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Posted: December 9, 2010 in Communications

Next Windows Phone 7 update gets small delay

Citing hiccups following the rollout of last month’s Windows Phone 7 software update, Microsoft is pushing back the release date of the update that will bring Windows Phone users new features.

“I believe it’s important that we learn all we can from the February update,” wrote Eric Hautala, Microsoft’s general manager of Customer Experience Engineering, in a post on the Windows Phone blog. “So I’ve decided to take some extra time to ensure the update process meets our standards, your standards, and the standards of our partners. As a result, our plan is to start delivering the copy-and-paste update in the latter half of March.”

The news is likely to be unwelcome to those who were looking forward to finally getting their hands on the copy-and-paste feature Microsoft first unveiled all the way back in October, as well as some of the speed improvements the company detailed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. That update had originally been destined to reach users in the first two weeks of March, leaving just four days from now for Microsoft to deliver.

Even with the changes, Hautala said that this does not change the launch time frame of the much larger update, due sometime in the next three months.

“This short pause should in no way impact the timing of future updates, including the one announced recently at Mobile World Congress featuring multitasking, a Twitter feature, and a new HTML 5-friendly version of Internet Explorer Mobile,” Hautala said.

The now infamous February update Hautala had been referring to was meant to prepare phones for this first update that will bring copy and paste, among other additions. It ended up leaving some users with Samsung devices unable to update their system software, with the process hanging just beyond the halfway point. In some cases this left users with an unusable device. Microsoft then pulled the update to make fixes, before re-releasing it. Even then, however, a handful of users still ran into problems.

All told, Microsoft had said that about 10 percent of customers were running into problems with the update. That includes other problems such as not being able to download the software due to Internet connectivity issues, as well as not having enough onboard storage, the company had said.

“Let me be crystal clear: We’re not satisfied when problems prevent you from enjoying the latest Windows Phone updates,” Hautala wrote. “When we find an issue, we study and fix it. To that end, we’re carefully studying the current update process and will apply the lessons learned from it to all future ones. This is how we get better.”

Are you paying too much to surf overseas?

Are you a frequent traveler and feel you’re paying way too much to access the Web while overseas?

ZDNet Asia, along with ZDNet Australia and ZDNet UK, are running an online survey concurrently in our respective regions to find out how our readers utilize mobile broadband abroad on their smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices.

Data roaming, as it is commonly described, is taking off as adoption of mobile devices and Web access via mobile platforms continue to see significant growth across the globe. In fact, an Ovum study predicts that, by 2015, 1 billion users worldwide will use only their mobile devices to access the Internet, where the Asia-Pacific region will account for 518.4 million of the overall population.

So, do take 10 minutes to complete the survey and tell us if you think your operator is doing enough to deliver affordable data roaming usage and charges to subscribers who want to remain connected during their travels.

We will discuss the results in a special report once the poll ends. Start the survey now.

Android to dethrone Symbian in APAC

Nokia’s strategy to go with Windows Phone 7 for its smartphone operating system (OS) will likely cost the company its “undisputed” position as the market leader in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, as early as 2011, according to a new report.

In a statement released Thursday, IDC predicted that devices running Google’s Android OS could overtake those powered by Symbian “as soon as this year”, given that Nokia’s Windows Phone 7 devices are not expected to be available in the market until the end of the year.

The Finnish phonemaker announced in February that it is partnering Microsoft to bring the Windows Phone 7 OS to its smartphone range. However, support for Symbian will still continue, the company had reassured.

IDC reported that from this year onwards, “a lot more” brands will come out with Android-based devices at a lower price point. This will not only buoy the demand for smartphones in emerging markets but will also encourage feature phone users in all markets to consider upgrading to smartphones, the research firm added.

Smartphone shipments in the region is expected to hit 137 million units this year, IDC said, noting that this is the first time shipments will surpass the 100 million mark.

Total mobile phone shipment, which include feature phones and smartphones, will grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34 percent in the region. Shipment will nearly double in five years’ time to reach 942 million units, up from 551 million units in 2010, said IDC.

According to IDC, smartphones will grow eight times as fast as feature phones to reach 359 million units by 2015. By that time, three in five mobile phones shipped will be smartphones, in contrast to one in five in 2010.

Melissa Chau, research manager for client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific’s domain research group, said in a statement: “Smartphones were a hot item in 2010, with more than double the shipments of 2009. In 2011, IDC expects this fire to keep burning.”

The Singapore-based analyst attributed the growth of smartphones to mobile phone vendors racing to get consumers on higher-margin devices and mobile platform stakeholders’ battle to woo app developers. She added that operators are also pushing smartphones to drive mobile data revenue.

A separate report from Canalys last month revealed that global shipments of Android phones had overtaken Symbian-based devices during the fourth quarter of 2010.

Canalys earlier this year also predicted that, globally, the Android platform will grow twice as fast as its rivals this year.

Tata Comms launches cloud platform in S’pore

SINGAPORE–Tata Communications has launched its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud offering in Singapore, and is targeting to derive US$250 million in revenue from cloud services over the next three years.

Singapore is the second country after India, the telecoms player’s home market, to offer InstaCompute, David Wirt, Tata Communications’ global head of managed services and senior vice president, said at a briefing here Tuesday. Driven out of its local data center Tata Communications Exchange (TCX), the cloud service will also cater to neighboring markets such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to Wirt, Tata Communications has identified a market opportunity in cloud offerings and expects such services to bring in US$250 million in revenue over the next three years.

“We’re betting Tata Communications on the cloud,” he said. “We really believe that telecommunications service providers have an advantage in this market.”

Carriers, noted Wirt, have the advantage over non-carrier cloud providers as network latency is not an issue. He added that even traditional cloud providers are buying wholesale connectivity from Tata Communications as they understand that the network is the enabler for cloud.

Wirt said a competitive differentiator of InstaCompute is its Web management portal which allows companies to easily govern their cloud initiatives. Administrators are able to establish different projects and set a threshold for each user based on the budget allocated to the project, he said. The system can automatically send out alerts that a user is reaching an assigned threshold or even turn off the account to prevent overspending.

The executive did not name Amazon Web Services as a competitor in the region, but admitted Tata Communications uses AWS as a benchmark.

According to Wirt, after InstaCompute was launched in India, 55 to 60 percent of InstaCompute customers are from India, while the majority of clientele outside of India hail from the United States and Singapore.

Vinod Kumar, managing director and CEO of Tata Communications, noted that InstaCompute is targeted at companies of all sizes. Kumar said small and midsize businesses will likely run all applications on the platform while large enterprises will use it for non-mission critical apps or as a sandbox for testing applications.

During the briefing, Aroon Tan, managing director of Magma Studios, shared his experience hosting the company’s latest massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORG) on the InstaCompute platform. He said the move to cloud computing eliminated the need to guess the rate of business growth in order to purchase physical servers, as now virtual machines can be turned on when needed.

Microsoft’s contract with Nokia rumored at $1B

It’s been less than a month since Microsoft and Nokia announced their strategic partnership that will see the two companies working together in a number of areas, though mainly mobile phones. One detail that was not disclosed at the time was what kind of dollar investment Microsoft had promised Nokia for developing and marketing Nokia-made handsets that will ship with Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS.

That detail has been made a bit clearer with a report by Bloomberg earlier Monday saying that Microsoft plans to pay Nokia more than US$1 billion, while Nokia, in turn, pays Microsoft a licensing fee for each copy of Windows Phone 7, as well as the right to use some of Microsoft’s expansive patent portfolio.

In addition, Microsoft is said to be paying some of its investment long before the first Nokia phones running Windows Phone 7 go into the sales channel.

The deal, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass says, will run for more than five years and has not yet been signed.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the matter. Nokia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Qt no more
In addition to the reported financial details of the Nokia and Microsoft deal, Nokia announced earlier Monday that it would be selling off its Qt application development framework business. Qt had let application developers create apps that run on both Symbian and MeeGo, two mobile operating systems that Nokia is pushing aside to put the focus on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS.

Nokia picked up Qt in its US$150 million acquisition of Trolltech in 2008. Buying it from Nokia is Finland-based Digia, which says it’s going to set up subsidiaries in the U.S. and Norway to run Qt-related commercial licensing and operations businesses for the nearly 3,500 companies that currently use its Qt commercial licensing. The close of the sale is set for later this month for an undisclosed sum.

The move is not the death of Qt, and Nokia will continue to be involved with serving Qt commercial licensees, wrote Sebastian Nyström, who is the vice president of Qt and Webkit along with being the head of MeeGo for Nokia.

“Although Digia will now be responsible for issuing all Qt Commercial software licenses and for providing dedicated services and support to licensees, Nokia’s Qt technical support team will support and work closely with Digia for the next year,” Nyström said. “We will now begin work with Digia to ensure a smooth transition of all licenses and commercial relationships.”

The new ownership will also bring some extra features to the platform Nyström said.

“Digia will invest significant resources in the ongoing development of Qt as a commercial framework. In particular, their plans include emphasizing Qt in the desktop and embedded environments and exploring new support models and feature requests,” Nyström explained. “Commercial customers can also expect improvements in support and functionality for older platforms that were not on the Nokia development road map. If you are a holder of a Qt commercial license you can expect to hear more about this soon.”

Operators in emerging markets feel network pressure

Operators from emerging markets are boosting their mobile networks to handle growing traffic from smartphones and mobile broadband devices, but an industry observer says they should relook their current business strategies to stay relevant.

Arun Bansal, Ericsson head of Southeast Asia and Oceania, told ZDNet Asia that the region has seen an influx of smartphones and mobile data growth, driving operators expand their mobile networks in terms of coverage and capacity.

In a separate interview, David Chambers, Amdocs’ product marketing manager, concurred that the growth of mobile broadband is putting a strain on operators’ network.

However, despite the rush to boost their 3G infrastructure, Chambers said it is not technically possible for operators to build out capacity fast enough to meet forecasted demand.

He noted that these service providers are instead looking at Wi-Fi or femtocells to help offload data traffic, pointing to China Mobile’s plans to deploy 1 million WiFi hotspots as an example.

Customer experience a differentiator
According to Chambers, customer experience will play a big role in boosting an operator’s competitive edge. He explained that operators previously focused on selling the latest smartphones in the market because consumers’ selection of a mobile operator was “90 percent based on the device and 10 percent on networks”, he said.

This scenario will change, said Chambers, as users will increasingly choose their operator based on the quality of its networks. “Unless you are with the right network, [having the phone is] less useful,” he added.

He also pushed for operators to offer tiered data plans instead of unlimited data plans since they will need to ensure their networks can cater to loads that cannot be determined. Contrary to consumer belief that unlimited data plans are better, he said customers will appreciate charges that are “more directly related to what they think they should pay for” instead of paying a higher premium for unlimited data plans.

Instead of offering a general billing system, operators should also provide ways for customers to check in real-time how much data they are using, he said, noting that operators should cap customers’ data traffic when they reach the data limit instead of abruptly cutting them off.

Zeus fraud gang trial in the UK hits another delay

Plea hearings for 11 people arrested for their part in an an alleged multimillion-pound Zeus fraud ring in the U.K.  have been delayed because the prosecution is still trying to assemble evidence against them.
The complex case is thought to involve a gang operating across a host of countries from Russia to the United States. It has left U.K. prosecutors sifting through a mass of computer logs and financial records that will not now be served as evidence in their entirety until Apr. 1, and has led to several postponements of plea hearings.
Eleven east Europeans attended Croydon Crown Court on Friday to enter pleas against charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. They are alleged to have committed the crimes using the Zeus Trojan.

Read more of “Zeus fraud gang trial hits another delay” at ZDNet UK.

Apple gives developers iOS 4.3 Gold Master

Apple has given developers the Gold Master copy of iOS 4.3, which is slated to go out to users as a free download at the end of next week. The Gold Master is typically the same build users get when the software is released.

The software update was formally unveiled during Wednesday’s iPad 2 event. Developers had first gotten their hands on it in mid-January.

Among the new features that come with iOS 4.3 are support for Home Sharing (which lets you play your iTunes library from anywhere in the house), the capability to turn your iPhone into a Wi-Fi hot spot, improved AirPlay support, and a new JavaScript engine for Safari that Apple says brings Safari mobile up to speed with its Mac OS X counterpart.

Other iPad-specific improvements include a software toggle to turn the switch on the right side of the device into either a mute button, or the screen orientation lock switch–functionality Apple had changed with a previous software update.

Apple said that only the iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch devices will be eligible for the software update.

China to track cell phones for traffic reasons–really

A Chinese government committee announced plans this week to try to ease vehicle traffic congestion by monitoring the whereabouts and movement of millions of mobile phones.

“Aha!” you might say, cynically thinking it’s a ruse by the government to conduct surveillance on its citizens. But that kind of surveillance is already being done there (as it is in the U.S.).

If you had been in the gnarly 62-mile traffic jam that took nine days to clear up near Beijing last August you wouldn’t be so suspicious of the news. Beijing, an urban hub in northern China, has a population of more than 22 million.

“In Beijing, where [I’m from], the traffic is a nightmare,” Andrew Lih, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, told ZDnet Asia’s sister site CNET today. “They are going from the 1930s to the 1980s in one-fifth the time…It’s a genuine announcement and there’s a real need for it, but it seems creepy in American eyes.”

The announcement from the Beijing Science and Technology Commission talks about publishing real-time information based on cellular base station technology that can determine how far and in what direction the phones are traveling. The system can target specific congested areas and include public transit systems. Eventually, commuters will be able to get specific information about their routes that can be used to make more efficient travel plans.

It’s not clear from the announcement exactly how the system will work, but it likely involves triangulating an approximate location of a phone based on signals between the device and cell towers in the area. This may or may not involve the GPS (Global Positioning System) in the phone itself.

“GPS is useful, but isn’t necessary at this stage; if the cell tower wants it, it can get it,” said Don A. Bailey, a senior security consultant at iSec Partners.

“Overall, what they’re doing (in China) is not at all strange. They can get as much location information as they want now, so they wouldn’t have to create some new program to get it. They’d just get it,” he said.

Sure, there is the potential for misuse, but, again, that’s nothing new. Telecom providers can see the phone number associated with a phone and get access to the billing information, all of which must be turned over to the government if agents come knocking on the door, according to Bailey.

“Not everything China does is underhanded and shady,” he said.

StarHub launches data roaming management tool

SINGAPORE–Local telco StarHub intends to make it easier for customers to monitor their data roaming usage with Roam Manager, an unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) command which they can key into their phone to receive related information.

StarHub subscribers can access the free service from today by typing *100# on their handsets.”We are seeing an increasing number of data bill shock complaints,” Joanna Chan, vice president of personal solutions at StarHub, said without revealing specific figures at the product launch here Wednesday.

Chan noted that more people are traveling overseas and there is a general lack of awareness when it comes to managing data roaming costs.

Web browsing, e-mail access, mobile applications, social networks and video streaming are the most popular functions that require a data connection, she said.

Aside from checking daily data roaming costs, Roam Manager also provides users with information such as contact numbers to emergency hotlines and local embassies. They can also opt to receive notifications when data roaming usage hits a specified amount in a day. These “warning signals” are available in four levels, with amounts varying between S$20 and S$100 for Level 1, and between S$200 and S$1,000 for Level 4. The existing alert triggers when usage reaches S$100.

By the end of this month, StarHub customers will also be able to suspend and reconnect their data roaming service directly via Roam Manager.

Along with the new service, the operator also introduced four new monthly data roaming plans, which cost between S$30 (10MB) and S$200 (100MB), for 21 countries around the world. These will complement the existing data plan with a daily cap of S$15 in 11 Asia-Pacific countries.

Service providers will differ for users who opt for the monthly plan instead of the daily model. For example, in Hong Kong, the daily plan is supported by a tie-up with Hutchison Telecommunications, while the monthly plan will be tied to either CSL or China Mobile HK.

Singapore’s two other mobile operators, SingTel and M1, also offer similar daily plans with prices capped at S$20 and S$15, respectively, for post-paid customers.

M1 said an SMS alert can be sent to customers when they hit 5MB of data usage. Subsequent alerts, the local mobile operator added, will be sent at 20MB, 40MB and 100MB intervals. SingTel also offers the same SMS alert service when usage hits 5MB, 15MB and 25MB.

This article was first posted in CNETAsia.

Gartner: Consider alternative networking vendor

The networking market has changed over the last decade, with more viable players capable of competing with frontrunner Cisco Systems, according to an industry analyst, who notes that switching to a different vendor has its advantages.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said the networking landscape has moved from a seller’s market dominated by Cisco ten years ago, to a more competitive environment today populated with more players. Toronto-based Fabbi was speaking at a media briefing hosted by Hewlett-Packard last week.

“If you look back at the last decade, Cisco really set the terms and conditions of the market,” the Gartner analyst noted. “It was the one providing the messages and directions in the market, as well as setting the price-points in the marketplace both for equipment and services.”

The landscape, however, has changed in the last few years with “true viable competition” coming from vendors equipped with broad portfolios as well as good service and support, he said. Hewlett-Packard with its acquisition of 3Com and move into the enterprise sector, and efforts in ramping up its technology and capabilities, are among the challengers Cisco now faces, he added.

Instead of defaulting to Cisco, Fabbi said enterprises should shortlist products from other vendors as well build a better network and save money.

“No vendor, no matter who they are, is best at everything.” 

— Mark Fabbi
Gartner

He pointed out that some IT organizations are unwilling to consider alternative vendors because they are comfortable with the current system or believe it is too difficult to switch partners. However, the latter is a perception rather than reality, the analyst noted.

Cisco, however, remained unfazed.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, a Cisco spokesperson said the company “has always enjoyed healthy competition in the networking market”. This is no different now, she added.

“Customers have consistently spoken with their wallets,” she said, pointing out that Cisco remains the vendor with the biggest market share globally for managed switching, enterprise routing and network security based on findings by Dell’Oro.

Benefits of different vendor
According to Fabbi, a benefit of procuring products from other vendors is that enterprises are able to build a better network–one built to fit the requirements of the company.

“No vendor, no matter who they are, is best at everything,” he pointed out. “Enterprises have to start answering, ‘Why am I buying this technology? What problems is it solving? Should I look at other vendors?”

Economic pressures have also led enterprises to shortlist alternative vendors, instead of just Cisco, for equipment refresh, he added. That said, enterprises should not use price as a determining factor for switching vendors, he added.

“Saving money is nice but [it should not be] not the primary reason for the enterprise to look around and compare vendors,” cautioned Fabbi.

Instead, organizations have to make sure the network built is the right size for the company.

“In some cases, you may find you will spend more money in some places and less in others,” he explained. “By doing an analysis, you can make the right choice.”

Contrary to perceptions that customers are locked in by Cisco’s proprietary technologies, Fabbi said the networking giant’s lack of integration between its acquired products makes it is easier for competitors to “infiltrate and sell into parts of the Cisco infrastructure”.

“Cisco grew by acquisition,” he said. “Despite the fact that it sells a lot of things, operationally, [the products] all look and behave a little bit different.” Citing Cisco’s Catalyst and Nexus families of switchers as an example, Fabbi said: “A Cisco network is as multi-vendor as another network [built] with [products from] Juniper Networks, HP, F5 Networks or some other vendor.”

He added that there are some elements in Cisco products, such as the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP), in which “it continues to try to maintain proprietary capabilities [even though there are industry] standards”. Customers that want choice and openness may, as a result of this, turn to other vendors, he said.

Cisco: Innovation key ingredient
In response to this observation, the Cisco spokesperson said the company “has consistently pursued a standards-based approach to innovation”–whether it is products from the Cisco Catalyst or Nexus family line, or its architectural approach to “borderless networks and the unified fabric in the data center”.

She added that Cisco addresses its competition by “leading with innovation”. “Cisco is focused on innovation and on solving our customers’ problems. We let our customers decide who is best for their business,” she said.

To drive innovation in its product, the networking company spends over 10 percent of its revenues in research and development, she noted, adding that the company last year spent US$5.3 billion on product development.

‘Social Network’ disappoints at Oscars

Its fortunes didn’t fare quite so well as the company it was based on: “The Social Network,” a controversial recounting of the origins of Facebook, did not win the Oscar for Best Picture at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards tonight. As many had been expecting, the award went instead to historical drama “The King’s Speech”.

“The Social Network” also failed to win Best Director (that also went to “The King’s Speech”), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Actor, where Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg fell in favor of “King’s Speech” lead actor Colin Firth. In the Best Actor category, Eisenberg had not been expected to win (in addition to Firth, he was up against the likes of Jeff Bridges and Javier Bardem), but director David Fincher had had a good shot at Best Director and the film was widely considered the front-runner for Best Picture until buzz about “The King’s Speech” started to escalate.

The Fincher-directed film did, however, win Best Film Editing, Best Original Score for the music written by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Best Screenplay Adaptation for Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed script.

The hype surrounding “The Social Network” had hit a fever pitch in the weeks before its release, and some critics say that it reached a point of overhype that ultimately made it a less palatable choice for the voters in the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Some pundits also said that alleged factual inaccuracies–Facebook has decried its portrayal of Zuckerberg as a mean-spirited, near-pathological manipulator of human social connections–may have hurt its chances with the Academy.

That said, “The King’s Speech” was also hit by some claims of twisted history.

Facebook initially fought against the unauthorized “The Social Network” (and the book it was based on, Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires”). But as its release date grew closer, the company changed its tune and said that while Facebook still considered the film “fiction,” that it was an entertaining piece of cinema–Zuckerberg himself has said that he hoped it would inspire young people to pursue careers in computer science, and as a surprise prank appeared alongside Eisenberg in an episode of “Saturday Night Live”.

US domain name veto dumped

The Obama administration has failed in its bid to allow it and other governments to veto future top-level domain names, a proposal before ICANN that raised questions about balancing national sovereignty with the venerable Internet tradition of free expression.

A group of nations rejected (PDF) that part of the U.S. proposal last week, concluding instead that governments can offer nonbinding “advice” about controversial suffixes such as .gay but will not receive actual veto power.

Other portions of the U.S. proposal were adopted, including one specifying that individual governments may file objections to proposed suffixes without paying fees and another making it easier for trademark holders to object. The final document, called a “scorecard”, will be discussed at a two-day meeting that has started in Brussels.

At stake are the procedures to create the next wave of suffixes to supplement the time-tested .com, .org, and .net. Hundreds of proposals are expected this year, including .car, .health, .love, .movie, and .web, and the application process could be finalized at a meeting next month in San Francisco of ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Proposed domain suffixes like .gay are likely to prove contentious among more conservative nations, as are questions over whether foreign firms should be able to secure potentially lucrative rights to operate geographical suffixes such as .nyc, .paris, and .london. And nobody has forgotten the furor over .xxx, which has been in limbo for seven years after receiving an emphatic thumbs-down from the Bush administration.

“We are very pleased that this consensus-based process is moving forward,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Commerce Department said in a statement provided to CNET over the weekend. “The U.S., along with many other GAC members, submitted recommendations for consideration and as expected, these recommendations provided valuable input for the development of the new scorecard.”

GAC is the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN and composed of representatives of scores of national governments from Afghanistan to Yemen. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, serves as the committee’s representative from the United States.

ICANN representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University and author of a recently published book on Internet governance, says an effort he supported–complete with an online petition–“shamed” GAC representatives “into thinking about the free expression consequences” of a governmental veto.

“When I started this campaign, I knew that the Department of Commerce could never defend what they were doing publicly,” Mueller said. “There are also potential constitutional issues.”

Complicating the Obama administration’s embrace of a governmental veto was its frequently expressed support for Internet freedoms including free speech, laid out in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech last January. Clinton reiterated the administration’s commitment to “the freedom to connect” again in a speech in Washington, D.C. this month.

One argument for the veto over new-top level domains is that it could fend off the possibility of a more fragmented Internet, which would likely happen if less liberal governments adopt technical measures to prevent their citizens from connecting to .gay and .xxx Web sites. In addition, handing governments more influence inside ICANN could reduce the odds of a revolt that would vest more Internet authority with the United Nations, a proposal that China allies supported last year.

“I suspect that the U.S. government put (the veto power) in there to show that it wants to respect the wishes of governments,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of the NetChoice coalition. “I think the U.S. would prefer to see a string rejected rather than let it get into the root and have multiple nations block the top-level domain.”

DelBianco, whose coalition’s members include AOL, eBay, Oracle, VeriSign, and Yahoo, said “blocking creates stability and consistency problems with the Internet…The U.S. government was showing a preference for having one global root.”

Today’s meeting in Brussels between the ICANN board and national government, which appears to be unprecedented in the history of the organization, signals a deepening rift and an attempt to resolve disputes before ICANN’s next public meeting beginning March 13 in San Francisco. (The language of the official announcement says the goal is “arrive at an agreed upon resolution of those differences.”)

A seven-page statement (PDF) in December 2010 from the national governments participating in the ICANN process says they are “very concerned” that “public policy issues raised remain unresolved.” In addition to concern over the review of “sensitive” top-level domains, the statement says, there are also issues about “use and protection of geographical names.”

That statement followed years of escalating tensions between ICANN and representatives of national governments, including a letter (PDF) they sent in August 2010 suggesting that “the absence of any controversial [suffixes] in the current universe of top-level domains to date contributes directly to the security and stability of the domain name and addressing system.” And the German government recently told (PDF) ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom that there are “outstanding issues”–involving protecting trademark holders–that must be resolved before introducing “new top-level domains”.

WAC stores to co-exist with major app stores

Telco-supported mobile app shops established by the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) can co-exist with existing app stores operated by platform owners such as Apple and Google, but not without some challenges, say analysts.

Comprising 68 members from the telecom industry as well as handset manufacturers, WAC aims to provide a “wholesale” platform offering apps that are developed to run on multiple devices. It was commercially launched at last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Marc Einstein, industry manager at Frost & Sullivan, noted that WAC app stores are able to co-exist with other major OS-specific app stores in the short-term period. A vast majority of mobile phones are not supported by an app store, Einstein noted, adding that out of the 1.6 billion phones shipped last year, only about 300 million units were smartphones.

Daryl Chiam, principal analyst at Canalys, concurred that WAC app stores can co-exist with major app stores. To compete with existing app stores and boost the use of WAC app store, Chiam said operators need to ensure the store comes preinstalled in the phones they sell.

Based on its latest specifications, one of the benefits WAC apps are touted to offer is billing integration with the operator’s network–a capability many app stores currently lack, he said. WAC app stores also allow operators the opportunity to resell apps and increase their mobile revenue, he added.

However, Chiam noted that all is not rosy for the WAC ecosystem. He explained that developers will need to sacrifice user experience for “write once, run everywhere” apps to cater to the different platforms. To address this challenge, he suggested developers figure out how to increase user engagement.

Einstein added that players involved in promoting WAC need to ensure there are enough compatible devices in the market to support demand for its apps.

Market in developing markets
According to the Frost & Sullivan analyst, a bigger opportunity for these carrier-supported app stores lies in the developing markets. He noted that emerging markets are not as saturated with app stores, specifically, Apple’s App store or Google’s Android Market. A previous report from Frost & Sullivan noted that smartphone sales in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 54 percent of total devices sold in 2010, up from 9 percent in 2009.

George Huang, vice president of Huawei Software Technologies, concurred.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, he noted that the WAC platform can offer more apps for mobile users in emerging markets as most of them cannot afford expensive smartphones.

However, Huang believes that WAC app stores can also persevere in developed markets and compete against existing app store operators by offering users a wider choice of applications.

He added that app stores can co-exist, pointing to operators such as China Mobile and China Telecom which have included applications from Nokia’s Ovi Store in their own app stores.

Ninety percent of Windows Phones updating fine

Microsoft has provided more detail into the number of phones that are having problems with a software update it began to roll out at the beginning of the week.

Speaking to ZDNet about reports that some phones were becoming unusable after the update, a Microsoft representative said the company had seen a 90-percent success rate by customers who were attempting to install the update.

“Of the remaining 10 percent, the top two issues encountered are the result of customer Internet connectivity issues and inadequate storage space on the phone or PC,” the company representative said. “These account for over half of the reported issues with this update.”

Reports of problems with the update, which had been pushed out to phones to help prepare them for the first of two updates that will add new features, began appearing shortly after the update began to make its way into the hands of users. Microsoft had sent out notifications about the update to users in waves, letting some grab the updated software before others.

Users with Samsung devices appear to have captured the brunt of the problems. Microsoft responded by temporarily pulling the update for Samsung Windows Phone users. For some updaters, the process hung just past the halfway point, leaving them with a non-functioning device. Microsoft yesterday told news site WinRumors that it had identified the cause of the problem, but had pulled the update as a precaution until a fixed version could be sent out.

Microsoft is urging those users with phones that had been left unusable after the update to contact their mobile operator or device manufacturer for repair options. In the meantime, the Hardware 2.0 blog over at ZDNet has instructions for doing a full restore of the phone for users who may have gotten stuck during the update process.

This update had been a precursor to the long-awaited first update to the Windows Phone 7 platform that will bring new features like copy and paste, an improved Marketplace search tool, and faster load times for some games and applications. This update had been sent out to ease the installation of that update package, much like Microsoft does ahead of major service packs for its Windows operating system.

Google rolls out Honeycomb SDK for Android tablets

Google has released the full software development kit for Honeycomb, the tablet-friendly version 3.0 of its Android operating system.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Android SDK tech lead Xavier Ducrohet wrote that the release made it possible for developers to create applications for the new platform and publish them to the Android Market.

Honeycomb looks quite different to other versions of Android, as it is designed for use on larger screens than those present on smartphones. The new SDK makes it easier to manage screen space usage and the kinds of gestures that people will use on tablets such as the Motorola Xoom, which will be the first Honeycomb-bearing tablet to hit the market.

