Archive for January, 2013

Too little, too late for Blackberry?

bb_new

Something incredible happened last week. Over at Telecoms.com, The Informer, revealed that Nokia has made a profit. Yes Nokia. An actual profit. At least in Q412. It was €439m, and, just for handy comparison, Apple made $8.2 billion in the same time period. Still, while I’m not great at maths, I know a profit is better than a loss. Of course, it still made a massive loss overall in 2012, but for a company that everyone had pretty much given up the ghost on it’s a welcome, if surprising, bud of recovery.

Today another company is looking to return from the near dead. RIM, the Canadian owner of the Blackberry brand was once synonymous with phones that were smart, (email – in your pocket! Wow!) but times have changed. In 2010 RIM had 14 per cent of the smartphone market. In 2012 it was four per cent. Again, I’m not great at maths but… it clearly can’t continue to drop at the same rate as by the end of 2013 it wouldn’t exist.

So what’s the plan?

The plan is Blackberry 10 – an OS the company has bet the farm on. Things haven’t gone to plan so far though, and the OS, which was due to arrive in mid-2012 has been delayed not once, but twice.

However, as I type, are announcing Blackberry 10 OS and two new handsets to go with it – the touchscreen only Z10, which will feature LTE support, and a keyboard equipped X10 (because as we know, hardcore Blackberry fans will only give up their physical keyboard equipped handsets if you prise them from their cold, dead hands).

The Z10 is the flagship device and early reviews have been mixed. Joseph Volpe, Engadget tech site journalist described the hardware to the BBC as a, “full-on Monet, to borrow a line from the movie Clueless – attractive from afar, but disappointing up-close.” It seems that only Apple is able to churn out devices that have a truly premium look and feel.

As for the software, some analysts and tech journalists have had a preview and reports seem to be positive – a cool UI, and fast switching between apps and the BlackBerry Hub, which combines all your messaging services (email, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook etc.) into one location, are highlights.

Gartner’s Phillip Redmam has said that Blackberry 10 offers the best UI on the market, and that it has comeback potential. Stuart Jeffrey, Nomura Securities analyst observes that there is pent-up demand for new Blackberry’s from its existing fans, so there’s still a core market to tap into. I’ve always found it rather bizarre that this audience seems to be either be-suited, lawyer types, or streetwise, hooded, sexting obsessed teens.

At the launch the company made some smart moves, changing the company name from RIM, to Blackberry, which is what most people called it anyway. However, the show was clearly not up to the standard of Apple’s keynotes – PC Pro’s News Editor Nicole Kobie described RIM, sorry, Blackberry’s CEO Thorsten Heins as having, “all the charisma of a cheese sandwich.”

All the more impressive then that despite its precarious position in the market Blackberry has managed to line up a strong suite of names to offer apps compatible with BB10 OS – Skype, Amazon Kindle, SAP, Whatsapp, Angry Birds (this one is the most crucial, obviously), which at least prevents it from being a lame duck on day one. (Blackberry Playbook, I’m looking at you).

And with the flagship Z10 offering LTE it will be able to keep up with the rest of the competition. At least in the US – it supports LTE 700/850/1700/1900MHz, – but not 1800MHz, meaning that if it’s to support the UK and Australia it’s going to have to release a separate flavour capable on 800MHz and 1800MHz and 2.6GHz. So can RIM ­‑ sorry, sorry – Blackberry, make a comeback? Well the jury is not so much out, as having announced that it is leaving the igloo and may be some time.

So can RIM ­‑ sorry, sorry – Blackberry, make a comeback? Well the jury is not so much out, as having announced that it is leaving the igloo and may be some time.

Yesterday I talked to Bengt Nordstrom, co-founder and CEO of strategic wireless business consultancy, Northstream. Will we be reading next year of a Nokia-like bud, showing signs of recovery?

No, he said. (Nordstrom is never one to mince his words). Blackberry’s time has passed was his view. “It was a phenomenal thing. It was unique when it came 10 years ago but that era is over- we’ve moved on. I don’t think there is any way back”

Based in Sweden, Nordstrom expressed his surprise in the continued interest in Blackberrys that he sees in London and other parts of the world. “Every time I come here and Indonesia or the Middle East, Blackberry is big. The lawyers love it!”

So there we are, back to the  lawyers. And when you’re relying on those who practice the dark arts for your continued success you know you’re in trouble.

