Singapore’s M1 aims narrowband deployment at the sea

Singapore telco M1 is getting Nokia to install an NB-IoT network atop its 4G one, interestingly with an eye not just to land but to sea. 

NB-IoT stands for Narrowband Internet of Things, and is the GSM world’s answer to narrowband technologies such as LoRa and Sigifox that threaten to take away a chunk of their business when the Internet of things does eventually take off. Why use expensive modems and services when you’re just trying to connect devices which want to tell you whether they’re on or off, full or empty, fixed or broken?  

Techgoondu reports: “While that network caters to heavy users who stream videos or songs on the go, a separate network that M1 is setting up at the same time is aimed at the smart cars, sensors and even wearables.

They said pricing will likely vary with each solution or package, with some companies saving costs from deploying large amounts of connected sensors. However, others that require the bandwidth, say, to deliver surveillance videos over the air, would likely stick with existing 4G networks.

And while many NB-IoT devices are still on the drawing board – standards for the network were only finalised in June – M1 executives were upbeat about jumping on the bandwagon early.

Alex Tan, the telco’s chief innovation officer, said the technology would open up new business opportunities in the years ahead.”

A press release from M1 says it’s working with the ports authority — Singapore is one of the biggest ports in the world — to  “explore the deployment of a network of offshore sensors to augment the situational awareness of our port waters,” according to Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Port Authority, MPA.

This follows Sigfox’s deployment in the city state last month. It also pips to the post rival Singtel who have been talking since February about running a trial of NB-IoT with Ericsson.  (Update: “Our preparation to trial NB-IoT is well underway. We are working with our vendors and industry partners to conduct lab trials in December, with a view to launch an NB-IoT network by mid-2017.”)

Here’s my earlier piece on LoRa

Asha to Ashes: Microsoft’s Emerging Markets Conundrum

A piece I wrote with Devi in Delhi, and the help of a couple of other colleagues. 

Asha to Ashes: Microsoft’s emerging market conundrum

By Jeremy Wagstaff and Devidutta Tripathy

SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI | Thu Sep 5, 2013 9:22pm EDT

(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp’s acquisition of Nokia’s handset business gives the software behemoth control of its main Windows smartphone partner, but leaves a question mark over the bigger business it has bought: Nokia’s cheap and basic phones that still dominate emerging markets like India.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has said he sees such phones – of which Nokia shipped more than 50 million last quarter – as an entree to more expensive fare.

“We look at that as an excellent feeder system into the smartphone world and a way to touch people with our services even on much lower-end devices in many parts of the world,” he said in a conference call to analysts on Tuesday.

But analysts warn that’s easier said than done.

The problem, said Jayanth Kolla, partner at Convergence Catalyst, an India-based telecom research and advisory firm, is that Microsoft simply lacks Nokia’s retail and supply chain experience in the Finnish company’s most important markets.

“The devices business, especially the non-smartphones business in emerging markets, is a completely different dynamic,” he said.

Kolla pointed to the need to manage tight supply chains, distribution, and building brands through word-of-mouth. “Microsoft doesn’t have it in its DNA to run operations at this level,” he said.

India is a case in point. Nokia has been there since the mid 1990s and the country accounted for 7 percent of its 2012 revenue while the United States generated just 6 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. Its India roots run deep: it has a presence in 200,000 outlets, 70,000 of which sell only its devices. One of its biggest plants in the world is in the southern city of Chennai.

For sure, Nokia has slipped in India as elsewhere: After nearly two decades as the market leader it was unseated by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in overall sales last quarter.

But it still sold more of its more basic feature phones.

As recently as last October, market research company Nielsen ranked it the top handset brand. The Economic Times ranked it the country’s third most trusted brand.

LOYALTY RUNS DEEP

In a land of frequent power cuts and rugged roads, the sturdiness and longer battery life of Nokia’s phones have won it a loyal fan base – some of whom have stayed loyal when trading up.

Take Sunil Sachdeva, a Delhi-based executive, who has stuck with Nokia since his first phone. He has just bought his fifth: an upgrade to the Nokia Lumia smartphone running Microsoft’s mobile operating system.

“Technology-wise they are still the best,” he said of Nokia.

But Microsoft can’t take such loyalty for granted. Challenging it and Samsung are local players such as Karbonn and Micromax, which are churning out smartphones running Google Inc’s Android operating system for as little as $50.

