Weekly Wrap: Late Christmas Presents
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 21 09:30:00 GMT 2005

Strong holiday sales gave a boost to some handset vendors, putting the brakes on WiMAX, Wi-Fi's evil twin and more...


Fourth-quarter earnings season has begun, with several mobile-industry companies reporting this week. Sony Ericsson and Motorola both had solid fourth quarters, seeing strong demand for their high-end models in the Christmas shopping season. Samsung struggled some, which the company put down to a strategy to take it easy in the quarter and make a big sales push in the first quarter. The strategy is based on Samsung's belief that holiday shoppers are price-conscious, and therefore won't be interested in its handsets -- something other vendors' results, nor even Samsung's, bear out.

Samsung's slip puts a lot of pressure on it to have a strong Q1, when there should be some market share up for grabs, particularly should Siemens decide to shutter its handset operations. The company has set a deadline of January 27 to fix, sell or close the unit, and speculation this week first said the company was ready to shut it down, while several names continue to pop up as potential suitors: LG, Ningbo Bird and NEC.

The hype train hasn't slowed up for WiMAX, but the reality train may have: reports this week said the certification process for the would-be world-beater has been delayed. The biggest cause for the holdup is that Intel and Fujitsu haven' released any WiMAX-enabled chips for vendors to use in their equipment, making it a little difficult to build said equipment.

WiMAX is supposed to kill off Wi-Fi, along with every other wireless technology, but perhaps only eliminating Wi-Fi's "evil twins" would be a start. The scare-story flavor of the week around the Net were the musings of some "cybercrime expert" who said rogue access points set up to overwhelm the signal from public hotspots, using the same SSID to fool unsuspecting users. Users who then become victims when all manner of sensitive information is stolen. Never mind some of the basic facts are wrong, and there's plenty of things users can do to protect themselves.

In the much less scary mobile market of Japan, Softbank looked this week to be taking a back door into becoming a mobile operator, as a report had it looking to purchase Tu-Ka, a cut-rate 2G provider that's mostly owned by KDDI for a couple billion dollars. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son has made no secret that he wants to enter the mobile business and wreak the same havoc there it did in the wired broadband market: slashing prices and winning huge numbers of customers, and his efforts to be awarded 3G spectrum by the Japanese government have as yet been unsuccessful. KDDI had announced plans to sell off or absorb Tu-Ka, it's doubtful the company will be keen to sell to Softbank.

Also out of Japan this week was some software from Toshiba that allows mobile-phone users to access their desktop computer and control it remotely. While offering users remote access to files and data might make sense, the form factor and interface of a mobile handset makes such software a challenge to successfully implement. It also infers that the desktop PC is the center of a user's digital life -- when the mobile phone might be replacing it.

While data applications still go down well in Japan, US and European users aren't interested, according to a study released this week by Capgemini. Cheap prices, simple tariffs and solid coverage remain at the top of wish lists, with advanced services coming in near the bottom. What's curious is that while the study makes it sound like most users' wishes are neatly aligned with the focus of discount operators, subscriber numbers still favor full-service operators, who must adapt the the challenge of these new rivals and adopt some of their strategies.

Operators don't always make it easy for customers to get into new services, when their mouths say "open" but their actions say "closed". The Open Mobile Terminal Platform alliance announced a slew of new members this week and emphasizing its mission to provide users with a consistent, improved experience across carriers and devices, all the while some members just don't seem to be learning -- like in Hong Kong, where 3's rivals are complaining it's dragging its heels on implementing interconnection for video calls, or in the US, where carriers are so hesitant to cede any measure of control over their networks, they might miss out on mobile music.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage says m-government is finally getting serious, Mark Frauenfelder wonders if we really need wireless robots, and Howard Rheingold looks at how technology is impacting bottom-up disaster relief