Another attempt to build an alternative to the Android mobile operating system is circling ever closer to the drain. A Nokia spin-off, Jolla, is laying off about half of its employees because an expected new round of investment didn’t come through. That means that development of its Sailfish operating system will be on the back burner. According to a story in TechCrunch, Jolla’s chairman, Antii Saaarnio, they need the money in order to hang onto talent…
“We are of course hoping that these are temporary actions… And we are committed to continue the company but really this depends on the external investors as well, how are we able to continue operations,” Saaarnio adds…
However he concedes it would be unable to retain the talent and fund the expensive development work needed to ensure its Sailfish OS is competitive against more well-resourced mobile OS rivals.
The main problem is that Jolla was relying on a single, unnamed strategic investor to pony up the new round of cash. I’ve seen that scenario play out in several start ups personally. Strategic investors don’t tend to be interested in a new product itself, but rather in either the opportunities it might create for their primary line of business or in the leverage it can give them in negotiations with competitors. Once they get what they need, there’s no reason to keep pumping money into the project.
Jolla has already slow tracked plans to manufacture phones to go along with the Sailfish OS, focusing instead on licensing it to companies in developing countries. So far, it has one licensing deal signed with an Indian manufacturer; no phones are on the market yet.
Chinese smartphones loom larger.
Trying to track shipment figures for any global consumer electronics product can be a tricky business – piecing together the puzzle requires access to many sources with many agendas – but that said, market research company TrendForce has spotted a significant trend: collectively, Chinese smartphone manufacturers grabbed a huge share of the worldwide market in 2014.
According to TrendForce, manufacturers shipped 1.2 billion smartphones last year, with Chinese companies accounting for 450 million, or 39% of the global total.
Lenovo (with the Motorola brand rolled in) was 2014’s third ranking smartphone maker, with a 7.9% market share. That’s up from 4.9% in 2013. Huawei came fifth at 5.9%, barely behind fourth-ranked LG at 6.0%.
The top places haven’t changed, though. It’s still Samsung first and Apple second. Even though it’s still overwhelming at 28%, Samsung share slipped from 33% in 2013. Apple’s held more or less even – 16.4% in 2014 against 16.6% in 2013. It’s not like either one is fading though. Samsung shipped 25 million more units than in the previous year; Apple sold 37 million more.
Both Huawei and Lenovo made a big push at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, and ZTE boosted its presence at the 2015 CES. Although home market strength puts Chinese brands in the top ten, exports are also growing.
The 2014 rankings are also notable for the names that are missing. Nokia and Blackberry fell into the vast Other category, their places taken by Xiaomi and TCL. Another way of looking at it: Apple aside, the top ten smartphone brands are Android-based (or nearly so, there’s a bit of dabbling in alternatives like Tizen and Firefox). Windows and Blackberry are off the radar.
Don’t subsidise old, slow broadband technology. That’s one of the conclusions of an analysis of mobile broadband performance done for the California Public Utilities Commission (H/T to Jim Warner for the pointer).
Right now, the CPUC’s minimum service availability mark is 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up – if a community gets less than that, it’s eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund. Conversely though, to get those subsidies, broadband projects only have to meet that level of service – the minimum is good enough.
After running millions of field tests at thousands locations around California, the CPUC’s study concludes that mobile carriers can do better if they try, and if they don’t, they should get CASF money…
The speed of deployment in mobile broadband service can support a new benchmark standard of 10 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up based on the deployed capabilities of modern LTE networks. When subsidizing mobile deployment, it would certainly be prudent to require deployment at speeds of at least 10 Mbps down/4 Mbps up, properly configured to be able to provide VoLTE and other real-time streaming services.
The FCC has met the science halfway: its new standard is 10 Mbps down, although up remains at a sluggish 1 Mbps.
The CPUC is developing a test that can make similar measurements of wireline service. That’s harder than assessing mobile carriers’ performance, which can be measured by simply driving around the state. Getting real world stats for wireline service means either installing measurement gear inside people’s houses – as the FCC does – or getting them to run tests themselves.
If comparable data for wireline network performance becomes available and it likewise shows there’s no technological reason new infrastructure can’t meet a higher standard, expect a move to raise the broadband bar overall for Californians.
Some form factors just work
The hot, new innovation from Blackberry last week is a small phone with a small, physical keyboard. Sound familiar? If not, Blackberry is helpfully calling it the Classic.
There is no shortage of people – Barack Obama and Arianna Huffington included – who like the 1990s Blackberry look. It offers unique functionality and the company’s new management is happy to provide it.
When I look at new products that catch on quickly, there’s a question I always ask myself: is the success due to designers offering consumers a genuinely new benefit, a way of meeting either a preexisting or completely new need? Or have they just identified a need without completely fulfilling it? In other words, is it a bridge product that’s merely the best that’s possible now?
The Apple Newton was a bridge product, one that identified the need and temporarily filled it until a truly useful solution was developed. So did the Palm Pilot. It’s starting to look like the iPad might go that way too. But the original Blackberry design still does what it was originally intended to do better than anything else, at least for some people. Messages, calls and contact and calendar info are accessible via a pocketable phone with a keyboard that many find comfortable.