Such players are also denting Nokia’s efforts to build its Asha brand, touchscreen devices perched somewhere between a feature phone and a smartphone.

Nokia shipped 4.3 million Asha phones globally in the second quarter of this year, down from 5.0 million the previous quarter.

“The sales performance of the Asha line has been quite poor,” said Sameer Singh, Hyderabad-based analyst at BitChemy Ventures, an investor in local startups. “With increasing competition from the low-end smartphone vendors, I’m unsure how long that business will last.”

That leaves the cheap seats. Singh estimates that the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa accounted for two-thirds of Nokia’s feature phone volumes in the last quarter, at an average selling price of between 25 to 30 euros ($32.99 to $39.59).

“I don’t see how Microsoft can really leverage this volume,” he said. “The market is extremely price sensitive and margins are racing into negative territory.”

TOO BIG TO IGNORE

The quandary for Microsoft is that while the basic phone market may be declining, it may simply be too big to ignore.

“If you look at markets like India and Indonesia, more than 70 percent of the volume comes from the feature phone business,” Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner said. “It’s still a significant part of the overall market.”

That means that if Microsoft wants to herd this market up the value chain to its Windows phones, it needs to keep the Nokia and Asha brands afloat – while also narrowing the price gap between its smartphones and the feature phones and cheap smartphones.

Microsoft has hinted that lowering prices of smartphones would be a priority. The Windows Phone series includes the top-end Lumia 1020, which comes with a 41-megapixel camera, while it also sells simpler models such as the Lumia 610 and 620 aimed at first-time smartphone buyers.

“The lower price phone is a strategic initiative for the next Windows Phone release,” Terry Myerson, vice president of operating systems said on the same conference call, while declining to provide details.

An option for Microsoft, analysts said, would be to shoe-horn services like Bing search, Outlook webmail and Skype, the Internet telephony and messaging application, into the lower-end phones as a way to drive traffic to those services and make the devices more appealing.

“So you can bundle services with these low-end products and that way you can reach a wider audience,” said Finland-based Nordea Markets analyst Sami Sarkamies.

But in the meantime Microsoft needs to brace for assault on all fronts as emerging market rivals see an opportunity to eat further into Nokia’s market share. In India, said Convergent Catalyst’s Kolla, cheap local Android brands have been held back by Nokia’s strong promotion of its mid-tier Asha brand.

“Now, I expect them to pounce,” he said. ($1 = 0.7577 euros)

(Reporting By Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore, Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi, Bill Rigby in Seattle, Ritsuko Ando in Helsinki; Editing by Emily Kaiser)

How Not to Disintermediate

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With traditional media on the rocks, there are lots of opportunities for companies and organisations to  disintermediate: to project themselves directly to the public. Indeed, in some ways, this is the future.

But here’s how not to do it: to put a guy from the PR department in front of one of the senior folks and let him babble. The result is always awkward half sentences linked rehearsed (and usually quite obviously, and badly) lines from some media training session that ooze jargonish phrases that a real journalist would never let pass.

Things like these (with their translations alongside) from the Nokia Booklet 3G interview with John Hwang, its designer.

“nokia’s all about connecting people” = we make mobile phones

“further strengthening our device portfolio” = we’ve got a lot of different models. You’re confused? Try working here.

“mobile heritage” (repeated by the interviewer, as if it’s a phrase we all use in our daily lives: “honey, could you look in the drawer at our device portfolio and see if there’s something there from our mobile heritage we could lend the kids for sleepover?”) = we have to acknowledge we mainly make mobile phones, but we’re trying to make it sound like that’s our past. Just like our “tree-felling heritage”

“connected services” = the Internet

“all day performance” = the battery won’t give out on ya

“mobile design language” = we design mobile phones. Well we used to. Now we want to be thought of as computer manufacturers

“launched from our mobility statement” = I have no idea what this means.

(And the PR guy keeps saying “we” and then correcting himself to say “nokia”.)

If you’re going to do this kind of thing, do it right. PR guys should not be afraid of asking questions real journalists would ask, including tough ones. (Interestingly, the only tough question here is one the interviewee asks himself.)

Finger Painting, Angling and Tuning the Cello: the New Computing

I’m not overwhelmed by Nokia’s new appstore, Ovi, but using it does help remind one of what the real revolution in computing is (I have been talking a lot about revolutions lately, but there are basically three: the information revolution, the computing revolution, and the mobile revolution, which I’ll address later.)

