Nokia, Apple Music, Xiaomi, Carphone Warehouse, Bharti Airtel: Telco 2.0 News Review

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Nokia staffs up with Android devs; Apple denies MVNO plans; Xiaomi production starts in India

The drumbeat about a Nokia re-entry to smartphones continues. Reuters reports that the company is aggressively signing up software engineers with Android skills and looking for joint-venture partners. Apparently there are no plans to resume manufacturing devices, which would be outsourced to the partner. This, of course, would be a disadvantage compared to Apple, Samsung, or Lenovo with their command of the supply chain. However, a software-focused strategy might be a way to get back in with minimal investment.

Apple, meanwhile, has vigorously denied planning to launch an MVNO building on the soft-SIM it introduced for recent iPads.

The story kicked off when someone noticed that Apple has a patent on doing least-cost routing across multiple mobile operators using an MVNO structure. Apple's spokesman denied this as categorically as possible:

"We have not discussed, nor do we have any, plans to launch an MVNO"

The closest comparison is of course Google's Project Fi. Here's an unboxing experience with it. The idea of unboxing a service sounds odd, but it turns out that Google gives away quite a bit of hardware with the SIM card, notably a new headset, an external battery, and a Project Fi case for your phone.

Speaking of Google, they are going to "relaunch" Android One, the stock-Android initiative for emerging markets and specifically for India. The problems with it include a shortage of the devices, which are mostly imported from Chinese ODMs.

Ironically, the biggest Chinese Android maker, Xiaomi, seems to have been quicker to start manufacturing in India than Google's India-focused project. The first handset made there is being launched today, and both Xiaomi and Foxconn are investing heavily in Indian factories.

Here's a positive review of the third iteration of the Motorola Moto G. It still sounds like great value.

HTC's predicted ugly Q2 was ugly, and the company made a £120m net loss. Apparently they think their devices aren't "fashionable" enough, and they may choose to focus on the flagship segment exclusively.

Kantar Worldpanel has Apple crushing it in terms of market share everywhere they looked, although Canalys thinks Lenovo pulled ahead in PC shipments. That said, it would be a reasonable guess that Apple is far, far ahead in terms of PC profitability.

And Microsoft has released its toolkit for Windows 10 apps as open source code, in an effort to encourage porting of iOS software.

11m Apple Music users; TIMJ gone; ROK launches in UK; AT&DirecTV bundles; G+ backstory

If Apple doesn't want to sell you mobile service, it certainly does want to sell you streaming music. Apple Music has apparently signed up 11 million users to the trial, of which 2 million have picked the top tier $14.99/mo plan. The kicker is that so far, none of them are actually paying over any cash, as the free trial period runs until October. If they are all converted, that's more payers than Spotify has, but that's a significant "if." Meanwhile, the App Store shifted $1.7bn in inventory in June, which takes the total payout to developers to $33bn since the beginning.

Meanwhile, music recommendations site This Is My Jam is shutting down, going read-only rather than just erasing everything, but shutting down just the same. Its 200,000 users will be able to download all their stuff, and the code base is being released into open source in case anyone can think of something useful to do with it. They blame increasingly complicated geographic licensing and the burden of keeping up with breaking API changes at other music services.

IPR is a pain. Just ask Sky TV, which had to interrupt a broadcast when it was served with a copyright notice...from Fox News, which is hilarious as the two companies are both part of the News Corporation empire.

ROK Mobile, the music-focused MVNO, is coming to the UK, using 3's network as part of Hutchison's broader push into wholesale. For £25/mo, you get a SIM only deal with 4GB of data, open slather voice, texts, and streaming, and 2000 track downloads from a catalogue of 20 million. Note that the music isn't zero-rated, so it comes out of the 4GB data bundle. In the US, the data pill is sweetened with access to Devicespace's WLAN hotspot portfolio - there's no mention whether anything like that is available here.

