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Under the thumb

The moment she discovered she was pregnant, Mrs The Informer downloaded an app for her iPhone that gave her regular and constant updates on the development of the little clump of cells that would, some 18 months after his arrival, smash the screen of that iPhone, and that of its replacement, and then drop the second substitute into the toilet.

One of the updates around week 14 or 15 revealed the fact that his fingerprints had now fully formed and set for life, created by pressure on the skin of his fingertips as he blindly groped his way around the womb. This, said the app, is why fingerprints are unique; they are a result of our own individual squirmings in utero.

The true purpose of all this emerged on Tuesday when fingerprint recognition was revealed as the highlight of Apple’s new iPhone 5s. Like it or not, you have to hand it to Apple for once again bringing a niche technology well and truly into the mainstream—expect this feature to be much imitated. (The firm swears blind that no fingerprint data will be uploaded, stored or transmitted but in a post-PRISM world you can’t help but think the security forces must be tenting their loops and whorls with sinister satisfaction.)

The phone’s fingerprint scanner offers great security for payments and transactions, although Apple has conceded that it doesn’t react very well to sweaty or otherwise moistened digits (the 5s probably finds all things bodily profoundly distasteful). But the best security it offers is against the miniature, meddling fingers of your children.

Apple has gone all out for regional LTE support with the latest handsets (the accompanying 5c is a brightly coloured, begruding nod to the very-slightly-lower-end market), and are compatible with 13 bands. A distribution partnership with NTT DoCoMo opens up the Japanese LTE market in particular. Meanwhile a simultaneous launch event in China reflected Apple’s intentions for Eastern expansion but whether or not the 5c comes in at the right price for Chinese consumers remains to be seen.

One operator that will not be able to offer the device on its LTE network, for a while at least, is Apple’s launch partner for the original 2007 iPhone in the UK, O2. The Telefónica-owned carrier was conspicuous by its absence on Apple’s online listing of supported partners, with only Vodafone and EE present for the UK.

While it will still be selling the devices, the lack of LTE support is something of a blow for O2 and raises questions about the performance of its LTE network. Telecoms.com first wrote of Apple’s LTE network testing at the back end of last year and it is now widely known that, if the network doesn’t meet the device vendor’s lofty expectations, the operator will not be given approval.

O2 said that it was waiting on a software update from Apple and a spokesman flatly denied that the firm had failed any kind of tests. But he did confirm that the testing had not been completed, which means the tests have not yet been passed. And if Vodafone is going to be running the device on its LTE network, which launched the same day as O2’s a couple of weeks ago, you’ve got to wonder why…

The Church of Scientology is a beacon of openness and transparency compared to Apple, particularly where the vendor’s relationships with operators are concerned. And operators, for their part, seem in real fear of talking about those relationships. But a source at one of Europe’s leading LTE operators did offer the Informer some insight into the LTE testing process.

Apple’s approval is usually granted a fortnight before an operator begins ranging the product, said the source. Fewer than five executives within this particular operator have access to the testing data, the source said, and each of these must sign a personal NDA with Apple.

“It is standard for operators to be able to internally confirm ranging new Apple devices around two weeks ahead of launch,” said the source. “But if you don’t complete the testing in time then you miss the window.”

The O2 spokesman said that the testing of the new iPhone on its LTE network is ongoing, adding that those customers who do sign up for the 5s or 5c as an LTE device on O2 will receive a £5 discount for the first month, to compensate for the lack of 4G support for the initial period. Great!

O2 talked in terms of “the coming weeks” but the Informer’s European LTE operator source suggested that the next Apple software update might not be released until November. Palms must be sweating at O2UK, which will play havoc with those fingerprint scanners.

O2’s UK competitor EE announced this week that it had signed up its one millionth LTE customer, and in doing so it has become Europe’s largest LTE operator. For some reason EE opted not to mark the occasion with the distribution of cupcakes to the press, which is usually how it celebrates its achievements. Still, a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.

EE had forecast it would hit one million at the end of 2013, so it’s somewhat ahead of the game.

Not as far ahead as operators in South Korea, though. Results released this week from a recent benchmark test carried out by consultancy Signals Research shed light on Carrier Aggregation, Gangnam Style. The LTE Advanced technology is apparently enabling South Korean operators to deliver consistent peaks in excess of 100Mbps and average downlink speeds of 62Mbps.

The testing took place in the actual Gangnam district of Seoul from August 26 to August 29 between the hours of 0330 and 1900 and included a variety of applications such as VoLTE, video telephony, Skype Voice, Skype Video, 1080p video streaming, Google Play and web browsing. The company recorded an average downlink data rate of 62Mbps and a peak downlink data rate of 141Mbps during the testing, having transferred more than 100GB of data over a 3.5 day period. For more on this, go here.

