Ring! Ring! Hot News , 23rd February 2009
In Today's Special Mobile World Congress Issue: Nokia cooperating with Qualcomm - dogs, cats sleeping together; dire forecasts for Motorola's future; VZW taps ALU for LTE RAN RFP; here an app, there an app, everywhere an app store; the Telco API cometh; everything is a Web page; the peaceful rise of LiMo; 3's triumph with INQ; Roshan pays anti-Taliban fighters' wages by SMS; Afghans get EDGE; comfort in the DRC for Alvarion; wind-powered base stations; ZTE threatens WiMAX boom; ZTE launches revolutionary software-defined radio tech; in "and finally" slot, Samsung's BeatDJ handset delivers Chris Morris's vision of the future
Not only are the standards wars over, but the Nokia vs Qualcomm row is over as well; after all the suing, the two industry titans buried the hatchet at MWC to the extent of cooperating to develop a new line of Nokias for the US market, using Qualcomm's Mobile Station Modem chips. It's good news for Nokia, which is looking avidly at Motorola's share of the US market; it's good news for Qualcomm, which needs reliable major customers.
It's probably pretty bad news for their competitors, especially Motorola - we've seen forecasts of handset shipments falling by 15% this year, with the smartphone sector holding its own. If smartphones hold steady and the total market falls by 15%, that means non-smartphone sales must fall even more. And Nokia, Apple, LG, RIM, HTC and Samsung are all strongest at the top of the market - so there's a dark year in store for Moto and Sony Ericsson. The crisis at Motorola's handset division is not news, but then, MWC had some pretty awful news for the Networks business as well.
Verizon Wireless announced contracts for base stations for its LTE network, and the great bulk of the work is going to Alcatel-Lucent, with some participation from Ericsson. This essentially means that Motorola Networks just lost one of its staple customers. And the political situation doesn't look good for Moto's defence/government business either.
Rather surprisingly, none of the VZW contracts went to China. Huawei and ZTE were present in even more force than usual, but there was no business for them from Verizon. However, it will be interesting to see who gets the VZW core network job - and how they decide to implement it. IMS? Non-IMS but all-IP? China Mobile-style all IP with SS7 voice running over the IP infrastructure? (Huawei was prominently advertising their "Software SDP".)
Beyond this, MWC was all about "developers, developers, developers", as Steve Ballmer once said lay at the root of Microsoft's success. (He was there too, but he didn't say anything like that interesting.) Nokia announced an app store and many new applications and services integrated in its Ovi web portal. Telefonica/O2 showed off their impressive Litmus developer platform, which integrates a whole lot of things including crowd-sourced testing (paying subscribers for bug reports), mates' rates for hosting, free access to network APIs , and an internal VC squad, to say nothing of Apple-busting revenue share terms.
Speaking of APIs, the GSMA and Telco 2.0 allies Aepona had a pleasant surprise - "OneAPI", a standardised RESTful Web service for GSM network resources like messaging and location. According to Aepona engineers, they eventually plan to open up most or all capabilities provided by OSA Parlay-X, although things like charging and access to CDR information will obviously take some time to sort out the privacy, security and operational issues. But the service is live now with a gaggle of European operators.
We mentioned the smartphone market; but perhaps the question should be "what is a smartphone"? The CEO of LiMo specialists Access described two versions of his firm's embedded Linux OS, one for the smarties and one for the cheapies; but even the cheap version has a full Web browser, and the Web is where the action is. Palm's Pre, shown off at MWC, has a whole user interface based on html/css/js widgetry. The Joint Innovation Lab carriers (Vodafone, China Mobile, Softbank) demonstrated their own standard developer interface - and it's all Web-based widgetry too. Just like the iPhone, the various Mozilla projects in the mobile Linux world, and Web Runtime in the Nokiasphere.
Speaking of mobile Linux, even if the klieg lights are still very much trained on Android, which got another handset this MWC, the industry's dark horse LiMo was beginning to pull around the outside. Notably, the JIL operators agree on three OSs as standard - Symbian, Windows Mobile, and unspecified mobile Linux. But they recently signed up Azingo, the Indian software firm that developed the first reference implementation of LiMo; so clearly they're banking expertise. And LiMo has the support of a lot of smaller vendors, plus some majors like NEC.
From an operator perspective, LiMo has the advantage that it's not aligned with one big vendor. Symbian, however open, will always be dominated by Nokia; Android by Google. The less said about MS Windows Mobile or BlackBerry OS here, the better. But with LiMo, operators have a good chance of getting their way, and the degree of openness is the highest outside the super-purist OpenMoko. If you were considering something like 3's INQ gadget - which won an award at MWC, even if the free drinks in their INQ Bar every evening probably helped - LiMo has to be near the top of your list, even if the INQ itself is a Qualcomm-based device.
Meanwhile, the coolest application title has to go to Karim Khoja of Roshan, who's using Safaricom's M-PESA to pay the Afghan Army. In a country with essentially no financial infrastructure, this is a problem - soldiers either have to go home to give money to their families, which in Iraq led to a string of very bloody bus ambushes, or lots of money has to be shipped around some very dangerous roads, which isn't ideal either. With M-PESA, the wages are paid by phone and then transferred the same way, and cash is paid out by Roshan's airtime agents - so it shouldn't even be obvious who's receiving money from a soldier, which is handy.
But perhaps he shouldn't have turned his back - rivals AWCC turned up EDGE service in Jalalabad this week. It's that sort of place where a lot of activity was going on - Alvarion could feel some relief after the affair of the missing $2.4m shipment of WiMAX base stations by landing a contract to build a turnkey network for the DRC, Ericsson was proudly showing off the tower-top wind turbine built by a partner company for their base stations. And that's probably why, despite all the LTE activity, ZTE was predicting a "boom year" for WiMAX.
ZTE also had one of the geekiest announcements of the whole show - they're building a new integrated 2G/3G all-IP network for CSL in Hong Kong, which relies on Software-Defined Radio technology. That is, the base stations have a common radio whose parameters are programmed in software rather than being defined by the hardware design. So the same infrastructure can do almost all radio air interfaces; ZTE have already demonstrated 21Mbits/s HSPA+ in software. Interestingly, Sol Trujillo of Telstra was lurking at the announcement.
Finally, Samsung's BeatDJ gadget got favourable reviews, but a crucial factor appears to have been overlooked. The gadget has two high quality Bang & Olufsen speakers, which double as touch-pad interfaces - so the user can mix and scratch MP3 files. This was of course a feature of the short-lived Wasp T12 SpeechTool, and as such is a rare example of Chris Morris-Driven Development, as opposed to Test-Driven Development. There is no word on whether the BeatDJ also has an extra large number 5 on the keypad, but we're looking forward to Samsung's implementations of Cake and Heavy Electricity with awe.