Phone Features Largely Ignored in U.S.
By Evan Koblentz
What do people really do with their wireless phones? Not always what the Tier 1 carriers, handset companies and mobile content providers would have you think. According to NPD Group, a massive 45% of U.S. mobile phone users just make telephone calls.
“Only 20% of mobile phone users prefer to use their phones as an all-in-one multimedia device for music, videos, Web surfing, and other activities beyond making phone calls,” the research firm said today.
Customers of T-Mobile are mostly likely to use advanced features, followed by customers of Sprint, and trailed by customers of AT&T. “Verizon Wireless customers are least likely to embrace their phone as an all-in-one multimedia device,” NPD said, despite that company often being cited for having the industry’s best customer service and widest coverage.
Verizon, as of Friday this week, will officially be the nation’s largest mobile phone company.
“Carriers and other handset retailers have an opportunity to educate customers as to the capabilities of their handsets in the wake of slower overall handset sales,” analyst Ross Rubin explained.
Of the customers who do want more features than just simple telephony, the most requested option is a cameraphone, followed by text messaging, Rubin said in another recent study.
Motorola Gears Up for CES
By Monica Alleven
Besides a smattering of handsets, Motorola’s Home & Networks Mobility division will be showcasing some of its wares at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas later this week.
Motorola’s 9100 version of a femtocell
is actually a digital picture frame.
The company announced that its KeepMeConnected Femtocells – CDMA 9100 Series was selected as an honoree of the CES Innovations 2009 Design and Engineering Awards. The touch-screen digital picture frame with a built-in femtocell is recognized in the furniture product category.
The 9100 takes a fairly technical device and turns it into something that can be presented as a picture frame in the home, explained Rob Malnati, senior manager in Broadband Home Gateways and Software at Motorola. “We’re trying to create a compelling form factor,” he said. He didn’t cite a price range, saying it’s up to carriers to decide how much they want to subsidize it. Consumers can incorporate their own pictures into the device.
Motorola also will be showing off the Motorola wi4 WiMAX CPEi 775, an all-in-one access device that combines a WiMAX 802.16e modem with an integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g router, VoIP ATA ports for voice calling and an Ethernet port. It’s designed so that consumers can position it anywhere in a home or office and still get adequate reception. For service providers, it means their customer support people can eliminate the step where they try to figure out if the end-user has the device correctly oriented when they get called, said Tom Gruba, senior director of wireless broadband marketing,
Motorola has not publicly announced customers for the Wi-Fi/WiMAX access device, but two outside the United States are lined up. At some point, the company may design a unit for the U.S. market, but the current version is for the 3.5 GHz band, with support for 5 MHz, 7 MHz and 10 MHz bandwidths.
In the handset arena, Motorola will be featuring three new models. The Moto W233 Renew is described as the world’s first carbon neutral mobile phone. Renew is made from plastics comprised of recycled water bottles. The phone’s reduced packing size and in-box materials are printed using vegetable-based inks on 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
The Motosurf A3100 is a 3G Windows Mobile touch tablet phone with a customizable home screen. The touch tablet can be accessed by using a finger, stylus or trackball. It connects via HSDPA, HSUPA and Wi-Fi The new Tundra VA76r boasts a rugged design with push-to-talk (PTT) for AT&T customers. It has TeleNav Track and Xora Mobile Workforce Management tools.
Motorola also will launch a new update of its Communications Convergence Engine (CCE), the software behind next-generation TV that combines the convenience of classic TV with the control and personalization of the Internet. The Storefront 1.0 update results in consumers being able to browse personalized catalogs of content via TV, Web and mobile devices.
Last week, Motorola revealed it would lay off 400 more workers in the fourth quarter than it had earlier announced. Fourth-quarter layoffs totaled 1,900.
Spectrum Bridge Plans Service Expansion
By Evan Koblentz
Spectrum Bridge, an online marketplace for second-hand wireless spectrum sales, is looking to give its users more knowledge and expand beyond just U.S. transactions.
The company opened last year based on an idea from four Mesh Networks executives: unlike selling tchotchkes on eBay or oil in a stock exchange, working with spectrum requires industry experience and a knowledge of physics. On the business side, sellers pay a transaction fee, with consulting services available to buyers.
Companies that aren’t service providers typically are unaware that it is realistic to purchase a small swath of spectrum, such as a city block’s worth, for just a few thousand dollars. Meanwhile, larger regional sales are starting to appear from the FCC’s recent 700 MHz auction, Stanforth said.
To help, Spectrum Bridge this year intends to hire experts who would serve a similar role to real estate brokers and who would help match buyers and sellers beyond the company’s SpecEx online service, CTO Peter Stanforth explained. Also planned are a variety of tools to provide knowledge of license transactions, revenue models and vertical markets.
The company has FCC support, 27 employees and previously raised $10 million in funding. Beyond 2009, Spectrum Bridge will look at international sales, he said.
Industry analyst Craig Mathias, of Farpoint Group, said he’s unaware of any direct competition for this niche and that another future option could be subletting – essentially renting spectrum for short-term projects without the hassle of legally buying it. Spectrum is a perishable commodity, he noted.
However, other than the FCC itself, “They’re really the first to put together a Web-based marketplace for spectrum. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I think it’ll become very important down the road,” Mathias said. “All of the stars have sort of aligned for them here. The big challenge they’ll have is like any other company – marketing.”
inCode Prediction: Fewer Carriers, Vendors
By Monica Alleven
It’s that time of year, and advisory firm inCode is taking its annual stab at predictions.
One of the firm’s predictions for 2009 is tough economic conditions will reduce the number of major wireless operators and infrastructure vendors. On the carrier front, AT&T and Verizon Wireless continue to jockey for top position by growing organically and acquiring other carriers, the firm says.
