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Attempting re-entry

Bond aficionados will recognise this week’s title as the groan/titter inducing pun from the closing scenes of Moonraker, arguably the most preposterous of the films that featured the most preposterous of the Bonds. Don’t get me wrong, Roger Moore has a strong case to be named the best Bond (he’s certainly the only one to have ever attended Mobile World Congress, back in the days when you could come home from the show with a tan) but he was far and away the most preposterous.

It was not long after Moore turned up at MWC, graciously answering questions about his wardrobe in The Persuaders, that the Informer spent a few months using the only Panasonic mobile phone he has ever owned. It’s difficult to remember all the phones one’s had, and a gentleman never counts, but if memory serves it was a GD 90-something-or-other and was noteworthy for the four-colour option on the backlight for the monochrome display.

And now, just as Moore attempted re-entry in Moonraker, Panasonic is attempting re-entry into the European handset market after a number of years in the wilderness. The question is whether or not Panasonic’s narrative will have such a happy ending.

The firm used to have quite a play, and certainly had the budget to give out free GD9X handsets to journalists at a dinner halfway up the Eiffel Tower. But it is staging its renewed overtures to European consumers at a time when the operators that decide which phones will be made available to them are looking to cut the number of suppliers and the number of devices in their ranges. Get it from the horses’ mouths here and here. Although this is not a phenomenon true to all – keep your eyes on this space next week for details on Intel’s re-entry to the mobile market, with it’s first Atom-based handset.

Panasonic isn’t the only one to be getting its news out early. Fellow Japanese player Fujitsu also announced a bid for European glory this week, threatening to expose the truism that there’s safety in numbers as a load of old cobblers. Neither firm has much to say about operator partnerships, trotting out the “in discussions” line.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway. The soap opera cliff-hanger that is the Barcelona transport workers’ strike plan is being milked for all its worth, keeping us all guessing as to how we’ll get around the city during next week’s festivities. This week GSMA issued another “keep calm and carry on” press release, reiterating that it has a contingency plan up its sleeve but declining to say just what it is.

The trade body said it is acting on advice from the city by keeping its plans a secret, and the suggestion is that it doesn’t want the damned Trots getting wind of planned manoeuvres, lest they aim their disruption at the contingency as well as the bus and metro services.

Just what could this contingency be, however? Are they bringing in a private militia of train-driving mercenaries? Is there going to be a walking bus that goes round the city every morning? Are we all going to get issued with Segways when we register? Or space hoppers?

Whatever it is, this fiasco casts a significant shadow over the decision to name Barcelona the Mobile World Capital for the next six years – a decision taken by the GSMA after 18 months of consideration. And that’s before you factor in the Ronaldinho, the Pigeon Sh!t, the Free Hugger and the Two-Door Taxi Trick – all scams used by Barcelona’s muggers and pickpockets according to www.robbedinbarcelona.com, which is running some special features warning delegates about safety issues. Roger Moore wouldn’t have it.

A ten-spot says the strike doesn’t even happen, anyway. The muggers will subsidise the transport costs so they’ve got a nice big, centrally located barrel of fish.

As is always the case, MWC will inspire countless grand claims from exhibitors looking to draw the news limelight. Some of them were getting in ahead of the crowd this week. Nokia Siemens Networks was the first, claiming a new technological tweak that can double HSPA+ speeds at the cell edge by simultaneously drawing on signal from two cells. NSN and Qualcomm will be trumpeting this together next week.

Doubling’s for sissies, though, said Ericsson; tripling’s where it’s at. The Swedish vendor which, judging by the size of its exhibition hall and the fact that CEO Hans Vestberg is one of the opening keynote speakers, must be the single largest investor in the event, responded by saying that it had a solution that could squeeze a three-fold increase out of the HSPA uplink.

Ericsson also confirmed this week that it is to buy carrier wifi outfit Belair Networks, heralding the deal as “the next step towards a truly integrated network”. The deal was expected and Informa analyst Dimitris Mavrakis described it in anticipation as an aggressive move that illustrated the promise of the carrier wifi market. “Ericsson is among the last vendors to embrace a new technology, including femtocells and wifi, that somewhat compete with traditional macro base stations,” he said. As we pointed out last week, the rebranding of Femtocells to Small Cells was the political KY in this situation.

