each segment, left Nokia with a lot of “nearly great” hardware.

The worst example was the N97, which was short of all kinds of memory. For the sake of saving a couple of euro on the BOM, it went from being the most advanced smartphone on the market to a complete joke.

Reviews of the new BlackBerries are filtering through, and they are positive. ZDNet tests three of them and likes them a lot. Computing tests the 9900 and likes it, but complains about the battery.

RIM also updated its WebWorks widget SDK. Back at MWC, RIM execs were keen to say that they had major plans for the BlackBerry Messenger service and wanted to use it to share video, music, files, and perhaps voice. They didn’t mention setting London on fire though. The Wall Street Journal reports that a BBM music-sharing app is coming, with some sort of revenue sharing deal with the labels.

Verizon Wireless announced more 4G coverage this week, which Connected Planet reckons means they’re getting close to the targets they announced at launch. It will be interesting to see whether they say that’s enough for the time being, like the fixed-line half of Verizon did with FiOS, or whether they keep rolling. CP points out that T-Mobile’s dual carrier HSPA is still ahead on coverage if marginally behind on speed.

There wasn’t much deployment of anything at VZ for the last two weeks, as 45,000 members of the Communication Workers of America and the IBEU went on strike and held a mass demonstration at the CEO’s house. They were angry about the company’s decision to re-open as many as 100 issues in this year’s contract negotiations. Over the weekend, the parties to the dispute agreed to return to negotiations and keep the existing contract for the time being.

Meanwhile, rivals AT&T accidentally released a large quantity of documents regarding their merger with T-Mobile. The leak is extremely embarrassing, as it contains an internal estimate of the cost of building out LTE from 80% population coverage to 97% that puts the number at $3.8bn. AT&T has given the expansion of broadband coverage as a reason why they should be allowed to take out one of the four national mobile carriers, but they’re proposing to spend $39bn on the merger. We’ve made the point in the past that it cost VZW $3bn, via Alcatel-Lucent, to build out their first wave of LTE.

AT&T has “pre-launched” some LTE devices, which (as Connected Planet) pointed out, didn’t give them very long to build a whole network if as they said they were going to launch before autumn. However, an AT&T spokesman said, the official beginning of autumn is the equinox, the 23rd of September. Clearly.

Clearwire, meanwhile, is the subject of more corporate action this week. Sprint bought it and reversed their WiMAX project into it, then they sold chunks to the cable operators and Google, then it looked like going bust and Sprint fell out with it, then they switched to LTE, and now Sprint is considering buying it back, feeling the need to control their own 4G system.

However, the combined challenges of the build-out and swapping over the equipment still need lots of money, so Sprint and its financial advisers are trying to come up with a plan that keeps the cablecos on board, maintains the possibility of access to their content, brings Clearwire in house, but also gets the cable guys to fork out. A swap of Sprint shares for Clearwire ones is a possibility. Meanwhile, Phone Scoop reviews their latest WiMAX handset.

French ISPs are thinking about tiered pricing.

Vodafone makes more money from M-PESA than it does from its stake in Safaricom. It sounds like a rah-rah GSM development story, but it’s actually less chirpy than that. Connected Planet explains - the software is proprietary, and is licensed by a subsidiary of the Vodafone mother ship to the operators who use it, including the ones within “the Vodafone family”. In essence, it’s up to Vodafone whether they choose to take their profits as dividends from the OpCo or as software license fees, a decision probably influenced by tax considerations as much as anything else. For the record, Safaricom has seen $130m in revenue from M-PESA this year, while Vodafone Group has collected $15.6m of that, out of a total return of $21m.

Germany is getting an intercarrier mobile payments platform, as DTAG, Telefonica, and Vodafone agree to start one up without getting the banks involved. MPass’s technology is being used. Vodafone is also offering carrier billing for Android apps in the UK and Germany.

Mobile ad company inMobi expects Android to be the biggest platform by ad serving fairly soon, although so far Nokia is still the biggest on 39%.

On Wednesday, bids are due for Hulu, with estimates ranging between $500 million and $2bn. Dan Rayburn reports that you can now get live NFL streaming on your PlayStation 3. Here’s another social-TV startup. And here’s advice on media-terminal PCs. A line of set-top boxes for the UK’s Freeview HD service is going to get integrated with the BBC iPlayer when the next software update ships.

