Archive for February, 2012

LTE shaping up to be the biggest buzzword of Mobile World Congress 2012

Are you happy with your mobile phone? Want to keep it for the next two years? You’re probably in the wrong industry then. The chances are that if you’re reading this you’ll be at the Mobile World Congress next week, along with the great and the good of the mobile industry, or at least, the mobile industry, and eagerly awaiting to see what everyone, bar Apple of course, will be doing over the next few months.

MWC gives us the themes and notes that we can expect in mobile handsets in Europe for the next 12 months, so it will be interesting to see what’s on offer from an LTE perspective. In fact, my hunch is that that LTE could be the dominant buzzword coming out of the show by the end.

From a UK perspective, it all seems a little bit more enticing following the news the Everything Everywhere has said it’s putting its ducks in a row to get an LTE network operating by the end of 2012 using refarmed 1800MHz spectrum. With the auction of 2.6MHZ/800MHz spectrum not happening until Q4 2012, the chances of any LTE action in the UK happening until late 2013 seeming unlikely, so this is a boost.

There have been some LTE networks in Europe but as far as LTE handsets go, the US has had all the love so far. By the time you read this the Samsung Galaxy II LTE should be available for the lucky few on TeliaSonera’s LTE network in Sweden, while Vodafone Germany will be able to get their mitts on the HTC Velocity 4G. Speaking of HTC, it will be seeing MWC as a crucial event in which to re-establish itself as being relevant, having been eclipsed as the leader by Samsung.

Indeed, LG has been resurgent and we already know that Chinese manufacturer ZTE will be realised two new handsets, the PF200 and the N910, naturally both running Android. LG is rumoured to launch the LTE flavoured Optimus Vu and Optimus LTE

We’ll be keen to see what other manufacturers will be doing LTE wise. We’ll be keeping a particular eye on the announcements from Nokia to see how its relationship with Microsoft is bearing fruit. Nokia recently opened an LTE lab in California and it also has facilities in Finland and France, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see something LTE related hardware for Europe appearing.

Then there’s the new look Sony Mobile, freshly divested of its Ericsson partner. That said, it might still be launching Sony Ericsson branded handsets that were put together before the divorce, but I can’t image that they will be LTE ready.

My hunch is that there will be a good few LTE handsets – but not a flood, and that next year every new handset worth its salt will be LTE capable.

Chipset wise, Nvidia has just announced a partnership with GCT Semiconductor and Renesas Mobile to build LTE enabled chipsets around is quad-core Tegra 3 chip. Tegra 3 appears in many devices from the likes of LTE so it’s a clear indicator of the way the market is moving.

Nvidia is trying to increase its market share in the mobile chip space ahead of the likes of Qualcomm as it Intel. It will be interesting to see if the latter can actually come up with a compelling smartphone play that handset manufacturers will want to adopt. As in powerful, natch, but also able to last more than 10 minutes in the battery stakes. (Breath holding not recommended).

Finally, along with LTE, NFC is another TLA that we should see bandied about with relish and abandon at MWC. Just BTW, FYI.

Are you going to MWC? What are you looking forward to the most? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Public and vendors to suffer most from LightSquared debacle

It’s been a week now since the FCC finally downed LightSquared’s plans to build a terrestrial LTE network in the US, by suspending its waiver that permitted the  building of such a network using satellite spectrum.

As had long been feared, the objections of the GPS industry proved too much for  the FCC to stomach, and it took the recommendations of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at face value. These said that based on the report from the executive committee for Space-based Positioning Navigation & Timing (PNT), LightSquared’s terrestrial network would significantly interfere with GPS devices, from in-car dash devices to aircraft systems.

As Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president for Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy observed, GPS has become, “too big to fail”. The technical truth of the matter is that it is the GPS devices that leak into LightSquared licensed spectrum, but in the final reality that mattered not a jot. GPS has got their first, and the fact that it had been allowed to be lazy and messy with its technical implementations when there was no neighbours to worry about was a moot point.

LightSquared high profile hedge-fund backed Philip Falcone has pumped billions into the LightSquared terrestrial network, which now seems to have been a bad move. If you’re in any danger of feeling sorry for Falcone though, reading this Vanity Fair profile should do the trick and put that to rest, but it is more than permissible to feel sorry for Joe Public. LightSquared would certainly have given US consumers more choice for mobile broadband that the incumbents such as AT&T and Verzion. With the size of the US market it’s likely that it would have benefitted the market worldwide due to economies of scale. As it stands, it’s not going to happen, and that’s a shame.