With South Korea, Japan and North America the recognised leaders in LTE, Europe finds itself cast as the hopalong halfwit. EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes wants to change all this and her plans for the creation of a single European telecoms market were revealed this week. While stopping short, as anticipated, of the introduction of a regional super-regulator, harmony was top of the order.

Kroes wants the abolition of roaming rates, co-ordination in spectrum allocation (although the European LTE horse has, if not bolted, then ambled out of the stable), EU-wide protection of net neutrality and simpler rules across the region to enable greater invesmtent and the offering of services across borders.

She also wants to introduce the right for all EU citizens to opt for 12-month postpaid contracts (which will likely accelerate the separation of device purchase and service cost) and for contracts to be written in “plain language”. The package also calls for more consumer protection and grants the right for customers to walk away from their contracts if promised internet speeds are not delivered.

For plenty more detail and assorted reactions you are urged to go here. The Informer will share just one observation from the cynic’s cynic, Bengt Nordström of industry consultancy Northstream, who felt that announcing the new measures with no accompanying report as to what caused the problems in the first place and how the measures address them, was a flawed action.

“All politicians work towards their legacy,” he said. “Neelie Kroes is clearly in this situation given that these are the last years of her career. She’s working on her statue, and we’re paying for it.”

There’s no doubt that European consolidation is underway, both in-market and cross-border. In Germany, Vodafone’s acquisition of Kabel Deutschland won shareholder approval this week from owners of 75 per cent of the company. Vodafone said that if the deal goes through, it will have 32.4 million mobile, five million broadband and 7.6 million direct TV customers in Germany, which will help it compete with the merged O2/EPlus operator, when that acquisition completes

(Brief aside: O2 Germany will be deploying small cells from Alcatel Lucent throughout its 3G network to improve indoor performance, it was announced this week.)

Customers of Kabel Deutschland may not feel happy about the prospect of becoming customers of Vodafone after Vodafone’s German network was hacked on a massive scale this week. The operator was forced to tell two million of its customers that hackers had gained access to their names, addresses, birth dates, genders, bank sort codes and bank account numbers. It was, said Vodafone, a “highly sophisticated and illegal intrusion”.

Vodafone warned affected customers to be on the lookout for phishing attacks in the wake of the breach. “We recommend that customers remain vigilant when asked for their personal data,” the firm said, which is advice it should really have offered those customers when it was the one doing the asking.

In the UK Vodafone has appointed its enterprise director Jeroen Hoencamp to CEO following the announcement that Guy Laurence is off to Canada. Laurence has been poached by Canada’s leading mobile operator Rogers, and will take up his new position on December 2nd. He’s probably out shopping for a nice warm hat as you read this.

In other people news, KPN’s CFO Eric Hageman made an abrupt departure this week, citing personal circumstances. The hunt is on for a replacement and KPN said Hageman’s farewell was nothing to do with the looming America Movil takeover.

In Iraq Amer Al Sunna has been appointed CEO of Asiacell, which has 10.5 million subs and recently completed an IPO on the Iraq Stock Exchange. Previously he served at wi-tribe in Jordan which, like Asiacell, is owned by the recently rebranded Qatari operator Ooredoo.

Ooredoo announced this week that it is to sponsor French sphere-kickers Paris Saint-German. The firm hopes that PSG fans in its core markets of the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia will warm to it as a result, and the two organisations will be embarking on a roster of youth and community work to build on the partnership.

Ooredoo will get a good deal of exposure in France as well, of course, so might it be planning some kind of French adventure? If so then the announcement that Vivendi is looking to spin off mobile operation SFR into a standalone entity might prove timely.

Vivendi said SFR would gain greater freedom on strategy and partnership development as a result of the separation, on which a final decision is expected early next year. SFR is France’s second placed operator, according to Informa’s WCIS, with 22 million subscribers as of June 2013, trailing Orange with 27 million subscribers.

In 2011 Vodafone bagged €7.75bn from the sale of its 44 per cent stake in SFR to Vivendi, bringing to an end an unhappy partnership. It’s not inconceivable that Vodafone might look to make a return if the price is right, although the French market is intensely competitive, even by European standards.

Finally this week Microsoft is offering iPad owners $ 200 if they trade in their Apple tablets for one of Microsoft’s Surface units. The Informer wonders what they plan to do with any iPads that come their way as a result. Destroy them in ritual sacrifice to the Windows gods? Or secretly caress their retina displays with the shameful compulsion of a middle aged man dressing up in his wife’s under garments while she’s at the shops.

Speaking of which…

The Informer

Telecoms.com

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