Read more of “Google rolls out Honeycomb SDK for Android tablets” at ZDNet UK.

Major mobile operators close in on NFC

The largest mobile operators in the U.K. and abroad have all agreed to provide services using near-field communications, the technology that powers smart cards and contactless bank cards.

On Monday, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange and Telefonica issued a joint statement along with other operators, saying they intended to launch commercial near-field communication (NFC) services for handsets in select markets by 2012. The mobile companies operate the T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2 brands in the U.K., respectively.

“NFC is perhaps best known for its role in enabling mobile payments, but its applications go far beyond that,” said Franco Bernabe, the chairman of international operator body the GSM Association (GSMA), in the statement. “NFC represents an important innovation opportunity and will facilitate a wide range of interesting services and applications for consumers, such as mobile ticketing, mobile couponing, the exchange of information and content, control access to cars, homes, hotels, offices, car parks and much more.”

Read more of “Major mobile operators close in on NFC” at ZDNet UK.

Intel seeks new MeeGo partner

Intel chief executive Paul Otellini has said the company is looking for a new partner to help develop the MeeGo OS, following Nokia’s switch to Windows Phone 7.

Nokia has not abandoned MeeGo, but its decision to focus on Windows Phone 7 for its smartphones has left question marks over the OS’s future. Intel is not throwing in the towel, however, having recently demonstrated the OS at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We will find another partner,” Otellini told news wire Reuters in an interview. “The carriers still want a third ecosystem and the carriers want an open ecosystem, and that’s the thing that drives our motivation.

“Some closed models will certainly survive, because you can optimize the experience, but in general, if you harness the ability of all the engineers in the world and the developers in the world, open wins,” Otellini added.

Read more of “Intel looking for new MeeGo partner after Nokia’s move to Windows Phone” at CNET UK.

Sony Ericsson eyes No.1 Android maker label

newsmaker BARCELONA–Sony Ericsson wants to be the No. 1 Google Android handset maker in the world. And it needs a strong foothold in the U.S. market to make that goal a reality, said company CEO Bert Nordberg.

Sony Ericsson, a joint venture between Japanese consumer electronics maker Sony and Swedish telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson, has been on the mobile phone scene for about a decade. The company has mostly concentrated on delivering high-end phones to the European and Asian markets. But it’s never had a strong presence in the United States, which has helped keep its overall market share in the bottom half of major handset providers.

But Sony Ericsson has bigger ambitions. ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET sat down with Nordberg on the eve of the GSM Association’s Mobile World Congress to hear how the company plans to become the No. 1 Android device maker. Nordberg talked about Sony Ericsson’s highly anticipated Xperia Play, dubbed the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phone.

The phone, which is based on Google’s latest Android software and was introduced Sunday at Sony Ericsson’s press conference, will become its flagship smartphone in the U.S. market. To generate buzz ahead of the launch, Sony Ericsson ran an advertisement during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. And according to Nordberg, it worked. He wouldn’t say how much the company spent on that ad. But he said the CEO of a major U.S. carrier called him directly to ask when his network could get the new phone.

“It was the first time we had a Super Bowl ad,” he said. “But it was money well spent.”

Nordberg also shared some candid opinions about the deal announced last week between rival handset maker Nokia and Microsoft. And he discussed the importance of Sony Ericsson cracking the U.S. carrier market. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

Before we talk about Sony Ericsson’s big news, let’s discuss the newly announced Nokia-Microsoft partnership. Last week, Nokia announced that it will use Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system as its primary OS. What does this mean for Sony Ericsson?
Well, it’s clear that our focus is on Android. It’s where our focus has been this past year. And we will continue that. In fact, we plan to double the number of Android phones in the market this year. It’s an ongoing journey, but we like our position in the Android ecosystem. And we’ve made big contributions to the open-source software.

We think the Nokia news is quite interesting for others, especially those who have invested in the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem.

But Sony Ericsson has supported the Microsoft mobile platform in the past. Does this mean that you aren’t going to be a Windows Phone 7 supporter?
We are not big supporters of the Microsoft platform. It’s not a big part of our strategy, so it’s not really an issue for me. But for companies that have invested a lot in Windows Phone 7, they have to ask if Nokia will get an advantage that will change the game.

That said, as a European I think it says a lot about where the industry is going. It looks like the last stronghold in Europe in mobile has moved to the West Coast of the U.S. The U.S. is taking over. They are first with LTE. So much of the OS innovation is happening there. It’s obvious that it’s more important to come from the Internet world than from the mobile world. And that is why California is so important.

Nokia is still the world’s largest maker of cell phones. From a competitive standpoint are you still worried about them?
I was worried about them more before their announcement with Microsoft. It’s probably going to work out better for us. They would have had a greater impact on us if they had gone with Android.

Speaking of Android, how can you as a handset maker differentiate your product on Android, when so many of your competitors are also using the software?
That is the trick. We can build beautiful phones that connect to the living room, because we are partly owned by Sony. So we can connect to TVs. We have better screen technology, better cameras. And then our other parent is Ericsson, which owns the network. So we know about changes and features for the fastest speed networks. Ericsson has a very strong network patent portfolio, and we can leverage the ecosystem for those network technologies to get good margins.

So hardware is where you see Sony Ericsson differentiating itself?
Yes, that is where we can offer innovation by merging products and platforms, like the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phone. And we also have big ownership in content: movies, music, and TV programs. So we have a strong relationship there as well.

Upgrades to Android come out so quickly. What is the strategy for supporting all these different versions of software? That must create a bit of a problem in terms of how long you can support a particular phone.
Upgrades in the mobile market have become a lot like the computer industry. The upgrades are coming rapidly. And it really changes the nature of the industry. Mobile phones used to be phones with computers built into them. But now that’s changing. They’re now computing devices with a phone. That’s why so much of the development has gone to the West Coast in the U.S. And it’s why we are working so closely with Google.

One of our competitors has said they will support upgraded software for up to two years and then cut if off. We haven’t set specific timing on this. That’s difficult to do. But because the chipsets get upgraded every three years, it means that after three years some CPUs won’t be able to run the software of today. So I think two years is not too bad a strategy when you are talking about supporting software upgrades.

You just announced the Xperia Play smartphone, which has been dubbed the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phone. It’s one of the first iconic devices from the company to launch in the U.S. And it’s the first device you’re selling on Verizon Wireless. Why the U.S. and why Verizon?
We’ve always launched products in Europe and then the U.S. But we’ve learned that the U.S. won’t take a device unless they’re first. So the strategy has turned around. As I said before, we’re seeing a lot of activity in mobile happening in California now. It’s why we moved our CTO and chief creative team from Europe to the U.S. So I now have two executive teams reporting to me from California. This is not a joke. Operators in the U.S. know we are serious about this market and we’re coming to them.

So why launch with Verizon Wireless first? You’ve offered other Sony Ericsson devices on GSM carriers in the U.S., such as AT&T and T-Mobile USA.
Verizon Wireless is such a big player in the U.S. market, so it’s become very important. And also Verizon is a great company with a good network. It doesn’t mean that they will be alone in offering this device. We’re not big on exclusivity. So I think we should remain open.

Some handset makers have lamented about how difficult it is to get into an American carrier. What’s your take on this?
They (U.S. operators) have 23,000 different things you have to do to be allowed on their networks. So it’s damn difficult to get in there. There is a lot of coding and special adaptation that needs to be done. And they only accept very good phones in the network. But once you get in, the investment is done. So we hope that is step one.

As you’ve stated, it’s not easy to break into a U.S. carrier. So how did you do it with Verizon?
One of our parent companies is Ericsson, and that’s how we got in. Ericsson sells LTE gear to Verizon. And Ericsson also bought some networking businesses from Nortel, which also sold to Verizon. So we could build a relationship from that. Then we started to show them the phones. And they loved the Xperia Play.

Some people say that CDMA is a dying technology. And Nokia has chosen to essentially ignore the CDMA market. Once LTE is deployed, there won’t be the need for CDMA or even older generations of GSM technology. But with the Sony Xperia Play, you are expanding your CDMA product portfolio to support devices on Verizon. How important is it for you to support CDMA, especially in the U.S.?
All CDMA customers will evolve into LTE customers. HSPA customers will also become LTE customers. And then the technologies will merge. But that hasn’t happened yet. And it will take some time. So we could wait and introduce LTE devices. But why would we? Some U.S. carriers are still dependent on the CDMA technology. We want to work with them now as they are in transition. There is a big race to 4G. And we are well-placed because Ericsson is building these LTE networks. So I expect we will have an advantage in that.

The smartphone market is so competitive these days. And Sony Ericsson is not in the top three of handset makers worldwide. What is your goal for the company going forward? Do you hope to be one of the top handset makers?
We want to be No. 1 on Google Android.

Do you mean No. 1 on Android in the world or in the U.S.?
Yes, in the world. Last year, in nine months, we took 14 percent market share in Android worldwide. And we only had four devices. It could have been better. But I’d say that’s not a bad start. We are definitely the No. 1 Android player in Western Europe. But we can’t be No. 1 in the world without the U.S. We need to get into the U.S. market. And we think we need 25 percent of the market to be No. 1 in the world. We are already No. 1 in Japan and Sweden.

Motorola already has a strong Android brand in the U.S., particularly on Verizon’s network. You will now also offer some Android phones on Verizon. How much of a threat is Motorola to your plan to be No. 1 in Android worldwide?
Motorola has a similar strategy with Android that we have. In the U.S. they are very strong. But the difference between us and them is that over 70 percent of their business is in the U.S. Right now, we are limited in the U.S. So we can only do better in the U.S. Motorola is strong where we are weak, and we are strong where they are weak.

Verizon Wireless is launching a lot of very cool new phones this spring. It just launched the Apple iPhone. Neither Apple nor Verizon have released sales figures yet, but Verizon has said that presales of the device were stronger than in previous device launches. How will the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play compete against the Apple iPhone?
I think our phone addresses a different segment of the market. I expect the iPhone will do well. But we will be targeting different customers. We offer a different proposition. This is a gaming and entertainment device. I’d show how some of the games work, but honestly, it’s targeted to a much younger consumer. Besides I have three daughters. And unfortunately they were into horses much more than they were into games.

Service providers need to look ahead

BARCELONA–Service providers need to invest in technologies to bring them into the future even if it is not obvious now that these will help them win the race, urge a panel of speakers who identify mobile Internet as a high growth area.

During his keynote at the Mobile World Congress 2011 here Wednesday, Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO John Chambers said service providers need to look forward and place their bets on technologies relevant for the future, even though its advantages might not be obvious now.

“You have to be willing to place your investments [on technologies] three to five years before they are obvious,” he said. “You have to be willing to ride through short-term criticisms and not be distracted by where you are taking your company.”

Chambers believes the future will be dominated by mobile Internet and video.

“People used to talk about these as separate categories. In my opinion, these will be the characteristics of all fundamental innovation and business change for the next ten years,” he said.

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of Japanese telecommunications company, Softbank, pointed to his own organization as an example to underscore the importance of staying ahead of the curve. He described the company’s 2006 acquisition of Vodafone Japan as a “crazy bet” at that time because the US$20 billion deal was transacted in cash and used mostly to pay off debts.

Moreover, Softbank was losing US$1 billion a year, brought on by the dot.com bust at the turn of the millennium and its share price dipped 60 percent following the announcement of the acquisition.

The bet, however, paid off, Son said, noting that Softbank managed to increased in value despite the telecom market’s flat revenue growth and increasing CAPEX (capital expenditure). This was driven by the growth of its market share as well as the increase of total ARPU (average revenue per user), he said.

The company’s gamble on data services also played a role in boosting ARPU, which helped to offset the drop in ARPU for voice services, he added.

Today, all Softbank customers are 3G subscribers compared to the world average of 22 percent, and 85 percent of new subscribers are smartphone users, he said. The mobile operator is Japan’s third-largest.

Son projected that data traffic increased 1,200 times per user in the past 10 years and this is set to grow even more, particularly as content such as video become richer. This is the reason why mobile Internet will continue to be a big bet for the company, he said.

Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet Asia reported from Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain.

RIM and Nokia: Carrier-friendly smartphone alternatives

BARCELONA, Spain–Research In Motion and Nokia share a similar vision for success: help wireless carriers avoid becoming a dumb pipe.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop shared the stage here Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress as part of a keynote panel. Competition is heating up between the two handset makers after Nokia’s announcement last week that it will team up with software maker Microsoft.

Since the announcement last Friday, Elop has been calling the Nokia-Microsoft pairing the “third horse” in what today is shaping up to be a two-horse race in the mobile industry between the Apple iOS and Google Android platforms. While Nokia and RIM still rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in terms of worldwide smartphone sales, their market share has been giving ground to the Apple and Google platforms.

But where Apple and Google are often seen as a threat to wireless operators because they offer value-added services, such as music, navigation, and even language translation, RIM’s Balsillie said he wants to help wireless operators extract value from their networks. And Nokia’s Elop agreed.

“The tricky dilemma is that there are 900 different carriers,” Balsillie said. “How do you enable these different carriers so that they are not hijacked [by someone else’s services]?”

Balsillie said he sees RIM first and foremost as a hardware and e-mail service provider, offering the most network-efficient push e-mail service on the market. He claims that RIM’s BlackBerry devices consume about half the network resources that similar products from competitors consume. The company also provides an added layer of security to its services that make it less vulnerable to attacks.

One of the important aspects of RIM’s app store, Balsillie said, is the fact that it allows carrier billing for apps as well as within apps. This not only provides a more convenient way for customers to purchase apps or services within apps, but it also allows the carrier to extract some value from the transaction as well.

“We are not an app company,” he said. “What we want to do is plug into what the carriers are already doing.”

Elop said that when carriers talk about Apple and Google there is a sense that they are enabling services thorugh which profits are going in another direction. He said that it’s important for the “third ecosystem” in mobile to help carriers retain a lucrative stake.

“The philosophy of this third ecosystem and what Nokia has done for many years is to find a balance with carriers,” he said. “There needs to be an operator-friendly player. And we aim to be the most operator-friendly platform out there.”

Carriers around the world are embracing devices running iOS software and Android, mostly because these are the devices and services that consumers want. But there is a real fear among wireless operators that the services and capabilities developed as part of these platforms will make the carrier itself irrelevant. It will be Google and Apple that offer all the value to consumers via applications and app store services, while the carrier will only provide basic connectivity. In other words, carriers will become a mere conduit.

“What is most important is how we can avoid being reduced to a ‘dumb pipe’,” said Ryuji Yamada, CEO of Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, who also participated in the keynote panel Wednesday. “We are susceptible more than ever to becoming this dumb pipe because of smartphones. And we are determined to avoid it by all means.”

China Mobile CEO Wang Jianzhou in his keynote presentation Tuesday expressed similar sentiments and advised carriers to continue innovating to avoid falling into this trap.

But some providers say that it’s too late.

“Mobile carriers are becoming dumb pipes,” Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, said during a keynote session earlier. “That’s the depressing reality.”

Indeed, NTT’s Yamada described a service his company could offer that provides automatic translation for people speaking different languages. For example, a Japanese person could talk to his friend who speaks Spanish by using an NTT service.

But Google is already offering this exact service. In fact, the Web powerhouse showcased the Google Translation application at Mobile World Congress a year ago. Yamada acknowledged that the battle to stay relevant will not be easy. But he said it’s a battle that carriers must win.

“Theoretically, we could offer [this translation] service as part of a carrier cloud service or through a third party,” he said.

“It’s a race between the camps,” he continued. “But as a network operator, we are in the best position to know what the network is capable of. And we are determined not to lose this race.”

Nokia’s Microsoft deal leads to shareholder revolt

Were the champagne celebrations of a Nokia-Microsoft partnership premature?

An unnamed “group of nine young Nokia shareholders” who have also been employees released an open letter on Tuesday to the company’s other shareholders and institutional investors that, in a nutshell, said that the Microsoft deal is a bad one for Nokia and that CEO Stephen Elop should be replaced. (Techmeme)

In the letter, the group said it plans to challenge the Microsoft partnership and strategy at the company’s Annual General Meeting for Shareholders on May 3. It said that it has also developed a “Plan B” approach that involves not only replacing Elop but also looks to revamp the company’s hiring strategy and eliminate “outdated and bureaucratic R&D practices.”

Read more of “Nokia’s Microsoft deal leads to shareholder revolt, call for a “Plan B”” at ZDNet.

An iPhone with slide-out keyboard?

Would Apple really consider a slide-out keyboard for its next-generation iPhone?

So goes the latest rumor. A Taiwanese blog, Apple.pro, says it has its hands on information pointing to three different models being considered for final production as the iPhone 5, expected to be released this summer (here’s a Google Translate link).

One has a physical keyboard that slides out, and another is said to be like an iPhone 4 in styling but with a longer-lasting battery and a better camera. The upgrade from an iPhone 4 to that model of iPhone 5, according to the report, would be similar to the modest improvements from iPhone 3G to iPhone 3GS.

Obviously the report is to be taken with a grain of salt or two, but the site has gotten some reliable leaks in the past. It’s been wrong too, according to Apple Insider.

Steve Jobs has expressed his distaste for physical cell phone keyboards in the past. When the original iPhone was introduced in January 2007, Jobs told the MacWorld audience that Apple chose to use a multitouch virtual keyboard in lieu of a physical one, in part because once a keyboard is put on a mobile phone, it’s there forever and hard to change the buttons to work with different applications.

Not that Jobs has never changed his mind before. But Apple is also carrying the banner for all things touch-related, which likely extends to iPhone keyboards for the foreseeable future.

Ericsson bets on mobile broadband, cloud

BARCELONA–Ericsson is looking at mobile broadband and cloud services to drive its efforts toward a “networked society” and announces a partnership with content delivery provider, Akamai, to push content to mobile devices.

During his keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow here Monday, Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg promoted the concept of a networked society, in which “anything that can be benefited by a network will be connected”. In fact, the networking equipment vendor last year predicted that by 2020, the world will have 50 billion connected devices, he said.

According to Vestberg, the three factors that will bring this vision to fruit are mobility, broadband and cloud.

He noted that the number of mobile subscribers is expected to balloon from 5.3 billion at the end of 2010 to reach 7 to 8 billion in 2015, adding that this does not include machine-to-machine adoption.

For operators, broadband has become one of the most important revenue growth areas, he said, adding that mobile broadband adoption is growing so fast that, by 2015, network traffic passing through smart devices is expected to equal that of PC.

Mobile broadband will have a huge impact on society as it is able to reach more people, said Vestberg. He added that among the 500 million smart devices in the world, about 50 percent of overall traffic pass through Ericsson’s networks.

To boost its capability to provide the right content to the right smart device at the right time, the company today signed an exclusive partnership with content delivery company, Akamai. The deal will leverage Ericsson’s experience in provisioning data in networks as well as Akamai’s relationship with content providers, to more efficiently deliver content to mobile consumers, said Vestberg.

Looking to the cloud
Ericsson is also looking to ride the cloud bandwagon and has been providing a range of cloud offerings such as hosted applications and services.

According to Vestberg, the company last year invested in India-based Novatium, which provides PC-as-a-service technology, and currently offers a PC-on-the-cloud service–targeted at operators–that will enable service providers to create new profit avenues from their existing network infrastructure.

At the company’s exhibition booth, Novatium CTO Vinod Kumar Gopinath explained that its service differs from the competition because its provision spans from device to connectivity. Companies and individuals do not need to worry about the hardware specification, software, broadband connection or maintenance, he told ZDNet Asia.

The service was launched commercially two years ago and currently has about 40,000 users in India, said Gopinath. Users purchase the devices, priced from US$140, and pay about US$3 per month to use the service, he said.

Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet Asia reported from Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain.

LG cautious over Nokia-Microsoft deal

LG has reacted tentatively to Microsoft’s new partnership with Nokia, which will give the Finnish handset maker much deeper input into Windows Phone’s development than that allowed to other companies using the platform in their devices.

At an LG press conference on Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, company business strategy chief Yong-seok Jang told ZDNet Asia’s sister site ZDNet UK that there “must be a strategy rationale” for the partnership announced on Friday.

The deal will see Nokia abandon MeeGo as its chosen platform for high-end phones, but will give Nokia more standing in the Windows Phone ecosystem than LG, Dell, HTC and Samsung.

Read more of “LG cautious over Nokia-Microsoft Windows Phone deal” at ZDNet UK.

Mobile operators not liable for forced shutdown

Neither mobile operators nor users are entitled to legal recourse when service providers are forced to shut down or disrupt services by authorities in the markets they operate in, according to lawyers.

The scenario played out in the recent protests in Egypt against now-ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Mobile network operators in the country were ordered by the government to shut down all their network services on Jan. 28, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Two foreign-owned telcos, Vodafone of the United Kingdom and France Telecom, also claimed the authorities forcibly used their text messaging networks to send out pro-government and army-endorsed SMSes to their citizen subscribers, a separate report by the Journal stated. Vodafone said the Egyptian government utilized the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act to send out the messages.

Rajesh Sreenivasan, head of technology, media and telecoms practice at Rajah & Tann Singapore, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that telcos are able to operate in a particular jurisdiction because they are issued a license by the government. Because of that, they will have to comply with the terms of that license; if the telco chooses not to comply, it could face “the wrath of regulation breach”, he pointed out.

The same exclusion of operator liability via a license clause can also extend to the sending of pro-government text-messages to citizen subscribers, added Sreenivasan. When a government invokes emergency powers, it covers a broad spectrum of what they can do, from shutting down places to imposing curfews; hence, it is a “non-issue” for telcos to comply with the authorities’ requests, he explained.

That same power, he said, is used to issue tsunami warnings, for example, because SMS is the easiest way to get the message across.

Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law, held a similar view. “Under normal circumstances, the government would have covered themselves with the ability to order the shutdown of services for national interests.

“This would be covered by legislation or under the licenses granted to the mobile network operators,” he said in an e-mail.

No need for operators to claim damages
Rajah & Tann’s Sreenivasan also pointed out that in the case of Egypt, it would be “unnecessary” for a telco to claim for damages as losses have curbed due to the restoration of most services. Revenue from text messages, he added, is not as high as voice and data.

A statement from Vodafone indicated that the operator’s services for voice and data were restored on Jan. 29 and Feb. 3, respectively.

At press time however, there were no updates on the restoration of text messaging services, even though the end to the hostilities came into sight on Friday, when the country’s leader decided to end his 30-year reign.

If there were no clauses in the telco’s license and the emergency powers are not wide enough to cover the activities the government carries out, there is ground for telcos to claim that they were obligated to carry out actions that caused them to suffer losses, Sreenivasan added.

Mobile users can’t sue
Similarly, it is common for telcos to have a general exclusion of liability in the event of a government request to suspend their services, according to Sreenivasan.

Keystone Law’s Tan noted that the network operators would themselves be covered by the service contract in the event of a shutdown due to government orders. “As the [telcos] really don’t have a choice or discretion, mobile subscribers may have little recourse.”

There is typically a provision in the service contract that if an operator cannot fulfill their service agreement because of a government order or a force majeure, natural disasters such as floods for example, they would not be held liable, Tan said.

Asked about managing customer relations in the event of an authority-backed service shutdown, Ivan Lim, deputy director of corporate communications and investor relations at M1, said in an e-mail statement that the telco will focus on minimizing subscriber anxiety by keeping their customers notified of the latest developments.

“Should the situation arise where the authority informs of the shutdown of network operations for the sake of national interests and security, we will ensure that our customers are consistently and adequately provided with up-to-date information on the [situation, and] supported with a readied business continuity plan,” he said.

Nokia: Windows Phone 7 to be market challenger

BARCELONA–The Nokia-Microsoft partnership will make Windows Phone 7 a third challenger in the current mobile operating system market, says Nokia CEO, who adds that the decision is welcomed by telcos as it will give users choice.

In a press briefing here Sunday evening, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop acknowledged that both Microsoft and Google had courted the Finnish company to ink a partnership, before the phonemaker chose the Windows Phone 7 platform instead of Google Android.

The collaboration will place Windows Phone 7 a strong third challenger in the smartphone market currently dominated by Apple iOS and Android, said Elop.

Citing his discussions with telcos, he said the decision to create another challenger in the market is well received by mobile operators as it will bring more handsets into the market and offer consumers more choice.

If Nokia had decided to go with Android, the collaboration could make the Google OS a “monopoly” due to the platform’s market share and Nokia’s strong footprint in the smartphone market, he said.

Elop clarified that the partnership does not make Nokia an OEM (original equipment manufacturer). Instead, the smartphone maker will contribute a variety of services such as the Ovi Store and location-based functionality to the Windows mobile platform which can be deployed by other Windows Phone 7 handset manufacturers.

He added that Microsoft will bring its Bing search engine, mobile ads and Xbox integration to Nokia’s handsets. The value transfer to Nokia is estimated to be “in the billions” of dollars, he said.

The Finnish company is currently working on new concepts of Windows Phone 7 handsets, revealed Elop but did not give a specific launch date for these devices, saying that the company wants to first ensure the products’ commercial viability.

Asked if he sees Research in Motion’s enterprise-targeted BlackBerry as a competitor, Elop said the Nokia-Microsoft partnership will be a strong rival to the Canadian phonemaker due to the relationship with the Microsoft Office creator and Nokia’s experience in Symbian and E-series phones.

During the media briefing, the CEO also touched on Nokia’s efforts in regaining its footprint in the smartphone market, noting that the company is working on the low-end segment of the market. He said the company will be bringing “fresh” features to these handsets as well as country-targeted efforts such as dual-SIM phones for markets such as India.

“Bold decision” but right
In a research note Monday on the Nokia-Microsoft partnership, Ovum’s principal analyst Tony Cripps noted that there were limited short-term options available for the Finnish company to catch up with the growth of iOS and Android. In particular, the Google mobile platform had looked set to bypass Nokia in terms of smartphone shipments, Cripps said.

“This is a bold decision by Nokia but absolutely the right one, both for itself and for Microsoft given the drastically changed landscape for smartphones in the past couple of years,” the analyst said.

Adam Leach, also a principal analyst at Ovum, said in the same report: “It’s ironic that the sole purpose of Symbian was to stop Microsoft from repeating its domination of the PC market in handsets.

“Nokia now has the opportunity to cast itself in the role that Intel has taken in the Windows PC market as a mutually beneficial, symbiotic marriage between equals rather than as simply a box-shifter.”

Leach, however, noted that there are still potential risks that Nokia could become “merely a vehicle” for Microsoft and its services should the Finnish company fail to differentiate itself from other Windows Phone 7 makers such as HTC, Samsung and LG.

Ovum’ analyst Nick Dillon added: “For Microsoft, this is nothing less than a coup and the shot in the arm its new Windows Phone 7 platform needed, which despite winning acclaim for its innovative design and user experience has so far failed to set the market alight in terms of sales.”

Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet Asia reported from the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Nokia, Microsoft becoming Windows Phone bedfellows

Microsoft and Nokia announced a broad mobile phone partnership on Friday that joins two powerful but lagging companies into mutually reliant allies in the mobile phone market.

As expected, Nokia plans to use Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system as part of a plan to recover from competitive failings detailed in Nokia Chief Executive Stephen Elop’s “burning platform” memo.

But it’s deeper than just an agreement to install the OS on Nokia’s phones. Instead, the companies call it an attempt to build a “third ecosystem”, acknowledging that competing with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android involves a partnership that must encompass phones, developers, mobile services, partnerships with carriers, and app stores to distribute software.

“There are other mobile ecosystems. We will disrupt them. There will be challenges. We will overcome them. Success requires speed. We will be swift,” Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a boldly worded open letter. “Together, we see the opportunity, and we have the will, the resources and the drive to succeed.”

The companies will cooperate tightly under an agreement the companies just describe so far as proposed, not final. Under the deal, Windows Phone 7 would become Nokia’s “principal” operating system, and Nokia would help Microsoft develop it and ensure a broad range of phones using it are available globally.

Nokia will use many Microsoft online services, many of which trail Google rivals, such as Bing for search and maps and AdCenter for advertisements.

When it comes to the sales part of the ecosystem, each company brings something to the deal. Microsoft phones will be able to link up with Nokia’s agreements for carrier billing–a popular option in parts of the world where credit cards are less common. And Nokia will fold its own app store into the Microsoft Marketplace.

It’s not immediately clear what needs to be done to make the deal final; details “specific details of the deal are being worked out,” the companies said.

Nokia, once the dominant power of the mobile phone industry, has ceded the smartphone initiative to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, and Elop believes Nokia’s own Symbian and MeeGo operating systems aren’t competitive. Microsoft has tried for years to penetrate the mobile phone market, and although it now has a credible option with Windows Phone 7, it trails Android when it comes to developer interest and the breadth of phones available.

The two companies can expect their combined might will be more convincing for software authors debating whether they need to bring their apps to yet another ecosystem. But it’s not yet clear how the alliance will extend to another hot new market, tablets, where Microsoft prefers Windows instead of the Windows Phone operating system. In contrast, iOS and Android developers enjoy the same mobile operating system on phones and tablets.

Elop is set to detail the proposal later today at an analyst meeting in London that will be publicly Webcast. The news also arrives immediately before the vast Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, where a large number of new Android phones and tablets can be expected.

It’s uncertain what effect the alliance will have. Microsoft has had strong operating system partnerships with multiple competing PC makers, but the Nokia alliance, with mutually developed products and shared road maps, appears much deeper than the average relationship Microsoft has with hardware makers. That could encourage those who’ve made strong Android commitments–HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG Electronics, Samsung, and more–to double down. After all, they’re all enjoying a period of relative freedom with Nokia in its present relatively uncompetitive state, and strongly pushing Windows Phone products arguably would be abetting the enemy.

