T-Mobile USA is announcing a new partnership with Apple which would allow it to begin offering the iPhone 5 on its network sometime in 2013. The news didn’t come as a surprise to most industry observers, however. “T-Mobile USA has entered into an agreement with Apple to bring products to market together in 2013,” read a brief company statement late yesterday. While the statement stopped short of mentioning the iPhone specifically, it seems unlikely that sales of iPads through wireless carriers are strong enough for T-Mobile to sign a tablet-only agreement, according to some industry observers. And whether or not that means T-Mobile will offer the iPhone 5 in the first place, earlier models such as the iPhone 4S, or an as-yet-unannounced model still remains unknown at this time. Of the four leading wireless carriers in the United States, only T-Mobile doesn’t currently offer Apple’s popular smartphones. Apple launched the original iPhone as an AT&T exclusive in 2007, but in 2011 it broadened its market to include Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless. Even some smaller market players now carry iPhones, such as Cricket and C Spire Wireless, the new kid on the block. This places T-Mobile at something of a disadvantage, given that U.S. customers still much prefer Apple smartphones more than any other brand or model.
In October, T-Mobile began stocking iPhone 5–compatible NanoSIM cards – despite the fact that none of the phones T-Mobile sells use them – in hopes that customers would find its new unlimited data plans attractive enough to bring their unlocked iPhones to its network. T-Mobile has even gone as far as to display iPhones in its retail stores to demonstrate how well T-Mobile’s data service works with Apple devices purchased elsewhere. T-Mobile hasn’t released any numbers yet to indicate how well those efforts have worked so far, but common sense would suggest that it’s still more convenient for customers to buy an iPhone with a bundled service plan from AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon than to buy an unlocked version and activate it with T-Mobile. All that will change if T-Mobile begins offering iPhones next year, which could give it a much-needed boost to the carrier’s subscriber base. Although T-Mobile is considered one of the top carriers in the U.S., it has struggled a lot recently to compete with market giants AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile’s recently announced merger with MetroPCS is expected to give it a total subscriber base of about 42 million customers, but each of the two leaders boasts more than twice that number. In AT&T’s most recent financial results, it announced that it sold 6.1 million smartphones in the third quarter of 2012. Of those, 4.7 million or 77.2 percent were iPhones 5. In other mobile news Almost immediately after its decision to get out of the optical networking business, Nokia Siemens Networks’ partnership could be in jeopardy, with a contract loss blamed for even more job cuts at the struggling company. And it looks like things could get worse before they get better. Monday, Nokia Siemens Networks announced that its optical networking division was to land in the hands of a private equity group, Marlin Equity Partners. Marlin is a frequent investor in the technology segment, most recently adding lithium battery manufacturer MicroSun to its portfolio of companies via its Palladium investment firm. Palladium is a so-called seed investment company to help new startups find fresh capital. The existing management team has been retained, with Germany chosen as the headquarters and Herbert Mertz appointed CEO. NSN will concentrate on its mobile broadband business and a few other day-to-day chores. The divestment is part of a plan to shed 17,000 staff, representing about 23 percent of its staff globally, at a hoped-for saving of US $1.35 billion in 2013.
Under this newly revised plan, the company has already sold its IP TV business division to Accenture, and is already in the process of negotiating to offload its business support system unit, with Ericsson, Amdocs and others reportedly in the fold. In yet another blow for NSN, Bloomberg is also reporting that it’s lost a German contract with Deutsche Telekom, with 1,000 jobs to go by the end of 2013. It had acquired the services unit from Deutsche Telekom in 2007, taking over the business of servicing telephone lines under a five-year contract which has not been renewed since. In other mobile news China Mobile, the largest wireless carrier in China, is set to launch its own Siri-like voice assistant service tomorrow, a move which will provide more unwelcome local competition for Apple in the planet’s largest wireless phone market. The wireless carrier, which is the globe’s largest by subscribers, will unveil its intelligent voice portal at its global mobile app developers conference in Guangzhou, China. The portal is apparently based on the YuDian voice assistant product from Chinese firm Anhui USTC iFlytek – the country’s most successful voice recognition company, in which China Mobile took a 15 percent stake four months ago. The move will allow mobile users to dial numbers and send texts, and listen to incoming calls and other information, as well as access other back-end services such as China Mobile’s specialized information hotline which includes entertainment, travel, hotel and tourist info. All but unknown outside of China, USTC iFlytek, boasts an ecosystem of over 10,000 partners and developers and user numbers for its text-to-speech and voice recognition tech in the hundreds of millions. The firm says it has the edge on Siri thanks to its native Chinese expertise, the tonal nature of the language of Mandarin and Cantonese making them particularly difficult to recognize. It also boasted of its underlying voice cloud platform which has now amassed an impressive database of differently accented speech which can be used to make the services offered on top such as YuDian. Siri will also get another chance to win hearts and minds in the ultra-competitive China smartphone segment with the launch of the iPhone 5, which is slated for next week. But China Mobile still hasn’t managed to reach an agreement with Apple, allowing its competitors China Telecom and China Unicom to battle it out for the hard-earned cash of the country’s tablets.
