Free mobile TV in Brazil, Venezuelans’ big spending on BlackBerries, India’s ban on some handsets to combat terrorism – all are part of the wireless world. Here’s a rundown of some recent happenings in a few parts of the globe.
BRAZIL’S MOBILE TV STEPS
Brazilian operator Vivo has taken its first major step toward mobile television with the launch of a USB modem with an integrated digital TV receiver. The MF645 USB modem receives free-to-air digital television channels for viewing on laptops and netbooks.
The service, which is available for free after purchase of the device, is the first of its kind in South America. Its launch was timed to come ahead of the FIFA World Cup in June 2010.
“Sports broadcasting and the evolution of mobile TV go hand-in-hand. Given the football-mad Brazilians and the World Cup in 2010, and with Brazil also hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, there’s fertile ground for mobile TV to really take-off,” says Juniper Research analyst Windsor Holden. “With the help of major sporting events in the coming years, Brazil could prove the first market in South America to make mobile TV a success.”
Several South American countries are expected to launch digital television services over the coming years, including Peru and Venezuela. This could create one of the world’s largest unified mobile DTV markets.
“One big difference between mobile TV in Brazil and the U.S. is that it’s free in Brazil, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for the near future,” says Ronen Jashek, CEO of Siano. Siano’s ISDB-T digital television receiver chip is embedded in Vivo’s USB modem. “AT&T and Verizon have failed to aggressively market mobile television… adoption in the U.S. from end users has been, to say the least, disappointing.”
In the United States, it took MobiTV several years to reach 7 million subscribers, and MedioFlo’s mobile television service with AT&T and Verizon Wireless has had similar problems ramping. MediaFlo recently launched a stand-alone mobile television device independent of its carrier partners, but the $250 device has been met with lukewarm reviews that complained of its screen resolution, limited content and fuzzy reception.
BLACKBERRY WINS BIG IN VENEZUELA
Venezuelans are going nuts for Twitter, particularly on their BlackBerry handsets. Specifically, Venezuelans are using the service to give live traffic updates on the Twitter group Trafico.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has attempted to dissuade citizens from adopting western technology with an annual spending limit of $400 for online purchases and the launch of a $14 feature phone last spring. However, BlackBerry phones have become something of a status symbol in the South American nation and it seems many Venezuelans are spending their $400 on the devices.
According to BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), per-capita adoption of smartphones in Venezuela exceeds that of Europe. Cross platform app store GetJar puts BlackBerry’s market share in Venezuela at 2.59 percent in fall 2009. By comparison, the company estimates BlackBerry’s market share in Europe is just 1.17 percent and under 1 percent in the United States.
Venezuelan telecommunications regulator Conatel reports that the country’s mobile penetration rate is over 100 percent, meaning some subscribers have more than one phone. By the end of June 2009, Venezuela had 27.9 million mobile phone subscriptions, an 8 percent increase over 2008 levels. Telefonica’s chief communications officer for Venezula, Douglas Ochoa, recently told the El Mundo news service that 70 percent of the BlackBerries sold by the operator were sold in Venezuela. Sales of the device in the
Venezuelan market are double those in Brazil and Mexico combined despite Venezuela’s lower population, which at 27 million is a fraction of the population of Brazil and Mexico. About 65 percent of Venezuela’s BlackBerry subscriber base is comprised of consumers, with the remaining 35 percent comprised of enterprise customers.
INDIA BANS SOME HANDSETS AS PART OF TERRORISM PREVENTION EFFORTS
Millions of handsets were deactivated by Indian operators in early December after the Indian Telecom Ministry implemented a ban on cell phones without valid International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers. India is the world’s second-largest mobile phone market with 427 million users behind China, which has 600 million subscribers.
Handsets without a valid 15-digit IMEI code are prolific in India, accounting for about 30 percent of all sales, according to the Indian Cellular Association. The low-cost, unbranded phones are imported primarily from China.
India banned the devices in an effort to boost security after it was found that terrorists were using handsets without valid IMEI numbers to trigger bombs. Up to 25 million devices may have lost service as a result of the ban.