Blackberry will be taking part in a panel discussion on content and OTT applications at the LTE MENA 2013 conference, so if you can make it to Dubai on the 12th-14th May, download a brochure so you can find out more.

LTE in Africa: The Race is On!

AfricaA recent prediction from Deloitte has forecasted that 2013 will see an upsurge in the momentum behind LTE mobile networks globally, with LTE thriving across multiple markets. But what role will Africa play in this global upsurge?

While LTE has hit the mainstream in more developed markets such as Asia, North America and Japan, Africa still remains at the early stages of its LTE development with very low LTE subscription numbers and limited coverage. Although far behind its global peers, LTE has certainly started to make an impact in Africa, with operators launching LTE services in five African countries just last year (see table below).

Operator Country Launch date
Movicel Angola April 2012
Orange Mauritius Mauritius June 2012
Smile Tanzania June 2012
MTC Namibia Namibia May 2012
Vodacom South Africa October 2012
MTN South Africa October 2012
Unitel Angola December 2012

 

 

 

 

 
Major players in South Africa have expressed their ambition to move to LTE with Vodacom and MTN both commercially launching LTE services, while Cell C and 8ta are currently in the trial stages.
Airtel Nigeria has also demonstrated its commitment to LTE, successfully completing its LTE trials in Lagos. As Africa’s biggest mobile market with over 100 million mobile subscriptions, there is significant potential for LTE in Nigeria.

In the competitive mobile market, African operators appear keen to be the first ones to bring these high-end services to customers and gain an early mover advantage. More recently, MTN Uganda announced its plans to deploy a 4G network in Uganda, which would make it the first operator to offer LTE technology in East Africa.

However, LTE will not be without its challenges in Africa. Issues surrounding spectrum availability, coverage and a lack of fibre and devices all pose obstacles to its development in the continent. LTE requires an entirely new technology infrastructure and therefore initial rollout costs for operators will be high. In addition, LTE may be out of financial reach for many customers in Africa with the high cost of mobile data that comes with 4G, deepening the ‘digital divide’.

However, as operators battle to strengthen their position in the mobile market the long-term benefits of LTE appear to outweigh the initial costs. Mobile operators in Africa are therefore eager to implement 4G and meet the needs of growing subscriber demand for data-driven services

Mazen Mroué, MTN Uganda Chief Executive Officer has said that LTE has become “the new standard”, while Kenya’s Essar Telecom has announced its strategy to skip 3G altogether and invest directly in LTE.

As strategies are put into place and operators race to rollout the technology, 2013 will be an important year for LTE in Africa. It’s fitting then that this year will also see the launch of Africa’s first dedicated LTE event, LTE Africa on 16-17 July 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.  Bringing together the key players in the African LTE industry, the event will address the strategic and technical issues facing the market and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Click here to view the preliminary agenda. To find out more information download the flyer here.

EE puts LTE in January sales

This is a guest post by Mike Hibberd, editorial director at Telecoms.com, Mobile Communications International magazine and Banking Technology. Follow him @telecomshibberd

EE

Last year, with a deft move that left its competitors fuming, Everything Everywhere became the first UK operator to offer LTE services. This week, as Ofcom’s LTE spectrum auction got underway, Everything Everywhere has become—rather less auspiciously—the first UK operator to slash its LTE retail charges.

Most notable was the special promotion that will give customers 500MB of LTE data, and the standard unlimited domestic calls and texts for £31/month over 24 months with a handset for less than £30. That’s cheap.

At the high end, consumers that EE profiles as “super users” can spend £46/month for 20GB of data with a SIM-only plan if they sign up before the end of next month.

EE says that these are time-limited special offers but price-cutting tends to be a one-way journey. Even if these tariffs do revert to more significant premiums, other offers will take their place. Especially when Vodafone, O2 and 3UK deploy their own offerings.

These players, along with EE, are currently stacking their chips on the green baize of Ofcom’s gambling table. You wonder what they make of EE’s announcement as they weigh their wallets. It’s not the most positive of messages about the prospects for LTE operators in the UK—EE only launched in November and the prices are already coming down.

Unfortunately, and unlike the 3G auction, this game is being played behind closed doors so we won’t know if EE’s retail re-jigs will affect any other player’s valuation on the spectrum until the process has concluded.

