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Microkia; Euro-regulators; US wireless glut; AWS+Redis - Telco 2.0 News Review

Five weeks to Digital Arabia 2013

No more Nokias; HTC even worse than thought; Apple launch

Microsoft has acquired the Devices & Services unit of Nokia - that’s the bit that makes the mobile phones - for $4.5bn, plus a commitment to take Nokia’s HERE location services under licence and to use the brand under similar terms. With that, Nokia exits mobile phones. Quite the sentence.

Ben Evans points out that Nokia needed cash to keep going at its current levels of shipments, and Microsoft needed scale to make Windows Phone make sense. Either MS is planning to burn cash in mobile devices until it gets the scale, which Nokia couldn’t afford to do, or else it’s hoping to push the transition to Windows Phone into the Asha product line. Perhaps Nokia didn’t do that because they were still trying to keep open a non-WP option?

We’ve often had our differences with The Register’s Andrew Orlowski, but this is an excellent piece on the company that sold 40% of the world’s mobile phones in the year Telco 2.0 launched, that invented basically everything in the devices side of the business, and that probably shipped more hardware to more people than any other company, ever. Horace has another data point for his thesis that a loss-making handset vendor is unrecoverable, with the following neat chart.


Our take, from the spring of 2010, is here.

IDC points out that if the challenge is scale, it’s unlikely that Microsoft can get it in a head-on frontal assault on the iPhone in North America. That implies concentrating on the Ashas, and the economics of that imply that MS can’t load a Windows licence fee on the phones.

In Orlowski’s Nokia obituary, there’s a nice story about a man in California who “loved Japanese technology, like Sony and Nokia”. Since the N8 and before last week’s bombshell, the one Nokia product everyone loved was their smartphone camera, where they’ve developed a real speciality and drawn out a lead over everyone else. Sony is now having a crack at their record, with the new Xperia Z1’s 20MP camera, designed by the Sony cameras team.

They also named the day for the launch of the PlayStation 4, which will confront that legendary name in gaming hardware…Microsoft. Things have changed a lot, haven’t they?

Meanwhile, HTC is doing even worse than it looks - not only is revenue tanking, the damage seems to be concentrated in flagship smartphones. And the arrest of three key product designers last week is also even worse than it looks - they weren’t just stealing, they may have been sharing with the Chinese, something which is bound to get everyone’s attention in Taiwan.

We knew BlackBerry was in trouble, but not how much. They’ve now gone from thinking about selling, to thinking about selling by November.

The current buzzword in devices is smartwatches, and The Verge is very impressed with Samsung’s contribution to the genre, the Galaxy Gear. It looks nearly identical to the one they released in 2009, which basically nobody noticed. The chipset within, though, could hardly be more different - a decent camera, an 800MHz CPU, but no cellular radio except for the Bluetooth link to your Android phone. In 2009 there was no camera, much less power, but a full GSM/GPRS stack. And today’s version is drastically cheaper.

Huawei has agreed to licence ARM’s v8 chips.

It was Apple’s autumn product launch this week. Ars Technica has a video review of the two new gadgets:

Does that new, cheaper iPhone look somehow vaguely Nokia-y? More seriously, the Wall Street Journal reckons, the iPhone 5C might be C for China. Working conditions at the assembly plant already are.

Highlights in the specifications include a new system-on-a-chip for the top dollar iPhone 5S (the A7 processor, which makes it the first 64-bit iPhone), a special chip and API for accelerometer and sensor events, and a somewhat worrying fingerprint reader. And you can indeed get it in gold. The cheaper of the two, meanwhile, still gets a Retina display and most of the hardware from the iPhone 5.

The pricing structure is much as before, and the iPhone 4 will be withdrawn, leaving the 4S as the “old 3GS cheap option”, the 5S as the flagship, and the 5C as “the one you buy when you drop the 5S”.

