Pay-Buy Mobile - DoCoMo inside

KTF will pioneer GSMA's "Pay-Buy Mobile" initiative in Korea this summer, a couple of weeks after SK Telecom's launch of a service with Visa International (30,000 3G subscribers from April on).

PBM combines NFC (which should please Nokia) with SIM/Cards techno (which should please operators), and the initial casting of 14 operators from 3 continents looks strong : overall, AT&T; China Mobile; KALL; KTF; MCI; MTN; NTT DoCoMo; Rogers Wireless; Smart Communications; Telenor, TeliaSonera; Telecom Italia; Turkcell, and Vimpelcom claim 900 millions subs.

Yet, don't look for a SK Telecom, a Orange, a Telefonica or a Vodafone out there. The Sympay syndrom ? The fear NTT DoCoMo might steal the show and try to make PBM converge with its own initiatives (FeliCa and EDY through BitWallet) ?

Don't look for a bank either. At this stage.

What I do see though, is a transcontinental initiative with a GSMA label. And only a crosscontinental move could force a change in Europe, GSMA's birthplace. Up to now, a lobbying deadlock has been preventing operators and financial institutions from reaching an agreement and m-payment from progressing towards standardization. No-one wants to lose ground on one's home turf (mobility, financial services), and no-one wants a competitor to succeed (ie banks blocking deals between cellcos and more reactive players like Visa or Amex).

Should this G14 federate a few institutions across - say - Asia and North America, things may change. No financial institution will want to lose the face on that one for too long.

DoCoMo did put a few coins in AT&T and KTF. An expensive dime at a not always relevant time. We are about to know if they were just playing with one-armed bandits or really expecting some payback.


LiMo - stretching Linux Mobile

Launched mid-June 2006 and operational since January, LiMo, the Linux for Mobile Foundation, happens to be a non-for-profit initiative launched by notorious philanthropists : Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and Vodafone all have in common the envy to reshape the mobile internet paradygm beyond the old Nokia-Microsoft rift.

The Foundation Platform, "a Linux-based, open mobile communication device software platform", also reaches beyond Nokia's Open Mobile Architecture (OMA). Opening is definitely in the air : Orange changed its moto for a sober Orange open, and even Redmond has its Microsoft Open License (hey, that's Microsoft, there's to be a license with it).
But true opening has a cost : the ODP / DMOZ recently hiccuped after troubles with its generous patron Sun / AOL, and Wikipedia desperately needs cash to survive because of its growing success. So let's not spit on the hand that feeds the ecosystem - provided the ecosystem remains clean.

Anyway, Linux over mobile is good news for consumers, operators and manufacturers who focus on hardware. Cellcos decide to remain involved in their own future : they let 3G to Nokia, Ericsson and Qualcomm who didn't do the best of jobs, they don't want to miss the next steps at the OS as well as at the network level (ie LTE).

* limofoundation.org - soon to lose its fully open DNA : the homepage's title reads "LiMo Foundation: Welcome" but if you google the foundation, it still appears as "SourceForge: Welcome".


3GSM 2007 - A brave new World ? A new and improved Vodafone ?

This week, Vodafone decided to send a few messages to the market :
- Purchase of Hutchison Essar ($11.7bn for a 67% controlling stake... provided Essar doesn't launch a counterattack tainted with economic patriotism*) : I intend to remain in the World's top 3 operators for subscribers and I'm gonna post exciting growth rates for the years to come. Certainly not for ARPU but I'm investing for the long term. And by the way : I'm still able to invest for higher purposes than the loyalty of my shareholders.
- Another deal with Orange on 3G network sharing : I prefer to invest on CAPEX in India where it will make a difference. I'm bracing for a fiercer competition in mature markets, where I will focus on service.
- An impressive collection of old and new partnerships with almost all major web players (Google for mapping, Yahoo! and Microsoft for IM, YouTube, eBay, MySpace...) : you think these newcomers are smarter and swifter, and you believe they will get the bulk of the value but look ! everybody wants to work with me and I'm certainly not begging for partners. They know who's ruling the game and you don't want to miss this train or else...