Smaller carriers such as Leap Wireless International, MetroPCS and U.S. Cellular will post gains, but the ones caught in the middle – Sprint and, to a lesser degree, T-Mobile USA – will be vulnerable. “The guys in the middle are being pressured from both sides and they don’t have a specific competitive advantage that allows them to defend their territory,” said Rob Prudhomme, vice president of Practice Development at inCode. Sprint is in a situation where larger factors beyond the company’s control may ultimately determine how things turn out, he said.
The cord-cutting trend may accelerate even more in 2009 as people see more utility in having a mobile phone rather than a fixed line, he added. That trend favors Metro and Leap.
A prediction that probably is not surprising is private equity investments will slow, which might open up startup investments from more traditional Internet companies, like Google. Less money will be available from venture capital firms, so startups might look to the Internet giants for their funding. In addition, some companies that might have survived in normal times will struggle for survival and could be acquired at firesale prices, Prudhomme said.
Apple’s iPhone raised the bar for an acceptable browsing experience, and Apple will continue to produce innovative products, but inCode predicts a leading device innovator or new entrant will introduce a model that closes the user experience gap with the iPhone. That launch will come from a leading OEM (like Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC) and select Tier 1 global operators or device OEMs with strong service integration, such as Nokia (with Ovi) or Research In Motion (RIM) with BlackBerry.
inCode also predicts that at least one of the Tier 1 or 2 carriers will outsource labor-intensive functions, such as network planning, designing, buildout and operations, to an OEM/services partnership. Companies like Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks were proposing outsourcing years ago; now that they’ve worked out the business model and gained experience, they’re in a better position to take over for a larger carrier, he said. Any of the operators could be a candidate, but the ones under the most financial pressure are the most likely to pursue that model.
And while a lot of activity will continue around social networking, the mobile apps that make money are location-based, he said. People are used to social networking online for free, but they’ve demonstrated a willingness to pay for location-based services.
HTC, Pharos Launch Latest Windows Smartphones
By Wireless Week Staff
HTC today announced its latest smartphone, while Pharos Science & Applications with its partner Inventec debuted four navigation-centric phones.
The HTC S743 has both a 12-key front keypad and a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 and will ship in the current quarter.
“The HTC S743… is a great example of HTC’s rejection of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy,” HTC America vice president Jason Mackenzie said in a statement today.
When closed, the phone is 1.7 inches wide, unlikely traditionally clunky slide-out devices, HTC said. Pricing was not announced.
Pharos’ new handsets in its Traveler series are models 117, 127, 137 and 619. The 137 is notable for its specifications, including a 3.5-inch, 480×800 screen, 3-megapixel camera, on-board and off-board GPS, a 528 MHz processor, a total of 768 MB RAM, 4 hours of talk time and 200 hours of standby time, plus an FM tuner.
UIQ Goes Bankrupt, Cites Economy
By Wireless Week Staff
Mobile user interface specialist UIQ declared bankruptcy, according to wire service report this week.
However, “There are no opportunities to create a new line of business in the current financial climate,” CEO Johan Sandberg told Reuters.
Now the software is being merged back into the Nokia-owned Symbian platform.
M2M Starts ’09 With New Company
By Evan Koblentz
The first news of 2009 for the machine-to-machine (M2M) space includes a new company, a new chief executive and a new 3G embedded modem.
RFID specialist SAVR Communications announced that it has created a new company, OnAsset Intelligence – and sold itself to that company – thereby making SAVR the RFID subsidiary of OnAsset, which will specialize in M2M monitoring.
“OnAsset will focus on helping companies wirelessly locate, track, connect, control and manage fixed and mobile assets in real-time via integrated solutions enabled by their turnkey products and services. The naming of the new company was selected to align with SAVR Communications’ already successful OnAsset Platform,” officials said in a statement today.
“We are seeing immense business opportunity and ROI for our customers as they deploy more and more intelligent assets into the field. We created the new company to focus growth on this sector and ensure that our brand accurately reflects what we do,” CEO Adam Crossno said.
SAVR itself will continue with its business as usual.
In the European M2M field, Mach Group appointed Guy Dubois as its new CEO and president, replacing Martin Lippert who will remain on the board. Dubois was previously on the board and was an executive vice president at Amdocs.
Meanwhile, Novatel Wireless announced its new E760 mini-card module, targeted for OEMs and device manufacturers who need a North American 3G connection. The module includes dynamic switching and a compact design, officials said. It can also run Novatel’s NovaSpeed software and network traffic prioritization protocol.
FirstNews Briefs for Jan. 6, 2009
Companies in the News: Research In Motion, NBC Bay Area, DeviceAnywhere, T-Mobile, Google, PCTEL, Wi-Sys Communications
• Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Curve 8900 may arrive in T-Mobile stores as soon as Feb. 11, according to the blog Tmonews.com. Early reviews of the device, which is already for sale in Germany, have been very positive.
• NBC Bay Area launched the NBC Bay Area Traffic Cam, a free service for commuters to receive live videos of traffic on mobile phones. The service is advertising-supported and works on a variety of carriers and handsets.
• DeviceAnywhere said its device testing service now works with the Google Android G1 smartphone. The G1 is sold by T-Mobile, which joined DeviceAnywhere’s network last summer.
• PCTEL acquired Wi-Sys Communications, an Ottawa-based company that specializes in GPS antenna and receiver technology. In 2008 Wi-Sys’ products and technology generated $2.2 million in revenue. PCTEL will pay $2.1 million for Wi-Sys and will fully integrate the Wi-Sys operations into its antenna products group.