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Welcome to ZenUnwired; a blog dedicated to tracking developments in technology and strategy, and to deciphering the impact of these developments on wired and wireless ISP's, device manufacturers, OS and application developers, and most importantly - you.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekly Roundup - Week Ending April 10th 2010

Here are the top stories in the US and Indian wireless markets this week.

US

In the US, there were a few big events this week. For starters, the FCC's plans for net neutrality suffered a major setback when the Federal Appeals Court ruled against the FCC in its case against Comcast. While this decision will have major implications for both the wireless industry and US consumers, it is unclear where this is going at the moment. WSJ is reporting that the FCC hasn't given up and has relaunched its efforts. The article even lists a few options that the FCC might have going forward. I guess time will tell, but for now the forecast seems cloudy.

The other big news this week was surrounding Apple. As you know, the iPad was released last week and the blogosphere is still on fire with articles containing reviews of the iPad, the apps it can run, and the like. While some of these articles are just plain silly, others are useful. That said, I cant even begin to imagine the terabytes of content this event has produced. With stores like BestBuy running out of their iPad stocks in all of their 673 stores, analysts were busy predicting the number of iPad sales. Forecasts ranged from 300,000 to 700,000. Luckily, Apple put an end to this forecasting mayhem (and our misery) by announcing that it sold 450,000 iPads, and saw 3.5M downloads, all within the first few days of launch. While the iPad has had its share of teething troubles, I am amazed at Apple's ability to manage these types of product launches with minimal problems. The bottom-line is that Apple is all set to rake in a tidy sum with the iPad, considering that it apparently costs Apple only $259.60 to manufacture each $499 iPad. If you don't own Apple stock, this might be the time to open a new tab in your browser and buy some :)

The iPad launch it seems, has launched a 'Tablet Wars' of sorts in the US. Every device manufacturer out there is now touting its new or upcoming tablets. Some contenders include the JooJoo (which engadget likes but Adobe hates), HP Slate and the Nokia Tablet (with MeeGo onboard). Not to be left behind, eReader makers are also upping the ante. The spate of news this week included those on the Que E-Reader (despite rumors that Que's maker, Plastic Logic is up for sale) and Barnes & Noble Nook (that it might be available soon via BestBuy). 

As if iPad-mania wasn't enough; on Thursday - Less than a week after the iPad launch - Apple announced the iPhone 4.0 OS. Before the launch, expectations were sky high, and Apple delivered on most of these. Two of the most significant updates on the 4.0 OS include the introduction of multitasking capabilities and Apple’s new iAd platform. The iAd platform will allow application developers to insert Apple-hosted advertisements into applications. The iAd revenue share model is - Apple keeps 40% of the ad dollars, and the developer gets the other 60%. This is slightly off from the current 70/30 model used by Apple for apps sold through iTunes. Other enhancements in 4.0 include - support for a new folder platform that will allow users organize their apps into folders (this will allow iPhone's to hold 2,160 apps instead of the current 180), updates to its e-mail client (this will allow users to consolidate multiple e-mail accounts into an unified inbox), an iBooks application (for reading books), enhanced security options for enterprise users; and a social networking component to its gaming applications. The OS will be available to current 3GS and iPod Touch users this summer. Maybe Apple should have spent some more time enhancing the security of the OS - because when hackers manage to jailbreak the 4.0 within 24 hours of its release, it makes me question the OS's "security" features, and its applicability/usefulness to enterprise users. 