European regulatory countdown; Vodafone CAPEX; US “wireless glut” causes PAYG wave

The clock is ticking down to Wednesday’s big regulatory announcement from Neelie Kroes, and the spin war is underway. Last week, it was leaked that the European Commissioner was thinking of dropping her plan to as good as eliminate data roaming fees. Her staff leaked back, suggesting that data roaming might be set at a flat rate fee (aka “like Vodafone Passport” - someone’s been planning for this).

More leaks signalled that the Commissioner has dropped the idea of a single European telecoms regulator or single EU spectrum licences, although the idea of a “single authorisation” that would be administered nationally remains. There’s fudge for you, and it’s even official fudge as the Commission press office confirmed the substance of the leak.

Telecom Italia’s CEO, Franco Bernabé, meanwhile, told a conference where Neelie Kroes also spoke that suddenly, the European mobile industry doesn’t look so good now Vodafone has sold out of the US and Nokia isn’t making phones any more. Even if the commissioner allegedly slept through part of Bernabé’s presentation, she had some quite sharp things to say about European LTE:

“We need to look ahead to investing in 5G,” she urged. “We missed 4G, we were the leader in 3G, now let’s take over 5G.”

Le Monde’s business blog notes that at least there’s Gemalto, the SIM company, still growing and growing.

Vodafone, meanwhile, said it plans to spend £3bn of the VZW money on additional LTE deployment, followed by about a billion on fixed, £600 million on enterprise, and another £600 million or so on retail. Quite a bit of that might go into deploying M-PESA in India and Egypt.

By contrast, 71 per cent of the sale price, £55 billion, is going straight to making the shareholders very happy.

They might need some of the money to sweeten the acquisition of Kabel Deutschland, which is looking shaky ahead of an important regulatory deadline.

Verizon, meanwhile, has been suing the FCC for some time over the Open Internet Order, and this week the case comes up in court, while AT&T has the tentative go-ahead to pour $9.5bn of preferred shares into its pension fund.

It’s recently been suggested by Dave Burstein that US carriers are facing a glut of capacity, with new spectrum resources becoming available, LTE and LTE Advanced providing a major boost to spectral efficiency, and small cells adding to cell subdivision. One indicator of this would be an effort to fill it via wholesale, perhaps to low-cost prepay operators. Aio Wireless is AT&T’s in-house low-cost prepay operator, now going national.

Telefonica buys 5k LTE sites; AT&T trims the copper; will Aussie NBN survive?

LTE is coming to Telefonica in Spain, and they’ve signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent for 5,000 base stations.

In the US, American Tower is on an acquisition spree. Last month they bought the Nextel (Latin American version) towers, 4,000 of them. This week they bought Global Tower Holdings, adding another 5,000.

Verizon is keen to get rid of some of its old copper assets and go fixed-wireless. CEO Lowell McAdam suggested that more upstate New York DSL networks might be sold recently, as they had no plans to build fibre into those areas. If the Fire Island experience is at all typical, this may be very difficult from a political/regulatory point of view.

AT&T, for their part, are looking at pulling out of as much as 25 per cent of their fixed-line footprint by subscribers and relying on their LTE network in those areas - when it’s built, of course, as they’re well behind VZW. Expect a huge regulatory row.

Australia has a new government, and we’re going to find out if they really mean it about keeping all the copper and dropping the fibre build.

Details of the UK whitespace spectrum are out, and London gets most of it, basically because the Crystal Palace TV mast is relatively central.

There’s something to be said for overhead cabling if it can deliver FTTH in Phnom Penh. That said, there’s also something to be said for secure cabinets.

NSA “not even the biggest snooper”

The Snowden disclosures simply keep coming. This time, it turns out that the conspiracy theorists were right and the NSA has been trying to influence security standardisation to make it less secure. They named it Project Bullrun after the first battle of the US Civil War, and GCHQ named their bit Edgehill after…the first battle of the English Civil War.