AT&T has started offering a mobile and TV plan now it owns DirecTV. $160/mo gets you four phones, 10GB of shared data, plus TV for four TVs and streaming to the phones. Fixed broadband is extra.

And here's some interesting backstory about Google +. It seems the motivation was diffuse fear of Facebook, which is ironic when you think that Facebook's biggest success versus Google seems to be just serving fewer ads and charging more for them.

HTC biometrics, Carphone Warehouse records spilt; BlackHat news

HTC One Max phones store fingerprint information in a folder any app can read. Also, the file name is always "dbgraw.bmp". Research presented at BlackHat this week suggests quite a few other Android devices may be affected because the OEMs didn't bother to use the ARM Trusted Zone API or equivalent to store the biometrics.

It's yet another Android security problem. The problem is the remorseless fragmentation of the Androsphere - OpenSignal reckons we're up to 1,300 distinct Android OEMs now, and 24,000 distinct devices. This diversity reflects the enormous creativity of open-source software, but it doesn't half make it difficult to push out security patches. And a big part of the problem is how long obsolete versions stick around.

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Interestingly, if you're worried, the best option might be to use one of the indie ROMs like Cyanogen, as they manage their own updates without involving carriers or OEMs, rather like a normal Linux distribution. There are now more Cyanogen users than either Windows Phone or BlackBerry, so this shouldn't be all that scary any more.

Google is desperately trying to herd the cats. This story says it all. Google itself, Samsung, LG, Alcatel OneTouch, and Motorola have all now agreed to push out patches for the Stagefright vulnerability. Moto says it's going to ship code this week. When the update actually hits, though, depends on the carriers, who are notoriously uninterested in Android updates. There are just too many people with a veto.

For example, this week a Firefox user discovered a bug in its built-in PDF reader that would let a crafted PDF load and execute JavaScript code from some other web site, defeating the same-domain policy. Horribly, the exploit was already in use - somebody had bought web adverts that linked to the attack code, which tried to steal passwords to servers and version-control systems. But Mozilla doesn't need to ask anyone's permission before it patches Firefox, though, and the issue is fixed in versions 39.0.3 and ESR 38.1.1.

On Saturday afternoon, Carphone Warehouse admitted that hackers had stolen 2.4 million customer records and 90,000 credit card numbers. The CCs are at least encrypted, but it's an enormous embarrassment for a company that rightly prides itself on its point-of-sale software and its standards of customer service. Also, a lot of CPW IT is linked to carriers' OSS, vendors' activation systems, and the like.

Further, their Connected World Services division white-labels their technology for a whole range of other mobile industry players. Sprint was the most recent, but CWS customers also include Best Buy and, um, the Apple Store. CPW claims the lost data came from three of its web sites - mobiles.co.uk, onestopphoneshop.com, and e2save.com - which in turn are brands of its three MVNOs, Talk Mobile, TalkTalk Mobile, and iD. In case you missed that, the compromised system therefore has interfaces with 3UK, O2, TalkTalk, and at one remove, BT Openreach's wholesale systems as well as the UK carriers' retail OSS.

Also, all the various CPW web sites, including CWS, are hosted in the same Rackspace data centres. Interestingly, at the time of writing, OneStopPhoneShop.com was down.

Three other UK retailers - Boots, Superdrug, and Tesco - are going to be allowed to see medical records from the NHS. What could possibly go wrong?

Back at BlackHat, it turns out that industrial Ethernet switches are hideously vulnerable and there's a new way to get at your stuff in the cloud by stealing password tokens. Google Beacons can be hacked to broadcast a different URI.

T-Mobile is listed as a customer by Flash Networks, which these days specialises in injecting extra adverts into web pages on mobile operator networks. T-Mobile angrily denies it, saying they only use them to fire billing alerts. Meanwhile, Flash sues an Indian user for saying publicly where the ads are coming from.

If you thought the SS7 signalling vulnerabilities were bad, try the DIAMETER ones.

EFF has produced a detailed technical specification for Do Not Track.