The announcement was accompanied by a YouTube video featuring Microsoft and Nokia’s chief executives praising the deal.

“Today, Nokia and Microsoft intend to enter into a strategic alliance,” Elop said in the video, a precursor of a turnaround plan he’s set to detail later today at an analyst conference in London. “Together, we will bring consumers a new mobile experience, with stellar hardware, innovative software, and great services. We will create opportunities beyond anything that currently exists.”

Ballmer said the partnership “brings the brands mobile consumers want, like Bing, Office, and of course Xbox Live.”

Lack of IPv6 mobiles not worrying

Mobile devices that support only IPv4 could pose problems for users in future, but analysts say current dearth of IPv6-enabled smart devices in the market is not cause for worry yet.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Craig Skinner, senior consultant at Ovum, said apart from “a handful of Nokia devices”, not many mobile phones are able to handle IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) through 3G connection. However, some companies such as Apple with its iPhone and iPad devices, as well as HTC, enable IPv6 connection over the Wi-Fi interface, he noted.

Marc Einstein, Frost & Sullivan’s Asia-Pacific industry manager for ICT practice, concurred, noting that a vast majority of smartphones in the market are IPv4-only devices.

Phones that are not IPv6-compliant can become a problem for users, according to Einstein. He predicted a “disturbing” time in the future when owners of IPv4-only phones are not able to access IPv6-only addresses.

Despite this, users planning to get a new device should not be deterred by the lack of IPv6-compatible devices as IPv4 addresses have “not fully run out” yet, he pointed out.

On Feb. 1, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) allotted the last two on-demand lots of IPv4 addresses to the Asia-Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC). Subsequently, IANA also distributed the last five lots of IPv4 addresses to the five regional Internet registries (RIR).

Ovum’s Skinner added that service providers are “not shutting down” IPv4 and will run both versions concurrently.

A Nokia spokesperson echoed the analysts’ views that users should not worry if their phone does not support IPv6. “Based on the present design principle, almost all the existing services on the Internet will remain reachable for IPv4-only phone users for the foreseeable future,” he said in an e-mail interview.

By the time users upgrade their phones to newer models, they will “switch seamlessly” to IPv6, he added.

‘Chicken and egg’ problem
Skinner described the lack of IPv6-compliant phones as a “chicken and egg problem”. He noted that phone makers did not include cater for IPv6 in the devices because of the lack of such networks. On the other hand, network service providers saw no need to deploy IPv6 as there were no handsets in the market demanding the protocol, he added.

The situation, however, will start changing. Skinner said, pointing to U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless which included IPv6 support as a criteria for devices to work on its LTE (Long Term Evolution) network.

Web-connected devices to boost IPv6 uptake
Aside from network provider mandate, Skinner noted that the mobile device usage will also be a driver of IPv6 adoption. Traditionally, service providers “extended the use of IPv4” by reusing and sharing network IP addresses to communicate with devices. Increasingly, with smartphones and laptops connected to the Internet–and hence IP addresses–for a longer period, there may be “congestion” if there are not enough IP addresses, he said.

According to him, IPv6 will only affect mobile app developers “a little” as many apps are agnostic to the two protocols. However, he cautioned that older mobile applications may have code specific to IPv4 and hence are unable to handle the longer IPv6 addresses.

To work around that, app developers should ensure they work with the right set of API, Skinner said, adding that mobile operating system providers have updated their application programming interface.

S’pore telcos see value in Mi-Fi handsets

Mi-Fi-enabled handsets are starting to gain traction in the market, but rather than see them as a threat to their mobile broadband business, two Singapore-based carriers believe such devices can boost mobile data traffic.

Ivan Lim, deputy director of corporate communications and investor relations at M1, said Mi-Fi support on mobile handsets will provide consumers an “added alternative” to access wireless broadband via their mobile devices.

Ng Long Shyang, head of marketing and sales at StarHub, agreed and added that the carrier has no plans to disable handsets with Mi-Fi capabilities.

He explained that from a business perspective, growing mobile data traffic and in turn, revenues, are “important considerations” for operators and it does not make sense to clamp down on mobile handsets because they help drive mobile data usage among consumers.

With Mi-Fi devices, users can create mobile hotspots that allow multiple devices to connect to a 3G cellular Internet service–also called tethering. Some smartphones are also equipped with Mi-Fi capabilities, including those powered by Google’s Android 2.2, known as Froyo such as Dell’s Streak and HTC’s Desire devices.

Apple is also reportedly looking to include Mi-Fi support in its next iOS 4.3 software update. According to technology Web site, Ars Technica, iPhones sold by U.S.-based Verizon Wireless already come with a mobile hotspot feature which will be rolled out to all compatible handsets in the upcoming OS update.

In a previous ZDNet Asia report, Springboard Research analyst Bryan Wang said some telcos may ban smartphone tethering and encourage consumers to buy multiple data SIM cards for every device they want to Web-enable.

Mi-Fi solves broadband congestion?
Revenues aside, Mi-Fi-enabled handsets can also help alleviate 3G broadband traffic congestion.

Nitin Bhat, partner at research house Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, had earlier predicted that Mi-Fi devices such as smartphones will have a “robust business case” as their ability to offload data traffic will ease the strain on existing 3G networks. Bhat added that consumers can do without multiple data plans and SIM cards with Mi-Fi, utilizing one plan for multiple devices instead.

Lim agreed, noting that because Mi-Fi supports multiple users or devices on one network source, the network operator will only identify the primary user accessing the network and not its accompanying users.

That said, he acknowledged that this method of easing wireless broadband congestion is not ideal. “Sharing of data among several devices or parties will subsequently lead to a lag in connectivity as oppose to the connection quality of one dedicated source. The user experience will thus be affected,” he explained.

Ng, however, did not believe Mi-Fi-enabled handsets would alleviate 3G broadband traffic, given that such devices would still tap on the existing broadband infrastructure to support multiple devices.

Ovum’s senior analyst, Nicole McCormick, shared his sentiments. She said in her e-mail that Mi-Fi-enabled handsets and devices will likely increase the amount of traffic on 3G broadband connections. This, though, will generate additional revenue opportunities for carriers, McCormick said.

The analyst instead pointed to femtocells as a better solution to alleviate network congestion. She said femtocells, which provide a local mobile 3G hotspot with fixed network backhaul, would be more attractive to operators looking to address rising demand for bandwidth.

Industry insiders, however, said in an earlier ZDNet Asia report that femtocells lacked a compelling business case which is hindering mass adoption of the device.

As femtocells are managed by users, carriers have no way of ensuring its wireless coverage quality can be adequately maintained from the consumer end. Furthermore, the lack of operator buy-in means the device remains pricey, which is another barrier for adoption.

Meanwhile, operators are already looking at other options to improve mobile broadband coverage quality.

StarHub, for instance, upgraded its network on two levels, Ng revealed. First, it implemented HSPA+ dual carriage technology, which could potentially double mobile broadband speeds to 42.2 Mbps, he said. Second, the carrier is working with Huawei Technologies on a smartphone signaling offering that optimizes the way handsets communicate with the network.

Ng said: “This signaling technology effectively halves redundant signaling loads, hence improving mobile broadband connectivity and overall smartphone performance.” He added that StarHub is looking at long-term evolution (LTE) in its next phase of mobile network development projects.

M1 is also looking to LTE to improve its mobile broadband business in the future.

Lim said: “The adoption and upgrade of our network to LTE is an area that we’ll be placing much focus on as we anticipate a strong growth in mobile data, and LTE would be an efficient mode in supporting this growth.”

Social media most evolved in S’pore

SINGAPORE–The city-state is among the world’s most evolved social media markets and its people’s national pastime, shopping, is clearly reflected in their online habits, according to a research conducted by Firefly Millward Brown.

Released during a press briefing here Thursday, the survey findings revealed that Singaporeans’ lives converge online and offline, where their families, friends, interests, work and hobbies could be found in the tangible as well as virtual world.

Nichola Rastrick, managing director of the research firm, said: “For example, if they can see branded products in a shop, they expect to also find them in an online environment.” This was unlike other countries in the region, where Internet users relied on social media more for communication, she said.

Covering 15 countries including Singapore, China, India and the United States, the qualitative survey was developed based on the observations of 32 selected bloggers in each country, according to the Firefly.

Christoper Madison, the company’s regional director of digital strategy, said Singapore’s evolved social landscape is due to the fact that its citizens are brand-savvy and genuinely want to be associated with fashion brands even in the digital world.

“The things that they do in [Singapore’s shopping strip] Orchard Road, can be very similar to what they are doing online, such as to find out more about discounts and events offered by the popular brands,” said Madison.

Hence, he noted that companies and marketers are also more proactive in making their online presence felt by engaging consumers through Facebook and other social media platforms, in the form of viral videos and regular news updates.

Besides shopping, food blogs and banks were also some of the more popular “encounters”, or mentions, in Singapore’s social media scene, according to the survey.

It added that easy and cheap access to the Internet, as well as the comfort level with going online, are some of the reasons why social media is more pervasive here.

While the study showed that the experience and behavior of social media users did not vary too much among the 15 countries surveyed, the “shopping association” was less obvious in Thailand and Indonesia.

Firefly’s findings revealed the Thais used social media to create a sense of community, and much of the online conversation revolved around expressions of friendship and connectedness.

Indonesians, however, regarded social media as a way to establish social status, success and as a platform for self-promotion.

Rastrick added that mobile penetration rate is extremely high in Indonesia, and with the constant traffic jams, platforms that provide brief and quick means of communicating such as Twitter are gaining popularity.

And while Facebook might not be readily available in China, the country’s online citizens were still active participants on social media networks, turning instead to local platforms such as Renren for online conversations, according to Firefly.

However, due to the restriction of Facebook, Chinese social media users felt left out of global dialogues, the survey found.

Businesses still figuring out social reach
But while social media may be the rage now, companies and marketers are still grasping to find the right way to reach out to consumers, according to Firefly.

Rastrick explained that the survey findings clearly showed that consumers did not want social platforms to turn into an avenue to hawk goods and services. Instead, they wanted marketers to engage them in dialogues, she said.

She warned that the biggest mistake marketers can make is to treat social media networks as a “marketplace”.

Madison added that businesses should cultivate a two-way conversation with the online community and establish a proper social media team to run effective campaigns.

“It’s easier to get on than [keep a campaign going]… Once you start something in the social media space, it is a commitment,” he said.

Using Singapore as an example, Madison said consumers are savvy and know what they want, and companies should invest in the social media space to respond to this market.

He also identified some rules for social media engagement, such as being selective about the platforms and using tactics to motivate the influencers and social media “stars”, or high-profile social personalities. This can be achieved by having good knowledge of the local market, he added.

Other rules include paying attention to small details, allowing negative comments so that consumers can make informed decisions, and building social media credentials through “humanization” of the brand, he suggested.

Nokia prepares for major shake-up

Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop is reportedly preparing for a major shake-up at the company as he searches for a way to save the once mighty cell phone brand.

Elop is expected to unveil a new strategy for turning around the company at its investors’ conference in London on Friday. Nokia has been slipping in terms of market share the last several quarters as it faces stiff competition at the high end of the market from Apple’s iPhone as well as phones running Google’s Android platform. And at the low end, the company is also facing competition from Chinese manufacturers.

News outlets are already reporting bits and pieces of the new strategy supposedly leaked from insiders. Reuters said Wednesday that unnamed sources at the company confirmed that Nokia has halted development of its new high-end mobile operating system, Meego. And The Register in the U.K. said in its story that “well-placed sources” inside of the company told it that Nokia is considering moving its headquarters from Espoo, Finland, to Silicon Valley.

And Nokia this week may announce that it is adopting an operating system from one of its rivals, either Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 or Google’s Android, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Journal said today that Nokia is in talks with Microsoft about making use of Windows Phone 7, along with its own Symbian software. Before joining Nokia last fall, Elop was a top executive at Microsoft.

Nokia representatives declined to comment.

Elop, who hinted at sweeping new changes during the company’s most recent earnings call with investors, wrote a scathing internal memo that was leaked to The Wall Street Journal and Engadget this week.

In that memo, he said the company has lost its competitive edge to competitors Apple and Google. Apple’s iPhone has dominated the smartphone market for the past couple of years, and Google’s Android operating system has quickly picked up momentum as Nokia’s traditional handset competitors adopt the free, open-source platform.

In the memo, he noted that the company’s own two operating systems– Symbian and Meego–may not be enough to combat rivals. The traditional Symbian OS is unwieldy, and the Meego effort, announced almost a year ago for high-end devices, is woefully late.

“We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones,” he said in the memo. “However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.”

The company has already started to cancel product launches in the U.S. Last month is was reported that the company canceled the upcoming U.S. release of a new smartphone, the X7, which was supposed to be exclusive to AT&T. The company also supposedly canceled the launch of another device on T-Mobile USA’s network.

As for possible plans to virtually relocate the company’s headquarters? It’s not entirely unlikely. The board of directors made a bold move in putting Elop in charge. He is the first non-Finnish CEO in the company’s 150-year history.

Nokia moved into its current headquarters in Espoo in the 1980s, The Register said. If the company moved headquarters to the U.S., it likely wouldn’t affect the company’s main development facility in Finland.

Other executives have also taken bold moves to change the company throughout its history. The Register noted that the late CEO Kari Kairamo ushered Nokia into the high-tech age with numerous acquisitions in the 1980s. And Jorma Olilla shed many of the company’s legacy industrial businesses. Later, he ditched Nokia’s consumer electronics and computing products.

While Nokia’s presence in the U.S. today is minimal, the company did have a major facility in Irving, Texas, for several years. In an effort to regain market share in the U.S., the company opened a new office in Sunnyvale, Calif., in December, which could serve as the new headquarters.

New phone to feature Android plus Facebook

British start-up INQ Mobile will be releasing a new phone that spices up the Android operating system with tight Facebook integration. Among the features of the new phone, called the INQ Cloud Touch, are four Facebook-related buttons on the home screen, Facebook friends integrated with contacts, and a prominently featured real-time News Feed of Facebook activity.

According to a demo video taped by TechCrunch, the phone is intended to be a mid-level device geared toward teenagers, meaning that it could be available for a rather low price–perhaps as low as US$50–when purchased with a contract. The Cloud Touch will also be available overseas before it hits the United States market.

Rumors of a “Facebook phone” circulated last fall, causing some to believe that Facebook would developing, branding, and selling a device in the manner of Google’s Nexus One, which was ultimately a failure. Facebook repeatedly denied that it was building a phone, but executives have said that the promises of the mobile world mean that you’ll be seeing Facebook on both smartphones and lower-end devices far more.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg explained last September that the company’s strategy would be to work on getting Facebook synced up to many different kinds of mobile devices, and that it sometimes requires partnerships and deals. “We want to make Facebook available everywhere on every device,” she said at the time.

“That’s actually complicated in a world of so many cell phones, so many mobile operators…even the screen size is different, so you have to work with the different devices [to develop apps].”

Making these mobile inroads is important as Facebook, which has more than 600 million active users around the world, works to expand in regions where it historically has not had a strong presence. In many of these regions, Internet access happens primarily on mobile devices rather than PCs.

To that end, Facebook recently worked with mobile development firm Snaptu to build an app for lower-end cell phones that will be accessible free of data charges in a handful of overseas markets.

Software brings Android apps to other platforms

Mobile software specialist Myriad is preparing to launch new software that allows non-Android-based smartphones to run apps designed for Google’s mobile operating system.

The software, known as Alien Dalvik, will allow non-Android operating systems to run Android Package (APK) files with little modification, the company said in an announcement on Tuesday.

“The proliferation of Android has been staggering, but there is still room for growth,” said Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of the Myriad Group, in a statement. “By extending Android to other platforms, we are opening up the market even further, creating new audiences and revenue opportunities.”

Read more of “Alien Dalvik brings Android apps to other platforms” at ZDNet UK.

Alcatel-Lucent shrinks cell tower technology

Telecommunications infrastructure maker Alcatel-Lucent announced this week new technology that will help wireless carriers expand their networks to keep up with the explosive growth in mobile data.

The company announced this week a new compact cell phone antenna system called lightRadio, which incorporates radio technology and base station technology in a single box. The entire system, which can fit on a lamp post, is a fraction of the size of today’s cellular equipment. Current cellular networks require massive and power-hungry cell phone towers that house the antennas with a separate base station at the bottom of those towers that control the antennas.

When carriers have needed to add capacity or improve coverage, they’ve had to deploy these massive cell site towers. Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio system, which will be ready for carrier trials later this year, allows carriers to deploy new cell sites much faster and less expensively than they have been able to do in the past. It also means that carriers can reduce the electricity used to power the cell phone towers and base stations.

All in all, wireless operators can reduce the cost of deploying and maintaining a new cell site by almost half of what it is today.

That has huge implications for the wireless industry, which is struggling to keep up with demand for more data services from smartphones and tablet PCs. In fact wireless data traffic is expected to increase 26 times between 2010 and 2015 according to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index Forecast. Cisco conducts the survey every year to track network growth.

“It’s clear that the explosion in mobile data will continue,” said Wim Sweldens, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s wireless division. “The architecture that Alcatel-Lucent is proposing will help avert a potential wireless crisis. If carriers don’t move in this architectural direction then the problems we are starting to see today will only get bigger. And growing the networks will not be economically viable.”

Wireless carriers have been preparing for traffic increases by adding more capacity to their radio networks as well as their back-haul networks that carry the traffic from the radio towers to the Internet. The wireless industry has been pushing the Federal Communications Commission to make more wireless spectrum available so that they can increase capacity. But getting new spectrum into the market takes time.

One way to add more capacity to the available spectrum is to deploy more cell sites that are smaller in area. Splitting cell sites means that wireless operators can serve more customers or provide more bandwidth to individual customers in each cell site.

Carriers have already begun using a mix of a smaller and smaller cell sites in their networks. For example, femtocells provide personal cell sites that can be in a home or business. The smaller cell sites are connected to a home or office broadband connection to improve wireless indoor coverage.

But splitting cell sites on a macro level in a metropolitan area is a little trickier if the old cell tower and base station architecture is used. Getting new cell towers approved is time consuming. And putting up those towers is expensive. It’s also expensive to run these towers, which means long-term this architecture isn’t viable.

That’s where Alcatel-Lucent says it’s lightRadio technology comes in. It would allow wireless operators to deploy smaller cell sites much more quickly and at a much lower cost.

“We are applying the same principles that we’ve talked about in using femtocells for the entire mobile network,” Sweldens said. “We start by replacing the big towers with smaller elements that are easier to deploy, use less power, and connect smaller sites to broadband infrastructure that is already in place. So we can take advantage of the cloud-like architecture to get better economies of scale that either lead to reducing costs for operators or the ability to deliver more bits at the same cost.”

The new technology has other important benefits as well. Because the antennas are software configurable, carriers can use the same set of equipment to offer 2G, 3G, and 4G service from the same access point. What’s more, upgrading from one technology to another simply requires a software upgrade.

This is very different from what is done now. Today, when wireless carriers upgrade from a 3G technology such as EV-DO or HSPA to a next-generation technology, such as LTE, they are required to deploy new hardware. But with the Alcatel-Lucent lightRadio system, they simply do the upgrade in software.

But Alcatel-Lucent’s new technology, which is modular in design like building blocks in a Lego set, is not just a big improvement for existing wireless players. It can also be used to help other companies, such as cable operators, get into the wireless market at a much lower cost.

Cable companies already have a lot of high-capacity broadband infrastructure in the ground. And some of them also own wireless spectrum licenses. Cox Communications has used some of that spectrum to build a regional wireless network, while others such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable have invested in other wireless services like Clearwire.

“The future for any broadband provider is building one network that can serve customers whether they are mobile or at home,” Sweldens said. “Our new technology will help companies leverage their existing wireline infrastructure to provide wireless services. The cable MSO market is definitely one of our target markets.”

Alcatel-Lucent isn’t the only company that is developing smaller, more modular and wireless configurable cell phone access points. Market leaders, such as Ericsson and Huawei, have also been working on software-defined radio technology. But Sweldens believes that Alcatel-Lucent is the first company to announce plans for these products.

“This is indeed part of a general trend in the industry,” he said. “But what we’ve done is made a breakthrough by building the smaller cubes that fit together. We feel pretty confident that we are the first to commit to such a product road map. And that is the news.”

Report: Google, EC in early settlement talks

Google could be a little closer to resolving at least one of its regulatory headaches, according to a report.

Reuters notes that Google and the European Commission have entered into talks over the antitrust investigation that began last November. It’s still pretty early in the process: Reuters’ source said there were “some tentative discussions in resolving the issue, but no really concrete proposals on the table.”

Google is even more dominant in Europe than it is in the U.S., with market share over 90 percent in a few countries. A few companies, led by Foundem, have long complained that Google unfairly penalizes their sites in search results because they compete with Google, a charge that Google denies.

When it launched the investigation the Commission said that it would investigate those complaints as well as complaints about Google’s quality score for determining ad placement, but said it didn’t necessarily have proof of any wrongdoing. Regulators have been sending questionnaires to Web businesses as part of their effort, as noted by Search Engine Land earlier this year.

The European investigation is the most significant probe of Google’s business practices yet launched, although authorities in the U.S. have been sniffing around the proposed acquisition of ITA Software and the long-delayed ratification of Google’s settlement with author and publisher groups over Google Book Search.

Report: Microsoft management changes in the works

Microsoft is said to be on the brink of another shuffle among its senior management.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans to make changes to the company’s senior management in order to improve the company’s competitive edge in Web services, smartphones, and tablet computers, according to a Bloomberg report that cites unnamed sources.

Those changes, Bloomberg says, will be announced “this month”.

What remains unclear is whether the changes will bump out any of the existing division heads, in place of talent from within or outside of the company, versus changing the number of business units and their executive make-up. Bloomberg did say that a central part of the company’s plan was to “promote managers who have engineering chops and experience executing on product plans,” which would imply moving someone at the top to make way for that promotion.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment.

Microsoft has a long history of making changes to its management structure. While Ballmer has stayed at the helm for a little more than 11 years now, the company has made drastic changes to the number and depth of its business units.

Microsoft’s last big management shuffle took place back in October, with Ballmer naming Kurt DelBene to the head of Microsoft’s Office Division, Don Mattrick to the head of the Interactive Entertainment Business, and Andy Lees to the head of Microsoft’s Mobile Communication’s business. That was following the departures of Stephen Elop, who left to become the CEO at Nokia, as well as Robbie Bach, who retired from his spot as the president of the Entertainment and Devices unit last May.

More recently, the company had a shake-up in its Server and Tool Business, with the company announcing the planned departure of Bob Muglia, who had served as president for the division. Muglia had been promoted just two years prior as part of Microsoft’s elevation of the server unit into a larger part of the company’s business.

What should Nokia do?

commentary It’s hard to know what to make of Nokia these days. Though it still holds a huge worldwide market share and sells more phones than its competitors, it doesn’t quite capture the buzz it once had, and its presence in the United States has dwindled.

Sure, the Finns maintain a healthy business selling low-end handsets in emerging markets, but over the last three years, smartphones are where the action is. And though Nokia still succeeds in that space occasionally–we quite liked the Nokia N8, for example–its strategy has been rather unclear.

To its credit, Nokia is aware of the problem. At last September’s Nokia World, company execs vowed to “shift into high gear” and “fight back in smartphone leadership“. How exactly that fight will unfold remains a popular point of debate in the wireless industry–many analysts have urged Nokia to join the Android family–but up until now, Nokia has kept its cards close.

Come Friday, however, Nokia will fully outline its new strategy at an investor meeting in London. CEO Stephen Elop announced the Feb. 11 meeting during the company’s quarterly earnings call. Elop didn’t get specific, but he set off a wave of speculation when he said the company needs to “build or join a competitive ecosystem”.

“The game has changed from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems,” Elop said during the call. “And competitive ecosystems are gaining momentum and share.” Immediately, some Nokia watchers theorized that the company would announce that it was developing a handset based on Windows Phone 7 or Android.

Such a move would be surprising, considering that as of late the company has been mildly dismissive of Android while continuing to promote Symbian and the developing MeeGo platform. But with the market throttling forward at rapid speed, Nokia may have decided the radical change is necessary. So what could its options be?

Stay with MeeGo
From what I’ve seen, most of my tech journalist colleagues are advocating this path. ZDNet Asia’s sister site ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, for instance, doesn’t see an OS switch to Microsoft happening. Similarly, PCMag’s Sacha Segan and Eric Zeman at Information Week also urged Nokia to develop MeeGo as a worthy competitor to Google and Microsoft.

Though I agree that this is the most likely scenario, I can’t say that it excites me. Experienced Symbian users may love Symbian, but the OS can be maddening for everyone else. Sure, Nokia did give Symbian 3 a nice upgrade on the N8, but it needs to do more. And though I’m always a fan of customer choice, MeeGo just doesn’t spark my interest at this point. It could be really cool, and I’m hoping that it is, but Nokia needs to deliver real MeeGo handsets soon.

Android
The most unlikely of the three, I’d say, but still not impossible. Indeed, jumping into Android would entail risks. The OS is growing fast and it’s attracted the attention of major players like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung. Nokia would be arriving late to the party and its rivals will fight to keep the leadership positions they’ve assumed. On the other hand, Nokia could play an “always late, but worth the wait” role.

Windows Phone 7
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if Nokia went this route while also developing MeeGo. Windows Phone 7 is new and it has its growing pains, but the OS has a lot of promise. Nokia could benefit by getting involve with an OS from the ground up, and Microsoft–which is Elop’s previous employer, by the way–could use the exposure from an industry giant.

Whatever happens, we’ll know for sure this week after Elop breaks the news in London. CNET also will be at Mobile World Congress a few days after that in Barcelona, Spain, where Nokia will kick off its presence at the show by holding a press conference Feb. 13.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Microsoft eases procurement of WP7 dev phones

Microsoft is making it a little easier for developers to get their hands on Windows Phone 7 devices for building and testing applications.

In a blog post last week detailing some previously announced updates to the Windows Phone Developer Tools, Brandon Watson, who is Microsoft’s director of developer relations, said that the company has partnered with Zones.com to let developers buy Windows Phone 7 devices without a voice or data contract.

The phones, which include HTC’s HD7 and Surround as well as the Samsung Focus, come carrier-locked, but can be had for about $500 without venturing to a carrier or third-party retail site to make the purchase.

In the past Microsoft has made a concerted effort to get devices into developer hands even before an official launch. At last year’s Professional Developers Conference, all paid attendees were given phones following the keynote speech, a week ahead of the U.S launch. That said, to get additional or replacement devices, Microsoft had been encouraging developers to go through carriers, where contract strings were attached.

Momentum builds
Watson also provided an update to the number of Windows Phone 7 developers and apps within its library, and there have been noted improvements in just a week’s time.

Microsoft now says the number of registered Windows Phone developers is 27,000, up from the 24,000 metric the company cited a week ago. Those developers have also bumped up the number of apps on Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace to “more than 7,500,” marking an increase of 1,000 apps since last week.

Microsoft has yet to provide concrete numbers on overall app downloads, though during the company’s CES keynote address, CEO Steve Ballmer said that more than half of Windows Phone 7 users were downloading a new application every day. By comparison, competitor Apple announced it had topped 10 billion application downloads in its less-than-three-year-old app store last month.

Google wants to fight smartphone battle on Web

Google has been playing catch-up to Apple in the mobile world for several years, but it’s starting to carve out its own niche by emphasizing its strength on the Web.

The Android Market Web Store was the most interesting thing to emerge from last week’s event at Google headquarters, and it’s one that Apple can’t easily duplicate overnight. It’s also in keeping with Google’s philosophy of pushing Web development over native software development when possible, a strategy that isn’t always practical on smartphones but is starting to make more sense as computing power grows in tablets.

Most importantly for Google, it gives Android users a cleaner, simpler, and more user-friendly option for buying apps than the much-maligned Android Market. It should also appeal to developers, who will have many more options at their fingertips for promoting their apps on the store and a better chance of being found within the sea of applications.

The advantages of the Android Market Web Store are simple: Android users can browse app selections just like any other Web site from any Web-connected device, rather than dealing with the small, cluttered, and awkward Android Market interface on their phones. A purchased app is linked with a Google Account rather than a device, so it can be automatically pushed to any Android devices registered to that account at the time of purchase.

And Google has also come up with something that hits Apple where it hurts: Web services. For all its skill in designing mobile hardware and software, Apple hasn’t been able to come up with all that many services that tie everything together over the Web. (Find My iPhone is a notable exception, but that requires a US$99 annual subscription to MobileMe while iPhone 4 users with iOS 4.2 installed can get this for free.)

Apple’s iTunes is the hub for its mobile strategy, and even the most diehard Apple fan would admit that desktop application is getting a bit long in the tooth. iTunes has given Apple an centralized distribution and payment-processing system that’s arguably as responsible for the growth of iOS as anything, but it’s resource-intensive and linked to a single computer: you can manage and purchase apps on the iPhone or iPad, of course, but if you want to back them up, you have to physically connect the device to a computer.

Google has long sought to eliminate that link with its Android strategy, pitching its Web-based services as a selling point for those concerned about app backup and contact management. However, it didn’t really have a credible alternative to the ease-of-use that accompanies app shopping on a bigger screen, not to mention the rather poor experience in the native Android Market. Now it does.

Eric Chu, mobile platforms product manager for Google, said that the Web Store won’t replace the native Android Market on phones and tablets as yet. He said Google will continue to make improvements to the native store because that’s still probably the best experience on phones.