It’s also pretty bad news for the 30 or so customers that had signed up to use its network. Not least is struggling vendor Nokia Siemens Networks. The joint venture was already wobbling, amidst loss of support from its parents companies and a ever more competitive market. As such, the loss of a $7 billion dollar deal to build out LightSquared’s network of base stations would have to be a massive setback .

Significantly, shares from Clearwire, Sprint’s WiMAX partner that is now building out an LTE network, were up 5 per cent on the news off the FCC judgement. Seems LightSquared’s situation isn’t bad news for everyone then.

Is the UK holding up LTE smartphones?

It seems that I was wrong the other day about HTC bringing the first LTE phone to Europe via Vodafone. While the HTC is little while off, according to ITWorld, the Samsung Galaxy S II LTE is apparently winging its way to stores in Sweden. The country, along with Norway, has had an LTE service since TeliaSonera launched in 2009, making it one of the first launches in the world. However, up till now there have been no smartphones available, which compares unfavourably with the US, which has a whole bunch on offer on AT&T, Verizon and even ‘lil ol’ Metro PCS.

The reason is simply one of economies of scale. As all LTE phone in the US operate on one of the 700MHz bands and there’s quite a large market, it’s worth it for it for Samsung and HTC to produce LTE phones. In Europe, LTE has been scarcer than a train running on time on my work commute, so there’s been little incentive for the device manufacturers to produce one.

Now it seems that smartphones are beginning to trickle through, and no doubt we’ll see a lot more LTE related announcement at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks. What we want is it to turn into a flood and the damn holding it back though is likely to be the UK (damn UK).

It might not be the largest but there’s no doubt that the UK is one of the major markets in Europe, and as the LTE auction isn’t even taking place until later in the year no one is expecting a live network until 2014 at the earliest. The sluggishness of the UK market could well have a knock on effect on the whole of the European smartphone LTE market. Once European users start carrying LTE enabled handset it might spur the UK operators to make sure they stop their bickering and press on with their LTE plans.

Samsung beating HTC to the punch is also another blow for the Taiwanese manufacturer which has recently been struggling with poor recent results, mainly down to the rise of Samsung’s Galaxy line.

Is there an LTE network on its way near you? Do you already use LTE but are you frustrated at the lack of a compatible handset?

Selling LTE: Is Verizon getting it wrong?

In the UK we tend to think of LTE as something of a specialist subject due to the fact that the average ‘normal’ person on the street hasn’t heard of it. That’s fair enough, as it’s not coming to these isles until 2014 at the earliest, and probably 20014 if the operators are allowed to drag their heels. But that’s another story. In the US however, it’s mainstream enough for Saturday Night Live to run a skit, making fun of Verizon’s advertising of the service.

The customer walks in and is clearly savvy enough to ask the sales rep to tell him more about ‘4G LTE’, and is then promptly bamboozled by a stream of confusing network specifications.

Best lines? “1 song, 4 seconds.” Puzzled look. “The song is four seconds?”

After being flung a list of buzzy Android phone names he asks, “What happens if I drop it down the toilet?” Response. “It breaks immediately”.

Tagline? “Verizon – an old person’s nightmare”

(Apologies for poor screen cam quality, but original not available on YOuTube due to draconian location limitations – (i.e. you’re outside of the US? But there’s nothing outside of the US!).

The point is clear. Verizon might be well known as the LTE leader in the US, but is doing a poor job at communicating the benefits of the technology and the gadgets that come with it. Lesson to other operators – do it better.

It might be terribly predictable to say, but there is one company that will do a probably better job of explaining why LTE is great, while offering a simpler, clear strategy to deliver it to customers via a single device. And they’ll probably do it this summer. Answer on a post card below. No prizes.

Has LTE hurt HTC?

LTE has been a drain on HTC fortunes. Can it do better in 2012?

It seems that things aren’t going so well for Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, after it reported lower than expected quarterly earnings, bringing to and end four quarters of growth. Oops.