In other mobile news Apple said earlier today that it has released another beta version of its next big iOS 6 operating system update to mobile app developers. A public release is expected soon, most likely in the first few weeks of January, if not a bit before. Apple quietly released today the third beta version of iOS 6.1 to app developers, another step on the way to sending it out as an update to the general public. Whether or not this will be the new norm for the company is still unknown, however Today’s update, which includes bug fixes and other improvements, comes exactly three weeks after the last beta version released in November. All three beta versions, made available to app developers for testing ahead of a public release, have been light on major new additions to the software. Apple typically saves such additions for major releases, but has historically added some new features along the way. So far, the list for iOS 6.1 includes new ‘boarding pass behavior’ in Apple’s Passbook software, a few tweaks here and there to Safari, and a back-end change in Apple’s long-awaited mapping software, the cause of such frustration among new users of the iPhone 5 released at the end of October. To be sure, Apple’s last update to iOS 6 was iOS 6.0.1 on November 1. That update repaired a handful of bugs, including one that kept iPhone 5 users from installing over-the-air software updates. It also fixed a problem with lines appearing on the software keyboard, and a bug that deleted meetings from calendars when accepting an invitation from some of your contacts. The fact that Apple is so vigilant of all its updates to its iOS or Mac operating systems surprises no one. The company always tries to be a step ahead of everything, especially when it concerns the usability and security of its devices. In other mobile news The majority of people that use text messaging today don’t know that the first SMS message was actually sent on April 23rd, 1992, more than twenty long years ago. Neil Papworth sent a Merry Christmas text message to a mobile phone, an innovation which went almost unnoticed until August 1997. The Short Message Service (SMS) took a while to take hold, longer still before network operators realized what a cash cow SMS could be, and even longer again before they noticed SMS was proving to be one of the most disruptive technologies ever to hit wireless telecommunications and one whose implications they would live to regret for many years still. However, SMS wasn’t even the first text-messaging system ever developed for wireless communications. Messaging pagers had been about for years, some of which could send and receive as well as confirming receipt, a key capability at that time. But the store-and-forward architecture of SMS, based around interconnected SMS Centres (SMSCs), promised network interoperability and – most importantly – the ability to attract customers with pagers in their pockets who didn’t want to give up their word-based world. The first message, sent by Neil Papworth, came from a PC connected directly to an SMSC so as to test only half the connection – arguably not an SMS at all, though it’s safe to assume that mobile handset-to-handset messaging was tested almost immediately afterwards. And it was. But network interoperability didn’t come for many years later, and even then it arrived in some kind of fragmented form or another. In 1996, some wireless industry developers were tasked with creating a cross-network SMS-delivery platform and ended up with a proof of concept using a PC plugged into three handsets, which could collect e-mailed messages, work out which network they should be sent to by the area code, and send them out. And it all worked very well. As could be expected, this obviously didn’t scale well, so they approached the network operators all of whom offered dial-in access to their SMSCs. In Europe mostly, Vodafone, Orange and MmO2 were trivial to interface with the new technology, offering easily-automated text menus. The idea at the time was to send out sports scores, concise weather reports and the like, though we’d have been fools not to realize that advertising was the inevitable conclusion, and the prototypes were sent to News International. Curiously, none of the wireless operators at that time even tried to charge for the access. Wireless operators were incredibly slow to realize the full potential of SMS, which exploded once proper interoperability was in place many years later. The fixed-price nature of SMS appealed to a new class of mobile user who was paying their own bill rather than claiming it back, while operators found revenue flowing in from what they’d considered an engineers’ hobby at best. But the SMSC could do more than carry just a few messages here and there. It created fixed-value events recognized by the billing system, and as such could be used to charge for just about anything. Wireless operators keen to increase text messaging services jumped into all kinds of revenue-sharing agreements. In 2002, Vodafone was offering four pence to anyone who could generate half a million texts a month, in the knowledge that once a customer had sent one message they’d almost certainly send more, but it was Premium-rate texting which really enabled a whole new revolution in the true sense of the word.