Science and progress
It’s been a huge week for science; unless you’ve been hiding under a cluster of electrons, it could not have escaped your attention that the Higgs-Boson particle has been discovered by scientists at CERN. The discovery has been hailed as the “key missing element” in the understanding of the universe, according to Professor Jim Virdee, head of physics at Imperial College, with CERN director general Rolf Heuer, adding: “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature.”
For those who could do with a simple explanation of what all of the fuss is about, here’s a helpful video.
And while The Informer is no physicist, there is no shying away from the fact that science, and more specifically technology, also defines progress within the telecoms industry.
So in hindsight, it’s quite fitting that The Informer has spent most of his time over the past few weeks catching up with the leading scientific brains in our industry; the chief technology officers at some of the world’s leading operators, who shared some pretty controversial views.
Three UK’s CTO Ed Candy provided some real gems such as: “Operators getting upset about OTT services is a bit of a joke”; “When you talk to technical guys you have to work out whether they’re into job preservation or whether they’re into understanding the dynamics of the business” and “ZTE needs more hand-holding and support than Huawei, and Huawei needs more hand-holding and support than Ericsson.”
The role of a CTO is not an easy one; in fact, it’s probably fair to say that it is one of the most difficult on the board. The CTO is tasked with building networks to deliver on the promises made by executives in sales and marketing, within the constraints dictated by the CFO. That full interview, along with interviews with CTOs at Australia’s Telstra, USA’s Sprint, Russia’s MTS, Orange Spain and Singapore’s Starhub are available to read in the latest issue of MCI and they are also set to go live on Telecoms.com over the coming weeks.
Recently, we’ve heard about Telefonica agreeing a network sharing deal with Vodafone in the UK, in response to the successful shared network venture set up by rivals Everything Everywhere and Three. Now, across the Irish Sea, Vodafone appears to have chosen 3 as its partner for a network sharing agreement in Ireland – a source close to the matter confirmed to the Informer. The move is seemingly in response to Irish incumbent, Eircom and Telefónica setting up a similar network sharing deal in Ireland a year ago.
According to Fred Huet, founder and managing partner at Greenwich Consulting, operators are facing pressure on their margins, and are being required to renew investment for 4G networks.
“This is happening in many countries across Europe; you definitely see operators rationalising their networks, you’ve got deals across Europe selling tower assets in Spain and France, so there’s clearly a trend across Europe,” he said.
It is encouraging to see new, innovative business models entering the market – France’s Free Mobile caused shockwaves in the country by launching a service that is as cheap as chips, or frites, in this case. Now, in the UK, an MVNO that offers free mobile data in return for viewing adverts has launched. Samba Mobile is available for tablet and laptop owners and offers users a range of interactive adverts to drive engagement.
The service runs on 3UK’s mobile network and Samba Mobile admitted that web usage may be tracked. However, the offering bears a strong resemblance to that of Blyk, which failed to make the model work in the UK and instead became an advertising services provider. The main issue was that the network lacked the kind of reach the big brands were used to buying through established media. Moreover, the Informer suspects that the kind of users who chase subsidised web access in exchange for advertising aren’t the kind of big spenders to have money to splash on whatever the brands are pitching. Unless those brands are Iceland. Or Peacocks.
Also this week, BAE Systems – a UK-based defence firm – introduced a location fixing technology designed to make GPS more accurate, or replace the ageing satellite system altogether in cases where a signal is unobtainable. Military, commercial and consumer platforms commonly use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to find their position and navigate. GPS itself relies upon a specific and relatively weak satellite signal that is well known to be vulnerable to disruption.
But BAE claims its Navigation via Signals of Opportunity (NAVSOP) method is able to perform the same job as GPS by using alternative radio signals to deduce location. The firm claims to use whatever signals are available at the time, be they wifi, cellular, TV or radio broadcast.
NAVSOP can be integrated into existing positioning devices to provide superior performance to GPS, and it can function in places where GPS is unable to reach, such as dense urban areas and deep inside buildings.