For a company that was famed for its stratospheric rise into public consciousness, it’s a bit of a come down. HTC was known to mobile aficionados, (or geeks as they are more commonly known), as the manufacturers behind early smartphones such as the Windows Mobile powered Orange SPV. It first introduced a touch screen device in 2007 (called the HTC Touch – brilliant) just before the iPhone was released. When Android came along HTC was able to really express itself though, producing powerful, affordable, quality hardware, married to an advanced, cutting-edge OS, enhanced, in the main, with its own ‘Sense’ overlay. It was a successful formula – and led to it quickly becoming the standard bearer for Android.

In fact, consumers were soon talking about an ‘HTC’ as a rival for the iPhone, rather than an ‘Android’.  No mean feat.

However, it turns out the problem wasn’t Apple, it was Samsung. The Korean manufacturer has stolen its thunder as the goto Android alternative, with its Galaxy line taking over from ‘HTC’ as that ‘not-an-iPhone’ brand leader. Samsung quadrupled its smarthone sales in 2011 compared to 2010 and with the iPhone leaving hot cakes in the shade for umpteenth year running, it’s been at the expense of HTC rather than Apple.

So what is the problem for HTC? A big issue in the US is that instead of technical leadership, in 2011 it became known for producing too many phones that were hard to differentiate. It’s also clear that LTE hindered rather than helped. The phones were generally 3G devices with LTE functionality bolted on. This obviously requires a lot of power, but HTC tended to keep the batteries relatively thin, in order to avoid burdening the phones, and the users pockets, with an even larger footprint.  iOS5.0 battery issue Snafu aside, Apple also puts a lot of work into battery life optimisation, which is inevitably harder to do when OS and manufacturer are not vertically aligned.

The end result is that HTC LTE phones have quickly became known as power hungry clunky bricks rather that the technical, speedy tour-de-forces that it probably had intended. Not cool.

Indeed HTC’s top brass have come out and said as much, with its CFO admitted that it had “dropped the ball” with its recent line-up. In comparison, Apple’s reserved and patient approach to LTE looks ever more sensible.

A Nokia 6310 – last charged in 2003, and still going. Fully multimedia too – Calls AND texts.

LTE in Europe is still limited and HTC and Samsung have clearly been concentrating on the 700MHz LTE frequencies used in the States as that’s where the volume is right now but HTC has just announced that the Velocity is coming to Vodafone Germany soon. As LTE starts to roll out in the Europe and the Middle-East though, we could soon be faced with the same LTE-induced battery pain that the US has (One advantage of the UK not having LTE until the mid 22nd century, (probably), is that the chipsets will at least decidedly mature and the chronic battery issues will presumably be sorted. Presumably).

So if you’re in Europe will you be jumping on board with LTE as soon as you can get your mits on a smartphone? Will you keep your phone and go with a Mifi device? Wait for the iPhone 5? Or see how it all pans out and just stick with your Nokia 6310. Now that was a phone…

Captain Kirk to get LTE, but will he be able to roam?

Courtesy of U.S. Cellular, LTE is coming to Riverside, Iowa, future birth place of James T Kirk. Phew.

This week saw more progress in the US LTE market, with the news that U.S. Cellular would be launching an LTE network in March. It’s good news, especially for the future of intergalactic space travel. By this I mean, of course, that U.S. Cellular says that it will be covering the state of Iowa with LTE, which, as we all know, is where Captain Kirk will be born in the year 2225. (Well, at least in the original series, as opposed to the alternative timeline introduced in the 2009 movie where Kirk in born is space, but raised in Iowa. OK. Um.. too geeky?Um.. what were we talking about? OK, LTE in the US. Right).

U.S. Cellular said that it would offer two devices that would operate on its network; a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and a Samsung Galaxy Aviator 4G LTE. One issue this throws up is roaming. And not across the reaches of the galaxy either but simply across the US.

Although all US carriers operate LTE at 700MHz, they do so at different band plans and so aren’t necessarily compatible. It took a while for people to realise that you wouldn’t be able to roam between AT&T and Verizon. However, it seems that U.S. Cellular and Verizon both will use 700MHz A and B blocks, so they should theoretically be compatible as far as LTE roaming is concerned. Whether it will actually happen though, we’ll have to wait and see, but if it doesn’t happen, the attraction of LTE on U.S. Cellular could be severely curtailed for anyone that has to move outside of its footprint. It’s an issue that will become increasingly important as users get used to LTE. Once they have it at home, they’ll want it on the move – at least if they’re company is paying for the no doubt eye watering roaming charges. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on how the US solves it internally, as it could well have implications for the rest of the world too.

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