Tag Archives: mobile

Windows mobile suffers the Blue Screen of Death, Microsoft moves on

Microsoft is done with the mobile operating system business. The man in charge of Windows 10, Joe Belfiore, announced the end of the mobile version in a tweet. Like Bill Gates, Belfiore switched to Android.

Current Windows mobile users – both of them – will continue to get security updates and other tweaks, but development of the system has ended. The market just wasn’t there, Belfiore tweeted…

We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest.

According to IDC, a research company, it was a very small volume indeed – three one-thousandths of a percent – 0.03% – of the global market in the second quarter of 2017. Put another way, out of every 100,000 phones sold from April through June, only three shipped with Windows mobile installed. That’s despite Microsoft’s best efforts and megabucks. Even buying Nokia and making its own phones didn’t help.

Android and Apple’s iOS own the market. Blackberry is making Android phones. Sailfish and Tizen are barely handing on. Tizen is making a place for itself as an embedded operating system for consumer electronics devices; Sailfish is struggling to find a niche as a super-secure platform for the terminally paranoid.

There’s a good article by Vlad Savov in The Verge that tells of all the things Microsoft did right – not least, the tiled, flat user interface it introduced was picked up by web developers and became a design staple.

But the one thing it couldn’t shake was the perception that Windows is your grandfather’s operating system and Microsoft is the Ninth Circle of cubicle hell. Developers preferred to live under Apple’s ultra cool fascism or jump in the Android mosh pit dug by Google. Likewise, handset makers found a comfortable home in the relatively open Android environment.

Microsoft already turned down the path of becoming a platform-agnostic service provider. Now it can accelerate the pace, and push ahead in the mobile market without the distraction of Windows.

Open access does not guarantee open broadband competition

When national governments run mobile broadband networks, they do not run them well. That’s the unsurprising conclusion of a white paper published by GSMA, the trade association for mobile network operators that rely on GSM standards to one extent or the other – in other words, pretty much all of them.

A trade association that lobbies governments to advance the interests of its members might be expected to oppose what amounts to nationalisation of mobile network infrastructure and operations. So it’s hardly shocking that GSMA’s brief overview of publicly-owned open access mobile networks – the government or a favored company builds one, single network and sells wholesale space on it to mobile retailers – doesn’t have much good to say.

But the report should be judged on its merits, and not dismissed simply because of the source. On that basis, it does point to a couple of supportable, and pedestrian, conclusions.

First, it highlights an ordinary truth about big government infrastructure projects: far more are proposed than implemented, and even the ones that move forward usually aren’t started, let alone completed, on schedule. The paper looks at five open access mobile network initiatives. Three – in Kenya, Russia and South Africa – never began, and one, in Mexico, is taking shape slowly, with no guarantee that anything will actually be built. In that sense, mobile networks are little different than other government led infrastructure projects.

Then there’s the fifth network, in Rwanda. It was actually built, in a public-private partnership with KT, a big South Korean telecoms company, and it’s been operating for about three years. Build out has been slower than planned and might never reach its target of covering 95% of the population, but it does reach something like a third of the population and it’s the only source of 4G LTE service in the country.

The GSMA white paper is woefully short on details, but it does provide one interesting, quantitative indicator that few benefits have flowed to consumers, at least not yet. Since the open access 4G network was launched late in 2014, the price of mobile broadband service has stayed flat – the three major mobile operators all charge around 6 cents per megabyte/$60 per gigabyte.

That’s also not surprising. To the extent the three companies re-sell service on the Rwandan open access 4G network, they all have the same wholesale cost. With only three players, the mobile market is very concentrated, which means it’s less likely that they’ll engage in a profit-killing, price led race to the bottom.

Mobile carriers say their broadband isn’t very fast, so FCC sets lower standard

The Federal Communications Commission is on a mission to slow down broadband in rural areas. Or at least protect incumbents who don’t invest in their networks in rural markets where competitive options are few to non-existent.

The latest move approved by commissioners sets a low bar for mobile broadband service. Similar to its Connect America Fund program that subsidises fixed, mostly wireline service in communities with sub-standard Internet service, the FCC administers the Mobility Fund for mobile carriers. In order for qualify for subsidies under the plan reaffirmed by the FCC earlier this month, existing mobile broadband speeds have to be below 5 Mbps download, with no standard at all set for upload performance.

That’s in contrast to the wireline subsidy program, which sets 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up as the minimum. Rural carriers wanted the FCC to use the same standard for mobile service, and in the process make more areas eligible for subsidies. But the FCC didn’t buy it, arguing that they have to establish service levels that are “reasonably comparable” to what’s available in urban areas and, contrary to what they advertise, the big mobile carriers say they don’t do all that well…

Although [the rural wireless carriers group] claims that the median download speed provided by nationwide carriers is approximately 12 Mbps, Verizon counters that, depending on demand, consumers in an urban market may see service slower than 5 Mbps. Furthermore, despite the fact that providers have used different standards and methodologies to report coverage…the nationwide carriers are all generally reporting minimum advertised download speeds of 5 Mbps for their 4G LTE network coverage.

Other national mobile carriers, including notably T-Mobile, made similar arguments. It’s funny how they try to sell customers on blazing fast performance, and then turn around and trash talk it when it’s time to protect their poorly served rural turf from subsidised competition.

The Trump administration’s FCC is also considering lowering the standard for advanced service from the current 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up level to 10 down/1 up, at least for mobile broadband, another move that would please big incumbent telcos and cable companies and help protect their monopoly business models.

Making much of the rural U.S. a competition-free safe zone for incumbents is the wrong thing for the FCC to do, and sanctioning lower broadband speeds at a time when demand is skyrocketing is the wrong direction to take.

Mobile voice migration hits the halfway mark, but don’t confuse it with broadband

Voice telephone service has finally tipped to predominantly mobile, according to statistics compiled by the federal department of health and human services. The latest survey shows that a bit more than half the homes in the U.S. no longer use landline telephones to make or receive calls…

In the second 6 months of 2016, more than one-half of all households (50.8%) did not have a landline telephone but did have at least one wireless telephone. More than 123 million adults (50.5% of all adults) lived in households with only wireless telephones; over 44 million children (60.7% of all children) lived in households with only wireless telephones. The percentage of households that are wireless-only and the percentages of adults and children living in wireless-only households have been steadily increasing. The observed 2.5-percentage-point increase in the percentage of households that are wireless-only from the second 6 months of 2015 through the second 6 months of 2016 was statistically significant. The 2.8-percentage-point increase for adults and the 3.0-percentage-point increase for children across the same 12-month time period were also significant.

It’s a significant milestone, but it should be read for what it is – a measure of how people make voice calls. It doesn’t say anything in particular about how people access the Internet.

The distinction is important because telephone companies, and AT&T in particular, continue to push lawmakers and regulators to allow them to rip out copper wireline networks and replace them with wireless service. When they make those arguments, they wave statistics like these and claim that people don’t need wired connections anymore, while deliberately distracting them from the facts that 1. many mobile voice-only homes connect to the Internet via wired connections and 2. mobile data is very expensive and slow compared to even legacy DSL technology, particularly in rural and inner city communities.

Voice is migrating to mobile, although there will be demand for landline service, too, for many decades to come. Don’t confuse it with broadband service, which continues to see increasing in-home demand for speed, capacity and reliability that only wired networks can deliver.

Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the
National Health Interview Survey, July–December 2016

Mobile competition brings big benefits to urban consumers


Not so bright in rural California

Competition works. Even in the telecoms business. Referencing an article in the Wall Street Journal, FierceWireless is reporting that the cost of mobile data has dropped 13% in the past year, and the reason is increasingly heated competition between the four major carriers, with reintroduction and aggressive marketing of unlimited data plans at the top of the list…

In a detailed article on the topic, the Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of wireless service plans fell 7% in March and an additional 1.7% in April. When comparing April data against the same month last year, the publication reported that wireless service prices have declined by almost 13%. The WSJ cited the Labor Department’s consumer price index for the numbers; the Consumer Price Indexes (CPI) program “produces monthly data on changes in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services,” according to the agency.

The effect was so great that the CPI went into negative territory for the first time in seven years. Mobile pricing wasn’t the only reason, but it accounted for about half the drop.

One significant caveat, though, is that the CPI is based on urban costs. The price of mobile data wouldn’t be different in rural areas, but its availability and the way it’s marketed is.

A quick look at the California Public Utilities Commission’s broadband availability map shows that while people living in urband and suburban communities enjoy the full benefit of four aggressively competing mobile broadband providers, those in rural areas do not. And while the same plans might be available everywhere, different needs push people in different areas toward different packages.

For example, plans designed to be used in homes as a wireline substitute of sorts are more popular in rural communities – the article did not look at whether prices for those particular packages are likewise experiencing the same, downward competitive pressure, but from what little I’ve seen it would appear not.

Competition matters.

Sailfish mobile OS development is shuddering to a halt

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.

Smartphone sales grow as Chinese brands bag bigger global share


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.

Spend broadband subsidies on state of the art service, CPUC report says

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.

Blackberry rolls a classic for executives of a certain age


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.

Mobile broadband divide detailed at California Broadband Council

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.