The computing revolution is this: a small device, about the size of your hand, which is called a phone, but isn’t, really. It’s what Nokia can only dream of: a device so smart that even ordinary people can use it. It’s called the iPhone, and listening to some friends talk about it the other night brought home just how great an impact it has wrought, and will have.

One was talking about working with someone who, during a long car drive, would take his iPhone and look like he was about to throw it away. Then he would stop, his hand mid air, and then he would look at the screen. And then do it again. At first my friend thought he was having some sort of seizure, or was just really upset about something.

Then he realized he was angling. With his iPhone. (I can’t find the app right now.)

My other friend has a tuner in his, so he can tune his cello. “It’s geeky I know, but when I come home at the end of the day I can be up and playing quickly,” he said. Just point the device at the cello, hit a string and the iPhone display will indicate whether it’s in tune.

Both of these are great examples of how computing fulfills its promise by giving the user something they actually want, when they want it and in a form that fits their environment. What’s more, it’s easy enough for them to buy, install and use that they’re actually using it.

Which gives you some idea of how far behind the likes of Nokia are, and how long users have been waiting for this revolution to happen.

Then there’s the New Yorker cover, all drawn on the iPhone:

Colombo’s phone drawing is very much in the tradition of a certain kind of New Yorker cover, and he doesn’t see the fact that it’s a virtual finger painting as such a big deal. “Imagine twenty years ago, writing about these people who are sending these letters on their computer.” But watching the video playback has made him aware that how he draws a picture can tell a story, and he’s hoping to build suspense as he builds up layers of color and shape.

What I like about his story is that a) he has all the tools he needs in his pocket, just like the angler and the cello guy and b) he talked about not feeling too exposed—the painter, painting in a public place–because everyone assumed he was just checking email. This is a significant mini revolution in itself; a few years back, pre-Palm, someone poking around on a small screen in a public place might have seemed weird, but now the idea of what we do in social spaces has changed entirely.

(Now someone standing on a corner reading a paper or watching the world go by is viewed with suspicion.)

I’m no shill for Apple, but I think there’s a compound shift taking place here: by keeping the design elegant, making it easy for developers and users, the iPhone has captured the imagination of both. These guys may not be angling and tuning in a few years’ time, but already significant rivers have been crossed.

Now users have access to functions and features that they may not have considered the terrain of computing, but which now are part of their lives.

Computing will never be the same.

How to Manage Your Nokia Phone

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Nokia has finally woken up to the potential of connecting its phones to a computer. Although you could do it before, Nokia has launched a new version of its PC Suite, that makes some great strides in allowing you to use the computer to manage and monitor your cellphone.

The vision is a simple, and yet elusive, one. We work on our computers when we’re stationary. And on our phone when we’re mobile. But as far as we’re concerned we’re still doing the same thing: working. We can synchronize our data between those two devices, but operating both in real time is more problematic: there are tools to allow us to access our computer data from a phone, but sending and receiving SMS messages, for example, is still considered a phone activity, not a computer one.

It’s a technical barrier, not a lifestyle one. And here’s how to bridge it.

Your Nokia phone should have come with a cable. You’ll need that, and you’ll need the latest version of the PC Suite (this works only with Windows, unfortunately), which you can get from here  (http://is.gd/2aiL). 

Install the software, and then follow the instructions for connecting phone to computer.

When the two devices are connected, a list of options will appear on your phone. Select PC Suite.

Click on the Click here to connect a phone and follow the instructions:

Capture_473

The new bit with this version of the software is the smoother and more thorough handling of contacts and SMS messages. To try this out, click on the envelope icon and you’ll see a list of messages from your phone:

Capture_474

This effectively gives you full access to all the messages and contacts on your phone, and also allows you to send and reply to messages straight from your phone, but without the fiddly screen.

Clicking on the Contacts button on the left hand bottom corner of the program window lets you edit, add, and delete entries from your phone:

Capture_475

This is not perfect. I noticed I couldn’t always delete text from a field, and don’t expect the software to automatically notify you of incoming messages.

But it’s a start, and another good reason to buy Nokia phones.

Another tip: If you’ve got Bluetooth on your computer, configure your PC and phone so they talk to each other. That way you don’t need to carry the cable around with you.

