Smart TV@CES, Netflix, Samsung's Q4 No.s and Apple's odd forecasts - Telco 2.0 News Review

Posted on

[Ed: 'Early Bird' rates are available for the New Digital Economics Brainstorms in Silicon Valley on the 27th-28th of March, and then in London on the 12th-13th of June for our spring EMEA event. Email contact@stlpartners.com or call +44 (0) 20 7247 5003 to join us.]

It's CES week, and expectations are high because early sales numbers for Christmas are depressing. Overall consumer electronics sales, according to NPD, were down 5.9% year on year. The bright spots were "streaming devices" (like Roku and friends), home cinema kit, and flat-panel TVs, while everything else suffered and devices whose functions are integrated in the iPhone suffered disproportionately.

TV innovation was a big theme this week. Lenovo showed a 55 inch TV running Android 4.0 on a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU. (A dual-core TV?) It also has a built-in 5 megapixel camera to support face recognition. There are those of us who remember stories about East German TV sets that supposedly contained a CCTV camera so the local Party representative could check you were watching the TV you were supposed to be watching...

DISH, the US satellite TV station that's been featuring in the Review for a while now, is going to announce something major at CES today. AllThingsD suggests that they are planning a new DVR/STB with seriously huge storage, and also an "Internet service that will be marketed to 8 million customers, most of whom can't get fiber or cable broadband". That sounds a lot like the rumoured Verizon Wireless LTE collaboration to us. (See Reviews 78 and 87.)

In content news, Netflix launched in the UK, at a price point slightly above Lovefilm's, implying that they are hoping that their strength in design and user experience will prevail.

Facebook users can look forward to ads in their news feed this year. Chinese authors sue Apple. And here's some mobile content for you: a SIM preloaded with Taliban ringtones and video propaganda, so you can swap it in before making a journey where you might encounter their checkpoints.

Another crack at mobile TV. And in this week's Chart of the Week, Horace Dediu tries to understand Hollywood finances. The really baffling data point, to our minds, is not so much that Spider-Man 2 spent more money on the script than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines but that either of them spent any money at all on the script...

Screen-Shot-2012-01-04-at-1-4-8.53.27-PM.png

Telco 2.0's Shoreditch neighbour Zeebox, the social-TV companion start-up launched by former YouView CTO Anthony Rose, has some major news this week - BSkyB is its newest investor, taking a £15m stake in the company, and will build Zeebox's social networking functionality into it's popular apps.

Another UK start-up, Picochip, which makes base station systems-on-a-chip for small cells, has been acquired by Californian semiconductor firm Mindspeed.

And NTT DoCoMo, NEC, Fujitsu, Panasonic, and Samsung have announced a joint venture to develop new baseband chips as an alternative to Qualcomm products.

In Q4 2011, Apple bought some 23% of the world's supply of NAND Flash memory chips. When they used some of that to put an extra 16GB of storage into an iPhone, they were able to sell it for precisely $100 more. The cost of the additional storage? $10.72. Nice work if you can get it. In fact, it's so nice that Apple derives more profit from reselling extra NAND than the entire semiconductor industry does making it.

So you might wonder why they just bought a NAND company. The answer is that it's yet more Apple vertical integration. Buying PA Semiconductor gave them the capability to design their own processors (within the ARM framework, of course), buying Anobis gives them the ability to design their own storage chips as they standardise on Flash across the whole product line.

Samsung, meanwhile, reaped the rewards of the smartphone boom, with its best ever quarterly results, up 73% year on year at $4.5bn in profits after they managed to increase their shipments of smartphones by 20%. Or perhaps they didn't - The Guardian points out that these aren't final results and Samsung doesn't actually break out smartphones in its segment analysis, so you have to trust Strategy Analytics' modelling. Did I get the mark, darling?

On the other hand, although HTC had already warned on profits, its numbers beat the spread in the wrong way, with its Q4s down 26%. It looks like the industry's great commoditiser has commoditised itself. Meanwhile, Nokia has denied, again, selling its smartphone division to Microsoft. Microsoft, for its part, is offering a cash bonus to retail workers who sell Windows Phones - $15 a phone. They've also stopped publishing details of updates.

