It's the first sign of spring. As the Informer parked his trusty penny farthing in the unusually busy cycle shed this morning, squeezing the sturdy relic of a bygone era in among the shiny carbon frames and razor thin wheels newly purchased by the fair weather cyclists, he was struck by how things change.

March 5, 2010

9 Min Read

By The Informer

It’s the first sign of spring. As the Informer parked his trusty penny farthing in the unusually busy cycle shed this morning, squeezing the sturdy relic of a bygone era in among the shiny carbon frames and razor thin wheels newly purchased by the fair weather cyclists, he was struck by how things change.

Take books for example. The Informer favours the heft of a weighty tome and the aesthetic appeal of a full bookcase but he supposes these phenomena will at some point receive the same wry glances as the waxed canvas cape he wears when cycling through the British drizzle. In the news this morning were reports that Penguin Books, one of the world’s biggest publishing houses, is developing an interactive e-book platform, to benefit from the growing interest in the e-reader market.

Targeting devices such as the Apple iPad, and a flurry of Android-based gadgets, the Penguin platform will introduce e-books with embedded audio and video, as well as interactive capabilities. It’s a space the Informer has been watching with interest, since Amazon jumped on the app store bandwagon in January, with a shop front catering to its own e-reader platform – the Kindle.

Late last year Amazon pushed the Kindle global, validating the initiative’s nascent business model with some Wall Street analysts and prompting predictions that the Kindle will quickly grow into a $1bn business. Penguin’s move is a huge vote of confidence for the consumer-electronics device and related service, showing that a wireless product can be a revenue generator even if the end-user is not a direct subscriber to the mobile network that serves the device.

Moving on to newfangled services that probably won’t turn into a $1bn business anytime soon – micro social network Twitter has just passed the ten billion tweet mark, after hitting one billion tweets in late 2008. That’s ten billion probably mostly pointless tweets about what people had for breakfast and Twitter is now rumoured to be rolling out an advertising platform to go along with its service. According to reports however, we may be spared 140 character length ads showing up randomly in twitter feeds as they will only be pushed out in search results. Web curmudgeon that he is, this shouldn’t prove too much of an issue for the Informer but he supposes he should move with the times.

Embracing the new, on the other hand, turned out to be a bit of an industry trend this week. Finnish vendor Nokia hopped into bed with Skype to make the VoIP client available to some 200 million smartphone users worldwide. The two companies have jointly developed a Skype app for the Symbian platform, making VoIP calls possible over either a wifi or mobile data connection. The app is downloadable for free from the Ovi Store, but should also work on Symbian devices from other manufacturers, like, er, Sony Ericsson?

Meanwhile, Orange threw its weight behind the Nokia-Intel founded Linux initiative MeeGo, anticipating the creation of a new channel for the delivery of consumer multimedia services. MeeGo was unveiled at Barcelona in February as a merger of Intel and Nokia’s respective Linux initiatives, to create a software platform spanning a range of consumer electronics from mobile phones to netbooks.

Intel is contributing its Moblin platform, which will be merged with Nokia’s Maemo platform and the Nokia-owned cross platform application environment, Qt. With the operator’s backing, Intel and Orange will work to increase the availability of Orange Signature Services, such as Orange TV and Orange Maps, to be supported by the MeeGo and Intel Atom environment. The companies aim to establish a common software framework across multiple devices, ranging from smartphones and tablets to netbooks. An ambitious initiative, but as Ovum analyst Tony Cripps noted in Barcelona, the real win is in tying developers to the MeeGo platform.

“Turning MeeGo into a mainstream platform for CE will be no mean achievement in its own right. However, it will ultimately be largely meaningless how many devices it is deployed on if the consistency provided by the underlying OS is not matched by its ability to provide a true multi-screen application platform for developers,” he said.

Sticking with Linux, which seems to be having its heyday, mobile Linux evangelist group the LiMo Foundation extended an olive branch to the recently formed Wholesale Applications Community – an alliance designed to build an open platform for delivering applications to all mobile phone users.

The alliance plans to initially use both the JIL and OMTP BONDI requirements, evolving these separate standards into a common standard within the next 12 months. LiMo sees itself as a perfect fit here, having already produced standardized white-label SDKs for the LiMo platform in both native and OMTP BONDI-compliant forms, while a number of LiMo’s key stakeholders also hold leadership roles within the JIL initiative. In an open letter to the Wholesale Apps Community, Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, offered “full support, committed participation, and immediate practical assistance” to the strategy.

