Ring! Ring! Hot News, 20th July, 2009
In Today's Issue: More app stores, but Symbian has a giant app distribution warehouse just off the M25; Nokia sells key Symbian unit; awful figures; another service strategy...; NSN gets $1bn Brazilian contract; Palm Pre syncs with iTunes, Apple rushes out update to stop it; Pre SDK away, hooray; Google's voluntary total surveillance project for iPhones; 1.5bn downloads from App Store, most intended to replace native applications; wall of money hits iPhone games; Google Voice for Android; Sony Ericsson - the horror! the horror!; embarrassment at Motorola; Frenchmen threaten to blow up Nortel plant; operators "can't stop now" on infrastructure spending; IBM detects "nanoscale green shoots" with new electron microscope; Spinvox offers shares rather than cash; O2 Germany intros "Comes With Malware"; Etisalat hacks BlackBerries, gets caught, lies about it, sees profits rise 10%; 3UK wants to advertise on dongle clients; Alierta skates from insider trading charge; even more highly doubtful piracy stats; is YouTube actually profitable?; the coming CDN boom; cool new TV box comes to Britain; C&W shareholders furious; simple ad spot prevents Federal broadband funds being paid; Telstra loses case over price hike; Thailand, Angola laying fibre; new hybrid HSPA/satellite network; loads of data on HSPA; fixed-mobile collision hurts BSNL; desperately seeking a voice solution for LTE; users considered intelligent in Wi-Fi study; 36% want mobile iPlayer; VZW cuts exclusivity before the Feds do; Vodafone to update on cost cutting this week; who will be Amazon's pet MVNO in Europe?; O2 launches prepaid VISA card; Biz Stone says...something
Yet more app store noise. Well, not quite.
More details are emerging of the forthcoming Symbian app store, Horizon; in fact, it's not going to be so much an app store as a giant app shed near a motorway junction in Wiltshire, delivering truckloads of apps to stores all over the world. Not necessarily a silly idea; the plan is roughly that Horizon would be a single buyer from developers, taking care of technical support, signing and certification, and distributing revenue share, and selling wholesale to operator app stores. Presumably, the Ovi Store is going to be a front end for the project. That would make sense; but then, when has Nokia's services strategy ever made sense?
There's a little more at the Symbian blog, if you can get past the queue of people complaining about their code-signing process (see the comments here too). Curiously, Nokia just sold the Symbian Professional Services unit, responsible for customer support of the OS at a fairly hardcore level, to Accenture.
Nokia also had results out this week, and they were frankly horrible; profits were down 74%, shipments and average prices fell, but they did cling on to market share. This is roughly what we've been expecting ever since this year's MWC; a horrible year in general, but with the mid-market (i.e. Motorola and Sony Ericsson) taking the brunt. Oli-Pekka Kallasvuo says that they are planning to "accelerate our strategic transformation into a solutions company", which probably means another services strategy before the end of the year. NSN seems to be doing OK with its tried and trusted "selling stuff" approach; they snapped off a $1bn contract to run Telemar's network in Brazil this week.
There's a slightly different take on Nokia's results here, with the argument that the whole handset industry is barely economic; however, we think we've found the flaw in netting off Nokia, Apple, Samsung, and friends' profits against Moto and Sony Ericsson's losses...
Meanwhile, Apple updated iTunes to break its compatibility with the Palm Pre; unexpectedly, users found that the device would happily synchronise with their desktop iTunes playlists, which did not make Apple happy at all. Especially not given that the Pre's list price is about half of the estimated BoM for an iPhone. Perhaps not the best news for the week the Palm Pre SDK was launched.
iPhone users, by the way, can volunteer to tell Google exactly where they are and get better search results. And 1.5 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store; but it's surely a little embarrassing that the No.1 hit is Opera Mini, the well-known alternative Web browser.
We thought the browser was meant to be the heart of the iPhone, but it seems that the most likely application to be installed is...a replacement browser. Further, the second and third most likely are Nimbuzz and Mig33, two over-the-top instant messaging clients. More challenges for telcos.
We mentioned Sony Ericsson. They had results out as well, and if the Nokia ones were bad, these were nightmarish. Not only is the company losing money hand over fist, but shipments are down 43% year on year. Management reckons the total handset market is down 10%; back in February our sources thought much the same, with smartphones and ultra-low cost holding roughly steady and therefore concentrating the pain in the middle.
On the network side, we've already seen Nortel Networks go under, and Motorola isn't looking too well; they tried to manipulate a poll at Telecoms.com, but only succeeded in drawing attention to the fact that six people at HQ in Illinois think the last vendors standing will be Huawei and Ericsson.
In France, employees at Nortel's Chateaufort site, which includes GSM-R development and outsourced network management for Bouygues, are threatening to blow up the building if they don't get either a buyer or their redundancy payouts. There's an interview with their leader here, who alleges that Nortel transferred all the French unit's cash to Canada immediately before going into Chapter 11.
In less grim news, Infonetics estimates that the infrastructure market actually grew 8% in 2008-2009, for the rather telling reason that major operators are committed to extensive investment in network transformation and can't stop now.
That sounds like a rather pale form of optimism; but IBM's results this week had considerably more beef. Profits were unexpectedly strong, with the best performance being in outsourcing and the worst in consulting; IBM expects a strong upturn in the second half of the year.
On the other hand, everyone's favourite voicemail transcriber SpinVox is offering its staff shares in lieu of salary, whilst vigorously denying that it is short of cash.