When vendors aren’t promising to improve performance they’re pledging to cut costs. And that was Tellabs’ angle this week, as the firm announced a refresh of its backhaul portfolio which it said could cut operators’ backhaul cost per bit by 80 per cent for 10G interfaces and 76 per cent for Gigabit Ethernet. The overhaul is in preparation for the migration of Tellabs’ customers to LTE.

This migration is happening a lot later in the UK than in many other leading markets but this week, at last we had something to bring to the table. Everything Everywhere – which operates the UK Orange and T-Mobile brands – announced this week that it will begin rollout of LTE before the end of the year. The plan is subject to regulatory signoff, as Orange has requested that it be allowed to refarm the 1800MHz spectrum on which it first came to market. The UK 800MHz auction is not expected to take place until late this year, meaning networks in the new spectrum aren’t realistically expected until late 2013 or early 2014.

Ofcom told Telecoms.com that it is “considering the application and, once it arrives at a view, it will consult with the stakeholders.” Ofcom doesn’t like to consider things in a hurry, with this particular period of consideration likely to take 12 weeks. So EE might find it difficult to meet its year-end deadline, in which case it will just blame the regulator and be done with it.

As a precursor to the rollout, Orange will be trialling LTE in Bristol, in addition to an existing trial in Cornwall.

When the UK carriers do get around to launching LTE, they’ll have to take care of any consumers whose TV signal is interfered with by the 800MHz networks. So they are now required to stump up £180m to pay for solutions to any interference through a “help scheme”.

Such a happy and cheap resolution to interference issues is something that thwarted US hopeful LightSquared can only dream about. It is looking increasingly likely that LightSquared is going to get run out of town by the existing US GPS community and this week it had another brace of bad luck stories to tell.

First it was revealed that satellite operator Inmarsat was claiming a missed payment of $ 56.25m from the foetal operator, news that was followed in double time by the announcement that LightSquared is going to cut its headcount by 45 per cent in a bid to save on running costs. This came on the back of last week’s decision by the FCC to suspend a conditional waiver that would have allowed the carrier to begin deployment of its network.

At last year’s MWC, M2M was a buzz topic and four announcements this week reminded us that it hasn’t gone away. NEC announced that it has partnered with French MVNE Transatel to address the European M2M market – part of a wider and renewed push from the Japanese vendor into the Western comms scene. Going the other way, NTT DoCoMo has contracted Jasper Wireless to power M2M in Japan. Meanwhile Telefónica revealed that it will be providing M2M connectivity to OnStar, part of US vehicle behemoth General Motors, for its activities outside the US, Canada and China.

Finally was the announcement of a partnership between Qualcomm Life (the firm’s new e-health arm) and Orange for connectivity over Qualcomm’s 2net platform. The service aims to connect millions of patients with health care providers to enable remote monitoring of a range of chronic conditions. Qualcomm described the deal as “a significant milestone in our goal of obtaining certification for our 2net platform and launching Qualcomm Life in Europe.” The platform will be on Q’s stand at MWC – so if you’ve got a chronic condition, go and have a look.

This year’s buzz looks like it could be mobile financial services, and the trio of M2M stories were mirrored by three from the mobile financial sector. Ericsson announced two additions to its m-commerce portfolio, the Converged Wallet and Merchant Wallet. Meanwhile Visa and Monetise, through their joint venture Movida, have signed a deal to offer mobile payment services to Indian bank HDFC. The service works over trusty old USSD.

Also in India, Bharti Airtel has launched a nationwide service – Airtel Money – across 7,000 merchant outlets in 300 cities. The service also enables peer to peer money transfer from mobile wallets and bank accounts.

And that’s about it for this week. The Informer is off to pack his bags and print off his registration documents. Barcelona, here we come.

The Informer wishes his readers a good show and he hopes to see some of you out there.

The Informer

telecoms.com – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

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