Wetband-CDMA and Season's Greetings

Every year in Europe, about 300,000 handsets fall down a toilet bowl. LG Telecom (the MNO, not the handset manufacturer) being in deep gimchi, they decided to release Casio's water-proof phones to lighten up their season's greetings. These Wetband-CDMA beauties are quake-proof as well, but LGT are not likely to shake the country next year. Unless they bring a new player into the game, that is.
Korea Telecom took a much more political path announcing the first inter-korean phone service since the War. Mercifully enough, they dropped the Dok-do line.
Korea' national post services surfed yet another wave revealing a brand new set of stamps : the heroes of the day are video games characters. Welcome to the country where virtual monsters are more likely to end up on a stamp than one-term-presidents bound to lameduckood as soon as they're elected.
But Samsung took the nicest slice of the cake : following their deal with Vodafone Group Plc and Qualcomm, they can expect a happy new HSDPA year. I would advise them not to expose any wetphones come next 3GSM World Congress : with all those waves around them visitors always get a perm while roaming the show, but you wouldn't want any of them to be hydrocuted.

I wish you a happy new year too. You've been reading this excuse for a blog from over 120 countries (though more often from San Mateo County than from Ulaanbaatar or Ouagadougou, I must confess) and your comments are always very much welcomed.


IPTV and happy TV

Korea already enjoys 12M broadband connections ; about 80% of all households or 25% of the population, compared to about 45% and 80% for fixed and mobile lines. Yet, genuine IPTV cannot be launched, limiting Korea Telecom to a few symbolic demos despite their ambitious plans for 2006 ($300M). Now they're talking Q2 2006 for an actual launch.
The Korean Broadcasting Commission, backed by the country's powerful cablecos, plays it "over my dead body" : IPTV is broadcasting stuff, not to be regulated by a telecom body.
Elsewhere, Mobile TV is still struggling. We're not hearing much about TuMedia stats and SKT officials are more verbal about MelOn (600k paid subs out of 4M).
Anti-competitive issues notwithstanding, Korea's MNOs would certainly love to put a few wons in classic TV channels. And I guess with higher stakes than NTT DoCoMo in Fuji TV.


Free WIMAX and quadruple play

Iliad remains a great wonder in the ever consolidating telecom world. When the minitel specialist launched its disruptive None Networks in the late 90s, I must confess I didn't think they could last very long. Freesbee (now the triple-and-soon-quadruple player Free) looked like the kind of free ISPs the founders would sell right before the bubble burst.
But they're damn good at what they do and since they're actually free, they don't have to cope with international partners and don't care about standardization* : they can go straight to the point with the solution they need, even if they have to develop it for themselves. The Freebox was the ultimate proof of their ability to deliver the goods - even technically tricky ones - with a very aggressive TTM. From an ADSL2+ basis, they recently reached 174 / 18 Mbit rates with a home made "F-ADSL". "Asynchronous" ? You bet, from a competitor's point of view. And it shows in the "Digital Subscriber Lines" : two thirds of Free's 1.5M ADSL customers (France Telecom's main challenger) can enjoy TV over DSL (Europe's leader). Following the deal with Altitude Telecom, Free enjoys a nationwide Wimax license and announces disruptive quadruple play offers... nothing seems to stop them. Hell, thanks to Michaël Boukobza's well deserved aura, Iliad even survived a nasty scandal involving its founder Xavier Niel.
2006 looks like another make or break year and could turn out to be both the best and the worst year to confront France's big guys : the 3 MNOs have just been heavily fined for anti-competitive behaviors and the broadcasting landscape is being totally reshuffled after the CanalSat - TPS deal.
Guess what ? All could face yet another disruptive new entrant.


DoCoMo's Xmas : Fuji and KT Freetel

2.6%. That's as far as Ebeneezer Scrooge DoCoMo will go for Fuji Television Network, Inc. Google took a slice twice thicker from AOL but hey, that's much better than what Livedoor was allowed to grab.

NTT DoCoMo and Fuji TV are not preparing Xmas but April fool's day : "The agreement precedes the launch of "One-segment" terrestrial digital broadcasting on April 1, 2006, which will present new opportunities for linkages with mobile services."

I'm much more interested in their deal with KT Freetel : 10%, that's a little more ambitious, but DoCoMo used to ask for more... remember their strategic bravado with AT&T Wireless ? Beyond the financial and technological failure, they couldn't even launch the i-mode brand in the US.

