Ring! Ring! Hot News, 25th May, 2009

Posted on

In Today's Issue: Sales crunched! but smartphones hold up; 3UK+T-Mobile=Skype?; 3UK, BT want to terminate termination fees; BT not too happy with LLU pricing either; Vodafone results; US layer-zero access legislation; Oz structural separation floated; Vodafone backs national fibre in NZ; Gulf state telcos want FTTH; EU clears rural broadband aid; Safaricom results; Vimpelcom's holiday in Cambodia; politicians intervene in Telenor/Vimpelcom, demand end to political intervention; Wolfram Alpha "not the answer"; vvvvvv.tvvitter.com fools millions; Sun's app store ready for launch; MS Mobile Me; Verizon offers security for SMBs; MetroPCS outsources complete BSS; numbers on the Amazon Kindle; Apple recruits ARM experts, 32GB iPhone rumoured; statistics app for the iPhone; working from bed, or possibly just watching TV; Hulu UK launch timed for September; yet another Nokia service; Yahoo! voice search; location data more privacy-sensitive than we thought; Project Gutenberg app slaughtered as "too sexy"; Paris Hilton tests RIM's remote wipe function; Venezuelan satellite gone missing

Mobile phone sales suffered in Q1. Didn't everything? Gartner estimates shipments were down 8.6%, with the smartphone segment holding up and even growing. This is rather the pattern we predicted back at MWC; as we also predicted, Nokia has ridden out the crisis while the mid-market manufacturers felt the squeeze.

Rumour of the week: three-way deal between DTAG, 3UK and Skype, with a little help from Deutsche Bank. The idea is to sell T-Mobile UK to 3, thus getting an underperforming division off DTAG's plate and providing a politically useful quick hit, and somehow rebranding the whole thing as a "Skype carrier"; well, you can't fault it for ambition, can you? And certainly, 3 would like to get hold of T-Mobile's spectrum and customer base.

Further, 3 was the first operator to offer a mobile version of Skype, and its INQ handset is specifically designed to deliver third-party Web services rather than anything 3-branded. So it's not totally implausible, and could even be rather Telco 2.0...although we do wonder if Skype has any real interest in being part of a telco. There are plenty of solutions for that, though.Before any of this eventuates, though, there's a good row coming up, as 3UK and BT launch a campaign against termination fees. BT is not happy about the latest set of regulated wholesale prices, either.

Meanwhile, Vodafone results are out. Revenues of £41bn, operating profits of £11bn, and data revenues over £1bn for the first time...but there was always going to be something awful, lurking. Such are the times. Inevitably, this being Vodafone, it was a huge accounting charge against profits - £5.9bn, mostly on its network in Spain. Further, service revenue actually fell slightly in the UK, although wholesale was up strongly.

In the US, a bill in Congress proposes that every road construction project that receives Federal funds should include an open-access fibre duct with sufficient surplus space to accommodate multiple service providers' cables. Optus, meanwhile, suggests to the Australian government that Telstra might like to structurally separate itself; we think that with the recent post-Trujillo exodus, the company is possibly preparing itself to cooperate with the National Broadband Network, and separation would be an unavoidable prerequisite of that.

Vodafone New Zealand is of a similar view, suggesting that all the carriers should contribute to a joint public-private open-access dark fibre company. It's a disturbance in the Force, as if a thousand DSLAMs cried out and were suddenly obsolete...after all, even the Gulf's incumbent state telcos, who are arguably the most incumbent, state, and telco of incumbent state telcos, are keen to get the fibre out there.

Perhaps the EU might do something? It seems their experts on their own rules are convinced that it would be OK, really, if some public money was spent on rural broadband deployment, so there's a chance at least. Even if the Union itself is only putting up €1bn, this could uncork much more in national and regional government funds.

In Kenya, meanwhile, Safaricom has results; revenues up 14.8%, 3.2 million net adds, but profits down sharply as the OPEX costs of expansion bit and the carrier started to tap even lower ARPU markets.