But Google’s quest in this world is to one day replace software developed for specific machines with software developed on and for the Web. Mobile devices lag behind their desktop counterparts when it comes to supporting this kind of strategy (and even desktops aren’t all the way there) but as standards get sorted out and mobile browsers become more powerful, the conditions needed to allow that to happen will start to come together.

This is also a powerful differentiator for Google and its partners. By emphasizing Android’s hooks into Google’s broader array of Web services, Google gives its partners a selling point that others can’t match without a great deal of investment in skills that aren’t necessarily complementary to those of mobile operating system developers and industrial designers.

It’s not exactly a game changer, but it’s a nice example of how the many companies trying to live up to the high bar set by Apple with iOS can score points by knowing their strengths and focusing on sore points in the iPhone and iPad experience.

Now if Google can address some of the sore points in the Android experience–such as the slow pace of operating system updates actually reaching phones, for one–it might start setting the pace on its own.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Cisco sees 26-fold wireless data increase in 5 years

Wireless carriers will see mobile data traffic increase 26 times between 2010 and 2015 according to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index Forecast. Will wireless operators be ready for it?

That’s the big question. The prediction of steep increases in traffic load are not entirely unexpected. Wireless carriers have been preparing for traffic increases by adding more capacity not only to their radio networks, but also in the back-haul networks that carry the traffic from the radio towers to the Internet.

By 2015, Cisco says that mobile data traffic will grow to 6.3 exabytes of data or about 1 billion gigabytes of data per month. The report indicates that two-thirds of the mobile data traffic on carrier networks in 2015 will come from video services. This trend follows a similar trend in traditional broadband traffic growth. And it suggests that as wireless networks get faster, devices get more processing power with bigger and better screens, people will increasingly watch more video on the go.

“What we’re seeing here is true convergence,” said Doug Webster, Cisco’s senior director of worldwide service provider marketing. “We’ve talked about this for a long time, but it’s really starting to happen where people are doing all the things they used to do on broadband connections at home when they’re on-the-go.”

But according to Cisco’s results, mobile data traffic is actually growing faster than traditional landline-based broadband traffic. In 2010 data traffic grew 159 percent, which is roughly 3.3 times faster than traditional landline broadband. And it was higher than the 149 percent growth rate Cisco had predicted in earlier Visual Networking Index reports. But over the next five years, the growth should taper off, Cisco’s report indicates. For example, annual growth rates are expected to go from 131 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2015.

So what exactly is driving the growth? The first main driver is the proliferation of mobile devices, said Suraj Shetty, a Cisco marketing vice president. Last year, Cisco’s Index predicted that the smartphone installed base would increase 22 percent in 2010, but Informa Telecoms and Media data indicates that the number of smartphones in use grew by 32 percent during the year, Cisco said.

In addition to the increase in smartphone adoption, there was a sharp increase in those smartphones that have the highest usage profile: iPhones and Android phones. The number of iPhones and Android devices in use grew 72 percent in 2010, bringing the combined iOS and Android share of smartphones to 23 percent, up from 11 percent in 2009.

And the trend is only expected to continue, especially as devices other than smartphones are added to the mix. By 2015, there are expected to be 5.6 billion mobile devices and 1.5 billion machine-to-machine devices in the world. These devices will include mobile phones, as well as Internet-connected cameras, Net-connected cars, tablets, laptops and more devices.

In addition to simply having more devices connected to wireless networks, more of these devices will also have better computing capabilities, Shetty added. We’re already starting to see this with smartphones running dual-core processors. The screens on mobile devices are also getting bigger and sharper. Not only are tablets coming on the scene, but smartphones themselves are getting larger and will have greater computing capacity than devices available today.

Network speeds are also increasing as wireless operators move to new generations of technology. In the U.S. wireless operators are talking about their “4G” wireless networks, which can offer download speeds anywhere between 5Mbps and 20Mbps, depending on the technology used. T-Mobile USA and AT&T have their HSPA+ networks. And Verizon Wireless has its LTE network. (AT&T also plans to launch an LTE network this year.) And Sprint Nextel has its WiMax network.

Cisco’s report indicates that network doubled in 2010 and speeds will only increase over the next five years with the average download speeds expected to increase 10-fold by 2015.

The faster speed networks, more capable devices with better screens, and the plain fact that there will be more connected devices in five years, means that wireless consumers will use more resources.

“There will be more devices with bigger screens and better processors that allow for multiple apps to run simultaneously, and the predominant type of network traffic will be video,” Shetty said. “These trends are all coming together and will have a significant impact on the network.”

What it means for wireless operators is that they need to find a way to keep up with the growing demands on their networks. In the wireless world, the need to keep up with growing demand means a need for more wireless spectrum. Carriers such as T-Mobile say they have enough spectrum today to meet current growth projections. But they say more is needed down the road.

This is why the Federal Communications Commission is working to get an additional 500MHz of wireless on the market in the next decade with a plan for 300MHz spectrum to be freed up in the next five years.

But adding more spectrum takes time and it will not be enough to solve the capacity crunch that wireless operators will likely face in the next few years. Shetty said that wireless operators will have to get more efficient in how they use their network resources. Shetty said that Cisco has technology that can help wireless operators improve network efficiency.

“There are lot of demands and challenges that carriers face to keep up with demand,” he said. “Cisco can help them better engineer the network. And allow them to scale the network.”

But carriers will also have to invest in other network technologies to help keep up with demand. This will likely include offloading traffic onto femto cells and Wi-Fi networks.

It may also mean shifting business models to encourage consumers to use mobile data more efficiently. Last June, AT&T eliminated its unlimited data plan and began offering a tiered data service offering with usage caps. Other wireless operators in the U.S. haven’t followed yet. But Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. wireless operator, has indicated that it will move to tiered pricing. Whether it gets rid of an unlimited entirely is still unknown. But it’s likely the company will raise the price of unlimited if it keeps it all.

The other wild card in this whole scenario are tablets and other connected devices. While more people in the world today have cell phones than have electricity, devices such as tablet PCs will eat up capacity even further, because they can do so much more than many mobile handsets.

It doesn’t take nearly as many tablets in the world to have a significant effect on network loads. For example, a smartphone generates about 24 times more data on a wireless network than a basic feature phone. But a tablet generates about 122 times more data consumption than a basic feature phone, according to Cisco.

Webster said a year ago, tablets weren’t even on the radar screen when it came to predicting future mobile data growth. But with the introduction of the Apple iPad last year and now a growing number of tablet PCs, the category is expected to have a significant effect on data usage patterns in the next five years.

“Last year there was zero data traffic on the network from tablet PCs,” Webster said. “And it went from basically nothing to being a significant contributor to mobile network traffic by 2015. This is just indicative of how dynamic this market is with one type of device ramping up so quickly. It has huge architectural implications.”

Yahoo apologizes for Windows Phone 7 data bloat

Yahoo on Tuesday offered an apology to Windows Phone 7 users affected by an inefficiency that left some with larger than usual data usage.

The data problem had cropped up shortly after the launch of Microsoft’s latest mobile venture, with some users finding their allotted cellular data use going up to an unusually high rate. Microsoft acknowledged the problem in mid-January following a query from the BBC, and later said that it was an unnamed third-party’s fault.

Last night Microsoft fessed up that Yahoo was that third-party, and that the issue centered around its Web mail service. This was following a packet sniffing investigation by tech blogger Rafael Rivera, who discovered Yahoo was sending back larger than usual amounts of data every time the phone checked for new mail.

“Tens of millions of people check their Yahoo Mail from their mobile device each day, and we know they want their mobile mail experience to be fast, rich, and real-time,” Yahoo said in a statement. “While our default settings on all mobile platforms realize this approach, we have determined that an inefficiency exists in the synchronization of e-mail between Windows Phone Mail clients and Yahoo Mail, which can result in larger than expected data usage for some users.”

Yahoo reiterated that a fix for the problem was on the way, and will be here “in the coming weeks”, but that for now users needed to dial back how often Windows Phone 7 devices check for mail updates. Yahoo also noted that the data issue was not affecting other phone platforms and apologized for any inconvenience to users.

There’s no word yet on whether the fix can be made without users having to update their phone’s system software. Yahoo did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on that issue.

Lawsuit: AT&T overbills iPhone data use

One of the biggest problems that consumers have faced with mobile phone billing in recent years is that there’s really no way of independently measuring the amount of data that’s being consumed by a mobile Web session. Consumers are at the mercy of the wireless carriers and have put their trust in these providers to accurately bill them.

Now, AT&T finds itself at the center of a class action lawsuit that alleges that the provider’s bills “systematically overstate the amount of data used on each data transaction”. Granted, the overstatement that’s being alleged is small–somewhere in the range of 7to 14 percent monthly, according to a post on the Electronista blog.

What’s especially telling is how a consulting firm that was hired by the lawyers of the plaintiff conducted its own test of the data billing. Instead of using data and trying to measure it independently for comparison against the bill, the consultant did the exact opposite. The firm bought a new iPhone and immediately turned off all push notifications and location services, made sure that no apps or email accounts were active and then left the iPhone idle for 10 days.

Read more of “Lawsuit: AT&T “systematically overstates” data usage on iPhone bills” at ZDNet.

eBay snags Bing’s development manager, Facebook scientist

Adding to the list of recent departures, Microsoft has lost the principal development manager of its Bing search engine to commerce giant eBay.

According to All Things Digital, Scott Prevost who joined Microsoft as part of the Powerset acquisition in 2008, has left to become the VP of product management for eBay’s search tool. He’s joined by now former Facebook research scientist Dennis DeCoste, who will be eBay’s director of research. Together, the pair are said to be working on improving the relevancy of eBay’s built-in search tool.

A Microsoft representative confirmed Prevost’s departure, and said “we wish him well in his future endeavor”.

Prior to his two-year stint as the GM and director of product for Powerset, Prevost had been the CEO and CTO at the Animated Speech Corporation, which merged with educational software and research company TeachTown in 2006. As for DeCoste, he too had been a Microsoft employee, though had worked as a principal scientist for the company, following his stint as the director of research for Yahoo’s Research group.

Prevost joins a handful of recent departures from Microsoft’s management and engineering ranks. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that server and tools boss Bob Muglia would be leaving the company later this year. More recently, Brad Brooks, who served as corporate vice president in Microsoft’s Windows Group left the company to join Juniper Networks. Meanwhile, Matt Miszewski–the former general manager of Microsoft’s government business–left Microsoft for Salesforce.com in late December, though was temporarily blocked from taking his post as a VP due to Microsoft winning a restraining order based on non-compete and confidentiality agreements Miszewski had signed. There’s also Johnny Chung Lee, the Wii hacker Microsoft hired to work in its Applied Sciences group to develop Kinect algorithms, who jumped ship for Google earlier this month.

Motorola Solutions rides Asia’s urbanization wave

As people become more affluent in rapidly growing Asian markets including China and India, government spending on areas such as public safety and train systems is likely to increase–providing opportunities that Motorola Solutions is looking to tap for continued growth.

Phey Teck Moh, corporate vice president at Motorola Solutions Asia-Pacific, noted that as Asia’s economies expand, a bigger middle class will emerge and this group of people will demand better public safety and transport systems, to name a few focus areas. This, in turn, will force governments to improve either the equipment used or increase the number of devices to support the demand, Phey said in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

He cited the example of walkie-talkies used by the police, where one device is shared by 7 to 10 officers in emerging markets. With urbanization, the number of officers sharing one radio set will be reduced to 3 to 4 policemen, he said.

Metro systems, he added, is another growth area Motorola Solutions is eyeing. According to Phey, China has approved and is deploying 58 railway lines, with plans to lay out another 100 to 150 lines in the next 10 years.

A report by Chinese news agency, South China Morning Post, said the Chinese government has pledged 1.25 trillion yuan (US$189.75 billion)–stretching from 2011 to 2015–to build 2,200 kilometers of rail lines in 16 cities.

Phey said: “Every mega first-tier city is growing its second- and third-tier cities, and it’s not just in public safety and transport. Retail and healthcare industries are also expected to grow in the process.”

Cashing in on enterprise mobility
The Singapore-based Motorola executive noted that while consumer mobile devices for white-collar workers are currently hogging the limelight where enterprise mobility is concerned, “true” enterprise mobility is actually more keenly felt in the blue-collar workers’ domain. These sectors include logistics, delivery and repair, among others, he said.

Citing figures from research firm IDC, Phey said the number of mobile workers accessing enterprise systems worldwide will top 1 billion this year and reach 1.2 billion by 2013. Asia-Pacific markets will contribute the most significant gains, although the United States will remain home to the world’s most mobile workforce, he said.

With more workers becoming mobile, it is imperative that ruggedized mobile devices they use “function properly over a long period of time, are compatible with existing apps even as the operating system is refreshed constantly and that security features are in place”, he said.

He noted that 15 percent to 20 percent of non-ruggedized consumer devices fail in their first year of operation. “Field devices such as mobile scanners are very hot now and this is because of the ongoing workforce mobilization trend,” he added.

According to Phey, Motorola Solution’s business proposition is now clearer following the split from its mobile devices business on Jan. 4.

It now has a “strategic flexibility” that allows the company to conduct relevant research and development projects, and attract investors that appreciate its long-term, low-volatility growth. In fact, it will be investing US$1 billion globally in R&D projects that are focused on the company’s core capabilities of offering “mission- and business-critical” communication networks combined with applications and services, he stated.

Lawsuit roils on
Asked if its business is affected by the lawsuit initiated by Chinese networking company Huawei Technologies, Phey said no. Motorola does not play in the same service provider spaces of selling network equipment as Huawei, and it does not have sensitive information to pass on to Nokia Siemens, he explained.

However, Phey’s comments came before the Chinese company gained the upper-hand when a U.S. court granted it a temporary restraining order. Huawei had earlier sued Motorola to prevent it from passing on confidential information about Huawei’s technology to Nokia Siemens, which is attempting to buy over Motorola’s wireless networks business in a deal worth about US$1.2 billion.

Motorola since 2000 has been reselling Huawei radio access gear for GSM and UMTS wireless networks. As part of this relationship, Motorola employees are trained to sell and troubleshoot Huawei’s wireless products. Nokia Siemens also sells wireless products that rival Huawei’s offerings.

Mobile broadband is killing free Wi-Fi

After spending two weeks in Japan scrounging for free Wi-Fi, I’ve come to the conclusion that mobile broadband is killing free Wi-Fi.

In seeking to avoid monster costs for global roaming while I was abroad, I disabled that feature on my phone before I left, meaning I was entirely reliant on Wi-Fi to get in contact with friends and family back home.

In Australia, free Wi-Fi is generally available at stores like McDonald’s and Starbucks, as well as the ever-reliable Apple. Apart from using my iPad (which is the Wi-Fi model), I have little use for free Wi-Fi within this country because my 3G download quota with Optus for my iPhone is generally sufficient for all my internet needs, so I had not paid too much attention to what was available.

But prior to departing for my trip earlier this month, I thought I should research what Internet facilities were available. It was a bleak view to say the least, but I was optimistic because my accommodation provided free Internet and the Apple stores were a last resort, so it would all be good.

When I landed in Japan, I found that McDonald’s and Starbucks generally didn’t have any free Wi-Fi and the stores that did offer Wi-Fi often opted for paid services. The most common I found was BB Mobilepoint, a consortium of telcos that offers connections through hotspots mostly at train stations around Tokyo.

Handy for locals, sure, but not so much for tourists. In Australia, Telstra has a similar program in place with its hotspots.

When I was visiting the sights in Akihabara, the “electric town” in Tokyo that boasts dozens of stores with all the computer and high-tech gear you could ask for, I discovered that most of these stores sold WiMax broadband dongles and it was clear looking at the signs around town that most internet access would be through those.

When I did find places with Wi-Fi (the Wired cafes in Ueno and Shibuya, for example), I would often spend at least an hour or so there, and have a full meal at the same time, so I agree with Darren Greenwood that it is a smart business decision for stores to make the investment in free Wi-Fi.

I could only come to the conclusion that because most of the locals in Japan had existing mobile Internet accounts, free Wi-Fi was less of a pressing issue for them, so it wasn’t as worthwhile for more businesses to offer free Wi-Fi to its customers. 3G killed the free Wi-Fi star.

After my experience in Japan, I could only think of how it would affect tourists visiting Australia, and I think it would be great to see our telcos team up to offer Wi-Fi services in areas where their 3G networks are lagging, and also invest in offering a free (or cheap) alternative for tourists who lack the ability to access it.

Or the telcos could look at reducing the incredibly outrageous global roaming costs, so we wouldn’t need to scrounge for free Wi-Fi. But somehow, I still think that’s a long way off.

This article was first published at ZDNet Australia.

Egypt’s Internet disconnect reaches 24 hours

Egypt’s unprecedented Internet disconnection has now lasted 24 hours without signs of ending.

At this time of reporting, one by one, the country’s electronic links to the outside world fell silent. It started at 2:12 p.m. PT with the mostly state-owned Telecom Egypt disabling its networks, with four smaller network providers following suit between 2:13 p.m. PT and 2:25 p.m. PT.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appeared on state television at approximately 2:15 p.m. PT last Saturday to announce that he would sack his cabinet but would not resign–an indication that no end to the disconnect was near. “I will not be lax or tolerant,” he said, according to an Al Jazeera English translation. There’s a fine line, he said, between permitting free speech and allowing chaos to spread.

Last Friday’s network disconnection was followed soon after by mobile networks pulling the plug as well. Vodafone confirmed in a statement that “all mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas”. So did Mobinil, the country’s largest mobile provider. (See ZDNet Asia sister site CNET’s previous coverage.)

Those outages come as four days of clashes between security forces and tens of thousands of protesters continued on the streets of Cairo and other major cities, despite an official curfew in effect Friday evening. Tanks have taken up positions around some TV stations and foreign embassies, and Al Jazeera English is reporting that the end of three decades of autocratic rule by Mubarak may be nearing.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech earlier that “we urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications”.

“We think the government, as many of us have said throughout the day, need to turn the Internet and social-networking sites back on,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. He added: “Individual freedoms includes the freedom to access the Internet and the freedom to–to use social-networking sites.”

Egypt’s Internet connections aren’t completely down: the Noor Group appears to be the only Internet provider in Egypt that’s fully functioning. Cairo-based bloggers have speculated that its unique status grows out of its client list, which includes western firms including ExxonMobil, Toyota, Hyatt, Nestle, Fedex, Coca-Cola, and Pfizer, plus the Egyptian stock exchange.

An analysis posted by network analyst Andree Toonk, who runs a Web site devoted to monitoring networks, shows that before the outage, there were 2,903 Egyptian networks publicly accessible via the Internet. Today, there are only 327 networks.

A chart prepared by European networking organization RIPE provides a detailed glimpse at how Egypt’s network went dark. Until yesterday afternoon, there was the normal noise of networks being added and deleted, followed by a sharp spike yesterday between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. There’s been virtually no activity since.

Before last Friday’s outage, Egyptian use of the Tor anonymizing network had experienced a dramatic spike that coincided with the beginning of widespread protests. Normal usage was hovering around 400 users a day, but leaped to more than 1,200 as of Jan. 24. (Here’s a different view.)

Contrary to some reports, however, there’s no evidence that Syria’s Internet connection is down. Compare this chart from an Egyptian provider showing the network going completely dark with this one from the government-owned Syrian Telecommunications Establishment that depicts normal activity.

The rumors about Syria originated a few hours ago when Al Arabiya news service said that “Syria suspends all Internet services,” and followed up with a denial from the authorities. Reuters reported earlier this week that Syrian authorities have banned programs that allow access to Facebook Chat from cell phones.

There are some parallels. The now-defunct HotWired site, succeeded by Wired.com, reported in 1996 that “the U.S. government has quietly pulled the plug on Iran’s Internet connection”. During a state of emergency in Bangladesh in 2007, satellite providers were ordered to cease airing any news shows. And in Burma later that year, the country’s ruling military junta pulled the plug on the nation’s limited Internet access.

But Burma is not Egypt, a country of more than 80 million people equipped with tens of millions of computers and cell phones–who have now found themselves almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the world.

Egypt receives more than US$1.3 billion annually from U.S. taxpayers in the form of military aid, according to the U.S. State Department.

“Thanks to the blanket communications shutdown, the protests today took place in an information vacuum,” according to a dispatch from Index on Censorship’s Egypt regional editor Ashraf Khalil in Cairo. “On Tuesday, even during the demonstration, everybody was checking Twitter both to coordinate and for news on what was happening across the country. This time nobody knew what was happening anywhere else–not even on the other side of the river in Tahrir Square.”

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Amazon’s capital spending plans spur debate, worry

There’s quite a tug-of-war underway over Amazon’s capital spending plans. Amazon reported a solid fourth quarter, but also added that it will continue to invest in fulfillment centers and infrastructure to build up Amazon Web Services.

Enter the worrywarts. Amazon is a bit of a conundrum for Wall Street. When the company is harvesting its investments, investors love it. But when the company’s outlook disappoints because it is spending on infrastructure some analysts freak. It’s a familiar pattern with tech companies:

When Verizon said it would do something crazy like bring fiber-optic lines to homes for its FiOS network, there were a few quarters of disbelief. Why would Verizon do that? Today, analyst yap all the time about Verizon’s future proof network. Of course, they also want to see better returns out of FiOS.

Read more of “Amazon’s capital spending plans spur debate, worry” at ZDNet.

Rivals weaken Nokia, Motorola Mobility outlooks

Both the shares of Nokia and Motorola fell amid dismal forecasts for the first quarter, according to reports, undermining their leaders’ efforts to boost handset sales as the onslaught from Apple and Android continues.

Bloomberg reported on Friday that Motorola Mobility–the mobile devices arm following the Jan. 4 split from its networking division–dropped 12 percent on the New York Stock Exchange to US$30.51.

The company predicted a first-quarter loss of 9 to 21 cents per share as sales slowed due to Verizon Wireless’ impending iPhone launch next month, the report added.

Analysts polled by Bloomberg expressed a more positive outlook, though, forecasting a 1 US cent profit per share.

Finnish handset maker Nokia also saw its shares slip after CEO Stephen Elop acknowledged it was facing “some significant challenges in our competitiveness and our execution”, according to a separate Bloomberg report.

Nokia’s share tumbled 8.7 percent in Helsinki, and closed closing 0.8 percent lower at 7.74 euros (US$10.60), it stated.

Both reports had industry voices bemoaning the bleak financial outlooks of the two companies.

London-based analyst Pierre Ferragu from Sanford C. Bernstein, for one, called Motorola Mobility’s outlook “slightly disappointing” and expressed concerns that Motorola’s growth potential is limited by the company’s footprint.

Meanwhile, Leon Cappaert, fund manager at KBC Asset Management in Belgium, which has investments in Nokia shares, similarly expressed anxiety over the Finnish company. “What spooks everyone is the outlook: a combination of lack of giving an upside and disappointing margins,” he said.

Apple and Android loom large
Both Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha and Elop are looking to fend off competition from Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android-based smartphones, Bloomberg noted.

For Motorola Mobility, competition will intensify once Verizon begins sales of the iPhone. The carrier is one of Motorola’s staunchest allies, selling more of its phones than other U.S.-based carriers, the news wire said.

“We have seen some slowdown as a result of the announcement at Verizon,” Jha said in the report, adding that “Android’s popularity will help [Motorola] compete with Apple”.

He also revealed that Motorola expects to ship between 20 to 23 million smartphones and tablets in 2011, and that Xoom, its first tablet, will be competitively priced to take on more expensive models like the iPad from Apple.

Since adopting the Android OS for its mobile devices, the company’s sales have gotten a shoot in the arm, culminating in the company’s return to profit for the first time since 2006, the report noted.

Nokia on the ropes
Nokia, on the other hand, are in more dire straits with neither analysts nor investors holding out any hopes for an improvement in company’s fortunes, Bloomberg stated.

Alexander Peterc, an analyst with Exane BNP Paribas, said that he expected downgrades between 15 and 20 percent per share for first-quarter earnings and between 5 and 15 percent for full-year earnings, “depending on how negative people get”.

Fellow analyst, Andy Perkins from Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Bank, said that Nokia itself is predicting a difficult first quarter that is “certainly much tougher than the markets were hoping for”.

Analysts are expecting Nokia to ditch Symbian for either Google’s Android or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OSes, said a New York Times report.

However, Nokia announced last December that Symbian will continue to be its main business-phone platform, even when its new top-end OS, MeeGo, is launched.

However, devices powered by MeeGo OS have yet to enter the market, Bloomberg pointed out.

” If we rush to market with something that is below what our brand should stand for, then we will do long-term harm,” Elop explained in the report. The CEO added that he will lay out his strategy for the company at Nokia’s investor meeting in London on Feb. 11.

News Corp.’s iPad magazine launching Feb. 2

News Corp. has chosen Groundhog Day for its launch of The Daily, a digital publication designed for tablet devices–and it’s chosen New York, not the previously rumored San Francisco, for the Feb. 2 event.

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch will be making the announcement at the event at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Apple Vice President of Internet Services Eddy Cue will join him. This is in contrast to News Corp.’s initial plans to hold the event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in late January.

A source close to the matter had informed ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET that Apple had a significant part in the decision-making process for The Daily’s launch, and that Jobs would be joining Murdoch to make the announcement. Apple fans closely followed the rumors of a close partnership between Apple and News Corp., hoping that it might provide some insight into Apple’s strategy about how it sees the iPad as a device for digital media consumption. A Jobs appearance at the launch of The Daily would be a big deal indeed.

But on Jan. 17, a day before the company’s quarterly earnings announcement, Jobs announced that he would be stepping aside on a medical leave. While Jobs–a pancreatic cancer survivor who has already taken one medical leave from his post–will remain CEO, chief operating officer Tim Cook will temporarily take over his duties at the company.

So The Daily will launch without Jobs. Cue, a longtime Apple exec, has been instrumental in the development of the iTunes Store, App Store, and the future of applications on the iPad.

The Daily, which News Corp. hired former MTV digital executive Greg Clayman to spearhead, will be the second high-profile tablet-based publication to be launched by a billionaire mogul. In late November, British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group released Project Magazine, a slick monthly lifestyle publication for the iPad. No Apple executives made appearances, but vice president of product marketing Michael Tchao was in the audience and chatting with attendees afterward.

At the time, The Daily’s launch was rumored to be imminent–but it’s taken another three months to finally get it up and running.

A notably smaller tablet publication company, Nomad Editions, launched earlier this week. It’s run by Mark Edmiston, former president of Newsweek magazine.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Are online polls reliable enough?

2011 is election year in New Zealand and this week, Prime Minister John Key and Labour Leader Phil Goff set out their stalls along with Obama-style “state of the nation” speeches.

The pollies will be eyeing upcoming opinion polls, but can the polls be trusted anyway, especially the ones that use online polling?

Despite some success overseas, I doubt such polls are mature enough to be trusted here yet, at least for political polling, even if they do have acclaimed merits of speed and cost.

The Fairfax-owned Sunday Star-Times has begun using Horizon Research, a company that uses online panels.

But its findings have been so far out of line with the others that the polls’ credibility is often questioned.

The polls in New Zealand, including those conducted by Australia’s Roy Morgan, have tended to show National and its coalition government way out in front, but Horizon keeps showing it in danger of losing its majority.

This has led fellow pollster, David Farrar of Kiwiblog to write a post talking about how trustworthy or untrustworthy polls can be.

Admittedly, Farrar’s own market research company, Curia, often conducts polls for the ruling National Party, so he might be biased. But his comments seem fair, especially noting the longstanding records of rival pollsters and these rivals all producing similar results.

So while online polling, especially if you rely on volunteers, is cheaper, perhaps you only get what you pay for. The phone polling or face-to-face interviewing does seem more accurate, especially with random sampling and other weighting. Horizon says it samples and weighs its panels but one could question if it is doing it properly.

Yet pollsters in Australia have been assessing their methodology, with even Roy Morgan testing online methods, though it prefers interviewing people face to face.

Galaxy, which also operates in Australia, seems happy with its online methods, though in Australia, it uses telephones and random sampling for its federal voting intention surveys.

YouGov is another online pollster and is used and trusted by major UK papers, as well as the Economist.

YouGov claims a good accuracy record, citing large sample sizes in its polling — numbers far higher than New Zealand’s own Horizon Research.

Maybe this is one of the many things Horizon needs to look at.

Of course in the end, there is only one poll that counts: Election Day. Only then will we truly know who is right!

This article was first published at ZDNet Australia.

Reports: Internet disruptions hit Egypt

Amid a third day of anti-government protests, Internet outages and disruptions were reported today in Egypt, according to reports.

Facebook and Twitter confirmed the reports for their sites.

“We are aware of reports of disruption to service and have seen a drop in traffic from Egypt this morning,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “You may want to visit Herdict.org, a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University that offers insight into what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility.”

According to Herdict.org, there were 459 reports of inaccessible sites in Egypt and 621 reports of accessible sites.

Twitter’s Global PR account reported on the site that: “Egypt continues to block Twitter & has greatly diminished traffic. However, some users are using apps/proxies to successfully tweet.”

Meanwhile, there were numerous reports of outages around the Web.

Danny O’Brien, San Francisco-based Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, reported to the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG) e-mail list that the organization had lost all Internet connectivity with its contacts in Egypt and was hearing reports of loss of Internet connectivity on major broadband ISPs, SMS outage and loss of mobile service in major cities there.