This is the closest I’ve seen to making the phone an appendage to your computer, where it seamlessly integrates in terms of data and functionality. Some steps to go, but kudos to Nokia for pushing the envelope. Hopefully soon enough we won’t notice or care what medium—SMS, email, chat–we’re using, because it will all be one simple interface. That day just came closer.

©Loose Wire Pte Ltd.

Jeremy Wagstaff is a Singapore-based commentator on technology. His guide to using computers, Loose Wire, is available in bookshops or on Amazon. He can be found online at jeremywagstaff.com or via email at jeremy@loose-wire.com.

The Third Screen Talks to the Second

image

Nokia has finally woken up to the potential of connecting its phones to a computer. I’ve written elsewhere about the PC Suite, but its latest version has made some great strides in allowing you to use the computer to manage and monitor your cellphone.

The vision is a simple, and yet elusive, one. We work on our computers when we’re stationary. And on our phone when we’re mobile. But as far as we’re concerned we’re still doing the same thing: working. We can synchronize our data between those two devices, but operating both in real time is more problematic: there are tools to allow us to access our computer data from a phone, but sending and receiving SMS messages, for example, is still considered a phone activity, not a computer one.

It’s a technical barrier, not a lifestyle one.

Nokia, the biggest cellphone manufacturer in the world, has been slow to wake up to this weak link, but they’ve now seemed to see it. We should be able to send and receive SMS messages just like we can send and receive email messsages. It shouldn’t make any difference to us how people communicate with us; the medium shouldn’t matter.

But anyone thumbing out SMS messages in the office when they’d rather be typing them knows it does.

The PC Suite, once just a way to synchronize data between phone and computer, has now started to move into this space. Now it’s not a suite, so much as a Communication Centre. It’s become the interface for your phone (or phones; Bluetooth lets you connect more than one device simultaneously) when you’re at your desk.

The real improvement, therefore, is in the way the desktop software (Windows only) works with messages and contacts on the phone. Previously it was clunky and slow; it felt like the computer was downloading all your messages and contacts each time you wanted to do something. It was often faster just to tap the message out on the phone.

Now it’s fast and easy to use. Your computer will also let you know when a new message arrived, something the old software didn’t. The software is also good-looking and remarkably rich in features. Indeed, I’d argue that you don’t really need Outlook for your contacts with this kind of software working so well. (And yes, it handles non-Western alphabets well too.)

Some weaknesses: there’s still no way to add a phone number to existing contacts—as opposed to creating a new one. And when I first ran the software it ate up nearly all my processing power, which wasn’t pretty (it’s since settled down.)

Intriguingly, there’s a Firefox extension for synchronising bookmarks between your computer and phone browsers.

This is the closest I’ve seen to making the phone an appendage to your computer, where it seamlessly integrates in terms of data and functionality. Some steps to go, but kudos to Nokia for pushing the envelope. Hopefully soon enough we won’t notice or care what medium—SMS, email, chat–we’re using, because it will all be one simple interface. That day just came closer.

Hit the Road, Hack

Interesting project from Reuters, who have teamed up with Nokia to create a mobile journalism toolkit: 

So what is in the Mobile Journalism Toolkit? First of all the phone. This is a Nokia N95 which now comes in three different versions. The original European version that we used for most of the trial (image on left). Then there is a the US edition which adds more memory and support for US carrier frequencies. Finally there is the news 8GB version which can store much more music and videos, and for our journalists more raw materials.

With due respect, I’d ditch the Nokia keyboard for a more rugged, and better designed one from Mobility Electronics: the iGo Stowaway is a good one. I’m also not convinced the N95 is up to this kind of thing — as Nic Fulton says, the 8GB provides more storage, but I would be looking for something I could compose on, in which case I’d probably opt for the N800 Internet Tablet or its successor, the N810, which has GPS (yes, you need a phone to transmit if you’re not in WiFi range, but that’s what the N95 is for.)

I like the idea of recording direct to the N95 with an external microphone; hopefully Nokia will put the attachment they cooked up for this project on the market. It’s silly phones don’t have input ports.

Anyway, good stuff from Reuters and I look forward to hearing more about it. Yesterday I got myself in a terrible tangle trying to capture some video in an interview on my N95 while trying to record audio on my Olympus DS-20 and typing up the transcript on a Mac. It wasn’t pretty. In the meantime, regular readers will remember my humbling encounter with The Bangkok Post’s Don Sambandaraksa, whose keyboard dexterity put us all in the shade.