Vimpelcom is going to be the first Russian operator to launch outside the former Soviet Union, taking its Beeline brand to sunny Cambodia. Relatedly, the Russian and Norwegian prime ministers held a joint press conference to say that Telenor and Vimpelcom should just play nicely like good little boys, and not bother politicians. Does anyone think this dispute will ever be settled, or will it drag on until it has become the Schleswig-Holstein question of mobility? Gladstone said that only three men had understood the issue, but two of those were long dead and one had gone mad.

Similarly, you could have died or gone mad listening to the hype over Wolfram Alpha, but as Wired and many others point out, it proved to be nothing if not "alpha", with among other things a number of weird gaps in its database, like geology. If you were desperately waiting to try out Wolfram Alpha, you're probably into Twitter in a big way; this week saw a phishing attack on it which used the novel trick of registering a domain name that began with v's - like so: vv rather than w. Cunning!

Meanwhile, another app store this way comes. This time it's Sun Microsystems, which is launching an online market for Java applications. As there is a seriously large installed base of Java phones and devices of every kind, you can see the attraction; it's also possible that this might mean Sun is interested in re-activating SavaJe, the Java-based mobile OS that never quite happened.

Microsoft has opened Microsoft My Phone to the public, essentially a clone of Apple's MobileMe sync service and content stash. Well, it's a strategy that worked for them before...even if MobileMe has hardly been a roaring triumph, and a lot of telcos also like the idea of keeping all your content with them.

Verizon, meanwhile, has a new security offering for small businesses - it's a software-as-a-service approach to network monitoring and management, using technology from CA. There's also an RSA hardware token system.

It's not only small businesses, either, who are doing this sort of thing; MetroPCS has announced the transfer of its billing functions to Amdocs as a managed service. We have long expected much more hosting and managed service provision in the network; as a delegate at Telco 2.0 in Nice pointed out, though, this does raise some interesting questions about regulation, privacy, and security if all the data is held by some other BSS firm.

Amazon knows a lot about running that kind of giant IT factory; so they get to do clever front end things, like the latest version of the iPhone implementation of the Kindle. And analysts reckon they might make $1.6bn from the gadgets by 2012.

On things iPhone, it looks like Apple is looking for people qualified on the latest ARM chips, and a 32GB iPhone is rumoured, although surely that would cannibalise most of the iPod range. And at last, some properly po-faced business-focused applications for the damn thing; Mellmo has an interesting-sounding data visualisation tool, with a client for SAP business intelligence systems coming up behind it.

The upshot: a worryingly large amount of time is spent by telecommuters working from bed using a mobile device. At least, they say working. We know better; remember that the peak hour for BBC iPlayer streaming to mobile devices is midnight. Speaking of TV, Hulu is expected to launch in the UK in September. Put out all fires and get under cover; the next wave of disruption is heading for your backhaul operations.

Rumours of a Nokia Linux smartphone are floating about, which may mean that this leaked screenshot is significant. Either way, impressive eye-candy. Perhaps more usefully, the new version of Ovi Maps is out and it's full of features, even if it still has a Microsoft Windows fixation; strange, really, in a company which makes its own pair of operating systems and its own Linux distribution. Still no word on how it's meant to make money, however, especially as it includes quite a lot of proprietary content pulled in from several sources.

Yahoo! is keen on voice-activated search. Security researchers have discovered that knowing where somebody lives and where they go to work is enough to identify them uniquely to a surprising degree of granularity; regulators warm up on the sidelines.

This week's banned iPhone app; Eucalyptus, an e-book application for the Project Gutenberg library, which was refused access to the App Store because users might read Sir Richard Burton's translation of the Kama Sutra on it. Probably true; you know what Apple's customer base is like.

Another element of the superstar test for mobile devices: does the device-management remote wipe or kill switch work? We'll soon know - Paris Hilton's BlackBerry has gone missing. And has the same thing happened to Venezuela's satellite?