#TBT: Seeds of a smartphone shift; G is for glitch; WiMAX is gonna be big … this week in 2009

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!

Seeds of a smartphone shift

Like cartoon coyotes that draw themselves to full height before an exaggerated pounce on prey, handset vendors have offered little this year – but portended much – before an expected lunge at the market.
Major vendors, particularly smartphone purveyors, have largely passed up the first two industry gatherings of the year to introduce new devices, while promising greatness to come. Based on flagging consumer demand – forecasts for the overall handset market in the first quarter run as dismal as negative 25% year-on-year growth – this calm-before-the-storm, whether intentional or not, will soon give way to white-hot competition in the smartphone segment. If that shift in emphasis to smartphones appears counter-intuitive in a severe economic downturn, consider this: This year’s offerings were hatched in better times – late 2007 and early 2008 – when smartphone growth skyrocketed to 36% even as the overall handset market slowed to 5.4% in 2008, down from 16% the prior year, according to ABI Research. At least in the United States, that trajectory was ignited by Apple Inc.’s two iPhone launches and aided by massive carrier subsidies and marketing campaigns for hero handsets at or near the top of their portfolios as carriers sought to convince consumers of the efficacy of mobile data. At AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, smartphones have become as much as 35% to 40% of their portfolios, according to financial analyst company Morgan Keegan, though smartphone users comprise only 20% of those carriers’ subscriber bases. … Read more

Huawei supports Leap’s 3G deployment in Chicago

Cricket Communications Inc. has deployed its 3G network in Chicago by partnering with wireless infrastructure vendor Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., the companies announced today. The launch in Chicago follows a successful deployment in nearby Milwaukee last fall. The Huawei network includes the Chinese company’s Dual Homing Softswitch Media Gateway and 3900 Series Base Station subsystems, which has been widely deployed since the end of 2007. Last month Cricket, a subsidiary of Leap Wireless International Inc., announced its unlimited service is available in Chicago and portions of Wisconsin and Indiana. “Huawei has an impressive track record and has already demonstrated it by having successfully deployed solutions for our Northwest markets in 2007,” Glenn Umetsu, Leap EVP and CTO, said in a statement. Huawei officials have said they are increasing their concentration on the North American market and now have penetrated the third largest city in the U.S. “We value highly the long-term relationship we have with Cricket,” Ken Hu, Huawei chief sales and service officer, said in a statement. “We have achieved an important milestone with our commitment and ability to support our customers in North American markets.” … Read more

LG Spyder gets recalled for 911 calling issues

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said about 30,000 LG Electronics Co. Ltd. handsets are being recalled because of 911-calling-related problems. “The recalled phones can have difficulty sustaining a connection or have poor voice quality on calls to emergency 911,” the CPSC stated in a recall alert. “The firm has received one report of a motorist in a disabled car who was able to dial 911, but the call was dropped because the network had difficulty establishing a GPS lock on the phone. No injuries have been reported.” The CPSC said LG’s U.S. subsidiary LG MobileComm USA Inc. voluntarily agreed to conduct the recall. The agency said the recall involves the LG 830 Spyder with software versions T83LGV03 and T83LGV04. The handsets, manufactured in Korea, were sold by various dealers for operation on wireless networks operated by regional carriers Cellular South Corp., Cellcom, Bluegrass Cellular, Centennial de Puerto Rico, Appalachian Wireless, Illinois Valley Cellular, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Inland Cellular, Leaco, Golden State Cellular, Thumb Cellular, Silver Star Communications, and Nex-Tech Wireless. … Read more