There's also been some malarky at O2 Germany, where a batch of new Toshiba phones have shipped with viruses pre-installed. The devices in question run Windows Mobile, which may not be as surprising as The Register thinks. The virus is apparently living on the memory card supplied with the gadget, and according to user reports, it tries to install itself on your PC if you connect the memory card to it. There is no information on what kind of virus it is, but it does seem that Kaspersky AV will detect it.
In the UAE, meanwhile, BlackBerry owners received what claimed to be a "network compatibility update" from carrier Etisalat; in reality the update was a trojan which copied all their e-mail to a server controlled by the carrier in order to let the government spy on them. The lone server wasn't quite enough, it turns out, to process all the BlackBerry traffic; as a result, the trojan kept retrying, hammering the gadgets' battery life. This caused someone to examine the actual code Etisalat pushed out - at which point all hell broke loose. Inevitably, the hackersphere came up with a utility to remove it automatically, at which point you only need to worry about the Canadians and the central BlackBerry servers in Waterloo...
For all that, it doesn't seem to hurt their bottom line; net profits were up 10% against the corresponding period last year.
Why do operators like those annoying little software clients that autorun when you connect a USB dongle to your laptop? Because you can sell advertising space on them, or at least that's so at 3UK. Those of us who use wvdial to control dongles are presumably exempt.
And Telefonica's Cesar Alierta has been cleared of insider trading cigarette company shares (that's two whole levels of dodgy!), on the grounds that too much time has passed since the alleged offence. The great British public, meanwhile, are all evil pirates. Or rather, 43% of them are. Or, in fact, 44% of the ones who regularly download stuff from the Internet have downloaded something without paying for it at least once, but that's including downloading things that are actually free. Just another day in highly dubious piracy stats, then.
On the subject of video, a huge story in the Financial Times; Google has been reviewing the management accounts for YouTube, and they think it's about to turn profitable. And how are they doing it? By increasing the share of the videos that actually carry ads. Take that, Well-Known Investment Bank! We've blogged about this here, here, here, and most recently here.
Meanwhile, InStat reckons the CDN business will double in value over the next five years as more and more TV gets distributed that way. So it must be time for better CPE, the other half of the video distribution system. And here it is: FetchTV, a box that integrates several different sources of Internet video (notably the iPlayer) and Freeview digital terrestrial TV with a 160GB hard disk to stash TV content in. It can also act as a home media server and talk to an external HDD if you need even more storage. The manufacturers don't like the BBC's Project Canvas - which is surprising as the device sounds like a candidate.
There's trouble at Cable & Wireless, where 38 per cent of shareholders refused to back the remuneration report, concerned at the sheer cash it offers the carrier's executives. But if you think that's dodgy, look what David Isenberg found in the US Government's NOFA, the official announcement of the broadband element of the stimulus plan. It seems that one of the criteria for paying out to new broadband projects is the service advertised in the area; so the incumbents can block payouts to potential competitors simply by running some TV spots. Whoops.
In Australia, Telstra failed to get the regulated price of its wholesale services raised in a major court case. And in Thailand, they're deploying fibre-to-the-home, through the simple plan of using the existing electricity poles. Even Angola is getting the fibre out there, admittedly backbone rather than access...
TerreStar, which is building a hybrid satellite/HSPA network in the US, has launched its satellite into geosynchronous orbit; meanwhile, there's a informative article at telecoms.com on HSPA rollout, with a lot of useful data.
Indian state telco BSNL saw profits fall, as 727,000 of its fixed line customers went mobile and the costs of building 3G and WiMAX networks began to make themselves felt.
Verizon's LTE launch is approaching, which means it's only getting more urgent to fix the LTE voice problem. Recap; LTE is all-IP, but this doesn't help if the devices don't use VoIP clients as standard. So the LTE community is looking for a way of providing circuit-switched steam voice over the shiny new network; hence, the new VoLGA standard, which makes SS7 circuits an application provided over a packet-switched network. In some places, the packets might themselves be riding a circuit...
According to Bango, however, none of this stops the users from moving onto a WLAN hotspot whenever they can find one. 20% of mobile content purchases are made over wi-fi, and it's going up; after all, your home wi-fi or some other random hotspot is likely to be free and significantly lower-latency than the cellular network. News: users not daft after all.
Which is handy, as 36 per cent of users apparently want the BBC iPlayer on their mobiles.
Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, is trying to get ahead of the regulators, by unilaterally cutting the term of its handset exclusivity contracts to 6 months. And Vodafone will be making an announcement this week on the progress of its cost-cutting plan.
Mobile Today thinks Amazon is getting ready to launch the Kindle in Europe; the big question is, of course, who will get the MVNO job that makes it all work, which would be a sizable slug of wholesale data traffic for the lucky operator. You have to presume that Amazon will want to deal with the same operator for as much of Europe as possible, which should provide some clues as to who it might be.
Telefonica, perhaps? Anyway, O2 has kicked off the mobile financial services game in the UK by launching a prepaid VISA card linked to a mobile banking service. Again, it looks like NFC/RFID things seem to lose momentum the closer you get to an actual deployment; despite trialling with NFC, they've gone to market with a card. Making it a VISA card fulfils a key condition of successful mobile money, at least by our lights - that there must already be a widespread network of businesses that will accept payment from it and help either pay in money or get it out.
And finally, an interview with Biz Stone from Twitter.