Other (and final) Apple related news include -

Carriers
  • Sprint seems poised to have a great summer this year - and it all seems centered around 4G. 
  • T-Mobile finally seems to have a hit on its hands. It is widely reported that its WinMO 6 powered HTC HD2 sold out in four hours after its launch. Makes me think that they really didn't have to resort to gimmicks like this.
  • From news reports this week, it looks like AT&T is re-jiggering its global strategy. Maybe it is spooked by the fact that no US carrier now figures in the Top 10 Wireless Carriers list. So what is Ma Bell upto?
    • First, AT&T said this week that it plans to invest about $1 billion in 2010 to upgrade its services and products, besides expanding global network in countries like India, China and Japan.
    • Next, it announced plans to sell its European Wi-Fi operations to Swisscom
    • And finally, since AT&T’s reputation has been dragged through muck these past few months due to its network issues, and since the iPad launch is raising new questions, AT&T is about to launch a major rebranding effort based around the slogan “Rethink Possible”. In this effort, AT&T wants to position itself as an enabler of digital lifestyles. This strikes me as funny because - if the network aint working, telling me that it enables my 'digital lifestyle', is completely pointless. Fix the network first chaps; "enable" lifestyles later.
  • Except for Ivan Seidenberg's comments on the Vodafone merger, the iPhone, WiMAX vs. LTE and about spectrum issues in the US, its been a quiet week for Verizon wireless.

Device Manufacturers:

Mobile OS:

Miscellaneous:
Although I don't usually cover devices, I thought these were pretty cool.

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INDIA

Like India in general, the Indian wireless market is a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, the wireless market continues to grow - both in terms of subscribers and usage - at dizzying speeds. On the other hand, ARPU's which are already at sub- $8 levels are declining further, thereby lowering carrier profitability. So far, carriers have had no option but to compete on price, but this will likely change once the 3G spectrum auctions are completed and services begin to roll out. On the subject of the 3G spectrum auction - it looks like the auction has finally kicked off. It is expected that competition among carriers like Bharti Airtel, Reliance and Vodafone will push up winning bids to as much as three times the base price. Officials have said it would take at least a week or possibly more for the auctions to be completed. I'm really excited about what these auctions will mean to the mobile user experience in India. Think about it - thus far, 3G capable devices like the  iPhone and others in India have been running on only a 2.5G network! Imagine what 3G can do! (More details on the 3G spectrum auction can be found here)

Carriers:
  • Vodafone India announced this week that it has reached 100 million customers. To fully comprehend that number - compare it to the fact that Verizon Wireless and AT&T have less than 100 million subscribers each. That said, its fair to point out that ARPU's in India are about $8, while the corresponding number in the US is closer to $55. In other news, Vodafone also launched a MP3 music store this week for its customers in Mumbai. The service is priced at Rs.5 per day (about $0.11/day), and it allows customers to download up to 5 songs per day. I didn't find any information on whether the songs are DRM protected, or whether customers can move their purchases from their phone to their PC's without any restrictions. 
  • This week, Bharti Airtel announced a service that allows users of its DTH service to program their DVR's from their mobile device. While DirecTV subscribers in the US wont find this service revolutionary (since its been around for a while), this is the first time such a service is being offered in India. It is in moves like these that Bharti's strategy is becoming more apparent. This in my opinion, provides clear evidence that Bharti is trying to move away from price based competition to competition based on differentiation. In other news, Airtel also introduced a voice blogging service this week. Personally, I don't think this service is going to work. I cant imagine why users would want to call a number to hear their friends (or even Bollywood stars, for that matter) talk about some random stuff. The service might take for a while, but I don't think it will last very long.
  • Tata Docomo has launched a reverse ring-back tone service in India this week. This is how it works - if you are a Tata Docomo user, and if you call someone, you can choose a song that will play (instead of a ring) when you are waiting for your contact to pick up. While I find this service extremely funny - I can definitely see a business case for this service. You see, in India - no one uses voicemail. Also, it is considered rude to hang up on someone - so people will just let their phones ring till you get automatically cut off. Since you are already killing some time waiting for your 'friend' to pick up, you might as well listen to something your enjoy :) Here's what I'd pick for my ring-back tone.
  • BSNL has started offering its prepaid BlackBerry services in Karnataka this week. As I said last week, I still don't see any value in this service - but I could be wrong.
  • In other news:

Device Manufacturers:
Nokia continues to rule the roost in India.

Other News:

Thats it folks! Have a great weekend!