Did EE know its PowerBar chargers might catch fire?

And here's an app to turn off all the creepy bits of Windows 10.

600MHz NPRM drops; Satellite Cowboy vs Lawman Wheeler; BDUK target MISSED

The FCC has published the 600MHz auction NPRM. The auction is scheduled to begin at the end of March, and although T-Mobile didn't get the spectrum carveout it wanted, 30MHz is still going to be reserved for operators with "sparse" holdings below 1GHz. T-Mo wanted 40MHz. Also, there's a cap at 20MHz for any single operator in a partial economic area with a population of less than 500,000, which sounds like it's intended to keep the rural/regional operators in the game.

Importantly, the spectrum reserved for smaller operators includes most of the bands that aren't affected by the whole duplex gap issue and therefore are less likely to be subject to interference from TV stations. AT&T really isn't happy about this.

Someone else who isn't happy: the Satellite Cowboy himself, Charlie Ergen. The FCC (or should that be Lawman Wheeler?) seems to be taking its inquiry into the AWS-3 caper, when DISH used two shell companies it controlled to snag a $3bn discount on spectrum intended for small businesses, very seriously indeed. DISH is looking for a response. File a lawsuit? Come clean, and pay the whole whack? Or stiff the Feds and refuse to pay even one red cent? Well, we know which is the most cowboy of those options.

But Ergen seems to be leaning towards "pay up and look big", not least because if he does anything else, it will be a long, long time before he or anyone else will be free to use or even sell the spectrum block in question. Which reminds us: why is there a small business discount on a $10bn block of spectrum in the first place? What kind of small business can afford $10bn of spectrum, or build out a network to use it?

Meanwhile, the FCC has also decided to open up the 600MHz whitespaces for unlicensed use, subject to noninterference requirements. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, as depending on how the auction turns out, some of the space might have to be given back. Public Knowledge comments.

Elsewhere, the 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog says we need more unlicensed spectrum for the Internet of Things.

LicenseExemptSpectrumPercentage.pngIt's that time again: the OFCOM Communications Market Report  is out. Inside it, OFCOM claims that 90% of UK households have access to "superfast" broadband, hitting the Government's target. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. But as ThinkBroadband points out, superfast is defined here just as being on BT's FTTC network or Virgin Media's cable. Only regulators could define the word "fast" without reference to speed. Substantial numbers of people on FTTC don't actually get better speeds than ADSL2+, so the real figure is 83%, and therefore a miss. GAME OVER.

In the six months to February 2015, BDUK spent five million quid on those adverts that looked just like BT Infinity ones.

Sprint sinks into 4th, dumps CFO and CTO; VZW tries EIP pricing, ends family plans

In Q1 Sprint just managed to keep ahead of T-Mobile by pushing out a ton of low-value M2M devices and changing their reporting basis, but in Q2, it was just too much. T-Mo is now 3rd in the US and profitable with it, while Sprint made a $20m net loss in the quarter it fell 1.2m subscribers behind. In some ways it wasn't such a bad quarter - 675k net adds versus 220k net losses the year before - it just wasn't enough to match T-Mobile's 2.1m monster. Service revenue was off by $680m year-on-year. Sprint blames this on the shift to making more revenue from device sales, but then, they were profitable a year ago.

As a result, the CFO is leaving, to be replaced by Tarek Robbiati, a leasing expert and ex-Telstra executive. The Chief Network Officer, John Saw, is being promoted to take over as CTO, but he's going to report to a new COO of Technology, Günther Ottendorfer, formerly CTO of Telekom Austria. One thing that never changes at Sprint: weird management structures.

Robbiati is wanted because leasing is suddenly a big deal at Sprint. CEO Marcelo Claure is planning to set up a leasing subsidiary that would both run their smartphone quick-upgrade plan, and also finance network investments. Claure hopes that this will make it possible to book the whole sale of a smartphone up front, as if it was a straightforward sale, but without having to also recognise credit to the customer. Very funky, and not at all desperate. Sprint is also offering a discount roaming plan throughout the Americas like T-Mobile's.

