Ring! Ring! Hot News, 11th August 2008
In Today's Issue: Emergency! Emergency! Paging Dr. Q!; Sprint reduces Nextel value to zero, then hopes to sell it for nonzero price; Sprint exec's unusual $1m bonus; DTAG's minor success; Moto reacts, joins a wave of LiMo gadget innovation; Apple zaps subversives; TD-SCDMA still doesn't work, Huawei doesn't want it; Chinese export industries perhaps not all they're cracked up to be; re-re-wind to the first iPhone; Stingy download caps; AOL doom; new Nokia e-mail clients
We told you Qualcomm was responding skilfully to the end of its patent monopoly years. Here's your evidence, if ever there was. They're planning an MVNO dedicated to medicine, it turns out according to Wireless Week. Apparently they've been working on it for some time, but have only now named a CEO and got ready to give some details. The project's applications will aim at helping to manage chronic conditions. We liked this quote a lot:
One hint that LifeComm seeks a broad audience is that the initial handsets at least will not require a physician's prescription.
So you can get LifeComm over the counter, and not have to resort to handing over used banknotes in dark alleys.
Speaking of which, Sprint used about the same number of banknotes to buy Nextel that it then lost in a string of monster writeoffs; by early this year, they'd got to the point where they'd lost the whole value of Nextel and then some. So, we were hardly surprised to see the obvious next step: sell Nextel all over again. Seriously.
The iDEN net that made Nextel a success with a variety of interesting voice and messaging products is on the market, with the (huge) caveats that it's now dependent on Sprint's back-office IT for the BSS-OSS and that nobody made the investment it needed to get a meaningful data capability. But if Sprint is willing to offer wholesale access to the back end on sensible terms -- and for that matter, wholesale data on CDMA or WiMAX -- there could be some interesting opportunities here, in the light of Nextel's public-security and enterprise specialities. We note that a Sprint exec has been offered a $1m bonus to get rid of it.
Deutsche Telekom is the other example of a Telco 1.0 business model unravelling; this week, however, they had some not entirely dire results for the first half of 2008. However, most of the improvement appears to be accounted for by various exchange rate and other accounting effects.
Open source software on mobile handsets continues to catch our interest, as it's one place where the tectonic plates between operators, Internet giants and hardware companies collide -- a slowly unfolding and somewhat hidden story of considerable importance. The LiMo Foundation announced a wave of new mobile Linux gadgets, of which six are from Motorola. They are also rapidly boosting the shinyosity of their products in general -- while the OpenMoko FreeRunner is still without EDGE, they're on HSPA, even if a lot of them look a lot like Nokia N93s. Interestingly, Moto is pushing its proprietary voice-clarity tech into the gadgets. It's called "telephony" for a reason.
However, a large chunk of LiMo still isn't really open source, depending on your interpretation of 'open'. Moto and friends are clinging to the drivers for the radio and voice gear, which retains a modicum of control over the handset ecosystem. These things are relative, anyway: Trolltech, makers of Qt and now a Nokia division, are very clear that they are committed to Windows as well as Linux. Just for added confusion, the KDE open-source desktop community, also based on Qt, is keen to start work on mobile, too; and they run on Linux, MacOS and Windows as well. Everyone is afraid of someone else's software platform becoming a bottleneck in the value chain, just as with PCs.
A running paradox of the geek life is why people think of Apple as an open-minded hackerish outfit, despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, they want to actually kill applications they don't like running on your iPhone. The fiends.
If you don't like it, move to China...wait a second. In fact, it seems that Huawei is responding very badly to the MII obsession with TD-SCDMA ("Yesterday's network - next year!") and isn't going to supply much of the new and entirely state-mandated deployment. Good for them -- after all, however patriotic the ministry feels about it, it's a Siemens-developed idea which is dependent on Analog Devices Inc. silicon. And they have every reason to feel confident in their future without it, as their sales of GSM and UMTS kit just doubled.
But then, what to make of this? The cracking Felix Salmon points to a paper on the iPod, which tells us that the Chinese manufacturer accounts for about $4 of $150 added value in a video iPod. We're not surprised, since if you look back to iSuppli's first teardown of an iPhone, you may remember that as well as Apple making a 50% margin on the thing, the most valuable component was the touchscreen (from Balda AG in Germany), followed by the radio chips (from Cambridge Silicon Radio plc in the UK)...
Perhaps US local carrier Frontier might get closer to those margins by capping their customers at 5GB a month? Or maybe not. That's worse than at least one UK mobile operator, that has to contend with shared medium, changing trees, humidity, and strange emanations from bits of government they're not allowed to talk about. Although, BT has apparently decided that anything that isn't port 80, used for Web traffic, is the Bandwidth Enemy. This is despite their subsidiary Plusnet's super-detailed measurement through their fearsome park of Ellacoya traffic monitors. Well, we'll wait until they throttle CEO Ian Livingstone's e-mail when he's at home because it comes on the wrong port on his VPN...
Who needs an integrated Internet/search/ads business? Seriously? You remember what happened to those silly Google boys, right? Not AOL Time-Warner, which is breaking up the AOL and Time-Warner bits of the company organisationally. You ask Google what a good idea this is.
Nokia, meanwhile, turned some of its horde of engineers on the question of better messaging. It's the next battleground -- getting the core voice and messaging products to move beyond the 1990s technology they still rest on.