But you might be better advised to give up TV entirely, as a study suggests that every hour of it you watch after the age of 25 shortens your life by 21 minutes. The actual paper is here, in the British Medical Journal no less:

Compared with persons who watch no TV, those who spend a lifetime average of 6 h/day watching TV can expect to live 4.8 years (95% UI: 11 days to 10.4 years) less. On average, every single hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 (95% UI: 0.3-44.7) min. This study is limited by the low precision with which the relationship between TV viewing time and mortality is currently known.

Note that those are some very wide confidence intervals indeed.

At the other end of the tube, High Scalability links to a fantastic white paper on how Akamai works. We really can’t overstate how fascinating this is, and we’ll be writing more about it this week. Until then, go, read, and instantly catapult yourself into the top 1% of the information distribution.

Elsewhere, it looks like Level(3) and Limelight Networks may be about to merge their CDN assets. LLNW has been interested in doing more media-services stuff and less packet pushing for a while.

Dan Rayburn has a good article on mobile CDNs and mobile content acceleration, and why this should be a business priority. We agree - see our research on Mobile CDNs and video distribution here. From there, we reach a rather good piece on the same topic from an actual CDN, Jetstream - they reckon you could offload 50 to 60% of your video traffic.

One good thing about CDNs is that whatever they do to speed up traffic, they do it with the content provider’s prior agreement. So things like this don’t happen. British democracy hackers MySociety have noticed that some UK mobile operators - well, T-Mobile UK - break one of their web sites. It seems that there’s a proxy somewhere in there that is trying to make them smaller en route, by stripping out anything that looks like a comment from the JavaScript in them.

Unfortunately, there are places in the very popular jQuery library where a substring like this: \* appears in another string. If it wasn’t in another string, it would be a comment marker. But T-Mobile UK’s proxy isn’t smart enough to make the distinction, so it breaks anything that uses jQuery. Whoops.

Interestingly, this also breaks a well-known hack for faster JavaScript pages Google invented - all the JavaScript on a page gets evaluated by the browser virtual machine when the page loads and then waits in memory for a call. This takes time. So why not pack your functions, having gzip-compressed the code, in comments? Then you can grab the requisite comment, unzip it, and load it only as required. But if T-Mobile’s proxy saw it, it would cut the whole thing out and render your app hopelessly broken.

If TV might KILL you, and your mobile operator is borking your code, how about some music?

Google has a music blog with subsidised downloads, apparently to support the Google Music lockers. They’re edging into content again. Meanwhile, if you want to show off your unlistenable and pretentious tastes in music, Google can help you with that. Wired offers detailed instructions on using Google + to play music from YouTube to a group of your friends (or enemies).

Sony Ericsson’s latest fancy Android phone is out, and it’s interesting. In general, it’s a high spec ‘droid with a fancy white case and a generally pretty easily identified “SE Walkman phone” aesthetic. But the “Live from Walkman” also has a button you can push to “enhance the music output from the speakers at high levels”. This is going to annoy people. Usually the right people. And of course there’s all sorts of Facebook integration so you can tell your friends what a little blighter you’ve been.

But there’s also out-of-the-box Skype integration, with a dedicated front-facing video camera, so your friends can hear and see you being a little blighter. We predict a Christmas hit. It’s also a telling moment - a front-facing cam that’s dedicated to an over-the-top video calling service…

Skype, for its part, has bought group-SMS firm GroupMe. Phil Wolff discusses, and looks at some other startups. Hook a SIP ATA to Google Voice without running Asterisk.

The future of chips, and ARM. Jamming police radio with a kids’ instant messenger. Mark Shuttleworth interviewed on the future of Ubuntu, Apple, and Microsoft. O2 Priority Moments. Meet the Windows 8 developers. Hacking insulin pumps. DIAMETER routing in the IMS: you know you want it.

The final battle for Libya’s ISP. (We can add that reports were circulating last night that the rebels had seized the LTT headquarters as one of their first targets, having earlier injected a bulk SMS into the network calling for a mass uprising.)

And wasting time on the Internet increases your productivity.

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