We can draw a few conclusions from EE’s pricing tactics, though. First, the firm knows that its LTE lead is running out fast and it wants to wring every advantage from it that it can. Second, money is tight and the market is price sensitive at the moment. Third, and most worrying for EE and its competitors, faster network speeds just aren’t enough of a draw for consumers in the immediate term.

Consider that EE is cutting its prices in the face of no comparable network offering from any of its competitors. We’re used to hearing about price cuts because of intense competition; price cuts in a monopoly are somewhat less common.

The reality, of course, is that EE’s LTE network has plenty of competition, from the UK market’s 3G HSPA networks (EE’s own included).

Why should the end user pay even EE’s reduced rate of £31/month for 500MB of LTE data and a limited range of handsets when they can pay £26/month for 1GB of data at HSPA+ rates and get the Nexus 4 for free? This makes more sense financially to the consumer because consumers value the device more than they value the network.

Now this is bitterly unfair, because the network is the most complicated part of the mobile service and by far the most expensive to deploy and maintain. But it is a fact—and one that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Which is why operators need to be given as much flexibility as possible in their deployment of LTE networks. Ofcom is publicly committed to maintaining the number of separately owned and operated LTE networks in the UK market; it is one of the goals of this auction. And yet as our Telecoms.com Intelligence Industry Survey 2013 reveals, 65 per cent of respondents believe that network sharing is essential to the profitability of LTE. Not a useful tool to improve cost management, but essential to profitability.

EE will be speaking at the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a flyer for the event.

Interview: CEO, P1 networks, Malaysia: “Once speed is there more innovation will come”

Michael Lai, CEO OF Malaysian operator Packet One is delivering one of the keynotes on Day One of the inaugural TD-LTE summit, taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Ahead of the show we speak to him about the challenges the company faces during its on-going transition from WiMAX to LTE.

Michael_Lai

Michael Lai, CEO of Packet One Networks, Malaysia

Packet One Networks (P1), led by the irrepressible Michael Lai (one of the members of the influential GTI Steering Committee), has been one of the star players in the Malaysia region for data, coming from a standing start in 2009 to delivering a service that covers 55 per cent of the Malaysian population, with a subscriber base of over 500,000 customers.

However, as with all data focused operators that looked to capture market share in the previous decade, the technology it is based on is WiMAX. Clearly, the global trend is for operators to move away from WiMAX towards LTE, and P1 is no different. Indeed, it has been eagerly waiting for its opportunity to offer LTE to its customers and to take advantage of the growing LTE eco-system.

That moment came in early December 2012, when it was finally awarded the spectrum it needed. “[Back in December 2012] we were awarded 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum, for which we are truly excited and we are very glad that our regulator has finally given us the go ahead to roll out TD-LTE.” Michael Lai also stated said that P1 plans to launch a TD-LTE service in the second half of 2013.

Of course, P1 wasn’t the only network to be allocated spectrum and the next 12 months promises to be challenging as it starts to face real competition in the supply of 4G data. “Next year there will be more of a level playing field from a technology perspective, so we will have to be a lot more innovative in terms of what we bring to market compared to what we have today,” Lai admits.

The transition from WiMAX to LTE won’t be immediate Lai says. The plan is to first overlay TD-LTE technology in its busiest areas before moving out to other areas of the region.” It will be two to three years before everything completely moves over to TD-LTE,” Lai predicts.

Considering the similarities in the technologies, the use of TD-LTE over FD LTE, makes a lot of sense for P1, Lai explains. Both technologies employ unpaired spectrum and the greater amounts of downloading compared to uploading that fits most people’s internet usage, fits well with the Time Division flavour of LTE, thus maximising the efficiency of the airwaves.

P1’s commitment to furthering the TD-LTE cause has recently been recognised by the fact that it has been added to the steering committee of the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI). Along with new members E-Plus and KT it now joins an exclusive club that consist of big players such as Bharti Airtel, Softbank, Clearwire, Vodafone and China Mobile.

This is indeed the reason why P1 is moving from WiMAX – to take advantage of a growing eco-system that brings with it economies of scale and the lower prices for devices. “The economies of scale will definitely depend on the movement of the biggest guys such as China Mobile,” Lai observes.