Roaming agreements were one thing (SKT eventually preferred TIM, SFR & Vodafone for W-CDMA roaming in Europe), boosting FOMA and DoCoMo-style HSDPA is quite another... and building a Manga-Hallyu pool yet another : "and also this can be a good opportunity for both countries' content providers and solution providers to extend their reach to overseas market". Message to SKT : keep strengthening your ties with the US, China and Europe.


Eurasia Inc - Linux with China, DMB and WiBro with Korea

Korean players eventually made a DMB scenario feasible in Europe (despite the preference of SKT and co for their own S-DMB instead of the free T-DMB - which badly irritates the MIC). Now they're also making a case for WiBro : TIM picked Samsung for their 2006 trials during the Torino Winter Olympics.
France Telecom have been courting Korea Inc for a few years and it starts showing. Yet, they're not forgetting the rest of the world, thanks to their impressive R&D network. Much has been said regarding their partnership with China's ZTE about Linux over 3G, but don't forget India...
How about the US ? They're doing fine on their own, thank you : Cingular Wireless launched HSDPA with Sierra Wireless AC860 and Novatel U730 PC cards (unlimited usage for $59.99 / month - data rates : 400-700 K uplink and over 1M downlink - handover guaranteed ???).


CAPEX and the city - curb your enthousiasm or six feet under

Cheers : Vodafone had to release some exciting news to their shareholders ? Welcome to their global mobile TV service ! The content looks fine (top HBO series, the UEFA Champions League...), but we're talking 3G W-CDMA TV and this isn't likely to solve their capacity troubles : if you want to watch Sex And The City on your mobile phone, your operator needs to play Capex And The City first (or better : switch to DVB / DMB). Farrington Road Films understood so well how much work had to be done they named their m-soap "Brick' it". Who knows ? there are more 3G network operators in the UK than there were little pigs in the tale, and more than one could have a house made of stone.
Fewer fireworks for the launch of
ALDI Talk ; the hard discounter doesn't care about 3G nor mobile TV yet : Medion mobile simply target 750,000 subs interested in the cheapest voice money can buy (5 cents a mn or a SMS among Aldi Talkers, but triple that if you want to reach anyone else). EPlus are supporting this MMinus, which could outperform USA's Movida despite the impressive Wal-Mart - Cisnero Group combo (it's the economy, stupid - who cares about services ?).
Remember Vivendi's Xfera ? The Spanish 3G greenfield MNO will as initially planned launch for the World Cup in June and draft 600,000 customers by the end of that year. Too bad our Don QuiXfera went for the 2006 World Cup windmill instead of the 2002 one. Hutchison Whampoa are considering taking over this X-file.


Branson vs Murdoch : Virgin Mobile + NTL in the UK, and more to come

Since Sir Richard confessed in China, Virgin Mobile had to get specific today : "The Board of Virgin Mobile Holdings (UK) plc (‘Virgin Mobile’ or ‘the Company’) confirms that it has received an approach from NTL Incorporated that may or may not lead to a formal offer being made for the Company."
UK's leading cableco (after wolfing Telewest down) could help Virgin build a significant competitor to BSkyB, which had already been hunting for preys in the telecom sector (some game with a little more flesh than OneTel).
NTL already purchased Virgin.net a few years ago. They need a brand and should offer more than their initial $1.4bn to please Virgin shareholders.
From Branson's point of view, focusing on such core assets as branding or retailing could make sense. And this partnership should lead to other ones, even more devastating for the competition. The sooner the better : new M-VNOs are popping up across the world and Sir Richard is bound to harrass Sir Rupert the other side of the Atlantic, not to mention Australia or even China.


Blockberry ? RIM vs NTP, to be continued

Will Judge James Spencer order your BlackBerry service to be shut down ? Research In Motion want to go up to the Supreme Court for their patent trouble with NTP Inc. As if losing all previous trials and increasing at each step the fine didn't deter them.
Whatever the CrackBerry equipment rate within the Supreme Court, I guess Judge Roberts will be listening to RIM's main argument : "you cannot abort our kid, especially that late in the process".
To which NTP Inc. may answer "hey, this is my kid, and DNA tests proved it !" but RIM could then switch to another tender spot, such as "that's Darwinian rubbish - we're facing a miraculous case of immaculate conception ! We don't have a Chief Internet Evangelist on board but we just hired a Chief Creationist".

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