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1 February 2012

Worth Noting February 1 2012

Intel is buying video patents and software from RealNetworks, showing its hand in an IPR battle in which the chipmaker is already a monster. It is paying $120m for about 190 patents, 170 patent applications, and its next generation video encoding technology. The companies will work together in future on video codecs. ‘We believe this agreement enhances our ability to continue to offer richer experiences and innovative solutions to end users across a wide spectrum of devices, including through ultrabook devices, smartphones and digital media,’ said Renee James, general manager of Intel’s Software and Services Group, in a statement.

Huawei and Nokia Siemens are to share the contract for a network for NeWorks! – the Orange/T-Mobile joint venture in Poland – covering 2G, 3G and LTE capabilities. NSN appears to be replacing Ericsson in this carrier. According to Pyramid Research, the JV will plan and manage the networks of both operators, in line with a broader cooperation between owners France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, also seen in the UK’s Everything Everywhere and other cost reducing ventures. The Polish unit is expected to achieve RAN cost savings of 29% in the medium term mainly by reducing the number of cell sites. Orange has about 6,400 cell sites and T-Mobile has around 7,000, and the plan for the shared network is to have 10,000 sites. Huawei also scored with Everything Everywhere, replacing Ericsson, NSN and Nortel in its GSM modernization program, and so has an important foothold in the FT/DT axis.

Brazilian regulator Anatel has launched a consultation on forthcoming tenders of spectrum in 2.5GHz and also in the 450MHz band, which has strong propagation qualities for rural coverage but is underused worldwide. The agency proposes that 450MHz winners will be mandated to ‘progressively expand the penetration of voice and data telecommunications services in rural and remote areas, at affordable prices … broadband internet will also have to reach all rural area public schools located within the operator’s coverage area, free of charge.’

AIS, Thailand’s largest telco, has launched two trial LTE networks. One is a 20-base station test network in capital Bangkok, using the 2.3GHz band previously assigned for WiMAX, and TD-LTE. That test will run until May. The second is an FD-LTE in the 1.8GHz band, located in the remote province of Maha Sarakham in the north east of the country. This network uses GSM spectrum owned by state telco CAT Telecom under concession to AIS subsidiary DPC. AIS CEO Wichian Mektrakarn said the cellco planned to roll out 3G for wide area coverage and 4G in areas that need in-depth functionality or fixed broadband. The equipment is from Cisco, Huawei and Nokia Siemens.

Nokia is proposing the founder of Finnish antivirus firm F-Secure, Risto Siilasmaa, as replacement for its current chairman Jorma Ollila. Ollila has chaired the company since 1999 and was also previously CEO. He said last year that he would step down in May 2012. Siilasmaa has been a member of the Nokia board since 2008.

A new player has entered the Hungarian mobile market with a state-owned consortium winning the recent auction of a 10.8MHz chunk of 900MHz spectrum. The group, led by national electricity wholesaler MVM, also includes national postal service Magyar Posta and state-owned development bank MFB. The existing cellcos – Norway’s Telenor, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom unit Magyar Telekom – were awarded parts of the band in the less valuable B block, mainly targeted at rural internet, while MVM’s spectrum is in the A block. Critics questioned whether the auction may have violated rules by favoring a state-owned firm, something the regulator denied.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has hosted a public demonstration of interoperability with ZigBee-enabled smart energy meters, as the former standard seeks a role in the low energy, M2M segments. The demo was part of an ongoing program to promote the Smart Energy Profile (SEP) 2.0 and included chips and devices from eight vendors – Aclara, Broadcom, Elbrys Networks, Gainspan, Grid2Home, Intwine Energy Networks, Qualcomm Atheros and Texas Instruments. The Wi-Fi Alliance said it is now working to develop a certification program for SEP 2.0 products.

Saudi Arabian telco Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) lacks the spectrum to roll out an LTE network, its CEO told Reuters, hampering efforts to offset falling voice margins with more lucrative data packages. Other operators in the kingdom face similar constraints, analysts said, even though most cellcos have launched at least a small 4G network. Mobily chief Khaled al-Kaf said: ‘We don’t have the spectrum for mobile LTE. Spectrum will be a big issue in Saudi Arabia with the exponential growth in data.’ Data volume on Mobily’s mobile network was 163Tbytes a day at the end of 2011, up from 85Tbytes a year earlier. ‘We expect this number will double year-over-year, so spectrum will be a bottleneck,’ al-Kaf said. Mobily and rivals STC and Zain Saudi have all kicked off LTE, but only in a few districts and largely for fixed services. They are currently forced to refarm 3G bands or use 2.6GHz.

MetroPCS has discontinued the sale of its $40 LTE service plan along with its first 4G handset, the low end Brew-based Samsung Craft. Although this was well targeted at the cellco’s traditional prepaid, low budget demographic, it is now trying to push upmarket by offering higher priced data plans and full LTE smartphones. These devices require LTE plans which start at $50 per month, which brings unlimited voice, texting, web, email and 1Gbyte of multimedia streaming. And additional $10 a month brings all of that plus unlimited streaming to either the Rhapsody music service or the carrier’s MetroStudio video service.

T-Mobile UK has bucked the trend for tiered pricing plans by launching new unlimited tariffs under the brand ‘The Full Monty’. With a two-year contract, these have no fair usage restrictions, and range from £36 to £61 per month. Customers on the £36 plan are in fact limited to 2,000 minutes of calls to other networks and have to pay higher upfront handset charges, while on the £61 plan, customers can choose a 32Gbytes iPhone 4S (or other top phones) for free.

The latest cellcos to form a joint venture for mobile commerce are in Russia, where MTS, Megafon and VimpelCom Beeline will open their payment systems to one anothers’ subscribers. The aim is to create a more uniform platform, which may in future support emerging technologies like NFC.

WiMAX forum president Ron Resnick is retiring from the role this week, and senior director of marketing, Declan Byrne, will take over as acting president. Intel veteran Resnick has led the Forum almost since its formation in 2001, while Byrne joined in 2010 after being CMO at Airspan.