“While we can do a software upgrade on half of our current base stations right now, if we upgrade right away without the eco-system in place, the prices for [devices] will be US$500-1000, which is simply too high. So we will launch in the second-half of next year, depending on how fast the eco-system comes into place. It is going very well so far – we’ll be monitoring it very closely. By the second half of 2013 the dongles and the fixed wireless modem for TD-LTE will be there – it’s just a matter of the price at that point in time. And if China Mobile starting to officially launch next year, they will truly lower the prices of all TD-LTE devices.”

As a data-only player dongles and fixed-line modems are a priority but Lai also has his eye on handsets.  “In the second half of next year, I believe that you will start seeing a small screen smartphone hopefully coming on board as well. But again, it’s what kind of volume it will have, and what kind of model.”

Is he hoping for the big one – a TD-LTE enabled iPhone?

“You can’t run away from the two major US platforms, which are iOS and Android. So to have TD-LTE on a multi-mode, multi-band iPhone or Samsung Android that are compatible with 3G and GSM would be ideal for us – at the right price point.”

As well as the price of devices, the pricing of data in an LTE world is one of the major controversy’s currently raging in the carrier world. Lai is clear though that unlimited data will not be on the cards for P1. “There will not be unlimited, all-you-can-eat [data], which I think most operators are moving away from. You need to manage expectations very well. In terms of value we are positioning LTE to continue to provide value for money in terms of cost-per-bit.”

Lai says that P1 that right now offers better value for money than its 3G rivals. “At the same price point [in Malaysia] 3G operators are offering 5GB, [while] we are actually offering our consumers 15GB right now. [And] we are currently doing it on a big screen, which is even more demanding. Over average volume of data per subscription is currently 17GB per month – mostly for fixed wireless modem [connections].

As a company that is consistently looking to innovate it’s no surprise to find that P1 is already looking at LTE Advanced. “It’s definitely on a roadmap to move from Rev 8/9 to 10,” Lai says. “I think the standard still needs to be finalised even though some vendors have claimed to have done trials on TD-LTE Advanced. But definitely there’s a roadmap. It’s exciting, as that’s when you’ll get theoretically 1Gbps. It’s fibre in the air, without fibre!”

Lai though is not just excited about speed for speeds sake. He also believes that superfast mobile speeds will bring innovative services along with them in their wake.

“When the network is there, at a super high rate, then a lot more innovation will come. And that’s proven over and over again. Take the Korean example; with the high speed broadband they have in the country a lot of innovation has happened in the last ten years. The same with LTE – once the speed is there a lot more innovation will come. Things you could not even image today will start happening.”

He’s confident though that the LTE adventure will be a positive one. “It will be a win-win for all I think.  A win for consumer, for the content provider, and a win for network provider as well. If we can continue to bring benefits for the subscribers and as the same time continue to do better then why not – the business model will start to happen.”

Michael Lai, CEO OF Malaysian operator Packet One is delivering one of the keynotes on Day One of the inaugural TD-LTE Summit, taking place on the 23rd-24th April 2013 at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel, Singapore. Click here to download the brochure

 

LTE launch strategies webinar – What’s working and what isn’t

webinar

Informa Telecoms & Media, of which we are a part, regularly conducts Webinar’s conducted by its analysts.

This link is to a recent webinar entitled “LTE launch strategies – What’s working and what isn’t” led by Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst Operator Strategy, and Thomas Wehmeier, Principal Analyst, Operator Strategy.

If you want to listen to it in full, get yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and strap in as it’s an hour long, or if you’re time starved you can just take a look at the slides.

Highlights include a look at which operators have had the most success, what are some of the lessons learned by those that have launched, what new services have been used to indicate the benefits of LTE, and what the prospects are for revenue generation.

LTE at CES 2013

CES-2013The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the glitzy tech-fest that takes place in Las Vegas ever January, is over for another year. Last year LTE featured heavily with many manufacturers choosing to announce their new-fangled LTE handsets there, ahead of the traditional mobile launchpad that is the Mobile World Congress in February.

However, as LTE is starting to become mainstream there was less activity on the LTE front, but there was still enough  related announcements to give us something to talk about.

T-Mobile announces LTE

T-Mobile USA is the one major network not to have launched an LTE network yet and its CTO Neville Ray made the revelation that the network would finally be launching its LTE network in a matter of weeks. It’s had 4G for some time of course, via the oh-so-clever ruse of telling everyone that its 42Mbps HSPA+ network was 4G. (It is in fact faster than LTE in spectrum constrained locations, but while HSPA+ is the end of the road for UMTS, LTE is just the start for the technology).