“The working assumption here is that the Egyptian government has made the decision to shut down all external, and perhaps internal electronic communication as a reaction to the ongoing protests in that country,” he wrote. His post included a link to a Pastebin.com page where someone at a European-based Internet activist group has started an effort to provide alternative methods — such as shortwave and pirate radio — for protesters in Egypt to communicate with each other and the outside world.

“A major service provider for Egypt, Italy-based Seabone, reported early Friday that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time,” the Associated Press reported. “Associated Press reporters in Cairo were also experiencing outages.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that BlackBerry users were not able to reach the Internet on their devices.

RIM provided this statement when asked for comment: “We can confirm that RIM has not implemented any changes that would impact service in Egypt and that RIM’s BlackBerry Infrastructure has continued to be fully operational throughout the day. For questions regarding a specific network in Egypt, please contact the carrier who operates the network.

A Twitter post by Ben Wedeman, CNN senior correspondent in Cairo, around 3 p.m PDT says: “No internet, no SMS, what is next? Mobile phones and land lines? So much for stability.”

The Arabist blog had mixed reports, with someone in Cairo saying Internet service was down while a foreign journalist was able to get onto the Internet Semiramis Intercontinental hotel.

Twitter representatives did not respond immediately to an e-mail request for more information.

The Internet disruptions spurred activist action. Anonymous, the group that launched distributed denial-of-service attacks on Web sites of financial institutions and others opposing WikiLeaks last year, released a video online in which it threatened to launch DOS attacks on Egyptian government Web sites if the authorities did not curtail censorship efforts. Earlier today, five people were arrested in the U.K. in connection with those attacks.

Because Twitter has been found to be an effective communications tool during social unrest and protests–in Iran and Moldova, along with Tunisia and Egypt, more recently–it is an attractive target for governments to try to block, along with Facebook.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Asia to lead mobile-only Web population

As the mobile broadband market continues its rapid growth, the population of users that use only their mobile devices to access the Internet will hit 1 billion by 2015, with Asia-Pacific dominating this segment of the market.

According to an Ovum study released Thursday, by 2015, some 28 percent of all mobile broadband users worldwide will use this form of connectivity as their only mode of Internet access.

Additionally, more than half of this population will be based in the Asia-Pacific region, which will account for 518.4 million mobile broadband users in 2015, up from 119.1 million in 2011. The region’s market dominance is primarily due to the lack of fixed-line infrastructure in populous markets such as China and India, Ovum explained.

“Asia-Pacific’s role is extremely important in the fixed-mobile services (FMS) space,” Nicole McCormick, senior analyst at Ovum, said in the report. “The region has the third-highest penetration rate, at 34 percent, as well as the fastest-growing mobile-only [broadband] penetration of any region.”

Fixed broadband to grow, too
Despite the growing mobile broadband adoption, the takeup rate for fixed broadband will still see growth, Ovum pointed out. This is because broadband fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services, which encompasses users who buy both fixed and mobile broadband services, are expected to spike by 120 percent globally in the next five years to 2015.

The report added that FMC users from the Asia-Pacific region will grow from 259 million in 2011 to 465 million by 2015.

McCormick noted that in absolute terms, the region dominates the global FMC market due to the presence of China, South Korea and Japan–all of which have significant fiber-optic deployments and are large broadband markets.

“Bundling opportunities in Asia-Pacific are expected to gather pace over the forecast period as some operators continue to seek ways to protect their fixed-line revenue bases,” she said.

On a macro level, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported on Wednesday that the global Internet population will hit the 2-billion mark this year.

Broadband was cited as the growth catalyst, with ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure noting that the technology “generates jobs, drives growth and productivity, and underpins long-term economic competitiveness”.

US senator proposes mobile-privacy legislation

U.S. federal law needs to be updated to halt the common police practice of tracking the whereabouts of Americans’ mobile devices without a search warrant, a Democratic senator said Wednesday.

Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said it was time for Congress to put an end to this privacy-intrusive practice, which the U.S. Justice Department under the Barack Obama administration has sought to defend in court.

In a luncheon speech at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., Wyden said his staff was drafting legislation to restore “the balance necessary to protect individual rights” by requiring police to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge before obtaining location information.

Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain hazy, and courts have been divided on the constitutionality and legality of the controversial practice. In September, the first federal appeals court to rule on the legality indicated that no search warrant was needed, but sent the case back to a district judge for further proceedings.

Because the two-way radios in mobile phones are constantly in contact with cellular towers, service providers like AT&T and Verizon know–and can provide to police if required–at least the rough location of each device that connects to their mobile wireless network. If the phone is talking to multiple towers, triangulation yields a rough location fix. And, of course, the location of GPS-enabled phones can be determined with near-pinpoint accuracy.

Wyden said this kind of eerily accurate remote surveillance is akin to searching a person’s home, which requires probable cause and a search warrant signed by a judge. “You just can’t argue logically to me…that secretly tracking a person’s movements 24/7 is not a significant intrusion into their privacy,” he said.

The forthcoming legislation, he said, is being drafted with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and will apply to “all acquisitions of geolocation information,” including GPS tracking devices that police are generally allowed to place on cars without warrants under current law.

It will address both law enforcement and intelligence investigations, including saying that Americans who are overseas continue to enjoy the same location-privacy rights, a nod to the debate a few years ago over rewriting federal wiretapping law. It will also extend the same privacy protections to both “real-time monitoring and acquisition of past movements.”

Not long ago, the concept of tracking cell phones would have been the stuff of spy movies. In 1998’s “Enemy of the State,” Gene Hackman warned that the National Security Agency has “been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the ’40s–they’ve infected everything”. After a decade of appearances in “24” and “Live Free or Die Hard”, location-tracking has become such a trope that it was satirized in a scene with Seth Rogen from “Pineapple Express” (2008).

In 2005, CNET disclosed that police were engaging in warrantless tracking of cell phones. In a subsequent Arizona case, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration tracked a tractor trailer with a drug shipment through a GPS-equipped Nextel phone owned by the suspect. Texas DEA agents have used cell site information in real time to locate a Chrysler 300M driving from Rio Grande City to a ranch about 50 miles away. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile logs showing the location of mobile phones at the time of calls became evidence in a Los Angeles murder trial.

Verizon Wireless, for instance, keeps phone records including cell site location for 12 months, a company official said at a federal task force meeting in Washington, D.C., last year. Phone bills without cell site location are kept for seven years, and SMS text messages are stored for only a very brief time. (A representative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said yesterday that Verizon keeps incoming SMS messages for “only three to five days”.)

Wyden’s push to advance Fourth Amendment-like privacy protections through legislation is likely to be met with applause among technology firms. Last March, as CNET was the first to report, a group called the Digital Due Process coalition including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Loopt, and AT&T as members endorsed the principle of location privacy. (Loopt says it already requires a search warrant before divulging location information.)

One of the coalition’s principles says: “A governmental entity may access, or may require a covered entity to provide, prospectively or retrospectively, location information regarding a mobile communications device only with a warrant issued based on a showing of probable cause.”

The Obama Justice Department, on the other hand, has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones’–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have argued in court documents that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.

Windows Phone 7 sales top 2 million

Microsoft says it has sold more than 2 million Windows Phone 7 devices since launch. That number represents handsets sold to mobile operators and retailers and not necessarily consumers.

The first initial report of Windows Phone 7 sales came from Microsoft in late December and topped 1.5 million units. Back then, Achim Berg, vice president of business and marketing for Windows Phone, said that number was “in line” with company expectations.

In a phone call with ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET, Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Phone 7, said while sales were certainly a measure of the platform’s success, customer satisfaction and developer investment were more important leading indicators. And to that end, the company has been pleased.

“93 percent of Windows Phone customers are satisfied or very satisfied with Windows Phone 7, and 90 percent would recommend the phone to others,” Sullivan said. Those numbers were based on a recent survey of Windows Phone 7 customers numbering in the hundreds.

At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had articulated that people “fell in love” with Windows Phone 7 once they saw the device, and that getting it into the hands of consumers would be “job number one”. To that end, Sullivan said Microsoft is planning more marketing outreach.

“We’re absolutely doing things to turn people onto this great thing, that those who have experienced it, love,” he said. “You will see us continue to do some very visible things in terms of getting that word out, that–boy–once people use this phone, they fall in love with it very quickly.”

As for why Microsoft doesn’t have a more precise number on the actual number of handsets that have been sold to users, Sullivan noted that mobile operators were not contractually obligated to provide Microsoft with the activation numbers and the sell-through data. “We have a high degree of confidence in the precision of the sell-in numbers, which is why that’s what we’re providing,” he explained.

Sullivan said there are now more than 6,500 apps in Microsoft’s Marketplace application and the company currently has more than 24,000 registered developers. That’s compared to the 5,500 apps and 20,000 developers announced at CES earlier this month.

Microsoft plans to release the first of two announced software updates to Windows Phone 7 devices in what Sullivan said would be within “the next few months.” This first one will bring copy and paste functionality, along with better application loading performance and some bug fixes. The second update, planned for release in “the first half” of this year, will bring support for CDMA networks such as Sprint and Verizon, where Windows phones are currently unavailable.

Study: iOS, iPad gain enterprise computing share

Apple has said many times that the iPhone and iPad are gaining popularity with enterprise-level businesses. We’ve heard most recently that the iPad is either being used or tested for use at “more than 80 percent” of Fortune 100 companies, according to Apple COO Tim Cook. Today, a company that makes enterprise software is providing additional evidence that corporate customers are warming to the iPad, with details on which industries are embracing it already.

Good Technology makes enterprise software for mobile devices (Good For Enterprise), and over the last year has been tracking which devices its clients put its software on. Using data gleaned from more than 2,000 clients, Good found that during the fourth quarter of 2010, more than 65 percent of all activations using its software were on iOS devices–which means iPhones and iPads. iPad activations grew from 14 percent of all new devices to 22 percent of all new devices during that same time period.

The most activated devices Good saw during the quarter were, in order, iPhone 4, iPad, iPhone 3GS, Motorola Droid X, and Motorola Droid 2. Overall, Android phones remained about a third of new devices activated during the quarter, roughly the same as the previous three months, according to the study. For the first time, there were no Windows Mobile or Symbian devices in the top 10 most activated new devices, Good found.

It should be noted that Windows Phone 7 is not included since Good doesn’t support that platform yet, and all BlackBerry software is run off the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, so Good does not have access to data regarding activations of RIM’s smart phone devices.

We also get some detail on where the iPad is being used. Good found that the industry its customers are most using the iPad in are financial services, followed by health care, legal/professional services, high tech, government/public sector, and wholesale/retail.

Apple obviously has a head start in tablets since the iPad has been available since April 2010, but in the coming year it should have some competition. There are several Android tablets expected to be released this year, as well as WebOS tablets from Hewlett-Packard, which is a heavyweight when it comes to enterprise customers. But the biggest challenge for tablet adoption in enterprise is likely to come from RIM, which, as previously mentioned, won’t be included in Good’s numbers. The PlayBook is expected to go on sale this year as a companion device to the BlackBerry, which has been long-entrenched in the corporate world.

S’pore may auction 4G spectrum in 2012

The Singapore government intends to auction off 4G wireless spectrum rights as early as next year, paving the way for a faster rollout of Long Term Evolution (LTE) in the country.

According to local reports, ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) announced Monday it would avail six lots of spectrum for service providers to implement high-speed mobile data services. 4G is said to offer speeds at five to 10 times faster than the existing 3G technology.

Currently, SingTel, StarHub, M1, QMax and PacketOne have the rights to use the 2.3/2.5 GHz spectrum, which the service providers successfully bid for in 2005. These rights will expire in 2015, after which the spectrum will be dedicated exclusively for the deployment of 4G services, said the IDA.

In the meantime, operators can seek approval from the government to deploy LTE with their existing spectrum rights in the 900/1800 MHz and 2.3/2.5 GHz bands.

Operators quoted in the reports did not specify when LTE services will be made commercially available. SingTel, StarHub and M1 have conducted or have ongoing LTE trials.

SingTel noted that the availability of 4G-compatible devices such as dongles and handsets is a key factor influencing the rollout of LTE services. An Ovum analyst ZDNet Asia spoke to last year predicted that 4G handsets will only be available in the mass market in 2012.

A Gartner report in October 2010 estimated that the 4G standard will only be a mainstream reality in five to 10 years.

The IDA in October last year awarded the country’s remaining unused 3G spectrum lots to three local carriers–SingTel, M1 and StarHub–for S$20 million (US$15.6 million) each.

Huawei sues Motorola over sale to Nokia

Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei is suing Motorola, claiming the American company will illegally transfer its trade secrets in the proposed sale of its wireless business unit to Nokia Siemens.

Huawei filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Illinois. The company seeks to stop Motorola employees and information associated with Motorola’s UMTS and GSM equipment businesses from being transferred to Nokia Siemens Networks. Motorola announced in July 2010 that it plans to sell its entire wireless infrastructure business, which includes products it sells for 3G wireless networks, in a deal that is worth about US$1.2 billion.

Huawei argues in its complaint that the transfer of Motorola assets to Nokia Siemens would cause “the massive disclosure of Huawei’s confidential information to NSN, with irreparable harm to Huawei”. Specifically, the company argues that a large number of Motorola employees, who will be transferred as part of the deal to Nokia Siemens, have direct knowledge of Huawei’s confidential information.

Neither Motorola nor Nokia Siemens have responded to the lawsuit yet.

Motorola has been reselling Huawei radio access gear for GSM and UMTS wireless networks since 2000. As part of this relationship, Motorola employees have been trained to sell and troubleshoot Huawei’s wireless products. Nokia Siemens also makes and sells GSM and UMTS gear that competes directly with Huawei’s equipment.

“The entire intent of filing the injunction is to prevent our intellectual property from being handed over to one of our competitors on a silver platter,” said Bill Plummer, a vice president of external affairs for Huawei.

Plummer said that Huawei has tried to negotiate with Motorola since the deal was announced, but so far Motorola has not provided assurances to Huawei that its intellectual property will be protected once the deal is complete.

This is the first time that Chinese-based Huawei has initiated legal proceedings against a U.S. company. However, Huawei has been the target of lawsuits by others. Several years ago, Cisco Systems sued the company for infringing on its patents for IP network equipment. The suit was eventually settled. In June, Motorola sued Huawei for supposedly stealing its trade secrets as part of a corporate espionage case. The legal action follows a suit from 2008 in which Motorola sued five former employees for sharing information with IP networking firm Lemko, headquartered in Schaumberg, Ill., where Motorola is also located. Lemko has a reseller agreement with Huawei.

Congressional leaders have also tried to block the sale of Huawei’s telecommunications products to U.S. wireless operators over security concerns.

But Huawei representatives say the company respects intellectual property and is simply defending its own trade secrets with this lawsuit.

“As a global technology leader with a rich IP and patent portfolio, Huawei respects the rights of intellectual property holders and is equally committed to the protection of its own innovations and intellectual property,” the company said in an e-mail statement. Nearly half of Huawei’s 100,000 plus employees are engaged in research and development and Huawei allocates an average of 10 percent of all revenues to research and development annually. By the end of 2010, Huawei had applied for 49,040 essential patents on a global basis.”

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

New Windows Phone 7 jailbreak tool coming soon

While Microsoft may have put the kibosh on the first jailbreak for the Windows Phone 7 platform, another one is on the way.

Developer Julien Schapman, speaking to blog Winrumors, outlined his plans to release a Windows Phone 7 “Device Manager” that will let users do things like side-load applications, explore the phone’s file system, add custom ringtones, and manage applications. In other words, a handful of things the device does not currently offer out of the box.

Schapman said the software would be released following Microsoft’s first software update, which is expected next month, so as to keep Microsoft from closing the loophole which is being used for the unlock. Schapman also said that his solution gets around one of Microsoft’s built-in security measures, which would phone home to verify the software, and re-lock the software if it found any differences. This check occurred every two weeks, forcing users to re-run the unlocking software each time it happened.

If launched, Schapman’s solution would be the second jailbreaking tool to be made available for the Windows Phone 7 platform. The first, ChevronWP7, was released in late November, and was pulled down just days later by the request of Microsoft, which had contacted the three-man development group about “officially facilitating home-brew development” on the platform. In early January, the ChevonWP7 creators also announced that Microsoft planned to close the exploit the team had been using, as part of the first system software update.

Earlier this week, famed PlayStation 3 and Apple iOS hacker George Hotz had announced that he intended to jailbreak the new Windows phones. Microsoft responded by offering to provide Hotz with a device, encouraging him to “let dev creativity flourish”.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Motorola Mobility needs to aim for stability

Motorola Mobility is seeing an upswing in fortunes due to its close ties with Google’s Android mobile operating system (OS), but the company still needs to aim for continued stability in its performance amid growing pressures from rival mobile makers chasing after the same pie, note analysts.

Bryan Ma, associate vice president of client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific’s domain research and practice groups, said Motorola Mobility–the consumer device division spun off from Motorola on Jan. 4 this year–is showing “encouraging signs of revival” in recent times.

Elaborating, the analyst pointed out that Motorola Mobility’s decision to ditch its own development plans and align its smartphones with Google’s Android OS has “picked them back up”. The smartphone maker reported in an earnings call last October that its mobile device business posted a profit for the first time since 2006, largely driven by Android-based device sales. In numbers, Motorola witnessed a US$3 million operating profit in the third quarter of 2010, compared to a loss of US$183 million in the same quarter last year.

Ma said in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia that the decision to go with the Android platform shows Motorola is learning from its mistakes, and have avoided becoming a “one-hit wonder” in the industry with its Razr handset which was sold in 2005.

“Because the mobile market evolves so quickly, they have learnt that it is not enough to produce a handset with mass appeal and then market it in several new colors to generate revenue,” the analyst said.

Other analysts ZDNet Asia spoke to agreed.

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum, said Motorola Mobility’s wholesale adoption of Android was a “pragmatic decision” after it had previously “wasted considerable time and money on its own, largely unsuccessful, smartphone platform strategy”.

Gerald Tan, GfK Asia’s regional account director for IT and office, noted that within Southeast Asia itself, the Android platform is enjoying “huge success” within the smartphone category. Compared with six months ago, Tan said the proportion of Android-powered smartphones grew 9 percent to a double-digit share of the region’s overall mobile OS market.

“In fact, the major brands that adopted Android OS all saw significant growth in market share within the smartphone segment,” he added.

Motorola challenged in Android realm
Therein lies the problem, though.

Cripps noted that while the move to power its handsets with Android has paid off for the company, Motorola Mobility faces “immense competition” from other Android OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for customer attention.

Furthermore, consumers perceive considerable value from the vertical integration between devices, services and applications, he added, noting that Motorola may find it difficult to compete with other OEMs that have tighter integrations and the ability to publish more content for their customers.

HTC, for example, is an OEM that is investing heavily into Android as well, Ma pointed out. The company also offers its HTCSense.com service, which allows users to save their text and e-mail messages as well as offers security features such as remote wipes.

Despite these challenges, Ma said Motorola Mobility’s seemingly close ties with Google will stand it in good stead. This can be seen through its Xoom consumer tablet, unveiled during the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas earlier this month, which is powered by Google’s latest version of Android, Honeycomb, the IDC analyst said.

Cripps, too, regarded Motorola’s relationship with Google as a decisive plus. “Motorola looks like being an early adopter of the latest Android builds, so it may have an advantage over cheaper options for those seeking the latest technology,” said the Ovum analyst.

The Xoom tablet is expected to give Apple’s iPad, which is currently dominating the tablet device segment, a good run for its money. Expected to hit the markets in the first quarter of 2011, the Motorola tablet has a designed-for-tablet OS in the form of Android Honeycomb, and also boasts hardware specifications such as dual-core processor, front- and back-facing cameras and a HDMI socket to boot.

Stability-first strategy needed
The analysts, though, called on Motorola Mobility to capitalize on its resurgence to stabilize its previously volatile business.

Cripps, for one, is expecting the company to be a “more consistent performer” from now on, but warned that the company should not be harboring thoughts of reclaiming its former position of second-ranked handset manufacturer in terms of shipments.

The analyst explained that there are now better-funded, more ambitious rivals such as Samsung and Apple in the ascendency, and major Chinese OEMs are also making good strides.

“Getting the fundamentals right is paramount for Motorola Mobility following its extended period of instability,” he urged.

Similarly, Ma acknowledged that the company has “many balls to juggle” but it should be looking to sustain its current upswing and stabilize its business.

The IDC analyst said several factors will aid the company in its goals, pointing to Motorola Mobility’s technical know-how, good brand name and, following its split from Motorola’s networking business, some financial staying power.

Third-party blamed for Windows Phone 7 phantom data use

The culprit behind some mysteriously high cellular data usage by Windows Phone 7 devices has been attributed to a third-party service, and not necessarily the software OS itself, Microsoft said on Wednesday.

The “phantom data” problem, which has left some users burning through their monthly cellular data allotment in short order (even when they were connected to Wi-Fi), was addressed by the software giant last week. Microsoft pledged that it would begin an investigation into the matter, though had not yet provided an update.

Speaking to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, a Microsoft representative said the company had figured out what it believed to be the cause of the heavy data downloads, which it attributed to an unnamed third party.

The company also said that it was at work on ways to fix the problem, which had affected only a “small” percentage of Windows Phone customers. The spokesperson said in a statement, “We have determined that a third-party solution commonly accessed from Windows Phones is configured in a manner that potentially causes larger than expected data downloads. We are in contact with the third party to assist them in making the necessary fixes, and are also pursuing potential workarounds to address the configuration issue in case those are needed. At this point in our investigation, we believe this is responsible for most of the reported incidents.

“We are investigating additional potential root causes for the remainder of the reports,” said the spokesperson. “A small (low single-digit) percentage of Windows Phone customers have reported being affected. We are continuing to investigate this issue and will update with additional information and guidance as it becomes available.”

Assuming Microsoft can work out the leaky data issue with the unnamed third-party, the problem could be fixed without the need for a system software update. The first update for Windows Phone 7 is headed to carriers for testing later this month.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Microsoft’s OneNote Mobile arrives on the iPhone

In an important step towards making its note-taking and notebook-authoring service available in more places, Microsoft today has released a pocket-sized version of its OneNote application for Apple’s iOS.

The software lets users make things like bulleted lists and checklists, as well as grab and insert photos from the user’s photo library or the camera app. All these things can be combined into one note with a slightly modified version of the iOS keyboard that adds feature shortcuts just above the keys.

OneNote Mobile for iOS shares a similar feature set to its cousin on Windows Phone 7, both in its authoring tools, as well as the capability to sync up to Windows Live SkyDrive. This means users can pen notes within the app, sync up, then continue working on them through the OneNote software back on their PC–and vice versa.

In a call with ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET about the app on Tuesday, Jason Bunge, who is the senior director for Office Product Management at Microsoft, said SkyDrive sync works just like it does on Windows Phone 7, but that everything else about the app has been made to fit in and feel like a standard iPhone app.

“We certainly optimized each app for the device that it runs on,” Bunge said. “So if you go and download OneNote for the iPhone today, it will feel like an iPhone app, just as if you look at Office Mobile on the Windows Phone and the OneNote experience on that device, it absolutely feels integrated with that Windows Experience.”

OneNote currently has some 80 million users in the U.S., all of which are coming from the company’s Office software on the PC. And as for why it’s arriving on iOS before the more well-known Office applications like Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, Bunge said it’s a better fit for the needs of the mobile office worker.

“We absolutely want to make sure we’re delivering the right mobile experiences to our broad Office customer base, and note-taking absolutely popped to the top,” Bunge said. “We also know from Windows Phone 7 use, that note-taking ability in that app is one of the most-used Office features, so for us this was a natural priority, frankly, to address user needs and feedback,” he said.

Microsoft plans to charge for the application, but as part of a limited time offer is making it available as a free download. How much it will cost, and when the free offer runs out, the company has not yet said.

OneNote joins a select handful of other iOS apps made by Microsoft, like Bing, Wonderwall, Windows Live Messenger, Tag Reader, and the now-retired Sea Dragon app, which was the company’s first iPhone effort. When OneNote’s price does–eventually–go up, it will be the first paid application in Microsoft’s portfolio.

Update at 10:32 a.m. PT: We’ve just heard the application is currently available only for U.S. App Store users. No word yet on if, or when it will be available in other markets.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

RIM speaks on PlayBook’s future

Research In Motion has yet to deliver its BlackBerry PlayBook, a standalone Wi-Fi connected tablet announced in September, into buyers’ hands. But the company still took the opportunity of CES 2011 in January to unveil its plans for the second wave of PlayBooks, which include a 4G version bound for the US.

However, high-speed 4G networks–also known as LTE–are not expected to be up and running in the United Kingdom until at least 2015 due to operators’ narrow profit margins and the infrastructure costs required for the new technology.

Given this time lag, ZDNet Asia’s sister site ZDNet UK caught up with senior product manager Alex Kinsella at CES in Las Vegas to discuss RIM’s tablet plans closer to home, and to find out what the company expects to gain for the PlayBook from its acquisition in December of user interface design and integration specialists The Astonishing Tribe.

Read more of “RIM speaks on PlayBook’s future in the UK” at ZDNet UK.

Will Windows Phone 7 apps smile for the camera?

One of my favorite features in Apple’s iOS is the quietly-hidden capability to take screenshots. Back when I was doing deep dives on iPhone apps for stories, the feature was just there, and it worked.

Outside of CNET, it let me do things like grab pictures from sites and put together quick step-by-step how-to guides for friends and family, turning the device into less of a consumptive tool, and into something that would help me get work done without a computer.

But in the past few months of me putting Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 through its paces as a primary device, I’ve been missing the feature dearly. So naturally, I asked Microsoft if it was on the short list of features to be added later on down the line.

The short answer? No.

“I have never sat in a user group–and I sit in a lot of user groups, a lot of retail groups–I’ve never heard an end user go ‘why can’t I take a screenshot of that?'” Aaron Woodman, director of Microsoft’s mobile communications business, told ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week.

Well ahead of a screenshot tool is a laundry list of features Microsoft plans to add, including the ones competitors have already put out, which Woodman referred to as “gaps”.

“One of the reasons that personally pulled me over to the Windows Phone space was that there’s a lot of choices to make,” Woodman said. “It’s not like we didn’t know copy and paste was a feature that people could potentially want, it’s a question of how important it is to the user experience. When can you get to it?”

According to Woodman, it’s also not always the users who help Microsoft determine which features need to be fast-tracked. “We do a lot of things for reporters,” Woodman said. “I would argue things like the Mac connector software–the software that lets you take your Windows Phone and connect it to an Apple PC of some form, and basically pull over music from iTunes and photos and that kind of stuff–it wasn’t built because we thought there was a significant market opportunity for Mac loyalists out there who were dying to buy a Windows Phone. It was built because reporters would show up with Macs,” Woodman said.

The other half of the equation, Woodman explained, is that developers who wanted to take screenshots of their applications have had the means since the introduction of the Windows Phone 7 SDK. “There’s a ton of ways to do it in within the emulator, so application developers have no problem with that,” Woodman said.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “this is a niche feature”, look no further than Damn You, Auto Correct, a site that popped up back in October of last year and is now up to more than 1,300 posts containing unintentionally humorous instances of the iPhone’s autocorrect feature gone wrong, snapped and sent in by users.

However, something that would let you snap photos of text conversations is one thing. Where Woodman said some problems could arise is with capturing certain types of content if there’s copy-protection involved.

“The reality is, we have a DRM requirement for our marketplace, which makes things like HDMI and those types of things out, more difficult,” Woodman said. “We’ve made a choice to have a more protected set of content on the phone and available to consumers, so we do have restrictions within that,” he said.

What that would mean for such a feature is that you wouldn’t be able to snap a shot of what you were doing if there was a copy protection layer in place. This is similar to what Apple does with the built-in screen grab software in Mac OS X when movies are playing inside the DVD player application.

Woodman said the feature could end up in a future build of the OS software though. “Not that we couldn’t technically do it. I mean, at the end of the day it’s software,” he said. “We could definitely choose to do screenshot capabilities if you’re not in these three experiences.”

Windows Phone 7’s first software update since its launch late last year is just around the corner. Besides the addition of copy and paste, you can find out more about what kind of benefits it will bring to things like application load times and the Marketplace search tool in our other chat with Woodman from last week.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

RIM security access appeases Indian authorities

BlackBerry smartphone manufacturer Research In Motion has provided the government of India with access to data sent using its BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Internet Service email in a bid to avoid the services being blocked in the country.

Research In Motion (RIM) announced last week that it had reached an agreement with the Indian authorities to provide access to consumer e-mail and messenger services but reasserted that it has not granted access to services using its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which it classes as “essentially a VPN”.

“We are pleased to have delivered a solution well before a mutually agreed milestone date of January 31, 2011,” the company said in a statement. “We also wish to underscore, once again, that this enablement of lawful access does not extend to BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).”

Read more of “RIM security access appeases Indian authorities” at ZDNet UK.

LG rep: Windows Phone 7 launch underwhelmed

In an interview with blog Pocket Lint, James Choi, LG’s marketing strategy and planning team director, reportedly dubbed the launch of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 late last year to be underwhelming.

According to the site, Choi said that while Microsoft’s handset OS was “very intuitive and easy to use”, and appealed to “certain segments”, the platform failed to live up to the company’s expectations of grabbing consumer attention.

“From an industry perspective we had a high expectation, but from a consumer point of view the visibility is less than we expected,” Choi told Pocket Lint.

That said, Choi noted that LG likes to balance out its lineup of phones on various carriers with more than one operating system, and that Microsoft had gone a long way towards helping LG to fulfill that goal.

“There is a need and demand from the operators saying there is too much ‘Android’ in the portfolio. In that sense, LG always tries to balance our portfolio, and that’s not just in sense of hardware but OSes as well,” Choi reportedly said.