Another document dump reveals that they were tapping Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras, Google, the French foreign ministry, and the SWIFT financial transactions network.

And if you think the spooks are intrusive, wait ‘til you meet the drug cops, who turn out to have an even huger database of AT&T call-detail records that isn’t even subject to the FISC’s jurisdiction. They’ve been at it for 26 years.

Not surprisingly, IETF’s next meeting is going to be all about security. Bruce Schneier discusses what cryptanalytical weirdness may have emerged and updates his own encryption keys.

AWS adds Redis power to its cache; Oracle G-cloud; cheap Windows with virtual desktops

In the cloud, Amazon Web Services has some major product updates. AWS ElastiCache, their in-memory caching product, now provides the well-known Redis key-value store, making it possible to move a lot of program logic into the fast caching layer.

They’ve also added their OpsWorks management tools to their Virtual Private Cloud product, and given DynamoDB a set of extensions for geospatial queries, turning it into a GIS platform.

Oracle, meanwhile, has started pushing a version of its cloud products for government applications, although there’s not much in it yet and what there is isn’t very “cloudy”. In China, public sector IT buyers are using virtualisation and the cloud in order to avoid spending big on hardware and therefore falling foul of “the political environment”.

Here’s something weird: Microsoft doesn’t like you using Windows to provide virtual desktops. You’ve got to have a licence for each user, a server for each VM, and so forth. But if you get Windows Server instead, you’re off to the races and this may actually be the cheapest way to provide Windows per-seat.

Intel, meanwhile, has a new Atom chip optimised for cloud applications that don’t need much computing power but do need to save energy. An example is this Penguin Computing microserver, based on Facebook’s Open Compute designs.

Another interesting Google paper.

Disrupting Twilio? Truphone and BT call archiving; new Tropo features

Amazon, Chris Kranky points out, might be lining up a price disruption against the Voice 2.0 companies, the traditional bulk SMS providers, and mobile operators to boot, when you look at their pricing for the Simple Notification Service. As usual with Amazon, it’s dirt cheap, at least at the beginning.

He reckons Twilio is in the target area. In the meantime, they’re encouraging you to make a better IVR.

Truphone and BT are getting together to provide something useful - as well as the local numbers, cheap roaming, and HD VoIP when you’re in the WiFI, you can opt to have BT record and archive your calls for Dodd-Frank compliance.

Tropo has added a variety of new features, including automatic answerphone detection on outgoing calls, simple format standardisation for phone numbers, and better prompts in conferencing. We’ve also heard that another major carrier has signed up with them.

Adblock seeks funding to buy ads; Facebook firehose for social TV; the man who invented the search engine

Google and the developers of Adblock Plus have a very special relationship. ABP is the well-known browser plugin that gets rid of tiresome advertising. Google is, well, Google. In March, they banned the Chrome version of ABP from their app store. By July, though, Google was on ABP’s list of “unobtrusive” advertisers. It is rumoured that Google paid for this - something called “PageFair” reckons that they lose $887 million a year due to ad filtering, so they can afford to buy some developers beers.

A different adblocker, meanwhile, has started crowdfunding in order to buy…ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was at their recent acquisition, Parse, for their developer conference, where he spent his keynote buttering up the devs.

Facebook has also offered two APIs providing a stream of “current conversations” within Facebook, analogous to Twitter hashtags and the firehose. These are restricted, for the time being, to a group of TV networks that might want to use them to find out what people say about their programmes.

This, of course, reminds us of Zeebox, and we’re interested to note that a social-TV hackathon is happening in London in October. And here’s a BBC Research radio that picks content depending on what it perceives around it.

Making the case for APIs in the enterprise.

Y Combinator is going to start funding non-profit organisations.

And finally, in 1993, Yorkshireman Jonathon Fletcher invented the web-crawling search engine, but Stirling University wouldn’t pay for the disk space so he got a job as a sysadmin.

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