The classic Blackberry is here to stay, just like the flip phone: it’s a convenient way of putting a limited set of important functions in a package that’s small, rugged and boasts a long battery life. Few people will make it their first choice, but many will love it as their second phone, the company phone they carry for their job or the one they stuff in a pocket on the weekend.
Blackberry will never regain its former glory, but by distilling the brand down into a solid niche it’s taking the penultimate step towards ensuring it will live on in the mobile ecosystem. The final – and necessary – move will come if and when it opens up to other operating systems.
Ken Biba, from Novarum Inc., briefed California Broadband Council members yesterday on the results of mobile broadband testing conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission. He reiterated conclusions previously published regarding the mobile broadband divide between rural and urban areas in California.
“It’s a one carrier state and it’s Verizon”, Biba said. Although AT&T has built out into rural areas, too, its service isn’t as available or well performing. As for the rest, “I can’t advise anyone to get a Sprint phone or a T-Mobile phone because you’re not going to get service”, he said.
There’s a wide variation in service, ranging from the best measurements on Verizon’s network along the Mexican border, to great gaping holes in the Sierra and along the northern coast. Where you are and who your carrier is determines the quality of your mobile broadband service, as does the device you’re using and the websites you’re frequenting. But as for the commonly heard claim that time of day determines mobile broadband performance, “it’s largely bullshit”, Biba said.
The data also points to the need for more fiber – and more access to existing fiber – particularly in rural areas. Once a mobile broadband connection hits a rural tower, it slows down. “There’s a 40% latency penalty for rural users over urban users”, Biba said, emphasising that this finding was preliminary and more research would be done to confirm (or rebut) it. Even so, “I think it’s real”.
In what was effectively a lame duck session, the council also heard telecoms regulators from New York and the Virgin Islands talk about the challenges they face, and closed out the session by thanking everyone, and particularly CPUC staff, for past years of support. Neither Alex Padilla nor Steven Bradford – outgoing state assembly and senate representatives respectively – attended. It’s also the last meeting for council chair – and CPUC president – Michael Peevey. Of the principal members (the others are staff representatives from various state agencies) only Sunne Wright McPeak, president of the California Emerging Technology Fund, will return next year. The council wrapped up the meeting by electing Carlos Ramos, head of the California Department of Technology and the state’s CIO, as the new chair, beginning in January.
Ten years isn’t so long. Unless you’re a dog. Or the Internet.
The possibility of converting prime spectrum from TV broadcasting to mobile broadband use has been pushed off another year. The FCC is delaying the planned auction of 600 MHz broadcast frequencies until 2016, instead of next summer.
It’ll take that long to sort out a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Broadcasters – the primary lobbying organisation for TV and radio station owners – according to the FCC…
Earlier this week, the court issued a briefing schedule in which the final briefs are not due until late January 2015. Oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015. We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016.
In an odd sort of statement, the NAB claimed the delay isn’t its fault. The process should take a long time. Or something like that…
As NAB has said repeatedly, it is more important to get the auction done right than right now. Given its complexity, there is good reason Congress gave the FCC 10 years to complete the proceeding. We reject suggestions that our narrowly focused lawsuit is cause for delay.
Neither broadcasters nor mobile telecoms companies have shown universal enthusiasm for the auctions, which, it is assumed, would raise billions of dollars, some of which would compensate broadcasters for the transferred spectrum and the rest would pay for upgrading U.S. public safety networks.
But the mobile bandwidth crunch is not slowing down, and that’s a problem that will impact everyone’s prosperity and quality of life. Ten years is way too long to wait.
Cities and counties are still in control of their own property, at least concerning decisions about where to install wireless broadband facilities. In a recent ruling that tightens the limits on how local governments may regulate cell towers, antennae and other wireless infrastructure, the FCC said those rules don’t apply when cities are simply acting as landlords…
Courts have consistently recognized that in “determining whether government contracts are subject to preemption, the case law distinguishes between actions a State entity takes in a proprietary capacity— actions similar to those a private entity might take—and its attempts to regulate.”…Like private property owners, local governments enter into lease and license agreements to allow parties to place antennas and other wireless service facilities on local-government property, and we find no basis for applying [these restrictions] in those circumstances.
In fact, cities can go a little further and craft rules that create a preference – in some cases a requirement – for installing wireless facilities on public, rather than private, property…
Most industry and municipal commenters support the conclusion that many such preferences are valid. For example, some commenters assert that such preferences are not unlawfully discriminatory as a general matter, but that they can violate [federal law] if they effectively “pressure” applicants to use municipal property or are coupled with ordinances making it too onerous to site anywhere else…however, determining whether a particular municipal property preference violates [federal law] depends on the specific details of the preference and related requirements…Therefore…we decline at this time to find municipal property preferences per se unlawful.
It’s hardly a blank check. Local governments can’t keep towers, antennae or other equipment off of private property, even if a city-owned site is available, but a certain amount of encourage is allowed.