Speaking of commoditisation, Horace Dediu reverse-engineers some Apple forecasts and concludes that they only make sense on the assumption that Apple gets commoditised in the near future. Regression to the mean is one of those things that works...until it doesn't. Meanwhile, here are details of China Unicom's iPhone 4S pricing.

Motorola Mobility warned that its Q4s were looking disappointing, naming a sales figure of $3.4bn and 10.5 million units (or should that be 10.5 megaphones?).

And Newbury-based radioplanning experts Arieso have some data on user behaviour and smartphones. Apple iPhone 4S users pull twice as much data as iPhone 4 users. But the really interesting finding is that people with HTC Android phones uplink more data than anyone else - notably the Desire S. Which is surprising, as the camera isn't obviously better than the iPhone's. And the Google Nexus One is the noisiest of them all, generating 2.2 times as many data calls on the network as an iPhone 3G.

Vodafone announced a new wave of partnership agreements with local MNOs, as a substitute for expensive acquisitions. Even if Vodafone's given up on M&A, that doesn't mean everyone else has though - Goldman Sachs analysts were suggesting a VF-VZ deal again, and this blog post points out why it's silly. Vodafone would like to own 100% of Verizon Wireless. Verizon would like to own Verizon Wireless as well. Given those two, mutually incompatible preferences and roughly equal bargaining power, the rational solution is to co-operate, as both 55% and 45% are substantially greater than zero.

Elsewhere in North American mobility, Sprint has refused to put any more money into LightSquared until the wholesale-only operator resolves its dispute with the FCC over whether its network can function without breaking GPS. And T-Mobile USA's towers may be up for sale.

Rudolf van der Berg's twitter feed says what a lot of people are thinking - Free.fr's mobile network launches tomorrow, and if they are as disruptive as usual, it's going to be interesting. The launch made headlines across the French press, with Free Mobile offering unlimited calls and 3GB of data for €19.99 a month, although you need to bring your own phone and you'll pay through the nose to lease one from them (€720 over the contract for an iPhone 4S, a substantial mark up over the list price). CEO Xavier Niel promised to cut the competition's ARPU in half.

Telefonica has picked a building for its new digital unit, off Regent Street.

Ben Verwaayen says that Alcatel-Lucent isn't planning job cuts like the ones at NSN, and that they may try to bring some of the pile of cash at Alcatel Shanghai Bell home if they can find a way of doing so under Chinese banking rules. Aussie operators crank up the lobbying war ahead of decisions on the 800MHz band.

Meet the winner from US inter-carrier reform, Neutral Tandem, a bit like an IX for voice interconnection.

And RevK discovers something weird in BT Wholesale.

Cisco has quietly shut down its Umi consumer telepresence line, Business Insider reports. After all, Skype is free.

Phil Wolff notes that Skype is shutting down GroupMe's conference calling features, although any user who made a conference call in the last month gets grandfathered. That suggests that the problem is that nobody used it, and Skype has no reason to maintain two voice conferencing systems.

Phil's wishlist for 2012 is here. Note that, by our count, 8 out of 15 wishes involve APIs or developers. His (semiserious) predictions are here. Meanwhile, Dan York argues that Skype is now boring.

What happens when an Amazon Availability Zone fills up? EC2 Reserved Instance customers are served first, it turns out. Meanwhile, AWS adds much more cloud-networking capability to EC2 and Virtual Private Cloud via Elastic Network Interfaces.

Acer clones iCloud. Eliminating e-mail. Jack Ma's Alibaba.com hires top Washington lobbyists to help them buy Yahoo! BBM messages decrypted, mafia disappointed.

A series of posts on complex image transforms in HTML5. Patchday for HP printers. Mayor Bloomberg learns to code. Another slow-TCP DOS attack.

And it's not the mobile phones killing bees, it's the brain parasite flies turning them into zombies.