According to Dr Ramsey Faragher, a principal scientist from BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre: “The potential applications of this technology are already generating huge excitement in both civilian and military circles.” As effective for consumers the technology could prove to be, The Informer just can’t help but feel a little bit uneasy when he hears about “huge excitement in military circles”.
The proposed acquisition of Cable & Wireless Worldwide by Vodafone Group has received clearance from the European Commission this week. The Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns, as the companies’ activities are largely complementary, clearing away the final hurdle for the deal to go ahead.
“CWW’s main activity is related to fixed telecoms, whereas Vodafone is mainly active in mobile telecoms,” the EC said.
Although Vodafone and CWW’s activities overlap in a number of markets such as in the fixed and mobile markets in the UK, the Commission found that the impact of the transaction on these markets is likely to be small as the combined entity would continue to face significant competition.
Over in India, the Department of Telecoms (DoT) is busy repairing the damage caused by the 2008 2G spectrum scandal, which resulted in all licences awarded being revoked, and has announced guidelines for the reauction, due to be held later this year.
The 1800MHz and 800MHz spectrum will be auctioned off in 1.25MHz blocks and the DoT said that the objectives of the auction are to obtain a market determined price for spectrum through a transparent process, ensure efficient use of spectrum and avoid hoarding, stimulate competition in the sector and maximise revenue proceeds from the auctions within the set parameters. The reserve price, along with terms of payment and spectrum usage charges will be announced separately at a later date.
And two years later than scheduled, a set-top box intended to transform how viewers consume TV has been launched in the UK. YouView offers subscription-free digital TV and catch-up and will be available in major retailers by the end of July.
YouView’s electronic programme guide allows users to scroll back seven days to catch-up on programmes they’ve missed on more than 100 digital TV and radio channels. They can watch in HD and record, pause and rewind live TV. The service will be available in two ways; from retailers, with no further TV subscription, or from an ISP as part of a phone and broadband package.
The venture’s chairman, entrepreneur-turned-reality TV star Lord Alan Sugar, was adamant that the delay is not a huge issue, claiming there’s still nothing like it on the market – a claim likely to be questioned by the likes of Sky, TiVo, Virgin Media and online TV content aggregators – such as YouTube.
Sugar described “a great moment in British television”, however, in a quantum observation, Nick Thomas, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media said that the launch of the service is “way overdue but also too early”.
He explained that the service has only just gone to beta testing and the set-top boxes are not yet in the shops. The service will not be a mainstream proposition for UK consumers until the end of 2012.
“Had it launched in 2010 or 2011, it would have been able to shape the market, but now, it is another smart TV platform competing with offers from Freeview Plus, Sky, Virgin Media and TV manufacturers. The defining features of YouView– such as the backwards EPG – are no longer so revolutionary. And we still need to know if it the platform actually works,” said Thomas.
Meanwhile, German operator Deutsche Telekom has signed a European partnership deal with payment provider MasterCard to enable consumers to use their mobile phones as an electronic wallet.
The two firms will initiate a trial with NFC sticker tags and cards in Poland and Germany this year, with a SIM-based mobile wallet service to be launched in the first half of next year. The m-wallet will also be open to other issuing banks and partners. Unlike most of its competitors, the operator is able to launch a payment product without the need to partner with a banking intermediary that will cream off most or all transaction revenue. That’s because DT owns an e-money license it acquired with the purchase in March 2010 of internet payments service provider ClickandBuy – which now operates as a DT subsidiary.
And finally, Mozilla, the software firm responsible for creating the open-source Firefox web browser, claims industry support is growing behind its plans to launch an open operating system based on HTML5. This week, the company confirmed the OS will use the Firefox brand and is designed to power smartphones “built entirely to open web standards,” where all of the device’s capabilities can be developed as HTML5 applications.
Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia and Telenor have now signed up to back the open Firefox OS, following Telefónica’s lead from World Congress in February, as an option for delivering cheaper smartphones.
The first commercial devices are expected to launch in Brazil in early 2013 through Telefónica’s commercial brand, Vivo.
That’s about all for now. Take care,