(Thanks, Mark)

The Mobile Journalism Toolkit contents – Reuters Mobile Journalism

Time to Give the Telephone Back to the Cellphone?

Was interviewing a guy intimately involved in the mobile phone industry the other day, and we were comparing the various features of our sophisticated smartphones, when he suddenly leaned over and said, “Off the record, but this is my favorite phone.” And he showed me this:


Nokia 1100, photo Mobile Phones UK

The Nokia 1100, according to Wikipedia, is the world’s best selling handset, having shifted 200 million units. It seems to cost about $20, often less, and has a battery life of about 400 hours. And, crucially for my friend, sports two important features: It makes and receives calls and SMS. Beyond that, in the words of Bryan Ferry, there’s nothing. (Well, actually there’s WAP, but who uses that?)

The point about the Nokia 1100 is that it’s a phone. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else (except a flashlight, if you press and hold the “c” key down (presumably “c” stands for torCh or flasChlight or “come into the light where I can see you, Mildred”.) It’s designed for conditions in developing countries — dustproof keyboard, non-slip sides — but for many of us that could describe an ordinary day in the office (dusty, slippery, in need of illumination).

“For email,” he said, “I use this,” waving a Nokia BlackBerry clone. “For phoning and SMS, I use my 1100.”

Clearly my interviewee friend is not alone. A glance at Mobile Phones UK’s page on the model, the phone has a sizeable fanclub, with comments from Romania, Pakistan, Iran, the Philippines, Argentina, UK, Zaire and Tanzania. (Typical comment: “I needed a simple, sharp looking, long life phone. I got it. I love it!”) Of course, there are some who aren’t happy, but with 200 million units out there, that’s not surprising.

I guess my worry is, and has been for a while: As phones get more sophisticated, when do they stop being phones? And if it takes you longer to make or receive a call (or an SMS) than it used to, at what point do we need to split the phone/SMS functionality from our smartphone and give it back to the likes of the 1100?

Seasons’ PR Greetings

It’s that time of year: Lots of Christmas greetings messages from PR folk. I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but I’m never quite clear why they bother with these things.

Nokia sent me a link to a flash message with lots of phones doing stuff and thanks for “my continued support for Nokia”. A nice sentiment, though I’ve never thought of what I do in those terms, and I suppose I’d much rather have an answer to my now six-week old request for Nokia to do something about the piles of angry comments left on my blog from customers in India. Some of them are poignant, like messages from the afterlife or some terribly tragedy being played out online.

Yesterday I got one from Veena Meksol, who from her IP address is writing from Bangalore, and writes “sir, pl give me nokia service centre in bangalore, my hand set is just 5 months old but from 2 days i am not able here,” and then the message ceases. Heaven knows what happened to Veena, but I’d happily sacrifice a Flash-based Christmas card or six if Nokia could track her down end her agony.

 My problem is that I can’t really distinguish between a PR greetings card and spam, especially when spammers’ subject fields look remarkably similar . Is there any difference? And what is the correct protocol when you receive one? PR turnover is so high, most of the names mean nothing to me, which is presumably why some of them attach photos to them. They’re all extraordinarily good-looking, I have to say:

 I’m just not sure I’ve actually met any of them, or even communicated with them. The problem then is that I feel guilty. I don’t want to be one of those hacks that treats flacks like, well, flacks. On the other hand, who sends Christmas cards with pictures of themselves looking, well, great, if not to lure the recipient into some sort of trap?

Anyway, I knew the season had hit a fresh low when I got a box from the PR of a certain company which contained a card (thanks, guys!) and, buried amid the packaging, a small box of chocolates from Norman Love. The mouthwatering blurb that accompanied the chocs was impressive — “Norman Love Confections welcomes you to your first step in a delectable journey into the world of fine, handsome chocolates,” it began. All this may well have been true — including the assertion that each of the six chocolates was “an edible work of art” — but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the chocolates had not weathered the 10,000 km trip from Silicon Valley to Indonesia that well.

Frankly, they looked as if someone had sat on them, half eaten each of them, spat them out, sat on them again and then sprinkled the contents of their computer keyboard over them before putting them carefully back in the box and retying the ribbon. Maybe that’s the message the PR company intended to convey? If so, I’m surprisingly cool with that.