Microsoft launched its Windows Phone 7 platform in Europe and Asia back in late October of last year, with the U.S. launch in the second week of November. In late December, the company announced that it had sold 1.5 million of the devices to mobile operators since the platform’s launch.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

T-Mobile performs U-turn on data cap cut

T-Mobile has backtracked on its decision to drastically cut the mobile data use allowances for existing as well as new smartphone customers, following an explosion of public anger at the move.

On Thursday, the operator said it will now only offer the reduced levels of data to new and upgrading customers, while existing customers will get the 1-3GB they signed up for until their contracts run out.

The U-turn, announced on Thursday afternoon, came shortly after the consumer group Which? said its legal team were of the opinion that T-Mobile was breaking its own terms and conditions by announcing the ‘fair use’ cap cut less than a month after it will come into force on 1 February. The cut, which will mean an 83 percent reduction in the amount of data an Android user is supposed to use each month–from 3GB to 500MB–was only announced over the weekend.

Read more of “T-Mobile performs U-turn on data cap cut” at ZDNet UK.

Mobile networks flag as backups die in Aus floods

The areas worst affected by the Queensland floods may have further problems, with mobile service outages possible if battery backups fail later on.

Mains power was cut early Wednesday morning, forcing some mobile towers to fail over to 8-hour battery backups. Some remain inaccessible, meaning Telstra technicians cannot replace their batteries.

Telstra is manning some of the most critical towers in the Brisbane central business district (CBD), and has deployed generators that can maintain power for up to five days.

If services fail, the telco may be able to reroute traffic between its functional network towers to ensure services continue.

But the network is already heavily stretched and has suffered a four-fold increase in the number of service outages.

“We’ve got battery backup so we’re not experiencing issues. That could change in eight hours when those run down,” Telstra said.

“We will replace batteries and generators as we can. Obviously we can’t get into some areas due to submerged roads and that will stay the same possibly for several weeks. It’s going to take a long time to recover.

“Our biggest issue is mains power.”

The telco is unsure what regions may have services cut because the floods have not yet peaked and conditions are changing.

In the interim, technicians are on rotation, and are replacing batteries that can still be accessed. They have also built rudimentary reinforcements to protect valuable exchanges from flooding and some technicians are even sleeping within the exchanges.

Of Telstra’s three critical exchanges, its Wollaston and Charlotte street facilities are considered safe, but a third at Edison Street is at risk because it lies in a basement.

Optus is experiencing the same issues, with some areas of the mobile and fixed Optus networks affected as of 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“As the flooding situation is changing rapidly, an increasing number of mobile sites as well as fixed network nodes are at risk due to power outages which may disrupt fixed and mobile services to customers,” the company said in a statement. As with Telstra, Optus was trying to deploy backup generators where possible.

Optus expected some disruption of 2G, 3G and business Internet services in the Brisbane CBD later on Wednesday because of the power outage. With network capacity prioritized for voice, mobile internet will also be slow. Several hybrid-fibre coaxial nodes have been impacted in Ipswich, affecting home phone and internet services to some customers.

In Toowoomba and surrounds, two mobile towers are currently without power, although there is still limited coverage being supplied by alternate towers. The mobile towers in the Lockyer Valley ran out of battery power at 9:10 p.m. last night, cutting off all mobile services. This morning, the telco deployed power generators to partially restore services at five mobile sites.

One of Optus’ Sydney-to-Brisbane fibre links has also been cut due to the floods. Services have been switched to an alternate link.

Floods have also been affecting Vodafone services. Two transmission facilities in Grantham and Withcott have experienced outages and are expected to have operations restored Wednesday afternoon. Other areas are expected to lose voice and data services due to power outages if the situation deteriorates.

The floods have also disrupted the National Relay Service, which provides telecommunications services to deaf and hearing- or speech-impaired people. Emergency services are still operating. The service was scheduled to evacuate its main call centre in Brisbane Wednesday.

Australian Communications and Media Authority chairman Chris Chapman said that his organisation was working with the service to find a dry location to host its backup server.

This article was first published at ZDNet Australia.

US senate to try again on controversial antipiracy bill

The U.S. Senate judiciary committee will take another crack at arming the government with broad antipiracy powers.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the judiciary committee’s chairman, said that the government must take action against “online criminals” who harm American jobs by obtaining the nation’s intellectual property without paying for it. Leahy made the statements as he laid out the committee’s agenda for this session of Congress.

In September, Leahy introduced legislation called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which could boast bipartisan support and unanimously passed in the judiciary committee, but failed to pass in a full Senate vote.

“Online infringement costs our national economy billions of dollars every year,” Leahy said, according to a transcript of his speech. “Our intellectual property-based businesses are among the most productive in our economy and among its best employers. We cannot stand by and see them ravaged, and American consumers subjected to counterfeits. We will renew our effort this year.”

Among the bill’s supporters are the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Among the legislation’s opponents are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Distributed Computing Industry Association, and American Civil Liberties Union, who say the bill is little more than censorship.

Under the proposed legislation, the Justice Department would file a civil action against accused pirate domain names. If the domain name resides in the U.S., the attorney general could request that the domain name in question be seized.

The bill would also authorize the attorney general to order other specified third parties, such as Internet service providers, payment processors, and online ad network providers, to take action against pirate sites. For example, ISPs could be ordered to block access in this country to file-sharing sites based overseas or order Visa to stop taking processing transactions from the sites.

The legislation’s supporters in the entertainment industry say its introduction has already produced benefits. Last month, ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET reported that Mastercard was willing to stop processing transactions from sites trafficking in pirated music, movies, games, and other digital copyrighted content and would support Leahy’s bill.

Meanwhile, others have been less than supportive. The major ISPs have yet to weigh in on the issue but some executives from the sector have told me they are skeptical of Leahy’s chances at getting his bill passed anytime soon.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Microsoft looks into ‘phantom’ Windows Phone 7 data use

Microsoft said it’s investigating a Windows Phone 7 software behavior that has the phone slurping up cellular data, even when the phone is connected to Wi-Fi.

The cause of this data use is not yet known, but the BBC points to a handful of reports that say it is a built-in feedback tool that is essentially phoning home.

If true, this type of behavior would not be out of place compared to other smartphone operating systems. In fact, Apple’s iPhone came under similar scrutiny last year, with some users reporting large chunks of data getting sent in the wee hours of the night.

A Microsoft spokesperson said simply that the company was “investigating this issue to determine the root cause and will update with information and guidance as it becomes available”.

Several years ago background data use would not have been as much of an issue, however, within the last year, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have moved away from so-called “unlimited” data plans, to packages of data that can be purchased in allotments. For consumers these represent a more economical way to buy into a smartphone purchase over the course of a long-term contract, but can carry steep penalties for overages.

With some entry-tier data plans hovering in the 150MB to 200MB range, depending on which carrier the user is on, that amount can be reached quickly when normal use is mixed with this extra data polling, which is said to range from 30MB to 50MB of data per day.

Microsoft’s first big update to its Windows Phone 7 platform is set to roll out to users in the next month or so. It is not yet clear whether that update will address this issue, or whether new software will be necessary to make any changes.

Mobile advertising faces tough reception

Marketing managers should not expect mobile advertising to match the returns that can be achieved from advertising to PC users online, analysts have warned.

In spite of predictions that 80 per cent of mobile handsets sold in the U.K. will be Internet-enabled by 2012, the effectiveness of mobile advertising will be limited by several key factors, according to Enders Analysis.

Even with the boom in smartphone sales, Enders Analysis predicts that in 2015 mobile usage will still only account for less than one-third, 28 per cent, of all the time spent online.

“There isn’t the inventory in media to have substantial advertising revenues–you need the audience, you need the views,” said Enders analyst James Barford.

The small screen size of mobile devices will also continue to limit the size of adverts compared to what is possible when targeting PC users.

“Ultimately, if you’re trying to put your brand to someone, if you’ve got more space and a more interactive advert [as on a PC screen], then that should result in more revenue,” Barford said.

The relatively limited amount of time spent browsing the Web on mobile devices will also restrict the take-up of retail over mobile devices (m-commerce), an area that search-based mobile advertising could exploit.

Barford said the purchasing of more expensive products–such as financial services and holidays–is likely to remain PC-based, meaning the potential of m-commerce and associated advertising is limited.

“The search revenue on mobile will be considerably less than fixed line. Because of these big ticket items, the majority of e-commerce will still be taking place within a PC environment,” he said.

Enders analyst Ian Maude agreed there are still several obstacles to overcome before mobile advertising can match the revenues generated by other forms of advertising.

“[The mobile advertising market is] just very nascent. A lot of the creative agencies want to get into it to be seen to do the latest thing but the problem is there’s not very much money in it. And there’s certainly not much profit in it for a lot of the interactive agencies,” Maude told silicon.com.

Other factors currently holding mobile advertising back include the lack of standardisation between mobile platforms and the comparatively few ways of measuring how users are responding to mobile ads. Barford is confident these are issues that can ultimately be overcome as the mobile advertising market grows.

Despite these limiting factors, Enders predicts the amount of money spent on mobile advertising will hit £419m (US$647.35 millnion) by 2015, up from £46m US$71.07 million) in 2009.

This article was first published on Silicon.com.

India snags APAC mobile ad crown

India is the largest mobile advertising market in the Asia-Pacific region with 5.8 billion impressions monthly, according to a new report.

Released Thursday by InMobi, the report showed that the Indian market grew by over 1 billion impressions over a 90-day period between July and October last year, reflecting an increase of 22 percent. An impression refers the delivery of an advertisement to a user.

“The Indian mobile advertising market continues to show rapid growth due to the improving ad ecosystem,” said James Lamberti, vice president of global research and marketing, in a statement.” Major publishers are bringing their media into the mobile channel while brands are simultaneously discovering the power of mobile advertising.”

In addition, 3G network infrastructure improvements in the country will also help propel India to become one of the most influential markets in mobile advertising, the executive noted.

Other data revealed that smartphones “remain relatively nascent” in India’s mobile ad market, with 88 percent of all impressions served on advanced phones. Indian mobile users also favored Nokia, with the Finnish mobile maker’s devices occupying 12 of the 15 top devices.

InMobi’s co-founder Amit Gupta added: “With so many consumers using mobile devices as a primary means to digital media consumption, mobile is the complimentary media channel to TV for reach extension while still maintaining a compelling brand experience that will only improve as smartphones penetrate at scale over the next year.”

Like India, Nokia-manufactured devices also took the top spot (57 percent) in mobile ad impressions for the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, according to a separate InMobi report released on Wednesday. While Apple’s iPhone was the top device, the remaining nine in the top 10 devices belonged to Nokia.

In terms of operating platforms, Apple’s iPhone OS and Google’s Android saw their share of impressions improve by 9.3 percent within the same period, although they still trailed Nokia and Symbian OS, which together accounted for 41.2 percent of the region’s impressions.

Between July and October, the region registered a 9 percent increase at just under 1 billion impressions, driven by huge increases in smartphone impressions.

Robert Woolfrey, InMobi’s director of brand sales in the Asia-Pacific region, pointed out that with the increasing adoption of smartphones in the region, advertisers are able to leverage creatively on a new platform to potentially reach millions of consumers.

“The smartphone revolution in the region will only enhance that trend in 2011,” he said.

Qualcomm buys Atheros for US$3.1B

In a move to round out its wireless and networking product portfolio, Qualcomm acquired Atheros for US$3.1 billion, or US$45 a share. For Qualcomm, the acquisition highlights a strategy to move beyond its traditional cellular market into more mainstream computing.

Word of the deal surfaced on Wednesday via reports on CNBC, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

With the Atheros acquisition, Qualcomm gains access to wireless LAN, Ethernet, Bluetooth, GPS, passive optical networking and powerline technologies. Qualcomm will take those products and ultimately integrate them with its smartphone and tablet chips.

Read more of “Qualcomm buys Atheros for $3.1 billion, moving into ‘silicon beyond cellular’” at ZDNet.

Android programming’s ups and downs

newsmakers As smartphones using Google’s Android operating system become mainstream, James Steele and Nelson To are in a pretty good position.

As authors of The Android Developer’s Cookbook, they’re a step ahead in a growing market, apps for the mobile device OS. Andy Rubin, the Google vice president of engineering overseeing Android, said earlier in December that 300,000 Android phones now are activated each day.

But one major issue facing programmers hoping to reach those phones today is that they have different hardware and software–a problem called Android fragmentation. Programmers must adapt their software as the operating system spreads not just to significantly different mobile phones, but also to tablets with even larger screens and to other devices including televisions, cars and music players.

Fragmentation can be a problem. But Steele also sees fragmentation from the other side: the breadth of the Android market means programmers can tackle many devices that otherwise would be far away in some other coding ecosystem.

“The structure of the Android OS helps minimize the changes required for an app to work across these platforms. It is great for a developer to have such a low threshold to be able to take advantage of this diversification,” Steele said.

Steele and To chatted with CNET’s Stephen Shankland about what Android coders can expect with Android. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q: Why publish an Android development book now?
Steele: Both Nelson and I have been working on Android for over two years now and we have seen the continual growth. Even more so, 2010 has been a breakout year for Android across the world. The OS and hardware have both matured with rich features, but some are still not documented well. There are many resources for learning Android but few full working examples. Our goal with the book is to provide a developer with self-contained working examples in as modular a form as possible, so they can be incorporated as-is into someone’s code.

What are the most compelling things about programming on Android?
Steele: Android is an embedded platform which has potential and momentum to go well beyond just smartphones and tablets. Being open source, it is compelling for a variety of different hardware manufacturers, for example set-top boxes and automobiles. Also, almost the entire OS is open for usage and extension. This opens the possibility for sophisticated changes as needed.

And on the flip side, what are Android’s biggest warts?
Steele: As for the biggest difficulties in creating Android applications today, we mention in the book it is the need to ensure apps work on multiple platforms and multiple code versions. Therefore, we dedicate a few sections to writing general enough code as well as discuss methods of testing…Hardware manufacturers tend to try to differentiate themselves, which makes it hard to write an app that is applicable to all platforms. We provide some advice and important techniques to minimize issues with cross-platform usability. Google is always improving feedback, now providing stack trace results [a look at what a program was doing just before it crashed] from users on applications that failed after they downloaded them from the market. Also, we are seeing many markets for applications, which could be a good thing but for now is confusing to the end user as well as developer.

How hard is it to deal with the varying screen sizes, physical buttons, processing power, and other hardware of the profusion of Android phones today?
Steele: It is a challenge Android developers should be aware of, but it is surmountable. In the book we provide concrete examples on how to ensure code is robust across multiple platforms for all the above cases.

You mention processing power, which is less of an issue now given processing power is within a factor of two, but newer devices will start to take advantage of hardware accelerators which might differentiate performance using SMP or SIMD [“symmetrical multiprocessing,” which for Android means chips with multiple processing cores, and “single instruction, multiple data,” chip features that accelerate multimedia and other processing]. This will lead to a factor of ten difference for some applications (such as 3D gaming for example), and that needs to be considered.

Also, sensors such as accelerometers and magnetometers (compasses) have various different specifications now, as we discuss in the book, but there is a push to improve the quality of these sensors and hopefully we will soon see a convergence in this regard.

How suited to multicore mobile processors is Android? Dual-core Android devices will start arriving soon. Will that be a boon for multitasking, background apps, performance of foreground apps, or other specific scenarios?
To: I am really excited about that. I think this definitely will take the Android to another level in terms of the responsiveness and the ability to handle the application switching. However, I have another concern, the battery power lifetime, considering this will consume battery power even faster than what we have. I think in the long run the battery power is something that all the device manufacturers should really focus on. In the current market, I still haven’t found any devices that can sustain power as long as the iPhone.

What features is an iOS programmer going to miss most on Android? And what about vice-versa?
Steele: I’m not sure what they will miss, but the open APIs [application programming interfaces], ability to leverage the cloud, and more computing power are things they will enjoy.

How come games on Android are so weak compared to Apple’s iOS? Processing power, APIs, developer tools, market size, developer interest, or what?
Steele: The iPhone, being introduced first, had an early lead in games and apps. But now the quality of Android apps is maturing well.

The Native Developer Kit lets programmers write software that runs at a lower level than the usual Java-like environment for Android apps. What NDK changes come with Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread?
Steele: There are more hooks for native code to manage events and surfaces. For the end user, this provides an even faster gaming experience. For the developer, it also enables a more natural port of existing C/C++ applications. Also, note more processors are coming out that support the parallelism that the NDK can offer, which will also provide large benefits.

[Surface management] applies to 3D graphics in Android. Drawing an object so that it looks three-dimensional on the screen requires building it up from simple shapes such as triangles and squares. These two-dimensional shapes are called surfaces.

If you’re writing a game, how big a deal is the fragmentation? You say that there are steps you can take for generalization, but is that something that takes 3 percent of a developer’s time? 50 percent?
To: Android provides different mechanisms for developers to leverage different kind of screen sizes. That includes providing the different picture quality [options] inside an application, which allows it to run on the different screen [sizes], and providing layout format mechanisms. As a good Android developer, this work has to be taken as part of the their fundamental design spec. This can take up to 5 percent to 10 percent of the whole project effort.

What features within Android 2.3 are likely to be most interesting to programmers?
To: I think one of the most significant improvements in 2.3 is they provide a way to access the native code without going through the JNI [the Java Native Interface mechanism for linking Java programs to other software]. Another feature provided in 2.3 is the SIP [session initiation protocol] stack and framework API [application programming interface] which allow developers to develop the SIP application (Internet telephony application) a lot easier.

If you’re a Java programmer, how hard is it to learning to code for Android?
Steele: We wrote the book assuming the user has a basic familiarity with Java. However, a programmer with no background in Java will pick things up very quickly. On the flip side, as mentioned in the book, Android is not Java. Someone very familiar with Java and especially J2ME [Java 2 Mobile Edition] may feel frustrated to realize things are sometimes done differently, but still it will be easier than learning a new language from scratch.

What are you going to do with your book now that Gingerbread is out, presumably with bigger changes coming in Honeycomb?
Steele: The feedback has been very positive so far on the Android Developer’s Cookbook. People really like the format to allow them to jump in and start using recipes in their own apps and also on how current it is compared to other books available. There will always be changes to the OS, but this book provides the foundation to utilize the incremental updates.

In your conversations with developers, have you heard complaints that the 24-hour return period for paid Android apps is a problem? Google is changing it to 15 minutes.
To: I happened to talk to a couple Android developers about the return policy on the Android Market. They feel frustrated that the return rate on the applications is extremely high. One of the reasons is the way the Android Market allows users to return [apps] is way easier than the return policy on the iPhone.

One neat thing about Android is the ability to hand off a task to another app on the phone–for example, clicking the share button can plug into Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, or tapping a link can launch a choice of browsers. But can this turn into an ugly mess, where there’s a huge list of applications all trying to vie for the user’s attention. What’s the best way for programmers to help keep things tidy?
Steele: This is a great feature of Android. Virtually any function served by the OS can be replaced by a third-party application. We mention in the book how to do this using intent filters. Then when users are provided the choice, they are offered a chance to choose a default method of servicing such intents in the future.

How truly open-source is Android? It seems like it’s written in-house at Google for the most part, with periodic code dumps when the new versions are released. If you’re a manufacturer, do you have better access to the planning and code under development? Do you have to join the Open Handset Alliance to get that influence and access?
Steele: Manufacturers do make their own changes on top of Android to differentiate themselves. These benefits of open source will also be a benefit to Google TV when it is made available.

How good is Android today for tablets? What changes do you think would make Android better for tablets?
Steele: Android already works well for tablets. The HD video and large-screen support are key.

Will we ever see the fragmentation issue ease with Android? Is there anything that can be done about it? I see games with lists of which devices they’ll run on (confused greatly by the different device names in different countries), discussions about testing on multiple devices, and Rovio Mobile planning to release two separate versions of Angry Birds to deal with low-end and high-end processing abilities. So clearly it’s an issue, even if it’s not enough of an issue to stop Android growth.
Steele: The Android Developer’s Cookbook provides some important examples of how to generalize apps to multiple platforms. As a developer, I would rather spend a little extra time to take care of the different devices out there and reap the benefits of the larger distribution of my apps.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Enterprise developers want strong platform support

As more mobile platform operators are positioning their operating systems (OS) to support enterprise applications alongside consumer ones, they will have to focus on providing an up-to-date software development kit (SDK) as well as a strong, active support ecosystem, developers noted.

Tan Hua Koon, chief operating officer (COO) of Orange Gum, a Singapore-based short message service gateway provider that customizes app across various mobile platforms such as Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry OS, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS, pointed out that having an active developer community helps cut app development time significantly.

This is because fellow community members would, for instance, post up sample codes and explanations of why certain lines of codes work and others don’t, which reduces one’s time used for testing an app, he told ZDNet Asia during a phone interview.

He cited RIM’s BlackBerry Developer Zone as an example of how an active developer community should be, pointing out that it is “easy to navigate, has complete code documentation and is always moderated”. Additionally, Tan gave the thumbs-up to how the company extends a personal touch to its developers. The executive, who is a BlackBerry Alliance member, said a business development manager from RIM would contact him periodically for his feedback and to enquire whether he has encountered any problems working on the platform.

“The personal touch is one of the things I like about developing for the RIM platform, as support is just a phone call away and [the Blackberry maker] provides attentive service even though we’re a [relatively] small company,” he added.

Erik van Hoof, founder and business lead of CWR Mobility‘s Emea (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, also emphasized the need for strong developer support. His company has been developing CRM (customer relationship management) apps for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile platforms as well as for the iOS and BlackBerry platform.

Zooming in on the company’s experience developing for Windows Phone 7, he added that while the SDK for the OS is new, the “underlying Silverlight and .Net frameworks are widely used and have a very big community support”.

“We have not run into any issues that were not already discussed and solved within the developer community,” van Hoof said.

van Hoof also noted that, in general, the tools for developing for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s latest mobile OS, are “far superior” to any other platforms the company has worked with, adding that Visual Studio 2010 is the “most advanced development environment available today”. Visual Studio is Redmond’s integrated development environment (IDE) tool that allows developers to code for its mobile platforms, the Web, SharePoint and Windows OS.

As enterprise applications are more complex than smaller consumer apps, team collaboration, unit testing and debugging, among other processes, are much more important, and Visual Studio provides the necessary environment for the company to develop its apps on, elaborated van Hoof.

He added that with Linq and other .Net-based libraries, working with data coming from enterprise systems is “a breeze”. “When developing for platforms like iOS or BlackBerry, a lot of the parsing needs to be done manually and that takes a lot of time to develop [an app]. Such parsing is [also] very sensitive to errors,” he noted.

Mobile operators’ enterprise focus
Asked if they had included any tools that are catered to developing for enterprise apps, platform operators told ZDNet Asia that while certain enhancements were made to existing SDKs for the enterprise environment, the tools provided are generally the same, whether the apps are for consumers or business users.

Microsoft, for one, has streamlined the process for existing Windows developers to build apps for its Windows Phone 7 platform.

According to Chris Chin, developer marketing director for Microsoft’s mobile communication business in the Asia-Pacific region, developers can make use of its new Express SKU (stock-keeping unit) for Visual Studio 2010. He explained in an e-mail that for developers already using the latest version of the IDE tool, there is a file within the SKU that will install only the components required to build for Windows Phone 7. These components include the Windows Phone emulator, templates for coding Silverlight– and .XNA-based apps, among others, he pointed out.

Nokia, too, said that it is providing APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers to integrate security features into mobile devices that will allow administrators to have full control of the device in “sensitive environments”.

Gary Chan, Nokia’s head of developer relations for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said such APIs are based on its Qt development framework, which the Finnish phonemaker had recently made as the default coding tool for internal and third-party developers. Qt allows apps to run across its Symbian, Maemo and MeeGo devices.

“Qt represents a move toward a higher level of developer productivity and maximum code reuse, which translate into a code reduction of approximately 70 percent lines of code to create the same app compared with developing using the previous Symbian C++ framework,” he noted.

RIM, on the other hand, said there are no specific developer tools that targets either consumer or business apps. Andrew Vardon, head of alliances at RIM Asia-Pacific, instead pointed out that the Canadian company has opened up APIs around “location, advertising, and its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging service”.

“This way, if a developer wishes to integrate these features into an enterprise app, he or she can do so,” he added.

Vardon also said that the company’s PlayBook tablet device, which is aimed for the enterprise space, is a “big opportunity” for enterprise developers. He noted that RIM has opened up APIs, such as the SDK to develop Adobe Air-based apps, for developers since the announcement of the device in September.

Rival mobile OS operator Apple declined comment but pointed ZDNet Asia to two enterprise developers who had built apps for its iOS platform, but they were not able to comment as well. Google, too, could not respond to the questions in time.

China clamps down on Web telephony

The Chinese government is clamping down on Internet telephony services in the country, a move that could stumble players such as Skype, according to news reports.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a crackdown on “illegal” voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services in China in a circular released earlier this month, AFP reported on Thursday. It did not say when the ruling will take effect, the news agency added.

Xi Guohua, vice minister at MIIT, noted only state-owned major Chinese telcos were licensed to provide PC-to-phone services, AFP said, citing the Beijing Morning Post.

According to him, China Telecom and China Unicom have licenses to provide PC-to-phone services in four cities on a trial basis. The government is considering an expansion of the program, he said.

PC-to-PC communications, Xi pointed out, remained open to all service providers in the country.

Kan Kaili, a professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, told AFP the decision was to “protect the interests of state-owned monopolies”. VoIP services, which offer a cheap alternative for long-distance calling, have impacted the margins of carriers’ international call services, he explained.

The government, he added, could also be attempting to block VoIP services such as Skype which use encryption that make communications difficult to monitor.

A Skype spokesperson ZDNet Asia contacted did not comment specifically on the development, but noted in an e-mail that users in China can currently access Skype via TOM Online, the majority stakeholder in the two companies’ joint venture. TOM Online is the Internet business division of TOM Group, a leading Chinese-language media corporation,  its Web site stated.

According to the spokesperson, TOM Online offers local versions of Skype for Windows and Mac operating systems as well as mobile platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile.

He added that the Luxembourg-based VoIP service provider has around 25 million concurrent users logged into Skype globally at any given time, but could not state the numbers for China.

Governments’ rising intervention
Earlier this year, Indian authorities were said to have security concerns over services offered by Google and Skype. This follows the Indian government’s threat in August to shut down Blackberry services offered by Research In Motion (RIM).

China’s move comes at a time when Net usage in the country is growing rapidly. As of end-November, China’s online population hit 450 million, with around one in three Chinese having accessed the Internet. This represents a year-on-year jump of 20.3 percent, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Nokia Siemens’ Motorola buy hits delay

Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) is expected to delay its purchase of Motorola’s wireless network infrastructure assets after the company disclosed it has not obtained the necessary regulatory clearance for the deal.

In a statement Tuesday, the Finnish-German company said the Anti-Monopoly Bureau of China’s Ministry of Commerce is still reviewing the proposed transaction. The US$1.2 billion deal was announced in July, and had been originally targeted to close by year-end.

Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia Siemens Networks, said in the statement the delay was “disappointing”, but added that the company expects to finalize the acquisition in early 2011.

“We are continuing to work closely with the authority in China to finalize the clearance process in that country,” he said. “We recognize its efforts in addressing this case as a matter of importance.”

According to NSN, the deal has been given the green light by antitrust authorities in the United States, European Union (EU), Brazil, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan and Turkey. The EU approved the deal two weeks ago, news wire Reuters reported.

Motorola had announced in February it would split into two separate companies in 2011–one for its mobile devices and home entertainment technology and the other comprising its networking and enterprise mobility businesses. The company confirmed in a statement on Nov. 30 that the separation will be formal from Jan. 4, 2011, with the businesses renamed Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions.

NSN said around 7,500 employees from Motorola’s public carrier wireless network infrastructure business are expected to join the company when the transaction closes. Research and development sites in the U.S., China and India owned by the Motorola division will also be transferred to NSN.

Apple sued for mobile app privacy breach

Apple is being sued by a U.S. resident for allowing iOS-based mobile apps that run on its iPhone and iPad devices to transmit users’ personal information to advertising networks without their permission, according to news reports.

Bloomberg, for one, reported that the complaint, which was filed on Dec. 23 in a U.S. federal court in California, alleged that Cupertino’s iPhones and iPads are encoded with identifiers, specifically the Unique Device Identifier (UDID). The UDID then allows advertising networks to track what apps users are downloading, how frequently they download content and for how long, the report noted.

Besides Apple, developers of apps such as Pandora, Paper Toss, the Weather Channel and Dictionary.com were singled out as defendants in the lawsuit. Their inclusion was based on the allegation that these apps are “selling additional information to ad networks, including users’ location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views”, stated Bloomberg, citing the lawsuit that was filed.

The claim runs counter to what Apple professes to be doing, which is that it would review all applications submitted to its App Store before publishing them and disallow apps to transmit user data without customers’ permission, the report noted.

Also citing the lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal added: “Apple…purports to have implemented app privacy standards and claims to have created ‘strong privacy protections’ for its customers.”

The class action, or group, lawsuit was filed on behalf of users who have downloaded an app on their iPhone or iPad between Dec. 1, 2008 and Dec. 23, 2010. The Journal went on to report that the claimant is seeking damages, restitution and an injunction that in part requires defendants to provide “notice and choice to consumers regarding defendants’ data collection, profiling, merger and deanonymization activities”.

The lawsuit was filed less than a week after the Journal had raised the issue of personal information being transmitted without users’ consent.