With this latest ruling, cities have even less of a stick to wave at wireless companies, but retain the right to use public property as a carrot to creatively influence where facilities are built.
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Mobile broadband is better in California, and improvements have been made quickly. That was one of the takeaways from a meeting of Central Coast Internet service providers and California Public Utilities Commission staff in Seaside last week. Jim Warner, a network engineer at U.C. Santa Cruz and chair of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s technical expert group, discussed his analysis of results from the latest round of the CPUC’s mobile broadband field testing.
“Performance has doubled in year”, Warner said, albeit with the recognition that the statewide results do not necessarily give a good picture of what’s going on in rural areas. Although there are some aspects of the CPUC’s conclusions “that would cause a statistician’s eyebrows to twitch”, overall the assessment of mobile carrier performance and adjustments made to account for actual user experiences are sound, as he later explained in a note…
CPUC staff use their average measured speed as the advertised speed since cellular carriers generally don’t specify speed the same way that their wireline brethren do. One way to think about this is: If the CPUC used the average, users could expect Internet performance that met the California target half the time. That is not what consumers expect. Shifting the measurement by one standard deviation allows the expectation of meeting the service level to be raised to perhaps 80 percent. Making some allowance for availability of reliable service seems appropriate.
Even so, perceived improvements could well be temporary.
“Traffic will grow to fill the pipes”, he said. “That’s the story of the Internet for the last 30 years. What looks served today will look underserved tomorrow”.
The FCC’s decision to tell local governments that if they don’t approve permit applications for relatively minor modifications to wireless infrastructure within 60 days then permission is automatically “deemed granted” is a bit less than absolute. Local governments can still go to court to stop installations, and there’s a narrow set of reasons that permit applications can be rejected.
But make no mistake: the FCC is severely limiting the scope for local review of “collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station,” or other work on on that infrastructure if it doesn’t involve a substantial change to its existing dimensions. “Substantial change” is quantitatively defined at length in the FCC’s order. For example if the height of an existing tower that isn’t in the public right of way is increased by more than 10% (with a couple very specific exceptions), then it’s a substantial change. If not, the new rules apply.
Local governments can delay incomplete permit applications, but have to provide a clear punch list of needed items. Otherwise…
States and localities may continue to enforce and condition approval on compliance with generally applicable building, structural, electrical, and safety codes and with other laws codifying objective standards reasonably related to health and safety.
Health and safety standards, though, do not include – the scientifically unsupported – fears that the radio frequency transmissions might cause harm.
Any list of building code conditions that must be met has to be issued along with the permit within 60 days. If that doesn’t happen, then the applicant can notify the local government in writing that the deadline has passed and get on with the work.
Unless the local government decides to take the matter to court within 30 days. The scope for judicial review is as limited as the local agency’s authority, but not the time frame: everything slows down again to the speed of justice. Commissioner Ajit Pai’s declaration that “an applicant can start building on day 61” isn’t completely true.
I’m barely scratching the surface of the entire Report and Order, which runs 155 pages and deals with many other issues related to local review, such as environmental and historical preservation rules, temporary towers and the FCC’s general “shot clock” rule. And expect this ruling, too, to be challenged in federal court. Lots more to read and write about.
If local governments don’t approve certain permit applications for wireless broadband facilities within 60 days, then the FCC says permission is automatically “deemed granted”. That’s one of the new rules limiting how local and state agencies can regulate wireless broadband infrastructure issued by the commission on Friday.
The 60-day time limit affects permit applications for “collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station,” so long as it doesn’t involve a substantial change to the existing structure’s dimensions. That much is clear from the FCC’s press release. But the full order hasn’t been posted yet, so the full extent of the changes is still an unknown.
For now, most of the details are coming from prepared statements issued by the commissioners. Chair Tom Wheeler’s spin is that the order is a wonderful benefit to local governments…
The Order also implements federal statutory directives that are intended to make State and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications.
At the same time, the Order preserves our commitment to safeguard the essential roles that State, local, and Tribal governments play in this process.
For instance, the Order preserves local governments’ authority to adopt and apply the zoning, safety, and concealment requirements that are appropriate for their communities.
Commissioner Ajit Pai, though, was more direct about the FCC’s action…
“The Order amends our environmental and historic preservation rules to make it easier to deploy small cells and collocate antennas on existing structures. The Order also makes it clear that our shot-clock rules apply to small cells and DAS and that local moratoria cannot be used to make an end run around those rules. And it adopts a bright-line test for determining which equipment modifications qualify for section 6409’s deemed-grant remedy and makes clear that an applicant can start building on day 61 if a municipality doesn’t act on its application…And once we have some experience in the field with a deemed-granted remedy for infrastructure deployment, I hope we consider extending that remedy to our [tower siting] shot clock.
The devil, though, will be in the details and I’ll post an update when those are available.
UPDATE, 21 October 2014: the report and order has been published:
In the Matter of Acceleration of Broadband Deployment by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies…