#TBT: Prying open carrier networks; Luxury handsets go bling-bling; Sprint plans for WiMAX … this week in 2008 – RCR Wireless News

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Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

Mobile content conundrums

Carriers are beginning to use carrot-and-stick strategies to bring their third-party content partners to heel. And both the carrot and the stick are made of cash. Sprint Nextel Corp. earlier this year became the first U.S. carrier to formally tie revenue shares to business practices, warning that partners who repeatedly violate Mobile Marketing Association guidelines – by incurring high refund rates, for instance, or not reporting billing errors to the carrier – can forfeit every dime and lose their short codes. “Non-compliant short code campaigns will receive penalties up to and including program termination from Sprint Nextel Boost networks,” the carrier said in a confidential five-page memo. “Conversely, revenue-share incentives may be applied for programs performing will on policy compliance.” Other U.S. carriers are quietly following in Sprint Nextel’s footsteps, according to Jay Emmet, general manager of the Amdocs subsidiary OpenMarket, which distributed Sprint Nextel’s memo and handles billing issues for the carrier. “What we’re seeing is the carriers getting more sophisticated – they want to reward the content providers” who market their wares honestly and deliver them efficiently, said Emmet, who recently left mBlox to join OpenMarket. “And they want to financially incent the ones who don’t.” … Read More

Luxury phones go bling-bling

Americans love the $50 clamshell, but a small, growing number of wealthy people are paying astronomical prices for feature phones that often sport a cachet-laden brand name or are slathered in gems. That trend – pursued by the top-tier handset vendors as well as obscure boutique brands – is likely to continue, due to demand and the potential for profits and glory, according to ABI Research. The market research firm has forecasted that the luxury phone segment’s annual, global revenue will exceed $11 billion next year and surpass $43 billion by 2013. This year, some 5.7 million handsets that fit the “luxury” category are expected to be sold. Western Europe leads demand (1.9 million units), trailed by North America (1.7 million) and Asia (1.3 million). Those volumes, accompanied by attractive margins, are expected to remain low to maintain the exclusive cachet that goes along with this market segment. And the traditional players – carriers, vendors and retailers – all benefit, as do the luxury brands themselves, according to ABI Research analyst Kevin Burden. The LG Prada phone, for example, allows Prada – with its traditionally female customer base – to extend its appeal to men as well. How crazy does it get? The Web is littered with examples. The current record for a single handset appeared to be dated references to a $1.3 million smartphone from Swiss firm Crypto Telecommunications encased in platinum and blanketed in gems by jeweler Peter Aloisson for Russian firm JSC Ancort. … Read More

Nokia Comes With Music

Nokia Corp.’s ambitious new mobile music service is just weeks away from making its debut. But the Finnish phone maker has plenty of work left to do before Comes With Music comes to market. The offering – which essentially packages one year of unlimited downloads with a new phone – is slated to appear in the United Kingdom in the next month or so, hitting shelves just in time for the holiday season. There’s a lot to like about Comes With Music, especially given the lack of traction most mobile music services have seen. Unlike other all-you-can-download services, Nokia is allowing users to keep their tunes after the first year whether they re-up (by paying a monthly fee), buy a new phone or simply opt to stop downloading. And the deal with The Carphone Warehouse ensures a nationwide retail footprint of more than 800 stores. But there are also some glaring shortcomings surrounding the new service. The company has inked deals with only three of the four major labels – EMI has yet to come to terms – and no U.K. independent label is under contract. Nokia’s library of 2.1 million songs may sound impressive, but the portfolio pales in comparison to the 8-million-song collection available through Apple Inc.’s iTunes. More important, though, is the possibility that the full-track download service may launch without an operator partner. Carriers thus far have kept Comes With Music at arm’s length, lest the new offering cannibalize operator-branded download services. … Read More

Prying open carrier networks

Following a lot of bad publicity in the wake of AT&T Mobility’s exclusive contract for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and 700 MHz auction rules that demanded an open network, wireless carriers are prying open their networks.
Earlier this year, Verizon Wireless began offering its network to some not-so-typical customers. Tony Lewis, VP of open development, said the carrier launched a Web site in March, which opened for business in June, that lets manufacturers pitch devices to Verizon Wireless to run on the network. Once the device is certified, Lewis said the process moves quickly. “Tell us what the device does and how it works,” Lewis said. “Once it goes through the team, it will take no longer than four weeks to get on the Verizon Wireless network.” The carrier expects to host a wide array of unusual and unexpected products. To date, it has certified two products. “My objective is to get as many devices on the network as possible,” Lewis said. “And not just run-of-the-mill devices, but very unique devices still being created.” Lewis said some of these new gadgets include a device manufactured by Supplynet that sits on top of tanks for gas, petroleum and food – basically anything that needs to be contained. The device monitors the level of the tank via the Verizon Wireless network. Lewis provided the following example: “It can be used by a tank farmer in order to mitigate moving or filling the tanks at the wrong time. [This is a] huge cost savings because now they can electronically control inventory.” … Read More

Sprint plans for WiMAX debut

As Sprint Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp. gear up for an initial market launch of its mobile WiMAX network this month, the duo is under pressure to deliver on the fledgling technology. Continuous delays in rolling out the technology have haunted Sprint Nextel. John Polivka, spokesman for Sprint Nextel, said the carrier recently announced news to debut WiMAX service in Baltimore in September, the first U.S. market. “We are also planning to launch service in Washington, D.C., and then Chicago sometime in the fourth quarter,” Polivka said. “Sprint has additional markets in various stages of network development. These include Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Fort Worth.” Sprint Nextel and Clearwire have touted WiMAX’s time-to-market advantage over rival LTE technology. Bill Ho, of Current Analysis, said the slow rollout has harmed Sprint Nextel’s reputation and puts pressure on the carrier to perform. “Initially the hopes were by the summer and now it appears to be in September and that has been a disappointment which doesn’t help Sprint’s executions credibility,” Ho said. “Barry West, Sprint’s driver and the new Clearwire president, admitted that there have been backhaul issues. Of course, there are some other intangibles and potential issues.” “Sprint has a significant position,” said Mohammad Shakouri, board member and VP of the WiMAX Forum. “It’s a big advantage when you think about how fast it is ramped up.” For WiMAX and more generally, broadband, the biggest fundamental issue is spectrum, Shakouri said. He said that 30 megahertz of clean spectrum is needed to fuel a broadband highway, and with Sprint Nextel and Clearwire’s spectrum depth in the 2.5 GHz band, which reaches as deep as 200 megahertz in some markets, they’re revved to go. … Read more

Handset melee at hand

American consumers may well be treated to “a moveable feast” this fall. Unlike the sketches of 1920s Paris by Ernest Hemingway by the same name, however, this one is more akin to a mobile smorgasbord for buyers: more choice, cutting-edge models, attractive prices and the promise of pleasure and productivity.
Conversely, for sellers – handset vendors and their carrier partners – the upcoming months will mark an “autumn melee,” according to analyst Tero Kuittinen at Global Crown Capital L.L.C. “The June/September period in the North American handset market is possibly the most intensely competitive stretch the United States phone sector has ever witnessed,” Kuittinen said. “Rival brands have launched large-display phones with some of the most aggressive pricing ever witnessed on handsets featuring advanced technology.”
The U.S. market – “notoriously uncompetitive” until this year because most leading handsets typically debuted elsewhere – is now the stage for global debuts and near-debuts, Kuittinen said. Motorola Inc., once the beneficiary of this formerly stodgy market, may take a beating just as it rises from the mat, the analyst said. U.S. consumers keen to upgrade this fall will be driven by pricing, brand, form factors and feature sets, though not necessarily in that order, according to Matt Thornton, analyst at Avian Securities L.L.C. … Read More

T-Mobile US in trying times

There’s nothing easy about being smallest national mobile-phone carrier. Competing day to day for customers against AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Next Corp. is brutal enough. But it’s also about keeping pace – technologically and otherwise – with the top three cellphone operators. It is not enough to have a national footprint to be in the game. You have to have a fat wireless pipe capable of supporting the swift carriage of data-intensive multimedia content. These must be gut-wrenching days for T-Mobile USA, which is finding the road to 3G littered with landmines. Last week, Federal Communications Commission engineers conducted tests in Seattle for potential interference from advanced wireless services-3 operations in the 2155-2180 MHz bands. T-Mobile USA spent $4.2 billion for 120 licenses at the AWS-1 auction in 2006. It was an investment in the future, one aimed at avoiding futility and irrelevance in a market where AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless have gained strength, while Sprint Nextel struggles mightily. So it is that T-Mobile USA, hoping to expand its 3G reach from New York City to another 25 markets by year’s end, finds itself headed toward the critical holiday season with so much at stake. T-Mobile USA sought testing in the face of an initiative spearheaded by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to put 20 megahertz of AWS-3 spectrum in play in hopes of seeing a big-time wireless broadband carrier emerge to compete against the landline telephone-cable TV high-speed Internet duopoly. … Read More

Virgin Mobile integrates Helio

A few weeks after its official purchase of Helio L.L.C., Virgin Mobile USA has decided on a branding strategy; “Helio by Virgin Mobile: Plan to Have it All.” The mobile virtual network operator’s (MVNO) first plans for the newly joined company is to enhance Helio’s $80 A La Carte plan by offering unlimited minutes, mimicking Virgin’s Totally Unlimited Plan. The A La Carte plan previously allocate only 1,500 minutes. This offer is available for existing and future Helio customers. In a press release, Bob Stohrer, chief marketing officer for Virgin Mobile USA, hinted toward additional transitions between more devices and plans inside the Helio/Virgin Mobile partnership. “These initial steps, delivering the best value in postpaid for unlimited calling, are just signals of things to come as we look to make Helio products and services even more accessible and attractive,” Stohrer said. “Helio devices like the Ocean and its brilliant data services are alive and well, and there will be opportunities in the immediate future for crossover benefits.” Further, Virgin Mobile also announced the release of the Shuttle, the company’s first EV-DO handset, capable to integrate Helio location-based services such as Buddy Beacon, a friend-finder application; and Where, a points-of-interest application. The new handset features improved access to social-networking communities and other sites thanks to partnerships with Accuweather, ESPN, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Yahoo! and more. … Read More

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.

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