Verizon Wireless has decided to start charging separately for devices and incidentally end their family plans. As with unlimited, existing contracts are grandfathered-in although VZW will no doubt try its very best to get you to sign a new one. This is being sold as a move away from handset subsidy, but it will be interesting to see if, as with T-Mobile, subsidy persists via device pricing or whether VZW thinks it can call the turn on the price wars.

They're also buying a lot of dark fibre for their small cells.

Something broke in AT&T's backbone network and all four national wireless carriers were off line in parts of the US Southeast.

Google Fiber's next 1Gbps target is San Antonio, aka AT&T headquarters.

DTAG's good Q2 in Germany; less good at TI; 3-Wind; Bharti, MTN results

Deutsche Telekom Q2s are here, and they're interesting. Net profits were flat year-on-year, but revenues were up 5.7% in constant currency. As well as T-Mobile USA's stellar Q2, the German mobile business chipped in with an 8.8% rise, mostly from smartphone sales. Total revenues in Germany were up 2.1%.

Liberty Global reported that its Q2 ARPU was down 9%, but up 4.4% on a constant currency basis. Although Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone, and DTAG have all had a promising quarter, Telecom Italia was only just in profit on revenue down 3.3% year-on-year, after it had to eat a €400m regulatory charge over the behaviour of its wholesale division.

TIM Brasil says 20% of its traffic is now 4G, data ARPU is up 42%, 59% of its users are on smartphones, and net income is...down 20%.

3 Italia and Wind are merging, in a deal valued at €21bn.

NTT DoCoMo is offering a 225Mbps LTE-A product it calls Premium 4G in 292 Japanese cities. They hope to get to 300Mbps by the end of the year and 370Mbps in 2016, when 3.5GHz spectrum is available. The service is using carrier aggregation across 5 different bands.

Bharti Airtel is planning to roll out 4G to 296 Indian municipalities before Reliance Jio launches in December, and the service will be priced at the same level as 3G. Bharti also has financial results, dominated by a 40% jump in headline profits. This is basically illusory, coming from the sale of African towers, but the underlying growth in group revenue of 3% is less so. Data revenue was up 56% while traffic was up 86.5%.

Bharti is meant to be selling some of the African networks. You can see why; profits were up 14% in India, with a specially strong performance from Airtel Business, but flat if that in Africa.

MTN's revenue for H1 was off 4.9%. They blame currency movements, but the drill-down shows most of their markets were terrible, and the ones that weren't are tiny.

And Optus is going to switch off GSM in 2017.

GE Predix in the cloud; 82% of ops have touched SDN; air pollution in the data centre

GE is launching a cloud-based version of Predix, its IoT analytics engine for monitoring industrial machinery. GE talks a big game about the "Industrial Internet", and here's some delivery.

According to a survey for IHS, 82% of telecoms operators are already doing something with SDN, whether a real deployment, an evaluation, or a pilot.

Here's a proof-of-concept with OPNFV. Interestingly enough, AT&T, Clear Path Networks, and Dell are involved. Dell, the cloud company?

Increasingly, it's lines of business that want OpenStack, not IT directors.

King, the mobile gaming company, uses Amazon CloudFront as its primary CDN.

A special problem for Baidu is that the air pollution is so bad, they can't use free cooling or the server failure rate goes up. The problem is keeping the clouds out of their cloud.

Adobe WebRTC? MS Edge powered by Chrome; Siri for voicemail; GSM-Replacement

Adobe Connect is moving to HTML5 and WebRTC, whenever "WebRTC is mature".

Microsoft Edge uses the Web Audio implementation from Chromium, and says so in the release notes.

Is Apple planning a much better voicemail app built on Siri? The Register points out that if the rumour is true, the feature set is a lot like Orange Wildfire from 1999-2005.

Huawei, Siemens, and Deutsche Bahn gear up to replace GSM-R.