On Dec. 17, the newspaper had published a report stating that based on its study of 101 mobile apps for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile platforms, 56 of the apps had transmitted the phone’s UDID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Another 47 apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way while five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

Mobile platform operators, though, are not the only ones being scrutinized for how they protect users’ privacy. Popular social networking site Facebook is also in the spotlight, following the revelation that a data broker had been buying up user information from developers.

A November report revealed that Facebook apps were transmitting user IDs, which can be used to look up users’ names and, in some cases, the names of their friends, to at least 25 advertising and data firms. Developers who were found to be guilty of selling user information to the broker had received a six-month suspension and would have to submit their data practices to an audit in the future, according to Facebook.

Alcatel-Lucent settles US bribery charges

Alcatel-Lucent has agreed to pay over US$137 million to U.S. authorities to settle charges of bribery in Asia and Latin America.

The French telecommunications equipment maker and three of its subsidiaries channeled over US$8 million of bribes via consultants to government officials in Costa Rica, Honduras, Malaysia and Taiwan in order to win or retain contracts, according to statements released Monday by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Alcatel admitted it earned about US$48.1 million in profits as a result of the corrupt payments, said the DOJ.

The payouts were carried out between December 2001 and June 2006, prior to Alcatel’s merger with Lucent Technologies.

The two agencies stated that Alcatel violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to illegally win business. The payments were either undocumented or improperly recorded as consulting fees that were then incorporated in its subsidiaries’ financial statements. The company was also taken to task for inadequate internal controls which allowed the misconduct to take place.

“Alcatel and its subsidiaries failed to detect or investigate numerous red flags suggesting their employees were directing sham consultants to provide gifts and payments to foreign government officials to illegally win business,” Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in the statement.

Alcatel, added the DOJ, also violated the FCPA by the improper hiring of third-party agents in countries including Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Uganda. Alcatel-Lucent has since eliminated the practice of using third-party sales and marketing agents for its worldwide business.

Court documents revealed that an Alcatel subsidiary won three contracts in Costa Rica worth over US$300 million through illicit means, resulting in a profit of more than US$23 million. Two consultants in the country received more than US$18 million, of which over half were presented to government officials.

In exchange for favorable treatment, Alcatel also paid the family of a senior Honduran government official via a consultant connected with the family. As a result, the company earned US$870,000 by retaining contracts worth US$47 million.

Over in Asia, an Alcatel subsidiary paid two consultants more than US$950,000 to earn a US$19.2 million contract to supply railway axle counters to the Taiwan Railway Administration, even though neither had telecommunications experience. The sum included payments to Taiwanese legislators who had influence over the awarding of the deal, which eventually saw Alcatel reap US$4.3 million.

The SEC also indicated an Alcatel subsidiary had made payments to Malaysian government officials in order to procure a telecommunications contract, but did not offer more details.

The SEC ordered Alcatel-Lucent to pay US$45.4 million, while the DOJ imposed a US$92 million penalty on the vendor. Alcatel-Lucent will also improve its FCPA compliance program and engage a third-party to monitor its compliance for three years, as well as submit yearly reports to the DOJ.

Mobile Web usage to spike with security tie-ups

Securing mobile apps and Web access from mobile devices are key to spurring the adoption of mobile Internet usage, particularly in markets such as China where mobile phone security is still an emerging market, an analyst noted. Partnerships between Internet companies and security firms will help address the security issues.

Jane Wang, senior analyst at Ovum, said that in markets such as China, mobile phone security has not been taken seriously by Internet companies and mobile device makers. However, the emergence of mobile viruses, SMS (short message service) spam and spyware specifically targeting devices such as smartphones, has threatened to compromise users’ privacy, personal information and even business-related data, she added.

“The depth of mobile applications will require more security protection than ever before,” the analyst pointed out in her e-mail. Ovum is forecasting that China’s 3G broadband connections will overtake fixed broadband connections by 2014, with mobile Internet apps becoming more abundant.

The recent partnership between Chinese Internet service provider Tencent and Russian security vendor Kaspersky Lab, aims to raise user awareness of mobile security, according to Wang. This will lead to increased acceptance of mobile Internet services, she noted, adding that Tencent is the first in the industry to enter into such partnerships with a third-party security vendor.

The partnership, which was announced on Dec. 7, will see Kaspersky Lab’s mobile antivirus technology integrated into Tencent’s QQ security expert. The two companies will also work jointly on mobile security products and initiatives to further improve on existing technologies, according to the security vendor’s press release.

In the media statement, Tencent’s president of mobile value-added services division Tel Liu said: “We are fully confident that we will be able to provide users with professional and comprehensive mobile security protection by integrating Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus technology with our own.”

Beyond boosting mobile Internet uptake, though, Lynn Jin, market analyst for software research at Springboard Research, said that the tie-up was motivated by each company’s business priorities.

She told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the partnership is a “win-win cooperation”. For the Chinese company, this is a step toward expanding its footprint in the security arena and will help it gain the initiative in the mobile market against local competitors such as Qihoo, Jin stated.

As for the Russian company, the partnership is an attempt to wrest back market share from China-based security vendors that are all providing free antivirus products currently. “It is an opportunity for Kaspersky to gain mobile customers fast and to regain PC users due to [Tencent’s large consumer base],” the Springboard analyst said.

Asked if such partnerships hold any value beyond the Chinese market, Jin pointed out that as Tencent has no plans to venture overseas, this specific partnership will not be replicated in other markets. In general, however, partnerships between mobile and Internet service providers with security vendors “may have value” elsewhere.

Such value may be further driven by “mobilution“, a term IDC coined for a growing trend where mobile devices including smartphones and slates such as Apple’s iPad are becoming today’s desktops. Additionally, the research firm predicts more than 550 million people in Asia-Pacific alone will become mobile Internet users by 2015.

When contacted, Kaspersky Labs was not able to reply in time while Tencent did not respond to ZDNet Asia’s questions.

Alcatel-Lucent settles US bribery charges

Alcatel-Lucent has agreed to pay over US$137 million to U.S. authorities to settle charges of bribery in Asia and Latin America.

The French telecommunications equipment maker and three of its subsidiaries channeled over US$8 million of bribes via consultants to government officials in Costa Rica, Honduras, Malaysia and Taiwan in order to win or retain contracts, according to statements released Monday by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Alcatel admitted it earned about US$48.1 million in profits as a result of the corrupt payments, said the DOJ.

The payouts were carried out between December 2001 and June 2006, prior to Alcatel’s merger with Lucent Technologies.

The two agencies stated that Alcatel violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to illegally win business. The payments were either undocumented or improperly recorded as consulting fees that were then incorporated in its subsidiaries’ financial statements. The company was also taken to task for inadequate internal controls which allowed the misconduct to take place.

“Alcatel and its subsidiaries failed to detect or investigate numerous red flags suggesting their employees were directing sham consultants to provide gifts and payments to foreign government officials to illegally win business,” Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in the statement.

Alcatel, added the DOJ, also violated the FCPA by the improper hiring of third-party agents in countries including Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Uganda. Alcatel-Lucent has since eliminated the practice of using third-party sales and marketing agents for its worldwide business.

Court documents revealed that an Alcatel subsidiary won three contracts in Costa Rica worth over US$300 million through illicit means, resulting in a profit of more than US$23 million. Two consultants in the country received more than US$18 million, of which over half were presented to government officials.

In exchange for favorable treatment, Alcatel also paid the family of a senior Honduran government official via a consultant connected with the family. As a result, the company earned US$870,000 by retaining contracts worth US$47 million.

Over in Asia, an Alcatel subsidiary paid two consultants more than US$950,000 to earn a US$19.2 million contract to supply railway axle counters to the Taiwan Railway Administration, even though neither had telecommunications experience. The sum included payments to Taiwanese legislators who had influence over the awarding of the deal, which eventually saw Alcatel reap US$4.3 million.

The SEC also indicated an Alcatel subsidiary had made payments to Malaysian government officials in order to procure a telecommunications contract, but did not offer more details.

The SEC ordered Alcatel-Lucent to pay US$45.4 million, while the DOJ imposed a US$92 million penalty on the vendor. Alcatel-Lucent will also improve its FCPA compliance program and engage a third-party to monitor its compliance for three years, as well as submit yearly reports to the DOJ.

Skype service resumes after major outage

Skype is online again after a major outage that hit the majority of the Internet telephony service’s users.

Skype has been stabilized
after engineers added extra infrastructure to the service’s communications fabric, Skype’s chief executive Tony Bates wrote in a blog post last Thursday night.

“At this stage we feel we have pretty much stabilized the network for the core services–IM [instant messenger], audio and video–and we’re running roughly at around 90-plus percent of what we’d typically see from a user load on a day like today,” Bates said in a video that accompanied the post.

Read more of “Skype service resumes after major outage” at ZDNet UK.

Why Netflix has content and Google TV doesn’t

If Google managers hope to license premium TV shows and films for Google TV and YouTube, they should do what Netflix did and “build relationships through traditional means”.

That’s the recommendation of one studio executive who was referring to a tradition that has helped forge partnerships in the movie industry for decades: doing lunch. Sounds simple, but in an industry that relies so heavily on personal relationships forged over arugula salads and sparkling water, Google’s usual data-heavy, interchangeable-executive approach doesn’t cut it. In Hollywood, it seems, Google has had a people problem.

Google managers now seem to have plenty of motivation to hit the cafes on Sunset Boulevard and do some schmoozing. Netflix’s streaming video service has jumped out to a big lead in distributing movies and TV shows online and the company continues to cut licensing deals. Earlier this month, Netflix announced it has renewed an agreement that enables it to stream TV shows from the Disney Channel and ABC.

Not only does Netflix possess more content but the company has is far ahead in building out a distribution infrastructure. Managers at the studios and TV networks can look around and see Netflix’s streaming service is a prominent feature on scores of Web-connected TVs and set-top boxes. These partnerships have served to enable subscribers the all-important ability of viewing Netflix movies on their TV sets.

Meanwhile, Google has stumbled rolling out Google TV, the software platform that debuted on Sony TVs and Logitech’s Revue Box in October. The offering is designed to enable owners to view Web video on TV sets, but so far, the largest broadcast networks have blocked it from accessing their Web shows. The software’s complexity has also helped generate mixed reviews.

Google TV on pause
On Sunday, came another embarrassing headline. The New York Times reported that Google has asked several TV manufacturers, including Toshiba and LG Electronics, to postpone plans to unveil their Internet-connected sets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. Google asked them to wait until it can overhaul the software, according to the Times. Google didn’t respond to an interview request but the company has stated publicly that it is happy with the performance of Google TV.

If the software problems cause only a brief delay it may not mean much, but it’s certainly another sign that Google TV was launched before it was ready. If it was fully baked, why did the company appear so unprepared by the rejection of the platform by broadcasters?

Some in Hollywood suspect the reason is that Google didn’t know it was coming. After two years wooing the film and TV sectors, Google is still not very tuned in to the industry, said two film sector insiders who spoke to ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET.

These same executives cautioned against naming Netflix the winner of Internet distribution, adding that there’s a long way to go in this contest. But both sources acknowledged that Netflix has had more success acquiring content thanks to the company’s big head start in the sector as well as adopting a smarter approach to Hollywood.

Ten years ago, Google was building an advertising juggernaut while Reed Hastings toiled away on the mail-order rental service he co-founded in 1997. Netflix employees have been knocking on the studios’ doors ever since.

TV networks and film studios are also more comfortable with Netflix’s distribution methods. Netflix pays to acquire material for a specific period and then streams it on demand to paying subscribers. Cable and broadcast TV have operated much the same way for decades.

In contrast, Google TV doesn’t technically need a license to present TV shows. The material is made freely available over the Web and all Google does is make it available on a TV. Boxee, a company that began offering similar software years ago, received the same kind of reception from some of the broadcasters.

For the right to present TV shows to a living-room set, cable and traditional broadcast channels pay a lot of money. That money might dry up if Google were allowed to deliver those shows without paying for them.

Rishi Chandra, Google TV’s lead product manager, has said that Google TV is just a platform, one that will offer apps, Web browsing, and more. Requiring a platform to pay for content would be comparable to charging Microsoft for enabling video viewing on its Web browser, Chandra said. He qualified that by saying Google is willing to pay to acquire content for YouTube’s paid-rental store.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Google is in discussions to license films from Miramax, producer of such movies as “Reservoir Dogs” and “The English Patient”. That suggests Google TV owners might get licensed content via YouTube’s rental service.

Of course, Google must first acquire that content for YouTube.

Google still a Hollywood outsider
In November 2008, CNET broke the news that YouTube was in talks to acquire feature films, and, soon after, the company signed a modest deal with MGM Studios. Google has made little progress since. To date, Google’s approach to film acquisition has been hobbled by several factors, according to multiple studio managers. Many in the film industry don’t trust the company. Some suspect Google has little respect for content or the people who create it. Finally, the search engine’s prior attempts to build ties to Hollywood were described by one executive as “disorganized.”

Some of the bad blood at the studios comes from Google’s handling of YouTube after acquiring the iconic service in 2006. The company appeared at first unwilling to do much to prevent users from posting pirated clips to the site. Then there’s the way Google, and other tech companies including Apple, have used the Internet to wrest control of digital distribution from other media categories, including print publishing and music.

The studios don’t want Google or anyone else doing that to them.

But where Google really trails Netflix is in connecting on a personal level with the studios. Google’s face in Hollywood isn’t yet defined. The search engine has sent too many different representatives to town, said one studio executive. There were Google people and YouTube people, different lawyers, agents and managers, pitching studio chiefs, the source said.

In contrast, Netflix’s content-acquisition team, including Ted Sarandos, the unit’s leader, has been based in Hollywood for 10 years. Sarandos and his team received high marks for being “good listeners” and for being persistent, the studio sources said. “They don’t come off as arrogant,” said one insider.

Google is apparently moving to improve relations with entertainment companies. The search engine has recently announced plans to step up antipiracy efforts. In September, Google hired Robert Kyncl, one of Netflix’s top content-acquisition execs to oversee its partnership program. On Monday, the blog PaidContent reported that Google has also added Malik Ducard, a senior executive from Paramount Pictures’ digital division.

One studio executive warned not to expect any quick fixes. The source said that while Kyncl and Ducard are well-liked in town, Google should look at content acquisition as a long-term goal.

“The smartest thing they could have done [initially] was to take people out to lunch and try to have a dialogue versus just coming in and saying ‘this is it,'” said the exec. “When you think about trying to [make inroads] in Hollywood, a lot of people fail out of sheer arrogance or they just don’t know how to build the relationships…You’ve got to work on it ,and it’s more than just having a great product and the money. There has to be some trust.”

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

VC attention shifts from green tech to Internet

After being the hot venture capital investment category for the last few years, green tech appears to be cooling off.

The National Venture Capital Association in the U.S. released results from a survey of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs which showed that only 38 percent thought energy investment would increase in 2011. Forty percent expect it to decline.

Worries about an overinvestment, or a bubble, have subsided greatly with only 28 percent of respondents seeing clean tech as “frothy” in the year ahead.

Instead, the biggest concern of overheated investment is consumer Internet, according to the survey which is done with Dow Jones VentureWire. When ranked, the consumer Internet category was the industry most venture capitalists expect to see “froth” followed by cloud computing software.

Overall, the NVCA found that both investors and CEOs of companies have more confidence going into the new year.

When VCs were asked which sector will fare better in 2011, information technology came out way ahead with 69 percent, followed by 19 percent for biotech, and 12 percent for clean tech. CEOs had a different view, saying clean tech would to slightly better than the other sectors.

There are already signs of a contraction in venture money into the green technology area. Third quarter data from the Cleantech group found that the total venture investing was US$1.6 billion in the third quarter this year, a 25 percent decrease from the previous quarter although there were more deals in total.

Lower investment levels overall does not mean that VCs are moving out of green tech en masse. But it could signal a shift in how they finance their companies’ growth or which areas they invest in. Energy efficiency is often considered a promising area because it doesn’t require the large amounts of capital to build a solar manufacturing plant or biofuels refinery, for example.

One of the big questions facing all VCs is whether they will have successful exits through an initial public offering or acquisition. Thirty four percent of the NVCA respondents thought that the number of IPOs in clean tech would increase, although few are publicly known at this point.

Compared to the IT industry, investing in energy, materials and water typically requires a lot of capital to develop the technology and it can take many years for it to be adopted into the market. That has prompted many companies to change their investment strategies by diversifying their funding sources beyond just venture capital.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

IDC: Windows Phone marketplace to be third biggest in 2011

A report by research firm IDC pegs 2011 as a big year for Microsoft’s Windows Phone applications platform, saying that the software maker is already seeing faster growth in terms of its app library than competitors, and could even grab the third spot in terms of overall app volume by mid-2011.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa’s research on mobile momentum, which was picked up by eWeek, notes that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Marketplace reached 4,000 apps in two months time–a feat that took Android some five months after its launch (from October 2008 to March 2009). At that pace, Hilwa conjectures, Microsoft could be in third spot behind Apple and Google, beating out rivals like Research In Motion (RIM) and Nokia in terms of app volume by mid-2011.

There are some details to note with these claims, the first one being that the app development scene is very different from where it was in 2008, as is Microsoft’s market penetration. In fact, on Tuesday we’ve gotten a clearer picture of that, with the company having announced that it has sold more than 1.5 million Windows Phone 7’s worldwide. Now that’s not a precise number of how many users have made actual purchases yet, but it does very handily beat out the 1.5 million G1 Android phones (the first Android phone to hit the market), which took six months to sell.

Coming back to the development side though, developers now have a much stronger, and deeper set of tools available for them than they did two or even three years ago. And companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google are going to greater lengths to get developers to code an app or a game for their platform. Leading up to the release of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft did this extensively, offering developers prime real estate in the Marketplace app–something that can bring a big boost to sales.

Microsoft also stands to have what could be a larger impact on the types of games and media applications that are able to run on its platform with the continuing development of Silverlight, a technology that makes up part of the Windows Phone 7 SDK, and something that could become a big differentiator in future iterations of the platform.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Google to deliver Android 2.3 Gingerbread for Nexus One

Android 2.3, also known as Gingerbread, will soon be available for Nexus One handsets, according to Google.

Nexus users will be able to upgrade from Android 2.2, known as Froyo, via an over-the-air (OTA) update, according to a post from the company’s official ‘GoogleNexus’ Twitter account on Monday.

“The Gingerbread OTA for Nexus One will happen in the coming weeks. Just hang tight,” the announcement from GoogleNexus reads. Google did not announce any specific timescale for the update.

Read more of “Google to deliver Android 2.3 Gingerbread for Nexus One” at ZDNet UK.

Motorola’s ITC complaint against Microsoft to be heard

If there’s any coal in Motorola’s stocking this year, it could be from Microsoft.

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to hear Motorola’s case against Microsoft, which it filed in late November.

Handset maker Motorola Mobility, which Motorola plans to spin off next year, filed its complaint against Microsoft due to the company’s use of Motorola patents in its Xbox game console. Included in those patents were things like wireless networking and video decoding.

Motorola is seeking an exclusion order, as well as a cease and desist order against Microsoft in order to keep its game systems from being imported into the U.S.

The ITC notes that the case still needs to be assigned to one of its six administrative law judges before a hearing can be scheduled. Whatever decision is made by that judge then gets reviewed by the commission, a process that can take up to 45 days after the hearing takes place.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

South Korea positions for digital healthcare push

Driven by large investments in healthcare IT, South Korea is on track to bring the concept of ubiquitous health, or U-health, to reality, according to Frost & Sullivan.

The company’s research analyst, Amritpall Singh, said in a report released Tuesday that under the nation’s projected U-health system, a patient’s body vital statistics can be monitored continuously from an environment away from the hospitals. Diagnostics for blood sugar content, blood pressure and body weight can be monitored and recorded based on everyday common routine, he added.

The U-health system also enables physician to perform “real-time monitoring” on patients’ vital signs and lifestyle patterns to identify the possible forming of diseases and focus entirely on disease prevention, Singh added.

This adoption of a U-health system will allow South Korean hospitals to minimize their long triage processing times and realign their roles to focus on treating chronic diseases, the analyst pointed out.

“With the amount of information collected from the patient’s daily routine, it is far easier for the physician to react with a treatment plan,” he said.

Besides better diagnoses and treatment, investing in healthcare IT–which is the foundation upon which U-health is built on–becomes an “enabler” for countries such as South Korea to expand their current infrastructure, Singh pointed out. Such investments mean that the government will not need to build bigger hospitals or increase the number of beds to cope with the challenges of managing an aging population, he added.

To turn its U-health concept into reality, the South Korean government has been encouraging more hospitals through subsidies and policies to adopt the electronic medical records (EMR) system, which is an integral pillar of the system, the analyst said. Additionally, in 2009, it pledged US$151.5 billion to strengthen its competitiveness in the IT sector, according to the report.

Private-sector interests have also been encouraging, Singh noted. Last year, General Electric announced a US$6 million plan, spanning over five years, to build a U-health research and development (R&D) center in South Korea’s Incheon free economic zone, he pointed out.

Challenges ahead
While the healthcare infrastructure is receiving financial support, Singh said achieving an integrated healthcare system in South Korea is not without its challenges.

Given the advanced nature of the technology involved in healthcare IT, the country faces a shortage of IT professionals, the analyst noted. This is because more university students are enrolling into more lucrative courses such as business and management, and this trend may eventually slow down the expansion of the local healthcare sector.

To address this, the government has resorted to recruiting foreign IT talents as well as offering specialized IT-related courses through its Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) center, he said.

Another roadblock hospitals are facing is the need for integration across existing hospital systems, and he urged the government to step in. He explained that hospitals may find it “extremely difficult” to manage the integration while maintaining the relevance of various technologies and applications that will be used by healthcare professionals.

To date, South Korea’s U-health system remains in its infancy stage. However, Singh expressed confidence that with the right technologies and platform for development, the nation will have a fully-integrated healthcare delivery model by 2015.

In a separate report released in October, Frost & Sullivan projected that 90 percent of a country’s healthcare budget is spent on only 30 percent of its population. Pointing to technology as a driver of healthcare advancements, the research firm predicted that revenue for the global telehealth services market would increase to US$9 billion by end-2010.

Apart from South Korea, other Asian economies such as China, India and Singapore are also looking to drive their respective IT healthcare market.

Service plans to evolve with increasing Web-connected devices

As more 3G-enabled devices enter the market, mobile users looking to own Web-connected devices are strapped with multiple data plans due to the way service providers currently charge. However, this may change in the future when telcos evolve to provide a universal data plan or more flexible mobile plans that can be shared by many devices, industry analysts note.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Craig Skinner, senior consultant at Ovum, said most telcos today assign a standalone data plan that is tied to a SIM card for each subsidized 3G-enabled device. Even for unsubsidized devices, most operators currently tag smartphones and tablets with different data plans, he said.

Skinner pointed to telcos’ wish to protect their voice service revenues as a reason for separating smartphone and tablet with service plans. However, he said, this would change in the future.

Moving forward, the Ovum analyst explained that data and voice charges will reach a point where price plans for both will be similar. It will then be easier for telcos to provide a universal data plan, he said.

This could happen in six months or a few years’ time, he noted. However, before telcos evolve to this charging model, they will first need to begin consolidating their customers’ multiple data plans into a single bill, he said.

This will allow users to make only one payment per month since the system will be able to pull data from different data plans into a single bill, he added. With a single bill payment, telcos can also attract customers by providing loyalty discounts to those who subscribe multiple services, he noted.

Chua Swee Kiat, spokesperson for Singapore mobile operator, M1, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the company offers loyalty discounts in the form of the multiple-line saver plans. M1 customers receive a 25 percent discount in their monthly subscription plans if they subscribe to three M1 phone lines, 30 percent discount for four lines and 35 percent discount for five lines, Chua said.

He added that the mobile operator offers a multi-SIM service where customers can tag one mobile number to multiple SIM cards, up to three, for three different devices such as smartphones and BlackBerry devices.

Skinner noted that providing a single bill for multiple service plans is a “first step” for telcos, after which they should look at providing a universal data plan for multiple devices. He explained that many companies do not have such services yet as it will take some time for telcos to develop the IT capability to dynamically manage data usage.

According to reports, Toronto-based operator Rogers Communications already allows its customers to link multiple devices to a single data plan.

According to the company’ Web site, customers can link their devices to one service plan at a monthly charge of 15 to 20 Canadian dollars (US$14.9 to US$19.9). Rogers Communications’ voice and data plans start from 55 Canadian dollars (US$54.7).

Metered billing more suitable
One analyst believes that while some customers may prefer a universal data plan, subsidized devices remain more attractive to others.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, ABI Research’s senior analyst Mark Beccue said subsidized devices have a strong appeal and customers may not be willing to give up the cost savings for the simplicity of a universal data plan.

Thus, mobile operators that are able to provide a broad portfolio of subsidized devices as well as a universal data plan will resonate with users, Beccue said.

That said, the analyst believes metered, pay-as-you-go billing may suit a significant portion of consumers.

“For example, it is possible that a carrier can offer a plan that detects when a subscriber is in an underutilized cell site, and offer discounted pricing for a limited time [to entice the user] to use the device while the consumer is in that location,” he explained. “Or, there can be a service plan in which the subscriber has the capability to toggle data speed in real-time, with cheaper pricing for slower speeds and higher pricing for faster speed.”

These scenarios are possible for mobile operators that have IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) networks with centralized subscriber databases, sophisticated policy management infrastructure and advanced billing systems, he said.

According to Marc Einstein, Asia-Pacific industry manager for ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, there is a short-term solution for users looking to reduce their number of data plans but whose mobile operator do not offer a universal data plan or pay-as-you-go billing models. They can use a Mi-Fi device to turn their 3G connection into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, which can then be used to provide wireless access to multiple devices, Einstein said.

Delay in BWA deployment will cost Indian telcos

Months after broadband wireless access spectrum (BWA) was distributed in India, operators have yet to decide which platform to build on and the delay cost them US$2 million a day, warns a WiMax Forum official.

“It has been nearly six months since the BWA spectrum was allocated to the players but there is no clarity over which technology the operators would be going for,” Declan Byrne, director of marketing at WiMax Forum, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

The India government in July allotted 20MHz spectrum, to be used for BWA services deployment, to six operators: Infotel Broadband, Bharti Airtel, AIrcel, Tikona Digital, Qualcomm and Augure.

Much of the debate has revolved around WiMax and LTE. The latter has strong industry support globally including operators, chipset vendors and equipment suppliers, but is not yet commercially available, with mainstream adoption expected only in 2012.

In comparison, WiMax is available today. Not surprisingly, WiMax Forum is hoping India will swing its way.

Byrne said: “If our technology is selected, the service can be operational in two weeks.” He noted that the forum has communicated the benefits of WiMax at all levels in India–be it operators, vendors or the government. “All of them know the tradeoffs,” he said.

WiMax Forum views India as an important market because of its low penetration rates and, hence, growth potential. There are currently only 7 million broadband connections in the country, which has the world’s second-largest population.

“The telecom operators who have won the spectrum tell us that it is a complicated and big decision,” Byrne acknowledged. He noted, however, that the overall cost of any delay in BWA deployments would cost operators US$2 million a day.

“We are distressed with things,” he said. “We also want the government to be technology-neutral.”

Earlier this month, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Infotel conducted an LTE field-trial at its Navi Mumbai campus via a partnership with Ericsson. The Indian operator is the only player to hold a nationwide BWA license.

“There is no questioning the fact that what Infotel plans to do will have a huge bearing on the market,” Byrne said.

A spokesperson for Reliance Industries said in a statement: “This LTE trial not only demonstrated the superiority of LTE-TDD technology but it also strengthened our confidence in the timely availability of the LTE ecosystem in India with Ericsson’s global deployment expertise. This is an important milestone for Indian telecom industry in showcasing LTE performance on a live network.”

WiMax has significant support from state-owned BSNL, which has installed nearly 1,000 base stations across various Indian states. By the end of 2011, BSNL plans to have 5,000 base stations.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

Leaked accessory hints WebOS tablet is near

The pieces seem to be falling into place for Hewlett-Packard’s first WebOS-based tablet.

Executives have confirmed several times that there will be a touch-screen tablet featuring Palm’s mobile operating system (OS) released sometime between January and March next year, though little else is known about it. HP has trademarked “PalmPad” and an exec has even publicly referred to an upcoming tablet as such, but it’s not clear that will be the product’s actual name once it starts shipping to customers.

Engadget got its hands on an internal HP slide last Friday that shows not a tablet, but what is purported to be the Bluetooth keyboard accessory for the WebOS tablet.

On its own, sure, it’s not that exciting, but whomever sent the slide along also said that the design and styling of the keyboard are reflective of the look and feel of the tablet. Word is that the tablet will have “no hard buttons” on the front, and it is referred to internally as “Topaz”.

Another piece of WebOS info was also included: HP is apparently planning something “like a Pre” with no physical keyboard aimed at teenagers for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. Phones with virtual keyboards, as we know, do pretty fantastic sales. But HP should probably talk to their friends at Microsoft about the perils of selling phones aimed at teens.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

eBay sets up mobile commerce push

eBay’s plans this week to buy over its erstwhile mobile app developer, Critical Path Software, will place the Web marketplace operator in a good position to take advantage of the growing mobile commerce industry.

Craig Skinner, senior consultant at Ovum, noted that Critical Path had been working with eBay over the past two years, producing the Internet vendor’s mobile apps and Web portals such as StubHub, Shopping.com and eBay’s Apple iPhone app. With this in mind, the analyst said, the acquisition was about “in-housing and integrating mobile development talent”. Details of the merger were undisclosed.