T-mobile-4G-LTE

Excitingly for T-Mobile customers the iPhone 5 could finally arriving on the network bringing the network up to date with pretty much everyone else.

Ray hinted that it wanted LTE to have been launched in Las Vegas in time of the show, but it didn’t quite make the schedule. Still, if it does launch, any day now, it’s still in advance of the initial plans that had T-Mobile launch in mid-2013 and the company how hopes to have a total of 100m covered by that time.

Verizon bigs up its LTE network

The world’s biggest LTE player Verizon also used CES to show off some impressive stats. It’s CEO Lowell McAdam revealed that its LTE network covers 89 per cent of its footprint just two years after it started and it will be finished its roll out mid-2013, well ahead of its rivals.

verizon-4g-lte

In car LTE

In car LTE is becoming a thing. At CES Audi unveiled its latest A3 with LTE build in, courtesy of a Gobi multi-mode 3G/LTE Qualcomm chip. “”We will soon be offering a fully integrated LTE link for our Audi connect services in the new Audi A3 in 2013,” said Ricky Hudi, chief Audi executive engineer.”

The integrated LTE will provide connectivity for up to eight devices in the car. That’s impressive considering that only five passengers can fit in the A3 at once. I guess that’s two each for the four passengers and none for the driver, which is probably best.

Infotainment-Driver-3-resized

RIM, owners of the drowning Blackberry brand, also unveiled an LTE related car to showcase its QNX platform, using a black 2012 Bentley Continental GT. Subtle.

Nvidia Tegra 4 chipset
Nvidia gained a lot of attention at CES for its ‘Shield’ concept, a portable games console powered by its Tegra 4 chipset, running Android yet with dedicated gaming controls – essentially a marriage of the PSP concept with an Android smartphone. Of interest to us though was the LTE support in the newly announced Tegra 4.

The Tegra 4 features an Icera soft-modem. The soft-modem has the advantage of being able to be software updated, which can’t be done with a fixed hardware solution, and this will utilised soon as while it support Category 3 LTE at launch, this is said to be updated to Category 4 in due course. However the downside is that it draws more power than fixed hardware, which for today’s currently battery constrained smartphones isn’t good news. As LTE hits the mainstream it will be interesting to see how many smartphone design wins Tegra 4 gets in 2013.

NV-softy

The road to LTE

history_of_telecomsWhile we all are interested in the latest LTE developments, it’s always good to see how it fits in to the wider story of mobile communications.

The website Electronic Design has a good brief article on how we have got to LTE and there’s a link to another article on LTE Advanced at the bottom. Interesting reading.

Interview: “VoLTE is set to play [an] important role within our LTE strategy”: Master Expert System Architect Network, Eplus-gruppe.

Dietmar KohnenmergenThe E-Plus Group is the third largest mobile network operator in Germany, with just over 20 per cent market share. Ahead of the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013 at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands, we speak to Dietmar Kohnenmergen, Master Expert System Architect Network for E-Plus Gruppe about its preparation for launching LTE and the issues around diameter signaling.

What have been the major developments around LTE in your region this year?

For E-Plus Gruppe, the major developments have been an IP RAN rollout and the introduction of EPC and associated testing.

Do you feel the people still need to be educated as to what Diameter signaling is?

The experts are quite familiar with Diameter signalling issues, but the operational teams still need some education.

What are the key issues around Diameter that the industry needs to be aware of?

The primary issues are E-signalling load protection and adaptation to the various needs of the different Diameter flavours.

How can these key issues be solved?

From our perspective the introduction of a Diameter Router Agent is one of the most promising solutions for solving diameter issues.

What are the other technical challenges around LTE that you expect to face in the next 12 months?

The introduction of Circuit-Switched Fall Back (CSFB) with acceptable performance will be a major challenge for us. The other challenge will be the preparation of the BSS systems in time for our LTE launch.

Where are you on VoLTE and RCS? Are these important to your LTE strategy?

VoLTE is in preparation phase, whereas our plans around RCS have not been decided yet. VoLTE is set to play a more important role within our LTE strategy.

Dietmar Kohnenmergen will be giving a presentation on diameter signaling at the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a flyer for the event.

Also put a date in your diary now for the inaugural LTE Voice Summit, taking place in London on the 23rd-24th October 2013. Click here NOW to download a flyer.

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