There was coming together of another kind in the UK as the mobile subsidiaries of Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom got the green light from the European Commission to go ahead with their proposed merger. Integration measures are expected to start immediately, with the closing of the transaction expected before the spring is out. The deal, announced in August 2009, is to be conducted as a merger of equals, with T-Mobile and Orange folded into a 50:50 joint venture. This move will create a new market leader, with over 34 million subscribers and a 43 per cent share of the UK market, compared to current leader O2’s 22.4 million strong user base and 28.5 per cent market share, according to the latest figures from Informa Telecoms & Media’s WCIS.

By way of concessions, the companies have agreed with the EC to divest 2×15MHz of their joint GSM spectrum in the 1800MHz band by the end of 2011. Of the divested spectrum 2×10MHz needs to be cleared by September 30 2013 at the latest and further 2×5MHz need to be cleared by September 30 2015.

T-Mobile’s existing network sharing deal with 3UK was also reinforced. Through Mobile Broadband Network Ltd, formed by 3 and T-Mobile UK in 2007, the two firms share their masts and 3G access networks. 3UK is supportive of the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Orange, and is expected to want to share in the synergies afforded by the agreement. It should be noted that Orange UK already hosts 3’s 2G traffic and, in a statement released shortly after the merger announcement, 3UK said: “Our network infrastructure joint venture with T-Mobile inevitably makes us an interested party.”

A combined brand is ultimately expected, but this week the companies said the T-Mobile and Orange UK brands will continue to operate in the UK for at least 18 months after the completion of the transaction.

The chief of UK telecoms regulator Ofcom was also looking into competition issues, promising to investigate web traffic control measures later this year as the net neutrality debate rumbles on. Ed Richards, who gave a keynote speech at the Cable Congress conference taking place in Brussels this week, said that in light of Europe’s move to adopt region-wide telecoms legislation, national regulators needed to assess the ‘openess’ of the internet and decide whether action needed to be taken to preserve it.

Traffic management measures are now commonly used by service providers to prevent bandwidth hogging by heavy users of services. But there is great concern that bandwidth throttling could be used anti-competitively to restrict rival services. Richards also said that service providers need to be more transparent in explaining what measures they use to their customers.

Google, as one of the world’s biggest generators of web traffic, often pops up in conversations about net neutrality, and both Telefonica CEO Cesar Alierta and Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao have recently made statements that suggest they are thinking about charging Google and other search engines to use their networks.

Alierta implied that it was unfair that search engines were using mobile bandwidth for free while Telefonica’s operations provided the network, product sales, customer care, installation and maintenance for them, claiming that search engine companies would need to start paying for some of the infrastructure, possibly through the introduction of monthly fees in accordance with the amount of data generated by each site. Meanwhile, Colao said search engines such as Google and Yahoo should pay for preferential access to the company’s networks.

Google was also, albeit indirectly, in Apple’s crosshairs, as the Californian firm hit Taiwanese manufacturer HTC with the legal stick for infringing on iPhone related patents. In a suit filed with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) and in the US District Court in Delaware, Apple alleges that HTC has infringed on 20 Apple patents related to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware.

Patent lawsuits are commonplace in the mobile industry – Apple is presently embroiled in a lawsuit with Nokia, over allegations from the Finnish firm that the iPhone infringes upon ten of its patents. HTC is leading the charge on Android adoption with the production of such devices as the G1 and Google Nexus One and the move from Apple prompted Google to leap to HTC’s defence even though the web giant was not named in the suit. “We stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it,” Google said.

Nevertheless, the success of the iPhone’s exclusivity model has resulted in some imitators. US carrier Verizon Wireless has teamed up with Microsoft to launch two exclusive, Microsoft branded handsets aimed at the teen market in the summer.

Meanwhile, on a final note, having missed the executive exodus that took place last week, Phuthuma Nhleko, group president and chief executive of African carrier MTN announced plans to depart after eight years at the helm.

Nhleko said he will not be renewing his long term contract which ends June 30, standing down as group president and CEO. Nhleko has, however, agreed with to continue in his role up to March 2011 to enable a transition to his as yet unnamed successor.

Nhleko did not give a detailed reason for his decision, saying only that it is the “Right time to secure the next generation of leadership for the group – and the right time for me personally to start thinking about the next phase of my career.”

And that about wraps it up for this week,

Take care,

The Informer

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