The ban left consumers two options: purchase a new handset with a valid identification number or have one installed on an existing SIM card. Indian news outlets reported that thousands of customers lined up outside outlets where they could have a valid IMEI number installed during the days surrounding the ban.
This is not the first time India has targeted cell phones as part of its terrorism prevention efforts. The Indian government ordered wireless providers in Jammu and the dispute Kashmir region to stop issuing SIM cards for prepaid handsets and to not recharge prepaid connections after Nov. 1. The ban on prepaid service affected 3.8 million subscribers across the region.
Indian authorities say terrorists use the prepaid devices to detonate bombs and avoid detection. The ban sparked widespread protests by Kashmir-Jammu residents, many of whom are impoverished and unable to afford postpaid services. The Indian government has given no indication it intends to lift the ban in the Kashmir-Jammu region, which is India’s only Muslim-majority state.
CANADIAN CUSTOMERS GET CHOICE OF IPHONE CARRIERS
Canadian subscribers can now get the iPhone from four different carriers: Bell, Telus, Rogers and Fido, which is a subsidiary of Rogers. The in-demand smartphone was first only available with Rogers and Fido because they were the only Canadian carriers with a GSM/UMTS network. Bell and Telus recently upgraded their respective networks to 3G with an HSPA overlay that allowed them to support the iPhone.
The addition of Bell and Telus as iPhone carriers gives Canadian iPhone customers the most options of any other country in picking a service provider. The handset is available from just two carriers in the United Kingdom and is currently only available with AT&T in the United States. The iPhone is now available in more than 80 countries across the globe, from Botswana to Russia.
While popular in many countries, the iPhone isn’t always met with success. China Unicom said it had just 5,000 iPhone users five days after the phone was launched in late October.
By comparison, Apple said it sold more than 1 million of the iPhone 3GS within three days of the device’s June launch in eight countries. The release of the device led to the best-ever sales day at AT&T stores, according to an unofficial memo leaked to the media shortly after the its launch. It took Apple and AT&T 74 days to sell the first million of the devices during its initial launch in 2007.
China’s booming gray market is partially to blame for flagging sales of the iPhone in that country, according to analysts. The iPhone’s official carrier, China Unicom, is selling the device for upwards of $700. The official Chinese version of the phone does not yet have Wi-Fi to comply with government regulations. Counterfeit versions and smuggled devices are cheaper and have Wi-Fi capabilities. It’s estimated that about 2 million of the gray-market devices are currently in use.
STOLEN BELGIAN IPHONES SURFACE IN RUSSIA
Reports have emerged that 4,000 iPhone 3GS devices stolen from the warehouse of Belgian operator Mobistar are beginning to turn up on the Russian black market. The devices are worth up to $3 million, according to Russian blog iPhone.ru.
The unlocked handsets, dubbed “Europeans,” were reportedly offered to wholesalers in Moscow’s Gorbushka electronics market in batches of 100 for well below market price. Gorbushka is reputed to be Europe’s largest market for illegal, black market and pirated electronic goods.
Buying the devices is a bit of a gamble for retailers. Interpol may order operators to disable the missing iPhone’s IMEI number, therefore disabling the device.
The iPhone is legally available in Russia but its adoption has been hampered by the device’s unsubsidized cost, which was over $1,000 when the phone was first introduced. Russia’s three largest carriers, Vimpelkom, Megafon and MTS, are obliged to sell 3.5 million iPhones over two years under their contract with Apple, according to several Russian news reports. The carriers have reportedly sold just over 250,000 devices since its launch and face the possibility of stiff fines over their inability to fulfill the terms of their contract with Apple.
The sluggish sales of the device prompted Russian carriers to cease purchasing more of the devices and have launched unsuccessful attempts to get Apple to lower the iPhone’s wholesale cost. Negotiations over the iPhone 3GS deadlocked on issues of distribution and price, according to reports, so for now, it looks as though Russians will not get the device through legitimate means.