At last the big red machine decides to move. But I cannot see much disruption out there. It actually looks like their last smart move in Turkey, only at a bigger scale. I'd like to have more movements in the home / office spheres. Beyond WCDMA900, that is (Nokia providing UMTS900 for SFR after Portugal and Finland). To be continued...

Otherwise, 2007 doesn't look like a year for new paradygms :
- Qualcomm still wants to be the King of the Universe, but its Universal Broadcast Modem (UBM) combines MediaFLO technology, DVB-H and 1seg / ISDB-T without caring much for DMB... a slap on the wrist for those naughty koreans who want to kick it out of their country.
- Quadplays are getting mainstream. The Virgin-NTL combo, Virgin Media, charges £20 for 2, £30 for 3 and £40 for the first no-frills quads (the 125 pound gorilla offers unlimited calls in the fixed arena and 500 mn of mobile babbling plus a monthly data package including £60 in airtime and 1,000 SMS, along with the hardware - handset and PVR). Virgin Mobile will also strengthten its controlled distribution.

- Either terrified by Viviane Reding or cornered by an ever tougher competition, O2 extends My Europe to 31 countries. For £10 per month or £60 per year, business subscribers to My Europe Extra won't be charged for incoming calls whatever the network on which they are roaming. Intraeuropean calls will cost 25p per mn flat.

That could be the best news for 2007 (but for MNO shareholders) : the landline / mobile gap in calling rates is bound to decrease even before VoIP gets fully mobile. The competition goes beyond mobility and furthermore, from the customer's point of view, that's the minimum you could expect from convergence in a broadband world.

* Voda downsizes its participation in Bharti but still keeps a few toes in the venture.


embedded 3G+ and better rates

Strategy Analytics expects a 60% boom for embedded 3G in 2007.
Wi-Fi has already found its slot on laptops*, WiMAX's democratization will take some time, and 3G offers the best bitrate / security / continuity of service mix around.
In the transitional period before the industry adopts embedded connectivity, PC cards will not be as trendy as they used to. USB modems are cool and more consumer-oriented. Less PC-oriented, too, since more devices are to become 3G enabled. SKT proved it last year (with T Login**), KTF a few days ago (with iPlug, a SBSM - Single Band Single Mode - W-CDMA service), and Verizon Wireless today (launching its EV-DO Revision A service with the Novatel USB720 modem announced last year).
Laptops are definitely ripe for embedded 3G and if possible, embedded HSDPA. W-CDMA was too light for many applications run on a laptop, and HSDPA keeps rocking and rolling across the globe. Even in Korea, the country formerly known as Qualcommland, where LGT will launch EV-DO Rev A during the second half : both SKT and KTF are dumping cdma2000 for the W-CDMA - HSDPA - HSUPA - HSOPA roadmap, both will enjoy a nationwide HSDPA coverage this year, and both mean business.
KTF, for example, did launch iPlug with a USB data card, but intends to HSDPA-enable 50% of its handset line-up this year and 90% next year. KTF will have migrated half of its customer base from CDMA to W-CDMA and beyond by 2008 and 100% by 2012.
There is already a fierce competition in subsidies, and data rates should follow soon. SK Telecom just decided to reduce the data fee ceiling (and the level from which benefits are given) from 200 to KRW 150,000, and to slash its "Ting Data Free" flat data rates for teenagers by 30%. Officially, heavy bills deter many customers giving it a try without a flat rate offer (a generally binding and expensive item). But if boosting new usages sounds a noble cause, defending leadership may be a more plausible motivation for Korea's leading MNO : KTF proved a better competitor last year and will strike very hard in 2007. A new marketing culture is being pumped into KT's bureaucracies at the best moment : after years of regulatory hurdles, IPTV and quadruple plays will at last blossom in the Land of Broadband.

* it should keep spreading though, as the extension of the fixed sphere it was meant to be, and often on voice-centric devices - as it does through quad play offers
** see "T Login for HSDPA, EV-DO, WiBro and YouNameIt" (20060920). But today, I would be surprised if SK Telecom and Samsung were not considering embedded 3G+ as a part of their recent international partnership.

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