3G stands for glitchy, glitchy, glitchy smartphones

Even giants stumble, as Nokia Corp. discovered over the weekend when it pulled its mid-tier 5800 ExpressMusic smartphone from shelves at its New York and Chicago flagship stores. The current troubles appear two-fold: one is faulty earpieces, improperly sealed against moisture; the second is the device’s difficulty in finding a 3G signal on AT&T Mobility’s network. It wasn’t clear from press reports – and Nokia spokespeople were unavailable for comment Monday morning – whether the 5800s shipped in the U.S. had the faulty earpieces, but the company said over the weekend that the issue had been resolved. But complaints that the 5800 couldn’t find a 3G signal apparently led to the handset being pulled from shelves only hours after they’d gone on sale. The glitch is a bit of insult on top of injury, to some observers: Nokia launched its first touchscreen smartphone in the U.S. without carrier support and the 5800 had gone on sale last week only through Nokia flagship stores at $400 retail. The theme is familiar, if irksome to Nokia. Intense competition drives products to market and, despite extensive testing, handset glitches often aren’t found until a product hits market – and egg lands on face. Last week, for instance, NTT DoCoMo in Japan and Research In Motion Ltd. said that a small fraction of BlackBerry Bold products sold there – about 30 in 4,000, the companies said – experienced overheating problems. The companies said that they had eliminated the possibility that the units’ batteries were to blame but did not confirm the precise problem. Other, high-profile launches in the past year have seen their share of attention-grabbing glitches. The iPhone 3G also had 3G connectivity issues upon launch. The BlackBerry Storm had a tumultuous launch, with complaints over the sensitivity of its touchscreen…. Read more

Mobile banking gains ground in emerging markets

Mobile banking is beginning to get legs in emerging markets, but it’s not just the noble goals of empowering individuals and helping the downtrodden that is driving the space. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shone a spotlight on the space recently, announcing a $12.5 million donation to help bring cheap mobile financial services to people in developing markets. The money will back Mobile Money for the Unbanked, a program that works with industry players to overcome barriers in deploying m-banking services to the reported 1 billion users worldwide who have phones but no bank accounts. The initiative hopes to support roughly 20 projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, reaching 20 million previously unbanked people by 2012. Kenyans cashing in While these are still early days for m-banking in the poorest regions of the world, there are solid indications that mobile players can do well as they do good. Perhaps the most noted effort is M-Pesa, a Kenyan system developed by Vodafone and the carrier Safaricom Ltd. The service offers 4,200 locations nationwide and a network of more than 7,000 shopkeepers and other agents who take deposits and issue cash from users who authorize the transactions on their phones using a PIN code. M-Pesa supports transfers ranging from $1.25 up to $440 to any other cellphone, starting at about 40 cents per transaction (about 45% of traditional transfer services). The company claims its 5.5 million users – one-sixth of Kenya’s population – transferred more than $50 million in January. M-Pesa’s success has given birth to imitators in other developing nations, too. Vodafone has launched services in Afghanistan and Tanzania, and Orange plans to roll out offerings in Cote d’Ivorie, Mali and Senegal. … Read more

WiMAX, baby. It’s gonna be big.

With investments already made into WiMAX, the wireless broadband technology will be able to withstand the current economic downturn in a year that will see some additional network deployments, according to the WiMAX Forum. Because of the current economic climate, WiMAX providers are not being as aggressive with network deployments, but the forum estimates at least 100 more operators will launch commercial services this year. “Due to the financial situation, the growth rate of deployments will slow down,” said Dr. Mohammad Shakouri, the forum’s VP of marketing. “Everyone is watching their cash.” The forum also expects for WiMAX to continue to capitalize on its head start on LTE, a next-generation technology that is being spearheaded by Verizon Wireless in the U.S.Some analysts have a different take on how WiMAX and LTE figure into the market. Shakouri questions the willingness of companies to invest in LTE because of the current economic downturn. He said WiMAX does not face this issue because investments have already been made in the technology as network deployments grew rapidly in 2008. Intel Corp. remains committed in backing the technology. There are 455 WiMAX deployments globally in 135 countries, according to the forum. The technology covers more than 430 million people and the forum expects for that number to double by 2010. … Read more

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

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