Skinner explained: “Critical Path has been concentrated on [Apple] iOS development, and this will give eBay an opportunity to apply these development skills across other [mobile] platforms where their current mobile apps are not as well developed.”

He added that the acquisition will stand eBay in good stead, as the mobile commerce industry is expected to continue developing strongly over the next few years. This growth is primarily because “technology is no longer the barrier” with today’s fast, responsive 3G wireless networks and an abundance of highly functional mobile devices with easy-to-use interfaces, he said. To this end, mobile customers have become accustomed to making mobile purchases, particularly of apps as well as in-app content purchases, he noted.

Skinner predicted that the next growth area for mobile commerce will look at integrating mobile payment technology that can be used on-the-go. He cited shopping apps that allow users to scan the barcode of an item, make an online price comparison and complete the purchase using their mobile device, as an example of the next frontier for mobile commerce.

In a press statement, eBay said Critical Path’s “proven development capabilities” will play an integral role in enabling the Internet company to accelerate improvements to its customers’ mobile experience.

Mark Carges, CTO and senior vice president for global products at eBay Marketplaces, said in the release: “We’re very serious about innovating in mobile commerce, and this acquisition underscores our commitment to bringing the very best and brightest in the field to eBay.”

Carges added that integrating Critical Path into the wider organization will be a “big win” for mobile shoppers, with the promise to “make shopping and selling anywhere, anytime, for almost anything, even better”.

ZDNet Asia’s sister site, CNET News, earlier reported that the acquisition is one of several eBay made this year. In June, the Web vendor bought RedLaser, a developer of an iOS app that enables iPhones to scan barcodes to compare products and prices. eBay earlier in December also picked up Milo, a shopping service that ties online and offline shopping activities.

The company’s subsidiary payment service provider, PayPal, had also identified the mobile commerce market as a growth area.

In a July interview, Laura Chambers, senior director of PayPal Mobile, told ZDNet Asia that the company had released its Mobile Payment Library application programming interface (API) to simplify payment processes for mobile users.

Chambers also pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region, in particular, is a market that PayPal wants to be heavily involved in. Citing figures from research firm Informa, she said the region accounted for US$24 billion of the global US$30 billion mobile commerce market in 2009. The region’s contribution is expected to rise to US$139 billion in 2012.

RIM: Earnings show we’re still in the game

Research in Motion (RIM) beat Wall Street’s estimates for the third quarter, showing that the maker of the Blackberry is far from being a has-been in the smartphone game.

For the quarter ending Nov. 27, the company reported net profit of US$911.1 million, or US$1.74 per share, on revenue of US$5.49 billion. Wall Street had been expecting earnings of US$1.64 per share on revenue of US$5.4 billion. (Statement, Preview)

The company said the 82 percent of the revenue came from devices, while 15 percent was attributed to services. The company shipped about 14.2 million devices and added about 5.1 million net new subscribers in the quarter, taking the subscriber account base to over 55 million. Analysts had been expecting 5.2 million new subscribers.

Read more of “RIM: Earnings show we’re still in the game” at ZDNet.

Mobile developers should adopt balanced test policy

Application testing has taken on added importance as more mobile apps enter the enterprise arena. However, shortening deadlines for app delivery and easier app programming interfaces (APIs) will increase the likelihood of human errors during testing processes, observed security experts, who recommend a balanced testing workflow that includes manual and automated testing.

Ronnie Ng, senior manager of systems engineering at Symantec Singapore, noted that as more mobile platform providers introduce easy-to-use APIs to entice developers to sign up, such efforts have also made it easier and less time-consuming for hackers to write malicious codes that attack mobile apps.

In addition, enterprise developers face a shortening app delivery timeframe, which may result in flaws creeping into the app coding and testing process, Ng said in an e-mail interview.

Paul Oliveria, technical marketing researcher at Trend Micro, elaborated on the testing environments for two popular smartphone platforms–Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system.

He told ZDNet Asia that Cupertino has outlawed most third-party APIs, thereby, making its app review process more stringent. And since documented APIs provided by Apple are, in most cases, secured, the majority of apps published on its App Store are usually safe for use, Oliveria said.

Additionally, apps running on iOS does not “touch” any internal part of the mobile device’s OS and operates solely within its own run-time environment, which makes iOS apps more secure, he noted.

This is not the case for the Android app ecosystem, though, he said. He pointed out that developers who pay US$25 to join the Android developer program will be able to submit any application instantly.

Oliveria said: “There is no review process from Google for the submitted app before it gets published.

“Even though Android has a sandbox-like environment [like the iOS], the openness of the OS and app review process provide a very unsecure situation whereby the app may become a source of threat or for hackers to breach the app more easily,” he said.

He added that Trend Micro in 2010 had discovered four malware-like apps that were submitted to the Android Market. Google also removed 50 suspicious-looking apps from its app store last December after determining they had used the names of various banks without prior permission.

According to Raja Neravati, senior vice president of software testing company AppLabs, such risks underscore the need, once apps are published, for app store operators to be responsible for and to ensure that apps are safe for use.

Neravati noted that while an app is built by the developer, a security breach found in an app is a “collective responsibility” of stakeholders such as the network provider, phone maker and mobile app provider.

Furthermore, once the service provider verifies and certifies the app before it is published, it is then the service provider’s responsibility to find a resolution if loopholes are found and exploited, he said.

Follow best practices for app testing
Ng noted that while there are unique challenges today when it comes to mobile app testing, developers will have to consider a strategy that balances tradeoffs between cost, quality and time-to-market.

Due to the “high margin of human error”, he said developers should rely on automated testingthroughout the initial stages of coding, as well as run stringent security screenings regularly to detect any potential vulnerabilities in the app. That said, manual testing should not be avoided altogether, but used at the end of the coding process as an operational test, he advised.

Ng also called on organizations that have or are planning to develop mobile apps to plan their testing strategy across both manual and automated testing approaches, and consider outsourcing to dedicated software testing companies, where necessary.

“Outsourcing to [third-party security] vendors that operate an independent testing practice may be a viable option to manage the expertise, scalability, security and quality assurance requirements for mobile apps,” he said.

Oliveria also encouraged developers to follow industry standard, secure coding practices from the start of the development process. These include, for example, ensuring that the programming code is not vulnerable to buffer overflows or format sting attacks, as well as testing all inputs to the application rigorously, he stated.

Furthermore, Neravati added that simulating the app on the network and hacking the app on data transmission and data transparency would also be good to surface any inherent programming flaws.

Optimism (for now) over RIM earnings

Research in Motion reports its fiscal third quarter earnings Thursday and analysts are tripping over themselves to be optimistic–or at least hedge their gloomy long-term outlook. International growth is expected to carry the quarter for RIM as observers look ahead to the launch of the PlayBook tablet.

Wall Street is expecting earnings of US$1.64 a share on revenue of US$5.4 billion. Analysts have been gradually becoming more optimistic about RIM based on its QNX operating system, which will power the PlayBook. Until the PlayBook arrives, RIM is expected to thrive with international sales and an enterprise upgrade cycle.

A sampling of a few prognostications about RIM’s third quarter:

  • Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum says RIM will report a strong quarter shipping 14.4 million devices, up 19 percent from the second quarter. The US$99 Torch cut inventory levels and boosted sales.
  • Scott Sutherland, an analyst at Wedbush, said RIM’s quarter will be better than expected. “While we have continued concerns over enterprise stickiness, erosion in enterprise messaging and thus margins as well as market share losses, we expect this to be offset by international growth, new phones, introduction of the PlayBook, and stock buyback,” said Sutherland.
  • FBN Securities analyst Michael Burton says RIM is “not dead yet”. Burton said the consensus view is that this is RIM’s “final good quarter before it dies at the hands of Android and Apple.” Burton has his doubts about RIM too, but upgraded the stock. Short-term momentum, the PlayBook and new product launches mean “it’s a little too early to call the time of death on RIM”.

Read more of “Research in Motion earnings: Optimism abounds (for now)” at ZDNet.

US Appeals court: Feds need warrants for e-mail

U.S. police must obtain search warrants before perusing Internet users’ e-mail records, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that struck down part of a 1986 law allowing warrantless access.

In case involving a penile-enhancement entrepreneur convicted of fraud and other crimes, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the practice of warrantless access to e-mail messages violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable” searches and seizures.

“Given the fundamental similarities between e-mail and traditional forms of communication, it would defy common sense to afford e-mails lesser Fourth Amendment protection,” the court ruled in an 3-0 opinion written by Judge Danny Boggs, a Reagan appointee.

The court affirmed the conviction of Steven Warshak, who was charged with defrauding customers of his “natural male enhancement” pills, but sent his case back to a lower court for a new sentence. Warshak remains liable for a US$44 million money laundering judgment as well.

“The most significant thing from our perspective and that of the victims is that they upheld all the convictions against Mr. Warshak and that they affirmed the US$400 million-plus forfeiture order,” a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Ohio, which prosecuted this case, told ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET.

Warshak owned Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, a mail order company that in 2001 launched Enzyte, which claimed, in the delicate words of the court, “to increase the size of a man’s erection”. Enzyte was a remarkable success: by the end of 2004, Berkeley employed 1,500 people and rang up about US$250 million in annual sales.

Today’s decision striking down part of the 1986 Stored Communications Act rebuffs arguments made by the U.S. Department of Justice, which insisted the law was constitutional. In a brief filed during an earlier phase of the case, prosecutors argued that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply because “compelled disclosure of e-mail is permissible under most providers’ terms of service'”.

Since 1986, the general rule has been that police could obtain Americans’ e-mail messages up to 180 days old only with a warrant. Older messages, however, could be accessed with an administrative subpoena or what’s known as a 2703(d) order, both of which lack a warrant’s probable cause requirement.

The Stored Communications Act–which created the 2703(d) orders–was enacted at a time when e-mail was the domain of a small number of academics and business customers. Telephone modems, BBSs, and UUCP links were used in that pre-Internet era that was defined by computers like the black-and-white Macintosh Plus and services like H&R Block’s CompuServe.

Since then, the Sixth Circuit ruled, technological life has changed dramatically:

Since the advent of e-mail, the telephone call and the letter have waned in importance, and an explosion of Internet-based communication has taken place. People are now able to send sensitive and intimate information, instantaneously, to friends, family, and colleagues half a world away. Lovers exchange sweet nothings, and businessmen swap ambitious plans, all with the click of a mouse button. Commerce has also taken hold in e-mail. Online purchases are often documented in e-mail accounts, and e-mail is frequently used to remind patients and clients of imminent appointments. In short, “account” is an apt word for the conglomeration of stored messages that comprises an e-mail account, as it provides an account of its owner’s life. By obtaining access to someone’s e-mail, government agents gain the ability to peer deeply into his activities.

Even though the law is unconstitutional, the court concluded, Warshak’s conviction should be upheld because police relied “in good faith” on their interpretation of the surveillance law. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Damon Keith, a Clinton appointee, wrote he was troubled by the Justice Department’s “back-door wiretapping” procedures in this case, but agreed with the decision to uphold the conviction.)

Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University who has written extensively about electronic surveillance, called today’s decision “correct” and “quite persuasive”.l

Kevin Bankston, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who wrote an amicus brief in this case, called it a key decision because it’s the “only federal appellate decision currently on the books that squarely rules on this critically important privacy issue.”

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Swedish appeal delays Assange’s release

Swedish authorities have decided to appeal against a judge’s decision to grant bail to Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden for questioning on sex-crimes charges.

The lodging of the appeal came on Tuesday, just hours after the bail decision in City of Westminster Magistrates Court in London.

Assange, who has been held for a week at Wandsworth Prison during the legal battle, will remain in custody there until the appeal hearing in high court. That hearing is expected to take place before Friday.

Read more of “Swedish appeal delays Assange’s release” at ZDNet UK.

E-govt services to see ‘dramatic change’

SINGAPORE–Governments around the world would like to move from their legacy infrastructure to more effective, unified IT systems yet many are ill-equipped to do so, said a senior Microsoft executive.

Craig Shank, associate general counsel of Microsoft Corporation, explained that many of today’s e-government portals and backend systems are a digital implementation of their paper-based predecessors. While this leap into the digital age has resulted in a slightly more efficient mode of communicating with citizens, it is still not a “transformative” system, he added.

Furthermore, the public sector is facing a similar data deluge that its private sector counterparts are experiencing. These two factors are impeding the timely access of relevant data to citizens, the executive pointed out to ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of a technology forum held here Tuesday.

Shank’s observation reiterates the fact that citizens perceive governments to be unresponsive online. According to an earlier survey conducted by the U.K.-based Economist Intelligence Unit, businesses and citizens point the finger to unresponsive public officials as the reason for the slow adoption of e-government services.

While acknowledging that there’s “quite a bit of work to be done”, Shank expressed confidence that the world will see a “dramatic change” in the way e-government services are delivered in the future. To achieve this, though, all parties involved ought to be looking into issues such as specific interoperability between existing and new IT systems as well as the re-architecting and redeveloping of new systems to achieve transformation, he added.

For instance, new technologies must respect legacy systems, particularly the data that sits in existing databases.  To address this challenge, the Microsoft executive recommended “some level of capability” that can cut horizontally across multiple government systems to access the various silos of information.

He cited how the Portuguese government merged four identity systems into one as a positive example. The exercise involved the project partner taking the original Linux, mainframe and Windows server systems to build a horizontal layer that was able to access data in all the systems. With this unification, citizens can now, for example, use their driving licenses to access health care services, he stated.

“That’s the kind of [transformation] we can anticipate seeing going forward,” Shank observed.

Asked if emerging markets are less receptive toward such IT transformation, Shank disagreed. He pointed out that besides Asian countries, Latin America, for one, is very keen on harnessing innovation for the future.

“[However,] I think each market has its own specific sets of challenges that it will have to deal with, and there isn’t a single solution,” he surmised.

As with most technological advances, there is no fixed timeframe but he advised that it will be a journey that spans beyond 5 or 10 years.

Cloudy prospects
Another area of interest for governments is cloud computing, the associate general counsel noted. For the public sector, such a deployment will increase efficiencies, provide cost savings and become a driver to make IT systems more heterogeneous and nimble, Shank said.

However, challenges surrounding data storage location, access, jurisdiction, law enforcement, privacy rights and security issues are pressing matters that no one has answers to, he noted.

“Today, there is the possibility that one can be trapped in an absolute impossible situation with cloud computing, where data responsibilities of its stored location is in direct conflict with the data responsibilities where the services are being developed,” Shank observed.

He did add that Microsoft is actively engaging governments in the region on these challenges, but there are certain “hurdles” that will have to be ironed out before governments jump on to the cloud bandwagon.

Microsoft and Nokia ally over Office in cloud

With Android smartphones and Apple’s iPhone making inroads into the enterprise, Nokia is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of smartphones for business, even though it remains the world’s largest seller of mobiles. The company is trying to improve its corporate credentials by adding key enterprise features to Symbian^3 business phones, based on Microsoft services.

As Nokia prepares to launch the E7 slider Qwerty smartphone that replaces the Nokia E90 Communicator as its flagship business device and showcases the new Symbian^3 operating system–and the first Microsoft business tools–ZDNet Asia’s sister site ZDNet UK talked to Ilari Nurmi, the Nokia vice president responsible for business smartphones and business mobility strategy.

We asked him to explain what Nokia’s pact with Microsoft means for Symbian business users, what is on the roadmap for next year and whether the agreement still makes sense nowWindows Phone 7 is here.

ZDNet UK: With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is a competitor to Nokia. Why does it make sense for Nokia to work with Microsoft? What are you actually working on together?
Nurmi: Our basic mobility strategy is to bring to market the best business smartphones for professionals. A cornerstone in our strategy is that we build the products so they work seamlessly with enterprise infrastructure, so we do a lot of work with companies like IBM and Microsoft and Cisco to make sure the products work together well.

Read more of “Microsoft and Nokia ally over Office in cloud” at ZDNet UK.

Report: Apple, Google to bid for Nortel mobile IP

Two of the biggest names in mobile are reportedly participating in the land grab for the patents belonging to bankrupt telcom firm Nortel.

Reuters quotes unnamed sources in a story published last week detailing how the auction currently underway for the intellectual property assets of the former Canadian giant is expected to draw the interest of Apple, Google, and others, including perhaps Motorola and Research In Motion.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2009, and has roughly 4,000 patents that are calculated to be worth more than US$1 billion collectively. The rumor is that the patents have been divided into six groups by category, and cover everything from mobile phones, PCs, wireless infrastructure, networking, Web-based advertising, and voice technology. Reuters’ source says Apple, Motorola, and RIM are probably most interested in the IP-related to LTE (Long-Term Evolution), the 4G wireless technology many carriers are in the process of rolling out now.

The auction actually began seven months ago, but final bids are due soon.

That Apple and Google are involved isn’t a surprise: they’ve got a lot of cash to play with. But why bother purchasing patents? For one, it’s a potential source of revenue if they sell licenses to the patents after they acquire them. But mostly it’s for legal protection. Almost every major player in the mobile world is embroiled in one patent-related lawsuit or another right now. Just in the past year, Microsoft, Motorola, HTC, Apple, Google, Nokia have sued or are being sued over some mobile software or smartphone intellectual property.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Mobile VoIP apps don’t have enterprise appeal yet

Mobile VoIP apps may promise to slash users’ phone bills, but the lack of security, patchy performance and need for constant wireless broadband access mean that it will take time before enterprise users consider adopting the technology, said analysts.

Shirleen Kok, general manager of market research firm GfK Singapore, said mobile VoIP (Voice-over-Internet Protocol) apps such as Viber offer free local and international calls for users via 3G or Wi-Fi networks, which is a good cost-cutting option. However, their reliance on data, wireless networks and hardware specifications make them a less appealing option over the traditional bundled minutes offered by telcos, which both consumer and enterprise users are familiar with, she pointed out.

“Given that the prices of voice calling bundled with a data plan offered by [Singapore’s] three operators are affordable, it is expected that adoption of smartphones and subscription of these plans will continue to increase,” she added in an e-mail.

Sherrie Huang, research manager of unified communications and collaborations at IDC Asia-Pacific’s practice group, went on to add to Kok’s perspective. She said that while these apps will probably not have significant growth in the enterprise space at this stage, they may still serve a purpose for consumers who require free calls without expectations of high voice quality.

Besides call quality, enterprises will require the reliability and security for their voice services as well as features such as call forwarding and voice mail, among others. So far, these features can only be provided by enterprise service providers or carriers that know how to manage the backend network well, she said.

“Mobile VoIP will require high mobile data network SLAs (service level agreements) on bandwidth and [latency], which is very hard for app developers to [access] or manage,” Huang noted in her e-mail.

Carving a mobile VoIP niche
Viber, an iOS-based mobile VoIP app introduced to consumers last week, is not the first of its kind, acknowledged a company spokesperson.

That said, Efrat Cohen, who oversees Viber’s media relations, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the app is the first mobile app to be “modeled after an actual phone”. This means that instead of users having to create an account with the developer and managing a “buddy list” of fellow users, Viber automatically identifies the people within one’s contact list who have downloaded the app, and users can start calling Viber contacts immediately, she noted.

“Basically, the standout benefit is that users don’t need to have the app open to receive a call as it is always on, and calling with Viber is like using a regular iPhone dial pad and contact list,” she added. The app’s performance will also improve over time, she promised.

In comparison, rival VoIP provider Skype’s mobile app requires users to add their friends to their contact list. In addiiton, both parties must be signed in to the app at the same time before one can make a call to the other, Cohen pointed out.

The Skype spokesperson ZDNet Asia interviewed declined to respond directly to Viber’s value proposition. Instead, she stated that the company has been available on both 3G and Wi-Fi networks through its Skype app, which straddles across iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Symbianmobile platforms “for some time now”.

Furthermore, she noted that many of Skype’s enterprise users not only run its software on their desktop PCs, but also on their mobile devices, too. This allows them to stay connected with business associates on the move and to make free Skype-to-Skype calls or low-cost calls to landlines and other mobile phones that do not support the Skype app, added the spokesperson.

“The business market is important to Skype and we are focused on addressing it,” the spokesperson stated. She backed this up, citing internal research which revealed that about 37 percent of Skype users reported they used Skype for business purposes in the first quarter of 2010.

Viber’s Cohen said the company’s first release of its app is targeted primarily at the consumer market. However, it sees the potential and added benefit of entering the enterprise space, and it intends to do so “in the future”.

“Phenomenal” growth expected
Both mobile VoIP providers’ enthusiasm for the enterprise space lends credence to IDC’s observation that there will be “phenomenal” growth in mobile VoIP in the future, particularly through replacing IP phones in developed markets, said Huang.

She added that one of the research firm’s 2011 predictions is the “death of the IP phone”, as smartphones, tablets and video functions marginalize investments in IP telephony. In turn, the price and demand for IP telephony will fall after 2012, the analyst reckoned.

Huang balanced her prediction, however, by pointing out that carriers, aided by regulators, will put up a fight to protect their voice business from being eroded by VoIP vendors. For instance, countries such as China have denied IT vendors the permission to set up VoIP and mobile VoIP services locally, she said.

Additionally, in the enterprise space, mobile app developers will have to convince carriers to enter into close strategic partnerships in order to integrate their software with the backend mobile network, the analyst stated. Only then will the developers be able to ensure high SLAs and reliability needed to satisfy enterprise customers, Huang noted.

RIM’s Playbook the linchpin of a 10-year plan

SAN FRANCISCO–Research In Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis hopes the company’s investment in its QNX software will carry the venerable smartphone company for the next decade.

Lazardis showed off the first fruits of that investment, the Playbook tablet, to attendees here at D: Dive Into Mobile on Tuesday. RIM has taken the tablet–expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2011–for several test drives over the past few months but hoped to wow the Silicon Valley mobile elite with the QNX software on which it’s betting the future of the company.

There’s little doubt that RIM has lost a bit of respect along the Left Coast; although RIM is the largest tech company in Canada and a significant market share player around the world, as Lazaridis reminded hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher multiple times, it’s seen as a laggard against what Apple and Google have done with the iOS and Android operating systems. The CEO didn’t exactly refute that analysis but suggested that by designing an operating system with a tablet first and foremost in mind, it might actually be able to get the drop on its South Bay competitors.

Lazaridis also made some interesting comments regarding the application of the old “megahertz myth” from the PC wars to the smartphone market, declaring that smartphones are on the cusp of a similar transition in which fast single-core processors are simply too hot and too power-hungry for future mobile devices. His competitor, Google’s Andy Rubin, showed off an unannounced tablet geared for dual-core mobile processors on the first day of the conference, and based on Lazaridis’ comments RIM believes that such a transition is imminent in the mobile space.

“All these pieces are coming together to set up BlackBerry for next decade,” Lazaridis said. It’s not clear whether he convinced anyone that RIM should be back in the favor of the digerati, but left a clear impression that RIM isn’t ceding any ground in the race to build a mobile stronghold.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Nokia rallies against Android, iOS onslaught

Streamlining its development roadmap and improving its app store experience for users and developers are positive moves for Finnish phone maker Nokia. But these may not be enough to rein in its industry competitors, particularly the iPhone and smartphones based on Google’s Android mobile operating system (OS), analysts argue.

Nick Dillon, analyst of devices and platform at Ovum, acknowledged that Nokia has recently made moves to strengthen its application offerings by improving its app distribution platform, Ovi Store. The Finnish outfit has also  introduced operator billing for purchases, as well as simplified its app development roadmap by standardizing it on Qt. That said, he noted that the phone maker “still has some work to do to catch up with the likes of Apple and [Google’s] Android“.

He pointed out that it was Cupertino that took the lead in taking mobile app development, discovery, distribution and monetization mainstream. Other handset manufacturers, including Nokia, have been playing catch-up since, he added.

App store race hots up
With regard to the earlier announcement by Nokia that its Ovi Store achieved 3 million downloads per day for the month of November, Dillon said this figure is likely to be “some way behind” both Apple’s iOS and Android platforms. Furthermore, he pointed out that the 3 million figure does not just reflect application downloads, but includes other downloads such as ringtones, themes and wallpapers.

In comparison, he said Apple reported 10 million application downloads per day from its App Store, while Research in Motion (RIM) last week announced that 2 million apps were being downloaded per day from its App World store. And though Android has not reported any specific figures, the Ovum analyst reckons that it is “likely to be not far behind Apple and catching up”.

That said, Dillon stressed that the focus should not be solely on the number of apps available and downloaded, as these are not necessarily the most important measure of the success of an app store. “The quality of apps available, how regularly certain apps are used, and how long these stay on a user’s phone are probably more important metrics, though these [statistics] are clearly more difficult to [compile],” he added.

When quizzed, Kasey Farrar, global communications manager and head of media and content promotion communications at Nokia, told ZDNet Asia it is important to note the rate of growth that the Ovi Store is witnessing. He revealed that since its announcement of 3 million downloads at the end of November, the company has seen another 500,000 downloads per day added.

This is driven, in part, by the introduction of its newer smartphone devices such as the Symbian-based N8 device, he said in his e-mail.

“[User] engagement is higher in new devices such as our N8, which means that [download] numbers will only grow once the full range of our new Symbian smartphones hit consumers’ hands,” Farrar said.

Better handsets, more apps promised
Outlining the company’s strategy to help put Nokia back on top of the smartphone heap, he explained that Nokia plans to strengthen its product portfolio to cater to the different consumer requirements and across multiple price points. At the same time, it will continue to grow its developer ecosystem to offer a better user interface and exciting, relevant content through the Ovi Store. “One cannot succeed without the other,” he added.

Zooming in on Nokia’s efforts to engage developers, Farrar pointed out that more than 400,000 developers had signed up for Forum Nokia–a dedicated portal for its mobile developer community–in the past 12 months.

Earlier, Niklas Savander, executive vice president and general manager of markets at Nokia, told ZDNet Asia that the company has inked partnership agreements with 91 telcos in 27 markets to introduce operator billing mechanisms in these markets’ Ovi Stores. He explained that as not everyone is comfortable with using their credit cards to pay for mobile apps, such a move will help Nokia garner more consumers and, in turn, more app downloads, which will then entice developers to sign up with its platform.

Gartner’s principal research analyst, Shalini Verma, noted that fostering good relations with carriers could be beneficial to the company’s renaissance. She said mobile operators’ more favorable stance toward the Finnish firm could also be from its perceived lack of threat compared with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market.

“Nokia is still the world’s largest mobile device vendor…and it has opportunities to offer mobile applications and services to both the low-end mobile and smartphone user groups,” she added.

“Knockout” MeeGo handset needed
In September, the company unified its software development platform based on the Qt SDK (software development kit), to allow developers to write an app that will work on both Symbian and MeeGo Oses. This will help reduce development time and cost of porting apps between both platforms, Nokia’s Farrar noted.

Ovum’s Dillon said that moving to Qt is a “smart move” for the Finnish company as it “future-proofs” developers’ investments.

That said, he pointed out that since there are no MeeGo devices in the market today, the ability to run apps on the OS has “very little appeal for developers right now”.

“While the N8 is an important handset for Nokia, it will be absolutely crucial for the company to launch a knockout device running MeeGo in 2011, as this will not only show the market that [the company] is still capable of competing at the top, but also giving developers a compelling reason to develop on Qt,” Dillon stated.

Chinese handset maker ZTE sees UK sales surge

Chinese technology giant ZTE is making inroads into the U.K. market, with sales of dongles and handsets at least doubling in the past year.

According to ZTE’s figures, the company now has 60 percent of the British mobile broadband dongle market, up from just 30 percent in 2009. It also has 8 percent of the handset market, up from 3 percent in 2009. In terms of handsets and dongles combined, ZTE sold four million units this year, in contrast to only 1.5 million last year.

The Shenzen-based company, a direct competitor to Huawei, typically sells mobile phones in the U.K. under operator branding. However, in July it launched its first own-branded handset for the U.K. market: the ZTE Racer, a 99 pound (US$156.67) Android smartphone.

Read more of “Chinese handset maker ZTE sees UK sales surge” at ZDNet UK.

Windows Phone developers to get paid a bit sooner

There’s some good news for developers who have not yet gotten paid for their app sales as part of the new Windows Phone Marketplace: payday is coming a little sooner than the company had first announced.

Instead of getting that money sometime in February, Microsoft has moved up its first round of developer payouts to the fourth week of January. Thus far, developers have been unable to cash in on software that has been on sale since late October, while Microsoft has worked to get its payment system up and running.

After this first round of payments is out, Microsoft says it will be sending them every month. Payouts will also include sales of apps and games from both its Windows Mobile 6.X and Windows Phone 7 marketplaces.

This morning, Microsoft also rolled out a counterpart to the sales process in the form of a reporting tool that gives developers a detailed view of how their applications are performing on the marketplace. This breaks down how many downloads their apps have received, and whether those were paid or unpaid, as well as what country the buyer was from. No word yet on whether these will be updated more than once a day.

In a blog post announcing some of the additions, Todd Brix, who is Microsoft’s senior director of mobile, said the company has also been listening to criticisms over its App Hub registration process, which is how developers sign up to publish applications to Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace.

“We’ve heard you loud and clear that the registration and submission process hasn’t been ideal and has been frustrating to too many developers,” Brix said. “In response, we’ve made a number of fixes and enhancements throughout the process over the last two months, including a number of new improvements available today.”

Brix also said that 91 percent of applications that get submitted to Microsoft are certified and published within two days, and that 86 percent of the 1,000 or so developers who join the program have an account ready to use in 10 days. So far that’s tallied up to 18,000 registered developers.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 marketplace now has close to 4,000 applications, up from a little more than 1,000 at the platform’s launch in late October.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

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